Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Here’s Why Juicero’s Press is So Expensive

I missed this whole uproar about a $700 Internet juicer. Ben Einstein explains, Here’s Why Juicero’s Press is So Expensive

Last week Bloomberg published an article exposing how easy it is to ‘hack’ Juicero’s produce packs by squeezing them with your hands, deeming the $699 (now $399) WiFi-connected juice press completely unnecessary. Nearly overnight, Juicero has become the posterchild for Silicon Valley excess.

Juicero raised nearly $120M from well-known investors before shipping a single unit. The team spent over two years building an incredibly complex product and the ecosystem to support it. Aside from the flagship juice press, Juicero built relationships with farmers, co-packing/food-processing facilities, complex custom packaging, beautifully designed mobile/web applications, and a subscription delivery service. But they did all this work without the basic proof that this business made sense to consumers."

It's a fun and pretty breakdown of the product. For any company there's a balance of speed, price and quality. This is what happens when you ignore the second one.

A Plea for Responsible and Contextualized Reporting on User Security

Zeynep Tufekci In Response to Guardian’s Irresponsible Reporting on WhatsApp: A Plea for Responsible and Contextualized Reporting on User Security. She basically rips them a new one. It's a nice article, with the details of the issue which act as a great example of the difficulties of making something secure against a variety of adversaries vs making it usable by a wide range of users.

Signal is well-designed. Many in the security community use and consistently recommend it. However, the very thing that makes Signal a recommendation for people at high risk—that it drops messages at any sign of hiccup—prevents a large number of ordinary people from adopting it. Our community has used Signal for a long time, and have been trying to convert people to it, but its inevitable delivery failures (some by design, to keep users safer, and some due to bandwidth or other issues) mean that we often cannot convince people to use it despite spending a lot of effort trying to convince them—even people who have a lot at stake. The reason people, including journalists and activists, use WhatsApp over Signal isn’t because people are flaky, but because in the real world, reliability, usability and a large user base are key to security.

WhatsApp effectively protects people against mass surveillance. Individually targeted attacks by powerful adversaries willing to put effort into compromising a single person are a different kind of threat. If that is the threat model in mind, then merely recommending Signal is irresponsible. Your reckless, uncontextualized piece posits a mythical Snowden-type character, with a powerful, massively resourced adversary, for whom WhatsApp would not be a good choice. From that it concludes that WhatsApp is unsafe for a billion people for whom it is, at the moment, among the best options for secure communication.

To further complicate things, switching to Signal may not be advisable in some settings, because it marks you as an activist. There are many threat models under which WhatsApp is the safest option, and there are reports of people around the world being jailed merely for having installed an encryption app. It’s fine to recommend Signal and to broaden its user base. It’s not fine to fearmonger and scare people away from WhatsApp (which runs the same protocol as Signal) because of a minor and defensible difference in the kind of warnings it gives and the blocking behavior of a few undelivered messages when someone changes phones or SIM cards.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The French, Coming Apart

This article by Christopher Caldwell, The French, Coming Apart, is a fascinating look at the French political landscape, and its impossible to not draw parallels to here in the US.

In France, a real-estate expert has done something almost as improbable. Christophe Guilluy calls himself a geographer. But he has spent decades as a housing consultant in various rapidly changing neighborhoods north of Paris, studying gentrification, among other things. And he has crafted a convincing narrative tying together France’s various social problems—immigration tensions, inequality, deindustrialization, economic decline, ethnic conflict, and the rise of populist parties. Such an analysis had previously eluded the Parisian caste of philosophers, political scientists, literary journalists, government-funded researchers, and party ideologues.

Guilluy is none of these. Yet in a French political system that is as polarized as the American, both the outgoing Socialist president François Hollande and his Gaullist predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy sought his counsel. Marine Le Pen, whose National Front dismisses both major parties as part of a corrupt establishment, is equally enthusiastic about his work. Guilluy has published three books, as yet untranslated, since 2010, with the newest, Le crépuscule de la France d’en haut (roughly: “The Twilight of the French Elite”), arriving in bookstores last fall. The volumes focus closely on French circumstances, institutions, and laws, so they might not be translated anytime soon. But they give the best ground-level look available at the economic, residential, and democratic consequences of globalization in France. They also give an explanation for the rise of the National Front that goes beyond the usual imputation of stupidity or bigotry to its voters. Guilluy’s work thus tells us something important about British voters’ decision to withdraw from the European Union and the astonishing rise of Donald Trump—two phenomena that have drawn on similar grievances.

If anyone with more direct knowledge of French politics would comment on this, I'd love to hear it. I searched briefly and didn't find much to contradict this article.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Long, Lucrative Right-wing Grift Is Blowing Up in the World's Face

This Alex Parenne piece made it onto my queue, aka backlog a couple of weeks ago. Then I saw it on Chris Hayes last night. The Long, Lucrative Right-wing Grift Is Blowing Up in the World's Face. It makes a couple of points I really agree with (ah confirmation bias). The first is how right wing media broke the Republican party:

Rather rapidly, two things happened: First, Republicans realized they’d radicalized their base to a point where nothing they did in power could satisfy their most fervent constituents. Then—in a much more consequential development—a large portion of the Republican Congressional caucus became people who themselves consume garbage conservative media, and nothing else.

That, broadly, explains the dysfunction of the Obama era, post-Tea Party freakout. Congressional Republicans went from people who were able to turn their bullshit-hose on their constituents, in order to rile them up, to people who pointed it directly at themselves, mouths open.

Now, we have a president whose media diet defines his worldview, interests, and priorities. He is not one of the men, like most of those Tea Party members of Congress, whose existing worldview determined his media diet—who sealed himself off from disagreeable media sources. He is, in fact, something far more dangerous: a confused old man who believes what the TV tells him.

The second is how the two parties behave:

Here’s the real, non-ideological difference between Republicans and Democrats:

Democrats by and large are convinced that no one actually supports their agenda, and they devote a not insignificant amount of time and political capital to explaining to their own constituents why they cannot pursue goals that a majority of them support. (“I supported single payer since before you were born,” says Nancy Pelosi, who has the legislative and leadership record of someone who may support single payer but clearly doesn’t actually expect it to happen in our lifetimes.)

Conservatives, especially those who came up during the Obama era, have, more or less, the opposite problem: They’ve convinced themselves that their agenda is hugely popular and that everyone supports them.

There’s actually been some research on this: Politicians—both liberal ones and conservative ones—believe that the electorate is more conservative than it actually is. Conservative politicians believe the electorate is much more conservative than it actually is. Once you learn this, suddenly a lot of things about how elected officials act make more sense.

The most important major divide among Congressional Republicans isn’t between moderates and conservatives, or establishment and anti-establishment politicians, but between those who know that their agenda is hugely unpopular and that they have to force it through under cover of darkness, and the louder, dumber ones who believe their own bullshit. And for those loud, dumb members, egged on by a media apparatus that has trained its audience to demand the impossible and punish the sell-outs who can’t deliver, those more tactical members are cowards and RINOs.

Jonathan Chait wrote Republicans Are Going to Wish Hillary Clinton Won

Imagine what the political world would look like for Republicans had Hillary Clinton won the election. Clinton had dragged her dispirited base to the polls by promising a far more liberal domestic agenda than Barack Obama had delivered, but she would have had no means to enact it. As the first president in 28 years to take office without the benefit of a Congress in her own party’s hands, she’d have been staring at a dead-on-arrival legislative agenda, all the low-hanging executive orders having already been picked by her predecessor, and years of scandalmongering hearings already teed up. The morale of the Democratic base, which had barely tolerated the compromises of the Obama era and already fallen into mutual recriminations by 2016, would have disintegrated altogether. The 2018 midterms would be a Republican bloodbath, with a Senate map promising enormous gains to the Republican Party, which would go into the 2020 elections having learned the lessons of Trump’s defeat and staring at full control of government with, potentially, a filibuster-proof Senate majority.

Instead, Republicans under Trump are on the verge of catastrophe. Yes, they are about to gain a Supreme Court justice, no small thing, a host of federal judges, and a wide array of deregulation. Yet they are saddled with not only the most unpopular president at this point in time in the history of polling, but the potential for a partywide collapse, the contours of which they have not yet imagined. The failure of the Republican health-care initiative was a sobering moment, when their early, giddy visions of the possibilities of full party control of government gave way to an ugly reality of dysfunction, splayed against the not-so-distant backdrop of a roiled Democratic voting base. They have ratcheted back their expectations. But they have not ratcheted them far enough. By the time President Trump has left the scene, what now looks like a shambolic beginning, a stumbling out of the gate, will probably feel like the good old days.

Josh Barro walked through why Tax reform doomed like healthcare reform.

The Journal's well-reported story amounts to this: President Donald Trump would like to sign a tax reform bill, but he and his aides have no vision for what the tax reform bill should say.

"Broadly, Mr. Trump wants a simpler tax code and lower business tax rates to stimulate investment and spur manufacturing," according to the WSJ.

That all sounds nice. But substantially everyone in Washington claims to be in favor of a simpler tax code that imposes lower rates on a broader tax base. Republicans and Democrats say this all the time, and yet, tax reform does not get done.

This is because, in practice, "simpler" means eliminating tax preferences that benefit various constituencies. When the specifics of "simplicity" get laid out, tax reform plans start to draw a lot of opposition.

He then expands on these four points:

  • The White House does not like Paul Ryan's plan
  • The White House does not have its own plan
  • The White House does not know what its coalition is to enact tax reform
  • All the White House knows is it wants Trump to sign a tax reform law

It's easy to extrapolate these points to every other issue. Matthew Yglesias does it, Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan is vaporware that’s never going to happen.

Donald Trump’s rambling, incoherent remarks on federal infrastructure spending during a wide-ranging interview with Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times have set headline writers abuzz with the desire to extract some kind of meaning and news value from his comments. “Trump says infrastructure plan could top $1 trillion,” wrote Marketwatch, while Reuters reports that “Trump says he may use his $1 trillion infrastructure plan as a political incentive.” The Times reporters who conducted the interview — both New Yorkers like Trump, and veterans of the city hall beat — wrote it up as a local story: “Trump Weighs Infrastructure Bill but Keeps New York Up in the Air.”

The truest line in any of this comes from Haberman and Thrush themselves, who observe that Trump’s “knowledge of complex policy issues can sometimes be lacking.”

And to the extent that that’s news, it’s the only actual news Trump made on infrastructure. His remarks make it clear that he doesn’t know anything about the substance of the issue or about the relevant congressional procedures. He doesn’t appear to be familiar with the related provisions of his own administration’s budget, and he isn’t putting in the time to lay the political groundwork for any legislation. The trillion-dollar infrastructure plan doesn’t exist except as a line of rhetoric.

Martin Longman comments on Chiat's post saying Washington Monthly | Trump is Failing for Same Reason That Boehner Failed.

In truth, however, almost no Washington Republicans voted for Trump in the primaries. The elite conservative intelligentsia never saw Trump as fit for office, nor did they see him as an ideologically acceptable conservative. They had reconciled themselves to a Clinton presidency and were gearing up to win the battle over the autopsy of Trump’s campaign. Most of them did not want Trump to win and we’re relieved that the polls indicated that he had no chance to win.

Chait is correct that rank-and-file Republican voters largely stayed with Trump, meaning that they “brought disaster upon their country.” This led Trump to make a fatal miscalculation. He thought he won with a partisan vote so he should be able to govern with an exclusively partisan coalition. That was incorrect because his victory was a victory over both parties, and the Washington Establishment didn’t accept him irrespective of which party they represented.

Trump needed a bipartisan coalition from the moment he saw the surprising Electoral College results, and he had a major repair job to do if he was going to find any space on the left after insulting every ethnic and minority group in the country, running an explicitly racist campaign, and being exposed as a sexual predator. That was the moment when he needed to begin an aggressive pivot in both his style and rhetoric and in his legislative proposals.

At least at the outset, he had some alternatives. He might have tried to gain support for a legislative agenda that, while distinct from his campaign promises, was consistent with it in spirit. There were coalitions of Democrats who might have helped him figure out an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership or ways to renegotiate NAFTA. He could have had support for an infrastructure bill that looked a lot like what President Obama had called for for years. Repeal and replace could have been softened into something less vindictive and more constructive. He could have consulted the Democrats on appointments to key administrative and cabinet positions.

In the end, this would have probably broken the House of Representatives in ways I have been advocating that it break ever since John Boehner discovered that he had to rely on Democratic votes to pass appropriations bills, pay the government’s debts, and keep the government’s doors open. Just as with Boehner, Trump’s true House majority would always have to be bipartisan if it were to be a majority at all.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Why Hollywood’s writers are on the verge of a strike — and what it could mean for the industry

Vox explains Why Hollywood’s writers are on the verge of a strike — and what it could mean for the industry. Things are always more complex than they seem but I'm on the writers' side.

Fairytale Prisoner by Choice: The Photographic Eye of Melania Trump

Kate Imbach posted an analysis of Melania Trumps twitter photos. Fairytale Prisoner by Choice: The Photographic Eye of Melania Trump "Melania posted five photographs of Trump with their son. She took each photo from behind the two, sometimes literally from the backseat. Boys in front, girls in the back, the same arrangement we were all so appalled to see on inauguration day, is her norm. She lives in the background."

It's all random speculation and a dark read.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Thor: Ragnarok Trailer Gives Us an Excuse to Do Physics

Wired has a cute article, The Thor: Ragnarok Trailer Gives Us an Excuse to Do Physics analyzing the physics of the Thor/Hulk punch in the new trailer. They embed some simulations using two things I'd hadn't heard of before. The embedding of code seems to happen via trinket and the code is using GlowScript IDE to do the physics animation.

A simple plan to end the Supreme Court confirmation wars for good

Ian Milhiser wrote in ThinkProgress, A simple plan to end the Supreme Court confirmation wars for good. I didn't know about The Missouri Plan

When a vacancy arises on the state’s supreme court, a seven person commission consisting of ‘three lawyers elected by the lawyers of The Missouri Bar . . . three citizens selected by the governor, and the chief justice’ submits three candidates to fill that vacancy to the state’s governor. The governor then has 60 days to choose among those three names. If the governor fails to meet this deadline, the commission selects one of the three.

Finally, after a year of service, the newly appointed judge must survive a retention election, where a majority of the electorate can cast them out of office — though this only happens rarely.

This method of judicial selection, as well as variants upon it, was adopted by many states since its inception in Missouri."

It’s not a perfect system. In Iowa, which uses variant on the Missouri system, three justices were removed from office after anti-LGBT groups campaigned against them due to their votes in support of marriage equality. In Arizona, which uses a Missouri-style commission but with significantly more gubernatorial appointees, a libertarian attorney with aggressive plans to roll back laws protecting workers recently joined the state supreme court. Judicial selection commissions neither eliminate politics entirely nor shield a state entirely from ideologues.

But they are a whole lot better than the world we live in now at the federal level, where no president is ever likely to appoint a justice again unless that justice shares the ideological preferences of a majority of the Senate.

Something is breaking American politics, but it's not social media

Ezra Klein writes about a new study Something is breaking American politics, but it's not social media:

Their approach is simple. Using data from the American National Election Survey, they compare the most web-savvy voters (the young, where 80 percent used social media in 2012) and the least web-savvy voters (the old, where fewer than 20 percent used social media in 2012) on nine different tests of political polarization. The measures cover everything from feelings about political parties to ideological consistency to straight-ticket voting, and the data shows how polarization changed among these groups between 1996 and 2012. The results? On fully eight of the nine measures, ‘polarization increases more for the old than the young.’ If Facebook is the problem, then how come the problem is worst among those who don’t use Facebook?

I asked Gentzkow what he thinks might be part of the fuller picture. “I have two main hypotheses,” he replied. “One is stuff that has nothing to do with media at all but is structural, like increasing income inequality. The second is non-digital media, and cable TV and talk radio in particular.” The latter piece makes particular sense if you think about the fact that older Americans make up the base of both the cable and talk radio audiences. More than a third of talk radio listeners are over age 65, and half of Fox News’s audience is over age 68. As bad as getting your news from Facebook can be, it’s often far better than relying on Fox News or Rush Limbaugh.

80 Years Ago SCOTUS decided NLRB v Jones & Laughlin Steel

ISCOTUS describes This Day in Supreme Court History—April 12, 1937.

In National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, ten former workers of Jones & Laughlin Steel brought a suit against the company, asserting that they were illegally fired after they attempted to unionize and join the Steel Workers Organizing Committee. The recently created National Labor Relations Board ordered Jones & Laughlin Steel to rehire the employees and compensate them for any back pay owed them.

After a string of controversial decisions striking down New Deal legislation, the Supreme Court changed course. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the bargaining provisions of the Wagner Act. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes delivered the opinion of the Court, arguing that the commerce power extended to regulations designed to prevent a potential strike at Jones & Laughlin, since a work stoppage would have an “immediate, direct, and paralyzing effect upon interstate commerce.” “Collective bargaining is often an essential condition of industrial peace,” Hughes asserted, and a “refusal to confer and negotiate has been one of the most prolific causes of strife.”

The decision was a landmark ruling on the meaning of the Commerce Clause. Its reasoning granted far more authority to Congress to regulate economic relations than the Court had previously allowed. It was also a major victory for industrial and factory workers across the country. The Wagner Act helped usher in a new era of labor relations, one in which union power, backed by the authority of the federal government, entered into negotiations with industry on far more equal footing than before.

Space Stuff

Universe explains SpaceX Just Re-Used a Rocket. Why This Changes Everything ""

Hubble Takes Advantage of Opposition To Snap Jupiter

On April, 7th, 2017, Jupiter will come into opposition with Earth. This means that Earth and Jupiter will be at points in their orbit where the Sun, Earth and Jupiter will all line up. Not only will this mean that Jupiter will be making its closest approach to Earth – reaching a distance of about 670 million km (416 million mi) – but the hemisphere that faces towards us will be fully illuminated by the Sun.

Heic1708a 700x432 500

Juno Sees Overlapping Colliding Clouds on Jupiter

The Juno mission has made some remarkable finds since it reached Jupiter in July of 2016. During the many orbits it has made around Jupiter’s poles – which occur every 53 days – some stunning imagery has resulted. Not only have these pictures revealed things about Jupiter’s atmosphere, they have also been an opportunity for the public to participate in the exploration of this giant planet.

New Up-Close Image of Jupiter's Stormy Clouds is Mind-Blowing

Ebq2zqfeo5xaaozc2lbh 500

The Verge on Astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly on NASA’s twin experiment and the future of space travel

Mark and Scott Kelly are the only twins that have ever traveled to space — and their experience will be invaluable if we want to get to Mars one day.

Between 2015 and 2016, Scott spent 340 days on the International Space Station, while his genetically identical twin Mark stayed on Earth to function as a control subject. Before, during, and after Scott’s trip, the brothers have been giving NASA numerous biological samples — blood, saliva, poop, you name it. By comparing Scott’s samples with Mark’s, NASA is trying to understand what long-term space travel does to our bodies.

Some preliminary findings have already come out. One study showed that Scott’s DNA changed while he was in space: his telomeres — the protective caps on the end of DNA strands — were unexpectedly longer than Mark’s. (Telomere length can affect aging and age-associated diseases.) Another study showed that there were major fluctuations in Scott’s gut bacteria while he lived in zero-g compared to his twin.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Astronomers just turned on a planet-size telescope to take a picture of a black hole

Vox has a nice piece with some good videos describing how Astronomers just turned on a planet-size telescope to take a picture of a black hole .

Because Sagittarius A is so small, and surrounded by so much occluding material, it’s going to take a huge telescope to see it. According to Nature, it would take a telescope 1,000 times more powerful than Hubble to get enough resolution to see it.

So how does the Event Horizon Telescope solve this problem? Conventional optical telescopes use bigger and bigger mirrors to see objects smaller and farther away in the universe. The Event Horizon Telescope is doing something similar: It’s creating a virtual telescope the size of the entire Earth.

The Event Horizon team is connecting radio telescopes at eight locations across the world — as far-flung as Hawaii and the South Pole — and instructing them all to look toward Sagittarius A for a few days. The network is the result of an international collaboration of 14 research institutions across the world.

2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners & Finalists

Here are the 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners & Finalists.

I don't understand how Peggy Noonan won. I read some of the samples they provided and I'm as unimpressed as I am with here Sunday morning TV appearances. "I had such a conversation again Tuesday with a friend who repairs shoes in a shop on Lexington Avenue." Seriously? I just cannot find a rhythm to her phrasing though I will give her credit for this: "better than Marco the moist robot".

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Here’s the real Rust Belt jobs problem — and it’s not offshoring or automation

The Washington Post reports Here’s the real Rust Belt jobs problem — and it’s not offshoring or automation

Since the corporate mergers and restructurings in the 1980s, most cities depend not on one or two large factories but on many small subsidiary operations — light manufacturing, food processing, professional service firms, call centers, hotels and retail. These smaller subsidiaries mostly move between struggling cities and towns rather than leaving for other countries.

But they offer few ‘good’ unionized jobs. For instance, in the 1970s, the local meat packing plant hired thousands and paid $15 an hour. But the Tyson Foods or John Morrell plant that replaced it employs hundreds and may pay about $10.

Much of the blame for that falls on federal policy. Unions have been hobbled by a changing legal environment. A corporate merger wave unleashed by financial deregulation eliminated local owners who paid workers living wages and contributed generously to their towns. Tax code changes led to ballooning senior managers’ earnings at the expense of line-workers’ wages. Without changing the federal policies that led to these trends, bringing manufacturing back will not create good, safe jobs.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Some thoughts on Trumps attack on Syria

On the one hand, this seemed like a reasonable proportional response to the use of chemical weapons by Assad on his citizens. It also seems like Trump listened to his advisors and picked one of the most conservative responses he could, that's not what most of critics would have expected. On the other hand, it raises a lot more questions for me than it does answers.

First, while there is now evidence that sarin gas was used on civilians (some of the victims were children so they're certainly civilians), it's not clear who launched the attack. I believe that Assad did it, but I think some proof is required, particularly from an administration that has bullshitted us on virtually everything.

Second, it raises a long standing question. Even if Assad launched this attack, it's not clear that the US had any legal right to strike Syria in this way. My understanding is that under international law the only valid reasons are self-defense (which doesn't apply) or with Security Council permission (which wasn't asked for). This was a violation of chemical weapons treaties, but they don't authorize military force for violations. Under US law Trump also has no authority to strike Syrian forces. The 2001 AUMF against al-Qaeda has been used for years to cover strikes against ISIS and even that is on some shaky ground. When Obama's infamous red line was crossed, before striking he asked Congress for authority to do so, but Congress didn't have the votes to pass it. While strictly speaking a president needs Congressional approval for military action, as Rachel Maddow pointed out in her book Drift Congress has been ceding it's authority in this regard for a long time. More details here.

Then there's Trump's hypocrisy. Let me count the ways. In 2013 when Obama had this same decision Trump tweeted that he shouldn't strike in Syria and if he did, he'd need Congress' approval to do it. Well Trump blew through both of those. Trump said he was moved by the babies being killed, but they've been killing in Syria for years now, and does it matter if they're killed by chemical weapons or conventional ones? He's still banned refugees from this conflict from coming to the US.

Trump ran on a secret 30 day plan to eliminate ISIS, which was obviously bullshit, but also on otherwise being more isolationist. A week ago Rex Tillerson, Sean Spicer and Nikki Haley all said that removing Assad was no longer a priority. There's talk that this may have emboldened Assad, but it's hard to say. A big question for me was how impulsive was Trump's decision, that's the fear that many have of his administration. Did this somehow get to him and was this Trump treating military response the same way he tweet-rants at 6am?

Jeffrey Goldberg writes that this is the end of the Obama Doctrine. Obama told him he was proud of his 2013 decision, to avoid the conventional Washington wisdom that limited military response would have a good outcome in the middle east. He took a lot of heat for that and Lots of former Obama advisors are cheering Trump's action. But unlike Trump has shown so far, Obama made the decision deliberately, thinking a few moves into the future. Is this the start of another middle quagmire? How slippery is this slope and will the military-industrial complex lead Trump to push for regime change. Syria's allies are Russia and Iran, they're already angered, what will that lead to? At least Trump called Russia just before the strikes to warn them (and to prevent their forces from being hit). That was a responsible thing to do and something I'm sure some military advisor suggested to Trump. I wonder if Trump will re-evaluate the role of the State Department in world affairs instead of just military force.

So Trump gave a measured response, sending cruise missiles to the airport used to launch the strikes. He didn't hit chemical weapons storage sites there (for fear of spreading them). These missiles can't do a lot of damage to the runways and already Syria launched fighters from that airport, so it doesn't seem like much damage was done. A couple of days ago Hillary Clinton spoke about striking all their airports and destroying Assad's entire Air Force, which is only a couple of hundred aircraft. That seems way more extreme, but also more likely to affect Assad's ability to attack the rebels and more likely to save lives.

The real question is how does Trump react a few days from now when Syria hasn't changed in any significant way.

I don't know what the answers are. I do know that in my list of complaints about Trump, this isn't all that high on my list. So far.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Science Articles

At first I misunderstood this Universe Today headline, Curiosity Captures Gravity Wave Shaped Clouds On Mars, to be about gravitational waves, but it's a more normal phenomenon they're seeing in studying Martian clouds from Curiosity. But I loved this line in the article:

But as Moore explained in an interview with Science Magazine, seeing an Earth-like phenomenon on Mars is consistent with what we’ve seen so far from Mars. ‘The Martian environment is the exotic wrapped in the familiar,’ he said. ‘The sunsets are blue, the dust devils enormous, the snowfall more like diamond dust, and the clouds are thinner than what we see on the Earth.’"

Universe Today also reported, Large Hadron Collider Discovers 5 New Gluelike Particles

According to the research paper, which appeared in arXiv on March 14th, 2017, the particles that were detected were excited states of what is known as a “Omega-c-zero” baryon. Like other particles of its kind, the Omega-c-zero is made up of three quarks – two of which are “strange” while the third is a “charm” quark. The existence of this baryon was confirmed in 1994. Since then, researchers at CERN have sought to determine if there were heavier versions.

And now, thanks to the LHCb experiment, it appears that they have found them. The key was to examine the trajectories and the energy left in the detector by particles in their final configuration and trace them back to their original state. Basically, Omega-c-zero particles decay via the strong force into another type of baryon (Xi-c-plus) and then via the weak force into protons, kaons, and pions.

From this, the researchers were able to determine that what they were seeing were Omega-c-zero particles at different energy states (i.e. of different sizes and masses). Expressed in megaelectronvolts (MeV), these particles have masses of 3000, 3050, 3066, 3090 and 3119 MeV, respectively. This discovery was rather unique, since it involved the detection of five higher energy states of a particle at the same time.

Extraterrestrial Origin Of Fast Radio Burst Phenomenon Confirmed:

Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) have puzzled astronomers since they were first detected in 2007. These mysterious milliseconds-long blasts of radio waves appear to be coming from long distances, and have been attributed to various things such as alien signals or extraterrestrial propulsion systems, and more ‘mundane’ objects such as extragalactic neutron stars. Some scientists even suggested they were some type of ‘local’ source, such as atmospheric phenomena on Earth, tricking astronomers about their possible distant origins.

So far, less than two dozen FRBs have been detected in a decade. But now researchers from the Australian National University and Swinburne University of Technology have detected three of these mystery bursts in just six months using the interferometry capabilities of the Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope (MOST) in Canberra, Australia. In doing so, they were able to confirm that these FRBs really do come from outer space.

Hackers Are Emptying ATMs With a Single Drilled Hole and $15 Worth of Gear

Wired reports Hackers Are Emptying ATMs With a Single Drilled Hole and $15 Worth of Gear:

Kaspersky’s researchers already had the same model of ATM in their test lab, one that’s been in wide use since the 1990s. They removed its front panel to find a serial port that would have been accessible from the thieves’ hole. It connected to a wire that ran through the ATM’s entire internal bus of components, from the computer that controlled its user interface to the cash dispenser. Then the researchers spent five solid weeks with an oscilloscope and logic analyzer, decoding the protocol of the ATM’s internal communications from raw electric signals. They found that the machine’s only encryption was a weak XOR cipher they were able to easily break, and that there was no real authentication between the machine’s modules.

In practical terms, that means any part of the ATM could essentially send commands to any other part, allowing an attacker to spoof commands to the dispenser, giving them the appearance of coming from the ATM’s own trusted computer.

Eventually, the researchers were able to build their own device capable of sending cash-ejecting commands through just that exposed port. Their compact gadget, far smaller than even the arrested suspect’s laptop, consisted of only a breadboard, an Atmega microcontroller of the kind commonly found in Arduino microcomputers, some capacitors, an adapter, and a 9 volt battery. All told, it took less than $15 worth of equipment.

A Guide To What Teens Think Is Cool

Kottke reports A guide to what teens think is cool "Google recently released a report about what US teenagers think is cool. The chart above is getting a bunch of attention on social media; teens aged 13-17 were asked to rank a bunch of brands according to how cool they think they are."

Teens cool brands 2017

Bannon Loses National Security Council Role in Trump Shakeup

Bloomberg reports Bannon Loses National Security Council Role in Trump Shakeup:

President Donald Trump reorganized his National Security Council on Wednesday, removing his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, and downgrading the role of his Homeland Security Adviser, Tom Bossert, according to a person familiar with the decision and a regulatory filing.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was given responsibility for setting the agenda for meetings of the NSC or the Homeland Security Council, and was authorized to delegate that authority to Bossert, at his discretion, according to the filing.

Under the move, the national intelligence director, Dan Coats, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, are again 'regular attendees' of the NSC’s principals"

This seems better.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How to Free Up Space Used By Your iPhone or iPad’s Messages App

How to Free Up Space Used By Your iPhone or iPad’s Messages App "If you send and receive a lot of messages, the Messages app can take up a lot of space on your iPhone or iPad. Not only does it store your message history, it keeps photo attachments you’ve received. All this data then takes up iCloud space as part of your backups, too."

After doing yesterdays Apple updates I checked my storage usage and found iMessage was one of the biggest hogs of storage on my iPhone and iPad. I was keeping messages forever and some friends send a lot of pics including some videos. The tips here helped me free up some space.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Democratic Ideas on How to Improve Health Care Are Complicated Too

I've been thinking that Democrats should be out there offering ways to fix Obamacare which they always just describe as "not perfect". If they're to learn anything from the election they can't just depend on the GOP ideas being bad, they have offer good ones themselves. Nancy LeTourneau explains in Washington Monthly Democratic Ideas on How to Improve Health Care Are Complicated Too

While Obamacare certainly wasn’t single payer and ultimately didn’t include a public option, most of it tackled the issue of how health insurance is provided. The expansion of Medicaid is a great example. And while many of the ideas being articulated now are important for Democrats to consider, it is also significant to remember that there are still 19 states that have refused to do so. Millions of Americans would have access to insurance and health care if that was tackled.

I hadn't known about this detail (or have forgotten it):

But that battle obscured the one that happened over the public option in the House. There the disagreement was over what kind of public option would be included. This is where the issues of insurance and cost of care overlapped. Progressive Democrats tended to support what came to be known as a “robust” public option. It would tie payment to providers to the Medicare payment system. Conservative Democrats favored a public option that allowed HHS to negotiate payments with providers. In the end, Conservative Democrats won and it was their plan which was included in the House bill and later removed via reconciliation with the Senate. Interestingly enough, CBO said that premiums for that public option would be slightly higher than the private plans offered in the exchange. A later CBO report found that a “robust” public option would produce premiums that are 7-8% lower than private plans.

Any, now that Trump is off saying that the Democrats own Obamacare (which they always did) and it's going to both implode and explode (because those don't mean different things), I'd like to see the Democrats pushing for solutions they'd like to see. The Republicans clearly, at some point are going to have a conversation about it, we should be prepared for the argument.

Training Your Brain So That You Don’t Need Reading Glasses

The NY Times reports on something very intriguing to me, Training Your Brain So That You Don’t Need Reading Glasses.

By middle age, the lenses in your eyes harden, becoming less flexible. Your eye muscles increasingly struggle to bend them to focus on this print. But a new form of training — brain retraining, really — may delay the inevitable age-related loss of close-range visual focus so that you won’t need reading glasses. Various studies say it works, though no treatment of any kind works for everybody.

They mention an app called GlassesOff which is free to download but $10/month or $35 for 3 months.

The training with GlassesOff is long and challenging. I found it fun initially, perhaps because it was new. But weeks into it, I began to dread the monotonous labor. Yet, after a couple of months, the app reports I can read fonts nearly one third the size I could when I started and much more rapidly. According to feedback from GlassesOff, my vision after training is equivalent to a man about 10 years younger than my age. If I reach 50 — the age at which almost everyone needs corrective lenses to read — and still don’t need reading glasses, I may conclude that the training has paid off.

Anyone hear of or try this?

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.