Friday, May 22, 2015

TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir

TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir a free online course this summer (June and July) diving into Film Noir.

4 Ways Elevators Will Get Totally Insane In 2016

CoDesign describes 4 Ways Elevators Will Get Totally Insane In 2016 "The elevators of the future will be like something straight of Star Trek or Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, traveling up or down, sideways, or diagonally without ropes. And this isn't just some futuristic fantasy: the technology's proven, and ThyssenKrup will finish building the first fully functioning MULTI elevator system in Rottweil, Germany, by the end of 2016."

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Why The Good Wife Writing Team is One of Tv's Sharpest

I think The Good Wife is the best show on network television. The last two seasons have been a bit uneven but I always enjoy the court cases and have always been impressed with timeliness and accuracy of their technical cases. The Guardian writes, 'We're all news junkies': why The Good Wife writing team is one of TV's sharpest "From bitcoin to Homan Square, senior writer Ted Humphrey explains how the hit CBS show spots topical stories before they hit the headlines"

Old NYC - Grid

Old NYC lays out historical photos of NYC from the New York Public Library on a Google Map. Very cool.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Why Did We Invade Iraq?

James Fallows writes The Right and Wrong Questions About the Iraq War. He opposes asking the question, “Knowing what we know now, would you have invaded Iraq?” for a few good reasons. One, it's too easy and two it doesn't tell you anything because leaders don't get to make decisions with hindsight. I disagree a little on the second point. With hindsight you get to evaluate your decisions and learn from mistakes. Fallows basically gets to this point too, but my pet peeve is the politicians who say “I don’t answer hypotheticals”. My response to them is "Then how do you learn?".

Fallows continues with a good history lesson for the lead up to the Iraq war. We decided to invade Iraq a couple of days after 9/11.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Republicans are dying at a faster rate than Democrats

Vox writes Republicans are dying at a faster rate than Democrats "Daniel McGraw for Politico becomes the first person I've seen to try to precisely run the numbers of this, projecting that the shift in population will give Democrats about 453,000 more votes nationally even if nobody changes their mind"

"A couple of caveats. On the one hand, African Americans on average die younger than white people, which tends to tilt this calculus toward Republicans. But on the other hand, women tend to live longer than men, which should have an impact in the opposite direction. Consequently, don't bet your life on this 453,000 figure being exactly correct. But it's a decent ballpark estimate. Obama beat Romney in 2012 by about 5 million votes, so a death differential on the order of 10 percent of that margin isn't trivial."

Apple Updates

I'm pretty underwhelmed by the mac updates announced today. The Retina iMac updates are ok, Apple gives Retina 5K iMacs a $200 price cut, intros low-end $1,999 model. The price cut is nice though the low end model isn't quite appealing enough for it's price.

The MacBook Pro updates are disappointing, Apple announces new 15-inch MacBook Pro with Force Touch and other upgrades. So the MBP gets ForceTouch but not the new keyboard and not the smaller case. Also, no new CPU and it costs $100 more. There is a faster bus which is nice and if you go for the high end, there's a better GPU, but meh. Apparently the space savings of the ForceTouch was put to adding slightly more battery which isn't a bad thing for a Pro model but makes me impatient for the inevitable chassis refresh.

I'm still quite happy with my iMac and don't particularly miss a retina display on it. I do occasionally miss the laptop. I still have my old one but it's only got 4GB RAM and is a bit slow, particularly as I rarely use it; so when I do it's got to update lots of things. If the new MacBook came in a 14" version I'd be very interested.

The Apple announcement I'm most interested in today is the new iPhone Lightning Dock. At $39 it seems a little pricy, but I expect I'll have one by the fall.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A History of Crash and Bang, From ‘The French Connection’ to ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Grantland has a great piece, Anatomy of the Car Chase: A History of Crash and Bang, From ‘The French Connection’ to ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’.

6 Reasons Modern Movie CGI Looks Surprisingly Crappy

Cracked has a good rant, 6 Reasons Modern Movie CGI Looks Surprisingly Crappy. It has lots of good examples (mostly using the upcoming Jurassic World as a negative one) and makes some good points, like "#6. Lack Of Visual Restraint Makes Gravity Act Like A Cartoon" and "#5. Color Grading Makes Everything Look Like A Fantasy".

Lost a bit in the rant is the generalization of this point: "Color grading was made popular by the Coen brothers after CGI became the go-to special effect, when they decided to use color grading to make O Brother, Where Art Thou? look like an old sepia-toned photograph. But their point was to detract realism from the finished product, whereas Jurassic Park was (originally) about creating larger-than-life creatures in a real-world setting."

The point of stunts and CGI is to serve story, not just provide action. It's one of the things Mad Max: Fury Road gets so right. The story maybe thin, but there's enough there to make us care about what happens to the characters.

The Economic Effects of Self-Driving Trucks

Medium has an interesting article, Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck

"According to the American Trucker Association, there are 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the US, and an additional 5.2 million people employed within the truck-driving industry who don’t drive the trucks. That’s 8.7 million trucking-related jobs.'"

"One further important detail to consider is that truck drivers are well-paid. They provide a middle class income of about $40,000 per year. That’s a higher income than just about half (46%) of all tax filers, including those of married households. They are also greatly comprised by those without college educations. Truck driving is just about the last job in the country to provide a solid middle class salary without requiring a post-secondary degree."

"The technology already exists to enable trucks to drive themselves. Google shocked the world when it announced its self-driving car it had already driven over 100,000 miles without accident. These cars have since driven over 1.7 million miles and have only been involved in 11 accidents, all caused by humans and not the computers. And this is mostly within metropolitan areas."

"The removal of truckers from freeways will have an effect on today’s towns similar to the effects the freeways themselves had on towns decades ago that had sprung up around bypassed stretches of early highways. When the construction of the interstate highway system replaced Route 66, things changed as drivers drove right on past these once thriving towns. The result was ghost towns like Glenrio, Texas." And of course, Norman Bates. ;)

I don't buy into the notion that the great recession is some structural change in the economy, but this might be a big one coming in the next 10-20 years.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Pill that quashes tobacco urge found in plain sight

Pill that quashes tobacco urge found in plain sight

Rick Stewart didn’t know about the laburnum trees growing in Bulgaria — and their potential to produce a drug for quitting smoking — back when he was the chief executive of the pharmaceutical company Amarin.

Now, with the help of the National Institutes of Health, Stewart is trying to introduce the laburnum-derived drug to the U.S. market. The pill works by interrupting tobacco cravings, much like Pfizer’s top-selling Chantix, but possibly without that drug’s high-profile side effects and at a much lower price. A recent run of positive studies have buoyed the pill’s prospects. Today, researchers are excited about what could be the first new treatment for smoking cessation to emerge in years."

Cuba Has A Lung Cancer Vaccine, And Now It Could Be Coming To The USA

Cuba Has A Lung Cancer Vaccine, And Now It Could Be Coming To The USA "Cuba launched the world's first lung cancer vaccine, Cimavax, to the public back in 2011. Each shot costs about $1, but the Cuban government has made the vaccine available to the public for free. Now it's 2015, and other countries are starting to get curious and want to get their hands on it too."

The vaccine contains a protein called epidermal growth factor (EGF). EGF, which stimulates the growth of cells, is found naturally in the body, but cancerous tumors can stimulate the body into producing too much of this protein. This causes the tumor to multiply and grow uncontrollably.

When vaccinated, EGF, among other compounds, enters the bloodstream of the patient and encourages the immune system to produce antibodies that suppress the effects of EGF. This prevents tumors from getting bigger, but doesn't directly attack them.

This vaccine is given to people who already have lung cancer. It isn't like a measles vaccine that is given to an infant who can then expect never to suffer from the disease. Known as a therapeutic vaccine, it is given to patients who already have cancerous tumors in their lungs. Cimavax inhibits their growth and stops them from spreading, or metastasizing, to other parts of the body, which makes treatment significantly more difficult.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Scientists Are Still Trying To Crack The Dress Case. Here's What's New

Scientists Are Still Trying To Crack The Dress Case. Here's What's New.

  1. Age and sex might matter
  2. Viewers fall along a spectrum, not two camps
  3. Blue is special

‘The Simpsons’ Fires Mr. Burns: Harry Shearer Claims He’s Been Kicked Out of Springfield

The Daily Beast reports ‘The Simpsons’ Fires Mr. Burns: Harry Shearer Claims He’s Been Kicked Out of Springfield.

Back in 2011, Shearer led a group of Simpsons cast members in a lengthy and public salary negotiation. The actors ended up taking pay cuts, and won none of the backend merchandising and licensing profits that Shearer lobbied passionately for in a guest article for The Daily Beast.

“As a member of the Simpsons cast for 23 years, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve had a great run and no one should feel sorry for any of us,” Shearer wrote. “But given how much joy the show has given so many people over the years—and given how many billions of dollars in profits News Corp. has earned and will earn from it—I find it hard to believe that this is Fox’s final word on the subject.”

“At least I certainly hope it isn’t, because the alternative is to cancel the show or fire me for having the gall to try to save the show by helping Fox with its new business model. Neither would be a fair result—either to those of us who have committed so many years to the show or to its loyal fans who make our effort worthwhile.”

I hope they can come to some agreement.

Update: The Verge says The Simpsons will recast Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, and other Harry Shearer characters

Update: Apparently it's Shearer who's being greedy. 'Simpsons' Mr. Burns walking away from $14 million deal. "The actor was offered a guaranteed $14 million for two years of work, according to someone with direct knowledge of the matter. The proposed deal also allowed for him to do other projects if he wished."

How To Keep NSA Computers From Turning Your Phone Conversations Into Searchable Text

Dan Froomkin explains in The Intercept, How To Keep NSA Computers From Turning Your Phone Conversations Into Searchable Text. He recommends using products from Open Whisper Systems. I must be out of it because I hadn't heard of them but they've been endorsed by Edward Snowden, so there's that. Does anyone else use Signal on iOS?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Top Democratic Senator Blasts Obama's TPP Secrecy

I could possibly support the TPP. I've seen a few articles from Economists and they claim it isn't that big a deal. There's likely less an impact on employment than we think and yes something will happen without us and it's better to be in it than not. I'm most concerned about the judicial issues with transnational companies.

But then I read shit like this this Intercept report, "You Can Read My Notes? Not on Your Life!": Top Democratic Senator Blasts Obama's TPP Secrecy.

“They said, well, it’s very transparent. Go down and look at it,” said Boxer on the floor of the Senate. “Let me tell you what you have to do to read this agreement. Follow this: you can only take a few of your staffers who happen to have a security clearance — because, God knows why, this is secure, this is classified. It has nothing to do with defense. It has nothing to do with going after ISIS.”

“The guard says, ‘you can’t take notes.’ I said, ‘I can’t take notes?’” Boxer recalled. “‘Well, you can take notes, but have to give them back to me, and I’ll put them in a file.’ So I said: ‘Wait a minute. I’m going to take notes and then you’re going to take my notes away from me and then you’re going to have them in a file, and you can read my notes? Not on your life.’”

Sorry, I can't support anything that I'm not allowed to read and my representatives can't meaningfully evaluate. I'm sorry that transparency makes negoations more difficult, but that's what you have to live with and it's a reason that government is not like businesses. They have to be accountable to all the people and just because it's more difficult doesn't mean you can impose secret laws on us.

Monday, May 11, 2015

400: Another CO2 record high.

Phil Plait wrote 400: Another CO2 record high. "In May 2013, humans reached a new dark record: The daily level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as measured at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, reached a value of 400 parts per million. That was the highest value recorded in human history...In April 2015, humans reached a new dark record: The monthly level of CO2 reached the 400 ppm mark. That’s no fluke, no brief spike. Its actually part of a very obvious long trend of an increase in the greenhouse gas in our atmosphere."

Scientists seem to suck at marketing. Skeptical Science wrote, Monthly global carbon dioxide tops 400ppm for first time. In that article, there's a section "Scientifically important or symbolic?" with six quotes all saying essentially: "Reaching 400 ppm doesn't mean much in itself, but the steady increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases should serve as a stark reminder of the task facing politicians as they sit down in Paris later this year."

Even Plait can only do as well as: "Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and the science on this is very basic, as basic as knowing a rock will fall when you drop it from your hand. At first blush 400 ppm may not sound like much, but it means we're significantly accelerating planetary heating. And warming the Earth doesn’t just mean we’ll be able to grow pineapples in Canada. It means huge changes to global weather patterns, changes we’re already seeing." and so he's going to.... VOTE!

That's all well and good and I'm all for voting, but this kind of language isn't going to convince anyone of anything. John Oliver should get on this and find the equivalent of "Can the NSA see my dick pics" to push this point.

How Do I Know If I Should Take A Job At A Startup?

TechCrunch posted How Do I Know If I Should Take A Job At A Startup?. It's 9 good points to think about in evaluating a startup that would not be obvious to someone who hadn't been through the process before.

North Korea test-launches “Polaris-1” ballistic missile from submarine

Ars Technica reports North Korea test-launches “Polaris-1” ballistic missile from submarine "On May 9, a Korean People's Army Naval Force submarine test-launched a ballistic missile off the eastern coast of North Korea. The test launch, reported by North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper, only traveled about 150 meters, according to South Korean defense officials. But it demonstrated that North Korea had developed the capability of performing submerged launches of missiles well ahead of previous intelligence estimates. Based on the launch, South Korean officials now believe that North Korea could have a limited submarine-launched missile capability deployed to its fleet of submarines within the next five years."

Fracking Activity Is Probably Causing Earthquakes in Texas

Now Fracking Activity Is Probably Causing Earthquakes in Texas, but I learned an important detail. "It’s not the fracking itself that’s driving North Texas’s quake spike, but the wastewater injection wells. That’s when oil and gas companies shove brine and other fracking byproducts back into the ground, irritating faults."

Last July, io9 explained, Can We Please Stop Blaming Fracking For Every Induced Earthquake?

I'm seeing a lot of stories covering the link between injection wells and induced earthquakes in Oklahoma, but most of them make the same error: this study had nothing to do with fracking. The injection wells in Oklahoma causing the swarms of small-magnitude earthquakes are used to dispose of wastewater from dewatering operations. These particular wells are still part of oil and gas production, but don't fracture the surrounding rocks. Instead, extraction wells suck up water already in the formation. After yanking out the oil and gas, the leftover wastewater is injected back into the ground. The change in water pressure distribution induces the earthquakes, some quite far away from the actual wells.

This isn't to say that fracking is safe and harmless. Fracking probably does induce earthquakes, maybe even some of the earthquakes in Oklahoma. On top of that, the fluids have a nasty habit of sneaking into the groundwater. But fracking is not dewatering, and the particular story making the rounds in the news circuit isn't about fracking.

Redesigning Overcast’s Apple Watch app

Marco Arment has a nice article, Redesigning Overcast’s Apple Watch app. Turns out the Apple Watch is a new kind of device with it's own interface needs. Just copying the way an iPhone app works probably isn't the right thing to do.

The White House Names Dr. Ed Felten as Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer

The White House Names Dr. Ed Felten as Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer. It's not often I've ever heard of the people appointed to such positions, but I've been following his blog Freedom to Tinker for a long time. Seems like a good pick to me.

Update: The Switch has a nice article on Felton, The White House just snagged one of the most valuable players in the tech policy world

The many problems with Seymour Hersh's Osama bin Laden conspiracy theory

Vox explains The many problems with Seymour Hersh's Osama bin Laden conspiracy theory "Hersh's story is amazing to read, alleging a vast American-Pakistani conspiracy to stage the raid and even to fake high-level diplomatic incidents as a sort of cover. But his allegations are largely supported only by two sources, neither of whom has direct knowledge of what happened, both of whom are retired, and one of whom is anonymous. The story is riven with internal contradictions and inconsistencies."

So I'm not going to bother reading Hersh's story.

Friday, May 08, 2015

How to win any popular game, according to data scientists

Wonkblog explains How to win any popular game, according to data scientists "Here are 20 data visualizations that offer lots of insight into the most popular games in America, including chess, Connect Four, Monopoly, Pac-Man, 'Wheel of Fortune' and much more."

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Processor cooling innovation may eliminate computer fans and save billions

Processor cooling innovation may eliminate computer fans and save billions

"Today's processors have an acceptable range of 50 to 90 degrees Celsius (122 to 194 degrees Fahrenheit). Nguyen's experiments showed that the FC-72 maintained a processor temperature of 56 degrees Celsius (133 degrees Fahrenheit). Nguyen then explained why a passive system is a big deal, 'When we remove the cooling fan, it saves material costs, but it also eliminates the noise, vibration, and dust contamination of fan cooling.' Another advantage of passive-liquid cooling systems: they allow engineers to locate the heat exchanger away from the processor, creating space and design options."