Friday, December 31, 2010

Meet the XB-70 Valkyrie, Almost the World’s First Nuclear Aircraft

Meet the XB-70 Valkyrie, Almost the World’s First Nuclear Aircraft "The Valkyrie was a plane decades ahead of its time, pushing the aeronautical engineering of the early 1960s well beyond what had been thought possible. It was even slated to become the world’s first nuclear-powered bomber."

Kentucky Getting Noah's Ark Park

Noah's Ark park sails forth despite flood of criticism "You won't have to take the Bible literally to be swept away by a full-size replica of Noah's ark, says the creationist ministry intent on building one in Kentucky with state aid."

"Kentucky's Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear has endorsed the for-profit theme park — which will include a first-century Middle Eastern village, live animal shows, a children’s interactive play area, a 100-foot replica of the Tower of Babel, a 500-seat special effects theater and an aviary — because it will create an estimated 900 jobs."

My favorite comment comes from The Wall of Separation blog, "I’m no biblical scholar, but as far as I know, Noah built the first ark without government assistance. These modern-day entrepreneurs should do so as well."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

$15 phone, 3 minutes all that's needed to eavesdrop on GSM call

Wired writes $15 phone, 3 minutes all that's needed to eavesdrop on GSM call "Speaking at the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) Congress in Berlin on Tuesday, a pair of researchers demonstrated a start-to-finish means of eavesdropping on encrypted GSM cellphone calls and text messages, using only four sub-$15 telephones as network ‘sniffers,’ a laptop computer, and a variety of open source software."

It's a nice step-by-step. I can't say I would have known how to do it myself, but I think I could have avoided the problems. I love that a two-terabyte rainbow table isn't a problem. The article even has a reference to The Wire.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

I just started reading Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others. I've just read two of the short stories and see why people like him. The ideas are very interesting and the writing is good.

I see today that his novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects is free online.

The Finite World

Paul Krugman wrote The Finite World "What the commodity markets are telling us is that we’re living in a finite world, in which the rapid growth of emerging economies is placing pressure on limited supplies of raw materials, pushing up their prices. And America is, for the most part, just a bystander in this story."


If you want your kids to learning programming you might take a look at

"Consider greenfoot as a combination between a framework for creating two-dimensional grid assignments in Java and an integrated development environment (class browser, editor, compiler, execution, etc.) suitable for novice programmers. While greenfoot supports the full Java language, it is especially useful for programming exercises that have a visual element. In greenfoot object visualisation and object interaction are the key elements."

"Greenfoot is aimed at programming at high school level or above (from age 13 up). It can be effectively used at school level, college and university, and even in advanced university courses."

I just stumbled across it, I haven't used it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 National Film Registry Picks

'All the President's Men,' 'The Exorcist,' 'Malcolm X' among 2010 National Film Registry picks [Video] | 24 Frames | Los Angeles Times "'The year 2010 will mark yet another December to remember in film preservation. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington today named 25 motion pictures—Hollywood classics, documentaries and innovative shorts reflecting genres from every era of American filmmaking—to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress."

Here's the list. I've seen the ones in bold. and aside from 16, I haven't even heard of the others (though most of them are early short documentaries).

1) Airplane! (1980)
2) All The President's Men (1976)
3) Bargain, The (1914)
4) Cry of Jazz (1959)
5) Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB (1967)
6) Empire Strikes Back, The (1980)
7) Exorcist, The (1973)
8) Front Page, The (1931)
9) Grey Gardens (1976)
10) I Am Joaquin (1969)
11) It's a Gift (1934)
12) Let There Be Light (1946)
13) Lonesome (1928)
14) Make Way For Tomorrow (1937)
15) Malcolm X (1992)
16) McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
17) Newark Athlete (1891)
18) Our Lady of the Sphere (1969)
19) The Pink Panther (1964)
20) Preservation of the Sign Language (1913)
21) Saturday Night Fever (1977)
22) Study of a River (1996)
23) Tarantella (1940)
24) Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A (1945)
25) Trip Down Market Street, A (1906)

"Man in a Blizzard," by Jamie Stuart

Roger Ebert writes "Man in a Blizzard," by Jamie Stuart. "This film deserves to win the Academy Award for best live-action short subject. (1) Because of its wonderful quality. (2) Because of its role as homage. It is directly inspired by Dziga Vertov's 1929 silent classic 'Man With a Movie Camera.' (3) Because it represents an almost unbelievable technical proficiency. It was filmed during the New York blizzard of Dec. 26, and Jamie Stuart e-mailed it to me with this time stamp: December 27, 2010 4:18:18 PM CST."

You can't blame the Framers for the filibuster

You can't blame the Framers for the filibuster "The Constitution didn't create the filibuster. The Framers didn't intend it. The modern filibuster was created in the 1970s, when cloture was moved from two-thirds of the Senate to three-fifths and dual-tracking was implemented, and it only became ubiquitous in the last 20 years, as you can see from the graph atop this post."

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Supreme Court and Health Care

Linda Greenhouse wrote The Revolution Next Time? about Constitutional law and Congress' authority to enact laws (particularly regarding the health care law).

Congress Threatens to Sow the Seeds of Our Next Banking Crisis

William Black wrote Congress Threatens to Sow the Seeds of Our Next Banking Crisis.

"Spencer Bachus (R. Ala.), the incoming Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, told the Birmingham News: 'In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.'

Ron Paul (R. Tex.), asked to comment on Bachus' statement, said: 'I don't think we need regulators. We need law and order. We need people to fulfill their contracts. The market is a great regulator, and we've lost understanding and confidence that the market is probably a much stricter regulator.'"


Filibuster Reform Warms Up

Keep your fingers crossed, Filibuster Reform Warms Up. "They say elections have consequences. So too, it turns out, does obstruction."

Ezra Klein has a good post, A productive Congress doesn't weaken the case for filibuster reform

New Images Indicate Tectonic Activity on Rhea

New Images Indicate Tectonic Activity on Rhea "Saturn’s second largest moon Rhea has gotten a couple of close-up looks by the Cassini spacecraft which show dramatic views of fractures cutting through craters on the moon’s surface. The new images reveal a history of tectonic rumbling, scientists say. The images are among the highest-resolution views ever obtained of Rhea, including a 3-D look at a tectonically fractured region showing cracks as deep as 4 kilometers (2.5 miles)."

The page shows some of these images but this false color image is spectacular:

Rhea-1 1.jpg

Rover Captures Sunset, Eclipse on Mars Videos

Videos: Rover Captures Sunset, Eclipse on Mars "The Opportunity rover’s latest accomplishments? Cinematographer. Two new movies created by images taken by the long-lasting rover show a blue-tinted Martian sunset, while another clip shows the Mars’ moon Phobos passing in front of the sun."

They're both just 30 seconds and are pretty neat.

Bonus: Opportunity shoots Awesome Views of Santa Maria Crater

They're made out of data

They're made out of data is the best thing to come from Tron: Legacy.

The original is a classic.

The prettiest woodpile I've ever seen

Boing Boing wrote The prettiest woodpile I've ever seen "The artist is Alastair Heseltine."

Pretty Woodpile

The reptiles' answer to the Coelacanth

The reptiles' answer to the Coelacanth "Like the Coelacanth, Tuataras are the last surviving species of an order that thrived in ancient, ancient history and was once thought to be totally extinct—in this case, Sphenodontia.

The Tuatara looks a lot more like its fossilized relatives than the living Coelacanth does, but Tuatara isn't a species frozen in time. In fact, its genome seems to be accumulating mutations faster than any other living vertebrates'. It's just that most of the mutations are happening in places that don't change what the Tuatara looks like."

The 10 Biggest MPAA Debacles of 2010

Movieline has a nice list of The 10 Biggest MPAA Debacles of 2010. MPAA ratings suck.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

House Passes Overhaul of Food Safety Laws

The New York Times wrote this good news, House Passes Overhaul of Food Safety Laws. "The House of Representatives gave final approval on Tuesday to a long-awaited modernization of the nation’s food safety laws, voting 215 to 144 to grant the Food and Drug Administration greater authority over food production."

Nina Totenberg Loves Christmas

This so-called War On Christmas is ridiculous as this story points out, For the record, Nina Totenberg loves Christmas; Blogs portray NPR commentator as combatant in War on Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Steve Wozniak on Net Neutrality

From the Atlantic, Steve Wozniak to the FCC: Keep the Internet Free.

A chilly solstice (and lunar eclipse)

You know the drill, the Big Picture, more great photos, ... A chilly solstice (and lunar eclipse) "Yesterday, December 21st, was the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and the start of winter. Also, for the first time since 1638, a total lunar eclipse took place on the same day as the solstice, observable by people across the Americas and parts of Asia. During a lunar eclipse, the Moon travels briefly through the shadow of the Earth, and appears to dim and become a dark reddish color. The coloration is due to sunlight filtering through the Earth's atmosphere - the same conditions that create red sunsets - so an observer standing on the Moon during a lunar eclipse would look up and see the dark Earth surrounded by a red ring, a sunset around the globe. Collected here are images of the eclipse, the solstice, and some of the icy weather as winter officially begins"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Back to the Filibuster

James Fallows writes Back to the Filibuster "I write in solidarity with my Atlantic colleague Josh Green, and Ezra Klein of the WaPo, who along with others are turning up the heat again on the long-overdue issue of Senate dysfunction, starting with the filibuster. "

Republicans embrace ObamaCare, call it Ryan-Rivlin

Ezra Klein explains Ryan-Rivlin Medicare Reform.

"If you're looking for a description of the Ryan/Rivlin Medicare reforms that have gained so many admirers on the right, Matt Yglesias has a good write-up of the idea. But I'd add another way of explaining the proposal: The Ryan-Rivlin plan basically turns Medicare into Obamacare. And in that context, Republicans love the idea behind ObamaCare and think it'll save lots of money.

Under the Ryan-Rivlin plan, the current Medicare program is completely dissolved and replaced by a new Medicare program that 'would provide a payment – based on what the average annual per-capita expenditure is in 2021 – to purchase health insurance.' You'd get the health insurance from a 'Medicare Exchange', and 'health plans which choose to participate in the Medicare Exchange must agree to offer insurance to all Medicare beneficiaries, thereby preventing cherry picking and ensuring that Medicare’s sickest and highest cost beneficiaries receive coverage.' Sound familiar?"


Here are a few links on the WikiLeaks stories I collected.

First is a list of various Visualizations and the Infographics collected by information aesthetics

David Axe reports WikiLeaked Cable Confirms U.S.’ Secret Somalia Op. "It was an off-hand compliment during a January 2007 dinner meeting between Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, plus staff, and then-U.S. Central Commander boss General John Abizaid. But Al Nayhan’s jocular praise, as reported in WikiLeaks’ trove of leaked diplomatic cables, is a rare admission that the United States played a central role in the disastrous December 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, a move that ultimately emboldened the very Islamic extremists the U.S. and Ethiopia had hoped to squash."

And from digby, Bipartisan Cover-up. "These cables reveal a large-scale, closely coordinated effort by the State Department to obstruct these [Spanish] criminal investigations..."

Salon's Movie List

Salon has been keeping The Movie List "Welcome to The Movie List. It's exactly what it sounds like: an ongoing, frequently updated  ranking of the year's movies, from No. 1 to infinity."

It's close to the end of the year so I assume it's close to done. It's a little quirky for my tastes, but as they say: "How do you decide whether a documentary about schoolchildren in Harlem is better or worse than Hot Tub Time Machine?" Well, actually, that one seems pretty easy to me.

Census Results Are In

Census: Population growth slowest since 1940 "The official population of the United States is now 308,745,538."

"Politically, Texas will gain four House seats due to a burgeoning Hispanic population and a diversified economy that held up relatively well during the recession. Other winners are GOP-leaning Arizona (1) and Florida (2). Other states with increases are: Georgia (1), South Carolina (1), Utah (1) and Washington (1).

States that lose seats are: Illinois (1), Iowa (1), Louisiana (1), Massachusetts (1), Michigan (1), Missouri (1), New Jersey (1), New York (2), Ohio (2), Pennsylvania (1)."

Monday, December 20, 2010


A year ago I posted The Unbelievable World of Snowflakes, 16 images of snowflakes.

Here's another collection from two years ago, Snowflakes as you've never seen them before.


Top Ten Astronomy Pictures of 2010 – Runners Up

I like Bad Astronomy's Top Ten Astronomy Pictures of 2010 – Runners Up more than the winners.

Movie Review: Tron: Legacy

I honestly thought I had my expectations for Tron: Legacy set suitably low. I was wrong. I didn't remember much of the first film, just that the plot was weak but there were fun action sequences and a weird look to much of it that I never really cared for. Still I played the arcade game A LOT during the summers of 1982 and 1983.

Tron: Legacy fulfilled my expectations of having a worthless plot with lots of meaningless computer gibberish dialog. I don't hold that against it. But at over two hours, there were lots of scenes of exposition and far too few action scenes. If you're going to make a dumb action movie, make sure there's more dumb action than dumb plot and character development.

The original had some big game sequences that became video games, most obviously the discs and cycles. So what new games does the sequel have? Discs and cycles and flying ships. The playign fields were updated a bit and I liked the multiple levels for the cycles but I found these kinda short and unexciting. Most of the developments in the cycle race were telegraphed way ahead in the scene. The flying ships, while new to Tron, were really derivative. As soon as enemy fighters appear (whose wings unfolded like the Emperor's shuttle) they sent Sam (the new hero) back to the turret and yelled "Here they come!" Where have I heard that before?

In fact that was an example of things that I found most annoying and most entertaining in the film. So much of it was derived from others films. Sure some things were homages but I didn't find much original. The music had some 80s songs from the soundtrack. Fine, but the original score seemed to be completely derived from Terminator 2, The Dark Knight and Inception.

Flynn's House was the bedroom from the end of 2001. It's nice that a 40 year Kubrick film still looks futuristic, but it could have been anything else. It's not like Flynn had a history of loving Louis XVI decor. I guess he loved 2001. I don't understand his character being merged with The Dude's. When the first Tron came out, no one was saying "Time to split man", so why does Flynn?

Flynn now wanders around in Jedi robes. At one point, on a solo mission to get a ship, he comes across a program (in humanoid form) and it tells him he's unauthorized. Flynn stares it down and it changes its mind. If only they could have worked the words "These aren't the droids you're looking for" into the scene. Well they could have, it would have made just as much sense as anything else.

It's not too surprising that Quorra's character (Olivia Wilde) was the best. She program but also part alien life form. So she's great in action scenes and isn't otherwise dour, in fact she's fascinated with the real world. Still, in her first scene she's perched on the top of a building peak very Aeon Flux-like.

But they didn't just borrow from sci-fi films. They have to go find this program named Zeus who will help them. Plot-wise, he's like the Merovingian from The Matrix trilogy. Character-wise he's Jack Sparrow crossed with David Bowie doing Jack Nicholson's Joker dance. But as Sam arrives at his night club (yes a night club) he says something like "Of all the infinite places you could be you show up here at my club". If only they could have worked "gin joints" into it.

So I was bored for most of the two hours though I kinda enjoyed picking out all the places they stole things from. Anyone have any more to add?\

Update: When they're debating how to defeat Clu, Kevin tells Sam, "It's his game! The only way to win is not to play. War Games.

I'm not sure about this one, but I think at one point Flynn says "Game over man" which would be from Aliens.

Friday, December 17, 2010

xkcd: Tree

xkcd: Tree is funny programmer humor:

tree 1.png

(For the curious non-programmer: tree and heap)

What Happens When You Lower Taxes and Don't Cut Spending

The New York Times wrote Mangano Lowers Taxes but Leaves Nassau County in a Fiscal Crisis

"Facing a huge budget deficit when he took office in January, Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano did not impose a hiring freeze. He did not stop borrowing to subsidize some of the richest school districts in the country. He did not eliminate the Police Department’s beloved mounted unit.

Instead, Mr. Mangano, a Republican who won one of the first upsets of the Tea Party era, did what he had promised: He cut taxes, adding $40 million to the county’s deficit, which has since reached nearly $350 million.

Now, with its bonds suddenly downgraded and a state oversight agency preparing to seize its checkbook and credit cards, Nassau is on the verge of a full-fledged fiscal crisis."

Read the whole thing, there's a lesson for Democrats in there as well.

What's Going to Happen

Krugman wrote Block Those Economic Metaphors.

Krugman Rewatched Thunderball

The SPECTRE of Inequality.

"Even the big one — demanding a ransom for two stolen nuclear warheads — is 100 million pounds, $280 million. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $2 billion — or one-eighth of the Goldman Sachs bonus pool.

It’s just an indicator of how huge top incomes have become that what were once viewed as impressive numbers, the kind of thing only arch-villains might demand, now look trivial. Or maybe the other way to look at it is that we have a lot more arch-villains around than we used to."

Our Aging Capital Stock

Our Aging Capital Stock "If things feel more decrepit and worn-out these days, it’s because they are."

aging2 1.png

(via Krugman).

Why I Hate the GOP

They lie.

And they're hypocrites.


Re-examining the Who Got What Tax Deal Chart

Yesterday I posted some older articles about The Tax-Cut Deal. I'm still making it through a backlog of reading but here's an updated view of the "deal chart" by Mike Konczal who says it should look like this:

what_who_got 1.jpg

"This involves moving two items. The first is the Child Tax Credit. From the Republican Pledge To America (pdf), the Republicans both take credit for the creation of the child tax credit and note the damage that will happen if it isn’t extended...The second is more interesting: Should the payroll tax cut be a “get” for the Republican Party?... I’m going to argue five points that the payroll tax cut should be considered a GOP 'get'."

Worst Responders

Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last night really railed into Congress (particularly the Republicans but also the Democrats) and the media for the lack of support for funding medical care for 9/11 first responders (the Zadroga bill). The Republicans are blocking the bill, the Democrats aren't fighting for it (an obvious win) and the media is silent on it. He was more serious than usual, particularly in a second segment on the topic where he had a panel of 9/11 first responders

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Worst Responders
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

I thought it was a great point that while Senators are complaining about possibly working between Christmas and New Year's, fire fighters, police and medical workers through the holidays. I note that The Daily Show is beginning a two week vacation. It's well deserved, but imagine if he did a filibusters on this and stayed on their throughout until the Zadroga bill is passed.

I think Republicans are concerned with where the $7.4 billion funds will come from. So under the new CutGo rules would there be no way to raise tax funds for this? If that's right, it's insane.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

EPA Allowed Bee-Toxic Pesticide Despite Own Scientists’ Red Flags

Leaked document shows EPA allowed bee-toxic pesticide despite own scientists’ red flags "It's not just the State and Defense departments that are reeling this month from leaked documents. The Environmental Protection Agency now has some explaining to do, too. In place of dodgy dealings with foreign leaders, this case involves the German agrichemical giant Bayer; a pesticide with an unpronounceable name, clothianidin; and an insect species crucial to food production (as well as a food producer itself), the honeybee. And in lieu of a memo leaked to a globetrotting Australian, this one features a document delivered to a long-time Colorado beekeeper."

It's a good read. The crass would sum it up (probably incorrectly and at least prematurely) as Bush is responsible for killing the bees. "At the very least, we have ample evidence that the EPA has been ignoring the warnings of its own staff scientists and green-lighting the mass deployment of a chemical widely understood to harm pollinators -- at a time when honeybees are in grave shape."

Beware of CutGo

Ezra Klein has a really good post, Republicans are not fiscally responsible about their proposed new "Cut/Go" rule.

"In the Bush years, Republicans didn't use paygo at all. That's why neither the tax cuts nor Medicare Part D even pretended to be paid for. But the Boehner Republicans just won an election by fretting over deficits. It would look sort of bad to repeal paygo on day one. So instead, they're neutering it. House Republicans are adding it with something called "cutgo." Under cutgo, tax cuts don't have to be paid for, and spending increases can't be offset by tax increases. The idea is that the only two things you can do are cut spending and cut taxes."

Now at first that doesn't sound so bad to me. I mean, I'm fine with raising some taxes to pay for things (I'm a liberal) but when he gives a real example, it's crazy...

"It's important to understand this in context of the potential compromises over the next few years. For instance: We need to reauthorize the Surface Transportation Act, which is our main vehicle for infrastructure funding. It's usually funded by the gas tax. Under cutgo, there's basically no way to do that: You can't offset a spending increase with a tax increase. It's not just nuts as a matter of budget arithmetic, but it's nuts in a way that has procedural teeth. That makes compromises that much harder."

digby points out, "This is very smart. They have realized that all this deficit hysteria inevitably leads to niggling thoughts that a wealthy person might have to kick in a little bit more to close the gap and they can't have that. So they are very systematically indoctrinating people with the idea that 'the government doesn't have a revenue problem it has a spending problem.' And once they seize upon a project like this, they don't just repeat the mantra like a flock of mindless parrots (which they do) they also institutionalize their ideas with rules and procedures to make it seem as if there's just no other way to think about it."

Peter Orszag From OMB to Citibank

I think James Fallows started this discussion in An Unfortunate Decision by Peter Orszag. "But another category, which I think is even more important, involves things that everyone 'knows' but has stopped noticing. This is very similar to what is called 'Village' behavior in the big time media. An item in this second category has just come up: the decision of Peter Orszag, until recently the director of the Office of Management and Budget under Barack Obama, to join Citibank in a senior position. Exactly how much it will pay is not clear, but informed guesses are several million dollars per year. Citibank, of course, was one of the institutions most notably dependent on federal help to survive in these past two years. Objectively this is both damaging and shocking. "

Will Wilkinson from The Economist followed up with Our Peter Orszag Problem and doesn't really have a good answer of what to do about it. "The classically liberal answer is to make government less powerful. The monstrous offspring of entangled markets and states can be defeated only by the most thorough possible separation. But public self-protection through market-state divorce can work only if libertarians are right that unfettered markets are not by nature unstable, that they do not lead to opressive concentrations of power, that we would do better without a central bank, and so on. Most of us don't believe that. Until more of us do, we're not going far in that direction. And maybe that's just as well. Maybe it's true that markets hum along smoothly only with relatively active government intervention and it's also true that relatively active government intervention is eventually inevitably co-opted, exacerbating rather than mitigating capitalism's injustices. Perhaps the best we can hope ever to achieve is a fleeting state of grace when fundamentally unstable forces are temporarily held in balance by an evanescent combination of complementary cultural currents. This is increasingly my fear: that there is no principled alternative to muddling through; that every ideologue's op-ed is wrong, except the ones serendipitously right. But muddle we must."

Ezra Klein then picked up the thread in Orszag and Citigroup. As to the why he writes "Orszag is fairly wealthy already, and his lifetime of public service positions does not suggest a man particularly motivated by income. Rather, I think people are underestimating the lure of the job itself. Orszag has gone as high as he's likely to go in government, and he's 41 years old. The guy isn't done, but there's not much more for him in Washington." This position could lead to president of Citibank.

He goes on to say "The problem is less why Orszag wanted to go to Citigroup than why Citigroup wanted to hire Orszag." Orszag is apparently brilliant and principled. "He's someone who could've cashed out long ago but instead worked his way up through the government and was then instrumental in designing and passing a series of bills that will make the country a much better place."

"But the problem isn't what he intends to do, and it's not even what he actually does. Federal law bars Orszag from even contacting his former colleagues as part of this job, at least for a few years. The problem is what it will make the public think. Orszag now becomes part of a long list of public servants whose subsequent career decisions make people trust the government less. Maybe that conclusion is incorrect on their part, but it's not unfair."

He has difficultly coming up with another job for Orszag to have taken and follows up on that thought in What should public servants do after government? "My hunch is that this is fundamentally because of money. If the public thought that expertise was the actual good being provided, they wouldn't mind very much. But the trail of cash suggests...the market isn't for people who can navigate the government. It's for people who know how to bribe it. In some cases that's true and in some cases it isn't. But since it affects the public's view of most all cases, I think it has the perverse effect of unleashing former government employees to make more crass occupational choices, as everyone is getting painted with the same brush anyway."

VA Judge Makes Elementary Error In Health Care Ruling

TPM reports Amateur Hour: VA Judge Makes Elementary Error In Health Care Ruling. "The Virginia federal district court judge who ruled yesterday that the individual mandate in the health care bill is unconstitutional is catching a lot of flack -- and not just for having a financial interest in an anti-health care reform consulting firm.

Legal experts are attacking Judge Henry Hudson's decision on the merits, citing an elementary logical flaw at the heart of his opinion. And that has conservative scholars -- even ones sympathetic to the idea that the mandate is unconstitutional -- prepared to see Hudson's decision thrown out."

The Tax-Cut Deal

Some posts from a week ago on the tax cut deal.

Ezra Klein wrote Six lessons from the tax deal. He also posted The White House's case for the tax-cut deal in one graph:


and then followed up with Greg Sargents followup graph Will 2012 be different than 2010?NewImage.jpg

I do agree with this summation of what happened: "The story that the White House tells about the tax cuts is this: We have a shaky economy that can't afford a large tax increase. Congressional Democrats refused to vote the upper-income tax cuts out of existence before the election. They could've done it, the White House wanted them to do it, and Obama certainly would've signed the bill. But they didn't. And then they lost the election. Newly empowered Republicans refused to extend the tax cuts for income under $250,000 unless they also got the tax cuts for income over $250,000. This isn't a popular position in the country, but with the next election two years away, they're not worried about popularity. So given the choice between letting the cuts expire and potentially harm the recovery and negotiating a compromise which pumps hundreds of billions in extra stimulus into the economy over the next two years, the White House chose the latter."

The Slippery Slope

Kevin Drum has a nice post saying The Slippery Slope on the commerce clause isn't real. See the whole post (it's short) but the gist is: "But what if the two cases had been swapped? Suppose the Supreme Court had approved the individual mandate in 1942 and Wickard were a 2010 case. Then the argument would be: it's one thing to make people buy health insurance. That's bad enough, but at least you're regulating participation in a highly public and largely publicly funded sector of the economy. But regulating purely private activity is a bridge too far."

It’s Official: Printer Bombs Were Designed to Be Undetectable

It’s Official: Printer Bombs Were Designed to Be Undetectable "Ever since al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch snuck two bomb-packed printers onto cargo aircraft in October, it’s been widely suspected that the bombs were chosen to evade airport detection capabilities. And yesterday, a senior Department of Homeland Security official confirmed it."

Raising Pandas

James Fallow wrote I Don't Know if This Makes Me Feel Better or Worse and it's all about this picture:


He followed up with OK, It Seems the Panda-Men Are Real .

Nixon Was Even More of a Dick

The New York Times wrote last week, On Nixon Tapes, Disparaging Remarks About Ethnic Groups. "Richard M. Nixon made disparaging remarks about Jews, blacks, Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans in a series of extended conversations with top aides and his personal secretary, recorded in the Oval Office 16 months before he resigned as president. The remarks were contained in 265 hours of recordings, captured by the secret taping system Nixon had installed in the White House and released this week by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum."

Voyager 1 Has Outdistanced the Solar Wind

This is pretty cool, Voyager 1 Has Outdistanced the Solar Wind. "The venerable Voyager spacecraft are truly going where no one has gone before. Voyager 1 has now reached a distant point at the edge of our solar system where it is no longer detecting the solar wind. At a distance of about 17.3 billion km (10.8 billion miles) from the Sun, Voyager 1 has crossed into an area where the velocity of the hot ionized gas, or plasma, emanating directly outward from the sun has slowed to zero. Scientists suspect the solar wind has been turned sideways by the pressure from the interstellar wind in the region between stars."

Alternative Quality Contract

I saw this report in the Boston Business Journal, Beth Israel docs choose 'global payments'. "The Beth Israel Deaconess Physician Organization has become the largest doctors’ group to sign on to a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts contract that pays doctors per patient, not per procedure. The move is a signal that so-called ‘global payments’, a system designed to rewards doctors for keeping patients healthy and reducing the number of medical procedures, is gaining traction among Massachusetts doctors."

I hadn't heard of Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA's Alternative Quality Contract .

Here's an article on it in Physicians Practice from April 2009, Global Capitation — It’s Baaaack….

I do think the fee for service model is flawed but don't know enough about health care economics to know about this. A fixed fee per patient would incent doctors to withhold costly treatments though the AQC apparently accounts for this. Anyone in such a plan?

The Top 10 Everything of 2010

Time created a bunch of 2010 Top 10 lists/

Mapping America

The NY Times created an infographic Mapping America — Census Bureau 2005-9 American Community Survey "Browse local data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, based on samples from 2005 to 2009. Because these figures are based on samples, they are subject to a margin of error, particularly in places with a low population, and are best regarded as estimates."

They Might Be Giants - Science is Real

For those of you with kids,

Atomic weights revised, reality stays the same

Ars wrote Atomic weights revised, reality stays the same "Yesterday, the University of Calgary announced that there will be a significant revision to the periodic table, a phrasing that implies a radical upheaval of our understanding of basic matter. The reality is quite a bit less dramatic—so tame, in fact, that the publication that announced the revision was released on Sunday without causing any disturbance. But the announcement provides a good opportunity to give everyone a refresher on the whole concept of atomic weight."

Software Licensing Case

The Electronic Frontier Foundation writes A Mixed Ninth Circuit Ruling in MDY v. Blizzard: WoW Buyers Are Not Owners – But Glider Users Are Not Copyright Infringers "The Ninth Circuit today issued its decision in the second of a trio of cases that raise the critical legal question of whether 'magic words' in a end-user license agreement (EULA) slapped onto a consumer product can turn buyers (or gift recipients) into mere licensees, rather than owners. Following its previous ruling in the first of these cases, Vernor v. Autodesk, the court today said yes — but there’s a twist."

2010 in Photos

Some really astonishing photos in The Big Picture's 2010 in photos part 2 and part 3.

Advancing Oligarchy: a conversation with James Kwak

Finally read this post by James Kwak. It's a couple of months old but still good. Advancing Oligarchy: a conversation with James Kwak ""

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bernie Sanders Filibuster Word Cloud

Bernie Sanders Filibuster Word Cloud.


I think it's cute but I never really got word clouds. I notice the biggest couple of words and then stop reading. I'd much rather see an ordered list of words by frequency, maybe with a bar graph. If you want to change the font size based on frequency that's fine too. But put all the words in the same orientation and show a list as a list and as a cloud.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Beginning to look a lot like Christmas

The Big Picture has two amazing posts:

Beginning to look a lot like Christmas "In many places around the world, it is definitely beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Santas are making appearances from Beijing to Beirut, and the traditions of the season can be seen all over - the trees, the lights, the shoppers, the devout and more. Collected here are a handful of recent photographs of people enjoying and celebrating this year's Christmas Season as it hits full swing."

2010 in photos (part 1 of 3) "As the year 2010 approaches its last few days, it's time to look back on the previous 12 months. In the first third of 2010, Millions of gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico, several massive earthquakes wreaked havoc worldwide, Vancouver hosted a successful Winter Olympics, and so much more. Each photo tells its own tale, weaving together into the larger story of 2010. This is a multi-entry story, 120 photographs over three days. Please watch for part 2 and part 3 tomorrow and the next day."

The Top 14 Astronomy Pictures of 2010

Bad Astronomy lists their Top 14 Astronomy Pictures of 2010.

Thank You Jon Stewart

"Here's a tribute to a few Republican senators who find comfort and advantage in invoking the heroes of 9/11 but refuse to give them health care."

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Lame-as-F@#k Congress
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

Maybe Stewart should head the DNC.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Health Insurance Mandate Nullified

While it's the only article on the topic I've read so far, it's probably the best one out there,
Health insurance mandate nullified by Lyle Denniston for SCOTUSBlog.

"The finding that Congress did not have authority under the Commerce Clause to pass the mandate was the most significant part of the decision.  ‘At its core,’ the judge wrote, ‘this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance — or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage — it’s about an individual’s right to choose to participate.’"

"The grant of power to Congress to pass laws “necessary and proper” to carrying out its constitutional duties, the judge said, is not without its limitations. That Clause provides no authority for Congress to act unless it is seeking to carry out one of its enumerated powers — that is, one of the powers expressly assigned to Congress by the Constitution, the judge noted. Since there was no authority to pass the measure under the Commerce Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause cannot supply it, according to the ruling."

"Treating the penalty that could be assessed for those who failure to get insurance by 2014 as if it were a tax penalty, enforced under the federal tax code, government officials had argued that Congress could use a tax measure as a way to promote the General Welfare. But Judge Hudson refused to accept that the penalty was, in fact, a form of tax. Congress did not intend the insurance mandate to be a revenue-raising measure, but rather a regulatory law, and the penalty is part of the regulatory scheme, the judge found. “The use of the term ‘tax’ appears to be a tactic to achieve enlarged regulatory license,” the judge wrote."

Jeff Bridges: The Best Movie Smoker?

Roger Ebert tweeted about this blog post from Cahiers du Moment, the dude's good "There has never been a smoker like Bridges in films, and when I say that I am thinking of all film smokers and all smoking movies, from Bogie to Now, Voyager. Bridges' relationship with things he lights on fire and sticks in his mouth creates a parallel world of expression in film that he uses to great advantage and it deserves some recognition beyond the tiny gold cigarette that must be dangling from the mouth of his Oscar."

It's a good read.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

xkcd: Tic-Tac-Toe

I have to say, yesterday's xkcd: Tic-Tac-Toe is a brilliant piece of graphic design.

Hunter Becomes The Hunted As Palin Critics Say She Can't Shoot

This is kinda amusing, Hunter becomes the hunted as Palin critics say she can't shoot.

"Among the basic items of protocol blithely ignored by Palin as she set off into the wilderness in a Rambo-style headband was her failure to take practice shots, or check the sights of the rifle, which duly turned out to be off-kilter. She failed to carry her own weapon, relying on her elderly father and his companion, Steve, to lug it around. When a beast eventually wandered into range, Ms Palin left Chuck Snr to load the rifle, and discharge spent bullet casings. "What a joke," wrote one viewer on Palin's Facebook page. "I was a fan before the show. No one who is a true hunter lets others carry their rifle or can't load their own shells. Sarah, you are a phony.""

Neil Armstrong Talks About The First Moon Walk

In response to a blog pst by NPR's Robert Krulwich Neil Armstrong Talks About The First Moon Walk.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Wire (and Mad Men) via D&D

For geeks only. Here are D&D alignment charts represented with characters from The Wire and Mad Men.

I'm not sure I can accept that Avon is neutral and not evil.

Hitchens vs Beck

Christopher Hitchens' Tea'd Off is a nice rant against Glenn Beck, his followers and those that accept them.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

I hadn't heard of Longform before. "We post articles, past and present, that we think are too long and too interesting to be read on a web browser. We started this site to bring together our enthusiasm for both great longform reads and the excellent Instapaper reader."

I do use Instapaper a lot and recommend it.

Kawah Ijen by night

Yeah yeah, more amazing photos from The Big Picture, Kawah Ijen by night. "Photographer Olivier Grunewald has recently made several trips into the sulfur mine in the crater of the Kawah Ijen volcano in East Java, Indonesia, bringing with him equipment to capture surreal images lit by moonlight, torches, and the blue flames of burning molten sulfur. Covered last year in the Big Picture (in daylight), the miners of the 2,600 meter tall (8,660ft) Kawah Ijen volcano trek up to the crater, then down to the shore of a 200-meter-deep crater lake of sulfuric acid, where they retrieve heavy chunks of pure sulfur to carry back to a weighing station. Mr. Grunewald has been kind enough to share with us the following other-worldly photos of these men as they do their hazardous work under the light of the moon. (30 photos total)"

k01_00000077 1.jpg

The Bacon Enthusiast Gift Guide

The Bacon Enthusiast Gift Guide has a lot of bizarre bacon things in it.

TARP Profits Continue to Rise

TARP Profits Continue to Rise.

"I find it hard to swallow that a government measure that reasonable people believed helped stave off another Great Depression and turned a handsome profit was a bad idea. Incidentally these two ideas are not unrelated. If you really thought there was an unjustified generalized bank run then you ought to have been able to make a profit by shoring up the banks. The problem is finding a player with a big enough checkbook to do it. That’s why there was a major profit opportunity for the US Government.

Geminid Meteor Shower Defies Explanation

NASA writes Geminid Meteor Shower Defies Explanation. "The Geminid meteor shower, which peaks this year on Dec. 13th and 14th, is the most intense meteor shower of the year. It lasts for days, is rich in fireballs, and can be seen from almost any point on Earth." It looks to be really cold next week and the forecast calls for snow on the 13th so I'm not sure I'll be out looking. But the rest of the article was quite interesting...

"Most meteor showers come from comets, which spew ample meteoroids for a night of 'shooting stars.' The Geminids are different. The parent is not a comet but a weird rocky object named 3200 Phaethon that sheds very little dusty debris—not nearly enough to explain the Geminids."

Obama and Republicans' Tax Deal

Here's a fact sheet on the deal from the White House.

The Washington Post has a graphic Obama and Republicans' tax deal showing the cost of the various pieces and which party favored which piece.


My issue is I just don't believe that only the Democrats favored the blue parts. I mean three of the four are tax cuts and while the GOP doesn't run on unemployment insurance, they've caved on extending it several times already.

What I also don't get about Obama's "deal" is why he froze executive branch workers salaries last week and didn't include that in the deal with Republicans?

And as a progressive I wasn't an offended by Obama's speech yesterday, I did find it odd. He said:

"Now, I could have enjoyed the battle with Republicans over the next month or two, because as I said, the American people are on our side. This is not a situation in which I have failed to persuade the American people of the rightness of our position. I know the polls. The polls are on our side on this. We weren’t operating from a position of political weakness with respect to public opinion."

If public was on your side and you still don't have leverage over the minority to get what you want, then what good are you?

"But the fact of the matter is, I haven’t persuaded the Republican Party. I haven’t persuaded Mitch McConnell and I haven’t persuaded John Boehner. And if I can’t persuade them, then I’ve got to look at what is the best thing to do, given that reality, for the American people and for jobs."

Really? I remember an interview with Boehner before the election where he said that he'd prefer the tax cuts for the rich but wouldn't sacrifice the middle class ones for it if that's all he could get. What changed between then and now? The election. The Democrats should have had the vote before the election when the Republicans would have suffered some direct harm from being obstructionist at the cost of the middle class. Remember, the polls were on the side of the Democrats!

Some asked Obama this question: "If I may follow, aren’t you telegraphing, though, a negotiating strategy of how the Republicans can beat you in negotiations all the way through the next year because they can just stick to their guns, stay united, be unwilling to budge -- to use your words -- and force you to capitulate?"

His answer was this, "I don’t think so. And the reason is because this is a very unique circumstance. This is a situation in which tens of millions of people would be directly damaged and immediately damaged, and at a time when the economy is just about to recover." I don't think that's true at all, each issue is unique and is spun into the biggest thing in the world by the media and the GOP. His answer went on a bit and he said:

"And I will be happy to see the Republicans test whether or not I’m itching for a fight on a whole range of issues. I suspect they will find I am. And I think the American people will be on my side on a whole bunch of these fights." But see my point above, what good is having the people on your side if you still lose?

I really don't get what he's thinking. It's one thing to lose a political battle, but based on his pretty candid press conference, I think he genuinely thinks he did the right thing and is completely missing the point. He ended with this:

"Take a tally. Look at what I promised during the campaign. There’s not a single thing that I’ve said that I would do that I have not either done or tried to do. And if I haven’t gotten it done yet, I’m still trying to do it."

Tried to do isn't a big hurdle but it's legit if you have serious push-back. So I don't think his administration has don't much to end Don't Ask Don't Tell. He set a deadline to close Guantanamo but it's long past and not much has happened. He hasn't reformed FISA or Immigration or gotten anywhere on climate change (though he did conceded to more nuclear plants and off shore drilling, how'd that work out?).

PolitiFact has more, The Obameter: Tracking Obama's Campaign Promises. Admittedly his record is pretty good so far.

Update: Ezra Klein thinks it's a better deal than he expected.

Starbucks Hacks

Starbucks Hacks. "I've worked at Starbucks a long time now, and there's a few things you can do to hack the system."

Still, no advice for gingerbread lattes.

Still Digging

The thought frightens me, but I mostly agree with this Thomas Friedman column, Still Digging.

Googles AROUND Operator

Google writes about their AROUND Operator "If you want to find results that include both 'Steve Jobs' and 'Andy Rubin', you might search for ['Steve Jobs' 'Andy Rubin'] or even for ['Steve Jobs * Andy Rubin']. Google's AROUND operator lets you specify the maximum number of words that separate the two names. For example, you could search for ['Steve Jobs' AROUND(3) 'Andy Rubin'] and only get web pages that include the two names separated by less than three words."

Sorkin on Palin

Unlike Aaron Sorkin I don't watch Sarah Palin's show on TLC. Also he writes better than I do, In Her Defense, I'm Sure the Moose Had It Coming ""

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Economic Graphs

Calculated Risk has a Summary for Week ending December 4th with lots of economic graphs and data.

The Situation Bears Watching

The Situation Bears Watching is an interesting article catching up with what Palm founder Jeff Hawkins has been doing since his book On Intelligence came out. It meanders into some other interesting things as well.

Becoming Too Big To Save

Simon Johnson has some good posts referencing JP Morgan CEO Jamin Dimon: Becoming Too Big To Save – Creating Fiscal Disaster and What Jamie Dimon Won’t Tell You: His Big Bank Would Be Dangerously Leveraged.

The Fourteenth Banker comments on these in Bank Capital Discussion.

Welcome to Cromulent 1970 Technology

Apparently a giant 1200 page book for Simpsons fans was published in October: Simpsons World The Ultimate Episode Guide: Seasons 1-20. Looks pretty amazing.

Though it doesn't seem that it's for everyone, note this one-star Amazon review: "It Sucks, I wish I had my money back. So lame, welcome to 1970 technology. I thought it would have some online features, some disk, something. Just A stupid book, I will keep it next to my parent encyclopedia. DO NOT BUY FOR KIDS who are fans , they will hate it."

The Gretch Who Saved the War on Christmas

Jon Stewart had a great bit last night, The Gretch Who Saved the War on Christmas combining the stupid anti-PC crazed attack on the term "holiday" with adorable classic "holiday" cartoons...

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Gretch Who Saved the War on Christmas
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorThe Daily Show on Facebook

And today you can download an official Daily Show app for your iPhone for free.

Harmony Gives Way To Exploitation Charge Against Upper Crust

I haven't been to Upper Crust (a local Boston pizza chain) in over year as I had heard of some problems with the department of labor and that they weren't being fair to workers. I had no idea it was this bad, according to this Boston Globe article: Harmony gives way to exploitation charge against Upper Crust.

Treasury Blog

The Treasury Department has started a Treasury Blog "By: Tim MassadTuesday December 7, 2010
Yesterday, Treasury announced that it had sold its final share of Citigroup common stock. We once owned more than a quarter of the company. Today, we can say that we’ve fully exited our common stock TARP investment. And, in the process, made taxpayers a $12 billion profit. In the last several weeks, we’ve continued to see strong evidence that TARP has proven successful at breaking the back of an intense financial panic and laying the foundation for future economic growth – at a significantly lower cost to taxpayers than anyone first anticipated."

Don Draper: Scourge of business, hero of information

Ezra Klein on Don Draper: Scourge of business, hero of information is about what Google is doing to the advertising business, with added Mad Men clip.

"But I don't take much pleasure in the poor performance of online advertising. The advertising industry was benevolently inefficient. It enabled pretty much every mass information medium we've ever had. Newspapers and radio and television and the Internet (Google, Facebook, etc.) are all brought to you by the advertising industry. There's perhaps no single sector that has done as much to advance human knowledge as the people who sell you soap and cars and soda. They overcharged businesses for ads in order to subsidize producers and distributors of information (and, of course, make themselves rich). The problem with Google, Karmazin once told the company's founders, is that they're messing with 'the magic.' And they are."

Monday, December 06, 2010

Obama And Republicans Agree On Tax Cut Extension

NPR reports Obama And Republicans Agree On Tax Cut Extension. "Monday night, Obama announced agreement with Republicans to extend tax cuts for all Americans, renew jobless benefits and grant a one-year reduction in Social Security taxes for millions. The emerging agreement also includes tax breaks for businesses that the president said would contribute to the economy's recovery from the worst recession in eight decades."

I can see what the Democrats gave up, I don't see what the Republicans gave up in this "agreement".

And I really don't understand this: "'Make no mistake, allowing taxes to go up on all Americans would have raised taxes by $3,000 for a typical American family and that could cost our economy well over a million jobs,' he said at the White House."

I think the rate would have gone up 3%, so the "typical American family" makes $100,000 a year? I don't think so.

The New York Times has some more details. "He said that in return for agreeing to Republican demands that income tax rates not go up on upper-income brackets, he had secured substantial assistance to lower and middle income workers as well as the unemployed." I'm not sure that Republicans were so against this to begin with.

"Some details remain to be worked out, and Mr. Obama could have trouble bringing his party along with him. The package would cost about $900 billion over the next two years, all to be financed by adding to the budget deficit." So we can now assume the Republicans no longer care about the deficit. Riiiight.

And I really don't get the cuts in the Social Security payroll tax. The Republicans are complaining how broken Social Security is (when it's really not so bad, Medicare is much worse) and this just makes it worse. I'm sure in the GOP is already planning on using the new numbers to show how broken Social Security is and to force the Dems to reduce benefits. They're already setting up for the next thing. Sigh.

Bacteria Evolve A Way To Share Electrons

Bacteria evolve a way to share electrons

"Life is powered by the shuffling of electrons. When organisms break down a food source like a sugar, they're really extracting high-energy electrons, which they shuffle down through intermediate proteins before they end up in a final electron acceptor...Now, researchers have witnessed the evolution of a bacteria that transfers its electrons to another bacteria, which goes on to put them to further use."

I can't comment on the accuracy of the science, but the process sounds both simple and amazing...

To figure out what was going on, they did whole-genome sequencing, and found only one change: a single base missing in the gene for a protein that regulates RNA production. Making a similar mutation in another strain also allowed those bacteria to form quick-growing nodules. The mutation appears to cause proteins involved in electron transfer to be expressed at increased levels. These proteins end up on pilli, arm-like structures that extend out from the bacteria.

How They Win


Pearl Harbor

Tomorrow is Pearl Harbor Day. Here are some amazing photos of the attack, though as snopes points out the story going around that they were recently uncovered is untrue.


Transparency: How Much Does the United States Subsidize Energy

Good wrote Transparency: How Much Does the United States Subsidize Energy - Environment "The government spends billions of dollars to support the energy industry, which allows it to make energy cheaper than it should cost on the open market. These subsidies—either in the form of tax breaks or direct funding—favor some types of energy over others, giving our country a skewed sense of what each gallon of gas or wind-powered electron costs. This is a look at where the government directed its subsidy dollars from 2002 to 2008."


A HUGE looping prominence on the Sun!

Remember, we're on a ball of rock floating around a giant fire ball in the middle of nothing. Here's a great picture of the fire ball from Bad Astronomy, A HUGE looping prominence on the Sun!20101206_174957_2048_0304 1.jpg

Close the Washington Monument

Bruce Schneier makes a good point in Close the Washington Monument. "Securing the Washington Monument from terrorism has turned out to be a surprisingly difficult job. The concrete fence around the building protects it from attacking vehicles, but there's no visually appealing way to house the airport-level security mechanisms the National Park Service has decided are a must for visitors. It is considering several options, but I think we should close the monument entirely. Let it stand, empty and inaccessible, as a monument to our fears."

Inside the Secret Space Plane Landing

Danger Room writes Inside the Secret Space Plane Landing with some photos of the 29 foot long craft.

"When the Air Force launched its secret, robotic space plane this spring, military officials confessed that they weren't exactly sure when it was coming back. More than seven months later, the X-37B finally landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where it was met with Air Force personnel in SCAPE (self-contained atmospheric protective ensemble) suits. They gave the robo-orbiter an initial once-over -- and made sure the area was safe for humans, too. Here are the pictures (and infrared video) of the landing, courtesy of U.S. Air Force Space Command.

Better-informed observers believe the X-37B could be used by the Pentagon as a cheap replacement for the all-but-defunct Space Shuttle -- a way to get spy sensors into orbit in a hurry. And the U.S. military's use of space place is only getting started. As David Axe noted last week, the Air Force has commissioned a second X-37, to enter service next spring."

(What do I tag this with? It's not really science or astronomy. It's military but politics. It's not toys...)

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Arsenic-associated bacteria (NASA's claims)

Rosie Redfield blogged about NASA's claims, Arsenic-associated bacteria and tore them to shreds.

"Bottom line:  Lots of flim-flam, but very little reliable information.  The mass spec measurements may be very well done (I lack expertise here), but their value is severely compromised by the poor quality of the inputs.  If this data was presented by a PhD student at their committee meeting, I'd send them back to the bench to do more cleanup and controls.

There's a difference between controls done to genuinely test your hypothesis and those done when you just want to show that your hypothesis is true.  The authors have done some of the latter, but not the former.  They should have mixed pregrown E. coli or other cells with the arsenate supplemented medium and then done the same purifications.  They should have thoroughly washed their DNA preps (a column cleanup is ridiculously easy), and maybe incubated it with phosphate buffer to displace any associated arsenate before doing the elemental analysis.  They should have mixed E. coli DNA with arsenate and then gel-purified it.  They should have tested whether their arsenic-containing DNA could be used as a template by normal DNA polymerases.  They should have noticed all the discrepancies in their data and done experiments to find the causes."

Anyone with more knowledge on the subject than me want to read through it and see if it makes sense?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Harvard Pair Sue TSA Over Screenings

I was waiting for this to happen, Harvard pair sue TSA over screenings "Two Harvard Law School students are suing the Transportation Security Administration, claiming the so-called ‘nude body scanners’ and intrusive pat-downs used to screen airline passengers are unconstitutional."

The 7 page complaint was interesting and I think makes the case clearly.

Friday, December 03, 2010

10 Recent Science Fiction Books That Make Great Gifts

"Give someone a whole new world for the holidays this year! Here are 10 recent science fiction books that'll make terrific gifts — each with a wildly different take on the genre, so there's something for everyone." 10 Recent Science Fiction Books That Make Great Gifts.

I've not heard of any of them.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Google Maps and Label Readability

In Google Maps & Label Readability 41Latitude explores the question: "Why Do Google Maps’s City Labels Seem Much More ‘Readable’ Than Those of Its Competitors?"

TechCrunch summed it up nicely: "The primary difference seems to be the way the city labels are placed and weighted. The low-contrast background and various levels of white outline to the type make larger cities pop, and looser rules on where the city label is relative to its dot allow for better spacing between items. And there is apparently a sort of “halo” around larger cities that suppresses labeling of smaller items, the better to highlight the big cities and routes on the map."

I'm Tired of McCain

NPR reports McCain Calls Pentagon's 'Don't Ask' Study Flawed. He's just being a dick, moving the goal posts yet again.

I find these two statement contradictory:

"I am not saying this law should never change. I am simply saying that it may be premature to make such a change at this time and in this manner."

"What I want to know, and what it is the Congress' duty to determine, is not can our armed forces implement a repeal of this law, but whether the law should be repealed," said McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Unfortunately, that key issue was not the focus of this study. It is, however, the fundamental question that must be answered by Congress — not by the president or the courts, but by Congress."

He just won re-election for another 6 years which will see him through to the age of 80. Who's he beholden to now?

NASA Discovers Alien Life In California?

Here's the rumor today, NASA Discovers Alien Life In California

"Today NASA will hold a press conference revealing to the world the discovery of a form of life unlike any other on Earth. What twisted alien landscape gave birth to such a life form? Try California.

Dr. Felisa Wolfe-Simon of the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California has been plumbing the depths Mono Lake for quite some time. The alkaline and hypersaline lake, located in California's Mono County, is one of the world's most naturally concentrated sources of arsenic. Arsenic is highly poisonous to most forms of multi-cellular life, but Wolfe-Simon believed that life could exist in the lake; just not life as we know it."

"Phosphorus, along with hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur, make up the fundamental building blocks of life as we know it. Wolfe-Simon has discovered a bacteria that swaps out phosphorus with arsenic. The discovery that a life form can be comprised of something other than the six fundamental building blocks of life changes everything."

We'll apparently see if this is true at 2pm.

Obama Doesn't Compromise, He Caves

I completely agree with this NPR story, Liberals: Obama Doesn't Compromise, He Caves. "President Obama's team is deep in negotiations with Congress over how to find common ground on the fate of the Bush-era tax cuts. And liberals are afraid that the White House may be too quick to cede ground to Republicans without securing concessions in return. That concern is not unique to the tax-cut debate. People on the left have been concerned about Obama's negotiating style for some time now."

I said it back in March when he made concessions on energy and got nothing in return and some of you thought it was shrewd negotiating. Do you still think so?

I still have a big problem with the Senate Democrats making a big stand on the tax cuts now, it's entirely too late. They should have done this before the election when the stand off could have made Republicans look bad and had some consequences with voters. Doing it now, they don't have much leverage with the GOP who will just wait till the lame duck session ends. That won't make a difference in the Senate but since the Dems are in power they can blame them for letting the tax rates rise. Then they can pass what they want in the House and have it stall in the Senate and blame the Dems again.

Update: Ezra Klein writes Why did the Democrats falter on the tax cuts?.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Republicans dare Democrats to reform the filibuster

Ezra Klein wrote Republicans dare Democrats to reform the filibuster.

"If there's a wild card here, it's Sen. Jeff Merkley and the other Democrats who've been agitating for rules reform for well over a year now. Today, Merkley released his proposal, and it's a detailed, thoughtful and supportable package of reforms -- even for those who believe in the filibuster."

Mapping Stereotypes by alphadesigner

Mapping Stereotypes by alphadesigner are cute.

artwork-mapping-stereotypes-15 1.jpg

The FBI Successfully Thwarts its Own Terrorist Plot

On Sunday Glenn Greenwald wrote The FBI successfully thwarts its own Terrorist plot. In his usual lengthy way he walks though all the issues with the story of Mohamed Osman Mohamud who was arrested for planning to bomb Portland OR.

"All of the information about this episode -- all of it -- comes exclusively from an FBI affidavit filed in connection with a Criminal Complaint against Mohamud. As shocking and upsetting as this may be to some, FBI claims are sometimes one-sided, unreliable and even untrue, especially when such claims -- as here -- are uncorroborated and unexamined. That's why we have what we call "trials" before assuming guilt or even before believing that we know what happened: because the government doesn't always tell the complete truth, because they often skew reality, because things often look much different once the accused is permitted to present his own facts and subject the government's claims to scrutiny."

"A very similar thing happened last month when the FBI announced that it had arrested someone who was planning to bomb the DC Metro system when, in reality, "the only plotting he did was in response to instructions from federal agents he thought were accomplices." That concocted FBI plot then led to the Metro Police announcing a new policy of random searches of passengers' bags."

I Want New Democrats

This batch is just incompetent. FAIL: Senate Dems' Unconstitutional Mishap Could Kill Food Safety Bill "The U.S. constitution requires that any revenue-raising bill must originate in the House of Representatives. To honor this provision, the Senate often finds a discarded old House bill, strips it bare, and uses it as a 'shell' and passes it back to the House. They somehow forgot to do that this time."

Kim Jong-Il Looking at Things

Kim Jong-Il Looking at Things is an odd and strangely compelling blog.

10 Recipes With a Favorite Nut

Lately, I've been putting pecans in oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, but a couple of week ago The Atlantic offered 10 Other Recipes Using Pecans.

Yes, We're Getting Dumber

The Answer Sheet wrote, Take this 1931 8th grade test (you will probably flunk) "The following exam was given in 1931 by the West Virginia Department of Education to students seeking graduation from eighth grade. For many students, that was the last year of formal schooling."

The full test is in this pdf.

Yup, 2009 Sucked

the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released this on Nov 18th, GDP by State. "Real GDP declined in 38 states in 2009, led by national downturns in durable–goods manufacturing and construction, according to new statistics that breakdown GDP by state released today by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. U.S. real GDP by state declined 2.1 percent in 2009 after increasing 0.1 percent in 2008."

gsp_1110 1.png

What is Data Visualization?

information aesthetics had a post What is Data Visualization? which shows 3 infographics that try to explain what infographics are.

How To Recycle Your Gadgets

Techland had a good post, How To Recycle Your Gadgets. There were more good tips on the second page.

Does America Have "Developing States"?

Does America Have "Developing States"? "But this interactive infographic actually uses the Human Development Index to show differences between the states here in America"


"Should we start thinking of West Virginia and Tennessee as "developing states"? It's a little patronizing, but it does make you think about the costs of America's regionalized coal production, for example, in a new way."

You can view the data by congressional districts, which somehow makes it seem a little worse. There's also a lot more info at the site, try exploring the Charts and Stacks at the top.

Great Chart: State of the Economy

As Seth said "This chart kicks ass"


The greatness is that it shows not just the numbers but the typical range and historical highs and lows to provide context.

An Open Letter to the President

Mark Thoma expanded on a post, An Open Letter to the President. It's one that John Maynard Keynes wrote FDR and it's very relevant today.

Russia Moves Tactical Nukes Closer to NATO. Gulp.

Spencer Ackerman wrote the most interesting thing I've seen about the START treaty ratification process, Russia Moves Tactical Nukes Closer to NATO. Gulp.

Vitamin D

Nice infographic on Vitamin D.

Two Headlines Say It All

These were next to each other in Google News for me:

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Ezra Klein has the long version, Republicans give their definition of bipartisanship.