In Focus on the National Geographic Photo Contest 2013, Part II "Time is running out to enter this year's National Geographic photo contest, the deadline for submissions is Saturday, November 30. One first-place winner will be chosen from each of the three categories, and the winning photographs will be published in National Geographic magazine. The overall grand-prize winner will be announced in December of 2013. National Geographic was once more kind enough to let me choose among its entries so far, for display here on In Focus. Gathered below are 36 more images, with captions written by the individual photographers. Be sure to also see Part I, earlier on In Focus. [36 photos]"
Thursday, November 28, 2013
The Big Picture shows us Photographing an African safari "As a photojournalist, you’re always looking to capture moments that define life. In the wild, you’re witnessing life or death situations, and it’s a truly humbling experience. We’re used to living in a world where we humans are top predators and life is extremely safe. When you find yourself in an environment where you’re no longer the top predator, it puts things in perspective to see how and where we fall within the food chain. I never thought I’d be excited photographing nature, but I found myself completely entranced by the whole experience and I can’t wait to do it again. ( 27 photos total)"
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Kevin Drum charts America is the Stingiest Rich Country in the World "The United States is one of the richest countries in the world, with a top 1 percent that's seen its income triple or more in the past three decades. And yet, we also do the least to fight the rising tide of income inequality. Government programs in America reduce the level of inequality by only 26 percent. Nobody else is so stingy."
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
NASA outlines ingenious plan to resurrect the Kepler planet hunter "As photons are absorbed and emitted, they generate a small force on the object doing the absorbing (it's the same force that causes some asteroids to spin). Kepler is powered by solar panels that are arranged symmetrically across the probe's long axis. If the probe can be oriented so that the sunlight strikes these panels evenly, the photons will exert a constant and symmetric force against the probe. Kepler's two remaining reaction wheels can then push against that force and keep the telescope gazing steadily at one point in the sky, just as it was designed to do."
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Friday, November 22, 2013
"The IceCube neutrino observatory buried at the South Pole is one cool telescope. It has detected extremely high-energy neutrinos, which are elementary particles that likely originate outside our solar system. The discovery of 28 record-breaking neutrinos was announced earlier – with two of the particles — nicknamed Bert and Ernie – drawing particular attention because of the their off-the-chart energy of over 1,000,000,000,000,000 electron volts or 1 peta-electron volt (PeV).
Now, a new analysis of more recent data discovered 26 additional events beyond 30 teraelectronvolts — which exceeds the energy expected for neutrinos produced in the Earth’s atmosphere, and one of those events was almost double the energy of Bert and Ernie. This one has been dubbed ‘Big Bird,’ and in combination, these events provide the first solid evidence for astrophysical neutrinos from distant cosmic accelerators, which might help us understand the origin of origin of cosmic rays. The detection has suggested a new age of astronomy is beginning, offering a new way to look at the Universe using high-energy neutrinos."
io9 says the Unprecedented neutrino discovery is a "Nobel Prize in the making" and puts Bert and Ernie in some context. "But not all neutrinos are the same. The ones discovered by the IceCube team are about a billion times more energetic than the ones coming out of our sun. A pair of them had energies above an entire petaelectron volt. That's more than 1,000 times the energy produced by protons smashed at CERN's Large Hadron Collider."
"So whatever created them must have been extremely powerful. Like, mindboggingly powerful — probably the remnants of supernova explosions. Indeed, as a recent study has shown, these cosmic explosions are more powerful than we could have ever imagined — to the point where they're defying known physics. Other candidates for neutrino production include black holes, pulsars, galactic nuclei — or even the cataclysmic merger of two black holes."
Dylan Matthews says Americans think John F. Kennedy was one of our greatest presidents. He wasn’t. The article makes good points on the policies.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Wow, I wasn't paying attention to the news today and just saw this, It’s official: The Senate just got rid of part of the filibuster.
A majority of Democrats voted on Thursday to modify the Senate's rules on filibusters for the first time since 1975. From now on, judicial nominees to federal courts can be confirmed by a simple majority vote. So can the president's executive-branch nominations.
It's not a complete repeal of the filibuster: Supreme Court nominees can still be blocked by 41 senators, as can all legislation. But even this smaller rule change — a move known as the "nuclear option" — is a big break with precedent.
In all, 52 Democrats voted to change the filibuster rules, while all 45 Republicans and 3 Democrats opposed the move. (West Virginia's Joe Manchin, Michigan's Carl Levin, and Arkansas's Mark Pryor were the three dissenting Democrats.)
Ezra Klein lists Nine reasons the filibuster change is a huge deal. I only found two of them interesting.
The practical end of the Senate's 60-vote threshold is not plunging the chamber into new and uncharted territories. It's the omnipresence of the filibuster in recent decades that plunged the chamber into new and uncharted territories. At the founding of the Republic, the filibuster didn't exist. Prior to the 1970s, filibusters — which required 67 votes to break for most of the 20th century — were incredibly rare.
Republicans take a lot of the blame here. They've used the filibuster more aggressively than Democrats, by a wide margin. They've also been less willing to cooperate with Democrats on general legislative efforts, making the presence of the filibuster more costly to the Democratic Party. And they've been so unwilling to work with Democrats this year that they essentially removed all reason for Democrats to stay their hand. The way Senate Democrats saw it was that if they weren't going to get immigration reform or gun control or jobs bills or anything big that they cared about, then at least they would get their judicial and executive-branch nominations.
In part this came up because of the three vacant seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and in fact, Reid's rule change came on a vote for Patricia Millett to this court. The D.C. Circuit is the court at the center of the filibuster fight. Here’s why it matters.
Ezra Klein also points out that One huge effect of filibuster reform: Obama can actually fire people. "The constant use of the filibuster against political appointments made it extraordinarily difficult for the White House to fire anyone because they didn't know whether they'd be able to appoint a replacement -- or, if they could appoint a replacement, who Republicans would actually accept. And the more political controversy there was around an issue the more dangerous a personnel change became." It also means the grueling vetting process might get a little easier.
Dylan Matthews talked with The world’s leading filibuster expert on what happened today and what to expect next. but it was mostly about the specific technique Reid used, so skip that if you're not interested.
Matthews also wrote Everything you need to know about Thursday’s filibuster change and the last half is interesting about how Obama dawdled with judicial nominees.
As for speculation about how this will play out when or if the Democrats are in the minority, Ta-Nehisi Coates has a good response, More Scalias and Thomases Please.
Threatening to appoint "more Scalias and Thomases" is basically threatening to appoint more judges who would unwaveringly hew to their vision of the country. That any political party would like to do this strikes me as unsurprising. The place to decide whether we're going to have "more Scalias and Thomases" is the ballot box. That's why during debates candidates are usually asked about the kind of judges they'd appoint. The place to decide whether having "more Scalias and Thomases" actually worked out is the election following.
Elections don't always have consequences, but they should. You can't judge a party's agenda if they don't get a chance to actually implement. Judicial and executive appointments are indispensable to that endeavor. If you don't want to even have the experiment, if you don't like being in the minority, win the damn election—which is another way of saying, make the case to the American people.
Ed Kilgore agrees, No Buyer’s Remorse Here on the Filibuster by Ed Kilgore. "For one thing, it was a foregone conclusion that Republicans would “go nuclear”—certainly over judges, and maybe over everything—if and when they were back in power. I mean, seriously, does anyone think that after forty years of promises to the Christian Right the GOP is going to be able to deny its “base” the fifth sure Supreme Court vote (perhaps) necessary to overturn Roe v. Wade? Over a Senate rule? No way. The judicial filibuster power was doomed anyway, and all it served to do at present was as a temporary instrument for GOP power that would be exercised by any means available."
Andrew Sullivan collects some other interesting reactions, The Senate Partially-Nukes The Filibuster: Reax
Gizmodo went with the headline The space station is now fully armed and operational with a cannon. Personally I would have said it can now launch Borg cubes.
What Is This Bizarre-Looking Flying Machine Doing Near Google HQ?. Apparently now Google has a flying car.
Stephen Wolfram announced he's Putting the Wolfram Language (and Mathematica) on Every Raspberry Pi. "Last week I wrote about our large-scale plan to use new technology we’re building to inject sophisticated computation and knowledge into everything. Today I’m pleased to announce a step in that direction: working with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, effective immediately there’s a pilot release of the Wolfram Language—as well as Mathematica—that will soon be bundled as part of the standard system software for every Raspberry Pi computer."
I never would have guessed that the new Wolfram Language would (ever) run on a $25 computer, let alone first. I'm going to have to rethink what the future will be like.
"Then there are two applications on the Pi powered by this engine. The first is a command-line version of the Wolfram Language. And the second is Mathematica with its notebook user interface, providing in effect a rich document-based way of interacting with the Wolfram Language..."And it’s the whole system. Nothing is left out. All 5000+ Wolfram Language functions. All capabilities of Mathematica and its notebook interface."
"In 2010 a Chinese ISP momentarily hijacked the Internet. Due to a misconfiguration, some traffic that should have gone to Dell, CNN, Starbucks and Apple was sent to China instead. The incident lasted for only a few minutes and the responsible party claimed it was an accident. But it highlights a dangerous security weakness in one of the Internet's fundamental protocols."
"Experts say that the Internet's fundamental routing protocol, called the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), is surprisingly reliant on trust among the administrators of the many networks that comprise the Internet."
I hadn't heard of BGP but none of this is too surprising to me.
"It's long been theorized that this sort of re-routing could be weaponized as a technique for intercepting traffic. In fact, Anton Kapela and Alex Pilosov demonstrated a technique for eavesdropping on traffic via BGP at DEFCON in 2008. But now Renesys, an Internet monitoring company, says it has seen a series of what they describe as "man-in-the-middle" attacks using BGP targeting "financial institutions, VoIP providers, and world governments" in the wild. "Internet route hijacking has been around for years, it's really just the emergence of this specific man-in-the-middle variance that has taken off in 2013," Renesys Chief Technology Officer Jim Cowie told me last week."
I'm sure this is also a place where the law is far behind the technology. Is it illegal to reroute internet traffic? There are almost by definition multiple countries involved. If you see an issue who do you contact? Is this something that network admins should just handle on their own?
"Renesys believes this kind of attack is a serious threat to Internet security, but may have a very limited shelf life. "This is not a very subtle attack -- you can't carry it out without publishing your false routes all over the planet," said Cowie. "If everyone would take care to watch how their networks are being advertised around the world it would disappear overnight." So beyond the specifics on the incidents revealed by Renesys, one of the major takeaways from its research might be the need for increased scrutiny of the protocols that make the Internet tick."
Update: Ars Technica has more, Repeated attacks hijack huge chunks of Internet traffic, researchers warn
A Basic Rule of Chemistry Can Be Broken, Calculations Show: Scientific American "Most of us learned in high school chemistry class that chemical bonds can only form when electrons are shared or given away from one atom’s outer shell to another’s. But this may not be strictly true. A chemist has calculated that under very high pressure not just the outer electrons but the inner ones, too, could form bonds."
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Unknown Bacteria Discovered in Two Spacecraft Clean Rooms "Scientists have discovered a microbe that – to their knowledge – can be found just two places on Earth. The first: a spacecraft clean room in Guiana. The second: a spacecraft clean room in Florida, some 2,500 miles away."
" Clean rooms – where space agencies like NASA and ESA prepare spacecraft prior to launch – are certainly among the most sterile places on Earth, and therefore seem a rather unlikely place to find new forms of life. And yet, it bears mentioning that this is not the first time scientists have found one to harbor a microbe. In fact, in 2007, despite scientists' best efforts to zap them into oblivion with intense heat, chemical cleaning, and UV radiation, samples collected from three different NASA cleanrooms turned up close to 100 different kinds of bacteria, about half of which were new to science. Point being: even in the cleanest of places, microbial life finds a way."
InfoSec Institute describes Analyzing Malicious PDFs. "Several vulnerabilities were found in previous years and it keeps increasing day by day, so it’s important to analyze any PDF before opening it because just the simple act of opening the PDF file could exploit a vulnerability to automatically download malicious code from the Internet. We can analyze any PDF by using online approach or offline approach. For the protection we have to use the alternative PDF reader and always install the update or patch of PDF reader."
I didn't realize there were online services that let you scan a pdf to see if it's safe.
Bonus: There are some trojan servlets for tomcat, All Your Tomcat Are Belong to Bad Guys?.
Kevin Drum has an interesting piece on Why Are American Doctors Paid So Damn Much?.
"That's damn peculiar, isn't it? If Econ 101 is to be believed, higher pay should produce more doctors. And yet, even though the United States pays doctors far more than any other country on the globe, we're in the bottom third. We have more doctors per capita than poorish countries like Mexico and Poland, but far fewer than Belgium and Britain and Germany—all of which pay doctors considerably less than we do here. So what's going on? As Matt says, the basic answer is that U.S. doctors operate as a cartel. They artificially limit their own ranks, which drives up their compensation."
"If the market were allowed to produce as many doctors as there's demand for, they'd already be getting paid less. Right now they're enjoying the substantial rents that come from squeezing their own supply, and they've fought like lemmings for decades to keep it that way."
Update: Kevin Drum has more today, It's Doctors Who Control the Number of Doctors in America, Not the Government.
Clay Shirky wrote about Healthcare.gov and the Gulf Between Planning and Reality. I'm not sure if he has any knowledge of the actual project but he explains common project management wisdom in clear terms. He begins with this story:
Back in the mid-1990s, I did a lot of web work for traditional media. That often meant figuring out what the client was already doing on the web, and how it was going, so I’d find the techies in the company, and ask them what they were doing, and how it was going. Then I’d tell management what I’d learned. This always struck me as a waste of my time and their money; I was like an overpaid bike messenger, moving information from one part of the firm to another. I didn’t understand the job I was doing until one meeting at a magazine company.
The thing that made this meeting unusual was that one of their programmers had been invited to attend, so management could explain their web strategy to him. After the executives thanked me for explaining what I’d learned from log files given me by their own employees just days before, the programmer leaned forward and said ‘You know, we have all that information downstairs, but nobody’s ever asked us for it.’
I remember thinking ‘Oh, finally!’ I figured the executives would be relieved this information was in-house, delighted that their own people were on it, maybe even mad at me for charging an exorbitant markup on local knowledge. Then I saw the look on their faces as they considered the programmer’s offer. The look wasn’t delight, or even relief, but contempt. The situation suddenly came clear: I was getting paid to save management from the distasteful act of listening to their own employees."
He debunks a common refrain exposing it as bad management.
The idea that “failure is not an option” is a fantasy version of how non-engineers should motivate engineers. That sentiment was invented by a screenwriter, riffing on an after-the-fact observation about Apollo 13; no one said it at the time...And for anything it might have meant in its screenplay version, here that sentiment means the opposite; the unnamed executives were saying “Addressing the possibility of failure is not an option.”
"Healthcare.gov is a half-billion dollar site that was unable to complete even a thousand enrollments a day at launch, and for weeks afterwards. As we now know, programmers, stakeholders, and testers all expressed reservations about Healthcare.gov’s ability to do what it was supposed to do. Yet no one who understood the problems was able to tell the President. Worse, every senior political figure—every one—who could have bridged the gap between knowledgeable employees and the President decided not to."
Finally he explains what all engineers know:
If I had to design a litmus test for whether our political class grasps the internet, I would look for just one signal: Can anyone with authority over a new project articulate the tradeoff between features, quality, and time?
When a project cannot meet all three goals—a situation Healthcare.gov was clearly in by March—something will give. If you want certain features at a certain level of quality, you’d better be able to move the deadline. If you want overall quality by a certain deadline, you’d better be able to delay or drop features. And if you have a fixed feature list and deadline, quality will suffer.
Intoning “Failure is not an option” will be at best useless, and at worst harmful. There is no “Suddenly Go Faster” button, no way you can throw in money or additional developers as a late-stage accelerant; money is not directly tradable for either quality or speed, and adding more programmers to a late project makes it later. You can slip deadlines, reduce features, or, as a last resort, just launch and see what breaks.
"‘The real issue is about the cash, and in fiscal year 2014 it is about an $198 million cash shortfall,’ said Turbeville. He blames the shortfall on a number of factors, including the Great Recession, a dwindling tax base, and declining state aid. But pension obligations, which have stayed mostly flat over the past five years, are not a significant factor in Turbeville’s analysis.
A much larger factor appears to be city’s debt to Wall Street. As of 2011, Detroit owed $3.8 billion to major financial institutions because of financial instruments called interest rate swaps. Those swaps allow cities to trade variable interest rates on their municipal bonds to the banks in exchange for fixed-interest payments.
Cities across the country, including Detroit, bought up these swaps because fixed interest rates were more predictable, and therefore seemed safer; but when the federal government drove down interest rates in response to the financial crisis, banks ended up making billions off of swaps while municipalities were stuck with the bill. Now, Turbeville writes that those institutions ‘are now demanding upwards of $250-350 million in swap termination payments.’"
Presidential Medal of Freedom honors diverse group of Americans "President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to 16 recipients Wednesday morning, recognizing the achievements of a diverse group of Americans ranging from Ernie Banks and Benjamin C. Bradlee to Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey."
The International Space Station is 15 years old today, Gizmodo lists 15 awesome facts about the International Space Station.
The EFF reports Encrypt the Web Report: Who's Doing What "We’ve asked the companies in our Who Has Your Back Program what they are doing to bolster encryption in light of the NSA’s unlawful surveillance of your communications. We’re pleased to see that four companies—Dropbox, Google, SpiderOak and Sonic.net—are implementing five out of five of our best practices for encryption. In addition, we appreciate that Yahoo! just announced several measures it plans to take to increase encryption, including the very critical encryption of data center links, and that Twitter has confirmed that it has encryption of data center links in progress. See the infographic.
By adopting these practices, described below, these service providers have taken a critical step towards protecting their users from warrantless seizure of their information off of fiber-optic cables. By enabling encryption across their networks, service providers can make backdoor surveillance more challenging, requiring the government to go to courts and use legal process."
Badass Digest says Watch The Short Film That Ties Into GRAVITY. "Late in Gravity Sandra Bullock's Dr. Ryan Stone is stuck in a space capsule, desperately trying to make contact with the Earth. She ends up talking to some guy whose language she doesn't know, listening to his dogs and his baby as she prepares to die. Now we can see the other side of that conversation. Alfonse Cuaron's son Jonas directed a short film that ties in with this scene, revealing to us just who the man on the other end of the radio was."
io9 lists Every Single Doctor Who Story, Ranked from Best to Worst. I only know the rebooted series and am not that great at the titles. I do agree that Blink should be at the top, it's the only one I leave permanently on my TiVo.
Lock Down Your Security Settings In iOS 7 is a good description of the various settings though I'm not doing many of the suggestions. Here's where I differ:
- I allow Siri when locked and have used it occasionally (Passbook too though I barely use it)
- I use a simple 4 digit pin
- I have Erase Data set to OFF
- In Notifications I allow access on the lock screen of Notifications and Today Views
- I allow access to the Control Center on the Lock Screen
- I also "have “Location-Based iAds” turned off, but I keep “Popular Near Me” on, even though it’s almost useless."
The new Mac Pro is a radically new design for a computer. Personally, I'm waiting to see the R2D2 modifications that will eventually come. For now. Atomic Delights describes How Apple Makes the Mac Pro "What makes Apple fascinating is not that they are using some wiz-bang alien technologies to make things - even here in Portland, Oregon, all the technologies Apple shows in this video are in-practice across numerous local factories. What makes Apple unique is that they perform their manufacturing with remarkable precision and on a scale that is simply astonishing, using techniques typically reserved for the aerospace or medical device industries."
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Obama Pick for Court Is 3rd in a Row Blocked by Republicans. This is really amazing to me.
Senate Republicans on Monday blocked President Obama’s third consecutive nominee to the country’s most powerful and prestigious appeals court and insisted they would not back down, inflaming a bitter debate over a president’s right to shape the judiciary.
By a vote of 53 to 38, the Senate failed to break a filibuster of Robert L. Wilkins, a federal judge who was nominated to fill one of three vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, falling seven votes short of the 60 needed. Two Republicans — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — voted with the Democrats.
The impasse over Mr. Wilkins followed Republican blockades of two other candidates for the court since Oct. 31. Unlike previous fights over judicial nominees, the dispute is not as much about the judges’ individual political leanings as it is about the overall ideological makeup of the court. Republicans have raised few objections to the three candidates’ qualifications or legal positions.
Rather, Republicans are seeking to prevent Mr. Obama from filling any of the three existing vacancies on the 11-seat court, fearing that he will alter its conservative tilt. "
Justice Roberts complains each year about the number of vacancies on federal courts. Now Obama nominates people and not because of their qualifications or even their leanings, Republicans block them, just because it's not a conservative filling the vacant seats. What happened to "elections have consequences"?
This wikipedia page has nice tables of the compositions of the courts based on which president nominated them. Currently the US Courts of Appeals have 46% appointed by Democrats and 44% appointed by Republicans and 10% of the seats are vacant. It's a recent swing back to being a plurality of Democratic appointees which wasn't the case since 2000 (and 1984 before that).
Are Democrats Finally Getting Ready to Kill the Filibuster? "At various points over the past year, Republicans have refused to confirm any nominees to the NLRB so that it would lose its quorum and be unable to pass new rules; they have refused to confirm any chairman of the CFPB in order to prevent it from functioning at all; they have threatened to destroy America's credit unless Obamacare was defunded; and now they're refusing to confirm any nominees to the DC circuit court in order to preserve its conservative tilt. Reid eventually managed to cut deals on the NLRB, the CFPB, and Obamacare, but as Feinstein says, "We left with a very good feeling there would be a new day. Well, the new day lasted maybe for a week."
I think this is the first post with this combination of tags: economics, sci-fi, tv.
Rick Webb wrote The Economics of Star Trek on Medium.
"Traditional economics, of course, deals with the efficient allocation of inherently scarce materials. Post scarcity economics deals with the economics of economies that are no longer constrained by scarcity of materials — food, energy, shelter, etc."
"Take a mental journey for a moment with me: what if, one day, technology reaches the point that a small number of humans — say, 10 million — can produce all of the food, shelter and energy that the race needs. This doesn’t seem like insanely wishful thinking, given current trends. There’s no rational reason why the advances in robotics, factories, energy and agriculture could continue unabated for long periods of time. Of course I’m not saying they will, but rather, they could."
"I believe the federation is a proto-post scarcity society evolved from democratic capitalism. It is, essentially, European socialist capitalism vastly expanded to the point where no one has to work unless they want to."
Matthew Yglesias followed up Star Trek economy: Federation is only mostly post-scarcity.
"The central conceit of Trek is that technology gets better and better, so things that are mass produced and rationalized get cheaper and more abundant. So there's a post-scarcity economy where anyone can replicate any kind of consumer goods he wants. Webb sees a welfare state, but I actually see something different. It's simply that energy is abundant enough that people have unrestricted access to consumer-grade replicators. Under the circumstances nobody needs to work to survive and there's really no point in maintaining a cash economy. But by definition improved technology can't increase the efficiency of historical production techniques. If the promise of Sisko's is a home-cooked New Orleans meal, then Sisko's can't partake in the post-scarcity economy. Similarly, you can replicate wine in unlimited quantities but a Chateau Picard vintage is by definition a scarce commodity. People appear to operate these businesses for roughly the same reason that Starfleet officers cruise around the galaxy—for a sense of personal fulfillment rather than enrichment."
"So what do the producers of scarce goods do? Well, presumably they're giving a lot of stuff away. Friends and family get bottles of wine. Perhaps you send a case or two to some particularly admired athletes or scientists or other heroes. Maybe artisanal wine just isn't that popular in general. And maybe you barter some bottles for other artisanal goods. Maybe you have a friend who hand-carves furniture. But at its most fundamental level, it's a gift economy. The point of running your restaurant or your vineyard is essentially to show off your mastery, not accumulate wealth. There may be some more-or-less formal exchanges, but the key point is to get the output into people's hands and not work so hard as to make yourself miserable."
Joshua Gans adds That Star Trek economy thing.
"There clearly is some broad inter-governmental trade that is afforded by larger projects and more advanced technologies and that itself will provide a rational for a Federation-wide medium of exchange — hence, Federation Credits. That such Credits also find themselves into the hands of Federation citizens is also not surprising even if they don’t have to use them except when they go abroad."
"In conclusion, the Star Trek economy is a well-defined general equilibrium production-exchange economy with a large government presence. It is, therefore, capable of analysis using the tools of neoclassical economics. There is no need to dress it up any other way."
Jared Bernstein on Paul Ryan, Poverty Warrior? Huh?
"You learn that Ryan’s ‘…been quietly visiting inner-city neighborhoods…to talk to ex-convicts and recovering addicts about the means of their salvation.’ And that he and his staff have ‘…been trolling center-right think tanks and intellectuals for ideas to replace the ‘bureaucratic, top-down anti-poverty programs’ that Ryan blames for ‘wrecking families and communities’ since Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty in 1964.’
Then you read page after page, trying to figure out what the dude is actually saying he’d do to lower poverty, and here’s what you’re left with: vouchers, tax credits, and volunteerism. All sizzle, no steak. And is that not the story of Rep. Ryan?"
gizmodo shows Aerial photos reveal the destructive path of the Midwest tornado "Tornadoes ripped through the Midwest of the United States earlier today and the damage it left behind is absolutely tragic. These pictures of Washington, Illinois, the worst area affected, show how a community gets shredded by natural disaster. The path is violent, the ground is scarred and the homes are just gone."
Ars Technica writes Judge: “NSA exceeded the scope of authorized acquisition continuously” "Yet another Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) judge has blasted United States intelligence officials for disregarding the court’s guidelines for domestic surveillance of American e-mail metadata traffic, a program that ran for around a decade before ending in 2011.
‘[National Security Agency’s] record of compliance with these rules has been poor,’ wrote Judge John D. Bates in a 117-page opinion (PDF) whose date was redacted. The opinion is just one of a series of documents released and declassified late Monday evening by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)."
Minotaur I/ORS-3 "The launch of a Minotaur I rocket for the U.S. Air Force ORS-3 mission is scheduled to occur on November 19, 2013, with a planned launch window from 7:30 -9:15 pm EST. The launch, from ignition to delivery of the satellites in orbit, will take a little less than twelve-and-a-half minutes, with a targeted 500 km circular orbit at an inclination of 40.5 degrees."
Update: I saw the stage 3 burn. Looked like a bright mars moving across the sky a little faster than an airplane, then it disappeared. Very cool.
Dan Geer's talk Tradeoffs in Cyber Security reminds me that it's been too long since I've read Dan Geer. There's certainly some security jargon but he's still a master at taking complex things and putting them in easy to understand terms. I just wish Instapaper would have been able to parse this .txt file.
Monday, November 18, 2013
The Big Picture covers Tornadoes and severe weather slam the midwest "A powerful late-season wave of tornadoes, thunderstorms and damaging winds hit 12 states on Sunday. News organizations reported anywhere from dozens (The Washington Post) to over 81 (The Chicago Tribune) tornadoes that touched down in the midwest, killing at least eight people. Looking at these photographs, its hard to imagine that so many people walked away unharmed. Washington, Ill., a town of 15,000 people east of Peoria was hit hardest by an EF-4 tornado with winds of up to 190 mph. --Thea Breite ( # 22 )"
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Ezra Klein on One senator’s lonely war against climate change "Every week, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse heads to the floor of the Senate, sets up an easel and some poster board and delivers a speech. He works hard on these speeches. They’re deeply researched and beautifully crafted. He delivers them with passion and fervor -- to a mostly empty room."
Friday, November 15, 2013
This is a really cool story. BREAKING NEWS: Batman Saves San Francisco "This is the news of five year old Miles, who has spent the day achieving his wish to be Batman. This is part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, who have helped turn several blocks of San Francisco into Gotham for the day, as Miles rides around in the Batmobile, foils the schemes of various villains, saves the day and will – this evening – receive the key to San Francisco from the Mayor."
National Geographic Photo Contest 2013 "National Geographic has once again opened its annual photo contest, with the deadline for submissions coming up on Saturday, November 30. One first-place winner will be chosen from each of the three categories, and the winning photographs will be published in National Geographic magazine. The overall grand-prize winner will be announced in December of 2013. National Geographic was kind enough to let me choose among its entries so far for display here on In Focus. Gathered below are 39 images, with captions written by the individual photographers. [39 photos]"
Americans – why do you keep refrigerating your eggs? I found this completely bizarre on several levels.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Ars Technica explains Google Books ruled legal in massive win for fair use "A long-running copyright lawsuit between the Authors' Guild and Google over its book-scanning project is over, and Google has won on the grounds that its scanning is 'fair use.' In other words, the snippets of books that Google shows for free don't break copyright, and Google doesn't need the authors' permission to engage in the scanning and display of short bits of books."
Ars Technica writes In 6 months, US law enforcement asked Google for data on 21,000 users "Google announced on Thursday that US government (local, state, federal) requests for data has reached 21,683 users between January through June 2013. By comparison, the company’s previous reporting period (July through December 2012) saw requests from US authorities for 14,791 accounts—a jump of about 32 percent. Again, the United States remains at the top of this list by a wide margin. India, Germany, France and the United Kingdom round out the next four positions, respectively."
On Wednesday, New York Rep. Louise Slaughter wrote to Chief Justice John Roberts asking that he formally reprimand his colleague Justice Clarence Thomas for participating in the conservative Federalist Society’s annual fundraiser. Thomas’ appearance at the event, writes Slaughter, is a ‘clear violation of the ethical standards embodied in the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges.’
Canon 4(c) of the Code of Conduct forbids judges from personally participating in fundraising events. Although it is not legally binding upon Supreme Court justices, Roberts has previously written that it provides ‘a current and uniform source of guidance’ for the members of the Court.
‘Justice Thomas is among several members of the high court who’ve made a habit of flouting judicial ethics by headlining Federalist Society fundraisers,’ said Pearson in a statement. ‘He gets away with it because the Court has exempted itself from the Code, but that doesn’t make it right.’
More to the point, perhaps there should be a formal code of conduct for Supreme Court Justices.
Kevin Drum wonders Is Darrell Issa Becoming an Albatross to the Republican Party? "Let's talk about Darrell Issa. He's a Republican attack dog, and that's fine. Every party has people like that. But Issa is now the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which means (in practice) that he's the guy charged with harrying and annoying the Obama administration with maximum effectiveness. The problem is that he keeps misfiring. He has a habit of releasing partial transcripts that look incriminating but turn out to be nothingburgers once the full transcript comes out. He continues to press ludicrously overwrought theories that he simply can't prove. Yesterday he got caught out once again when an administration witness flatly contradicted one of his latest wild charges. Steve Benen has the deets."
RealClimate says Global Warming Since 1997 Underestimated by Half "A new study by British and Canadian researchers shows that the global temperature rise of the past 15 years has been greatly underestimated. The reason is the data gaps in the weather station network, especially in the Arctic. If you fill these data gaps using satellite measurements, the warming trend is more than doubled in the widely used HadCRUT4 data, and the much-discussed ‘warming pause’ has virtually disappeared."
The planet is warming at 0.12 °C per decade. Maybe we should do something about it.
It all seem very vague to me but when Stephen Wolfram says Something Very Big Is Coming: Our Most Important Technology Project Yet it's probably worth listening to.
Marco writes “Significantly Hotter”
Many initially great-seeming products have obvious compromises and shortcomings in retrospect, and modern Apple devices aren’t immune to this. The first MacBook Air was painfully slow. The original iPad didn’t have enough RAM. The iPhone 4’s camera was very slow, its proximity sensor was flaky, and its home button wore out easily. And the iPad Mini’s screen resolution was embarrassing for a late-2012 midrange tablet.
At the other end, some products strike an amazing balance, are executed extremely well, and make significant progress from their predecessors while having no major drawbacks. Apple tends to make a lot more of these than most tech companies. I think the strongest examples among each Apple product family in the last few years as being noteworthy for the time and fantastic in retrospect are the 2010 13’ MacBook Air, the iPhone 5, and the iPad 2.
Maybe my Apple bias is because I've managed to pick well (never buy the first generation of Apple hardware). I have an iPad 2 and iPhone 5 and agree they're great. I think I can wait for the next iPad and I can easily wait to see what the iPhone 6 brings.
Watch Animated Sheet Music for Miles Davis’ “So What,” Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” & Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”. This is an article that picks out three examples from a YouTube channel. Kinda neat. Here's one example.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Ars has a nice review, TiVo Roamio marries content recording and roaming, but cable keeps calling. I had some setup problems but nothing as annoying as his. My Roamio has mostly "just worked" since install.
There is an issue that now that it connects to the network to try to unify different services, it wants to talk to the network. That's fine, unless the TiVo service is down. I've found that I've finished a show and clicked to delete it and my TiVo hung for a several minutes. When I got to the menu it said it couldn't contact the TiVo service. Fine, so I won't be able update the guide or look some things up, but I don't think it should affect me deleting a show stored on my TiVo.
Universe Today describes The Day the Earth Smiled: Saturn Shines in this Amazing Image from the Cassini Team. The full size images are big and I can't scale it down effectively, go here for the original.
Monday, November 11, 2013
Given the size of the storm I've seen very little about it, but In Focus covers Super Typhoon Haiyan Devastates the Philippines "Officials are now estimating that as many as 10,000 deaths may have been caused in the Philippines by the landfall of one of the most powerful storms on record, Super Typhoon Haiyan. Wind gusts were measured up to 195 mph, and the storm's reach extended over a thousand miles as it approached the Philippines last Friday. The extent of the devastation is still being assessed by humanitarian groups, but all measures so far indicate a historic level of damage, requiring millions in aid and years for recovery. [26 photos]"
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Saturday, November 09, 2013
Ezra Klein writes A game changer for campaign reporting "But when you buy ‘Game Change 2,’ you should also buy its opposite -- ‘The Gamble,’ by political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck (you might know Sides from the awesome 'Monkey Cage' blog). It, too, is an account of the 2012 election. But it signals its contrasting point of view in its first sentence: ‘68,’ the authors wrote. ‘That is how many moments were described as ‘game-changers’ in the 2012 presidential election.’ The rest of the book is dedicated to proving that almost none truly were."
"If most election narratives cast the campaign staff as key actors, “The Gamble” focuses on the centrality of the news media. Over and again, Sides and Vavreck record the candidates acting -- and the media reacting, filtering, covering, assessing. That process determines what information voters do and don’t hear. It’s also a process that members of the news media tend to overlook, in part because it raises complex questions about their role in shaping what they cover."
Earlier this year, NPR reporter David Folkenflik dropped a bombshell in his new book Murdoch’s World when he reported that Fox News staffers were paid to leave comments on blogs.
In response, Stephen Colbert has released a new Twitter handle, @RealHumanPraise, which offers anything but. Every two minutes, the bot pulls quotes from a positive movie review on Rotten Tomatoes and replaces them with Fox shows and personalities. Hilarity ensues.
Friday, November 08, 2013
Infographic Inspired: The Simplest Electric Bill You’ve Ever Seen | Co.Design | business + design "This is not the kind of cynicism that Illinois-based electric company ComEd was eager to generate. And the truth is, the more confusing the bill, the more likely it is to be disputed, the less likely it is to be paid. So, from not only an image perspective, but a practical, financial one as well, the company realized their bills needed better design. They decided to give that power to the people--who knows better, after all, than civilians who regularly decipher the bills?--and teamed up with Crowdspring."
Verizon should do this too.
Thursday, November 07, 2013
Realistically colorized historical photos make the past seem incredibly real "Over the last couple years, an increasingly popular trend online has been to create and share colorized photos from history. Artists such as Jordan Lloyd, Dana Keller and Sanna Dullaway take intriguing old black-and-white photos and bring them to life with color as if they’d been taken only yesterday."
New ligament discovered in the human knee "Two knee surgeons at University Hospitals Leuven have discovered a previously unknown ligament in the human knee. This ligament appears to play an important role in patients with anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears."
I don't understand how this wasn't noticed before, given all the knee surgeries and med students with cadavers.
Update: This makes more sense, No, science has not discovered a new body part. "What this new paper provides is a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the anterolateral ligament's relationship with other, nearby anatomical structures. In other words: How does this ligament, WHICH WE'VE KNOWN ABOUT FOR MORE THAN A CENTURY, function in concert with other components of the knee and leg?"
Techhive writes 'So, that's why it's called Bluetooth!' and other surprising tech name origins "Here we present the hidden—and occasionally accidental—histories behind some of the biggest names in tech."
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
"Google has started to encrypt its traffic between its data centers, effectively halting the broad surveillance of its inner workings by the joint National Security Agency-GCHQ program known as MUSCULAR. The move turns off a giant source of information to the two agencies, which at one point accounted for nearly a third of the NSA's daily data intake for its primary intelligence analysis database—at least for now."
Ars describes Meet “badBIOS,” the mysterious Mac and PC malware that jumps airgaps. The article is a little technical, but the story is scary.
"In the following months, Ruiu observed more odd phenomena that seemed straight out of a science-fiction thriller. A computer running the Open BSD operating system also began to modify its settings and delete its data without explanation or prompting. His network transmitted data specific to the Internet's next-generation IPv6 networking protocol, even from computers that were supposed to have IPv6 completely disabled. Strangest of all was the ability of infected machines to transmit small amounts of network data with other infected machines even when their power cords and Ethernet cables were unplugged and their Wi-Fi and Bluetooth cards were removed. Further investigation soon showed that the list of affected operating systems also included multiple variants of Windows and Linux."
"Ruiu posited another theory that sounds like something from the screenplay of a post-apocalyptic movie: "badBIOS," as Ruiu dubbed the malware, has the ability to use high-frequency transmissions passed between computer speakers and microphones to bridge airgaps."
Paul Krugman points out the flaw in Free-Floating Inflation Hysteria
What remains notable, however, is just what all Republicans are obliged to say: Ron Paul monetary theory has become obligatory:
Vice Chair Yellen will continue the destructive and inflationary policy of pouring billions of newly printed money every month into our economy, and artificially holding interest rates to near zero. This policy has been in place far too long.
So, the Fed began rapidly expanding its balance sheet when Lehman fell — more than five years ago. Here’s the result of that ‘destructive and inflationary’ policy so far:
It’s not often that you see an economic theory fail so utterly and completely. Yet that theory’s grip on the GOP has only strengthened as its failure becomes ever more undeniable.
Remember, if someone tells you we're in hyperinflation or it's just around the corner, tell them inflation is at 1% and it's been that way for 5 years now and that's the problem. It needs to be a little higher for the economy to recover. And tell them to stop listening to Ron Paul.
Ezra Klein explains The fog of health reform: Why there’s so much bad information about Obamacare
Last month, [Barrette] received a letter from Blue Cross/Blue Shield informing her as of January 2014, she would lose her current plan. Barrette pays $54 a month. The new plan she’s being offered would run $591 a month, ten times more than what she currently pays. ‘What I have right now is what I’m happy with, and I just want to know why I can’t keep what I have. Why do I have to be forced into something else?’
Her current health insurance plan, she says, doesn’t cover ‘extended hospital stays; it’s not designed for that,’ says Barrette. Well, does it cover any hospitalization? ‘Outpatient only,’ responds Barrette. Nor does it cover ambulance service and some prenatal care. On the other hand, says Barrette, it does cover ‘most of my generic drugs that I need’ and there’s a $50 co-pay for doctors’ appointments..A middling hospital stay could well have bankrupted Barrette under her current insurance.
Then the New Republic's Jonathan Cohn called Barrette and walked through the subsidies she'd qualify for and the precise plans she might be able to get. Her response? 'I would jump at it,' she told Cohn. 'With my age, things can happen. I don’t want to have bills that could make me bankrupt. I don’t want to lose my house.' 'Maybe,' she said abut Obamacare, 'it’s a blessing in disguise.' In the space of about a week, in other words, Barrette went from Obamacare victim to Obamacare beneficiary."
I'll add, there's one part of the media that is exploiting these stories and not correcting them.
Amazon Source is a new program from Amazon for independent bookstores. Here's the description:
"We designed this program with bookstores in mind. The Bookseller Program offers a discount on the price of Kindle tablets and e-readers, plus the opportunity to make a commission on every book your customers purchase from their device, anywhere, anytime. With the Bookseller Program, you get a 10% commission every time one of your customers buys an e-book from a Kindle tablet or e-reader that they purchase at your store. This program allows you to give your customers a choice between digital and physical books, offer them access to a wide selection of e-books, and profit from every e-book they buy on their new device, from your store or on the go."
Sounds kind of interesting, particularly if you can make your bookstore a place for recommendations or book clubs, etc. The site says "terms and conditions" apply but I couldn't find them. Engadget says "A bookseller will only get a cut on digital e-book sales made within two years of the device being purchased" which does sound like a Trojan Horse.
Jon Stewart last night did a nice piece on Obama's exaggerations on keeping a health insurance plan you like as well as the media covering the story. Here's the link. Here's the clip, if people have a problem with it auto playing let me know.
Tuesday, November 05, 2013
This is interesting, Apple-backed plant in Arizona to produce sapphire.
On Monday, Arizona governor Jan Brewer announced that Apple will open a manufacturing facility in Mesa; that plant will be operated by GT Advanced Technologies, which will be providing sapphire for Cupertino’s products.
The plant will employ 700 workers and seems positioned to provide a lot of sapphire. Currently, Apple uses the material in relatively few places: It covers the lens on the iPhone 5c and 5s and is used as the top layer in the Touch ID sensor on the iPhone 5s. In both cases, it’s harder and provides much more scratch resistance than conventional glass.
There's some speculation that Apple could be developing it for screens which would solve scratches on an iPhone (though it might be a little more prone to shattering). The other common use of Sapphire is in watch crystals.
The maps here show the world as it is now, with only one difference: All the ice on land has melted and drained into the sea, raising it 216 feet and creating new shorelines for our continents and inland seas.
Marvin Ammori wrote in Wired yesterday, We're About to Lose Net Neutrality — And the Internet as We Know It "Once upon a time, companies like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and others declared a war on the internet’s foundational principle: that its networks should be ‘neutral’ and users don’t need anyone’s permission to invent, create, communicate, broadcast, or share online. The neutral and level playing field provided by permissionless innovation has empowered all of us with the freedom to express ourselves and innovate online without having to seek the permission of a remote telecom executive.
But today, that freedom won’t survive much longer if a federal court — the second most powerful court in the nation behind the Supreme Court, the DC Circuit — is set to strike down the nation’s net neutrality law, a rule adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in 2010. Some will claim the new solution ‘splits the baby’ in a way that somehow doesn’t kill net neutrality and so we should be grateful. But make no mistake: Despite eight years of public and political activism by multitudes fighting for freedom on the internet, a court decision may soon take it away."
The Wayback Machine Just Got Way Better "The nicest new feature, though, is the new Save Page Now tool. On the Wayback Machine page, just enter a page you want to save in the Save Page box in the bottom right corner, and it’ll generate a current snapshot of that page and give you a link to reference. That new feature is immediately the best way to cite pages in documents and perhaps Wikipedia, since you can guarantee that the link won’t rot. It’s something the Supreme Court should immediately love, since they’ve found that a staggering 49% of the links in cases are now dead."
"Webpages disappear at an alarming rate, but it’s not the only media that’s fleeting. TV shows might hang around on DVD and Netflix for a while, but imagine trying to find what your local TV news said on a specific date? Archiving everything that’s ever broadcasted on TV seems far too lofty a task, but the Internet Archive is currently archiving everything from 23 major American TV news networks at their TV News site. It was started during the last US election to make it easier to quote what was said on the news, and has continued to index the full text of everything broadcasted on the stations they’re caching. You can search what’s being said, see the top topics right now, watch short clips where the text was said, and borrow full DVDs from the library for research. It’s the most incredible thing to ever happen to TV news."
Ars Technica wrote yesterday New Kepler analysis finds many Earth-like planets; total 3,500 exoplanets "Although NASA's Kepler probe has entered a semi-retirement, discoveries from the data it collected continue. Scientists are currently gathered to discuss these results, and they held a press conference today to announce the latest haul. As of today, the Kepler team is adding 833 new exoplanet candidates to its existing haul, bringing the total up to over 3,500. So far, 90 percent of the candidates that have been checked have turned out to be real. The number of planets in the habitable zone has gone up to over 100."
Sunday, November 03, 2013
I caught this on Bill Moyers Yves Smith and Dean Baker on Secrets in Trade and was quite surprised as this was the first I heard of it.
A US-led trade deal is currently being negotiated that could increase the price of prescription drugs, weaken financial regulations and even allow partner countries to challenge American laws. But few know its substance.
The pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is deliberately shrouded in secrecy, a trade deal powerful people, including President Obama, don’t want you to know about. More than 130 members of Congress have asked the White House for greater transparency about the negotiations and were essentially told to go fly a kite. While most of us are in the dark about the contents of the deal, which Obama aims to seal by year end, corporate lobbyists are in the know about what it contains.
There's a little more here. Far from being a socialist this make Obama sound more like a robber baron. It's the secrecy that's so bothersome. I hope to hear more of this.
Saturday, November 02, 2013
Back in July Reuters reported Halliburton pleads guilty to destroying Gulf oil spill evidence
Halliburton Co has agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Thursday.
The government said Halliburton's guilty plea is the third by a company over the spill and requires the world's second-largest oilfield services company to pay a maximum $200,000 statutory fine.
Halliburton also agreed to three years of probation and to continue cooperating with the criminal probe into the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.
Court approval is required. Houston-based Halliburton also made a separate, voluntary $55 million payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Justice Department said.
Edward Sherman, a Tulane University law professor, said the plea could suggest weakness in Halliburton's position in negotiating a settlement over spill-related liabilities."
I honestly don't know what to make of it. Guilty sounds bad, $200,000 doesn't, though it seems there might be more to come.
"Twenty-seven Republican senators voted with Democrats on Oct. 16 to lift the debt ceiling and avert a catastrophic default. And each one of those 27 senators voted Tuesday to 'disapprove' of their own votes. The vote Tuesday was a symbolic 'resolution to disapprove' of the debt limit hike. It was mandated by the deal thanks to a last-minute provision inserted by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The motion failed 45-54 because all Democrats opposed it."
So when they were for it, they were also for later voting against that they were for it.
Friday, November 01, 2013
Kevin Drum explains Yet Another Benghazi Story Falls Apart "So here's what we know: (a) There was really no need for the dramatic pseudonym. Everyone knew who Davies was. (b) His official report differs wildly from his 60 Minutes account. (c) Davies is now conveniently sick and unable to explain himself. (d) Davies never told his co-author about his after-action report. (e) Presumably he never told 60 Minutes about it either. (f) Congressional investigators have had copies of Davies' report for months."
For this crap Lindsey Graham is holding up nominations.
I first heard about the shooting incident at LAX via Twitter. I follow Mythbuster Tory Belleci and he tweeted, "Holy s*!!! How the hell did guns get passed security? Outside now."
I got home and I've been flipping between CNN, MSNBC and even FOX. So far, CNN has been awful. Much less specific factual information. They had a harder time than the others getting some eyewitness on the phone and the one I did hear was very difficult to understand. Wolf Blitzer and security experts have been speculating trying to fill time. Wolf was wondering why TSA agents aren't armed. FOX had some real info but then I heard them get another eyewitness and instead of just getting info from him the host was saying he'd already heard different things (You were in terminal 2, we had heard terminal 3; you say dark flannel, we heard camo). MSNBC has been calm and has been good about getting info from witnesses and some official sources (there hasn't been much, but MSNBC seems to be getting it quicker than the others). CNN's video of the airport looks best, MSNBC has shown good maps, FOX's giant iPad are very odd (first I've seen them). Mostly it's just showing an email client that only the host can read.
Update: CNN now has Tory Belleci on the phone and is showing photos from his twitter stream. MSNBC is reporting one TSA agent killed and another wounded, CNN and FOX are still just mentioning one wounded