Tuesday, March 31, 2015

King v. Burwell Arguments.

A few weeks ago SCOTUS heard arguments in King v. Burwell, the latest Obamacare case. SCOTUSblog describes the argument in Plain English. Cristian Farias in Slate emphasises the most interesting point, Sotomayor May Have Saved Obamacare

Apparently the federal government can't write laws that coerce the states. Bond v. United States came to the court twice, Kennedy writing one opinion, Roberts another. Sotomayor points out, “We said [in Bond] that it is a primary statutory command that we read a statute in a way where we don’t impinge on the basic federal-state relationship.” She pointed out that offering the states a choice, either setup your own exchanges and get subsidies or use the federal one and don't which results in a death spiral of the whole system isn't really a viable choice and is therefore coercion. Kennedy asked questions following up on this and Roberts remained silent. We'll probably hear something about this line of reasoning in either the opinion or a dissent.

How Indiana's religious freedom law sparked a battle over LGBT rights.

Vox's German Lopez explains How Indiana's religious freedom law sparked a battle over LGBT rights. It's the clearest and most complete description I've seen of the Indiana law including, the context of similar laws over the last 20 years and how they're currently viewed.

What everyone gets wrong about Iran nuclear negotiations

Vox's Max Fisher talks with Nuclear Weapons expert Jeffrey Lewis about What everyone gets wrong about Iran nuclear negotiations. It's very useful.

"I'm way more worried about, like, the covert facility problem. I'm not as worried that they're going to use Natanz [or another known nuclear development site] to break out. I think if the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] wakes up one morning and is really feeling it, they're gonna dig another hole under a mountain someplace. So, to me, the value of the agreement is not just 'does it lengthen the breakout time' but does it make less likely they can build a secret facility."

"There is this question of dual use goods [that could be used for peaceful purposes or for a clandestine nuclear program] that they import; there is a whole bunch of stuff sanctions will come off of. And it would be good to have, like, a registry or database of those things, so we can at least check to see if they are importing, say, specialized ball bearings, and make sure those are not going to a facility under a mountain."

"It's easy to support automatic enforcement mechanisms [on nuclear treaty violations] until somebody points out that the South Koreans had a safeguard violation. And then [people inevitably say], "These things should be done on a case-by-case basis." So these treaties never really have an enforcement mechanism, which is, from a legal perspective, kind of weird and kind of a bummer but totally understandable in a world of states that jealously guard their sovereignty."

"I care about whether the IAEA can look at Iran's centrifuge workshops and can make sure that they're getting information about all of the different mining locations, so there's not another source of natural uranium that could be enriched some place else. So the agreement will have verification provisions. But our confidence in the agreement will also be based on an assessment of our intelligence capabilities. And give the intelligence community credit. I mean, they caught Iran with [secret nuclear sites at] Lavizan, Natanz, and Fordow."

Can We Learn Anything From the Germanwings Disaster?

The Atlantic's James Fallows collects interesting thoughts about the Germanwings crash in: The Meaning of the Germanwings Crash, More From Pilots and Doctors on the Germanwings Crash and Can We Learn Anything From the Germanwings Disaster?.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Secret Million-Dollar Notebook From Genius Code-Breaker Alan Turing

I hadn't heard of this until today, the Washington Post reported back in January on The secret million-dollar notebook from genius code-breaker Alan Turing

When the code-breaking genius Alan Turing died, he left much of his life’s work to Robin Gandy, another mathematician and close friend. Most of those papers now live at the archives in King’s College in Cambridge. But Gandy kept something special for himself: A notebook of Turing’s hand-written thoughts, from the period during which he was trying to break the famed Enigma Code.

That notebook is now coming up for auction, and Bonhams expects it to fetch more than $1 million.

The auction — scheduled for April 13 in New York — comes months after the release of “The Imitation Game,” a biopic of Turing that revived interest in his life among the general public.

16 surprising things NASA astronauts have revealed in Reddit AMAs

I'm not sure how surprising these are, but they were fun to read. Life in orbit: 16 surprising things NASA astronauts have revealed in Reddit AMAs.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

GOP congresswoman's attempt to badmouth Obamacare backfires

Boing Boing writes GOP congresswoman's attempt to badmouth Obamacare backfires "Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington) asked her constituents [on Facebook] to share their horror stories of Obamacare-caused 'lost coverage, lost doctors, increased premiums, and a broken website' on Facebook. But to McMorris Rodgers' horror, most people shared non-horror stories about their Obamacare experiences."

New York Times Accidentally Undermines John Bolton "Bomb Iran" Op-Ed in Own Pages

The Intercept points out that the New York Times Accidentally Undermined John Bolton "Bomb Iran" Op-Ed in Own Pages. It seems they added a link to his text

In an unusual touch, a link added to the original online edition of Bolton’s op-ed directly undermines Bolton’s case for war:

…Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program. Nor will sanctions block its building a broad and deep weapons infrastructure. The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq…can accomplish what is required.

U.S. and Israeli politicians often claim that Israel’s bombing of Iraq in 1981 significantly set back an already-existing Iraqi nuclear weapons program. The truth is almost exactly the opposite. Harvard Physics Professor Richard Wilson, who visited the ruins of Osirak in 1982 and followed the issue closely, has said the available evidence ‘suggests that the bombing did not delay the Iraqi nuclear-weapons program but started it.’ This evidence includes the design of the Osirak reactor, which made it unsuitable for weapons production, and statements by Iraqi nuclear scientists that Saddam Hussein ordered them to begin a serious nuclear weapons program in response to the Israeli attack."

Interestingly the Times has changed the link. It now points to this 1981 article, Israeli Jets Destroy Iraqi Atomic Reactor - Attack Condemned By U.S. and Arab Nations. According to The Intercept it originally pointed to this 2012 Washington Post opinion piece, An Israeli attack against Iran would backfire — just like Israel’s 1981 strike on Iraq.

Ask Swearengen: Is My Boyfriend Bad News?

Apparently Ask Polly is some advice column in NY Magazine. This normally wouldn't interest me, but in this installment, she writes in the voice of Deadwood's Al Swearengen and it's fantastic. "If the hour permits and canned peaches are on offer" settle down to listen to Al Swearengen answer, Is My Boyfriend Bad News?

Here's a question: Most fun character in the history of English speaking television? Al Swearengen vs Malcolm Tucker. Go.

Presenting the 2015 Name of the Year Bracket

Name of the Year: Presenting the 2015 Name of the Year Bracket: The Gift That Keeps On Giving "Name of the Year was founded in 1983 on an Ivy League campus. Its mission has remained unchanged: to discover, verify, nominate, elect and disseminate great names. All names included here are, to the best of our knowledge, real. No malice is intended."

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Monday, March 23, 2015

The Gulf Stream system may already be weakening

Vox reports The Gulf Stream system may already be weakening. That's not good.

"In particular, many scientists have been paying close attention to the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), an ocean pattern that transports warm water from the tropics up to the North Atlantic and Nordic seas. (This is also sometimes referred to as the Gulf Stream system.)

This system is the reason why Europe has a relatively warm climate despite being so far north. But it's also a potential source of concern: paleoclimate evidence suggests the overturning circulation, or AMOC, has abruptly slowed or stopped in the distant past. Were that to happen again, it could be quite bad for both Europe and the United States.

Now, a new study in Nature Climate Change argues the Atlantic overturning already appears to be weakening. The researchers, led by Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research, created an index of regional climate conditions going back centuries. They find the weakness of the AMOC appears to be unprecedented in the past 1,100 years, possibly due to an influx of freshwater from Greenland's melting ice caps. (This contrasts with previous work suggesting the AMOC was still just fluctuating in natural cycles.)"

5,200 Days in Space

The Atlantic reports on 5,200 Days in Space "An exploration of life aboard the International Space Station, and the surprising reasons the mission is still worthwhile."

"We’ve got a permanent space colony, inaugurated a year before the setting of the iconic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a stunning achievement, and it’s completely ignored." I learned a few things in the article, but this was the most unexpected:

We don’t yet understand all the implications of long-duration spaceflight. “Five years ago,” says John Charles, of NASA’s Human Research Program, “we had an astronaut on station all of a sudden say, ‘Hey, my eyesight has changed. I’m three months into this flight, and I can’t read the checklists anymore.’ ” It turns out, Charles says, that all that fluid shifting upward in zero‑G increases intracranial pressure. “Fluid pushes on the eyeball from behind and flattens it,” says Charles. “Many astronauts slowly get farsighted in orbit.”

In fact, the station is now stocked with adjustable eyeglasses, so astronauts who don’t normally wear glasses will have them if they need them. Those who already wear glasses bring along extra pairs with stronger prescriptions.

Astronauts need precise, reliable vision, so its deterioration during spaceflight is hardly a minor problem. And it’s a particularly humbling one. NASA has known about the eyesight issue for decades. “We saw this on Skylab”—the first U.S. space station, which intermittently housed astronauts for up to three months at a time from 1973 to 1974—“and on the shuttle,” Charles says. The importance of it just wasn’t clear until astronauts were regularly spending months in orbit. And at the moment, NASA doesn’t know how to fix it back on Earth. Bone mass, muscle mass, blood volume, aerobic fitness all return to normal, for the most part. But astronauts’ eyes do not completely recover. Nor do doctors know exactly what would happen to eyesight over the course of a mission four or five times longer than those of today.

I also learned, "As it happens, the cost to run and sustain the Space Station is about the same as the cost to run a single U.S. Navy aircraft-carrier battle group." And okay, one more:

But station residents have to be careful about staying in one place too long. Without gravity to help circulate air, the carbon dioxide you exhale has a tendency to form an invisible cloud around your head. You can end up with what astronauts call a carbon-dioxide headache. (The station is equipped with fans to help with this problem.)

The CIA Just Declassified the Document That Supposedly Justified the Iraq Invasion

Vice News reports The CIA Just Declassified the Document That Supposedly Justified the Iraq Invasion

"Congress eventually concluded that the Bush administration had 'overstated' its dire warnings about the Iraqi threat, and that the administration's claims about Iraq's WMD program were 'not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting.' But that underlying intelligence reporting — contained in the so-called National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was used to justify the invasion — has remained shrouded in mystery until now."

"For the first time, the public can now read the hastily drafted CIA document [pdf below] that led Congress to pass a joint resolution authorizing the use of military force in Iraq, a costly war launched March 20, 2003 that was predicated on "disarming" Iraq of its (non-existent) WMD, overthrowing Saddam Hussein, and "freeing" the Iraqi people."

The NIE also said Hussein did not have "sufficient material" to manufacture any nuclear weapons and "the information we have on Iraqi nuclear personnel does not appear consistent with a coherent effort to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program."

But in an October 7, 2002 speech in Cincinnati, Ohio, then-President George W. Bush simply said Iraq, "possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons" and "the evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program."

"As with much of the information on the overall relationship, details on training and support are second-hand," the NIE said. "The presence of al-Qa'ida militants in Iraq poses many questions. We do not know to what extent Baghdad may be actively complicit in this use of its territory for safehaven and transit."

So now (yet again) we can be sure that the President lied in order to start a war. So what should we do about that?

Akira Kurosawa - Composing Movement

Here's another installment of Every Frame a Painting. I got a lot more out of this than the previous first/last frame video. Note that one of the caption languages shows the titles of the films. I usually find Kurosawa films a bit slow and static, so this gave me a whole new way of looking at them.

First and Final Frames

"What can we learn by examining only the first and final shot of a film? This video plays the opening and closing shots of 55 films side-by-side. Some of the opening shots are strikingly similar to the final shots, while others are vastly different--both serving a purpose in communicating various themes. Some show progress, some show decline, and some are simply impactful images used to begin and end a film."

First and Final Frames from Jacob T. Swinney on Vimeo.

The films shown are listed on the page. I didn't recognize a lot of them and then saw the titles and I'd seen the film (though I haven't seen Boyhood and recognized those shots). I suppose I can just enjoy the beauty of these but I wish he'd done more work for us, collecting similar examples together. I also wish there was a way to see the titles in the video (either another version or via captions).

US Presidential Candidate Announcements

The Economist on US presidential candidate announcements: A history of hat throwing "Before the 1970s campaigns tended to be shorter. Candidates often threw their hats into the ring only a few months before election day. Campaigns grew longer after the Democrats re-wrote their party rules to give more weight to primary elections in the states rather than secretive negotiations at the nominating convention. This forced candidates to make their pitches directly to ordinary voters, which takes longer (see chart). The Republicans followed suit."

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Friday, March 20, 2015

The World's Biggest Physics Experiment Is About to Reboot

Gizmodo has a nice explainer on the LHC The World's Biggest Physics Experiment Is About to Reboot. They're gearing up for 13 TeV collisions by the end of May (up from 8 TeV in 2013). The article explains what they might find with these higher energy collisions.

50 Million Users: The Making of an ‘Angry Birds’ Internet Meme

The Wall Street Journal wrote about 50 Million Users: The Making of an ‘Angry Birds’ Internet Meme "Last week, we described a 100-page report on innovation and jobs written by two Oxford University economists that cited an eye-catching metric: It took 75 years for telephones to reach 50 million users, while the app “Angry Birds” hit that goal in 35 days. An accompanying chart showed radio took 38 years and TV 13 years. The numbers looked precise enough to appear like they were thoroughly researched."

They go on to site the origins of the meme and to look at the data. As I was reading it I kept wondering about the population size when the Internet started compared to the telephone. Thankfully they included these graphs:

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Trillion Dollar Fraudsters

Paul Krugman on the Trillion Dollar Fraudsters

"But the just-released budgets from the House and Senate majorities break new ground. Each contains not one but two trillion-dollar magic asterisks: one on spending, one on revenue. And that’s actually an understatement. If either budget were to become law, it would leave the federal government several trillion dollars deeper in debt than claimed, and that’s just in the first decade."

"So, about those budgets: both claim drastic reductions in federal spending. Some of those spending reductions are specified: There would be savage cuts in food stamps, similarly savage cuts in Medicaid over and above reversing the recent expansion, and an end to Obamacare’s health insurance subsidies. Rough estimates suggest that either plan would roughly double the number of Americans without health insurance. But both also claim more than a trillion dollars in further cuts to mandatory spending, which would almost surely have to come out of Medicare or Social Security. What form would these further cuts take? We get no hint."

He also points out that Obama's fiscal forecasts have been pretty accurate, including a link to this chart showing that the deficit is less than half of what it was in 2009 (FRED's improved their graphs since I last looked).

The Daily Show: Mighty Morphin Position Changers

The opening segment last night was Jon Stewart at his best. "Fox News fails to provide coverage of the Department of Justice report that revealed widespread systemic racism in the Ferguson police department." He compares their coverage of Ferguson and Benghazi particularly after studies released reports on the issues. He ended with this:

Which brings us once again to our pain point of respect and appreciation, the beauty that is the ugliness of Fox News. They demand accountability for anger and divisiveness whilst holding themselves entirely unaccountable for their anger and divisiveness. For two years, they used Benghazi as shorthand, as a symbol for the whole concept of a corrupt, lying, tyrannical, possible murderous Obama White House. Kind of like other people used 'hands up, don't shoot' as a symbol for systemic racism, and there's only really one difference between the two phenomenon: systemic racism actually exists.

He then literally dropped the mic. Watch the whole thing:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Brooklyn's Aniah Ferguson Isn't an "Animal," or Even an Adult—She's a Troubled Girl

The Intercept reports Brooklyn's Aniah Ferguson Isn't an "Animal," or Even an Adult—She's a Troubled Girl . I didn't know the name off-hand but semi-recognized the story of a video of teenage girls beating up another girl going viral a week ago. As terrible as they are I tend to ignore these stories as sensationalism. So The Intercept reports on how the main assailant has been arrested and describe her as:

‘Aniah always had her problems. I can’t lie. And I tried to get help but it didn’t happen,’ her mother said. ‘She was in [anger management] classes though when this happened.’ Ferguson’s mother describes her daughter’s life as a continual struggle. She was raised by a single mother (as much as one can use the past tense for a girl only 16 years old) and was lashing out long before the high-profile attack at McDonald’s. In the past eight months alone, Ferguson has been arrested a half dozen times; the charges included stabbing a brother in the arm, punching her grandmother in the face, and attacking a pregnant woman, according to court records. Prosecutors claim she belongs to a street organization known as the Young Savages — an offshoot of the Chicago-born Folk Nation gang.

So I read this and think, wow, sounds like a violent person in a gang, I'm ok with her being in jail for long time. The article goes on to describe her as a 16 year-old single mother who lives in an "apartment that Ferguson’s mother, grandmother, siblings and one-year-old daughter all share." Then I read, "Take the sentence Ferguson faces for gang assault and robbery: up to 25 years behind bars. She will be charged as an adult even though she isn’t one." 25 years sounds like way too long a sentence for this. I could imagine a similar fight breaking out at a football or basketball game and not having much more consequences then a suspension. Then of course they go on to question our whole prison system:

In all the outrage about her case, few are asking the most basic pragmatic questions. Even given Ferguson’s recent history of violence, is long-term imprisonment the correct route to take? Should a troubled and emotionally unstable teen be thrust into a harsh prison environment, when research shows she will likely pick up worse criminal habits there? Will Ferguson’s incarceration solve any of her problems — or society’s — or will it exacerbate them? The United States already imprisons 30 percent of incarcerated women worldwide.

Take The Intelligence Test That Thomas Edison Gave to Job Seekers

Take The Intelligence Test That Thomas Edison Gave to Job Seekers "But companies like Apple and Facebook don't put employees through anything quite as exhausting as Thomas Edison's test for potential employees. It was filled with trivia largely considered irrelevant to any job under Edison, but the quiz was all anyone could talk about when the questions leaked in the Spring of 1921. And if you're a trivia masochist you can take the test below."

I did not do well.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Obamacare Contingency Plan

Interesting idea reported in Forbes if the Supreme Court rules against Obamacare: Sources: HHS' Obamacare Contingency Plan Is To Ask States To Contract Exchange Work To The Feds - Forbes "Two sources who have spoken to HHS about the matter have informed me that the agency does in fact have a ‘Plan B’ to deal with an adverse ruling. It involves encouraging states to declare that they are subcontracting the management of an insurance exchange to HHS, thereby ‘establishing’ an exchange as per the law."

There's an update: "On Twitter, Jonathan Ingram points out that the statutory text of the now-infamous Section 1311 of the Affordable Care Act does specify that “a State may…enter into an agreement with an eligible entity to carry out 1 or more responsibilities of the exchange,” but that such an agreement must meet a number of specifications that the federal exchange may not meet." The one requirement at issue is it must be "a person incorporated under, and subject to the laws of, 1 or more States".

The Wire Reunion

Salon posted this back in October and I finally got around to watching it. It's an hour and half long, which is why I just saved it, but any fan of The Wire will love this. The cast of “The Wire” had an incredible reunion: Here’s what we learned. There are no clips or anything so if you just want to listen and not watch it, you won't miss much.

The strange things people Google in every state

WonkBlog shows The strange things people Google in every state "Fixr created the map below with Google Autocomplete, typing ‘How much does * cost in Sacramento, California?’ into Google for each state or state capital, and then marking down the most commonly searched-for good or service."

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CFPB Shows That Arbitration Doesn’t Work for Consumers

Lina Khan writes in The Washington Monthly, CFPB Shows That Arbitration Doesn’t Work for Consumers "As I reported last year in this magazine, companies use binding arbitration clauses to insulate themselves from lawsuits brought by workers and consumers. Thanks to a suite of recent Supreme Court decisions, corporations can now couple these arbitration clauses with class action bans, effectively eliminating courts as a means for ordinary Americans to hold corporations accountable under the law."

"CFPB’s data advances the argument that arbitration is a starkly inferior way for consumers to win appropriate relief when they’ve been wronged by financial institutions. It’s predicted the agency will likely propose a rule limiting mandatory arbitration clauses in these take-it-or-leave-it contracts, and this report will help its case."

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Apple iOS Hardware Assisted Screenlock Bruteforce

Clever attack: MDSec Blog: Apple iOS Hardware Assisted Screenlock Bruteforce "Although we’re still analyzing the device it appears to be relatively simple in that it simulates the PIN entry over the USB connection and sequentially bruteforces every possible PIN combination. That in itself is not unsurprising and has been known for some time. What is surprising however is that this still works even with the ‘Erase data after 10 attempts’ configuration setting enabled. Our initial analysis indicates that the IP Box is able to bypass this restriction by connecting directly to the iPhone’s power source and aggressively cutting the power after each failed PIN attempt, but before the attempt has been synchronized to flash memory. As such, each PIN entry takes approximately 40 seconds, meaning that it would take up to ~111 hours to bruteforce a 4 digit PIN. "

The melting of Antarctica was already really bad. It just got worse

The Washington Post explains The melting of Antarctica was already really bad. It just got worse. "Meanwhile, 2015 could be the year of the double whammy — when we learned the same about one gigantic glacier of East Antarctica, which could set in motion roughly the same amount all over again. Northern Hemisphere residents and Americans in particular should take note — when the bottom of the world loses vast amounts of ice, those of us living closer to its top get more sea level rise than the rest of the planet, thanks to the law of gravity."

New Binocular Nova Discovered in Sagittarius

Universe Today reports New Binocular Nova Discovered in Sagittarius "Find a location with a clear view to the southeast and get oriented at the start of morning twilight or about 100 minutes before sunrise. Using the maps, locate Sagittarius below and to the east (left) of Scorpius. Once you’ve arrived, point your binoculars into the Teapot and star-hop to the nova’s location. I’ve included visual magnitudes of neighboring stars to help you estimate the nova’s brightness and track its changes in the coming days and weeks."

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Secret Apple TV Controls

iMore describes Secret Apple TV controls: Fifteen button combos to power up your viewing!.

The Apple TV remote has just a few buttons, so the simple things are simple, but anything more is hidden and non-discoverable. Basically hold down the buttons for more features, but I'd still never figure out some of these on my own.

What Did You Ever Make With Crayons?

Wax Nostalgic has some pretty amazing crayon sculptures. (via kottke)

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Oceans Are Losing Oxygen—and Becoming More Hostile to Life

Oceans Are Losing Oxygen—and Becoming More Hostile to Life

"The discovery of this behavioral quirk in fish built for diving offers some of the most tangible evidence of a disturbing trend: Warming temperatures are sucking oxygen out of waters even far out at sea, making enormous stretches of deep ocean hostile to marine life.

‘Two hundred meters down, there is a freight train of low-oxygen water barreling toward the surface,’ says William Gilly, a marine biologist with Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, in Pacific Grove, California. Yet, ‘with all the ballyhoo about ocean issues, this one hasn’t gotten much attention.’"

Friday, March 13, 2015

Thursday, March 12, 2015

50 Years Ago: A Look Back at 1965

In Focus takes A Look Back at 1965 "A half-century ago, the war in Vietnam was escalating, the space race was in full swing, the Rolling Stones were on a world tour, the bravery of those who marched to Selma led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and the St. Louis Arch was completed. The United States occupied the Dominican Republic, Malcolm X was assassinated, NASA's Mariner 4 flew by Mars, race riots erupted in Watts, California, and Muhammad Ali defeated Sonny Liston. Let me take you 50 years into the past now, for a photographic look back at the year 1965."

Two Police Officers Shot In Ferguson

The New York Times reports 2 Officers Are Shot Outside Ferguson Police Station. This is a horrible event and I hope they catch the perpetrators quickly and officers heal quickly and fully.

As an exercise in absurdity, I wonder if this event will generate similar questions to recent violent events involving guns and the police. Let me try to think of some:

  • Did the shooters fear for their lives?
  • Were the officers from the area, had people seen them around before?
  • Did they rob a store earlier in the day?
  • Were the officers on the sidewalk or in the street?
  • Were they overweight so that they would have a better chance to survive this event if they hadn't been?
  • Have they every smoked pot?
  • How were their grades in school?
  • Were their parents on welfare?
  • What were they wearing?
  • What kind of music did they listen to?
  • How did they speak? Did they swear?
  • How long were their bodies in the street before ambulances came?
  • Were they Muslim?

Just to be clear, the answer to all these questions is "it doesn't matter".

And yet again I'll wait for the standard NRA solution to be proposed: if only these officers were armed with guns this wouldn't have happened. Oh, right.

An open letter to 47 Republican senators from Iran’s hard-liners: We have so much in common.

This is really hilarious, from Slate: An open letter to 47 Republican senators from Iran’s hard-liners: We have so much in common.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A new theory for why the bees are vanishing

Vox writes about A new theory for why the bees are vanishing which really just says it might be several things at once. It does give an update at the state of the various theories.

How To Shuck Corn

NickHolroyd's how to corn is sorcery.

Your Company's Health Insurance Costs Are Going Down. But Yours Are Going Up.

Vox reports on a Center for American Progress report, Your company's health insurance costs are going down. But yours are going up.

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From the report's introduction: "The actual reason why employee and employer costs are increasing at different rates is because employers have, over time, shifted greater responsibility for health care expenses to their employees through higher deductibles, higher copayments, and higher coinsurance—a practice that began long before the passage of the ACA. Other employers pay smaller shares of their employees’ health care premiums."

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

More Apple Thoughts

Apple TV got a price drop but little else. Is this making room for a new $99 (or more) device with more features?

Men typically have their iPhones in a pocket and women often have them in their purse. I wonder if Apple Watches will appeal more to women (which would be stereotypically backwards).

Here's a nice tidbit on how the watch does authentication (as in why don't you need TouchID to use ApplePay from the watch). How Apple’s watch gets around the ID problem. "The watch senses when you put it on and then asks for authentication" which you do with a PIN or fingerprint if your iPhone supports TouchID. "After that, as long as the Apple Watch is clamped to your wrist, your authentication is valid in Apple Pay. But as soon as the watch detects that you’ve removed it, Apple Pay locks up, requiring you to re-authenticate to re-activate it."

TechCrunch says The Apple Watch Battery Is Replaceable and "the lifecycle of the battery is around three years" though we don't know what it costs to get it replaced.

The stand alone Apple Display is a thunderbolt display and was last updated in 2011. With the new USB-C I wonder if we'll see a new display with a USB-C connection that transfers video and power to a MacBook (is that possible?) Otherwise it seems unlikely people would regularly connect a MacBook to a external display.

Is MagSafe dead or just on some machines. iOS survives without it. If you plug your MacBook into your display for power, the cord runs to the monitor on a desk, not near the floor. Maybe that avoids the problem entirely. Except when traveling, when you're more likely to have the computer and cord in an unfamiliar arrangement and more likely to trip over it.

I wonder when stand-alone Mac Keyboards and Magic TrackPads will use the new technologies debuted in the MacBook. I also wonder if Apple will make a keyboard (maybe in a case?) for use with an iPad using their new key mechanism

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Apple's laptop line seems a little unfocused now. The Pro line is their power house and MacBook is the small compromise machine. The Air is kinda in the middle. Not retina, more ports, a fan, a medium processor. I suspect in a few years they'll be back to two lines. Both with retina displays and only one with ports and a fan. I really wonder if the new MacBook is underpowered (like the first MacBook Air was).

The MacBook coming in the colors of the iOS devices seemed both obvious and a little new. Apple has offered some color options on computers since the original iMac, though as they've moved to more aluminum that's been reduced lately. It wasn't that long ago you could get laptops in white, black or metal. I'm surprised other computer vendor haven't offered anything as nice (have they?). I remember helping someone buy a Dell a few years ago and you add colored stick on rectangles to the machine to personalize it. Hideous. A quick look now on their web site and there's nothing similar.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Apple Announcements

So Apple announced some new products today and they look interesting.

First, they lowered the price of Apple TV to $69 but announced nothing more hardware or software-wise. They did announce HBO Now; for $15/month you can get HBO without having a cable subscription. It gives access to all their content past and present and seems pretty nice. Make sure you have unlimited data for your home Internet to use it. :) Apparently Apple is the exclusive partner for HBO Now. I suspect that will last a year or two.

They announced a few little iPhone things, but the big one was ResearchKit. Now that so many people have iPhones this is a new (open source!) system to let researchers write apps to collect medical data and allow users to choose to participate. They announced five apps available today with more coming. Using the sensors on an iPhone researchers can get much more info than from a person's daily life than they have been able to before for so little cost. E.g., the Parkinson's app can do quantitative evaluations using a tapping test, a voice modulation test and gait and balance tests. Asthma researchers will swab surfaces in NYC and will be able to compare irritants with symptoms by location. Pretty amazing stuff.

Apple also announced a new laptop with an old name. Now in addition to the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro they're selling a MacBook again. This is a 12" model with a retina display and is thinner and lighter than the Air. Just 2 lbs and just 13.1mm high at the thickest point. It's got a full-sized keyboard going to the edge of the machine, with a new mechanism for the keys and for the trackpad. It can now register a "Force Touch" (which sounds like "Force Choke") and they've enabled various apps to do things like go to very fast forward or bring up definitions, previews, or maps when doing a Force Touch on certain info. Nice. I'd like to see this for the Mac TrackPad I use with my iMac.

It uses Intel's new Broadwell processor which is lower power, so it generates less heat which enables this to be the first macbook without a fan. That's nice. It also frees up space internally for more battery and they've designed new batteries to fit in the tapering of the case. They say it holds a full day's charge, 9 hours of surfing or 10 hours of video. It also comes in the iPhone colors, silver, space gray and gold.

The compromise is that it has just one port, a new USB-C port that is used for both power and connectivity, though you'll need adaptors for things (USB, DisplayPort, Power, HDMI, VGA). Apple will sell a USB-C to USB adaptor for $19 which isn't bad. Since I have a desktop iMac I think I'd be okay with this. I just use USB to connect an iPhone or iPad, a camera occasionally and a backup drive. All would be fine, though I guess doing any of these things while low on power would be an issue. I don't think this is a MagSafe connector, so tripping over a cord is an issue again.

For $1300 you get 8GB RAM (not upgradable) and 256GB flash which isn't bad. $300 more gives you 512GB flash and slightly faster processor. AppleCare for this is $250. My old laptop is getting cranky. It's only 4GB and doesn't have Bluetooth 4.0 so the Continuity stuff in the latest OS X and iOS don't work. With the iMac at my desk the iPad is good enough for most couch and travel stuff but for anything with more typing a laptop would be nice. I'll have to look at these when they come out. The Air and Pro lines got some updates so I'd have to compare this to a 13" model. A 13" Air with the same 8GB RAM and 256GB flash is also $1300 but it doesn't have a retina display and weights an additional pound though it has longer battery life and I think faster processors and graphics and of course more ports. The 13" MacBook Pro is more comparable. $1500 gets the same 8/256GB and retina display but it weights 3.5 lbs.

Of course the big announcement was Apple Watch. I'm not sure if we learned new features but they went through them pretty well. It pairs to your iPhone and apps can put notifications and some controls on the watch. There's also a microphone and speaker and touch screen that understands force with a dial crown and a side button. So you can do the Dick Tracy thing and use the mic and speaker to take a phone call; I wonder how long until FaceTime works on it (they demo'ed showing video on it but it would need a camera).

There were the expected show sports scores, stock prices, and event notification type stuff. Also social media things like twitter trends though I don't think they showed checking in to anything. There's integration with Passbook and Apple Pay which would probably be useful. We knew it supported Siri but it also supports Hey Siri which is nice and convenient though I don't know if it's more of a power drain (it only works on the phone if it's plugged in). They showed it working for hotel checkins and door unlocking with an app for W Hotels, I'm sure more will come. The Uber demo was pretty nice showing info on the watch of how far away the car is and what it looks like and the license plate. That would be nice waiting outside on a cold night. There are some health sensors and if you know someone close to you who also has an Apple Watch you can share heartbeats or little doodles.

So the promise is that you'll be able to keep your phone in your pocket and use the watch for glancing at info. I can see that being useful. With Siri (particularly with Hey Siri) I can see being able to do a number of things conveniently. A number of the features did require some push or crown turn so that by definition needs two hands. I might prefer to just use the iPhone one-handed. I usually keep my phone in a shirt pocket so it's easily accessible. E.g., they showed Airline ticket info integration with Passbook. So at an airport you can just bring up a barcode on your watch. But that needs a swipe or two, I think I'd rather use my phone in one hand and hold my baggage in another. On the other hand, buying something with ApplePay by just moving your wrist seems really nice (then again, it's easy on the phone too). They also showed browsing Instagram on the watch and I don't know why you would do that vs on the phone.

Battery life is apparently good enough. They said all-day and typical usage is about 18 hours of life. That's fine. Apple is usually pretty conservative with their battery estimates. Still I'd worry if I was traveling and out all day using maps and and other features and when I got home late to the hotel, it seems I might actually need my watch to get into my room. I wonder if getting in your room works if your phone is dead.

The big news was about pricing. The $349 is for the 38mm sport model. In most cases the 42mm version is $50 more. The regular model starts at $549 for 38mm and $599 for 42mm and goes up to $1099 depending on the bands (which you can buy separately). The fluoroelastomer (aka rubber) bands are $50 and most of the others are either $150 or $250. The Bracelet is $450. As with everything Apple makes they seem to have made only high quality straps, so they're pricy. Their cheap option is the rubber other than the black, they're brightly colored. They've even put a lot of attention to detail in their sizing guide (pdf. I wonder if they'll announce new straps next year the way the used to announce new colors for iPods.

The gold editions are $10,000 to $17,000. I'm not getting one. If it had a James Bond laser beam or super-magnet I might consider it (Geiger counter not so much).

I need to see them in person and try them on, but I'm leaning to the 42mm models for the larger screen. I'd really like to not have to use reading glasses to make things out on the screen and I'm pretty comfortable with a 42mm dial on a watch. I'm also partial to the regular version rather than the sport. The sapphire crystal appeals to me as I've been a little hard on watches. I of course like the space black model with the bracelet and that's $1100. For the price of a laptop, or way more than I paid for my iPad, I'd better really like it. I think I also like the black leather loop (not announced before) which would only be $700. This is another case where I want to wait until the 2.0 model of a new Apple product. I suspect the new ones will have more sensors and perhaps better battery life. I'm also curious about how many recharge cycles they expect (particularly if you have to charge it daily) and if there's a battery replacement program.

Then again $400 for a sport model to get the feel of it isn't horrible (well it would be more than I've ever spent on a watch but it also does more than any watch I've owned). I Kickstarted a Pebble Time Steel which should arrive in July, maybe that will hold me over until AppleWatch 2.0.

In Florida, Officials Ban Term 'Climate Change'

The Miami Herald reports In Florida, officials ban term 'climate change'.

"DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting."

"This unwritten policy went into effect after Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011 and appointed Herschel Vinyard Jr. as the DEP’s director, according to former DEP employees. Gov. Scott, who won a second term in November, has repeatedly said he is not convinced that climate change is caused by human activity, despite scientific evidence to the contrary."

Apparently they also weren't allow to write about the policy either, as it was only described to employees verbally.

What the fuck is wrong with these people?

Friday, March 06, 2015

Chris Christie sells out New Jersey taxpayers - The Washington Post

Catherine Rampell writes in the Washington Post, Chris Christie sells out New Jersey taxpayers

"For over a decade, New Jersey had been embroiled in a battle with Exxon Mobil over the contamination and loss of use of more than 1,500 acres of public land in the northern part of the state. The company was found liable several years ago, but the amount of damages and cleanup costs it owed had not yet been determined. Expert witnesses for the state ballparked the total figure at $8.9 billion, and a judge was expected to rule on the final number soon. But then, this month, the state’s lawyers swooped in and decided to settle for a mere $225 million, not including undisclosed cleanup costs."

"Historically, under state law, money received from environmental settlements has to be used on environmental efforts. But last year the Christie administration snuck some language into the state budget that effectively overrode this. For this fiscal year — and potentially this fiscal year only — the first $50 million of any environmental settlement will go toward environmental programs; anything above that can be diverted to plug holes in the state’s general fund. This meant there was great pressure for the state to settle the case now for whatever it could get, rather than wait — possibly for years — for the much larger amount likely to have been awarded by the judge."

You Can Play This Music For Your Cat (And Your Cat May Actually Like It)

io9 reports You Can Play This Music For Your Cat (And Your Cat May Actually Like It) ""We have developed a theoretical framework that hypothesizes that in order for music to be effective with other species, it must be in the frequency range and with similar tempos to those used in natural communication by each species," write study authors Charles Snowdon and Megan Savage, both psychologists at the University of Wisconsin, and David Teie, a musician who has collaborated with Snowdon on the study of species-specific music for the better part of a decade. For instance, Snowden and his colleagues propose feline-appropriate music might mimic the rhythmic and tonal qualities of a purr, or a kitten suckling at its mother's teat."

I couple of friends have played the samples for their cats and they turned and seemed interested.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Hidden Meaning of 2001

io9 pointed me at this short 2007 essay, The Hidden Meaning of 2001 "The Monolith is an intergalactic food activist/critic, if not god of food. It is aghast when it finds the Earth apes eating twigs and bushes, being eaten by leopards and having turf wars over drinking water. The Monolith changes this: the apes are no longer meat, but begin to eat meat. Thus starts a revolution of eating."

It's worth reading to the end, the payoff is pretty funny.

In all seriousness there's probably something to this. I'd say that Kubrick is emphasizing the fact that we're just animals and eating is (now and for our entire history) one of the basic things we need to do to survive.

Lockheed Martin Claims Sustainable Fusion Is Within Its Grasp

Lockheed Martin Claims Sustainable Fusion Is Within Its Grasp " Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works claims the ability to generate cheap energy from nuclear fusion with little waste or global warming is within its grasp."

Here they describe their Compact Fusion project. "Building on more than 60 years of fusion research, the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works approach to compact fusion is a high beta concept. This concept uses a high fraction of the magnetic field pressure, or all of its potential, so we can make our devices 10 times smaller than previous concepts. That means we can replace a device that must be housed in a large building with one that can fit on the back of a truck."

They think they can have a prototype working in 5 years, military applications in 10 and be powering the world in 20. If so, it's a completely new age for humanity.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

How to save Star Trek

Todd VanDerWerff argues How to save Star Trek: Make it the True Detective of science fiction. That is, he wants to use True Detective's format, anthological miniseries.

Hannibal and Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller (a Trek alum), for instance, would love to make a Trek series with Angela Bassett as captain of a starship. With the anthological miniseries format, both Fuller and Bassett could squeeze a 10-episode season into their busy schedules.

Or think of what Battlestar Galactica's Ron Moore (who worked on many Trek series before BSG) could do by returning to the universe that gave him his big break in television, with everything he's learned since. Wouldn't you kill to see him reunite with the Next Generation cast for one last big adventure?

The wickedly sly and funny Jane Espenson, who's written for everything from Buffy to Once Upon a Time, also worked on Trek. Give her a dream cast and the budget to make a series of adventures featuring that cast, and I'd bet you'd see something amazing, and possibly more comedic than Trek usually gets.

Or just return to the roots of the anthology drama itself, to shows like The Twilight Zone, where the premise and characters changed not with every season, but with every episode.

Have one showrunner (Moore, perhaps?) gather a bunch of their favorite writers to come up with one killer Star Trek episode each. Hell, maybe even bring back William Shatner for one of these episodes, as a sort of "Captain Kirk in repose" hour. (Yeah, the series sorta turned to that idea in Star Trek: Generations, but it's still a potent one.) Just 13 singleton episodes of Trek, featuring all-star writers and actors. You don't think Netflix would put up the money for that?

I'd certainly watch this. Though part of the joy of various Treks was getting invested in the characters over time. You're not going to create a character as beloved as Picard in just 10 episodes, but reusing some cast in multiple seasons would be solve that.

Video of NYC in 1905

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The First Ever Photograph of Light as Both a Particle and Wave

The first ever photograph of light as both a particle and wave "Light behaves both as a particle and as a wave. Since the days of Einstein, scientists have been trying to directly observe both of these aspects of light at the same time. Now, scientists at EPFL have succeeded in capturing the first-ever snapshot of this dual behavior."

Shutdown Averted: Congress Passes Bill Fully Funding DHS

Vox explains Shutdown averted: Congress passes bill fully funding DHS "On Friday night, Democratic leaders in the House announced that they'd made a deal with Boehner and his team: Democrats would vote for a one-week extension for the department, giving it enough votes to pass. In return, Boehner would agree to bring up a clean bill that funds the department through September."

"In some sense, though, it's been clear from the very beginning of the DHS fight in January that this is how it would end. Because this is how crises of governance always end in John Boehner's House of Representatives. Days before something happens that would severely impede the functioning of the US government, the parties are at an absolute standstill. But sooner or later, Boehner caves, and introduces a bill that gets the support of Democrats and moderate or party-loyalist Republicans to pass the House."

They then list six previous times where Boehner caved.

As Jon Stewart described on Monday, “It turns out no one can work with the Republican House”.

Kevin Drum says Tea Party Loses Big in Today's Vote on Clean DHS Funding Bill.

I wonder if Republicans could have gotten a better deal if the tea party faction had been less bullheaded? Last week's debacle, where they torpedoed even a 3-week funding extension, surely demonstrated to Boehner that he had no choice but to ignore the tea partiers entirely. They simply were never going to support anything except a full repeal of Obama's immigration actions, and that was never a remotely realistic option. The subsequent 1-week extension passed only thanks to Democratic votes, and that made it clear that working with Democrats was Boehner's only real choice. And that in turn meant a clean funding bill.

But what if the tea partiers had signaled some willingness to compromise? Could they have passed a bill that repealed some small part of Obama's program—and that could have passed the Senate? Maybe. Instead they got nothing. I guess maybe they'd rather stick to their guns than accomplish something small but useful. That sends a signal to their base, but unfortunately for them, it also sends a signal to Boehner. And increasingly, that signal is that he has no choice but to stop paying attention to their demands. There's nothing in it for Boehner, is there?

I doubt the Tea Party will start compromising. I wonder if they'll start talking about seceding from the Republican Party. That might be the only chance we have for Jon Stewart to stay with The Daily Show.

“FREAK” Flaw Undermines Security For Apple and Google Users

The Washington Post describes “FREAK” flaw undermines security for Apple and Google users, researchers discover.

I think the article should be reasonably clear to a layperson. When a client (e.g., a browser) and a server (e.g., a web site) first communicate they need to negotiate over what encryption systems they support. It turns out many sites still allow old (and now weak) encryption algorithms. This is particularly bad since in the 90s the US government limited what algorithms could be exported out of the country so when the article refers to "export grade" think "weak enough the NSA in the 90s could hack it". Well now that means weak enough that someone with a few machines can break it in a couple of hours.

So companies are fixing their sites and their browsers. The article mentions a key difference in iOS vs Android. Apple will just ship a free update soon that fixes the problem for every still supported iPhone. For Android owners it isn't so smooth. Google can ship a fix but Android owners have to get it from their phone manufacturer who don't have a great incentive to ship free updates.

Update: Rich Salz provides some details, Akamai Addresses CVE 2015-0204 Vulnerability.

A Visit to Aoshima, a Japanese 'Cat Island'

In Focus shows A Visit to Aoshima, a Japanese 'Cat Island' "Aoshima Island is one of about a dozen 'cat islands' around Japan, small places where there are significantly more feline residents than people. In Aoshima more than a hundred cats prowl the island, curling up in abandoned houses or strutting about in the quiet fishing village. Cats outnumber humans six to one on the island. Recently becoming popular online, tiny Aoshima has seen a steep rise in tourist visits, overwhelming the handful of permanent residents."

I'd never heard of this.

Main 900

Scientists have figured out what makes Indian food so delicious

The Washington Post reports Scientists have figured out what makes Indian food so delicious "The researchers did this for each of the several thousand recipes, which used a total of 200 ingredients.  They examined how much the underlying flavor compounds overlapped in single dishes and discovered something very different from Western cuisines. Indian cuisine tended to mix ingredients whose flavors don't overlap at all."

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Supreme Court hears an Obamacare fairytale

On Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear King v. Burwell, the latest Obamacare case. Steven Brill writes The Supreme Court hears an Obamacare fairytale "Congress knew exactly what it wanted to do when it passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and contrary to the plaintiffs’ claim, that included wanting subsidies for buying health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges to be available to all citizens, even those residing in the 36 states that did not set up their own exchanges, instead relying on the exchange set up by the federal government.

I’m a reporter. I hate to take sides. And I certainly didn’t in what has been widely reviewed as my even-handed treatment of the merits and demerits of Obamacare in my recently published book about the broken American healthcare system and how Obamacare was conceived and implemented to fix it. But this is one of those issues where reporters err if they write an ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ story that creates patently false equivalency."