Monday, February 29, 2016
In Focus shows Images of Earth From a Year in Space "On February 29, the NASA astronaut Scott Kelly will turn over command of the International Space Station to astronaut Tim Kopra, then prepare to return to Earth after spending nearly a year in space. Last March, Kelly and and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko launched into low Earth orbit aboard the ISS, and have since participated in hundreds of experiments while the effects of long-term microgravity on the human body were studied. Kelly also took hundreds of photographs during his year abroad, posting many to his Twitter account. As we await the return of Kelly and Kornienko tomorrow, here are some of his photographs from the past year."
Here, this is one of the least interesting photos in the collection, go see them all.
Update: Here are some more.
Sunday, February 28, 2016
I run an Oscar pool so I usually don't post predictions before the awards. Both because I don't want to tip my hand (though I've not done well the last three years) and because I'm usually pretty busy right before the awards. I thought about it this year, including both predictions and preferences, but just go read Vox's Todd VanDerWerff's predictions for all 24 Academy Award categories instead. I agree with about 90% of what he wrote.
I think this year all the big categories have clear favorites except for Best Picture which seems odd.
I've seen all the nominated films in 19 categories. If I catch Straight Outta Compton today it will be 20. I've seen none of the nominated foreign language films or documentary shorts and two of the nominees in animated features and song.
My favorite category this year is Visual Effects. I think all the nominated films (Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens) are great (well I didn't love The Revenant but it's clearly an achievement) and I'm thrilled that this year there's no crap film like Transformers nominated. I also think it's a tough category to call.
If you catch the shorts, the animated ones are all kind of charming and the live action ones are (with one exception) harrowing (particularly for parents). I think Day One should win, but I have no idea what will win.
And for all the legitimate talk about #OscarsSoWhite I'm sorry that it seems lost that it was a really good year for women in films. All 10 of the nominated actresses did a great job in really good films that had good roles for women. I don't think the nominated male actors were nearly as good.
Saturday, February 27, 2016
NASA shows The Frozen Canyons of Pluto’s North Pole (in an enhanced color image).
"Long canyons run vertically across the polar area—part of the informally named Lowell Regio, named for Percival Lowell, who founded Lowell Observatory and initiated the search that led to Pluto’s discovery. The widest of the canyons (yellow in the image below) – is about 45 miles (75 kilometers) wide and runs close to the north pole. Roughly parallel subsidiary canyons to the east and west (in green) are approximately 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide. The degraded walls of these canyons appear to be much older than the more sharply defined canyon systems elsewhere on Pluto, perhaps because the polar canyons are older and made of weaker material. These canyons also appear to represent evidence for an ancient period of tectonics."
Friday, February 26, 2016
Physicist Brian Greene was on Colbert this week and explained gravitational waves and how LIGO discovered them. It's pretty amazing TV. In just 8 minutes he explains it really clearly and entertainingly and gives a fantastic demo of laser interferometry.
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Monday, February 22, 2016
Last Friday I went to an MIT Panel on LIGO which was fascinating. Here are my notes.
- Moderator Rainer Weiss, Professor of Physics, Emeritus, invented laser interferometer gravitational wave detector, co-founded LIGO, also started COBE to detect Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation
- Lisa Barsotti, Principal Research Scientist,
- Edmund Bertschinger, Professor of Physics, theorist, cosmology and general relativity
- Matthew Evans, Assistant Professor of Physics,
- Salvatore Vitale, Research Scientist, data analysis, extracting signal from data
- LIGO started in the 80s at MIT building 20, now gone
- No one cared about the old building so they could tear down walls, remove wiring, etc.
- Trucks on Vasser St shook building
- 1.5 meter prototype, two grad students
- F&T Deli in old Kendall Sq pre T stop. Ideas discussed at table there because they didn't kick you out. Now plaque there.
- Tons of students at all levels with all kinds of papers and thesis
- If a tree falls and no one is there does it make a sound? No, because sound is waves hitting ear
- LIGO is the first direct signal from as close to a black hole as we will ever get
- To see this black hole would need a telescope that can resolve 10⁻²⁰ radians, 12 orders of magnitude smaller than we can
- Gravitational waves are oscillating tides traveling at the speed of light
- The distortion seen is like continents and oceans stretched from the moon tides
- LIGO built not to discover but as an observatory
- Animation, showed waves
- Different masses produced different signals
- Was 2 black holes of 30 solar masses each
- These were stellar black holes as opposed to those at the center of a galaxy (which would have been much more massive)
- The most massive black holes previously known which were not at center of a galaxy was half this size
- These black holes merged 1 billion years ago and weren't spinning that fast
- Mass tells us about the environment they were in
- Signal didn't deviate from General Relativity formulas
- 62 solar masses is result, 3 solar masses emitted in merger as gravitational waves in 0.2 seconds
- Sun has lost 0.03% of mass in last 5 billion years, so this was HUGE energy and yet it still took something as sensitive as LIGO to detect
- Amplitude of a gravitational wave (h) is 10⁻²¹
- L is length, so ΔL = h × L
- So try to use larger distances to see more movement, but still really small
- even if we could use the whole earth (L = 6,350km), that would require very precise measurements
- H atom is 10⁻¹⁰
- if L is 4km then it's 4x10⁻¹⁸ = proton diameter / 200
- it's crazy small we are superheroes
- One detector in Livingston, LA and one in Hanford, WA
- Each 4km tubes, 1.2m diameter, 10ms travel time between locations at c
- The more light you have you essentially amplify the wave
- Up to 125W entering interferometer, up to 1MW in each arm at full power (now operating at 100kW)
- Detector hears noise of interferometer + gravitational wave
- Three kinds of noise to be minimized and removed from signal:
- Quantum Mechanics - Photons bouncing off mirror moves mirror makes noise, mainly high frequency noise
- Thermal Noise - materials aren't at absolute zero, so brownian motion, lower frequency
- Seismic Noise -, vibrations from outside world, lowest frequency
- incredible isolation, big scary laser, massive super optics
- 120 W laser
- roughly. 50 BBH merges each year I a volume of 1 Gpc³
- about 10 million galaxy's per Gpc³
- Advanced LIGO range now 0.1 - 1 Gpc depending on system mass
- We can expect 5 or more BBH events in next observing run (due later 2016)
- gravitational waves from Big Bang - frequency one over the age of the universe
- Future improvements:
- Squeezed states of light to reduce quantum noise in the interferometer
- Thermal noise reduced with better materials and cryogenics
- Next big leap from a longer interferometer, up to 40km is doable, 400km is not
- General Relativity is correct even in the strong field regime
- Large stellar mass black holes exist in binaries and merge
- Direct detection of gravitational waves is possible
- Salvatore was first person to see the information come out of the data (the masses of the bodies)
- One location got the data 7ms ahead of the other and they're very proud of it
- Measuring amplitude so goes down with 1/distance, not 1/distance²
- Detector in Pisa Italy come online in 2016
- Another being built in Japan for 2017-2018
- Another copy of LIGO in India
- Not spherical waves. Technically quadropolar. Perpendicular to plane
- Just a sphere expanding won't create gravity waves, need things moving around each other to form a quadrupole system
- Though a lumpy supernova might
- Gravitational waves interact so weakly with matter, not absorbed by planets, etc.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
One of the San Bernardino shooters, Syed Rizwan, had an iPhone (it was actually a work phone owned by his employer). Now the FBI has it but they can't unlock it. They've looked at other info, they can get call records from Verizon and they asked for and Apple gave them iCloud backups of the device, but those stopped in October. Now the FBI wants Apple to provide them with software to help them unlock the phone. Apple has said no but the FBI got United States Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym to issue a writ to compel Apple to help them, and Apple has said no.
Techdirt in a addition to a description of the order, has the actual order itself. No, A Judge Did Not Just Order Apple To Break Encryption On San Bernardino Shooter's iPhone, But To Create A New Backdoor. Wired has it too, pdf.
Here's Apple's reply, A Message to Our Customers. I think it's very well worded. Here's the heart of it:
Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.
The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.
Here's a technical analysis by Dan Guido saying, Apple can comply with the FBI court order. It's mostly because the iPhone in question is a 5C which doesn't have TouchID or the Secure Enclave as later models do. More info: Errata Security: Some notes on Apple decryption San Bernadino phone and tl;dr Apple’s technical capabilities under FBI AWA order.
There's also a debate about the governments use of the All Writs Act to compel Apple. I've seen some debate on the point, but Apple says this is "unprecedented".
The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.
Now the writ itself says on page 11:
Further, based on the authority given to the courts under the All Writs Act, courts have issued orders, similar to the one the government is seeking here, that require a manufacturer to assist in accessing a cell phone's files so that a warrant may be executed originally contemplated. See, e.g., In re Order Requiring [XXX], Inc. to Assist in the Execution of a Search Warrant Issued by This Court by Unlocking a Cellphone, 2014 WL 5510865 at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 31, 2014)
I wonder what company XXX is? Apparently even Judges being asked to issue similar writs don't know (see footnote at bottom of page 8 in this pdf! Ars Technica says the All Writs Act has come up in other cases, but cites several experts saying "The DoJ went with the nuclear option" and they can't think of similar precedents.
Joshua Gans writes about Game Theory and Apple’s Encryption Challenge. It's interesting that Apple can do this but the FBI (or NSA) can't. Also interesting is that Apple can't do this on more recent iPhones and this is clearly another salvo in the debate of should companies like Apple be able to make devices with secure encryption technology.
Ben Thompson provides a really good summary and makes some good points in Apple Versus the FBI, Understanding iPhone Encryption, The Risks for Apple and Encryption.
This solution [a government backdoor using a master key in future products] is, frankly, unacceptable, and it’s not simply an issue of privacy: it’s one of security. A master key, contrary to conventional wisdom, is not guessable, but it can be stolen; worse, if it is stolen, no one would ever know. It would be a silent failure allowing whoever captured it to break into any device secured by the algorithm in question without those relying on it knowing anything was amiss. I can’t stress enough what a problem this is: World War II, especially in the Pacific, turned on this sort of silent cryptographic failure. And, given the sheer number of law enforcement officials that would want their hands on this key, it landing in the wrong hands would be a matter of when, not if.
This is why I’m just a tiny bit worried about Tim Cook drawing such a stark line in the sand with this case: the PR optics could not possibly be worse for Apple. It’s a case of domestic terrorism with a clear cut bad guy and a warrant that no one could object to, and Apple is capable of fulfilling the request. Would it perhaps be better to cooperate in this case secure in the knowledge that the loophole the FBI is exploiting (the software-based security measures) has already been closed, and then save the rhetorical gun powder for the inevitable request to insert the sort of narrow backdoor into the disk encryption itself I just described?
Then again, I can see the other side: a backdoor is a backdoor, and it is absolutely the case that the FBI is demanding Apple deliberately weaken security. Perhaps there is a slippery slope argument here, and I can respect the idea that government intrusion on security must be fought at every step. I just hope that this San Bernardino case doesn’t become a rallying cry for (helping to) break into not only an iPhone 5C but, in the long run, all iPhones.
Rich Mogull in Why the FBI's request to Apple will affect civil rights for a generation says:
The crux of the issue is should companies be required to build security circumvention technologies to expose their own customers? Not “assist law enforcement with existing tools,” but “build new tools.”
The FBI Director has been clear that the government wants back doors into our devices, even though the former head of the NSA disagrees and supports strong consumer encryption. One reason Apple is likely fighting this case so publicly is that it is a small legal step from requiring new circumvention technology, to building such access into devices. The FBI wants the precedent far more than they need the evidence, and this particular case is incredibly high profile and emotional.
He also previously explained Why Apple Defends Encryption "Apple is nearly unique among technology firms in that it’s high profile, has revenue lines that don’t rely on compromising privacy, and sells products that are squarely in the crosshairs of the encryption debate. Because of this, everything Apple says about encryption comes from a highly defensible position, especially now that the company is dropping its iAd App Network."
As he points out, "Google is fundamentally an advertising company that collects data on its users." For Google to use that info, it has to have access to it, so available to the government with a warrant. Microsoft until recently has a history of working with the government. Most of Facebook's and Twitter's information about you is already public.
The ACLU is, not surprisingly, on Apple's side here. "“This is an unprecedented, unwise, and unlawful move by the government. The Constitution does not permit the government to force companies to hack into their customers' devices. Apple is free to offer a phone that stores information securely, and it must remain so if consumers are to retain any control over their private data."
Even a Congressman agrees with Apple, it's probably no coincidence it's one with a computer science degree from Standford, Rep Ted Lieu (D-CA), Congressman Lieu Statement on Apple Court Order .
This court order also begs the question: Where does this kind of coercion stop? Can the government force Facebook to create software that provides analytic data on who is likely to be a criminal? Can the government force Google to provide the names of all people who searched for the term ISIL? Can the government force Amazon to write software that identifies who might be suspicious based on the books they ordered?
Forcing Apple to weaken its encryption system in this one case means the government can force Apple—or any other private sector company—to weaken encryption systems in all future cases. This precedent-setting action will both weaken the privacy of Americans and hurt American businesses. And how can the FBI ensure the software that it is forcing Apple to create won’t fall into the wrong hands? Given the number of cyberbreaches in the federal government—including at the Department of Justice—the FBI cannot guarantee this back door software will not end up in the hands of hackers or other criminals.
Researching this I learned this is not the first time that a government agency has used the All Writs Act to coerce Apple to break into an iPhone. The EFF wrote about a case last October, Judge to DOJ: Not All Writs. The documents for that case are here and apparently the Judge still has not ruled on the matter.
In one of those documents the government says:
Apple has an established track record of assisting law enforcement agents by extracting data from passcode-locked iPhones pursuant to court orders issued under the All Writs Act. The government has confirmed that Apple has done so in numerous federal criminal cases around the nation, and the vast majority of these cases have been resolved without any need for Apple to testify. In the course of handling these requests, Apple has, on multiple occasions, informed the government that it can extract data from a passcode-locked device and provided the government with the specific language it seeks in the form of a court order to do so.
Interesting past history, but they're clearly trying to move away from this and it's for the privacy of their customers. I'm on Apple's side here. Not the least of reasons is that our own government is when other governments try to do this. This is from March 2015, Obama sharply criticizes China's plans for new technology rules.
In an interview with Reuters, Obama said he was concerned about Beijing's plans for a far-reaching counterterrorism law that would require technology firms to hand over encryption keys, the passcodes that help protect data, and install security "backdoors" in their systems to give Chinese authorities surveillance access.
"This is something that I’ve raised directly with President Xi," Obama said. "We have made it very clear to them that this is something they are going to have to change if they are to do business with the United States."
Drew Hartwell gives a nice overview of Tim Cook's recent advocacy, Tim Cook just escalated Apple’s fight with the FBI – and his own role as corporate activist
On a good note, The President's NSA Advisory Board Finally Gets a Tech Expert. Steve Bellovin is a great choice.
Matt Yglesias makes an interesting point Donald Trump is the real ideological heir to George W. Bush.
In their signature editorial "Against Trump," the editors of National Review complained that "Trump has shown no interest in limiting government, in reforming entitlements, or in the Constitution" and that Trump's obsession with winning reflects "a spirit that is anathema to the ordered liberty that conservatives hold dear and that depends for its preservation on limits on government power."
He goes on to point out that "Muslims are the new gays"; that both W and Trump were about tax cuts but not necessarily smaller government; and nationalism, though Trump's is inward vs the neocons external power projection.
The theme of the 2004 campaign was that "Democrats were weak, indecisive, and vaguely foreign" (remember french speaking Kerry?), not that they were "insufficiently committed to the precepts of Burke or Hayek." As Trump now says, they're losers.
But the key continuity is that Trump realizes — in a way that neither Jeb nor Marco Rubio nor the Republican establishment writ large do — that nationalism rather than philosophical commitment to small government is at the core of conservative politics.
The GOP mainstream responded to the failures of Bushism by keeping the same failed foreign policy but trying to ditch the flexibility on spending, even though there's never been any indication that spending money on farmers, oldsters, and schools is unpopular.
I'm not quite sure what to make of it but he also points out something I hadn't realized before: "But it seems noteworthy that Trump isn't publicly feuding with other Republican Party leaders. There are no high-profile clashes with Paul Ryan, no backbiting from Mitch McConnell, and no snarky putdowns of Mitt Romney."
So I read a lot of articles via RSS (in Reeder 2 on OS X and iOS using Feedly as a backend). I subscribe to Instapaper Daily that pushes popular articles to their RSS feed. Today this one showed up. Donald Trump Isn’t Real. As it's presented, in Reeder 2 from the RSS feed using Readability for formatting I didn't see the date or byline. So I'm reading it and like a couple of early points:
Donald Trump was inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2013. He’d been involved with professional wrestling for over a quarter century. At first his interest was on the business side, because so many of the events were held at his hotels. But then he began appearing in the ring as an actual character.
His greatest moment came in 2007 with the pay-per-view series called “Battle of the Billionaires,” when he verbally went up against the WWE’s chief executive, Vince McMahon. The feud started when Trump interrupted McMahon on Fan Appreciation Night and upstaged him by raining thousands of dollars in cash down on the crowd in the arena. It continued with a verbal barrage and proxy match, and ended with a triumphant Trump shaving McMahon’s head in the middle of the ring.
He goes on with the wrestling comparison which seemed somewhat apt. Then I got to:
But in Iowa on Monday night we saw the limit of Trump’s appeal. Like any other piece of showbiz theatrics, Trump was more spectacle than substance.
So I knew it was a couple of weeks old. Then:
What happened in Iowa was that some version of normalcy returned to the G.O.P. race. The precedents of history have not been rendered irrelevant.
And now I wanted to finish it to see how wrong it was.
But can [Rubio] rise to this moment? Can he see that the Trump phenomenon touched something, even if the blowhard candidate offered people nothing but bread and circuses? Can Rubio take his growing establishment base and reach out to the working-class voters with a message that offers concrete assistance for those who are being left behind?
Finishing it I had to check who wrote this and when. David Brooks on Feb 2. Definitely funny. I don't know why the Times can't find someone better.
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Think Progress points out This Poll Of South Carolina Republicans Is Terrifying
The poll, which involved 897 likely Republican primary voters who were contacted Sunday and Monday, revealed significant support for banning homosexuals from the country (20 percent in favor), shutting down U.S. mosques (29 percent), creating a national database of Muslims (47 percent), banning Islam (25 percent), and allowing South Carolina to hang the Confederate flag on the state capitol grounds in Columbia (54 percent). In fact, more than a quarter of respondents (30 percent) said they wished the South had won the Civil War."
WonkBlog writes It’s time to kill the $100 bill
The fact that — as Sands points out — in certain circles the 500 euro note is known as the ‘Bin Laden’ confirms the arguments against it. Sands’ extensive analysis is totally convincing on the linkage between high denomination notes and crime. He is surely right that illicit activities are facilitated when a million dollars weighs 2.2 pounds as with the 500 euro note rather than more than 50 pounds as would be the case if the $20 bill was the high denomination note. And he is equally correct in arguing that technology is obviating whatever need there may ever have been for high denomination notes in legal commerce.
This is the first I've heard of the proposal, but I love the idea of thinking about the weight of a million dollars.
The vulnerability was introduced in 2008 in GNU C Library, a collection of open source code that powers thousands of standalone applications and most distributions of Linux, including those distributed with routers and other types of hardware. A function known as getaddrinfo() that performs domain-name lookups contains a buffer overflow bug that allows attackers to remotely execute malicious code. It can be exploited when vulnerable devices or apps make queries to attacker-controlled domain names or domain name servers or when they're exposed to man-in-the-middle attacks where the adversary has the ability to monitor and manipulate data passing between a vulnerable device and the open Internet. All versions of glibc after 2.9 are vulnerable.
Maintainers of glibc, as the open source library is called, released an update that patches the vulnerability. Anyone responsible for Linux-based software or hardware that performs domain name lookups should install it as soon as possible. For many people running servers, patching will be a simple matter of downloading the update and installing it. But for other types of users, a fix may not be so easy. Some apps that were compiled with a vulnerable version of glibc will have to be recompiled with an updated version of the library, a process that will take time as users wait for fixes to become available from hardware manufacturers and app developers."
Monday, February 15, 2016
Eric Posner wrote a great piece, The tragedy of Antonin Scalia. "He thought he could remove politics from the Supreme Court, but he only made things worse."
Scalia refused to acknowledge that originalism does not enable justices to decide cases neutrally. If they choose to adopt this methodology, and manage to figure out a way to make it constrain them, they are committed to enforcing mostly 18th-century values—which are, by definition, conservative.
In fact, the historical sources are rarely clear, and foundational questions about how originalism is supposed to proceed—including how much weight (if any) should be given to post-founding judicial precedents that deviate from the original understanding, and how broadly constitutional principles like “due process” and “equal protection” should be understood—are irresolvable. One of the original originalists—Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black—was a stalwart liberal. A liberal Yale law professor has mischievously proclaimed himself an originalist and shown how originalism can lead to liberal outcomes. Scalia’s interpretation of originalist sources has been frequently criticized, and in notable instances when he could not bend them to his will, he simply ignored them. His belief that campaign finance laws and commercial speech regulations violated the First Amendment would have surprised the founders, for example.
Dahlia Lithwick onWhy liberals loved to hate Antonin Scalia.. Read the whole thing, it's short but these were my favorite paragraphs:
For years and years, I told anyone who asked that the day the high court lost Scalia would be the day I quit covering it. On that day, which came Saturday, I knew the court was also losing everything dramatic and absurd and quotable, even as it lost its cartoon supervillain. What would be left when the man in full was gone? I won’t miss his mockery or the casual slights. In some ways he prefigured the 2016 election, with all of its finger-pointing, rage, and quick-on-the-trigger sound bites. Still, I fear that the court will be a less vivid, less passionate place in his absence, even as some of the most hateful of the court’s views will now perhaps be moderated.
In my years covering the court, I ground my molars into dust most weeks, wondering how Scalia could make being so wrong seem so intriguing. Prisoners, women, gays, minorities, workers, and living constitutionalism lost a great intellectual foe on Saturday. And in the coming months we may be witness to one of the nastiest constitutional battles in a generation. But for now, I am still trying to absorb the fact that a man who seemed like he would live, and love, and scoff, and snort forever was not immortal. And that as reprehensible as so many of his views were, we will be wrestling with him for decades to come. Asked for his reflections on Bush v. Gore, the justice was fond of saying, “Get over it.” We will not get over Scalia for a long, long time.
Rather than doing the same thing over and over, you might be able to learn things even faster — like, twice as fast — if you change up your routine. Practicing your baseball swing? Change the size and weight of your bat. Trying to nail a 12-bar blues in A major on the guitar? Spend 20 minutes playing the blues in E major, too. Practice your backhand using tennis rackets of varying size and weight.
Kevin Drum on Trumps claims about the unemployment rate: U6 Is Now the Last Refuge of Scoundrels . "On Tuesday Donald Trump repeated his fatuous nonsense about the real unemployment rate being 42 percent."
Trump is obviously just making shit up, but the 10 percent number is colorably legitimate. It's officially called U6, a measure of unemployment plus folks who have been forced to work part time plus workers who are 'marginally attached' to the labor force. Right now it stands at 9.9 percent.
But you can't just toss this out as a slippery way of making the economy seem like it's in horrible shape. If you're going to tout U6, you have to compare it to what's normal for U6. And what's normal in an expanding economy is about 8.9 percent. This means that even big, bad U6 is within a hair of its full-employment value."
Sunday, February 14, 2016
Nobody writes about the Supreme Court like Nina Totenberg. if you only read one Scalia obit, this should be it, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Known For Biting Dissents, Dies At 79
This Politico article from last July offers some interesting perspective, Judge not: GOP blocks dozens of Obama court picks. I'd look to see if more progress has been made since then, but I expect I'll see articles on the topic in the coming week.
Republicans say statistics show that Obama is receiving comparable treatment to Bush. So far, Obama has gotten 311 judges installed nationwide — compared with 276 for Bush at the same point in his presidency.
And while Democrats boast that they had confirmed 21 judges at this point in 2007, Republicans noted that 13 of them had been awaiting floor consideration the previous year. In contrast, Democrats confirmed 27 judges during the lame-duck session late last year before Republicans took over.
“We’re trying to move them at about the same speed as the Democrats did when they took over the Senate the last two years of the Bush administration,” said Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). He said the Thurmond Rule “won’t be in effect until next summer.”
I guess summer starts in February.
The Democratic majority confirmed 68 district and circuit court nominees during Bush’s final two years, a mark that won’t be matched during this president’s final two years unless McConnell, Grassley and even Obama reprioritize the federal bench. And even that comparably torrid pace in 2007 and 2008 lags behind the confirmation rates of the final two years in office of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
It's funny to see the party of the unitary executive theory say the president shouldn't nominate a justice to a vacant seat on the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Roberts for several years has been begging Congress and the President to fill vacant federal seats to alleviate the strain on the courts. It will be interesting to see if he weighs in.
Here's another good article, How Obama Transformed the Federal Judiciary by Jeffrey Tobin from October 2014.
Saturday, February 13, 2016
A 5.1 magnitude earthquake shook northwest Oklahoma and was felt in seven other states Saturday, the U.S. Geological Survey said, the third-strongest temblor ever recorded in the state where the power and frequency of earthquakes has dramatically increased in recent years.
The earthquake centered about 17 miles north of Fairview in northwestern Oklahoma occurred at 11:07 a.m. and was reportedly felt across Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas, the USGS said. At least 10 smaller quakes ranging in magnitude from 2.5 to 3.9 were recorded in the same area by late Saturday afternoon, according to the USGS. A magnitude 3.1 quake occurred near Crescent, about 75 miles east of Fairview, the USGS said.
Oklahoma's stronger and more frequent earthquakes have been linked to the injection into the ground of the briny wastewater left over from oil and gas production. The 10 earthquakes Saturday were in the same lightly populated area near Fairview, a town of about 2,600 that's about 100 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. The area has had several quakes of magnitude 4.0 since the start of the year."
I learned that a "temblor" is an earthquake. Also that there are no nuclear power plants in Oklahoma.
The San Antonio Express reports Senior U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia found dead at West Texas ranch "According to a report, Scalia arrived at the ranch on Friday and attended a private party with about 40 people. When he did not appear for breakfast, a person associated with the ranch went to his room and found a body."
Condolences to his family. The political ramifications are going to be interesting.
He would have turned 80 next month. He is the 15th longest serving Justice.
Worth reading up on the Thurmond Rule (named for racist) because people are going to bring it up.
I wonder if Justice Thomas will start asking questions at oral arguments.
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Ezra Klein has a new podcast, The Ezra Klein Show. The first episode is him talking with Rachel Maddow on skinhead protests, AIDS activism, and why she skips the op-ed page. If you like either of these people you'll love this conversation. It's mostly her bio but there are constant asides into their interests (e.g., comics) and interesting observations (one of Obama's challenges in running in 2008 was building an organization to compete against Hillary's who had most of the traditional democratic experts, but Tom Daschle and some other Congressional leaders had recently lost office and their expert staff was available). It's 1h40m long.
I listen to podcasts using Overcast on my iPhone. One of the great features is a speed boost that doesn't distort the sound. It's a free app, the advanced features are free too (there used to be an in-app purchase to unlock them but the author removed them and went with a patronage model).
A hundred years ago Einstein predicted the existence of gravity waves rippling through space-time. They are the last prediction of relativity to go undetected and now have been observed.
The Verge has a nice overview article which includes a short video, Scientists have finally proven Einstein’s century-old theory about gravitational waves
The New Yorker has a more detailed article Gravitational Waves Exist: The Inside Story of How Scientists Finally Found Them. It includes some pictures of the instruments and prettier visualizations.
Weiss’s detection method was altogether different from Weber’s. His first insight was to make the observatory “L”-shaped. Picture two people lying on the floor, their heads touching, their bodies forming a right angle. When a gravitational wave passes through them, one person will grow taller while the other shrinks; a moment later, the opposite will happen. As the wave expands space-time in one direction, it necessarily compresses it in the other. Weiss’s instrument would gauge the difference between these two fluctuating lengths, and it would do so on a gigantic scale, using miles of steel tubing. “I wasn’t going to be detecting anything on my tabletop,” he said.
To achieve the necessary precision of measurement, Weiss suggested using light as a ruler. He imagined putting a laser in the crook of the “L.” It would send a beam down the length of each tube, which a mirror at the other end would reflect back. The speed of light in a vacuum is constant, so as long as the tubes were cleared of air and other particles the beams would recombine at the crook in synchrony—unless a gravitational wave happened to pass through. In that case, the distance between the mirrors and the laser would change slightly. Since one beam would now be covering a shorter distance than its twin, they would no longer be in lockstep by the time they got back. The greater the mismatch, the stronger the wave. Such an instrument would need to be thousands of times more sensitive than any previous device, and it would require delicate tuning in order to extract a signal of vanishing weakness from the planet’s omnipresent din.
“It never should have been built,” Isaacson told me. “It was a couple of maniacs running around, with no signal ever having been discovered, talking about pushing vacuum technology and laser technology and materials technology and seismic isolation and feedback systems orders of magnitude beyond the current state of the art, using materials that hadn’t been invented yet.”
It took years to make the most sensitive instrument in history insensitive to everything that is not a gravitational wave. Emptying the tubes of air demanded forty days of pumping. The result was one of the purest vacuums ever created on Earth, a trillionth as dense as the atmosphere at sea level. Still, the sources of interference were almost beyond reckoning—the motion of the wind in Hanford, or of the ocean in Livingston; imperfections in the laser light as a result of fluctuations in the power grid; the jittering of individual atoms within the mirrors; distant lightning storms. All can obscure or be mistaken for a gravitational wave, and each source had to be eliminated or controlled for. One of LIGO’s systems responds to minuscule seismic tremors by activating a damping system that pushes on the mirrors with exactly the right counterforce to keep them steady; another monitors for disruptive sounds from passing cars, airplanes, or wolves.
Some of the most painstaking work took place on the mirrors, which, Reitze said, are the best in the world “by far.” Each is a little more than a foot wide, weighs nearly ninety pounds, and is polished to within a hundred-millionth of an inch of a perfect sphere. (They cost almost half a million dollars apiece.) At first, the mirrors were suspended from loops of steel wire. For the upgrade, they were attached instead to a system of pendulums, which insulated them even further from seismic tremors. They dangle from fibres of fused silica—glass, basically—which, although strong enough to bear the weight of the mirrors, shatter at the slightest provocation. “We did have one incident where a screw fell and pinged one, and it just went poof,” Anamaria Effler, a former operations specialist at the Hanford site, told me. The advantage of the fibres is their purity, according to Jim Hough, of the University of Glasgow. “You know how, when you flick a whiskey glass, it will ring beautifully?” he asked. “Fused silica is even better than a whiskey glass—it is like plucking a string on a violin.” The note is so thin that it is possible for LIGO’s signal-processing software to screen it out—another source of interference eliminated.
So here's my favorite thing from the article. "Ultimately, he said, 'We accepted that the most economical explanation was that it really is a black-hole pair.'" That means that the most likely explanation of what their instruments were telling them is that a billion years ago two black holes merged and we're seeing the result now by measuring a laser bouncing off a mirror and seeing that it's a thousandth of a diameter of a proton off. Science is fucking amazing.
The importance is not just observing the theory. It's a new way for us to observe the universe. Until now, virtually everything has been seen via the electromagnetic force. Whether we use a visible light telescope or a radio telescope or spectrophotometer, those all basically detect photons moving at different frequencies. They are all part of one of the four physical forces. This is a direct measurement of gravity, a different force. Usually when we get a new instrument (the telescope, microscope, radio telescope, electron microscope, etc.) we get interesting new observations and unexpected science.
The LIGO scientists have extracted an astonishing amount from the signal, including the masses of the black holes that produced it, their orbital speed, and the precise moment at which their surfaces touched. They are substantially heavier than expected, a surprise that, if confirmed by future observations, may help to explain how the mysterious supermassive black holes at the heart of many galaxies are formed. The team has also been able to quantify what is known as the ringdown—the three bursts of energy that the new, larger black hole gave off as it became spherical. “Seeing the ringdown is spectacular,” Levin said. It offers confirmation of one of relativity theory’s most important predictions about black holes—namely, that they radiate away imperfections in the form of gravitational waves after they coalesce.
The detection also proves that Einstein was right about yet another aspect of the physical universe. Although his theory deals with gravity, it has primarily been tested in our solar system, a place with a notably weak gravitational regime. “You think Earth’s gravity is really something when you’re climbing the stairs,” Weiss said. “But, as far as physics goes, it is a pipsqueak, infinitesimal, tiny little effect.” Near a black hole, however, gravity becomes the strongest force in the universe, capable of tearing atoms apart. Einstein predicted as much in 1916, and the LIGO results suggest that his equations align almost perfectly with real-world observation. “How could he have ever known this?” Weiss asked. “I would love to present him with the data that I saw that morning, to see his face.”
Update: Here's a nice comic explanation of Gravitational Waves
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Asher Gelzer-Govatos writing in The A.V. Club makes a pretty clever association, The Coen brothers keep making the same film twice—and it’s brilliant "It makes sense to view the six films they have made in this span not as a series of movies connected only by the stylistic quirks of their directors, but as a series of diptychs, each dealing with a discrete subject viewed from multiple vantage points. Each comedy acts as a complement to the drama that has preceded it, shedding new light on the central preoccupations of its predecessor. No Country shares an important DNA strand with Burn After Reading; A Serious Man has more than a glancing relationship to True Grit; and Inside Llewyn Davis finds its counterpart in the newest Coen film, Hail, Caesar!"
Sunday, February 07, 2016
Saturday, February 06, 2016
The Washington Post reports National Security Agency plans major reorganization "The National Security Agency, the largest electronic spy agency in the world, is undertaking a major reorganization, merging its offensive and defensive organizations in the hope of making them more adept at facing the digital threats of the 21st century, according to current and former officials."
"In place of the Signals Intelligence and Information Assurance directorates — the organizations that historically have spied on foreign targets and defended classified networks against spying, respectively — the NSA is creating a Directorate of Operations that combines the operational elements of each."
"“When it comes to cyber in particular, the line between collection capabilities and our own vulnerabilities — between the acquisition of signals intelligence and the assurance of our own information — is virtually nonexistent,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “What is a vulnerability to be patched at home is often a potential collection opportunity abroad and vice versa.”"
Bruce Schneier doesn't think it's a good idea: "I think this will make it even harder to trust the NSA. In my book Data and Goliath, I recommended separating the attack and defense missions of the NSA even further, breaking up the agency. (I also wrote about that idea here.) And missing in their reorg is how US CyberCommmand's offensive and defensive capabilities relate to the NSA's. That seems pretty important, too."
It seems to me that the real problem is that NSA targets use the same systems as we do, and by we I mean our government, industry and civilians. By definition a hole in these systems means we're vulnerable too and fixing that hole removes a spying opportunity. If the offensive unit isn't going to share vulnerabilities then perhaps they should be separate.
Wednesday, February 03, 2016
‘The Force Awakens’ Reimagined As Calvin and Hobbes Will Make Your Heart Melt "Artist Brian Kesinger from Walt Disney animation studios drew ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ in the style of Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson and it was just perfect."
Frinkiac "has nearly 3 million Simpsons screencaps so get to searching for crying out glaven!"
Frinkiac is a search engine for Simpsons quotes. It contains nearly 3 million screenshots (every episode from season 1 through 151) indexed by the quote they are associated with and has a variety of features to help you find the exact screenshot you're looking for. Once you've found it you can share it with your friends or make a quick meme. Never again find yourself wishing you could pinpoint the second his heart rips in half. You'll feel like god must feel when he's holding a gun.
Tuesday, February 02, 2016
This is how close the Democratic caucus was, in one tweet. The tweet is, "I've come across three instances in which a Democratic caucus delegate was awarded with a coin toss. Hillary Clinton won all three." MarketWatch says, Coin toss broke 6 Clinton-Sanders deadlocks in Iowa — and Hillary won each time
The delegate totals that are reported publicly — 689 and 686 — are estimates of the delegates each candidate would have at a statewide convention. But individual caucuses don't pick state delegates — at least not directly. Each caucus picks a set of delegates to a county convention, which then selects delegates for a district convention ... which then selects delegates for the statewide convention.
That makes four levels to the caucus process — and there are a lot more delegates at the county level (the level for which caucuses assigned delegates Monday) than at the state level. So while a coin toss at a precinct caucus definitely gives the winner an advantage, it's not as straightforward as 'winning a coin toss gets you an extra delegate in the statewide count.'
The fact that so many caucuses came down to coin tosses isn't necessarily an indication that the entire race could have gone one way or the other if not for a bit of luck — although that's certainly possible. What it definitely is, however, is an indication of just how evenly divided Democratic caucus-goers throughout Iowa were. In precinct after precinct, Iowa Democrats got together and found out that equal numbers of them supported Sanders and Clinton."
Ok, so it's not quite as big a deal but it's still stupid. We're voting, we're picking a president, a coin toss should have absolutely no role in this. Here's a better idea, if there are six districts tied, then split them 3-3. It's amazing to me that 16 years after the "hanging chad" fiasco in Florida we still can't manage to count. We can't even staff caucuses, It took all night to count all the votes in the Iowa Democratic caucus. Here's why.
Vulture has a wonderful way to spend some time, they've compiled The 100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy. Lots of video clips to watch.
A few notes on our methodology: We’ve defined ‘joke’ pretty broadly here. Yes, a joke can be a one-liner built from a setup and a punch line, but it can also be an act of physical comedy. Pretending to stick a needle in your eye, or pooping in the street while wearing a wedding dress: both jokes. A joke, as defined by this list, is a discrete moment of comedy, whether from stand-up, a sketch, an album, a movie, or a TV show.
For clarity’s sake, we’ve established certain ground rules for inclusion. First, we decided early on that these jokes needed to be performed and recorded at some point. Second, with apologies to Monty Python, whose influence on contemporary comedy is tremendous and undeniable, we focused only on American humor. Third, we only included one joke per comedian. And fourth, the list doesn't include comedy that we ultimately felt was bad, harmful, or retrograde."
One In Three Americans Had Their Health Records Breached In 2015, As Hackers Follow The Money From Retail To Medical Data "At least 111 million individuals’ data was compromised due to hacking or information technology problems in 2015, according to a report released Wednesday by cloud security company Bitglass, based on numbers made available by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That comes after a December IBM report that found a 1,166 percent increase in reported healthcare breaches, resulting in the compromise of “nearly” 100 million records."
I find it hard to believe that last year a third of Americans had their healthcare data "compromised" (whatever that means). No one I know has mentioned such things happening to them (maybe it's just not being exploited?). I get that's it's a viable way to get information for identity theft, but again, I don't believe a third of americans had their identities stolen last year. Still it makes complete sense to me that with no oversight or consequences, healthcare providers have really crappy security.
Still a frined on Facebook was asking if when changing pediatricians could they just ask for their health records. The general response is yes, they're your's but you get a copy and the doctor keeps a copy. That sounds reasonable but she was charged $50 for copies, because...copiers. I did find it cool that I could get copies of x-rays for free on a CD at the time of the x-ray. Now if only my iMac had a CD drive :)