SPOILER ALERTS: 12 Angry Men, The Silence of the Lambs, and Psycho. The other movie clips only show the last shot and don't spoil anything.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
James Kwak on < a href="https://baselinescenario.com/2016/04/25/the-long-game/">The Long Game. He uses a recent controversial quote from Charles Koch to talk about the new book American Amnesia.
Since the 1980s, if not earlier, the story of the Democratic Party has been a reasonably successful attempt to take or maintain control over the presidency at any costs—combined with a complete failure to articulate a compelling, long-term vision, or to build lasting networks and institutions that provide the infrastructure for political change. We bet everything on the political skills of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, and then we act surprised when they end up following moderate Republican policies—in part because they are blocked in by Republicans in Congress, in state houses, and in the federal judiciary. (And for those who think this is hyperbole, it was Bill Clinton himself who said, ‘I hope you’re all aware we’re all Eisenhower Republicans. . . . We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market. Isn’t that great?’ (Hacker and Pierson, p. 163).)
The story of the conservative movement, on the other hand, is the opposite: serial failure to come up with a compelling presidential candidate—since 1988, no Republican nominee has won a plurality of the popular vote, except W. when running as an incumbent after ‘winning’ a war—combined with a consistent vision, a massive advantage in fundraising not dependent on a unique individual (like Obama or Bernie Sanders), repeated victories in state legislative and gubernatorial elections, successful gerrymandering in multiple states, a structural lock on the House of Representatives, and consolidation of the small-state bias in the Senate. Sure, things haven’t been all rosy for libertarian conservatives like the Kochs—there was the huge expansion of government under W., and now Obamacare. But they’ve reduced the chances of higher taxes to nil, they’ve blocked any action on climate change, they have Barack Obama reduced to trying to pass a ‘free trade’ agreement (because he can’t pass anything else), and they’re just one presidential election—now, or 2020, or 2024—from a massive restructuring of the tax code and all social insurance programs.
On Sunday I went to the Coolidge Corner Theatre for a special event, Grace Kelly presents: Sound of Redemption. The movie was a documentary about saxophonist Frank Morgan, followed by a Q&A with the director and Grace Kelly who afterwards played a few songs. This is a pretty good summary of the film:
Frank Morgan was a prodigal alto sax player who, like so many of his fellow musicians of the era, saw his career plagued by drug addiction. What sets Frank apart is not just his exceptional talent, but also the amazing fact that he survived 30 years of revolving door incarceration and drug abuse and went on to a much heralded comeback career in the last 22 years of his life, during which time he served as a mentor to Brookline saxophone prodigy Grace Kelly. Morgan's story is one of brilliant promise in his youth, a journey through the depths of hell, and redemption through his art.
I didn't know of Frank Morgan before this. I also didn't know that San Quentin prison had a 16 piece jazz band populated by inmates that Morgan called the best band he ever worked with (Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper were in and out of San Quentin too). Morgan's father was a guitarist with the Ink Spots, he took a young Frank to see Charlie Parker. Frank fell in love with the sax and eventually played with Parker, learning from him not just bebop but heroin. I knew that lots of jazz musicians had heroin problems, I didn't realize that it often led to crimes to fund their addiction and not just early deaths, but regular stints in prison.
The documentary took an interesting approach around the problem of not having a lot of footage of Frank to use. They arranged for a remembrance concert to be played by people who knew him, in San Quentin for an audience of friends and loved ones as well as other prisoners. Performing are: George Cables, Ron Carter, Mark Gross, Grace Kelly, Delfeayo Marsalis, and "Smitty" Smith. Good stuff.
Right after this I watched Don Cheadle's Miles Ahead. Cheadle wrote, directed and stars in this biopic of Miles Davis. So far it's my favorite movie of the year. He had the support of Davis' family so they have his music to use, which helps a lot. But Cheadle took an interesting approach to the story.
Instead of a straight biography or really concentrating on specific event or period, he does something unique. There's a starting event, a flashback to a (rather crazy and hopefully fictitious) story which lets Cheadle act out some of Davis' famous demons then it comes back to the "present". To me at least, it gave the film the effect of a jazz song, with a statement, a bunch of improv drawing on his past experiences and a restatement. He tries to get into Davis' head and does it visually, often blending different events into the same scene. It remains coherent and while I read up afterwards to see what was true and not, I feel like I learned about Davis and wanted to hear even more of his music. It helps to know some of Davis' music (particularly the Gil Evans period) and if you do you'll know who various background characters are supposed to be, though people in the group I saw it with all liked it, regardless of background knowledge.
‘Members of the CMS Collaboration put in lots of effort and thousands of person-hours each of service work in order to operate the CMS detector and collect these research data for our analysis,’ explains Kati Lassila-Perini, a CMS physicist who leads these data-preservation efforts. ‘However, once we’ve exhausted our exploration of the data, we see no reason not to make them available publicly. The benefits are numerous, from inspiring high-school students to the training of the particle physicists of tomorrow. And personally, as CMS’s data-preservation co-ordinator, this is a crucial part of ensuring the long-term availability of our research data.’
That's pretty cool.
Saturday, April 23, 2016
Today's APOD is crazy amazing, NGC 7635: The Bubble Nebula "Blown by the wind from a massive star, this interstellar apparition has a surprisingly familiar shape. Cataloged as NGC 7635, it is also known simply as The Bubble Nebula. Although it looks delicate, the 7 light-year diameter bubble offers evidence of violent processes at work. Above and left of the Bubble's center is a hot, O-type star, several hundred thousand times more luminous and around 45 times more massive than the Sun. A fierce stellar wind and intense radiation from that star has blasted out the structure of glowing gas against denser material in a surrounding molecular cloud. The intriguing Bubble Nebula and associated cloud complex lie a mere 7,100 light-years away toward the boastful constellation Cassiopeia. This sharp, tantalizing view of the cosmic bubble is a composite of Hubble Space Telescope image data from 2016, released to celebrate the 26th anniversary of Hubble's launch."
More versions here.
Netflix talks briefly about Extracting image metadata at scale. For each of their showings, they have to present to the user an image with text on top. It turns out they do this algorithmically, finding the most interesting part of the image, avoiding existing text on it and finding a place to position new text. Neat stuff.
Friday, April 22, 2016
The Peabody Awards announced their 75th Annual Entertainment & Children’s Programming Winners. The Entertainment and Children’s winners of The Peabody 30 are as follows:
- Beasts of No Nation (Netflix)
- black-ish (ABC)
- Deutschland 83 (SundanceTV)
- Marvel’s Jessica Jones (Netflix)
- Master of None (Netflix)
- MR. ROBOT (USA Network)
- The Leftovers (HBO)
- Transparent (Amazon Video)
- UnREAL (Lifetime)
- Wolf Hall (PBS)
- Katie Morag (Cbeebies)
I've seen the ones in bold and while I haven't really loved them, they're all quality shows that push television a little bit to a better place.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
TMZ reported and the AP confirmed, that Prince was found dead in his home today at 57.
This is when you know someone died too young, The New York Times had a two paragraph blurb Prince, Singular Music Star, Dies at 57 which mostly repeated the AP story and ended with "Full obituary to follow." It's not like they've had a Prince obituary on file for ten years.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Universe Today reports Supermassive Black Holes In Distant Galaxies Are Mysteriously Aligned
In 1974, astronomers detected a massive source of radio wave emissions coming from the center of our galaxy. Within a few decades time, it was concluded that the radio wave source corresponded to a particularly large, spinning black hole. Known as Sagittarius A, this particular black hole is so large that only the designation ‘supermassive’ would do. Since its discovery, astronomers have come to conclude that supermassive black holes (SMBHs) lie at the center of almost all of the known massive galaxies.
But thanks to a recent radio imaging by a team of researchers from the University of Cape Town and University of the Western Cape, in South Africa, it has been further determined that in a region of the distant universe, the SMBHs are all spinning out radio jets in the same direction. This finding, which shows an alignment of the jets of galaxies over a large volume of space, is the first of its kind, and could tell us much about the early Universe.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
So here's a typically good Vox story from last Friday on a $15 minimum wage, Hillary Clinton knows a national $15 minimum wage is a bad idea. She endorsed it anyway.. It points out that we should probably raise the minimum wage from it's current value, but that $15 is a really big jump and economists aren't sure of the effects. It points to a few studies of recent hikes and of course there are a few sides:
Economists disagree about whether these more modest minimum wages have produced significant job losses. One recent study, for example, found that the most recent national minimum wage hike — between 2006 and 2009 — "reduced employment among individuals ages 16 to 30 with less than a high school education by 5.6 percentage points."
Other economists dispute that. A comprehensive study of state-level minimum wage hikes between 1990 and 2006 by economist Arindrajit Dube and two co-authors found "no detectable employment losses from the kind of minimum wage increases we have seen in the United States."
But when I asked the lead authors of both studies about California's recent move to boost the minimum wage to $15, I found they were on the same page: The increase was so large that the effects are unpredictable. Neither man could rule out the possibility that a $15-per-hour minimum wage would cause dramatic job losses.
One of the most prominent left-leaning economists in the minimum wage debate is Alan Krueger, co-author of a widely cited 1993 paper finding that a modest minimum wage hike in Pennsylvania didn't cost jobs. Krueger has served in the Obama administration and supports raising the national minimum wage to $12 per hour. But in a New York Times piece last fall, he warned that "a $15-an-hour national minimum wage would put us in uncharted waters, and risk undesirable and unintended consequences."
See why it's a good story? A few points of view, explaining the boundaries of what we know and don't know, etc. And now we come to the bad parts of journalism or at least commentary. Today, David Brooks wrote in the NY Times about The Danger of a Single Story. He complains about politicians (particularly Trump and Sanders) reducing issues to too simplistic causes and solutions. He cites a few things, PC on college campuses, the $15 minimum wage and criminal justice. I'm not sure his examples make his point, but ok, it's a commentary piece. So lets look at his minimum wage example:
Hillary Clinton is not naturally a single story person. But while she is controlling the delegate race this campaign, Sanders is controlling the conversation and she is gradually coming around to his version of everything. For example, last week she came closer to embracing a nationwide $15 minimum wage, though still with caveats.
One true minimum wage story is that corporations are reaping record profits while pushing down wages of the unskilled. But another true story, embodied in the vast trove of research, is that if you raise the minimum wage too high, you end up punishing less skilled workers. One study found the modest hike in the national minimum wage between 2006 and 2009 reduced employment among young people without a high school degree by almost 6 percent.
The key is to find a balance between those stories. Raising the minimum wage to $15 may make sense in rich areas, but in most of the country there will be horrendous consequences for less skilled workers trying to find jobs.
Doesn't it seem like he got all of this from the Vox story? He linked to it, so perhaps it's ok. But notice what he did. He wrote: "But another true story, embodied in the vast trove of research, is that if you raise the minimum wage too high, you end up punishing less skilled workers. One study found the modest hike in the national minimum wage between 2006 and 2009 reduced employment among young people without a high school degree by almost 6 percent."
So from this I'm supposed to understand that the "vast trove of research" says if you raise the minimum wage low skilled workers suffer. Now sure he said if you "raise it too high" but then cites "one study" without linking to it. And note the sentence describing that "one study" is practically plagiarized from the Vox story, changed just enough to not be but still, this is 9th grade level change-the-sentence-just-enough work. Also note, he left out the next two sentences from the Vox article, the one saying "Other economists dispute that" and the link to the other more comprehensive study.
So in a column, arguing that people simplify issues into "single stories", Brooks does exactly that citing it as evidence of his point. Idiot.
I finally finished Jeffrey Goldberg's interview with Obama from The Atlantic, The Obama Doctrine. It's huge but well worth it. Some of my favorite bits. This on the Syrian redline issue and getting chemical weapons out of the country:
Amid the confusion, a deus ex machina appeared in the form of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. At the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, which was held the week after the Syria reversal, Obama pulled Putin aside, he recalled to me, and told the Russian president “that if he forced Assad to get rid of the chemical weapons, that that would eliminate the need for us taking a military strike.” Within weeks, Kerry, working with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, would engineer the removal of most of Syria’s chemical-weapons arsenal—a program whose existence Assad until then had refused to even acknowledge.
The arrangement won the president praise from, of all people, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, with whom he has had a consistently contentious relationship. The removal of Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpiles represented “the one ray of light in a very dark region,” Netanyahu told me not long after the deal was announced.
John Kerry today expresses no patience for those who argue, as he himself once did, that Obama should have bombed Assad-regime sites in order to buttress America’s deterrent capability. “You’d still have the weapons there, and you’d probably be fighting isil” for control of the weapons, he said, referring to the Islamic State, the terror group also known as isis. “It just doesn’t make sense. But I can’t deny to you that this notion about the red line being crossed and [Obama’s] not doing anything gained a life of its own.”
Obama understands that the decision he made to step back from air strikes, and to allow the violation of a red line he himself had drawn to go unpunished, will be interrogated mercilessly by historians. But today that decision is a source of deep satisfaction for him.
“I’m very proud of this moment,” he told me. “The overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom and the machinery of our national-security apparatus had gone fairly far. The perception was that my credibility was at stake, that America’s credibility was at stake. And so for me to press the pause button at that moment, I knew, would cost me politically. And the fact that I was able to pull back from the immediate pressures and think through in my own mind what was in America’s interest, not only with respect to Syria but also with respect to our democracy, was as tough a decision as I’ve made—and I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make.”
On Putin and Russia:
Obama said that Putin believes his relationship with the U.S. is more important than Americans tend to think. “He’s constantly interested in being seen as our peer and as working with us, because he’s not completely stupid. He understands that Russia’s overall position in the world is significantly diminished. And the fact that he invades Crimea or is trying to prop up Assad doesn’t suddenly make him a player. You don’t see him in any of these meetings out here helping to shape the agenda. For that matter, there’s not a G20 meeting where the Russians set the agenda around any of the issues that are important.”
“Putin acted in Ukraine in response to a client state that was about to slip out of his grasp. And he improvised in a way to hang on to his control there,” he said. “He’s done the exact same thing in Syria, at enormous cost to the well-being of his own country. And the notion that somehow Russia is in a stronger position now, in Syria or in Ukraine, than they were before they invaded Ukraine or before he had to deploy military forces to Syria is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of power in foreign affairs or in the world generally. Real power means you can get what you want without having to exert violence. Russia was much more powerful when Ukraine looked like an independent country but was a kleptocracy that he could pull the strings on.”
On not confusing and frightening our enemies by making them fear your irrationality:
“But let’s examine the Nixon theory,” he said. “So we dropped more ordnance on Cambodia and Laos than on Europe in World War II, and yet, ultimately, Nixon withdrew, Kissinger went to Paris, and all we left behind was chaos, slaughter, and authoritarian governments that finally, over time, have emerged from that hell. When I go to visit those countries, I’m going to be trying to figure out how we can, today, help them remove bombs that are still blowing off the legs of little kids. In what way did that strategy promote our interests?”
“I’ve been very explicit in saying that we have more to fear from a weakened, threatened China than a successful, rising China,” Obama said. “I think we have to be firm where China’s actions are undermining international interests, and if you look at how we’ve operated in the South China Sea, we have been able to mobilize most of Asia to isolate China in ways that have surprised China, frankly, and have very much served our interest in strengthening our alliances.”
Monday, April 18, 2016
In Focus on The Great San Francisco Earthquake: Photographs From 110 Years Ago "110 years ago next week, on April 18, 1906, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake centered near the city of San Francisco struck at 5:15 AM. The intense shaking toppled hundreds of buildings, but the resulting out-of-control fires were even more destructive. Broken water mains and limited firefighting capabilities allowed city-wide fires to burn for several days. Nearly 500 city blocks were leveled, with more than 25,000 buildings destroyed. At the time, the city was home to more than 400,000 residents—after the disaster, 250,000 were left homeless. The exact death toll is undetermined, but most estimates place the number of deaths caused by the earthquake and fire at more than 3,000."
Absolutely stunning photos.
Friday, April 15, 2016
Jacob T. Swinney posted, 100 Years/100 Shots on Vimeo. "A journey through the past 100 years of cinema--the most memorable shot from each year (in my opinion). While many of these shots are the most recognizable in film history, others are equally iconic in their own right. For example, some shots pioneered a style or defined a genre, while others tested the boundaries of censorship and filmgoer expectations. If anything, I want this video to be a reminder as to why we all love cinema so much."
Visit the page for a list of all the films. I've seen all but a couple of the first ones and heartily recommend any of these (except 300 and Boyhood). I always find it so depressing when someone tells me they've watched some crappy movie on a streaming service and haven't seen more than a dozen of the movies on this list.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Phil Plait writes about Video shows gas cloud expanding over time. "A thousand years ago—in July 1054, to be somewhat more precise—the light from a cosmic catastrophe reached Earth. A massive star, probably 20 or more times the heft of the Sun, exploded. This titanic event was vast almost beyond human grasp: It released as much energy in a few weeks as the Sun will over its entire 10-billion-year lifetime."
"Amazing as the image is, there’s another, subtler aspect of it that will cook your brain. That debris you see is still expanding, and quite rapidly. Because the Crab is tremendously far away—6,500 light-years or so—any motion is shrunk down to near invisibility. But we’ve been observing it for decades, which is a pretty long baseline. That means that if you compare an earlier image to a later one, you can actually see the physical expansion of the supernova explosion."
M1: The Crab Nebula Supernova Remnant (animation) from Adam Block on Vimeo."This animation shows the expansion of the Crab Nebula between the years of 1999 and 2012. The 1999 picture was taken by ESO using the VLT. The more recent picture was taken at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter using the 0.8m Schulman Telescope. "
The Verge reports Octopus escapes laboratory, continuing long tradition of octopi outsmarting humans "The fact that an octopus, with the adorable name Inky, was able to escape its tank (and escape to the ocean by way of a laboratory drain) isn't surprising. No, what's surprising is that Inky didn't cause comical and expensive trouble. Octopi are notorious escape artists. A 10-year-old paper from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, titled 'Interspecific Evaluation of Octopus Escape Behavior,' is meant to hinder this very specific problem — it's that common!"
After His Honeymoon, Ted Cruz Immediately Bought 100 Cans Of Soup "Thanks to CNN’s town hall, America just got another glimpse into the waking hell that is Heidi Cruz’s daily life."
When I married Ted, we got back from our honeymoon, and he went off to the store and came home by himself. And I was completely shocked to see that he arrived back at our apartment with literally 100 cans of Campbell’s Chunky soup. I never bought 100 of anything.
This was shocking to me, so we had a tough conversation about it. I said, “You don’t buy 100 of anything, much less canned soup. We can’t do this. I’ll be making things.” He said, “No, I know you. you won’t be making things.”
So the next morning, it was a weekend morning, I loaded up our car before he woke up and returned every single can. And when I got home, I called my mother just to make sure I’d done the right thing as a newlywed. And she emphatically disagreed with me. And so when Ted opened the pantry, I had to quickly tell him that I would go back and buy those cans again.
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Vox talks about Samantha Bee's genius segment last night, Samantha Bee had an easier time buying a gun arsenal than a costume of the NRA's mascot
Full Frontal host Samantha Bee had a dream: to buy the costume for the NRA's gun safety mascot, Eddie Eagle. But it turns out the NRA has all sorts of restrictions on getting the outfit. The group requires an 18-page application. There are rules around what you can do in the costume — for example, no driving or drinking. There's even a national registry that tracks Eddie Eagle costumes around the country. At one point, Bee started a fake gun safety training group — and was told only law enforcement can buy the costume.
Watch it here, 6m42s:
I'd like to regulate guns as much as the NRA regulates its mascot.
Physicist Stephen Hawking and billionaire Yuri Milner have a vision of interstellar exploration — taking place over the course of not thousands of years, but decades.
Together with a team of scientists, they suggest that within a generation, humans could send a probe to Alpha Centauri — more than 4.3 light-years away, or 25 trillion miles — on a trip that would take just over two decades. That's 1,000 times faster than the current fastest spacecraft, the scientists say.
They're thinking big — by thinking very small.
Instead of sending a car-size or piano-size probe, the 'Breakthrough Starshot' team is proposing a postage-stamp-size spacecraft — a 'starchip.' The project, announced by Hawking and Milner on Tuesday, would engineer a method for such a nanocraft to be propelled through space by a sail, pushed by a powerful laser aimed from Earth."
Monday, April 11, 2016
The Largest Ever Analysis of Film Dialogue by Gender: 2,000 scripts, 25,000 actors, 4 million lines "To begin answering these questions, we Googled our way to 8,000 screenplays and matched each character’s lines to an actor. From there, we compiled the number of words spoken by male and female characters across roughly 2,000 films, arguably the largest undertaking of script analysis, ever. Let’s begin by breaking down dialogue, by gender, for just Disney films."
Lots of interesting graphs in this.
Friday, April 08, 2016
The Verge reports SpaceX successfully lands its rocket on a floating drone ship for the first time "SpaceX has finally landed its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship at sea, after launching the vehicle into space this afternoon. It's the first time the company has been able to pull off an ocean landing, after four previous attempts ended in failure. Today's success is a crucial milestone for SpaceX, as it shows the company can land its rockets both on solid ground and ocean."
Video of the landing as well as a great explanation of why it's important and useful:
Wired reports The Senate’s Draft Encryption Bill Is ‘Ludicrous, Dangerous, Technically Illiterate’ "On Thursday evening, the draft text of a bill called the ‘Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016,’ authored by offices of Senators Diane Feinstein and Richard Burr, was published online by the Hill.1 It’s a nine-page piece of legislation that would require people to comply with any authorized court order for data—and if that data is ‘unintelligible,’ the legislation would demand that it be rendered ‘intelligible.’ In other words, the bill would make illegal the sort of user-controlled encryption that’s in every modern iPhone, in all billion devices that run Whatsapp’s messaging service, and in dozens of other tech products. ‘This basically outlaws end-to-end encryption,’ says Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology. ‘It’s effectively the most anti-crypto bill of all anti-crypto bills.’"
There are issue I really hate Diane Feinstein on.
Tuesday, April 05, 2016
Sorry I've been MIA recently. I've been helping the Independent Film Festival of Boston get ready for the upcoming festival (4/27-5/4). They just posted the list of films they're showing. So I've been fighting with python and unicode and other fun stuff.
Working (if I can call this that) the full day really cuts into my surfing time. I can barely keep with twitter with all the election coverage and Panama Papers stuff. Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing a Black Panther comic that debuts tomorrow, so that's filling my timeline as are chats between David Simon and Eduard Snowden and Matt Blaze. And lots of people I respect are commenting about WhatsApp enabling end-to-end encryption today.
I'll be back soon.
Friday, April 01, 2016
The Washington Post reports CIA left explosive material on Loudoun school bus after training exercise. "The CIA left ‘explosive training material’ under the hood of a Loudoun County school bus after a training exercise last week, a bus that was used to ferry elementary and high school students to and from school on Monday and Tuesday with the material still sitting in the engine compartment, according to the CIA and Loudoun County officials."
Ok, to test bomb detection dogs they got a school bus, put some explosive in it and ran their tests. Either they forgot to remove it or (as they say) some of the putty-like material fell deeper into the engine compartment and they missed it. Apparently their safety procedures don't include weighing the material before and after to make sure they got it all, or even using the successful dog at the end of the day. I guess accidents happen and there was no detonator but this is quite egregious.
Also egregious is the language in this article. Fine they quote the stupid CIA-speak in the first line, “explosive training material” but then they use the terms:
- the material x 6
- the explosive material x 5
- training explosives
- putty-type material
- putty or plastic explosives
- the package
They never just say, the CIA left explosives on a school bus.