Thursday, March 23, 2017

Today is National Puppy Day

Today is National Puppy Day - The Atlantic "I just discovered that March 23 has been set aside as National Puppy Day—founded in 2006 by author Colleen Paige, and adopted by other groups and organizations since. The idea is to focus attention on puppies in need of adoption, and on the abuses found in puppy mills, but also to celebrate these furry little companions. In the spirit of the day, I feel obligated to share some of these adorable images of pups around the world, and through the years." Hans, a dachshund puppy, kisses a kitty while sitting in a teapot, photographed in January of 1926.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Donald Trump will resign 'soon', says top Democrat Dianne Feinstein

The Independent reports Donald Trump will resign 'soon', says top Democrat Dianne Feinstein "Senior Senator on Judiciary Committee drops hint she knows more than she can say 'right now'" Wouldn't that be nice.

Referencing recent trips to Dubai by Mr Trump’s sons, Donald Jr and Eric, where they opened a new golf club, she said: “I think sending sons to another country to make a financial deal for his company and then have that covered with Government expenses, I believe those Government expenses should not be allowed.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Standby

This is a short film about two cops that manages to express a real relationship in under 6 minutes. Really well done.

Standby from Charlotte Regan on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Here’s what’s coming to Amazon Prime in April

The A.V. Club lists Here’s what’s coming to Amazon Prime in April. I recommend The Handmaiden and Hello, My Name Is Doris.

Operation London Bridge: the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death

The Guardian has a long read on Operation London Bridge: the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death. "She is venerated around the world. She has outlasted 12 US presidents. She stands for stability and order. But her kingdom is in turmoil, and her subjects are in denial that her reign will ever end. That’s why the palace has a plan."

It's more than I, and probably you, ever wanted to know about the Queen's funeral plans, I made it about 2/3 of the way through it. You're milage may vary.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The puzzling way Republicans want to replace the individual mandate, explained with a cartoon

Vox describes The puzzling way Republicans want to replace the individual mandate, explained with a cartoon

Large Sections of Australia’s Great Reef Are Now Dead, Scientists Find

The New York Times reports Large Sections of Australia’s Great Reef Are Now Dead.

Huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef, stretching across hundreds of miles of its most pristine northern sector, were recently found to be dead, killed last year by overheated seawater. More southerly sections around the middle of the reef that barely escaped then are bleaching now, a potential precursor to another die-off that could rob some of the reef’s most visited areas of color and life."

This week's Vice on HBO had a scary segment on melting permafrost. Episode 57: When the Earth Melts & The Displaced. Here's a related article on it, Canada’s permafrost is collapsing thanks to climate change.

It feels like we've already lost the climate change battle and we're just in a 50-100 year long garbage time of the game.

Update: Meanwhile Humpback whales are organizing in huge numbers, and no one knows why.

Rare Nuclear Test Films Saved, Declassified, and Uploaded to YouTube

Gizmodo writes Rare Nuclear Test Films Saved, Declassified, and Uploaded to YouTube .

They're all here.

The Trade Deal We Just Threw Overboard

Politico on The Trade Deal We Just Threw Overboard. That would be TPP but it also involves NAFTA, the other deal Trump hates.

NAFTA may be the first test of whether Trump can recast America’s role in the world through sheer force of will. But renegotiating a deal that reshaped the commerce of a continent will be a lot harder than renegotiating an unfavorable lease. It will be an incredibly painstaking and frustrating task, an epic diplomatic and political challenge. It will require patience, sensitivity and attention to policy detail not usually associated with the Trump brand. And it might not work out in the end.

This isn’t just speculation. This is well-documented history. Because the Obama administration already renegotiated NAFTA.

There was never a formal announcement of ‘NAFTA Modernization Talks.’ There were no presidential tweets mocking the original agreement. But behind the scenes, President Barack Obama’s negotiators spent more than three years haggling and battling to update and upgrade the 1994 deal, and they eventually got a lot of what they wanted. Canada reluctantly agreed to give American farmers modest but unprecedented access to its tightly protected dairy industry; Mexico grudgingly agreed to labor reforms with more bite than NAFTA’s toothless union protections. The new deal opened up service sectors like insurance, accounting and express delivery where the United States tends to excel, along with e-commerce and other digital industries that didn’t exist when NAFTA was born. The United States also secured new restrictions on government-owned businesses, new protections for intellectual property and new safeguards for the environment.

But none of those hard-won concessions are going into effect. That’s because the Obama team negotiated all of them as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 5,500-page Asia-oriented trade agreement among the three NAFTA nations and nine other Pacific Rim countries. TPP was at the heart of Obama’s strategic ‘pivot to Asia.’ But Trump saw it as another fleecing of America, and with great fanfare he yanked the United States out of TPP during his first week in office, before Congress could even vote on whether the deal should take effect. That means its upgrades to NAFTA—regarding dairy, labor and everything else Mexico and Canada agreed to—are probably moot.

To Obama administration officials and other free-trade advocates, this feels like a gaping self-inflicted wound, a voluntary surrender of economic and geopolitical territory captured through countless hours of intense negotiations in drab conference rooms. When I asked Obama’s trade representative, Michael Froman, what his negotiating team had given up to Mexico and Canada in exchange for their TPP concessions to America, he replied: ‘Nothing!’ Mexico and Canada were willing to play ball because TPP would give them better access to sell their products in Asian markets—and when Trump tries to renegotiate NAFTA, he won’t be able to offer that carrot now that he’s ditched TPP."

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

I learned how to do math with the ancient abacus

So the title of this Vox article is a bit hyperbolic, I learned how to do math with the ancient abacus — and it changed my life, but I found some interesting things in it.

Shortly after enrolling my daughters and myself in an abacus class, we discovered that the practice relies on a math strategy known as decomposition, which makes computation easier by breaking numbers down into their component parts. So students are encouraged to think about how certain numbers have 'complements' or 'partners.' For instance, 10 is made by partnering 7 plus 3 or by partnering 6 plus 4.

For an actual math problem, consider 5 plus 8. On the abacus, you would not add those actual figures. Instead, you would 'decompose' the numbers and add 10 to the 5 and take away 2 — or the partner of 8 — in order to get to the answer: 13.

It can take a little longer to learn math in this way. Certainly it took me a little while to fully grasp this approach. But decomposition gives people a better underlying sense of how the math actually works. (Interestingly, my kids didn’t find the approach all that novel, since a decomposition approach is embedded in the new Common Core math standards.)

Friday, March 03, 2017

Legion Gets the Mystery Box Formula Right Where Westworld Failed

I completely agree with Kwame Opam in The Verge, Legion gets the mystery box formula right where Westworld failed. Well, it's only been 4 episodes of Legion and it's very confusing what's going on, but I'm engaged and interested. I always felt detached watching Westworld because the only character I cared about was Maeve (and even now I had to look up her name). Mild spoilers for season 1 of Westworld and oddly, no real spoilers for Legion follow:

Both shows are dense, technically stylish sci-fi thrillers. Both shows weave rich mythologies across multiple timelines, with Westworld being set in a simulated Wild West peopled with robots that may or may not have consciousness and Legion set in a world filled with super-powerful mutants that may or may not all exist in the lead’s head. And both shows lend themselves to theories about who and what is real, where the plot is going, and if there isn’t something more sinister running beneath the surface.

Where Westworld differs is in privileging its mysteries and philosophical meditations over character and storytelling. Take William, who is much more an idea than a character. He doesn’t convey any fully realized motivations beyond a desire to be a good person for Dolores’ benefit, and his transformation into the Man in Black is an overreaction to the idea that suffering defines humanity, if not just a twist for twists’ sake. Or consider Maeve: she discovers that she’s a machine and that she’s being controlled, so she sets out to free herself. That’s a powerful and relatable motivation, but the series undermines it by questioning whether or not her actions are dictated by her programming. Don’t get me wrong: exploring the nature of humanity is a worthwhile pursuit, and I loved that about the show. But dancing around what it means to be human instead of creating memorable characters with goals turns the series into a lecture series instead of good TV.

Compounding the problem is how the show conceals information — no matter the illogical gymnastics — to maintain the mysteries until the final episode. So much energy is spent hiding the connection between William and the Man in Black, the true identity of Westworld employees, and the point of the Maze, that the show rapidly became a transparent Pez dispenser, slowly and arbitrarily dispensing treats even though we could see every piece of candy just waiting to be served.

Legion, on the other hand, is laser-focused on its main character by design. Despite being about a mutant with the power to alter reality itself, the story the series lays out is straightforward. David believes he’s a schizophrenic, but he might also be the most powerful mutant alive. So, after learning that people with powers are being targeted by a shadowy government organization, he chooses to learn to control his abilities to save his loved ones and maybe even the world. That’s all David knows, and, as a consequence, all we know. The show establishes David as a relatable person with an understandable purpose: in order to save the world, he needs to better himself. That the show subverts our expectations by asking us to question whether or not what’s happening on-screen is in his head is destabilizing, but always secondary. What he learns about himself drives him and the story forward. And when David learns something, we learn it, too. The show doesn’t withhold for the sake of mystery. Rather, the mystery is a product of its core dramatic premise.

Start codons in DNA may be more numerous than previously thought

Yet again, genetics is more complicated than we thought. Start codons in DNA may be more numerous than previously thought

Genetic code is typically represented via sequences of four letters—A, C, G, and T or U—which correspond to the molecular units known as adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine (for DNA code) or uracil (for RNA code). Fifty years ago, the best available research tools indicated that there were only a few start codons (with sequences of AUG, GUG and UUG) in most living things. Start codons are important to understand because they mark the beginning of a recipe for translating RNA into specific strings of amino acids (i.e., proteins).

NIST specializes in the process of precision measurement, and the start codon challenge proved irresistible to the JIMB team. The collaboration was formed in 2016 with the goal of advancing biomeasurement science and facilitating the process of discovery by bringing together experts from academia, government labs and industry for collective scientific investigations.

With the use of GFP and nanoluciferase, the team measured translation initiation in the bacteria E. coli from all 64 codons. They were able to detect initiation of protein synthesis from 47 codons. The implications of the work could be quite profound for our understanding of biology.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

A software engineer is detained for several hours by U.S. Customs and given a test to prove he’s an engineer

Caroline Fairchild reported on LinkedIn (I didn't really know they did reporting) A software engineer is detained for several hours by U.S. Customs — and given a test to prove he’s an engineer .

It was Sunday, Feb. 26, and the 28-year-old software engineer had left his home in Lagos, Nigeria, to come to the United States for the first time. It was a work trip. For the last six months, Omin had been working for Andela, a startup that connects the top tech talent in Africa with employers in the U.S. Andela accepts less than 1% of applicants into its program and is backed by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. For this particular role, Omin was helping NYC-based fintech startup First Access create a JavaScript application for emerging markets and had secured a short-term joint B1/B2 visa.   

After landing, Omin waited for 20 minutes and then reached the front of the line, where a Customs and Border Protection officer asked him a series of questions. It was here that Omin realized that the job might be challenging, but getting into America could now be impossible. No one at Andela had prepared him for the new reality."

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

What America Looked Like Before the EPA Stepped In

SFGate shows What America looked like before the EPA stepped in .

Shortly after, the Environmental Protection Agency was created. To help foster support for the newly created agency, Nixon sent out 70 photographers tasked with documenting 'subjects of environmental concern' all throughout the United States.

At the time, environmental laws were only just beginning to be formed and regulate the environment. 

Known as 'The Documerica Project,' the photographers captured thousands of images of rural and urban life. Back then, the images demonstrated the toll that unchecked manufacturing and energy industries had on the environment.

Today, they continue to serve as a reminder of what Nixon called the 'price tag' on pollution: 'Through our years of past carelessness we incurred a debt to nature, and now that debt is being called.'"

Rogue One: Visual Effects Revealed

(via kottke)

Moonlight Explained: Symbols, Camera & More

Spoilers for Moonlight, but a nice examination of the filmmaking techniques used to convey character and story and why it won an Oscar.