Saturday, March 31, 2012

Apple is Propping Up the S&P 500

CNN Money points out The S&P 500 with and without Apple: Round 2

"In Golub's February calculation, the S&P 500's Q1 2012 earnings were on track to rise 6.8% with Apple (AAPL), but would shrivel to 2.8% without."

"Last week, Dan Sanborn of Ned Davis Research took another look at the S&P 500 through Golub's prism and saw an even wider spread. Now, according to Sanborn, the index's total earnings growth drops from 7.8% year over year with Apple to just 2.7% without."


"Meanwhile Barclays Capital has produced the chart above -- spotlighted Sunday on Business Insider by Joe Weisenthal -- showing the earnings growth of the tech sector with and without its star player. What was a gap has become a chasm."

New Evidence that Our Insecticides are Killing Off the Bees

io9 writes New Evidence that Our Insecticides are Killing Off the Bees

"Now, two studies have provided some of the most compelling evidence to date that a popular class of insecticides may be contributing strongly to the collapse."

"The two studies complement each other well. The wayward tendencies of the bees in the second study, for example, could help explain the decrease in productivity observed in the first. The question now, however, is how pesticide companies will respond. On one hand, these two papers provide some of the most compelling evidence yet that neonicotinoids play a significant role in the death of bees around the world; and yet, most researchers agree that pesticides alone cannot account for the declines we're seeing."

"Other factors could include climate change and disease, but given that bees pollinate an estimated 33% of America's agricultural output alone, is that any excuse to postpone the regulation — or at least thorough re-evaluation — of neonicotinoids and other pesticides?"

The FDA Enters Withdrawal: The Future of Antibiotics on Farms

The FDA Enters Withdrawal: The Future of Antibiotics on Farms:

Last week, a U.S. district court judge ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to move forward on ending the use of several antibiotics in food animals except to treat disease. In doing so, the court sent a clear message to the agency: do your job.

(Via The Atlantic Food Channel)

Charting Mega Millions

Chart Porn showed some graphs of "how many times numbers have been picked?" I don't think it would have helped this time.


I'd like to thank Mega Millions for teaching everyone about probability this morning. A lesson that will be forgotten by Monday.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Models Based on 'Fundamentals' Have Failed at Predicting Presidential Elections

Nate Silver says Models Based on 'Fundamentals' Have Failed at Predicting Presidential Elections.

"I do not mean to suggest that the economy does not matter to elections, or that there is no predictive content in looking at economic variables. As this experiment should show you, the economy assuredly does not account for 90 percent of voting results. But it may well account for half of them. That doesn’t mean these effects are easy to quantify, but you can probably get somewhere — perhaps explaining about 40 percent of election results — by using more sensible techniques. That’s still enough to give a huge tailwind to an incumbent running in a good economy, and represents a big problem for a candidate running into a recession."

Southern Lights Over The Indian Ocean From ISS

Universe Today shares "Here’s a time-lapse video of the Aurora Australis photographed by Expedition 30 crew members on March 4, as the Station passed 240 miles (386 km) over the chilly waves of the southern Indian Ocean...This time-lapse represents about 8 minutes of real time compressed into about 40 seconds. "

Decommissioning the Space Shuttles

In Focus documents Decommissioning the Space Shuttles. "Starting next month, NASA will begin delivering its four Space Shuttle orbiters to their final destinations. After an extensive decommissioning process, the fleet -- which includes three former working spacecraft and one test orbiter -- is nearly ready for public display. On April 17, the shuttle Discovery will be attached to a modified 747 Jumbo Jet for transport to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Virginia. Endeavour will go to Los Angeles in mid-September, and in early 2013, Atlantis will take its place on permanent display at Florida's Kennedy Space Center. Test orbiter Enterprise will fly to New York City next month. Gathered here are images of NASA's final days spent processing the Space Shuttle fleet. [35 photos]"

and a completely random one:

S s29 20121055 copy

A Collection of Kisses

In Focus shows us A Collection of Kisses. "One of the most intimate human gestures, a kiss can convey greetings, give comfort, express joy, and above all, show love. Gathered from news photos over the past few months, this collection of kisses features playful moments, emotional reunions, public displays of affection, and some pure expressions of love. [37 photos]"

I'd pull out one to include here but it's really the collection of different kinds of kisses that's interesting.

Friday, March 23, 2012

M95 Supernova Progenitor Found!

Bad Astronomy writes More M95 supernova news: progenitor found! | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine "This is very exciting: the star that blew up to form Supernova 2012aw may have been seen in an older Hubble image!"

"This is not from Hubble! It’s from Adam Block, a frequent contributor of stunning pictures to this blog, who took it using the 0.8 meter (32") Schulman Telescope at Mt. Lemmon on March 20. The supernova is the bright bluish star sitting on a spiral arm to the right and just below the core of the galaxy."

The article has a video clip explaining about the star found in older images.

Apple Shares Go Batty, But Stock Trading Back to Normal

Apple Shares Go Batty, But Stock Trading Back to Normal.

"UPDATE: Apple shares just resumed trading and are currently down 0.3% at $597.58. The stock was halted for five minutes from 10:57 a.m. Eastern Time to 11:02.

2nd UPDATE: It appears a bad trade triggered the halt. Stocks are halted if they swing more than 10% in a span of five minutes. This allows market participants time to regroup and to prevent further erroneous trades from undermining the market.

3rd UPDATE: According to FactSet, at 10:57:28, orders placed through the BATS Global Markets came in well below where Apple had previously been trading. Orders first came in at $551.66 and microseconds later went as low as $542.80 before the stock was halted.

4th UPDATE: CNBC is now reporting that Nasdaq is canceling the erroneous Apple trades made on the BATS exchange."

I've never heard of BATS, it's a new trading system based in Kansas City. Still I really have reservations about automated trading (I assume that's what this is).

Thursday, March 22, 2012

'The Daily Show's' Advantage Over the MSM: An Eye for the Absurd

The Atlantic points out 'The Daily Show's' Advantage Over the MSM: An Eye for the Absurd.

"While The Daily Show  thrives on highlighting absurdity, the American press is largely incapable of calling it out. To recognize and treat something as absurd is to render a judgment, to depart from what Jay Rosen calls 'The View from Nowhere,' and that traditionalists call 'objective journalism.'"

The episode that spawned this was an unusual one. Instead of having a guest, they did a two part story about the US decision to defund UNESCO. This happened in October. UNESCO is a good organization that helps the poor around the world get clean water, educate children, help abused women, and is building a tsunami warning system. Seriously it's not controversial. But UNESCO recognized Palestine as a nation and the US has a law that it can't fund any organization that does so. Even those that support the decision believe that all parties, including the US are hurt by it.

"Transport a Politico reporter back to just before WWI and they'd cover the European system of alliances as insider realists, explaining to readers why each relationship made perfect sense. A Daily Show writer brought back to the same era would take a long look at geopolitics, study the insider dealings, and then irreverently ask, "So if these two little countries have a skirmish over an assassination you've all committed yourselves to a continent wide war? One that most of you would like to avoid and that has little prospect of making any of you better off? You're okay sending millions to their death if, say, a duke gets assassinated?" "

"In the aftermath of The Daily Show's UNESCO piece, its angle and value added has been praised in numerous journalistic outlets. Going forward, the press should try to recognize absurdity ahead of the satirists, and bring to ensuing coverage the rigor that is the journalistic comparative advantage."

Winter 2011-2012 Was 2nd Warmest and 2nd Least Snowy on Record

Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory wrote about Boston: Winter 2011-2012 Was 2nd Warmest and 2nd Least Snowy on Record

"The winter (Dec-Feb) average temperature (adjusted to 24 hours) of 34.3 deg F was more than 7 deg F warmer than the long-term 1891-2000 mean making this the second warmest winter on record behind only the winter of 2001-2002. The average maximum temperature for the winter was the warmest on record, surpassing the value measured in 2001-2002. The November-February four-month average temperature was the warmest on record. The winter was also relatively dry with a precipitation total of 8.11 inches, making this the ninth driest winter on record. The Dec-Feb winter snowfall of 11.7 inches, was more than two and a half feet less than average, making this the second least snowy winter behind only the 3.3 inches measured in Dec-Feb 1936-1937."

Can the NSA Break AES?

NSA expert James Bamford wrote this in Wired, The NSA Is Building the Country's Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say). It's long and currently in my Instapaper queue.

Bruce Schneier pulls an interesting paragraph from it and asks, Can the NSA Break AES?

"In an excellent article in Wired, James Bamford talks about the NSA's codebreaking capability.

According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: "Everybody's a target; everybody with communication is a target."

"Reading the above, the obvious question to ask is: can the NSA break AES? My guess is that they can't."

He goes on to say he doubts a direct attack against the algorithm but suspects they might have a side attack against computer encryption systems (keys, endpoints, etc.). He added an update speculating: " Another option is that the NSA has built dedicated hardware capable of factoring 1024-bit numbers." Given the number of open source rainbow table projects I see, I wouldn't be surprised by such an approach.

Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas

Paul Graham has another good essay, Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas.

I did appreciate this paragraph, as I've been feeling the same way lately:

"That does not by itself mean there's room for a new search engine, but lately when using Google search I've found myself nostalgic for the old days, when Google was true to its own slightly aspy self. Google used to give me a page of the right answers, fast, with no clutter. Now the results seem inspired by the Scientologist principle that what's true is what's true for you. And the pages don't have the clean, sparse feel they used to. Google search results used to look like the output of a Unix utility. Now if I accidentally put the cursor in the wrong place, anything might happen."

This one certainly depressed me:

"I was talking recently to someone who knew Apple well, and I asked him if the people now running the company would be able to keep creating new things the way Apple had under Steve Jobs. His answer was simply "no." I already feared that would be the answer. I asked more to see how he'd qualify it. But he didn't qualify it at all. No, there will be no more great new stuff beyond whatever's currently in the pipeline. Apple's revenues may continue to rise for a long time, but as Microsoft shows, revenue is a lagging indicator in the technology business."

The Day In Etch-A-Sketch: How The Political Machine Overran Romney

TPM wrote The Day In Etch-A-Sketch: How The Political Machine Overran Romney citing almost a dozen examples and ending with:

"Add it up and you have a professional political blitz unlike any other. Will voters end up caring half as much as the staffers who dropped over four dozen press releases and e-mails about the Etch-A-Sketch quote into this reporter’s inbox on Wednesday? That’s yet to be seen. But at the very least, the large-scale effort virtually wiped out what was an otherwise friendly news cycle for Romney and replaced it with a headache-inducing frenzy around his gaffe instead."

Kind of amusing considering all the mentions TPM gave it. I get ten pages of hits searching for "Etch A Sketch" on TPM and I'm guessing that before this week I wouldn't have gotten any.

Why can’t we just leave infrastructure spending to the states?

Brad Plumer writes Why can’t we just leave infrastructure spending to the states?.

"Yesterday, I pointed out that Rep. Paul Ryan’s GOP budget proposal would require the federal government to spend less and less on transportation over time. Reihan Salam asks whether this is really such a bad thing. Can’t state governments just pick up the slack?

That’s possible, sure. But it hasn’t happened so far. As a recent report (pdf) from the Congressional Budget Office detailed, the federal government’s share of infrastructure spending has already been shrinking since the 1960s and 1970s. And the states, which still provide the vast majority of spending on roads and highways, haven’t made up the difference. The end result? There’s less infrastructure spending overall as a percent of GDP:"


Now my first thought was that this isn't so bad. I expect more expenses in the fifties and sixes as the interstate highways system was being built and less as it's in maintenance. But Plumer disabuses me of this:

"Keep in mind that this is all happening at a time when infrastructure is getting increasingly expensive to build — the CBO notes that the cost of building highways has tripled since 1980, far faster than inflation. States are spending the same, but getting less and less. Now, maybe this would all be okay if we were keeping our roads and bridges and pipes in good shape. But various experts and groups like the American Civil Society of Engineers seem to think that we’re woefully under-investing in infrastructure of all sorts."

Jared Bernstein adds an example, Keep The Feds Out of Our Economy (um…Never Mind).

"The problem here is a highway in Louisiana that’s at risk for flooding as the sea level rises:

Local residents and business leaders are demanding that the federal government help pay to rebuild and elevate the remaining section of Highway 1, adding two miles to span the levees. Federal officials have provided scientific and technical expertise but will not contribute funding unless the state pledges to complete the road. Louisiana says it doesn’t have the money.

The ironies are almost too much for my pre-caffeinated, Monday-morning mind to absorb. Officials in a state with an aggressive tax-cutting governor—Gov Jindal can boast the largest tax cuts in the state’s history—one who consistently inveighs against gov’t spending, are “demanding” the Feds send money."

Pentagon: Trillion-Dollar Jet on Brink of Budgetary Disaster

Danger Room reports Pentagon: Trillion-Dollar Jet on Brink of Budgetary Disaster.

"The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the supposed backbone of the Pentagon’s future air arsenal, could need additional years of work and billions of dollars in unplanned fixes, the Air Force and the Government Accountability Office revealed on Tuesday. Congressional testimony by Air Force and Navy leaders, plus a new report by the GAO, heaped bad news on a program that was already almost a decade late, hundreds of billions of dollars over its original budget and vexed by mismanagement, safety woes and rigged test results."

"In its report the GAO reserved its most dire language for the JSF’s software, which agency expert Michael Sullivan said is ‘as complicated as anything on earth.’ The new jet needs nearly 10 million lines of on-board code, compared to 5 million for the older F-22 and just 1.5 million for the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet. ‘Software providing essential JSF capability has grown in size and complexity, and is taking longer to complete than expected,’ the GAO warned."

For the programmers in the room: I guess UML didn't work out so well for them.

All Major News Outlets Cover Trayvon Martin Tragedy, Except Fox News

ThinkProgress charts how, All Major News Outlets Cover Trayvon Martin Tragedy, Except Fox NewsCable crop

Science and Cooking Lectures

I've written about a few of the Science and Cooking lectures I've attended at Harvard. Now they are all on YouTube here: Science and Cooking. Total time is 42 hours!

Supreme Court Takes Up Health-Care Law

The Washington Post has an infographic, Supreme Court takes up health-care law. "On March 26, the Supreme Court will begin three days of oral arguments over President Obama's health-care overhaul, pitting the Obama administration against 26 states that say Congress exceeded its authority by requiring Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty. A look at the issues the Supreme Court will be considering — and how they fared under the lower courts:"

In addition there's this article by Jeffrey Toobin in the The New Yorker, Holding Court.

"Late last year, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit voted, two to one, to uphold President Obama’s health-care reform, known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA). [DC Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Brett M.] Kavanaugh dissented, primarily on the ground that the lawsuit was premature. In a sixty-five-page opinion, Kavanaugh appeared to offer some advice to the Republicans who are challenging Obama in the election this year. “Under the Constitution,” Kavanaugh wrote, “the President may decline to enforce a statute that regulates private individuals when the President deems the statute unconstitutional, even if a court has held or would hold the statute constitutional.”

In other words, according to Kavanaugh, even if the Supreme Court upholds the law this spring, a President Santorum, say, could refuse to enforce ACA because he “deems” the law unconstitutional. That, to put the matter plainly, is not how it works. Courts, not Presidents, “deem” laws unconstitutional, or uphold them. “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is,” Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in Marbury v. Madison, in 1803, and that observation, and that case, have served as bedrocks of American constitutional law ever since. Kavanaugh, in his decision, wasn’t interpreting the Constitution; he was pandering to the base.

The high-stakes health-care case is a useful reminder of the even higher stakes in the Presidential election. If a Republican, any Republican, wins in November, his most likely first nominee to the Supreme Court will be Brett Kavanaugh."

Gadget Users Hungrier for News, but Media Still Lags in Profit

Techland reports Gadget Users Hungrier for News, but Media Still Lags in Profit. "It’s a bittersweet tune for the news industry: Though Americans have a budding appetite for news, Silicon Valley is reaping the benefits of those cravings, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism."

I can't say I'm surprised. I hate most news web sites. I get most of my news from RSS feeds and if the article is interesting I'll read it in Reader using Readability or if necessary click through to the full article. If it's long I'll save it in Instapaper to read later. I get breaking news first from Twitter, usually from one of several news feeds I follow. I do subscribe to the NY Times on the iPad because there was a reasonable deal ($5/week) for 6 months. I'm not sure I'll continue it when that time is up. I only rarely go to the NY Times iPad App, but I do read columnists like Krugman and need web access now to see the full articles. I hate how most news web sites are formatted and really want a single-page view and a good font. Something like Readability or Instapaper or Safari's Reader mode are really important to me. I don't think I'd read the articles without it. I'd be fine with a few ads on the sides if they didn't move and didn't make me wait for them to load but that rarely seems the case now.

On the other hand, I'm starting to enjoy some magazines on the iPad. I pay $100+ a year for the Economist and thinks it's a great experience. I get to download the issue on Thu and it's pleasant to read. Though without the stack of magazines building up on the coffee table, I find I can fall behind even easier now. Entertainment Weekly is also a pretty good experience (the first couple of issues really annoyed me on formatting but it's improved). Wired is ok, but the downloads are still too big and slow (though they've gotten much smaller in the last few months. Still, I find the embedded videos to be merely annoying instead of an intrinsically better experience to the articles. Finally, The Atlantic is ok. I think if you're a magazine and you have a separate mode for "Reading" you're doing it wrong. But I happily pay for all of the above. I For all but the Economist I still get the paper editions which I think is crazy, but that was the cheaper way to subscribe. Something's wrong with that (I get it that paper subscribers are worth more to advertisers but I don't read the paper anymore so I expect they'll realize that soon and work it into their pricing).

How Big Is Our Own Solar System?

The BBC has an infographic How big is our own solar system? . It took me a second to get oriented. The earth is at the top and as you scroll down it's distance from the earth. What confused me is that the first images (of a plane, a parachute and a skydiver) are all oriented as if the earth were at the bottom.

But as you scroll down it becomes apparent that this is the correct way to do it. You have to scroll further and further to see things like satellites, space missions and planets. There's always something on the screen and there are change of scale markers that are mostly effective and the background color changes slowly as you scroll increasing the sense of distance. Nicely done.

(via grahams)

$1.5 billion: The cost of cutting London-Tokyo latency by 60ms

ExtremeTech reports $1.5 billion: The cost of cutting London-Tokyo latency by 60ms "Starting this summer, a convoy of ice breakers and specially-adapted polar ice-rated cable laying ships will begin to lay the first ever trans-Arctic Ocean submarine fiber optic cables."

jwz really nails it:

"And this is what we call 'burying the lead':

The massive drop in latency is expected to supercharge algorithmic stock market trading, where a difference of a few milliseconds can gain (or lose) millions of dollars. It is for this reason that a new cable is currently being laid between the UK and US ---- it will cost $300 million and shave 'just' six milliseconds off the fastest link currently available.

And this is what we call 'some bullshit the PR flack could barely say with a straight face':

The lower latency will also be a boon to other technologies that hinge heavily on the internet, such as telemedicine (and teleconferencing) and education.

Because, you know, in some fantasy world, "telemedicine" is something that exists, and "education" is something that could mobilize a billion dollars."

Independent Film Festival Boston Sets Lineup

IndieWire reports Independent Film Festival Boston Sets Lineup. The festival runs from Wed April 25th to Wed May 2nd. If you're interested in seeing lots of films, I recommend getting a pass. It gets you into films early and gives you flexibility if something runs long and you want to change your schedule. Or become a member like I did.

When Grandpa Gets a New iPad

Some things, even in a foreign language, still work...


ChronoZoom is an interactive timeline of the history of everything, from the birth of the universe to life on earth. I don't particularly love it. I found it slow and choppy on both Safari and Chrome. But I do like the scale it attempts.

Historic Heat in North America Turns Winter to Summer

NASA posted Historic Heat in North America Turns Winter to Summer : Image of the Day "A huge, lingering ridge of high pressure over the eastern half of the United States brought summer-like temperatures to North America in March 2012. The warm weather shattered records across the central and eastern United States and much of Canada."

Namericalsta tmo 2012068 copy

The Stars as Viewed from the International Space Station

The Stars as Viewed from the International Space Station. from AJRCLIPS on Vimeo.

(via Universe Today)

Spiders Flee Australian Flood

In Focus posted Spiders Flee Australian Flood "Earlier this month, eastern Australia endured days of torrential rains that flooded large parts of New South Wales, causing an estimated $530 million in damage to homes, bridges, and farms. Covering the flood near the town of Wagga Wagga, Reuters photographer Daniel Munoz came across a large area draped in spider silk. Thousands of spiders were fleeing the rising waters, many of them trailing behind massive amounts of dragline silk. The webs tangled over weeds, trees, fences, and fields, creating a surreal and eerie landscape crawling with arachnids. Residents reportedly complained of being unable to walk in certain areas without swarms of little spiders crawling up their legs, seeking higher ground. [20 photos]"

I'm not sure I could imagine anything like this:

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Signs of Spring

The Big Picture posts Signs of Spring: 2012 and In Focus posts The First Day of Spring.

If you see a sky like this -- photograph it

Auroraiceland lopez 2000 copy

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Yes Obamacare is Cheaper Than We Thought, Republicans Wrong Again

Ezra Klein explains the CBO report, CBO: Health reform to cut deficit by $50 billion more than we thought. He also debunks the Republican claims that this same report actually says the ACA costs more than predicted.

Krugman takes this to explain How Bad the Debate Is. Republican congressmen have been saying the report says things are more expensive in statements and in congressional debate (I saw a little of it on CSPAN). Krugman: "Tell me that this is a rational, honest debate. Or if you claim that everyone does it, find me a senior Democrat — not some random pundit or backbencher — making an equivalent howler."

A Brief History of Title Design

A Brief History of Title Design from Ian Albinson on Vimeo.

More info here.

The New iPad

I looked at the new iPad in the Apple Store today. The screen is noticeably nicer than my iPad 2's, a bit crisper and brighter (that's probably more saturation). But it wasn't so much better that it made me want to upgrade. It was also noticeably heavier, not dramatically so, but a bit. I didn't notice it being any warmer than mine. So I'm very happy with my decision to get the second generation model.

I'm also kinda happy and surprised to see articles like this one, Video on New Apple iPad Eats Up Monthly Data Plans "Brandon Wells got the new iPad last Friday, started wirelessly streaming March Madness games the next day and by Saturday night was out of gas. Two hours of college basketball—which he viewed mounted to his car dashboard and live at tournament games—had burned through his monthly wireless data allotment of two gigabytes."

As soon as I heard the max of LTE was 72Mbps I was thinking about the math and you go through 2GB in under 4 minutes. So two hours isn't bad. But I'm surprised people really didn't realize this. And was Mr. Wells watching college basketball on his dashboard mounted iPad while driving?

And I don't understand this in the article, "What many consumers may not realize is the new iPad's faster LTE connection means they will use more data even if they don't change their 3G surfing habits. Take regular video: Verizon estimates that streaming it over an LTE connection runs through 650 megabytes an hour. That's double the amount of data used streaming the same video over a 3G link, because the fatter pipe lets more data through."

Isn't SD video the same amount of data regardless of how quickly it's sent? Are they talking about different qualities of SD? Are the sources compressing it differently depending on the connection and then can't they just compress it further on LTE (or is it a scam to use more data)?

The World's Best Biscuits! In Boston?

Forbes proclaims, The World's Best Biscuits! In Boston?. I have to agree. Sweet Cheeks is awesome.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Paul Ryan’s budget: Should the poor pay for deficit reduction?

Ezra Klein asks Paul Ryan’s budget: Should the poor pay for deficit reduction?. "Here’s the basic outline of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s 2013 budget in one sentence: Ryan’s budget funds trillions of dollars in tax cuts, defense spending and deficit reduction by cutting deeply into health-care programs and income supports for the poor."

"The single largest difference is in the tax section: Ryan raises $2 trillion less in revenue than the White House does. In the president’s budget, those revenues come mostly from increasing taxes on the wealthy. So that’s the first big gap between the two proposals: Under Ryan’s budget, revenue would be lower, and the distribution of taxes more regressive, than under Obama’s budget.

On the spending side, Ryan’s biggest cuts come from health-care programs. He eliminates the $1.5 trillion that the Affordable Care Act uses to purchase health insurance for 30 million Americans. Then he cuts Medicaid and related health programs by $770 billion — which is to say, by about a third. Medicare takes $200 billion in cuts on top of that."

"Ryan prides himself on making tough choices. But where such choices need to be made for politically powerful constituencies — say, the tax breaks offered to the wealthy and the middle class, or the benefits offered to current seniors — Ryan punts. Changes for seniors don’t begin for a decade, the tax breaks Ryan will close to pay for his tax cuts go unnamed, and, of course, there are no tax increases at all. When such choices need to be made for programs that the poor depend on, however, Ryan is considerably more specific, and considerably more willing to inflict real budgetary pain on current beneficiaries."

Same old same old.

Rep. Walter Jones: America Borrowing From 'Uncle Chang' To Fund Afghanistan War

TPM reports: Rep. Walter Jones: America Borrowing From 'Uncle Chang' To Fund Afghanistan War "In a question to the Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, Jones [R-VA] said, 'What is the event that the administration and General Allen, you sir, are going to be candid with the United States Congress and more important than the Congress, the American people as we spend $10 billion a month that we can't pay for, the Chinese, Uncle Chang, is lending us the money we are spending in Afghanistan.'"

I happened to see this live on CSPAN and couldn't quite believe it. A. I hadn't heard that slur before and B. I couldn't believe a congressman said it while questioning a General in a hearing and no one called him out for it!

Monday, March 19, 2012

This Amazing Device Just Made Wheelchairs Obsolete

io9 reports This Amazing Device Just Made Wheelchairs Obsolete. "It's called the Tek Robotic Mobilization Device, and it not only allows people who can't walk get around more independently than any device has before, but it also helps them stand up on their own, which is crucial for maintaining basic health functions in people who have spinal cord injuries."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Mike Daisey on This American Life

Even with a TiVo I still mostly know when shows are on television. Maybe not what channel but almost always what day and mostly what time. While I like NPR, I've never been able to remember when various programs are on. I usually just listen in the car and catch whatever is on. Now that Boston has two good NPR stations it's even worse as shows are on multiple times.

I haven't listened to This American Life much lately. That's probably going to change. I listened live to the show today, Retraction and in spite of the fact it was fessing up to a mistake, it was fascinating radio. Now if I can just remember that the pause button the remote won't work.

So it turns out that Mike Daisey's story about visiting the Foxconn factory in China where they make Apple products was at least in part, made up. He did visit, and there are (complicated) issues with Chinese labor practices, but many of the details in his account were untrue. This American Life did not do their usual level of fact checking on the story and ran it. This was their mistake and they apologize for it.

Daisey claims that his story was designed as theater and not journalism and therefore there's more latitude in factual accuracy. He now regrets airing the story on TAL as NPR is clearly a journalistic venue. What's worse is that the producers conversed with him to verify the accuracy before the broadcast because they knew that theater wasn't journalism and they wanted all the facts to be "utterly unassailable by anyone who might hear it" and Daisey replied to them "I totally get that. I want you to know that makes sense to me".

But he never told them he made stuff up and he admits he felt trapped as this was going to air and he wished TAL had just killed the story. But he kept quiet and let it go on and then I saw him talk about the topic on other news show appearances.

It's definitely worth listening to TAL's Retraction rather than just reading the transcript. Daisey talks with Ira Glass and is clearly struggling at times. There are long pauses and their significance isn't accurately conveyed by just an ellipsis.

Daisey doesn't seem to come completely clean. He wrote, that his "only regret" is "that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue." He does say to Glass "I'm Sorry" in response to this question, "I have such a weird mix of feelings about this, because I simultaneously feel terrible, for you, and also, I feel lied to. And also I stuck my neck out for you. You know I feel like, I feel like, like I vouched for you. With our audience. Based on your word."

At that point in the story I felt exactly the same way as Glass. The way TAL puts this together demonstrates that they have great storytelling ability and you don't have to lie or exaggerate to tell great stories (in limited amounts of time).

So I get that narrative literature, theater and movies take dramatic license with history. There are documentaries and then there are dramas. I've seen films where I question why I'm watching a dramatization of a story rather than a documentary about it. Oliver Stone's W. comes to mind. Or about specific changes like the existence Kevin Costner's character in Thirteen Days.

I get that sometimes you have to leave out significant things, or compress time or merge individuals into composite characters. I know that the law treats stories about historical or public figures differently from those about private individuals. But there are still libel and slander laws and there's a reason that dramatizations often use pseudonyms for people or organizations. I still want the general gist to be correct and that might be the case here but I'm not sure. Rob Schmitz in NPR's Marketplace broke this story and says:

"What makes this a little complicated is that the things Daisey lied about seeing are things that have actually happened in China: Workers making Apple products have been poisoned by Hexane. Apple’s own audits show (PDF) the company has caught underage workers at a handful of its suppliers. These things are rare, but together, they form an easy-to-understand narrative about Apple."

I also have to commend This American Life for the third act of their Retraction. Realizing that the story isn't only about them, they tried to report on the real working conditions in China and it's of course, complicated. They still manage to cover it in far less time than Daisey's monologue.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Jean “Moebius” Giraud, 1938-2012

"Jean Giraud, the French cartoonist best known under his pen name ‘Moebius,’ died Saturday in a Paris hospital after a lengthy battle with cancer, at the age of 73." Of course The Comics Journal had the best obituary, Jean “Moebius” Giraud, 1938-2012.

After 244 Years, Encyclopaedia Britannica Stops the Presses

The New York Times reported After 244 Years, Encyclopaedia Britannica Stops the Presses. "The Britannica, the oldest continuously published encyclopedia in the English language, has become a luxury item with a $1,395 price tag. It is frequently bought by embassies, libraries and research institutions, and by well-educated, upscale consumers who felt an attachment to the set of bound volumes. Only 8,000 sets of the 2010 edition have been sold, and the remaining 4,000 have been stored in a warehouse until they are bought."

I'm not broken up.

"Sales of the Britannica peaked in 1990, when 120,000 sets were sold in the United States. But now print encyclopedias account for less than 1 percent of the Britannica’s revenue. About 85 percent of revenue comes from selling curriculum products in subjects like math, science and the English language; 15 percent comes from subscriptions to the Web site, the company said. About half a million households pay a $70 annual fee for the online subscription, which includes access to the full database of articles, videos, original documents and to the company’s mobile applications."

Seems like a much better way to get at good content.


This week Greg Smith wrote a New York Times Op-Ed, Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs. "To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for."

He was one of about 12,000 employees with the title "executive director". The next day, "Goldman Sachs Group Inc. saw $2.15 billion of its market value wiped out"

He blames the Goldman IPO and CEO Blankfein and President Cohn and a culture that refers to its clients as muppets. He's not very specific, except in saying he doesn't know of anything illegal happening.

Kevin Smith wonders, "If this were someone who started working for Goldman in the 60s, it would be easier to find him believable. But Smith started out at Goldman in 2000. He was a senior member of the firm during the height of the housing/derivatives bubble. This was not a period of time famous for its integrity and client-centered focus. So what, exactly, has changed in the past four or five years compared to then? Smith is maddeningly unclear about this."

Felix Salmon questions his motives even more. "What’s missing in his op-ed is any sense of mea culpa, any sense that he was at all part of the problem." "If Smith ends up founding or joining a rival company, his decision to harm Goldman as deeply as possible will end up looking rather self-serving. On the other hand, if he goes to, say, join his former colleague Gary Gensler at the CFTC, working to regulate all investment banks from the outside and to try to level the playing field between the buy-side and the sell-side as much as possible, then we might start taking him a bit more seriously."

Ezra Klein wrote about short-term greed vs. long-term greed Goldman used to offer companies m&a advice, raise debt or equity, take them public, etc. They fostered long-term relationships for repeat business, aka long-term greed. Now they make most of their money in short-term proprietary trading.

"For Goldman Sachs, the real damage of the last two days didn’t come from disgruntled trader Greg Smith’s resignation op-ed. It came from Goldman’s defenders. Many of the replies said, either explicitly or in effect, of course Goldman rips off its clients if doing so will help it make money. Only the naive would think otherwise."

"But the response of many of Goldman’s defenders confirmed the very trend Smith was lamenting: A change from long-term greed, which aligned Goldman’s interests with those of its clients and arguably with those of the broader market, to short-term greed, which is not quite so benign for your clients or for the broader market. If the best that can be said of Goldman today is that it’s well-known that they will do absolutely anything to make a quick buck, then the problem with Smith’s op-ed might be that it’s late, but it’s not that it’s wrong."

Barry Ritholtz mostly agrees, listing his key takeaways. Publicly traded banks means profits come first, and it's not just Goldman. Also, derivatives are complex and opaque so it's very hard to understand them and people often wrongly just trust the salesman. Shocker.

When asked about it Paul Volcker said that preventing government backed banks from proprietary trading (the Volcker Rule) would help stop the conflicts of interest. Suzy Khimm adds that Smith's letter might help regulators get the Volcker Rule finalized.

In other recent Goldman related news, Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote in DealBook As an Adviser, Goldman Guaranteed Its Payday. "Now, however, a court ruling in a shareholder lawsuit has laid bare the truth: Goldman was on every conceivable side of the deal. As a result, El Paso may have unwittingly sold itself far too cheaply. Mr. Blankfein may have said he was ‘very sensitive to the appearance of conflict,’ but the judge’s order ruling ‘reluctantly’ against a motion to block the merger made it clear that Goldman’s conflicts went far beyond mere appearances." The details are here.

Cora Currier wrote in ProPublica 13 Reasons Goldman’s Quitting Exec May Have a Point which lists "SEC charges levied against Goldman and its employees over the past decade."

Others have written public resignation letters this week. James Whittaker wrote Why I left Google and Darth Vader wrote Why I am leaving the Empire. In other related humor, Alphaville adds this:

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Your Car Key Knows More About You Than Your Mom Does

Martin Lindstrom wrote in Scientific American, Your Car Key Knows More About You Than Your Mom Does. "The other day I was going through the necessary rigmarole of getting my car serviced when I learned about yet another surprising way the details of your life can be revealed. That's because mechanics working on the most recent car models know a whole lot more about your car than you've told them. They can tell the number of accidents its been involved in, how hard the car's been driven, and even how often the car's exceeded the speed limit. This information is neither held on a central database, nor is it a part of any police record. No, the details are all contained in the car key."

I had no idea. Can anyone confirm this?

1 Year Later, What Does Fukushima Mean for Nuclear Research?

Jessica Morrison wrote in Scientific American 1 Year Later, What Does Fukushima Mean for Nuclear Research?.

"Peter Burns, the director of a federally funded Energy Frontier Research Center, has been studying uranium for almost 20 years. His earliest work was related to the disposal of commercial nuclear fuel in a geological repository. Remember Yucca Mountain? Burns studied the breakdown of nuclear fuel and the subsequent formation of uranium minerals.

In the years that followed, he served on Nuclear Regulatory Commission discussion panels, a National Academy of Sciences panel on nuclear waste and created a research center for the study of actinide materials. Now his review in Science suggests the need for a national research program to develop comprehensive predictive models of nuclear accidents—a direct response to the accident at Fukushima."

UN Torture Chief Says Bradley Manning's Treatment Was Cruel and Inhuman

The Guardian wrote Bradley Manning's treatment was cruel and inhuman, UN torture chief rules.

"The UN special rapporteur on torture has formally accused the US government of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment towards Bradley Manning, the US soldier who was held in solitary confinement for almost a year on suspicion of being the WikiLeaks source.

Juan Mendez has completed a 14-month investigation into the treatment of Manning since the soldier's arrest at a US military base in May 2010. He concludes that the US military was at least culpable of cruel and inhumane treatment in keeping Manning locked up alone for 23 hours a day over an 11-month period in conditions that he also found might have constituted torture."

And I learned a new word, rapporteur: "a person appointed by an organization to report on the proceedings of its meetings."

It's Time to Clean House

Philip K. Howard wrote in the Atlantic It's Time to Clean House. "This is the first article in a new series The Atlantic is publishing in partnership with Common Good, a nonpartisan government reform organization, devoted to remaking government within budget and without suffocating the American spirit."

"America is mired in a tarpit of accumulated law. Reformers propose new laws to fix health care, schools, and the regulatory system, but almost never suggest cleaning out the legal swamp these institutions operate in. These complex legal tangles not only set goals but allocate resources and dictate the minutest details of how to meet those goals. Most are obsolete in whole or part. Nothing important can get fixed without remaking a coherent legal framework."

States of Depression

Krugman a couple of weeks ago, States of Depression.

"Why did government spending rise so much under Reagan, with his small-government rhetoric, while shrinking under the president so many Republicans insist is a secret socialist? In Reagan’s case, it’s partly about the arms race, but mainly about state and local governments doing what they are supposed to do: educate a growing population of children, invest in infrastructure for a growing economy.

Under President Obama, however, the dire fiscal condition of state and local governments — the result of a sustained slump, which in turn was caused largely by that private debt explosion before 2008 — has led to forced spending cuts. The fiscal straits of lower-level governments could and should have been alleviated by aid from Washington, which remains able to borrow at incredibly low interest rates. But this aid was never provided on a remotely adequate scale.

This policy malpractice is doing double damage to America. On one side, it’s helping lose the future — because that’s what happens when you neglect education and public investment. At the same time, it’s hurting us right now, by helping keep growth low and unemployment high.

We’re talking big numbers here. If government employment under Mr. Obama had grown at Reagan-era rates, 1.3 million more Americans would be working as schoolteachers, firefighters, police officers, etc., than are currently employed in such jobs."

Going Galt

A month ago the New York Times wrote Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It. "He says that too many Americans lean on taxpayers rather than living within their means. He supports politicians who promise to cut government spending. In 2010, he printed T-shirts for the Tea Party campaign of a neighbor, Chip Cravaack, who ousted this region’s long-serving Democratic congressman.

Yet this year, as in each of the past three years, Mr. Gulbranson, 57, is counting on a payment of several thousand dollars from the federal government, a subsidy for working families called the earned-income tax credit. He has signed up his three school-age children to eat free breakfast and lunch at federal expense. And Medicare paid for his mother, 88, to have hip surgery twice."

A few weeks later TPM published The Map That Proves Red Staters Use The Safety Net Too. "Expand on that irony, and you’ll find that some of the most conservative states in the country are the greatest beneficiaries of transfer payments — where residents pay on average less in taxes than they receive in federal benefits. Not all “taker” states are red, and not all “giver” states are blue. But the color spread on the map below suggests that many Republican base voters either choose to vote against their economic self-interest, or would be stunned if the members of Congress who represent them ever got their way."

Give take small final copy

A week later Sara Robinson wrote in AlterNet Ayn Rand Worshippers Should Face Facts: Blue States Are the Providers, Red States Are the Parasites. "There's only one way to demonstrate who America's producers and parasites really are. It's time to go Galt."

"So we've got every right to get good and angry about the fact that, by and large, the people who are getting our money are so damned ungrateful -- not to mention so ridiculously eager to spend it on stuff we don't approve of. We didn't ship them our hard-earned tax dollars to see them squandered on worse-than-useless abstinence-only education, textbooks that teach creationism, crisis-pregnancy misinformation centers, subsidies for GMO crops and oil companies, and so on. And we sure as hell didn't expect to be rewarded for our productivity and generosity with a rising tide of spittle-flecked insanity about how we’re just a bunch of immoral, godless, drug-soaked, sex-crazed, evil America-hating traitors who can’t wait to hand the country over to the Islamists and the Communists.

Ironically, the conservative movement's favorite philosopher had some very insightful things to say about this exact situation. Ayn Rand's novels divided the world into two groups. On one hand, she lionized "producers" -- noble, intelligent √úbermenschen whose faith in their own ideas and willingness to take risks to achieve their dreams drives everything else in society. And she called out the evil of "parasites," the dull, unimaginative masses who attach themselves to producers and drain away their resources and thwart their dreams."

"By way of a modest proposal, I hereby declare the birth of a new Progressive Objectivism — a frankly producerist personal-responsibility crusade aimed at getting these whiny red leeches off our collective blue hide. If they think they can get by without us, let’s not stand in their way. What these people need from us, at minimum, is some tough talk — the kind of stern, grown-up verbal whoop-ass the conservatives wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to unload on us if the roles were reversed."

She goes on to write an entertaining farewell rant. Worth a read.

This American Life Retracts "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory"

Ira Glass posted today Retracting "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory".

"I have difficult news. We've learned that Mike Daisey's story about Apple in China - which we broadcast in January - contained significant fabrications. We're retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's acclaimed one-man show 'The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,' in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products."

"A press release with more details about all this is below. We'll be posting the audio of the program and the transcript on Friday night this week, instead of waiting till Sunday."

Martin Scorsese's Film School

Co.Create wrote Martin Scorsese's Film School: The 85 Films You Need To See To Know Anything About Film. The title seems a little more specific than the introduction makes out.

"Interviewing Martin Scorsese is like taking a master class in film. Fast Company’s four-hour interview with the director for the December-January cover story was ostensibly about his career, and how he had been able to stay so creative through years of battling studios. But the Hugo director punctuated everything he said with references to movies: 85 of them, in fact, all listed below."

So whether it's really a list that he's put together, or just 85 films that came up in this four hour conversation I don't know. I do know it's a list of films from Martin Scorsese so it's worth a look. It's heavy in Roberto Rossellini, Orson Wells, Vincente Minnelli, Luchino Visconti, Robert Altman, Frank Capra, and Michael Powell. I think I've only seen 35 of them and there's a good number I've never even heard of.

I've got some movies to watch.

Did The Sopranos do more harm than good?

Ryan McGee wrote a worthwhile essay in the A.V. Club, Did The Sopranos do more harm than good?

"Broadly speaking, you can pinpoint the start of the modern TV era with The Sopranos, a show wildly hailed for taking a novelistic approach to the small screen." He goes on to talk about the difference in show produced to tell a long story vs those that have self contained episodes and how various series are trying to walk in the middle of that line.

He gives a number of examples. A Game of Thrones, Deadwood and (obviously) The Wire really require you to watch a whole season. The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad tell a story over a season but each episode is a self-contained chapter. Alcatraz and Grimm are procedurals with an overarching (mythology) story.

Obviously there are other examples he could have cited, even before The Sopranos. Wiseguy introduced arcs and Murder One extended it to a whole season. But when I look at Alcatraz I see the influence of X-Files and Lost, not The Sopranos. The X-Files was mostly stand-alone episodes with a strong series long mythology. Lost was the same way, a little further on the mythology scale. I always wanted more mythology from Lost and it adamantly wanted to be a character driven drama. I think the ending made that too clear. Alias pulled it off a little better.

There are lots of bad examples too. "David Goyer, who created the show Flash Forward, bragged that he and his writing staff had built out the show’s first five seasons before the pilot even aired. But what Goyer and company forgot to do was build five characters the audience could relate to." I'll agree with McGee on The Killing and will add Rubicon. He cites The Walking Dead but I think that show is doing fine (particularly the last few weeks which have been great).

I agree with him on Justified. "FX’s Justified offers a master class in how to achieve both. Graham Yost and his writing staff have found the sweet spot where an episode has a shape unto itself while informing the larger 13-episode season and the ever-growing series, while at the same time focusing on world-building, something television is fantastic at doing." My one gripe with it is I often have trouble at the start of an episode trying to figure out if a character is new or someone mentioned previously and I've just forgotten.

He ends with "That’s perhaps the best way to describe what HBO’s success has stunted. A meticulous attention to detail on the part of both those who create television and those who consume it has stymied a desire for the kind of experimentation and exploration working in the microcosm of episodes allows."

"Showrunners are too often trying to fool the audience rather than entertain it. Audience members are too busy trying to solve the show and being disappointed when reality doesn’t line up with theory. Amid all of this, the episode has suffered under the weight of crushing expectation over where a story is going to go as opposed to what it currently is. Shows can’t think about how they’ll fade to black at the end. They need to focus on burning bright in the present. "

I think that's just wrong. There are more TV series now than ever before and plenty of them are great (A Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Good Wife, Downton Abbey) and plenty of them are just fun (Justified, True Blood, The Walking Dead, Treme, Boardwalk Empire) and plenty fail.

I agree with him that "Creating a layered, lengthy narrative is really fucking hard." He did miss what I think is an obvious distinction. Cable shows have short seasons and BBC "series" are even shorter. It seems to be much easier to sustain a dramatic narrative with appropriate arcs for 10 or 13 episodes than for 22 episodes of a network season. It makes much more sense for network shows to be modeled after The X-Files than The Wire. The Good Wife is the best (and perhaps the only) example of a network getting the balance exactly right. Each episode works and each one advances most of the characters just a little bit. There's a series long mythology but there's no mystery to figure out; just characters to follow.

He also left out half hour comedies. Maybe Seinfeld was the first to do this but now plenty of these are starting to have season long arcs. On cable there are series like Weeds, Californication, Nurse Jackie and House of Lies which all have character driven arcs. On network television the arcs are a little weaker but Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock and Community aren't afraid to change their characters situations over the course of a season. All of these seem much better at making the individual episodes entertaining. Maybe it's their length, maybe that's easier with comedy (laughs are laughs), or maybe the creators are just trying harder.

And as for experimentation, I think there are two examples worth looking at. American Horror Story on FX is trying to become a season long anthology series. Each season will have a different characters (and only some returning cast) and tell a different story. I don't think there's ever been a show like that.

The other is Louie, also on FX. It's billed as a comedy but I think of it more as a drama. Louie CK has complete creative control and you never know what you're going to get in an episode. It might be a half hour comedy. It might be two or three vignettes that are related or not. It might be a conversation with another comedian that in real life Louie accused of stealing material. It might be an hour long travelogue about a USO show in Iraq. It's sometimes funny and sometimes sad or tragic; but it's always interesting.

And if you haven't seen The Wire yet, go do so. Right now.

NASA | Evolution of the Moon

(via io9)

How to Draw Bugs Bunny

How to draw Bugs Bunny "It's amazing how the drawing looks nothing like a rabbit and then with a few quick strokes, he draws those cheeks and, boom, there's Bugs."

(via kottke)

What the Space Shuttle Booster Saw

"You've likely seen other videos taken from cameras attached to the Space Shuttle and its boosters, but this is one is exceptional in two regards: it's in HD and the sound has been remastered by Skywalker Sound."

The sound reminded me of Jerry Goldsmith's opening score to the original Planet of the Apes.

(via kottke)

What do all the controls in an airplane cockpit do?

Someone on Quora asked What do all the controls in an airplane cockpit do? and Tim Morgan wrote 9300+ words explaining the cockpit controls on a 737-600.

"All of them? If you're talking about a commercial airliner, then there's hundreds and hundreds. There are big, fat manuals describing what they all do. But, since you asked, buckle up."

It's really fascinating. Megan Garber at The Atlantic provides The Story Behind That 9,000-Word Quora Post on Airplane Cockpits and it's much shorter.

(via kottke)

NASA Releases New WISE Mission Catalog of Entire Infrared Sky

NASA - NASA Releases New WISE Mission Catalog of Entire Infrared Sky "NASA unveiled a new atlas and catalog of the entire infrared sky today showing more than a half billion stars, galaxies and other objects captured by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission."

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Natural Born Drillers

I really liked Krugman's column yesterday, Natural Born Drillers.

"Thus Mitt Romney claims that gasoline prices are high not because of saber-rattling over Iran, but because President Obama won’t allow unrestricted drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Meanwhile, Stephen Moore of The Wall Street Journal tells readers that America as a whole could have a jobs boom, just like North Dakota, if only the environmentalists would get out of the way."

"The combination of horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing of shale and other low-permeability rocks has opened up large reserves of oil and natural gas to production. As a result, U.S. oil production has risen significantly over the past three years, reversing a decline over decades, while natural gas production has exploded. Given this expansion, it’s hard to claim that excessive regulation has crippled energy production. Indeed, reporting in The Times makes it clear that U.S. policy has been seriously negligent — that the environmental costs of fracking have been underplayed and ignored."

Natural gas prices have dropped but oil prices haven't. Why is that?

"First up, oil prices. Unlike natural gas, which is expensive to ship across oceans, oil is traded on a world market — and the big developments moving prices in that market usually have little to do with events in the United States. Oil prices are up because of rising demand from China and other emerging economies, and more recently because of war scares in the Middle East; these forces easily outweigh any downward pressure on prices from rising U.S. production."

He then talks about jobs. Sure the unemployment rate is low in ND but that's because there are so few people. In PA where there's also a lot of fracking, there are many more people and unemployment is still high. "Employment in oil and gas extraction has risen more than 50 percent since the middle of the last decade, but that amounts to only 70,000 jobs, around one-twentieth of 1 percent of total U.S. employment. So the idea that drill, baby, drill can cure our jobs deficit is basically a joke."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Southern Voters

A friend pointed me at this NPR story, In South, GOP Voters Balance Faith, Defeating Obama. It's short, but it has a lot of quotes from religious people who are trying to figure out who to vote for. Here are a few:

"When people read the Constitution and say, 'Oh, we get our rights from the Constitution,' that is wrong," he said. "The Constitution does not give us rights. It recognizes rights that are written on our heart because we are a creature of God. That's where we get our rights from."

When asked how important a role religion will be in the presidential race, Robinson didn't hesitate. "I think it should be the most important value to bring back our country the way it needs to be," she said.

"I really don't think that a nation that falls on Muslim leadership, potentially, is going to be a nation that's going to survive," she said.

And then there's this: ""I just don't like the directions that he's headed in, and personally I don't think he qualifies to be president under the 'natural born citizen.' In the Constitution it states that you have to have two parents that were born in the United States, so that there's no alternative allegiance by any member of the family," Gentile said."

and thankfully NPR points out, "The Constitution actually doesn't say that."

I bet most of these people don't know about Article Six of the Constitution, particularly paragraph three which reads: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

She Who Fights and Runs Away….

Economic Principals wrote about newspapers, She Who Fights and Runs Away…. "The [Washington] Post is clearly moving to preserve its independence.  It is the [New York] Times which seems at risk, thanks to a go-for-broke strategy." The comments are worth reading too.

Collapsing Iceberg

(via kottke)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kony 2012

So last Monday, Invisible Children posted this 30 minute video called Kony2012. "KONY 2012 is a film and campaign by Invisible Children that aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice."

The goal is to raise awareness of Joseph Kony. He's a a Ugandan guerrilla group leader, head of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). In 2005 Kony was indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He's been at large for over 25 years.

They posted the video and then got people to tweet it to popular Twitter and Facebook users like Oprah, Rihanna, P Diddy, Justin Bieber, Ryan Seacrest, Mark Zuckerberg, George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, etc. They retweeted it and it went viral. Six days later, 67 million people have seen it.

The video is part of a complete marketing campaign. They make it easy to contact targeted policy makers, get an action kit with posters and bracelets (better than a ribbon) and a plan to get thousands on April 20th to blanket communities with posters. All to raise awareness to force policy makers to act. They've built in ways to make it easy for people to act, report, and for them track the activity. It's pretty clever.

I guess I'm not as connected as I thought. I didn't hear about it until Friday. No it wasn't via Oprah's or Rihanna's twitter stream. CBS This Morning talked about their campaign which had managed to get 50 million views in 5 days. Then I saw it on Up with Chris this morning and again on Melissa Harris-Perry's show. They all talked about the social media campaign, exclusively.

I found it really odd that none of these news organizations reported on the substance of the message. I didn't know the name Kony but I have heard about the Lord's Resistance Army. Mostly via the Vertigo comic series Unknown Soldier. I also knew that Eliza Dushku was active in an organization founded by her mother, THARCE-Gulu which is trying to help African war survivors. I hadn't realized it was about LRA survivors or about Kony.

Dushku commented on the Kony2012 campaign. "There was new awareness, but we certainly hadn't moved the needle the way Invisible Children did this past Monday night. I have met Jason Russell and fellow actress Kristen Bell over the years and we have shared our passion for Gulu and the Acholi people devastated by Joseph Kony and the LRA. I believe they have honest and true intentions, in spite of some of the negative press that has since exploded on the Web about Kony 2012. And, they have trail-blazed in the area that we hadn't quite been able to cover, creating a worldwide awareness through social media and young people, making Joseph Kony a virtual celebrity almost overnight. This heightened awareness of the 26-year trail of wreckage left by Kony is a good thing. And now, more than ever before, countless people are asking how to help the victims and not only how to help catch Kony." That sounds like exactly the right response.

I have heard some of the critiques against Invisible Children, particularly on CBS This Morning. Particularly that only a third of their money goes to programs in Africa. But I have to say, if the rest is going to this kind of campaign, it seems pretty reasonable. Invisible Children has impressive responses to the various critiques they've received this week.

So what about the administration? I was surprised to learn that "On May 24, 2010 President Barack Obama signed the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, legislation aimed at stopping Joseph Kony and helping the countless children whose lives are at risk as long as he roams free."

"The bill passed unanimously in the Senate on March 11th, 2010 with 65 Senators as cosponsors, then passed unanimously in the House of Representatives on May 13th, 2010 with 202 Representatives as cosponsors."

Also last October, Obama sent "100 armed military advisers to central Africa to help regional forces combat the Lord’s Resistance Army."

"A senior Pentagon official underscored that the American military personnel would not be operating independently nor carrying out unilateral operations. The official also said the United States had provided about $33 million in support to regional efforts to battle the Lord’s Resistance Army since 2008, an effort that has not been sufficient to guarantee that local security forces dismantle the group."

I wonder how they've been doing?

Here's a fun tidbit. Last October when there was some reporting about these 100 troops, Rush Limbaugh talked against the move (because he has to be against everything Obama does even if he knows nothing about it), defending the LRA because they're Christians fighting Muslims. Here's the transcript from Rush's own site. Just not a good couple of weeks for Limbaugh I guess.

Personal Analytics of Stephen Wolfram

Stephen Wolfram posted The Personal Analytics of My Life. He collected analyzed 20 years of data about his online life. He charted all the email messages he sent and received in 20 years including the time and recipients. He charted all his appointments, phone calls, and even all the keystrokes he typed in ten years and all the steps he took in the last two.

Nate Silver and Tim O'Reilly called it "amazing". Jamie Zawinski called it "EPIC".

I just don't get it. Sure the data collection is impressive and the charts are pretty, but as near as I can tell he learned nothing interesting (that is non-obvious) from the exercise.

"And for more than 20 years, I’ve been sending emails throughout my waking day, albeit with a little dip around dinner time. The big gap each day comes from when I was asleep. And for the last decade, the plot shows I’ve been pretty consistent, going to sleep around 3am ET, and getting up around 11am (yes, I’m something of a night owl)."

He looks at the time of his phone calls and finds a similar pattern. Shocking that he's on the phone and sending email when awake and not so much when he's asleep.

"Here’s another way to look at the data—this shows the probability for calls to start at a given time. There’s a curious pattern of peaks—near hours and half-hours. And of course those occur because many phone calls are scheduled at those times." Really? People don't often schedule phone calls to start at 17 minutes after the hour? I wouldn't call that "curious".

He pointed out trends that showed in the 90s he worked on his own on A New Kind of Science and in the 2000s he was involved in more company projects like Alpha. Even I knew that about him.

"The plot above suggests that there’s been a progressive increase in my email volume over the years." I'm pretty sure that everyone's email volume has increased over the years.

"There are all kinds of detailed facts to extract: like that the average fraction of keys I type that are backspaces has consistently been about 7% (I had no idea it was so high!)." I'm sure it shouldn't have taken him ten years of data to figure that out. I bet if he looked at each key typed, that E would be the most popular.

"The overall pattern is fairly clear. It’s meetings and collaborative work during the day, a dinner-time break, more meetings and collaborative work, and then in the later evening more work on my own. I have to say that looking at all this data I am struck by how shockingly regular many aspects of it are. But in general I am happy to see it. For my consistent experience has been that the more routine I can make the basic practical aspects of my life, the more I am able to be energetic—and spontaneous—about intellectual and other things."

I guess. Am I missing something here?

P.S. I did miss the introduction of Wolfram Alpha Pro which lets you upload your own data. I'm sure some people will find that very useful.

Friday, March 09, 2012

International Space Apps Challenge

International Space Apps Challenge "The International Space Apps Challenge is a 2-day technology development event during which citizens from around the world will work together to solve current challenges relevant to both space exploration and social need. "

Why Illinois May be a 'Must Win' for Santorum

Five Thirty Eight explains Why Illinois May be a 'Must Win' for Santorum "Although some awareness of the delegate math is almost assuredly better than none, you really need a detail-oriented approach to come to proper conclusions about this kind of question. For instance, you need to know that Texas’s delegate allocation is quite proportional, while New Jersey’s is strictly winner-take-all based on the statewide vote, while California is mostly winner-take-all by Congressional district. And most states have some kind of twist in their rules — proportional states can become winner-take-all if candidates meet (or their opponents fail to achieve) certain vote thresholds."

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Bachmann: Obama Could Mandate One-Child Policy

Kevin Drum reports, Bachmann: Obama Could Mandate One-Child Policy.

"This was in an interview over at The Blaze, Glenn Beck's website, and even the Blaze folks were sort of aghast that Bachmann could suggest something like this. But it's comforting in a way. This is old school Bachmann.

But as long as we're on the subject, here's a wee bit of factmongering for you. Did you know that lots of women have no health insurance, and the only reason they have any maternity coverage at all is because of federal programs like Medicaid and CHIP? It's true! It turns out that about 40% of all births in the United States are paid for by these programs.

And even women who are insured don't always have maternity coverage. Lots of them do, thanks to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978, which conservatives and the business community hated at the time. But there are still gaps: small businesses are exempt, and most individual insurance plans don't cover maternity expenses. Obamacare will take care of that shortly, but of course, conservatives and the business community consider that an act of unprecedented tyranny."

It really does boggle my mind how these extremists can twist logic so extensively. Then again, logic might be too strong a word. He's a Palin quote from a day ago:

“Who can best bust through that radical left’s kind of dispensation and desire to mistreat those who are defenseless, mistreat those who perhaps have some disadvantages by making them more beholden to government? Who best can contrast themselves from that?” she continued. “I thought who best could do that [and] my own personal opinion is, the cheerful one, is Newt Gingrich. I have appreciated what he has stood for, stood boldly for.”

What LTE means for Apple's new iPad

I don't know much about LTE cellular networks. Macworld has an article that helps, What LTE means for Apple's new iPad.

"Verizon and AT&T both say their LTE networks will deliver about 5 to 12 Mbps downstream (from their networks or the Internet to a device, like downloading files) and 2 to 5 Mbps upstream. That’s two to four times higher than the rates AT&T expects even with its faster HSPA+ 3G deployments, and two to six times faster than Verizon’s current 3G network.

I haven’t tested LTE in Seattle yet, but reviews of LTE phones and adapters find that the 12 Mbps top-end rate AT&T and Verizon cite is often surpassed. The networks have hardly any users, and the two carriers are clearly setting expectations for when the technology takes off—as when millions of 4G-capable iPads leap into use. The larger pool of bandwidth and a better ability to divvy it up, however, will mean that congested LTE networks will remain far more useful than congested 3G networks.

Both AT&T and Verizon Wireless say that their LTE networks will be largely deployed by the end of 2013. Verizon Wireless has made the more explicit statement that it expects its current 3G footprint, reaching more than 95 percent of the U.S. population, to have LTE by then. AT&T is a bit vaguer about its final goal, although some of its licenses from the FCC have specific targets for population and geographic coverage."

Here are the data plans available for the new iPad:

Screen shot 2012 03 08 at 9 36 28 AM

So 2GB at 12Mbps means you max out your plan in 23 minutes. Of course that means you're downloading 2GB of data. I've been getting the 250MB plan from AT&T the past six months for occasional traveling. I haven't come close to going over while downloading email, twitter, maps, the occasional web page, etc. So unless I start streaming music or video I wouldn't expect to start using near 2GB. The faster access, say 10Mbps just means stuff will come in faster, about half as fast as my home wifi (I get 20Mbps via FIOS and a WiFi-n network). Again, I'm more concerned about coverage.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

New iPad

Apple had their event today and announced a new iPad.

It has a screen with four times the current resolution, qualifying it as a retina display. There's a faster processor to handle all those extra pixels. A game demo'er said "This new device has more memory and higher screen resolution than an Xbox 360 or PS3" which is pretty impressive, but not that interesting to me. I've been more drawn to board games on the iPad. They beefed up the rear camera, including 1080p video, but I don't see that being a big win as it's still an awkward device to hold as a camera. There's voice dictation but not full Siri.

Also it now supports 4G LTE networks (you still have to pick an AT&T or Verizon model). This supports speeds of up to 72 Mbps. I'm not sure how that works since that can max out a 3GB plan in under 6 minutes. I'm not sure that the added speed would mean anything to me. It's a new network and at least Verizon says Boston is well covered but I'd want to see for myself.

The memory configurations and prices (and colors) are the same. So for the same money you get a much nicer device. But I'm not seeing much to make me want to upgrade an iPad 2. The retina display is the most compelling piece but I can't complain about the iPad 2. If the wireless coverage were much better than that would be another consideration but that's more important to me on my iPhone. At this point I'm still sticking with my iPad 2 and looking to upgrade my iPhone 4 to an iPhone 5 later in the year.

They also announced updates to iWork, Garage Band, iMovie and a new iPhoto for iPad app that looks very nice if you're into that sort of thing. I could easily see using it at night on vacation after moving photos from a camera's SD card to the iPad. It's crazy that it's only $5 and I'm curious to see comparisons with Adobe's $10 Photoshop Touch announced a few days ago.

Apparently the new device is called "The new iPad" so after the "iPad 2" it's now back to "iPad". Which is a little odd since they are still keeping an iPad model in the lineup. There's only a 16GB model (black or white) but it's only $399 for wifi only and $529 for wifi+3G. So they're dealing with the lower end of the market but not making a smaller screen version. This makes a lot of sense to me.

This is a cute question: Better Buy: An iPad or One Share of Apple?

Monday, March 05, 2012

Let us praise 1962

CBS Sunday Morning had a segment, Let us praise 1962. "What's hard to believe is how many of the cultural institutions that kicked off in 1962 are still with us today."

It goes on to list a number of things like: The Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, James Bond movies, Spider-Man, and the environmental movement.

I found some others: US Navy SEALs, the US embargo against Cuba, color supplements in the Sunday paper, the world's first commercial communications satellite, the countries: Algeria, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Vatican II, Washington Dulles International Airport, the Hulk, Thor and Diabolik. David Fincher, Tom Cruise, Jim Carrey, Jodie Foster, Jon Stewart, and Steve Carell. Roger Clemens, Patrick Ewing, Jerry Rice, and Evander Holyfield.

Our Corrupt Politics: It’s Not All Money by Ezra Klein

Ezra Klein reviews Abramoff's Lessig's books, Our Corrupt Politics: It’s Not All Money by Ezra Klein. Lessig replies.

Politics Q&A: Lawrence Lessig on the 2012 Primaries

Conor Friedersdorf wrote in The Atalntic, Politics Q&A: Lawrence Lessig on the 2012 Primaries. "The Harvard professor and campaign-finance-reform advocate reflects on the corrupting influence of money in American politics."

It's not long and is worth reading. Here's one of the killer quotes: "We're talking about 196 people in the United States who've given 80 percent of the money in super PACs. So a country that is supposed to be responsible to the people has got to be ashamed of a system where 196 people are having so much effect in how these campaigns develop. "

Rabittooth has a number of photoshop manipulations of sci-fi and movie stuff. This was my favorite:

Beeker Reservoir Dogs by Rabittooth copy

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Corporate Tax Rate Faulty Tax Logic

David Cay Johnston on Congress’ potential faulty tax logic regarding corporate tax rates.

"Investors often complain they are taxed twice on their profits: once through the corporate income tax and again through taxes on their dividends and capital gains.

But if the AEI’s argument is correct — that workers bear the burden of the corporate income tax – then investor complaints that they are taxed twice are false. Under the AEI argument, it is workers who are taxed twice: first through lower wages due to the corporate tax and then through levies on their wages, however low they may be.

Double taxation of investor returns was the logic used to justify the capital gains tax cuts in 1997 under President Bill Clinton and in 2003 under President George W. Bush, who also included dividends.

Without double taxation of corporate profits, that justification evaporates. Workers can now use AEI’s arguments to bolster their arguments for higher pay and lower taxes. I put this to Mathur of the AEI, who agreed that it is reasonable to conclude that double taxation is falling on workers. But, she said, lowering taxes on workers would not encourage investment."