Saturday, June 30, 2012

FM 100 Hue Test

FM 100 Hue Test lets you test how color blind you are. It's a little annoying in that you have to put these four rows of twenty squares in order. The gradations are small so after getting them roughly right I got tired of trying to match each pair. I scored a 19.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

MBTA to Seek Corporate Sponsorships for T Station Names

The Boston Globe reports MBTA to seek corporate sponsorships "Executives from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority presented a plan Tuesday to the agency’s financing board to begin selling naming rights for 11 stations, including Downtown Crossing, Park Street, and Back Bay. Ultimately, the T would endeavor to put station names up for bid systemwide, making it, along with Chicago’s transit authority, one of only two in the nation with such a plan."

"Transit systems in New York, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia have sold naming rights for the occasional station, but Boston and Chicago are singular in their desire to make stations available to the highest bidder systemwide. Chicago’s transit system is also in the process of selling naming rights to 11 stations, according to the MBTA."

"“Park will always be Park, and Copley will always be Copley,” Boyle said. “The historical names will remain. Corporations will only add their names to the stations.”"

"Companies and major local institutions would append their names to hallowed subway depots — next stop, Emerson Boylston Station — and they would appear on signs inside and outside of stations and on MBTA websites and maps. No contracts have been signed yet, but JetBlue and Emerson have expressed interest in adding their names to stations."

I think someone has to learn what "append" means.

Upcoming Science Fiction and Fantasy Movies That Aren't Remakes, Sequels or Prequels

io9 listed Upcoming Science Fiction and Fantasy Movies That Aren't Remakes, Sequels or Prequels. It's a much longer list than I expected though it manages to leave out Looper which I'm looking forward to in September.

Library of Congress Acquires Sagan’s Personal Collection, Thanks to Seth MacFarlane

Library of Congress Acquires Sagan’s Personal Collection, Thanks to Seth MacFarlane

"According to an article in the Washington Post yesterday by Joel Achenbach — who also got a chance to browse through several of the boxes — MacFarlane provided an “undisclosed sum of money” to the Library to purchase the collection from Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan, who had kept the papers preserved in storage at their home in Ithaca, NY.

As briefly reported in a previous article here on Universe Today, MacFarlane has been working to bring Sagan’s Cosmos series back to television, with Neil deGrasse Tyson reprising Sagan’s role.Carl Sagan’s personal archive — a comprehensive collection of papers contained within 798 boxes — was delivered to the Library of Congress recently for sorting… thanks in no small part to ‘Family Guy’ creator Seth MacFarlane. (Yes, you read that right.)"


Jim Henson improvising on the set of The Muppet Movie

io9 says, "Behold some 1979 screen tests conducted by director Jim Frawley, which starred Kermit The Frog (Jim Henson) and Fozzie Bear (the legendary Frank Oz) waxing existential about their lives at puppets. Not only do the puppeteers make up the dialogue on the spot — they also run with their character's mannerisms. It is wry and totally wonderful. Stick around for later, gut-busting scenes of Kermit and Miss Piggy (Oz again) riffing about the vagaries of Muppet genetics, property values, and romance."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Linda Greenhouse on Arizona Decision

As usual, all you have to read to understand a supreme court decision is Linda Greenhouse D-Day.

I read through the decision and the three dissents (though evidently backwards). It wasn't particularly compelling. It's rather dry and Kennedy I find to be a particularly dull writer. As a layman, I found it easy to agree with all the arguments both pro and con, so no, no one really won me over. But it's clear, federalism won and states rights lost.

Well there's also this from SCOTUSblog, What now, Arizona? "Shortly after the Supreme Court rendered its judgment on the Arizona immigration law, S.B. 1070, unanimously upholding the most controversial aspect of the law, the Obama Administration revoked existing Section 287(g) agreements with seven Arizona law enforcement agencies. This pettiness – the Administration behaved like a child who, after not getting his way, took his toys and went home – is unbecoming of a President whose constitutional duty includes the obligation “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” but it was made possible by the other aspects of the Court’s holding."

Sorkinisms - A Supercut

Senate Announces Deal to Keep Student Interest Rates Low

Campus Progress reports Senate Announces Deal to Keep Student Interest Rates Low.

"With just a few days before student loan interest rates are set to double, party leaders in the Senate have reached a deal to keep the rate steady for 7.4 million students. The $6 billion agreement would be paid for primarily through savings from a change in how employer pension payments are calculated. Some savings will also come from tying the amount of time students can borrow at the low rate to the length of their degree program."

They still have to vote on it but the details seem to be:

"Under the deal, a 25-year stabilization range would be created that could be used to reduce dramatic fluctuations in calculating companies’ pension contributions. When the two-year corporate bond rates that companies have previously used to determine their pension liabilities fall outside of this 25-year range, they can now be computed using the closest two-year rate within that timeframe. This will result in businesses taking fewer tax deductions for their contributions and is estimated to generate roughly $5 billion in tax revenue.

Additionally, employers will be required to pay an increased rate to insure their pensions through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federal government agency that oversees millions of employees’ pensions. The change is expected to generate $500 million.

The agreement also changes the amount of time students can borrow Stafford loans at the 3.4 percent interest rate, capping borrowing at 150 percent of the length of the degree program. For instance, a student earning a four-year bachelor’s degree would be eligible for subsidized Stafford loans for up to six years. Previous estimates have indicated this could save as much as $1.2 billion over the next decade, but specifics of this change have not yet been released.

This cap was originally included in President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget and was to be used to fill part of a $6 billion shortfall in Pell Grant funding for fiscal year 2014. As a result, Congress will need to find additional offsets to fill the Pell shortfall."

I don't follow all of this but it seems Republicans agreed to raise corporate taxes to help students. I wonder how that will play?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Quvenzhané. A Small Force of Nature

Roger Ebert interviewed the star of Beast of the Southern Wild makes me want to see it again. Quvenzhané. A small force of nature.

"She is the small, determined center of Benh Zeitlin's 'Beasts of the Southern Wild,' which opens July 6 and seems destined for a Best Picture nomination from the Academy. Quvenzhané Wallis was six when she filmed the role. She and all of the other actors were non-professionals. Incredible. I interviewed Quvenzhané, her co-star Dwight Henry and her director Benh Zeitlin during their Chicago visit. "

Marco Rubio on The Daily Show

I'm always amazed that liberal leaning Jon Stewart manages to get prominent Republicans on his show to interview. I'm sure there must be some metric that shows his audience buys books, but I think it's also because he can be a pretty decent interviewer. Last night he had Marco Rubio on and the full interview is 30 minutes long. It's actually a conversation about the big differences between the parties. The Daily Show is the only place I see this happen with actual politicians.

It's kind of amazing to me that in part 3 when Rubio describes what's needed he says tax reform with eliminating loopholes and a lower broader rate. That's exactly what Obama wanted for corporate taxes and spoke about in the State of the Union. He says he's still wants clean air and water regulations but they need to be sensible. I think everyone (but maybe Ron Paul) can agree with that, the question is what is reasonable. I wish Stewart was a little more able to keep focus in the conversation but I agree with his conclusion that they have completely different views of reality.

I thought Rubio while sounding reasonable, made some logical errors. I wish Stewart would have said, it's true that raising taxes won't grow the economy, but it's not supposed to, it will help balance the budget. We should stimulate the economy now (borrowing at historic low rates and investing in things that will be useful in the future like infrastructure providing jobs and being the spender of last resort) to grow the economy and then raise tax rates to levels that were sustainable in the 90s to balance the budget. It's true that the biggest driver of the debt is entitlements and therefore we need healthcare reform to control costs. The second biggest driver is defense spending, maybe we should lower that a little.

Moose and Bears

Black bear and moose sighted in Needham and Wellesley "It was a wild Monday in the suburbs west of Boston, with reports of a black bear ambling down by the Charles River in Needham and sightings of a 600-pound moose racing through backyards and across streets in Wellesley."

"Wellesley Police worked with Environmental Police to track the moose for hours from the area of Reeds Pond, where the moose reportedly went swimming, to Lexington Road and Shirley Road."

"It’s black bear mating season, said Zimmerman, and the young males are striking off in search of their own patch of land to call home. 'They’re searching for a mate,' he said. 'They’re like teenagers.'"

The (a?) black bear was caught in Brookline today. "An Environmental police officer, operating from a cherry picker, successfully shot the bear with a tranquilizer dart when the animal was an estimated 50 feet up in the tree. After being shot, the animal climbed even higher into the tree, but once the drug took effect, the animal plummeted to the ground."

And to prove that everything is more complicated than it appears at first:

"Officials at the scene said the bear survived the fall. The animal was immediately placed on 480 pounds of ice shavings picked up from Brookline Ice and Coal. When the bear is tranquilized, it’s body temperature goes up and may be a problem for the animal’s health, said Reggie Zimmerman, spokesman for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs."

How Our Sodas Got So Huge

Mother Jones wrote Too Big to Chug: How Our Sodas Got So Huge. Interesting timeline, a few old commericals and this:

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror

Curiosity is scheduled to land on Mars on August 6th. It's five times bigger than other rovers, so they needed a different landing technique.

Early Reactions to Arizona v. United States Decision

I still need to read the decision but the Supreme Court struck down 3 of 4 parts of the Arizona law. SCOTUSBlog has the quick rundown. Basically the court said that the federal government is responsible for immigration control and the states can't do it. States can't make it a crime to be in the US illegally (it's already a federal crime), they can't make it a crime to work in a state while here illegally (because Congress choose not to do that), and a state can't arrest without a warrant someone believed to be here illegally. "Whether and when to arrest someone for being unlawfully in the country is a question solely for the federal government."

The provision they allowed is the most controversial one, but it's still open to overturning. "Section 2(B) of the law requires the police to check the immigration status of persons whom they detain before releasing them. The Court held that the lower courts were wrong to prevent this provision from going into effect while its lawfulness is being litigated. It was not sufficiently clear that the provision would be held preempted, the Court held. The Court took pains to point out that the law, on its face, prohibits stops based on race or national origin and provides that the stops must be conducted consistent with federal immigration and civil rights laws. However, it held open that the provision could eventually be invalidated after trial."

Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor joined Kennedy's opinion. Scalia, Thomas and Alito each wrote their own opinions, concurring in part and dissenting in part (I have to read the details). Kagan was recused. So it's a reasonably broad consensus, not strictly on idealogical lines.

Several politicians have commented on the ruling. I want to point out a few dumb ones.

Mitt Romney: "Today's decision underscores the need for a President who will lead on this critical issue and work in a bipartisan fashion to pursue a national immigration strategy. President Obama has failed to provide any leadership on immigration. This represents yet another broken promise by this President. I believe that each state has the duty–and the right–to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities. As Candidate Obama, he promised to present an immigration plan during his first year in office. But 4 years later, we are still waiting."

Um, while Obama hasn't been at the forefront of reform, it was the Republicans who filibustered the DREAM Act in 2010. And that part about states having the right and duty to secure the borders, that's the part the Supreme Court said was wrong.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer: "Today's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is a victory for the rule of law. It is also a victory for the 10th Amendment and all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility of states to defend their citizens. After more than two years of legal challenges, the heart of SB 1070 can now be implemented in accordance with the U.S. Constitution."

Yay we can't make laws about illegal immigration but our police can ask for your papers if they detain you. I really don't see how this is a victory for the 10th Amendment, more like a defeat.

Scott Brown: "The Court's decision today is another reminder that the federal government needs to deal with our broken immigration system. I believe the first step is securing the border and turning off the magnets that encourage people to come into country illegally. We are a nation of immigrants and should fix the system to make it easier for people seeking to enter our country legally, but we are also a nation of laws that have to be respected and observed. Elizabeth Warren has the wrong approach. She supports amnesty and taxpayer funded benefits, including in-state college tuition, for those in the country illegally. She wants to make illegal immigration more attractive. I want to strengthen our legal immigration system and provide more opportunities for those who have played by the rules."

Why do Republicans support amnesty for global corporations dodging US taxes but not for children raised in this country illegally though no fault of their own?

Update: Just purely my own speculation, but since Kennedy wrote this decision, the second most major one of the term, I'm guessing Roberts will write the Obamacare decisions.

Update 2: Here's more of Romney spokesman getting things wrong. Romney Spokesman Dodges 20 Questions On Romney’s Immigration Position. It's not like they didn't have some warning that the Supreme Court would rule on this this week (and on a day when Romney was in Arizona).

Jimmy Carter on America’s Shameful Human Rights Record

Jimmy Carter on America’s Shameful Human Rights Record "At a time when popular revolutions are sweeping the globe, the United States should be strengthening, not weakening, basic rules of law and principles of justice enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But instead of making the world safer, America’s violation of international human rights abets our enemies and alienates our friends."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Obama Health Law Seen Valid, Scholars Expect Rejection

Bloomberg reports Obama Health Law Seen Valid, Scholars Expect Rejection. "The U.S. Supreme Court should uphold a law requiring most Americans to have health insurance if the justices follow legal precedent, according to 19 of 21 constitutional law professors who ventured an opinion on the most-anticipated ruling in years. Only eight of them predicted the court would do so."

Friday, June 22, 2012

Mission: Failure

This from Bill Maher, Mission: Failure. "By the way, as bad as the jobs report was, if you watched the news, it was like Lehman Brothers collapsed again. Yet, 69,000 jobs were created. You know how many on average per month were created under Bush, even after you take out his worst months from the Great Recession? 66,000. You know how many for Bush if you include the recession months? 11,000. And ALL his job creation came from public sector growth. He lost private sector jobs, where Obama has created about 3.8 million."

US Life Expectancy

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Welcoming Summer

In Focus on Welcoming Summer. "Yesterday was the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the day of the year when the sun was at its highest point in the sky. People around the world are welcoming the start of the new season by enjoying (or avoiding) the hot weather. In southern England, where yesterday brought heavy rains, pagans gathered at Stonehenge and reveled in spite of the downpour. Collected here are a handful of images of the beginning of Summer, 2012. [31 photos]"

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Daily Show on Immigration Reform Debate

I whined about this tuesday, but as usual, Jon Stewart does it better.

Have you ever chatted with a Hacker within a virus?

Have you ever chatted with a Hacker within a virus? "That’s very simple Downloader/Backdoor behavior and we are only interested in looking for key logging code for Diablo III so we didn’t pay much attention to it.

But an astonishing scene staged at this time. A chatting dialog popped up with a text message:

(Translated from the image below)

Hacker: What are you doing? Why are you researching my Trojan?

Hacker: What do you want from it?"

The dialog is not from any software installed in our virtual machine. On the contrary, it’s an integrated function of the backdoor and the message is sent from the hacker who wrote the Trojan. Amazing, isn’t it? It seems that the hacker was online and he realized that we were debugging his baby.

Romney's School Voucher Plan?

Ed Kilgore writes Wherever the Backpack Roams.

"I continue to be amazed at how little general attention has been drawn by Mitt Romney’s radical proposal to turn all federal K-12 education dollars into vouchers that will, as one of his advisors, Grover Whitehurst, likes to put it, follow kids around like a backpack wherever their parents choose to send them.

If the Romney proposal is implemented and becomes, as it appears designed to become, a super-charged magnet for state as well as federal money to flow into private schools, some pretty big questions will have to be asked about whether any conditions will be placed on private use of public dollars."

"So the Louisiana program is using state funds to prop up marginal church-based schools with zero vetting of their curriculum, facilities, instructional credentials or standards. “The market,” or, I suppose, the Good Lord will sort them out eventually. A separate piece on the Louisiana program by Alternet’s Bruce Wilson (published at Salon) notes that a number of beneficiary schools use textbooks that explicitly preach anti-evolution and anti-gay nostrums as science, along with revisionist history and political preferences."

How Lobbyists Almost Derailed a Much-Needed Canada-U.S. Bridge

David Frum reports on this pretty unbelievable story, How lobbyists almost derailed a much-needed Canada-U.S. bridge.

The Ambassador Bridge over the Detroit River is the busiest Canada-U.S. border crossing...Shippers have long urged the construction of an entirely new border crossing that could connect U.S. Interstates 75 and 94 directly to Ontario’s Highway 401. On the eve of the 2008 financial crisis, those shippers finally got their way: The new crossing gained approval from the Michigan and Ontario highway departments."

"The existing Ambassador bridge is privately owned, and the main owner — Forbes 400 member Manuel Maroun — does not welcome competition...Maroun has mounted a furious lobbying campaign against the second river crossing. He has gained some unexpected allies, including Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party group headed by Dick Armey. The Michigan chapter of AFP posted convincing-looking (but fake) eviction notices on homes near the proposed crossing route. The group acknowledged that the tactic “was meant to startle people.”

"Bridges cost money: In this case, almost $4-billion. The state of Michigan’s share of the cost would have been $550-million, with the balance to come from the province of Ontario and the U.S. and Canadian federal governments. That $550-million sounds like a lot of money, but put it in context: Almost $500-million in traffic crosses the river every day. Yet the Tea Party Republican majority in the Michigan legislature — perhaps influenced by their friends, allies, supporters and donors at Americans for Prosperity — has objected to the cost, and passed a law forbidding the state to spend any money to build the bridge."

"On Friday, Michigan governor Rick Snyder (also a Republican) announced a last-minute reprieve: Michigan would borrow its $550-million contribution from the government of Canada, with the money to be repaid from a bridge toll."

It's a clever and embarrassing solution to a stupid problem. Is it really the case that we can no longer spend money because the numbers sound big but aren't when viewed in context? Paul Krugman keeps pointing out that yes $1 trillion is a lot but US GDP is $15 trillion a year. In this case a Republican governor had to get around the tea party by borrowing from Canada.

How Does a Slinky Fall?

Details at Wired. (via kottke)

Portable Credit Card Terminals Used In Fraud

The Toronto Star reports Portable credit card terminals used in fraud.

"When you pay a restaurant bill at your table using a point-of-sale machine, are you sure it’s legit? In the past three months, Toronto and Peel police have discovered many that aren’t. In what is the latest financial fraud, crooks are using distraction techniques to replace merchants’ machines with their own, police say. At the end of the day, they create another distraction to pull the switch again."

Wait, Did This 15-Year-Old From Maryland Just Change Cancer Treatment?

Wait, Did This 15-Year-Old From Maryland Just Change Cancer Treatment?

"His name is Jack Andraka, and he loves science and engineering with every inch of his 15-year-old soul...Andraka’s diagnostic breakthrough is a humble piece of filter paper, except that it is dipped in a solution of carbon nanotubes, which are hollow cylinders with walls the thickness of a single atom, coated with a specific antibody designed to bind with the virus or protein you’re looking for. Andraka’s key insight is that there are noticeable changes in the electrical conductivity of the nanotubes when the distances between them changes. When the antibodies on the surface of the nanotubes come in contact with a target protein, the proteins bind to the tubes and spread them apart a tiny bit. That shift in the spaces between tubes can be detected by an electrical meter. Andraka used a $50 meter from the Home Depot to do the trick but, he says, doctors can just as easily insert his test-strips into the kinds of devices used by millions of diabetics around the world."

"It’s also 100 times more selective than existing diagnostic tests, which means no false positives or false negatives. It ignored healthy patient samples as well as those with mere pancreatitis. Compared with the 60-year-old diagnostic technique called enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (or ELISA), used in pregnancy test strips and viral checks for HIV, West Nile and hepatitis B, Andraka’s sensor is 168 times faster, 26,667 times less expensive, and 400 times more sensitive. It can spot the presence of the cancer-linked protein well before the cancer itself becomes invasive. This could save the lives of thousands of pancreatic cancer victims each year. The sensor costs $3 (ELISA can cost up to $800) and ten tests can be performed per strip, with each test taking five minutes. It can be used also to monitor resistance to antibiotics and follow the progression of treatment of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation."


Warren-Brown Debates?

I know that political debates are a big deal and each side sets conditions and it's a painful negotiation, but does it have to happen in public? TPM gleefully reports all the details in the last couple of days, e.g., Warren Campaign: What’s ‘Afraid Of’ With Debate? and Brown Campaign: Warren Is The One ‘Dodging’ Radio Debate.

Guys, get your campaign staff to negotiate an agreement and then debate. Neither of you benefits from "he's afraid to debate me" and "she's dodging debates".

Behind the Scenes at a McDonald's Food Photo Shoot

No so unreasonable. (via Kottke)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What Americans Learned From the Media About the Health Care Debate

Project for Excellence in Journalism examines What Americans Learned From the Media About the Health Care Debate. "When it was a major story, however, most of the coverage focused on the politics of the bill rather than the substance of the legislation. And the language and framing of the issue favored by the bill’s Republican critics was far more prevalent in the news coverage than the language and framing favored by Democrats supporting the bill, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism."

Romney’s Immigration Exaggeration

The Republican line on the President's mini-Dream Act move last week is that he doesn't really care about immigrants because he promised to have done comprehensive reform in his first year. I heard it on This Week and I heard Mitt Romney say as much in an interview with Bob Schieffer on Sunday that pissed me off. covers Romney’s Immigration Exaggeration.

"The president supported and lobbied for the DREAM Act when the Democrats controlled a majority of votes in both houses of Congress. The House passed the legislation Dec. 8, 2010, 216 to 198, with 208 Democrats and eight Republicans voting for it. He congratulated the House for passing the bill, urged the Senate to pass it and promised to sign it. The bill failed, however, to receive enough support in the Senate to end debate and advance to a final vote."

In other words the president tried and the Republican's filibustered it. So to argue he didn't try is a lie. For a lot of issues the Republicans are using this argument, that the President didn't succeed so he doesn't deserve election. But for many issues the President tried and the Republican's filibustered and that was that. They argue that he should have compromised but he did, over and over and they kept moving the goal posts. It's the GOP that isn't compromising. They argue that Obama rammed down healthcare, ignoring the year long debate and attempts at compromise with any Republicans who just kept making demands and pushing things off and ultimately voting against. It's despicable and a spurious argument and they need to be called on it. I wish journalists would do so.

Sometimes Chuck Schumer is Just Dumb

One U.S. Senator Is Worried Apple’s Detailed 3D Maps Will Aid Criminals & Terrorists.

"Well, U.S. Senator for New York, Charles E. Schumer, is worried the detailed images could be used to aid criminals and terrorists, and he has privacy concerns over the military-grade spy planes Apple uses to capture these images."

"To solve these issues, Senator Schumer wants both Apple and Google to provide communities with a notice when they plan to capture their mapping images, and allow them to “opt-out” of having their property pictured. It also wants them to ensure sensitive structures are blurred out of the maps that are published."

IBM’s Sequoia crushes all other supercomputers in new ranking

IBM’s Sequoia crushes all other supercomputers in new ranking "For the first time in three years, an American-built device has taken top spot in a ranking of the 500 most powerful supercomputers. Developed by IBM, Sequoia will be used to – get ready for the letdown – carry out simulations to help extend the life of aging nuclear weapons."

Couldn't we at least use it for climate modeling?

States Using Federal Foreclosure Settlement Funds For Other Things

Georgia leaders bypass metro Atlanta with their allocation of $99 million in federal foreclosure funds.

"Known as the National Mortgage Settlement or NMS, the agreement calls for the big banks to provide an estimated ‘$25 billion in relief to distressed borrowers and direct payments to states and the federal government.’

According to language in the settlement, the direct payments to states should ‘fund housing counselors, provide legal aid, and other similar purposes determined by state attorneys general.’

However, NMS does not contain any enforcement mechanisms, allowing some states the leeway to use the money for things entirely unrelated to housing and the foreclosure crisis.

Georgia’s share of the settlement totaled nearly $99.4 million.

According to Georgia’s Attorney General Sam Olens, the state’s Constitution requires such funds to be deposited in the general fund with the General Assembly responsible for determining how to allocate the money.

Gov. Nathan Deal and the General Assembly decided in the waning days of the 2012 session to divide the money between the Regional Economic Business Assistance (REBA) and the OneGeorgia Authority.

That means that none of the funds will go to address foreclosures, even though Georgia has consistently ranked in the top five of states across the country with the highest rates of foreclosure."

Georgia isn't the only state doing this. Shafted! Why are Homeowners Still Left to Struggle Against Big Banks Alone?. "However, more than a dozen states across the country are doing their best to undermine the settlement by diverting the funds to other areas of their budgets. Arizona recently became the latest state to do so, taking $50 million meant to aid homeowners and instead plowing it into the state’s general fund (after scrapping an earlier plan to use the money to pay for prison construction)."

Monday, June 18, 2012

Greece as Victim

Krugman on Greece as Victim.

"So, about those Greek failings: Greece does indeed have a lot of corruption and a lot of tax evasion, and the Greek government has had a habit of living beyond its means. Beyond that, Greek labor productivity is low by European standards — about 25 percent below the European Union average. It’s worth noting, however, that labor productivity in, say, Mississippi is similarly low by American standards — and by about the same margin.

On the other hand, many things you hear about Greece just aren’t true. The Greeks aren’t lazy — on the contrary, they work longer hours than almost anyone else in Europe, and much longer hours than the Germans in particular. Nor does Greece have a runaway welfare state, as conservatives like to claim; social expenditure as a percentage of G.D.P., the standard measure of the size of the welfare state, is substantially lower in Greece than in, say, Sweden or Germany, countries that have so far weathered the European crisis pretty well."

Snippets from the Papes

Jared Bernstein goes after a Washington Post editorial.

"It accuses both President Obama and Gov Romney of not having credible deficit reduction plans, in part because they don’t go after entitlements.  In fact, the President’s budget, as scored not just by the White House but by CBO, stabilizes the debt/GDP ratio over the 10-year budget window (see Table 1 here, bottom line).  It also cuts hundreds of billions from Medicare and Medicaid (some will recall Republicans, including Romney, attacking the President both for not going after entitlements and for cutting Medicare)."

"The most comparable score we have regarding Gov Romney’s proposal—which is understandably much less fleshed out than the President’s (presidents submit budgets; candidates are strategically vague)—is the Tax Policy Center’s estimate that his tax cuts would add $5 trillion to the deficit over ten years. So no, they’re not really particularly comparable."

Understanding the European Crisis Now

Last week the New York Times posted an interesting infographic Understanding the European Crisis Now. It's a little too big to include here but it's clever showing successive parts of the argument as scaled maps of European countries.

I first saw it embedded at The Big Picture but they left out the text at the left. Without that text I feel it stresses the wrong thing, missing that the real reason debt has ballooned is that it's measured as Debt/GDP and GDP has shrunk in the recession while unemployment payments have grown and bailouts have come up short.

Without the text, the next graph of unemployment comes off as a result than the source of the problem. Put people back to work and GDP will rise while government payouts will shrink. The argument is for bigger bailouts to kickstart this. The text makes this clear:

"But when the financial crisis erupted, the economies shrank and their debts ballooned. Investors began to lose faith in the ability of those countries to repay their debts."

"The best and perhaps the only way for Europe to recover from its financial problems is to get its economies growing rapidly again. That could ease some of the pain that has led to political and social unrest."

So I'm not sure if it's a good graphic or not, but it's definitely good with the text and bad without.

Elinor Ostrom, Winner of Nobel in Economics, Dies at 78

The New York Times reported a few days ago, Elinor Ostrom, Winner of Nobel in Economics, Dies at 78 "Elinor Ostrom, the only woman to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science — an achievement all the more remarkable because she was not actually an economist — died on Tuesday in Bloomington, Ind. She was 78."

"Professor Ostrom’s prizewinning work examined how people collaborate and organize themselves to manage common resources like forests or fisheries, even when governments are not involved. The research overturned the conventional wisdom about the need for government regulation of public resources."

Microsoft Surface

The Verge Live Blogged Microsoft's Surface Tablet Event. The event looks very very Apple-like.

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Lots of Surface looks very interesting. The keyboard on the cover is very clever, I hope it feels good to type on it. I'm also curious about the stylus. Separate digitizers sounds great so that stray swipes from your hand don't cause unwanted input (iPad note taking apps often have a hand rest feature which is a clunky solution). Also, I like that it attaches to the device. I've never used it but I've only heard good things about Microsoft's OneNote application which supports hand written notes on tablets.

It was very un-Apple-like that they said "Now let me talk about availability and pricing" and didn't mention when it would be available or how much it would cost, other than to say competitive. They also didn't mention battery life at all which I think is a huge feature of the iPad. The iPad's battery easily lasts all day, if Surface requires recharging in the middle of the day that will be a big disadvantage.

It's a little odd that they talked about the advantage of doing both the hardware and the software together, "We control it all, we design it all, we manufacture it all ourselves" and "We believe that any intersection between human and machine can be made better when hardware and software are considered together." That's of course an advantage that Apple mentions all the time and I think it's real. It's also exactly not what happens with Windows PC since Microsoft hasn't and doesn't make them. Microsoft does have this experience with Xbox and I bet they've been disappointed with the previous Windows tablet attempts. So I get that they would want to make this tablet themselves, though I find it odd that Intel is making a sister device. It's a little odder that Microsoft uses an ARM chip and Intel's is (obviously) an Intel chip and that means different versions of the Windows running on it.

They also stressed how it's a full PC. It will be interesting to see how that works. Apple rethought the computer for the iPad and made it not a traditional computer but something else. The software is simpler and simpler to use and things do feel different between the iPad the Mac. I want to use the devices differently. But there are also compromises and it would be nicer if things worked a little smother between the devices. I don't use them yet but the most obvious place would be in transferring documents between table and computer and keeping the formatting the same. People complain that doesn't work as well as it should with iWork and I wonder how it will work with Office. Can every Office feature fit on a tablet? Would you want it to?

Now that I think of it, they didn't mention syncing at all. I wonder how that works?

It looks like Surface could be very serious competition for the iPad. I'm skeptical of well it would actually work, but competition is a good thing. Interesting times.

Movie Reviews

Yet again I've been negligent about reviewing films. Some films recently in theaters.

Dark Shadows - I never watched the original soap opera, but if I had, apparently I would have gotten a lot of plot references in this Tim Burton/Johnny Depp version. Without that, this film was just a mess. A few hundred years ago Depp lost his love, became a vampire and pissed off a witch (Eva Green) who buried him. He wakes in the 70s, finds his descendants still living in the family's mansion though they are now on hard times in the small town's fish industry. Green heads the rival and currently successful company. So there's a kooky family, cast well (Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Jonny Lee Miller, but they are given almost nothing to do. This film is filled with plot points but not much plot. In almost 2 hours lots happened but mostly in montages. There's a big long party scene that basically does nothing to advance anything. The only character the film explores at all is Depp and he's mostly just shown as a fish out of water in the 70s. Some of that is very funny and I really enjoyed the music but this film never figures out its tone. It isn't a comedy as there isn't enough of it but as a drama it's pointless without characters or a plot of significance. I think the last Tim Burton film I really liked was Batman. Mars Attacks and Big Fish had some redeeming qualities and I'm not sorry I saw Sweeney Todd, but I think I have to give up on him.

Moonrise Kingdom - is from another director with a signature style, Wes Anderson. I really liked the Fantastic Mr. Fox and think animation really suits him, but otherwise I'm tired of the same basic film over and over again. My theory is you like the first few films you see of his and then the rest less and less. The first I saw was Rushmore and I really liked that. Moonrise Kingdom is about a pair of tweens who run away together on a small New England island and then the search for them. Sam (Jared Gilman) runs away from his scout troop so scout leader Edward Norton must find him. Suzy (Kara Hayward) meets up with Sam after running away from her parents, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand.They have a strained relationship and she's having an affair with the police chief Bruce Willis. I really enjoyed the quirkiness and the wonder for the 45 minutes or so, but after that it wore on me. Anderson has his actors speak in a controlled or mannered way. It's not emotionless at all but it's a very matter-of-fact delivery. By the end I just didn't care about any of the individuals, their predominant characteristic was their oddness and they would remain odd at the end of film so I was just waiting for it to end. Still a lot of people really loved this film and if I had been able to connect with the characters just a little more I probably would have too.

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - I'm surprised but I really enjoyed this film. It reminded me of Love Actually, a British film following a lot of characters all going through similar experiences that's just fun. In this case it's retirees figuring out the next stage in their lives that for one reason or another all move to a hotel in India that's far more rundown than it's described in the brochure. This is a dream cast: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy , Penelope Wilton; and each brings a humanity and a genuineness to their character that sucks you into the film and makes the two hours go by quickly. This is the kind of film I could have seen with my mother and we would have both really enjoyed.

Beast of the Southern WIld - This was the darling of Sundance and Cannes this year and gets a limited release next week. It's so far my favorite film of the year. Hushpuppy is a 6 year-old girl living in "the bathtub" which we're told is on "the other side of the levee" in New Orleans in abject poverty with her alcoholic father and a handful of neighbors. Then a Katrina like event occurs. Sounds great right? What's remarkable is that it's told from Hushpuppy's point of view (she narrates it) and is captures a childlike sense of wonder and adventure. She just accepts that what she sees (both real and imagined) is part of the world she's in and she has to figure out how to navigate it. Where the Wild Things Are made me feel like a 9 year-old, this is a little more grounded and doesn't quite do that, but it did let me see the world through a 6 year-old's eyes. It's a remarkable piece of filmmaking.

Prometheus - This is Ridley Scott's much anticipated Alien prequel and I went in knowing as little as I possibly could. There's a lot about this movie to love; it's gorgeous, it's goes big, it has some wonderful sequences and sets, and Michael Fassbender is great. There's sadly one big thing that ruined it for me, all the humans are stupid. The opening scene is a little out there, but it had me. I wasn't at all expecting anything like that and it reeled me and I thought that at the time and wondered where this film would go. It goes to some familiar territory but that's not all bad, but about halfway through I realized that I just kept being annoyed that everything these characters did was dumb. I kept hearing an adult with a child in an expensive store just saying over and over "don't touch that". But it wasn't in a squirmy horror movie kind of way, like when everyone screams at Lila Crane to not go down to the basement in Psycho. She had reason to do that and the audience had reason to fear it. In Prometheus, characters do one thing after another that no reasonable person would do. And that is really odd, because that didn't at all happen in Alien. The story is a little vague but that didn't bother me at all, the stupidity did. I'm really torn on this because the film is so well crafted and there are a few scenes that I'm sure will become iconic, but there's a lot to hate too. I walked out thinking one or two stars (out of five) and find myself now thinking three and possibly four and having to remind myself that it's really one or two. On balance it's probably worth seeing and the 3D was subtle and immersive. Prometheus did make me want to rewatch Lawrence of Arabia and that's certainly worthwhile.

I've seen a few older films recently too:

Larry Crowne - Tom Hanks co-wrote, directed and starred with Julia Roberts in this standard romantic comedy from last year. And I mean standard in the worst possible way. This film is completely bland. Everyone (but Roberts) is nice and all the strangers are nice and friendly and helpful and happy and scooter-riding and one-dimensional. Roberts is also one dimensional but that dimension is bitter. Guess how it ends. It's not funny and the characters are so weak it's not romantic so it's a very bad romantic comedy. Avoid it.

Everything Must Go - is that rare serious Will Ferrell film that's surprisingly good. Ferrell is Nick Halsey, an alcoholic that loses everything, his job and his wife. He comes home to find all his possessions on the lawn and the door locked. Drunk and depressed he decides to stay there. Fortunately it's in Phoenix so the weather is good. He meets a few neighbors, particularly a chubby teen and a pregnant newlywed and hangs around. This isn't a comedy and the film meanders a bit, well a lot, but it has good performances and real characters with real troubles. The film doesn't present cliches but the ending doesn't live up to the promise.

Super 8 - I saw this last summer under less than ideal conditions and reviewed it. I watched it again on cable and found my opinion didn't change. I liked the kids a little better the second time around, but these are shells of characters with ridiculous action scenes. J.J. Abrams was trying to make an homage to his idol Steven Spielberg. But even Spielberg hasn't been able to recreate the magic he achieved in the seventies and eighties.

Rififi - I pretty regularly scan the TiVo for interesting movies. In this case I came across a four star suspense crime thriller from 1955 that I had never heard of. Record. It's a black and white French film with an American director, Jules Dassin. He's most known for The Naked City, Night and the City and Topkapi. This is a heist film, where a small group of crooks break into a jewelry store. It's famous for the 20 minute sequence of the heist itself. It's wordless and tense and I think the first instance of this heist staple. The ending scene was even more tense and pretty unusual and I think I liked it more. As a film, everything works well, characters, plot, suspense. Apparently there were a rash of crimes following this that copied the techniques shown in the film. Sadly that's one place where it shows its age. The criminals are up against state of the art security in 1955 but it's nothing compared to what is common now. It was much easier to steal then. I'd love to see a remake, updated for today.

Fracking and Earthquakes

In November I wrote Fracking Earthquakes and Nukes Oh My. Now Scientific American reports, Fracking Can Cause Earthquakes, but So Can Oil and Gas Extraction.

"Finally, a comprehensive study released today by the National Research Council has settled the question: yes, fracking can. The number of earthquakes linked to fracking operations is very small, however; many more temblors are linked to conventional oil and natural gas extraction."

Can MicroRNA Repair Heart Scar Tissue?

The Atlantic reports These Amazing Injections Can Actually Repair Scarred Heart Tissue.

"Earlier this year, it was shown that some of the damage caused by a heart attack could be repaired by giving patients an injection of their own stem cells. Now, researchers from Duke University have done the same by injecting tiny molecules of RNA known as microRNAs."

"They then tested this combination on mice with damaged hearts and found that much of the scar tissue was converted into tissue that seems indistinguishable from normal heart muscle. The study did not test the ability of this change to restore heart function back to its pre-damage level."

Walter Lewin Lecture Series

I can't find a good page for this but starting next Monday, June 25, famed MIT physics professor Walter Lewin is giving a series of eight physics lectures, free and open to the public. They are Monday and Friday at 11am on MIT's campus. The topics are:

Gravity, Pendulums and the Conservation of Energy
Trajectories in Moving and Accelerated Reference Frames
The Wonders of Electricity and Magnetism
Super High-Voltage - Why is the Sky Blue, Why are the Clouds White and Why are Sunsets Red?
The Hidden Beauty of Rainbows
Resonance and the Sounds of Music
Quantization and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle
The Birth and Death of Stars

Friday, June 15, 2012

'Moneyball' Godfather Bill James Tackles Politics In Super PAC Age

'Moneyball' Godfather Bill James Tackles Politics In Super PAC Age is really interesting and long Huffington Post piece.

"A political candidate being dramatically outspent by his opponent has few options. He can pin his hopes on a strong debate performance, dig up dirt on the opposition, or cut a particularly buzz-worthy television ad. Or he can do what other industries, led by Major League Baseball, have done before: worship at the altar of Bill James."

""If you're outspent in a campaign, what you absolutely cannot do is start a pissing contest, pardon my French," James wrote in an email. "If you're outspent and you start talking about your opponent being corrupt and senile, you're in BIG trouble, because he's got a lot more guns than you have." Instead of going negative, he advised, a candidate should do the exact opposite. "Talk about your opponent in the nicest terms that you CAN, in order to take certain weapons away from him," James wrote. "If you're speaking well of your opponent and your opponent is savaging you, there is a chance he comes off looking like an ass and you can win the election." Beyond that, James suggested a candidate run on a platform distinct from either major party (anti-drug war, pro-gay rights). Or a candidate could obsess over an issue completely off the beaten path. As an example, he highlighted deer-related car crashes in his home state of Kansas. "No one talks about people hitting deer with their cars as a political issue, but in Kansas" it could work, he said."

I didn't know that Rick Perry ran a sabermetrics like run for governor that succeeded and then obviously he failed miserably running for president. There are a few back and forth examples and there simply isn't enough data on what works in campaigns to be sure of strategies (either old or new). But I have to agree with the end:

"When people disagree with you, what you ultimately have to do is persuade people to agree with you -- period," he added. "You can't ultimately dodge defeat by winning close elections."

Ed Kilgore disagrees:

"Given partisan polarization, the relatively low number of true “independents” and of true “undecided voters” at the moment, and the relatively even strength of the two parties, the 2012 election may well be the equivalent of a game tied in the eight inning in old Forbes Field at the height of the dead-ball era. It’s a context where a one-run strategy—or in politics, a heavy emphasis on GOTV [Get Out The Vote] and voter mobilization generally—may make perfect sense if the alternative is sacrificing the maximum “base” vote to a high-cost, high-risk effort to persuade a tiny segment of swing voters. And that’s particularly true if the number or “persuadable” swing voters is unusually low—as Alan Abramowitz has shown is the case this year—and the characteristics that “persuadable” swing voters are looking for—a clear message, a “mainstream” agenda, and resistance to the opposition’s extremism—are the same as those necessary to mobilize “the base.”"

Sure, an election every four years (or even two) is very different than a season with 162 games, but I think if every time you try to just eek out a win without persuading some then it gets harder each year. Or for Obama, by eeking out wins on policy positions without persuading those in the middle to move a little bit (or those in the public that are undecided) then you just refight the same battle over and over without gaining any support or ammunition for the next fight.

Mann and Ornstein's "It's Even Worse than It Looks" Reviewed

Michael DeLong Reviews Mann and Ornstein's "It's Even Worse than It Looks".

The NY Times on Obama and Romney

So I thought the Remarks by the President on the Economy in Cleveland, OH the other day were pretty good. The New York Times didn't quite agree:

"President Obama sometimes forgets that an important speech does not have to be endless. On Thursday, appearing before supporters at a Cleveland community college, he spent 53 minutes on the stark contrast between his goals and the failed Bush-era policies that Mitt Romney is trying to resurrect. It’s hard to imagine that the speech, overgrown as it was with policy details, won the hearts of many independent voters yearning for a clear understanding of how much is at stake in November."

They went further and this is pretty remarkable for an editorial in a major paper to use this language:

"And it is there that Mr. Obama still has not made his case. Mr. Romney’s entire campaign rests on a foundation of short, utterly false sound bites. The stimulus failed. (Three million employed people beg to differ.) The auto bailout was a mistake. (Another million jobs.) Spending is out of control. (Spending growth is actually lower than under all modern Republican presidents.) He says these kinds of things so often that millions of Americans believe them to be the truth. It is hard to challenge these lies with a well-reasoned-but-overlong speech."

They actually called out Romney for lying.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Times, Paul Krugman picked on a line that Romney said and then backed away from: We Don't Need No Education.

"In the remarks Mr. Romney later tried to deny, he derided President Obama: “He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.” Then he declared, “It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”

You can see why I was ready to give points for honesty. For once, he actually admitted what he and his allies mean when they talk about shrinking government. Conservatives love to pretend that there are vast armies of government bureaucrats doing who knows what; in reality, a majority of government workers are employed providing either education (teachers) or public protection (police officers and firefighters)."

I thought the rest of piece was particularly good at providing some evidence based on our past and current European attempts to fix the economy.

Doctors are using electronic records more - but liking them less

Sarah Kliff writes Doctors are using electronic records more - but liking them less. "The doctors in this survey thought that electronic health records interfere with patient care: When they spend more time looking at a computer they’re spending less time interacting with a patient. They have also become more skeptical that electronic record keeping will reduce errors or improve efficiency."

I'm not surprised. Based on the systems I've seen and heard friends talk about, they all suck. I once sat with my doctor trying to guess what a medical acronym stood for because the system she used only used the full name and not the commonly used abbreviation. Other systems look like old terminal interfaces or early Windows systems at best.

Do Nothing Congress

Ezra Klein wrote about The scariest sentence I’ve read today, ending with:

"Remember: The financial crisis also came a few months before a presidential election. In that case, the Obama campaign and congressional Democrats joined with the Bush administration to pass the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 and TARP. If similar cooperation is needed this year, is there any real chance that we'll get it?"

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

Netflix : El Bulli: Cooking in Progress was one of my favorite films last year (I saw it at IFFBoston). It's now on Netflix streaming and DVD.

"Filmed over the course of one year, this appetizing documentary about the creation of Michelin-rated three-star cuisine shadows world-renowned chef Ferran Adrià as he plans and perfects a new menu from the privacy of his Barcelona cooking lab."

More Tantalizing Clues Oxytocin May Be an Effective Autism Treatment

More Tantalizing Clues Oxytocin May Be an Effective Autism Treatment "In the new study, the authors conducted a double-blind placebo-controlled trial, the gold standard of scientific research. The team gave half of a group of children aged 7-18 a single dose of a nasal spray containing oxytocin. The other half of the group received a placebo - a nasal spray with no active ingredient in it.

The brains of the children who had received the oxytocin showed that areas of the 'social brain,' were activated. These included the medial prefrontal cortex, the temporal parietal junction, the fusiform gyrus and the superior temporal sulcus, all areas involved in processing social information coming from sight, sounds, and cues from other people."

Ryan Lizza on a Second Term and Political Journalism

I haven't yet read Ryan Lizza's New Yorker piece What Would a Second Obama Term Bring?, but this interview with him was very good, The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza: Twitter, Gaffe Obsession Creating ‘Crisis For Political Journalism’.

"So that’s the analogy that several people in the White House used. No, it’s not like conservatives are suddenly going to change their minds about anything. Since 2009, their strategy has been don’t cooperate, just defeat Obama in his reelection. Okay if that doesn’t work, what’s plan B? Plan B might be, because of this massive fiscal cliff, let’s get the best deal we can, Obama’s not going to get credit for it because he’s a lame duck now anyway. One person told me the optimal political circumstances are Obama is at the peak of his political powers and the Republicans knowing that, he would get the least political credit for a victory. You might have that if he wins. That’s the optimistic case. I think if you’re in the White House, you have to be somewhat optimistic. It’s not like they’re assuming that’s going to happen, that’s their sort of, you know, you’ve got to hope.

On the other side, conservatives may decide Romney was too moderate, the lesson of the election is he didn’t oppose Obama enough or he was too liberal. If you’re conservative, you can make the argument that Romney lost because he wasn’t conservative enough. And then you might think, all right, let’s stick to the same strategy we’ve been using the last few years."


"People genuinely do not think it is in their interest — both White House and campaign officials, both campaigns, it’s not a partisan thing at all, it’s Democrats and Republicans — they genuinely do not believe it’s in their interest to talk in an unguarded way. Because even if they trust you to get the context 100 percent right, it doesn’t matter, because they know that a liberal or conservative blog, or a campaign ad, will just grab something out of context and run with it and create some damaging meme. I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and it’s worse now than it’s ever been. If you think about it from their perspective for a second, you can’t totally blame them. Lately I’ve realized it’s harder than it’s ever been, and these campaigns want to exercise complete and total message discipline."

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Theory on the Obama Campaign’s Messaging Problems

I found this very interesting A theory on the Obama campaign’s messaging problems. "The Obama campaign’s messaging might be what voters wanted to hear. In fact, given the campaign’s reliance on hard data, it’s almost surely what voters want to hear. But the Obama campaign wasn’t running experiments on how an elite backlash would change voter opinions . And now what voters are getting — at least if they’re tuned into political media — is an argument between the Obama campaign and those elites, which is not something they’re interested in hearing."

Colin Powell on Reagan

Colin Powell is making the rounds hawking his new book. He was on The Daily Show this week and this is the extended part of the interview (web only). Three stories about Reagan. I think I, like Jon, was not impressed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

More Historic Photos From the NYC Municipal Archives

In Focus has More Historic Photos From the NYC Municipal Archives "One more look into the fascinating New York City Municipal Archives, and their recently-released database of over 870,000 photos throughout the 20th century, a follow-up to this earlier entry. Their subjects include daily life, construction, crime, city business, aerial photographs, and more. Today's selection from this remarkable collection includes numerous street scenes that are visible today through Google Maps Street Views, and links are provided to let you see the difference the years have made. [50 photos]"

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Star Trails From the ISS

In addition to getting a shot of the transit of Venus from the International Space Station, astronaut Don Pettit has posted several amazing star trail photos. Here are just a few, the rest are in this flickr set.


Transit of Venus

Astronomy Pic of the Day found: " This dramatic telephoto view across the Black Sea on June 6 finds Venus rising with the Sun, the planet in silhouette against a ruddy and ragged solar disk. Of course, the reddened light is due to scattering in planet Earth's atmosphere and the rare transit of Venus didn't influence the strangely shaped and distorted Sun."

VenusTransit2012 ivanov2b copy

They also did a few others here and here.

The Big Picture has a great collection of photos:

Bp6 copy

As did In Focus:

S v03 60605697 copy

And so did Universe Today:

VENUS TRANS 060612 UT 04 01 57 535x580

And if you really can't get enough, there's a flickr pool, NASA Venus Transit Observing Challenge

NASA has a space telescope designed specifically to study the Sun and not surprisingly it had the most spectacular view and they made a video. This is the Solar Dynamics Observatory's Ultra-high Definition View of 2012 Venus Transit. "The videos and images displayed here are constructed from several wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light and a portion of the visible spectrum. The red colored sun is the 304 angstrom ultraviolet, the golden colored sun is 171 angstrom, the magenta sun is 1700 angstrom, and the orange sun is filtered visible light. 304 and 171 show the atmosphere of the sun, which does not appear in the visible part of the spectrum."

Astronaut Don Pettit watched the transit from the International Space Station.


Perhaps most amazing is that Thierry Legault not only photographed the transit of Venus but also a transit of the Hubble Space Telescope at the same time. The HST took 0.97 seconds to cross the sun and Legault got nine shots of it. The HST is circled in this composite image:

Transit venus hst 33 marks copy

A friend of mine, the Honest Hypocrite brought a solarscope to Hawaii to watch the transit. He even made the paper.

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Friday, June 08, 2012

Obama Needs to Get a Message

I heard today how it wasn't a great week for Obama. The economy isn't doing well, Scott Walker won his recall election in Wisconsin, Romney raised more money than he did in May, Bill Clinton and Ed Rendell went off message and needed to apologize.


I think the problem is that so far, Obama has no message for this campaign. Now maybe it's not easy to come up with one, but that's the job. I know what the Republicans are for and to me it's crazy. They want to lower taxes, destroy all government programs except for the military, and revert progress on social issue 50 years. And they think this will help the economy but I'm sure it won't.

What's Obama's plan? Is he for more stimulus? I haven't heard that. He wants to extend the Bush tax cuts on those making under $250,000 or under $1 million, I'm not sure which, while letting them expire for those making more. That's fine, but it won't do much. I still can't figure out if Dodd-Frank actually regulates wall street or allows derivates to be regulated at all. I know that Obamacare will kick in any year now if the Supreme Court doesn't pull it at the end of the month. I also know he spends time in meetings figuring out which individuals on the side of the planet to kill, even if they're American citizens. And he's not mentioned the climate at all.

He needs to take a stand. He needs to say what's he for and explain how the Republicans are blocking things using unprecedented power grabs. I think he believes the problems with the economy are on the demand side and we need the government to be the spender of last resort, at least I hope so. And I wish he would be pursuing legislation to make that happen and pointing out when Republicans block that and not just spending time compromising all his positions and then taking the blame for the failures. Sure, compromise to get stuff passed, but ensure that what gets passed is what you want to take responsibility for.

Without that we get crap like this:

Obama Backs Away From ‘Fine’ Comment. He got pounced on for saying the private sector is fine. Well that's mostly true as most unemployment is from the public sector because we keep laying off teachers and police. Maybe we should stop that.

Bill Clinton apologizes for Bush tax cuts comments. Clinton said the Bush tax cuts should be extended and apparently Obama opposes that. I think we're now arguing about only on the wealthy, but why isn't this clear? We've only been debating this for a couple of years now.

Ed Rendell: Obama ‘hurt by being a legislator only’ before presidency. Rendell said when Obama started he was a weak executive and regarding significant legislation “too much of it was left up to the Congress”. Now I'm sure no one is prepared when they first become president and I'm also sure that leaving things, particularly healthcare, up to the Congress was deliberate because they didn't want to repeat Hilary's mistake in the 90s. But fine, claim it already. Say he tried to work with Congress but they aren't cooperating, here's exactly what he wants to see happen and let them describe something different if they want.

Now we're seeing crap like this in the New York Times, Lobby E-Mails Show Depth of Obama Ties to Drug Industry. As if it's news that Obama conceded reimportation to get big pharma's support. But now Republican's are jumping on it and at least the times quote Robert Reich having to say: " “Republicans trumpeting these e-mails is like a fox complaining someone else raided the chicken coop,” said Robert Reich, the former labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. “Sad to say, it’s called politics in an era when big corporations have an effective veto over major legislation affecting them and when the G.O.P. is usually the beneficiary. In this instance, the G.O.P. was outfoxed. Who are they to complain?”"

Now I get emails from the Obama campaign that say, Romney raised more money than us, "If you just want to cut to the chase, you can donate to Barack Obama now." Seriously? You're not even going to pretend to stand for something?

Both Obama and the Democratic National Committee avoided the recall election. There had to be a petition to get the DNC to spend money on the recall. Obama apparently wanted to stay above the fray. And what a surprise big money won.

Robert Scheer wrote Democrats Failed in Wisconsin Because They Failed Wisconsin.

"Of course [the GOP] argument is a red herring. The budget crises of state and municipal governments were not brought on by excessive pay to firemen, cops and other civil servants, but rather by a banking meltdown that has enriched those who engineered it. Housing values, and the local taxes dependent on them, are down because of financial shenanigans that wrapped mortgages into collateralized debt obligations, and that is the root cause of government red ink. But the job security and pensions of government employees make terribly convenient scapegoats at a time when so many Americans are lining up at food banks.

The electorate in Wisconsin, and San Diego and San Jose, Calif., that voted Tuesday against public employee unions were not expressing a rational response to the crisis, but rather a tantrum stoked by the lavishly financed demagogues of the right. The voters bought their story because the opportunism of the Democratic Party leadership has left progressives without a believable alternative to the tea party’s narrative. Indeed, job creation became a bigger issue than collective bargaining in the Wisconsin race, and the dismal national unemployment figures that came out just days before the election didn’t hurt the Republicans’ cause."

Now I know that June polls are pretty worthless, but Nate Silver has released his first model forecast on the election and Obama is winning by hair. "The first look at the 2012 FiveThirtyEight presidential forecast has Barack Obama as a very slight favorite to win re-election. But his advantage equates to only a two-point lead in the national popular vote, and the edge could easily swing to Mitt Romney on the basis of further bad economic news."

Seriously, it's easy to expect bad economic news in the next four months. Obama needs a clear message both he and his supporters can stick to and that voters can understand and decide on. It shouldn't be too hard and it's clear it shouldn't be about a new kind of politics in Washington. It should be about doing the right thing to fix a lot of different problems we have.

More on that later.

Dork Tower on Draw Something

I thought this was hilarious:


Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Wire: The Musical

I would so go see this. (via kottke)

Full moon affects Large Hadron Collider operations

Ars explains. Full moon affects Large Hadron Collider operations.

"As the LHC's Pauline Gagnon describes at the Quantum Diaries, the changing force exerted by the Moon as it orbits—the same thing that drives the tides—creates subtle differences in the position of the hardware within the LHC. The differences are tiny for any individual piece of hardware, but they add up when it comes to something as big as the LHC, which has a circumference of nearly 27km. Plus, the LHC hardware is very, very sensitive to being out of alignment, given that it has to accurately direct bunches of protons that are moving at nearly the speed of light.

The net result is that the LHC's operators sporadically have to tweak the beam's alignments, leading to a temporary drop in the rate of collisions, seen as periodic dips in the plot above. According to Gagnon, the operators also have to make tweaks in response to everything from the level of water in nearby Lake Geneva to the passage of the French high-speed rail."


America was bombed 1,000 times during World War II

I had no idea America was bombed 1,000 times during World War II. "School children in Japan were asked to make gigantic balloons, thirty-three feet in diameter. The first prototypes were made out of paper, but later ones were made from silk. The balloons, when filled with hydrogen gas, were buoyant enough to carry a thirty-three pound bomb, as well as a few incendiary bombs and thirty-six sandbags. When released they would shoot up to 35,000 feet. They'd leak gas, slowly dropping, until a barometer caused one of the sand bags to drop off into the sea, at which point they'd go up to 35,000 feet again. The balloons could travel on air currents at up to 120 miles per hour, and so, when the last sandbag fell, they descended onto North America. For navigatorless objects, drifting on the wind, a surprising amount of them made it over the sea.

Out of the nine thousand launched, about one thousand reached land, while the rest exploded in the sky or dropped into the ocean. The bombs went off as far east as Kansas and Texas. Some drifted down to Mexico, and some up to Canada. Although the bombs caused a few fires, American officials asked people not to talk widely about them. The bombs didn't cause any actual casualties until 1945. Six people, five of them children, were killed at a church picnic, when they saw a deflated balloon and touched the bomb, not knowing what it was."

This is what 200 tons of sardine carcasses look like

This is what 200 tons of sardine carcasses look like "Yes, you read that correctly — 200 TONS worth of dead sardines. That's how many fish are believed to have washed ashore in Japan's Isumi City since June 3rd. Even more disconcerting? Nobody's really sure what's causing the massive die-off."

To make that even less fun, We’re breaking our planet once and for all, warn scientists.

"A report just published in Nature by a group of 22 international scientists warns that human activity is quickly pushing the planet to a tipping point, after which time the Earth's ecosystem will suffer a rapid and irreversible collapse. What's worse: They suggest we're nearly there.

By using recent scientific theories, ecosystem modeling, and paleontological evidence, the scientists have concluded that the Earth's ecosystem is poised for a "state-shift", after which time the ecosystem is poised for an imminent collapse that would happen in the "blink of an eye." The report, titled "Approaching a State Shift in Earth's Biosphere," warns that localized ecosystems will shift abruptly and enter into a new state of equilibrium.

Not only would these transitions be irreversible, they warn — they'd likely be catastrophic to all life on the planet."

More here.

Web Passwords

So I was only reasonably good at managing my web passwords. Given What Happened to LinkedIn I spent the day making a few changes. As James Fallows said, The One Step You Must Take Today is "Make sure that any account that matters to you has its own password."

Here are some notes that might help some people and I welcome some comments.

The passwords to my hardware were all unique. That is my account on my computer and my home networks and my ISP. I've never used those passwords anywhere else.

Any online financial sites (and I haven't been doing online banking very long) have unique and strong passwords. I believe that I've only used them from home, so they haven't been stored on some public computer or gone over a public network (like at starbucks) and I always use an encrypted connection (the URL begins with "https"). That should prevent anyone from sniffing them over a connection. Yes, this means I've never accessed my bank account from my phone over a public wifi network. Using https should make that secure enough, but I've never done it.

My main social accounts (email, facebook, twitter) and a couple of other very heavily used accounts have unique strong passwords. In November James Fallows wrote about his wife's gmail getting hacked. Google's new 2-step verification is a good thing to setup. In addition to using a password, they text a number to your cell phone that you enter, so any thief would need not just your password but your physical phone as well (so don't lose your phone). I've been meaning to set that up for a few months now.

Unfortunately for a lot of other web accounts I used the same moderately strong password. I never wrote it down anywhere so I fooled myself thinking that helped a little bit. There are just too many sites to keep track of and I told myself that they didn't really contain much useful information if they were broken into. So I tried Evernote but never really used it so I didn't care if that was broken into. Unfortunately that's not the only problem. I wasn't always good at changing the password of a site that I started to use heavily and there's still the problem of if a site I didn't care about was broken, that password worked at many other sites, some of which I cared about.

So I spent today changing web passwords. Another reason I used the same password was I find it hard to create new ones and of course remember them. There are a few techniques for this, I used the following. I came up with a strong mix of characters that I memorized. There are no words and there are numbers and punctuation marks (and I didn't just change O to zero or I to one, that's too common). I combined it with a few characters from the URL to make the password unique for each site. Pick some standard rule like the last two characters before the .com are inserted at the beginning of the password or something like that. Then you just have to remember the one password and the rule. Don't just use the site's name as that's easy to guess, you just want enough to make it unique (one or two letters) but not enough to make it guessable. Update: Other good tricks include separating the letters you pick from the domain name in your fixed string, including the length of the domain name or say inserting a 1 as the fifth character if the domain name is alphabetically below M or a 5 if it's above.

For sites I use regularly I will use the Remember Me button that keeps a cookie in my browser so I don't have to login all the time. I obviously won't do that at another computer (but I rarely if ever use a computer other than my own). I also use the Keychain on the Mac to remember various web passwords. it keeps them stored in it's own encrypted database which is tied to my account password and Safari knows how to use it to enter passwords for me.

I have a couple of friends that swear by 1Password. This is a product that is similar to the Keychain. It securely stores the passwords and if you want other info like credit card numbers and makes it easy to enter in the browser. There are versions for iOS as well and they can share the data. It's easy if you use more than one computer. 1Password can also generate random passwords for sites, since it's going to remember them they can more complex. Still, while I'm sure I'm missing something wonderful about it, I don't see the need to spend $50+ for something that KeyChain basically does for me.

Another problem was remembering all the sites I wanted to change. I did an ok job at remembering the big ones but then I looked through KeyChain's list and found a bunch more. I also looked through apps on my iPhone and iPad and found more I remembered. I made a list so I could keep track of what I changed. I changed them all on the Mac, and then logged in again so they would be stored in KeyChain.

A few sites had rules that meant my password wasn't good. Netflix allows a max of 10 characters. The NY Times only supports three punctuation marks [._-]. The Financial Times only allows letters and numbers. Morons. I kept notes in my list about their rules (but not the password I used) and tried to do the logical thing with my password for their site. I also made sure the passwords were saved correctly in KeyChain (which encrypts them).

I entered the new passwords on apps on my mac that use these services like iTunes, IM and my twitter client and others. I then had to go through and relogin to many things on both my iPhone and iPad which was a bit of a pain. Some apparently tried to login and failed and prompted for the new password, others apparently stayed logged in. For some of those I tried to log out and back in though it wasn't always clear how to do that. While I think iOS apps are usually a better interface than a web page, it seems many don't let you do account management from the app and make you go to the web page.

It took most of the day to do all this. Most worked, though several sites had some issues and a couple are still broken (I can't login at all). Several sites send you email if you want to change your password to verify you are who you say you are (or at least have access to the account's email). Oddly I found gmail's spam filter mistakenly marked many of these as spam. So if you're waiting for them to arrive, check your spam filter. There are still a bunch of sites I haven't changed but I haven't logged into them in a long time and I don't really care about the stuff there :)