Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mystery Steam Over Fukushima Could Be Sign of Another Meltdown

I'm not seeing this from anywhere else (more reliable) but Gizmodo says Mystery Steam Over Fukushima Could Be Sign of Another Meltdown "The newest update in the highly disconcerting series of devastating failures that is the Fukushima cleanup effort is troubling to say the least. Tepco has confirmed that (unexplained) plumes of steam have been rising from the mangled remains of Reactor Building 3. In other words, there's a chance Fukushima could be in the middle of another meltdown."

The source is The Ecologist and have three theories:

  • Possibility 1 - a meltdown is taking place
  • Possibility 2: 'corium' has reached groundwater
  • Possibility 3: rainwater on stray fuel elements

Update: Much better info, Fukushima Meltdowns: A Global Conspiracy of Denial

Images of Saturn From the Cassini Mission

In Focus shows Images of Saturn From the Cassini Mission "Launched in 1997, NASA's Cassini spacecraft spent seven years traveling to Saturn before spending the past nine-and-a-half years orbiting the massive planet, making scientific observations and returning thousands of gorgeous otherworldly images. Saturn has more than 150 known moons and the most spectacular ring system of any of our neighboring planets. Its varied satellites include massive Titan, with a thick atmosphere and lakes of liquid ethane; icy Enceladus, spewing jets of water ice far into space; and two-toned Iapetus, with a mysterious equatorial ridge of mountains. Today, on the last day of the year, I thought it would be nice to look back on some of my favorite images from Cassini over the years, as we approach a decade of orbits next summer. [36 photos]"

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The NSA Uses Powerful Toolbox in Effort to Spy on Global Networks

Der Spiegel had a good article the other day on the NSA's TAO Unit. The NSA Uses Powerful Toolbox in Effort to Spy on Global Networks. "The NSA's TAO hacking unit is considered to be the intelligence agency's top secret weapon. It maintains its own covert network, infiltrates computers around the world and even intercepts shipping deliveries to plant back doors in electronics ordered by those it is targeting."

I don't have much of a problem with this at all, this is spying in the digital era and some of the techniques described are quite clever. Targeting specific foreigners is one thing, creating a vast database of every contact ever US citizen makes is another.

Der Spiegel also describes Catalog Reveals NSA Has Back Doors for Numerous Devices. "After years of speculation that electronics can be accessed by intelligence agencies through a back door, an internal NSA catalog reveals that such methods already exist for numerous end-user devices."

Ars follows up with Your USB cable, the spy: Inside the NSA’s catalog of surveillance magic.

Monday, December 30, 2013

More on Cryptography Breakthrough

In 2009 I wrote about a Cryptography Breakthrough IBM had on "fully homomorphic encryption". Now they have a patent on it. Daunting Mathematical Puzzle Solved, Enables Unlimited Analysis of Encrypted Data

The patented breakthrough, called "fully homomorphic encryption," could enable deep and unrestricted analysis of encrypted information — intentionally scrambled data — without surrendering confidentiality. IBM's solution has the potential to advance cloud computing privacy and security by enabling vendors to perform computations on client data, such as analyzing sales patterns, without exposing or revealing the original data.

Invented by IBM cryptography Researcher Craig Gentry, fully homomorphic encryption uses a mathematical object known as an "ideal lattice" that allows people to interact with encrypted data in ways previously considered impossible. The breakthrough facilitates analysis of confidential encrypted data without allowing the user to see the private data, yet it will reveal the same detailed results as if the original data was completely visible.

Working in the US Drone Program

Heather Linebaugh wrote in The Guardian I worked on the US drone program. The public should know what really goes on

What the public needs to understand is that the video provided by a drone is not usually clear enough to detect someone carrying a weapon, even on a crystal-clear day with limited cloud and perfect light. This makes it incredibly difficult for the best analysts to identify if someone has weapons for sure. One example comes to mind: 'The feed is so pixelated, what if it's a shovel, and not a weapon?' I felt this confusion constantly, as did my fellow UAV analysts. We always wonder if we killed the right people, if we endangered the wrong people, if we destroyed an innocent civilian's life all because of a bad image or angle.

It's also important for the public to grasp that there are human beings operating and analysing intelligence these UAVs. I know because I was one of them, and nothing can prepare you for an almost daily routine of flying combat aerial surveillance missions over a war zone. UAV proponents claim that troops who do this kind of work are not affected by observing this combat because they are never directly in danger physically.

But here's the thing: I may not have been on the ground in Afghanistan, but I watched parts of the conflict in great detail on a screen for days on end. I know the feeling you experience when you see someone die. Horrifying barely covers it. And when you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience. UAV troops are victim to not only the haunting memories of this work that they carry with them, but also the guilt of always being a little unsure of how accurate their confirmations of weapons or identification of hostile individuals were."

Incapsula Report: Bot traffic is up to 61.5% of all website traffic

I don't know who Incapsula is but this was interesting. Report: Bot traffic is up to 61.5% of all website traffic.

Bot traffic report 2013

Saturday, December 28, 2013

How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk

The New York Times has an Interactive Graphic to figure out where you're from based on your dialect, How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk. It got me pretty right.

A judge just gave an elementary lesson on copyright to the owners of Sherlock Holmes

A judge just gave an elementary lesson on copyright to the owners of Sherlock Holmes

"Sherlock Holmes fanfic authors: You're now free to write your hearts out. The characters, settings and other elements of the detective franchise are officially in the public domain, a federal judge has ruled.

Given that Holmes first appeared in print more than 125 years ago, you'd think that would be obvious. Not according to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate, which argues that so long as 10 of his stories remain under copyright, all of the elements therein must also be under copyright, and anyone who uses Holmes, Watson or 221B Baker Street has to pay the estate a licensing fee."

"Judge Rubén Castillo ruled otherwise, saying that every Holmes story that followed the first ought to be considered a derivative based on the original. As far as the court is concerned, Holmes and Watson were fully formed characters by the last page of "A Study in Scarlet." Since anything published before Jan. 1, 1923, is considered public-domain by law — a fact that covers 50 of Conan Doyle's tales d'Sherlock — the editors of the Holmes-derived compendium titled "In the Company of Sherlock Holmes" don't need to pay up."

Wikipedia has a nice list of the ridiculous changes in copyright terms:

Since 1790, Congress has amended US Copyright law several times. Major amendments include:

  • Copyright Act of 1790 – established U.S. copyright with term of 14 years with 14-year renewal
  • Copyright Act of 1831 – extended the term to 28 years with 14-year renewal
  • Copyright Act of 1909 – extended term to 28 years with 28-year renewal
  • Universal Copyright Convention – ratified by the U.S. in 1954, and again in 1971, this treaty was developed by UNESCO as an alternative to the Berne Convention
  • Copyright Act of 1976 – extended term to either 75 years or life of author plus 50 years (prior to this, "[t]he interim renewal acts of 1962 through 1974 ensured that the copyright in any work in its second term as of September 19, 1962, would not expire before Dec. 31, 1976."); extended federal copyright to unpublished works; preempted state copyright laws; codified much copyright doctrine that had originated in case law
  • Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988 – established copyrights of U.S. works in Berne Convention countries
  • Copyright Renewal Act of 1992 – removed the requirement for renewal
  • Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) of 1994 – restored U.S. copyright for certain foreign works
  • Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 – extended terms to 95/120 years or life plus 70 years

Pink Nova in the Southern Hemisphere

Astrophoto: Nova Centauri 2013 Turns Pink "A recent naked-eye visible nova that erupted the first week in December 2013 is still showing its stuff, and this new ‘hot off the press’ image from Rolf Wahl Olsen in New Zealand reveals its unusual color."

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

OED Birthday Word Generator

OED birthday word generator: which words originated in your birth year? "Do you know which words entered the English language around the same time you entered the world? Use our OED birthday word generator to find out! We’ve scoured the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to find words with a first known usage for each year from 1900 to 2004. Simply select the relevant decade and click on your birth year to discover a word which entered the English language that year."

I guess it's appropriate that computernik is my birth year's word.

Questions I WIsh Reporters Would Ask

I caught some segments this morning on the NSA spying report and I'm really annoyed at the level of journalism. They show a segment about the report's findings, then bring on an NSA supporter and ask some questions and then don't really followup with any questions. They might bring on someone to tell the other side and it's the same thing. Here's what I'd like to see asked.

When someone says it's just metadata, we're not collecting names it's just numbers; they should be asked can't you associate names with it? Otherwise how do you catch terrorists? It seems to me you're trying to have it both ways. You're saying the information is vital for security but it's not really important so you shouldn't worry about giving it to us.

And here's something I've always wondered, are sms messages metadata? They're limited to 160 characters because they're a hack so that they are included in phone metadata, so does the NSA count the content of sms messages as metadata or content?

I heard today people worrying about the suggestion from the report that the metadata should be held by private companies and not by the government and say that this would be less secure. The metadata original comes from the phone companies, they already have it. You're not giving it to someone new.

When someone says Edward Snowden should have used the established whistleblower procedures; they should be asked about Thomas Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe. Three former NSA officials who followed proper channels and became whistleblowers and nothing changed and were all investigated for it and Drake was prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

These questions don't seem so difficult to me.

States With Higher Black Turnout Are More Likely To Restrict Voting

UMass Amherst researchers reported this week in The Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post, States with higher black turnout are more likely to restrict voting.

"In a new article, we examined the dominant explanations (and accusations) advanced by both the right and left, as well as the factors political scientists know are important for understanding state legislative activity.  We began with no assumptions about the veracity of any claim.  What we found was that restrictions on voting derived from both race and class.  The more that minorities and lower-income individuals in a state voted, the more likely such restrictions were to be proposed. Where minorities turned out at the polls at higher rates the legislation was more likely enacted.

More specifically, restrictive proposals were more likely to be introduced in states with larger African-American and non-citizen populations and with higher minority turnout in the previous presidential election.  These proposals were also more likely to be introduced in states where both minority and low-income turnout had increased in recent elections.  A similar picture emerged for the actual passage of these proposals. States in which minority turnout had increased since the previous presidential election were more likely to pass restrictive legislation.

The turnout of blacks and the poor was not the only factor, of course.  Restrictive laws passed more frequently as the proportion of Republicans in the legislature increased or when a Republican governor was elected.  Most of the voter restrictions adopted in this period, 83 percent, were passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures.  Restrictive laws were especially likely to pass when states both had larger Republican legislative majorities and had become increasingly competitive in the previous presidential election.  Meanwhile, states that had become increasingly competitive but had larger Democratic majorities were less likely to pass restrictive laws."


Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 National Geographic Photography Contest Winners

The Big Picture has the 2013 National Geographic Photography Contest Winners "The winners have been named in the 2013 National Geographic Photography contest. As a leader in capturing our world through brilliant imagery, National Geographic sets the standard for photographic excellence. Professional photographers and amateur photo enthusiasts from over 150 countries submitted more than 7000 entries. Photographs were entered in three categories: people, places and nature. The competition was judged on creativity and photographic quality by a panel of experts comprising of National Geographic magazine Senior Photo Editor Susan Welchman; and documentary photographers Stephanie Sinclair and Ed Kashi."

This did NOT win:

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The way Congress funds clean energy is a mess. Max Baucus thinks there’s a better idea.

The way Congress funds clean energy is a mess. Max Baucus thinks there’s a better idea. "Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, put out a plan (pdf) to dump all 42 existing tax incentives for specific energy sources. Instead, he would create two broad tax credits that would boost clean energy without picking specific technologies or explicitly taking sides between, say, nuclear energy and wind power."

Nice overview. I'd still rather have a carbon tax.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Jon Stewart Makes John Oliver Cry

Last night was Jon Oliver's last night on The Daily Show. He's getting his own show on HBO next year. Jon Stewart honored him with a great John Oliver Retrospective.

The Birth of Standard Error

The Birth of Standard Error "Earlier today Stephen Johnson, in a mailing list run by the The Unix Heritage Society, described the birth of the standard error concept: the idea that a program's error output is sent on a channel different from that of its normal output. Over the past forty years, all major operating systems and language libraries have embraced this concept."

I wouldn't have guessed it came about because of a phototypesetter.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Light Pillars over Finland

Astronomy Picture of the Day today is a new one on me, APOD: 2013 December 18 - Light Pillars over Finland "Explanation: What's happening behind those houses? Pictured above are not aurora but nearby light pillars, a local phenomenon that can appear as a distant one. In most places on Earth, a lucky viewer can see a Sun-pillar, a column of light appearing to extend up from the Sun caused by flat fluttering ice-crystals reflecting sunlight from the upper atmosphere. Usually these ice crystals evaporate before reaching the ground. During freezing temperatures, however, flat fluttering ice crystals may form near the ground in a form of light snow, sometimes known as a crystal fog. These ice crystals may then reflect ground lights in columns not unlike a Sun-pillar. While going out to buy cat food, a quick thinking photographer captured the above light pillars extending up from bright parking lot lights in Oulu, Finland."

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Someone made a full-size, working car out of Legos

Someone made a full-size, working car out of Legos and I declare that he has won Lego.

  • The engine is made from standard Lego pieces and runs on air!
  • The engine has four orbital engines and a total of 256 pistons.
  • More than 500,000 LEGO pieces.
  • Top speed around 20-30km (We drive it slow as are scared of giant lego explosion)
  • Built in Romania and shipped to a secret location in Melbourne.
  • It's a Hot Rod design, mainly because hot rods are cool.

National Film Registry 2013 Inductees

The National Film Registry just announced the 25 new additions for 2013. This article has descriptions of each of the films.

Below is the list based on year of release. The ones in bold I've seen. I feel like all the well known films on the list I've seen and half of them I'm surprised weren't on the list already. The rest I've not only not seen but never even heard of. I hadn't heard of any of the three shorts and just watched them online. How I had never heard of an Oscar winning animated short about nuclear war with improved dialog by jazz legend Dizzy Gilespie I have no idea.

The Lunch Date is quite cute and worth 10 minutes of your time. I feel like it's based on an old joke but it's well executed and adds a nice dimension to it.

Here's the full list of of the National Film Registry.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Learning how to teach Tor from the Harvard bomb threat

Learning how to teach Tor from the Harvard bomb threat "Unfortunately for the guy sending the threat (and fortunately for the rest of us who aren’t fond either of bombs or of students who make unreasonable attempts to escape from final exams), the choices he made made him vulnerable to the one known attack against someone trying to hide using Tor: a timing attack. If you have 1) a record of who’s using Tor and when on your campus, 2) the information that a message got to your machine through Tor, 3) and the time stamp on the message sent, it becomes not too hard to tell from the timing which user sent that message. Most of the time Tor users are somewhat protected by the fact that the place they’re using the Internet from (the local Internet cafe, their own Internet service provider) and the place they’re sending a message to (I dunno, someone else’s Gmail account) are not under the control of the same people. When you put both together in the hands of the same Internet service provider, it gets much easier to figure out that the person with stuff going into Tor at time X is the same person whose stuff comes out of Tor a short time later."

earth wind map

This earth wind map is pretty cool. Universe Today has some details, When Science is Art: a New Map of Wind Patterns.

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Step Into the Void Above the French Alps

In Focus Step Into the Void Above the French Alps "High up in the French Alps, on the top terrace of the Aiguille du Midi mountain peak, sits a new five-sided glass structure called the Chamonix Skywalk. The installation was inspired by the Grand Canyon's glass skywalk, but it takes the concept to the next level. Instead of looking out over a railing, visitors can hover 1,035 meters (3,396 feet) above the valley in an enclosed transparent box, surrounded on all sides by custom-made 12 mm (1/2 inch) glass. The skywalk will open to the public on December 21, 2013. [13 photos]"

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Blog Problems on iPad

Seems this blog crashes Safari on my iPad 2 (running iOS 7). It works fine on my iPhone and on my mac. If you're having problems (particularly different than what I just mentioned) please let me know.

It's probably a memory issue. I scrolled through each individual article from December on the iPad and it worked fine. I stopped some apps and restarted and while it still crashed, it seemed to get further.

Update: So as a result of looking into these issues I've switched to the new blogger templates. Looks a little nicer and things (like full rss feeds) should work the same. I still see crashes on the iPad and am not sure what to do about it.

Update: The main page now loads just the 25 most recents posts and that seems to have solved the problem for me. Let me know if it's still an issue for you.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Chiwetel Ejiofor: 12 Years a Slave Star A Name to Remember

Variety has a nice piece, Chiwetel Ejiofor: 12 Years a Slave Star A Name to Remember. I'm surprised but I've seen him in 16 roles.

50 Years 50 Toys Infographic

Abby Ryan Design created 50 Years 50 Toys "To celebrate the holidays this year we've created a holiday themed infographic that looks back at some of the most popular holiday toys from the past 50 years"

See a Rocket Launch Thursday Night at 9:19pm EST

Universe Today explains How to See Spectacular Prime Time Night Launch of Antares Commercial Rocket to ISS on Dec. 19 "Orbital Sciences Corp. is marching forward with plans for a spectacular night blastoff of the firms privately developed Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft on Thursday, Dec. 19 from a seaside pad at Wallops Island, Virginia on a mission for NASA that’s bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

The nighttime Antares liftoff is currently scheduled for prime time – at 9:19 p.m. EST from Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA Wallops Island, Virginia. It should be easily visible to tens of millions of residents along a wide swath of the US East Coast spanning from South Carolina to southern Maine – weather permitting."

Update: and it's delayed until January.


Norway Decided to Digitize All the Norwegian Books

Alexis Madrigal writes Norway Decided to Digitize All the Norwegian Books. "By law, 'all published content, in all media, [must] be deposited with the National Library of Norway,' so when the library is finished scanning, the entire record of a people's language and literature will be machine-readable and sitting in whatever we call the cloud in 15 years. "

He goes on to say, "Which means that we are not ready for the apocalypse. But the Norwegians, that's a people preparing for the deep future." I think Alexis doesn't understand the word "apocalypse", maybe he should read A Canticle for Leibowitz.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Guess Who Gets the Most Brazen Federal Inflation Adjustment in the Country?

Kevin Drum writes Guess Who Gets the Most Brazen Federal Inflation Adjustment in the Country? "When it comes to the minimum wage, we don't index for inflation at all. But for CEOs earning top-one-percent pay, we not only index for inflation, we index to the rise in CEO salaries." Amazing.

The "pause" in global warming comes from bad data

The "pause" in global warming comes from bad data

"Climate change deniers have jumped on a batch of incomplete, poorly-analyzed climate data which suggests the planet's warming trend is 'on pause.' If there's a pause, they argue, perhaps predictions of climate change are wrong. Unfortunately for the future of our planet, the pause only exists if you ignore a lot of temperature data.

Cowtan and geography researcher Robert Way have just published their new study in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society. In a nutshell, the main problem is that deniers are using surface temperature data from the UK Met Office, the region's weather service. But the Met Office has no data for key areas, including the Arctic and parts of Africa. To determine global temperature rise — and the 'pause' — the Met Office produced a global average by simply leaving out data on these regions. This is a very unreliable way to create a model of global temperature. What Cowan and his colleagues did instead was to supplement the Met Office surface data with satellite data on the Arctic and parts of Africa."

Ready For Spring

The roads are fine but my driveway's a sheet of ice. Tomorrow seems like a day to be shut in. The top is temperature (red) and wind chill (blue).

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Judge: NSA Phone Program Likely Unconstitutional

Politico writes Judge: NSA phone program likely unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled Monday that the National Security Agency program which collects information on nearly all telephone calls made to, from or within the United States is likely unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon found that the program appears to violate the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. He also said the Justice Department had failed to demonstrate that collecting the information had helped to head off terrorist attacks.

Acting on a lawsuit brought by conservative legal activist Larry Klayman, Leon issued a preliminary injunction barring the NSA from collecting so-called metadata pertaining to the Verizon accounts of Klayman and one of his clients. However, the judge stayed the order to allow for an appeal.

“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying it and analyzing it without judicial approval,” wrote Leon, an appointee of President George W. Bush.

This all seems pretty clear to me. The NSA is barred from collecting info on Americans. What's they're doing is collecting everything they can (phone, internet, etc.) and storing it for some time (a week, a month, more and it varies by the type of info). Then, if they have suspicions they're getting court orders to look at this saved data for particular people or phone numbers etc. They claim that until they query the databases they're not "collecting" which seems like an odd definition of "collecting" to me.

To me, they've invented a big time machine or if you will a TiVo for everything. They can rewind a month (or whatever it is) and after the fact find out what you were doing, who you were talking to, and where you were. The metadata versus content distinction isn't that important. If it wasn't useful to them (and potentially damaging to you) they wouldn't bother. This might be a thing that we want the government to do, but it seems to me it's a pretty big power and they shouldn't have it without our agreement. It seems to me that people will behave differently if they know they're being recorded.

I'm not sure the court system is the place to have this conversation. It seems dumb to have a set of antiquated laws (from the 1970s and the 1790s) and to try to shoehorn in these capabilities into strain analogies. Is a Facebook chat like a conversation out in the woods behind a tree? This is what Congress is for. There should be public debate and ultimately agreement on what capabilities we want and what risks we're willing to take and then we should write laws describing it.

Also while I didn't see it, I saw a lot of crap about how bad last night's 60 Minutes piece on the NSA was. Spencer Ackerman sets the record straight. NSA goes on 60 Minutes: the definitive facts behind CBS's flawed report

Update: Here's SCOTUSblog on the ruling, Judge: NSA phone sweep likely invalid

Movie Reviews

Here's me catching up on some movie reviews from the last couple of months.

12 Years a Slave is probably the best movie I've seen this year and I'm sure will be at the top of the Oscar nominations. It's the stunning true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York sold into slavery in Louisiana in the 1850s for you guessed it, 12 years before he was rescued. It's based on his memoir he started writing a year afterwards, which I'm reading now. The movie is faithful to the book and stunning in its impact. Better than anything I've seen it gets across the horrors of slavery but not in as pummeling a way as say Schindler's List. That was a magnificent movie but not one I've wanted to sit through again. While not a happy tale by any stretch, I'm looking forward to seeing 12 Years a Slave again. Director Steve McQueen has an art background and really understands composition and timing and is using the medium to manipulate your emotions. Watching it I was thinking this was like Kubrick but not boring. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o, and Michael Fassbender give astounding performances in difficult roles. Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, and Adepero Oduye are also fantastic. It's a great film, go see it. And read this article on Steve McQueen.

My next favorite film is Gravity. As I said briefly before "it's just a completely immersive experience with stunning visuals and sounds." If you like the trailer, you'll like the film, it's basically action like that for 90 minutes with (just) a few pauses to let you catch your breath. It's worth seeing it in 3D and in a theater (I didn't see it in IMAX but that would be good too).

I just saw Captain Phillips today and I really liked it. It's directed Paul Greengrass so yes there is more shaky-cam than I would have liked but it wasn't badly done like I find with JJ Abrams. I was quite surprised that the movie kept me in suspense the whole time wondering how things would work out. Tom Hanks will probably get another well deserved Oscar nomination (as will the first time actor playing one of the pirates). I've seen some things questioning the accuracy of Phillips' actions, but if the SEAL team rescue was at all accurate, it's pretty amazing. I liked this much better than say Zero Dark Thirty.

Dallas Buyers Club is based on the true story of Ron Woodroof. A Texas bigot scraping by as an electrician, rodeo cowboy, gambler and petty thief. He's diagnosed as HIV+ and in 1985 there aren't any approved treatments. He starts getting AZT illegally but ends up working with a doctor in Mexico in getting alternative treatments for himself and ultimately selling them others. This gives him two conflicts. The first is that his customers are mostly gay men he despises, the second is the FDA who don't approve of selling drugs they don't approve of. Matthew McConaughey is great is in the of Woodroof but Jared Leto is better as his transsexual business partner. It's a solid movie with a story that moves and interesting characters. It's a little one-sided against the FDA though they certainly had issues at the time. If you're interested after the movie, WonkBlog explains What ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ got wrong about the AIDS crisis.

Philomena is getting a lot of buzz for Judi Dench's performance as an older catholic who starts searching for the son she was forced to give up 50 years prior. She was put into a convent when she became pregnant out of wedlock, then to pay for the child's care she was forced to work and only allowed to see her child for one hour a day until the child was adopted without her consent. Steve Coogan is the jaded journalist who decides to tell this human interest story and helps her track down her son. Part of this is a road trip with a mismatched pair but the film avoids cliches and there were a few surprises. This is one of those films that I wouldn't have seen without an (expected) oscar nomination and I'm glad I did see it.

Nebraska is a little independent movie that's about family. Bruce Dern is an old man in Billings Montana who's a bit senile and of course stubborn. He wasn't a great father but now his sons (Will Forte and Bob Odenkirk) and they have to drop their own struggles to deal with keeping him safe. Dern misinterprets a magazine sweepstakes and now wants to go to Nebraska to collect his $1 million winnings. Eventually Forte concedes to a short road trip and they stop over in the small town they're originally from and stay with family they haven't seen in years. It's a good movie, touching at times and funny at others (though not uproarious). It's filmed in black and white so it's trying to be somewhat serious. The dialog is slow enough that I'd like to cut out about 20 mins of pauses but others in the group I saw it with said that's just the way they talk there.

All is Lost is a shipwreck movie with Robert Redford. He's sailing the Indian Ocean alone, his yacht is damaged and there's almost no dialog. We watch as he tackles one problem after another in efforts to save his ship and survive. It's good and it's an impressive performance but the film give no background info at all. I saw it with a group and people got different emotions out of it based on different assumptions about him. Was he arrogant sailing alone and not taking more precautions? Was he competent and efficiently dealing with a deadlier and deadlier situation? I suppose that's interesting, but it's not really what I want from a film. I'm ok with some ambiguity. For example, if it fully explores two possible outcomes but leaves what does happen to the viewer to fill in, but if you're not giving me any details and asking me to fill in all the blanks, you can set up that premise in a 5 minute short rather than a 90 minute feature.

In Prisoners a six year-old girl (and her friend) goes missing. Jake Gyllenhaal is the cop looking for her, Paul Dano is the creepy suspect and Hugh Jackman is the father upset about how slow things are going and wanting to take matters into his own hands. It was billed a taut thriller which raises serious moral questions and really strong performances. I mostly agree with that but at 2.5 hours it felt overly long and it didn't raise anything new for me on the morality front. The plot is fine and has appropriate turns and Jackman does well in his non-Wolverine, non-singing everyman role. It's better than average summer fare and it's not quite Oscar bait, so its September release was I guess appropriate.

Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coen brothers' latest film about the folk music scene of Greenwich Village in 1961. It follows a down-on-his-luck singer who's lost his partner and is staying on friends' couches and barely squeaking by. It's a character study and in a Q&A with the star Oscar Isaac I saw he said "they added a cat because they needed a plot" which seems exactly right. Some odd characters and interesting performances, but it's all following an anti-hero. It's mostly a series of performances but since I'm not particularly interested in folk music the film didn't do that much for me.

Catching Fire fixed a lot of problems I had with the first movie. The books are all about Katniss' inner monologue but the first movie had no narration and IMHO didn't do a good job making up for it. I really liked the world building that happens in the earlier parts of this film. The suffering that was visible, the effects on the characters and the conversations they had all allowed much more emotion to be conveyed. Also, way less shaky-cam. At 2.5 hours the movie is long, but the second half still felt a little short in the characterizations of other tributes and the big action piece.

Enough Said is an out of the ordinary romantic comedy. First off the stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini are 50 years-old. Both are divorced and have kids heading off to college. There are interesting supporting characters, particularly Catherine Keener and Toni Collette. It works. It's entertaining and it's touching and it's more true-to-life and a lot quieter comedy than the average Aptow-inspired things I've seen lately. I really appreciated that different characters had different opinions on something and the film doesn't feel the need to define one of them as right. It's sadly one of Gandolfini's last roles and I had heard great praise about his performance, but I found it just good not amazing.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

As Rover Lands, China Joins Moon Club

The New York Times reports As Rover Lands, China Joins Moon Club

"China on Saturday became the third country to steer a spacecraft onto the moon after its unmanned Chang’e-3 probe settled onto the Bay of Rainbows, state-run television reported. The United States and the Soviet Union are the other countries to have accomplished so-called soft landings on the moon — in which a craft can work after landing — and 37 years have passed since the last such mission."

"The Chang’e-3 landing craft carried a solar-powered, robotic rover called the Jade Rabbit, or Yutu in Mandarin Chinese, which was to emerge several hours later to begin exploring Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, a relatively smooth plain formed from solidified lava. According to a Chinese legend, Chang’e is a moon goddess, accompanied by a Jade Rabbit that can brew potions that offer immortality."

Calvin and Hobbes Snow Art Gallery

With our first real storm of the season coming soon, seems appropriate for the yearly Calvin and Hobbes Snow Art Gallery posting.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Obamacare exposes Republican hypocrisy on health care

Obamacare exposes Republican hypocrisy on health care.

"Republicans have zeroed in on two things that people really will hate about insurance under Obamacare: The high deductibles and the limited networks."

"What's confusing about this line of attack is that high-deductible health-care plans -- more commonly known as "health savings accounts" -- were, before Obamacare, a core tenet of Republican health-care policy thinking. In fact, one of the major criticisms of Obamacare was that it would somehow kill those plans off. "

"Obama's pledge that "if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor" is also under fire. The issue here is that insurers entering the competitive health marketplaces are tightening their networks in order to cut costs and improve quality. It's worked: Premiums in the marketplaces are far lower than was expected when Obamacare passed. This, too, is a success for a longtime conservative health-policy idea. Insurance exchanges have been in every major Republican health-care bill since the early 1990s. They were in Paul Ryan's 2009 health-care proposal. They're the basis of the GOP's plan for Medicare reform."

Krugman has his take, A Health Care Mystery Explained

2013: The Year in Volcanic Activity

In Focus on 2013: The Year in Volcanic Activity "This been a particularly eventful year for the world's volcanoes. Out of an estimated 1,500 active volcanoes, 50 or so erupt every year, spewing steam, ash, toxic gases, and lava. In 2013, erupting volcanoes included Italy's Mount Etna, Alaska's Mount Pavlof, Indonesia's Mount Sinabung, Argentina's Volcán Copahue, and a new island emerging off the coast of Nishinoshima, Japan. In Hawaii, the famed Kilauea volcano continued to send lava flowing toward the sea. Collected below are scenes from the wide variety of volcanic activity on Earth over the past year. [36 photos]"

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Secret Underground Theater on Boylston Street

Now that the The Secret Underground Theater on Boylston Street is known, I predict it will be reopened within 5 years.

Golden Globes nominations 2014

The LA TImes lists the Golden Globes nominations 2014. I still have a lot to see (though I've seen almost all of the TV nominations).

Freebees from Instapaper

Instapaper, one the most used apps on my iPhone and iPad will be free for a week. Freebees from Instapaper "Instapaper is feeling a surge of holiday spirit this year.  From December 12th through the 19th, Instapaper for iOS will be free to download as part of Apple’s App of The Week program. "

There is a subscription, but it's optional, only adding a few features like search.

For Steve Ballmer, a lasting touch on Microsoft

For Steve Ballmer, a lasting touch on Microsoft "As the world prepares for Microsoft to announce a new chief executive, we ask the company's top executives -- including the man himself -- to take a look at the legacy Steve Ballmer leaves on the technology company."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Santa brand book

This Santa brand book is pretty hilarious, particularly page 13.

Scientists Discover a Jewel at the Heart of Quantum Physics

I saw something about this before and thought I had blogged it but I can't find it now. Scientists Discover a Jewel at the Heart of Quantum Physics. "The revelation that particle interactions, the most basic events in nature, may be consequences of geometry significantly advances a decades-long effort to reformulate quantum field theory, the body of laws describing elementary particles and their interactions. Interactions that were previously calculated with mathematical formulas thousands of terms long can now be described by computing the volume of the corresponding jewel-like ‘amplituhedron,’ which yields an equivalent one-term expression."

NASA's Juno Gives Starship-Like View of Earth Flyby

NASA's Juno Gives Starship-Like View of Earth Flyby | NASA

"When NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew past Earth on Oct. 9, 2013, it received a boost in speed of more than 8,800 mph (about 3.9 kilometers per second), which set it on course for a July 4, 2016, rendezvous with Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. One of Juno's sensors, a special kind of camera optimized to track faint stars, also had a unique view of the Earth-moon system. The result was an intriguing, low-resolution glimpse of what our world would look like to a visitor from afar.

'If Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise said, ‘Take us home, Scotty,’ this is what the crew would see,' said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio. ‘In the movie, you ride aboard Juno as it approaches Earth and then soars off into the blackness of space. No previous view of our world has ever captured the heavenly waltz of Earth and moon.'"

Note, this is from a spacecraft near earth. Look at how faint everything is. Looking for this exact thing, the moon passing in front of the earth, which dims it slightly, is one of the techniques we use to find stars around other planets.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dear Ticketmaster, — This Could be Better

Dear Ticketmaster, — This Could be Better — Medium "After reading Boarding Pass/Fail and Boarding Pass Redesign, that talk about redesigning confusing airplane boarding passes, I decided to use the same idea and apply it to Ticketmaster for a much needed redesign." He then describes how he went from this:

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to this business card sized ticket:

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9 Fun Facts That Are Total Lies

9 Fun Facts That Are Total Lies a pretty amusing.

Monday, December 09, 2013

2013: The Year in Photos, January - April

In Focus shows 2013: The Year in Photos, January - April "December is here, and it's time for a look back at some of the most memorable events and images of 2013. Among the events covered in this essay (the first of a three-part photo summary of the year), Americans inaugurated President Barack Obama for a second term, a 13,000 ton meteor burned up in the sky over Russia, two young men detonated bombs at the Boston Marathon, and Dennis Rodman and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un enjoyed a basketball game together in Pyongyang. Please come back tomorrow and Wednesday for parts 2 and 3. The series will comprise 120 images in all. Warning, some of the photos may contain graphic or objectionable content. [40 photos]"

They're amazing, go look.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Boehner vs. Castro on the Exchange

FactCheck.org on Boehner vs. Castro on the Exchange "As a result of an amendment by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, Boehner is barred from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. He must buy insurance on the exchange created by the law. But that’s a costly switch for Boehner, who is 64 years old. The exchange plans charge higher premiums based on age — unlike his current employer-sponsored plan."

Game of Thrones snowflake patterns

Krystal Higgins made Free “Game of Thrones”-inspired snowflake patterns "I came up with GoT-inspired snowflake patterns. I’m sharing them as free, printable JPGs so everyone can enjoy them!" I made the Targaryen one and it worked well.

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Math with Bad Drawings

Math with Bad Drawings is pretty cute. "This blog is about the things I like. It’s also about the things I can’t do. I hope that the juxtaposition here – polished, thoughtful writing alongside art that my wife (charitably) likens to ‘the average 6th grader’ – captures the contradictory state of the teacher, of the mathematician – and, what the hell, of the human. We are all simultaneously experts and beginners, flaunting our talents while trying to cover our shortcomings the way an animal hides a wound. You could call this a ‘math blog,’ or a ‘teaching blog,’ but I would call it a blog about owning up to weakness and drawing strength from successes, however transient or trivial they may seem."

Friday, December 06, 2013

SCOTUS To Rule On Patent Rights

Court to rule on patent rights "Renewing its recent fascination with the kinds of inventions that can be patented, the Supreme Court on Friday agreed to clarify when an analytical method implemented by a computer or by a link on the Internet is eligible for monopoly protection.  This was the only new case granted.  The Court will be reviewing a widely splintered decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in the case of Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International (docket 13-298).  The en banc Federal Circuit found the method at issue ineligible for a patent, but a majority could not agree on a standard for making such decisions."

Measles: 2013 US cases triple.

Measles: 2013 US cases triple.

"The CDC just announced that measles cases in the United States in 2013 tripled over the annual average. There were 175 cases (so far), when usually there are about 60. Why? Well, let’s see. In March, there were 58 cases alone in Brooklyn, N.Y., tied to a Jewish community that refused or delayed vaccinations. In Texas, a megachurch that preached anti-vaccination views had an outbreak with at least 20 cases. In North Carolina, 23 cases were reported in one outbreak; most of them in a religious (Hare Krishna) community that was largely unvaccinated. In all three of these outbreaks, someone who had not been vaccinated traveled overseas and brought the disease back with them, which then spread due to low vaccination rates in their communities. "

MIT Tongue Twister Is The Trickiest To Say

MIT Tongue Twister Is The Trickiest To Say "The old saying ‘Sally sold seashells by the seashore’ has nothing on a tongue twister created by researchers at MIT. The verbal puzzle, ‘pad kid poured curd pulled cod,’ tripped up test subjects who tried to spit out so much, that psychologists believe it could be the toughest one there is to date."

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Where Government Is And Isn’t Gridlocked

Andrew Sullivan explains Where Government Is And Isn’t Gridlocked. The ideological differences between the House and Senate are keeping Congress from functioning but in the states, "a record number of state governments under single-party control." "One consequence of all this activity is that life in one state is starting to look really different from life in the next state over."

New York City's Energy Infrastructure Transformed Last Month and Nobody Noticed

New York City's Energy Infrastructure Transformed Last Month and Nobody Noticed - Technology - The Atlantic "An $856-million pipeline expansion began ramping up service, allowing more natural gas to get to New York City consumers. The New York-New Jersey expansion project moves more gas the last few miles from Jersey, which is the terminus for much of the Marcellus Shale gas flowing out of Pennsylvania, into Manhattan. The Energy Information Administration called it 'one of the biggest... expansions in the Northeast during the past two decades.' It will bring an additional 800 billion British thermal units (BTU) of gas to the area per day."

New Research: Cheating on Exams with Smartwatches

New Research: Cheating on Exams with Smartwatches "A Belgian university recently banned all watches from exams due to the possibility of smartwatches being used to cheat. Similarly, some standardized tests in the U.S. like the GRE have banned all digital watches. These policies seems prudent, since today’s smartwatches could be used to smuggle in notes or even access websites during the test. However, their potential use for cheating goes much farther than that."

"As a proof of concept, I developed ConTest, an application for the Pebble smartwatch that shows how students could inconspicuously collaborate on multiple-choice exams in real time. ConTest allows students to select a question, vote on answers, and view the most popular solution based on all of the responses from other students taking the exam. Prior to an exam, students pair their watches with their smartphones and choose the exam that they are taking. During the exam, the smartphone—hidden in the student’s pocket or backpack—facilitates communication between the smartwatch and a cloud-based aggregation service. All user interaction during the exam takes place on the smartwatch itself with simple, inconspicuous button presses."

Five startling facts about pregnancy and abortion in America

WonkBlog has Five startling facts about pregnancy and abortion in America. And of course there are graphs like this one:

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This Week in Drones

Everyone's heard about the 60 Minutes surprise report about Amazon's experiments to use drones to deliver packages. Here's some other stuff.

Wired writes Navy Doubles Down on Versatile 'Blackjack' Drone. "After more tests completed last month, the Navy and Marines have decided that the RQ-21A Blackjack drone is worth the gamble. They’re putting money on the program that could provide them with a dedicated multi-intelligence drone in a matter of months."

"“It has a configurable payload that allows you to integrate new and unique payloads that are specific to the mission in addition to an [electro-optical/infrared] camera,” said Maj. Wayne Phelps, the Marine Corps’ requirements officer of the aviation branch. ”You can have multi-mission ability. This allows you to do some type of unique cross-cueing types of missions.” Blackjack, which is 8 feet long and has a wingspan of 16 feet, weighs 80 pounds, making it a small tactical drone that can fly as fast as 104 mph and as high as 19,500 feet for more than 13 hours. It can be launched and recovered on land or at sea without runways using a hydraulic launcher and a net recovery system."

Time writes The Navy Can Now Launch Drones From Submerged Submarines "Powered by an electric fuel cell, the eXperimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System (XFC UAS) was launched from the torpedo tube of the USS Providence earlier this year. While the exact date and location of the launch were not disclosed, according to a press release the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory released Thursday, the drone flew for several hours before landing at the Naval Sea Systems Command Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center in the Bahamas. The launcher fits inside the same canisters already used for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles on submarines."

Kent State University students will learn how to build and fly drones. "Beginning next fall Kent State University will teach college students how to build and fly them. Its College of Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology will offer a minor in unmanned aircraft systems. It will be an option for students enrolled in any of the five aeronautics degree concentrations."

"Dozens of colleges with aviation programs now offer courses in unmanned aerial systems, the New York Times has reported. The University of North Dakota was first, in 2009, and has about 120 students in the field. Other universities with programs include Kansas State University Salina, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Indiana State University."

Oscars for Visual Effects

Badass Digest reports on the Oscars short list of Visual Effects potential nominees, Oscars Snub MAN OF STEEL VFX. This list is:

  • Elysium
  • Gravity
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • Iron Man 3
  • The Lone Ranger
  • Oblivion
  • Star Trek Into Darkness
  • Thor: The Dark World
  • Pacific Rim
  • World War Z

I've seen the bold ones. I'm betting on Gravity winning.

Congress Just Held a Remarkable Two-Hour Hearing on Aliens

io9 writes Congress Just Held a Remarkable Two-Hour Hearing on Aliens "In a refreshingly pro-science move, the House Science Committee set aside two hours yesterday to discuss the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life. The ensuing conversation was fascinating, but at times infuriating, with the experts discussing everything from alien biosignatures to the possibility that we're being watched."

Hacks, Passwords, Cash Registers and the Metadata Question

NewImageTime reports Facebook, Gmail and Twitter Hacked, 2 Million Passwords Stolen. "Hackers have stolen some two million usernames and passwords from 93,000 websites, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo and LinkedIn. CNN reports that the cybersecurity firm Trustwave traced the massive breach to a server in the Netherlands. Security experts said the confidential information on the server came from a piece of malware which recorded users’ keystrokes at login screens."

Trustwave has some analysis of the of the passwords, they're pathetic.

Ars reports, Credit card fraud comes of age with advances in point-of-sale botnets. "Underscoring the growing sophistication of Internet crime, researchers have documented one of the first known botnets to target point-of-sale (PoS) terminals used by stores and restaurants to process customers' credit and debit card payments." Yes cash registers now have viruses. And also, I will never read PoS as Point-of-Sale.

Meanwhile The NSA says it ‘obviously’ can track locations without a warrant. That’s not so obvious. In that article, Andrea Peterson puts the original Smith v Maryland SCOTUS case in some modern perspective.

Watch the Rolling Stones Write “Sympathy for the Devil”

Open Culture writes, Watch the Rolling Stones Write “Sympathy for the Devil”: A Highlight in Godard’s ’68 Film One Plus One. "After the Rolling Stones’ partly misguided, partly inspired attempt at psychedelia, Their Satanic Majesties Request, the band found its footing again in the familiar territory of the Delta Blues. But with the 1968 recording of Beggar’s Banquet, they also retained some of the previous album’s experimentation, taken in a more sinister direction on the infamous “Sympathy for the Devil.” In the studio, with the band during those recording sessions, was none other than radical French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard, who brought his own experimental sensibilities to a project he would call One Plus One, a document of the Stones’ late sixties incarnation—including an increasingly reclusive Brian Jones."

If only it had been a young Martin Scorsese in the studio instead of Godard.

Captain Picard sings "Let it Snow!"

This was pretty funny. Note, the song is only 1m10s long, the rest of this is an ad for a new video game (kinda clever).

A Sea of Clouds Fills the Grand Canyon

In Focus shows A Sea of Clouds Fills the Grand Canyon "Weather conditions in Arizona's Grand Canyon last week gave rise to a rare phenomenon called total cloud inversion. Last Friday, and again on Sunday, the ground apparently released some of its heat rapidly enough at dawn to create a layer of cool, damp air inside the canyon, trapping it beneath the unusually warmer sky above the canyon walls and filling the space with a sea of fog. Park officials said the phenomenon is a once-in-a-decade occurrence and ran to capture these fantastic photos. (If your display can support it, I recommend selecting the 1280px option below.) [12 photos]"

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Sad fact: America’s silent films are disappearing

Salon wrote Sad fact: America’s silent films are disappearing "According to a study conducted by the Library of Congress, 70 percent of American silent films are lost–and a good portion of the remaining ones aren’t exactly in great shape, either. Of the 11,000 films made before ‘talkies’ came into the picture, only about 3,300 are left. Of those, 17 percent are incomplete, and some, like the only missing Greta Garbo feature, The Divine Woman, are down to a single remaining reel. What happened?"

The Library of Congress report is here in pdf form.

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SpaceX Just Made History. Again.

SpaceX Just Made History. Again. "SpaceX scored a spectacular launch success [Tuesday] when the maiden flight of their upgraded Falcon 9 rocket scorched the sky of the Florida Space Coast and successfully delivered a commercial space satellite to geostationary orbit for the first time ever – thereby revolutionizing the commercial space industry from this day forward."

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Right-brained? Left-brained? Take the test!

Right-brained? Left-brained? Take the test! . I'm 66% left, 34% right.

NSA Tracking Cellphone Locations Worldwide

The Washington Post reports NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show

"The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.

The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices, according to the officials and the documents, which were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. New projects created to analyze that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool.

The NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones ‘incidentally,’ a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result."

What A Week Of Groceries Looks Like Around The World

Interesting slideshow: What A Week Of Groceries Looks Like Around The World.

Reports of diseases before and After Vaccines

DataIsAmazing tweeted this Report of diseases before and after vaccines.

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Anal Probe for a Traffic Stop?

A month ago the ACLU wrote Anal Probe for a Traffic Stop?.

"David Eckert was pulling out of a Wal-Mart parking lot when police officers pulled him over for failing to stop at a parking lot stop sign. Police ordered Eckert to step out of his vehicle, and that's when he committed the highly suspicious act of 'clenching his buttocks.' The officers' natural reaction? This man must be hiding narcotics in his anal cavity.

Being pulled over for a minor traffic violation is never a pleasant experience, but these Deming, New Mexico police officers took it to an atrocious new level, forcing Mr. Eckert to undergo a colonoscopy, anal probes, and defecation in a search for drugs. Yes, you read that correctly: the War on Drugs is being waged on minor traffic violators with enemas and sedatives."


The Curious Case of the Exploding Pig Farms

Nautilus writes about The Curious Case of the Exploding Pig Farms.

"Hog farms in the Midwest are great big barns sitting on top of great big pits filled with a great deal of awful-smelling manure. The pigs walk about on a slatted floor that lets manure fall into the pit several feet below. Around 2007, farmers began noticing pig poop acting funny. The normally liquid mixture started producing foamy bubbles, rising up and up, past the slats, right to the pigs’ cloven hooves.

Then it got worse. Among the gases in the bubbling in the foam are two of special note: methane and hydrogen sulfide—both highly flammable. All it takes is a small spark and Kaboom! In September 2011, a barn explosion killed 1,500 pigs and seriously injured one worker. It was just the most serious in a string of barn explosions that have cost farmers millions of dollars in the past several years."

The coincidental theory is that a new feed which is a byproduct of ethanol production is altering the manure, though quick experiments have proved difficult to replicate the real world situation. As a short term solution they are now using more antibiotics in pigs to avoid gas bloating. "It works, though no one knows why." Which is really reassuring when pig shit is literally exploding.

Five Years Later

David Warsh looks at the Financial CrisisFive Years Later "Lost decades, secular stagnation — gloomy growth prospects are in the news.  To understand the outlook, better first be clear about the recent past. The nature of what happened in September five years ago is now widely understood within expert circles.  There was a full-fledged systemic banking panic, the first since the bank runs of the early1930s. But this account hasn’t yet gained widespread recognition among the public.  There are several reasons."

New MIT Media Lab Tool Lets Anyone Visualize Unwieldy Government Data

New MIT Media Lab Tool Lets Anyone Visualize Unwieldy Government Data | Co.Design | business + design "To wade through what César Hidalgo, director of the Macro Connections group at the MIT Media Lab, calls 'the last 10 inches' separating people from their government's incoherent tables and spreadsheets, Hidalgo turned to visualization. DataViva, a website Hidalgo and a few collaborators helped develop with the Brazilian state government of Minas Gerais, offers a wide array of web apps that turn those spreadsheets into something more comprehensible for the average user, whether that's a policy maker, someone working for the World Bank, an entrepreneur, or a student. The site, which officially launched last week, can be a bit overwhelming to navigate, but it has lofty goals: to visualize data encompassing the entire Brazilian economy over the last decade, with more than 100 million interactive visualizations that can be created at the touch of a button in a series of apps. The future of open government isn't just dumping raw datasets onto a server: It's also about making those datasets digestible for a less data-savvy public."


Jeff Smith of Bone and RASL fame has a new web comic, Tuki. It is "the story of the first human to leave Africa".

Launch code for US nukes was 00000000 for 20 years

Ars Technica writes Launch code for US nukes was 00000000 for 20 years.

"The codes, known as Permissive Action Links (PALs), were supposed to prevent the use of nuclear weapons—and the nuclear weapons under joint control with NATO countries in particular—without the authorization of the president of the United States. The need for such controls became clear during the 1963-1964 Cyprus crisis, when NATO members Turkey and Greece were reportedly seeking control of NATO nuclear weapons—to use on each other.

At least that's the way it was supposed to work, following an executive order from President John F. Kennedy. But at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, more than half of the missiles in Europe, including those in Turkey, lacked PAL controls. And while Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara directly oversaw the installation of PALs on the US-based ICBM arsenal, US Strategic Command generals almost immediately had the PAL codes all reset to 00000000 to ensure that the missiles were ready for use regardless of whether the president was available to give authorization."

Everyone hates passwords

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Medicaid and access: Not what you think

The Incidental Economist says Medicaid and access: Not what you think | The Incidental Economist "My point is that one can get a misleading impression of Medicaid access by relying only on studies that compare it to ‘any private’ coverage and/or on studies that only survey physicians or their offices. Studies show that access can in fact be comparable to that of some private plans, particularly those that consider the direct experience of patients. It’s worth also mentioning that the literature is more consistent in finding that the uninsured have even worse access than Medicaid or private plan enrollees. Medicaid is less than ideal, but not as bad as many might think; it’s also better than nothing."

An underhanded anti-Obamacare stunt by the California GOP

It's because of stories like this, An underhanded anti-Obamacare stunt by the California GOP that I think the two parties are not equally at fault in today's political dysfunction. While I'm sure some far left groups have done similar things, I don't think the actual Democrat party (national or state) has done anything like this. Time and time again I hear or see such lies from the GOP.

This Incredible Portrait of Morgan Freeman Was Painted on an iPad

British artist Kyle Lambert made a photo-realistic painting of Morgan Freeman on his iPad. The video is very impressive. This isn't the first such painting he's done but it's the first with a video. More info in this Gizmodo article, This Incredible Portrait of Morgan Freeman Was Painted on an iPad

Update: Yeah, it's probably real.


For a new unix user, explainshell is kinda cute. "write down a command-line to see the help text that matches each argument." It might be more interesting if it were built into a shell.

15 Documentary Features Advance in 2013 Oscar Race

15 Documentary Features Advance in 2013 Oscar® Race "The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that 15 films in the Documentary Feature category will advance in the voting process for the 86th Oscars." Here they are alphabetically:

  • The Act of Killing
  • The Armstrong Lie
  • Blackfish
  • The Crash Reel
  • Cutie and the Boxer
  • Dirty Wars
  • First Cousin Once Removed
  • God Loves Uganda
  • Life According to Sam
  • Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer
  • The Square
  • Stories We Tell
  • Tim’s Vermeer
  • 20 Feet from Stardom
  • Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington

I've seen three of them, all at IFFBoston this year.

  • The Act of Killing - One of the most amazing docs (and film) I've seen
  • Dirty Wars - Jeremy Scahill investigates our special ops forces, very good, gets a little lost at the end
  • 20 Feet from Stardom - A lot of fun about backup singers, a few women have sung virtually every song you know

Exoplanets: Three directy imaged planets added to list

Bad Astronomy shows us Exoplanets: Three directy imaged planets added to list "After all these years, only about a dozen planets have been directly photographed, and even then some are controversial; their ages aren’t well known, and that affects their measured mass. Some might be brown dwarfs, objects intermediate in mass between planets and stars. But now we have three more exoplanets baby pictures! Here’s what we know about them."


Monday, December 02, 2013

After Antibiotics, the Feces Pill Remains

After Antibiotics, the Feces Pill Remains.

"Hirsch offers them an orange pill, which they swallow. Underneath the pill’s outer shell are several smaller gel capsules. Inside the smallest capsule is a glycerin-suspended clump of bacteria that’s been extracted from human feces. ‘It’s like a Russian doll,’ Hirsch told me. ‘With a surprise in the middle.’ Hirsch is one of just a few dozen specialists in the country who perform fecal transplants—procedures used primarily to treat people who have severe gut infections caused by an overgrowth of a bacteria called Clostridium difficile."

How odd, but given all we're learning about the microbiome it makes sense.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The NSA's Org Chart

Marc Ambinder has assembled The NSA's org chart "Here is the latest version of the National Security Agency's unofficial org chart, a mind map I have been updating ever since Edward Snowden made it cool to obsess about the NSA. My goal is to turn the map into a functional description of how NSA works, not just what NSA is. It's a work in progress."

Thursday, November 28, 2013

National Geographic Photo Contest 2013, Part II

In Focus on the National Geographic Photo Contest 2013, Part II "Time is running out to enter this year's National Geographic photo contest, the deadline for submissions is Saturday, November 30. One first-place winner will be chosen from each of the three categories, and the winning photographs will be published in National Geographic magazine. The overall grand-prize winner will be announced in December of 2013. National Geographic was once more kind enough to let me choose among its entries so far, for display here on In Focus. Gathered below are 36 more images, with captions written by the individual photographers. Be sure to also see Part I, earlier on In Focus. [36 photos]"

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Photographing an African Safari

The Big Picture shows us Photographing an African safari "As a photojournalist, you’re always looking to capture moments that define life. In the wild, you’re witnessing life or death situations, and it’s a truly humbling experience. We’re used to living in a world where we humans are top predators and life is extremely safe. When you find yourself in an environment where you’re no longer the top predator, it puts things in perspective to see how and where we fall within the food chain. I never thought I’d be excited photographing nature, but I found myself completely entranced by the whole experience and I can’t wait to do it again. ( 27 photos total)"

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Gobble, Gobble

Daily chart: Gobble, gobble "How the Thanksgiving Day plate varies across America"

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

America is the Stingiest Rich Country in the World

Kevin Drum charts America is the Stingiest Rich Country in the World "The United States is one of the richest countries in the world, with a top 1 percent that's seen its income triple or more in the past three decades. And yet, we also do the least to fight the rising tide of income inequality. Government programs in America reduce the level of inequality by only 26 percent. Nobody else is so stingy."


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

NASA outlines ingenious plan to resurrect the Kepler planet hunter

NASA outlines ingenious plan to resurrect the Kepler planet hunter "As photons are absorbed and emitted, they generate a small force on the object doing the absorbing (it's the same force that causes some asteroids to spin). Kepler is powered by solar panels that are arranged symmetrically across the probe's long axis. If the probe can be oriented so that the sunlight strikes these panels evenly, the photons will exert a constant and symmetric force against the probe. Kepler's two remaining reaction wheels can then push against that force and keep the telescope gazing steadily at one point in the sky, just as it was designed to do."

Saturday, November 23, 2013


I learned that JFK, CS Lewis and George Orwell died within 70 mins of each other.

Also that today is the 50th anniversary of both Dr. Who and Where the Wild Things Are.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Neutrino Detection Could Help Paint an Entirely New Picture of the Universe

Neutrino Detection Could Help Paint an Entirely New Picture of the Universe

"The IceCube neutrino observatory buried at the South Pole is one cool telescope. It has detected extremely high-energy neutrinos, which are elementary particles that likely originate outside our solar system. The discovery of 28 record-breaking neutrinos was announced earlier – with two of the particles — nicknamed Bert and Ernie – drawing particular attention because of the their off-the-chart energy of over 1,000,000,000,000,000 electron volts or 1 peta-electron volt (PeV).

Now, a new analysis of more recent data discovered 26 additional events beyond 30 teraelectronvolts — which exceeds the energy expected for neutrinos produced in the Earth’s atmosphere, and one of those events was almost double the energy of Bert and Ernie. This one has been dubbed ‘Big Bird,’ and in combination, these events provide the first solid evidence for astrophysical neutrinos from distant cosmic accelerators, which might help us understand the origin of origin of cosmic rays. The detection has suggested a new age of astronomy is beginning, offering a new way to look at the Universe using high-energy neutrinos."

io9 says the Unprecedented neutrino discovery is a "Nobel Prize in the making" and puts Bert and Ernie in some context. "But not all neutrinos are the same. The ones discovered by the IceCube team are about a billion times more energetic than the ones coming out of our sun. A pair of them had energies above an entire petaelectron volt. That's more than 1,000 times the energy produced by protons smashed at CERN's Large Hadron Collider."

"So whatever created them must have been extremely powerful. Like, mindboggingly powerful — probably the remnants of supernova explosions. Indeed, as a recent study has shown, these cosmic explosions are more powerful than we could have ever imagined — to the point where they're defying known physics. Other candidates for neutrino production include black holes, pulsars, galactic nuclei — or even the cataclysmic merger of two black holes."

Americans think John F. Kennedy was one of our greatest presidents. He wasn’t.

Dylan Matthews says Americans think John F. Kennedy was one of our greatest presidents. He wasn’t. The article makes good points on the policies.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

It’s official: The Senate just got rid of part of the filibuster

Wow, I wasn't paying attention to the news today and just saw this, It’s official: The Senate just got rid of part of the filibuster.

A majority of Democrats voted on Thursday to modify the Senate's rules on filibusters for the first time since 1975. From now on, judicial nominees to federal courts can be confirmed by a simple majority vote. So can the president's executive-branch nominations.

It's not a complete repeal of the filibuster: Supreme Court nominees can still be blocked by 41 senators, as can all legislation. But even this smaller rule change — a move known as the "nuclear option" — is a big break with precedent.

In all, 52 Democrats voted to change the filibuster rules, while all 45 Republicans and 3 Democrats opposed the move. (West Virginia's Joe Manchin, Michigan's Carl Levin, and Arkansas's Mark Pryor were the three dissenting Democrats.)

Ezra Klein lists Nine reasons the filibuster change is a huge deal. I only found two of them interesting.

  1. The practical end of the Senate's 60-vote threshold is not plunging the chamber into new and uncharted territories. It's the omnipresence of the filibuster in recent decades that plunged the chamber into new and uncharted territories. At the founding of the Republic, the filibuster didn't exist. Prior to the 1970s, filibusters — which required 67 votes to break for most of the 20th century — were incredibly rare.

  2. Republicans take a lot of the blame here. They've used the filibuster more aggressively than Democrats, by a wide margin. They've also been less willing to cooperate with Democrats on general legislative efforts, making the presence of the filibuster more costly to the Democratic Party. And they've been so unwilling to work with Democrats this year that they essentially removed all reason for Democrats to stay their hand. The way Senate Democrats saw it was that if they weren't going to get immigration reform or gun control or jobs bills or anything big that they cared about, then at least they would get their judicial and executive-branch nominations.

In part this came up because of the three vacant seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and in fact, Reid's rule change came on a vote for Patricia Millett to this court. The D.C. Circuit is the court at the center of the filibuster fight. Here’s why it matters.

Ezra Klein also points out that One huge effect of filibuster reform: Obama can actually fire people. "The constant use of the filibuster against political appointments made it extraordinarily difficult for the White House to fire anyone because they didn't know whether they'd be able to appoint a replacement -- or, if they could appoint a replacement, who Republicans would actually accept. And the more political controversy there was around an issue the more dangerous a personnel change became." It also means the grueling vetting process might get a little easier.

Dylan Matthews talked with The world’s leading filibuster expert on what happened today and what to expect next. but it was mostly about the specific technique Reid used, so skip that if you're not interested.

Matthews also wrote Everything you need to know about Thursday’s filibuster change and the last half is interesting about how Obama dawdled with judicial nominees.

As for speculation about how this will play out when or if the Democrats are in the minority, Ta-Nehisi Coates has a good response, More Scalias and Thomases Please.

Threatening to appoint "more Scalias and Thomases" is basically threatening to appoint more judges who would unwaveringly hew to their vision of the country. That any political party would like to do this strikes me as unsurprising. The place to decide whether we're going to have "more Scalias and Thomases" is the ballot box. That's why during debates candidates are usually asked about the kind of judges they'd appoint. The place to decide whether having "more Scalias and Thomases" actually worked out is the election following.

Elections don't always have consequences, but they should. You can't judge a party's agenda if they don't get a chance to actually implement. Judicial and executive appointments are indispensable to that endeavor. If you don't want to even have the experiment, if you don't like being in the minority, win the damn election—which is another way of saying, make the case to the American people.

Ed Kilgore agrees, No Buyer’s Remorse Here on the Filibuster by Ed Kilgore. "For one thing, it was a foregone conclusion that Republicans would “go nuclear”—certainly over judges, and maybe over everything—if and when they were back in power. I mean, seriously, does anyone think that after forty years of promises to the Christian Right the GOP is going to be able to deny its “base” the fifth sure Supreme Court vote (perhaps) necessary to overturn Roe v. Wade? Over a Senate rule? No way. The judicial filibuster power was doomed anyway, and all it served to do at present was as a temporary instrument for GOP power that would be exercised by any means available."

Andrew Sullivan collects some other interesting reactions, The Senate Partially-Nukes The Filibuster: Reax