Thursday, October 31, 2013

Chemical Arms Inspectors Say Syria Has Destroyed All Declared Sites

The New York Times reports Chemical Arms Inspectors Say Syria Has Destroyed All Declared Sites "The international chemical weapons watchdog said on Thursday that Syria had met an important deadline for the ‘functional destruction’ of all the chemical weapons production and mixing facilities it declared to inspectors, rendering them inoperable, under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States."

Now it would be really nice if we could get a ceasefire to allow vaccinations to put down a polio outbreak in refugee camps.

The Onion Nails It

The Onion: Red Sox Fan Dedicates Garbage Can He’s Lighting On Fire To Marathon Victims.

BOSTON—Fifteen minutes after the Boston Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals to become World Series Champions, sources are now confirming that local man Bradley Ferrante, 26, is dedicating the trash can he’s lighting on fire to the victims of last April’s Boston Marathon bombings. “4/15, never forget!” said a visibly intoxicated Ferrante before throwing an entire book of lit matches into the trash bin, stumbling slightly before kicking it to the ground, removing his shirt, and screaming “Go Sox!” “Dynasty!” “Big Papi! We love you, Papi!” and “We’re the fuckin’ champs, baby! Boston Strong! Yankees suck! Woo!” At press time, Ferrante was hunched over on Boylston Street, vomiting roughly 800 yards from the marathon’s finish line.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Nikon Small World 2013

In Focus Nikon Small World 2013 "Nikon has just announced the winners of the 2013 Small World Photomicrography Competition. Started back in 1974, the contest invites photographers and scientists to submit images of all things visible under a microscope. I was fortunate enough to have been asked to be a judge in this year's competition, and am happy to finally be able to share some of the winning images with you. Taking first place this year is a 250x view of a marine diatom by Wim van Egmond (photo #2 below), showing the complexity and stunning detail of its fragile helical chain. Other entries include close-up views of ladybug feet, mollusc radula, dinosaur bones, nerve structures in embryos, and much more. Enjoy a trip into a miniature world through the images shared here with us by Nikon, all from the 2013 Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition. [32 photos]"

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Secret Messages Left on the International Space Station

Secret Messages Left on the International Space Station.

"‘We did a lot of maintenance during our flight and rotated out a lot of the experiment racks and we saw many signatures on the internal hull or on the inside parts of the racks,’ Marshburn told Universe Today via phone from Johnson Space Center. ‘Things like ‘Greetings from the Water Recovery team!’ with everyone’s signature. That’s fairly prevalent on the inside, particularly behind the racks, but not in plain view.’ But he’s never seen anything on the external parts of the space station before."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

HBOs Masterclass

HBO has a documentary series called Masterclass. I recently caught an episode with Wynton Marsalis and then setup a TiVo wishlist. I've now caught the Kathleen Turner and Bobby McFerrin episodes. I've really enjoyed them and learned a bunch from them. Each takes 4 students in some art discipline and paired them with a master for a day or two leading to a performance. I've learned a lot about acting, singing, architecture (a while ago I saw a Frank Gehry episode) as well as collaboration, education, and improvisation. I couldn't find a good landing page on the HBO site, but if you have HBO, I highly recommend it.

Rand Paul Plagiarized Speech From Wikipedia?

This is pretty amusing. Rand Paul Plagiarized Speech From Wikipedia, Rachel Maddow Says "In a speech given in support of Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, Paul referenced the 90s science fiction movie Gattaca. The Kentucky senator used the plot of Gattaca--a dystopian world in which eugenics is widely practiced-- to attack pro-choice advocates. Even more bizarre than his choice of metaphor are the similarities between Paul's speech and the Wikipedia page for Gattaca."

Feed Up With Story

Someone needs to teach Obama how to explain things or he needs to get Bill Clinton to do it again. With all this talk about people being thrown off their existing health care plans (I heard 2,000,000 people this morning) I've yet to hear anyone ask how many people were thrown off their plans last year? Or were thrown off once they got sick or made claims? Every year I've had to pick a new plan or seen the cost of my plan go up significantly. I knew at the time that Obama's soundbite claims were too broad. He usually said that if you get coverage via your employer it won't change, and that's still true (unless of course your employer changes or changes their coverage which happened before and after Obamacare).

And the woman who's insurance costs have gone up 10x? She was paying $54 per month before that and was happy with that plan. I want to know what that plan covered and if she ever used it or got any money from the insurance company?

And would someone other than Ezra Klein point out to some GOP Congressman they're interviewing their own complicity in the problems? The GOP’s Obamacare chutzpah. And people should point out to Ted Cruz that the health insurance he gets via his wife's employer has a tax subsidy. Now he might think all taxes are bad and that any discounts on taxes are good, but that doesn't change what it is. If you don't get insurance from your employer the tax deduction you can take varies depending on your situation.

Fix the damn website, fire the people who screwed up, fine the contractors for not meeting their obligations (or fire the lawyers that wrote the crappy contracts) and get in front of the messaging. It's not that hard.

Update: At least WonkBlog is trying hard to explain this stuff. The Health-Care Trilemma: How Obamacare is changing insurance premiums

Heathcare Hearings

These hearings, and in fact most Congressional hearings are just a joke. To show I'm not completely biased, the first person I saw speak was Rep John Lewis (D-GA). He was yelling at the witness about how the Republicans filibuster and closing of the government reminded him of Congress's behavior during the Civil Rights Movement. Then he said he made a chart of the successes of the ACA and had the witness read it aloud. Moronic.

But if you're someone who thinks the government should be run more like a business, I agree that even business meetings (which all corporate people complain about) are run better than these hearings. Each person gets 2-3 mins to ask questions and they alternate from one party to the other. This guarantees that no information comes out in any depth. It's almost exactly the opposite of the way any business meeting is run.

Three Centuries of Debt and Interest Rates

Krugman on Three Centuries of Debt and Interest Rates in England.


"The print is a bit small, but the blue line is the ratio of public debt to GDP, measured on the right axis, and the red line is the yield on long-term government debt, measured on the left.

You might think that these data, and the relationship they show — or, actually, don’t show — should have some impact on our current debate, especially given the tendency of many players to reject modeling and appeal to what they claim are the lessons of history."

The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel

The Atlantic has a nice list, The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel

Followup: '50 Greatest Breakthroughs,' the Illustrated and Expanded Edition.

Senator changes tune, now is “totally opposed” to foreign leader surveillance

Ars Technica writes of Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) Senator changes tune, now is “totally opposed” to foreign leader surveillance.

“Let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed," Feinstein said. “Unlike NSA’s collection of phone records under a court order, it is clear to me that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed. Therefore our oversight needs to be strengthened and increased.”

I wonder what she'll say when it turns out the NSA has been collecting her calls (which since they collect all calls I'm sure they have).

I just don't get this at all. The purpose of the NSA is to spy on other countries and you'd think you'd get more interesting intelligence listening to presidents than to say bakers. It is illegal for them to spy on Americans. And yet, people are upset that they're spying on foreign leaders and not upset that they're collecting all electronic communications of Americans at home. Of course they're spying on foreign leaders, that what spying is.

Colbert had a good interview about it with Mark Mazzetti.

In the meantime, Challenge to NSA spying pressed,

A privacy advocacy group, seeking to keep alive in the Supreme Court its challenge to the federal government’s secret sweeps of electronic and digital communication data, argued on Monday that the privacy of “every person in this country” is at stake in the case. It contended that the government — in this case and in lower court cases — is trying to shield the National Security Agency’s spying operation from any court review.

Apple Forums Becoming Less Useful

Companies should stop pissing off Lawrence Lessig. This time it's Apple and it's legit. Wow, or from the When-Apple-Became-the-Borg Department.

"So, hey #Apple, if you want the free help given by members of your community, treat them with respect. A simple — “thanks for the comments; we’re looking into it” — would be a really cheap way to show respect. And a policy against scrubbing comments offering people completely legitimate advice for dealing with their technical problems would be one more, though admittedly, that’s less cheap."

Update: Lessig is famous for his talks and his unusual slides. He's looking to move away from Keynote as the update broke his slides.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Congressional oversight of the NSA is a joke Says Congressman

Rep Alan Grayson (D-FL) Congressional oversight of the NSA is a joke. I should know, I'm in Congress.

"Despite being a member of Congress possessing security clearance, I've learned far more about government spying on me and my fellow citizens from reading media reports than I have from 'intelligence' briefings. If the vote on the Amash-Conyers amendment is any indication, my colleagues feel the same way. In fact, one long-serving conservative Republican told me that he doesn't attend such briefings anymore, because, 'they always lie'."

"I've requested classified information, and further meetings with NSA officials. The House Intelligence Committee has refused to provide either. Supporters of the NSA's vast ubiquitous domestic spying operation assure the public that members of Congress can be briefed on these activities whenever they want. Senator Saxby Chambliss says all a member of Congress needs to do is ask for information, and he'll get it. Well I did ask, and the House Intelligence Committee said "no", repeatedly. And virtually every other member not on the Intelligence Committee gets the same treatment."

Really David Gregory?

I'm not a big fan of David Gregory (ever since this) and don't watch Meet the Press much as a result. This tweet he posted today really surprises me:

.@ezraklein Will there be measurable damage done to the overall program by these rollout problems? #TweetThePress

The whole twitter conversation will supposedly be here but now I'm getting a 404. My favorite response was this, "Hard to answer that in 140 characters. Much easier in 2,000 words: link to wonkblog …"

Now I do depend on Klein for this kind of info too because he and his staff (particularly Sarah Kliff) seem to be covering it better than anyone. But I'm not a journalist, David Gregory is (supposedly). Him asking another journalist this seems to be the equivalent of asking a another student "what did you get for number five?". Now he does host the longest running TV show of all time and it is called Meet The Press, but Gregory could have just read WonkBlog to find out the answers like I did.

Tweetbot 3 Questions and Answers

My Twitter client of choice is Tweetbot. It's a little expensive for a twitter client (that is, it's not free) but it works very well, syncs between my mac, iPad and iPhone (unfortunately that's three different products, I think the iOS ones could be a single universal client), and basically does what I want in all circumstances (multiple accounts, Instapaper support, lists, builtin browser, etc.). They just came out with a new version for iOS 7 on the iPhone and it's good (and on sale now for just $3 instead of $5).

In addition, here's the best example I've seen in a long while of how a company should communicate with their customers. Tweetbot 3 Questions and Answers — Tapbots Blog. They answer actual questions they've gotten, using plain language that actually addresses the question. They say which issues they are working on correcting and in other cases what the design thinking was and ask, "Please try to live with it for a few days, if you still hate it after that let us know." That's how to treat your customers.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Whither iWork?

I haven't installed Mavericks yet but I probably will soon. I'm curious about the updated iWork apps but I keep hearing about missing features. The lists of complaints I've seen include missing customizable toolbars and format bars, but that seems to be missing the point of the new sidebar. Also I didn't even know they had AppleScript support so losing that isn't a big deal to me (and I haven't seen an interesting example of what people were using it for).

I've seen complaints about Numbers loosing some advanced sorting functionality that I might find myself missing but the only one that really resonates for me is losing custom formats. In my fantasy baseball sheets I created an AVG format that was 3 decimal places and no leading zero. Not a biggie, but in charts in my movie lists I created a format to display labels on bar charts but to display nothing if the value is zero. This made some charts look much better but custom formats weren't supported on iOS. When opening the sheet on iOS there was a notice saying it couldn't handle them and gave me the option of removing them or creating a copy of the sheet without them, which seemed fair. And that leads me to...

Whither iWork? "The fact that iWork on the Mac has lost functionality isn't because Apple is blind to power users. It's because they're willing to make a short-term sacrifice in functionality so that they can create a foundation that is equal across the Mac, iOS, and web versions. It will take time to bring these new versions of iWork up to parity with what the Mac used to have. In the meantime all platforms have to live with the lowest common denominator."

While I agree with the sentiment I'm not sure I agree with the specifics. At least with custom formats, they already coped with different support on different platforms in a graceful way and rather than adding support on iOS they removed it from OS X. Lame. I also understand they removed the Outline View and the search panel, which had nothing to do with file format compatibility.

We've Reached The End of Antibiotics

The latest Frontline was Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria. I haven't watched it yet but I saw a link to this scary interview, Dr. Arjun Srinivasan: We’ve Reached “The End of Antibiotics, Period”.

The more you use an antibiotic, the more you expose a bacteria to an antibiotic, the greater the likelihood that resistance to that antibiotic is going to develop. So the more antibiotics we put into people, we put into the environment, we put into livestock, the more opportunities we create for these bacteria to become resistant. …We also know that we’ve greatly overused antibiotics and in overusing these antibiotics, we have set ourselves up for the scenario that we find ourselves in now, where we’re running out of antibiotics.

We are quickly running out of therapies to treat some of these infections that previously had been eminently treatable. There are bacteria that we encounter, particularly in health-care settings, that are resistant to nearly all — or, in some cases, all — the antibiotics that we have available to us, and we are thus entering an era that people have talked about for a long time.

For a long time, there have been newspaper stories and covers of magazines that talked about ‘The end of antibiotics, question mark?’ Well, now I would say you can change the title to ‘The end of antibiotics, period.’

We’re here. We’re in the post-antibiotic era. There are patients for whom we have no therapy, and we are literally in a position of having a patient in a bed who has an infection, something that five years ago even we could have treated, but now we can’t. …

The GOP’s Obamacare chutzpah

WonkBlog describes The GOP’s Obamacare chutzpah "The classic definition of chutzpah is the child who kills his parents and then asks for leniency because he's an orphan. But in recent weeks, we've begun to see the Washington definition: A party that does everything possible to sabotage a law and then professes fury when the law's launch is rocky."

He then goes through a lengthly list of the ways that the GOP contributed to the problems.

Space trash is a growing problem. These economists have a solution.

I love when WonkBlog finds out about a topic in a new field (particularly when I've known about it before). It reinforces to me how well they explain complicated things. Space trash is a growing problem. These economists have a solution.

Home Theater Upgrade

I watch a lot of TV and movies but I don't upgrade my home theater equipment very often. My TV was 11 years old. An expensive (at the time) Panasonic 42" Plasma TV. I had a Denon A/V receiver I got a couple of years later and a Panasonic DVD player. My TiVo was a Series 3, about 7 years old. I got my money out of the lifetime service option (I think I managed to transfer that over from a previous TiVo) but I did replace the hard drive once and it was starting to act up again (a few reboots and pauses).

There were some limitations. The TV and receiver didn't support HDMI connectors so everything was using component video and digital audio cables (I think all were optical). That was fine. I have a Wii and an AirPort Express to stream audio from my mac and iOS devices. But that meant I couldn't use an Apple TV or some other newer devices. Many blu-ray players now just have an HDMI connector. Also, while the TV was HD, it had a resolution of 1024x768 which meant the best it could do was 720p. Higher resolution 1080i and 1080p were beyond it.

So I was thinking of upgrading and then TiVo finally announced their new Roamio and I was interested. After my Series 3 then rebooted on its own, I ordered one then I started looking at home theater equipment reviews in The Wirecutter. I was very happy with their articles, picking the best device in a category and explaining the choices and selection process. I was thinking of buying some of their step-up choices but the more I researched the more I agreed with their best picks. So I ended up getting their picks for Best TV, Best A/V Receiver and Best Blu-ray Player. Here's some of my thinking.

The TV is clearly the best reviewed TV around (some say ever). There are even higher end ones, but this has a great picture for not crazy money. From Amazon I got the 50" version for $1000 (seven times less than I paid for a 42" plasma 11 years prior). I looked at their Best $500 TV choice but it was limited to 720p, didn't have as a good picture (I like rich blacks for old movies) or as a good an anti-glare coating (I've been known to watch movies during the day) and didn't do 3D. I don't have much use for 3D now, but if I keep this TV as long as the last one, some future proofing seemed nice. This one also had network features (aka a "smart tv") and the cheaper one didn't. I didn't see a need for the smart features but I suppose they're worth something (and could be upgraded over time). Also I was saving some money on expectations for a receiver so it seemed reasonable to put it in the TV which I'll be looking at. I'm not a hardcore gamer so the one issue of some video lag didn't bother me at all. I expect to keep this TV until it's time to upgrade to 4K video (if that ever happens).

The TV picture is gorgeous. While the screen is 8" bigger, the bezel on this model is smaller than on my old TV. The picture looks both bigger and better and yet fits right in where the old TV was. It's nicer, but not overwhelming. The image is bright and the colors vibrant. I pulled out my old Toy Story DVD because it has a THX Optimizer on it with some image patterns to help you set up the video controls. I even remembered I had ordered the free THX blue glasses and where they were. So I set that up was and was happy. Then a friend mentioned he looked up the settings that some experts post on a forum. I found this for my TV and was surprised to see that there are a set of slides to download to a sd card to run in slide show mode for 100 hours to break in the TV before configuring the video settings. Yeah I'm not doing that. An alternative is to watch regular TV for 250-300 hours. Fine, after Halloween I'll try out these settings, in the mean time I'm pretty happy.

My last receiver was about $1000 so seeing The Wirecutter's pick was $250 surprised me. Shifting to HDMI means many fewer cables and I'm sure simpler insides. It supports 4 HDMI inputs and I had plans for all of those so I thought about future proofing and getting a step up pick with more inputs, but as I researched, it seemed less necessary. At $250, if I need a new receiver in a few years I'll upgrade. I agree with the review that many features on a receiver aren't necessary. I want it to have good sound and switch inputs. Since I've moved all video to HDMI I don't need it to up-convert or anything like that. The one thing I looked out for was that it passed through 3D so that a 3D blu-ray would play on the 3D TV if I ever wanted that.

As for sound, I didn't really use the DSP stuff on the old receiver so this Yamaha had plenty. I'm surprised but I have used a few of the "sound programs" like "Sports" and "The Bottom Line" (a Jazz club effect) and now regularly watch TV with the "Drama" setting. The Wirecutter said that Dynamic Compression was the one useful sound feature and I have used on occasion when watching something late at night. I have surround sound but not a subwoofer (I have neighbors) so 5.1 was just fine. For radio, sure some FM reception is nice, but mostly I want to stream audio from a computer or iOS device (iTunes or Spotify or whatever). The thing it was missing was builtin AirPlay but I have an AirPort Express already and I'm sure I'll eventually get an Apple TV so it didn't need to be builtin. And whatever was builtin would only stream audio and I'd eventually want to stream video too so I'd be looking at an Apple TV anyway.

Since I was going with HD everything it seemed reasonable to get a blu-ray player too and they're just $100. Their pick from Sony seemed fine, particularly on sale at Amazon for $95. It's supports 3D and the Yamaha Receiver will pass it through to the TV, so I'm good to try an Avatar 3D blu-ray or something eventually.

One feature to consider in all of these components is networking. Streaming services for video (Netflix, Amazon) and audio (Pandora, Spotify) are pretty nice. You can get TVs, receivers, blu-ray players, etc that all offer these features but you really don't need them in all your components. This was the one downside I found to The Wirecutter's strategy of picking the best of each device rather than also having a Best System. So my TV and blu-ray player have various streaming options but I'm probably never going to use them since my TiVo has them too. Still I connected them all up with ethernet cables which are more reliable than wifi (and my router was right next to the TV stand) and found they all downloaded and installed software updates when turned on (which was kind of nice). Another network feature is DLNA which lets you stream stuff (video, pictures, audio) from computers. It seems more prevalent for windows but there are some apps for iOS that are supposed to work. The Apple alternative is AirPlay via an AppleTV. Again to use this you only need support for this it in one device, I have it in both the TV and blu-ray and this redundancy makes the choice of skipping networking features in the receiver seem much better.

The last system-wide feature I learned about is called HDMI Control or CEC. With HDMI cables being digital and with devices getting more complicated the industry looked to do more with the digital connections. So if your TV is streaming Netflix for you, you want some way to send the audio back to the receiver to send to the surround speakers. You could use another cable but HDMI Audio Return Channel (ARC) lets this happen on the same HDMI cable you use to output video from the receiver to the TV. CEC lets the different remotes control the related devices. So turning on the TV will turn on the receiver and the blu-ray player and the volume controls on any of the remotes will affect the receiver. This is another nice benefit of using HDMI cables that I didn't anticipate, but it wasn't easy to get working.

While HDMI CEC is an industry standard, all the venders had to implement it and they have some differences and they all seem to have rebranded it to something else. So Panasonic calls it Viera Link. I do have a universal remote I've used but the remote that came with the new TiVo is quite nice. It's uses radio instead of infra red so it doesn't need to be pointed at the TiVo and it's designed well and has a few unique buttons. One problem is that it's not a learning remote. You can enter codes for different equipment to make TV power and input buttons and volume and mute buttons works with a receiver, but there are no macros and no Receiver power button. HDMI CEC would mean I could the one TV power button to turn on/off my receiver too. My problem was that when I did this, the sound came from the TV and not the receiver. Googling led me to this answer. It seems the Panasonic TV has all the HDMI control options in the setup menu which was easy to find, but there's another option to be found in one the networking apps called VIERA Link and that has one setting for "Speaker Output", change it from TV to Home theater and it all works fine.

So the main device I interact with is the TiVo Roamio. I got the Pro model just to be decadent. I've had it about a month now and am very happy. WIth six tuners I never have a conflict (though I have wanted to record six things at once a couple of times, Sunday has a lot of good TV) and with a 3TB drive I'm not going to run out of room for years, if ever. The picture looks great and I'm having it output everything at 1080p. I got it before the new TV and even hooked up to the old TV using 720p the picture looked much better than my old Series 3. The new HD interface is mostly great and familiar. I like that all movies have their year appended to the title (so you can tell it's a movie) and that almost all TV shows have the season and episode number in their descriptions. Also the guide now shows icons for things that are scheduled to be recorded and new series episodes have a NEW icon. It doesn't manage to show more information on the screen though, the extra real estate is taken up with some ad-like things at the top and a thumbnail picture of what's playing (which I've grown to like over the previous system of overlaying the guide info on top of the full-screen picture).

There are some little things that have annoyed me. Sometimes the clear button will return you to full-screen video, sometimes it won't. It took a while to figure out that the zoom button always works to return to full-screen video. I think I used to be able to use the channel up/down buttons to scroll through a wish list's upcoming show details and now I can't. I also feel like to the rate a show (with thumbs up/down) I have to click more to get to the details description. Right-arrow while watching TV brings up a screen with a few tabs showing info about what's playing, whats being recorded on the other tuners, closed captioning information, and alternate sound tracks. For some reason these tabs are in a different order if you're watching live TV or a recorded show. So that makes a macro to turn on/off closed captions is impossible.

I upgraded from an old TiVo and that process was always start over completely. There was no way to move channel lists, favorite channels, show ratings, season passes, wish lists, or web video subscriptions. Now at least you can transfer season passes via their web site but that wasn't as smooth as it could be. The order of the passes wasn't preserved and auto-record wish lists didn't come over either. Some passes came over but the show is on hiatus and there are no upcoming episodes in the guide; these are displayed as "Corrupt - delete me" which isn't what you want to see. It's also wrong, the correct thing to do is leave them and wait for new episodes to appear in the guide and then they will fix themselves (I've seen this happen in a couple of cases).

There was an issue with certain FiOS cable cards so I was sure to pick up the right model numbers. Cable card install was easy enough, you put it in the TiVo and call an automated FiOS number and read a few codes to active it; but the HBO and Cinemax channels didn't work. FiOS encrypts those and I had problems when they started doing so. I called FiOS, the tech was nice, admitted he hadn't done this before, but got it working within 15 minutes.

The Roamio has a big new feature that it can download and stream video to an iPad or iPad via the TiVo app. I've tried streaming to the iPad once and it was quite nice. It picked up right were I left off, but when I went back to the TV I had to manually advance to the new position. I've just used this on my home network but apparently as of today it will work out of the house too. I can definitely see using this when traveling and it being very useful in a household of several people.

Even though the TV and blu-ray have streaming features, I'm probably going to stick to using the ones in the TiVo. They have good netflix support which is the one service I use now. There's also Amazon Instant but I never understood how that's different from what I get via my Amazon Prime subscription and don't use it much. It is nice that these services are integrated into the search functions of the TiVo. So it will tell you if something is on the device, listed in the upcoming guide or available via Netflix or Amazon.

The only game console I have is a Wii. I used component cables to connect it to the receiver but the Yamaha isn't capable of converting that signal to HDMI so I'd have to run component cables to the TV and switch the TV input to use the Wii. That's not horrible (that's what macros on universal remotes are for) but not ideal. Then I found this device that converts the Wii output to HDMI for just $20 on Amazon. It seems to work perfectly and makes the connections and use a little easier.

I bought five different color High Speed HDMI Cables with Ferrite Cores from Monoprice for about $27 and got a pack of five ethernet cables from Amazon for under $14.

Overall I'm really happy so far.

The Daily Show Nails It

I thought all of The Daily Show last night was really good. Here's a link to the whole episode. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - October 23, 2013. If you don't watch the whole thing, at least watch the first segment about how CNBC in particular reported about the JP Morgan $13 billion settlement.

Smart Clothes Science Symposium

The Radcliffe Insititute is having a Smart Clothes Science Symposium next month. If you're in the Boston area and have the time, it's free. I'm going.

"Radcliffe’s annual science symposium will focus on ‘smart clothes’ and the science of designing materials that improve and protect lives. Experts in biology, design, engineering, materials science, medicine, and nanotechnology will address a variety of topics, including digital fabrication, soldier-related technologies, smart materials and biology, wearable technology, and the future of innovative substances."

Traditional Chinese medicine origins: Mao invented it but didn’t believe in it.

This is a pretty remarkable story, Traditional Chinese medicine origins: Mao invented it but didn’t believe in it. "Mikulski and the rest of the Senate may be surprised to learn that they were repeating 60-year-old justifications of Chinese medicine put forward by Chairman Mao. Unlike Mikulski, however, Mao was under no illusion that Chinese medicine—a key component of naturopathic education—actually worked. In The Private Life of Chairman Mao, Li Zhisui, one of Mao’s personal physicians, recounts a conversation they had on the subject. Trained as an M.D. in Western medicine, Li admitted to being baffled by ancient Chinese medical books, especially their theories relating to the five elements. It turns out his employer also found them implausible."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Godwin and the Greenback

Krugman in Godwin and the Greenback explains the dollar's role as a reserve currency. "The bottom line is that while saying ‘the international role of the dollar’ sounds very sophisticated and important, the more you know about all this the less you care. This is simply not a big deal."

Making sense of the JP Morgan settlement

Felix Salmon, Making sense of the JP Morgan settlement "As Eavis explains today, the settlement breaks down into three parts. $6 billion goes to compensate investors for losses on mortgage securities; $4 billion is relief for homeowners; and the remaining $3 billion in fines is specifically targeted only at actions which took place directly under Dimon’s watch."

"In other words, Parsons’ premise is exactly wrong: JPM is not paying penalties for mistakes made by Bear Stearns. All that it’s doing is making good on obligations of WaMu and Bear related to securities they sold. And it’s inherent in buying a bank that you become responsible for its liabilities as well as its assets."

Fall Is in the Air

In Focus shows Fall Is in the Air, Part II "The days are getting shorter and the nights chillier as fall descends on the Northern Hemisphere. Autumn is the season of harvests, festivals, migrations, winter preparations, and of course, spectacular foliage. Across the north, leaves are reaching peak color, apples and pumpkins are being gathered, and animals are on the move. Collected here are more images from this year's autumn. Be sure to also view Part I, from earlier this season. [38 photos]"

There are some crazy amazing photos in there. Here's just one.

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Apple Stuff

So Apple had their big event yesterday. All of it seemed pretty reasonable though a bit unexciting.

The iPad updates were expected. The mini got retina and the big one is now an Air (basically a larger version of the mini form factor) with the guts of an iPhone 5S. Though neither got the finger printer scanner. So we know what's going into the next version next year. I'm hoping that now that there's an iPad Mini and an iPad Air, we'll get an iPad Pro in 2014 to match the Mac naming conventions.

The MacBook Pro changes were also just the expected spec upgrades. Fair enough. They're nice machines. My sister will probably upgrade to the 15" MacBook Pro because she wants a 15" screen. A 15" Air would be fine for her but Apple apparently doesn't' want to go there. Also, since the MBP isn't in any way user expandable and she's had her current one for over 5 years, it seems like the right plan to get the $300 upgrade for a 512GB SSD.

The Mac Pro is still nice, just as it was when they announced at WWDC. A starting price of $3K is lower than I expected but we still don't know what the options cost.

Nice to see updates to iWork (it's been 4 years) though I hope they're not dumbed down and that the sync to iOS versions works perfectly as they say. (I've had some issues with custom display formats which iOS doesn't support but that's mostly it). I see the new versions don't support AppleScript and that's pissed some people off, but I didn't even know the old versions did.

Mavericks being free is also nice though I suspect it was a lot of work for accountants to figure out how to do that (for profit public companies don't usually do a lot of work to give it away for free). Remember the early iOS updates were free on iPhone (which charged a monthly fee for phone service so it counted as a revenue stream) but cost some money on iPod Touch (which had no monthly charge).

I'm installing iOS 7.0.3 now but I'll wait a little for Mavericks to see if there are any issues. Quicken will supposedly work fine and Quicksilver 1.1.2. will probably too. This is a bit distressing, Mail in Mavericks Changes the Gmail Equation. I'l definitely wait for that to settle out. Hiding the All Mail folder was really useful when using iPhones to prevent them from using a ton of data bandwidth.

For now I don't think I have to buy anything. :) Replacing my iPad 2 with an iPad Air is kinda appealing (lighter, retina, siri, faster), but maybe not compelling enough right now. I'm more interested in an Apple TV update.

Daily Show on the state of the Tea Party

I thought the Daily Show was really good last night. He's not letting the "establishment" Republicans avoid their responsibility for the growth of the tea party.

Extreme Takeover: Tea Party Edition

Extreme Takeover: Tea Party Edition - The Tea Party vs. Karl Rove

I also appreciate that Chris Hayes on MSNBC is starting to do the Daily Show thing of showing clips of people saying things that contradict their current positions. Finally.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Schneier on Defending Against Crypto Backdoors

Bruce Schneier on Defending Against Crypto Backdoors "Since BULLRUN became public last month, the security community has been examining security flaws discovered over the past several years, looking for signs of deliberate tampering. The Debian random number flaw was probably not deliberate, but the 2003 Linux security vulnerability probably was. The DUALECDRBG random number generator may or may not have been a backdoor. The SSL 2.0 flaw was probably an honest mistake. The GSM A5/1 encryption algorithm was almost certainly deliberately weakened. All the common RSA moduli out there in the wild: we don't know. Microsoft's _NSAKEY looks like a smoking gun, but honestly, we don't know."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Three From Krugman

Paul Krugman has three good posts debunking right-wing arguments.

The first tackles the fear that China will stop buying our bonds. Liquidity Preference, Loanable Funds, and Erskine Bowles. "So in the hypothetical case in which foreigners lose confidence and stop buying our assets, they’re pushing our capital account down; as a matter of accounting, then, our current account balance must rise. But what’s the mechanism? (Remember the fallacy of immaculate causation.) The answer is, it depends on the currency regime. If you’re Greece, the way it works is indeed that interest rates soar, depressing demand and compressing imports until the current account has risen enough; unfortunately, demand for domestic goods falls too, so you have a nasty slump. But if you’re America or Britain, the central bank sets interest rates, and under current conditions that means holding them at zero. So what happens instead is that your currency depreciates, making exporters and import-competing industries more competitive. The effect on the economy as a whole is therefore expansionary, not contractionary."

The second is on Lousy Medicaid Arguments. "Now, about those lousy Medicaid arguments: Last year’s Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act did strike down one provision, the one that would have forced all states to accept an expansion of Medicaid, the already-existing program of health insurance for the poor. States are now free to reject that expansion. Yet how can states justify turning down a federal offer to insure thousands of their citizens, one that would cost them nothing in the first year and only trivial amounts later? Sheer spite — the desire to sabotage anything with President Obama’s name on it — is the real reason, but doesn’t sound too good. So they need intellectual cover.

Enter the same experts, more or less, who warned about rate shock, to declare that Medicaid actually hurts its recipients. Their evidence? Medicaid patients tend to be sicker than the uninsured, and slower to recover from surgery.

O.K., you know what to do: Google “spurious correlation health.” You are immediately led to the tale of certain Pacific Islanders who long believed that having lice made you healthy, because they observed that people with lice were, typically, healthier than those without. They were, of course, mixing up cause and effect: lice tend to infest the healthy, so they were a consequence, not a cause, of good health.

The application to Medicaid should be obvious. Sick people are likely to have low incomes; more generally, low-income Americans who qualify for Medicaid just tend in general to have poor health. So pointing to a correlation between Medicaid and poor health as evidence that Medicaid actually hurts its recipients is as foolish as claiming that lice make you healthy. It is, as I said, a lousy argument."

The third points to this scathing review of Alan Greenspan's new book. Krugman calls Greenspan The Worst Ex-Central Banker in the World and adds, "What Pearlstein doesn’t mention, but I think is important, is Greenspan’s amazing track record since leaving office — a record of being wrong about everything, and learning nothing therefrom. It is, in particular, more than three years since he warned that we were going to become Greece any day now, and declared the failure of inflation and soaring rates to have arrived already “regrettable.” The thing is, Greenspan isn’t just being a bad economist here, he’s being a bad person, refusing to accept responsibility for his errors in and out of office."

Why Fukushima's Water Is Growing More Radioactive

The Atlantic on Why Fukushima's Water Is Growing More Radioactive

"Let us go straight to the primary source of all this radioactive material: the heat-producing nuclear fuel. Preventing overheating, which could lead to another huge environmental release of radioactive material, is the highest priority. So far it’s been successful, primarily due to the makeshift cooling system, which has effectively kept the melted fuel rods (as well as those in the spent fuel pools) cool and stable since the fall of 2011. Time and the laws of physics have also lent a hand—the fuel generates less and less heat with each passing day. Indeed, its potential for overheating is significantly less than it was two years ago and will continue to diminish at a known rate.

This makeshift cooling system is a conceptually simple cycle. Water is constantly pumped to the stricken reactor vessels containing the damaged fuel. Because the integrity of internal various containment units was compromised, the water not only becomes contaminated by its pass over the damaged core but also finds its way into the buildings’ basements. The water is then pumped back out of the building, processed, and pumped through the building again. 

In practice, however, the system is not a neat, closed cycle; and it is here that major problems begin to appear. The entire site bristles with conduits, tunnels, and trenches, which, unfortunately, allow some of the untainted groundwater on its way to the sea to leak into these basements. This net inflow of about 400 tons of water per day, amounting to the carrying capacity of about 13 large gasoline truck, adds continuously to the volume of contaminated water that must be processed and contained. The solution so far has been to keep building more storage tanks and reservoirs on site.

Uphill of the stricken reactors is land covered with almost 1,000 of these water storage units. After two and a half years, they already hold enough water to fill 120 Olympic-size swimming pools, and their burden continues to grow. This colossal effort is unsustainable. Not surprisingly, leaks have begun to appear. "

There's a bunch more in the article.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Boehner and McConnell

Max Ehrenfreund has plenty of blame for Republican leaders.

What Was John Boehner Thinking?. "The speaker could’ve always brought a “clean” continuing resolution to fund the government to a vote. He did not get overrun. He made a choice to sacrifice the interests of his party — not to mention the country as a whole — to the demands of a faction in his caucus, knowing full well that he’d get almost nothing out of a protracted negotiation with Democrats. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Robert Costa, the Republican leadership had determined months ago that closing the government was futile."

"The conservative members of his caucus will be bolder in challenging his initiatives, and he will have to rely increasingly on Democrats to accomplish the basic tasks of governing. In the long run, the best thing would have been to demonstrate that the Tea Party cannot control the G.O.P. leadership, and that if they refuse to make reasonable demands, they’ll be shut out of the process altogether. That was the lesson Obama tried to convey, and it would have behooved Boehner to make sure it was received."

McConnell Totally Said No Before Saying No Was Cool. "McConnell has no right to say that about himself. He is has engaged in as much obstructionism as the worst of them, and his ideas are partly responsible for bringing Republicans to their current state of disarray."

"This is the kind of dealmaker McConnell is. He will make a deal or put a halt to legislative action altogether, depending where he believes the political advantage lies. It also seems that McConnell’s strategy of opposition has seriously damaged his party’s ability to develop and propose their own original ideas. Conservatives do have plenty of good ideas, but when constructive legislating is off the table for electoral reasons, it’s easy to speculate that legislators and their staffs will devote less time and fewer resources to thinking about those ideas — how to implement them and how to include them as part of a complete legislative agenda. "

Why is RAM Expensive Now?

If you were looking to add RAM to your computer and were surprised by the prices, here's why. DRAM Price Spikes Follow Plant Explosion, Likely to Continue Into 2014

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Economics of the Newspaper Business

Hal Varian: the economics of the newspaper business. "The text below is that of the speech given by Hal Varian, Chief Economist at Google, on 25 September 2013 in Milan at the awards ceremony of the annual Italian journalism award È giornalismo." Here are the headlines, he gives some details of each...

I am an economist by training, and only a part-time journalist, so I want to focus my remarks on the economics of the newspaper business during this period of transition.

  1. Printed newspaper circulation has been declining for 50 years...
  2. The internet is a superior way to distribute and read news...
  3. The basic economic problem facing news is increased competition for attention...
  4. Newspapers never made money from news...
  5. Offline news reading is a leisure time activity, online news reading is a labor time activity...
  6. Ad revenue depends on reader engagement...
  7. Tablets give newspapers a way to reclaim some lost audience...
  8. The fundamental challenge facing newspapers is to increase the time people spend on their content...

The top 5 things we’ve learned about the NSA thanks to Edward Snowden

Ars Technica has a lengthy article, The top 5 things we’ve learned about the NSA thanks to Edward Snowden. In brief...

What we’ve learned:

  • American telcos are compelled to routinely hand over metadata to the government
  • Digital surveillance programs capture vast amounts of data: PRISM and XKeyscore
  • US companies have done little to resist government pressure
  • NSA's sister organization, GCHQ, does what the NSA can’t
  • NSA analysts even used capabilities to spy on their exes

What has happened since:

  • As a way to prevent future leaks, the NSA fired nearly all its sysadmins
  • Privacy-minded e-mail providers shut themselves down under pressure
  • The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opened up and published docket and opinions
  • Patriot Act author said that NSA’s interpretation is overbroad
  • Congressional reforms introduced, remain slow-moving

Obama’s devious plot to destroy the Republican Party by increasing its vote share among Hispanics

Obama’s devious plot to destroy the Republican Party by increasing its vote share among Hispanics "There's a tension in the Republican Party's portrayal of Obama in which he's thought, on one hand, to be a naif who's in way over his head and, on the other, a grand chessmaster executing an intricate strategy to annihilate his political opposition. The answer, of course, is that Obama is neither. He's a center-left technocrat who wants to get immigration done. And getting immigration done, most everyone agrees, would be good for the Republican Party. It's possibly necessary for its very survival. What's standing in the way isn't Obama's determination to destroy the GOP. It's the GOP's determination to destroy itself."

The Real Reason Why Sleep Deprivation Can Destroy You

This is a pretty interesting article. The Real Reason Why Sleep Deprivation Can Destroy You "In a nutshell, this new study provides evidence that we need a certain amount of sleep every night, because the brain takes this time to rid itself of toxic metabolic byproducts, which would otherwise accumulate in the brain and impair brain function, destroy neurons — and potentially cause neurodegenerative disorders."

Observations From A Tipless Restaurant

The New York Times Magazine wrote five years ago, Why Tip?.

Recently the subject of that article, restauranteur Jay Porter, wrote Observations From A Tipless Restaurant "This is the first of a multi-part series detailing what I learned from operating our farm-to-table flagship restaurant, the Linkery, as a ‘no-tipping’ restaurant that instead charged a fixed percentage for service, from 2006 to 2013. We also operated a sister restaurant, El Take It Easy, that followed the traditional tipping model, allowing for a fairly direct comparison."

He also followed up some postscripts that respond to some feedback.

In Conversation With Antonin Scalia

New York Magazine has a really good In Conversation With Antonin Scalia "On the eve of a new Supreme Court session, the firebrand justice discusses gay rights and media echo chambers, Seinfeld and the Devil, and how much he cares about his intellectual legacy (‘I don’t’)."

And I learned the work ukase.

John Sides follows up on some points, Most Americans are not like Antonin Scalia.

Inside the Fox News lie machine: Fact-Checking Sean Hannity on Obamacare

Inside the Fox News lie machine: I fact-checked Sean Hannity on Obamacare -

I happened to turn on the Hannity show on Fox News last Friday evening. ‘Average Americans are feeling the pain of Obamacare and the healthcare overhaul train wreck,’ Hannity announced, ‘and six of them are here tonight to tell us their stories.’  Three married couples were neatly arranged in his studio, the wives seated and the men standing behind them, like game show contestants. As Hannity called on each of them, the guests recounted their ‘Obamacare’ horror stories: canceled policies, premium hikes, restrictions on the freedom to see a doctor of their choice, financial burdens upon their small businesses and so on.

I decided to hit the pavement. I tracked down Hannity’s guests, one by one, and did my own telephone interviews with them.

I don’t doubt that these six individuals believe that Obamacare is a disaster; but none of them had even visited the insurance exchange. And some of them appear to have taken actions (Paul Cox, for example) based on a general pessimistic belief about Obamacare. He’s certainly entitled to do so, but Hannity is not entitled to point to Paul’s behavior as an “Obamacare train wreck story” and maintain any credibility that he might have as a journalist.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

It's All About Healthcare

Business Insider talked to The Debt Ceiling Deniers In Ted Yoho's District "The vast majority of those in Yoho's district — one that is heavily rural and conservative outside of the liberal Gainesville and blue Alachua County — are driven by the belief that the nation's debt is out of control."

Someone needs to not just talk to them, but to show them numbers that cutting foreign aid, arts, "grants", the departments of Education, the EPA, FCC, the NIH and CDC (which seems remarkably stupid) wouldn't come close to balancing things. Also they need to understand the debt and deficit in the context of the nations economy and GDP and understand that a government isn't the same as a household.

Also, America’s Projected Deficit Is Entirely About Health Care Costs

The conservative reply is that the way to get health care costs under control is to simply have less health care. We must “reform” entitlements; meaning raise the Medicare retirement age, cut Medicaid, etc. We can’t afford to be generous, and some people are just going to have to go endure hardship or we’re going to bankrupt the state.

But as the Monthly has long shown, this is nonsense. In fact, the United States’ world-record health care costs are driven by a combination of policy factors, both on the private and the government side. In 2010 Mariah Blake showed how a cabal of medical supply behemoths keep the innovations of smaller companies off the market. In 2011 Phillip Longman showed how getting Medicare out of the fee-for-service business would improve things, and earlier this year showed how a GOP effort that kept cost-benefit research out of Obamacare is harming the health care system. Finally, again this year Haley Sweetland Edwards showed how a secret committee of doctors heavily weighted with specialists fixes the prices of Medicare.

So this is why Obama wanted to tackle healthcare, it's not just good for health, it's good for the budget.

Here's an explanation for Why Your Asthma Inhaler Costs So Damn Much

Here's an unusual perspective from someone with great health insurance. My Skin in the Game: How Ted Cruz and the Right Want to Help Cancer Kill Me, and Maybe You. "So we don't have to just beat Ted Cruz so hard he flees back to Alberta. We have to get rid of the parts of Obamacare that may help the private insurance industry keep squeezing us like an anaconda. And we have to keep and improve the good parts, so the Affordable Care Act is just the first step to the only system that's ever worked anywhere on earth: universal, high-quality health insurance and healthcare for everyone."

So how's Obamacare doing? Well Sarah Kliff points out Four things I learned about Obamacare from shopping on Things are getting a bit better. And Oregon cuts tally of people lacking health insurance by 10 percent in two weeks.

Brinksmanship Post-Mortem

When Boehner cancelled the vote Tuesday night, Josh Barro said House Republicans Show Themselves To Be Dangerously Incompetent, Again. "'The only stunning thing is that anyone still looks at House Republicans and says: "You know what would be great? Giving these people more power over public policy.' Roughly one-third of this caucus thinks hitting the debt ceiling and shutting down the government are great strategies to try to stop Obamacare. The other two-thirds of the party has realized all along that this strategy sucks, but they could not find any way to stop their party from implementing it — even though these "reasonable" Republicans outnumber the crazies."

Ezra Klein thinks, If Ted Cruz didn’t exist, Democrats would have to invent him. "A true cynic about American politics would, at this point, be forced to one conclusion: Sen. Ted Cruz is a Democratic sleeper agent." and lists 7 dumb things he's done that have backfired.

Democrats managed to get the budget conference they've been pursuing for six months. They got a CR of the length they wanted and ending before the next sequestration cuts rather than six-month CR that Sen. Susan Collins proposed. They got a debt-ceiling increase all the way into February. This is far beyond what Democrats thought possible on Sept. 30.

But the strategy Ted Cruz managed to force on the GOP was so suicidal that Democrats felt comfortable forcing Republicans to cave completely. They were so confident that they managed to reject a deal proposed by Sen. Susan Collins and supported by many Senate Democrats because it funded the government for longer than the Democratic leadership preferred. That's a level of control over the outcome that Democrats never expected to have.

Brad Plumer looked at a Study: Congress’s budget battles have cost the economy $700 billion so far "Here's an eye-catching claim: A new report from Macroeconomic Advisers argues that Congress's budget battles, debt-ceiling stand-offs, and spending cuts have cost the U.S. economy nearly 3 percent of GDP since 2010. That's roughly $700 billion in lost economic activity and more than two million lost jobs— all thanks to Congress. And that's before we even factor in the losses caused by the recent federal government shutdown." He mentions a few doubts, but I think he generally agrees with it.

Even the Wall Street Journal editorial page thinks this was a fiasco. Review & Outlook: The Debt Denouement "This is the quality of thinking—or lack thereof—that has afflicted many GOP conservatives from the beginning of this budget showdown. They picked a goal they couldn't achieve in trying to defund ObamaCare from one House of Congress, and then they picked a means they couldn't sustain politically by pursuing a long government shutdown and threatening to blow through the debt limit. President Obama called their bluff, no doubt in part to blame the disruption on the GOP and further tarnish the party's public image. Now the most Republicans will get out of this is lower public approval and a chance to negotiate with Mr. Obama again before the next debt-limit deadline."

I'm no fan of Peter King (R-NY) but it's fun watching this, Pete King calls for a Republican war on Ted Cruz.

Jonathan Chait celebrates, Stop Fretting: The Debt-Ceiling Crisis Is Over!.

Most of the analysis has focused on the mind-boggling stupidity of Republicans in Congress, who blundered into a debacle that failed in exactly the way they were warned it would. The episode will be retold and fought over for years to come, perfectly emblemizing the party’s internal disorganization, mindless belligerence, and confinement within an ideological echo chamber that sealed out important warnings of failure. A grassroots revolt forced Republicans to shut down the government two weeks before the debt ceiling deadline, serving to weaken the party's standing at the moment they hoped to hold the default gun to Obama's head. (It's possible they lesson they'll take away from their failure will only be not to shut down the government and threaten default at the same time, requiring another showdown.)

But it also represents a huge Democratic success — or, at least, the closest thing to success that can be attained under the circumstances. Of the Republican Party’s mistakes, the most rational was its assumption that Democrats would ultimately bend. This was not merely their own recycled certainty — “nobody believes that,” a confident Paul Ryan insisted of Obama’s claims he wouldn’t be extorted — but widespread, world-weary conventional wisdom. Democrats would have to pay a ransom. Republicans spent weeks prodding for every weakness. Would Senate Democrats from deep red states be pried away? Would Obama fold in the face of their threat?

Part of what undergirded Democratic unity went beyond a (correct) calculation that it would be dangerous to pay any ransom at all. Democrats seemed to share a genuine moral revulsion at the tactics and audacity of a party that had lost a presidential election by 5 million votes, lost another chance to win a favorable Senate map, and lost the national House vote demanding the winning party give them its way without compromise.

Probably the single biggest Republican mistake was in failing to understand the way its behavior would create unity in the opposing party. Not until the very end, when the crisis was well under way, did any conservatives even acknowledge the Democratic view that the GOP had threatened basic governing norms. Ted Cruz and his minions may have undertaken a hopeless crusade, but they dragged along the Paul Ryan Republicans who all along seemed to think their extortion scheme was a simple business deal. Its collapse is one of the brightest days Washington has seen in a grim era.

Ed Kilgore doesn't quite agree, Two Cheers For the SWAT Team. "I’d raise three cheers for the SWAT team, but aside from the possibility Chait raises that GOPers will learn the wrong lesson, there’s the concession of sequester-level appropriations that was made early and stayed at least temporarily (until January 15 or an unlikely earlier budget deal) in the final agreement, and the failure—understandable but still troublesome—to find some permanent way of keeping debt default threats from happening (via either a change in the congressional rules for dealing with them or a presidential adoption of one of the various “constitutional options” that Obama has eschewed). Beyond that, I’m not sure I agree Democrats bravely refused to “negotiate with terrorists,” insofar as they did entertain concessions and are entering budget talks under the possible threat of another shutdown or debit limit breach."

My hope is that to prove the lunacy, we will hear more stories like this one (and not create more of them), The government shutdown wasn’t that bad for the politicians. It was terrible for this guy. "'I was living week to week' before the shutdown, Anderson told me. 'Now I'm living day to day.' He is a line cook at the American Indian Smithsonian Museum on the National Mall. Anderson is not a government employee. He's a contract worker - the government hires his company to make the food for visitors to the museum. When the shutdown closed the museum, Anderson lost his job. He'll now presumably be able to go back to work, but unlike federal workers, he won't get back pay. And he could use that back pay: Anderson is a divorced father of two who usually brings home about $350 a week after taxes and child support."

Robert Costa has a fascinating interview with Mitch McConnell. He's often very candid in his statements (remember him saying their primary goal was to make Obama a one term President?) but you also have to read between the political lines. Meanwhile, Harry Reid Says Hiking Defense Spending For Social Security Cuts Is A 'Stupid Trade'. Yup the positioning has begun.

iPhone 5S Camera and Accelerometer

Austin Mann's iPhone 5S Review: Patagonia makes me want to upgrade my iPhone 5 to a 5S.

Mobile Spatial Sensing's Toward a solution for the iPhone 5S accelerometer problem lets me hold off til an iPhone 6.

Ok, both statements are overblown, but both articles are interesting.

Small Amount Of Money From Pink NFL Merchandise Goes To Breast Cancer Research

Business Insider says Small Amount Of Money From Pink NFL Merchandise Goes To Breast Cancer Research. I'm not surprised.


Daily Show Clips

Apparently the embedded Daily Show clips I have posted are auto playing on some browsers (e.g., Chrome). I'm not sure why and I was using code that was supposed to set autoplay to false. Since this is ridiculously annoying and caused some readers to visit less frequently, I've changed the embeds to links on all posts that show up on the front page until I can figure out what's wrong. In the future, if you find something wrong with the blog, please let me know.

One Year Later, New POV Video of Baumgartner’s Freefall

I don't know why it took so long to see this but, One Year Later, New POV Video of Baumgartner’s Freefall is pretty amazing.

The Best Ice Cube Tray Review Graph

I'm a fan of The Sweethome and The Wirecutter reviews but I love this graph form The Best Ice Cube Tray review...

Graph2 fixed 500

My New Desktop

10328043663 13e4965aca

More info: Cassini’s Saturn: Incredible mosaic by Gordon Ugarkovic.

"On Oct. 10, 2013, Cassini took 36 shots of Saturn, a dozen each using red, green, and blue filters which approximate true color. Ugarkovic grabbed the raw files, processed them, and assembled them into this mosaic.

The detail is incredible. Cassini was high above Saturn to the north, looking “down” on the ringed world when it took these images. You can see the bizarre hexagonal north polar vortex, the six-sided jet stream flowing around Saturn. The subtle but beautiful bands mark the cloud tops of Saturn’s atmosphere. Unless I'm mistaken, the thin white line you see wrapping around the planet at mid-latitude is the remnant of a vast storm so huge it completely dwarfed our own home world of Earth. And if you look carefully (you can measure it!) you can see that Saturn is highly flattened, its equatorial diameter wider than through the poles."

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

These images show just how differently cats and humans see the world

These images show just how differently cats and humans see the world "Cats and humans have very different perspectives on the world, both literally and figuratively. Indeed, as these visualizations beautifully illustrate, cats use their highly specialized eyes to see the world in a way that's far removed from what we experience."

Friday, October 11, 2013

Jon Stewart on Medican't

Brilliant segment last night, less funny and more angry than usual, and successfully explained something slightly complicated that most people don't understand. I just wish they didn't break up the video into two segments.

See it here: Medican't and Medican't - "Taker" States

I'm a little disappointed that he left out a more legit right-wing argument. I'm sure some don't want to take federal money because they feel the federal government is debt ridden and can't afford it. This is easily debunked. The Progressive House Caucus' Budget manages to balance the budget and pay for Medicaid and Obamacare should lower some overall healthcare costs. I think Medicaid has the most fiscal issues of the three entitlement programs (the other two are Social Security and Medicare) but it's solvable and Stewart might be the best person to explain it.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Nate Silver on the U.S. government shutdown

Nate Silver on the U.S. government shutdown.

That's been my impression of the coverage of the shutdown: The folks you see on TV are much too sure of themselves. They've been making too much of thin slices of polling and thinner historical precedents that might not apply this time around.

There's been plenty of bullshit, in other words. We really don't know all that much about how the shutdown is going to be resolved, or how the long-term political consequences are going to play out.

So what can we say? What follows are a series of points that I consider to be on relatively firm ground. Some are critiques of the conventional wisdom; some are points of context; some concern relatively fine details of the situation; some are obvious things that I don't think have been emphasized quite enough. None of them constitute a prediction of how the shutdown is going to turn out, or exactly what the political fallout will be. But perhaps they can serve as useful guidance as you read coverage of the shutdown elsewhere.

Scott Carpenter, Mercury Astronaut Who Orbited Earth, Dies at 88

The New York Times reports Scott Carpenter, Mercury Astronaut Who Orbited Earth, Dies at 88

M. Scott Carpenter, whose flight into space in 1962 as the second American to orbit the Earth was marred by technical glitches and ended with the nation waiting anxiously to see if he had survived a landing far from the target site, died on Thursday in Denver. He was 88 and one of the last two surviving astronauts of America’s original space program, Project Mercury.

His death leaves John H. Glenn Jr., who flew the first orbital mission on Feb. 20, 1962, and later became a United States senator from Ohio, as the last survivor of the Mercury 7.

Republican Factions

According to he latest Gallop poll, Republican Party Favorability Sinks to Record Low. "With the Republican-controlled House of Representatives engaged in a tense, government-shuttering budgetary standoff against a Democratic president and Senate, the Republican Party is now viewed favorably by 28% of Americans, down from 38% in September. This is the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992."


As I've read and believe, the GOP is struggling between the Tea Party ideologues and the more established party leaders. These groups have different motivations and believe in different tactics, which is why we've seen different demands and statements. Boehner is struggling to keep the party together and it's not clear if he'll succeed.

Ed Kilgore explains, The Obamacare Tipping Point.

If you want to understand why Obamacare became the initial target of the conservative movement’s radical effort to demand major policy concessions as the price of keeping the government operating and avoiding a debt default, look no further than Stan Greenberg’s focus groups of Republicans [pdf] he’s been convening on behalf of Democracy Corp. This material is fascinating on a broad range of issues, and one could take some exception to Stan’s GOP typology which divides the most conservative Republicans into Tea Party advocates and evangelicals. But on issue after issue, the focus groups confirm that both these conservative factions share a deep belief in the idea that Barack Obama and the Democratic Party are engaged in a very conscious effort to seduce a majority of voters—beginning, of course, with minorities—into supporting a “socialist” expansion of government that is already on the very edge of being self-perpetuating and ultimately totalitarian. And they see Obamacare—along with legalization of undocumented workers, which conservatives managed to stall before initiating their “Defund Obamacare” crusade— as quite probably the tipping point.

The idea being that policies that support immigrants and give healthcare to millions will guarantee a Democrat majority for years and this must be avoided at all costs. Though to my mind a government that helps a greater percentage of it's population seems to be the definition of doing something right.

The study, (which I'm still reading) Inside the GOP: Report on focus groups with Evangelical, Tea Party, and moderate Republicans breaks down the GOP into three groups:

  • Evangelicals. Social issues are central for Evangelicals and they feel a deep sense of cultural and political loss. They believe their towns, communities, and schools are suffering from a deep “culture rot” that has invaded from the outside. The central focus here is homosexuality, but also the decline of homogenous small towns. They like the Tea Party because they stand up to the Democrats.
  • Tea Party. Big government, Obama, the loss of liberty, and decline of responsibility are central to the Tea Party worldview. Obama’s America is an unmitigated evil based on big government, regulations, and dependency. They are not focused on social issues at all. They like the Tea Party because it is getting “back to basics” and believe it has the potential to reshape the GOP.
  • Moderates. Moderates are deeply concerned with the direction of the country and believe Obama has taken it down the wrong path economically. They are centrally focused on market-based economics, small government, and eliminating waste and inefficiency. They are largely open to progressive social policies, including on gay marriage and immigration. They disdain the Tea Party and have a hard time taking Fox News seriously.

I wouldn't have broken it down into three groups but it makes some sense. The Tea Party Caucus page on Wikipedia puts some scale on that group. According to the study the moderates are 25% of the party. I assume they're the traditional wealthy and (big) business side of the party who funded everything, who just want government to leave business alone (with less taxes and regulation but you know subsidies and bailouts are good too) and want to lower marginal tax rates. For some more evidence of this group we have, Business Groups See Loss of Sway Over House G.O.P.

As the government shutdown grinds toward a potential debt default, some of the country’s most influential business executives have come to a conclusion all but unthinkable a few years ago: Their voices are carrying little weight with the House majority that their millions of dollars in campaign contributions helped build and sustain.

Their frustration has grown so intense in recent days that several trade association officials warned in interviews on Wednesday that they were considering helping wage primary campaigns against Republican lawmakers who had worked to engineer the political standoff in Washington.

Paul Waldman in The Power of No explains, "Why liberal Democrats in Congress, despite being greater in number, have nothing like the power of Tea Party conservatives."

Meanwhile, lets not forget the Republicans of the Bush administration (I guess the neo-cons are being sufficiently suppressed by the party these days), Waterboarding Is A Big Joke At Cheney Roast. "Conservatives gathered at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan Monday night to roast the former vice president at an event where many of the biggest laugh lines touched on the most controversial policies of a key architect of his administration’s war on terror."

“There were some waterboarding jokes that were really tasteless,” the guest said. “I can see the case for enhanced interrogation techniques after Sept. 11 but I can’t really endorse sitting there drinking wine and fancy dinner at the Plaza laughing uproariously about it.”

Good riddance.

Shutdown Progress?

The Center for American Progress explains why A Piecemeal Approach to Funding the Government Makes No Sense


"So far, the House of Representatives has passed one or two of these piecemeal funding bills each day. At that rate, it would take another 32 workdays for the House to get through the rest of the funding, and that is assuming an average of $6 billion per bill. If the House chooses instead to continue to fund everything service by service, it will take more than 100 additional workdays to finish, which means the full government will finally be up and running sometime next spring."

Andrew Sullivan collects some choice quotes, How The GOP Defines Surrender.

Kevin Drum breaks down The Weird Politics of Republican Hostage Taking. "So there's a weird thing going on with the Republican hostage-taking strategy. All of them agree that taking hostages is hunky dory, but there's a split over which hostage should be taken. Some Republicans think the party should go ahead and fund the government and then have an all-out fight using the debt ceiling as leverage. John Boehner, Charles Krauthammer, and Marc Thiessen are in this crew. On the other side, we have Republicans who think we should go ahead and raise the debt ceiling and use the government shutdown as leverage for conservative demands. Tea party firebrands Erick Erickson and Matt Kibbe are on this team."

Paul Ryan wrote an op-ed in the WSJ, Here's How We Can End This Stalemate. It's an attempt at a step forward. He doesn't talk about defunding Obamacare, but wants to address entitlements. I guess if the Democrats have already agreed to take your budget proposal, that's the place to go. He says "Meanwhile, mandatory spending—which mostly consists of funding for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security—will grow by $1.6 trillion, or roughly 79%. The 2011 Budget Control Act largely ignored entitlement spending. But that is the nation's biggest challenge."

Of course Obamacare will lower costs of healthcare which will save money for Medicare and Medicaid, but Republicans just don't accept that.

Cantor also wrote an article, Eric Cantor: Divided government requires bipartisan negotiation and Greg Sargent of The Plum Line breaks them down, A clarifying moment of Washington dysfunction.

Cantor’s and Ryan’s pieces call for Obama to negotiate with Republicans on entitlements and spending as a route to resolving the current crisis. Says Cantor: “The president not only has refused to negotiate on issues of debt and spending but also has mocked the very idea of engaging with Congress.” Cantor’s statement is false. Obama and Republicans don’t disagree over the need to negotiate on these issues. They disagree over the conditions under which these negotiations should proceed.

Dems want Republicans to agree to reopen the government at sequester levels, and to avert the threat of default, before entering into these negotiations. They don’t believe the threat of widespread harm to the country should give Republicans unilateral leverage in those negotiations — not just because it will be used to force unilateral concessions from Dems, but because it will legitimize such tactics as conventional Washington negotiating tools and make default, and immense damage to the country, more likely later.

By contrast, Republicans will only agree to have these negotiations in a context where a government shutdown and the threat of default do give them that added leverage. This is an objective statement of the GOP position. Dems have offered Republicans the negotiations they want, once those conditions are lifted. Republicans have refused. Therefore, their position is that conditions which continue to threaten widespread destruction, giving them leverage, must remain for any talks to proceed.

The key tell is that Cantor and Ryan don’t directly defend this position. They elide it. To be sure, both repeat the claim there have been negotiations attached to debt ceiling hikes in the past. But as Jonathan Chait explains, that isn’t the same as dangling the actual threat of default and untold economic havoc as a way to extract massive one-sided concessions. Republicans cannot defend this tactic because they will not acknowledge they are actually employing it. John Boehner already allowed in March that the debt ceiling will and must be raised, because: ”I’m not going to risk the full faith and credit of the federal government.” But on ABC on Sunday, when Boehner was pressed on whether he’d actually allow default if Dems didn’t give him what he wants, he repeatedly fudged, saying he would not allow a vote on a ”clean” debt limit bill. What happens if default is the only other option? We just don’t know.

Ezra Klein looks at Ryan's article and concludes, The shutdown is about taxes.

As Ryan notes, these are President Obama's ideas. Most of them are in his budget. Right now. The budget he wants to pass. Which raises the obvious question: If Obama supports these ideas and these ideas are what the Republican Party needs to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling then what's the problem?

The problem is taxes. The deal Obama proposes in his budget is he'll agree to those entitlement reforms and more (Ryan doesn't even mention chained-CPI) if Republicans agree to raise tax revenues by cutting various tax breaks. This is also the kind of deal proposed by the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

But Republicans don't want to raise taxes. They want to get the spending cuts they support in return for nothing. And that's what the shutdown/debt-ceiling fight is about now.

Meanwhile, Boehner’s Bizarre Gambit. "So it’s semi-official: John Boehner has announced a new proposal for an apparently unconditional six-week increase in the debt limit, but without any action to re-open the federal government via an appropriations measure. He laid out this proposal at a meeting of his conference this morning, and it apparently did not provoke any sort of revolt."

Second Team of Weapons Experts to Head to Syria

This is nice to read, Second Team of Weapons Experts to Head to Syria "Russian officials and Secretary of State John Kerry have lauded the Syrian government for its cooperation with the preliminary work of the experts, sent by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a group based in The Hague that ensures compliance with the treaty banning them. Syria’s government joined that treaty last month after having spent decades amassing an enormous stockpile of the munitions and refusing to acknowledge it possessed them."

What Clayton Christensen Got Wrong in his Theory of Low-End Disruption

I really like Ben Thompson's article, What Clayton Christensen Got Wrong in his Theory of Low-End Disruption

Christensen’s theory is based on examples drawn from buying decisions made by businesses, not consumers.5 The reason this matters is that the theory of low-end disruption presumes:

  • Buyers are rational
  • Every attribute that matters can be documented and measured
  • Modular providers can become ‘good enough’ on all the attributes that matter to the buyers

All three of the assumptions fail in the consumer market, and this, ultimately, is why Christensen’s theory fails as well."

Jonathan Gruber comments, Design Quality and Customer Delight as Sustainable Advantages.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Nine amazing facts about Janet Yellen, our next Fed chair

Nine amazing facts about Janet Yellen, our next Fed chair "Janet Yellen will be appointed Fed chair tomorrow. Neil and Ylan already wrote the definitive profile of her, but here are the main things you ought to know going into her confirmation hearings."

  1. She is perhaps the most qualified Fed chair in history.
  2. She's been a powerful voice for the unemployment hawks on the Fed.
  3. But she's more than willing to crack down on inflation when the situation requires it.
  4. She's pretty darn good at predicting where the economy's headed.
  5. She likes rules-based policy -- and at least used to show support for targeting nominal GDP.
  6. She doesn't want to use monetary policy to pop bubbles.
  7. She's served with much of the Obama administration before.
  8. Her husband will be one of the more interesting First Ladies/Gentlemen the Fed has ever seen.
  9. She owns, like, a lot of stamps. Or at least really valuable ones.

The Daily Show on Republican Hostage Negotiation

I'm not normally a fan of Jason Jones' segments on The Daily Show but this was quite good, Republican Hostage Negotiation

Tea Party loosens K Street's stranglehold on the GOP

The Washington Examiner writes Tea Party loosens K Street's stranglehold on the GOP

"But the Tea Party smashed K Street's monopoly on Republican fundraising. The Club for Growth was founded in the late 1990s, and early last decade, it began targeting liberal Republicans in primaries. By 2010, the Club had become a giant force, raising money for candidates who met its rigorous ideological tests and pouring millions into independent expenditures against less-favored Republicans and Democrats.

In 2009, Sen. Jim DeMint founded the Senate Conservatives Fund. The thinking was this: The job of the party leadership was to elect Republicans to the Senate, no matter what. DeMint wanted conservative Republicans.

Instead of corporate interests filling Republican coffers, ideological money started coming in, too.

While GOP leaders backed candidates like Charlie Crist (Fla.) and Trey Grayson (Ky.) in 2010 primaries, the SCF backed Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. K Street and the National Republican Senatorial Committee worked hand-in-hand — but for a change, there was a countervailing force."