Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Few Thoughts on Cryptographic Engineering: On the new Snowden documents

Cryptographer Matthew Green provides A Few Thoughts on Cryptographic Engineering: On the new Snowden documents. So far it seems the NSA hasn't cracked much crypto, not even Tor. They have gotten some keys to services to lets them do things like decrypt Skype as described by Spiegel in Prying Eyes: Inside the NSA's War on Internet Security.

This Year's Flu Season Is Reaching Epidemic Proportions

This Year's Flu Season Is Reaching Epidemic Proportions. "CDC came to that conclusion after its data revealed startling information, including the fact that nearly 7% of all deaths in the U.S. for the week ending Dec. 20 were due to pneumonia and influenza...In order to qualify as an epidemic, the number of deaths caused by the flu and pneumonia must reach the threshold of 6.8%."

"This year's most dominant strain is the H3N2, a type of flu that causes more hospitalizations and death. The CDC warned in early December that this year's flu season would be particularly bad because the vaccine it built for this season isn't tough enough to fight against the H3N2 strain."

Flu Map

Jared Bernstein on the TPP

I haven't really paid attended to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement but Jared Bernstein's piece on it makes sense, Without a currency chapter, the TPP should not be ratified

"Second, the lack of transparency is a big problem. There’s no way we the public should get behind something as encompassing as the TPP without scrutiny. I understand the motivation for the secrecy: it’s notoriously difficult to negotiate a unilateral trade deal; one with this many players is high-dimensional chess. So I can see where the trade reps want to avoid messy public input. But too bad. To do so is undemocratic."

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Everything Book: reading in the age of Amazon

I liked the Verge's story The Everything Book: reading in the age of Amazon

"It’s in this room that Amazon learned people switch hands on a book roughly every two minutes, even though in surveys they claimed not to. (This is why the Voyage has identical page-turn buttons on both left and right.) The Voyage’s page-forward button is much bigger than page-back, because Amazon’s data showed 80 percent of all page flips are forward. As Green describes research like this, it seems likely that Amazon has spent more time studying the physical act of reading than any company before it."

I found this kind of interesting:

Instead, Amazon wants to enhance what’s on the screen with software. If there's a unifying idea to the Kindle as an app, it's in fixing the little things that once made you put down your book in frustration. A feature called X-Ray, for example, stores a books' most common characters, locations, and ideas. Just press on a character's name and a miniature bio pops up; in an epic like Game of Thrones, it’s a godsend. Amazon knows from its embedded dictionary which difficult words tend to trip us up, so on Kindle, they are defined in superscript above the text. Rather than send you to Google to look up a short passage in a foreign language, Kindle translates it for you automatically. It tells you how long it will take you to finish a chapter, based on how quickly you normally read.

I've definitely loved the popup dictionary features on my mac and iOS devices. I've used it occasionally on my Kindle but since it's not a touch screen, it's a bit more effort to use. I haven't used x-ray or these other features (I don't even know if my Kindle supports them). Still if they care so much about the reading experience, it's inexplicable to me that the typography on the Kindle sucks so much. I'd have thought that would be one of the most important things to get right.

And I'd really really love a way to legally get digital copies of physical books I own.

Who Would Win in an All-Out Battle: Star Wars or Star Trek?

If you're into this sort of thing, Who Would Win in an All-Out Battle: Star Wars or Star Trek? is pretty entertaining. It looks at economic, social, and tactical factors. For example:

Detection, Evasion, Range. These three elements spell the doom of the Empire. The sensors in Star Trek can discern the individual cellular make up of individuals on a planet from orbit, can detect ships from trillions of kilometers away (in other sectors) and can track and successfully target objects at ranges of hundred of thousands of kilometers in space.

By contrast, sensors on a Star Destroyer cannot even detect droids in a unshielded pod. They cannot track down individual aliens (say, Wookie) on a planet, and most combat occurs at visual range with a remarkable rate of misses.

Monday, December 29, 2014

One of the biggest science breakthroughs of 2014 never really happened

Vox reports One of the biggest science breakthroughs of 2014 never really happened "Although it's never encouraging to see scientific misconduct, the speed with which this was caught shows how researchers are now using social media to unearth shoddy science. For example, PubPeer, which basically hosts comments sections for papers, played a huge role in picking these papers apart, as did Knoepfler's blog."

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Here's the real reason North Korea hacked Sony. It has nothing to do with The Interview

Max Fisher says Here's the real reason North Korea hacked Sony. It has nothing to do with The Interview. "The effort that North Korean state media makes to convince us they're crazy gets to the three real reasons that North Korea launches these occasional attacks."

Those three reasons are:

  1. By appearing crazy North Korea's enemies (who are far stronger) try to avoid conflicts
  2. By keeping tensions high, they feed their internal propaganda machine, keeping the party in power
  3. it's really only two reasons

"This strategy of portraying itself as crazy is remarkably effective at securing North Korea's strategic goals. But it is also quite dangerous. By design, the risk of escalation is high, so as to make the situation just dangerous enough that foreign leaders will want to deescalate. And it puts pressure on American, South Korean, and Japanese leaders to decide how to respond — knowing that any punishment will only serve to bolster North Korean propaganda and encourage further belligerence. In this sense, the attacks are calibrated to be just severe enough to demand our attention, but not so bad as to lead to all-out war."

FYI, Ars Technica says State-sponsored or not, Sony Pictures malware “bomb” used slapdash code. "Compared to other state-sponsored malware that researchers have analyzed, 'It's a night and day difference in quality,' said Craig Williams, senior technical leader for Cisco’s Talos Security Intelligence and Research Group, in an interview with Ars. 'The code is simplistic, not very complex, and not very obfuscated.'"

Then again, Wired says, The Evidence That North Korea Hacked Sony Is Flimsy.

Is Jeb Bush Too Liberal To Win The Republican Nomination In 2016?

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight thinks Is Jeb Bush Too Liberal To Win The Republican Nomination In 2016?.


Harry Enten also of FiveThirtyEight is more blunt, Jeb Bush Might Have A Tea Party Problem In 2016. "What’s the tea party’s problem with Bush? He’s staked out relatively liberal positions on the Common Core education standards and immigration reform, which leaders of the tea party movement deeply despise. More generally, tea party voters prefer outsiders, and Bush is about as insider-y as it gets, with a brother and father having occupied the Oval Office."

Yet again, the GOP primaries are going to be interesting (and scary) to follow.

How the SR-71's Engine Works

Embiggening English: The Simpsons and changing language

Oxford Dictionaries has a OxfordWords blog and they recently wrote, Embiggening English: The Simpsons and changing language. It's a short post and mostly covers the big words: doh and meh, but you'll also find fun analysis like:

The infix -ma- is a Homerism, and it’s productive — metabomalism, pantomamime, macamadamia, saxomaphone — in words that already have too many syllables for Homer to handle.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Winners of the 2014 National Geographic Photo Contest

In Focus posts the Winners of the 2014 National Geographic Photo Contest. "National Geographic Magazine just announce the winners of this year's photo contest. The Grand Prize Winner, Brian Yen, will receive $10,000 and a trip to National Geographic headquarters to participate in its annual photography seminar. Gathered below are the winning images from the People, Nature, and Places categories, as well as honorable mentions, with captions written by the individual photographers. Be sure to see earlier selections of the entries, Part I, and Part II, earlier on In Focus. [19 photos]"

I find most of them interesting, but not exactly beautiful.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Copper Bedrail Could Cut Back On Infections For Hospital Patients

NPR reports A Copper Bedrail Could Cut Back On Infections For Hospital Patients

"Hospital bed safety railings are a major source of these infections. That's what Constanza Correa, 33, and her colleagues have found in their research in Santiago, Chile. They've taken on the problem by replacing them, since 2013, with railings made of copper, an anti-microbial element.

Copper definitely wipes out microbes. 'Bacteria, yeasts and viruses are rapidly killed on metallic copper surfaces, and the term 'contact killing' has been coined for this process,' wrote the authors of an article on copper in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. That knowledge has been around a very long time. The journal article cites an Egyptian medical text, written around 2600-2000 B.C., that cites the use of copper to sterilize chest wounds and drinking water."

That's surprising and kind of clever, but I suspect that if this was deployed widely we would start to see a rash of hospital bed railing theft the way we're seeing one for copper pipes and wiring. I also wonder how often they'd need to polish them to avoid tarnish.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

iMore Best of 2014 Awards

iMore lists their Best of 2014 Awards for iOS and OS X products. Nice list.

Opinion analysis: Reasonable mistakes of law by police do not violate the Fourth Amendment

SCOTUSblog explains Opinion analysis: Reasonable mistakes of law by police do not violate the Fourth Amendment. "The exercise of police discretion to stop people on the street is front and center in today’s headlines. In this case, a North Carolina policeman stopped Heien’s car because it had a brake light that did not work. During the stop, Heien consented to a search of the car, which yielded cocaine in a duffle bag and Heien’s ultimate conviction for attempted drug trafficking. On appeal, the North Carolina appellate courts surprisingly ruled that the outdated state vehicle code required only one working brake light (‘a’ stop lamp, in the words of the statute); therefore, there had been no violation of law that would permit the stop. The officer made no error about the facts; but he had been mistaken about the meaning of the law. However, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled, the officer’s mistake about this law was ‘reasonable,’ and for that reason the Fourth Amendment right to be secure from ‘unreasonable … seizures’ was not violated. This morning’s [8-1] opinion in Heien v. North Carolina affirms that holding."

Monday, December 15, 2014

Torture, 'Meet the Press' and Cheney's Quest for Revenge - The Intercept

Dan Froomkin comments on Dick Cheney's Meet the Press Interview yesterday, Torture, 'Meet the Press' and Cheney's Quest for Revenge

"Cheney’s most telling response was to Todd’s questions about people who were detained completely by mistake but who were nevertheless tortured — in at least one case to death.

You have to be something other than a normal human being not to be troubled by that.

But Cheney’s response was: ‘I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.’

And he would famously do it all again. ‘I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective,’ he said. ‘‘I’d do it again in a minute.’

What Cheney was saying is basically: If you have a goal and you kill innocent people while you’re at it, tough shit. That is how terrorists think; it’s not how moral people think — or at least are supposed to think."

I still would like to see him tried for war crimes.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Expert

Not sure how I've missed this for so long. In dealing with clients....

Even better, Expert D. Scott Williamson provides the solution:

Friday, December 12, 2014

Net Neutrality News

Ars Technica reported Verizon admits utility rules won’t harm FiOS and wireless investments. "Internet service providers have consistently told the government that utility regulation of broadband would harm infrastructure investment. AT&T has (not very convincingly) claimed that it can't consider any new fiber upgrades while the Federal Communications Commission debates whether to impose utility rules on broadband under Title II of the Communications Act. But Verizon struck a blow to that narrative [Tuesday] when Chief Financial Officer Francis Shammo said utility rules will not influence how Verizon invests in its networks."

Also, Ignoring AT&T and Verizon protests, FCC says “broadband” has to be 10Mbps. "Internet service providers that use government subsidies to build rural broadband networks must provide speeds of least 10Mbps for downloads and 1Mbps for upload, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided [Thursday]. "That is an increase reflecting marketplace and technological changes that have occurred since the FCC set its previous requirement of 4Mbps/1Mbps speeds in 2011," the FCC said."

Gizmodo wrote, A Ton of Tech Companies Just Came Out Against Net Neutrality. "More than 60 huge tech companies including Intel, Qualcomm, Cisco, and IBM have written a letter to leaders in Congress and the FCC opposing net neutrality. The free and open internet isn't going to happen without a fight."

Rare photos of the SR-71 Blackbird show its amazing history

Rare photos of the SR-71 Blackbird show its amazing history

"SR-71s logged a combined total of 53,490 hours of flight time, of which 11,675 had been spent at Mach 3 plus. They flew 3,551 operational sorties for a total of 17,294 hours, during which more than a thousand surface-to-air missiles had been fired at them. All missed."

The Revolution in Biology is Here, Now

Mike Loukides wrote in O'Reilly Radar about the BioFabricate summit, The revolution in biology is here, now.

"What I saw, instead, was real products that you might never notice. Bricks made from sand that are held together by microbes designed to excrete the binder. Bricks and packing material made from fungus (mycelium). Plastic excreted by bacteria that consume waste methane from sewage plants. You wouldn’t know, or care, whether your plastic Lego blocks are made from petroleum or from bacteria, but there’s a huge ecological difference. You wouldn’t know, or care, what goes into the bricks used in the new school, but the construction boom in Dubai has made a desert city one of the world’s largest importers of sand. Wind-blown desert sand isn’t useful for industrial brickmaking, but the microbes have no problem making bricks from it. And you may not care whether packing materials are made of styrofoam or fungus, but I despise the bag of packing peanuts sitting in my basement waiting to be recycled. You can throw the fungal packing material into the garden, and it will decompose into fertilizer in a couple of days."

"Several people spoke about their work as “collaboration with biomaterial.” This is a unique and exciting perspective. In computing, we write programs that make computers do things. If the program doesn’t do what we want, we’ve made a mistake. We driving the process: the machine always does what it’s told. In electronics, we assemble parts that, again, do what we want (or not); they have no will of their own. We make things out of metal and concrete by bending and pouring. The metal never decides how to be bent, and the concrete never decides how to pour. Biology is fundamentally different. Biology has been creating and building for billions of years. Its creativity is quite distinct from human creativity; it has evolved extraordinarily efficient systems. So, it’s an act of hubris to talk about designing biological systems. We need to collaborate with biological systems and enable them to design themselves. We need to let them teach us what they are able to do, and build around that. Otherwise, fungus is just a bunch of mushrooms. Maybe tasty, but not a building material."

Mad as Hellas

Krugman: Mad as Hellas "The Greek fiscal crisis erupted five years ago, and its side effects continue to inflict immense damage on Europe and the world. But I’m not talking about the side effects you may have in mind — spillovers from Greece’s Great Depression-level slump, or financial contagion to other debtors. No, the truly disastrous effect of the Greek crisis was the way it distorted economic policy, as supposedly serious people around the world rushed to learn the wrong lessons. Now Greece appears to be in crisis again. Will we learn the right lessons this time?"

The Supreme Court and Rights for Pregnant Workers

Linda Greenhouse still does the best writing on Supreme Court cases. Her latest, Heavy Lifting describes Young v. UPS which is about the rights of pregnant workers.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

11 Secret Weapons Developed By Japan During World War 2

io9 describes 11 Secret Weapons Developed By Japan During World War 2. I'm impressed, with both the Japanese and the post. I'd only heard of the Purple encrypting machine.

My Current Desktop Wallpaper

APOD: 2014 November 28 - Portrait of NGC 281

US Navy approves first laser weapon for operation aboard Persian Gulf ship

Are Technica reports US Navy approves first laser weapon for operation aboard Persian Gulf ship "In speaking to USNI News, ONR Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder said that ‘The captain of [the USS Ponce] has all of the authorities necessary if there was a threat inbound to that ship to protect our sailors and Marines [and] we would defend that ship with that laser system.’ Klunder added that the laser weapon system would be used against drones, helicopters, or patrol craft.

Although the laser weapon system is not as powerful as other weapons aboard the Ponce, Christopher Harmer, senior naval analyst with the Institute for the Study of War told The Wall Street Journal that the directed energy of the laser aimed at a target would ‘cause a chemical and physical disruption in the structural integrity of that target.’ Harmer added that the advantage of the laser weapon system is that it can disable many oncoming targets without needing to reload ammunition: ‘as long as you've got adequate power supply and adequate cooling supply.’

The laser shot doesn't look like the photon torpedoes of Star Trek—in fact it looks like nothing at all. The energy beam is invisible (and costs the Navy $0.59 per shot, according to the WSJ). A press release from ONR stated that the laser weapon system was able to hit targets out of the sky and at sea in high winds, heat, and humidity without fail."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Story of 'A Love Supreme'

John Coltrane's masterpiece A Love Supreme was recorded 50 years ago today. Here's an NPR piece, The Story Of 'A Love Supreme'.

Lewis Porter heads the masters program in jazz history and research at Rutgers University-Newark. He's the author of John Coltrane: His Life and Music. Porter says that simple idea culminating in the first movement with an unprecedented verbal chant by Coltrane forms the foundation of the entire suite. It's a theme Coltrane consciously uses in subtle and careful ways throughout A Love Supreme. For example, toward the end of part one, "Acknowledgement," Coltrane plays the riff in every key.

"Coltrane's more or less finished his improvisation, and he just starts playing the 'Love Supreme' motif, but he changes the key another time, another time, another time. This is something very unusual. It's not the way he usually improvises. It's not really improvised. It's something that he's doing. And if you actually follow it through, he ends up playing this little 'Love Supreme' theme in all 12 possible keys," says Porter. "To me, he's giving you a message here. First of all, he's introduced the idea. He's experimented with it. He's improvised with it with great intensity. Now he's saying it's everywhere. It's in all 12 keys. Anywhere you look, you're going to find this 'Love Supreme.' He's showing you that in a very conscious way on his saxophone. So to me, he's really very carefully thought about how he wants to present the idea."

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Judge rules that banks can sue Target for 2013 credit card hack

Ars Technica reports Judge rules that banks can sue Target for 2013 credit card hack "The decision could lead to significant changes in the way the cost of fraud is distributed among parties in the credit card ecosystem. Where once banks and merchant acquirers would have to shoulder the burden of fraud (which is how they have long justified increasing Interchange Fees), now, potentially, the order from Magnuson could pave the way for more card-issuing banks to sue merchants for not protecting their POS systems properly."

Month in Space Pictures

NBC shows the Month in Space Pictures "See a cosmic lighthouse, a tragic crash, a triumphant landing and other stellar images from November 2014."

Though I think their Egg Nebula image is from 2003.

The Torture Report

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program is out, aka The Torture Report. It's actually the 500+ page summary of the 6,000+ page report.

The summary begins with the following 20 findings and conclusions:

  1. The CIA's use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.
  2. The CIA's justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.
  3. The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.
  4. The conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher than the CIA had represented to policymakers and others.
  5. The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program.
  6. The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program.
  7. The CIA impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making.
  8. The CIA's operation and management of the program complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions of other Executive Branch agencies.
  9. The CIA impeded oversight by the CIA's Office of Inspector General.
  10. The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques.
  11. The CIA was unprepared as it began operating its Detention and Interrogation Program more than six months after being granted detention authorities.
  12. The CIA's management and operation of its Detention and Interrogation Program was deeply flawed throughout the program's duration, particularly so in 2002 and early 2003.
  13. Two contract psychologists devised the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and played a central role in the operation, assessments, and management of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program. By 2005, the CIA had overwhelmingly outsourced operations related to the program.
  14. CIA detainees were subjected to coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved by the Department of Justice or had not been authorized by CIA Headquarters.
  15. The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained, and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention. The CIA's claims about the number of detainees held and subjected to its enhanced Interrogation techniques were inaccurate.
  16. The CIA failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques.
  17. The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious and significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systemic and individual management failures.
  18. The CIA marginalized and ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections concerning the operation and management of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program.
  19. The CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program was inherently unsustainable and had effectively ended by 2006 due to unauthorized press disclosures, reduced cooperation from other nations, and legal and oversight concerns.
  20. The CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program damaged the United States' standing in the world, and resulted in other significant monetary and non-monetary costs.

I'll sum up those as:

  • Torture didn't get good intelligence
  • The CIA lied about its effectiveness
  • The CIA was far more brutal to detainees than they said they were
  • The CIA lied to the DOJ, Congress, the White House, the media, and the CIA's Office of Inspector General. about the program
  • The CIA was bad at running it's own program and outsourced it and managed it badly

The New York Times does a good job explaining a few specific examples, Does Torture Work? The C.I.A.’s Claims and What the Committee Found.

Most insane ski line EVER

What happens when a 21st-century kid plays through video game history in chronological order?

Andy Baio wrote in Medium, Playing With My Son.

"Start with the arcade classics and Atari 2600, from Asteroids to Zaxxon. After a year, move on to the 8-bit era with the NES and Sega classics. The next year, the SNES, Game Boy, and classic PC adventure games. Then the PlayStation and N64, Xbox and GBA, and so on until we’re caught up with the modern era of gaming."

"On Eliot’s fourth birthday, I started him with a Pac-Man plug-and-play TV game loaded with arcade classics — Galaxian (1979), Rally-X (1980), Bosconian (1981), Dig Dug (1982), and of course, Pac-Man (1980) and three sequels, Super Pac-Man (1982), Pac-Man Plus (1982), and Pac & Pal (1983)."

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Can the NYPD Spot the Abusive Cop?

WNYC reports Can the NYPD Spot the Abusive Cop? - WNYC "The police department pioneered the use of computer statistics to identify crime trends. But they don't have a system to identify problem-prone officers."

"Police departments around the country consider frequent charges of resisting arrest a potential red flag, as some officers might add the charge to justify use of force. WNYC analyzed NYPD records and found 51,503 cases with resisting arrest charges since 2009. Just five percent of arresting officers during that period account for 40% of resisting arrest cases -- and 15% account for more than half of such cases."

Screen Shot 2014 12 07 at 1 56 41 PM

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Senator Jay Rockefeller Blocks FOIA Reform

I just heard about this and I don't know this site, E Pluribus Unum, but they seem to have the details, Threatening legacy, Senator Jay Rockefeller stands alone holding back historic FOIA reform in the USA. Apparently the FTC is against it and got to Rockefeller. I have no idea what's in the bill but I like the FoIA.

How Game Theory Helped Improve New York City’s High School Application Process

How Game Theory Helped Improve New York City’s High School Application Process - "About a decade ago, three economists — Atila Abdulkadiroglu (Duke), Parag Pathak (M.I.T.) and Alvin E. Roth (Stanford), all experts in game theory and market design — were invited to attack the sorting problem together. Their solution was a model of mathematical efficiency and elegance, and it helped earn Professor Roth a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science in 2012."

"Students list their favorite schools, in order of preference (they can now list up to 12). The algorithm allows students to “propose” to their favorite school, which accepts or rejects the proposal. In the case of rejection, the algorithm looks to make a match with a student’s second-choice school, and so on. Like the brides and grooms of Professors Gale and Shapley, students and schools connect only tentatively until the very end of the process."

Friday, December 05, 2014

What Could Be Lost as Einstein’s Papers Go Online

Walter Isaacson writes in the Wall Street Journal What Could Be Lost as Einstein’s Papers Go Online. He laments that researchers won't go to the primary site and will miss out on some insights while mentioning some amazing possibilities of digitizing these papers. Me, I'm just amazed at this.

"Following in the footsteps of the National Archives’ ‘Founders Online’ (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, etc.) and the digitized archives of Mark Twain, Thomas Edison and many others, the online Einstein papers will be the most extensive such project to date. A consortium of Princeton University Press, Hebrew University and Caltech has been publishing his papers with English translations, and the first 13 volumes went online this week at The site will eventually include 30 volumes, with some 14,000 annotated documents."

BBC News - Electric eels 'remotely control their prey'

BBC News reports Electric eels 'remotely control their prey'

"A study, reported in the journal Science, has now shown that eels can use their electric organs to remotely control the fish they hunt. A researcher from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, found that the electric discharges from eels made the muscles of their prey twitch. This makes the fish easier to capture either by immobilising it or making it 'jump' to show where it's hiding."

How far do oil prices have to fall to throttle the US shale boom?

Vox tries to explain How far do oil prices have to fall to throttle the US shale boom?

"But in 2014, oil prices have been crashing, with the price for West Texas Intermediate crude falling from $100 per barrel in July to below $70 in early December. That's partly because there's so much new oil coming out of the US and Canada, and partly because demand in Europe and Asia is weakening."

"Yes, most everyone agrees that falling prices will constrain US and Canadian oil production to some extent. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has forecast that US shale production will grow more slowly if current prices persist (though the agency still expects output to rise another 955,000 barrels per day in 2015). But estimates of the exact impact can vary widely. Saudi Arabia is predicting — and hoping — that the US boom will largely fizzle out at these prices. Other onlookers think drillers will remain surprisingly resilient."

It's hard to estimate breakeven prices.

"One reason for the wide range is that it's difficult to generalize about even an single region like the Bakken, where more than 100 companies are operating. Each of these operators can have wildly differing costs. They're using different methods to drill with varying levels of success. Some companies are operating in marginal geological formations. Some firms have hedged against falling prices. Others have taken on a lot of debt. This means different operators have different tolerances for lower prices. There are other factors to consider, too. Many companies have already sunk lots of money into acquiring land and permits and may decide to continue drilling anyway, even if prices drop."

Which City Has The Most Unpredictable Weather?

FiveThirtyEight figures out Which City Has The Most Unpredictable Weather?

How Predictable Are US Temperatures?

Measuring Illegal and Legal Corruption in American States

Measuring Illegal and Legal Corruption in American States: Some Results from the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics Corruption in America Survey | Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics

"Our main purpose is to construct perception-based indices measuring two specific forms of corruption across American states: illegal and legal. We define illegal corruption as the private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups. It is the form of corruption that attracts a great deal of public attention. A second form of corruption, however, is becoming more and more common in the U.S.: legal corruption. We define legal corruption as the political gains in the form of campaign contributions or endorsements by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups, be it by explicit or implicit understanding."

"We asked reporters how common were these two forms of corruption in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government in 2013 in the state they cover in their reporting in 2013. The response scale ranged from 'not at all common' to 'extremely common.'"

Go to the article and see several graphs like the following:


"In none of the states is illegal corruption in government perceived to be “extremely common.” It is nevertheless “moderately common” and/or “very common” in both the executive and legislative branches in a significant number of states, including the usual suspects such as California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and Texas. Arizona is perceived to be the most corrupt state with legislative and executive branches both scoring 4. Among the states in which the legislative and executive branches are perceived to be corrupt, only in Florida and Indiana is illegal corruption in the judicial branch perceived to be “not at all common.” Idaho, North and South Dakota and the majority of the New England states—Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont—are perceived to be the least corrupt states with all three government branches scoring 1."

"Legal corruption is more common than illegal corruption in all branches of government. Executive and legislative branches score 3 or higher in legal corruption in a large majority of states. In seven states, legal corruption in the judicial branch is perceived to be “moderately common” and in Nevada it is perceived to be “very common.” In ten states, both legislative and executive branches score 4 or higher and in Kentucky and New Jersey they score 5. In Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, and New Mexico legal corruption is perceived to be common not only in the executive and legislative branches but also in the judicial branch."

An Injury to One is an Injury to All

Monday's Tom Tomorrow was really good and before the latest example.


Thursday, December 04, 2014

How browsers get to know you in milliseconds

Andy Oram writes How browsers get to know you in milliseconds "A small technological marvel occurs on almost every visit to a web page. In the seconds that elapse between the user’s click and the display of the page, an ad auction takes place in which hundreds of bidders gather whatever information they can get on the user, determine which ads are likely to be of interest, place bids, and transmit the winning ad to be placed in the page."

If you had asked me 15 years ago if this is how the web would work, never could I have thought this up.

Antha - A Programming Language for Biology

Welcome to Antha "Antha is a high-level language for biology, making it easy to rapidly compose reproducible work flows using individually testable and reusable Antha Elements."

Chris Rock Talks Some More

Chris Rock is killing it with interviews. He's got two long worthwhile ones: Chris Rock: The Rolling Stone Interview and in Grantland, School of Rock.

Also in The Hollywood Reporter Chris Rock Pens Blistering Essay on Hollywood's Race Problem: "It's a White Industry".

Jon Stewart on Eric Garner: "If comedy is tragedy plus time, I need more fucking time"

Matthew Yglesias writes in Vox about Jon Stewart on Eric Garner: "If comedy is tragedy plus time, I need more fucking time" The segment is embedded there.

My sense is this, a prosecutor wanting to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo had to do four things.

  1. Show the video
  2. Show the coroners report that said Eric Garner died from compression of the neck
  3. Explain that choke holds are against NYPD policy
  4. Describe what makes a crime like manslaughter or negligent homicide or something.

Seriously, that's it. Everyone who just does item one says there's should be a trial. In legal proceeding you have to check off a few more boxes, in this case it's easy. I can only conclude the prosecutor didn't want an indictment. There can be plenty of speculation as to why.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

On Being a Black Male, Six Feet Four Inches Tall, in America in 2014

W. Kamau Bell On Being a Black Male, Six Feet Four Inches Tall, in America in 2014.

Court difficult to read on Facebook threats: In Plain English

SCOTUSblog on Monday's arguments, Court difficult to read on Facebook threats: In Plain English "It is often hard to make predictions about how a case will turn out based on the oral arguments.  That was particularly true today, in Elonis v. United States.  At issue in the case is whether a Pennsylvania man’s conviction for making threats on Facebook should stand when he claims he was just ‘venting’ about his personal problems and did not actually mean to threaten his ex-wife and an FBI agent.  Although the Roberts Court has been consistently supportive of free speech, even when the substance of that speech is unpopular or even downright offensive, it wasn’t clear this morning that Anthony Elonis can count on the same kind of support.  At the same time, there was no obvious path to victory for the federal government either, and the end result could be a decision that neither side likes.  Let’s talk about today’s argument in Plain English.

As I explained in my preview last week, the case before the Court boils down to what test a court or jury should use to figure out whether threatening statements like the ones that Elonis made on Facebook are “true threats” that are not protected by the First Amendment. The government argues that the test should be an objective one that looks at whether an average person (in legal parlance, a “reasonable person”) would interpret the statement as reflecting a serious intent to harm someone. By contrast, Elonis argues that the test should be a subjective one: did he personally intend to threaten anyone?"

Lyle Denniston provides his Argument analysis: Taking ownership of an Internet rant.

Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men?

I searched for statistics on police shootings of unarmed people, and I couldn't find much. It turns out no one really collects statistics on this. I guess local police offices do but they don't get collated by any federal agency. I would think that at least local newspapers report on each one and someone like Google or using Google could collect the info, but if someone is doing that I didn't find it.

The most informative I found was this. In August Jaeah Lee wrote in Mother Jones Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men?. They updated it with a link to a USA Today article, Local police involved in 400 killings per year which collecting some statistics says on average, twice a week a white police officer kills a black person. It's not at all clear about the circumstances of these.

Obama's plan to reduce hospital errors is working — and it's saved 50,000 lives

Sarah Kliff reports in Vox Obama's plan to reduce hospital errors is working — and it's saved 50,000 lives

"From the infections patients get when they stay in the hospital (which kill about 75,000 people annually) to medical mistakes (surgeons left an impressive 4,857 items in patients over the last two decades), hospitals are places where lots can go wrong. But hospitals are, just slightly, starting to get better at getting things right. A new federal report shows that improvements in hospital care saved 50,000 lives between 2010 and 2013, all by doing better at not making patients sick."

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Astonishing Rise of Angela Merkel

I've put The Astonishing Rise of Angela Merkel in my Instapaper queue but haven't read it yet. But Max Fisher in Vox says, This quote about Putin's machismo from Angela Merkel is just devastating.

The incident of Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, and the dog is a famous one. It was 2007 and Merkel, Germany's Chancellor, was visiting Putin at his presidential residence in Sochi to discuss energy trade. Putin, surely aware of Merkel's well-known fear of dogs, waited until the press gathered in the room, then called for his black Labrador to be sent in. The Russian president watched in unconcealed glee as the dog sniffed at Merkel, who sat frozen in fear.

Later, in discussing the incident with a group of reporters, Merkel attempted an explanation of Putin's behavior. Her quote, reported in George Packer's recent profile of Merkel in the New Yorker, is one of the most pithily succinct insights into Putin and the psychology of his 14-year reign that I have read:

"I understand why he has to do this — to prove he's a man," Merkel said. "He's afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this."

UC Davis Economics Professor: There Is No American Dream

UC Davis Economics Professor: There Is No American Dream

"‘America has no higher rate of social mobility than medieval England, Or pre-industrial Sweden,’ he said. ‘That’s the most difficult part of talking about social mobility is because it is shattering people s dreams.’ Clark crunched the numbers in the U.S. from the past 100 years. His data shows the so-called American Dream—where hard work leads to more opportunities—is an illusion in the United States, and that social mobility here is no different than in the rest of the world."

What Powerlifting Tells Us About The Effects Of PEDs

FiveThirtyEight explains What Powerlifting Tells Us About The Effects Of PEDs "The division between the drug-tested and non-drug-tested competitions makes powerlifting a unique window into what effect today’s PEDs have on an all-important athletic skill: strength. Do guys in anything-goes competitions regularly hoist heavier weights than guys in drug-tested meets?"


Wanderers - a short film by Erik Wernquist from Erik Wernquist on Vimeo.

Wanderers is a vision of humanity's expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available. Without any apparent story, other than what you may fill in by yourself, the idea of the film is primarily to show a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature that surrounds us on our neighboring worlds - and above all, how it might appear to us if we were there.

Details on the locations here.

Chris Rock on Ferguson, Cosby, and Obama

Frank Rich has a great interview in Vulture, Chris Rock on Ferguson, Cosby, and Obama.

Yes, that would be an event. Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before. So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

It's a long interview and he has equally interesting things to say on a lot of topics.

You’re Probably Using the Wrong Dictionary

I had saved this article and just came across it, You’re probably using the wrong dictionary. James Somers makes the case that the definitions in Webster's early dictionaries are much more interesting than in modern ones. By looking up words you already know, rather than just ones you don't, you can improve your writing.

John McPhee — one the great American writers of nonfiction, almost peerless as a prose stylist — once wrote an essay for the New Yorker about his process called “Draft #4.”

Suppose you sense an opportunity beyond the word “intention.” You read the dictionary’s thesaurian list of synonyms: “intention, intent, purpose, design, aim, end, object, objective, goal.” But the dictionary doesn’t let it go at that. It goes on to tell you the differences all the way down the line — how each listed word differs from all the others. Some dictionaries keep themselves trim by just listing synonyms and not going on to make distinctions. You want the first kind, in which you are not just getting a list of words; you are being told the differences in their hues, as if you were looking at the stripes in an awning, each of a subtly different green.

I do not have this first kind of dictionary. In fact I would have never thought to use a dictionary the way McPhee uses his, and the simple reason is that I’ve never had a dictionary worth using that way. If you were to look up the word “intention” in my dictionary here’s all you would see: “a thing intended; an aim or plan.” No, I don’t think I’ll be punching up my prose with that.

I didn't know the name John McPhee but it turns out his book, Annals of the Former World has been in my reading queue (and on my shelf) for a number of years. Somers goes on at length about finding that McPhee used Webster's and giving numerous examples and then instructions about installing the 1913 edition of Webster's dictionary on your mac (so you'll actually use it, like with Command-Control-D). He also has instructions for installing on iPhones, Android, Chrome and Kindle.

I followed his instructions but later he listed alternatives that provide nicer formatting. Get the installer package from convert-websters and just run that. You might want to open the preferences in to reorder the dictionaries by dragging and dropping them. If you ever want to delete it (the result is just 54MB) it's in ~/Library/Dictionaries/.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

More problems for bees: we’ve wiped out their favorite plants

Ars Technica reports on More problems for bees: we’ve wiped out their favorite plants.

"The scientists concluded that loss of preferred host plants is one of the main factors responsible for wild bee decline, along with body size (bigger bees need more food and are more sensitive to its loss). The variety of the bees' diet did not play nearly as large a role. The researchers played with a variant on the chicken-and-egg idea; just because bees and their favorite flowers declined in tandem the loss of the flowers did not necessarily cause the loss of the bees, as the flowers rely on the bees for pollination. So perhaps the loss of bees caused a subsequent decline in the flowers. But circumstantial evidence—the fact that these plants can be pollinated by a number of different insects, and plants pollinated by water and wind have also decreased dramatically due to agriculture—suggests that the loss of the flowers led to a loss of the bees."

The Fegusson Discision

Ezra Klein says Officer Darren Wilson's story is unbelievable. Literally. "I mean that in the literal sense of the term: 'difficult or impossible to believe.' But I want to be clear here. I'm not saying Wilson is lying. I'm not saying his testimony is false. I am saying that the events, as he describes them, are simply bizarre. His story is difficult to believe."

So Brown is punching inside the car. Wilson is scrambling to deflect the blows, to protect his face, to regain control of the situation. And then Brown stops, turns to his left, says to his friend, "Here, hold these," and hands him the cigarillos stolen from Ferguson Market. Then he turns back to Wilson and, with his left hand now freed from holding the contraband goods, throws a haymaker at Wilson.

Every bullshit detector in me went off when I read that passage. Which doesn't mean that it didn't happen exactly the way Wilson describes. But it is, again, hard to imagine. Brown, an 18-year-old kid holding stolen goods, decides to attack a cop and, while attacking him, stops, hands his stolen goods to his friend, and then returns to the beatdown. It reads less like something a human would do and more like a moment meant to connect Brown to the robbery.

Later Klein wrote about What Dorian Johnson Saw.

While the officer is grabbing ahold of Big Mike, he kind loses grip around his neck, that's how I knew he had a good grip. He never fully let Big Mike go, now he has a good grasp on his shirt. So now Big Mike's able to turn different angles while he is trying to pull away. And at a point he turned, now we are face-to-face, and he put his hands like, grab these, Bro. And in shock, I'm so not unconsciously, my hands open to where he could put the rillos in my hand.

So Johnson and Wilson agree: there is a moment when Brown turns to Johnson and hands over the stolen cigarillos. But Wilson tells it as Brown freeing his hands to more effectively pummel Wilson, and Johnson tells it as Brown freeing his hands to better escape Wilson.

He ends with, "Indeed, we might never get to the truth of what happened in those two minutes on August. But the point of a trial would have been to get us closer. We would have found out if everything we thought we knew about Brown was wrong, or if Wilson's story was flawed in important ways, or if key witnesses completely broke under pressure. We would have heard real cross-examination. We would have seen the strongest case that could be mounted by both the prosecution and the defense. But now we're not going to get that chance. We're just left with these Rashomon-like testimonies, a dead 18-year-old, and a shattered family."

The Atlantic shows The Photos of Darren Wilson's Injury. "I felt another one of those punches in my face would knock me out or worse. I mean, it was, he's obviously bigger than I was, and stronger, and the—I've already taken two to the face, and I don't think I would—the third one could be fatal if he hit me right."


Dara Lind at Vox says Prosecutors grossly mishandled the Darren Wilson investigation "The fundamental problem with the Wilson grand jury investigation was that jurors were given far more evidence than is typical and asked to do far more with it. That makes it easy for the prosecutor's office to deflect accusations of misconduct: they were just giving the grand jury all the facts. And while a good grand jury investigation could have given grand jurors all the facts, it wouldn't have done it in the way St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch's team did." Later she wrote a nice summary, Darren Wilson's grand jury: too much evidence, too little supervision.

A prominent legal expert eviscerates the Darren Wilson prosecution, in 8 tweets . Eviscerates is a bit much, but she makes good points like "Key to cross-exam would be requiring Wilson to explain how Brown's allegedly taking one step toward Wilson is "charging" him."

Eric Citron writes in SCOTUSblog, this was Not your typical grand jury investigation. "What’s missing from this discussion – and the rest of the coverage I’ve seen – is that this grand jury result may have been different from almost any other because the process was unlike almost any other. And that’s because of a contentious Supreme Court decision from two decades ago."

"The question in United States v. Williams was whether it is prosecutorial misconduct, requiring the dismissal of an indictment, for the prosecutor to withhold from the grand jury “substantial exculpatory evidence” in his possession that might lead the grand jury to reject the indictment. The Supreme Court said no. Justice Scalia, joined by four other Justices, held that the Constitution does not require exculpatory evidence to be disclosed, even when it is directly contrary to the prosecutor’s theory of guilt. That is partly because the grand jury’s role is not to determine guilt or innocence, but rather to decide whether there is enough evidence of a crime that a conviction is possible."

"What does this mean? It means that when a prosecutor really wants an indictment, you would not expect the grand jury process to look anything like what happened in Darren Wilson’s case. The prosecutor would have no obligation to put forward the conflicting eyewitness testimony, or introduce pictures of Officer Wilson’s injuries – although grand jury members could ask for them if they somehow knew they existed. Instead, the prosecutor could put forward only the first few witnesses corroborating his own theory, along with the evidence that Wilson fired ten shots from a substantial distance away."

Dahlia Lithwick and Sonja West say Prosecutors in Ferguson violated our right to an open criminal justice system. "This right of open trials belongs not just to the accused but to all of us. It is, the Supreme Court said in the 1986 case Press Enterprise v. Superior Court, “a shared right of the accused and the public, the common concern being the assurance of fairness.” And while those accused of crimes have a constitutional right to a “speedy and open trial,” they do not, the court has said, have a right to a private trial."

My sense is that there should have been an indictment. There's clearly enough inconsistencies to give probable cause (a very low standard) and warrant a trial. My guess is the trial would probably find Wilson innocent as there probably isn't enough evidence to convict beyond a reasonable doubt (a higher standard). The prosecutor probably didn't want to indict a cop which I'm guessing in many cases could be a career limiting move. I also would like to see more cameras on police cars and officers to provide more evidence in future cases.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Everyday Things You Didn't Know Were Invented By NASA

io9 lists Everyday Things You Didn't Know Were Invented By NASA.

  • Cordless battery-powered tools
  • Space Blanket (really? you didn't know these came from NASA?)
  • Scratch-resistant lenses
  • Improved radial tires
  • Memory foam mattresses
  • Smoke detectors
  • Shock absorbing sneakers

and some more. Just another lesson in "you don't always know what you'll get when you fund science".

Human Spaceflight (everything is to scale)

Posted to Reddit, an infographic showing all (actual) space vehicles to scale.

AvaxgyZ 1

Friday, November 21, 2014

82% of Americans want Congress to make student loans cheaper, but it's a bad idea

Libby Nelson in Vox says 82% of Americans want Congress to make student loans cheaper, but it's a bad idea. She says using public money to make loans more affordable will just mean more money to schools which are already charging too much. She'd rather the public money be spend better, such as on Pell grants which go to needier students or on incentives to states to spend their money on public colleges. These kind of trade offs sound good to me, but they're also the area of economics I never do well in.

Obama's Immigration Plan is Both Good Policy and Remarkably Shrewd Politics

Kevin Drum thinks Obama's Immigration Plan is Both Good Policy and Remarkably Shrewd Politics. He makes some good points.

Republican leaders are not only fearful of next year's primaries branding the GOP forever as a bunch of xenophobic maniacs, they're afraid it's going to wipe out any chance they have over the next two years of demonstrating to voters that they're a party of adults. Here's the LA Times:

Republican leaders who had hoped to focus on corporate tax reform, fast-track trade pacts, repealing the president's healthcare law and loosening environmental restrictions on coal are instead being dragged into an immigration skirmish that they've tried studiously to avoid for most of the last year.

The upside, conversely, is potentially huge. Obama has, indeed, waved a red flag in front of congressional tea partiers, turning them into frothing lunatics who want to shut down the government and maybe even impeach him. This has already turned into a huge headache for John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, who really don't want this to be the public face of the party. In addition, it's quite possibly wrecked the Republican agenda for the next year, which is obviously just fine with Obama. And it's likely to turn next year's primary season into an anti-Hispanic free-for-all that does permanent damage to the GOP brand. And that's not even counting the energizing effect this has on Democrats, as well as the benefit they get from keeping a promise to Hispanics and earning their loyalty for the next few election cycles.

He thinks the downside is minimal because GOP leaders weren't going to work with Obama on anything significant (including appointments) and for anything they were willing to work on, Democrats don't want anyway.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The ‘super PAC to end all super PACs’ was supposed to fix money in politics. Here’s what went wrong

The ‘super PAC to end all super PACs’ was supposed to fix money in politics. Here’s what went wrong. I don't view it as a failure, this was supposed to be an experiment, but it didn't seem to make much of a difference this time around. I found this to be an informative discussion...

"It was supposed to be the super PAC to end all super PACs. The brainchild of Harvard professor Larry Lessig, Mayday PAC aimed to get money out of politics by wielding it against candidates who didn't support campaign finance reform. After amassing $10 million in a matter of weeks, Mayday started pouring it into congressional races around the country.

But the ambitious plot didn't pan out. Rather than send a wave of pro-reform politicians to Congress, Mayday was rewarded with mostly defeats. Now it's back to the drawing board. Two weeks out from Election Day, Mayday ally Ben Wikler explains what went wrong (and what went right). Wikler, a staffer at and a friend of Lessig's who helped Mayday gain steam on his left-leaning podcast, 'The Good Fight,' sat down with me Wednesday at Fusion's Washington conference for social change."

Update: See also, The Learned Helplessness of the American Voter.

RIP Mike Nichols

I believe I've seen all of his films but two: What Planet Are You From? (2000) and The Fortune(1975).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Cosby Show

Ta-Nehisi Coates' first big article was on Bill Cosby. Now The Atlantic he writes The Cosby Show, "I don't have many writing regrets. But this is one of them. I regret not saying what I thought of the accusations, and then pursuing those thoughts. I regret it because the lack of pursuit puts me in league with people who either looked away, or did not look hard enough. I take it as a personal admonition to always go there, to never flinch, to never look away."

"Lacking physical evidence, adjudicating rape accusations is a murky business for journalists. But believing Bill Cosby does not require you to take one person's word over another—it requires you take one person's word over 15 others.

At the time I wrote the piece, it was 13 peoples’ word—and I believed them. Put differently, I believed that Bill Cosby was a rapist.

Rape constitutes the loss of your body, which is all you are, to someone else. I have never been raped. But I have, several times as a child, been punched/stomped/kicked/bumrushed while walking home from school, and thus lost my body. The worst part for me was not the experience, but the humiliation of being unable to protect my body, which is all I am, from predators. Even now as I sketch this out for you publicly, I am humiliated all again. And this happened when I was a child. If recounting a physical assault causes me humiliation, how might recounting a sexual assault feel? And what would cause me to willingly stand up and relive that humiliation before a national audience? And why would I fake my way through such a thing? Cosby's accusers—who have no hope of criminal charges, nor civil damages—are courting the scrutiny of Cosby-lovers and rape-deniers. To what end?

The heart of the matter is this: A defender of Bill Cosby must, effectively, conjure a vast conspiracy, created to bring down one man, seemingly just out of spite. And people will do this work of conjuration, because it is hard to accept that people we love in one arena can commit great evil in another. It is hard to believe that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist because the belief doesn't just indict Cosby, it indicts us. It damns us for drawing intimate conclusions about people based on pudding-pop commercials and popular TV shows. It destroys our ability to lean on icons for our morality. And it forces us back into a world where seemingly good men do unspeakably evil things, and this is just the chaos of human history."

Kickstarter: Lunar Mission One

I find this remarkable. LUNAR MISSION ONE: A new lunar mission for everyone. by Lunar Missions Ltd — Kickstarter "Now is your chance to participate in this global project from the start, by pledging a donation at this early stage and helping us to move the project into the next phase of development."

Seriously. They're trying to fund a 10 year robotic mission to the moon, ON KICKSTARTER! For only $940,000! And they're already a third of the way there. Amazing.

Kevin Smith, Peter Weller and John Lithgow Talk Buckaroo Banzai

"The Film Society's new bi-monthly series curated and hosted by award-winning filmmaker Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma) returns for a special NYFF edition with writer Earl Mac Rauch and director W. D. Richter's gonzo, Pynchon-esque cult favorite, starring the incomparable Peter Weller as Japanese-American particle physicist, neurosurgeon and all-around renaissance man Dr. Buckaroo Banzai. Fighting to save planet Earth from an invasion of interstellar aliens—unleashed from another dimension by the insane Dr. Emilio Lazardo (John Lithgow) and now posing as defense contractors—Banzai joins forces with a volunteer army and his wife's suicidal twin sister (Ellen Barkin), and the outlandish merriment begins. Just remember: no matter where you go, there you are. In person: Kevin Smith, Peter Weller and John Lithgow."

I'm going to have to rewatch it tonight.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Let’s Encrypt: Bringing HTTPS to Every Web Site

Freedom to Tinker describes Let’s Encrypt: Bringing HTTPS to Every Web Site. Sounds like a great idea.

First Flight with the Wright Brothers

Last August In Focus covered the First Flight with the Wright Brothers "Yesterday was National Aviation Day, a holiday established by president Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 to celebrate developments in aviation. The date selected was the birth date of aviation pioneer Orville Wright, who, along with his older brother Wilbur, is credited with inventing and building the world's first practical fixed-wing aircraft and making the first controlled, powered and sustained flight more than a hundred years ago. The Wright brothers documented much of their early progress in photographs made on glass negatives. Today, the Library of Congress holds many of these historic images, some of which are presented below. [18 photos]"

Wright 1

The Solid Majorities in the Town of Greece v. Galloway Decision

Last May, Professor Marci A. Hamilton wrote about The Solid Majorities in the Town of Greece v. Galloway Decision "When the Supreme Court releases a decision like the one it issued this week in Town of Greece v. Galloway, it is tempting to assume this area of the law is a mess. In fact, the doctrine is more solid than it first appears, even if its application is fact-intensive."

Terrorism in Sinai

The Middle East Institute created a Special Feature: Terrorism in Sinai "The recent escalation of terrorist attacks in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has received widespread international attention, but is not a new phenomenon. MEI’s History of Terrorism in Sinai, which includes an interactive timeline and map, follows terrorist activity - by location, method, target, and associated group - in this geopolitical hotspot over the last decade.  Because of the nature of the security crisis in Sinai, this is not a comprehensive record, but a curated account of the most relevant attacks and events that have been reported to date."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Terraform: A New Home for Future Fiction

Vice's Motherboard has a new site publishing short science fiction. Why We Terraformed a New Home for Future Fiction.

"Meet Terraform: a new section of Motherboard, where we'll be publishing original speculative fiction every week. You'll find established voices here—the kinds of writers whose imaginations have already made a dent on the world—as well as emerging talents, bright new brains we love and can't wait to share. 

The aim is for Terraform to seize upon and play off of the zeitgeist; if drones are the news this week, we'll try to run our best piece on autonomous machines. If it's climate change that's making waves, perhaps we'll have fiction that takes place in the not-too-distant sweltering future. "

New York City unveils the pay phone of the future

The Washington Post reports New York City unveils the pay phone of the future—and it does a whole lot more than make phone calls "The city announced Monday that it had selected a consortium of advertising, technology and telecom companies to deploy throughout the city thousands of modern-day pay phones that will offer 24-hour, free gigabit WiFi connections, free calls to anywhere in the U.S., touch-screen displays with direct access to city services, maps and directions for tourists, and charging stations (for the cellphones you'd rather use). The devices will also be capable of connecting people straight to emergency responders, and broadcasting alerts from the city during emergencies like Hurricane Sandy."

The Race to Save the World's Chocolate

The Atlantic reports on The Race to Save the World's Chocolate

"The world is running out of chocolate. In 2013, the world consumed about 70,000 metric tons more cocoa than it produced. And now, Mars, Inc. and Barry Callebaut—two of the world's biggest manufacturers of chocolate goods—are warning that by 2020, that consumption-over-production number could increase to 1 million metric tons (a fourteen-fold bump)."

"So why can't the world's chocolate supply keep up with its chocolate demand? Part of the problem—besides the combination of drought and disease mentioned above—involves the cacao plants themselves. Chocolate trees take an exceptionally long time to yield fruit. That doesn't just make for slow production; it also means that genetically selecting for high-performance plants can be a challenge. 'A corn breeder,' Bloomberg points out, 'can raise three new generations of corn in a single year—three opportunities to select for desirable traits. A new cacao seedling, by comparison, won’t produce fruit for two years at the earliest, and it takes 10 years to reveal traits worth perpetuating.'"

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Law in the Raw

Linda Greenhouse is not happy about the Supreme Court's latest Obamacare case, Law in the Raw "So this case is rich in almost every possible dimension. Its arrival on the Supreme Court’s docket is also profoundly depressing. In decades of court-watching, I have struggled — sometimes it has seemed against all odds — to maintain the belief that the Supreme Court really is a court and not just a collection of politicians in robes. This past week, I’ve found myself struggling against the impulse to say two words: I surrender."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The US and China just reached a major climate deal on cutting emissions

Vox reports The US and China just reached a major climate deal on cutting emissions

"The US pledge: As part of the bargain, the US government has pledged to reduce emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. This is a new and significant extension of the Obama administration's existing goal to reduce emissions 17 percent by 2020.

The biggest question here is whether US policymakers will actually follow through on this pledge. The country's carbon-dioxide emissions are currently 10 percent below 2005 levels, but they've started to rise again of late. The US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new rules to curb emissions from existing power plants, but that's unlikely to be enough to achieve a 28 percent cut. So where will additional policies come from? Note that Congress is deadlocked on climate, with many Republicans furious about this new deal.

The China pledge: For the first time ever, China has set a goal of having emissions stop growing by 'around' 2030 — and possibly earlier. China will also aim to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil sources by 2030. (China isn't reducing its emissions as quickly as the US; the logic is that this is fair since China is still poorer.)"

John Oliver Is Outdoing The Daily Show

Matt Zoller Seitz in the Vulture says John Oliver Is Outdoing The Daily Show. "Last Week is doing what media watchdogs (including the Peabody Awards) keep saying that The Daily Show does — practicing real journalism in comedy form — but it's doing it better, and in a simpler, yet more ambitious, ultimately more useful way. If Stewart's show is doing what might be called a reported feature, augmenting opinions with facts, Oliver's show is doing something closer to pure reporting, or what the era of web journalism calls an "explainer," often without a hook, or the barest wisp of a hook."

I agree though I think he failed to mention the main reason. The fact that his show is weekly, not daily, means he has more time to investigate an issue. Like actual journalism. It's the thing that Jon Stewart complains about cable news networks, they're on for 24 hours a day and they don't have time to cover anything in depth. Stewart has to crank out a half hour a day (well kind of since it's only on four days a week) and basically covers the days events. Oliver can pick something important that being lost to constant harping on the Ebola scare of the day or celebrity/athlete/politician embarrassment of the moment. So he can dive into net neutrality, drone strike rules, the death penalty, Iraqi translators, and we can all learn something while laughing. Stewart could do it too but does so only rarely (e.g., with vet benefits) and cable news channels could, but that would take money away from new holographic systems or something.

The PBS News Hour manages to take deep dives often and Bill Moyers can have a calm 20+ minute conversation with someone with something interesting to say, but I can't say I've found much else on TV that manages to do so.

Landing on a Comet, 317 Million Miles From Home

The NY Times has amazing photos (from today and the last few months) of Comet 67P and the Philae lander, Landing on a Comet, 317 Million Miles From Home.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Alabama redistricting, Supreme Court

Richard L. Hasen writes in Slate, Alabama redistricting, Supreme Court: Did legislators redraw district lines to hurt Democrats or to disenfranchise black voters? "In the end, the Supreme Court has an impossible task in front of it: figuring out whether the Alabama Legislature’s predominant motive in redistricting was about race or about party. It was surely about both, and trying to pretend that packing black Democratic voters into districts is about just one or the other is a fool’s errand. But it is the task of the court under the rules it has set up for itself, and it could have real consequences for not just black Democrats in Alabama, but all Americans."

Tomorrow ESA's Philae Will Land on a Comet

Nature reports Landing on a comet: A guide to Rosetta’s perilous mission "Never before has a space mission put a lander on a comet. But the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to change that. Its Rosetta craft has been orbiting comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko since August and is set to release the washing-machine-sized lander, Philae, on 12 November. This would set in motion a nail-biting seven-hour fall designed to deliver Philae to a landing site called Agilkia on the comet’s surface. Philae is programmed to beam data and images back to Earth to help scientists to understand comets, including whether these conglomerations of ice, rock and dust supplied our planet with water and other building blocks of life when they smashed into it billions of years ago. Our step-by-step guide identifies the biggest obstacles to a successful landing — although even if the landing fails, it will go down as one of the most ambitious feats attempted in space."

They have nice infographics explaining the mission. The Planetary Society has a rundown of What to expect on landing day. What it all on ESA TV (touchdown is at 11am ET).

King v. Burwell: Why progressives shouldn’t worry that the Supreme Court will destroy the Affordable Care Act.

Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick explain Why progressives shouldn’t worry that the Supreme Court will destroy the Affordable Care Act. "In the end, SCOTUS may deal this blow to the ACA come spring. But we would caution against placing such an uncertain bet. If we learned anything from the 1.0 version of the Obamacare fight, it’s that judicial outcomes can be hard to predict, and that months of preemptive panicking don’t necessarily foretell the final result."

Pley: Netflix for Lego

Pley lets you rent Lego sets like Netflix does for movies. Clever idea given the cost of the sets I'd be interested in (Simpsons, Star Wars).

A Game of Thrones Family Tree

All Leather Must Be Boiled has posted a family tree of EVERY HOUSE in A Song of Iron and Fire combined by El-Daddy. It's a giant png and looks like it's a single tree though it's in a format that can be deceiving or at least a little hard to follow (look for Walder Frey for an example). Still it's very impressive.

Monday, November 10, 2014

iOS ‘Masque Attack’

Cult of Mac writes iOS ‘Masque Attack’ vulnerability could be more dangerous than WireLurker "To keep yourself protected from Masque Attack, iOS users should not install any apps unless they’re coming directly from the App Store. Do no click on ‘Install’ if a pop-up from a website appears on your iPhone, no matter what it says. And if you open an app and iOS displays an alert that it’s from an ‘Untrusted App Developer’ you should tap Don’t Trust and uninstall immediately."

So to be susceptible you have to install an app not from the app store. It's pretty easy to avoid that. Yes many naive users might be fooled (and many legitimate web sites pop open page or window asking if you want to install their app) but the App Store is so central to the iOS experience I think many people are scared if they aren't installing from the App Store.

Obama's Plan for Net Neutrality

Today Obama made a strong statement on Net Neutrality. President Obama's Plan for a Free and Open Internet. "So the time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do. To do that, I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services. This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone — not just one or two companies."

I totally agree.

Kottke has collected a few comments on the statement, Obama's plan for "a free and open internet".

Symposium articles on King v. Burwell

SCOTUSblog posted a Symposium: Seven myths about King v. Burwell by Michael Cannon of the libertarian Cato Institute. It's not unbiased but it's interesting on the details. Patrick Wyrick, Solicitor General of Oklahoma agrees, Symposium: King v. Burwell – a simple case.

Robert Weiner makes the other case, Symposium: King v. Burwell – getting it right (as in correct).

Aurora, Flyover in High Definition, International Space Station

Dear Washington Press Corps: Please STFU

I don't know who Shant Mesrobian is, but he does a great job channeling an inner Matt Taibbi in a piece on Medium, Dear Washington Press Corps: Please STFU.

First, the obvious. Asking the President to “man up,” admit defeat, and submit to a Republican mandate could only be the product of a waking up from a six-year coma. Are Milbank and Fournier really unaware of what exactly has been happening these past six years? The fact that President Obama won both of his elections resoundingly, only to immediately face a totally intransigent, obstructionist Republican party in Congress? One hell bent on not allowing the President to exercise any election-derived mandate, whatsoever? And now, they’re instructing the President to do exactly the opposite of that. And why? Because Republicans just scored a resounding victory of their own — one that is largely due to their strategy of denying the President the slightest hint of legislative achievement by obstructing his agenda at every turn for the past six years.

I’m pretty sure that by the age of five, we’re all endowed with enough cognitive ability to see through this line of logic. If anything, the lesson President Obama should draw from this is to ignore any theoretical “mandate” Republicans may have derived from this election, and just do whatever he wants. (Yes, one could plausibly argue that the President has more of an interest in compromising than Congress, because he might stand to suffer more politically from Washington’s “gridlock.” Besides the obvious fact that surrendering the presidency into a political hostage and puppet of the Congressional opposition might not be such a great idea for the republic, we’ll get to the deeper reason why this makes no sense in a moment.) But again, this is all stating the obvious. So rather than going any further with this, it’s important to ask how such an absurd notion —such a plainly obvious double standard—could even come to be.

Read the whole thing. I learned that of the votes cast for the next Senate (from 2010, 2012 and 2014), Democrat senators got roughly 5.2 million more votes.

General Dan Bolger says what the US does not want to hear: Why We Lost

General Dan Bolger says what the US does not want to hear: Why We Lost "On Tuesday, Bolger will publish his 500-page attempt to make sense of both the wars in which he served. Its blunt title pre-emptively maneuvers conversation over the book on to Bolger’s terrain: Why We Lost."

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

5 reasons why it will be really tough for Democrats to retake the Senate in 2016

Vox explains 5 reasons why it will be really tough for Democrats to retake the Senate in 2016 "In 2016, the GOP will have far more seats up — 24, compared to the Democrats' 10. Furthermore, seven of these Republican-held seats are in states that Obama won twice, and they'll have to be defended amid presidential-year turnout. But Democrats shouldn't get too confident. Here are five reasons why, despite the favorable map, they might not be able to retake the Senate in 2016:"

But then Matthew Yglesias also explains why American politics is descending into a meaningless, demographically driven seesaw.

Here’s who should have won Oscars 10, 25, and 80 years ago

Gotta say, I mostly agree with Todd VanDerWerff on Here’s who should have won Oscars 10, 25, and 80 years ago.

New Clock May End Time As We Know It

NPR reports New Clock May End Time As We Know It

"At the heart of this new clock is the element strontium. Inside a small chamber, the strontium atoms are suspended in a lattice of crisscrossing laser beams. Researchers then give them a little ping, like ringing a bell. The strontium vibrates at an incredibly fast frequency. It's a natural atomic metronome ticking out teeny, teeny fractions of a second. This new clock can keep perfect time for 5 billion years."

"The relative nature of time isn't just something seen in the extreme. If you take a clock off the floor, and hang it on the wall, Ye says, "the time will speed up by about one part in 1016. That is a sliver of a second. But this isn't some effect of gravity on the clock's machinery. Time itself is flowing more quickly on the wall than on the floor. These differences didn't really matter until now. But this new clock is so sensitive, little changes in height throw it way off. Lift it just a couple of centimeters, Ye says, "and you will start to see that difference.""

"Tiny shifts in the earth's crust can throw it off, even when it's sitting still. Even if two of them are synchronized, their different rates of ticking mean they will soon be out of synch. They will never agree."

9 takeaways from the 2014 election

Ezra Klein has 9 takeaways from the 2014 election (I wish he'd stop with the buzzfeed-like headlines). I'm not too surprised by the results. I guess governors faired worse than I thought, but I didn't think much about it and voted for a GOP governor myself. I only hope Democrats learned to not run away from their policies, but I doubt they did.

Update: The 7 most important midterm election results you might have missed

Monday, November 03, 2014

Political Email and Money, Why I'm Burnt Out

This year I've received 2520 political email messages.

Political Emails

Last week USA Today reported "Forty-two of the nation's superwealthy have donated nearly $200 million to super PACs to shape next week's midterm elections, according to a USA TODAY analysis of contributions of $1 million or more. In all, this relatively small group has provided nearly a third of the more than $615 million raised by all super PACs in the 2014 election, the analysis of newly filed campaign reports shows."

"In all, super PACs have out-spent the national parties by more than $107 million through midday Tuesday, a tally by the Center for Responsive Politics shows."

ZoĆ« Carpenter in The Nation points out, Who’s Buying the Midterm Elections? A Bunch of Old White Guys. "Take a look at the list of top donors. They might have distinctly different political agendas, but they have one thing irrefutably in common: they're almost exclusively old white guys. Only seven women made it into the forty-two, and not a single person of color."

"Politicians should be accountable to the electorate, which is growing more diverse. But the fact that candidates are growing more dependent on a narrow group of contributors means that they may be responsive to a limited set of concerns. There are many factors blunting the political impact of demographic changes, but certainly laws that amplify a less diverse group of people's voices over others' in an election is one of them."

This is Super PAC spending and it's hard to follow the difference between candidate spending, party spending, Super PACs, political nonprofits, any anyone else that spends on elections. Sunlight foundation has a bunch of charts showing the breakdown of several of these kinds of spending, Contest for the Senate in charts: Outspent Dems lean on super PAC donors in homestretch. I wish they'd show total spending. I find this stuff like comparing state taxes. States that don't have income taxes have higher fees and sales taxes so it's difficult. The Democrats and Republicans seem to get their money from different sources, so it's hard to compare.

The Internet Arcade

The Internet Arcade "The Internet Arcade is a web-based library of arcade (coin-operated) video games from the 1970s through to the 1990s, emulated in JSMAME, part of the JSMESS software package. Containing hundreds of games ranging through many different genres and styles, the Arcade provides research, comparison, and entertainment in the realm of the Video Game Arcade."