Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lots of Random Articles

  • What came before the big bang? - "There was no such epoch as “before the big bang,” because time began with the big bang, says physicist and astrobiologist Paul Davies."
  • The Real Origins of the Religious Right - "One of the most durable myths in recent history is that the religious right, the coalition of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, emerged as a political movement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion...But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools."
  • NSA Snooping Was Only the Beginning. Meet the Spy Chief Leading Us Into Cyberwar
  • The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship - "Successful entrepreneurs achieve hero status in our culture. We idolize the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Elon Musks. And we celebrate the blazingly fast growth of the Inc. 500 companies. But many of those entrepreneurs, like Smith, harbor secret demons: Before they made it big, they struggled through moments of near-debilitating anxiety and despair—times when it seemed everything might crumble."
  • Why Do People Persist in Believing Things That Just Aren't True?
  • How Brandeis foreshadowed Snowden and Greenwald - "In the famous wiretapping case Olmstead v. United States, argued before the Supreme Court in 1928, Justice Louis Brandeis wrote one of the most influential dissenting opinions in the history of American jurisprudence. Those who are currently engaged in what might be called the Establishment counterattack against Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden, including the eminent liberal journalists Michael Kinsley and George Packer, might benefit from giving it a close reading and a good, long think."
  • Final Word on U.S. Law Isn’t: Supreme Court Keeps Editing - "The Supreme Court has been quietly revising its decisions years after they were issued, altering the law of the land without public notice. The revisions include “truly substantive changes in factual statements and legal reasoning,” said Richard J. Lazarus, a law professor at Harvard and the author of a new study examining the phenomenon."
  • The Rise of Nintendo: A Story in 8 Bits - "From ‘Donkey Kong’ to the NES — how a Japanese company took over the American living room. An exclusive first serial from ‘Console Wars.’"
  • Finding the Next Lost: What Is an “Operational Theme” and Why Don’t I Have One?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Random Net Neutrality News to Make You Angry

AT&T will honor net neutrality for three years if regulators let it buy DirecTV "AT&T has announced it's buying DirecTV in a $49 billion deal — an enormous acquisition that could turn one of the nations top telecom companies into a formidable player in the pay-TV market. And the agreement is sure to be examined closely by federal regulators. To help win their approval, AT&T is offering to abide by net neutrality principles for three years: the company would not block Web sites; it would also not discriminate against certain Web content by slowing down or speeding up different lanes of Internet traffic to customers."

Because the rules are good for three years? And after three years they'll do anything they want?

Game of phones: how Verizon is playing the FCC and its customers "New York’s Public Utility Law Project (PULP) published a report, authored by New Networks, which contains previously unseen documents. It demonstrates how Verizon deliberately moves back and forth between regulatory regimes, classifying its infrastructure either like a heavily regulated telephone network or a deregulated information service depending on its needs. The chicanery has allowed Verizon to raise telephone rates, all the while missing commitments for high-speed internet deployment."

Congressman bankrolled by ISPs tries to halt Internet regulation "US Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) on Wednesday filed legislation that would prevent the Federal Communications Commission from attempting to regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility. It probably won't surprise you that Internet service providers have enthusiastically given money to this congressman. As we reported in our May 16 story 'Bankrolled by broadband donors, lawmakers lobby FCC on net neutrality,' Latta received $51,000 from cable company interests in the two-year period ending December 2013. Latta was one of '28 House members who lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to drop net neutrality,' with those lawmakers having 'received more than twice the amount in campaign contributions from the broadband sector than the average for all House members,' our story noted."

Steve Wozniak to the FCC: Keep the Internet Free is a little rambling and with some odd analogies, but quite impassioned.

Timothy B. Lee gives the best description of the issues with the Netflix/Comcast battle I've read. Beyond net neutrality: The new battle for the future of the internet. It's long but worth a read (and since it's Vox, it has some pretty graphs). His follow up, comparing the Internet payment model to the long-distance phone payment model is equally worthwhile, Comcast is destroying the principle that makes a competitive internet possible. See also, Google is trying to shame Comcast into running its network better and Comcast and Time Warner are America's biggest cable companies — and the least popular.

Lee also wrote Five big US internet providers are slowing down Internet access until they get more cash. "Level 3 says the six bandwidth providers with congested links are all "large Broadband consumer networks with a dominant or exclusive market share in their local market." One of them is in Europe, and the other five are in the United States. Level 3 says its links to these customers suffer from "congestion that is permanent, has been in place for well over a year and where our peer refuses to augment capacity...The basic problem is those six broadband providers want Level 3 to pay them to deliver traffic. Level 3 believes that's unreasonable. After all, the ISPs' own customers have already paid these ISPs to deliver the traffic to them. And the long-standing norm on the internet is that endpoint ISPs pay intermediaries, not the other way around."

"What if..." Movies reimagined for another time & place on Behance

"What if..." Movies reimagined for another time & place on Behance "The concept: films of a certain era belonging to another era and everything that would follow: who would be the stars, the filmmakers? How would the film be marketed? A lot of liberty and a lot of fun within the world of 'What If.'"

Some of these are pretty fun.


Why Republicans Always Say ‘I’m Not a Scientist’

Jonathan Chait writes Why Republicans Always Say ‘I’m Not a Scientist’.

"This particular demurral seems to be in vogue for the Grand Old Party. Florida governor Rick Scott (‘I’m not a scientist’) and Senator Marco Rubio (‘I’m not a scientist. I’m not qualified to make that decision.’) have both held up their lack of scientific training as a reason to withhold judgment on anthropogenic global warming.

It’s a strange form of reasoning. Very few of us are scientists, which is exactly why we tend to defer to scientific judgment. It might make sense to question expert consensus in a field where you are an expert, but if you know very little about it, you probably want to just go along with what the experts think. Scientists do, in fact, have a nearly unanimous view of anthropogenic global warming. Scientists likewise believe that chugging Liquid Drano is bad for your health, which is why, precisely because of my lack of scientific training, I hold off on the Drano Cocktails."

Martin Longman follows up with, Science is Their Enemy. "Jonathan Chait wants to know why it is suddenly so popular for Republicans to tell the public that they are not scientists and therefore are unqualified to have an opinion about whether or not climate change is actually occurring. It’s because they lack even an iota of moral courage. It’s because they are paid liars. This is not complicated and it shouldn’t even be debatable. Outside of a very small handful of genuine dunces who actually managed to get elected despite having personal beliefs about science that would make John Calvin blush, every single Republican who is either denying climate change or saying that they can’t make up their mind about it is actually just being dishonest. For money and career."

And we get this shit. The House Science Committee Declares The IPCC Report Is Not Science. "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warned that more intense droughts and heat waves will cause famine and water shortages. But, don't worry! Yesterday, the GOP held a hearing to tell us the IPCC is, in fact, a global conspiracy to control our lives and "redistribute wealth among nations." The hearing, titled "Examining the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Process," was convened by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology—the same folks who recently demonstrated their inability to grasp the idea that the world's climate varies across different regions and who informed us that warmer weather didn't bother the dinosaurs, so what's all the fuss about?"

Florida Democrat Alan Grayson is the most effective member of the House

Florida Democrat Alan Grayson is the most effective member of the House. “We’ve passed 31 amendments in committee so far,” says Grayson. “Hardly any Democrats who put in amendments put in any effort to get to 218. They just think they’ve accomplished something when it’s ruled in order, and that’s the end of the story.”

"The new strategy is simple. Grayson and his staff scan the bills that come out of the majority. They scan amendments that passed in previous Congresses but died at some point along the way. They resurrect or mold bills that can appeal to the libertarian streak in the GOP, and Grayson lobbies his colleagues personally. That’s how he attached a ban on funding for ‘unmanned aerial vehicles,’ i.e. drones, to the homeland security bill. He swears that they don’t back away from him because of his old persona—well, his relationship with Webster is ‘strained,’ but he points out that Webster won re-election by 5,000 votes and Grayson won with 70,000. Never mind that. Are the members of Congress more forgiving than members of the press?"

NEWSCASTER - An Iranian Threat Inside Social Media

iSight Partners reports on NEWSCASTER - An Iranian Threat Inside Social Media "iSIGHT Partners believes Iranian threat actors are using more than a dozen fake personas on social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Blogger) in a coordinated, long-term cyber espionage campaign.  At least 2,000 people/targets are, or have been, caught in the snare and are connected to the false personas.

This campaign, working undetected since 2011, targets senior U.S. military and diplomatic personnel, congressional personnel, Washington D.C. area journalists, U.S. think tanks, defense contractors in the U.S. and Israel, as well as others who are vocal supporters of Israel to covertly obtain log-in credentials to the email systems of their victims. Additional victims in the U.K. as well as Saudi Arabia and Iraq were targeted."

Update: See also, How China’s army hacked America. They basically did the same thing, send messages to people designed to trick them into opening an infected attachment or leading to site to get them to enter a username/password. This is apparently how most Internet spying is done.

iOS Note Taking Apps

I've always found note taking kind of interesting; what techniques are effective and what apps are useful. In college I took hand written notes, on unlined pages and with a couple of pen colors. On laptops I just typed into a plain text file using Emacs. When I started this blog I used to take handwritten notes in a Moleskin notebook. When the iPhone and then the iPad came out I started trying a lot of different note taking apps. I meant to write a review of many of them but never quite got around to it. Here's what I'm using and you should particularly look at iThoughts today.

I now sync things to a Dropbox folder. and mostly use Markdown format just to have something to be consistent with and because many apps have a markdown preview mode that makes things pretty.

  • Simplenote - I use this for quick notes. It comes with it's own cloud syncing service that's worked well for me. i use nvAlt on the Mac for access to the notes. I now tend to write in Markdown format. I use this for restaurant lists, movie lists, little things I want to remember either to bring on an iPhone or because I don't know another good place to put it (a list of links to college commencement pages that I check once a year because they cause traffic problems in Boston).
  • Editorial - This is the best app on iOS for typed notes. It's now universal, has good markdown support, an extended keyboard and lets you create new "Workflows" that act as new commands by using a graphical system instead of having to write code. The only limitation I've found is that it syncs to just one Dropbox folder instead of letting you browse (I could be wrong). Before Editorial, iA Writer was my app of choice for typed notes.
  • NotesPlus - This is the best handwriting app I've found (it's iPad only and while probably stay that way as an iPhone screen is too small). It's got a tons of features, in-app purchase for converting handwriting to text, all the drawing tools you want (including smart shapes like on an Apple Newton), a built-in browser for research, does voice recordings, etc. Dan Bricklin's Note Taker HD is another powerful app but I never liked the user interface and never tried it.
  • iThoughts - This is the best mind mapping app I've found. I kept hearing about mind maps and thought they might be useful but they never quite worked for me until this app. It's got enough features that maps are easy to create and manipulate and is still easy to use. I still don't use it that often but it's great for things that you want to move around a bunch. Today I found out they did a big iOS7 update and made it universal. It's on sale for just $2 (instead of $10) until June 1st. At that price it's a steal. I don't do mind maps enough to get the companion Mac app for ~$50, but the iOS version supports many export formats (like pdf and markdown).
  • GoodReader - not a note taking app but a PDF reader and a great one. It handles large files easily and works great on an iPad. E.g., lets you crop pages for the margins so its maximally zoomed (Supreme Court decisions have huge margins). Lets you highlight text in different colors and then can send email of just the highlights. That might be the best note taking feature I've ever used.

I have Evernote but don't really use it (though some people swear by it). On the Mac I've been a long time user (and sometime employee) of The Hit List for todo lists. It seemed to get everything right while all the apps are missing something or are too hard to use. THL got an iPhone app (and a paid sync'ing service) and then went fallow. It was bought out and seems to have new life as the mac version got an update this week. I can't quite endorse it for everyone yet, but I'm hopeful and it's worth a look.

SpaceX shows off Dragon V2, its brand new manned space capsule

Ars Technica reports SpaceX shows off Dragon V2, its brand new manned space capsule "At an evening event in the SpaceX Headquarters on Thursday night, CEO and founder Elon Musk revealed the Dragon V2 space capsule, a next-generation version of SpaceX's current Dragon capsule that will be able to ferry up to seven crew members and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) and eventually to other destinations. The capsule is reusable, and will be able to make a controlled landing 'with the precision of a helicopter' upon re-entry."

Airmail Arrows Across the USA

Google Sightseeing shows Airmail Arrows Across the USA "In the early days of the US Postal Service’s national airmail service, pilots had to navigate across the USA by sight alone – a task that bad weather could make extremely difficult. And so a network of towers was built, each bearing a gas-powered light for night-time visibility, and each with a large arrow-shaped foundation designed to assist daytime navigation. Almost all of the ~1,500 towers were dismantled long ago, but a number of the concrete arrows exist to this day."

Thursday, May 29, 2014

We Are Now In Command of the ISEE-3 Spacecraft

This is pretty amazing, We Are Now In Command of the ISEE-3 Spacecraft "The ISEE-3 Reboot Project is pleased to announce that our team has established two-way communication with the ISEE-3 spacecraft and has begun commanding it to perform specific functions. Over the coming days and weeks our team will make an assessment of the spacecraft's overall health and refine the techniques required to fire its engines and bring it back to an orbit near Earth. First Contact with ISEE-3 was achieved at the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico."

The Internet With A Human Face

Maciej Cegłowski gave a really interesting talk at the Beyond Tellerrand 2014 Conference, The Internet With A Human Face. It's got some interesting insights and a lot to say about the state of online advertising and user privacy. And when that gets too depressing there are pictures of cute animals.

5 charts that prove Congress really is getting worse

5 charts that prove Congress really is getting worse - Vox "But the evidence is stacking up: Congress really is getting worse. And, at the same time, it's getting more expensive. These charts tell the tale."

"This Congress is among the most gridlocked, least popular, most polarized and least productive ever. Oh, and it's also the most expensive on record."

Brian Williams Interviews Edward Snowden

Brian Williams interviewed Edward Snowden. Here's their official page with the interview in six parts and with lots of text and short clips interspersed. Inside the Mind of Edward Snowden.

Here's what I think is a single youtube video of the whole thing collected.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Edgar Wright - How to Do Visual Comedy

We read all the time, yet understanding great literature isn't easy or obvious. We see movies and video all the time and I think most people don't realize it has a language all it's own. People notice the showy stuff, but otherwise it's difficult to separate out why something works. Is it the writing, performance, special effects or in this case, the director (along with everything else).

How Marvel forced Edgar Wright to leave Ant Man I won't understand.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


The #YesAllWomen Twitter conversation is amazing reading.

Vox explains, Why #yesallwomen is the most important thing you'll read today. Sarah Kliff adds, Eight facts about violence against women everyone should know.

Bad Astronomy has a good post on the conversation, Not all men: How discussing women’s issues gets derailed.

Wired recently had an article Curbing Online Abuse Isn’t Impossible. Here’s Where We Start. "The good news, though, is that Internet harassment can be combatted and reduced. While the problem is far from solved, a few online communities—especially in the world of multiplayer gaming, which has long struggled with issues of incivility and abuse—have come up with some innovative techniques to deter harassers and sometimes even reform them. If Facebook and the other social networks were to take a page from these approaches, they could make huge strides in turning the Internet into a less toxic place for everyone. But embracing their lessons would also require a whole new way of thinking about online behavior."

B-52 gets first full IT upgrade since ‘60s, now LAN party ready

Ars reports B-52 gets first full IT upgrade since ‘60s, now LAN party ready.

"The US Air Force’s 10th Flight Test Squadron recently took delivery of the first B-52H Stratofortress to complete a refit through the Combat Network Communications Technology (CONECT) program. It's an effort to bring the Cold War era heavy bomber into the 21st century way of warfare—or at least up to the 1990s, technology-wise. While the aircraft received piecemeal upgrades over the past 50 years of flying, CONECT is the first major information technology overhaul for the Air Force’s B-52H fleet since the airplanes started entering service in 1961."

"While much of this sounds like capabilities from the Clinton era, it’s important to remember that the network systems are designed to “survive and function through the nuclear environment.” But the real heart of the CONECT upgrade is the satellite and tactical network improvements they deliver to the B-52, which add data links to the aircraft that make it more relevant in an era of precision bombing and flexible targeting for close air support. In the past, aircrews had to write down mission details on paper and then manually enter them into systems for targeting. Now, mission plans and weapons systems targeting data will be able to be sent to the aircraft's systems while it's inflight."

Contrast this with the previous story of kids using an Apple II computer.

Kids React to Old Computers

This made me feel old. Also I wonder why products still have their power buttons buried in the back.

Larry Page: The Untold Story - Business Insider

Nicholas Carlson writes in Business Insider a long profile of Larry Page: The Untold Story.

Life Of Brian- 1979 Debate

This will eat up about 45 mins of your time. "On the edition of 9 November 1979, hosted by Tim Rice, a discussion was held about the then-new film Monty Python's Life of Brian, which been banned by many local councils and caused protests throughout the world with accusations that it was blasphemous. To argue in favour of this accusation were broadcaster and noted Christian Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood (the then Bishop of Southwark). In its defence were two members of the Monty Python team, John Cleese and Michael Palin."

Monday, May 26, 2014

Amazon's Tactics Confirm Its Critics' Worst Suspicions

Farhad Manjoo writes in the NY Times Bits blog about the Amazon/Hachette battle, Amazon's Tactics Confirm Its Critics' Worst Suspicions "Now Amazon is raising prices, removing ordering buttons, lengthening shipping times and monkeying with recommendation algorithms. Do these sound like the moves of a man who cares about customers above all else?"

I noticed too they've raised their prices on comics. They used to regularly offer 30-40% off list price, now it's more like 18-23%. A few months after I noticed that trend they bought Comixology.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Photos of the Week

In Focus collects Photos of the Week: 5/17-5/23 "In this week's edition, we have a look at some of the wildlife of Manaus, Brazil, a fossil from a newly-discovered species of titanosaur, a lightning strike in Port-au-Prince, a village of mushroom-shaped houses in China, and much more. [35 photos]"

W02 03873360 500

The Big Picture went for extra cute, Spring babies 2014. "Around the world, animals new to this earth experience life. In zoos and in nature, photographers captured a variety of species during these moments. --Leanne Burden Seidel (31 photos total)"

Bp11 500

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Secrets, Lies and Snowden's Email: Why I Was Forced to Shut Down Lavabit

Ladar Levison explains Why I Was Forced to Shut Down Lavabit. Lavabit was an encrypted email company and Edward Snowden was one of their customers.

"In the first two weeks, I was served legal papers a total of seven times and was in contact with the FBI every other day. (This was the period a prosecutor would later characterize as my 'period of silence'.) It took a week for me to identify an attorney who could adequately represent me, given the complex technological and legal issues involved – and we were in contact for less than a day when agents served me with a summons ordering me to appear in a Virginia courtroom, over 1,000 miles from my home. Two days later, I was served the first subpoena for the encryption keys.

With such short notice, my first attorney was unable to appear alongside me in court. Because the whole case was under seal, I couldn't even admit to anyone who wasn't an attorney that I needed a lawyer, let alone why. In the days before my appearance, I would spend hours repeating the facts of the case to a dozen attorneys, as I sought someone else that was qualified to represent me. I also discovered that as a third party in a federal criminal indictment, I had no right to counsel. After all, only my property was in jeopardy – not my liberty. Finally, I was forced to choose between appearing alone or facing a bench warrant for my arrest. "

He concludes, "If my experience serves any purpose, it is to illustrate what most already know: courts must not be allowed to consider matters of great importance under the shroud of secrecy, lest we find ourselves summarily deprived of meaningful due process. If we allow our government to continue operating in secret, it is only a matter of time before you or a loved one find yourself in a position like I did – standing in a secret courtroom, alone, and without any of the meaningful protections that were always supposed to be the people's defense against an abuse of the state's power."

What Schoolhouse Rock left out: How a bill really becomes a law

Vox explains What Schoolhouse Rock left out: How a bill really becomes a law "Schoolhouse Rock's 'I'm Just a Bill' seems to be missing a few key steps as a result. So we made a sequel adding them back in, above, modeled off the steps of an actual bill – the DATA Act – that made it through the gauntlet of Capitol Hill alive.  See each and every step explained in all its gory detail in our feature story on the bill's passage."

Pat Leahy Shelves Patent Reform

Vox reports Pat Leahy shelves patent reform "'There has been no agreement on how to combat the scourge of patent trolls,' Leahy said in an emailed statement. 'We have heard repeated concerns that the House-passed bill went beyond the scope of addressing patent trolls, and would have severe unintended consequences on legitimate patent holders who employ thousands of Americans.' 'Because there is not sufficient support behind any comprehensive deal, I am taking the patent bill off the Senate Judiciary Committee agenda,' Leahy said." Sigh.

Poster Shows Off 54 Years of Space Exploration

Universe Today posted Zoomable Poster Now Shows Off 54 Years Of Space Exploration "We humans are busy creatures when it comes to exploring the solar system. This new graphic (which updates one from four years ago) showcases all the planets we have visited in the past half-century. Both successful missions and failures are included on this updated list, although sadly you won’t find much about the various visits to comets and asteroids."

50 years of exploration 500

Jon Stewart Timothy Geithner Extended Interview

Last night Jon Stewart had Timothy Geithner on. The full interview was 42 minutes long and is on the web: Timothy Geithner Extended Interview Video. It's both really good and really frustrating. Stewart doesn't through in the easy joke all the time but he does cut himself off in the middle of a question to unnecessarily rephrase it and sometimes go to a different question. Geithner has never been particularly relaxed on camera though he does get better here about 20 minutes into it.

The tl;dr version is Stewart wants to know why we bailed out the banks so extensively but didn't do so for Main Street (with underwater mortgages). Geithner agrees that bailing out the banks was unfair, but also (I think rightly) says the alternative was worse. He also just states that they couldn't bail out the homeowners. It takes the two of them way too long to get to this point and while they start to explore why or if that's true they don't really cover it. By the end, Geithner is saying that administration wanted to do more but couldn't. Stewart kind of asks why they couldn't but never gets to saying that if they wanted to do more, it wasn't made public and therefore it doesn't seem like they tried.

The part that really shocked me was their description of the cause of the crisis. Geithner just kept repeating how the scale was bigger than anything previously and that the root cause was the belief that housing prices wouldn't fall. Stewart brings up the unregulated derivatives market but Geithner dismisses it as not the root cause. I thought it was well accepted that while the housing crash was the precipitous event, the reason the scale was so huge was that the banking industry was exposed to a housing crash to an extent no one fully understood because some huge percentage of their capital (half or more) was in an unregulated highly interlinked derivatives market. When housing crashed everything froze because no one (meaning the banks) actually had faith in their balance sheets because they could no longer count on the valuations of their derivatives (aka insurance contracts). This is the reason the housing crash threatened the world economy and the tech bust a few years prior didn't. It seemed to me that Geithner didn't accept this but if the interview went longer he might have conceded it too (that's a pattern in the interview).

Viewing the Earth From Space

In Focus on Viewing the Earth From Space "Despite any political differences between the United States and Russia, the space agencies of the two countries continue their cooperative work in Earth's orbit, aboard the International Space Station. Apart from the research being done in microgravity, ISS crew members continue to send back amazing images of our home world, photographed from low Earth orbit. Gathered here are recent images of Earth from aboard the ISS, and from a handful of other NASA satellites. [28 photos]"

E01 44262597 500

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Chipotle: Leave the Gun at Home Next Time You Want a Burrito

Vox writes Chipotle: leave the gun at home next time you want a burrito "In this specific case, the issue is that a group called Open Carry Tarrant County (that's Fort Worth and its suburbs) has been staging demonstrations at area fast food restaurants where a bunch of people march in somewhere unannounced brandishing weapons. This is legal under Texas law, but no amount of frontier tradition changes the fact that it's alarming when heavily armed men walk into your suburban chain restaurant. The larger Open Carry Texas organization has been distancing itself from its Tarrant County branch after open carry demonstrations at a Wendy's and a Jack-in-the-Box both led to calls to the police."

Monday, May 19, 2014

Op-Ed: Bad copyright rules killed Hadfield's Space Oddity

The Ottawa Citizen writes Op-Ed: Bad copyright rules killed Hadfield's Space Oddity .

"As you’re probably aware, Chris Hadfield, back when he was the commander of the International Space Station, recorded an iconic version of Bowie’s 1969 song Space Oddity. The inspiring video was viewed over 22.4 million times on YouTube, inspiring millions and cementing a deserved place in Canadian history. What most people had been unaware of until the previous day, however, was that the world was only allowed to see the video because Bowie had granted Hadfield a one-year license to show it. On May 14, the license expired and Hadfield removed it from public view."

"The common-sense problems, though, are obvious. How does David Bowie’s ability – his right, under copyright law – to disappear Chris Hadfield’s stunning interpretation of Bowie’s 45-year-old song help anybody? Is the world a better place now that this piece of art has officially been scrubbed from existence?"

"At some point, creators and copyright owners have to let go. Once we create something, that’s it – it’s up to others to listen to it, be inspired by it, and use it to create new art, or to take the punk rock ideals you first heard expressed in a Descendents song and go change the world."

Diagnoses and Prescriptions: The Great Recession

Jared Bernstein on Diagnoses and Prescriptions: The Great Recession "There’s a very interesting, albeit down-in-the-weeds, analytic debate brewing around a confluence of recent publications.  Tim Geithner’s new book defends the interventions of the Treasury Department he led to reflate credit markets (and I worked with the team on this back then).   Mian and Sufi’s new book, reviewed here by Bin Appelbaum, argues that Treasury got it wrong by not recognizing the extent to which debt burdens were restricting growth and intervening in ways to write off more debt: ‘The fact that Secretary Geithner and the Obama administration did not push for debt write-downs more aggressively remains the biggest policy mistake of the Great Recession.’

Dean Baker has long argued the problem was not just the debt overhang but the wealth effect’s sharp shift into reverse when the housing bubble burst.  That’s similar to Main/Sufi except it implies that even had you forgiven the debt, consumption still would have tanked.  Brad DeLong articulates an ‘all-of-the-above’ theory, suggesting each of these analyses gets at one part of the problem but you need all of them to understand what happened."

Climate Change Lawsuits Filed Against Some 200 US Communities

The Christian Science Monitor reports Climate change lawsuits filed against some 200 US communities "A major insurance company is accusing dozens of localities in Illinois of failing to prepare for severe rains and flooding in lawsuits that are the first in what could be a wave of litigation over who should be liable for the possible costs of climate change."

David Atkins puts this in perspective, The biggest coming economic showdown you haven’t heard of. "You see, in the same way that net neutrality advocates benefit from having the support of companies like Google and Netflix, climate change advocates have been waiting for their own unlikely corporate allies in the insurance industry. The reason is obvious in retrospect: rising sea levels and more frequent natural disasters will either make many areas uninsurable, or insurance companies will go bankrupt trying to insure them (and the same goes for insurance backed by the federal government.) Insurance companies have an existential need to get ahead of the curve on the climate question. It has just been a matter of when the battle would be joined."

The NSA Is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in the Bahamas

The Intercept reports Data Pirates of the Caribbean: The NSA Is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in the Bahamas

"The National Security Agency is secretly intercepting, recording, and archiving the audio of virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas.

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the surveillance is part of a top-secret system – code-named SOMALGET – that was implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian government. Instead, the agency appears to have used access legally obtained in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to open a backdoor to the country’s cellular telephone network, enabling it to covertly record and store the ‘full-take audio’ of every mobile call made to, from and within the Bahamas – and to replay those calls for up to a month.

SOMALGET is part of a broader NSA program called MYSTIC, which The Intercept has learned is being used to secretly monitor the telecommunications systems of the Bahamas and several other countries, including Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya. But while MYSTIC scrapes mobile networks for so-called ‘metadata’ – information that reveals the time, source, and destination of calls – SOMALGET is a cutting-edge tool that enables the NSA to vacuum up and store the actual content of every conversation in an entire country."

"So: Beyond a desire to bust island pot dealers, why would the NSA choose to apply a powerful collection tool such as SOMALGET against the Bahamas, which poses virtually no threat to the United States? The answer may lie in a document that characterizes the Bahamas operation as a “test bed for system deployments, capabilities, and improvements” to SOMALGET. The country’s small population – fewer than 400,000 residents – provides a manageable sample to try out the surveillance system’s features. Since SOMALGET is also operational in one other country, the Bahamas may be used as a sort of guinea pig to beta-test improvements and alterations without impacting the system’s operations elsewhere."

Scientists may have figured out how to convert light into matter

Vox writes Scientists may have figured out how to convert light into matter

"Eighty years ago, physicists Gregory Breit and John Wheeler calculated that if you smashed pure photons of light together, you could theoretically convert them into tangible matter — but said that actually producing this process would be so difficult that it'd be 'hopeless to try to observe… in laboratory experiments'.

In a new article in the journal Nature Photonics, scientists at Imperial College London led by Oliver Pike propose a practical way of accomplishing this that would use lasers, a slab of gold, and an empty can."

The best commencement speeches ever

Kottke writes: "From NPR, a searchable sortable archive of the best commencement speeches, from 1774 to the present. What a resource. Two of my favorites, by David Foster Wallace and Steve Jobs, are represented."

Slightly More Than 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism

Conor Friedersdorf picks Slightly More Than 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism "Each year, I keep a running list of exceptional nonfiction for The Best of Journalism, a weekly email newsletter I publish. The result is my annual Best Of Journalism Awards. I couldn't read every worthy piece published last year and haven't included any paywalled articles or many of the numerous pieces from The Atlantic that I enjoyed*. But everything that follows is worthy of wider attention."

Metropolitan Museum Initiative Provides Free Access to 400,000 Digital Images

Metropolitan Museum Initiative Provides Free Access to 400,000 Digital Images. "Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, announced today that more than 400,000 high-resolution digital images of public domain works in the Museum’s world-renowned collection may be downloaded directly from the Museum’s website for non-commercial use—including in scholarly publications in any media—without permission from the Museum and without a fee. The number of available images will increase as new digital files are added on a regular basis"

2013 Nebula Awards Winners

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America announced the 2013 Nebula Awards Winners. I need to read more books.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Introducing the WebKit FTL JIT

For compiler geeks, Introducing the WebKit FTL JIT "This post describes a new advancement in JavaScript optimization: the WebKit project has unified its existing JavaScript compilation infrastructure with the state-of-the-art LLVM optimizer. This will allow JavaScript programs to leverage sophisticated optimizations that were previously only available to native applications written in languages like C++ or Objective-C."

Obama's strategy of letting Putin hang himself is working

Vox says Obama's strategy of letting Putin hang himself is working

"Most of this is economic. Russia's self-imposed economic problems started pretty quickly after its annexation of Crimea in March and have kept up. Whether or not American or European governments sanction Russia's broader economy, the global investment community has a mind of its own, and they seem to have decided that Russia's behavior has made it a risky place to put money. So risky that they're pulling more money out."

"The lesson that Putin is learning is that Russia depends on the global economy, whether it likes it or not, and the global economy doesn't like it when you go invading other countries and tempting the richest nations in the world to maybe consider sanctioning you. This is actually a significant change for Russia, which at the height of its Soviet power was not integrated into the global economy and so didn't have to worry about things like investor sentiment. But now it is and it does."

Sunday, May 11, 2014

When Politics Approach the Bench

The New York Times has a nice graphic When Politics Approach the Bench "The clean ideological split of the most recent three terms is unprecedented. Here are justices from the past 60 terms arrayed in order of their voting records from liberal to conservative."

I guess I see the point but once you just accept that Stephens and Souter were liberals, even though they were Republican appointees, the court division has been pretty consistent for a while. What I didn't realize before this chart was how much the court has swung based on party. In 1953 eight of nine justices were Democratic appointments (probably all by FDR). By 1972 it was down to just three Democrats and in 1975 just two. It stayed that way until 1991 when Thomas replaced Marshall and Byron White was the only Democrat. In 1993 Gingsberg replaced White but was still the only Democrat though the next year she was joined by Breyer. They remained the only two Democratic appointments on the court until 2009.

Viewed from Republicans, in 1972 they had six of nine seats, and from 1975-2008 they had 7 or 8 seats. Now Stevens and Souter were certainly not conservatives, but since Obama, they've lost two more seats.

The graphic accompanies this article, The Polarized Court.

Not all ad blockers are the same. Here’s why the EFF’s Privacy Badger is different

GigaOm wrote Not all ad blockers are the same. Here’s why the EFF’s Privacy Badger is different. I haven't tried Privacy Badger but the article is also a nice overview of the state of the art in adblockers.

Fairness vs. Freedom: Is Politics Going Back to the 1970s?

Nate Silver wrote Fairness vs. Freedom: Is Politics Going Back to the 1970s?.

Silver fariness liberty

"The usage of the terms can also be thought of as a proxy for where the parties align on on the left-right spectrum. Like other measures of partisan activity, this one shows that Republicans have shifted somewhat further away from the center and have therefore been somewhat more responsible for the increasing divide between the parties. However, Democrats have also been moving to the left.

In general, I’m in agreement with Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein, that political commentators and journalists have been too slow to talk about the Republican Party’s rightward shift. It also seems plausible to me, however, that we could see an increasingly sharp shift toward the left in the Democratic Party in the coming years, particularly if Hillary Clinton is not its nominee in 2016."

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Photos of the Week: 5/3-5/9

In Focus presents Photos of the Week: 5/3-5/9 "Feedback from last week was generally positive, so I'll be continuing to present a weekly wrap-up of photos every Friday (unless there's a strong, timely photo story, when I might skip a week). Your feedback remains welcome, let me know what you think in the comments below, or elsewhere, thanks. Today's collection of photos from the past seven days features wayward caribou on the Yukon River, a collection of Terracotta Daughters, unrest in Ukraine, a performance by the Lords of Lightning, earthquake damage in Thailand, and much more. [35 photos]"

Great stuff in here.

W08 11460492 500

Friday, May 09, 2014

We've Finally Found Our Sun's Long-Lost Sister

io9 writes We've Finally Found Our Sun's Long-Lost Sister "For the first time ever, astronomers have identified a star that emerged from the same cloud of dust and gas as our own. "

The star, HD 162826, was identified by Ivan Ramirez and his team at the University of Texas at Austin. It's located 110 light-years away in the constellation Hercules, is about 15% more massive than our sun, and is not visible to the naked eye.

Ramirez's team was able to match this star to our own by following up on 30 possible candidates. The astronomers used high-resolution spectroscopy to get a better understanding of the chemical make-up of these stars. In addition, they analyzed the orbits of these candidates, namely where they have been and where they are going in the paths around the center of the Milky Way.

Both the chemical analysis and orbital calculations narrowed the field of candidates to just one: HD 162826.

This particular star, which has been studied for the better part of 15 years, does not appear to have any massive planets orbiting close to it (so-called hot jupiters). Nor does a Jupiter-like planet reside at the farthest reaches of this solar system. But studies to date have not ruled out the presence of smaller terrestrial planets. According to Ramirez, there is a chance, "small, but not zero," that these solar sibling stars could host planets that harbor life.

ISEE-3 Might Be Saved

Three months ago I wrote about The 8-Track of Space Craft. The ISEE-3 spacecraft was launched in 1978 and is returning to earth but we no longer have the equipment to even communicate with it let alone rescue it.

And now Spaceref writes , Ettus Research Expertise Helps Rescue An Aging Satellite For Science

"ISEE-3 will be returning to Earth orbit in August of this year after having circled the sun for nearly four decades. SpaceRef Interactive, Skycorp, and Space College have joined forces to rescue the spacecraft, put it back into orbit near Earth, and use it for scientific research and STEM education."

"Skycorp's CEO Dennis Wingo said "NASA does not have the old hardware to talk to the spacecraft anymore. A device akin to an old dialup modem is needed. Since the schedule to do this is so short, using a traditional development approach is impossible. With the continuing advances in technology for software-defined radios what was once impossible is now merely difficult. Shortly after meeting the Ettus Research team they managed to put something together in days that would have taken months to do just a few years ago. This led us to chose Ettus Research to lead the development of the software radio we needed. Without the expertise, cooperative spirit, and a can-do attitude of the Ettus team this task would have been far more difficult - if not impossible.""

Thursday, May 08, 2014

House Committee axes NSA bulk phone metadata collection

Ars Technica reports House Committee axes NSA bulk phone metadata collection "A House committee on Wednesday unanimously voted to end the National Security Agency's bulk telephone metadata collection program. The vote by the House Judiciary Committee was 32-0. The measure moves to the full House, where its passage is uncertain."

That seems good.

Your Broadband Company May Be Holding Your Internet Access Hostage

In Your Broadband Company May Be Holding Your Internet Access Hostage Time explains Level 3's recent complaint.

"The big broadband providers “are deliberately harming the service they deliver to their paying customers,” writes Mark Taylor, Level 3′s VP of Content and Media, in a blog post on Monday, who argued that their near-monopoly in local markets was the main factor allowing them to get away with it. “They are not allowing us to fulfill the requests their customers make for content.”"

"Check out the stats: Level 3 currently has 51 peers. It has congested connections with 12 of them. It’s sharing the cost of fixing six of those. Of the remaining six congested connections where the peer is refusing to share the cost of maintenance, five of them are in the U.S. and one is in Europe, and all of them operate as near- or total local monopolies."

Meanwhile, Brian Fung writes Google, Netflix lead nearly 150 tech companies in protest of FCC net neutrality plan. "In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday, the companies asked federal regulators to reconsider a proposal that critics fear would allow Internet providers to charge for faster, better access to consumers. The list includes Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, along with dozens of other firms that called the prospect of paid fast lanes 'a threat to the Internet.'"

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

SCOTUS Debates: Can Police Search Your Cellphone

Last week the Supreme Court heard arguments in Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie which involve to what extent can police search the cell phone of someone arrested without a warrant. Amy Howe in SCOTUSblog explains, A whole new world: Today’s oral arguments in Plain English.

"Going into the oral argument, both California and the federal government told the Court that, whenever police make an arrest, cellphones should be fair game for a search for all of the same reasons that police can search, for example, the arrestee’s wallet without a warrant.  But it’s hard to see five Justices voting in support of that rule, given the widespread skepticism that the argument met on the Court.  Justice Elena Kagan was one of the most vocal opponents of such a rule, telling California Solicitor General Edward DuMont that, following his logic, an arrest for a minor offense like driving without a seatbelt would allow police to look at every single e-mail on the arrestee’s phone, along with his bank records, medical data, calendar, and GPS data.  That, she suggested, ‘strikes me as a very different kind of world’ from looking at someone’s billfold, given that ‘people carry their entire lives on cellphones.’  Justice Antonin Scalia later echoed this idea, calling it ‘absurd’ that police should be able to search someone’s iPhone for that kind of minor offense.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom many often regard as a key vote on the Court, expressed concerns as well, telling Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Michael Dreeben (who argued on behalf of the federal government in both cases today) that ‘we are living in a new world,’ in which someone arrested for a minor crime has her ‘whole life on [her] phone’ and asking whether Dreeben could suggest some limits on the potentially broad sweep of the government’s rule.

But even if California and the federal government seem unlikely to win outright, the chances that the Court will require police officers to get a warrant whenever they want to search an arrestee’s phone appear even slimmer.  Although (as the previous paragraph indicates) virtually all of the Justices were keenly aware that cellphones are unique insofar as they contain large amounts of personal information, they were equally mindful that – as Justice Kennedy observed – criminals also rely on cellphones to facilitate their dirty work.  And the Justices may be reluctant to hamstring efforts by law enforcement officials to fight and investigate crime.  Dreeben seized on this concern, repeatedly pushing back against the suggestion that police could always go get a warrant and then search the phone once they obtained it.  He spent much of his half-hour at the lectern during the Wurie argument describing the benefits that could come from an immediate search of a cellphone – such as learning of a plan by the arrestee’s confederates to ambush police – and warning the Court that, if police have to delay a search to go get a warrant, sophisticated encryption technology can kick in and make the data on the phone ‘useless,’ possibly for months."

The Man Who Literally Built Star Wars

Esquire interviews The Man Who Literally Built Star Wars "The garbage compactor was also pretty hard, because I knew I had actors in there and the walls had to come in, and they had to be in dirty water and I had to get stuff that would be light enough so it wouldn't hurt them but also not bobbing around. That was a difficult one."

Inventing a Failure

Paul Krugman on Inventing a Failure

"This is a problem for Republicans, who have bet the ranch on the proposition that health reform is an unfixable failure... How can they respond to good news? Well, they could graciously admit that they were wrong, and offer constructive suggestions about how to make the law work even better...No, they have in fact continued to do what they’ve been doing ever since the news on Obamacare started turning positive: sling as much mud as possible at health reform, in the hope that some of it sticks. Premiums were soaring, they declared, when they have actually come in below projections. Millions of people were losing coverage, they insisted, when the great bulk of those whose policies were canceled simply replaced them with new policies. The Obama administration was cooking the books, they cried (projection, anyone?). And, of course, they keep peddling horror stories about people suffering terribly from Obamacare, not one of which has actually withstood scrutiny."

"Now comes the latest claim — that many of the people who signed up for insurance aren’t actually paying their premiums...But the survey was rigged. (Are you surprised?) It asked insurers how many enrollees had paid their first premium; it ignored the fact that the first premium wasn’t even due for the millions of people who signed up for insurance after March 15."

It's really stunning to me that there is no political price to be paid for these kinds of stunts. I get that Fox will report this, but even by their worldview shouldn't every other news outlet be calling them out for this kind of tactic?

The Supreme Court will defend your right to free speech if it agrees with you?

Vox wrote The Supreme Court will defend your right to free speech if it agrees with you

"The study, by Professors Lee Epstein, Christopher Parker, and Jeffrey Segal, found that conservative justices were more likely to protect the speech of conservatives, and liberals were more likely to do so for liberal speakers. 'Justices are opportunistic free speechers,' the authors write. 'They are willing to turn back regulation of expression when the expression conforms to their values and uphold it when the expression and their preferences collide.'"

It took me a while to figure out this chart (even though there are only 4 data points).


Vox says "The chart shows that, in general, conservative justices are less likely to defend free speech than liberal ones — conservatives defend it in one-third of cases, and liberals defend it in about two-thirds. But justices from either group are much more likely to defend the speech of ideologically similar speakers, and less likely to defend the speech of ideological opponents."

My interpretation is different. To me, liberals like free speech, a little less if it's conservative, and conservatives don't' like free speech, and if you're a liberal, you're practically not allowed to speak at all (just 1/10 of the time).

40 Maps That Explain The Middle East

Vox wrote 40 Maps That Explain The Middle East "Maps can be a powerful tool for understanding the world, particularly the Middle East, a place in many ways shaped by changing political borders and demographics. Here are 40 maps crucial for understanding the Middle East — its history, its present, and some of the most important stories in the region today." There's a lot here to digest.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Making a 7' Lego Serenity

brickfrenzy posted, "I had the opportunity to rebuild my Lego Serenity, and as I did so I decided to make a time-lapse video of it. This was filmed over the course of about 14 months and encompasses 4166 individual images, taken at 60 second intervals, plus detail images from the first build." Only thing I wonder is where are the blueprints?

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Congress is clueless on technology — and just voted to keep it that way

Vox writes Congress is clueless on technology — and just voted to keep it that way

"It would be nice if Congress had some technical experts on staff to analyze proposed legislation and advise members about its technical implications. And in fact, Congress did have an agency like that, called the Office of Technology Assessment, until Newt Gingrich zeroed out its funding in 1995.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), one of the few members of Congress with scientific training, wants to change that. Yesterday he introduced an amendment that would have allocated funds to re-start the agency. But it was defeated in a 164-248 vote."

Friday, May 02, 2014

Can Hackers Really Manipulate Traffic Lights Like You’ve Seen in the Movies?

Can Hackers Really Manipulate Traffic Lights Like You’ve Seen in the Movies? Yup.

"The hack doesn’t target the traffic lights directly but rather sensors embedded in streets that feed data to traffic control systems, said Cesar Cerrudo, an Argentinian security researcher with IOActive who examined the systems and plans to present his findings at the upcoming Infiltrate conference in Florida."

"The sensors use a proprietary protocol designed by the vendor — called the Sensys NanoPower protocol — that operates similar to Zigbee. But the systems lack basic security protections — such as data encryption and authentication — allowing the data to be monitored or, theoretically, replaced with false information."

Why Doctors Still Use Pen and Paper

James Fallows of The Atlantic spoke with David Blumenthal about Why Doctors Still Use Pen and Paper.

"The health-care system is one of the most technology-dependent parts of the American economy, and one of the most primitive. Every patient knows, and dreads, the first stage of any doctor visit: sitting down with a clipboard and filling out forms by hand. David Blumenthal, a physician and former Harvard Medical School professor, was from 2009 to 2011 the national coordinator for health information technology, in charge of modernizing the nation’s medical-records systems. He now directs The Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that conducts health-policy research. Here, he talks about why progress has been so slow, and when and how that might change."

From the patient’s perspective, this is a no-brainer. The benefits are substantial. But from the provider’s perspective, there are substantial costs in setting up and using the systems. Until now, providers haven’t recovered those costs, either in payment or in increased satisfaction, or in any other way. Ultimately, there are of course benefits to the professional as well. It’s beyond question that you become a better physician, a better nurse, a better manager when you have the digital data at your fingertips. But the costs are considerable, and they have fallen on people who have no economic incentive to make the transition. The benefits of a more efficient practice largely accrue to people paying the bills. The way economists would describe this is that the medical marketplace is broken.

Afterwards he posted various responses he got from readers, But Seriously Now, Why Do Doctors Still Make You Fill Out Forms on Clipboards?.

State of the iPad

Jared Sinclair wrote Giving Up On The iPad which isn't an accurate title for the essay.

"A typical customer’s iPhone is put to work in all its capacity, while her iPad is relegated to only one or two niche uses. An iPhone is a phone, a flashlight, a GPS navigator, a camera, etc. An iPad can be most of those things, but in practice it gets stuck being just one or two of them."

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad he said that this new category must be far better at some tasks than a phone or a computer to have a reason to exist. Sinclair makes the point that a mac (or PC) is best for work and power computing while an iPhone is best for taking pictures, social media, and GPS and that it's not clear what an iPad is best at. He says customers use it for reading, videos, gaming, education, and some niche professional tools. I'm not sure why those uses aren't enough. Jobs said it's best for surfing but he also said "it's a dream to type on".

With the latest quarterly report showing little if any iPad growth, Jean-Louis Gassée wrote The iPad Is a Tease. "I see the lull in iPad sales as a coming down to reality after unrealistic expectations, a realization that iPads aren’t as ready to replace PCs as many initially hoped."

Ben Thompson says Don't Give Up on the iPad. "But I’m much less sure about other “features” that geeks are clamoring for, like multiple windows and access to the file system. It’s the absence of these features that makes the iPad so accessible to so many who have never felt comfortable with traditional computers; there is always a cost to complexity. Moreover, for those geeks clamoring for Mac features, why not just use a Mac? It was built explicitly with multi-windows, access to the file system, and a WIMP interface in mind, and the Mac hardware line right now is absolutely fantastic (and will be even better if WWDC features a Retina MacBook Air). Let the iPad be the computer for those for whom computers are too much, even if this population by definition isn’t likely to upgrade frequently."

My iPad has never replaced my computer but it let me change from a laptop to a desktop. The iPad meets my portable needs (which aren't that extensive). It also meets my couch and airplane needs. I would much rather read on my iPad than on my mac or my iPhone. If you don't already use a computer, it's clearly a reasonable gateway device.

The reason geeks want the file system exposed is because they want it to be easier for apps to share data. That's one way the problem is addressed on computers, but it also makes them more complicated and less secure. The limitations in how apps can communicate with each other is one of the major reasons why there isn't malware on iOS. Maybe Apple can solve the sharing problem in some more secure way, we'll have to wait and see.

The productivity issue really comes down to ease of input. The iPad is already the portable TV screen from 2001: A Space Odyssey, if it could replace a legal pad it would be a big win. We're used to typing on computers and typing on an iPad isn't great. I think it's better than on an iPhone but many people are far more comfortable with thumb typing than I am. I'd really like to see a good stylus input system, the best I've seen so far is Notes Plus. I don't use it much but it's easy to see how it could evolve into something seamless (possibly requiring better hardware).

Certainly Apple is trying to do a lot with Siri. Voice input is interesting but works best when you're alone. Siri has only been on the iPad for 2 years and I still have an iPad 2 so can't use it. I'm using it more and more on the iPhone but I don't yet see doing lots of dictation to an iPad app.

It's still a great device for consumption (books, surfing, video, games, casual communications, etc.) and I think that's fine for now.

America's Nuclear Arsenal Still Runs Off Floppy Disks

America's Nuclear Arsenal Still Runs Off Floppy Disks "America just got a reminder that its nuclear arsenal is old and getting older. On last night's 60 Minutes, Lesley Stahl met two ‘missileers’ charged with watching over and controlling Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles in Wyoming, and the control room was not what Stahl—or I—expected: There's no ‘big button,’ but there are floppy disks."

Crazy. Even the documentation on how to maintain the systems is disappearing. “Specifically, film media and microfiche are being lost due to degradation, and radiographs are beginning to stick together, causing extensive damage and making the data unrecoverable.”

The Great Works of Software

Paul Ford wrote in The Message about The Great Works of Software. "Is it possible to propose a software canon? To enumerate great works of software that are deeply influential—that changed the nature of the code that followed?"

He picked five: MS Office, Photoshop, Pac-Man, Unix and Emacs. Any such list is kind of arbitrary and only useful if its explanations are entertaining which I think these are.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

After Comcast, Netflix signs traffic deal with Verizon

I haven't noticed much troubles with Netflix and my FiOS service, but I guess it's going to get better, After Comcast, Netflix signs traffic deal with Verizon. Not unexpected but also kind of depressing.

How I used Heartbleed to steal a site’s private crypto key

Robin Xu writes in Ars Technica in some technical depth How I used Heartbleed to steal a site’s private crypto key. For programming geeks only.

Why Oklahoma tried to execute a man with a secret, untested mix of chemicals

Vox explains Why Oklahoma tried to execute a man with a secret, untested mix of chemicals.

"Oklahoma was using the experimental formula because pharmaceutical companies increasingly refuse to supply "safe" lethal injection chemicals. That's left capital punishment states to choose between executing inmates under dangerous conditions or not executing them at all. Many states have chosen to go ahead, and some have adopted secrecy laws that shield the chemical compounds used for the executions."

"The key chemical in lethal injections is sodium thiopental, originally invented as an anesthetic. But US manufacturers of the drug have been increasingly refusing to sell it, either out of opposition to the death penalty or concern about association with executions. In 2011, the last US supplier, a company called Hospira, stopped making it. Later that year, the European Union announced an export ban on sodium thiopental, in pursuit of its official goal of "universal abolition" of the death penalty"

I wonder why they don't use the same medications that are used in Oregon and Washington for right-to-die prescriptions. Maybe it's the same drug and it's sale is limited based on intended usage?

SuperPAC to end all SuperPacs

Lawrence Lessig has launched, a SuperPAC to end all SuperPacs. They're raising money Kickstarter-style to make campaign funding a central issue in 5 congressional races in 2014 with more to come in 2016. They're trying to raise $1 million in May and then $5 million in June, both of which will be matched. 100% of the funds raised will go to the cause, all overhead is covered.

"Any candidate for Congress who has pledged to co-sponsor one of these reforms will be safe from the Mayday PAC. At this point, we will only target candidates who have not committed to co-sponsoring fundamental reform."

Here's the plan in Larry's own words:

How One Woman Hid Her Pregnancy From Big Data

How One Woman Hid Her Pregnancy From Big Data

"First, Vertesi made sure there were absolutely no mentions of her pregnancy on social media, which is one of the biggest ways marketers collect information. She called and emailed family directly to tell them the good news, while also asking them not to put anything on Facebook. She even unfriended her uncle after he sent a congratulatory Facebook message.

She also made sure to only use cash when buying anything related to her pregnancy, so no information could be shared through her credit cards or store-loyalty cards. For items she did want to buy online, Vertesi created an Amazon account linked to an email address on a personal server, had all packages delivered to a local locker and made sure only to use Amazon gift cards she bought with cash."

"Genius, right? But not exactly foolproof. Vertesi said that by dodging advertising and traditional forms of consumerism, her activity raised a lot of red flags. When her husband tried to buy $500 worth of Amazon gift cards with cash in order to get a stroller, a notice at the Rite Aid counter said the company had a legal obligation to report excessive transactions to the authorities. "Those kinds of activities, when you take them in the aggregate ... are exactly the kinds of things that tag you as likely engaging in criminal activity, as opposed to just having a baby," she said."

How Are Main Street Republicans Doing?

Unless you work as a pollster I think it's too early to be studying Who Will Win The Senate?. Looking at the presidential race, before we even have candidates seems premature too. Ben Highton thinks A big Electoral College advantage for the Democrats is looming and that there's a 80-something percent chance they'll win the presidency in 2016. Harry Enten says Democrats Shouldn’t Count on an Electoral College Edge in 2016. "An Electoral College advantage is often taken as a sign of a structural advantage, but for the most part, it’s been cyclical. The Democratic edge in 2008 and 2012 may be more due to randomness than demographics." Highton went back to 1992 and Enten back to 1900. I'm not sure which is more relevant.

But there is a trend that seems interesting to look at, how is the Republican party doing with its tea party faction.

538 reports, GOP Establishment Looks Set to Win a Bunch of Senate Primaries "Establishment Republicans look to be in good shape in many states where a more conservative candidate could cost the party a seat." They cite Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, both Carolinas, Tennessee and Texas. Politico reports on How Lindsey Graham outmaneuvered the tea party.

Kevin Drum writes John Boehner Speaks Up For Main Street Republicanism "This is all about pragmatism, a cri de coeur against the Foxification of the Republican Party. And I guess it means one of two things. Either Boehner doesn't really care much about holding onto his leadership position anymore, or else he's sensed that there's a burgeoning Main Street backlash against the radicalism of the tea party wing of the modern GOP."

The Washington Post says Tea Party PACs reap money for midterms, but spend little on candidates. "Out of the $37.5 million spent so far by the PACs of six major tea party organizations, less than $7 million has been devoted to directly helping candidates, according to the analysis, which was based on campaign finance data provided by the Sunlight Foundation...Roughly half of the money — nearly $18 million — has gone to pay for fundraising and direct mail, largely provided by Washington-area firms. Meanwhile, tea party leaders and their family members have been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees, while their groups have doled out large sums for airfare, a retirement plan and even interior decorating." Maybe they're saving their money for later or spending in different ways (as they suggest) but we'll see if there's a different concentration of power than in any other political organization.

The New Abolitionism

A few years ago Bill McKibben wrote in Rolling Stone, Global Warming's Terrifying New Math. It makes the point that to avoid climate change catastrophe we can only release 565 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere but energy companies have 2795 gigatons in proven reserves. So the climate movement must convince energy companies to not use 80% of their assets.

Information Is Beautiful has a graphic on this based around the year 2000. How Many Gigatons of CO2?.

A couple of week ago Chris Hayes wrote in The Nation, The New Abolitionism. While all this is difficult to estimate, he placed the value of that 80% at $20 trillion and to be conservative cuts that in half. Then he tries to find an analogy. "The last time in American history that some powerful set of interests relinquished its claim on $10 trillion of wealth was in 1865—and then only after four years and more than 600,000 lives lost in the bloodiest, most horrific war we’ve ever fought." What follows is a history of the economics leading to the civil war and a description of our current state of fossil fuel extraction boom.

Matt Karp has a nice followup in Jacobin, A Second Civil War saying the analogy works even better than Hayes thinks. "The issue, in other words, is not the $10 trillion in potential fossil fuel wealth that must be forfeited, but the principle at stake in its forfeit. Without some larger challenge to the current configuration of power and ideas, we are just asking our masters, politely, if they will agree to commit suicide. We shouldn’t be surprised when they decline the offer."