Monday, June 30, 2014

Nathan Myhrvold's Recipe for a Better Oven

Nathan Myhrvold's Recipe for a Better Oven is everything you ever wanted to know about ovens.

Court gave NSA broad leeway in surveillance, documents show

I don't find today's Washington Post story, Court gave NSA broad leeway in surveillance, documents show, at all surprising. As a spy organization I'd expect the NSA to spy on other countries, potentially all of them. As far as intercepting things (even from US citizens) that refer to some address or thing of interest in another country, there have long been "joke" email tools (like Emacs' spook) that add random words at the of messages to flood the NSA. I've found the other revelations much more interesting.

NSA admits it lets the FBI access its warrantless spying database

NSA admits it lets the FBI access its warrantless spying database:

The letter, addressed to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), admits that the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation all conducted backdoor searches in 2013. Thousands of Americans were search subjects. Most of these were searches of metadata, such as what number people called and when. But at least 198 searches — and possibly many more — were seeking the contents of Americans' private communications.

(Via Vox - All)

Cassini’s 10th anniversary: The mission’s greatest images of Saturn.

Cassini’s 10th anniversary: The mission’s greatest images of Saturn.

"10 years ago—the main engine on board the Cassini space probe cut off. When the burn was over, Cassini had achieved a milestone in human history: It became the first spacecraft to enter Saturn orbit... To celebrate this milestone I picked my ten favorite images from Cassini, one for each year our robotic proxy has examined Saturn."

Americans Think We Have the World’s Best Colleges. We Don’t.

The New York Times reports Americans Think We Have the World’s Best Colleges. We Don’t

America’s perceived international dominance of higher education, by contrast, rests largely on global rankings of top universities. According to a recent ranking by the London-based Times Higher Education, 18 of the world’s top 25 universities are American. Similarly, the Academic Ranking of World Universities, published annually by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, gives us 19 of 25... International university rankings, moreover, have little to do with education. Instead, they focus on universities as research institutions, using metrics such as the number of Nobel Prize winners on staff and journal articles published. A university could stop enrolling undergraduates with no effect on its score.

The project is called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (known as Piaac, sometimes called “pee-ack”). In 2011 and 2012, 166,000 adults ages 16 to 65 were tested in the O.E.C.D. countries (most of Europe along with the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea) and Cyprus and Russia. Like PISA, Piaac tests people’s literacy and math skills...As with the measures of K-12 education, the United States battles it out for last place, this time with Italy and Spain. Countries that traditionally trounce America on the PISA test of 15-year-olds, such as Japan and Finland, also have much higher levels of proficiency and skill among adults.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Movie Review: The Counselor

Last year's The Counselor had a crazy amazing pedigree: directed by Ridley Scott, written by Cormac McCarthy, starring: Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, and Brad Pitt with lots of fun cameos. It got bad reviews and didn't last long in the theaters so I skipped it. I watched it on HBO last night. Then I made the mistake of looking at IMDb message board which is just filled with dribble like "worst film ever" and "you just didn't understand it".

I've never read Cormac McCarthy. I liked the movie No Country for Old Men and found The Road too bleak. I didn't really care for The Counselor but found it an interesting failure. The plot is about a drug heist, and by plot I mean something closer to scheme than story. I could not tell you all the details of the plot, I don't think they were presented. It's interesting that what was presented was done almost entirely visually via cutaways to scenes without the main characters. Ridley Scott is certainly capable of doing that well and as far as screenplay 101, McCarthy is showing the plot and not telling it. But the story is an entirely different matter.

Michael Fassbender is the nameless Counselor. He seems well off and in love with Laura (Penélope Cruz). He has some associations with bad guys Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Westray (Brad Pitt) though we don't really know exactly what they do. We do see them talk at length about life's excesses of money and women and sometimes evil. Malkina (Cameron Diaz) is Reiner's girlfriend and is often the subject of these descriptions. The Counselor gets involved in some illegal plot. It's not clear if he's broken the law before or if this is just to a new degree. Reiner and Westray both warn him about entering a new world and about the importance of preparing for consequences (which you'd expect a lawyer to already know). He says he's in, but when things start to go bad (and you knew they would), he's unprepared.

This is the story, and it's told in many metaphoric (and if you will literary) conversations overflowing with narrative monologues. Some work, some don't. The important one is delivered by Jefe (Rubén Blades) late in the film. I'm tempted to quote some of it here but I guess that would be a spoiler. Many on the IMDb boards found it the most pretentious and boring of the film; I thought it was a wonderful nihilistic view of life that everyone could learn from (and I hated the final conversation in No Country for Old Men). Ok, here's a line:

And that is because when it comes to grief, the normal rules of exchange do not apply, because grief transcends value. A man would give entire nations to lift grief off his heart. And yet, you cannot buy anything with grief, because grief is worthless.

I think you have to respect a film with a character delivering such a line. However overall the film didn't work for me. Some of the dialog is wonderful but anything plot related is too cryptic and I was frustrated throughout the film (even though I early on figured out the ultimate resolution). The only useful commentary I found on IMDb is by flickfix and I agree, the plot isn't the point, but Tarantino does this much better. If the plot isn't the point, don't have me wasting time trying to figure it out. Maybe he was trying to express that life isn't always clear, but I think it hurt the story.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Zero for Six

Paul Krugman serves up some Obamacare claim chowder Zero for Six.

NASA's New Orion Spacecraft and Space Launch System

In Focus shows NASA's New Orion Spacecraft and Space Launch System "Since the end of the Space Shuttle program, NASA technicians have been developing a new Space Launch System (SLS), along with a new manned spacecraft named Orion, designed to once again lift astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit, and return them safely home. Years of development and testing are leading up to the first planned (unmanned) launch of Orion in December, sending it 3,600 miles into space atop a Delta 4 Heavy booster. The complete system is scheduled for a an unmanned lunar-orbit test in 2017. Long-term, Orion and the SLS will serve as both transport and a home to astronauts during future long-duration missions to an asteroid, Mars and other destinations throughout our solar system. [35 photos]"

NASA scientists have fun toys.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Are lost IRS e-mails “unbelievable”? Not really

Are lost IRS e-mails “unbelievable”? Not really | Ars Technica

"During a hearing held yesterday by the House Oversight Committee, Committee Chairman Darrel Issa said that it was ‘unbelievable’ that the IRS had lost the e-mails of former IRS official Lois Lerner. While Congressman Issa is not generally ignorant on tech issues, he’s clearly not familiar with just how believable such a screw-up is."

"The IRS is not the only federal agency to lose e-mails over the past few years. In fact, despite efforts at many agencies to standardize and improve e-mail by moving to services like Google Apps for Government and Microsoft Office 365 Government, many agencies still run their e-mail like it’s 1999. It’s not just a technology issue—it’s an IT policy issue, a staffing issue, and a cultural issue within government, one that the federal government shares with many private corporations."

"These are problems agencies across the federal government are facing—lack of internal IT expertise, dependence on contractors, reduced money to pay for contractors due to the ongoing budget wars, and the mass departure of baby boomer employees. Combine that with “best practices” that have long passed their shelf life, and you have a recipe for more than just a few missing e-mails; you have a blueprint for total chaos, of which missing e-mails are only a single symptom."

Boehner’s attack on Obama’s executive orders ignores presidential history

Boehner’s attack on Obama’s executive orders ignores presidential history - The Washington Post "When it comes to executive orders, Obama has so far been a model of executive restraint. Consider that as the political theater of Boehner's lawsuit plays out over the coming days and weeks. As John Hudak writes, 'claims that President Obama is issuing more than his predecessors is just flat wrong—and continues to be a talking point completely at odds with real data.'"


Has the Cosmology Standard Model become a Rube Goldberg Device?

Universe Today has a nice understandable article on the state of recent cosmology data and its effect on the Standard Model. Has the Cosmology Standard Model become a Rube Goldberg Device? "Today, observations from BICEP2, NASA and ESA great space observatories, sensitive instruments buried miles underground and carefully contrived quantum experiments in laboratories are making the Standard Model more stressed in explaining everything, the same model so well supported by the Higg’s Boson discovery just two years ago. Cosmologists concede that we may never have a complete, proven theory of everything, one that is elegant; however, the challenges upon the Standard Model and inflation will surely embolden younger theorists to double the efforts in other theoretical work."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Thou shalt not commit logical fallacies

Thou shalt not commit logical fallacies "A logical fallacy is a flaw in reasoning. Logical fallacies are like tricks or illusions of thought, and they're often very sneakily used by politicians and the media to fool people. Don't be fooled! This website has been designed to help you identify and call out dodgy logic wherever it may raise its ugly, incoherent head."

It's much prettier than Wikipedia's page on Fallacy.

Why Apple really cares about your privacy | Macworld

Rich Mogull in MacWorld makes a case about Why Apple really cares about your privacy.

"Google can’t stop scanning user email, since targeted advertising is its core business. Facebook won’t encrypt messages end-to-end for the very same reason. Microsoft can’t restrict enterprise administrators from controlling phones and computers, since enterprise manageability is core to its primary customer base, especially as it loses ground in the consumer market. Android—okay, Google—can’t dictate hardware design, and thus can’t consistently secure customer data on the device. Essentially, Apple uses the difference in its business model to attack competitors on privacy.

Apple makes its money selling hardware to consumers. All of its software and services are predominantly there to drive hardware (and to a lesser extent, media) sales. The consumer is the customer, not advertisers or enterprises. The only other companies in a similar position—such as Sony—lack the strength, software, and ecosystems to truly compete. Apple also clearly sees nothing to gain in designing systems that support government snooping (though it will be interesting to see how that works as it extends its services into China and other nations where domestic monitoring is legally mandated)."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Wolfram Programming Cloud Is Live!—Stephen Wolfram Blog

Yesterday Stephen Wolfram announced Wolfram Programming Cloud Is Live!. The post far too often explains how he's been "working toward this for nearly 30 years" but it looks really fascinating.

Here's the example code he shows:

    Classify["Language", "good afternoon"]["LargestCountry"]["Flag"]

That is a program that looks at the text "good afternoon" figures out that its language is English, finds the largest country where English is spoken and returns a picture of its flag. He writes a little more code to embed the two letter country on the image.

But then he goes on to show, "But OK, so we’ve got a function that does something. Now what can we do with it? Well, this is one of the big things about the Wolfram Programming Cloud: it lets us use the Wolfram Language to deploy the function to the cloud." It's one line to describe the parameters and get back a live URL that can be called from anywhere on the web. There's some licensing involved to do anything real, but this demos amazingly well. I suspect it will remain a niche because it basically requires developers to know Mathematica (or more properly Wolfram Language).

The Supreme Court just made it a little harder for the EPA to fight climate change

Timothy Lee writes in Vox The Supreme Court just made it a little harder for the EPA to fight climate change. It's short but hard to quote, so go read it.

Obama's legal argument for droning an American citizen without trial, explained

Obama's legal argument for droning an American citizen without trial, explained - Vox "We finally know the legal argument the Obama administration used to justify killing American citizen and alleged al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals forced the administration to release the Justice Department memo making the argument and, on Monday, the memo went public."

Basically it's the 2001 AUMF but the document making this specific case is so redacted it's unconvincing. While most believe that Anwar al-Awlaki was a bad guy, the case is far more dubias for his 16 year-old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki who was killed by a US drone two weeks after Anwar.

Is America better at treating cancer than Europe?

Ezra Kleins wonders Is America better at treating cancer than Europe?. Not so much. It turns out that because of early detection, mortality is a more important measure than survival rates.

Tribe: SCOTUS Denying Access to Justice Because It’s an “Anti-court Court”

Arthur Bryant writes about Laurence Tribe's new book, Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution, which I want to read.

Tribe: SCOTUS Denying Access to Justice Because It’s an “Anti-court Court”

"Tribe documents the Roberts Court’s “dramatic rewriting” of procedural rules to “unmistakably” favor big business, including an “assault on class actions” and rulings that make it “virtually impossible to escape arbitration agreements.” He writes:

With each passing day, public courts more permanently disappear as a real option for many Americans in their dealings with big business – when we seek employment, buy phones, sign up for nursing homes and open bank accounts... The proceedings are secret, arbitrators aren’t always bound by the law, there is no jury or right to appeal and companies sometimes pick their own arbitration firms.

The Court’s majority, moreover, isn’t just limiting access to justice to end the ability to hold businesses accountable:

Since 2005, the Roberts Court has issued a string of decisions that make it harder to hold the government accountable in court when it violates the Constitution…. The result is a shrinking judicial role in enforcing the Constitution and protecting our liberty.

Why is this happening? Most fundamentally, because the Roberts Court is “far more sensitive to the substantial burdens of litigation than to the potential benefits of lawsuits.” Tribe writes:

Whereas the midcentury Court saw itself as a protector of the powerless… the Roberts Court is mostly uninterested in that role…. It has dealt critical legal rules a death of a thousand cuts – leaving many of our rights intact but making them effectively impossible to enforce in any court…. It is an anti-court Court."

2014 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest, Part II

In Focus on the 2014 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest, Part II "The 26th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest is under way, and entries will be accepted for just one more week -- until June 30, 2014. First prize winner will receive an 8-day Alaskan expedition for two. National Geographic was once again kind enough to allow me to share some more of the entries with you here, gathered from four categories: Travel Portraits, Outdoor Scenes, Sense of Place, and Spontaneous Moments. Photos and captions by the photographers. [28 photos]". Crazy Amazing.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Susan Kare, Iconographer

Susan Kare, Iconographer is a 20 minute talk by the original Mac icon designer.

Susan Kare, Iconographer (EG8) from EG Conference on Vimeo.

What the right doesn't get about Piketty

Matthew Yglesias on What the right doesn't get about Piketty "My point is not to increase taxation of wealth. It's actually to reduce taxation of wealth for most people, but to increase it for those who already have a lot of wealth."

Friday, June 20, 2014

The House just overwhelmingly voted to rein in the NSA

Vox wrote The House just overwhelmingly voted to rein in the NSA

"One example is what's known as a backdoor search. In this technique, the NSA engages in wide surveillance of communications that involve both Americans and foreigners. So long as the foreigners are the official 'target,' this is permitted under the FAA. The NSA sometimes stores the information it has collected in a giant database. And the agency has taken the position that it can search this database for information about Americans without running afoul of the no-targeting-Americans rule."

Congress is considering a bill to fund the military for the 2015 fiscal year, and that includes funding for the National Security Agency. The amendment offered by Sensenbrenner and his colleagues and Lofgren prohibits the NSA from using any funds provided in the bill to 'query a collection of foreign intelligence information' acquired under the FAA 'using a United States person identifier...The legislation also effectively bars the NSA or the Central Intelligence Agency from forcing device manufacturers to install technical "backdoors" in their products."

"By itself, the amendment falls short of the kind of sweeping NSA reforms some civil liberties groups support. But the vote represents the first time a house of Congress has voted to curtail the controversial practices revealed by Ed Snowden last year. It will give NSA critics renewed political momentum and may force President Obama to make further concessions to critics of the NSA."

Spencer Ackerman has a little more in The Guardian House of Representatives moves to ban NSA's 'backdoor search' provision.

Bruce Schneier points out, More Details on NSA Tapping the Internet Backbone. "It's a measure of the popular interest in this issue that the German/Danish story isn't being reported by the US press, and I had to search to find the Congressional vote on the New York Times and Washington Post sites. Only the Guardian had it as a home page headline. No one is reporting today's renewal of the telephone metadata program."

From Parallel to Concurrent

Here's an interesting Rob Pike talk, From Parallel to Concurrent "At Google I was involved in the design and implementation of two significant languages. The first, Sawzall, was extremely parallel. The second, Go, is fundamentally concurrent. I will explain the reasons for these two languages' creation and contrast their goals and implementations."

The Supreme Court doesn't understand software, and that's a problem

Vox's Timothy Lee says The Supreme Court doesn't understand software, and that's a problem "The problem, at root, is that the courts are confused about the nature of software. The courts have repeatedly said that mathematical algorithms can't be patented. But many judges also seem to believe that some software is worthy of patent protection. The problem is that 'software' and 'mathematical algorithm' are two terms for the same thing. Until the courts understand that, the laws regarding software patents are going to be incoherent."

John Duffy has a detailed legal analysis in SCOTUSblog, Opinion analysis: The uncertain expansion of judge-made exceptions to patentability.

Rian Johnson Writing & Directing Next Two Star Wars Movies

Today's news is Rian Johnson Writing & Directing Next Two Star Wars Movies.

Honestly this seems pretty perfect to me. If he can bring the adventure and fun of The Brothers Bloom, the Sci-Fi and effects of Looper and the classical film references of Brick he'll be just right.

Iraqis under ISIS control say their lives have gotten better

Vox reports Iraqis under ISIS control say their lives have gotten better.

"One of the drivers of the conflict is that Iraq's government, which is dominated by the country's Shia Muslim majority, has badly mistreated the Sunni Muslim minority based in the north. ISIS, who are Sunni extremists, have risen in part by exploiting Sunni resentments against the government, and by linking up with local and national Sunni armed groups. So by actually improving life for the mostly-Sunni population of Mosul, ISIS is making people there more likely to support ISIS's takeover, more likely to resist any efforts by the Iraqi army to retake the city, and less likely to help the army uproot ISIS."

"The trick that ISIS has pulled off here is seizing Mosul but not ruling it directly. The group appears to have handed authority for the large city over to local, tribal, Sunni armed groups. Those groups share ISIS's hatred of the Iraqi national government, so they're happy to help oust the Iraqi army, but unlike ISIS they are not as fixated on imposing extremist Islamism. 'There is no ISIS in Mosul,' a 58-year-old Mosul resident told the Financial Times. 'The ones controlling city are now the clans. The power is with the tribes.'"

Vox also describes, The real roots of Iraq's Sunni-Shia conflict.

"When 2003 came along, a lot of Shias and certainly a lot of Kurds welcomed it. They saw it as their deliverance as Shias and Kurds as much as it was the deliverance of Iraq. On the Sunni side, there was no such sentiment because there barely existed a sense of Sunni identity before 2003. It simply didn't exist in Iraq. Now, what you see is the reverse. The Iraqi government is not popular with anyone, the popularity of the government is rock bottom, I'd say, but Shias are more likely to accord the state, the post-2003 order some level of legitimacy. Whereas there is a body of opinion of among Sunnis who just do not ascribe any legitimacy to it whatsoever."

"Again, the parallel with race relations is very obvious. Sunnis weren't concerned with or particularly knowledgeable about sectarian dynamics because it wasn't an issue for them. They did not perceive themselves to be on the losing end of sectarian dynamics, they weren't even aware of sectarian dynamics! So this is a game that they only started playing in 2003. The other thing is that, in 2003, they had to form a Sunni identity whether they liked it or not because the system mandated it. The system required and made communal identity the central political marker. So they had to find that presentation along identity lines."

Supreme Court Recognizes Limits in Software Patentability

Re/code has a nice overview, Supreme Court Recognizes Limits in Software Patentability "Notably, the court did not throw out the idea of software patentability, which some companies had worried might happen. The justices took a more narrow path, saying that inventors or companies don’t deserve patents on abstract ideas that are only new because they’ve been implemented on a computer.

The court found that digitizing an abstract idea like escrow and putting it on a computer isn’t enough to warrant a patent. Software and technological advances that improve on an idea can be patentable, but the court found in this case that Alice Corp.’s invention didn’t really do that."

Ars has more technical details, Supreme Court smashes “do it on a computer” patents in 9-0 opinion.

"Future court battles are likely to circle around the concept of just what is abstract. In one sense, it seems that the Supreme Court is taking technology that's actually just quite old—like using hedging and intermediaries in business—and calling it "abstract. The effect of that will be to put more patent battles in the area of Section 101, which is where frequent patent defendants want it. Getting a ruling that software or Internet patents are "abstract" means they can be thrown out of court relatively quickly. Proving patents are invalid because they were anticipated by earlier inventions is much more likely to lead to expensive court battles that involve discover and the hiring of expensive experts. Patent owners who go to court will certainly always argue their inventions aren't abstract. Still, today's opinion has guideposts that will make it easier for judges to rule that they are."

Vox puts it all in plain English, The Supreme Court just restricted software patents. Here's what that means.

Some are complaining that the court just kicked the can down the road for a little longer, The Supreme Court’s decision on software patents still doesn’t settle the bigger question. That's definitely something the Roberts Court (and some previous courts) does and people on both ends of the spectrum complain about it.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

How Secret Partners Expand NSA’s Surveillance Dragnet

The Intercept reports How Secret Partners Expand NSA’s Surveillance Dragnet .

"Huge volumes of private emails, phone calls, and internet chats are being intercepted by the National Security Agency with the secret cooperation of more foreign governments than previously known, according to newly disclosed documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The classified files, revealed today by the Danish newspaper Dagbladet Information in a reporting collaboration with The Intercept, shed light on how the NSA’s surveillance of global communications has expanded under a clandestine program, known as RAMPART-A, that depends on the participation of a growing network of intelligence agencies."

John Oliver Is No One's Friend On His New HBO Show

I'm a big fan of John Oliver's new HBO. Terry Gross interviewed him today on Fresh Air, John Oliver Is No One's Friend On His New HBO Show.

17 reasons not to trust Dick Cheney on Iraq

Vox's 17 reasons not to trust Dick Cheney on Iraq really should be called 17 lies Dick Cheney told about Iraq.

Even Fox News Host Megyn Kelly called him on it, Dick Cheney sits stunned as Fox News turns on him: ‘History has proven that you got it wrong’. Well she was just asking questions that other people have.

21 charts that explain how the US is changing

21 charts that explain how the US is changing | "The US is a big, complicated place that has undergone some big changes over its 238 years, and even in the last few decades. Here are 21 charts that explain what life is like today in the US — who we are, where we live, how we work, how we have fun, and how we relate to each other."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

US drone attack kills six suspected militants in North Waziristan

US drone attack kills six suspected militants in North Waziristan. "The [Pakistani] army launched its long-awaited major operation 'Zarb-i-Azb' in the tribal region a week after an attack on the airport in Karachi, deploying troops, tanks and jets to the area in the crackdown on the Taliban and other militants. A total of at least 187 suspected militants and eight soldiers have been reported killed since Saturday night when the operation was launched."

This is the first I've heard of this operation, I'm surprised there isn't more coverage. As Glenn Greenwald describes the reporting: "I've no idea who my government is killing. They don't even know who they're killing. But I know they're Terrorists"

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Yet Another IRS Scandal That Isn't

Kevin Drum writes about Yet Another IRS Scandal That Isn't

"Nothing here sets off alarm bells to me. The key question, I think, is whether the IRS has contemporaneous documents showing that Lerner's computer crashed in 2011 and attempts to recover her hard drive failed. And they do. This is well before the scandal broke, so it would take a pretty Herculean brand of conspiracy theorizing to imagine that this was somehow related to the scandal. Either Lerner deliberately crashed her hard drive because she suspected her actions might prompt an investigation two years later, or else the IRS has faked a bunch of emails from 2011 between Lerner and the IT team trying to recover her hard drive. There's also, as Steve Benen points out, the fact that Congress is mostly concerned with Lerner's behavior in the election year of 2012. If the IRS were involved in a cover-up, faking a hard drive crash that destroyed emails from 2010 and 2011 is a pretty incompetent way of doing it."

It strikes me similar to the Republicans who want Obama to send forces to Iraq to fight ISIS but complain about the 275 troops he's sending to protect the embassy. These are the same people that blame Obama for something in Benghasi having to do with not protecting the embassy.

It's just scandalous noise.

A New Printer

I print something maybe once a week or every other week. Usually it's a ticket to an event or a coupon or a map from Google Maps (just as a backup to a Nav System or an iPhone) or the occasional envelope. I got my printer about the same time I started this blog (I couldn't print at work anymore), a Canon PIXMA iP4000. I had it connected to an AirPort Express (and more recently to my Time Capsule) to put it on the Network. My Macs rarely had a problem printing to it and it worked well. It's really a photo printer, but I think I've printed a photo just once.

"Worked" is unfortunately the operative word. It died. A few weeks ago I got an error and the normally green power light blinked 5 amber blinks. That is a Print Head problem. I looked up how to clean it and did and it didn't help and then after having it off for a couple days it came back to life. For about a month. Now dead I replaced it.

Duplex printing was a firm requirement and I wanted to be able to handle the occasional envelope. That turned out to be a problem for many printers. To print one envelope I didn't want to have to remove the paper cassette, remove all the paper, put in an envelope and realign the guides and then have to put the paper back when done. My Canon had a rear feed that worked great, most printers today don't have one and it's not easy to figure out which ones do. Many have a second paper cassette but most of those work only for photo paper or are full sized making the printer more suitable for an office.

I ended up with the pick from The Wirecutter, the Epson WF-3520. I didn't care much about getting an all-in-one with copy, scan and fax features, but they're nice to have. I looked at models from Canon, Epson, HP and Brother. They all have too many models with just one differentiating feature, so you have to figure out which one is exactly right and they don't just list them as this is the same as the previous model but with duplex and this is the same as the previous but with a second tray, etc.. The brother was smaller but I read about jamming problems. The Canons didn't have a rear feed for envelopes. The HPs weren't quite right either. I should have just trusted The Wirecutter to begin with (they're like eight for eight so far for me).

Staples had it for the same $120 that Amazon did and I figured if there were issues it would be easier to return it to. I went yesterday but they were out of stock, but they ordered it for me and it was delivered to my house today. They sent me a form I could printer out and leave at the door signed allowing them to leave it without a signature. I of course couldn't print this out but wrote it out and it worked fine.

Install was simple. It's wifi enabled and I entered the password on the keypad. My 802.11n network is 5GHz only and this only supports 2.4GHz (another thing that's practically impossible to find out about a printer before buying it) so it's on my less frequently used G network. My iMac could see it no problem. It's also got AirPrint and I managed to print from Safari on my iPhone. I doubt I'll ever want to do that again, but it's kinda nice.

I had it check for firmware upgrades and it said there were none. I set up my print queues easily enough and some print defaults to enable duplex. In OS X's Contacts app I tried printing an envelope. The rear feed worked easily enough but I couldn't get the addresses to appear in the right spots on the envelope. I tried a ton of different settings and it finally worked, though I'm putting the envelope in backwards compared to what the instructions say.

I made a copy, that worked fine. I could open a scanner app from the computer. There's one in the print queue on a Scan tab and the Image Capture app can do it too. On the printer itself you can choose Scan to PC but I couldn't see the computer in the list on the printer, even though the computer could see the printer. The ultimate fix was installing apps and new firmware from the Epson Support Site. Yes it said my firmware was up-to-date, but there was a newer one to install. For the record I'm using Driver 9.04 and Firmware from 3/11/14. Now when I scan from the printer to the PC my iMac (running OS X 10.8) appears in the printer's list of machines it can see.

I also went through manual print head alignment which I learned to do when my Canon started having problems. The Epson's process had fewer steps and I made some changes from the defaults.

The other tip I have is to be sure to setup defaults in the Printer dialog boxes on the mac for various ways you print. I have three, Duplex, Single, and Envelope. It sets the paper type, size, location (cassette or feed), etc. You set them in the Presets drop down in the Printer dialog (another thing on the mac that's not quite obvious). Basically you pick all the settings you want, then in presets you can choose "Save current settings as preset...". There seem to be some similar things to set in the EPSON Scan for things like where to put the the scanned file, what to name it and what formats to use. It mostly defaulted to putting jpg's in my Pictures folder where I never would have found them. Now they're pdf's that will appear on my desktop.

The manual (I downloaded the pdf) is 325 pages of mostly useless stuff. First it's both Windows and Mac and very mostly Windows. Second it's filled with helpful instructions like this, "To print multiple pages on one sheet of paper, select the number of pages in the Pages per Sheet pop-up menu." and "Long-Edge binding: Orients double-sided printed pages to be bound on the long edge of the paper."

And now I've printed out my ticket for tomorrows Red Sox game :)

Monday, June 16, 2014

10 Scientific Ideas That Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing

10 Scientific Ideas That Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing "Many ideas have left the world of science and made their way into everyday language — and unfortunately, they are almost always used incorrectly. We asked a group of scientists to tell us which scientific terms they believe are the most widely misunderstood. Here are ten of them."

Nice definitions of proof, theory, quantum uncertainty, natural, organic, statistically significant and others follow.

This is the most depressing graph in American health care

This is the most depressing graph in American health care "The chart, from a 2013 report, maps what countries spend per-person on health care against how long people in those countries live. It captures two long-standing truths about the American system: the United States consistently ranks way above peer nations in health care spending, but also ranks way behind in health care outcomes."


The mess in Iraq proves Obama was right to leave

Matthew Yglesias writes in Vox The mess in Iraq proves Obama was right to leave

"The logic on display here [by the hawks] shows the toxic self-justifying nature of American military adventures. If a war accomplishes its stated objectives, that goes to show that war is great. If a war fails to accomplish its stated objectives — as the Bush-era surge miserably failed to produce a durable political settlement in Iraq — then that simply proves that more war was called for.

But there is simply no reason to believe that the presence of American soldiers in Iraq makes a durable political settlement more likely, and there never has been. If eight years weren't enough, why would one more — or two more or twenty more — be the key to success?

The truth is the opposite. The speed with which the apparent gains of the surge melted away in the face of Iraq's entrenched domestic political problems underscores how futile the US-led campaign there was."

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Navy's Most Vital And Secretive Submarine Base Is In... Idaho?!?

The Navy's Most Vital And Secretive Submarine Base Is In... Idaho?!? "The Navy's Acoustic Research Detachment (ARD) at Bayview, Idaho, which is some 375 miles from the ocean, is where new submarine and surface ship shapes and subsystems are tested in a sub-scale environment that closely mimics the ocean. In other words, ARD Bayview is the Navy's lower-key subsurface Area 51, and massive Lake Pend Oreille is a water based, smaller, and more outsider friendly Nellis Range Complex."

Whooping Cough Is Now a Full-Blown Epidemic in California

Gizmodo reports on an LA Times story, Whooping Cough Is Now a Full-Blown Epidemic in California "Well, it's official. California's whooping cough outbreak is now officially classified as an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control. Thanks anti-vaxxers. California has reported 3,458 cases of pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, so far this year, with about 800 cases in the past two weeks alone. "

Medicaid Expansion in VA

David Atkins writes on Hullabaloo Yes, they're VERY desperate to stop people from getting health insurance "Those not in Virginia may have missed this story flying a little under the radar, but the Virginia GOP basically bribed a Democratic senator to resign, thus handing them control of the chamber in attempt to end-run Governor McAuliffe's threat to shut down the state government if Republicans didn't include Medicaid expansion in the state budget. There was some question as to whether the Republicans would actually go through with the threat. Yesterday they did."

I'm pretty sure Atkins is right that there's no fiscal advantage to rejecting Medicaid Expansion, at least for three years. After that the state does have to find some funds. It's conceivable Republicans are worried about long term viability of the program though I think it's more Randian than that, they just don't want tax money paying for the health insurance of the "takers".

Scientists discover massive ocean of water 400 miles underground

The Verge describes a new paper published in the journal Science with the somewhat misleading title Scientists discover massive ocean of water 400 miles underground "Researchers at Northwestern University have found evidence for a massive reservoir of water deep within the Earth's mantle. The reservoir, which is said to be three times the volume of the oceans on the surface, is contained within highly-pressurized rock known as ringwoodite. The scientists hope that their findings, recently published in the journal Science, can shed light on where Earth's oceans came from."

Once You See These Rare Historical Photos, You’ll Never Forget Them, Especially #14. Wow.

Once You See These Rare Historical Photos, You’ll Never Forget Them, Especially #14. Wow. "Find out below some of the most fascinating photographs ever captured on camera. Thanks to these great images, we now have before us a rare window to some of the most interesting moments of our world history."

Some Wonderful Kind of Noise

So this 19 year-old athlete and D&D player has been sheltered from practically all pop-culture. He's now stuck at home injured and is watching the movies that have molded a generation (Star Wars, Princess Bride, Raiders, Terminator). And he's blogging it! You can't go back and watch Star Wars for the first time, but you can read along with Jeremy's expectations, experiences and second thoughts on Some Wonderful Kind of Noise. Fortunately he's only a week in on the project, I couldn't stop reading. Start at the beginning and read in order. It's easier on an iPhone, just swipe to the left to get to the next post. I've subscribed in my RSS reader.

Friday, June 13, 2014


Zack Beauchamp has many posts on Iraq on Vox. His 11 facts that explain the escalating crisis in Iraq is a great summary of all the points. I learned a lot.

I completely agree with Kevin Drum on this turn of events, No, Staying in Iraq Wouldn't Have Changed Anything.

This is one of those Rorschach developments, where all of us are going to claim vindication for our previously-held points of view. The hawks will claim this is all the fault of President Obama, who was unable to negotiate a continuing presence of US troops after our withdrawal three years ago. Critics of the war will claim that this shows Iraq was never stable enough to defend regardless of the size of the residual American presence.

And sure enough, I'm going to play to type. I find it fantastical that anyone could read about what's happening and continue to believe that a small US presence in Iraq could ever have been more than a Band-Aid. I mean, just read the report. Two divisions of Iraqi soldiers turned tail in the face of 800 insurgents. That's what we got after a decade of American training. How can you possibly believe that another few years would have made more than a paper-thin difference? Like it or not, the plain fact is that Iraq is too fundamentally unstable to be rebuilt by American military force. We could put fingers in the dikes, but not much more.

I did in fact always think that after we left, whenever that was, that Iraq would break down into sectarian violence again. Shocker it's Sunnis vs Shias with the Kurds off to the side. No I didn't anticipate the Shia administration being so oppressive to the Sunnis and I didn't expect Iran to send forces to help the government. I also didn't anticipate how the war in Syria would affect Iraq. I know that drought had a big effect in Syria and don't know about the affected regions in Iraq. None of those things make me think we should go back in. I do wonder if Joe Biden wasn't right all along, that the country should just be broken up into three; but that's for them to decide.

Don't get grounded by new carry-on size limits

USA Today reported Don't get grounded by new carry-on size limits.

American, Delta, and United have reduced the allowable sizes of carry-on luggage to 22" long x 14" wide x 9" high.

Don't fall for the "It's a new FAA regulation" line, Southwest and JetBlue still have more generous 24" x 16" x 10" carry-on limits.

Congress Funds Plutonium Plant That Every Sane Person Wants Shut Down

io9 writes Congress Funds Plutonium Plant That Every Sane Person Wants Shut Down "Three months ago, the White House halted construction on a plutonium recycling facility where gross mismanagement had led to lengthy delays and billions of dollars of added expenses. Yet, this week, the House approved $345 million to continue building the plant, which will produce nuclear fuel that nobody wants."

Cantor and Polarization and Fox

Ron Fournier writes in The National Journal Elites Beware: Eric Cantor's Defeat May Signal a Populist Revolution "Americans see a grim future for themselves, their children, and their country. They believe their political leaders are selfish, greedy, and short-sighted—unable and/or unwilling to shield most people from wrenching economic and social change. For many, the Republican Party is becoming too extreme, while the Democratic Party—specifically, President Obama—raised and dashed their hopes for true reform. Worse of all, the typical American doesn't know how to channel his or her anger. Heaven help Washington if they do."

"Which side of the barricade are you on? Populists from the right and the left—from the tea party and libertarian-leaning Rand Paul to economic populist Elizabeth Warren—are positioning themselves among the insurgents. Sosnik pointed to six areas of consensus that eventually may unite the divergent populist forces:"

  • A pullback from the rest of the world, with more of an inward focus.
  • A desire to go after big banks and other large financial institutions.
  • Elimination of corporate welfare.
  • Reducing special deals for the rich.
  • Pushing back on the violation of the public's privacy by the government and big business.
  • Reducing the size of government.

Actually, that doesn't look like too bad of a list. I wonder if he asked anyone if they'd heard of Lawrence Lessig's Mayday SuperPAC?

Meanwhile Pew issued a long (121 page) report Political Polarization and Growing Ideological Consistency. "The new survey finds that as ideological consistency has become more common, it has become increasingly aligned with partisanship. Looking at 10 political values questions tracked since 1994, more Democrats now give uniformly liberal responses, and more Republicans give uniformly conservative responses than at any point in the last 20 years."

"This translates into a growing number of Republicans and Democrats who are on completely opposite sides of the ideological spectrum, making it harder to find common ground in policy debates. The share of Democrats who hold consistently liberal positions has quadrupled over the course of the last 20 years, growing from just 5% in 1994 to 13% in 2004 to 23% today. And more Republicans are consistently conservative than in the past (20% today, up from 6% in 2004 and 13% in 1994), even as the country as a whole has shifted slightly to the left on the 10 item scale."

There's lots of graphs and data. By the numbers Democrats have moved more leftward, but they point out that 1994 was a peak for conservatives (Gingrinch and all). Also, "This movement among the public, and particularly the engaged public, tracks with increasingly polarized voting patterns in Congress, though to a far lesser extent. As many congressional scholars have documented, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are now further apart from one another than at any point in modern history, and that rising polarization among elected officials is asymmetrical, with much of the widening gap between the two parties attributable to a rightward shift among Republicans."

They point out that "The Ideological 'Center' Is Not Necessarily 'Moderate'". "There is a tendency to assume that people at either end of the ideological scale are most likely to hold more extreme political views, yet this often is a flawed assumption. Many Americans may hold liberal or conservative values, yet do not consistently express very liberal or conservative opinions on issues. Conversely, being in the center of the ideological spectrum means only that a person has a mix of liberal and conservative values, not that they take moderate positions on all issues."

Dara Lind of Vox picked on one of their issues, Most Americans want a path to citizenship. Most of the rest want mass deportation.. "What they found: the overwhelming majority of Americans either want unauthorized immigrants to be eligible for citizenship (now or eventually), or want them deported. There's no real middle ground."

PP 2014 06 12 polarization 4 05 500

"There's a persistent belief in Washington that there's an easy "compromise" on the question of what to do with America's 11 million unauthorized immigrants: give them legal status instead of deporting them, but don't allow them to pursue citizenship. But the Pew poll shows (as have other polls) that there isn't actually a constituency for that position."

Ezra Klein picks up, The single most important fact about American politics: "the people who participate are more ideological and more partisan, as well as angrier and more fearful, than those who don't."

"There are three forms of political polarization, and what matters most in American politics is how they interact with each other. The first is party polarization: how far Republicans and Democrats are from each other. The second is ideological polarization: how far liberals and conservatives are from each other. And the third is engagement polarization: how different the politically engaged are from the politically disengaged...What Pew finds, in other words, is that these forms of polarization are all converging. American politics is increasingly driven by a small group of highly ideological, highly partisan, highly politically engaged people."

"People often assume "polarization" is a synonym for "extremism." It isn't. What's happened in American politics is not that the two parties have become more extreme...Polarization is a measure of how political actors sort themselves, not how extreme they are. As the report says, "those who are ideologically mixed are often as likely to hold more 'extreme' positions as those who are more ideologically consistent. Conversely, one can be uniformly liberal (or conservative) in one's political values, but have a 'moderate' approach to issues."

Matthew Yglesias combines some of this with Cantor's loss and says The conservative base has a crippling aversion to governing. "Enten's conjecture is that it represents an "insider/outsider" dynamic. His key finding is that while Cantor is quite conservative on the main axis, he also scores as very insidery. And he further finds that insiderishness is a quantitatively important predictor of when Republicans lose primaries."

"Conservative voters have decided that the idea of compromising is something that they are against. Liberals, by contrast, believe that political leaders should try to cut deals...The way American politics works is that to pass a bill requires you to overcome an enormous quantity of chokepoints. That means that, in practice, if you want to do things you end up needing to make compromises...To get things done, you either need to accept half a loaf or else you need to trade one of your priorities for the other guy. That's what GOP congressional leaders have done from time to time because it's really the only thing a leader can do. But conservatives don't like it because conservatives don't like the idea of dealmaking.

Paul Krugman looks at Eric Cantor and the Death of a Movement. Movement conservatism is "an interlocking set of institutions and alliances that won elections by stoking cultural and racial anxiety but used these victories mainly to push an elitist economic agenda, meanwhile providing a support network for political and ideological loyalists. By rejecting Mr. Cantor, the Republican base showed that it has gotten wise to the electoral bait and switch, and, by his fall, Mr. Cantor showed that the support network can no longer guarantee job security. For around three decades, the conservative fix was in; but no more."

"It was the perfect illustration of the strategy famously described in Thomas Frank’s book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” in which Republicans would mobilize voters with social issues, but invariably turn postelection to serving the interests of corporations and the 1 percent."

"Before the Virginia upset, there was a widespread media narrative to the effect that the Republican establishment was regaining control from the Tea Party, which was really a claim that good old-fashioned movement conservatism was on its way back. In reality, however, establishment figures who won primaries did so only by reinventing themselves as extremists. And Mr. Cantor’s defeat shows that lip service to extremism isn’t enough; the base needs to believe that you really mean it."

Andrew Sullivan watched an evening of Fox News and says "It was like slipping into an alternative universe." "Look: I know I may be a total sucker for even hoping to see some semblance of fairness and balance on Fox. But it’s still shocking to see programming designed not to uncover reality, but to create a reality in which no counter-arguments are ever considered, and in which hysteria is the constant norm. MSNBC is almost as bad, of course, but with CNN as the new Discovery Channel, the entire possibility of a balanced newscast has disappeared from cable – and from the lives of most Americans. Again, this is not new. But as it continues, it intensifies. And as it intensifies, the possibility of governing all of the country recedes into the distance." Sullivan posted interesting comments he received.

Kevin Drum says we're Living in the World That Fox News Built. "As critical as Gingrich was, he lasted only a few years before flaming out and becoming a historical footnote. It was Fox News that became the ongoing, institutional expression of Gingrichism. The Republican Party would have turned right in any case, but without Fox I'm just not sure Gingrichism would ever have developed a critical mass. Without Fox, our politics never would have gotten so astonishingly toxic that a significant fraction of the nation—not just a fringe—honestly believes that we have a lawless, America-hating tyrant in the White House who's literally committed himself to destroying the country from both within and without. Yes, the tea party has won. But it won because of support from Fox News. In reality, it's Fox News that won."

Putting a Price Tag on Nature’s Defenses

The NY TImes wrote about a study Putting a Price Tag on Nature’s Defenses.

"Protection from storms is just one of many services that ecosystems provide us — services that we’d otherwise have to pay for. In 1997, a team of scientists decided to estimate how much they are actually worth. Worldwide, they concluded, the price tag was $33 trillion — equivalent to $48.7 trillion in today’s dollars. Put another way, the services ecosystems provide us — whether shielding us from storms, preventing soil erosion or soaking up the greenhouse gases that lead to global warming — were twice as valuable as the gross national product of every country on Earth in 1997."

"Seventeen years later, the debate is getting re-energized, just as the nation becomes immersed in an intense fight over the Obama administration’s attempt to tackle the emissions that scientists say could threaten many of these ecosystems. Dr. Costanza and his colleagues have now updated the 1997 estimate in a new study, published in the May issue of the journal Global Environmental Change, and concluded that the original estimate was far too low. The true value of the services of the world’s ecosystems is at least three times as high, they said."

"Most of the 17 services that Dr. Costanza and his colleagues analyzed in 16 different kinds of ecosystems — including tropical forests, mangroves and grasslands — also turned out to be more valuable. When they added up all their new figures, they came up with a global figure of $142.7 trillion a year (in 2014 dollars)."


The new tech product of the day is Vessyl. It's a cup with a sensor so it can analyze the liquid you put it in it and track your hydration, calories, caffeine, etc. intake. Clever. You can pre-order for $99, supposedly it will ship in early 2015.

It's got a built in clever lid so it's spill-proof. It has an induction charger stand so no wires. It's got some cool display that activates it when you tilt the cup. They don't mention it being a thermos so it's probably not. I saw a comment on Facebook about it's steadiness when dropped and they said they'll be testing for that. Also I'm curious about the battery, it's replaceable or serviceable. It will list for $199 but even $99 is a lot for a cup that isn't a thermos. But it's a cool idea.

Cantor's Campaign Spending

OpenSecrets looked at Cantor's campaign spending reports and Vox, like a lot of news outlets, reports that Cantor's campaign bought a lot of steak. They listed 17 payments, totaling $168,000 on steakhouses. I can at least speculate that they threw 17 expensive parties for donors or workers. Just like the 233 payments totaling $103,174 to Delta Airlines could be for lots of plane tickets to people around the state (and I'm guessing the 23 payments totaling $97,413 to Air Charter Team were for more flights).

But the report also lists 21 payments to US Dept of Treasury totaling $254,535. What is that for? Did they buy short term Treasury notes to hold their cash? Does that count as campaign spending?

Space X Has Competition for Next Space Capsule

Boeing Unveils Commercial CST-100 ‘Space Taxi’ to Launch US Astronauts to Space from US Soil "Boeing unveiled a full scale mockup of their CST-100 commercial ‘space taxi’ on Monday, June 9, at the new home of its future manufacturing site at the Kennedy Space Center located inside a refurbished facility that most recently was used to prepare NASA’s space shuttle orbiters for missions to the International Space Station (ISS)."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Muttering About Apple’s Game

Muttering thinks about recent Apple announcements of Extensions, peer-to-peer AirPlay, game controller API additions, and Metal and speculates about Apple’s Game "Apple now has everything they need to disrupt the game console industry in a way that none of them see coming. I predict that we’ll see a new AppleTV update (and hardware) this fall along with a new app extension type for AirPlay. AirPlay will become about more than just streaming video to your AppleTV - instead that’ll simply be one of the things you can do with it. Apps (mostly games, I suspect) will be able to bundle an AirPlay extension inside - just like how apps can now bundle photo editing or sharing extensions as of iOS 8. The key difference is where the AirPlay extension app actually executes - instead of running on your device itself from within another host app, the AirPlay extension app will be automatically uploaded to whatever AppleTV you are currently AirPlaying with and will run directly on the AppleTV natively instead. This means no video streaming lag and minimal controller lag. Your iPhone would then turn into a generic game controller with onscreen controls or, if you have a physical shell controller attached to your iPhone, it activates that instead. The game controller inputs are then relayed to the AppleTV and thus to the AirPlay extension app using the new game controller forwarding feature."

iPhone Photography Awards 2014 Winners

The iPhone Photography Awards 2014 Winners are worth looking at.

What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades

The NY Times wrote What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades "But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep. Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how."

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Broken Government

Paul Glastris and Haley Sweetland Edwards have a great (and long) article in The Washington Monthly, The Big Lobotomy: How Republicans Made Congress Stupid

This widespread, decades-long congressional brain drain could be fixed overnight. Members of Congress, after all, control the national budget. All they need to do is allocate a couple hundred million bucks—chump change in the $4.8 trillion budget—to boost staff levels, increase salaries to retain the best staff, and fill out the institutional capacity of the body. This wouldn’t necessarily mean recreating precisely the infrastructure of the 1970s—hundreds of guys in white short-sleeved shirts sitting in cubicles in some building on South Capitol Street. As New America’s Lorelei Kelly has observed, technology now allows for any number of ways to create distributed networks of expertise. Congress could place policy and oversight staff in district offices, for instance, where they’d be closer to the ground, or create research and advisory partnerships between Congress and universities.

Regardless of how it’s organized or what new technologies can be brought to bear, what’s clear is that members of Congress need the institutional capacity to help them make sense of it all. As the issues facing members of Congress become increasingly intertwined and technological in our complex global economy, what we need is not fewer people in government who understand the implications of, say, the international derivatives market; what we need is more. And we need them, whether they be knowledgeable committee chairs or long-serving professional staff, to be experienced, well paid, and appreciated so they want to stick around for a while.

The problem, however, is that conservatives as a rule don’t see this lack of expertise as a problem. Quite the contrary: they’ve orchestrated the brain drain precisely as a way to advance the conservative agenda. Why, when your aim is less government, would you want to add to government’s intellectual capacity?"

So members of Congress now just spend their time fund-raising and voting based on which monied interest group will help them get reelected. There's little policy knowledge and much of what substitutes for it is wrong. There are a few examples in today's news of the effects of this.

No. 2 House Republican Cantor in shock loss to Tea Party rival. Yup. "House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia lost to a Tea Party challenger on Tuesday in a stunning Republican primary upset that sent shockwaves through Congress and gave the conservative movement a landmark victory...With nearly all precincts reporting, Brat had about 56 percent of the vote to Cantor's 44 percent." The fun thing is just a few days before, Cantor internal poll claims 34-point lead over primary opponent Brat. Hard to make good decisions when your facts are wrong. Also, Brat made the budget deficit a big part of his campaign (second to immigration) pointing to Cantor's votes to increase the debt ceiling, missing the fact that the deficit has shrunk and the debt ceiling isn't about the deficit (the budget is). FiveThiryEight has more on the loss, The Eric Cantor Upset: What Happened?

Vox wrote, A GOP Congressman’s story shows us how money in politics really works.

However garbled the story is, there are a few interesting aspects to it. First of all, McAllister says he's told that he'll get a donation no matter how he votes on the bill — he's merely deciding which team of organized interests to side with. Second, no one promises McAllister a donation in return for a vote (indeed, the groups mentioned have no contact with him at all) — McAllister merely has to hope somebody will pony up eventually. Third, members of Congress are frequently unsure about which of the many votes they cast truly matter most to the various moneyed interests out there — so they often base their political analyses on theories rather than facts, as McAllister does.

In the Senate, where nothing was getting done because of filibusters, 6 months later, Democrats have no regrets about using the nuclear option. "The GOP has filibustered every judge put forward since the rules change — but they've all been confirmed." It turns out something is better than the complete stalemate that existed before.

Then there's just the irony of the complexity of oversight when you have this story, NSA: Our systems are so complex we can’t stop them from deleting data wanted for lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Lawrence Lessig's Mayday SuperPAC is trying to reach it's second goal to raise $5 million by July 4th. "We’re kickstarting a SuperPAC big enough to make it possible to win a Congress committed to fundamental reform by 2016." Go pledge.

The FDA almost thought about banning wood-aged cheese

Vox wrote The FDA is banning wood-aged cheese — and it's a terrible idea. They've already updated the article with a response from the FDA saying that no ban is in place. Whew.

How Amazon got a patent on white-background photography

Ars Technica explains How Amazon got a patent on white-background photography "With this law, the Federal Circuit has created a world in which the most obvious ideas are the hardest to prove obvious. The result in Hear-Wear explains the result in the Studio Arrangement patent application. In both cases, the inventive idea, embodied in the independent claim, was shown to be old and well-known by a prior art reference. And in both cases, a seemingly trivial add-on feature in a dependent claim ended up being the feature that tipped the balance from obvious to nonobvious—a multi-pronged plug in one, and a distance ratio in the other. Because in both cases, that trivial feature was so ordinary that no one would have taken the time to describe it in a printed publication, but without such a publication, according to the Federal Circuit’s rules, obviousness cannot be proved."

A Color Picker Pen That Reproduces Any Color.

The Scribble is A Color Picker Pen That Reproduces Any Color. It's not released and I think a Kickstarter is planned but it's a neat idea. With a built in color sensor and some ink reserves, it senses the color you point it at and mixes ink to reproduce that color. I wonder how long the ink lasts (is it as expensive as ink jet printer ink?)

Joss Whedon Was Left 'Pretty Devastated' After Losing 'Speed' Writing Credit

I was never a big fan of Speed. It's the 20th anniversary so things like this are popping up. Joss Whedon Was Left 'Pretty Devastated' After Losing 'Speed' Writing Credit. I never knew Whedon wrote most of the dialog. It's been a while since I've seen it but it was more the preposterous situations that bothered me than the dialog. I guess Speed could have been much worse.

Monday, June 09, 2014

The Kinks to Reunite!

Four years ago at IFFBoston I saw, Do It Again which "Chronicles Boston Globe reporter Geoff Edgers on his irrational quest to reunite The Kinks."

Now it seems his dream might come true, The Kinks set to reunite for new album and tour. "The Kinks could reform to release a new album and tour, it has been claimed, as Ray Davies says members have resolved their differences. The band, which broke up in the 1990s, hope to release new material after a musical about their career helped lead them to reconcile. In an interview with the Sunday Times, Ray Davies, the Kinks’ lead singer and songwriter, said he had been meeting his brother Dave with a view to writing together again."

Download Greenhouse - Expose Political Corruption

Download Greenhouse - Expose Political Corruption "A free browser extension for Chrome and Safari that exposes the role money plays in Congress. Displays on any web page detailed campaign contribution data for every Senator and Representative, including total amount received and breakdown by industry and by size of donation. Puts vital data where it’s most relevant so you can discover the real impact of money on our political system."

Thursday, June 05, 2014

How the Recession Reshaped the Economy, in 255 Charts

The New York Times has an interesting graphic, How the Recession Reshaped the Economy, in 255 Charts "Five years since the end of the Great Recession, the private sector has finally regained the nine million jobs it lost. But not all industries recovered equally. Each line below shows how the number of jobs has changed for a particular industry over the past 10 years. Scroll down to see how the recession reshaped the nation’s job market, industry by industry."

I like the web design though I'm not sure I like the chart design. The color coding is confusing, it seems like it should be the slope of the line but it's not. I'd rather see color used to group industries. The charts at the bottom help a lot.

7 Reasons America Will Fail on Climate Change

Ezra Klein wrote a particularly depressing post, 7 reasons America will fail on climate change "I touched on this in my conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates, but I'm a climate pessimist. I don't believe the United States — or the world — will do nearly enough, nearly fast enough, to hold the rise in temperatures to safe levels. I think we're fucked. Or, at the least, I think our grandchildren are fucked."

I've been watching Years of Living Dangerously on Showtime and find it good but similarly depressing (though each story tries to end on an up note).

*Update: * Brad Plumer's followup is somewhat less depressing, Why it's still not "game over" for global warming

Here's the secret to getting a lower cable bill

Vox explains, Here's the secret to getting a lower cable bill "As a long-time Comcast customer, I knew that if I called and threatened to cancel, the cable giant would likely offer me a discount. But I wanted to know more. How exactly does this process work? And what should customers do to get the biggest discount? To find out, I talked to two former Comcast customer service reps who have seen how the system works from the inside. Here's what they told me."

Basically it's figure out what you want (lower bill, faster service, etc.), call and say you're canceling, get transferred to a "retention specialist" who'll offer you stuff (while keeping discounts as a last resort). Don't ask for a manager (they'll be annoyed) and if not successful call back (maybe another retention specialist will be in a better mood).

Reset the Net

Reset the Net is a big campaign today to add some privacy/security to the tools people use. There are lots of supports and a Privacy Pack that I haven't look at yet.

The 75 Movies Every Man Should See

In March Esquire listed The 75 Movies Every Man Should See "Our unranked, incomplete, utterly biased list of the greatest films that have shaped American men. Find out how many you've watched, and add to your Netflix queue along the way."

As noted in the comments, there are a lot of deserving films not listed and a few on the list are questionable. And yeah, they only listed 74, not 75.

I've seen all but the 7 bold ones. Embarrassed I still haven't see The Misfits. Thrilled that Bad Day at Black Rock is included.

  1. In The Heat of the Night
  2. Slap Shot
  3. Iron Man
  4. Jaws
  5. Save the Tiger
  6. 12 Angry Men
  7. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  8. Chinatown
  9. The Godfather
  10. Fitzcarraldo
  11. Ghostbusters
  12. Glory
  13. Wall Street
  14. Runaway Train
  15. Rosemary's Baby
  16. North By Northwest
  17. Lone Star
  18. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
  19. The Conversation
  20. The Thin Blue Line
  21. Johnny Dangerously
  22. The French Connection
  23. Miller's Crossing
  24. The Great Escape
  25. Dawn of the Dead
  26. Shaun of the Dead
  27. Hate
  28. First Blood
  29. Bottle Rocket
  30. Bad Day at Black Rock
  31. Tootsie
  32. Broadcast News
  33. The Terminator
  34. Shakes the Clown
  35. Dirty Harry
  36. Straw Dogs
  37. Raging Bull
  38. Citizen Kane
  39. The Shining
  40. Fatal Attraction
  41. The Incredibles
  42. Blade Runner
  43. Sling Blade
  44. Giant
  45. Glengarry Glenn Ross
  46. Serpico
  47. Down By Law
  48. The Searchers
  49. Do The Right Thing
  50. Gone Baby Gone
  51. The Big Kahuna
  52. MASH
  53. The Verdict
  54. The Warriors
  55. Alien
  56. Stalag 17
  57. Bridge on the River Kwai
  58. The Misfits
  59. Reservoir Dogs
  60. The Maltese Falcon
  61. Dr. No
  62. Cool Hand Luke
  63. The Road Warrior
  64. Patton
  65. True Romance
  66. Run Silent, Run Deep
  67. All Quiet On The Western Front
  68. Platoon
  69. Caddyshack
  70. Hud
  71. Blazing Saddles
  72. Three Kings
  73. Paths of Glory
  74. On The Waterfront

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

This computer programmer solved gerrymandering in his spare time

This computer programmer solved gerrymandering in his spare time "Brian Olson is a software engineer in Massachusetts who wrote a program to draw 'optimally compact' equal-population congressional districts in each state, based on 2010 census data. Olson's algorithm draws districts that respect the boundaries of census blocks, which are the smallest geographic units used by the Census Bureau. This ensures that the district boundaries reflect actual neighborhoods and don't, say, cut an arbitrary line through somebody's house."

The Supreme Court is struggling to rein in America's rogue patent court

Vox explains how The Supreme Court is struggling to rein in America's rogue patent court "The real problem with the Federal Circuit isn't the five patent decisions that the Supreme Court has overruled this year — it's the much larger number of Federal Circuit patent law rulings that the Supreme Court won't have time to review at all. If the Federal Circuit refuses to follow Supreme Court precedents, it's not easy for the Supreme Court to bring it into line. The nation's highest court doesn't have time to review more than a small fraction of Federal Circuit decisions. So as long as it has a monopoly over patent appeals, it's going to have an outsized influence over patent law."

Culinary Canvas

I'm really not sure what to make of Culinary Canvas. It's very inventive, but it's more art than food presentation. Who wants an Eiffel Tower of carrot stems? Then again, there's this...


Why you should take notes by hand — not on a laptop

Vox writes Why you should take notes by hand — not on a laptop "Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, the psychologists who conducted the new research, believe it's because students on laptops usually just mindlessly type everything a professor says. Those taking notes by hand, though, have to actively listen and decide what's important — because they generally can't write fast enough to get everything down — which ultimately helps them learn."

"Both of these studies, though, eliminated a key benefit of laptop note-taking: the ability to look over a much more complete set of notes while studying. So as a final test, the researchers had students watch a seven-minute lecture (taking notes either on a laptop or by hand), let a week pass, then gave some of the students ten minutes to study their notes before taking a test. Having time to study mattered — but only for students who'd taken notes by hand. These students did significantly better on both conceptual and factual questions. But studying didn't help laptop users at all, and even made them perform slightly worse on the test."

I've seen a few similar things in the last year but have been to lazy to check if it's all coming from the same study or if the results have been reproduced. I do generally feel like hand writing notes is more effective but also more frustrating. It's slower and harder to get down everything you might want; unless there are graphs or drawings, they're way easier to do via a pen than on a computer. Though it is a lot nicer to have typed notes to search through rather than paper.

If the theory is that it's too easy to type notes on laptop and it needs to be harder to help you learn, I wonder what studies of using an iPad would show. Typing on an iPad is no where near as easy as on a laptop. And if it's the difficulty that is the point, then using handwriting apps on an iPad would be even better than handwriting on paper.

Oh and I've seen a few responses similar to Ezra Klein's, "Yes, but what if you literally can't read the notes you take by hand?" My answer is go back to second grade and learn how to write.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Weapons and mass shootings

The Washington Post took data collected from Mother Jones on the mass shootings in the US of the last 30 years and made this infographic, Weapons and mass shootings.

SCiO: A Pocket Molecular Sensor For All

Just saw this on Kickstarter, SCiO: Your Sixth Sense. A Pocket Molecular Sensor For All "Meet SCiO. It is the world's first affordable molecular sensor that fits in the palm of your hand. SCiO is a tiny spectrometer and allows you to get instant relevant information about the chemical make-up of just about anything around you, sent directly to your smartphone."

Seems pretty amazing. I think I'll wait till it's built into an iPhone.

Monday, June 02, 2014

A US Ambassador Was Sworn In On A Kindle Today

A US Ambassador Was Sworn In On A Kindle Today "Yes, she had her hand on a Kindle displaying the US Constitution when she was sworn in. And she's not the first official to be sworn in on an e-reader - a bunch of New Jersey firefighters were sworn in on an iPad last month when nobody could find a copy of The Bible (how is that possible?). "

Apple Announcements

So Apples Developer's Conference is happing this week and the Keynote was today where they announce new stuff. There was no hardware announced but there was a TON of new software. OS X and iOS both got big updates. There will be lots of articles written about the details. They opened up a lot of things on iOS that were previously off limits for developers who weren't Apple.

They also made Macs and iOS devices work better together. Everyone wanted AirDrop to work between Macs and iOS but that was just the beginning of the announcement. With Handoff they now know when they're near each other and via a technology they're calling Continuity let you easily continue a task from one device to another. Reading a web page on your Mac? You can now pick up your iPad and swipe up on the lock screen and see the same page. Started an email on an iPhone, click an icon on your Mac's dock and finish it up on the Mac. In a lot of places they seemed really good about creating a new technology and not just creating one new feature that used it, but all the logical ones you'd want. Texts and voice (and maybe video) chats can be moved between devices. Your phone rings the Caller ID info appears on your Mac. Right click on a phone number anywhere on your mac and menu lets you call it from your phone. Your Mac can notice an iPhone nearby and prompt you to have it set up a hotspot.

Spotlight got a UI update. The search window now pops up in the middle of the screen like Quicksilver and there's not just a list of results but a preview pane of the first one which can also show wikipedia page previews and maps and other things. It's kinda like what Google does with their results now with the pane on the right.

On iOS they beefed up Mail and Messages. The system keyboard now (finally) has predictive typing and third parties can add new system-wide keyboards. There's now an iCloud Drive and apps can use a picker to find files form other apps. So you can pick the app you want to use to view that PDF you have.

They mentioned some new APIs. With HealthKit and HomeKit they worked with leading venders to define a new API so that data can be shared easily. They also (again finally) added family sharing support for iTunes and photos and other things.

The App Store got a lot of new features. There's trending searches and Editor's Picks and Bundle pricing. There's beta testing platform developers can make use of and they can post videos of the apps (no more 5 screenshot limitation). They still didn't mention anything about App trials which I think would really help developers (and users).

There were some oddities. Markup lets you draw on pictures in mac Mail and has some shape recognition stuff left over from the Newton. It also has some PDF annotating and signing features. These are fine, but seem oddly squeezed into Mail rather than being system wide.

And then they announced the crazy thing. Ever since Apple bought Next the programming language for OS X and iOS has been Objective-C. They announced a new language called Swift that's "Objective-C without the C". They say it's fast, modern, safe and interactive. The quick demo looked slick. The IDE had a right pane that showed visual representations of things. Graphs showing the values of vectors and even demos of a sprite-based game being developed.

Even without any hardware announcements this was a really interesting presentation. Rumors that Apple can't innovate anymore are way way off. Also the people presenting all did a very good job. Not quite Steve level, but pretty close. APPL managed to fall during the keynote, but I doubt this is will last long.