Wednesday, December 31, 2014

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

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

This Year's Flu Season Is Reaching Epidemic Proportions

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

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

Flu Map

Jared Bernstein on the TPP

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

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Everything Book: reading in the age of Amazon

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

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

I found this kind of interesting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 29, 2014

One of the biggest science breakthroughs of 2014 never really happened

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

Saturday, December 20, 2014

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

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

Those three reasons are:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

How the SR-71's Engine Works

Embiggening English: The Simpsons and changing language

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

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

Friday, December 19, 2014

Winners of the 2014 National Geographic Photo Contest

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Copper Bedrail Could Cut Back On Infections For Hospital Patients

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

iMore Best of 2014 Awards

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

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

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

Monday, December 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Expert

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2014

Net Neutrality News

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Revolution in Biology is Here, Now

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

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

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

Mad as Hellas

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

The Supreme Court and Rights for Pregnant Workers

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

11 Secret Weapons Developed By Japan During World War 2

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

My Current Desktop Wallpaper

APOD: 2014 November 28 - Portrait of NGC 281

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Story of 'A Love Supreme'

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

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

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

Month in Space Pictures

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

Though I think their Egg Nebula image is from 2003.

The Torture Report

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

The summary begins with the following 20 findings and conclusions:

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

I'll sum up those as:

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

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

Most insane ski line EVER

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

Andy Baio wrote in Medium, Playing With My Son.

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

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

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Can the NYPD Spot the Abusive Cop?

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

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

Screen Shot 2014 12 07 at 1 56 41 PM

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Senator Jay Rockefeller Blocks FOIA Reform

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 05, 2014

What Could Be Lost as Einstein’s Papers Go Online

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

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

BBC News - Electric eels 'remotely control their prey'

BBC News reports Electric eels 'remotely control their prey'

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

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

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

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

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

It's hard to estimate breakeven prices.

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

Which City Has The Most Unpredictable Weather?

FiveThirtyEight figures out Which City Has The Most Unpredictable Weather?

How Predictable Are US Temperatures?

Measuring Illegal and Legal Corruption in American States

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

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

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

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


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

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

An Injury to One is an Injury to All

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


Thursday, December 04, 2014

How browsers get to know you in milliseconds

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

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

Antha - A Programming Language for Biology

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

Chris Rock Talks Some More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

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

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

Court difficult to read on Facebook threats: In Plain English

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

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

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

Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Astonishing Rise of Angela Merkel

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

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

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

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

UC Davis Economics Professor: There Is No American Dream

UC Davis Economics Professor: There Is No American Dream

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

What Powerlifting Tells Us About The Effects Of PEDs

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


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

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

Details on the locations here.

Chris Rock on Ferguson, Cosby, and Obama

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

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

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

You’re Probably Using the Wrong Dictionary

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

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

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

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

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

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