Friday, January 31, 2014

Drilling surprise opens door to volcano-powered electricity

Drilling surprise opens door to volcano-powered electricity "Can enormous heat deep in the earth be harnessed to provide energy for us on the surface? A promising report from a geothermal borehole project that accidentally struck magma – the same fiery, molten rock that spews from volcanoes – suggests it could."

"The well funnelled superheated, high-pressure steam for months at temperatures of over 450°C – a world record. In comparison, geothermal resources in the UK rarely reach higher than around 60-80°C. The magma-heated steam was measured to be capable of generating 36MW of electrical power. While relatively modest compared to a typical 660MW coal-fired power station, this is considerably more than the 1-3MW of an average wind turbine, and more than half of the Krafla plant’s current 60MW output."

"Most importantly it demonstrated that it could be done. “Essentially, IDDP-1 is the world’s first magma-enhanced geothermal system, the first to supply heat directly from molten magma,” Elders said. The borehole was being set up to deliver steam directly into the Krafla power plant when a valve failed which required the borehole to be stoppered. Elders added that although the borehole had to plugged, the aim is to repair it or drill another well nearby."

A Middle Eastern Primer

Roger Cohen wrote in the NY TImes A Middle Eastern Primer. "Events in the new Middle East, which is located in western Asia like the old Middle East, can seem confusing. In the belief that clarity leads to understanding, which in turn leads to good policy, here is a primer for the region."

It seems a good summary, though I had to look up "lèse-majesté" and "dyspeptic" and am pretty convinced he used "trafficked" incorrectly.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A map of ​how much snow it takes to cancel school across the U.S.

A map of ​how much snow it takes to cancel school across the U.S. "Redditor atrubetskoy made this map by using a combination of local news reports, a survey, and average snowfall levels from NOAA maps to make an approximation of the differing levels of snow it takes to call off school. While the map is based on hundreds of data points, it is by no means considered to be 100% accurate, as atrubetskoy explains himself."

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Snow Storms Hit the South

Snow Storms Hit the South "A rare winter storm swept across most of the Deep South yesterday, turning roads into sheets of ice, dropping several inches of snow in places, snarling highways, and causing at least five deaths. Unaccustomed to the weather, drivers slid into ditches, abandoned vehicles on highways, and became trapped in miles-long traffic jams for many hours. The National Guard was out, extracting stranded motorists and transporting them to shelters - thousands remain trapped on Interstates around Atlanta today. [20 photos]"

I'm not a big fan of driving in snow but I have a hard time relating to the havoc that an inch or two of snow caused in the South...

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More at The Big Picture.

Scientists Discover A New, Simpler Way To Make Stem Cells

Scientists discover a new, simpler way to make stem cells. "To transform mature cells into powerful stem cells that are a biological blank slate, the team simply bathed them in an acid bath for half an hour. The technique appears to be far easier and faster than current methods for creating these cells, which scientists are racing to develop into therapies for a range of diseases."

"The new work reveals a potentially cheap, fast, and simple avenue to create the powerful cells—by exposing mature cells to environmental stress instead of having to manipulate the genes inside the cell’s nucleus. If the finding is replicated by other scientists, it also promises to yield fresh insights into the behavior of cells, and demonstrates that important scientific advances often emerge from unexpected areas of inquiry."

"Ultimately, the team found that the environmental stress was producing the stem cells. The mechanism is not fully understood, but scientists saw telling changes in the pattern of molecules that attach to DNA and determine which genes are active. Further work showed that other types of stress, such as growing the cells in low oxygen or bathing them in a solution that is more acidic than milk but less than juice, transformed a portion of the cells into STAP cells—short for stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency. STAP cells had genetic markers that were signatures of stem cells, but they weren’t quite the same as true stem cells found in embryos. They didn’t live as long, and they couldn’t multiply indefinitely. But the researchers found that if they put the STAP cells in lab dishes with the right growth medium—a nutrient gel that is used to help embryonic stem cells multiply—the STAP stem cells became just like embryonic stem cells."

Regular expression crossword puzzle

This Regular expression crossword puzzle is just evil.


22 Unbelievable Places that are Hard to Believe Really Exist

Bored Panda lists 22 Unbelievable Places that are Hard to Believe Really Exist "Our world is so full of wonders that new and amazing places are discovered every day, be that by professional photographers or amateurs. Different geographical locations, climatic conditions and even seasons offer the widest variety of natural wonders: pink lakes, stunning lavender or tulip fields, breath-taking canyons and mountains, and other places you can hardly believe actually exist!

Some of the pictures in this collection will be of all natural sights you can find while traveling around the world, while the others have experienced human interference – but even in these cases, the result of such collaboration is spectacular. The Japanese learned how to tame thousands of orchids and form a romantic tunnel out of them; another one was formed all the way in Ukraine by a passing train; and what eventually ends up as hot tea in our mugs, first grows in stunning tree fields in Asia."

I think I've been to one of these.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Monday, January 27, 2014

Elizabeth Warren and Tom Coburn Sponser a Bill

Elizabeth Warren's New Bill Could Save Taxpayers Billions "Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a bill with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that aims to make government settlements with corporations more transparent and fair. It could end up saving taxpayers billions of dollars."

"Warren's bill would discourage tax-deductible settlements by forcing federal agencies to explain why certain settlements are confidential, and to publicly disclose the terms of nonconfidential agreements so that taxpayers can see how much settlement tax-deductibility is costing them."

The Woody Allen Allegations

Robert Weide writes about The Woody Allen Allegations: Not So Fast. I didn't know much of the incident and much of what I thought I knew was wrong. If you have an opinion on the subject it's worth a read, if you don't, then I support you in continuing to not bother to.

I watched his latest (Oscar nominated) film Blue Jasmine this weekend. It was pretty good. Certainly Cate Blanchett's nomination was well deserved and so is her front-runner status. The story telling impressively weaves in and out of present and past events. I'd call it a character study of Bernie Madoff's wife if she was a Woody Allen neurotic but it's really a variation on A Streetcar Named Desire.

It also has the standard Woody Allen problem of being about people who live in homes that they cannot possibly afford. I have no idea what Woody Allen thinks a grocery store bagger makes or what apartments cost, but the film gets the relationship completely wrong. He has the same issue with what he thinks a foreign service employee can afford.

From the Northern to the Southern Cross

The Astronomy Picture of the Day today is amazing.

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Paranoia of the Plutocrats

Venture capitalist Tom Perkins wrote a letter to the WSJ, Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?. "I would call attention to the parallels of Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the 'rich.'"

Paul Krugman calls him out on it. Paranoia of the Plutocrats.

Now, just to be clear, the very rich, and those on Wall Street in particular, are in fact doing worse under Mr. Obama than they would have if Mitt Romney had won in 2012. Between the partial rollback of the Bush tax cuts and the tax hike that partly pays for health reform, tax rates on the 1 percent have gone more or less back to pre-Reagan levels. Also, financial reformers have won some surprising victories over the past year, and this is bad news for wheeler-dealers whose wealth comes largely from exploiting weak regulation. So you can make the case that the 1 percent have lost some important policy battles.

But every group finds itself facing criticism, and ends up on the losing side of policy disputes, somewhere along the way; that’s democracy. The question is what happens next. Normal people take it in stride; even if they’re angry and bitter over political setbacks, they don’t cry persecution, compare their critics to Nazis and insist that the world revolves around their hurt feelings. But the rich are different from you and me.

Jared Berstein chimes, in President Obama Does Many Things Well but Being a Socialist is Not One of Them.

"The equity indexes may have gotten whacked last Friday (and may open lower today as well), but last year’s S&P 500-stock index was up almost 30%, its best year in 16 years. Yes, the rich got hit hard by the capital losses linked to the housing bust, but according to the latest data point in CBO’s comprehensive household income series—2010—the after-tax income of the top 1% was up $133,000 over the previous year, while that of the middle fifth was down $100. In fact, just the change in the real income of the top 1% was more than twice the level of the income of the middle fifth ($133,000 vs. $57,900)."

"I’d also note that while top personal income tax rates went up under the President, the increase only affected households above $400K-$450K, not the $250K he ran on. His tax plan actually permanently locked in more than 80% of the Bush tax cuts."

Darrell Issa: James Clapper lied to Congress about NSA and should be fired

Darrell Issa: James Clapper lied to Congress about NSA and should be fired "A group of congressmen led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is pushing for President Obama to fire James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, who they say misled Congress about the extent of the NSA's surveillance activity."

Huh. Last I heard lying to Congress was a crime and crimes were punishable by more than merely losing your job. Why isn't Issa charging him with perjury? Seems like this is worse than Clinton's perjury and he got impeached for it.

Now I know that Wyden's question to Clapper was a trick question. Clapper couldn't answer honestly in public session because the program was classified. I don't' see Issa talking about these details.

Global temperature 2013

RealClimate reports on Global temperature 2013 "The global temperature data for 2013 are now published. 2010 and 2005 remain the warmest years since records began in the 19th Century. 1998 ranks third in two records, and in the analysis of Cowtan & Way, which interpolates the data-poor region in the Arctic with a better method, 2013 is warmer than 1998 (even though 1998 was a record El Nino year, and 2013 was neutral)."

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Scientists film how the brain makes memories for the first time ever

Scientists film how the brain makes memories for the first time ever. "For the first time in history, scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have captured how our brain makes memories in video, watching how molecules morph into the structures that, at the end of the day, make who we are."

Inside City’s Water Tanks, Layers of Neglect

The New York Times writes Inside City’s Water Tanks, Layers of Neglect "Samplings taken by The New York Times from water towers at 12 buildings in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn found E. coli in five tanks, and coliform in those tanks and three more. Coliform by itself is not harmful, but does indicate that conditions are ripe for the growth of potentially dangerous microorganisms."

Extreme Snow Ball Fighting

I thought this was pretty funny.

The Math Aficionado’s Guide to High-Fives

The Math Aficionado’s Guide to High-Fives is kind of amusing.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Friday, January 24, 2014

xkcd: Cold

I really liked today's xkcd: Cold.


Thirty Years of Mac

Today is the Mac's 30th birthday. Apple put together a pretty site, Thirty Years of Mac "Thirty years ago, Apple introduced the Macintosh with the promise to put the creative power of technology in everyone’s hands. It launched a generation of innovators who continue to change the world. This 30‑year timeline celebrates some of those pioneers and the profound impact they’ve made. "

Update: Time lists 20 Ways the Apple Mac Changed Everything skipping the obvious ones.

Update: More links here, The Macintosh is 30 years old today

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Yahoo Tech

I found this Yahoo Tech article pretty amusing, Why One Man Watched Every Episode of ‘Law & Order’ and Took Screenshots of All the Computers "He not only took in all 456 episode in the procedural’s 20-year-run, in order. He also meticulously cataloged — with more than 11,000 screen shots — every single instance of a computer or similar technology that appeared on the show."

"Before you answer, you should know that Thompson isn’t an extreme couch potato; he’s an artist whose work frequently deals with technology. And this is the “the kind of obsessive project where you don’t remember starting it,” as he puts it. He started out watching old Law & Order episodes on Netflix just for diversion. But he would periodically take screenshots of interesting oddities for his blog."

We’ve Got Your Number

Linda Greenhouse writes We’ve Got Your Number and explains the digital privacy issues coming before the Supreme Court and the decades old opinions that have been used so far in arguments and how they might not apply anymore.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tivo Makes Its Hardware Exit Official, Lays Off Most of Design Team

Tivo Makes Its Hardware Exit Official, Lays Off Most of Design Team | Gadget Lab | "According to sources within Tivo, most of the hardware team has been let go. So far, that’s five employees. A skeleton crew of two engineers has been retained to handle support for current and upcoming third-party devices. The sources told WIRED that Tivo is getting out of the hardware business altogether and making a big direction change."

Not too happy about this, but glad I have my Roamio.

Update: Much better, TiVo Isn't Exiting Hardware, Says TiVo. “We’re investing a ton into Roamio [the current TiVo line] and are working on new features and services for it…it’s just not right to say we’re exiting the hardware business.”

Jaw-dropping Photographs Capture the Sublime Power of Superstorms

io9 shows Jaw-dropping Photographs Capture the Sublime Power of Superstorms "Photographer Mike Hollingshead makes a living out of chasing and photographing extreme weather systems – and the fruits of his labor are guaranteed to fill you with awe."


Photographs of Atomic Bomb Tests Are Like Science Fiction Made Real

io9 collected Photographs of Atomic Bomb Tests Are Like Science Fiction Made Real.


Bright Supernova Explodes in Nearby Galaxy M82

Skymania writes Bright supernova explodes in nearby galaxy M82. "One of the closest stellar explosions for years has been spotted in a relatively nearby galaxy that is a favourite target for amateur astronomers. The supernova appeared in the galaxy Messier 82, or M82 for short, which lies about 11.4 million light-years away, right on our doorstep in cosmic terms."

It's right near the Big Dipper. Right now it's 12th magnitude in brightness so you need a telescope to see it, but it's expected to get brighter over the next couple of weeks, maybe to the point that you can see it in binoculars (magnitude 8 or so).


The other interesting thing (aside from the fact that's it an exploding star) is the kind of explosion it is. By looking at the frequencies of light coming from it (the spectrum) astronomers can determine the kinds of elements in the explosion. This is a Type 1a supernova, a white dwarf in orbit with another star pulls in enough matter that it explodes. The neat thing about these is they always explode with the same brightness. If you know a light bulb is 100W, and you can measure how bright you see it and you can figure out its distance. If you don't know how bright the bulb actually is, you can't figure out if it's a bright bulb very far away or a dim bulb closeup. Type 1a supernovae are one of the important ways we measure the distance of galaxies.

There's some more info about the M82 supernova at CosmoQuest Blog. "It’s… odd. M82 is the nearest starburst galaxy to us. That means it is producing new stars at a prodigious rate. When you have lots of new star formation, you get massive stars going BOOM as core-collapse supernovae, whereas the white-dwarf supernovae can happen just about anywhere there are old stars (which happens to be just about anywhere there are any stars.) So although it is intuitively weird that this exciting nearby, visible supernova in a starburst galaxy is a white-dwarf type and NOT core-collapse, who are we to question nature if it wants to give us such a gift."

10 big myths about World War One debunked

The BBC writes, 10 big myths about World War One debunked "Much of what we think we know about the 1914-18 conflict is wrong, writes historian Dan Snow."

Fake IRS Emails for Identity Theft

I heard a report this morning that it's the time of year again for IRS phishing schemes. Turns out thieves send email to people and make it look like it's from the IRS. They ask you fill out stuff and get your name, social security number and I guess a few other things. Then they fill out a tax return for you and keep the money.

For the start of the tax season the IRS posted this, IRS Combats Identity Theft and Refund Fraud on Many Fronts and this seems to be actually kinda useful, Tips for Taxpayers, Victims about Identity Theft and Tax Returns.

They also have a page that like so many of their other topics, lists many publications on the topic by number, the latest of which seems to be from 2012. But it's probably still useful, Suspicious e-Mails and Identity Theft.

The simple thing is this, the IRS will NOT contact you. Don't reply to email or phone calls claiming to be from the IRS and don't give out personal info unless you initiate the contact.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Now a bipartisan gang wants to put it back together.

WonkBlog writes The Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Now a bipartisan gang wants to put it back together..

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI.), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI.) and "Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), are introducing legislation they co-wrote to strengthen the Voting Rights Act."

A simple test for conservative poverty proposals

Ezra Klein describes A simple test for conservative poverty proposals, "follow the money". Not too long a worth a read.

Hey, Maybe Bank Regulation Is Working After All

Kevin Drum says Hey, Maybe Bank Regulation Is Working After All "Still, as I've said in the past, the real test is bank profitability. If it goes down, it means the new regulations are doing their job. And it's going down."

"It's still early days, so take this as tentative evidence only. The real evidence that bank regulation has been effective will be longer-term signs that we're truly seeing a de-financialization of the economy, with the finance industry making up a smaller share of GDP than it has in the past. We'll only know if that's happening once all the new regs have been in place for a while and the banks have had a good chance to figure out if they can game them. If they can't, and finance becomes permanently a smaller share of the economy, we'll be able to say that Dodd-Frank and Basel III were relatively successful. Until then, we'll have to wait and see."

From silly smear to public policy

Steve Benen writes From silly smear to public policy about some dumb things in the new spending bill

Yes, right before Thanksgiving, some far-right media outlets began pushing a blisteringly stupid smear: the Obama administration had decided to ‘close’ the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican. Almost immediately, Republican lawmakers, officials, and candidates pounced, taking the reports seriously, and throwing over-the-top tantrums about President Obama’s ‘anti-religion pursuits.’   They were spectacularly wrong. The Obama administration, implementing a plan crafted by the Bush/Cheney administration, intended to move the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican into the same building as the U.S. Embassy to Italy. It would mean the diplomatic outpost would actually be physically closer to the Holy See, while saving taxpayer money and improving embassy security.   Other countries have done the same thing, and the church didn’t care in the slightest. The entire smear lasted about a day, before vanishing into the ether.   Except, it didn’t actually disappear because Republicans included a provision in the spending bill to prevent the embassy move. The new policy would save money, but for the GOP, that doesn’t matter. It would improve security, but that’s irrelevant, too. What matters is that right-wing media came up with a silly idea, and now the congressional response to the nonsense will be federal law."

ATMs Face Deadline to Upgrade From Windows XP

I know it shouldn't but this just amazes me. Businessweek reports ATMs Face Deadline to Upgrade From Windows XP .

Google Music Timeline

This Google Music Timeline is limited to Google Play data but is still pretty cool. "The Music Timeline shows genres of music waxing and waning, based on how many Google Play Music users have an artist or album in their music library, and other data (such as album release dates). Each stripe on the graph represents a genre; the thickness of the stripe tells you roughly the popularity of music released in a given year in that genre. (For example, the "jazz" stripe is thick in the 1950s since many users' libraries contain jazz albums released in the '50s.) Click on the stripes to zoom into more specialized genres."


The Northridge Earthquake: 20 Years Ago Today

In Focus looks back on The Northridge Earthquake: 20 Years Ago Toda "On January 17, 1994, at 4:31 am, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, killing more than 60, injuring more than 9,000, and causing widespread damage. Freeways crumbled, gas mains burst and caught fire, apartment complexes collapsed, and power was lost to vast sections of the city. Thousands of buildings were either destroyed outright, or declared unsafe to enter, and later demolished. Twenty years later, here is a look back, in photos. [30 photos]"

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I find it rather chilling that these are photos of Los Angeles and not some developing nation. I remember when this happened and seeing stuff on TV and in magazine, but the Web was new and this kind of reporting wasn't on it yet.

Famous movie quotes as charts

Someone took the AFI's 100 YEARS...100 MOVIE QUOTES list and made little charts for them all. This should be right up my alley but I gotta say, I don't think they're very good. What about you?

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Dealing With Contacts

I saw this article on Macworld, How Mac experts deal with their contacts, and I thought I'd chime in.

I've always been pretty good about keeping track of Contacts. In the 80s I had a great little loose leaf binder with small tabs so each person could fit on one small sheet. They could be added and replaced easily and could be overlapped so that the top line (the name) of several would be visible at once. Then I used bbdb in Emacs and then a PalmPilot.

When I first got a Mac I decided I'd use it the way it was intended and not try to make it be like other systems I've used (I didn't want to just live in Emacs). I started using Address Book and it was ok. I learned that it's changed very little since the old NeXT days where it came from and that's unfortunate. There were two things I really liked about it. First was that it was the address book repository and every app that needed to integrated with it. That meant once I put all my contact info into it, I could use it everywhere. Windows didn't' have something like that (you either lived in Outlook or one of its competitors and you didn't use a mail program from one an address book from another and a calendar from a third). The integration with Quicksilver also helped a lot. Second I loved that it let you assign your contact a picture and that other apps would use them, so that I'd see your face in Mail or in a chat program. I always liked that I never picked the wrong John or Mike because I saw their face in the app and while their names were the same their faces weren't.

So on that basis Address Book (now Contacts) did what it needed to and did it in a pretty way. There were some issues. Groups were never great and smart groups had some bugs and you couldn't mark an email address as old. I'd want to keep old addresses around to be able to search for things they sent in the past, but then Mail would get confused and try to send to old address. I've always wanted a way to deprecate an email address and still do (bbdb could do this). (If you use and have this problem even after removing old addresses from Contacts, look in under the Windows menu at Previous Recipients and clean that out.)

Ultimately having Address Book be my one true source of contact info meant I really wanted an iPhone. I wanted my phone to sync with the mac so that I never had to separately update a phone's address book and could backup and restore what was in the phone. I (still) sync my iPhone every night so I'm not sure what the big deal is in this article. Info about my contacts doesn't change that often that I need it sync'ed more often than once a day. I do use iCloud for it now and I've never had a problem with it.

I have had a problem with the mac's Contacts app and sync'ing with Facebook and Google contacts and just avoid doing that now. I saw duplicates generated and even after I went through and fixed them they would get regenerated. I'm not sure if Mavericks fixed that. While I sometimes use pictures from Facebook in my Contacts I'd rather use a picture I've personally taken of the person. Also I'm happy to have it not change as often as some people change their Facebook image, particularly when they use a pic of their kids (or anything else) instead of themselves.

Like the people in the article I've never used the builtin mechanisms to share a contact card. I've also had no problems adding info in the mac app. I wish the Edit/Done button had a shortcut key but otherwise tabbing between fields works fine. I did setup a template (in the Preferences) with all the fields I want so I usually don't have to use the Add Field function in the Card menu which is annoying.

So Contacts is fine for me, I wish it was a little better but it's ok. It's certainly much better than Calendar...

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ⋯ = -1/12

This is making the rounds and I think this is the first time I've seen this. Apparently, the infinite sum 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ⋯ is -1/12. Really. And this value is useful in physics (well string theory and some other things). And I feel good because even the Bad Astronomer can't quite wrap his head around it.

This is the video going around...

After that one bothers you goto the followup page they posted with two more videos with some more details, Thanks for the messages. Each had a few bits that helped me.

There are some comments on Quora of people trying to help explain this non-obvious result. This one was useful.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

2014 Oscar Nominees

The 2014 Oscar Nominees were announced today, my predictions were pretty good. I roughly missed one in each category, and usually about a film I didn't see.

I'm very surprised that Saving Mr. Banks got snubbed from Best Picture and Best Actress. Of the big categories I really just have to see August: Osage County and Blue Jasmine. I've seen all the nominees in six categories and those two will give me three more. Of the smaller ones I'll see The Hobbit 2, Lone Survivor and maybe Grandmaster and Lone Ranger. Aside from the shorts, the only category I haven't seen any of the nominees is Animated Feature.

Here's a nice article that might turn me off the Oscars. How Academy's Most Obscure Nominee - Maybe EVER - Managed To Beat Out Taylor Swift, Coldplay And Celine Dion.

Other than the shorts and animated, foreign and documentary features, these are what I have left to see:

  • August: Osage County
  • Blue Jasmine
  • Before Midnight
  • The Hobbit 2
  • Lone Survivor
  • The Lone Ranger
  • Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
  • Cutie and the Boxer
  • The Square
  • Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
  • The Grandmaster
  • The Book Thief
  • The Invisibile Woman
  • Alone Yet Not Alone - I barely made it through the music video, I won't see the film

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Stunning photos of colossal lightning in massive volcano eruption

Stunning photos of colossal lightning in massive volcano eruption

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What the Courts Did to Net Neutrality Yesterday

There was a big court ruling in Net neutrality yesterday. As background the general principle is how ISPs should be regulated. Typically you've payed for access to the Internet and pay by how much you use. It's kind of like the electric company. You pay by kilowatt but it doesn't' matter what you use the electricity for. ISPs find that some customers use a lot of their bandwidth and want to find ways to charge them even more than just their usage fees. Worse, maybe they compete with these users and want to charge them more to make their services more expensive and less competitive.

A simple example is Netflix. They account for a huge amount of internet traffic with streaming video. Your ISP probably sells you a cable tv package with your Internet connection and your ISP isn't Netflix. Imagine if they charged Netflix more than just their (or your) bandwidth usage or if they deliberately slowed down Netflix data to make the service perform badly ("Hey that's a nice video you service you have there, it would be a shame if something were to happen to it..."). Another common example is Skype because your ISP probably offers you phone service as well. In the electricity example it's as if the electric company made a deal with Panasonic so that their products got electricity when Sony products didn't. Or if Mercedes paid more so that their cars could use a high-speed lane on the highway that no other car brands were allowed to use.

Now there are details about how to write the regulations preventing these bad things from happening. ISPs argue that while they don't want to discriminate against Netflix or Skype they want the ability to regulate traffic so that the guy next door pirating every movie ever made off bittorrent doesn't destroy your bandwidth. The FCC is in charge of these rules and they've been messing it up for a while.

Generally the FCC can classify ISPs as telecommunication services (aka common carriers) or information services. If they were common carriers then they'd have to treat every customer equally. Instead in 2006 they classified them as information services which gives the FCC less ability to regulate them (guess who pushed for less regulation). Then in 2010 the FCC tried to setup some rules to prevent abuses and the court ruled yesterday that those rules weren't allowed to be enforced against information services only against common carriers.

Arc Technica explains it all here, How the FCC screwed up its chance to make ISP blocking illegal.

The Switch outlines, Here’s how net neutrality can still survive. It's very simple, reclassify the ISPs as common carriers. Everyone agrees they have the authority to do that. Here's a White House petition to get the Obama administration to do just that Restore Net Neutrality By Directing the FCC to Classify Internet Providers as "Common Carriers".

Ryan Singel wrote Net Neutrality is Dead. The FCC Won’t Save It. It’s Time to Start Building. He says you should use T-Mobile who's pushing for openness as a competitive strategy (I don't think that's ever worked) and that local governments should deploy their own fiber networks to keep private companies out of it. He also summed up the current state very well. "You want your ISPs to act like a utility; Your ISPs have no desire to just be a utility; things will get bad, probably in ways that are hard to detect — like Netflix buffering."

WonkBlog said, Calm down. The courts didn’t just end the open Internet. "The court objected to FCC’s current versions of the rules because they swept too broadly and indiscriminately. In affirming Section 706 authority, however, the court simultaneously opened the door for the FCC to implement similar versions of these rules on a case-by-case basis against individual access providers who abuse their monopoly. In legal terms, the FCC can now act through adjudications instead of rulemakings. Indeed, one bedrock principle of administrative law is that agencies are generally free to enforce law through either method." I'm sure that's true, but it would seem much simpler to me to have a set of rules applying to everyone instead of requiring enforcement on a case-by-case basis.

Tim Wu, The law professor who coined ‘net neutrality’ lashes out at the FCC’s legal strategy calling it "a FEMA-level fail". He doesn't think the 706 authority amounts to much.

Oscar Nomination Predictions

Oscar nominations come out tomorrow. Here are my predictions for some categories in the order of what I think is mostly likely to least likely. I threw in Documentary and Foreign Language categories because they have published shortlists of the potential nominees so I could pick from that. Also for Animated Feature there aren't that many possibilities so I took a guess in a category where I've seen only one.

The films in italics I have not seen.

  • Best Picture
    • 12 Years a Slave
    • Gravity
    • American Hustle
    • The Wolf of Wall Street
    • Captain Phillips
    • Dallas Buyers Club
    • Nebraska
    • Saving Mr. Banks
    • Philomena
    • Her

  • Best Director

    • Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave
    • Alfonso Cuaron - Gravity
    • David O. Russell - American Hustle
    • Martin Scorsese - The Wolf of Wall Street
    • Paul Greengrass - Captain Phillips

  • Best Actor

    • Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years a Slave
    • Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club
    • Bruce Dern - Nebraska
    • Tom Hanks - Captain Phillips
    • Leonardo DiCaprio - The Wolf of Wall Street

  • Best Actress

    • Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine
    • Sandra Bullock - Gravity
    • Judi Dench - Philomena
    • Emma Thompson - Saving Mr. Banks
    • Meryl Streep - August: Osage County

  • Best Supporting Actor

    • Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club
    • Barkhad Abdi - Captain Phillips
    • Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave
    • Bradley Cooper - American Hustle
    • Daniel Bruhl - Rush

  • Best Supporting Actress

    • Lupita Nyong'o - 12 Years a Slave
    • Jennifer Lawrence - American Hustle
    • June Squibb - Nebraska
    • Julia Roberts - August: Osage County
    • Oprah Winfrey - Lee Daniels' The Butler

  • Best Adapted Screenplay

    • 12 Years a Slave
    • The Wolf of Wall Street
    • Captain Phillips
    • August: Osage County
    • Philomena

  • Best Original Screenplay

    • American Hustle
    • Blue Jasmine
    • Her
    • Nebraska
    • Dallas Buyers Club

  • Best Animated Feature

    • The Wind Rises
    • Frozen
    • Monsters University
    • Despicable Me 2

  • Best Documentary Feature

    • The Act of Killing
    • Blackfish
    • 20 Feet from Stardom
    • Stories We Tell
    • Tim’s Vermeer

  • Best Foreign Language Film

    • The Hunt, Denmark
    • The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium
    • The Great Beauty, Italy
    • The Notebook, Hungary
    • The Grandmaster, Hong Kong

N.S.A. Devises Radio Pathway Into Computers

The New York Times wrote N.S.A. Devises Radio Pathway Into Computers. It describes how the NSA has implanted hardware in targeted machines that communicates via radio waves. This means the machines don't need to be connected to the Internet to send info to the NSA, they just need to broadcast to a radio receiver that could be miles away.

"One, called Cottonmouth I, looks like a normal USB plug but has a tiny transceiver buried in it. According to the catalog, it transmits information swept from the computer ‘through a covert channel’ that allows ‘data infiltration and exfiltration.’ Another variant of the technology involves tiny circuit boards that can be inserted in a laptop computer — either in the field or when they are shipped from manufacturers — so that the computer is broadcasting to the N.S.A. even while the computer’s user enjoys the false confidence that being walled off from the Internet constitutes real protection.

The relay station it communicates with, called Nightstand, fits in an oversize briefcase, and the system can attack a computer ‘from as far away as eight miles under ideal environmental conditions.’ It can also insert packets of data in milliseconds, meaning that a false message or piece of programming can outrace a real one to a target computer. Similar stations create a link between the target computers and the N.S.A., even if the machines are isolated from the Internet.

Computers are not the only targets. Dropoutjeep attacks iPhones. Other hardware and software are designed to infect large network servers, including those made by the Chinese."

The search for the lost Cray supercomputer OS

The search for the lost Cray supercomputer OS tells the story of someone trying to make a model of the Cray-1. As the premier supercomputer of its day in 1971 it had 1MB of RAM and could perform 80M FLOPS. It also weighed 5.5 tons.

Given that your phone (well my phone and probably yours) is more powerful, two guys decided to make a 1/10 scale model that fit on a desk. The guts are a $225 computer board. The hard part was finding Cray software. It's a fun read.

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Friday, January 10, 2014

One Percent Measure of the Universe

One Percent Measure of the Universe

"When it comes to accuracy, everyone strives for a hundred percent, but measuring cosmic distances leaves a bit more to chance. Just days ago, researchers from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) announced to the world that they have been able to measure the distance to galaxies located more than six billion light-years away to a confidence level of just one percent. If this announcement doesn’t seem exciting, then think on what it means to other studies. These new measurements give a parameter to the properties of the ubiquitous “dark energy” – the source of universal expansion."

"To achieve a one-percent measurement at six billion light years isn’t as easy as measuring a solar system object, or even one contained within our galaxy. That’s where the BOSS comes into play. It’s the largest of the four projects that make up the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III (SDSS-III), and was built to take advantage of this technique: measuring the so-called ‘baryon acoustic oscillations’ (BAOs), subtle periodic ripples in the distribution of galaxies in the cosmos. These ripples are the signature of pressure waves which once cruised the early Universe at a time when things were so hot and dense that photons marched along with baryons – the stuff which creates the nuclei of atoms. Since the size of the ripple is known, that size can now be measured by mapping galaxies."

NASA wants to keep the International Space Station going until 2024. Is that a good idea?

Aside from the headline, WonkBlog gives a typically good history of the ISS. NASA wants to keep the International Space Station going until 2024. Is that a good idea?.

Curiosity Trekking

HiRISE stands for High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment; it's a camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It recently captured Curiosity Trekking "Curiosity has been on the move. In this most recent HiRISE image of the MSL rover, the tracks are visible from Yellowknife Bay to its location on 11 December 2013, several kilometers to the southwest. Tracks from its landing site to Yellowknife Bay made more than a year ago are faded but still discernible."

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The Continued Eruptions of Mount Sinabung

In Focus shows The Continued Eruptions of Mount Sinabung "Mount Sinabung, in Indonesia's North Sumatra province, has been erupting sporadically since last September, spewing massive clouds of superheated gas and ash into the sky and down its slopes in deadly pyroclastic flows. The most recent series of eruptions began January 4, with hundreds of eruptions recorded in the days since. Further evacuations have been ordered, with more than 20,000 people now displaced. Gathered here are recent images from the region and of those affected. [30 photos]"

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The 50 Greatest Last Shots in Film History lists The 50 Greatest Last Shots in Film History "This list explicitly deals with our favorite final shots, the (usually brief) time between when the director calls ‘action!’ and the closing credits begin to roll. This list isn’t intended to reflect our love for these movies as a whole (though that certainly played a part), but rather to measure the contributions of their final images, and their value to the work as a whole."

Lots of spoilers, but lots of interesting things too.

Spencer Trappist Ale launches in MA

Spencer Trappist Ale launches in Mass. "The first Trappist brewery outside of Europe has started production of beer that is expected to hit retail stores early next week. The monks at Saint Joseph's Abby in Spencer are rolling out bottles of Spencer Trappist Ale brewed in a 36,000 square foot facility on the monastery grounds. The brewery will be the 9th Trappist brewery in the world, joining Chimay, Orval, and other well-known brands."

Thursday, January 09, 2014

MA Medical Price Transparency Law Rolls Out

I hadn't heard anything about this. Medical Price Transparency Law Rolls Out: Physicians Must Help Patients Estimate Costs

"Massachusetts physicians and hospitals are now required by law to provide cost information for procedures and services to patients who request it."

"Additionally, the provider must give patients any information—such as CPT codes—that their insurer needs to calculate what their out-of-pocket costs will be."

Then again. "Partners In Internal Medicine’s George Abraham, M.D., worries that patients will get so frustrated by the multiple phone calls they’ll have to make to gather the various cost components that they’ll just give up. 'On paper it looks great. We’ve increased transparency, but in reality it’s mired in red tape,' said Dr. Abraham. 'It could take days for patients to get all the information they need. It’s not user-friendly.'"

Update: Related and not surprising, About 80 percent of hip doctors have no idea how much a hip replacement costs.

The National Ignition Facility

In Focus on The National Ignition Facility "At Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a federally funded research and development center about 50 miles east of San Francisco, scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) are trying to achieve self-sustaining nuclear fusion -- in other words, to create a miniature star on Earth. The core of the NIF is a house-sized spherical chamber aiming 192 massive lasers at a tiny target. One recent laser experiment focused nearly 2 megajoules (the energy consumed by 20,000 100-watt light bulbs in one second) of light energy onto a millimeter-sized sphere of deuterium and tritium in a 16-nanosecond pulse. The resulting energetic output, while far short of being a self-sustaining reaction, set a record for energy return, and has scientists hopeful as they fine-tune the targeting, material, and performance of the instruments. The facility itself bristles with machinery and instruments, impressing the producers of the movie Star Trek: Into Darkness, who used it as a film set for the warp core of the starship Enterprise. [24 photos]"

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How to Actually Measure The Poverty Rate

Jordan Weissmann wrote in The Atlantic Why You Should Forget About the Poverty Rate "Well, don't forget it entirely. But do understand its limits. In 1964, the rate was 19 percent. Today, it's 15 percent, which, as my colleague Derek Thompson wrote yesterday, suggests we've barely made a dent in economic deprivation. But for such an influential and obsessed-over number, there's widespread agreement that the government's standard poverty measure is deeply flawed, and it almost certainly understates how much the social safety net has improved U.S. living standards over time."

"The poverty line itself is sort of the shag carpet of economic indicators—a poorly-aged, 1960s throwback. It was first set during the Johnson administration at three times the cost of a basic diet because, at the time, the typical family was thought to spend about one-third of its income on food. Since then, it has mostly been adjusted for inflation rather than our changing spending habits, which today are geared less towards groceries, and more towards things like housing and healthcare."

"Our current approach to calculating poverty is so full of holes that, for the past few years, the Census Bureau has produced an alternative number known as the "supplemental poverty measure" or "SPM"—which is bone-dry government speak for "the statistic you should really be paying attention to." Think of it as the official poverty rate's smarter, more realistic cousin. On the one hand, it accounts for additional expenses, like medical care and regional variations in housing. On the other, it better incorporates government benefits, like food stamps and housing subsidies. In the end, it usually comes out to be a little less than a percentage point higher than the official poverty rate."

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Alfred Hitchcock's unseen Holocaust documentary to be screened

I'm surprised I've never even heard of this. The Independent writes Alfred Hitchcock's unseen Holocaust documentary to be screened "It's a little known fact that the great director made a film about the Nazi death camps – but, horrified by the footage he saw, the documentary was never shown. Now it is to be released. Geoffrey Macnab reports."

Now, finally, the film is set to be seen in a version that Hitchcock, Bernstein and the other collaborators intended. The Imperial War Museum has painstakingly restored it using digital technology and has pieced together the extra material from the missing sixth reel. A new documentary, Night Will Fall, is also being made with André Singer, executive producer of The Actof Killing, as director and Stephen Frears as directorial advisor. Both the original film about the camps and the new documentary will be shown on British TV in early 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the 'liberation' of Europe. Before that, next year, they are due to be shown together at festivals and in cinemas."

No, Niagara Falls is not “frozen solid”

No, Niagara Falls is not “frozen solid” "You’ve probably seen, and perhaps marveled at, these pictures of a frozen-solid Niagara Falls. Unfortunately, like everything of beauty and wonder on the Internet, these are either totally misleading or outright false."

Gemini's First Image Shows a Planet Orbiting a Star 63 Light Years Away

Gizmodo writes Gemini's First Image Shows a Planet Orbiting a Star 63 Light Years Away


"It might not be much to look at, but this image is insanely exciting. You're looking at the first ever image of a planet, orbiting a star, over 63 light years from Earth. Acquired by the world's most powerful planet-hunting instrument, the Gemini Planet Imager, it shows a 10-million-year-old planet called Beta Pictorus orbiting its giant parent star. It's the first such image to come from Gemini, which has been under development for over a decade but is only now producing data like this."

More details from the Gemini Observatory.

Secrets of the Oscar Voting System

In Variety James Schamus Reveals Secrets of the Oscar Voting System.

Facebook News Feed Redesign Changes Struggle to Court Users

I'm cleaning out an old archive of stuff to get to. A month ago All Things D posted Facebook News Feed Redesign Changes Struggle to Court Users

"Most people think of Facebook in a similar way: It’s a place to share photos of your kids. It’s a way to keep up with friends and family members. It’s a place to share a funny, viral story or LOLcat picture you’ve stumbled upon on the Web.

This is not how Facebook thinks of Facebook. In Mark Zuckerberg’s mind, Facebook should be ‘the best personalized newspaper in the world.’ He wants a design-and-content mix that plays up a wide array of ‘high-quality’ stories and photos.

The gap between these two Facebooks — the one its managers want to see, and the one its users like using today — is starting to become visible. Earlier this year, Facebook users rejected a redesign that Zuckerberg announced with much fanfare. Now Facebook is adjusting its algorithms to emphasize content that it thinks readers should see, which will push down some of the stuff that’s currently popular."

I have to say I'm more and more annoyed with Facebook trying to figure out what I want to see. Now I never played Farmville or other games that encouraged me to "friend" people I never met and don't want to meet and don't' consider friends. I know everyone I've friended in real life or in virtual life. I do have a lot of friends that are fraternity brothers from different years that I'm not close to but Facebook's addition of acquaintances seems made for this.

To me Facebook has already achieved one of it's goals; it's something I check in the morning, with my email and my twitter feed. It's kind of like a morning newspaper in that respect. But I want to see stuff about my friends. Mostly that's them posting stuff about what they've done or are doing or something fun. I of course have some friends that post too much stuff and I either put up with it or in a couple of cases have hidden their posts from my feed. That's fine. That's what I'd have to do in real life or with email.

But I'm constantly annoyed that Facebook won't let me keep their Sort setting on Most Recent to see all of friends' posts and on each of my devices. I'm annoyed that I can't mark a post as read so I don't see it again. I'm annoyed that things that interest me have become liked and now post things in my feed embedded with stuff from my actual friends. I use the browser extension Social Fixer to address some of these shortcomings but it's always trailing behind Facebook's updates (I'm amazed it works as well as it does).

I think Facebook has a real funding problem. They want to be funded via advertising so they'll constantly be trying to show me stuff I don't want. Instead I want to keep up with my friends and share pics and other things. If you want to charge me $10-20 a year to do, fine I'd do that though I suspect many wouldn't. Maybe that's not enough for them, but seriously if they have a billion users, $1 a month is good revenue, even if it drops to 100 million users it's still good.

They've been so successful at getting info about people, I wish they'd use that to come up with innovative ways for me to keep up with my friends. They've always had lists, but they should be able to automatically populate "circles" of how I know people and give me a nice interface for managing that. Let people share stuff about their family with people who care about that stuff and stuff about work with people who care about that and stuff about interest with people who care about that. Let me easily form sub-groups and schedule events with them (how Facebook hasn't already killed evite is amazing to me) and share stuff with them. Why isn't there a tribal way for me to find out which of my friends watch Justified and have a live chat while watching the show?

I think investing time in these features would make the site far more useful than trying to figure out which of my likes show things in my news feed. Maybe it wouldn't generate revenue on their own, but hey it's the Web 2.0, isn't it about gaining an audience (and keeping them) and then figuring out how to make money?

Bonus article: How to set up your Facebook privacy settings the secure way

2013: The Year in Photos, The Rest

I posted the first of these from In Focus but not the two follow ups. There are lots of stunning images so just go look at all of them.

2013: The Year in Photos, May - August "In part 2 of this year's review of the most memorable events and images of 2013: protesters rally in Turkey, Egypt, and elsewhere; a massive tornado flattens much of Moore, Oklahoma; and Malala Yousafzai celebrates her 16th birthday with a speech to the United Nations. See also part 1 and part 3. The series comprises 120 images in all. Warning, some of the photos may contain graphic or objectionable content. [40 photos]"

2013: The Year in Photos, September - December "Part 3 of this year's look back at some of the most memorable events and images of 2013. Among the events covered in this essay (the final installment in a three-part photo summary of the year): Batkid patrols the streets of San Francisco with Batman, shoppers flee an attack in a mall in Nairobi, and Super Typhoon Haiyan devastates parts of the Philippines. Click here for part 1, and here for part 2. The series comprises 120 images in all. Warning, some of the photos may contain graphic or objectionable content. [40 photos]"

Quantum Experiment Shows How Time ‘Emerges’ from Entanglement

This is from last year and I wish I understood more about it. I looked and haven't seen anything more resent on the topic. Quantum Experiment Shows How Time ‘Emerges’ from Entanglement "Time is an emergent phenomenon that is a side effect of quantum entanglement, say physicists. And they have the first experimental results to prove it"

Today, Ekaterina Moreva at the Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca Metrologica (INRIM) in Turin, Italy, and a few pals have performed the first experimental test of Page and Wootters’ ideas. And they confirm that time is indeed an emergent phenomenon for ‘internal’ observers but absent for external ones.

The experiment involves the creation of a toy universe consisting of a pair of entangled photons and an observer that can measure their state in one of two ways. In the first, the observer measures the evolution of the system by becoming entangled with it. In the second, a god-like observer measures the evolution against an external clock which is entirely independent of the toy universe.

The experimental details are straightforward. The entangled photons each have a polarisation which can be changed by passing it through a birefringent plate. In the first set up, the observer measures the polarisation of one photon, thereby becoming entangled with it. He or she then compares this with the polarisation of the second photon. The difference is a measure of time.

In the second set up, the photons again both pass through the birefringent plates which change their polarisations. However, in this case, the observer only measures the global properties of both photons by comparing them against an independent clock.

In this case, the observer cannot detect any difference between the photons without becoming entangled with one or the other. And if there is no difference, the system appears static. In other words, time does not emerge.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Lego The Simpsons

I saw another post that had better pictures but still didn't see better on the official Lego site. So Uncrate describes the upcoming, Lego The Simpsons "In perhaps the most anticipated pop culture collaboration of a lifetime, everyone's favorite yellow minifigs and the cartoon world's most famous yellow family have finally joined forces. Lego The Simpsons ($200) will take two forms. The first, a Lego set, depicting the Simpson family's home painstakingly recreated in brick form — complete with minifigs of Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Homer, Marge, and Ned Flanders. The second, a Lego-themed episode of The Simpsons planned to air on FOX in May of this year. The set is sure to please longtime Simpsons fans, with plenty of incredible details including the family's car, Bart's skateboard, a radioactive isotope, and much more. We can think of no better way to celebrate the show's 25th year than this iconic partnership. Expect the set in Lego stores this February."

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East Coast Rocket Launch Thursday 1pm

ISS Commercial Resupply Services Mission (Orb-1) "Weather permitting, the launch of Antares from Wallops Island, VA is targed for January 9, 2014 with a launch window that extends from 1:07 - 1:12 pm EST. Because the launch will occur during the daytime, it will not be as visible as some of our recent nighttime launches from Wallops Island. In addition, because Antares first stage engines are liquid fueled, it will not produce a column of smoke that solid fueled rockets typically produce. As a result, from a distance Antares will appear as a faint bright spot ascending in the sky if viewing conditions are optimal."

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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood and Dumbed Down Its Algorithms

I saw a number of mentions of this Atlantic article, How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood "To understand how people look for movies, the video service created 76,897 micro-genres. We took the genre descriptions, broke them down to their key words, … and built our own new-genre generator." It's a little wordy but they wrote a script to find all the genres Netflix uses (they're numbered so they just incremented the URL). Then they talked to Netflix to get more of the story.

I found this followup by Felix Salmon much more intesting. Netflix’s dumbed-down algorithms.

Netflix’s big problem, it seems to me, is that it can’t afford the content that its subscribers most want to watch. It could try to buy streaming rights to every major Hollywood blockbuster in history — but doing so would cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and could never be recouped with $7.99 monthly fees. What’s more, the studios can watch the Netflix share price as easily as anybody else, and when they see it ending 2013 at $360 a share, valuing the company at well over $20 billion, that’s their sign to start raising rates sharply during the next round of negotiations. Which in turn helps explain why Netflix is losing so many great movies.

As a result, Netflix can’t, any longer, aspire to be the service which allows you to watch the movies you want to watch. That’s how it started off, and that’s what it still is, on its legacy DVDs-by-mail service. But if you don’t get DVDs by mail, Netflix has made a key tactical decision to kill your queue — the list of movies that you want to watch. Once upon a time, when a movie came out and garnered good reviews, you could add it to your list, long before it was available on DVD, in the knowledge that it would always become available eventually. If you’re a streaming subscriber, however, that’s not possible: if you give Netflix a list of all the movies you want to watch, the proportion available for streaming is going to be so embarrassingly low that the company decided not to even give you that option any more.

So Netflix has been forced to attempt a distant second-best: scouring its own limited library for the films it thinks you’ll like, rather than simply looking for the specific movies which it knows (because you told it) that you definitely want to watch. This, from a consumer perspective, is not an improvement.

The original Netflix prediction algorithm — the one which guessed how much you’d like a movie based on your ratings of other movies — was an amazing piece of computer technology, precisely because it managed to find things you didn’t know that you’d love. More than once I would order a movie based on a high predicted rating, and despite the fact that I would never normally think to watch it — and every time it turned out to be great. The next generation of Netflix personalization, by contrast, ratchets the sophistication down a few dozen notches: at this point, it’s just saying “well, you watched one of these Period Pieces About Royalty Based on Real Life, here’s a bunch more”.

The legal difference for Netflix between shipping DVDs and streaming is huge. They just buy the DVDs and then loan them to you, no licensing required (a nice copyright fair use concept). For streaming they have to license everything and that's expensive. I haven't streamed much from Netflix but I have a few things. Currently my DVD queue is 264 and of those just 62 are available for streaming. Usually for movies I tend to wait until they're on cable so I don't have to worry about network issues. But a lot of old or British or foreign TV series aren't going to be on cable so they tend to be what I stream from Netflix.

Icy Days and Nights

Sorry this blog has been so quiet. News has been slow and the last three days I've been addicted to playing Civilization V. I'm new to the game and it's fun when snow or iced in (though Boston hasn't been too bad). In Focus has more images of Icy Days and Nights. "The first week of 2014 has brought frigid conditions to much of the Northern Hemisphere, including a phenomenon called a polar vortex, which pulled Arctic weather deep into Canada and the U.S. In Harbin, China, the chilly temperatures have one advantage: They come at a perfect time for the annual Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. Collected here are recent images of the frozen north. [34 photos]"

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Monday, January 06, 2014

The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies—As Chosen By Scientists

The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies—As Chosen By Scientists - Popular Mechanics "Real scientists can be the harshest critics of science fiction. But that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy a movie just because it bends the laws of nature. We polled dozens of scientists and engineers to discover the sci-fi movies they love."

All good movies.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Ezra Klein Is Said to Plan to Leave Washington Post

Any regular reader will know I'm constantly posting stuff from WonkBlog. It was started by Ezra Klein at the Washington Post and he grew it to a nice group of very knowledgable people with the ability to report on policies in depth. Now the New York Times reports Ezra Klein Is Said to Plan to Leave Washington Post.

"After consultation with the newspaper’s editor, Marty Baron, according to one of the people, he put forward a proposal with detailed revenue projections to build a new website dedicated to explanatory journalism on a wide range of topics beyond political policy. It would have been affiliated with The Post, the person said, but would have been a separate enterprise. The investment he sought, the person said, was in eight figures. Ms. Weymouth and the paper’s owner, Jeff Bezos, declined to support the project."

Eight figures is a lot but as near as I can tell WonkBlog is the most useful part of the Washington Post. It will be interesting to see if he spins it off. As the article points out, Nate Silver is spinning off 538 from the NYT (though it was independent before) and Walt Mossberg left AllThingsD at the WSJ to start Re/Code this week. They didn't mention Glenn Greenwald's new venture and I think Andrew Sullivan's The Dish is doing ok.

I know I'll be following Klein wherever he goes.

Disinformation on Inequality

Paul Krugman rips Bret Stephens a new one for his WSJ article. Disinformation on Inequality. He used constant-dollar figures instead of adjusting for inflation, used survey based data that can't track a highly skewed statistic and just uses wrong data in another place.

"The point here, as on so many other economic issues, is that we are not having anything resembling a good-faith debate.

We could have a debate about whether rising inequality is a problem, and whether measures intended to curb it would do more harm than good. But we can’t have that kind of debate if the anti-populist side won’t acknowledge basic facts – and it won’t. In his piece Stephens trashes Obama, accusing him of making a factual error when he did no such thing; then proceeds to commit just about every statistical sin you can imagine in an attempt to minimize the rise in inequality. In the process he leaves his readers more ignorant than they were before. When this is what passes for argument, how can we have any kind of rational discussion?

Oh, and just FYI: this is the kind of journalism that the great and the good deem worthy of a Pulitzer Prize."

How Home Depot Copied Apple to Build an Ingenious New Bucket

How Home Depot Copied Apple to Build an Ingenious New Bucket. So they made a better bucket and are selling it for $7.49, nice. But I liked this part:

It might be hard to believe, but when the Home Depot was founded in 1978, it was hugely innovative. Floor to ceiling stacks of oriented strand board might lack the panache of 3-D printing, yet both developments had similar effects. Prior to the arrival of these walk-in warehouses, weekend warriors were left with whatever limited selection their local hardware store carried. For two decades, Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus made it his mission to make exotic tools and hard-to-find building materials available to anyone with a pick-up truck.

In 2000, Marcus retired and brought on Bob Nardelli as CEO. Nardelli had been one of Jack Welch’s hatchet men at GE, and he spent the next seven years driving down costs—at the expense of Home Depot’s reputation for innovation. “From what I understand, it had a brutal cost-cutting culture that stymied product innovation,” says Herbst.

At the same time, Amazon and other online tool sellers were beating physical retailers at the price game. Shipping bags of concrete was cost prohibitive, but online sales of hyper-profitable, high-ticket power tools boomed. “If the game is played solely on a price-cutting platform, you will inevitably run out of margin to support new innovation,” says Herbst. “What the consumer doesn’t appreciate is that innovation costs money—R&D, prototyping, design, engineering, IP—all of these activities require an investment.”

Asimov's Visit to the World's Fair of 2014

50 years ago Isaac Asimov predicted what 2014 would be like in a New York Times essay. Visit to the World's Fair of 2014. He got a few things right but many more things wrong. Still I'd take a large, clumsy, slow-moving robot housemaid to fold my laundry.

The cast of Futurama

The cast of Futurama by Unrellius

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The Case Against High-School Sports and Too Much Homework

October's Atlantic had two school stories:

The Case Against High-School Sports. "The United States routinely spends more tax dollars per high-school athlete than per high-school math student—unlike most countries worldwide. And we wonder why we lag in international education rankings?"

My Daughter’s Homework Is Killing Me. "What happens when a father, alarmed by his 13-year-old daughter's nightly workload, tries to do her homework for a week."

How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers

In October Gregg Easterbrook wrote in The Atlantic How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers "Taxpayers fund the stadiums, antitrust law doesn't apply to broadcast deals, the league enjoys nonprofit status, and Commissioner Roger Goodell makes $30 million a year. It's time to stop the public giveaways to America's richest sports league—and to the feudal lords who own its teams."

Where You Can Drink On The Street And Where You Definitely Can't!

I'm not really sure of the source but what the hell, Where You Can Drink On The Street And Where You Definitely Can't!

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The State of the Euro, In One Graph

Krugman shows The State of the Euro, In One Graph


"What you see here is that borrowing costs for the troubled euro countries have dropped a lot. But it’s not because austerity policies have brought their debt under control — debt ratios are still rising, in large part because of shrinking economies and deflation. Instead, there has been a dramatic flattening of the relationship between debt and interest rates.

Why has this happened? The timing strongly suggests that it’s mainly the Draghi effect — that the ECB’s signal that it will, in a pinch, act as sovereign lender of last resort has removed much of the fear of self-fulfilling liquidity panics. It’s possible that there has also been some reduction in the political risk premium, because European nations are proving amazingly determined to stay on the euro at almost any cost."

The Best Time to Buy Anything During the Year

I'm never really sure about these lists but Lifehacker describes The Best Time to Buy Anything During the Year

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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy New Year 2014

In Focus wishes us Happy New Year 2014 "Last night, as the stroke of midnight rolled across the world's time zones, people gathered in private and took to the streets to celebrate the arrival of the New Year, 2014. Fireworks erupted from Sydney to Moscow, and revelers gathered in Kiev, Durban, Rio de Janeiro, New York, and thousands of other places, raising a glass, keeping warm, making resolutions, and wishing each other a 'Happy New Year!' [37 photos]"

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Movies Seen in 2013

In 2013 I saw 202 feature length movies and 56 short films (those under 40 mins). That's a little more than last year's numbers of 197 and 44.

Pie Chart of 78% features and 22% shorts

Usually I'm about 80-20 first time vs repeats, this year a few less repeats.

Bar chart showing features were 85% first run and shorts were 93% first run

I rate on the Netflix 5 point scale where 1 is hated, 2 is didn't like, 3 is I liked it, 4 is really liked and 5 is loved. I had a pretty average curve for me though I gave out 22 5's, the most ever.

Bar chart of ratings of features and shorts

I saw 67 features in the theater and most of the rest on cable. This year I didn't watch any of my DVDs though I did do three DVDs from Netflix and streamed eight. I also saw a lot of the shorts online, 25 of them on YouTube and 9 on Vimeo. The Sundance festival released some shorts online this year and I found some old Oscar winners online too.

Screen Shot 2014 01 01 at 11 57 40 AM

I've got a few theaters I go to regularly, though the Somerville gets so much because of IFFBoston. The shorts I see in the theater are the Oscar nominees when they show them at the Coolidge. I wish more films showed shorts before the features instead of endless previews that give away too much. My rule now is if there are more than 20 minutes of trailers I complain to the manager. I know at a chain it's not their fault, but they're who I can complain to.

Screen Shot 2014 01 01 at 12 29 06 PM

April and December are my big movie months and I see less in the summer. April is IFFBoston, and December is I guess holidays (and trying to reach a goal number of movies). Almost all my shorts viewing is Oscar related.

Screen Shot 2014 01 01 at 12 35 57 PM

My viewing was really skewed towards recent films this year.

Screen Shot 2014 01 01 at 12 39 35 PM

And I saw very few foreign films this year.

Screen Shot 2014 01 01 at 12 46 35 PM

Screen Shot 2014 01 01 at 12 45 39 PM

I break down films into five genres that I'm pretty happy with. I then use some sub-genres and I still have a hard time putting every film in one. There are lots of Dramas and Comedies that have no sub-genre. But here's how it looks for this year:

Screen Shot 2014 01 01 at 5 57 26 PM

Here are all the films:

Jan 1Safe House2012US2
Jan 1Wanderlust2012US2
Jan 1A Lonely Place to Die2011Britain3
Jan 2Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides2011US3
Jan 5Like Crazy2011US3
Jan 5The Vow2012US2
Jan 6Zero Dark Thirty2012US4
Jan 7Les Miserables2012US3
Jan 8Django Unchained2012US5
Jan 10The Longest Daycare2012US4
Jan 10Anna Karenina2012Britain3
Jan 12Hysteria2012Britain3
Jan 13The Impossible2012Spain4
Jan 15Noon2013US3
Jan 18The Pirates! Band of Misfits2012Britain3
Jan 20Amour2012Austria2
Jan 21The Critic1963US3
Jan 22The Apocalypse2013US3
Jan 22Catnip: Egress to Oblivion2012US1
Jan 22When The Zombies Come2013US1
Jan 22The Event2012US2
Jan 22Black Metal2013US1
Jan 22Seraph2012US1
Jan 22Movies Made From Home #62013US2
Jan 22What do we Have in Our Pockets2013US3
Jan 24Irish Folk Furniture2013US3
Jan 25Malaria2013Brazil4
Jan 25The Writer2012Brazil2
Jan 27The Reward2013Denmark4
Jan 27A Liar's Autobiography2012Britain2
Jan 29Kill Bill Vol. 12003US4
Jan 29The Revisionaries2012US3
Jan 30Paperman2012US5
Jan 31Fresh Guacamole2012US3
Jan 31Western Spaghetti2008US3
Jan 31KaBoom!2004US3
Jan 31Fireworks2004US3
Jan 31Game Over2006US4
Jan 31Roof Sex2002US5
Feb 4The Three Stooges2012US3
Feb 5Sexy Baby2012US2
Feb 6Inocente2012US5
Feb 6Kings Point2012US3
Feb 6Mondays at Racine2012US5
Feb 6Open Heart2012US4
Feb 6Redemption2012US4
Feb 6The Eagleman Stag2011Britain3
Feb 9Hemingway & Gellhorn2012US3
Feb 10Battleship2012US2
Feb 11Mea Maxima Culpa2013US4
Feb 12Mirror Mirror2012US2
Feb 12Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry2012US4
Feb 165 Broken Cameras2012Palestine4
Feb 16How to Survive a Plague2012US5
Feb 16Flight2012US4
Feb 17The Invisible War2012US5
Feb 17Side Effects2013US3
Feb 19Abiogenesis2012New Zealand3
Feb 19The Longest Daycare2012US4
Feb 19Fresh Guacamole2012US4
Feb 19Head over Heels2012Britain4
Feb 19Paperman2012US5
Feb 19Asad2012South Africa4
Feb 19The Gruffalo’s Child2012Britain2
Feb 19Curfew2012US4
Feb 19Henry2012Canada2
Feb 19Death of a Shadow2012Belgium4
Feb 19Adam and Dog2012US4
Feb 19Buzkashi Boys2012Afghanistan3
Feb 19Dripped2012France4
Feb 22Snow White and the Huntsman2012US1
Feb 22Searching for Sugar Man2012US4
Mar 1The Cabin in the Woods2012US5
Mar 1The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo2011US4
Mar 3The Amazing Spider-Man2012US4
Mar 3A Woman Under the Influence1974US3
Mar 8Slap Shot1977US4
Mar 10Oz the Great and Powerful2013US2
Mar 10The Client1994US4
Mar 16Men in Black 32012US3
Mar 16The World According to Dick Cheney2013US3
Mar 17Roman Holiday1953US5
Mar 17Lore2013Germany1
Mar 17The Magic of Belle Isle2012US3
Mar 18This is Spinal Tap1984US4
Mar 19Compulsion1959US3
Mar 24Rock of Ages2012US2
Mar 29The Avengers2012US5
Mar 29State of Grace1990US4
Mar 29Perfect Sense2011Britain2
Mar 30The Shoemaker2013US3
Mar 30The Ice Harvest2005US4
Mar 31Spring Breakers2013US2
Mar 31The Notebook2004US4
Apr 1The Shipping News2001US3
Apr 2X-Men: First Class2011US4
Apr 2Phil Spector2013US3
Apr 7Blitz2011Britain2
Apr 7Evil Dead2013US2
Apr 9Total Recall2012US2
Apr 14Upstream Color2013US2
Apr 14A Simple Plan1998US4
Apr 21422013US3
Apr 24The Spectacular Now2013US4
Apr 25Before You Know It2013US3
Apr 25Houston2013US2
Apr 25Wasteland2013Britain4
Apr 26Sightseers2013Britain4
Apr 26Our Nixon2013US3
Apr 27Much Ado About Nothing2013US3
Apr 27Good Ol’ Freda2013Britain4
Apr 27Persistence of Vision2013Canada4
Apr 27Dirty Wars2013US5
Apr 27The Hunt2013Denmark4
Apr 28Remote Area Medical2013US3
Apr 28The Act of Killing2013Denmark5
Apr 28The Defector: Escape from North Korea2013Canada2
Apr 28The East2013US4
Apr 29Some Girl(s)2013US1
Apr 29Willow Creek2013US3
Apr 30In a World...2013US4
May 5Mud2013US4
May 7Interior Design2008Japan3
May 10Reach2009Australia3
May 11Iron Man 32013US2
May 12Psycho1960US5
May 14The Great Gatsby2013US3
May 17Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter2012US3
May 20The Iceman2013US3
May 21Brave2012US4
May 24Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan1982US5
May 24Star Trek Into Darkness2013US2
May 27Skyfall2012Britain4
May 28The Guilt Trip2012US2
Jun 2Deceptive Practice2013US3
Jun 6Manhunt2013US4
Jun 9The Dirty Dozen1967US4
Jun 13Premium Rush2012US4
Jun 13The Expendables 22012US3
Jun 16This is the End2013US3
Jun 17The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld2013US3
Jun 18Behind the Candelabra2013US4
Jun 19Richard Pryer: Omit the Logic2013US4
Jun 22Man of Steel2013US3
Jun 22To Rome With Love2012US3
Jun 23World War Z2013US1
Jun 29Gay Purr-ee1962US2
Jun 29Salmon Fishing in the Yemen2012Britain3
Jun 29The Sheik1921US2
Jun 29Arbitrage2012US4
Jun 29Savages2012US3
Jun 3020 Feet from Stardom2013US5
Jul 2Gideon’s Army2013US5
Jul 7Love, Marilyn2012US3
Jul 7The Bone Collector1999US3
Jul 9Gasland Part II2013US3
Jul 10House of Flying Daggers2004China4
Jul 11The Watch2012US1
Jul 14Pacific Rim2013US3
Jul 14Ted2012US3
Jul 17Tai Chi Zero2012China3
Jul 18Beware of Mr. Baker2012US5
Jul 20Superman1978US4
Jul 21Outsourced2006US4
Jul 30Higher Ground2011US3
Aug 3Ruby Sparks2012US4
Aug 4The Act of Killing2013US5
Aug 4Safe House1998US3
Aug 6Glas1958Netherlands4
Aug 7Casting By2013US4
Aug 9Owning Mahowny2003Canada3
Aug 10The Sweet Hereafter1997Canada3
Aug 11Elysium2013US3
Aug 17TiMER2009US3
Aug 17Robot & Frank2012US4
Aug 17The Parallax View1974US2
Aug 18Compliance2012US4
Aug 31French Connection II1975US2
Sep 1To Hell and Back1955US4
Sep 1Closed Circuit2013Britain3
Sep 7The Chronicles of Riddick2004US3
Sep 7Rust and Bone2012France2
Sep 7Un Conte2013France5
Sep 8Riddick2013US3
Sep 8The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie1972France3
Sep 10Floating in My Mind2013US4
Sep 12Tiny Furniture2011US2
Sep 14The Place Beyond the Pines2013US4
Sep 21LT: The Life & Times2013US4
Sep 21Un Chien Andalou1929France3
Sep 22Prisoners2013US3
Sep 29Richard Pryer: Omit the Logic2013US4
Oct 6Destination: Earth1956US3
Oct 6Jack Reacher2012US3
Oct 6Gravity2013US5
Oct 12The Last Stand2013US3
Oct 12This is 402012US3
Oct 13Don Jon2013US4
Oct 14Pitch Perfect2012US3
Oct 14Sexy Baby2012US2
Oct 15Warm Bodies2013US3
Oct 17The Man with the Iron Fists2012US2
Oct 18Rome, Open City1945Italy4
Oct 18Broken City2013US2
Oct 19Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight2013US4
Oct 19The Manxman1929Britain2
Oct 20The Trials of Muhammad Ali2013US3
Oct 2712 Years a Slave2013US5
Oct 30The Gatekeepers2012Israel5
Nov 2Payback1999US4
Nov 2The Farmer’s Wife1928Britain2
Nov 3All is Lost2013US3
Nov 7Inside Llewyn Davis2013US2
Nov 9I, Robot2004US3
Nov 10Dallas Buyers Club2013US4
Nov 11Hunger2008Britain3
Nov 12Thor: The Dark World2013US3
Nov 17Enough Said2013US4
Nov 20Aningaaq2013US3
Nov 24Catching Fire2013US3
Nov 27Hitchcock2013US3
Nov 27Rififi1955France4
Nov 28The Thin Blue Line1988US2
Nov 28Promised Land2012US3
Dec 1Wreck-It Ralph2012US4
Dec 6Stand Up Guys2013US2
Dec 6The Call2013US3
Dec 8Nebraska2013US3
Dec 9Rambo: First Strike Part II1985US4
Dec 12Captain Phillips2013US5
Dec 14Seeking a Friend for the End of the World2012US3
Dec 14Killing Them Softly2012US2
Dec 15Safe2012US3
Dec 15Philomena2013Britain4
Dec 18Adam’s Rib1949US5
Dec 18Funny Face1957US3
Dec 18The Hole1962US4
Dec 18The Lunch Date1989US4
Dec 18Cicero March1966US0
Dec 19The Wolf of Wall Street2013US5
Dec 19Every Child1979Canada3
Dec 19Special Delivery1978Canada3
Dec 19Crac1981Canada2
Dec 20It Might Get Loud2008US4
Dec 21Some Came Running1958US3
Dec 21The Company You Keep2013US4
Dec 22The Sound of Music1965US5
Dec 24The Family2013US2
Dec 25Monsters University2013US4
Dec 25The Heat2013US2
Dec 26Red 22013US4
Dec 26Saving Mr. Banks2013US5
Dec 28Zorba the Greek1964US3
Dec 28Tennessee Johnson1942US3
Dec 29The Secret Life of Walter Mitty1947US3
Dec 30Page One: The Inside the New York Times2011US3
Dec 30Francis Ha2013US2
Dec 31Dredd2012US3