Friday, February 28, 2014

How much is time wrong around the world?

The poor man's math blog shows How much is time wrong around the world? "Looking for other regions of the world having the same peculiarity of Spain, I edited a world map from Wikipedia to show the difference between solar and standard time. It turns out, there are many places where the sun rises and sets late in the day, like in Spain, but not a lot where it is very early (highlighted in red and green in the map, respectively). Most of Russia is heavily red, but mostly in zones with very scarce population; the exception is St. Petersburg, with a discrepancy of two hours, but the effect on time is mitigated by the high latitude. The most extreme example of Spain-like time is western China: the difference reaches three hours against solar time. For example, today the sun rises there at 10:15 and sets at 19:45, and solar noon is at 15:01."


How to turn a phone into a covert bugging device? Infect the printer

Ars Technica explains How to turn a phone into a covert bugging device? Infect the printer.

The compromise begins with a booby-trapped document that when printed executes malicious code on certain models of HP LaserJet printers that have not been patched against a critical vulnerability. Once compromised, the printers connect to attack servers, creating a means for outside hackers to bypass corporate firewalls. The attackers then use the printers as a proxy to enumerate and connect to other devices in the corporate network.

Once an Avaya 9608 phone is discovered, the attackers can inject code into it that infects its firmware. The compromise, which survives reboots, activates the phone's microphone without turning on any lights or otherwise giving any indication that anything is amiss. The infected phones can be set up to record conversations only after attacker-chosen keywords are detected. Recorded conversations can be sent through a corporate network onto the open Internet, but the malware also has a secondary method for exfiltration that bypasses any devices that block suspicious network traffic. In the event that such devices are detected, the malware can turn a phone's circuit board into a radio transmitter that sends the recorded conversations to a receiver that's anywhere from several inches to 50 feet away, depending on environmental variables.

How long until printers have to run Anti-Virus software?

Five things you should know about iOS security

MacWorld writes Five things you should know about iOS security. All sounds pretty good to me.

Tim Cook Soundly Rejects Politics of the NCPPR, Suggests Group Sell Apple's Stock

During the Q&A of the Apple Annual Shareholders Meeting, the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) asked a few questions. The Mac Observer reports, Tim Cook Soundly Rejects Politics of the NCPPR, Suggests Group Sell Apple's Stock.

"'When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind,' he said, 'I don't consider the bloody ROI.' He said that the same thing about environmental issues, worker safety, and other areas where Apple is a leader."

"He didn't stop there, however, as he looked directly at the NCPPR representative and said, 'If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.'"


Update: The NCPPR replies, Tim Cook to Apple Investors: Drop Dead. "At today's annual meeting of Apple shareholders in Cupertino, California, Apple CEO Tim Cook informed investors that are primarily concerned with making reasonable economic returns that their money is no longer welcome."

Apparently Apple's economic returns aren't "reasonable". This whole thing was about NCPPR not believing in climate change and Apple (like some other companies) trying to be greener.

Sherlock Reviews Musicals He Was Forced To Attend With His Parents

Sherlock Reviews Musicals He Was Forced To Attend With His Parents is pretty funny.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

How to Determine If Your Religious Liberty Is Being Threatened in Just 10 Quick Questions

I also just saw this from Sept 2012, it's both accurate and hilarious. How to Determine If Your Religious Liberty Is Being Threatened in Just 10 Quick Questions

Embedded videos playing automatically?

I recently embedded a few Daily Show clips hoping the auto-play problem was gone. I had tested on Chrome (Safari doesn't have the problem) and thought it was fixed but when I tried again today I found multiple clips auto-playing. (It's really bad if you go to the dailyshow tag on this blog).

For me the problem was using the extension AdBlock Plus on Chrome. I turned this off and it didn't auto-play, turn it on and it did. It turns out Chrome has a better option, set all plugins to require Click to play. This post from DailyKos, where they had similar problems, explains how to configure that and also has some options for Firefox that I did not try. Embedded videos playing automatically at DKos? Let's look at that.

Let me know if that works for you or if you continue to have issues. I'll probably start embedding clips again in a few weeks.

Daily Show on Arizona and Defense Cuts

I think The Daily Show was in fine form last night. Unfortunately it seems the embedding code is still auto playing, so here's a link to the full episode, Daily Show Feb 26, 2014.

Why I left the GOP

I just saw this from September 2012 and thought ti was quite good. Jeremiah Goulka explains Why I left the GOP "This is the story of how in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and later in Iraq, I discovered that what I believed to be the full spectrum of reality was just a small slice of it and how that discovery knocked down my Republican worldview."

My old Republican worldview was flawed because it was based upon a small and particularly rosy sliver of reality.  To preserve that worldview, I had to believe that people had morally earned their “just” desserts, and I had to ignore those whining liberals who tried to point out that the world didn’t actually work that way.  I think this shows why Republicans put so much effort into “creat[ing] our own reality,” into fostering distrust of liberals, experts, scientists, and academics, and why they won’t let a campaign “be dictated by fact-checkers” (as a Romney pollster put it).  It explains why study after study shows — examples herehere, and here – that avid consumers of Republican-oriented media are more poorly informed than people who use other news sources or don’t bother to follow the news at all.

Waking up to a fuller spectrum of reality has proved long and painful.  I had to question all my assumptions, unlearn so much of what I had learned.  I came to understand why we Republicans thought people on the Left always seemed to be screeching angrily (because we refused to open our eyes to the damage we caused or blamed the victims) and why they never seemed to have any solutions to offer (because those weren’t mentioned in the media we read or watched).

This does line up with John Haggerty's article a month ago, My personal Fox News nightmare: Inside a month of self-induced torture. "But now I was aware of Fox’s role as a purveyor, not only of right-wing information but of right-wing ignorance, and I began to examine my mind for things that I hadn’t gotten any information about in the past month. The most notable items that were missing, I realized, were people from other countries and poverty. Aside from the times when picturesque destruction video was available, there was essentially no coverage of foreign affairs. On the poverty side, programs like food stamps and welfare were generally referred to as handouts, and the only time poor people were mentioned was when they were a source of malfeasance...The effect of this is interesting. Even in my short time watching Fox I found poverty fading from my mind as a problem."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New House GOP tax reform plan drops tax rates, popular deductions

Wonkblog wrote New House GOP tax reform plan drops tax rates, popular deductions and also Understand the House GOP tax-reform proposal in four simple charts.

Jared Bernstein evaluated it in The Promise and Pitfalls in a Tax Reform Plan.

"The bill has some worthy aspirations, and he bravely throws some treasured loopholes, like “carried interest,” by the wayside. The plan significantly lowers the cap on the amount of mortgage interest that homeowners can deduct (a tax break that skews heavily toward the wealthy). It includes an excise tax on large banks to offset the implicit subsidy these institutions enjoy by dint of being too big to fail. It pegs tax brackets to a price index that grows more slowly, meaning more income will pass into higher brackets than is now the case. Though the politics of tax reform is extremely cramped — even some of Mr. Camp’s fellow Republicans are saying his proposal isn’t going anywhere — it may prove to be a useful starting point for negotiations down the road.

But in its current incarnation, the plan is fundamentally flawed. First, it claims to be revenue neutral, but achieves that goal only with timing gimmicks that ensure that its revenue neutrality will not last. Second, revenue neutrality is itself a recipe for an unsustainable budget path."

Berstein says: "First, bracket complexity is largely an illusion. Regardless of the number of brackets, it’s simple these days to figure out what you owe, once you define your taxable income, and that’s where the complexity comes in. And from what I can see, there’s still lots of that sort of complexity in the Camp plan (for example, see the definition of income that gets hit with the surcharge: adjusted gross income minus many different income sources). You don’t simplify the code by reducing the number of brackets; you do so by not favoring one type of income over another."

All though that seems to be at odds with Wonkblog: "Tax-filing season would also be much easier for most households, with 95 percent of filers likely to claim a new expanded standard deduction and call it a day. However, all that simplicity comes at the cost of hundreds of credits and deductions that have been woven into the American way of life. There would be no more personal exemptions for you, your spouse and your dependents; no more credit for child care; no more deductions for medical bills or for state and local taxes."

The GOP’s Obamacare ‘fix’ does the exact opposite of what the GOP claims to want

WonkBlog writes The GOP’s Obamacare ‘fix’ does the exact opposite of what the GOP claims to want. This is according to a CBO report on their plan. Shocker right?

"Now, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has weighed in on the effects of the proposed legislation. In a sentence: The GOP health-care fix will push people on to government health care, raise the deficit, affect more workers and increase the number of uninsured."

xkcd: Now

xkcd's latest, Now is basically a world clock image that will stay in sync with the day. Not the "business hours" designation and the "rude to call" one.

Visualizing 15 Years Of Acquisitions By Apple, Google, Yahoo, Amazon, And Facebook

TechCrunch describes Visualizing 15 Years Of Acquisitions By Apple, Google, Yahoo, Amazon, And Facebook "You grow old, you slow down, and you die. That is, unless you can inject some fresh blood. After watching the last generation of tech giants wither or stagnate, today’s juggernauts are relying on acquisitions to keep them young and relevant. Check out the interactive infographic below to compare the size, frequency, and focus of the last 15 years of acquisitions by Apple, Amazon, Google, Yahoo, and Facebook."

I'm not sure I'm surprised but what does it say that Microsoft isn't included in this chart?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Schneier on Security: Breaking Up the NSA

Bruce Schneier writes on Breaking Up the NSA

First, TAO and its targeted surveillance mission should be moved under the control of U.S. Cyber Command, and Cyber Command should be completely separated from the NSA. Actively attacking enemy networks is an offensive military operation, and should be part of an offensive military unit.

Whatever rules of engagement Cyber Command operates under should apply equally to active operations such as sabotaging the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility in Iran and hacking a Belgian telephone company. If we're going to attack the infrastructure of a foreign nation, let it be a clear military operation.

Second, all surveillance of Americans should be moved to the FBI.

The FBI is charged with counterterrorism in the United States, and it needs to play that role. Any operations focused against U.S. citizens need to be subject to U.S. law, and the FBI is the best place to apply that law. That the NSA can, in the view of many, do an end-run around congressional oversight, legal due process and domestic laws is an affront to our Constitution and a danger to our society. The NSA's mission should be focused outside the United States -- for real, not just for show.

And third, the remainder of the NSA needs to be rebalanced so COMSEC (communications security) has priority over SIGINT (signals intelligence). Instead of working to deliberately weaken security for everyone, the NSA should work to improve security for everyone.

Computer and network security is hard, and we need the NSA's expertise to secure our social networks, business systems, computers, phones and critical infrastructure. Just recall the recent incidents of hacked accounts -- from Target to Kickstarter. What once seemed occasional now seems routine. Any NSA work to secure our networks and infrastructure can be done openly—no secrecy required."

WWII Air Combat Color Footage

I might have posted this before, but it's still worth it, WWII Air Combat Color Footage

Science publishers withdraw more than 120 computer-generated papers

The Verge writes Science publishers withdraw more than 120 computer-generated papers. "Two science publishers have withdrawn more than 120 papers after a researcher in France identified them as computer-generated. According to Nature News, 16 fraudulent papers appeared in publications from Germany-based Springer, and more than 100 were published by the New York-based Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).

The papers were flagged by computer scientist Cyril Labbé, of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France. They were created using software called SCIgen, which was invented by MIT researchers in 2005 to prove how easy it is to publish nonsense papers in conference proceedings. Labbé developed a way to identify the papers by recognizing common words that SCIgen uses, as described in a 2012 study."

How odd, and sad.

The Daily Show Defends Lincoln Against FNC Analyst Stupidity

Denunciation Proclamation. Andrew Napolitano questions the economic underpinnings of the Civil War and Lincoln's legacy, but Larry Wilmore argues that tea isn't the only black thing worth fighting for. (06:05)

Here's the link, Denunciation Proclamation.

Salon liked this too, “The Daily Show” destroys Fox News libertarian Andrew Napolitano for blaming the Civil War on Abraham Lincoln

Monday, February 24, 2014

Lobbyist drafts bill to ban gays from NFL

The Hill (not The Onion) reports Lobbyist drafts bill to ban gays from NFL .

"Washington lobbyist Jack Burkman on Monday said he is preparing legislation that would ban gay athletes from joining the National Football League."

”We are losing our decency as a nation,” Burkman said in a statement. "Imagine your son being forced to shower with a gay man. That’s a horrifying prospect for every mom in the country. What in the world has this nation come to?”

"“If the NFL has no morals and no values, then Congress must find values for it,” Burkman said."

I'm sure this will help them win elections (or so they think, will be fun to watch).

Cryptographic obfuscation and 'unhackable' software

Matthew Green explains about A Few Thoughts on Cryptographic Engineering: Cryptographic obfuscation and 'unhackable' software "There is, indeed, something very neat going on with the new obfuscation results. They're just not likely to make software 'unhackable' anytime soon. They might, however, radically expand what we can do with cryptography. Someday."

A Great Freeze Over the Great Lakes

NASA reports A Great Freeze Over the Great Lakes "Ice cover on North America’s Great Lakes reached 88 percent in mid-February 2014—levels not observed since 1994. The average maximum ice extent since 1973 is just over 50 percent. It has surpassed 80 percent just five times in four decades. The lowest average ice extent occurred in 2002, when only 9.5 percent of the lakes froze."


The images above is from the early afternoon of February 19, 2014 showing 80.3% ice coverage.

Anachronisms in Downton Abbey Season 4

Prochronisms tackles the anachronistic expressions in Downton Abbey, Season 4.

Netflix is paying Comcast for direct connection to network

Ars writes Netflix is paying Comcast for direct connection to network

"A source close to Netflix told Ars that the company will not confirm whether there is any payment changing hands, but that a compromise was reached. Comcast and Netflix are interconnecting at Internet exchanges, the source said, suggesting a peering agreement."

""Under the deal, Netflix won't be able to place its servers inside Comcast's data centers, which Netflix had wanted," the Journal wrote. "Instead, Comcast will connect to Netflix's servers at data centers operated by other companies." The story noted that Netflix had been sending traffic primarily through Cogent, and then said that "Comcast presented Netflix with more attractive deal terms than the operator had been offering," suggesting that Comcast either bettered Cogent's pricing or lowered its previous demands."

Update: The Switch has a nice article explaining some of the technical issues for the layman, Comcast’s deal with Netflix makes network neutrality obsolete

Friday, February 21, 2014

Netflix packets being dropped every day because Verizon wants more money

Ars Technica writes Netflix packets being dropped every day because Verizon wants more money. This framing of the issue makes the most sense to me on the Netflix/Verizon issue.

"First, some background. Cogent is an Internet bandwidth provider that sells transit to Netflix and other companies. When Netflix purchases transit from Cogent, Cogent is responsible for distributing the traffic to all corners of the Internet. But no single company controls the entire Internet. Thus, Cogent must exchange traffic with other network providers, including Verizon.

The connections between Cogent and Verizon take the form of peering. It is a point-to-point connection that doesn't necessarily guarantee passage of traffic to any networks beyond the two involved in the deal. Peering generally happens without any money changing hands, particularly if the two companies involved are of similar size and influence."

"Verizon wants to ditch the "settlement-free" peering model and get money from Cogent, arguing that it has to accept far more traffic from Cogent than vice versa because of high-bandwidth applications like Netflix."

"Verizon Senior VP of Public Policy Craig Silliman spoke to Ars today, saying that Cogent is unique in taking such an inflexible stance in negotiations.

There is a wide range of Internet interconnection agreements, he said. "We have settlement-free agreements. There are some ISPs to whom we pay money and there are others who pay money to us," Silliman said. "There is a whole range of commercial options, and they get worked out commercially and smoothly, except for this one ISP who seems to have problems with not just us but a lot of others."

Silliman added that "the whole premise of settlement-free peering is that you have a roughly equal exchange of traffic." He did not say whether any of Netflix's transit providers have agreed to pay Verizon, noting that specific commercial arrangements are confidential.

He also did not reveal how much money Verizon is asking for, saying, "we are open to negotiation for a commercially reasonable solution that works for both parties.""

Space Images: Opportunity Rover on 'Murray Ridge' Seen From Orbit

Space Images: Opportunity Rover on 'Murray Ridge' Seen From Orbit "The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught this view of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity on Feb. 14, 2014. The red arrow points to Opportunity at the center of the image. Blue arrows point to tracks left by the rover since it entered the area seen here, in October 2013. The scene covers a patch of ground about one-quarter mile (about 400 meters) wide. North is toward the top. The location is the 'Murray Ridge' section of the western rim of Endeavour Crater."

PIA17941 ip 500

Yup a robot we put in orbit around mars took a photo of a robot we put on the surface of mars.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

NASA Explains the Polar Vortex

io9 wrote This polar vortex graphic is the most upsetting map of the winter. Here's the video:

Here's a related video showing the Amount of old ice in Arctic, 1987-2013. "The winter ice pack in the Arctic was once dominated by old, thick ice. Today, very little old ice remains. This animation shows maps of sea ice age from 1987 through the end of October 2013. Age class 1 means "first-year ice," which is ice that formed in the most recent winter. The oldest ice (9+) is ice that is more than 9 years old."

Explained: What Is WhatsApp and Why Did Facebook Buy It?

So Facebook is spending $19 Billion (not all of it in cash) to buy a five year-old, 35 person company. Everyone to trying to understand how that happens. Jared Newman does as good a job as anyone at collecting the various theories. Explained: What Is WhatsApp and Why Did Facebook Buy It?.

Iranians hacked Navy network for four months?

Ars reported Iranians hacked Navy network for four months? Not a surprise. The article is interesting though it's less about the details of the hack than the disfunction of the Navy's Intranet and plans to update it.

Obama Admin's TPP Trade Officials Received Hefty Bonuses From Big Banks

Republic Report reports Obama Admin's TPP Trade Officials Received Hefty Bonuses From Big Banks "Officials tapped by the Obama administration to lead the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations have received multimillion dollar bonuses from CitiGroup and Bank of America, financial disclosures obtained by Republic Report show."

I really haven't been following the TPP story too closely (not that there's much reporting on it). But this just falls into the same revolving door corruption that Lessig talks about.

Key Stimulus Graphs

Krugman posted Key Stimulus Graphs "I thought it might be useful to put up a few graphs that are key to how I think about the sad tale of fiscal policy in the Great Recession and afterwards."

It's good. The first one point out that no we haven't seen rising inflation even though conservatives have been predicting it since the start of stimulus and the fed's monetary policy. The second shows that austerity doesn't work by plot the UK vs other European nations. And the third points out that the original theories on how the economy would bounce back without a real recovery plan we way too optimistic. It all points to one thing, we need more stimulus or we'll just keep staying in this mess.

Why Winter Endurance Athletes Compete In So Many Races

Scientific American answers Why Winter Endurance Athletes Compete In So Many Races "Cross-country skiers often collapse due to exhaustion at each race's end, only to come back a day or two later and compete again at seemingly superhuman levels. Speed skaters racing on the traditional large oval maintain a painful crouch at speeds greater than 30 mph in race after race throughout the games. How do they do it? And why don't elite runners run in as many distance events at the Summer Olympics?

Sports scientists say that the endurance sports of the winter games are more like bicycling or swimming than running. There just isn't as much pounding on the joints or the muscles, for example. Therefore, athletes can recover faster, and compete in more and longer races in the Winter Olympics than in the summer games."

New Highly Radioactive Leak at Japan's Fukushima Plant

Scientific American reports New Highly Radioactive Leak at Japan's Fukushima Plant "The operator of Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant said on Thursday that 100 metric tons of highly contaminated water had leaked out of a tank, the worst incident since last August, when a series of radioactive water leaks sparked international alarm.

Tokyo Electric Power Co told reporters the latest leak was unlikely to have reached the ocean. But news of the leak at the site, devastated by a 2011 earthquake and tsunami, further undercut public trust in a utility rocked by a string of mishaps and disclosure issues."

Winter Olympics

I was pretty happy when the Sochi Winter Olympics started. Many of my friends aren't interested but to me, some odd sports every four years (or two depending on how you count) is fun. Every four years I can be interested in curling. Or biathlon, that combination of shooting and cross-country skiing I never could have come up with on my own. I'm not a skier but the old opening of the Wide World of Sports mean I'll always be interested in seeing someone slide down an icy mountain just barely in control. Nostalgia for the miracle on ice is only reason I'm interested in Olympic ice hockey. It's on regularly and I don't really pay attention and now it's even the same competitors as are in the NHL. No hockey doesn't qualify as an "odd sport". Figure skating does but I'm less interested in it than others. There are only so many times I can watch basically the same routine over and over.

And that brings me to my problem with the Winter Olympics. There aren't enough sports. By my count there are basically 9 sports and they have some (perfectly fine) variations. A speed skating sprint is a different thing from a 10k just like Usain Bolt isn't a marathoner. My list is:

  • Figure Skating
  • Speed Skating, Short Track Speed Skating
  • Downhill Skiing
  • Cross Country Skiiing
  • Ski Jumping
  • Snowboard: slopestyle, halfpipe, cross
  • Luge, Bobsled, Skeleton
  • Curling
  • Hockey

I've come to terms with not really understanding the difference between downhill skiing, slalom, giant slalom and Super G (let alone combined). At least it seems to be various different trails that they ski down. Moguls are different too and while I have friends that like skiing them, I find watching the world's best do it really boring. Adding a small jump at the end doesn't help, particularly compared to the other jumping events.

This year I've found the snowboarding the most interesting. It started with Slopestyle, which I had never seen before and was just amazed at. Halfpipe is similarly amazing and sure, why not have some downhill racing on snowboards too. I like that they make it more interesting in snowboard cross and have several people racing at once. So that was fun, but then I see skiers do the slopestyle and even the halfpipe tracks! A. that seems crazy, B. why do skiers have to do the same thing, they have their own sports. Is cross-country snowboarding coming next? Or snowboard biathlon? Though I do wonder what kinds of tricks Shaun White could do in snowboard jumping with that 125m hill. At least they got rid of ski ballet.

Luge is fine, but after watching men's singles and women's singles and then men's doubles and women's doubles and then skeleton and then bobsled in the various combinations, it's more than enough. There was even a luge relay! It's all the same track! I don't know how many times I can hear an announcer talk about turn 5 or 14.

Speed skating is fine but each gender has five different distances and then there's team pursuit for each. Then add short track speed skating which is more exciting because of crashes (it's seems like ice roller derby) but it's also three distances for each gender and then relays for each. It seems like if they have to build a separate venue for it they want two weeks worth of use out of it.

Biathalon has the same problem, there are 11 biathlon events at the olympics, plus 12 cross-country events which is just biathlon without the guns! Then there are three Nordic Combined events which is cross-country with only those competitors that are also crazy enough to also do ski jumping. Maybe someone else will figure out this odd relationship and add guns to ski jumping.

There's also way too much figure skating. They've added the team competition which seems similar to what they do in gymnastics where the teams go first but then each competitors' scores also count for qualifiers in the individual events. But it's not the same because it's not the same athletes in each of the events. It's different people doing the individuals and pairs and dancing and they even seem to be doing the same routines in the team and individual events. Gymnastics does more (different) events and everyone has to do all the disciplines. I think they get it all done in the first week while figure skating drags on for the whole two weeks.

The wikipedia page says there are 98 events over 15 disciplines in 7 sports. I think they need to find more disciplines not events. At this rate they'll be a curling relay or short track hockey. And no, I don't really know what those new events might be.

Spike Jonze uses close-ups to teach us about him in Her

Apparently The A.V. Club has a column called Internet Film School. I found the latest entry pretty interesting, Spike Jonze uses close-ups to teach us about him in Her.

Update: The other columns in Internet Film School are quite good too.

Jason Jones Live From Sochi-ish - Better Off Red

Jason Jones on The Daily Show has been doing some great segments from Russia. In this one he points out how modern day Russia is the ultimate Republican dream-state. (I'm embedding this video, let me know if you have auto play problems.)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What America's Economic Activity Looks like Split in Half

What America's Economic Activity Looks like Split in Half "So what this map is showing that 50% of all the money generated in the United States comes from a tiny proportion of the country in geographical terms. It is of course much more of an even split in terms of population."


It came from reddit user atrubetskoy and the linked to article has links to two of his versions of this map (this is the 2nd version).

Technological progress and deflation.

Responding to something from Marc Andreessen, Matthew Yglesias points out that Technological progress and deflation by explaining in simple terms what deflation is. Good stuff.

The Vampire Squid Strikes Again: The Mega Banks' Most Devious Scam Yet

Following up on the NY Times story from last August about Goldman Sachs manipulating the aluminum markets Matt Taibbi writes in Rolling Stone, The Vampire Squid Strikes Again: The Mega Banks' Most Devious Scam Yet "Banks are no longer just financing heavy industry. They are actually buying it up and inventing bigger, bolder and scarier scams than ever."

He keeps it a little saner than usual and does about as a good as anyone at explaining the complex schemes. He definitely makes a case that we should limit banks to, well, banking.

The One Rich Guy Who Owns Everything

Tom Tomorrow nails it.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why Are We Adopting the Stupidest Possible Payment System in the US?

Kevin Drum wants to know Why Are We Adopting the Stupidest Possible Payment System in the US? "In any case, we're finally getting chip-and-PIN in the United States starting in 2015. But in possibly the stupidest decision in the history of payment networks, we're actually getting chip-and-signature cards. Why? I've been unable to find a straight answer to this."

After 400 years, mathematicians find a new class of shapes

Ars Technica writes After 400 years, mathematicians find a new class of shapes "Platonic solids are generically termed equilateral convex polyhedra. In the millennia since Plato's time, only two other collections of equilateral convex polyhedra have been found: Archimedean solids (including the truncated icosahedron) and Kepler solids (including rhombic polyhedra). Nearly 400 years after the last class was described, mathematicians claim that they may have now identified a new, fourth class, which they call Goldberg polyhedra. In the process of making this discovery, they think they’ve demonstrated that an infinite number of these solids could exist."

The Comcast/TWC Merger: As Big Cable Gets Bigger, Your Bill Will, Too

YahooTech's The Comcast/TWC Merger: As Big Cable Gets Bigger, Your Bill Will, Too is the best article I've seen on the topic.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Bruce Schneier Talk on NSA at MIT

Bruce Schneier gave a talk this week at MIT called, NSA Surveillance and What To Do About It. The video is now online and I can't embed it so go to the page. It's about 40 mins long followed by 15 mins of questions. Here's the description:

Edward Snowden has given us an unprecedented window into the NSA's surveillance activities. Drawing from both the Snowden documents and revelations from previous whistleblowers, this talk describes the sorts of surveillance the NSA conducts and how it conducts it. The emphasis will be on the technical capabilities of the NSA, and not the politics or legality of their actions. I will then discuss what sorts of countermeasures are likely to frustrate any nation-state adversary with these sorts of capabilities. These will be techniques to raise the cost of wholesale surveillance in favor of targeted surveillance: ubiquitous encryption, target dispersal, anonymity tools, and so on.

It's the best summary of the NSA surveillance story I've seen.

Also, he wrote in The Atlantic this week, Everything We Know About How the NSA Tracks People's Physical Location

Stupid Arguments About Obamacare Job Projections

Regular readers will notice I've been blogging a little less, particularly on politics. The truth is I've found less and less to be interested in. There haven't really been new issues and there haven't really been new ideas. And the arguments are getting dumber and dumber. So a few weeks ago the CBO released a report on Obamacare. If you follow good sites you saw stories like WonkBlog's The good, bad and ugly of CBO’s new Obamacare projections. If you followed most of the mainstream media (not even just Fox) for a few days you heard reports of just the last bit that WonkBlog article and you heard it presented wrong.

Most said that the CBO said Obamacare would cost 2 million jobs by 2017. As was pointed out for the next several days they said that that there will be 2 million fewer workers and workers aren't jobs (remember there are 3 unemployed people now for each available job, that's the difference). The bulk of the reason for this is that now many workers stay in a job just for the health insurance. If they had another way to get it, they'd stay at home with their family or retire or something (like maybe go on an extended sabbatical). That makes sense.

So I have a folder of bookmarks to articles on this and was waiting for the facts to settle before writing a post. And that got delayed a bit. Today I see that MIT economist (and MA Healthcare Law Godfather) Jonathan Gruber replied to a recent New York Times Economix column by Casey Mulligan with a good post, Obamacare Critics Still Tell Just One Side of the Jobs Story. He shreds Mulligan for getting the facts of the report wrong, ignoring arguments that work against him and for misrepresenting Gruber and Krugman's view on the topic. Krugman also replied with the subtlety titled, Stupidity in Economic Discourse.

So that's that. Now I can delete that CBO bookmarks folder. At some point I'll get the to Bridgegate one and the several NSA ones.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Big leap for fusion: more energy produced than spent igniting fuel

Ars writes Big leap for fusion: more energy produced than spent igniting fuel "Researchers in the US have overcome a key barrier to making nuclear fusion reactors a reality. In results published in Nature, scientists have shown that they can now produce more energy than put into igniting fuel, at least on an experimental scale. The use of fusion as a source of energy remains a long way off, but the latest development is an important step toward that goal."

"During the fusion process, smaller atoms fuse into larger ones, releasing huge amounts of energy. To achieve this on Earth, scientists have to create conditions similar to those at the center of the Sun, which involves creating very high pressures and temperatures. There are two ways to achieve this: one uses lasers and is called inertial confinement fusion (ICF), another deploys magnets and is called magnetic confinement fusion (MCF). Omar Hurricane and colleagues at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory opted for ICF, with the help of 192 high-energy lasers at the National Ignition Facility in the US, which was designed specifically to boost fusion research."

A capsule lined with isotopes of Hydrogen "is placed inside a gold cylinder, when the 192 lasers are fired, they hit the capsule and indirectly cause a fusion reaction. The lasers hit the gold container, which emit X-rays that heat the pellet and make it implode, causing a fusion reaction. According to Debbie Callahan, a co-author of the study: “When the lasers are fired, the capsule is compressed 35 times. That is like compressing a basketball to the size of a pea.” The compression produces immense pressure and temperature, leading to a fusion reaction. Problems with the process were overcome last September, when, for the first time, Hurricane was able to produce more energy output from a fusion reaction than the lasers put into it. Since then, he has been able to repeat the experiment."

Methane burned vs. methane leaked: Fracking’s impact on climate change

Ars does a nice job diving into the question of Methane burned vs. methane leaked: Fracking’s impact on climate change. "So what’s the bottom line? Is America’s shale gas revolution helping or harming efforts to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions? Most estimates put the amount of methane currently leaking into the atmosphere from shale gas in the neighborhood of two percent. Insofar as natural gas is displacing coal-burning power plants, it takes at least four percent leakage—up to nearly eight percent if the oldest, least-efficient coal plants are the ones displaced—for natural gas to fail to yield greenhouse savings over the short-term, 20-year timeframe."

How ski jumping gets Olympic judging right (and figure skating gets it wrong)

How ski jumping gets Olympic judging right (and figure skating gets it wrong)

"Both ski jumping and figure skating have nationalistic judging biases, where judges give higher scores to athletes from their countries.  But the sports take very different approaches to dealing with this.  Ski jumping has its international federation select the judges for competitions like the Olympics, and I find that they select the least biased judges.  Figure skating lets its national federations select the judges, and my research showed that they select the most biased judges.

This creates different incentives for judges. Ski jumping judges display less nationalism in lower-level competitions — it appears they keep their nationalism under wraps in less important contests to avoid missing their chance at judging the Olympics. Figure skating judges are actually more biased in the lesser contests; they may actually be more biased than they would like to be due to pressure from their federations."

"The dysfunctionality of the sport is also revealed by how it reacted to the 2002 judging scandal. The International Skating Union made a couple of sensible reforms, such as increasing the size of the judging panel (at least temporarily) and making the scoring system more objective (although some think they went too far). But most of their response consisted of hiding the evidence of bias. The ISU stopped revealing which judge gave which score, making it much harder for competitors and fans to see whether the judging was fair. The ISU even went back and altered online score sheets from earlier competitions, obfuscating which judge gave which score and even which country each judge represented. They also began randomly dropping scores from three out of 12 judges. As any statistician can tell you, an average of nine out of 12 scores is essentially the average of the 12 scores plus a random number. When Yale statistics professor Jay Emerson noticed that in one case this randomness had altered who won a medal, it appears that the ISU responded by scrambling the order that scores were reported on score sheets. The only plausible purpose of this change was to make it harder to identify cases where randomness had affected results. All this suggests that the focus has been on hiding problems rather than fixing them."

Survival vs Mortality Rates

The Incidental Economist wrote Horribly depressing news about mammograms and pointed to this video on Survival vs Mortality Rates.

Sid Caesar

Here are some Sid Caesar clips. I really wish some writers at SNL would watch these and learn.

I also really like seeing Imogene Coca in these. To me she'll always be the woman who read the comics to us (and I'm not sure if on the radio or on television) during a newspaper strike when I was a kid.

To me, this was by far the most surprising paragraph in his obituary: "He was also given to explosive rages. Mr. Caesar once dangled a terrified Mr. Brooks from an 18th-story window until colleagues restrained him. With one punch, he knocked out a horse that had thrown his wife off its back, a scene that Mr. Brooks replayed in his movie Blazing Saddles."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Two Years? Really?

A few years ago, Massachusetts Rebuilt 14 Bridges in one Summer, on weekends only . Now the MBTA announced it's going to rebuild one subway station, an important one that connects two lines, and it's going to take, wait for it, two years. Coming March 22, 2014: Government Center Station Closure. I appreciate that they're still running trains through the station while work is going on (though they won't stop there) but it still seems like a long time. And their ‎pdf says that this plan provides accessibility 2 years earlier than alternatives! Glad I don't go to Government Center much.

Cracking Linksys “Encryption”

Cracking Linksys “Encryption” is kinda hilarious (and sad). They started "encrypting" their config file and apparently they just did XOR with 0xFF. They should have just used rot13. I really think that as an industry, there needs to be some real penalty for doing crap like this, otherwise nothing will change.

Oppressed Majority

Oppressed Majority is a French short film that shows society's gender biases by reversing roles. Nicely done. (Maybe NSFW because of a little nudity, but in a tasteful way and with a point)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Locked in the Cabinet

Finally got around to reading Glenn Thrush's Locked in the Cabinet. Nice piece on the politics of being a Secretary of something or other.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Eight things ‘Downton Abbey’ can teach us about the modern economy

Eight things ‘Downton Abbey’ can teach us about the modern economy "Downton’s soap opera characters are wrestling not only with their emotions, but also with basic Downtonomics: the threat and promise of technological change, burden of inheritance taxes, foreign investment, danger of speculation, need for retirement planning, virtue of investing for growth, and inadequacies of the social safety net. Is the cook, Mrs. Patmore, any less adept with that mixer than your grandmother is with a tablet?"

The 8-Track of Space Craft

How sad. ICE/ISEE-3 to return to an Earth no longer capable of speaking to it "The transmitters of the Deep Space Network, the hardware to send signals out to the fleet of NASA spacecraft in deep space, no longer includes the equipment needed to talk to ISEE-3. These old-fashioned transmitters were removed in 1999. Could new transmitters be built? Yes, but it would be at a price no one is willing to spend. And we need to use the DSN because no other network of antennas in the US has the sensitivity to detect and transmit signals to the spacecraft at such a distance."

Many of the comments talk about getting an open community project going.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

100 Americans die of drug overdoses each day. How do we stop that?

Really informative Wonkblog post, 100 Americans die of drug overdoses each day. How do we stop that? "Overdosing  is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, accounting for more deaths than traffic fatalities or gun homicides and suicides. Fatal overdoses from opiate medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone have quadrupled since 1999, accounting for an estimated 16,651 deaths in 2010."

Why an AK-47 may be a bigger threat to the electricity grid than a cyberattack

WonkBlog followed up with the electrical grid attack story, Why an AK-47 may be a bigger threat to the electricity grid than a cyberattack.

New surveillance technology can track everyone in an area for several hours at a time

The Washington Post wrote about a New surveillance technology can track everyone in an area for several hours at a time

"As Americans have grown increasingly comfortable with traditional surveillance cameras, a new, far more powerful generation is being quietly deployed that can track every vehicle and person across an area the size of a small city, for several hours at a time. Although these cameras can’t read license plates or see faces, they provide such a wealth of data that police, businesses and even private individuals can use them to help identify people and track their movements.

Already, the cameras have been flown above major public events such as the Ohio political rally where Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) named Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, McNutt said. They’ve been flown above Baltimore; Philadelphia; Compton, Calif.; and Dayton in demonstrations for police. They’ve also been used for traffic impact studies, for security at NASCAR races and at the request of a Mexican politician, who commissioned the flights over Ciudad Juárez."

“We watch 25 square miles, so you see lots of crimes,” he said. “And by the way, after people commit crimes, they drive like idiots.”

Friday, February 07, 2014

Fat Man

Here's footage of Fat Man being readied and dropped on Nagasaki. be sure to watch with annotations on, they offer a lot of interesting information. Utterly chilling.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

‘Uncertainty’ Isn’t Really a Problem Anymore

Remember when conservatives kept saying that "uncertainty" was what was keeping the job creators from creating jobs? Well uncertainty is down, where are the jobs? Brad DeLong calls out those that haven't updated their claims Uncertainty’ Isn’t Really a Problem Anymore: Monday Generalized Smackdown. Maybe it was never about uncertainty...

Lie After Lie: What Colin Powell Knew [11] Years Ago Today and What He Said

This was posted a year ago, so yesterday was the 11th anniversary of Colin Powell's speech to the UN. I knew he was wrong, I didn't know how wrong. Lie After Lie: What Colin Powell Knew Ten Years Ago Today and What He Said

"Colin Powell made his Iraq presentation at the UN ten years ago today, on February 5th, 2003.

As much criticism as Powell has received for this—he calls it 'painful' and something that will 'always be a part of my record'—it hasn't been close to what's justified. Powell was much more than just horribly mistaken: he fabricated 'evidence' and ignored repeated warnings that what he was saying was false.

Unfortunately, Congress never investigated Powell's use of the intelligence he was given, so we don't know many of the specifics. Even so, what got into the public record in other ways is extremely damning. So while the corporate media has never taken a close look at this record, we can go through Powell's presentation line by line to demonstrate the chasm between what he knew, and what he told the world. As you'll see, there's quite a lot to say about it."

Answering creationists' questions.

Phil Plait wrote Religion and science: Answering creationists' questions.. "After writing yesterday about the now-famous/infamous debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, I don’t want to make this blog all creationism all the time, but indulge me this one more time, if you will." He then goes on to answer 22 questions posted. One led me to this article from 2008 that I didn't know of and found fascinating, A New Step In Evolution.

Koch Blocked

I'm not usually a big fan of Jason Jones' bits on The Daily Show but this one from last night was quite good. Koch Blocked. Seems like Koch money in small elections isn't always welcome.

The Middle Class Is Steadily Eroding. Just Ask the Business World

The New York Times wrote, The Middle Class Is Steadily Eroding. Just Ask the Business World "As politicians and pundits in Washington continue to spar over whether economic inequality is in fact deepening, in corporate America there really is no debate at all. The post-recession reality is that the customer base for businesses that appeal to the middle class is shrinking as the top tier pulls even further away."

Somebody attacked an electrical substation in California last year

Somebody attacked an electrical substation in California last year.

"According to a Wall Street Journal report by Rebecca Smith, last April a group of snipers cut the phone lines and internet access near a major electrical substation in San Jose, California, and then fired on the substation for 19 minutes, knocking out 17 transformers.

This is a big, big deal. The former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Jon Wellinghoff, has been trying to draw attention to the little-discussed incident. Although the FBI doesn't think it was the work of a terrorist group, a retired VP of transmission for the utility company says that the attack was clearly well-organized and targeted at specific components of the substation. Although the utility, PG&E, called the attack the work of 'vandals' in a press release, military experts told Wellinghoff that it looked more like a professional job. Now, Wellinghoff, and others, are worried that it could have been a dress rehearsal for a larger attack."

I suspect if you call it terrorism it's easier to get money to secure it.

I left New York for LA because creativity requires the freedom to fail

Moby makes an interesting observation that didn't occur to me. I left New York for LA because creativity requires the freedom to fail "And, to again state the obvious, New York is exclusively about success – it's success that has been fed steroids and vitamin B. There's a sense that New Yorkers never fail, but if they do, they're exorcised from memory, kind of like Trotsky in early pictures of the Soviet Communist Politburo. In New York, you can be easily overwhelmed by how much success everyone else seems to be having, whereas in LA, everybody publicly fails at some point – even the most successful people. A writer's screenplay may be turned into a major movie, but there's a good chance her next five screenplays won't even get picked up. An actor may star in acclaimed films for two years, then go a decade without work. A musician who has sold well might put out a complete failure of a record – then bounce back with the next one. Experimentation and a grudging familiarity with occasional failure are part of LA's ethos."

AOL is leading the way to make 401(k)s worse for everyone

AOL is leading the way to make 401(k)s worse for everyone

"So when IBM changed its 401(k) system in 2012 to hand out employee matches in one lump sum at the end of the year, there was an uproar. Those who left the company before Dec. 15 would not see any matched dollars unless they were retiring. And employees would also miss out on all the compounding throughout the year from the contributions."

AOL's change: "In order to receive the company match, the employee must be "active" on Dec. 31, 2014. In addition, the contribution will be allocated as a "one time lump sum after the end of the Plan Year." In other words, employees will have to stay through the end of the year to get the match, and then the contribution won't even come during 2014. In a year like last year, where the stock market was roaring, the difference for an employee who left in December could amount to thousands of dollars in pay and added savings."

They point out, this will hurt employee mobility.

I have to say, when I was working I never made decisions like this. I never thought about will this shave fractions of a percent off something, rather I asked, "is this the right thing to do". In an environment where you're constantly being asked to do more with less maybe this approach is right, but it still feels wrong. Companies should be figuring out ways to get more money from customers, and figure out ways to get more money to employees, not less.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

NASA Mars Orbiter Examines Dramatic New Crater

JPL posted NASA Mars Orbiter Examines Dramatic New Crater "The image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows a crater about 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter at the center of a radial burst painting the surface with a pattern of bright and dark tones. The scar appeared at some time between imaging of this location by the orbiter's Context Camera in July 2010 and again in May 2012."


Verizon using recent Net Neutrality victory to wage war against Netflix

Sigh, I hope this isn't true... Verizon using recent Net Neutrality victory to wage war against Netflix. Guy claims Verizon is throttling access to Amazon's cloud services (which also hosts Netflix) after about 4pm.

Update: Verizon denies using net neutrality victory to sabotage Netflix, Amazon. I'm sure this isn't the end of it.

and another update: Netflix performance on Verizon and Comcast has been dropping for months

and another: Netflix Says Verizon Isn’t Slowing Down Its Streams

The 2014 Sony World Photography Awards

In Focus shows The 2014 Sony World Photography Awards "The Sony World Photography Awards, an annual competition hosted by the World Photography Organisation, has recently announced its shortlist of winners. This year's contest attracted more than 140,000 entries from 166 countries. The organizers have been kind enough to share some of their shortlisted images with In Focus, gathered below. Winners are scheduled to be announced in March and April. All captions below come from the photographers. [33 photos]"

These photos are just astounding.

W08 Emmanuel 500

Creationism in public schools, mapped. Where tax money supports alternatives to evolution.

Slate put together a Map: Publicly Funded Schools That Are Allowed to Teach Creationism. Sigh.

Social Security History

I saw the old myth popup again that when social security was created people weren't expected to retire because the average life expectancy was only 58 for men and 62 for women. The Social Security website has a page up explaining this, Social Security History. The short answer was that the average is skewed because of a high infant mortality. If you made it working age, you could well reach retirement, and if you made it to 65, the average remaining life was 12+ years. Then again, you could just realize that the whole point of it was to raise poor seniors out of poverty by helping them save and that it was remarkably successful at this.

Monday, February 03, 2014

What Watching Only Fox News For A Month Does To You

John Haggerty wrote My personal Fox News nightmare: Inside a month of self-induced torture "I'm a card-carrying member of the ACLU. Here's what happened when I watched 3 hours of Fox every day for a month"

"Thus, on Oct. 1, 2013, I sat down on my couch and, armed with nothing but a remote, vowed to consume three hours of Fox News programming a day for an entire month, while strictly abstaining from any other sources of information about current events. I couldn’t sample all of Fox’s wares, of course, but after looking at its lineup, I chose three shows to concentrate on—”Fox & Friends,” because it seemed like it might be representative of the network’s populist, aw-shucks conservatism; Shep Smith’s News Hour, because Smith has a reputation as being the straightest shooter of the Fox anchors; and, of course, the network’s browbeater-in-chief, Bill O’Reilly."

"But now I was aware of Fox’s role as a purveyor, not only of right-wing information but of right-wing ignorance, and I began to examine my mind for things that I hadn’t gotten any information about in the past month. The most notable items that were missing, I realized, were people from other countries and poverty. Aside from the times when picturesque destruction video was available, there was essentially no coverage of foreign affairs. On the poverty side, programs like food stamps and welfare were generally referred to as handouts, and the only time poor people were mentioned was when they were a source of malfeasance. One prominent “Fox & Friends” story, for example, cited a woman who, because of a computer glitch, managed to buy $700 worth of food on a food stamp debit card with a balance of $.47.

The effect of this is interesting. Even in my short time watching Fox I found poverty fading from my mind as a problem. I was surprised one day when, during a discussion of deficit reduction (something that they talk about almost constantly), I found myself nodding in agreement that there was room to cut social programs that had already been radically slashed. Fox couldn’t convince me to care about the issues they are obsessed with (Obama’s treachery and the deficit, mostly), but by simply failing to mention a topic like income inequality, it managed to make me stop caring about the things it would prefer that I ignore."

Seismologists offer explanation for mysterious aerial light orbs preceding quakes

I'd never heard of these before but Ars Technica says Seismologists offer explanation for mysterious aerial light orbs preceding quakes

"'Earthquake Lights!?' exclaims one YouTube video published around about the time of the 2011 eruption of Japan's Sakurajima volcano. Or, it asks, 'UFO FLEET!?!' In the earlier part of the last century, the latter might have been a common response, but now we know that the mysterious orbs of light in white or color that appear in the sky prior to and sometimes during an earthquake, sometimes with the appearance of a rainbow spotlight or flames and sometimes lasting for hours, are actually a result of seismic activity.

Recorded sightings date back to 89BC, according to a paper on the events penned in the 90s by an Italian priest, who also jotted down associated vapors, smoke, and odors of sulphur or bitumen in the hope of providing some explanation. Today, the evidence is all over YouTube, from the 2008 Sichuan earthquake to the 2011 Christchurch quake. They're no longer disputed, but they do remain unexplained. They're rare, so it's hard to investigate them. But now a team of seismologists behind a study published in Seismological Research Letters believes it has the answer: subvertical faults in continental rifts are releasing stress-induced electrical currents up to the surface as the ground is pulled apart."

Paper by Facebook

So I installed the new Paper app on my iPhone today. Is it just me or is it just a pretty RSS newsreader, prepopulated with some popular feeds and with a Facebook section that shows me only some of my newsfeed (I don't see a way to set it to "Recent Stories" instead of their choice of "Top Stories"). It really is just Flipboard. Am I missing something?

Announcing the 2014 Campbellian Anthology

Stupefying Stories: Announcing the 2014 Campbellian Anthology "M. David Blake’s magnum opus, the 2014 Campbellian Anthology, is now available for download! This book attempts to collect in one volume representative works by most of the writers eligible for this year’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. We don’t have them all—there were a few we couldn’t get—but all the same, this book contains more than 860,000 words of fiction by 111 authors, and best of all, it’s not merely free, it's DRM-FREE. But it’s only available for a limited time, so download your copy soon, by clicking on one of these links and selecting ‘Save file.’"

Fonts in 2001: A Space Odyssey

Typeset in the Future is a new blog looking at fonts in sci-fi, it's first post is about 2001: A Space Odyssey. Gotta say, it's a bit too detailed for me.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Submarine Cable Map

Submarine Cable Map "TeleGeography’s Submarine Cable Map has been updated for 2014. The latest edition depicts 285 cable systems that are currently active or due to enter service by 2015."