Thursday, August 28, 2014

P vs. NP and the Computational Complexity Zoo

Here's a nice 10 min video explaining a famous still unsolved math problem that every computer science major learns about. It even appeared in an episode of Elementary. Most of it should be understandable to everyone.

Interviews with a former member of Kim Jong-il's "pleasure squad"

Stumbled on this from 2010 Interviews with a former member of Kim Jong-il's "pleasure squad. I couldn't find the other parts, but this was interesting.

Evidence for Supernovas Near Earth

NASA says there is Evidence for Supernovas Near Earth.

Once every 50 years, more or less, a massive star explodes somewhere in the Milky Way.  The resulting blast is terrifyingly powerful, pumping out more energy in a split second than the sun emits in a million years.  At its peak, a supernova can outshine the entire Milky Way.

It seems obvious that you wouldn't want a supernova exploding near Earth.  Yet there is growing evidence that one did—actually, more than one. About 10 million years ago, a nearby cluster of supernovas went off like popcorn.  We know because the explosions blew an enormous bubble in the interstellar medium, and we're inside it."

Astronomers call it "the Local Bubble." It is peanut-shaped, about 300 light years long, and filled with almost nothing. Gas inside the bubble is very thin (0.001 atoms per cubic centimeter) and very hot (roughly a million degrees)—a sharp departure from ordinary interstellar material.

CGSociety - Building 3D with Ikea

Building 3D with Ikea describes how many of the images in their catalog (including entire room scenes) are not actual photographs but are entirely computer generated images of their products.

How The Ancient Egyptians (Should Have) Built The Pyramids

The Physics arXiv Blog writes How The Ancient Egyptians (Should Have) Built The Pyramids.

"Today, Joseph West at Indiana State University and a couple of pals suggest an alternative method for moving giant stone blocks. Their approach considerably reduces the ground pressure but at the same time allows the blocks to be moved with significantly less effort than dragging. They have even tested the idea to measure the amount of force workers would have had to use to move the blocks. Their idea is remarkably simple. They strap wooden rods to a block, turning its profile from a square into a dodecagon, which can then be moved more easily by rolling."

Bonus points if that quote reminded you of Lisa Simpson.

Revisiting the end of The Sopranos

The Sopranos is undoubtedly one of the best shows ever on television and also one of the most influential. There are other shows I like better, but it's mostly personal preference. I was less happy with the later seasons and as I wrote, I was unhappy with the ending. Rereading that post now, I still agree with it all. Spoilers below.

Yesterday Martha P. Nochinson wrote in Vox, Did Tony die at the end of The Sopranos?: David Chase finally answers the question he wants fans to stop asking. David Chase responded and Todd VanDerWerff of Vox followed up, David Chase responds to our Sopranos piece.

I really don't get this. I'm sure Chase gets asked about the ending all the time, and I'm sure he's tired of talking about it. I'm also sure it's exactly what he wanted it to be and that he thought about it a lot before making it. Everything he wanted to say was in what we all watched. The finale was inherently ambiguous. Aside from wondering if your cable went out, everything you wondered is a valid thought that Chase wanted you to think about. Maybe he died, maybe nothing happened. What's certain is that the show ended. If Chase said now that he lived or died it doesn't matter. The finale left it open to interpretation and that's fine. You can love it or hate it, but it's not like this has been a seven year cliffhanger and we're just waiting for the resolution.

Here's Nochinson's opinion (there's some other setup about Welles, Brunel and Poe being influences to Chase):

Welles' magic, Bunuel's real-looking dreams, Poe's sand that keeps flowing through our fingers no matter what we try to do to stop it, are the inspirations for the cut to black. The cut to black brought to American television the sense of an ending that produces wonder instead of the tying-up of loose ends that characterizes the tradition of the formulaic series. Tony's decisive win over his enemy in the New York mob, Phil Leotardo, is the final user-friendly event in Chase's gangster story that gratifies the desire to be conclusive, and it would have been the finale of a less compelling gangster story. The cut to black is the moment when Castaneda and the American Romantics rise to the surface and the gangster story slips through our fingers and vanishes.

I'm not guessing. When I asked Chase about the cut to black, he said that it is about Poe's poem "Dream Within a Dream." "What more can I say?" he asks when I prod him to speak more, and I admire his silence. I am his audience too and he wants me to reach for his meaning. And here's what I conclude. Though you wouldn't know it from watching Hollywood movies, endings are by nature mysterious. There is the instability of loss in an ending as well as the satisfying sense of completion. American television before Chase, with the exception of David Lynch's Twin Peaks, one of Chase's avowed key inspirations for the art of The Sopranos, built a craft that dispenses with the destabilizing aspects of an ending. The true art of closure will not tolerate such a boring decision. Moreover, the art of closure forbids merely telling the audience in words that there is loss, since words can create the illusion of safety and control. Chase's art seeks a silent level of knowing more profound than words. He believes we already know if we open up to that deeper part of us.

I call bullshit. First off, if this is true and related to The Sopranos then to most viewers he certainly missed the "satisfying sense of completion" part. I also don't agree that endings are mysterious or know what "you wouldn't know it from watching Hollywood movies" is supposed to mean. Isn't that saying that this is true, except for these thousands of counter-examples I'll just ignore? And what does this mean: "The art of closure forbids merely telling the audience in words that there is loss". Who mentioned that as a rule? Since when does closure have to involve "loss"? Who said anything about using only "words"?

There's no doubt that great works of art can have meaning at deep levels. And film is a medium that has the potential to reach us non-verbally. Silent films succeeded (even without interstitials) and then with the invention of sound many filmmakers got lazy. Stanley Kubrick (who never got lazy) once said "I don’t like to talk about 2001 too much because it’s essentially a non-verbal experience. It attempts to communicate more to the subconscious and to the feelings than it does to the intellect." Few people ever understood the ending of 2001 but there was an ending to the story, even if it was the beginning of another.

Since The Sopranos ended, the film Inception came out. If you haven't seen it, go see it. Spoilers for it in this paragraph. That famously had another cut-to-black ending and I loved it. The whole film was about dreams and recognizing reality and questioning how we know something is real. That last scene could have one of two possible outcomes that were setup previously. The ending made the audience answer that question about the film and if they thought hard enough, about their own lives. It was a great ending and made the film more than merely about the plot.

The last season of The Sopranos used other characters to explore a lot of different ways one could get out of the mob (suicide, running away, turning snitch to the feds, etc.) I'm sure that was meant to foreshadow Tony's choices (if he wanted to get out) but the first half of the finale resolved so many plot points so neatly I thought it was a dream (unfortunately I don't remember those details now). I still think the last scene was a remarkable achievement in creating tension but I don't think leaving it open as it did, accomplished much for telling a story.

Lets say Tony died. Would it have been unsatisfying to see someone suddenly kill him and have it cut to blood splattering on his family? It would have been shocking and people would have been talking about it (and maybe even wondering who did it), but it would have also been justified. Tony did a lot of bad things and that's what he had coming to him. Let's say he didn't die and this was just another day in the life. Would it have been unsatisfying if the camera pulled away and the music faded? Maybe a bit, but the show was also about how people in this life also struggle with everyday things and that will continue forever (because there will always be criminals). People would have complained that justice was not served but that happens some time (there's still a mob). There are a few other possible endings but the way it was setup, none of them would have added much to the story. Nevertheless, to say that endings are inherently mysterious and yet somehow cheapen the experience is a cop out.

If endings are so mysterious and Chase hates them so much, then why did every other episode have an ending? The show was one of the early examples of a new era of serialized story-telling on TV. Individual episodes that collectively told a larger story. The episode that hooked me on the show was when AJ found out what his dad did for a living. It had an ending. Lots of other characters on the show had "endings" and they were usually poignant. Character arcs don't have to end in death, so by definition their story continues but a well crafted arc still has an ending.

I stand by my original thought, the cut-to-black was a gimmick. It was certainly memorable and generated tons of buzz so it was successful in that. Maybe all publicity is good publicity but I still think there's a difference between famous and infamous. One thing is clear to me though (and VanDerWerff agrees and claims Nochimson agrees), David Chase saying whether Tony Soprano died or not is not a useful question and people should stop asking him it. Asking what he meant to convey is more valid, but it would also mean he failed to get his point across.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Deadly Epidemic of Violence Against Women

The Atlantic reports on A Deadly Epidemic of Violence Against Women

"The map is of South Carolina and its counties. 'All 46 counties have at least one animal shelter to care for stray dogs,' The Charleston Post Courier reports, 'but the state has only 18 domestic violence shelters to help women trying to escape abuse.' One of the red dots represents a 31-year-old, Amerise Barbre, whose boyfriend strangled her. Each red dot represents a woman killed by a husband or boyfriend. In the eight-year period shown, that sort of murder happened 292 times.


'Most state legislators profess deep concern over domestic violence,' the newspaper notes in the introduction to a seven-part feature. 'Yet they maintain a legal system in which a man can earn five years in prison for abusing his dog but a maximum of just 30 days in jail for beating his wife or girlfriend on a first offense.' Domestic abuse reportedly occurs there about 36,000 times per year."

TiVo Launches Over-the-Air DVR

I've had a TiVo for a long time and a Roamio for about a year and love it. It was expensive and my cable bill is high but I'm good with that and get a lot of use out of it. CNN Money reports Simple, Brilliant and Legal -- TiVo Launches Over-the-Air DVR. I'm not sure why legal is in the headline, they must be comparing it to the Aereo and the Supreme Court case decided a couple of months ago but the article makes no mention of it or any other legal issues.

So the new Roamio OTA can record four shows at once and hold 75 hours of HD programming, pretty nice. Otherwise it's a Roamio, with the great interface, channel guide and integrated streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus (of course you have to subscribe to those). The difference is it gets TV the old-fashion way using an antenna (aka OTA). The really attractive thing is, it's only $49.99! At that price it's a steal. I might have made the tuner/storage trade-off a little differently, more storage and less tuners (since OTA has so many fewer channels than cable) but it also works with a TiVo Mini, so you can dedicate a tuner to stream stuff recorded to a different TV in the house.

But there's a downside, like other TiVos the Roamio OTA requires TiVo Service which is $14.99/month. The people I know using OTA TV are doing it because they don't want to pay cable fees. I doubt they're interested in paying $15/month (or $500 for lifetime service). The TiVo really is easy to use and $15/month is a lot less than cable fees so so maybe there's a market for that, but I suspect it will be a big turnoff, as it's been with other TiVo products. Also the TiVo Mini I mentioned is $100 and requires a $6/month service, so I don't know how attractive that is to pair with a $50 device.

Burger King may buy Tim Horton's to cut its taxes — here's why

Vox explains the details of tax inversion simply in Burger King may buy Tim Horton's to cut its taxes — here's why.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Researchers find it’s terrifyingly easy to hack traffic lights

Ars Technica reports Researchers find it’s terrifyingly easy to hack traffic lights "Taking over a city’s intersections and making all the lights green to cause chaos is a pretty bog-standard Evil Techno Bad Guy tactic on TV and in movies, but according to a research team at the University of Michigan, doing it in real life is within the realm of anyone with a laptop and the right kind of radio. In a paper published this month, the researchers describe how they very simply and very quickly seized control of an entire system of almost 100 intersections in an unnamed Michigan city from a single ingress point."

I think the first time this was done in a movie was the original The Italian Job which I recently saw and liked. Still, scary to think about it in real life.

Stealing encryption keys through the power of touch

Ars Technica reports Stealing encryption keys through the power of touch "Researchers from Tel Aviv University have demonstrated an attack against the GnuPG encryption software that enables them to retrieve decryption keys by touching exposed metal parts of laptop computers."

This research is a side-channel attack. The metal parts of a laptop, such as the shielding around USB ports, and heatsink fins, are notionally all at a common ground level. However, this level undergoes tiny fluctuations due to the electric fields within the laptop. These variations can be measured, and this can be used to leak information about encryption keys.

The measurements can be done by directly attaching a digitizer to a metal part of the laptop, but they don't have to be this obvious. The researchers showed that they could retrieve information with connections at the far end of shielded USB, VGA, and Ethernet connections. They also used human touch: a person in contact with metal parts of the laptop can in turn be connected to a digitizer, and the voltage fluctuations can be measured.

The researchers note that this works better in hot weather, due to the lower resistance of sweaty fingers.

During encryption and decryption operations, the processor has to perform certain long-running operations (for example, exponentiation of various large numbers), and these operations caused a consistent, characteristic set of voltage fluctuations. When sampling the voltages at a rate of a few MHz, keys for the RSA and ElGamal encryption algorithms could be extracted in a few seconds.

Friday, August 22, 2014

iPhone 5 Battery Replacement Program

If you're having battery problems with an iPhone 5 you might be entitled to a free replacement battery. Check out Apple's iPhone 5 Battery Replacement Program.

Got weapons? Nude body scanners easily defeated

Ars Technica reports Got weapons? Nude body scanners easily defeated "Researchers are delivering a paper at a security conference Thursday highlighting how easy it is to get weapons through the nude body scanners that have been removed from US airports but have been placed at other government installations across the globe."

We spent how many millions on these?!? And tech people have been saying this since they were announced. Sigh.

Bret Victor, beast of burden

I've looked for this a couple of times and can't find it on my blog. I thought I posted about it before. Apparently a lot of Bret Victor's ideas inspired some things in the new Swift's Sandbox used for OS X development. I've only looked a few of the videos, but pick anything out of the Recent Output section and it's bound to be interesting.

Total Solar Eclipse in US in 2017

This seems like a lot of warning, but it lets it be branded as the Great American Eclipse "On August 21, 2017, millions of people across the United States will see nature's most wondrous spectacle — a total eclipse of the Sun. It is a scene of unimaginable beauty; the Moon completely blocks the Sun, daytime becomes a deep twilight, and the Sun’s corona shimmers in the darkened sky. This is your guide to understand, prepare for, and view this rare celestial event."


Judgmental Maps

Judgmental Maps are pretty fun, though they haven't done boston yet.

First Flight with the Wright Brothers

In Focus shows the First Flight with the Wright Brothers "Yesterday was National Aviation Day, a holiday established by president Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 to celebrate developments in aviation. The date selected was the birth date of aviation pioneer Orville Wright, who, along with his older brother Wilbur, is credited with inventing and building the world's first practical fixed-wing aircraft and making the first controlled, powered and sustained flight more than a hundred years ago. The Wright brothers documented much of their early progress in photographs made on glass negatives. Today, the Library of Congress holds many of these historic images, some of which are presented below. [18 photos]"

W10 0000626u 500

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pop Awake At Night? Researchers Blame ‘Sleep Switch’ In Your Aging Brain

WBUR reports Pop Awake At Night? Researchers Blame ‘Sleep Switch’ In Your Aging Brain "Researchers have just reported in the journal Brain that they’ve found a group of neurons — in the aforementioned nucleus – that function as a kind of ‘sleep switch,’ and whose degeneration over the years is looking very much like the cause of age-related sleep loss. It’s also looking pivotal in the insomnia that often causes nocturnal wandering in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

‘This is the first time that anyone has ever been able to show in humans that there is a distinct group of nerve cells in the brain that’s critical for allowing you to sleep,’ said the paper’s senior author, Dr. Clifford Saper, chair of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School."

Car Shopping

Probably going to be a little quieter than usual. My 14 year-old Acura TL died and I'm looking for a replacement. Any suggestions are welcome.

By died I mean got too expensive to repair. The winters here did a number on the underside. I had corrosion in the front sub-frame making it possible for a wheel to break off. Also in the brake line and I was leaking brake fluid. A hard stop could have blown it and I would have lost my brakes. Also the flanges in the exhaust assembly were disintegrated, leaking and needed to be replaced.

Corrosion 500

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Caesar Augustus Died 2000 Years Ago

Timothy B. Lee is covering an anniversary today I didn't know about. Caesar Augustus died 2000 years ago. Here's why he was one of history's greatest leaders. "Today marks the 2000th anniversary of the death of Caesar Augustus on August 19, 14 AD. Augustus was Rome's first emperor and one of the most accomplished leaders in world history. He made possible the Pax Romana, a 200-year period of relative peace and prosperity that allowed the Roman empire to have a profound and lasting influence on the culture of the Europe."

I guess that the switch to the Gregorian Calendar means it wasn't really 2000 years ago today.

And here are 40 maps that explain the Roman Empire.

Police are operating with total impunity in Ferguson

Matt Yglesias wrote Police are operating with total impunity in Ferguson.

"Above you'll see a picture of Scott Olson, the Getty photographer who's brought us many of the most striking images of protests and police crackdown that followed the shooting of Michael Brown.

The other two men in the photograph, despite presumably being police officers, are not identifiable at this time. Unlike normal police officers, they are not wearing name tags or badges with visible numbers on them. When police arrested the Washington Post's Wesley Lowery and the Huffington Post's Ryan Reilly, they weren't wearing badges or nametags either. Reasonable people can disagree about when, exactly, it's appropriate for cops to fire tear gas into crowds. But there's really no room for disagreement about when it's reasonable for officers of the law to take off their badges and start policing anonymously.

There's only one reason to do this: to evade accountability for your actions."

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Newman Chronicles

A 2008 Vanity Fair piece, The Newman Chronicles about Paul Newman. Lots of interesting and unexpected stories. For example,

"This past year, at one of the usual meetings of parents and children at the original [Hole in the Wall Gang Camp], Newman showed up; crowds pressed close. The mother of one little girl spoke to Ray Lamontagne, the head of the camp’s board. Her daughter wanted to tell Paul Newman something, but she couldn’t get over to him because she was in a wheelchair. Lamontagne fought his way through the crowd and brought Newman back to the little girl, and he knelt down by her wheelchair. ‘For the first time in my life I have a friend,’ the little girl told him. ‘I’ve never had a friend before, because I’ve been in a wheelchair most of my life, so kids avoided me. So thank you, Mr. Newman, for this camp.’ Newman had tears in his eyes."

The Future of Publishing

Lane Diamond makes a lot of good points in The Future of Publishing – One Man’s Perspective

American and British Police Compared

I saw a tweet to this article with a fact I found astounding, "Last year, the British police in total fired their weapons fewer times than Darren Wilson did on August 9th."

The full Economist article, Armed police: Trigger happy, is behind a paywall (though I think you can get free access to three articles per month). It has a few more details and puts the statistic into a little more context. Here's the relevant parts:

"The shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, is a reminder that civilians—innocent or guilty—are far more likely to be shot by police in America than in any other rich country. In 2012, according to data compiled by the FBI, 410 Americans were ‘justifiably’ killed by police—409 with guns. "

"Last year, in total, British police officers actually fired their weapons three times. The number of people fatally shot was zero. In 2012 the figure was just one. Even after adjusting for the smaller size of Britain’s population, British citizens are around 100 times less likely to be shot by a police officer than Americans."

"The explanation for this gap is simple. In Britain, guns are rare. Only specialist firearms officers carry them; and criminals rarely have access to them. The last time a British police officer was killed by a firearm on duty was in 2012, in a brutal case in Manchester. The annual number of murders by shooting is typically less than 50."

"In America, by contrast, it is hardly surprising that cops resort to their weapons more frequently. In 2013, 30 cops were shot and killed—just a fraction of the 9,000 or so murders using guns that happen each year. Add to that a hyper-militarised police culture and a deep history of racial strife and you have the reason why so many civilians are shot by police officers. Unless America can either reduce its colossal gun ownership rates or fix its deep social problems, shootings of civilians by police—justified or not—seem sure to continue."

2014 Hugo Award Winners

Here are the 2014 Hugo Award Winners. I've seen Gravity and Game of Thrones and I've read xkcd's Time but nothing else.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film

"Is there a better way of showing a text message in a film? How about the internet? Even though we’re well into the digital age, film is still ineffective at depicting the world we live in. Maybe the solution lies not in content, but in form."

A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

More on Ferguson

Zeynep Tufekci wrote What Happens to #Ferguson Affects Ferguson. She saw Ferguson all over her Twitter feed that night but she didn't see coverage elsewhere (particularly on Facebook) until the next day.

But I’m not quite sure that without the neutral side of the Internet—the livestreams whose ‘packets’ were fast as commercial, corporate and moneyed speech that travels on our networks, Twitter feeds which are not determined by an opaque corporate algorithms but my own choices,—we’d be having this conversation.

So, I hope that in the coming days, there will be a lot written about race in America, about militarization of police departments, lack of living wage jobs in large geographic swaths of the country.

But keep in mind, Ferguson is also a net neutrality issue. It’s also an algorithmic filtering issue. How the internet is run, governed and filtered is a human rights issue.

Here's another odd way Twitter played a role in this. How social media freed reporters Wesley Lowery and Ryan Reilly from Ferguson police

"Had Lowery been able to follow through on his impulse to tweet first and call later, he might have been released by police even more quickly. As it was, it hardly took any time for the news to reach The Post, and for the journalists to be released. Equally noteworthy was how the newsroom first found out — not through a phone call, or a fax, or even an e-mail, but by watching the Twitter feeds of other journalists and noting Lowery's and Reilly's absence from those feeds. It's safe to say that how this unfolded would've looked completely different 10 years ago."

Greg Howard writes America Is Not For Black People

Arguing whether Brown was a good kid or not is functionally arguing over whether he specifically deserved to die, a way of acknowledging that some black men ought to be executed.

To even acknowledge this line of debate is to start a larger argument about the worth, the very personhood, of a black man in America. It's to engage in a cost-benefit analysis, weigh probabilities, and gauge the precise odds that Brown's life was worth nothing against the threat he posed to the life of the man who killed him. It's to deny that there are structural reasons why Brown was shot dead while James Eagan Holmes—who on July 20, 2012, walked into a movie theater and fired rounds into an audience, killing 12 and wounding 70 more—was taken alive.

To ascribe this entirely to contempt for black men is to miss an essential variable, though—a very real, American fear of them. They—we—are inexplicably seen as a millions-strong army of potential killers, capable and cold enough that any single one could be a threat to a trained police officer in a bulletproof vest. There are reasons why white gun's rights activists can walk into a Chipotle restaurant with assault rifles and be seen as gauche nuisances while unarmed black men are killed for reaching for their wallets or cell phones, or carrying children's toys. Guns aren't for black people, either.

Max Ehrenfreund complied A list of potentially unconstitutional things that police in Ferguson are doing

  1. The mayor asked protesters to be respectful and to go home at night.
  2. Police have asked citizens not to record their activities.
  3. Police are deploying tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters.
  4. Area law enforcement consistently arrest and search black people more frequently than whites.

David Simon wrote about the police chief failing to name the shoot (for so long) in The endgame for American civic responsibly in three parts: Part I, Part II and Part III

But the cost to our society is not abstract — and the currency in which that cost is paid is trust. Your department has shown that you do not trust the public with the basic information about who specifically has, in the performance of his or her duties, been required to take a human life in Ferguson. And that same public is now in the street demonstrating that they do not believe that Ferguson law enforcement can therefore be relied upon for anything remotely resembling justice. How could it be otherwise?

If you cannot see the contempt inherent in your policy, then you, sir, may need to reconsider both your own role and the premise of law enforcement in a democratic society. You may need to yield your position to someone who retains the basic notion that your officers, armed with the extraordinary authority of using state-sanctioned lethal force on fellow citizens, are equally burdened by a responsibility for standing by their actions in full. You, your department, and the prosecutors in your jurisdiction are now running from that responsibility. In doing so, you lose the trust and respect of your citizens, your state and the nation.

I know that you wish to claim that the individual officer, if identified, would be somehow vulnerable. But this is dishonest and dishonorable, sir. Having covered a police department in a jurisdiction even more troubled than your suburban community, I am well aware of the resources available to your department to protect one of its own against retribution. Your officers are the ones with legal authority. They are all armed. And they can maintain a presence anywhere in your jurisdiction. Moreover, they have, if necessary, the support of your county’s prosecutors and judiciary, and all of the law itself to ensure the safety of a solitary officer. They are, as police in Baltimore were accustomed to saying, the biggest, toughest gang out there — so much so that the claim of violent retribution against this officer is embarrassing hyperbole.

He doesn't hold back in the end:

The decision of a police agency to hide the identities of its officers behind a veil of secrecy, while asking the public at large to risk all in open court, is not mere hypocrisy. It is cowardice. It is an abdication of your professional role and your basic integrity. Your actions, sir, stand not merely in support of your rank-and-file, or in defiance of a mob; that’s how you wish to be seen, and likely, it is how many will view you within the cloistered culture of the roll-call room. But to the greater public that you serve, your decision is, again, void of all honor or courage. You have done your uniform, your department and your city a great disservice. Some reflection and a change in policy is required before anyone in Ferguson, Missouri can be assured that you, Chief Jackson, actually remain in service of law and order in your city.

Friday, August 15, 2014

How Obamacare could make filing taxes a nightmare

How Obamacare could make filing taxes a nightmare:

Individuals and families who bought subsidized coverage have been receiving tax credits based on whatever amount they thought they would earn this year. Upon filing taxes, the IRS will reconcile the amount of subsidy received, based on expected income, with the person's actual income.

(Via Vox - All)

Stardust Team Reports Discovery of First Potential Interstellar Space Particles

NASA reports Stardust Team Reports Discovery of First Potential Interstellar Space Particles

"Seven rare, microscopic interstellar dust particles that date to the beginnings of the solar system are among the samples collected by scientists who have been studying the payload from NASA's Stardust spacecraft since its return to Earth in 2006. If confirmed, these particles would be the first samples of contemporary interstellar dust."

"The particles are much more diverse in terms of chemical composition and structure than scientists expected. The smaller particles differ greatly from the larger ones and appear to have varying histories. Many of the larger particles have been described as having a fluffy structure, similar to a snowflake."

Half of the US

In February I posted this:

A year ago Business Insider posted this map: Half Of The United States Lives In These Counties

Map of us 50 percent

Really makes me wonder about how fair that Red/Blue split is.

Secular stagnation: Facts, causes, and cures – a new Vox eBook

Secular stagnation: Facts, causes, and cures – a new Vox eBook

Six years after the Crisis and the recovery is still anaemic despite years of zero interest rates. Is ‘secular stagnation’ to blame? This column introduces an eBook that gathers the views of leading economists including Summers, Krugman, Gordon, Blanchard, Koo, Eichengreen, Caballero, Glaeser, and a dozen others. It is too early to tell whether secular stagnation is really secular, but if it is, current policy tools will be obsolete. Policymakers should start thinking about potential solutions.

Economic growth is still anaemic despite years of zero interest rates.

  • Is ‘secular stagnation’ to blame? What does secular stagnation really mean? And if it’s for real, what must be done?

Today, launches an eBook that gathers the views of leading economists including Summers, Krugman, Gordon, Blanchard, Koo, Eichengreen, Caballero, Glaeser and a dozen others (edited by Coen Teulings and me). Collectively, the chapters suggest that something historic is afoot.

Humans Need Not Apply

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Last some crazy things happened in Ferguson, MO.

In Ferguson, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery gives account of his arrest.

Here's Video of Ferguson police gassing news crew and dismantling their equipment.

Matthew Yglesias says Enough is enough in Ferguson. "The local authorities clearly have no idea what they're doing, and higher powers from the state or federal government need to intervene before things get even worse."

"But it is clear at this point that local officials in the town of Ferguson and St. Louis County don't know what they are doing. Of course people will not be calm while police officers charged with protecting them trample their rights."

Tervor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation writes, Lessons from Ferguson: Police Militarization is Now a Press Freedom Issue. "The situation in Ferguson, Missouri—where four days ago the police killed an unarmed teenager—took another disturbing turn yesterday as cops decked out in riot gear arrested and assaulted two reporters covering the protests, Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly, as they were sitting in a McDonald’s, quietly charging their phones. The arrests were undoubtedly a gross violation of the reporters' First Amendment rights, and both the attempts to stop them from filming and their assault by police officers were downright illegal. But there’s another issue at play here, an issue which has led to the environment in which cops think they can get away with these acts: the militarization of local police."

Ryan Cooper in The Week explains, The fiasco in Ferguson shows why you don't give military equipment to cops. "While the Army Field Manual focuses on de-escalation, communication with protestors, and a minimum level of violence, the cops in Ferguson have been applying the opposite."

"Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan needed armored vehicles like MRAPs, since they were constantly in danger of being blown up or shot. The police in Ferguson, by contrast, are not facing insurgents armed with RPGs, IEDs, automatic weapons, sniper rifles, and suicide vests. They're facing unarmed civilians in their own country, give or take a few looters. When heavy military equipment is taken from its original context and placed in the hands of a domestic law enforcement agency with little training in wartime scenarios, it becomes nothing more than an instrument of intimidation. It simply has no other purpose. Wearing jungle camouflage in an urban setting, pointing guns at civilians, driving around pointlessly in an armored personnel carrier — all of these egregiously violate military best practices. This is playing soldier dress-up to scare the pants off the locals — except the guns are real."

The Washington Post writes, Military veterans see deeply flawed police response in Ferguson

“You see the police are standing online with bulletproof vests and rifles pointed at peoples chests,” said Jason Fritz, a former Army officer and an international policing operations analyst. “That’s not controlling the crowd, that’s intimidating them.”

“We went through some pretty bad areas of Afghanistan, but we didn’t wear that much gear,” said Kyle Dykstra, an Army veteran and former security officer for the State Department. Dykstra specifically pointed out the bulletproof armor the officers were wearing around their shoulders, known as “Deltoid” armor.

“I can’t think of a [protest] situation where the use of M4 [rifles] are merited,” Fritz said. “I don’t see it as a viable tactic in any scenario.”

“Officers were calling the protesters ‘animals,’ ” King said. “I can’t imagine a military unit would do that in any scenario.”

Glenn Greenwald provides his rant on the topic, The Militarization of U.S. Police: Finally Dragged Into the Light by the Horrors of Ferguson.

Matt Apuzzo explains in the NY Times how War Gear Flows to Police Departments. Dara Lind in Vox follows up with Why the feds are putting grenade launchers in the hands of local cops

Sarah Kliff points out, Tear gas is banned in international warfare — and in use in Ferguson, MO. "Tear gas is a chemical weapon that the Geneva Convention bans from use in international warfare. In the Ferguson, Mo. riots, police have used it repeatedly to disperse ongoing riots."

I keep reading how the press isn't really covering this well but even film site Badass Digest managed to comment on it, What BATTLESTAR GALACTICA Had To Say About Ferguson. And of course BSG nailed it:


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

xkcd: Worst Hurricane

Sometimes xkcd comes up with ideas and images that are obvious, informative and interesting and that I've never seen before. Worst Hurricane "What's the Worst Hurricane anyone in your town remembers?"


Polaroid Cube

I didn't know Polaroid was still in business, now they're releasing the Polaroid Cube "Introducing the Polaroid Cube lifestyle action camera—water resistant, shockproof, mountable and built to handle everything you can imagine. Packed with fun including 1080p HD video, 6MP photo, 124° wide angle lens, and built in battery that records up to 90 minutes." It's only 35mm cubed. Available for pre-order now for just $100.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Stanford's Maryam Mirzakhani wins Fields Medal

Stanford's Maryam Mirzakhani wins Fields Medal "Maryam Mirzakhani, a professor of mathematics at Stanford, has been awarded the 2014 Fields Medal, the most prestigious honor in mathematics. Mirzakhani is the first woman to win the prize, widely regarded as the 'Nobel Prize of mathematics,' since it was established in 1936."

I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me

Mat Honan wrote in Wired, I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me. Most of it wasn't that interesting. He flooded his feed with lots of junk and he flooded his friends' feeds with lots of junk (your friend Mat liked...). In the end, liking everything means liking nothing, shocker. But I did find these two bits interesting:

"My News Feed took on an entirely new character in a surprisingly short amount of time. After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore. It became about brands and messaging, rather than humans with messages. Likewise, content mills rose to the top. Nearly my entire feed was given over to Upworthy and the Huffington Post. As I went to bed that first night and scrolled through my News Feed, the updates I saw were (in order): Huffington Post, Upworthy, Huffington Post, Upworthy, a Levi’s ad,, Huffington Post, Upworthy, The Verge, Huffington Post,, Upworthy,"

"I was also struck by how different my feeds were on mobile and the desktop, even when viewed at the same time. By the end of day one, I noticed that on mobile, my feed was almost completely devoid of human content. I was only presented with the chance to like stories from various websites, and various other ads. Yet on the desktop—while it’s still mostly branded content—I continue to see things from my friends. On that little bitty screen, where real-estate is so valuable, Facebook’s robots decided that the way to keep my attention is by hiding the people and only showing me the stuff that other machines have pumped out. Weird."

Robin Williams

Salon has clips of 13 amazing Robin Williams moments we’ll never forget. Most are short, but one is the hour and half Weapons of Self Destruction show.

Here's Robin guest starring on Who's Line Is It Anyway.

Update: Here's Marc Maron on Remembering Robin Williams. It's mostly a 1 hour interview with him from 2010 and it's the most personal I've ever heard Williams.

Best Of MetaFilter has a number of stories Remembering Robin Williams

Here's a reddit AMA he did last year.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Amazon v. Hachette

Christopher Wright argues, Amazon v. Hachette: Everyone Is Wrong But Me "This is a horrible fight. No matter who wins we’re probably screwed. Hachette isn’t the hero, and Amazon isn’t the hero either."

Photos Of Apple's Jony Ive's Home

Business Insider Takes a Look Inside Apple Genius Jony Ive's $17 Million San Francisco Mansion. Very nice place. Based on the photos he doesn't own a TV.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Obama's foreign policy isn't very exciting, but it is working

Matthew Yglesias makes the case that Obama's foreign policy isn't very exciting, but it is working

"In Ukraine, for example, Obama has not opted for the path of maximum punishment for Russia. He has opted instead for the path of punishing Russia as hard as possible at minimum cost to the United States. Russians are paying a higher price for the conflict than are Europeans, and Americans are paying a lower price still. Putin hasn't had a change of heart, but Ukrainian forces are steadily advancing on rebel-held territory and Russia is becoming more and more of a pariah. Steady gains at minimal cost don't make for great speeches, but they do put American influence on a sustainable basis."

"Israel is more secure than ever. Not just beneath its Iron Dome but because Hamas has been cut off from Iranian patronage, and Hezbollah is too busy fighting the Assad regime's enemies in Syria to open a northern front against the Jewish State. The Syrian civil war itself is a humanitarian disaster. But in a war between a vicious government and a rebel cause full of its own vicious jihadis, a brutal stalemate that sucks up resources is an acceptable outcome for the United States. The damage of the war, though real, has little direct impact on America and the costs of attempting to dive in and resolve the situation would have been prohibitive."

"In the Persian Gulf, key US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are perfectly secure from external aggression, pumping oil in peace even as the progress of solar power and fracking reduces our long-term dependence on these questionable regimes."

"The Kurdistan regional government is friendly to the United States, is viewed as legitimate by the Kurdish population, and has demonstrated considerable fighting skill in the past. A relatively small amount of American military assistance should be able to secure their continued autonomy, a useful and humane objective that is achievable at low cost. For the Iraqi government to entirely reconquer its lost Sunni hinterland, by contrast, would be considerably more difficult. It is also not entirely clear what the point would be, in terms of concrete American interests. It's far from obvious that a strong unitary Iraqi state is in the interests of the United States or reflects the desire of the Iraqi people."

"As in Syria, stalemate between Sunni-held and Shiite-held territories could be ugly — but an acceptable form of ugly. Don't expect to hear it in a Rose Garden speech, but the main oil fields are down south near Basra in firmly government-held territory."

"Meanwhile, democracy marches on. The Arab Spring has mostly been a disappointment, but the new regime in Tunisia is real enough. Indonesia is poised for its first peaceful, orderly, transition of power to an opposition presidential candidate. China is friendless in East Asia. 'We'll do what we can, when we can do something useful on the cheap' doesn't quite have the glorious ring of JFK's vow to 'pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship.' But it does have the advantage of being a sustainable, sensible approach to 21st century world affairs."

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Mysterious Siberian Crater Attributed to Methane

Nature reports Mysterious Siberian crater attributed to methane "A mystery crater spotted in the frozen Yamal peninsula in Siberia earlier this month was probably caused by methane released as permafrost thawed, researchers in Russia say."

See also, First pictures from inside the 'crater at the end of the world'

The Washington Post adds a little context, Scientists may have cracked the giant Siberian crater mystery — and the news isn’t good "Some scientists contend the thawing of such terrain, rife with centuries of carbon, would release incredible amounts of methane gas and affect global temperatures. “Pound for pound, the comparative impact of [methane gas] on climate change is over 20 times greater than [carbon dioxide] over a 100-year period,” reported the Environmental Protection Agency."

This computer program can predict 7 out of 10 Supreme Court decisions

This computer program can predict 7 out of 10 Supreme Court decisions "The process seems extremely complicated, but Bommarito and Blackman note that you can still draw conclusions about the way the court behaves from it. For one thing, Bommarito notes that ideological variables seem to make a major difference, which seems to refute the naive view that the Court is somehow above politics. 'If there were an argument ongoing between political scientists and lawyers as to what mattered, as to whether judges are really independent judicial reasoning machines on high, or whether they're just political animals like anyone else, then in terms of the features that the model uses to successfully predict, it appears they're just political animals,' he concludes."

Monday, August 04, 2014

House panel: No administration wrongdoing in Benghazi attack

SF Gate reports House panel: No administration wrongdoing in Benghazi attack

"The House Intelligence Committee, led by Republicans, has concluded that there was no deliberate wrongdoing by the Obama administration in the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, said Rep. Mike Thompson of St. Helena, the second-ranking Democrat on the committee.

The panel voted Thursday to declassify the report, the result of two years of investigation by the committee. U.S. intelligence agencies will have to approve making the report public.

Thompson said the report 'confirms that no one was deliberately misled, no military assets were withheld and no stand-down order (to U.S. forces) was given.'"

What a surprise. Now will anyone who's been screaming Benghazi in the last couple of years apologize? If they did it would really be a surprise.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Scientists Have Figured Out How To Make Organisms Transparent

Scientists Have Figured Out How To Make Organisms Transparent

"Caltech researchers have created two new techniques that allow them to identify individual cells within 3D, intact organisms or tissues. And the results are jaw-droppingly beautiful. Researchers have already applied the techniques to a biopsy of skin from a human patient. By staining cancer cells and making everything else transparent, they could clearly visualize the network of cancer cells in three dimensions."

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Friday, August 01, 2014

The Best Documentaries of All Time

BFI lists The Best Documentaries of All Time "What are the greatest documentaries ever made? We polled 340 critics, programmers and filmmakers in the search for authoritative answers. Nick James introduces our poll while, below, we list the critics’ top 56 documentaries."

I've only seen 12 of them and haven't heard of most.

Too big to fail is going out of style, says new GAO report

Vox says Too big to fail is going out of style, says new GAO report

"Both left-wing and right-wing critics of the Obama administration's financial regulation initiatives have levied the charge that Dodd-Frank did not end 'too big to fail' or reduce the future need for bailouts. These phrases are open to a variety of interpretations, but the GAO study shows that large banks really are subject to increased market discipline these days.

It is certainly possible that the biggest banks retain some residual advantage and that additional regulatory measures against them are warranted. But Dodd-Frank has clearly made some meaningful strides in this direction, among others."