Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Cybersecurity Bill Loathed By Tech Companies Is Now Law

A Cybersecurity Bill Loathed By Tech Companies Is Now Law "Yesterday, Congress and President Obama approved the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), a measure that lets private companies turn over consumers’ personal data to Homeland Security, as long as that data meets some broad and vague criteria of relevance to cybersecurity investigations. Homeland Security can then pass said data directly the NSA, the Department of Defense, and the FBI.

Tech companies, civil liberties groups and security experts have all decried this bill. How did it become law? Simple. House Speaker Paul Ryan attached CISA as a rider to the omnibus budget bill, a $1.15 trillion federal spending plan. If Congress and the President hadn’t approved the measure, we would be on the brink of another government shutdown right now."

Saturday, December 19, 2015

‘Star Wars,’ if it were directed by Ken Burns

The Washington Post shows us ‘Star Wars,’ if it were directed by Ken Burns


Billionaire Sheldon Adelson secretly bought newspaper, ordered all hands to investigate judges he hated

This story from Boing Boing is crazy, Billionaire Sheldon Adelson secretly bought newspaper, ordered all hands to investigate judges he hated

No one knew who the mystery buyer of the Las Vegas Review-Journal was, just that $140m had changed hands under mysterious circumstances. But every reporter on the paper was ordered to drop everything and try to dig up dirt on three Clark County judges.

No one in management at any of the newspapers would admit that anything fishy was going on to the reporters who broke this story, James DeHaven, Jennifer Robison and Eric Hartley, who all write for the Review-Journal and were therefore investigating corruption on the part of their new bosses, which is a ballsy fucking move, given that the paper seems to have been purchased for the purpose of pursuing a personal vendetta against a local judge.

For more details see the source story from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Judge in Adelson lawsuit subject to unusual scrutiny amid Review-Journal sale.

How the super-secret Apple Industrial Design group works

Cult of Mac has a long, detailed and fascinating article How the super-secret Apple Industrial Design group works. It's based on Leander Kahney's book Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products.

Secret Code Found in Juniper's Firewalls Shows Risk of Government Backdoors

Wired reports Secret Code Found in Juniper's Firewalls Shows Risk of Government Backdoors

On Thursday, tech giant Juniper Networks revealed in a startling announcement that it had found ‘unauthorized’ code embedded in an operating system running on some of its firewalls.

The code, which appears to have been in multiple versions of the company’s ScreenOS software going back to at least August 2012, would have allowed attackers to take complete control of Juniper NetScreen firewalls running the affected software. It also would allow attackers, if they had ample resources and skills, to separately decrypt encrypted traffic running through the Virtual Private Network, or VPN, on the firewalls.

“The weakness in the VPN itself that enables passive decryption is only of benefit to a national surveillance agency like the British, the US, the Chinese, or the Israelis,” says Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute and UC Berkeley. “You need to have wiretaps on the internet for that to be a valuable change to make [in the software].”

But the backdoors are also a concern because one of them—a hardcoded master password left behind in Juniper’s software by the attackers—will now allow anyone else to take command of Juniper firewalls that administrators have not yet patched, once the attackers have figured out the password by examining Juniper’s code.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This whole review is filled with spoilers. Go see the movie first, it's great, and know as little as you can going into it. Then read this.


First, go read Devin Faraci's review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review. He's right about virtually everything.

Unordered Thoughts

BB-8 is fantastic. You immediately feel a lot for this little droid even without a companion droid to talk to. The design is so expressive it reminded me of what Pixar was able to do with Wall-E and what Aardman was able to do with Grommit. I'm guessing the chirps are sampled from R2 but all the body expression is unique. He's my new favorite droid.

While the story was a little derivative, it didn't really bother me during the movie. And I had been warned by a few "non-spoiler" reviews I glanced at beforehand in that they said it was kind of a remake. It's true, many of the story beats are the same, but it worked. The Star Wars films broke so many grounds visually and this one really didn't do much new, it just did it well. A few new environments would have added a sense of awe, but it's just nitpicking and I'm so thrilled they didn't get lost in the effects the way the prequels did. The best location was the crashed star destroyer and we saw that in the trailer, still Rey's line about not knowing there was so much green in the galaxy was cute.

Stephen Marche makes a good point, The Force Awakens Is the Biggest Movie of the Year. But Is It Great?:

The Force Awakens is easily the best written, and in some ways the most sophisticated, of all the films. But while it verges on greatness, it doesn;t quite reach it. Perhaps that was inevitable. The original Star Wars was influenced by science fiction, samurai movies, Westerns, opera, serial radio, racing car movies, cross-talk misfit couple comedies, Lawrence of Arabia, the Muppets and World War II documentaries. The influence of The Force Awakens was Star Wars.

In other words, The Force Awakens is Star Wars made by people who grew up on Star Wars, and that's its biggest weakness. But it's also a real strength. The movie plugs deep down into the joys of childhood, and Abrams knows to milk that source of joy. It is a story told by someone who grew up, like me, playing with Star Wars figurines, imagining Tatooine in the sandbox and Hoth on an aunt's white sofa.

J.J. Abrams was definitely a good choice to base VII on previous Star Wars films. It's a skill he demonstrated in the Star Trek films, rebooting a franchise being true to the characters and to the aesthetic of Star Wars (not Trek). Now that that's been done and VII has wiped away the memories of the prequels, I hope Rian Johnson goes back to Lucas's source roots in A New Hope. He's not a student of film like Lucas, Scorsese or Spielberg, but Brick, The Brothers Bloom and Looper all show he can bring fresh takes to well worn genres.

It's the funniest Star Wars. Shots and lines could have come from a Robot Chicken episode. I loved when Ren was having a fit and destroying the room with his lightsaber and the storm troopers walk by, stop, and go back the way they came. I'm sure some will argue that it was too tongue-in-cheek or referential, but I think they got it right and it just worked.

Farachi said the characters are great and he's right, but also the lines and acting are way better than in the other films. The new characters all outshone the originals. Except for one, they did a great job with Chewbacca. He finally felt like a capable lead character instead of just a side-kick. I was really concerned when he got shot.

Farachi is also right about this: "Kylo Ren has a depth to him that George Lucas wanted to get at with Anakin Skywalker in the Prequels, but failed. Kylo Ren is Anakin done right." Nevertheless I'm not an Adam Driver fan and think Kylo should be referred to as Darth Emo.

That wasn't the only tragedy in the film, the big spoiler event in this was Han dying. I was upset at seeing one of the iconic characters of movies die but I think I'm ok with it. Han dying was probably a condition of Harrison Ford being in the film. They did it well with lots of foreshadow and tension. Leia told Han to bring back their son and Han looked like that wasn't going to happen. He told Finn that they wouldn't leave the station without Rey and he didn't. Kylo's line about being conflicted and needing help and Han offering any he could so obviously had double meaning and of course the camera zooming in on the saber was Hitchcockian. That seen on the (so ridiculous it could only be in Star Wars) bridge felt so long and I just kept saying to myself "Don't kill Han. Don't kill Han. Don't kill Han." Maybe it was a little cheap, but it worked. I've seen comments of people complaining that there was no tension because they knew it would happen; but these people need to learn from Hitchcock the difference between surprise and suspense.

None of the minor characters were stereotypes. The prequels were filled with dim or offensive caricatures like Jar Jar, Boss Nass, Watto, dumb droid soldiers, trade federation buffoons, and a droid general who coughs. They did seem to underwrite Captain Phasma. For a supposedly menacing figure she gave up information way too easily when threatened by a gun. She can't be a rebellion double agent because then they would have know about the base. Apparently she'll be expanded on in future movies so I'll reserve judgement.

The opening crawl, first line, explains Luke has gone missing. The big Internet mystery about the trailer, where is Luke? is right there at the start. We're supposed to be wondering that and the trailer made us a part of the film months before we got into the theater. The end of the film gives us the mystery from the end of Empire. What will Luke say to Rey? Welcome back padawan? Hello daughter? Who are you?

I saw it in regular 3D and it was very pretty. I got a tilt-shift miniature effect a few times but nothing like I did with Mad Max: Fury Road which mostly seemed like miniatures to me. While it wasn't filmed in 3D there are a few shots, particularly of ships flying, where it really worked. It would be fine in 2D and I think it would be really fun in IMAX 3D.

Apparently the stormtrooper that Rey mind tricked was played by Daniel Craig. I will refer to him as 00-Trooper.


Two things bothered me in the film. Some things happen by coincidence particularly Chewie showing up at the end to rescue Rey and Finn. I was expecting her to at least have to wave the lightsaber to get his attention but he somehow knew where she was. I still don't know how Poe survived the crash so far from Finn and his own jacket.

Second was that they screwed up some distances and technologies. Starkiller base could apparently fire energy bolts to distant star systems, which seems way out of bounds of Star Wars (the death star had to move to the planets to destroy them). Also the rebellion had interstellar communications. They monitored the final battle from their base in real time and we know it was distant because (a) they didn't know where it was without Finn and (b) the Falcon had to go through hyperspace to get to it. They didn't seem to have interstellar communications in Star Wars which is why they were always currying messages in droids. If they could communicate these distances why did Poe have to pick up the map from Jakku in the first place?


I’m going with Rey was a Jedi in training under Luke. Ren turned dark and killed people and Luke hid her on Jakku and mind wiped her to keep her safe (and maybe Max von Sydow was there to look after her from afar like Obi-Wan did with Luke and it would explain why he had a map piece to find Luke). She was too good with the force (resistance to mind probes, mind trick, lightsaber) to be completely untrained. I don’t remember all the stuff in her vision, but she was waiting on Jakku for someone to return and Maz told her that to continue on her journey she needed to move forward not back. So instead of waiting for Luke she needed to go find Luke.

Maybe she's Luke's daughter and maybe Rey killed her mom, but I'm guessing Luke had been chatting with Yoda and Obi-Wan and reinstated the Jedi chastity thing. Since breaking that didn't work out so well for his father. I missed it but apparently Luke was standing next to a grave at the end, perhaps that's his wife in which case it would probably be Rey's mom just based on dramatic themes of the closing shot. Or it could be the grave of anyone close to him that Kylo killed.

People are also pointing out that Luke's lightsaber called out to her, but that's the saber Anakin made and Luke lost on Bespin in Empire, so Maz probably scavenged it somehow and Luke probably never saw it again. I'm not taking it as she's a lost Skywalker and Luke's old lightsaber recognized her, I think touching a lightsaber triggered her repressed memories. Also, I think R2 woke up because a Jedi (in training) was near him (not because Luke's lost lightsaber or daughter was near him).

The other fan theory is that she's Ren's twin which I guess is possible. But Han and Leia didn't recognize her and they didn't speak of any other children let alone losing one. Maybe Leia kept her secret from Han but I don't see an obvious explanation for that. It would be nice that she got to meet her father, and there is a history of twins in Leia's family, but the parallels of her fight with Kylo being a fight between siblings seems too obvious with Luke/Vader or even Obi-Wan/Anakin ("You were my brother Anakin!"). Though Abrams copied so much from the previous stories, maybe he copied this too.

Add VanDerWerff has his own theory, Let's try to solve the new trilogy’s biggest mystery.

Who is Snoke? His projection was giant sized and I'm guessing that's a misdirection. Maybe he's Yoda sized. :)

Update: Devin Faraci answers some questions with What The Hell Is The Story With The Resistance And The First Order In The Force Awakens?

If you need to hear smart people talking about this for 45 minutes in a way NSFW or children, Half in the Bag Episode 100: Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

io9 has a good list of 33 Questions We Desperately Want Answered After Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Thursday, December 17, 2015

John Cleese Picks the Most Gut-Busting Monty Python Sketches

John Cleese Picks the Most Gut-Busting Monty Python Sketches . Go have fun, there are clips embedded for each of his picks.

The Antidote To Trump

Matthew Yglesias says Trumpism is a natural consequence of the GOP refusing to moderate on taxes or immigration.

Republican leaders sweated as the Summer of Trump became the Autumn of Trump, and now are in full panic as we enter the Winter of Trump. But this year of Trump is the direct result of their own preferred political strategy — by refusing to tack to the center on either taxes or immigration, they are left with an amped-up form of white identity politics as the preferred path to a majority.

He cites how they did not follow the prescription of the RNC 2012 election post-mortem. Romney got much less of minority (hispanic and asian) votes than Bush did.

The point is that many white Americans don't like the presence of a large Hispanic population in the United States (they complain about the Spanish-language signs, about the "press one for English" option on phone trees, etc.), and Latinos know it. The RNC's view was that Romney's self-deportation policy communicated that he is one of those white people, and that was toxic.

He then goes into the "missing white voter" thesis (of Romney's defeat) which apparently is also wrong. Those missing voters actually correspond to Perot voters and aren't in the deep south (though a Democrat isn't going to win in the south regardless) and apparently line up with Trump supporters pretty well.

So then another possibility (suggested by Ross Douthat):

Rather than move to the center on immigration in the hopes of wooing affluent Latinos and Asians, move to the center on economics to woo secular working-class whites. But given the aging of the population and the natural demand that creates for more spending on highly popular retirement programs, there's simply no way to move to the center on economics without showing some restraint on the tax-cutting front.

But of course "Indeed, the entire party is moving in the opposite direction of moderation on taxes. Jeb Bush, the most electability-oriented candidate in the race, is offering a tax cut that is four times as big as his brother's, while more conservative contenders like Ted Cruz offer plans that are even more extreme."

So amazingly he points out "Trumpism as the only viable strategy" and "Republicans, in other words, are disagreeing with Trump about how to leverage voter fear of Muslim immigrants into electoral advantage, not whether to do so." As evidence:

  • Jeb Bush is talking about anchor babies.
  • Marco Rubio wants the government to be more aggressive about shutting down certain mosques and other gathering places.
  • Chris Christie thinks we need to track immigrants like FedEx packages.
  • Ben Carson has analogized Syrian refugees to dogs.
  • Ted Cruz ups the ante on the Syrian refugee issue by repeatedly referring to "Syrian Muslim refugees" as the problem.
  • Rand Paul says Trump's proposal to bar all Muslim immigrants is a mistake, but that he's "called for something similar" that could accomplish the same goals.

Which fits with my perception of the GOP, every candidate is spouting batshit crazy talk. The New York Times has a nice break down of Where the Candidates Stand on 2016’s Biggest Issues. They all seem crazy to me on gun control, refugees and obamacare (it's not perfect but it's helping) and most on immigration, climate change, abortion (I'm fine if you're pro-life but even in the cases rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother?), and cutting taxes enormously without cutting defense and magically balancing the budget. And at least four of them don't believe in evolution. I said "most" for those last few points, only Bush, Christy, Kasich, and Pataki don't fall into that list. Pataki has missed the filing deadline for 9 states including FL, OH, TX and VA so he's out. Kasich stands no chance of winning the nomination. Maybe I wouldn't describe Bush and Christy as batshit crazy but I wouldn't vote for them either.

Adam Sewer says The Antidote To Trump is diversity.

Trump’s attacks are aimed, consistently, at groups that have no influence in the Republican race. There are vanishingly few black Republicans to check Trump’s generalizations about black people. There are not enough Republican Latinos to take umbrage at his demonization of Latinos. And there are not enough American Muslims, either within the Republican Party or outside of it, to make him pay for vowing to strip them of their basic rights.

The answer for why Trump perseveres is simple: As conservative intellectuals are painfully realizing, there is a large constituency within, and adjacent to the Republican Party whose presence reflects not a commitment to traditional conservative philosophical principles, but to protecting the cultural and political prerogatives of a shrinking, white Christian majority.

A few weeks ago Nate Silver wrote, Dear Media, Stop Freaking Out About Donald Trump’s Polls.

Right now, he has 25 to 30 percent of the vote in polls among the roughly 25 percent of Americans who identify as Republican. (That’s something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked.) As the rest of the field consolidates around him, Trump will need to gain additional support to win the nomination. That might not be easy, since some Trump actions that appeal to a faction of the Republican electorate may alienate the rest of it. Trump’s favorability ratings are middling among Republicans (and awful among the broader electorate).

The Monkey Cage said a month ago, Republican voters actually aren’t divided into ‘establishment’ and ‘outsider’ camps. " There is no clear contest between the “establishment” candidates, such as Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, and “outsiders,” such as Donald Trump, Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina. The campaign isn’t creating polarized camps of Republican voters."

They also plotted second choices among voters to see who benefits from various candidates dropping out.

Carson, Cruz, Trump, and Rubio are all tied together in the center of the plot. If any one of them were to drop out, most of their supporters would shift to another of the front-runners. But Cruz seems particularly well positioned to pick up support if both Carson and Trump exit--Rubio, on the other hand, stands to gain a significant number of supporters if Carson’s campaign ends, but fewer if Trump drops out--What’s striking in the graph is how few arrows run to Trump. In fact, the exits of only two candidates — Carson and Cruz — are likely to benefit Trump. No other candidate’s supporters list Trump as a second choice.

Why Conspiracy Theories Flourish on the Right

David Roberts explains Why conspiracy theories flourish on the right (and not so much on the left). "A [new] study identifies the sorts of people susceptible to conspiracy theories"

The researchers found, after examining two large data sets (details in the paper), that the effect of trust is as expected, across the political spectrum. Lower-trust conservatives and liberals are both more likely to endorse ideologically congenial CTs (i.e., CTs that make the other side look bad).

But beyond that, there are interesting asymmetries. For liberals, more knowledge reduces endorsement of CTs, no matter the level of trust, and more trust reduces endorsement of CTs, no matter the level of knowledge — "knowledge and trust are both independently negatively related to liberals’ endorsement of liberal conspiracies."

For conservatives, on the other hand, more knowledge increases endorsement of CTs among those with low trust; for high-trust conservatives, knowledge seems to have no effect — it neither increases nor decreases tendency to endorse CTs.

In other words, the high-info/low-trust dynamic is in fact the conspiracy theory sweet spot, but primarily for conservatives.

as a result:

[C]onservative politicians and pundits can more readily rely on conspiracies as an effective means to activate their base than liberals. And to the extent that ideologically motivated endorsement is most evident among the least trusting of the knowledgeable conservatives, there is all the more incentive for conservative elites to stoke the fires of distrust.

and in conclusion:

And that's exactly what we're seeing unfold, as illustrated by the horror comedy that is the GOP primary race. Low-trust, high-knowledge conservatives — a.k.a. the conservative base — are bending the political system to their will on the basis of fever dreams that neither the media nor politicians can afford to ignore. Lacking the language or institutional means to dismiss popular conspiracy theories for what they are, feckless US political and media elites are instead normalizing them, "defining deviancy down" as the old phrase goes.

The research suggests that there is only one way to mitigate or reverse this process: restore some level of trust in the US political system. But conservative elites — who have the ear of their base — have no incentive to do so, and it's not clear that anyone else has ability to do so. Declining trust in institutions is broad and deep in America; it may very well be unstoppable. As long as it continues, conspiracy theories will play a larger and larger role in public life.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2015 National Film Registry

The 25 films selected for the 2015 National Film Registry. I've seen the ones in bold (the shorts just now). It's good to know Shawshank made it.

  • Being There (1979)
  • Black and Tan (1929) - YouTube
  • Dracula (Spanish language version) (1931)
  • Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906) - YouTube
  • Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (1975) - YouTube
  • Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (1894) - YouTube
  • A Fool There Was (1915) - YouTube
  • Ghostbusters (1984)
  • Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)
  • Humoresque (1920) - YouTube
  • Imitation of Life (1959)
  • The Inner World of Aphasia (1968) - YouTube
  • John Henry and the Inky-Poo (1946) - YouTube
  • L.A. Confidential (1997)
  • The Mark of Zorro (1920) - YouTube
  • The Old Mill (1937) - YouTube
  • Our Daily Bread (1934) - YouTube
  • Portrait of Jason (1967)
  • Seconds (1966)
  • The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  • Sink or Swim (1990)
  • The Story of Menstruation (1946) - YouTube
  • Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968) - YouTube
  • Top Gun (1986)
  • Winchester ’73 (1950)

The Best Twitter Bots of 2015

Quartz lists The best Twitter bots of 2015 "Last year we picked 17 top Twitter bots from among hundreds of great candidates. For this year’s list, we focused on bots that were created in 2015. Those tended to be more interesting and complex than bots that came before them, suggesting a new era in programming Twitter accounts. But they are all still pretty simple, alternating between nonsense and profundity, which is the beauty of a great Twitter bot."

2015: The Year in Volcanic Activity

In Focus, 2015: The Year in Volcanic Activity "Once again, it has been a particularly eventful year for the world's volcanoes. Out of an estimated 1,500 active volcanoes, 50 or so erupt every year, spewing steam, ash, toxic gases, and lava. In 2015, erupting volcanoes included Mount Etna in Italy, Wolf volcano in the Galapagos Islands, Cotopaxi in Ecuador, Villarrica in Chile, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai in Tonga, Mount Sinabung in Indonesia, Piton de la Fournaise on RĂ©union Island, Kilauea on Hawaii, Momotombo in Nicaragua, Colima in Mexico, and Calbuco in Chile. Collected below are scenes from the wide variety of volcanic activity on Earth over the past year."

Main 1500 1 500

Monday, December 14, 2015

Voting in Florida - Bad and Good

Thanks to Republicans, Nearly a Quarter of Florida’s Black Citizens Can’t Vote. "No other state has a larger number of disenfranchised citizens than Florida, where more than 1.5 million people have lost the right to cast a ballot on Election Day, according to the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit prison reform group."

"Nationwide, nearly 6 million Americans are barred from voting due to felony convictions. Although most states restrict the voting rights of imprisoned felons, Iowa currently is the only one that joins Florida in imposing a lifelong disenfranchisement on ex-felons. Until three weeks ago, Kentucky also had such a ban, but on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving the state’s outgoing Democratic governor issued an executive order restoring the voting rights of 140,000 nonviolent ex-felons in the state. The incoming Republican governor has signaled that he may uphold the order."

Florida's Supreme Court has struck another blow against gerrymandering. "Five of the state Supreme Court's seven justices essentially told the legislature: If you can't agree on a proper map, we'll pick one for you. They approved a trial judge's ruling accepting the Florida House of Representatives' plan for 19 of Florida's 27 districts — but rejected its proposal for the other eight, which cover South Florida. For the remaining eight districts, the courts instead approved a map proposed by those groups that had sued — including the League of Women Voters and Common Cause."

As the majority put it in this week's ruling, they concluded that "Republican political operatives successfully infiltrated the redistricting process with the coordination and cooperation of the Legislature, resulting in a redistricting plan that was tainted with improper partisan intent."

All Politicians Lie. Some Lie More Than Others.

Fact-checker Angie Drobnic Holan wrote in the NY Times All Politicians Lie. Some Lie More Than Others..

Screen Shot 2015 12 14 at 8 26 24 PM

I found the following two paragraphs kind of depressing:

Today’s TV journalists — anchors like Chuck Todd, Jake Tapper and George Stephanopoulos — have picked up the torch of fact-checking and now grill candidates on issues of accuracy during live interviews. Most voters don’t think it’s biased to question people about whether their seemingly fact-based statements are accurate. Research published earlier this year by the American Press Institute showed that more than eight in 10 Americans have a positive view of political fact-checking.

In fact, journalists regularly tell me their media organizations have started highlighting fact-checking in their reporting because so many people click on fact-checking stories after a debate or high-profile news event. Many readers now want fact-checking as part of traditional news stories as well; they will vocally complain to ombudsmen and readers’ representatives when they see news stories repeating discredited factual claims.

Really? "Most voters don’t think it’s biased to question people about whether their seemingly fact-based statements are accurate." Isn't that what reporting is? And journalists are starting to do fact-checking because of click-throughs? Sigh, if that's what it takes.

As Krugman points out, the facts have a well-known liberal bias. I think this chart would have been clearer if the names had been color coded by party; lots of red up top and lots of blue down below.

Gun Stuff

Before we knew much about the San Bernardino shooters Vox explained How fixing America’s mental health system might catch future mass shooters.

A bill proposed by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), the only clinical psychologist in Congress, wants to close many of the fissures in the country’s mental health system that have allowed those shooters to slip through. The bill, first proposed in 2013 and reintroduced in June, is a transparent effort by Murphy — who maintains an A rating from the NRA — to divert the conversation away from limiting potential shooters’ access to guns. But politics aside, the bill is chock full of proposals that are as likely as any to catch and treat mass shooters before they snap.

  • Increase access to inpatient mental health treatment
  • Compel patients to accept early treatment — before they reach a crisis point
  • Allow families to know what’s going on with relatives receiving treatment
  • It doesn't prevent individuals with serious mental illness from obtaining guns.

Dylan Matthews explains whether There have been 353 mass shootings this year — or just 4?

How gun control works in America, compared with 4 other rich countries Compares the US, Canada, UK, Switzerland and Japan gun laws.

A shocking statistic about gun deaths in the US is that "Of all children aged 0-14 killed by guns in developed countries...87% are US children".

Mother Jones answers, Do Armed Civilians Stop Mass Shooters? Actually, No.. "As I reported recently in our in-depth investigation, not one of 62 mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years has been stopped this way. More broadly, attempts by armed civilians to intervene in shooting rampages are rare—and are successful even more rarely. (Two people who tried it in recent years were gravely wounded or killed.) And law enforcement overwhelmingly hates the idea of armed citizens getting involved." He goes on to debunk five commonly cited examples by gun rights activists.

If you want a funnier examination of the issue, The Daily Show tests if a "good guy with a gun" can stop a mass shooting

Star Trek Beyond Trailer

The Star Trek Beyond trailer leaked and then was released by Paramount.

I am not impressed. It looks like a Fast & Furious movie, which isn't surprising given the director is Justin Lin.

  • Idris Elba looks like G'Kar from Babylon 5.
  • Apparently they go to the planet of Thunderdome.
  • Continuing the Star Trek movie tradition of destroying the Enterprise.
  • At least I didn't notice many lens flares.
  • Imagine if Paramount hired people that understood Star Trek to make their ultra expensive movies.

Update: This gives me some hope, 'Star Trek Beyond's' Justin Lin Reveals Details About Idris Elba's Villain.

Update: And this helps too, Simon Pegg ‘Didn’t Love’ the ‘Star Trek Beyond’ Trailer, Asks Fans to ‘Hang in There’.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What it's like to be black at Princeton

Brittney Winters explains What it's like to be black at Princeton. I found it a fascinating read. This is just from the start of it:

I tend to chalk up my ambivalence about Princeton to my experience as a lower-middle-class black woman on campus. It felt like the expectations of the university were constantly shifting goalposts that I could never hope to meet. My introductory-level science instructors would grant me extensions when I was sick from stress, but then my freshman adviser would admit that he purposely told me to sign up for too many classes in a semester because he wanted to weed me out of premedical studies. I shared that adviser with many students, and from what I heard the only ones who received such treatment were minorities.

The university paid for me to go home during an internship to attend my uncle's funeral, but then my department head essentially told me to get over it when I told him that grieving the deaths of my pastor, uncle, and aunt in one year was making it difficult to cope. Based on his response, it seemed impossible for him to believe that a student could have a pastor gunned down in a robbery, an uncle murdered, and an aunt who died of untreated cancer all in one year. He seemed to think that I was making up tragedies in order to get out of classwork or to cover up academic inadequacies. To me, it seemed that since he had never experienced a life that was so frequently beset by setbacks, he couldn't empathize with a student who came from a background where these things happen, maybe not with regularity, but with relative frequency.

Debunking Ted Cruz Lies At His Climate Change Hearing

Ted Cruz Challenged Science At His Climate Change Hearing. Science Won. Emily Atkin debunks Cruz's scientific points one by one. She points out that he mixed up the Arctic and Antarctic; while CO2 has been higher it was before the time of humans; that while 2011 was the low of ice in the Arctic and Antarctic we're still in a downward trend; and pointing out that people before the scientific method thought the sun revolved around the earth doesn't mean anything.

Cruz is a smart man, smart enough to understand these arguments. It leaves me with only one conclusion that he's deliberately lying about climate change. I honestly don't know why anyone would do that, we're talking about dramatically affecting all human life.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Thursday, December 03, 2015

The 58 most commonly misused words and phrases

The Independent lists The 58 most commonly misused words and phrases "Whether you're trying to sound sophisticated or simply repeating what you've heard, word fails are all too common and can make smart people sound dumb. In his latest book, 'The Sense of Style,' Harvard cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker explores the most common words and phrases that people stumble over."

I knew most (including "irregardless") but learned a few. I have misused "hone" and "disinterested" and learned about "enormity". A few I never use so I'm not sure how "commonly misused" they are.

Reinventing Cancer Surgery--By Designing A Better Hospital Experience

Co.Design writes Reinventing Cancer Surgery--By Designing A Better Hospital Experience "Memorial Sloan Kettering’s new $300 million cancer center focuses on the well-being of the patient—even as they move you through the process as quickly as possible."

Inside the nearly finished Josie Robertson Surgery Center (JRSC), the waiting room feels more like a fancy co-working space for families to camp out, play games, get work done, and grab a bite to eat. The patient rooms—all private, with private bathrooms—have floor-to-ceiling windows; the floors have unique art and poetry, central gathering places for a buffet breakfast and socializing; the figure-eight hallways double as walking paths for post-surgery exercise. Even the 550-person staff will get a well-thought out space that goes far beyond the usual hospital cafeteria. If cancer wasn't involved, it’s a place you could imagine wanting to hang out.

Other health care trends may also help explain JRSC’s unique, patient-friendly setup. The hospital, a nationally leading cancer center, is facing more competition, as many hospitals build fancy facilities to attract business from aging baby boomers. And in the Obamacare era, both patient satisfaction and cost efficiency are important metrics for insurance reimbursement. So a one-night stay will obviously cost less than two, especially if a patient leaves without feeling rushed. "While it might not be that hard, medically, to get someone out the door, having them emotionally and spiritually happy and feeling supported is really a big deal," says Simon.

They describe lots of changes. "Everyone in the hospital—doctors, staff, and most importantly, patients, and their family—will wear a real-time location badges, which, says Ohayon, 'changes the whole notion of what a hospital serves to do.'". Less pagers and phone calls and more hospital staff going directly to patients. Also the rooms are designed so the patient can stay in them and nurses and equipment can come to them.

Mitch McConnell Boxes in Wingnuts to Get a Budget

Politico reported Obamacare repeal: Mitch McConnell boxes in Cruz, Rubio.

Kevin Drum puts it all in perspective, Mitch McConnell Has Met The Enemy, and It Is Him.

Politico has a fascinating story today. It's all about Mitch McConnell's months of LBJ-worthy maneuvering to get legislation passed that would repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood, thus paving the way for a clean budget bill later this year. But here's the kicker: he wasn't engaged in Herculean negotiations with Democrats. He was engaged in Herculean negotiations with his own party. The goal was to somehow trick them into supporting the Obamacare/PP bill, which was entirely symbolic since President Obama would veto it instantly, paving the way for a budget bill later this month that Obama could sign.

Since the summer, the Senate majority leader had spoken with influential organizations opposing abortion such as National Right to Life and the Susan B. Anthony List to ensure they would back his move to link the Obamacare repeal with a measure to defund Planned Parenthood....Anti-abortion groups vowed to score against any senator who rejected the anti-Planned Parenthood provision, exerting additional pressure on conservative lawmakers who would have seen their sterling pro-life ratings tarnished if the defunding language was dropped.

Apparently McConnell persuaded the anti-abortion folks that their cause was better served by electing a Republican president in 2016, and the best way to do that was to avoid a protracted government shutdown over a budget bill that Democrats would fight if it included the PP defunding language. Instead, he proposed a symbolic standalone bill that allows everyone to vote against Obamacare and Planned Parenthood. Obama will veto it; everyone will shrug and say "we tried"; and then a clean budget bill will be negotiated and signed.

And that's that. In today's Washington, passing bills isn't a matter of getting Republicans and Democrats to agree. They can usually manage that. The trick is somehow neutering the wingnut faction of the Republican Party. Once that's done, negotiations between the two parties are (relatively speaking) a piece of cake. Welcome to 2015.

Why Negative Interest Rates Are Becoming the New Normal

Neil Irwin writes in The NY Times, Why Negative Interest Rates Are Becoming the New Normal "The flaw in the old concept of the ‘zero lower bound’ seems to have been this: There are a lot of benefits to keeping money in a bank besides the interest you earn. If you keep $10,000 in savings in a bank, and the bank gets robbed, you’re unaffected; the bank is on the hook for the losses. If you keep it in your freezer, theft is your problem. The peace of mind of having your $10,000 in a federally insured bank account and the ability to write a check to make a purchase or wire money to a family member are valuable. More valuable, it seems likely, than the $30 in annual costs that would apply if the Fed put in place the E.C.B.’s new negative 0.3 percent rate."

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Oscars: 15 Documentary Features Make Shortlist

Oscars: 15 Documentary Features Make Shortlist. The Academy announced the 15 films that have been shortlisted for Best Documentary Feature of 2015. The list is below. I've seen the ones in bold:

  • Amy - Really good doc about Amy Winehouse 4/5
  • Best of Enemies - about the Buckley/Vidal debates and I feel like I saw something about that on cable recently, but I can't figure out if it was this.
  • Cartel Land - The half about a doctor in Mexico leading uprising against the cartels is really great, the other half about US citizens patroling the US border looking for smugglers isn't as strong. 4/5
  • Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief - Exposing the cult for what it is 4/5
  • He Named Me Malala
  • Heart of a Dog
  • The Hunting Ground
  • Listen to Me Marlon
  • The Look of Silence - Astounding companion piece to The Act of Killing 5/5
  • Meru
  • 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets - This is on HBO this month
  • We Come As Friends
  • What Happened, Miss Simone?
  • Where to Invade Next - Michael Moore picks successful policy ideas from European countries to bring back to the US 3/5
  • Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Also, there's no doubt that Call Me Lucky was robbed. It's one of the best films I've seen this year. I also really liked Finders Keepers and Welcome to Leith.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Can the MacBook Pro Replace Your iPad?

Fraser Spears wrote a pretty funny article Can the MacBook Pro Replace Your iPad?. It's a review of a MacBook Pro in the tone of many of iPad Pro reviews I've seen. A sample:

Firstly, consider the hardware. The huge issue with the MacBook Pro is its form factor. The fact that the keyboard and screen are limited to being held in an L-shaped configuration seriously limits its flexibility. It is basically impossible to use a MacBook pro while standing up and downright dangerous to use when walking around. Your computing is limited to times when you are able to find somewhere to sit down.

I've played with an iPad Pro and it is really nice. I love looking at the big the screen and the on-screen keyboard is definitely an improvement. But I don't love holding the big screen. It's a bit awkward to hold one-handed and it's a bit heavy to hold for a while.

My sister wanted to replace her iPad 2 and spent a couple of hours in the Apple Store last week debating between the Pro and the Air 2. She didn't need cellular and 64GB was plenty; of course that would have meant a 128GB Pro. Watching her play with each I noticed she typically held the iPad in one hand and typed with the other; but with the Pro, she let it tilt so the other corner leaned against the table. She didn't realize she was doing it until I pointed it out. While the Pencil is amazing to use, I think it's really for artists. The keyboard cover does seem a thing to get. Everyone types and no one likes typing on a glass screen, and why invest $59 or $79 in a cover or case only to get the keyboard one later. With the Air there's no keyboard option and I find a cover (as opposed to a case) has been good enough. A Pro also means getting a new bag to carry it in. So including AppleCare+ the price difference is a significant $480.

  • 128GB iPad Pro, keyboard cover, AppleCare: $949 + $169 + $99 = $1217
  • 64GB iPad Air 2, smart cover, AppleCare: $599 + $39 + $99 = $737

I suspect the next generation of iPad Pro will be more interesting. A 64GB model would bring down the price $100. Like all things Apple I suspect it will get thinner and lighter. If they add ForceTouch to the keyboard it could be really interesting (so I'd be happy with a cover rather than the keyboard one). At $1007 ($849 + $59 + $99) it seems a more reasonable splurge, being just $270 more than the Air. A thousand dollars is still a lot for an additional device but it's also a good deal less than a MacBook.

Sites Asking to Push Notifications in Safari

Today I learned about this setting in Safari on OS X to turn off web sites asking permission to send push notifications. Uncheck that box at the bottom.

Screen Shot 2015 11 30 at 4 39 17 PM

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Iran JCPOA ain't a treaty (or an executive agreement, for that matter)

Marty Lederman at Balkinization has confirmed, The Iran JCPOA ain't a treaty (or an executive agreement, for that matter). See this pdf from the State Department.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not a treat or an executive agreement,a nd is not a signed document. The JCPOA reflects political commitments between Iran, The P5+1 (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China), and the European Union. As you know, the United States has a long-standing practice of addressing sensitive problems in negotiations that culminate in political commitments.

The success of the JCPOA will depend not on whether it is legally binding or signed, but rather on the extensive verification measures we have put in place, as well as Iran's understanding that we have the capacity ro re-impose -- and ramp up -- our sanctions if Iran does not meet its commitments.

Everything in the JCPOA and its annexes are commitments Iran made, and must keep, to remain in compliance. If Iran breaks these commitments, we can snap back both unilateral and UN sanctions.

The part Lederman is confirming is that Republicans knew of this arrangement, and aren't arguing the constitutional aspects of such a commitment:

But here's what's so interesting to me, and what I meant to stress in my last post: Despite the general, deep polarization Mark describes, there is no such polarization on the constitutional questions that Jack and Sandy raised, because of a remarkable settlement that has been established over the past 100 years of U.S. foreign policy and diplomatic practice--a settlement that, I might add, was unknown to approximately 99% of all law professors (myself included), ignorant as most of us are concerning the way that the government actually functions in foreign affairs. (For much more on the extraordinary disconnect between the academy's hidebound, "received wisdom" views and the actual constitutional practice of foreign relations as conducted by the U.S. Department of State, see Harold Koh's terrific 2012 Ryan Lecture here at Georgetown.)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Spooky Action at a Distance at Room Temperature

Physicists Can Now Achieve Quantum Entanglement at Room Temperature. "A team from the University of Chicago have demonstrated that it’s possible to entangle electrons at room temperature in a silicon carbide wafer. To do that, the team used infrared laser light to align the magnetic states of thousands of electrons in a 40 micrometer-cubed volume of the semiconductor, then applied magnetic pulses to entangle them."

The Birth of Skynet

NeuralTalk and Walk on Vimeo.

Andrej Karpathy's "NeuralTalk" code slightly modified to run from a webcam feed. I recorded this live while walking near the bridge at Damstraat and Oudezijds Voorburgwal in Amsterdam.

All processing is done on my 2013 MacBook Pro with the NVIDIA 750M and only 2GB of GPU memory. I'm walking around with my laptop open pointing it at things, hence the shaky footage and people staring at themselves. The openFrameworks code for streaming the webcam and reading from disk is available at

NeuralTalk and Walk from Kyle McDonald on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Buster Keaton - The Art of the Gag

Every Frame a Painting looks at Buster Keaton - The Art of the Gag. A few years ago I set up a TiVo Wishlist for Buster Keaton (and others for Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd) as TCM often shows a short or a feature or does a marathon for a day. They're really rewarding. As the 8 min video below points out, most still hold up and while I got to see several films with classic scenes, I also saw several less well known gems. The last one I discovered is Chaplin's The Circus, which I thought was hilarious, one of his best, and I had never heard of it before.

I didn't know Keaton did each stunt once and only once (and if he didn't get it, he removed it from the film). The stunts at 6:40 and 7:30 are amazing. To think that a star did (or attempted) them in a movie is crazy. Recently the only actor coming close to Keaton was Jackie Chan. Now I'd have to say it's Tom Cruise, and I give him lots of credit for it. But both of them do multiple takes. To realize that every stunt we see Keaton do in a film was accomplished on the first take is incredible.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

My white neighbor thought I was breaking into my own apartment. Nineteen cops showed up.

The Washington Post has this crazy story, My white neighbor thought I was breaking into my own apartment. Nineteen cops showed up.

I had so many questions. Why hadn’t they announced themselves? Why had they pointed guns at me? Why had they refused to answer when I asked repeatedly what was going on? Was it protocol to send more than a dozen cops to a suspected burglary? Why hadn’t anyone asked for my ID or accepted it, especially after I’d offered it? If I hadn’t heard the dog, would I have opened the door to a gun in my face? “Maybe,” they answered.

I demanded all of their names and was given few. Some officers simply ignored me when I asked, boldly turning and walking away. Afterward, I saw them talking to neighbors, but they ignored me when I approached them again. A sergeant assured me that he’d personally provide me with all names and badge numbers.

I got no clear answers from the police that night and am still struggling to get them, despite multiple visits, calls and e-mails to the Santa Monica Police Department requesting the names of the officers, their badge numbers, the audio from my neighbor’s call to 911 and the police report. The sergeant didn’t e-mail me the officers’ names as he promised. I was told that the audio of the call requires a subpoena and that the small army of responders, guns drawn, hadn’t merited an official report. I eventually received a list from the SMPD of 17 officers who came to my apartment that night, but the list does not include the names of two officers who handed me their business cards on the scene. I’ve filed an official complaint with internal affairs.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

History of Telephone Tapping

The Wikipedia page on the history of Telephone tapping is pretty interesting. There's a constant back and forth between new technology and about 10 years later government wanting easy access. There's also a long history of government exceeding legal means to tap private communications. Also this:
In the Greek telephone tapping case 2004–2005 more than 100 mobile phone numbers belonging mostly to members of the Greek government, including the Prime Minister of Greece, and top-ranking civil servants were found to have been illegally tapped for a period of at least one year. The Greek government concluded this had been done by a foreign intelligence agency, for security reasons related to the 2004 Olympic Games, by unlawfully activating the lawful interception subsystem of the Vodafone Greece mobile network. An Italian tapping case which surfaced in November 2007 revealed significant manipulation of the news at the national television company RAI.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Post Paris Stupidity

Republicans have started to say that we shouldn't take in Syrian refugees because they might be terrorists.

Bullshit. First off, this just shows how afraid (and stupid) they are. The refugees are the people fleeing ISIS. And young orphans aren't terrorists. And they say we're taking too many (Trump said hundreds of thousands). In fact we've said we'd take only 10,000, way less than other nations and the vetting process is quite extensive, taking 18-24 months, they must have UN refugee status, go through various interviews and background checks, biometric data and involving "the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Federal Bureau of Investigation". Yes we should have strict vetting and we do, it's slow enough that we're way behind schedule. And now (Republican) governors are saying they won't take them into their state, as if they have any control over this. Though the Washington Post points out How Republican governors could again make life miserable for Syrian refugees. Republican Presidential hopeful (and asshole) Ted Cruz and front runner Jeb Bush have said we should only let in Christian refugees. Nope, that's not religious discrimination at all. Seriously these guys should never lecture anyone on the Constitution.

The other big thing in the news is about how terrorists use encryption and since Snowden is gotten worse and Paris is his fault. Again, bullshit. Glenn Greenwald rips this argument to threads in Exploiting Emotions About Paris to Blame Snowden, Distract from Actual Culprits Who Empowered ISIS. Terrorists use lots of technology just like anyone does. We know the terrorists used cars to travel during their attacks, why is no one talking about banning cars, or giving governments a kills switch to disable cars when we're in a yellow alert? Also, the terrorists assume the US is listening to all their electronic communications, so they don't use them much.

And Snowden's revelation wasn't that the NSA listens to terrorists (or even foreigners), that's what they're supposed to do. What Snowden revealed is that the NSA is listening to every American. Putting "backdoors" in everything will make your communications less secure to everyone, like hackers and terrorists and China. Your health care records, bank accounts, employment records, photos, emails, etc. And lets be clear, U.S. Mass Surveillance Has No Record of Thwarting Large Terror Attacks, Regardless of Snowden Leaks.

Despite the intelligence community’s attempts to blame NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for the tragic attacks in Paris on Friday, the NSA’s mass surveillance programs do not have a track record — before or after Snowden — of identifying or thwarting actual large-scale terrorist plots.

But the reason there haven’t been any large-scale terror attacks by ISIS in the U.S. is not because they were averted by the intelligence community, but because — with the possible exception of one that was foiled by local police — none were actually planned.

Even still, the metadata collection program is supposed to give valuable intelligence even if the messages are encrypted. But that's not working out so well, The Paris attacks weren’t stopped by metadata surveillance. That hasn’t stopped officials from saying it might have.

Yes, Terrorists Use Encryption But That Doesn't Mean It's A Bad Thing. "According to Canetti, Boston University cryptography professor: “[Law enforcement] developing better encryption-cracking tools is a very good thing. But they should concentrate on encryption made by bad guys. Making the everyday encryption of the general public weak isn’t going to get you what you want, [not] when it comes to coordinated terrorist attacks. There’s no silver bullet answer. It took us hundreds of years to get democracy right…It’s going to take time for us to get this right.”"

And to the idiots that can't distinguish between ISIS and Islam; would you rather fight ISIS who's size estimate is about 50,000 to 250,000 people, or Islam with over 1,500,000,000 followers. Can you keep it straight now?

Smart on Terrorism by Nancy LeTourneau. "Because once again, the Republicans are attempting to drag us into making stupid moves in order to avoid being labeled “soft on terrorism.” So it’s time for Democrats to get out ahead of this kind of fear-mongering. I’d suggest they do something similar to what former Attorney General Eric Holder did to combat the “soft on crime” message…he began a Smart on Crime initiative. When it comes to terrorism, we’d don’t need the bellicose chest-thumping we’re hearing from Republicans, we need leadership that is smart on terrorism."

The new dialog between the US and Russia is a case in point. While before, the US couldn't help Russia and Russia couldn't help the US, it turns out it might be possible for both the US and Russia to help France. And maybe even Iran, Saudi Arabia and China could too.

Here are some other interesting articles on how we shouldn't overreact.

And finally, he's a wonderful father explaining all of this to his young son. Lots of people could learn this lesson (and no you're not supposed to take flowers v guns literally).

The real reason Japan's economy keeps stumbling into recession

The real reason Japan's economy keeps stumbling into recession:

Japan is back in recession. The country's GDP shrank 0.8 percent in the third quarter of 2015 after shrinking in the second quarter, so it meets the technical definition. On its surface, this looks like a damning indictment of "Abenomics" — a program of aggressive money printing that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered upon taking office a few years back in order to jolt the Japanese economy out of its doldrums. But look closer and you'll see that the opposite is the case.

Only two people born in the 1800s are still alive today

Only two people born in the 1800s are still alive today "The two oldest living people in the world, American Susannah Mushatt Jones and Italian Emma Morano-Martinuzzi, were both born in 1899, making them the last living human links to the 1800s. The USA Today profiled both women back in June."

The Acro-Cats on Colbert

This 4.5 minute performance perfectly encapsulates cats. The Acro-Cats

Monday, November 16, 2015

GOP Blocks Veterans Bill

The Hill reports GOP blocks veterans bill.

"Senate Republicans stopped Democrats from advancing a bill that would have expanded healthcare and education programs for veterans. In a 56-41 vote Thursday, the motion to waive a budget point of order against the bill failed, as Democrats fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the Republican roadblock. GOP Sens. Dean Heller (Nev.) and Jerry Moran (Kan.) voted with Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) refused to allow a GOP substitute amendment to get an up-or-down vote because it included Iran sanctions, which he said were unrelated to veterans’ issues."

While this case also has the Iran sanction angle, the reason for all of these kinds of disputes is how is the bill paid for. If Democrats had their way, I'm sure they'd just raise a tax, and to help veterans I'd hope the American people would be okay with that. But no, Republicans hate all taxes, feeling we pay enough already and so the current rules are that all expenditures must be paid for by eliminating something else we currently pay for.

In this case, "Sanders paid for the more than $20 billion bill by limiting overseas contingency funds from 2018-2021. Republicans have said the early troop withdrawals in Afghanistan and Iraq have overextended funds in the Overseas Contingency Operations account. They argue it’s not a real pay-for because those funds are essentially “off budget” and not subject to discretionary spending caps."

So now we're arguing semantics instead of helping veterans. Jon Stewart would be bringing this up on The Daily Show. He might still in whatever new capacity he can (maybe an op-ed). I doubt Trevor Noah will. Maybe John Oliver will. In the mean time, veterans pay the price.

I think Democrats should propose a bill that straight up pays for it with a tax on high frequency trading and when Republican lawmakers reject it, make them explain it to the American people.

Friday, November 13, 2015

101 Funniest Screenplays List

The WGA lists 101 Funniest Screenplays. I've seen them all and while I can disagree with the order of some (Bridesmaids and Something About Mary would be much lower for me), it's a pretty solid list.

iPad Pro and Apple Envy

A few years ago, going into an Apple Store was kinda boring for me. I had a new iMac, a recent iPhone and iPad and an AppleTV. There wasn't much there for me to covet, and even playing with stuff wasn't that interesting because it wasn't customized for me.

Today I went into the Apple Store to look at the new iPad Pro. Since getting my iPad 2 I've wanted a bigger iPad for two principle reasons. First I wanted a full sized on-screen keyboard. The one on the iPad and now the iPad Air is a little smaller. Second, I wanted the page to be a full 8.5 x 11 so that magazines and particularly comics could be seen at full sized. Lots of magazine apps found ways to cope, either by basically being a full page pdf that you zoomed and scrolled around (which sucked) or by doing that and having an Instapaper-like "reading mode" which seemed dumb. If you're a magazine and you need a separate reading mode, you're doing it wrong. Or some, like Entertainment Weekly (best) and Wired (good, at times odd) did a lot to redisign their magazine for the iPad screen. In comics, once iPad's got retina displays I could mostly read the page shown in full, though they also had a mode that zoomed in on each panel with a swipe. Comics are designed to show the whole page at once, so panel-by-panel was a lesser experience.

The Apple Store didn't have a comics app on the iPad Pro so I couldn't check that out, but it seems it does show a full page at full size. Double page spreads are still an issue compared to paper. I did play with the on-screen keyboard and it is definitely nicer than the one on the iPad Air 2. But it's still a glass keyboard with no feedback. I played with the keyboard screen cover and it was surprisingly nice. Definitely an improvement over the on-screen one. If you're going to do a lot of typing, I'd definitely consider it.

I also played with the pencil and as the reviews have all stated, it's great. It feels very responsive while writing, much better than any stylus I've used and I had no problems with palm rejection.

I didn't try the speakers

In general I agree with all the reviews of the iPad Pro I've seen. It's big. It's heavy, though lighter than you'd expect. The pencil is great. The keyboard is good (though there need to be some more keyboard shortcuts). It seems little too big to comfortably hold with one hand, though it's doable and it might get more natural with practice. After having the iPad 2 for several years, the iPad Air 2 is practically ethereal. It would be great to use at a desk, I'm not sure about on a couch.

My iPad Air 2 is just about a year old, and runs great, even better with the new iOS 9 features. So I can wait a few years before upgrading to a Pro. Maybe the price will come down a little, and the weight, and I'm sure iOS 10 and 11 will add significant improvements to it. The on-screen keyboard could be very interesting if they could get the haptic feedback from the new touchpad or Apple Watch.

But visiting the Apple Store I realized there are lot of toys I don't have. I played with the new Apple TV and the remote is pretty nice. Since I'm all in on TiVo and movie channels from FiOS I don't really need to consume TV or movies from Apple. I looked at the Apple Watch again and it's nice. I can still wait for an update or two. While I love my 27" iMac, I'm interested in a small laptop for use when not at my desk (in the living room or while travelling). A MacBook seems like the right device, but I can wait a revision or two for a little more power. The 15" MacBook Pro seemed huge, the 13" seemed nice but a little more than I need. The Air would be pretty good, though a retina screen is starting to be the minimum for me. I suspect Apple will sort all that out in the next year or two. I tried the new keyboard and trackpad and they're nice, but I see no need to upgrade. I do wish they'd make a full keyboard with a number pad.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Incredible hack could give Apple Watch ability to detect objects you touch

This seems like magic, Incredible hack could give Apple Watch ability to detect objects you touch “Apple Watch is great at interacting with other smart devices, but a cheap hack allows it to recognize everyday (dumb) objects based on their invisible electromagnetic signals. All it takes is a $10 chip that can be installed on any smartwatch. Check out the demo below:”

The 100 is the Successor to BATTLESTAR GALACTICA You’ve Been Waiting For?

Devin Faraci (and Film Critic Hulk) say that the CW’s The 100 is The Successor To BATTLESTAR GALACTICA You’ve Been Waiting For. I watched the first 3 eps or so and wasn’t impressed, though apparently it started getting good just after this. Has anyone watched it? What do you think?

The Past, Present, and Future of DNA

Last month I went to a Harvard Symposium on The Past, Present, and Future of DNA. They’ve posted the video of the event so here are my raw notes from it (any mistakes are mine).

The one-day science symposium will focus on the explosion of knowledge about past and present DNA, and will include discussions about possible directions and applications for future research. The event will include experts in ancient DNA, de-extinction, human origins, population genetics, forensic science, ethics, business, future synthetic life, and the personal genome.

9:30am WELCOME

  • Lizabeth Cohen, Dean of the Radcliffe Institute and Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies, Department of History, Harvard University
  • First isolated in 1869
  • Microbes Hunters and The Eighth Day of Creation books


  • Janet Rich-Edwards, Codirector of the Science Program, Radcliffe Institute; Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Adding nucleotides to code more codons
  • Mitochondria have their own DNA, inherit item just from mom. Have less repair mechanisms than nuclear DNA.
  • Mitochondrial Eve, 150,000 years ago in Ethiopia
  • Spider-goat - transgenic goat whose milk can be strung into fibers 10x stronger than steel.



Moderator: George Church

  • Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School

John Hawks

  • Vilas-Borghesi Distinguished Achievement Professor of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Has a blog, runs a MOOC
  • Goram caves, sites of Neanderthals
  • In last 20 years we have finally agreed on role of Neanderthals in our evolution
  • Living people today have Neanderthal ancestors, regionally distributed in surprising ways
  • East Asians more, then European, then African
  • Neanderthals come from European as well as central Asian sites
  • Denisova caves show a new humanoid species, that coexisted with Neanderthals
  • Field guide to Pleistocene Hookups
  • Every archaic human group interbred with each other
  • Every population before 40,000 years ago has been through a period of very high inbreeding
  • Neanderthals did not survive unaltered for 100,000s years. Much more dynamic
  • Europe has more mixing in it than we thought. Lots of colonization from other places, post-farming
  • Today’s populations are a mixture of ancient progenitor populations that no longer exist
  • Interbreeding with ancient populations provided raw materials for human adaptations
  • Changing excavation practices to get DNA

Beth Shapiro

  • Associate Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • How to Clone a Mammoth
  • Sequencing the Dead
  • Found DNA in old stuff, like dinosaur DNA in Amber, wasn’t real. DNA decays
  • Organisms have DNA repair processes but of course these require energy
  • Cold helps. Oldest known DNA from Dawson Yukon, 700,000 years old (ash layer from volcano eruptions). In bad condition but were able to sequence whole genome. A horse.
  • Field is Ancient DNA. She started in 1999. Works in Beringia (Alaska, Russia)
  • Collect bones from animals, with DNA can find population size over time
  • Modern sequencers can do amazing things with short fragments. Other fields don’t like this, but these guys only have short fragments
  • Found a new camel species
  • Looked at horse domestication history
  • Can we clone a mammoth? No.
  • Asian elephants are closest relative to mammoth. 6 millions years of difference , not very much, just 1%
  • Hemoglobin difference is in three places, expressed these, found mammoths were better at delivering oxygen when it’s cold
  • Pleistocene Park. Guy introduced big animals like were there and just their presence over a few summers has brought back grass.

Spencer Wells

  • Scientist, author, entrepreneur, and former explorer-in-residence and director of the Genographic Project at National Geographic
  • The Human Journey -migration patterns
  • Apes 23m yrs ago
  • ~16m years ago africa bumped into Asia and species spread
  • Humans are 99.9% same genetically
  • African Adam and Eve 140,000–200,000 years ago
  • Only left Africa 60,000 years ago
  • The Genographic Project
  • 700,000 participants


  • While we each might have 3% Neanderthal genome, we each have different parts of it. Combine people in this room and you probably get close to half of Neanderthal genome.
  • ~75,000 years ago humans had a near extinction event, down to just 10,000 of us and we came back, so that’s a reason there’s so little variation.



Introducer: Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr.

  • Clinical Professor of Law; Director, Criminal Justice Institute, Harvard Law School

Greg Hampikian

  • Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Joint appointment in Department of Criminal Justice, Director of the Idaho Innocence Project, Boise State University
  • Happy Wrongful Convictions Day
  • Average time on death row before exoneration is 9 years
  • We know the genes and base pairs that do eye color (blue and brown, hazel is a little more difficult)
  • Databases with DNA, crime scene DNA, can look for exact match, but if none, look for half match to find family members.
  • Y-STRs are tied to last name, mitochondrial DNA is tied to mother. Public genealogy database combine these.
  • Sperm cells are different from other cells and we can separate them from others in samples
  • Given a profile, is a sample included or excluded or inconclusive. A statistics problem and it’s not always clear
  • Given tests to different labs, get back wildly different results



Introducer: Danielle Allen

  • Director, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, and Professor, Department of Government and Graduate School of Education, Harvard University

Arthur Caplan

  • Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor of Bioethics; Director, Division of Medical Ethics, Department of Population Health, NYU Langone Medical Center, NYU School of Medicine
  • Genetic Testing For Neurological Disorders: Ethical Challenges
  • We can test for Down’s syndrome and have been able for a while
  • It’s faced the ethical challenges that other testing will face
  • Given a prenatal tests, parents could do a lot of different things, some good some bad
  • Lookup Down’s on web, get different answer per website, Down’s, CDC, WebMD
  • Some states with laws about informing parents about down fetus and some banning aborting of down fetuses
  • Future is a big abortion battle based on testing



Moderator: Christine Seidman

  • Thomas W. Smith Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Jacob Corn

  • Scientific Director, Innovative Genomics Initiative; Assistant Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Structural Biology, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley
  • The Genome Editing Revolution
  • Passed around a model of some enzyme (Cas9)
  • Reading DNA is faster than writing. Reading is growing faster than Moores law.
  • 1990s Zinc Fingered clueless
  • 2009 TAL Effector Nuclease - protein based recognition engineered Nuclease
  • 2012 CRISPR/Cas9 - targeting RNA endogenous Nuclease $100 and < 1 week
  • Cas9 is a bacterial immune system
  • Cas9 does a double stranded cut, not the edit
  • Gene editing to cure blood diseases
  • Seems to work everywhere, bacteria, virus, yeast, mice, chickens, cows, humans, etc.
  • Good for science testing. On organisms that we don’t know much about can use this to edit genes and see effects.
  • A German man was cured of HIV by getting a transplant from someone with a particular mutation (by coincidence), now looking to do this via editing

Alison Murdoch

  • Professor of Reproductive Medicine and Head of Department, Institute of Genetic Medicine, International Fertility Centre for Life, Newcastle University (United Kingdom)
  • The Science and Politics of Mitochondrial Donation (In the UK)
  • Large variety of mtDNA caused diseases
  • Nuclear DNA encode 32,000 genes
  • mtDNA encodes 37 genes
  • Mitochondrial transfer in embryos idea is 5 years old
  • Done in monkeys in 2009
  • Still not legal in UK on humans, is it ethical?
  • Just became legal in Oct 2015, treatment in a few months

Floyd Romesberg

  • Professor, Department of Chemistry, The Scripps Research Institute
  • Expanding the Genetic Alphabet
  • Predominantly hydrophobic nucleotides
  • Details of finding bases that pair well and don’t interfere with existing ones


Janet Rich-Edwards


What I Learned on My Red State Book Tour

Robert Reich wrote What I Learned on My Red State Book Tour and I found it encouraging. Sure, someone going to a Robert Reich book signing is self-selecting, but it’s nice to see overlap between the left and right on economic issues.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Hospitals expect you to price shop before you give birth. Good luck with that.

Sarah Kliff wrote on Vox Hospitals expect you to price shop before you give birth. Good luck with that.

The two women are co-workers with the same insurance plan. By coincidence, they happened to become pregnant around the same time and gave birth at the same hospital. They both selected in-network obstetricians to deliver their babies. Both chose to receive an epidural from an anesthesiologist as they gave birth — and that’s where things began to diverge. Here’s more from their co-authored blog post at Health Affairs:

Layla received an unexpected bill for $1,600 for anesthesiology services and warned Erin to expect the same. Yet Erin’s bill never came. Layla happened to deliver on a day when an out-of-network anesthesiologist was on call, while Erin was seen by an in-network anesthesiologist. Purely by chance, one of us received an expensive physician bill and the other did not have to pay a dime.

The two later figure out what happened: While the hospital they chose was in-network for the health insurance plan, Layla’s anesthesiologist was an out-of-network provider. Just because he worked at the hospital, that didn’t guarantee that he was one of the doctors that the insurer had in contract."

It’s the obvious problem of treating healthcare like a market, you can’t always shop around (even if you did have enough information to compare providers or treatments). The out-of-network doctor at an in-network hospital hadn’t occurred to me. She also pointed to this NY Times story, After Surgery, Surprise $117,000 Medical Bill From Doctor He Didn’t Know.

In operating rooms and on hospital wards across the country, physicians and other health providers typically help one another in patient care. But in an increasingly common practice that some medical experts call drive-by doctoring, assistants, consultants and other hospital employees are charging patients or their insurers hefty fees. They may be called in when the need for them is questionable. And patients usually do not realize they have been involved or are charging until the bill arrives.

Obviously you want doctors to help each other when needed, but there has to be a more rational way to compensate them. Particularly when in and out of network fees are so staggeringly different:

Screen Shot 2015 11 06 at 1 45 37 PM

digby displays the requisite outrage:

If a person is in their network approved hospital they should not be charged for services by people who have not contracted with that hospital. Period. This should be something that the insurance companies battle out with the hospitals not something about which an individual should even be aware. You follow the rules and go to your designated facility that should be the end of your responsibility. How it isn’t already is just mind-boggling.

The hoops you have to go through if you’re travelling or if you’re taken to a hospital out of network are already ridiculous. Emergencies should be paid by insurance without question wherever we are in the country. But this takes it to a whole new level. You’re in an emergency medical situation and you’re expected to inquire as to whether your doctors are in your network? And what if they aren’t? Are you expected to stop treatment until they offer you someone who is? It’s crazy.

Exxon Mobil Under State Investigation Over Climate Change Research

The Verge reports Exxon Mobil under state investigation over climate change research.

Oil and gas giant Exxon Mobil is the target of a new state investigation that seeks to determine whether the company deliberately misled the public about the risks of climate change. The New York Times reports that New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a subpoena to the company on Wednesday, in which he demanded access to financial records, emails, and other documentation, dating back to the late 1970s.

The investigation will include a ten-year period from the mid–1990s to 2007, during which Exxon Mobil provided funding to groups and scientists who rejected or attacked climate change. Speaking in the wake of the subpoena, Kenneth P. Cohen, Exxon Mobil’s vice president for public affairs, said that the company ‘unequivocally reject[s] the allegations that Exxon Mobil has suppressed climate-change research.’ But recent reports have indicated that Exxon Mobil was indeed conscious of the risks of climate change, choosing to fund groups that denied concepts of global warming even as it conducted its own research that showed climate change was a real problem. In the wake of these reports, members of Congress called for an investigation into the company.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Jon Stewart to Work With HBO

Apparently HBO now releases it’s press releases on Medium. Today they posted: JON STEWART AND HBO CONCLUDE EXCLUSIVE FOUR-YEAR PRODUCTION PACT.

“Jon Stewart and HBO have concluded an exclusive four-year production pact, it was announced today by Michael Lombardo, president, HBO Programming. The partnership marks the next phase of Stewart’s groundbreaking career, beginning with short-form digital content, which will be showcased on HBO NOW, HBO GO and other platforms, and includes a first-look option for other film and TV ventures.”

  1. Yay! More Jon Stewart!
  2. “Conclude Exclusive Four-Year Production Pact”? WTF?
  3. Who calls such a thing a “pact”? Is this like a suicide pact?
  4. And how is this concluding? They’re announcing the beginning of a partnership. Concluding the negotiation process is not something you announce or anyone but your lawyers care about.
  5. I guess John Oliver had nice things to say about working with HBO.
  6. But Yay! More Jon Stewart!

The disappearing middle class is threatening major retailers

Business Insider reports The disappearing middle class is threatening major retailers “‘While overall consumer confidence is trending up, lower income consumers continue to be fragile as income and wage growth has been minimal,’ he said. ‘Higher income and more confident consumers are driving premium growth, while cost-conscious consumers are driving the value segment.’”

This is what happens when the middle class is destroyed. Hershey is having difficulties because the 1% buy better stuff and the increasing poor 99% are buying cheaper stuff (and it’s not like Hershey’s is particularly expensive). It’s true, it’s not a zero-sum game, but when all the gains go the top 1% over the last 40 years, it means the economy suffers because consumers can buy less.

Monday, November 02, 2015

New Star Trek TV Series in 2017

Star Trek New Star Trek Series Premieres January 2017 “CBS Television Studios announced today it will launch a totally new Star Trek television series in January 2017. The new series will blast off with a special preview broadcast on the CBS Television Network. The premiere episode and all subsequent first-run episodes will then be available exclusively in the United States on CBS All Access, the Network’s digital subscription video on demand and live streaming service.”

No idea how I feel about this. They don’t have a writer so I doubt they know what the show is at this point. Since the movies are based on a reboot of the Kirk crew on the Enterprise, I doubt the series will be that. So a different timeframe like TNG was? Or a different ship like Voyager? Or something else like DS9?

Kurtzman was involved with the reboot movies but his long time collaborate (and 9/11 truther) Roberto Orci isn’t. So I guess that’s good?

And this being on CBS’ streaming service instead of regular TV seems like a stunt to get Star Trek fans to pay $6/month. “We’ve experienced terrific growth for CBS All Access, expanding the service across affiliates and devices in a very short time. We now have an incredible opportunity to accelerate this growth with the iconic Star Trek, and its devoted and passionate fan base, as our first original series.” Of course, the ST fanbase is probably one of the most capable of pirating the episodes. I might wait for the end of the season and binge watch it in one ($6) month.