Friday, February 27, 2015

Photos of the Week: 2/21-2/27

In Focus shows the Photos of the Week: 2/21-2/27 "This week we have a fireball above Calgary, wintry weather from Saudi Arabia to New York City, Iranian speedboats destroying a replica of a U.S. aircraft carrier, a Japanese polar bear caretaker robot, Chadian soldiers taking the fight to Boko Haram insurgents, a view of the Moon alongside Venus and Mars, and much more."

RIP Spock

The NY Times reported Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 83. Perhaps because of his age but this isn't affecting me as much as I would have guess given how important Spock was to my childhood.

The Science of Why No One Agrees on the Color of This Dress

This photo blew up the Internet last night we some people seeing a white and gold dress and some others seeing a blue and black one. I saw white and gold.


Wired describes The Science of Why No One Agrees on the Color of This Dress. Everyone does agree it's ugly.

Update: Vice Asked a Color Vision Expert About the Color of that Dress "Finally, I called up Dr. Jay Neitz, PhD, a color vision researcher at the University of Washington..."Why is this happening? I don't know. This is one of the most fascinating color vision things I've seen in a long time.""

It's important for me to tell you that Dr. Neitz has been working in the field of color vision research for about 35 years. He runs a renowned laboratory called the Neitz Color Vision Lab. He has a Wikipedia page. And he had no fucking clue what was going on with this photo of a dress.

That's likely what's going on with the photo here: The photo was probably taken in blueish lighting, which makes your brain think that the dress is actually white. That makes sense. What doesn't make sense is why some peoples' brains perceive this as blue and others perceive this as white. Dr. Neitz specifically studies individual differences in how people see, and he'd never seen anything like this.

"In general, you're going to see differently than the person next to you. But this is a huge difference. I mean, this really takes the cake."

"Now I'm going to spend the rest of my life working on this," he told me. "I thought I was going to cure blindness, but now I guess I'll do this."

Even more fun, Shoppers found the color-changing dress on Amazon. Their reviews are amazing. Go to the actual Amazon page for more.

And as Kim pointed out in the comments below, xkcd has a good take on it today, xkcd: Dress Color

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The simple reason Walmart & TJ Maxx are handing out raises — people are quitting

Vox reports The simple reason Walmart & TJ Maxx are handing out raises — people are quitting

"The past five years of sluggish job creation and weak wage growth have spawned a cottage industry of big-think about what ails the American economy. Maybe Obamacare crushed job creation? Maybe it's a 'skills gap?' Maybe the Chinese stole our jobs? Or immigrants? Or robots?

It turns out that all of this is wrong. Back in the winter of 2008–2009, the country suffered a large collapse in aggregate demand related to the collapse of the housing bubble. From 2009 to 2014, political disagreements prevented the government from plugging the gap with gigantic fiscal stimulus, and timidity about 'unconventional' measures prevented the Federal Reserve from doing so either. But all that time, the economy was slowly healing. And now it shows real signs of operating like normal. People try to quit the worst jobs around, and companies respond by trying to make the jobs better."

The 2015 Sony World Photography Awards

In Focus on The 2015 Sony World Photography Awards "The Sony World Photography Awards, an annual competition hosted by the World Photography Organisation, just announced its shortlist of winners. This year's contest attracted 173,444 entries from 171 countries. The organizers have been kind enough to share some of their shortlisted images with us, gathered below. Overall winners are scheduled to be announced on April 23. All captions below come from the photographers."

Screen Shot 2015 02 26 at 12 44 22 PM 500

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Exclusive: TSA Issues Secret Warning on ‘Catastrophic’ Threat to Aviation

Remember the threat levels moving from green to yellow which basically provided no information about what to actually do? Apparently it's just as bad inside the TSA. Some are worried about a Thermite threat on plane which would be difficult to put out and potentially deadly. There's not specific threat and it would be difficult to get a device and igniter past screening but it's still a threat. So what should be done if such a device goes off on board? Well they just tell you what not to do.

The Intercept reports TSA Issues Secret Warning on ‘Catastrophic’ Threat to Aviation "TSA warned federal air marshals not to use customary methods of extinguishing fires — the water or halon fire extinguishers currently found on most aircraft — which would make the reaction worse, creating toxic fumes. Instead, air marshals are told to ‘recognize a thermite ignition’ — but TSA has provided no training or guidance on how to do so, according to multiple sources familiar with the Issue."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The 2015 Oscars

As I do every year I watched the Oscars on Sunday. I thought the year of movies was good, not great, more on that in another post. The Oscar race had a lot of locked categories but several were a tight race of a couple of contenders including Best Picture and Best Director which meant it could stay interesting until the end. I was also looking forward to Neil Patrick Harris as host.

I thought the opening number was fun. He skipped doing several minutes of standup comedy but his one line of "tonight we honor Hollywood's best and whitest...brightest" worked. He then went right into the song which I liked, including Anna Kendrick (can she host?) and Jack Black (just the right amount of him). The greenscreen stuff in his number was busy but clever. In the various film clips it was easy to miss that NPH was inserted in all of them. Most importantly, at 8 mins the opening was the right length.

I thought his introduction was a perfect summary of what an Oscars show could be:

But tonight is not just about the eight Picture nominees. There are 60 films the Academy has recognized. Tonight is for the composers and the computer animators, the set designers and the screenwriters, the sound mixers and the makeup masters. But tonight is also for the people who love these movies, who bought a ticket, who took a ride, who got lost in the stories that inspired us, the stories that motivated us. That remind us to be brave in the face of danger, to chase impossible dreams and to stand up for our rights. Tonight on this stage we have come together to celebrate and hopefully to fall in love with moving pictures all over again.

NPH the rest of the night was just ok. A few laughs, a bunch of misses, some subtle digs. When introducing presenters Jennifer Anniston and David Oyelowo he said "two people who absolutely deserve to be here tonight" referencing that many consider both should have bene nominated. That worked. I think the Birdman underwear bit was a little over the line. His (improved?) line, "I love that dress, takes a lot of balls to wear a dress like that" to the woman who won Documentary Short and had just mentioned her son who committed suicide, really not right.

There was much less banter by the presenters, which was good and sped things up, but I think also made it more boring. Keven Hart and Anna Kendrick briefly joked about being short and animated while presenting Best Animated Short was cute and Idina Menzel and John Travolta (aka Glom Gazingo) also worked, but that was about it.

So maybe they took my advice from previous years and made it about the award winners and let them speak. Unlike last year, the orchestra was definitely playing people off the stage (I think most had a 45 second limit), though several ran quite long.

Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski, winner for Foreign Language film Ida wasn't leaving until he was done. He did have a good line. "Oh God, how did I get here. I made a film about as you saw black and white, about the need for silence and withdrawal from the world, and contemplation. And here we are at this epicenter of noise and world attention. Fantastic, you kow life is full of surprises." That and the applause it got took him just over 30 seconds, then at 55 the orchestra started up, got very loud and then gave up at 78 seconds before picking up again at 93 seconds. His speech went 96 seconds more then doubling the limit and got a nice round of applause for the audacity to speek for a minute and half.

There weren't too many other speeches from the minor awards (and I hate calling them that) that were interesting. But there were some great speeches. JK Simmons was thankful and humble, thanking his wife and kids and told people to call their parents and thank them, a fine sentement and a good speech. I don't think anyone has ever been happier to win an Oscar than Eddie Redmanye.

Patricia Arquette did a great job. She wasted no time and read her speech. She thanks lots of people though it wasn't just a list. She pitched her charity and for wage equality and equal rights for women. She got Meryl Streep and JLo to stand and fist pump. Julliane Moore opened with a great line: "I read an article that said that winning an Oscar could lead to living five years longer. If that's true I'd really like to thank the Academy because my husband is younger than me." Common and John Legend also gave a good speech and while I knew the US's prison population was enormous, I didn't know that more black men are in the correctional system than were enslaved in 1850.

I think Graham Moore, the screenwriter for The Imitation Game gave what might be the best speech in Oscar history. It takes a lot of guts to tell a billion people you attempted suicide.

Thank you so much to the Academy and to Oprah [who presented it], for this. I need to show love and kisses on everyone who was a part of our Imitation Game family. [He then listed a lot people by first name] So here's the thing, Alan Turing never got to stand on a stage like this and look out on all these disconcertingly attractive faces. And I do. And that’s the most unfair thing I think I’ve ever heard. So in this brief time here what I want to use it to do is to say this. When I was 16 years old I tried to kill myself, because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong. And now I’m standing here. And so I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere: Yes you do. I promise you do. Stay weird, and then when it’s your turn, and you are the one standing on this stage, please pass this same message to the next person who comes along. Thank you so much!

I found the song performances pretty unmemorable. The Lego song was a great number, but sounded terrible. The Lego Oscars that they handed out to the audience were fantastic. The one performance that was amazing was Glory. It deserved the standing ovation and the award.

Last year they did a few montages of movies (which were odd collections) and they got rid of that. This year the only big non-award thing was a tribute to The Sound of Music for its 50th anniversary. Lady Gaga sung a montage of songs brilliantly and Julie coming out afterwards really made the moment.

Meryl Streep gave the performance of the night giving the introduction to the In Memoriam segment. I believed that she personally knew each and every person who passed away this year. I don't know why they just showed drawings for the people and not actual pictures and no video segments. And they copied the time wasting from last year by having Jennifer Hudson sing a song in tribute afterwards instead of during the montage.

The clips introducing the actors seemed a little longer which I liked. There weren't really "clips" for the other awards, no actual pictures of sets for Production Design or Costumes or anything. The way they grouped the presentations and clips of the Best Picture nominations worked well.

Introducing Channing Tatum to introduce the young filmmakers handle the awards can be cut, or moved to the pre-show where they can be given a moment to talk.

Given the controversy about no black nominees they seemed to have tried to have more black presenters. I'd say diverse but it didn't seem diverse in any other way. To me this felt rude since I watched black people hand white people their Oscars ten different times. Only one time did a white person give black people an award (for the song Glory). It seemed representative of Hollywood trying to getting race right and being just off.

So overall I found the show meh. NPH's opening was good and he was likable but he really needed better writers. They did okay managing the time (just admit it's a 3.5 hour show). I'm not sure they did much to honor the moviegoers or all the off-screen filmmaker roles other than presenting awards, but ok. Most of the speeches didn't do much but there were some very very good ones this year. Andrew O'Hehir takes it a little far for me, but I mostly agree with him,, Oscars 2015: Nuggets of electric political theater, amid oceans of lame. Maybe running a pool keeps it more exciting for me. Same with Anna Silman, Neil Patrick Harris’ painfully boring Oscar night: How did a great host get it so wrong?

As far as my pool goes, this year I came in 9th, my worst showing ever. I missed 6 awards, a quarter of them. Though I have to say, for all the predictions that I got wrong, I think the academy gave the award to the more deserving nominee. So I can't complain about that. Nate Silver had a pretty interesting article, How History Judges The Oscars’ Closest Calls

Wage Equality

A friend on Facebook posted about how the wage equality issue Patricia Arquette mentioned in her Oscar acceptance speech was mostly a myth. This was my response.

Explaining that the gap is because women don't take jobs as roofers, truckers, sewer workers, prison guards, or miners seems to be a weak argument. Saying there isn't a problem because women aren't choosing to go into fields like tech is naive when there are issues like this: Women are leaving the tech industry in droves.

Yes, the 77% number is often used out of context. I prefer this article about it, Playing Politics with the Pay Gap

A gap that's 4.8-7% is still real and for whatever reason should be fixed.

Even still, if you think that women should be paid the same as men for the same work, then none of this is an argument against a law or regulation mandating that. The Lily Ledbetter case was real. She was discriminated against and the defense successfully used a statue of limitation argument (not an argument that she wasn't discriminated against). The subsequent law changed that, extending the limitation to 6 months after the last check doesn't seem outrageous to me, and Republicans still opposed it.

And as an actress, I think Arquette was fair to point out wage discrepancy in her field. This was my favorite story from the Sony hack: Charlize Theron Negotiates $10M Raise After Sony Hack Reveals Male Costar Was To Be Paid Millions More

And one of the reasons there isn't great data on this is employers usually discourage employees from discussing salary with co-workers and people don't know they probably have the right to do so without punishment. Of course the protection for this is the NLRB and Republicans want to eliminate that too. You Have The Right To Discuss Salary With Coworkers

Sunday, February 22, 2015

CBS Staffers Refute Bill O'Reilly's 'War Zone' Story

CNN reports CBS staffers refute Bill O'Reilly's 'war zone' story. I wonder if Fox News will suspend O'Reilly for 6 months without pay as NBC did Brian Williams?


So we're 1/10 of an inch short of 100 inches of snow this year in Boston and about 8" short of the record. Here's my new favorite graph of recent winters.

Screen Shot 2015 02 22 at 1 29 00 PM

Starting the Y axis 60" brings out some detail. Since 1992 we've had 9 winters with more than 60" of snow, six of them with more than 80 inches. To count 9 winters with at least 60" prior to that you have to go back to 1920, and five of them had less than 65". That's a 23 year span vs a 72 year span.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

15 Films That Changed American Cinema

ABC in their Oscar leadup coverage had a special that listed 15 Films That Changed American Cinema. It's a good list to introduce anyone to the history of american films (and in some way culture). Now I have to go watch Lilies of the Field (the only one I haven't seen)

15 Films That Changed American Cinema

  1. Star Wars (1977) - World Building, Expanding movies beyond the theater
  2. Gone with the Wind (1939) - Epics, Romance
  3. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) - Animation
  4. Psycho (1960) - Horror, (and toilets)
  5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - Sci-fi
  6. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) - Modern Acting
  7. The Birth of a Nation (1915) - Feature length films, Editing
  8. Easy Rider (1969) - the 60s, Jack Nicholson, Rock Music Score
  9. I'm No Angel (1933) - Sex, strong women
  10. The Godfather Part II (1974) - Sequels
  11. Lilies of the Field - Sidney Poitier, a black lead, Black cinema
  12. Jaws (1975) - Summer Blockbusters
  13. A Hard Day's Night (1964) - Music Videos
  14. Sixteen Candles (1984) - Teenagers
  15. Toy Story (1995) - Modern Animation

Friday, February 20, 2015

HTTP/2 finished, coming to browsers within weeks

Ars Technica reports HTTP/2 finished, coming to browsers within weeks. Huh, I hadn't even heard of this. I guess I am out of the loop. I had at least heard of SPDY though I didn't know it's details.

Verizon Cuts Rates For Data Plans, But Not Automatically For Existing Customers

Verizon Cuts Rates For Data Plans, But Not Automatically For Existing Customers. "Verizon MORE Everything customers who currently have monthly data allotments of 1GB, 2GB, 3GB, or 4GB will have an option on how they want to save. They can either get more data for their money by getting 1GB of additional data per month for no extra charge OR they can have their bill reduced by $10/month."

"A rep for Verizon confirms to Consumerist that current Verizon subscribers will not be automatically opted into either of these choices and must let the company know — either by calling customer service or through the Verizon website — when the changes kick in tomorrow, Feb. 5."

So yeah, it's great that they're lowering rates but it's crappy that they're not doing it automatically for their customers. So I called and it worked for me. My 2GB data plan now costs me $10/month less.

Big Birdman

Watch a Perfect 'Birdman' Spoof From 'Sesame Street' "‘Bigbird Man (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Orange Pants)’ stars Caroll Spinney, the longtime Sesame Street puppeteer who brings Big Bird to life, as a man haunted by his giant yellow alter ego. Big Bird provides the voice over, echoing the trailers for Birdman, as the camera follows Spinney around in one long take. Big Bird wonders how they got there, adding ‘this place smells like bird seed,’ before launching into a diatribe about all the places they’ve been (China! Puerto Rico!) and asking just how many ways there can be to learn the alphabet (‘lots, apparently’)."

Superfish Adware Installed on Lenovo Laptops Breaks ALL SSL

Marc Rogers explains Lenovo installs adware on customer laptops and compromises ALL SSL "A pretty shocking thing came to light this evening – Lenovo is installing adware that uses a ‘man-in-the-middle’ attack to break secure connections on affected laptops in order to access sensitive data and inject advertising. As if that wasn’t bad enough they installed a weak certificate into the system in a way that means affected users cannot trust any secure connections they make – TO ANY SITE."

"Lenovo has partnered with a company called Superfish to install advertising software on it’s customer’s laptops. Under normal circumstances this would not be cause for concern. However Superfish’s software has quite a reputation. It is a notorious piece of “adware”, malicious advertising software."

Ars describes it too, Lenovo PCs ship with man-in-the-middle adware that breaks HTTPS connections. "Lenovo is selling computers that come preinstalled with adware that hijacks encrypted Web sessions and may make users vulnerable to HTTPS man-in-the-middle attacks that are trivial for attackers to carry out, security researchers said."

The EFF phrases it well, Lenovo Is Breaking HTTPS Security on its Recent Laptops. "Using a MITM certificate to inject ads was an amateurish design choice by Superfish. Lenovo's decision to ship this software was catastrophically irresponsible and an utter abuse of the trust their customers placed in them."

Here's Lenovo's Original Statement on Superfish but they've since come around, Lenovo CTO says, “We didn’t do enough,” promises to wipe Superfish off PCs. But as Ars points out, "Removal software does nothing to protect vulnerable customers now. If Lenovo is truly sorry, the company should offer affected customers a replacement machine at no cost and ensure all vulnerable machines are removed from the supply chain."

Here's a site you can use to Check if you trust the Superfish CA. And here's How to remove Superfish. Robert Graham describes how he "extracted the certificate from the SuperFish adware and cracked the password ("komodia") that encrypted it."

Matthew Green thinks about possible fixes, How to paint yourself into a corner (Lenovo edition) "I’d like to discuss is some of the options for large-scale automated fixes to this kind of vulnerability. It’s quite possible that Lenovo will do this by themselves — pushing an automated patch to all of their customers to remove the product — but I'm not holding my breath. If Lenovo does not do this, there are roughly three options." None of which are particularly good.

As Matt Blaze tweeted, "Remember back in 2006 when everyone laughed at the State Department for banning Lenovo computers? They sure showed us." Details on that from The Verge two years ago, Lenovo reportedly banned by MI6, CIA, and other spy agencies over fear of Chinese hacking.

Update: Ars reports that Windows Defender now removes Superfish malware… if you’re lucky. It removes the software AND the bad certificate but it doesn't fix contaminated browsers like Firefox. Also it seems Defenders turns itself off if you installed other anti-malware. I don't know anything about it but I assume you can run it manually somehow.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Around the Solar System

There are astounding photographs in In Focus's collection, Around the Solar System "Robotic probes launched by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and others are gathering information all across the solar system. We currently have spacecraft in orbit around the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, a comet, and Saturn, and two operational rovers on Mars. Several others are on their way to smaller bodies, and a few are heading out of the solar system entirely. Although the Space Shuttle no longer flies, astronauts are still at work aboard the International Space Station, performing experiments and sending back amazing photos. With all these eyes in the sky, I'd like to take another opportunity to put together a recent photo album of our solar system—a set of family portraits, of sorts—as seen by our astronauts and mechanical emissaries. This time, we have a multiple transit of Jupiter, great close-up images of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, as well as tantalizing new images of the dwarf planets Ceres and Pluto, as two different probes near them​, and, of course, lovely images of our home, planet Earth."

27 charts that explain how we die

Vox collected 27 charts that explain how we die.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Anatomy of Songs

anatomy of songs by Wrong Hands


What Record-Breaking Snow Really Looks Like

In Focus shows What Record-Breaking Snow Really Looks Like "In the past month, a series of snowstorms and Arctic weather fronts have brought bone-chilling temperatures and record-setting snowfall levels to the Northeastern United States. New England has been especially hard-hit, with parts of Massachusetts and Maine recording more than 100 inches of snow this season—90.2 inches falling in Boston in just the past 30 days. As residents continually dig out, they've run out of places to pile the snow, in some places pushing it into the ocean."

Monday, February 16, 2015

How the West Is Owned

From BigThink: "This map, depicting the distribution and share of federal land per state, was first published on this blog way back in 2008. Nevertheless, it keeps accumulating comments and hits at a steady pace, and is still frequently shared around. Unlike hundreds of other random maps, this one has become a perennial. That raises an interesting question for map geeks like yours truly: Which nerve, exactly, does this map strike with the Great Online Public? "


GOP Clueless on How to Fund DHS

At the end of the month you'll hear about a political fight that threatens to shutdown the Department of Homeland Security. I don't know why their budget whatever is up now as opposed to the regular federal fiscal year, but whatever. Martin Longman explains what's going on (it's about immigration) in one clear paragraph, GOP Clueless on How to Fund DHS:

"The root of the problem is pretty simple to understand. The Republicans want to take away the Executive Branch’s ability to set its own deportation policies and they want to insert that language in the DHS appropriations bill. The Democrats will never allow that, and the president would veto the bill if they did. So, the Republicans will either cave in on the issue or the department will run out of money. The House Republicans want the Senate Republicans to cave and the Senate Republicans want the House Republicans to cave."

For further clarity he adds: "There’s an effort to place the blame for this impasse on the Senate Democrats, but the Republicans are firmly in control of both chambers of Congress and have the responsibility to fund the government. And they know it."

Ed Kilgore talks about how this might lead to Bipartisan Filibuster Reform. "But that is indeed the latest demand of House conservatives who want Senate Republicans to do whatever is necessary to get a DHS appropriations bill with no funding for Obama’s executive actions on immigration onto Barack Obama’s desk. Indeed, House firebrands are actually criticizing Ted Cruz for being insufficiently militant in the current circumstances." He goes on to say that both sides only want filibusters when they're the minority and neither is willing to get rid of it outright.

Nancy LeTourneau says McConnell Is Blowing It…Big Time. "McConnell’s initial strategy was to paint President Obama as the new obstructionist by forcing him to veto legislation that would otherwise undo his agenda. But that is getting all gummed up by either the Democrats in the Senate standing strong or the lunatic caucus in his party making compromise impossible. The Majority Leader finds himself between a rock and a hard place and can’t seem to get much of anything to the President’s desk. So instead of being able to label President Obama as the obstructionist, McConnell is now having to resort to using that one on the Democrats in Congress."

She goes on to say that while low-information voters don't know any of the details, they know Obama is President and after the November election the Republicans control all of Congress. One is getting stuff done, the other isn't. She also points out, Even the Wall Street Journal Says Republican Congress is Failing

Meanwhile the world faces real issues which we are ignoring. NASA now says NASA Study Warns of Megadroughts in West Due to Climate Change "California is in its fourth year of drought, which has left its water reserves dry and cost its economy billions of dollars. Imagine these conditions across southern and central U.S. for another 30 years. There's an 80 percent chance that 30-year droughts will be the new normal for the region after 2050, if we continue to burn through fossil fuels at the current rate."

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Tobacco

Jon Stewart retiring is not going to be easy to handle. Jon Oliver is definitely making it easier. Last night he did this genius 20 min segment on Tobacco. #JeffWeCan

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Impact of Vaccines

Battling Infectious Diseases in the 20th Century: The Impact of Vaccines "The number of infected people, measured over 70-some years and across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, generally declined after vaccines were introduced. The heat maps below show number of cases per 100,000 people."

Screen Shot 2015 02 14 at 2 20 11 PM

Yeah, if only there was some clear data.

Friday, February 13, 2015

I'm Brianna Wu, And I'm Risking My Life Standing Up To Gamergate

Everyone should read this, I'm Brianna Wu, And I'm Risking My Life Standing Up To Gamergate. I'm not a gamer so I've only come across the occasional GamerGate article, but whenever I do I'm amazed at the level of harassment that women face and how nothing ever seems to be done about it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The U.S. government is poised to withdraw longstanding warnings about cholesterol

Wonkblog reports The U.S. government is poised to withdraw longstanding warnings about cholesterol.

"The new view on cholesterol in the diet does not reverse warnings about high levels of 'bad' cholesterol in the blood, which have been linked to heart disease.  Moreover, some experts warned that people with particular health problems, such as diabetes, should continue to avoid cholesterol-rich diets.

But the finding, which may offer a measure of relief to breakfast diners who prefer eggs, follows an evolution of thinking among many nutritionists who now believe that for a healthy adult cholesterol intake may not significantly affect the level of cholesterol in the blood or increase the risk of heart disease. The greater danger, according to this line of thought, lies in foods heavy with trans fats and saturated fats."

They also have a Q&A, Should I binge on eggs for breakfast? Here’s what you need to know.

American bridges are in bad shape, but they used to be a lot worse

American bridges are in bad shape, but they used to be a lot worse


"Looking at the national numbers, you can see that this decline is fairly even -- there are no sharp jumps or drops, which suggests a real and sustained long-term trend toward better bridges. I asked the Department of Transportation what's behind the steady improvement. "Bridge conditions overall have relatively improved over the years but this has been the result of the strong commitment to bridge safety by FHWA [the Federal Highway Administration] and state departments of transportation," they said in a statement. "We are still not where we need to be since almost a quarter of our nation’s bridges are still in need of repair or of some type of improvement.""

I also liked this piece, Mapping America’s most dangerous bridges.

MBTA chief defends agency, cites lack of resources

I liked this infographic on the T's problems in The Boston Globe MBTA chief defends agency, cites lack of resources.


Rand Paul’s ideas about the Fed make absolutely no sense

Matt O'Brien in Wonkblog explains why Rand Paul’s ideas about the Fed make absolutely no sense "The problem is Paul knows just enough terminology to play an expert on TV, without actually knowing a thing." He goes into some details explaining why we already "audit the Fed" enough and why saying the "Fed is leveraged" is nonsensical.

Rand Paul seems to understand approximately none of this. He and others in the the GOP have, for years, brayed about high inflation that didn't exist and currency depreciation that wasn't happening, even taking the unprecedented step of publicly warning the Fed off its stimulus efforts, all while the real problems were too-low inflation, and, more recently, a stronger dollar that's put a crimp on the recovery. But despite this, Paul wants these people who have been, to put it charitably, wrong about everything to have more of a say against the ones who haven't. And it's all in the name of "transparency" that the Fed is already providing plenty of, which Paul would know if he actually read something about it anywhere other than the usual Austrian suspects. The worst part, though, is that we know what an economy with the kind of tight money that Republicans prefer looks like right now. It's called "Europe," and it has twice as much unemployment as we do. But hey, empirical evidence doesn't matter, right? Let them eat first principles!

Boston Snowfall

Here's a graph of total seasonal snowfall in Boston back to 1890. I did this in Apple's Numbers and was curious about the trend which doesn't look bad to me. We currently have 77.3" of snow which ranks as the 9th worst of all time and its only Feb 10th. By Friday we'll have smashed the record for snowiest February ever (we're 1.2" off now). At this rate I suspect we'll be in the top 3 for snowiest winters. Last year was 28th and the year before the 19th, but the year before that (starting Dec '11) was the second least snowiest with only 9.3".

Boston Snowfall By Year

Update: Tough Crowd. I think I got this right, let me know.

Screen Shot 2015 02 11 at 2 22 56 PM

The 75 Best Edited Films

Editors Guild Magazine lists The 75 Best Edited Films. I looked through it and realized I'd seen all but one of them. So I went to Netflix and watched Man With a Movie Camera from 1929. It's a montage of various everyday scenes and a pretty interesting window into the past.

5 Ways MIT Is Reinventing Your Power Cord

Co.Design describes 5 Ways MIT Is Reinventing Your Power Cord "Inspired by a water hose, MIT's Tangible Media Group has come up with a way to make cords and cables part of your gadget's UI." The pinching and stretching examples seem particularly useful.

A smiling lens

Hubble found a A smiling lens. "You can make out its two orange eyes and white button nose. In the case of this ‘happy face’, the two eyes are very bright galaxies and the misleading smile lines are actually arcs caused by an effect known as strong gravitational lensing."

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Monday, February 09, 2015

Plaintiff in Obamacare case unaware Obamacare case would cause millions to lose coverage

Vox reports Plaintiff in Obamacare case unaware Obamacare case would cause millions to lose coverage "The Supreme Court case that could dismantle Obamacare, King v. Burwell, has at its core one plaintiff who called President Barack Obama the 'anti-Christ' and another who doesn't want to see anyone lose their health insurance and isn't sure how she became part of the case in the first place."

"But then there's Barbara Levy, a 64-year-old resident of Richmond...Levy couldn't even recall how she got involved in the case. "I haven't done a single thing legally. I'm gonna have to ask them how they found me," she told Mother Jones."

Just amazing.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Why the US Government Is Terrified of Hobbyist Drones

Wired writes about Why the US Government Is Terrified of Hobbyist Drones. There are real issues here and I have no idea what the solution is.

So last Thursday it pushed a “mandatory firmware update” for its Phantom 2 that would prevent the drone from flying in a 15.5 mile radius of the White House. So far it’s the only drone-maker installing what’s known as GPS geofencing.

The White House geofence is only the second one that isn’t centered on an airport, according to Perry—the first was Tiananmen Square. It won’t be the last. Now that the company has perfected the ability to erect geofences at will, the sky’s the limit—or, more accurately, the skies are limited. DJI is preparing an update that will increase the number of airport no fly zones from 710 to 10,000, and prevent users from flying across some national borders—a reaction to the recent discovery that drug smugglers are trying to use drones to fly small loads of meth from Mexico into the US.

The Foolish, Historically Illiterate, Incredible Response to Obama's Prayer Breakfast Speech

Ta-Nehisi Coates on The Foolish, Historically Illiterate, Incredible Response to Obama's Prayer Breakfast Speech

"Now, Christianity did not 'cause' slavery, anymore than Christianity 'caused' the civil-rights movement. The interest in power is almost always accompanied by the need to sanctify that power. That is what the Muslims terrorists in ISIS are seeking to do today, and that is what Christian enslavers and Christian terrorists did for the lion's share of American history.

That this relatively mild, and correct, point cannot be made without the comments being dubbed, 'the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,’ by a former Virginia governor gives you some sense of the limited tolerance for any honest conversation around racism in our politics. And it gives you something much more. My colleague Jim Fallows recently wrote about the need to, at once, infantilize and deify our military. Perhaps related to that is the need to infantilize and deify our history. Pointing out that Americans have done, on their own soil, in the name of their own God, something similar to what ISIS is doing now does not make ISIS any less barbaric, or any more correct. That is unless you view the entire discussion as a kind of religious one-upmanship, in which the goal is to prove that Christianity is 'the awesomest.'"

Kubricks' 2001: One Mans Incredible Odyssey

Matte Shot has a long article on the special effects of Kubricks' 2001: One Mans Incredible Odyssey. The prelude is meh, but once he gets into the various effects shots there's a lot of interesting (and new to me) material.

Friday, February 06, 2015

What I learned from losing my leg in the Boston Marathon bombing

What I learned from losing my leg in the Boston Marathon bombing "During the 2013 Boston Marathon, Rebekah Gregory DiMartino was standing on Boylston Street, feet way from one of the bombs that exploded near the finish line. She survived, but suffered traumatic injuries, leading to the amputation of her left leg below the knee in November. She's currently learning to walk with a prosthetic leg, and has set the goal of running the Boston Marathon herself this spring. She told her story to Joseph Stromberg."

Paul Repeats Baseless Vaccine Claims comprehensively covers Rand Paul's recent statements on vaccines, Paul Repeats Baseless Vaccine Claims.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

I Can Has Gravity

this is really making me laugh.

Via How Do Cats Deal With Being Weightless?

Confessions of a Congressman: 9 Secrets From the Inside

A congressman writes in Vox: Confessions of a congressman: 9 secrets from the inside

  1. Congress is not out of touch with folks back home
  2. Congress listens best to money
  3. Almost everyone in Congress loves gerrymandering
  4. You have no secret ballot anymore
  5. We don't have a Congress but a parliament
  6. Congressional committees are a waste of time
  7. Congress is a stepping-stone to lobbying
  8. The best people don't run for Congress
  9. Congress is still necessary to save America, and cynics aren't helping

I didn't think any of these were secrets, but they're all true.

Overturning Obamacare Would Change the Nature of the Supreme Court

As usual, Linda Greenhouse is exemplary in explaining the issues in the next Obamacare SCOTUS case. Overturning Obamacare Would Change the Nature of the Supreme Court.

The World's Email Encryption Software Relies On One Guy, Who Is Going Broke

The World's Email Encryption Software Relies On One Guy, Who Is Going Broke "Werner Koch wrote the software, known as Gnu Privacy Guard, in 1997, and since then has been almost single-handedly keeping it alive with patches and updates from his home in Erkrath, Germany. Now 53, he is running out of money and patience with being underfunded."

The Independent Discovery of TCP/IP, By Ants

The Independent Discovery of TCP/IP, By Ants.

Neat article. It turns out that the way harvester ants determine if it's safe to look for food is very similar to the way TCP deals with network congestion.

Individual harvester ants would forage for seeds to bring back to the colony. Once they’d left, they would not come back until they found something. As you might imagine, this didn’t work out for some ants: ants would often perish before ever finding food, or carrying a seed back to the nest, particularly on the hottest and driest of days. Gordon had noticed that colonies had adapted to their desert environment by not “sending out” as many foragers on extremely hot and dry days, subsisting on the seeds they had stored up instead.

Through careful observation and experimentation, Gordon discovered that would-be foragers wait at a narrow tunnel entrance to the colony. Whenever another forager ant returns with food, it drops off its load, and touches antennae with waiting ants. Whether or not any individual forager sallies forth depends on the number of interactions it has with returning foragers, and the timing of those interactions -- so a complex collective behavior is governed solely through simple individual interactions.

That's one of the important points, there's no "manager" that everyone reports to that determines how many ants to send out. TCP works the same way, there isn't a special manager computer on the network (since it would be bad if that one machine crashed). Instead they all work via a set of rules so that they collectively figure out a good thing to do.

Transmission Control Protocol, also known as TCP, is a big part of what makes the Internet possible. The Internet involves a lot of machines sending each other files including websites, videos, text documents, audio -- over a vast network of hardware including routers, cables, satellites, cellphone towers, and of course computers. The problem is that sometimes parts of the network fail -- hardware can break, or become overloaded and slow down dramatically.

If a source hosting a file is using TCP, it breaks the file down into smaller chunks, called “packets”. It sends out a bunch of packets to the requester, and monitors the acknowledgements of receipt, called “acks”, to calibrate how quickly to send the rest of the packets.

The article also includes this table of other technical problems we've solved in a similar way to low level biological systems:


Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Researchers Discover Key to Lung Cancer's Spread

Researchers Discover Key to Lung Cancer's Spread "In a breakthrough in the understanding of how cancer spreads, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have identified a substance secreted by lung cancer cells that enables them to metastasize, beginning their deadly march to other sites in the body. By blocking that process in lab studies, the researchers were able to confine cancer cells to a single tumor site, offering hope that drugs could one day block the spread of cancers in people."

"We found that when you blocked Activin A expression, the cancer cells would grow, and they would form a primary tumor, but they wouldn’t metastasize," Mayo said. "We did protein analysis to see if Activin A protein was over-expressed in human lung cancer tissue samples, and the answer was yes. We believe this protein is expressed in many other types of cancer as well, including colon and breast cancer."

This Is How We Will Ensure Net Neutrality Wins

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote in Wired, This Is How We Will Ensure Net Neutrality

"That is why I am proposing that the FCC use its Title II authority to implement and enforce open internet protections.

Using this authority, I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband. My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.

All of this can be accomplished while encouraging investment in broadband networks. To preserve incentives for broadband operators to invest in their networks, my proposal will modernize Title II, tailoring it for the 21st century, in order to provide returns necessary to construct competitive networks. For example, there will be no rate regulation, no tariffs, no last-mile unbundling. Over the last 21 years, the wireless industry has invested almost $300 billion under similar rules, proving that modernized Title II regulation can encourage investment and competition."

The Verge comments, "The proposal still needs to be voted on by the FCC on February 26th, but with only two Republican opponents on the five member commission it faces no serious threat of failure internally. Congress, on the other hand, may attempt to undermine the FCC's authority with legislation."

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Second Harper Lee Novel to Be Published in July

ABC News reports Second Harper Lee Novel to Be Published in July "Publisher Harper announced Tuesday that 'Go Set a Watchman,' a novel the Pulitzer Prize-winning author completed in the 1950s and put aside, will be released July 14. Rediscovered last fall, 'Go Set a Watchman' is essentially a sequel to 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' although it was finished earlier. The 304-page book will be Lee's second, and the first new work in more than 50 years."