Wednesday, May 24, 2017


I know I haven't been as active here as in the past, there's just too much news to follow. But I'm not going to be doing even as well as I have been lately for the next couple of weeks. I'm going on vacation, see you in June. There should still be updates to @HowardLikedThis the latest two posts are shown on the right. Enjoy.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Oscar Winning Movies & Biggest Box Office Hits From Your Birthday Year

Thrillist lists Oscar Winning Movies & Biggest Box Office Hits From Your Birthday Year. I've seen almost all the movies mentioned and while I can quibble a little bit, this is a list of very good movies. It's often hard to decide between the most fun or best movie, whatever that may mean. This list gets past that pretty well by listing the biggest box office, the best picture winner and someone's idea of best movie for each year.

My birth year was 1966, not a great year for movies. The Bible was the biggest hit and ... we'll... meh. I love A Man for All Seasons which won 6 the Oscars. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is filled with virtuoso performance and two hours of yelling and won only 5 Oscars with 13 nominations. I'll add that I think the most fun movie of that year was The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

history of the entire world, i guess

Entertaining 20 min video of the history of the world. It starts a little slow (with the beginning of space and time) but once it gets to society it's really fun tracking all the civilizations of the world. Saying I learned a lot is going a bit far, but I watched as he described a fair number of things I didn't know. I think this would be fun for kids except for the swearing.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A new book ranks the top 100 solutions to climate change. The results are surprising.

Vox wrote A new book ranks the top 100 solutions to climate change. The results are surprising.

A few years ago, he set out to pull together the careful coverage of solutions that had so long been lacking. With the help of a little funding, he and a team of several dozen research fellows set out to ‘map, measure, and model’ the 100 most substantive solutions to climate change, using only peer-reviewed research. The result, released last month, is called Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.

It is fascinating, a powerful reminder of how narrow a set of solutions dominates the public’s attention. Alternatives range from farmland irrigation to heat pumps to ride-sharing. The number one solution, in terms of potential impact? A combination of educating girls and family planning, which together could reduce 120 gigatons of CO2-equivalent by 2050 — more than on- and offshore wind power combined (99 GT).

They follow with an interesting interview.

See the list here.

Donald Trump: Inside the White House With the President

Time has a profile Donald Trump: Inside the White House With the President. IMHO he comes off as deranged.

To cope with this new reality, the President says he is trying a mindfulness trick: he has tried to tune out the bad news about himself. “I’ve been able to do something that I never thought I had the ability to do. I’ve been able not to watch or read things that aren’t pleasant,” he will say later in the night, listing off the networks he tries to tune out and the newspapers he struggles to skim. Of course, as his public outbursts indicate, he does not always succeed, but he says he no longer feels a need to know everything said about him. “In terms of your own self, it’s a very, very good thing,” he says. “The equilibrium is much better.”

I'm also saddened that Trump and I have something in common, a love of TiVo.

Trump says he used his own money to pay for the enormous crystal chandelier that now hangs from the ceiling. “I made a contribution to the White House,” he jokes. But the thing he wants to show is on the opposite wall, above the fireplace, a new 60-plus-inch flat-screen television that he has cued up with clips from the day’s Senate hearing on Russia. Since at least as far back as Richard Nixon, Presidents have kept televisions in this room, usually small ones, no larger than a bread box, tucked away on a sideboard shelf. That’s not the Trump way.

A clutch of aides follow him, including McMaster, Pence and press secretary Sean Spicer. The President raises a remote and flicks on the screen, sorting through old recordings of cable news shows, until he comes to what he is after: a clip from the Senate hearing earlier in the day, as broadcast on Fox News. The first clip he shows is of South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham speaking to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Graham asks if Clapper stands by his statement that he knows of no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump waits quietly, until Clapper admits that nothing has changed. Trump pantomimes a sort of victory.

“Yes. He was choking on that,” the President chortles. “Is there any record at all of collusion? He was the head of the whole thing. He said no. That’s a big statement.” Trump leaves unmentioned the fact that there is an ongoing FBI counter intelligence investigation into possible collusion, which has not yet reached any conclusions. Nor does he note that Clapper, out of government for nearly four months, could not possibly know everything the FBI has learned, and likely would have not known all even when he was in office. Trump also leaves unmentioned that he had a meeting that day with his new Deputy Attorney General about firing Comey, the director of that investigation.

But for now, Trump is focused on his TV. He watches the screen like a coach going over game tape, studying the opposition, plotting next week’s plays. “This is one of the great inventions of all time—TiVo,” he says as he fast-forwards through the hearing.

The next clip starts to play, this time showing Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley asking Clapper and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates if they ever requested that the names of Trump, his associates or members of Congress be identified by name, or unmasked, in a legal intelligence intercept. “Watch them start to choke like dogs,” Trump says, having fun. “Watch what happens. They are desperate for breath.”

Clapper, on the screen, pauses several beats to search his memory. “Ah, he’s choking. Ah, look,” the President says. After a delay, Clapper finally answers, admitting that he had requested an unmasking, which would have been a routine occurrence in his former job. The running Trump commentary continues. “See the people in the back, people are gasping,” he says, though it’s unclear who he is referring to on the screen. He also mentions the sound of photographers’ cameras clicking on the television.

Moments later, the President watches as both Clapper and Yates testify that they had reviewed intercepts containing the unmasked identities of Trump, his associates and members of Congress. This, to Trump, is yet another victory, the lead-lined proof of his still unproven claim that Obama surveilled him before he was sworn in. “So they surveilled me,” he says. “You guys don’t write that—wiretapped in quotes. They surveilled me.”

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias has a good take on this interview (and the Economist's), The latest Trump interview once again reveals appalling ignorance and dishonesty

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Sci-Fi Book Humble Bundle: Super Nebula Author Showcase

FYI, the Humble Book Bundle: Super Nebula Author Showcase presented by SFWA has a nice collection of science fiction for dirt cheap (no DRM, multi-format).

Latest Craziness is Crazy

It's completely absurd what's happened in the last 24-48 hours:

Inception Interpretation

I don't know how I've never come across this theory about Inception before. Hal Phillips, back in 2010 postulated that "It’s all a dream.  Ariadne (Ellen Page) is leading an inception on Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio).  The entire film is that inception, and we never see reality." He goes into good detail and I'll have to watch it again (I haven't seen it yet this year).

Rodney King Who?

Professor Ed wrote at Gin and Tacos All Right, All Right, All Right about how kids today don't know who Rodney King was.

"So he was OK?"

"He was beaten up pretty badly, but, ultimately he was. He died a few years ago from unrelated causes (note: in 2012)."

"It's kind of weird that everybody rioted over that. I mean, there's way worse videos." General murmurs of agreement.

This is a generation of kids so numb to seeing videos of police beating, tasering, shooting, and otherwise applying the power of the state to unarmed and almost inevitably black or Hispanic men that they legitimately could not understand why a video of cops beating up a black guy (who didn't even die for pete's sake!) was shocking enough to cause a widespread breakdown of public order. Now we get a new video every week – sometimes every few days – to the point that the name of the person on the receiving end is forgotten almost immediately.

Rare Clips from Hitchcock’s Unmade Found-Footage Project KALEIDOSCOPE

Witney Seibold writes in Blumhouse about a lost Hitchock project I didn't know about Rare Clips from Hitchcock’s Unmade Found-Footage Project KALEIDOSCOPE

KALEIDOSCOPE was, to put it in modern language, meant to be perhaps the very first ‘found footage’ or ‘mockumentary’ film. With photographer Arthur Schatz, Hitchcock staged some nudity-laced, crime-scene-like photos of the film’s potential victims — which, having seen them, may have indeed been too edgy for modern American audiences. Additionally, they shot some handheld motion picture scenes, wherein women were stalked.

It was even proposed that there was to be no sound in the film; the actors were to be unknowns, and the performers seen in the test footage are still unknowns to this day.

KALEIDOSCOPE was meant to be one of the darker, edgiest horror films ever made — it was, essentially, made to have the same sort of raw, fleshy terror as something like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, but with a classier and more experienced art director at the helm. It was meant to look like it was discovered after the fact, having been filmed by an unnamed voyeur who somehow had access to the dark sexual murders depicted."

There are short video clips embedded in the article.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Hardware Wars

Wow, I don't think I've seen this since 1978 in the Jr High School cafeteria:

Supply-Side, Trickle-Down Nonsense on the New York Times Op-Ed Page

Last week the NY Times published an op-ed by the tax cutting foursome, Steve Forbes, Larry Kudlow, Arthur B. Laffer and Stephen Moore, Why Are Republicans Making Tax Reform So Hard?

And then Jared Bernstein ripped it apart Supply-side, trickle-down nonsense on the NYT oped page.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Here’s Why Juicero’s Press is So Expensive

I missed this whole uproar about a $700 Internet juicer. Ben Einstein explains, Here’s Why Juicero’s Press is So Expensive

Last week Bloomberg published an article exposing how easy it is to ‘hack’ Juicero’s produce packs by squeezing them with your hands, deeming the $699 (now $399) WiFi-connected juice press completely unnecessary. Nearly overnight, Juicero has become the posterchild for Silicon Valley excess.

Juicero raised nearly $120M from well-known investors before shipping a single unit. The team spent over two years building an incredibly complex product and the ecosystem to support it. Aside from the flagship juice press, Juicero built relationships with farmers, co-packing/food-processing facilities, complex custom packaging, beautifully designed mobile/web applications, and a subscription delivery service. But they did all this work without the basic proof that this business made sense to consumers."

It's a fun and pretty breakdown of the product. For any company there's a balance of speed, price and quality. This is what happens when you ignore the second one.

A Plea for Responsible and Contextualized Reporting on User Security

Zeynep Tufekci In Response to Guardian’s Irresponsible Reporting on WhatsApp: A Plea for Responsible and Contextualized Reporting on User Security. She basically rips them a new one. It's a nice article, with the details of the issue which act as a great example of the difficulties of making something secure against a variety of adversaries vs making it usable by a wide range of users.

Signal is well-designed. Many in the security community use and consistently recommend it. However, the very thing that makes Signal a recommendation for people at high risk—that it drops messages at any sign of hiccup—prevents a large number of ordinary people from adopting it. Our community has used Signal for a long time, and have been trying to convert people to it, but its inevitable delivery failures (some by design, to keep users safer, and some due to bandwidth or other issues) mean that we often cannot convince people to use it despite spending a lot of effort trying to convince them—even people who have a lot at stake. The reason people, including journalists and activists, use WhatsApp over Signal isn’t because people are flaky, but because in the real world, reliability, usability and a large user base are key to security.

WhatsApp effectively protects people against mass surveillance. Individually targeted attacks by powerful adversaries willing to put effort into compromising a single person are a different kind of threat. If that is the threat model in mind, then merely recommending Signal is irresponsible. Your reckless, uncontextualized piece posits a mythical Snowden-type character, with a powerful, massively resourced adversary, for whom WhatsApp would not be a good choice. From that it concludes that WhatsApp is unsafe for a billion people for whom it is, at the moment, among the best options for secure communication.

To further complicate things, switching to Signal may not be advisable in some settings, because it marks you as an activist. There are many threat models under which WhatsApp is the safest option, and there are reports of people around the world being jailed merely for having installed an encryption app. It’s fine to recommend Signal and to broaden its user base. It’s not fine to fearmonger and scare people away from WhatsApp (which runs the same protocol as Signal) because of a minor and defensible difference in the kind of warnings it gives and the blocking behavior of a few undelivered messages when someone changes phones or SIM cards.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The French, Coming Apart

This article by Christopher Caldwell, The French, Coming Apart, is a fascinating look at the French political landscape, and its impossible to not draw parallels to here in the US.

In France, a real-estate expert has done something almost as improbable. Christophe Guilluy calls himself a geographer. But he has spent decades as a housing consultant in various rapidly changing neighborhoods north of Paris, studying gentrification, among other things. And he has crafted a convincing narrative tying together France’s various social problems—immigration tensions, inequality, deindustrialization, economic decline, ethnic conflict, and the rise of populist parties. Such an analysis had previously eluded the Parisian caste of philosophers, political scientists, literary journalists, government-funded researchers, and party ideologues.

Guilluy is none of these. Yet in a French political system that is as polarized as the American, both the outgoing Socialist president François Hollande and his Gaullist predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy sought his counsel. Marine Le Pen, whose National Front dismisses both major parties as part of a corrupt establishment, is equally enthusiastic about his work. Guilluy has published three books, as yet untranslated, since 2010, with the newest, Le crépuscule de la France d’en haut (roughly: “The Twilight of the French Elite”), arriving in bookstores last fall. The volumes focus closely on French circumstances, institutions, and laws, so they might not be translated anytime soon. But they give the best ground-level look available at the economic, residential, and democratic consequences of globalization in France. They also give an explanation for the rise of the National Front that goes beyond the usual imputation of stupidity or bigotry to its voters. Guilluy’s work thus tells us something important about British voters’ decision to withdraw from the European Union and the astonishing rise of Donald Trump—two phenomena that have drawn on similar grievances.

If anyone with more direct knowledge of French politics would comment on this, I'd love to hear it. I searched briefly and didn't find much to contradict this article.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Long, Lucrative Right-wing Grift Is Blowing Up in the World's Face

This Alex Parenne piece made it onto my queue, aka backlog a couple of weeks ago. Then I saw it on Chris Hayes last night. The Long, Lucrative Right-wing Grift Is Blowing Up in the World's Face. It makes a couple of points I really agree with (ah confirmation bias). The first is how right wing media broke the Republican party:

Rather rapidly, two things happened: First, Republicans realized they’d radicalized their base to a point where nothing they did in power could satisfy their most fervent constituents. Then—in a much more consequential development—a large portion of the Republican Congressional caucus became people who themselves consume garbage conservative media, and nothing else.

That, broadly, explains the dysfunction of the Obama era, post-Tea Party freakout. Congressional Republicans went from people who were able to turn their bullshit-hose on their constituents, in order to rile them up, to people who pointed it directly at themselves, mouths open.

Now, we have a president whose media diet defines his worldview, interests, and priorities. He is not one of the men, like most of those Tea Party members of Congress, whose existing worldview determined his media diet—who sealed himself off from disagreeable media sources. He is, in fact, something far more dangerous: a confused old man who believes what the TV tells him.

The second is how the two parties behave:

Here’s the real, non-ideological difference between Republicans and Democrats:

Democrats by and large are convinced that no one actually supports their agenda, and they devote a not insignificant amount of time and political capital to explaining to their own constituents why they cannot pursue goals that a majority of them support. (“I supported single payer since before you were born,” says Nancy Pelosi, who has the legislative and leadership record of someone who may support single payer but clearly doesn’t actually expect it to happen in our lifetimes.)

Conservatives, especially those who came up during the Obama era, have, more or less, the opposite problem: They’ve convinced themselves that their agenda is hugely popular and that everyone supports them.

There’s actually been some research on this: Politicians—both liberal ones and conservative ones—believe that the electorate is more conservative than it actually is. Conservative politicians believe the electorate is much more conservative than it actually is. Once you learn this, suddenly a lot of things about how elected officials act make more sense.

The most important major divide among Congressional Republicans isn’t between moderates and conservatives, or establishment and anti-establishment politicians, but between those who know that their agenda is hugely unpopular and that they have to force it through under cover of darkness, and the louder, dumber ones who believe their own bullshit. And for those loud, dumb members, egged on by a media apparatus that has trained its audience to demand the impossible and punish the sell-outs who can’t deliver, those more tactical members are cowards and RINOs.

Jonathan Chait wrote Republicans Are Going to Wish Hillary Clinton Won

Imagine what the political world would look like for Republicans had Hillary Clinton won the election. Clinton had dragged her dispirited base to the polls by promising a far more liberal domestic agenda than Barack Obama had delivered, but she would have had no means to enact it. As the first president in 28 years to take office without the benefit of a Congress in her own party’s hands, she’d have been staring at a dead-on-arrival legislative agenda, all the low-hanging executive orders having already been picked by her predecessor, and years of scandalmongering hearings already teed up. The morale of the Democratic base, which had barely tolerated the compromises of the Obama era and already fallen into mutual recriminations by 2016, would have disintegrated altogether. The 2018 midterms would be a Republican bloodbath, with a Senate map promising enormous gains to the Republican Party, which would go into the 2020 elections having learned the lessons of Trump’s defeat and staring at full control of government with, potentially, a filibuster-proof Senate majority.

Instead, Republicans under Trump are on the verge of catastrophe. Yes, they are about to gain a Supreme Court justice, no small thing, a host of federal judges, and a wide array of deregulation. Yet they are saddled with not only the most unpopular president at this point in time in the history of polling, but the potential for a partywide collapse, the contours of which they have not yet imagined. The failure of the Republican health-care initiative was a sobering moment, when their early, giddy visions of the possibilities of full party control of government gave way to an ugly reality of dysfunction, splayed against the not-so-distant backdrop of a roiled Democratic voting base. They have ratcheted back their expectations. But they have not ratcheted them far enough. By the time President Trump has left the scene, what now looks like a shambolic beginning, a stumbling out of the gate, will probably feel like the good old days.

Josh Barro walked through why Tax reform doomed like healthcare reform.

The Journal's well-reported story amounts to this: President Donald Trump would like to sign a tax reform bill, but he and his aides have no vision for what the tax reform bill should say.

"Broadly, Mr. Trump wants a simpler tax code and lower business tax rates to stimulate investment and spur manufacturing," according to the WSJ.

That all sounds nice. But substantially everyone in Washington claims to be in favor of a simpler tax code that imposes lower rates on a broader tax base. Republicans and Democrats say this all the time, and yet, tax reform does not get done.

This is because, in practice, "simpler" means eliminating tax preferences that benefit various constituencies. When the specifics of "simplicity" get laid out, tax reform plans start to draw a lot of opposition.

He then expands on these four points:

  • The White House does not like Paul Ryan's plan
  • The White House does not have its own plan
  • The White House does not know what its coalition is to enact tax reform
  • All the White House knows is it wants Trump to sign a tax reform law

It's easy to extrapolate these points to every other issue. Matthew Yglesias does it, Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan is vaporware that’s never going to happen.

Donald Trump’s rambling, incoherent remarks on federal infrastructure spending during a wide-ranging interview with Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times have set headline writers abuzz with the desire to extract some kind of meaning and news value from his comments. “Trump says infrastructure plan could top $1 trillion,” wrote Marketwatch, while Reuters reports that “Trump says he may use his $1 trillion infrastructure plan as a political incentive.” The Times reporters who conducted the interview — both New Yorkers like Trump, and veterans of the city hall beat — wrote it up as a local story: “Trump Weighs Infrastructure Bill but Keeps New York Up in the Air.”

The truest line in any of this comes from Haberman and Thrush themselves, who observe that Trump’s “knowledge of complex policy issues can sometimes be lacking.”

And to the extent that that’s news, it’s the only actual news Trump made on infrastructure. His remarks make it clear that he doesn’t know anything about the substance of the issue or about the relevant congressional procedures. He doesn’t appear to be familiar with the related provisions of his own administration’s budget, and he isn’t putting in the time to lay the political groundwork for any legislation. The trillion-dollar infrastructure plan doesn’t exist except as a line of rhetoric.

Martin Longman comments on Chiat's post saying Washington Monthly | Trump is Failing for Same Reason That Boehner Failed.

In truth, however, almost no Washington Republicans voted for Trump in the primaries. The elite conservative intelligentsia never saw Trump as fit for office, nor did they see him as an ideologically acceptable conservative. They had reconciled themselves to a Clinton presidency and were gearing up to win the battle over the autopsy of Trump’s campaign. Most of them did not want Trump to win and we’re relieved that the polls indicated that he had no chance to win.

Chait is correct that rank-and-file Republican voters largely stayed with Trump, meaning that they “brought disaster upon their country.” This led Trump to make a fatal miscalculation. He thought he won with a partisan vote so he should be able to govern with an exclusively partisan coalition. That was incorrect because his victory was a victory over both parties, and the Washington Establishment didn’t accept him irrespective of which party they represented.

Trump needed a bipartisan coalition from the moment he saw the surprising Electoral College results, and he had a major repair job to do if he was going to find any space on the left after insulting every ethnic and minority group in the country, running an explicitly racist campaign, and being exposed as a sexual predator. That was the moment when he needed to begin an aggressive pivot in both his style and rhetoric and in his legislative proposals.

At least at the outset, he had some alternatives. He might have tried to gain support for a legislative agenda that, while distinct from his campaign promises, was consistent with it in spirit. There were coalitions of Democrats who might have helped him figure out an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership or ways to renegotiate NAFTA. He could have had support for an infrastructure bill that looked a lot like what President Obama had called for for years. Repeal and replace could have been softened into something less vindictive and more constructive. He could have consulted the Democrats on appointments to key administrative and cabinet positions.

In the end, this would have probably broken the House of Representatives in ways I have been advocating that it break ever since John Boehner discovered that he had to rely on Democratic votes to pass appropriations bills, pay the government’s debts, and keep the government’s doors open. Just as with Boehner, Trump’s true House majority would always have to be bipartisan if it were to be a majority at all.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Why Hollywood’s writers are on the verge of a strike — and what it could mean for the industry

Vox explains Why Hollywood’s writers are on the verge of a strike — and what it could mean for the industry. Things are always more complex than they seem but I'm on the writers' side.

Fairytale Prisoner by Choice: The Photographic Eye of Melania Trump

Kate Imbach posted an analysis of Melania Trumps twitter photos. Fairytale Prisoner by Choice: The Photographic Eye of Melania Trump "Melania posted five photographs of Trump with their son. She took each photo from behind the two, sometimes literally from the backseat. Boys in front, girls in the back, the same arrangement we were all so appalled to see on inauguration day, is her norm. She lives in the background."

It's all random speculation and a dark read.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Thor: Ragnarok Trailer Gives Us an Excuse to Do Physics

Wired has a cute article, The Thor: Ragnarok Trailer Gives Us an Excuse to Do Physics analyzing the physics of the Thor/Hulk punch in the new trailer. They embed some simulations using two things I'd hadn't heard of before. The embedding of code seems to happen via trinket and the code is using GlowScript IDE to do the physics animation.

A simple plan to end the Supreme Court confirmation wars for good

Ian Milhiser wrote in ThinkProgress, A simple plan to end the Supreme Court confirmation wars for good. I didn't know about The Missouri Plan

When a vacancy arises on the state’s supreme court, a seven person commission consisting of ‘three lawyers elected by the lawyers of The Missouri Bar . . . three citizens selected by the governor, and the chief justice’ submits three candidates to fill that vacancy to the state’s governor. The governor then has 60 days to choose among those three names. If the governor fails to meet this deadline, the commission selects one of the three.

Finally, after a year of service, the newly appointed judge must survive a retention election, where a majority of the electorate can cast them out of office — though this only happens rarely.

This method of judicial selection, as well as variants upon it, was adopted by many states since its inception in Missouri."

It’s not a perfect system. In Iowa, which uses variant on the Missouri system, three justices were removed from office after anti-LGBT groups campaigned against them due to their votes in support of marriage equality. In Arizona, which uses a Missouri-style commission but with significantly more gubernatorial appointees, a libertarian attorney with aggressive plans to roll back laws protecting workers recently joined the state supreme court. Judicial selection commissions neither eliminate politics entirely nor shield a state entirely from ideologues.

But they are a whole lot better than the world we live in now at the federal level, where no president is ever likely to appoint a justice again unless that justice shares the ideological preferences of a majority of the Senate.

Something is breaking American politics, but it's not social media

Ezra Klein writes about a new study Something is breaking American politics, but it's not social media:

Their approach is simple. Using data from the American National Election Survey, they compare the most web-savvy voters (the young, where 80 percent used social media in 2012) and the least web-savvy voters (the old, where fewer than 20 percent used social media in 2012) on nine different tests of political polarization. The measures cover everything from feelings about political parties to ideological consistency to straight-ticket voting, and the data shows how polarization changed among these groups between 1996 and 2012. The results? On fully eight of the nine measures, ‘polarization increases more for the old than the young.’ If Facebook is the problem, then how come the problem is worst among those who don’t use Facebook?

I asked Gentzkow what he thinks might be part of the fuller picture. “I have two main hypotheses,” he replied. “One is stuff that has nothing to do with media at all but is structural, like increasing income inequality. The second is non-digital media, and cable TV and talk radio in particular.” The latter piece makes particular sense if you think about the fact that older Americans make up the base of both the cable and talk radio audiences. More than a third of talk radio listeners are over age 65, and half of Fox News’s audience is over age 68. As bad as getting your news from Facebook can be, it’s often far better than relying on Fox News or Rush Limbaugh.

80 Years Ago SCOTUS decided NLRB v Jones & Laughlin Steel

ISCOTUS describes This Day in Supreme Court History—April 12, 1937.

In National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, ten former workers of Jones & Laughlin Steel brought a suit against the company, asserting that they were illegally fired after they attempted to unionize and join the Steel Workers Organizing Committee. The recently created National Labor Relations Board ordered Jones & Laughlin Steel to rehire the employees and compensate them for any back pay owed them.

After a string of controversial decisions striking down New Deal legislation, the Supreme Court changed course. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the bargaining provisions of the Wagner Act. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes delivered the opinion of the Court, arguing that the commerce power extended to regulations designed to prevent a potential strike at Jones & Laughlin, since a work stoppage would have an “immediate, direct, and paralyzing effect upon interstate commerce.” “Collective bargaining is often an essential condition of industrial peace,” Hughes asserted, and a “refusal to confer and negotiate has been one of the most prolific causes of strife.”

The decision was a landmark ruling on the meaning of the Commerce Clause. Its reasoning granted far more authority to Congress to regulate economic relations than the Court had previously allowed. It was also a major victory for industrial and factory workers across the country. The Wagner Act helped usher in a new era of labor relations, one in which union power, backed by the authority of the federal government, entered into negotiations with industry on far more equal footing than before.

Space Stuff

Universe explains SpaceX Just Re-Used a Rocket. Why This Changes Everything ""

Hubble Takes Advantage of Opposition To Snap Jupiter

On April, 7th, 2017, Jupiter will come into opposition with Earth. This means that Earth and Jupiter will be at points in their orbit where the Sun, Earth and Jupiter will all line up. Not only will this mean that Jupiter will be making its closest approach to Earth – reaching a distance of about 670 million km (416 million mi) – but the hemisphere that faces towards us will be fully illuminated by the Sun.

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Juno Sees Overlapping Colliding Clouds on Jupiter

The Juno mission has made some remarkable finds since it reached Jupiter in July of 2016. During the many orbits it has made around Jupiter’s poles – which occur every 53 days – some stunning imagery has resulted. Not only have these pictures revealed things about Jupiter’s atmosphere, they have also been an opportunity for the public to participate in the exploration of this giant planet.

New Up-Close Image of Jupiter's Stormy Clouds is Mind-Blowing

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The Verge on Astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly on NASA’s twin experiment and the future of space travel

Mark and Scott Kelly are the only twins that have ever traveled to space — and their experience will be invaluable if we want to get to Mars one day.

Between 2015 and 2016, Scott spent 340 days on the International Space Station, while his genetically identical twin Mark stayed on Earth to function as a control subject. Before, during, and after Scott’s trip, the brothers have been giving NASA numerous biological samples — blood, saliva, poop, you name it. By comparing Scott’s samples with Mark’s, NASA is trying to understand what long-term space travel does to our bodies.

Some preliminary findings have already come out. One study showed that Scott’s DNA changed while he was in space: his telomeres — the protective caps on the end of DNA strands — were unexpectedly longer than Mark’s. (Telomere length can affect aging and age-associated diseases.) Another study showed that there were major fluctuations in Scott’s gut bacteria while he lived in zero-g compared to his twin.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Astronomers just turned on a planet-size telescope to take a picture of a black hole

Vox has a nice piece with some good videos describing how Astronomers just turned on a planet-size telescope to take a picture of a black hole .

Because Sagittarius A is so small, and surrounded by so much occluding material, it’s going to take a huge telescope to see it. According to Nature, it would take a telescope 1,000 times more powerful than Hubble to get enough resolution to see it.

So how does the Event Horizon Telescope solve this problem? Conventional optical telescopes use bigger and bigger mirrors to see objects smaller and farther away in the universe. The Event Horizon Telescope is doing something similar: It’s creating a virtual telescope the size of the entire Earth.

The Event Horizon team is connecting radio telescopes at eight locations across the world — as far-flung as Hawaii and the South Pole — and instructing them all to look toward Sagittarius A for a few days. The network is the result of an international collaboration of 14 research institutions across the world.

2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners & Finalists

Here are the 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners & Finalists.

I don't understand how Peggy Noonan won. I read some of the samples they provided and I'm as unimpressed as I am with here Sunday morning TV appearances. "I had such a conversation again Tuesday with a friend who repairs shoes in a shop on Lexington Avenue." Seriously? I just cannot find a rhythm to her phrasing though I will give her credit for this: "better than Marco the moist robot".

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Here’s the real Rust Belt jobs problem — and it’s not offshoring or automation

The Washington Post reports Here’s the real Rust Belt jobs problem — and it’s not offshoring or automation

Since the corporate mergers and restructurings in the 1980s, most cities depend not on one or two large factories but on many small subsidiary operations — light manufacturing, food processing, professional service firms, call centers, hotels and retail. These smaller subsidiaries mostly move between struggling cities and towns rather than leaving for other countries.

But they offer few ‘good’ unionized jobs. For instance, in the 1970s, the local meat packing plant hired thousands and paid $15 an hour. But the Tyson Foods or John Morrell plant that replaced it employs hundreds and may pay about $10.

Much of the blame for that falls on federal policy. Unions have been hobbled by a changing legal environment. A corporate merger wave unleashed by financial deregulation eliminated local owners who paid workers living wages and contributed generously to their towns. Tax code changes led to ballooning senior managers’ earnings at the expense of line-workers’ wages. Without changing the federal policies that led to these trends, bringing manufacturing back will not create good, safe jobs.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Some thoughts on Trumps attack on Syria

On the one hand, this seemed like a reasonable proportional response to the use of chemical weapons by Assad on his citizens. It also seems like Trump listened to his advisors and picked one of the most conservative responses he could, that's not what most of critics would have expected. On the other hand, it raises a lot more questions for me than it does answers.

First, while there is now evidence that sarin gas was used on civilians (some of the victims were children so they're certainly civilians), it's not clear who launched the attack. I believe that Assad did it, but I think some proof is required, particularly from an administration that has bullshitted us on virtually everything.

Second, it raises a long standing question. Even if Assad launched this attack, it's not clear that the US had any legal right to strike Syria in this way. My understanding is that under international law the only valid reasons are self-defense (which doesn't apply) or with Security Council permission (which wasn't asked for). This was a violation of chemical weapons treaties, but they don't authorize military force for violations. Under US law Trump also has no authority to strike Syrian forces. The 2001 AUMF against al-Qaeda has been used for years to cover strikes against ISIS and even that is on some shaky ground. When Obama's infamous red line was crossed, before striking he asked Congress for authority to do so, but Congress didn't have the votes to pass it. While strictly speaking a president needs Congressional approval for military action, as Rachel Maddow pointed out in her book Drift Congress has been ceding it's authority in this regard for a long time. More details here.

Then there's Trump's hypocrisy. Let me count the ways. In 2013 when Obama had this same decision Trump tweeted that he shouldn't strike in Syria and if he did, he'd need Congress' approval to do it. Well Trump blew through both of those. Trump said he was moved by the babies being killed, but they've been killing in Syria for years now, and does it matter if they're killed by chemical weapons or conventional ones? He's still banned refugees from this conflict from coming to the US.

Trump ran on a secret 30 day plan to eliminate ISIS, which was obviously bullshit, but also on otherwise being more isolationist. A week ago Rex Tillerson, Sean Spicer and Nikki Haley all said that removing Assad was no longer a priority. There's talk that this may have emboldened Assad, but it's hard to say. A big question for me was how impulsive was Trump's decision, that's the fear that many have of his administration. Did this somehow get to him and was this Trump treating military response the same way he tweet-rants at 6am?

Jeffrey Goldberg writes that this is the end of the Obama Doctrine. Obama told him he was proud of his 2013 decision, to avoid the conventional Washington wisdom that limited military response would have a good outcome in the middle east. He took a lot of heat for that and Lots of former Obama advisors are cheering Trump's action. But unlike Trump has shown so far, Obama made the decision deliberately, thinking a few moves into the future. Is this the start of another middle quagmire? How slippery is this slope and will the military-industrial complex lead Trump to push for regime change. Syria's allies are Russia and Iran, they're already angered, what will that lead to? At least Trump called Russia just before the strikes to warn them (and to prevent their forces from being hit). That was a responsible thing to do and something I'm sure some military advisor suggested to Trump. I wonder if Trump will re-evaluate the role of the State Department in world affairs instead of just military force.

So Trump gave a measured response, sending cruise missiles to the airport used to launch the strikes. He didn't hit chemical weapons storage sites there (for fear of spreading them). These missiles can't do a lot of damage to the runways and already Syria launched fighters from that airport, so it doesn't seem like much damage was done. A couple of days ago Hillary Clinton spoke about striking all their airports and destroying Assad's entire Air Force, which is only a couple of hundred aircraft. That seems way more extreme, but also more likely to affect Assad's ability to attack the rebels and more likely to save lives.

The real question is how does Trump react a few days from now when Syria hasn't changed in any significant way.

I don't know what the answers are. I do know that in my list of complaints about Trump, this isn't all that high on my list. So far.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Science Articles

At first I misunderstood this Universe Today headline, Curiosity Captures Gravity Wave Shaped Clouds On Mars, to be about gravitational waves, but it's a more normal phenomenon they're seeing in studying Martian clouds from Curiosity. But I loved this line in the article:

But as Moore explained in an interview with Science Magazine, seeing an Earth-like phenomenon on Mars is consistent with what we’ve seen so far from Mars. ‘The Martian environment is the exotic wrapped in the familiar,’ he said. ‘The sunsets are blue, the dust devils enormous, the snowfall more like diamond dust, and the clouds are thinner than what we see on the Earth.’"

Universe Today also reported, Large Hadron Collider Discovers 5 New Gluelike Particles

According to the research paper, which appeared in arXiv on March 14th, 2017, the particles that were detected were excited states of what is known as a “Omega-c-zero” baryon. Like other particles of its kind, the Omega-c-zero is made up of three quarks – two of which are “strange” while the third is a “charm” quark. The existence of this baryon was confirmed in 1994. Since then, researchers at CERN have sought to determine if there were heavier versions.

And now, thanks to the LHCb experiment, it appears that they have found them. The key was to examine the trajectories and the energy left in the detector by particles in their final configuration and trace them back to their original state. Basically, Omega-c-zero particles decay via the strong force into another type of baryon (Xi-c-plus) and then via the weak force into protons, kaons, and pions.

From this, the researchers were able to determine that what they were seeing were Omega-c-zero particles at different energy states (i.e. of different sizes and masses). Expressed in megaelectronvolts (MeV), these particles have masses of 3000, 3050, 3066, 3090 and 3119 MeV, respectively. This discovery was rather unique, since it involved the detection of five higher energy states of a particle at the same time.

Extraterrestrial Origin Of Fast Radio Burst Phenomenon Confirmed:

Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) have puzzled astronomers since they were first detected in 2007. These mysterious milliseconds-long blasts of radio waves appear to be coming from long distances, and have been attributed to various things such as alien signals or extraterrestrial propulsion systems, and more ‘mundane’ objects such as extragalactic neutron stars. Some scientists even suggested they were some type of ‘local’ source, such as atmospheric phenomena on Earth, tricking astronomers about their possible distant origins.

So far, less than two dozen FRBs have been detected in a decade. But now researchers from the Australian National University and Swinburne University of Technology have detected three of these mystery bursts in just six months using the interferometry capabilities of the Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope (MOST) in Canberra, Australia. In doing so, they were able to confirm that these FRBs really do come from outer space.

Hackers Are Emptying ATMs With a Single Drilled Hole and $15 Worth of Gear

Wired reports Hackers Are Emptying ATMs With a Single Drilled Hole and $15 Worth of Gear:

Kaspersky’s researchers already had the same model of ATM in their test lab, one that’s been in wide use since the 1990s. They removed its front panel to find a serial port that would have been accessible from the thieves’ hole. It connected to a wire that ran through the ATM’s entire internal bus of components, from the computer that controlled its user interface to the cash dispenser. Then the researchers spent five solid weeks with an oscilloscope and logic analyzer, decoding the protocol of the ATM’s internal communications from raw electric signals. They found that the machine’s only encryption was a weak XOR cipher they were able to easily break, and that there was no real authentication between the machine’s modules.

In practical terms, that means any part of the ATM could essentially send commands to any other part, allowing an attacker to spoof commands to the dispenser, giving them the appearance of coming from the ATM’s own trusted computer.

Eventually, the researchers were able to build their own device capable of sending cash-ejecting commands through just that exposed port. Their compact gadget, far smaller than even the arrested suspect’s laptop, consisted of only a breadboard, an Atmega microcontroller of the kind commonly found in Arduino microcomputers, some capacitors, an adapter, and a 9 volt battery. All told, it took less than $15 worth of equipment.

A Guide To What Teens Think Is Cool

Kottke reports A guide to what teens think is cool "Google recently released a report about what US teenagers think is cool. The chart above is getting a bunch of attention on social media; teens aged 13-17 were asked to rank a bunch of brands according to how cool they think they are."

Teens cool brands 2017

Bannon Loses National Security Council Role in Trump Shakeup

Bloomberg reports Bannon Loses National Security Council Role in Trump Shakeup:

President Donald Trump reorganized his National Security Council on Wednesday, removing his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, and downgrading the role of his Homeland Security Adviser, Tom Bossert, according to a person familiar with the decision and a regulatory filing.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was given responsibility for setting the agenda for meetings of the NSC or the Homeland Security Council, and was authorized to delegate that authority to Bossert, at his discretion, according to the filing.

Under the move, the national intelligence director, Dan Coats, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, are again 'regular attendees' of the NSC’s principals"

This seems better.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How to Free Up Space Used By Your iPhone or iPad’s Messages App

How to Free Up Space Used By Your iPhone or iPad’s Messages App "If you send and receive a lot of messages, the Messages app can take up a lot of space on your iPhone or iPad. Not only does it store your message history, it keeps photo attachments you’ve received. All this data then takes up iCloud space as part of your backups, too."

After doing yesterdays Apple updates I checked my storage usage and found iMessage was one of the biggest hogs of storage on my iPhone and iPad. I was keeping messages forever and some friends send a lot of pics including some videos. The tips here helped me free up some space.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Democratic Ideas on How to Improve Health Care Are Complicated Too

I've been thinking that Democrats should be out there offering ways to fix Obamacare which they always just describe as "not perfect". If they're to learn anything from the election they can't just depend on the GOP ideas being bad, they have offer good ones themselves. Nancy LeTourneau explains in Washington Monthly Democratic Ideas on How to Improve Health Care Are Complicated Too

While Obamacare certainly wasn’t single payer and ultimately didn’t include a public option, most of it tackled the issue of how health insurance is provided. The expansion of Medicaid is a great example. And while many of the ideas being articulated now are important for Democrats to consider, it is also significant to remember that there are still 19 states that have refused to do so. Millions of Americans would have access to insurance and health care if that was tackled.

I hadn't known about this detail (or have forgotten it):

But that battle obscured the one that happened over the public option in the House. There the disagreement was over what kind of public option would be included. This is where the issues of insurance and cost of care overlapped. Progressive Democrats tended to support what came to be known as a “robust” public option. It would tie payment to providers to the Medicare payment system. Conservative Democrats favored a public option that allowed HHS to negotiate payments with providers. In the end, Conservative Democrats won and it was their plan which was included in the House bill and later removed via reconciliation with the Senate. Interestingly enough, CBO said that premiums for that public option would be slightly higher than the private plans offered in the exchange. A later CBO report found that a “robust” public option would produce premiums that are 7-8% lower than private plans.

Any, now that Trump is off saying that the Democrats own Obamacare (which they always did) and it's going to both implode and explode (because those don't mean different things), I'd like to see the Democrats pushing for solutions they'd like to see. The Republicans clearly, at some point are going to have a conversation about it, we should be prepared for the argument.

Training Your Brain So That You Don’t Need Reading Glasses

The NY Times reports on something very intriguing to me, Training Your Brain So That You Don’t Need Reading Glasses.

By middle age, the lenses in your eyes harden, becoming less flexible. Your eye muscles increasingly struggle to bend them to focus on this print. But a new form of training — brain retraining, really — may delay the inevitable age-related loss of close-range visual focus so that you won’t need reading glasses. Various studies say it works, though no treatment of any kind works for everybody.

They mention an app called GlassesOff which is free to download but $10/month or $35 for 3 months.

The training with GlassesOff is long and challenging. I found it fun initially, perhaps because it was new. But weeks into it, I began to dread the monotonous labor. Yet, after a couple of months, the app reports I can read fonts nearly one third the size I could when I started and much more rapidly. According to feedback from GlassesOff, my vision after training is equivalent to a man about 10 years younger than my age. If I reach 50 — the age at which almost everyone needs corrective lenses to read — and still don’t need reading glasses, I may conclude that the training has paid off.

Anyone hear of or try this?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Today is National Puppy Day

Today is National Puppy Day - The Atlantic "I just discovered that March 23 has been set aside as National Puppy Day—founded in 2006 by author Colleen Paige, and adopted by other groups and organizations since. The idea is to focus attention on puppies in need of adoption, and on the abuses found in puppy mills, but also to celebrate these furry little companions. In the spirit of the day, I feel obligated to share some of these adorable images of pups around the world, and through the years." Hans, a dachshund puppy, kisses a kitty while sitting in a teapot, photographed in January of 1926.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Donald Trump will resign 'soon', says top Democrat Dianne Feinstein

The Independent reports Donald Trump will resign 'soon', says top Democrat Dianne Feinstein "Senior Senator on Judiciary Committee drops hint she knows more than she can say 'right now'" Wouldn't that be nice.

Referencing recent trips to Dubai by Mr Trump’s sons, Donald Jr and Eric, where they opened a new golf club, she said: “I think sending sons to another country to make a financial deal for his company and then have that covered with Government expenses, I believe those Government expenses should not be allowed.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


This is a short film about two cops that manages to express a real relationship in under 6 minutes. Really well done.

Standby from Charlotte Regan on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Here’s what’s coming to Amazon Prime in April

The A.V. Club lists Here’s what’s coming to Amazon Prime in April. I recommend The Handmaiden and Hello, My Name Is Doris.

Operation London Bridge: the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death

The Guardian has a long read on Operation London Bridge: the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death. "She is venerated around the world. She has outlasted 12 US presidents. She stands for stability and order. But her kingdom is in turmoil, and her subjects are in denial that her reign will ever end. That’s why the palace has a plan."

It's more than I, and probably you, ever wanted to know about the Queen's funeral plans, I made it about 2/3 of the way through it. You're milage may vary.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The puzzling way Republicans want to replace the individual mandate, explained with a cartoon

Vox describes The puzzling way Republicans want to replace the individual mandate, explained with a cartoon

Large Sections of Australia’s Great Reef Are Now Dead, Scientists Find

The New York Times reports Large Sections of Australia’s Great Reef Are Now Dead.

Huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef, stretching across hundreds of miles of its most pristine northern sector, were recently found to be dead, killed last year by overheated seawater. More southerly sections around the middle of the reef that barely escaped then are bleaching now, a potential precursor to another die-off that could rob some of the reef’s most visited areas of color and life."

This week's Vice on HBO had a scary segment on melting permafrost. Episode 57: When the Earth Melts & The Displaced. Here's a related article on it, Canada’s permafrost is collapsing thanks to climate change.

It feels like we've already lost the climate change battle and we're just in a 50-100 year long garbage time of the game.

Update: Meanwhile Humpback whales are organizing in huge numbers, and no one knows why.

Rare Nuclear Test Films Saved, Declassified, and Uploaded to YouTube

Gizmodo writes Rare Nuclear Test Films Saved, Declassified, and Uploaded to YouTube .

They're all here.

The Trade Deal We Just Threw Overboard

Politico on The Trade Deal We Just Threw Overboard. That would be TPP but it also involves NAFTA, the other deal Trump hates.

NAFTA may be the first test of whether Trump can recast America’s role in the world through sheer force of will. But renegotiating a deal that reshaped the commerce of a continent will be a lot harder than renegotiating an unfavorable lease. It will be an incredibly painstaking and frustrating task, an epic diplomatic and political challenge. It will require patience, sensitivity and attention to policy detail not usually associated with the Trump brand. And it might not work out in the end.

This isn’t just speculation. This is well-documented history. Because the Obama administration already renegotiated NAFTA.

There was never a formal announcement of ‘NAFTA Modernization Talks.’ There were no presidential tweets mocking the original agreement. But behind the scenes, President Barack Obama’s negotiators spent more than three years haggling and battling to update and upgrade the 1994 deal, and they eventually got a lot of what they wanted. Canada reluctantly agreed to give American farmers modest but unprecedented access to its tightly protected dairy industry; Mexico grudgingly agreed to labor reforms with more bite than NAFTA’s toothless union protections. The new deal opened up service sectors like insurance, accounting and express delivery where the United States tends to excel, along with e-commerce and other digital industries that didn’t exist when NAFTA was born. The United States also secured new restrictions on government-owned businesses, new protections for intellectual property and new safeguards for the environment.

But none of those hard-won concessions are going into effect. That’s because the Obama team negotiated all of them as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 5,500-page Asia-oriented trade agreement among the three NAFTA nations and nine other Pacific Rim countries. TPP was at the heart of Obama’s strategic ‘pivot to Asia.’ But Trump saw it as another fleecing of America, and with great fanfare he yanked the United States out of TPP during his first week in office, before Congress could even vote on whether the deal should take effect. That means its upgrades to NAFTA—regarding dairy, labor and everything else Mexico and Canada agreed to—are probably moot.

To Obama administration officials and other free-trade advocates, this feels like a gaping self-inflicted wound, a voluntary surrender of economic and geopolitical territory captured through countless hours of intense negotiations in drab conference rooms. When I asked Obama’s trade representative, Michael Froman, what his negotiating team had given up to Mexico and Canada in exchange for their TPP concessions to America, he replied: ‘Nothing!’ Mexico and Canada were willing to play ball because TPP would give them better access to sell their products in Asian markets—and when Trump tries to renegotiate NAFTA, he won’t be able to offer that carrot now that he’s ditched TPP."

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

I learned how to do math with the ancient abacus

So the title of this Vox article is a bit hyperbolic, I learned how to do math with the ancient abacus — and it changed my life, but I found some interesting things in it.

Shortly after enrolling my daughters and myself in an abacus class, we discovered that the practice relies on a math strategy known as decomposition, which makes computation easier by breaking numbers down into their component parts. So students are encouraged to think about how certain numbers have 'complements' or 'partners.' For instance, 10 is made by partnering 7 plus 3 or by partnering 6 plus 4.

For an actual math problem, consider 5 plus 8. On the abacus, you would not add those actual figures. Instead, you would 'decompose' the numbers and add 10 to the 5 and take away 2 — or the partner of 8 — in order to get to the answer: 13.

It can take a little longer to learn math in this way. Certainly it took me a little while to fully grasp this approach. But decomposition gives people a better underlying sense of how the math actually works. (Interestingly, my kids didn’t find the approach all that novel, since a decomposition approach is embedded in the new Common Core math standards.)

Friday, March 03, 2017

Legion Gets the Mystery Box Formula Right Where Westworld Failed

I completely agree with Kwame Opam in The Verge, Legion gets the mystery box formula right where Westworld failed. Well, it's only been 4 episodes of Legion and it's very confusing what's going on, but I'm engaged and interested. I always felt detached watching Westworld because the only character I cared about was Maeve (and even now I had to look up her name). Mild spoilers for season 1 of Westworld and oddly, no real spoilers for Legion follow:

Both shows are dense, technically stylish sci-fi thrillers. Both shows weave rich mythologies across multiple timelines, with Westworld being set in a simulated Wild West peopled with robots that may or may not have consciousness and Legion set in a world filled with super-powerful mutants that may or may not all exist in the lead’s head. And both shows lend themselves to theories about who and what is real, where the plot is going, and if there isn’t something more sinister running beneath the surface.

Where Westworld differs is in privileging its mysteries and philosophical meditations over character and storytelling. Take William, who is much more an idea than a character. He doesn’t convey any fully realized motivations beyond a desire to be a good person for Dolores’ benefit, and his transformation into the Man in Black is an overreaction to the idea that suffering defines humanity, if not just a twist for twists’ sake. Or consider Maeve: she discovers that she’s a machine and that she’s being controlled, so she sets out to free herself. That’s a powerful and relatable motivation, but the series undermines it by questioning whether or not her actions are dictated by her programming. Don’t get me wrong: exploring the nature of humanity is a worthwhile pursuit, and I loved that about the show. But dancing around what it means to be human instead of creating memorable characters with goals turns the series into a lecture series instead of good TV.

Compounding the problem is how the show conceals information — no matter the illogical gymnastics — to maintain the mysteries until the final episode. So much energy is spent hiding the connection between William and the Man in Black, the true identity of Westworld employees, and the point of the Maze, that the show rapidly became a transparent Pez dispenser, slowly and arbitrarily dispensing treats even though we could see every piece of candy just waiting to be served.

Legion, on the other hand, is laser-focused on its main character by design. Despite being about a mutant with the power to alter reality itself, the story the series lays out is straightforward. David believes he’s a schizophrenic, but he might also be the most powerful mutant alive. So, after learning that people with powers are being targeted by a shadowy government organization, he chooses to learn to control his abilities to save his loved ones and maybe even the world. That’s all David knows, and, as a consequence, all we know. The show establishes David as a relatable person with an understandable purpose: in order to save the world, he needs to better himself. That the show subverts our expectations by asking us to question whether or not what’s happening on-screen is in his head is destabilizing, but always secondary. What he learns about himself drives him and the story forward. And when David learns something, we learn it, too. The show doesn’t withhold for the sake of mystery. Rather, the mystery is a product of its core dramatic premise.

Start codons in DNA may be more numerous than previously thought

Yet again, genetics is more complicated than we thought. Start codons in DNA may be more numerous than previously thought

Genetic code is typically represented via sequences of four letters—A, C, G, and T or U—which correspond to the molecular units known as adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine (for DNA code) or uracil (for RNA code). Fifty years ago, the best available research tools indicated that there were only a few start codons (with sequences of AUG, GUG and UUG) in most living things. Start codons are important to understand because they mark the beginning of a recipe for translating RNA into specific strings of amino acids (i.e., proteins).

NIST specializes in the process of precision measurement, and the start codon challenge proved irresistible to the JIMB team. The collaboration was formed in 2016 with the goal of advancing biomeasurement science and facilitating the process of discovery by bringing together experts from academia, government labs and industry for collective scientific investigations.

With the use of GFP and nanoluciferase, the team measured translation initiation in the bacteria E. coli from all 64 codons. They were able to detect initiation of protein synthesis from 47 codons. The implications of the work could be quite profound for our understanding of biology.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

A software engineer is detained for several hours by U.S. Customs and given a test to prove he’s an engineer

Caroline Fairchild reported on LinkedIn (I didn't really know they did reporting) A software engineer is detained for several hours by U.S. Customs — and given a test to prove he’s an engineer .

It was Sunday, Feb. 26, and the 28-year-old software engineer had left his home in Lagos, Nigeria, to come to the United States for the first time. It was a work trip. For the last six months, Omin had been working for Andela, a startup that connects the top tech talent in Africa with employers in the U.S. Andela accepts less than 1% of applicants into its program and is backed by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. For this particular role, Omin was helping NYC-based fintech startup First Access create a JavaScript application for emerging markets and had secured a short-term joint B1/B2 visa.   

After landing, Omin waited for 20 minutes and then reached the front of the line, where a Customs and Border Protection officer asked him a series of questions. It was here that Omin realized that the job might be challenging, but getting into America could now be impossible. No one at Andela had prepared him for the new reality."

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

What America Looked Like Before the EPA Stepped In

SFGate shows What America looked like before the EPA stepped in .

Shortly after, the Environmental Protection Agency was created. To help foster support for the newly created agency, Nixon sent out 70 photographers tasked with documenting 'subjects of environmental concern' all throughout the United States.

At the time, environmental laws were only just beginning to be formed and regulate the environment. 

Known as 'The Documerica Project,' the photographers captured thousands of images of rural and urban life. Back then, the images demonstrated the toll that unchecked manufacturing and energy industries had on the environment.

Today, they continue to serve as a reminder of what Nixon called the 'price tag' on pollution: 'Through our years of past carelessness we incurred a debt to nature, and now that debt is being called.'"

Rogue One: Visual Effects Revealed

(via kottke)

Moonlight Explained: Symbols, Camera & More

Spoilers for Moonlight, but a nice examination of the filmmaking techniques used to convey character and story and why it won an Oscar.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Commerce Sec Wilbur Ross was co-owner of Russian Money Laundering Bank of Cyprus

Rachel Maddow last night had an interesting opening piece, New Commerce Secretary at nexus of lucrative Trump Russian deal.

If you'd rather read, the Palmer Report wrote Donald Trump cabinet member and business associate co-owned Russian money laundering bank "But as it turns out, Deutsche Bank was laundering the money through Bank of Cyprus. The two most prominent owners of Bank of Cyprus? One is Donald Trump’s associate Dmitry Rybolovlev (source). The other is Donald Trump’s new Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross (source)."

Thursday, February 23, 2017


Ed Felton reports RIP, SHA-1 "Today’s cryptography news is that researchers have discovered a collision in the SHA-1 cryptographic hash function. Though long-expected, this is a notable milestone in the evolution of crypto standards."

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Nebula Award Nominees

The Nebula Award nominees have been announced. I prefer The Verge's list as it includes links to the stories that are available online. Go fill your Instapaper or other reading list.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Today in Obamacare: the GOP’s Latest Plan Gives the Wealthy Extra Help to Buy Insurance

Sarah Kliff at Vox explains Today in Obamacare: the GOP’s latest plan gives the wealthy extra help to buy insurance.

Both Obamacare and the Republican replacement plans provide tax credits to help make insurance more affordable. But while Obamacare’s credits are based on income, meaning poorer people get more help, the Republican plan would base them on age. The result would be regressive: Wealthy people would get more help buying insurance, while poor people would likely get less assistance.

The Obamacare tax credits are income-adjusted, which means that people who earn less get more help. Under Obamacare, people who earn less than 200 percent of the poverty line (about $24,120 for an individual or $49,200 for a family of four) get the most generous help. They would get enough money so that a midlevel plan would cost no more than 6.4 percent of their income. People who earn more than 400 percent of the poverty line ($48,240 for an individual or $98,400 for a family of four) get nothing at all. There is no cap on what they have to pay for insurance.

The Republican plan is very different. It includes age-adjusted tax credits. Older people get more help, and younger people get less help. The idea is that older people need more support because they get charged higher premiums. But income does not matter at all. Under the Republican plan, it wouldn’t matter if a 30-year-old earned $15,000 or $150,000 — he would get the exact same tax credit.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Trump Fumes Over Leaks At Private Meeting With Republicans

Politico reports Trump fumes over leaks at private meeting with Republicans

The topic was prevalent in what was an otherwise jovial meeting between a band of lawmakers and the president they helped elect. Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) said Trump called the meeting when, during a recent conversation with Trump, they began reminiscing about their weekly meetings during the campaign.

Collins said the members were invited into the Oval Office for pictures around the president's desk. And he said amid broad policy discussions, he also asked the lawmakers what they were hearing from constituents in their districts.

'He wants the real, unfiltered, what’s going on,' Collins said, 'not necessarily watching CNN, MSNBC or even Fox. There were 11 of us from 11 different parts of the country able to share with him the responses we're getting when we’re at the supermarket, when we’re at Home Depot.'

Collins said he relayed that his district has swung even harder for Trump since the election, despite 'a few people who walk by and a certain finger on their hand goes to my face.'

'I'll admit' it, he said. 'But that’s one person in 20.'

These are my takeaways:

  • Trump doesn't want to be president, he wants to the be important guy in country club
  • A Congressman admitted to lying to the president (or at least misrepresenting reality to him)
  • Trump who as president has access to some of the best intelligence in the world, gets his info from cable news and laments that it's not good, so he brings in sycophants to lie to him about how great he is.

Judge orders Pruitt to release emails by Tuesday, But Vote is Tomorrow

Politico reports Judge orders Pruitt to release emails by Tuesday

A state judge in Oklahoma today ordered Scott Pruitt to release by Tuesday potentially thousands of emails he exchanged with fossil fuel interests in his job as state attorney general, according to the watchdog groups that sued seeking the communications.

That deadline will come after the vote in the Senate on Friday that is expected to confirm Pruitt as the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency."

Nope, no reason to delay a confirmation hearing to get information relevant to the confirmation. In fact, that's reason to speed it up.

Does the 9th Circuit really have an 80% reversal rate?

Last week NPR unpacked a bullshit statistic Trump repeated today Does the 9th Circuit really have an 80% reversal rate?.

‘Reviewed by the Supreme Court’ is the operative qualifier — and it’s a very, very important one. Very few cases actually get reviewed by the Supreme Court from any of the circuit courts, and most of them don’t even generate appeals to the Supreme Court in the first place. Parties file appeals to the Supreme Court, which then has to decide whether the justices want or need to review the case. If fewer than four of the justices think that the appeal has merit, the application for certiorari is denied, keeping the appellate decision in place. This happens in most cases.

What does that mean in practical terms? It means that the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari tend to favor those cases that are likely to be overturned. It’s a major selection bias, and as we’ll see, it gives a very distorted picture of what happens in the appellate court system.

Let’s take a look at the ABA report that generated this talking point. The study covered ten years (1999-2008) across all appellate circuits. During that period of time, the total number of cases decided by all appellate courts was 604,665. How many did the Supreme Court accept for their review? A mere 660 cases, or 0.109% of all decisions reached by the appellate level. The Ninth Circuit accounted for 175 of the cases reviewed, or about 26.5%, but the same circuit handled 114,199 of all appellate cases — 18.9% of the total.

They have some graphs too.

The 2017 Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest

The Atlantic shows stunningly amazing photos from The 2017 Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest "Organizers of the Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest have just announced their winning photos for 2017. The winner Gabriel Barathieu beat entrants from 67 different countries with his portrait of an octopus in the lagoon of the island of Mayotte. Prizes and commendations were also handed out in a number of categories, including Wide Angle, Macro, Wrecks, Behavior, Up & Coming, and, in British waters, Wide Angle, Compact, and Macro shots. UPY has been kind enough to share some of this year's honorees with us below. Captions written by the photographers."

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Arrival: A Response To Bad Movies

Nerdwriter has a nice piece on Arrival. It assumes you've seen the film (spoilers), which you should.

via Kottke

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Moby claims to have insider information that Trump is in 'collusion with the Russian government'

NME reports Moby claims to have insider information that Trump is in 'collusion with the Russian government'. Now I barely know who Moby is and have no reason to believe anything the singer says about politics, but if nothing else, I like his collection of rumors. In the 1% chance this is true (if that), it's nice to make some claim chowder. For those that don't see his Facebook post, here are his claims:

  1. the russian dossier on trump is real. 100% real. he's being blackmailed by the russian government, not just for being peed on by russian hookers, but for much more nefarious things.
  2. the trump administration is in collusion with the russian government, and has been since day one.
  3. the trump administration needs a war, most likely with iran. at present they are putting u.s warships off the coast of iran in the hope that iran will attack one of the ships and give the u.s a pretense for invasion.
  4. there are right wing plans to get rid of trump. he's a drain on their fundraising and their approval ratings, and the gop and koch brothers and other u.s right wing groups are planning to get rid of trump.
  5. intelligence agencies around the world, and here in the u.s, are horrified by the incompetence of the trump administration, and are working to present information that will lead to high level firings and, ultimately, impeachment.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Thursday, February 09, 2017

The Butterfly Nebula from Hubble

Yesterday's Astronomy Picture of the Day is the my new desktop wallpaper, The Butterfly Nebula from Hubble

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"Explanation: The bright clusters and nebulae of planet Earth's night sky are often named for flowers or insects. Though its wingspan covers over 3 light-years, NGC 6302 is no exception. With an estimated surface temperature of about 250,000 degrees C, the dying central star of this particular planetary nebula has become exceptionally hot, shining brightly in ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust. This sharp close-up of the dying star's nebula was recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope and is presented here in reprocessed colors. Cutting across a bright cavity of ionized gas, the dust torus surrounding the central star is near the center of this view, almost edge-on to the line-of-sight. Molecular hydrogen has been detected in the hot star's dusty cosmic shroud. NGC 6302 lies about 4,000 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius)."

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

A Crack in an Antarctic Ice Shelf Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months

The New York Times A Crack in an Antarctic Ice Shelf Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months "A rapidly advancing crack in Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf has scientists concerned that it is getting close to a full break. The rift has accelerated this year in an area already vulnerable to warming temperatures. Since December, the crack has grown by the length of about five football fields each day."

Scary. See the article for wonderful diagrams and images.

Channeling Steve Jobs, Apple Seeks Design Perfection at New 'Spaceship' Campus

Reuters reports Channeling Steve Jobs, Apple seeks design perfection at new 'spaceship' campus.

Fanatical attention to detail is a key tenet. Early in construction, Apple managers told the construction team that the ceiling - composed of large panels of polished concrete - should be immaculate inside and out, just as the inside of the iPhone’s audio jack is a finished product, a former construction manager recalled.

Thus, each of the thousands of ceiling panels had to win approval from both Apple's in-house team and the general contractor, once at the shop and then again at the construction site.

"The things you can’t see, they all mattered to Apple,” the former construction manager said.

This does seem excessive:

When Apple tapped general contractors Holder Construction and Rudolph & Sletten to finish the main building in 2015, one of the first orders of business was finalizing a door handle for conference rooms and offices.

After months of back and forth, construction workers presented their work to a manager from Apple’s in-house team, who turned the sample over and over in his hands. Finally, he said he felt a faint bump.

The construction team double-checked the measurements, unable to find any imperfections – down to the nanometer. Still, Apple insisted on another version.

The construction manager who was so intimately involved in the door handle did not see its completion. Down to his last day, Apple was still fiddling with the design - after a year and a half of debate.

I'm looking forward to all of this inhouse Apple design and management effort being redirected into products.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Republicans will try a little-used tactic to kill five Obama regulations today - Vox

Vox reports Republicans will try a little-used tactic to kill five Obama regulations today.

The stream protection rule for coal mining. This regulation, finalized in December 2016, would sharply restrict coal-mining companies from dumping waste into nearby waterways in the future. Also, before starting a new mine, coal companies would have to develop a plan and set aside money to restore affected streams once finished. Advocates say the rule is crucial to protect fragile ecosystems and limit the dumping of toxic heavy metals into water supplies. But the coal industry — which is already in sharp decline — says it would put large swaths of the nation’s untapped coal reserves off-limits and further crunch mining companies.

The methane waste rule. This Department of Interior regulation, finalized in November 2016, would require oil and gas companies to reduce methane leaks from operations on federal and tribal lands. Instead of just flaring it or letting it waft into the air, companies would have to capture the methane and sell it off. This rule was a component of Obama’s climate plan, which aimed to reduce emissions of methane — a powerful greenhouse-gas — from oil and gas drilling 40 percent by 2025. But the oil industry preferred this be regulated at the state level (which is typically looser).

The ‘resource extraction rule.’ This SEC regulation, finalized in June 2016, would require publicly traded oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose payments they make to foreign governments. It was done under the auspices of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. Its supporters say the increased transparency would deter corruption from oil companies working abroad. (They’ll also note that Rex Tillerson, the likely secretary of state, was head of ExxonMobil, which fiercely fought the bill.) Its critics say it would make it harder for US energy companies to compete abroad.

The ‘blacklisting’ rule for contractors. This rule, finalized by the Department of Labor in August 2016, would require federal contractors to disclose labor law violations from the last three years — and change their practices — before they can receive a contract. In October, a federal judge halted this rule from taking effect, saying it went beyond the authority Congress had given the executive branch.

The Social Security gun rule. Under this regulation, finalized in December 2016, the Social Security Administration would submit information on recipients of disability insurance to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System if they met certain ‘mental impairment’ criteria. Gun-rights advocates said the system could block those on disability from being able to buy guns and rallied to repeal it.

Supreme Court Nominees

It's worth noting that just before the election, several Republican Senators were making the case, that if Hillary won, they'd block any nominees of her's for four years. As the Atlantic reported at the time, More Republicans Are Vowing to Block Clinton's Supreme Court Nominees If She Wins.

Now the debate has shifted, as several Republican senators have suggested simply not allowing any Democratic selections to the Supreme Court at all. Late on Monday, CNN reported on private remarks made by Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican up for reelection. He said that there will be no lame-duck confirmation, and then added, “And if Hillary Clinton becomes president, I am going to do everything I can do to make sure four years from now, we still got an opening on the Supreme Court.”

That aligns him with Senator Ted Cruz, who last week told Dave Weigel, “There is certainly long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices. I would note, just recently, that Justice Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have.”

A week before that, Senator John McCain, who is also running for reelection, said, “I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.” Later, however, a spokeswoman partially walked back his comments, saying the Arizonan will “thoroughly examine the record of any Supreme Court nominee put before the Senate and vote for or against that individual based on their qualifications as he has done throughout his career.”

I hadn't really heard of Garland or Gorsuch before. I've read a little on both from the sources I typically do (SCOTUSblog, Dahlia Lithwick, Jan Crawford Greenburg, etc.). Both seem like reasonable picks, they're clearly competent (which wasn't at all clear for Harriet Miers). If you look at ideology, and if "being in the mainstream" counts to you, Garland is more to the center than Gorsuch. Obama's pick would have been the most conservative of the liberal justices, between Breyer and Kennedy. Sen Orin Hatch in 2010 had called him a consensus pick. Gorsuch seems to be very much in the mold of Scalia, placing him as the second most conservative Justice next to Thomas. Of course there's no rule or even norm suggesting that a new Justice has to fill the same ideological role as the one they're replacing, as Alito replacing O'Connor shows. But there is a trend for Democrats to pick moderate-liberals and Republicans to pick conservatives ones.

So the real problem here is that Garland never got a hearing. The Republicans stole a seat and while that suggests some ownership that doesn't feel right, the sentiment is accurate. Democrats could try to take the high road and say Gorsuch is a qualified pick (and better than many others that Trump floated) but what does that get them? Republicans aren't playing fair and Democrats have no incentive to so either. This is one of the norms that has been eroded (I'd argue by Republicans), and we have to figure out a way to fix it, or our democracy is doomed.