Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Treat from Doctor Puppet

Mashable gives us a link to a wonderful video of a Doctors' Christmas. Enjoy. Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

A Possible Breakthrough on Understanding Aging

While it is true that there is no way to know when or if treatments for the diseases associated with aging will come any time soon from this research at Harvard Medical School it seems that it would hold some promise because it does reveal some of the most basic causes of them.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Carl Sagan is Still Right After All These Years

Upworthy shares an interview that Carl Sagan did on Charlie Rose where Sagan analyzes the problem with scientific illiteracy in a world that is shaped by science and technology. It was recorded 17 years ago and if anything the situation that worried Sagan back then has just gotten worse. I constantly see people expressing opinions as fact that show they understand absolutely nothing about science, scientists and the scientific method. This is extremely worrying in a time of climate change, genetic therapy, genetically modified crops and all of the other issues that depend on people understanding science for policy to be made based on facts instead of prejudices, ignorance and fear. Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Catching Up to the World Through Shopping...for Software Startups

TechCrunch has an article on the trend of non-tech companies buying software startups that are related to their business or can bring a new kind of tech savvy to the company. Reading it I wondered if it might also begin to mean something when it comes to the long established practice of outsourcing software development. Not just sending it overseas but surrendering it to any outside company. I've always thought that for the long term a company would be better off with analysts that could develop a good understanding of the business and have a vested interest in it to do their planning and their relationship with internal IT staff would (Or at least could if they had good management.) be better and produce better software.

Politicians for Pot

The Daily Beast reports on politicians who are making the legalization of marijuana part of their campaigns. I would think that any candidate who is really and truly fiscally responsible should be able to run on that platform because this is the most inane and fiscally irresponsible part of the War on Drugs. The amount of money wasted on prosecuting and incarcerating people who use or even sell marijuana is huge. I just don't buy into the arguments that it is more harmful than alcohol. Even if you could prove that it is marginally more harmful the problem would still be the big fail that is the attempt to handle it through criminalizing it. Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Green Lantern Movie Got Some Things Right

The movie Green Lantern is running on FX. Lots of people hated it. I didn't hate it but didn't fail to recognize its problems either. I'd still like to see another try at using Green Lantern as a major character and would want to see him in any Justice League movie. One thing I thought they got right was the use of the ring. The catapult catching the ball of energy, the anti-aircraft gun, the big fist hitting Parallax and the emphasis on the importance of willpower all did a pretty good job of reminding me of the comics. It's the sort of thing that would be great to see in a Green Lantern video game. But how would you really give free reign to the imagination of the players? I would like to see a game that came with a key for the player to use a cloud based tool to come up with their own creations for the ring that could then be downloaded to their copy of the game and even shared publicly should the player choose to do so.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Not All Memes Mean Something

I've been seeing a variety of tech pundits and article comments claiming Microsoft is dying for a while now. I've never bought into it and the latest news on Microsoft's earnings wouldn't seem to support it either.

An End to Patent Trolls?

We can only hope that the headline of this Ars Technica article is right. Real patents are necessary for innovation. Overly broad patents are not. Patents held for the sake of hitting people up for licensing fees by people who couldn't build a real produce or write a line of code to save their lives aren't. Those patents hurt real innovators and our economy.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Kansas City Chiefs' Tamba Hali leaves extra thousand dollar tip at restaurant - FanSided - Sports News, Entertainment, Lifestyle & Technology - 240+ Sites

Very impressive.

Kansas City Chiefs' Tamba Hali leaves extra thousand dollar tip at restaurant - FanSided - Sports News, Entertainment, Lifestyle & Technology - 240+ Sites

A Debt Ceiling Petition

After the near disasters in 2011 and earlier this month I've come to believe that the only way to avoid this kind of idiocy is to take away the political toy that is the debt ceiling. No political party should be able to threaten the economy of the nation for an instant whether it's to extort concessions from their opponents or to "make a point". We don't have to default to create potential economic problems and it should just not come up. I was surprised to find on the We the People site at whitehouse.gov that no one had yet thought of this but they hadn't so I created a petition on the site that reads as follows:
WE PETITION THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO: work with Congress to eliminate the debt ceiling Since the budgetary processes that have been in place since 1974 serve the same purposes as those originally envisioned by the legislators who wrote the 2nd Liberty Bond law in 1917 and also those of the members of Congress who modified it in 1939 to cover all general debt of the United States government the law should be eliminated or superseded by new legislation that would provide long term stability to purchasers of debt of the United States government. The law currently seems suitable only as a political Sword of Damocles that both political parties have used with varying degrees of responsibility. Since that level of responsibility has noticeably decreased in recent history no political party should have this "weapon" available any longer so it should be removed.
If you're interested in signing it the link is here. Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Thursday, October 10, 2013

(Not So) Solid Ice

While the U.S. government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis are taking up virtually all the media attention other things are happening and should be pointed out. Despite contextually questionable claims by climate change deniers that Arctic ice increased by 29% (Initial figures published on the NSIDC on their web site were incorrect. Rose initially claimed a 60% increase.) from last year that are technically true but leave out that it still leaves the extent of ice up north well short of historical averages, news from the poles isn't all that encouraging if you really pay attention. It is true that compared to last years minimum Arctic ice extent this year's wasn't as bad. But the NSIDC points out:
Overall, 10.03 million square kilometers (3.87 million square miles) of ice were lost between the 2013 maximum and minimum extents. This was the seventh summer that more than 10 million square kilometers of ice extent were lost; all but one of the seven (the summer of 1990) have occurred since 2007. ... September average sea ice extent for 2013 was the sixth lowest in the satellite record. The 2012 September extent was 32% lower than this year’s extent, while the 1981 to 2010 average was 22% higher than this year’s extent. Through 2013, the September linear rate of decline is 13.7% per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.
NSIDC also discusses another meaningful metric when they report on ice. Thickness.
The pattern of ice thickness for the summer of 2013 is similar to what has been seen in recent years. According to data from the European Space Agency CryoSat-2 radar altimeter, the spring melt season started with an Arctic ice cover thinner than in any recent year. This corroborates thickness information inferred from a calculation of ice age that showed first-year ice, which is thinner and more vulnerable to melt, over a significant part of the Arctic Ocean as the melt season started (see our earlier post).
Then we move to the part that is really beloved by the "skeptics". The Antarctic. It had another record extent in sea ice this year. The details from the NSIDC are:
Antarctic sea ice extent reached 19.47 million square kilometers (7.52 million square miles) on September 22, a record high maximum extent relative to the satellite record, and slightly above the previous record high set last year. This year’s maximum extent was 3.6% higher than the 1981 to 2010 average Antarctic maximum, representing an ice edge that is 35 kilometers (approximately 22 miles) further north on average. Overall, Antarctic September sea ice extent is increasing at 1.1% per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. This increase is likely due to a combination of factors, including winds and ocean circulation. A recent paper by our colleague Jinlun Zhang at the University of Washington concludes that changes in winds are resulting in both more compaction within the ice pack and more ridging, causing a thickening of the pack and making it more resistant to summer melt.
On the other hand there's a new discovery that makes me wonder how well this will hold up. That sea ice in western Antarctica has gouges in it. Gouges that come up into the ice from the bottom and are as tall and wide as the Eiffel Tower. New research hints that these gouges are related to water flow from melting ice. What that might mean to further increases in ice extent is something we'll have to wait and see, though it doesn't bode well for it, I'd think. Cross posted to The Moderate Voice

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Promising Steps in Applications for Graphene

With all of the usual caveats applied, some new discoveries in using graphene membranes hold some promise if they can be scaled up. New configurations of graphene appear to be usable for tunable separation of gases, including carbon dioxide, and water treatment.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Let's Just Strangle the Consumers

Wow. And I thought I didn't like the Republican list of demands to raise the debt ceiling before. Now I find out that another little goodie they wanted was to kill net neutrality. Is there any pro-consumer policy they don't hate?

Trolls of the Patent Variety

One of the greatest threats to many tech startups are the trolls. Not the comments trolls but the patent trolls. Vermont Public Radio reports on a bipartisan effort to do something about them and hopefully make it possible for people who actually work in technology to develop new services and technologies. Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Miniaturization Comes to Particle Accelerators?

After reading this article on Red Orbit my first thought was that if it pans out the implications for fusion power could get very interesting.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

An accurate assessment of Arctic Ice

Back on September 7 the Daily Mail published what is quite possibly the most dishonest recent article on the climate that I've seen. It would attempt to persuade people that this year's decrease in the amount of Arctic ice is in fact a growth of 60% from last year that represents an amazing recovery. In reality the extent of last year's ice still represented the sixth lowest level in the history of satellite measurements of Arctic ice. Another British news outlet, The Guardian, gives a much more accurate assessment, including pointing out the errors of the Daily Mail.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Yes, there is still such a thing as libel.

There is a lot of vitriol spewed in the debate over global warming/climate change. One of the biggest targets of that vitriol is Michael Mann, co-author of what is generally called the MBH paper, which produced the famous "hockey stick" graph. Mann sued the online versions of The Chronicle of Higher Education and the National Review for libel and defamation. Openmarket.org, the blog of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, started the ball rolling with a post that was quoted approvingly by the National Review, including this gem.

In the post quoted on National Review, writer Rand Simberg calls Mann, “the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science.”

Not satisfied with quoting that jab at Mann, Steyn added his own accusation, stating that:

Michael Mann was the man behind the fraudulent climate-change “hockey-stick” graph, the very ringmaster of the tree-ring circus.

The offending sections have since been removed from the OpenMarket.org web site, presumably to avoid the fate of NR and the Chronicle, but the originals are still at the other publications. Peter Wood at the Chronicle used the accusations that had been made against Mann to also parallel the Sandusky scandal when it comes to a culture of corruption at Penn State. Both publications have strived mightily to kill Mann's case against them, citing the First Amendment, claiming that it was just their opinion and not a claim of fact as defenses but last week a court decision validated the lawsuit, allowing it to continue since in the judge's opinion the case is likely to succeed on the merits.

See, if you claim that a scientist whose livelihood depends on the perception that his research is honest in fact is falsifying data or in some other way misrepresenting facts or the results of his research based on those facts, either explicitly or implicitly, you have damaged that person. If you continue to make these claims even after multiple investigations have shown the claims of fraud to be false your case that it's just an honest disagreement or a matter of opinion tends to fall apart. There have been multiple reviews of Mann's work and investigations into the so-called "Climategate" scandal and every one of them found that there was in fact no fraud, no intent to deceive or any of the other accusations repeated constantly against Mann and his associates. Yet the drumbeat of accusations and false claims has gone on. If in the end the courts rule against these publications maybe a lesson will be learned. But I tend to doubt it.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Monday, September 2, 2013

Q: What Likes Global Warming? - A: Pests.

redOrbit passes along news of a study from Nature Climate Change about a study that indicates that as global warming continues to increase the spread of pests that aren't very good for food crops. As far as what data supports their conclusion, the article gives us a pretty good example, IMO.
The researchers based their findings on 50 years of data that included global temperatures and the range of crop pests, which includes fungi, bacteria, viruses, insects, nematodes, viroids and oomycetes. They said the diversity of crop pests continues to expand and new strains are constantly evolving.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Discovery on the Shelves

I'm working on having a sort of modern geek garage sale. This of course means that it has to be online, especially with the difficulty of finding buyers for things like signed first edition science fiction. It feels like I've been going back and forth on whether to use eBay or Amazon forever and I think it's basically coming down to things that I can reasonably value and the things that are so unique that it's really hard to do. The latter are probably better candidates for eBay, IMO. For example I found a book on the shelves yesterday that I thought I'd lost years ago since I just couldn't remember where it had gotten to (Hey, there are lots of books in this house.) and I had lost some books years before due to water damage. It's a 1973 paperback edition of Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters. What made this such an interesting find for me back in 1977 at a little used bookstore was the inscription. Yes, it's very good condition for a 40 year old paperback and not only did Heinlein sign it but it's inscribed "To our jolly shipmate, Louise Thayer. Robert & Ginny". It's also noted that it was while he was on the Mariposa on Washington's Birthday in 1974. I may have to sell it but I was still very happy to find that it hadn't been destroyed after all. But lots of luck finding information to help price that one. Then there's the scripts. George R.R. Martin has done things in television before Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season". In fact he produced a pilot for a television show that never got picked up by the networks, Doorways. ABC actually commissioned six scripts for episodes that never were produced. It so happens that I acquired a copy of the script for the pilot and the first episode years ago at a convention's charity auction. George signed both of them Once again, how do you value something like that. I'm still mulling over what kind of reserve to put on them since I do think that eBay is probably the best venue to sell them. But I'm still smiling about finding that book.

Cory Doctorow on the Digital OED

Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing fame has an interesting article in The Guardian about the Oxford English Dictionary in the digital age. The idea of access to the OED is great but isn't going to be in my budget soon.

Careers Are the Craziest Things Sometimes

Ars Technica has an interesting article about a major career shift made by a NASA engineer. Mark Rober became a halloween costume designer after 9 years at NASA where he spent most of his time working on the Curiosity rover. A big shift that's really panned out for Rober, who started a company with friends to expand the idea and then sold the company to British company Digital Dudz.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

How to Alienate Your Employees in One Easy Lesson

I remember reading about this management practice before but I didn't remember that Microsoft was one of the companies using rank stacking, an amazingly misguided management methodology, IMO. Basically it means that no matter how good you are, and a company like Microsoft could attract a lot of very talented people, your manager just might get you fired because someone has to be put down as the least valuable employee by some criteria, any criteria. It doesn't really matter if everyone is good and everyone contributes value, the system demands it. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Kutcher Praised for Speech - But Why?

The Hill has an article complete with video on how conservatives are praising Ashton Kutcher because of a speech he gave at the Teen Choice Awards. What was so amazing about this speech that it drew praise from people such as Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and Rush Limbaugh? He talked about the virtues of work. Why do they consider this so remarkable? Because of the conservative straw man argument that liberals don't believe in work and instead believe in giveaways. Limbaugh's quote from the article:
"This is a message that young kids today are not hearing except maybe in their homes from their parents, but they're not hearing this. They're not hearing this from Obama. They're not hearing this from presidential or political leadership," he said.
Really?
We need to steer clear of this poverty of ambition, where people want to drive fancy cars and wear nice clothes and live in nice apartments but don't want to work hard to accomplish these things. Everyone should try to realize their full potential. - Barack Obama “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” - Barack Obama
It looks like he said something about it at least a couple of times. If you read comments on the internet you'll see that with appalling regularity people who defend the necessity of social programs will themselves be referred to as being on welfare or told they should go get a job. I know that I've been told that many times myself. It's the belief that gave rise to the 47% controversy and it's something that every person I know who votes exclusively for the Republican Party believes. The motivation for believing something so contrary to obvious facts is something that still puzzles me about our current political and social environment but maybe some day some one will figure it out. Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

New Jersey Senate Candidate To Single Mothers: Stop Relying On Food Stamps And Go To Work!

ThinkProgress shows a New Jersey Senate Candidate's message to single mothers. Because nothing has changed since he was a kid and there's enough jobs that pay well enough for a single mother or father to support their kids. Does this guy understand that you can work full time and still not be able to pay the bills?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Snowden leaks: the real take-home - Charlie's Diary

Charles Stross has a take on a core meaning of the Snowden leaks that few seem to be discussing. Snowden represents a sociological phenomenon that will quite likely only grow.

Snowden and his fellow members of Generation Y have never known an environment where employment was something likely to be long term and a two way bond of loyalty between employee and employer is the norm. The corporation will use you and then dismiss you at the drop of a hat. What does this have to do with Snowden and leaks from the United States intelligence apparatus? Stross also points out that currently 70% of the U.S. intelligence budget is spent on contracting out to corporations that follow this "ethos". Where does the border between the government and the corporation lie in that kind of environment?

This attitude on the part of the corporations that now do so much of our government's work may be good for short term profits but it really isn't the way people are wired for the most part. As Stross points out:

We human beings are primates. We have a deeply ingrained set of cultural and interpersonal behavioural rules which we violate only at social cost. One of these rules, essential for a tribal organism, is bilaterality: loyalty is a two-way street. (Another is hierarchicality: yield to the boss.) Such rules are not iron-bound or immutable — we're not robots — but our new hive superorganism employers don't obey them instinctively, and apes and monkeys and hominids tend to revert to tit for tat quite easily when unsure of their relative status. Perceived slights result in retaliation, and blundering, human-blind organizations can slight or bruise an employee's ego without even noticing. And slighted or bruised employees who lack instinctive loyalty because the culture they come from has spent generations systematically destroying social hierarchies and undermining their sense of belonging are much more likely to start thinking the unthinkable.

Will massive private entities that are seen as treating individuals like replaceable cogs in their machinery increasingly engender an attitude where retaliation for perceived injustices is acceptable? Will government increasingly be viewed as no different than these corporations since they do so much of the government's work for them and are viewed by many as having undue influence with the government because of the power their wealth gives them and thereby deserving of the same lack of loyalty and respect? Perhaps some of that is already happening at some level and is what is part of the cause of some people's attitude towards our government. If so I am reminded of "whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" and that it most likely applies to corporations and governments as well.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The true mystery of the Who-verse

I watched the BBC special last Sunday introducing the 12th doctor who will move into the Tardis when Matt Smith leaves the show this Christmas and am optimistic about what Peter Capaldi will bring to the show. I liked Dr. Who when it first came to these shores on PBS with Tom Baker's curly mop of hair and streaming scarf charming legions of fans. Quit watching after a bad experience helping run Panopticon West. But then came the re-boot. I loved it. I still love it. It seems to be almost a completely new creature with real drama, great writing and talented actors who didn't have cheesy bad special effects distracting from how good a job they are doing. I think it deserves the Hugos and the Hugo noms its gotten. I also enjoy the music of the show tremendously and have watched the BBC Proms concerts featuring Dr. Who several times as well as buying the CDs. But I do have to admit that I don't know that they got one thing right. Is the greatest mystery of the Doctor really his true name? You know, the thing that wasn't revealed even in an episode with the title of The Name of the Doctor? Of course not. The greatest mystery of the Who-verse is "Why humanity?". What makes this Time Lord determined to be the protector of Earth and those humans who will be leaving it? I know what my answer is...

Another new hope for solid state storage

If this storage technology pans out it seems to me that it would have the potential to eliminate hard drives as we know them. The remaining questions I didn't see addressed is expense of scaling up production and number of read/write cycles it can survive.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A good first step for asteroid mining

It was just a short while ago that Planetary Resources was in the news for it's crowdfunded telescope project. Now astronomers have identified a dozen asteroids that would make good targets for the company's goal of moving asteroids into an orbit that would make it easily accessible from Earth.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Congressional Republicans Take Stab At EPA Before Heading To Recess | DeSmogBlog

The modern GOP just loves to incessantly attack government agencies such as the EPA. There's enough of them that are old enough to remember what it was like before any of our current regulations existed and had the EPA to enforce them. It just doesn't take that much effort to find out if you missed it somehow.

Here's what I found by plugging "What was the environment like before the EPA?" into Google:
Photos: What America Looked Like Before the EPA

Friday, August 2, 2013

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Businessweek's Geekiest Article Ever

BusinessWeek writes about the application of D&D to designing user experiences for websites. I just love the taking of something that would seem completely unrelated and applying it to a problem.

The Bogus High-Tech Worker Shortage

PBS Newshour's blog has a guest column on an issue that really bugs me. The executives of tech companies gripe about how few workers they have who meet their needs. Do they really? How exacting are the job descriptions they use? Do the people they bring in using H1-B visas really meet those requirements or are they just useful in that they'll do anything to keep those visas including working absolutely insane hours, having no family or social life and never even thinking about asking for a raise? After all, if you hire an American they might do something entirely unreasonable like taking time off, expecting reasonable compensation given their expertise or some other shocking and completely unacceptable behavior for an employee. I've read articles about this issue online at sites like ComputerWorld, CIO and others and have seen IT professionals in the comments section mention that they don't recommend to their own children that they consider IT as a career. If you want students to consider STEM careers, do something about what's happening to the employees in STEM fields.

So Much for Sunshine

Brendan Greeley at BusinessWeek writes about Congress's really classified work, giving a whole new meaning to "I've Got a Secret". Apparently the big favors some legislators would like to do for their friends and big contributors should be something that none of the voters should be able to find out about.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

RealClearPolitics forgets a major factor in article on female GOP candidates for President

RealClearPolitics has a speculative article on the GOP's problem fielding female candidates but misses a huge point that also affects their male candidates. The reporters point out that current GOP women who hold office in blue leaning states are quite successful. But they fail to mention that to make it as a nominee for President from the Republican Party these women from blue or purple states would have to veer far to the right, abandoning much of what made them popular enough in their home states to win and what they need to avoid alienating a lot of independents and moderate Republicans in the general election. But the GOP base currently still seems convinced that they lost to Obama because they weren't conservative enough. Personally I think that's still a recipe for continuing failure.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

British conservative politicians can have awful ideas too

The UK's Prime Minister, David Cameron, a Tory, has proposed sweeping new rules to crack down on pornography online. I agree with this writer from Popular Science who thinks it's a bad idea. It's overly broad, based on some really bad assumptions and most likely fated to not end well. Assuming this does make it through their legislative process the question becomes one of whether or not the next government would have the courage to repeal it, IMO.

Russia - Not a good place to do business

Vladimir Putin's allies prove that successful businesses depend on the rule of law. Businesses should realize this by now yet they tend to ignore it in their desire to expand in countries that just aren't there yet, like Russia and China. India is a red tape nightmare that makes the worst of U.S. bureaucracy seem like a dream of efficiency. Yet the pundits of the business world extoll the virtues of emerging markets like they are all equal in opportunity.

STEM education and STEM jobs aren't a silver bullet for U.S. unemployment

Computerworld writes about some of the facts concerning tech jobs. While software jobs and some other math related professions are doing OK they're not really booming. But engineering jobs in the more technical areas of the profession like electronics engineering are declining. Even the status of jobs in chemistry isn't as rosy as a general push for STEM education would seem to make it. Remember that the government is cutting back on funding for scientific research and most modern corporations are doing the same. Something that has the greatest potential to provide for our future well-being is being slowly strangled in the name of short term gain.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The German Green Lantern

So this morning I thought I'd watch a nice animated full length feature from DC, "Green Lantern: First Flight" on Amazon. The movie starts and something just doesn't sound right. It wasn't in English. After about 30 seconds I recognized the language as German. How they did this one I don't know but it was a first and it still hasn't been fixed.

Self-Regulation as Scam: The Aluminum 'Merry-Go-Round' | The Business Desk with Paul Solman | PBS NewsHour | PBS

Some merry-go-rounds are bad things. The constant motion of people between government and the private sector companies they'd been involved with is one of them. I wonder if it could be made a crime for someone formerly in the government who uses their knowledge from their government employment to help their current employers dodge regulations?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, wants to ban oral sex.

Amanda Marcotte at Slate lets us know how Ken Cuccinelli is fighting hard to do the right thing. Well, that is, if you think pushing hard for a law that outlaws common sexual practices of consenting adults is the right thing. Of course he says that this is for the sake of the children but no sane people are buying into that one. How's that rebranding of the GOP going?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

DVDs and Blu-Rays will still be relevant for a while yet

This columnist for Forbes understands that but still misses one of the biggest reasons why. He addresses the fact that if you're picky about picture or sound quality streaming isn't going to provide the absolute best experience. He brings up other facts but misses one of the absolute biggest obstacles in the real world to media streaming taking over the U.S. market.

Our pathetic broadband quality is a major barrier not only to streaming taking over the media market but to fully utilizing the potential of high speed internet for education, remote medicine and other benefits we probably just haven't thought of yet. There are areas inside major metropolitan areas where you can't get broadband, believe it or not. I work for a small chain of funeral homes and cemeteries. They have a location in Leavenworth Kansas. It's a town with a bit over 35,000 people in it and considered to be part of the greater KC metropolitan area. To this day I haven't been able to get useful broadband at that location. Then you work your way "down" to smaller cities and towns and rural areas and it only gets worse. If you can find it, decent bandwidth is expensive most of the time.

Netflix and its gaming cousin, GameFly, are a much more reasonable answer for millions of Americans when they want to watch movies, television series or play video games and will probably be staying that way for years to come.

Why Frank Herbert's 'Dune' Still Matters : The New Yorker

A New Yorker columnist gives his take on the ongoing relevance of Dune. I find myself curious as to how he defines a "true fandom", which is what he thinks Dune lacks. Is it people in costumes? Is it conventions dedicated to it alone? Many books are extremely popular among science fiction fans that don't have those things and Dune is certainly considered among the absolute best the field has ever produced.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Some of the reporting on Snowden's leaks just isn't accurate

Edward Snowden is still on the run and still in the news. There's been a lot written about his claims, starting with The Guardian and the Washington Post. But as usual once you get into even mildly technical issues these organizations just can't seem to get it right. More technically inclined news organizations like CNet point out the technical errors. What's sad is that it wasn't even very technical. Maybe it was just shoddy reporting with no real fact checking.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Conflicting strategy messages from the FBI

The FBI, among other government agencies, has been warning us against coming cyber-terrorist attacks. Meanwhile, they put forth proposals that will significantly weaken computer security - h/t Boing Boing. As the article points out, you can't leave chinks in your defenses for the sake of FBI surveillance and expect software to still be secure against others breaking into the system.

Friday, May 31, 2013

First-ever high-res photos of chemical bonds breaking - Boing Boing

This is an amazing image. Since I haven't posted nearly enough lately and certainly not nearly enough geeky stuff here we go. More to follow soon.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Conservative Groups Often Deserved Investigation

The New York Times writes about how conservative groups screaming about being investigated by the IRS actually deserved it in multiple cases. The 501C4 status they were applying for limits direct participation in political campaigns. Yet these groups were actively campaigning for Republican candidates and that kind of activity is directly prohibited by law. Gee, maybe that was why they were being investigated.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Last Day of ConQuest

It's the last day of the con and I'm set up in the dealer's room, waiting with bated breath for the first customer of the day. If you like SF conventions and you don't come to ConQuest you are missing a great con that sticks to the basics.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Off to ConQuest

I haven't posted nearly enough the last week between work and getting ready for ConQuest. I'm getting ready to load the last of the stuff I'm selling at a dealer's table at the convention and then it's off to the con. It's the SF nerd version of a garage sale for me, selling duplicate books, items from my collection and miscellaneous items.

Friday, May 17, 2013

New Audit Allegations Show Flawed Statistical Thinking - NYTimes.com

Nate Silver shows through some simple analysis that the claims that are being made about Republican donors being targeted by the IRS are questionable at best. Simply put, if you can find 4 people who say they were audited and they were donors to the GOP you haven't proven a thing other than those 4 people were audited. Innumeracy abounds in America though, so don't expect many to understand this.

Blame Congress For the IRS-Tea Party Mess | Mother Jones

Among all the faux outrage, the claims of paranoia being justified and attempts to link the IRS actions in Cincinnati to the White House,remember this essential truth, that the single entity most responsible for what happened is most likely Congress itself for passing such a vague, even mushy law.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

John Scalzi on being poor

John Scalzi is a writer of very good science fiction. Well, let me be more accurate. In my opinion John Scalzi writes very, very good and quite possibly great science fiction. Checking his stuff out definitely counts as doing yourself a favor. But he's also been keeping a blog going for years titled Whatever. He even has published a collection of his writings from his blog. I have finally gotten around to reading this book and I recommend Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008 as much as I recommend his science fiction. While reading this book I came across one of his posts that I think everyone in this country should read. I remember how much it impressed me and touched me when I first read it online. Do yourself a favor and read Being Poor. Then do your friends a favor and get it to them. Link to it on your blog. Tweet about it. And while you're doing all that think about how much truth there is to it and what it means that far too many in this nation don't think about these things and never try to walk a mile in the shoes of those who they dismiss so casually.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Is this the reason the IRS screw up and Benghazi are being pushed so hard?

The deficit is dropping in absolute numbers and in the near future will continue to do so. When combined with a GDP that's increasing, although not as much as those who follow these things would like, it means that the measurement that most economists consider more meaningful than the dollars involved will be improving as well, which is the annual deficit expressed as a percentage of GDP. This robs the GOP of their biggest screaming point of recent times so they need something else to use to attack their enemies with.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Were the Benghazi emails altered | The Moderate Voice

The Moderate Voice links to reports that it appears that the emails GOP critics of the administration are trying to seize upon as evidence of a cover up appear to have been altered. This is on top of revelations that in fact these emails had been shown to intelligence committee members, including some of the Republicans who'd been attacking the Obama administration back in March and dismissed as not really proving anything.

Even if all of these allegations against President Obama are thoroughly disproven, including the ones concerning the IRS I have absolutely no doubt that the Republican faithful will be talking about how everyone knows that Obama was responsible for the deaths in Benghazi and used the IRS against his political enemies for many years to come.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Senators’ boycott blocks action to confirm EPA head

Yet another meaningless obstruction of an action by the Obama administration by the GOP. I am admittedly an anti-Republican. Things like this just make me think that I am correct in my choice of political affiliation. Block everything the guy in the White House tries to do no matter what is does not make one a useful public servant in our form of government. But I don't think that the fanatics with all of the influence in the current GOP really care.

Medicare Pulls Back Curtain On Hospital Bills

While NPR tells us that Medicare has pulled back the curtain it might be more apt to say it shows how hospitals pull bills out of the hat. It is, after all, an area in which illusion and delusion run rampant. The NPR talk show Talk of the Nation had guests discussing this issue and one of them made the point that the hospitals actually have no idea what the actual cost of the services they provide is to them. There is no health care system in this country. There is health care chaos that works in spite of itself. So far.

Pets may help cut heart disease risk: American Heart Association | Reuters

Can we have a big "DUH!"? My pets make me feel better. Whether it's petting the cats or the dogs or just watching them be their adorable selves it just brings a smile to the face and a contentedness. It's relaxing and that's a good thing.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

iTelescope - A Timeshare Telescope program

I always wondered if something like this existed. I thought it would be a cool thing several years ago and pictured an array of automated telescopes somewhere where viewing conditions would be good yet you could run broadband to them. Now if someone could do the same thing with adapting old satellite TV dishes to arrays of radio telescopes.

Psychic Claimed Amanda Berry Was Dead : Discovery News

I retweeted this article from Discovery News's Twitter account. I think it needs some real exposure and hope lots of other people and sites will pick it up. I know there are lots of people who believe in psychics but this is a horrible thing to do to very vulnerable people.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Will Business Step In to End a Sequester-Driven Research Funding Gap?

A writer on Scientific American blogs asks the question. I feel fairly safe in saying the answer is no. Even if they did fund more research, the nature of research for private business where discoveries become trade secrets, means that it won't contribute to science the same way more open scientific research does.

No, technology is not an unmixed blessing

Jaron Lanier cautions against the common wisdom that technology will replace the jobs it eliminates. His new book, Who Owns the Future? he tries to make this point among others.

A rather good example is mentioned in this article from Time.

The bankruptcy of the photography-giant Kodak occurred within months of Facebook‘s billion-dollar acquisition of the photo-sharing site Instagram. This would be just one example of the destructive dynamism of American capitalism, a process through which old companies are overtaken by new technology and new firms more in tune with the needs of customers — and that arguably benefits us all.

Except for one thing, that is: Whereas Kodak employed 140,000 workers during its heyday, Instagram employed just 13 people when it was purchased in April 2012.

“Where did all those jobs disappear to?” Lanier asks. “And what happened to the wealth that those middle-class jobs created?” Lanier’s answer is that the new “information economy,” which is now superseding the manufacturing economy, is developing in such a way that the rewards are filtering to an elite few at the expense of everybody else.

Anyone who has read a variety of posts I've made for a while now in various places will realize that this ties in to what I've believed for a while. The new economy just doesn't need as many people to produce things. Data centers of thousands of square feet might employ a hundred people. For a comparison Facebook is currently valued at $67.8 billion as of February according to Forbes and employees 4619 people according to an article on TechCrunch whereas Ford Motor is valued at $55.6 billion and employs 171,000 people. This is fairly typical so far as I can tell.

But it's not just the differing nature of technology companies versus manufacturing. There is also another way in which technology affects jobs in the modern world. As noted in the article:

One popular view of the American economy’s recent troubles is that we’ve become too decadent, that we no longer make anything the rest of the world wants, and that our economy will not recover until we can learn to overcome our addiction to debt and cheap, foreign-made goods. And if one were to look at where the average American gets his paycheck these days, there’s evidence to support this worldview. Fewer and fewer Americans are employed in making physical goods — just 9% of the population works in manufacturing, compared with 40% during World War Two. But total manufacturing output – that is, the dollar-value of all the things American companies make — has continued to increase. In fact, by some measures the U.S. produces more stuff than any other country in the world, including China.

The missing variable in this equation is automation. We’re still making a ton of stuff here; it’s just that machines are doing more and more of the making. As a technologist, this dynamic is obvious to Lanier, though it tends to sneak up on the rest of us.

Do these changes inevitably portend doom for our society as we know it? Well, probably. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing if for once we admit to ourselves that this is a possible outcome of what lots of people and businesses are doing and try to adapt without judgement or labels, just by looking for something that works.

Los Alamos National Lab has had quantum-encrypted internet for over two years

It will be very interesting to see when this actually starts rolling out. I do believe the DoD will be the first ones to have it, though.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Summers v. Hubbard - And the result just isn't very suprising.

Adam Davidson in the New York Times Magazine writes about Larry Summers and Glenn Hubbard, interviews them and even brings them together for a talk.

The most striking thing about each of them is how early experience formed their attitudes towards their field of study. They, like most economists, are creatures of their time and place. In spite of how hard many economists have tried to present their field as one capable of disciplined mathematical analysis and rigor separate from social and psychological considerations Summers and Hubbard show how little that view has to do with reality.

I freely admit that I find Hubbard's worldview the less realistic of the two. Why? Because he's conservative? Well, if by conservative you mean everything comes down to a very basic and simple philosophy wherein the government is the primary bad actor in the economy then yes, it's because he's conservative. Consider this from the article:
His views all seemed to coalesce around a fairly simple idea: the U.S. economy is better off when the government gets out of the way. Cutting the entitle­ment programs was an extension of this. It could free up more capital to further enable virtually everyone to contribute to the economy.

This simple belief just doesn't seem to be supported by the facts. Is our current economic malaise related to a lack of capital? Somehow I don't think so. Try the internet, Mr. Hubbard. Google "corporate cash on hand 2012". There is plenty of capital available for large companies and not much credit for small businesses or individuals. Still. Cutting government programs so that taxes can be cut isn't going to do a thing to change things for the better. It's faith in the answers he thinks he found in Hayek's work that powers every thought Hubbard has about economics and Hayek and most economists of his time don't have answers capable of standing up to the drastic changes that have swept over the world in recent decades.

One thing I think this article shows is that in order to understand where anyone stands when it comes to opinions on economics you need to understand the most basic core belief they have about it and where it might lead them. My most basic belief about economics is "Things change". Many people might see that and have a "Well, duh!" reaction. But it leads me to question beliefs and attitudes in the field that seem to be based on an acceptance of inherited wisdom and things that many consider to have always been true and that always will be true.

Consider the concept of comparative advantage. There are people who still believe in it. It was put forward in the early 19th century. Even then, though, David Ricardo acknowledged that there were limitations to the idea when capital could flow freely between nations. Does it really benefit both parties in today's environment where capital can flow as fast as electrons, knowledge is both power and commodity and factories can migrate like laborers as their owners seek lower wages and "friendly" regulatory environments. The answer is not necessarily. Every individual situation has to be examined to determine the answer to that question and rather than freely admitting that basic truth the desire for some kind of truth that can be broadly applied still seems to rule and rule badly. That's where I stand. That's what you should consider when reading my viewpoint on economic issues.

A Very Strange Sight for the Day after May Day

Why no, this is NOT normal for May 2nd in Kansas City. And it's still coming down. As a matter of fact looking out the window I'd say this is the hardest I've seen it coming down since it started a few hours ago.







Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Places in the Heart of a Bibliophile

I used to shop at Border's, don't have anything against Barnes and Noble, order books online and even read eBooks. But there is still something special about a good bookstore. This is a nice little article on CNN by an author and travel writer about her favorite bookstores. They certainly sound like places I'd like to visit and I love the photos of Parnassus Books in Nashville and Ben McNally Books in Toronto.

Weird Anti-Science

Two different articles on Slate point out different aspects of Republican dislike of science. First Phil Plait on his Bad Astronomy blog addresses the broad anti-science agenda expressed by multiple GOP politicians, especially Lamar Smith who apparently thinks that peer review is highly overrated when compared with political review. The other article is actually linked to by Plait's article but is more focused on the dislike of research in the social sciences.

I consider it reasonable to judge some of those attitudes by those who hold them and one of the Republican members of the house mentioned in the article on the attacks on social science research is a real gem. When Rep. Bill Posey had been in office for a whole two months he became the first Republican to propose a birther bill, one of those masterpieces of legislation whose sole purpose was to legitimize those who thought Barack Obama was the result of a strange conspiracy to put a non-citizen in the White House. Basically he criticized multiple research studies on the basis of them not being vital to national security or our national interest. Apparently the concept that learning new things is inherently in our best interest lies somewhere beyond the ability of his mind to grasp. It's also rather sad that apparently Posey believes this doozy of a claim:


Posey slightly softened his tone. “I'm not advocating we stop all the social-science study spending,” he said. “I just think it might be appropriate that much of that be left to the private sector.” How much, though? Someone should probably conduct a study.

I'm not aware of any private sector funding for real research in these fields that isn't interested in predetermined answers, are you?

Monday, April 29, 2013

It's not Capitalism, it's EXTREME Capitalism

Paul B. Farrell at MarketWatch decries capitalism for killing our morals and our future. Of course what he is referring to as capitalism is just one version of it. Unfortunately it's the version we currently practice. If you read the comments on this article you'll notice that as is normal there are those who take any critique of our current economic religion as indicating a belief in Marxism or Socialism. Do you think any of those making these types of claims understand that even Adam Smith expressed distrust of unfettered profit seeking? I tend to think not.
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty or justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary.
Adam Smith

Saturday, April 27, 2013

GOP Embraces “The Crazy” | John Avlon via The Moderate Voice

Joe Gandelman's Quote of the Day over at The Moderate Voice is from John Avlon at The Daily Beast and addresses how insanity has worked its way throughout so much of the GOP. It's not just their media outlets like WorldNetDaily, Breitbart, Glenn Beck and Alex Jones any more. You hear the most outrageous conspiracy theories and claims about their opposition's motives and policies from state legislators, members of the House of Representatives and high ranking officials in state governments now.

Avlon's article even addresses the Missouri example of GOP crazy where scanning documents (A standard procedure in modern business and government.) became part of a grand conspiracy theory. There was even a tidal wave of ads on television warning viewers in a sinister tone that the Nixon (Jay) administration might be sharing your information with the Obama administration.

Somehow this isn't too surprising when the governing of the nation is only a priority after those of winning the election "game", demonizing your opposition and reassuring yourself of your moral superiority.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Issues and Priorities in Congress

Ezra Klein asks a very important question via Twitter.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cosmological Speculation on Things We Might Never Know

What is outside our Universe? We have no idea. But that's never stopped active human minds before and it still doesn't. Speculations are varied and the ones in this article aren't the only ones out there. I love reading about cosmology and theoretical physics including books like The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory and The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality by Brian Greene. If you haven't seen the PBS shows based on these books do yourself a favor and look them up.

Honesty about a complex subject

I'm sharing this New York Times essay mostly because I think it's just such a refreshingly straightforward article by someone who is comfortable in her own skin. It also shows, IMO, just how complex a subject sexuality and sexual identity can really be.

Though her relationships with men far outnumber her relationships with women and she is happily married to a man she recognizes that her emotions and sexual attraction for those women she'd been involved with were just as meaningful and just as deep as those she'd felt for men. There are people who just refuse to recognize that this woman's sexuality and that of others like her is just as valid as theirs and unfortunately I think there will be people like that for a very long time to come.

Joe Gandelman's Quote of the Day

Joe Gandelman points out that Larry Sabato tries to bring media critics down to earth by correcting the myth that we ever had a "Golden Age" of disaster coverage where reporting on major events wesn't full of early misinformation. Sabato's prime example is one of the best known post-WWII shocks to the United States in the 20th century.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Facebook Has Big but Understated Plans for a New HQ

Facebook has commissioned Frank Gehry to design its new headquarters and it's not what you would consider typical for a Gehry design but I think it has a lot of great ideas and Gehry just might have liked the idea of a big departure from his previous work and the challenges Facebook's requirements would have posed for him. I would love to see the real thing after it's finished.

Did NRA Supported Policies Impede the Boston Bomber Investigation?

David Cay Johnston at The National Memo thinks so. Given their paranoia about anything that involves tracking anything that has to do with guns and explosives the NRA doesn't have much of a defense against his arguments.

15 facts about our planet from Bad Astronomy

I've always liked Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy and here's a post for Earth day from him. Earth Day: 15 facts about our planet.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

All jobs are not equal

Especially if they're only part time. One of the responses I've seen to news like this from the reality challenged is to point out those who want to work part time as though their existence somehow mitigates the fact that many of those working part time in today's economy don't want to be doing so and are in desperate need of full time work. They need the money. They need the benefits. Businesses don't want to spend the money, though. This is a problem. It's a glitch in the American version of capitalism in the 21st century. Shouldn't we admit it and search for a solution?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Hubble has given us so many beautiful images

In its 23rd year it gives us a new and amazing look at the Horsehead Nebula, which has been an iconic astronomical image for many years. Gorgeous. Simply breathtaking.

There's a place where an 'anti-incest' app is a good idea

It's really hard to know what to say about this app created in Iceland to avoid awkward social situations other than I suppose it's understandable in a country with a population only two-thirds the size of Kansas City. Just the city, no suburbs or ex-urbs counted.

Deja Vu in Asia all over again

This sounds eerily familiar. What would be wrong with just ignoring the lunatic ravings of North Korea? Seriously. Negotiations will never go anywhere for the foreseeable future since China has far too much patience with the regime. Just don't bother responding and continue with appropriate reactions when they actually do something.

Alien Things

I will not bother with links to stories about the tragedy in Boston. I think anyone reading this knows about what happened there. They might not know that bombs still go off in Iraq and Afghanistan constantly. In those countries weddings, funerals and religious celebrations are popular targets. Now in the U.S. it is one of the most famous sports events in the world. I often see comments, whether in fiction or non-fiction that we are all capable of violence, that we don't know what we are capable of until we are tested in some way. But I do know that these people murder, maim and destroy with no true threat to them or theirs and no regard for who might be killed and that makes them as alien to me as any being imagined by the best science fiction writers I know.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Ford and GM partnership an example of every little bit helping

DailyTech reports on a R&D partnership between Ford and GM. The new partnership will develop 9 and 10 speed transmissions for the automakers. Although it's unlikely that they will license this technology to competitors it would be nice. At the least I would expect that it will push competitors to come up with their own versions of the technology. Estimates are that it should improve gas mileage 5 to 10 percent. Given the number of vehicles that the two produce between them it would save a lot of fuel once enough vehicles with the new transmissions roll out but that's years away.

It's not just CO2 we need to worry about

Researchers from NCAR and Scripps find that cutting other pollutants could make significant contributions to slowing rising sea levels. These are pollutants that have a much shorter life time than CO2 and should therefore be more amenable to correcting the problems caused by excess amounts in the atmosphere.

How NASA brought the monstrous F-1 “moon rocket” engine back to life

Ars Technica has a great story about NASA engineers "reverse engineering" an F-1 engine so that the plans could be put into modern systems for design and computer modelling purposes. Starting from the outside everything was imaged and in one case a custom torque wrench was recreated. The original work was done in ways that wouldn't be used now and basically resulted in an engine where every one built was unique in some way and built largely by hand. It's a really fascinating story.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Problem of Too Many Books

OK, so there is a bit of a problem with having thousands of books in the house. I mentioned in an earlier post that I was re-reading the Dresden Files books. Well, I hit a bit of a roadblock. I can't find my copy of Turncoat, the eleventh book in the series. I'm still looking but this is really, really annoying. Then there's the other minor inconvenience of occasionally buying a duplicate of a book you just haven't seen on the shelves for a few years.

Friday, April 12, 2013

NOAA says Arctic will be nearly free of sea ice by the middle of this century

NOAA researchers now think that Arctic sea ice could decline even faster than previously thought, actually being nearly ice free by 2050 and maybe even within the next couple of decades. It's not good news and we don't really know every possible consequence of this event.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My name is Jim...

...and I am a book-a-holic. I haven't posted that much lately because I've been on a binge of reading. First I went through the Dubric Byerly series by Tamara Siler Jones. I'd read the first two soon after they came out and just bought the third one recently and I decided to re-read the first two before reading the third. On her own blog Ms. Jones writes a post about Dubric as a character. I know I remember seeing a post somewhere where she said that her publisher didn't want any more Dubric Byerly books which I consider to a major fail. She accomplished something difficult for a writer to do with me, which is make me care about a character who often is a complete ass. She also created a world and set of characters that definitely kept me involved and I'd like to see more of it and will probably pick up Fire - A Lars Hargrove Story this weekend. Then in the same spirit I started re-reading The Dresden Files series again to lead up to reading the latest book in that series that hit paperback, which I just picked up.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Governing Kansas badly

The state of Kansas joins the ranks of states that put ideology ahead of good governance with an anti-choice law. The law states that life begins at conception but has other provisions that seem to say it isn't an attempt to completely ban abortion. It will still probably be challenged in court, though, because of provisions that explicitly block any organizations that provide abortions from taking part in sex education programs in schools, presumably directly targeting Planned Parenthood. In addition the bill blocks any type of tax breaks for any organization that provides abortion services in the name of not providing any tax money, no matter how indirectly, for abortions.

This is in a state that is busy cutting taxes and planning on eliminating the state income tax even while promising to not hurt education any further than existing cuts to education have already done. Governor Brownback and his fellow Republicans seem to be fond of making promises they almost certainly can't keep and wasting even more state money defending the state from lawsuits they didn't have to incur.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Nat Geo fact checks some science conspiracy theories

National Geographic does rational people bombarded with misleading claims about several issues in science a favor with their article Fact Checking 6 Persistent Science Conspiracy Theories. Back in 2009 Scientific American had a piece about why people believe in conspiracy theories.

In the age of internet research being so easy it would also help if people would ask themselves if an idea really passes the smell test, do some research on it and not accept one source as being authoritative and consider the reputation of every source they find while doing their research.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Engage.

OK, so if you didn't watch Star Trek: The Next Generation you have no idea why this post is titled "Engage". Even if this NASA scientist's research bears fruit it will probably be a long time before Captain Picard's spiritual descendant can give that command on his ship's bridge but we can hope.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Another example of Limbaugh rhetorical bovine excrement

Ed Brayton of Dispatches from the Culture Wars writes of Limbaugh's discovery of yet another parallel between Obama and Hitler. Of course no Democrat, especially that Marxist Nazi Muslim with the funny colored skin in the White House, could possibly want at least the ACA for the sake of those who can't get anything but ER treatment. They must be pushing for it because it's what totalitarian murderers do. Right. Wing fruitcake, that is.

Raiders of the Lost Ark original brainstorming sessions - Boing Boing

This is just fascinating. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan give us a look at the process of three of the major film creators of the last 40 years with a transcript of their creative process for Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

When workers aren't considered an asset there are consequences

Renee Dudley at Bloomberg writes about customers leaving Walmart for other retailers. Why? It would appear that in their attempt to cut the fat Walmart management lost track of where fat ended and muscle began. I have to feel that this is the inevitable consequence of the view of employees as a cost of business, not an absolutely necessary contributor to the success of a business. Many people have recognized for a while now that in spite of the ads they run touting their happy workers and how they call them Associates the reality on the ground just isn't that nice.

Full time non-management workers don't make that much. Part-timers make so little they can't afford health insurance and often are on state aid. Unions are hated so virulently that Walmart has a history of doing anything to avoid them, even destroying departments at every store when one store voted to unionize. There's even a WikiPedia article on criticisms of Walmart with a section on employees and labor relations. The attitude also affects Walmart's vendors since the only way that many of them see to meet Walmart's demands on them for price cutting is to send jobs overseas and it seems that adequately policing their suppliers costs too much in money and effort.

But Walmart isn't alone. The New York Times had a piece about the history of the rise of temporary employment. Those who have their own vested interests in the temporary placement of workers speak glowingly of how it can lead to full time employment. Of course the problem with that argument is that if it really was growing because of its use to help vet permanent workers the absolute numbers of temp workers wouldn't be growing at the rate it is even as permanent full time employment is barely budging. Remember that when you see the unemployment headlines you are seeing what the BLS calls U3. The really important number in terms of gauging what's happening to the American work force, though, is U6.

Consider this table from the BLS web site. It shows that in February even as U3 dropped to 7.7%, U6 was at 14.3%. The definition of U3 is
Total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force (official unemployment rate)
U6 is defined as
Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force
with this note.
NOTE: Persons marginally attached to the labor force are those who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not currently looking for work. Persons employed part time for economic reasons are those who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule. Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

Those are just the economic costs to people in the work force, though. There is also the issue of safety. In an earlier post I pointed to an article on Salon that tells the story of a temporary worker who was not adequately trained for the work he was doing and not provided with the appropriate clothing or safety gear. The result of this negligence was a painful death. The Huffington Post had an article concerning a study that also linked the growth in contingent workers with increasing danger in the work place.

What does all of this say about the attitude that at least some business management holds towards their employees? The most charitable interpretation is that they are viewed solely as a cost of doing business. And when a human being is abstracted into an entry on a spreadsheet that subtracts from profits it becomes all too easy to ignore the costs that relentless labor cost cutting has to them as individuals and to us as a society, rationalizing it as something that has to be done for the sake of the company while not recognizing that it's bad for the company too.

Salon reports: When workers die: “And nobody called 911″

Salon's Jim Morris and Chip Mitchell expose a horrible dark side to our modern economy. A company can willfully create a dangerous work environment and even when it leads to a death there will probably be no criminal charges and even if there are it's likely to just be a misdemeanor. In the incident that is the core of the report there wasn't even a follow up inspection because the company provided documentation of the problem having been fixed. Given that the company asked an employee to lie to cover up the severity of what they'd done would you take their word on anything?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

MAD Artist's Edition looks amazing

Wow. I found this article on Boing Boing about Mad: Artist's Edition
and don't I wish that it would fit in my current budget. I've loved MAD for as long as I can remember and yes, I do think the earlier days of the magazine had a magic that the current one, though still a good mag IMO, doesn't quite possess.

NPR report shows how disability in the US relates to the job market

NPR's Planet Money has this report on the increase in the number of disabled in America. This report is one of the most honest I've ever seen on the issue. One fact it points out that far too many ignore is that many of those who have gone on disability aren't making up their health problems but could work if there were actually any jobs for them. The brutal truth is that there just aren't enough jobs in this country for the people who live here.

Large numbers of people deny this is true and use various metrics to attempt to prove their point. They really love to point to the number of ads for jobs versus the official unemployment numbers. There are multiple problems with this metric. For one thing the official unemployment number of U3 as it is called by the BLS doesn't include those who are underemployed currently who would also be applying for those jobs. U3 also doesn't count discouraged workers, those who aren't currently looking for work but who could re-enter the job market if only they thought there was something for them in it. It also, as this NPR report points out, doesn't count those who have gone on disability because they felt that was their only option. The reporter who did the piece for NPR cites a perfect example of the type of disconnect that exists many places in this country when it comes to jobs and the people who need them.

Over and over again, I'd listen to someone's story of how back pain meant they could no longer work, or how a shoulder injury had put them out of a job. Then I would ask: What about a job where you don't have to lift things, or a job where you don't have to use your shoulder, or a job where you can sit down? They would look at me as if I were asking, "How come you didn't consider becoming an astronaut?"

One woman I met, Ethel Thomas, is on disability for back pain after working many years at the fish plant, and then as a nurse's aide. When I asked her what job she would have in her dream world, she told me she would be the woman at the Social Security office who weeds through disability applications. I figured she said this because she thought she'd be good at weeding out the cheaters. But that wasn't it. She said she wanted this job because it is the only job she's seen where you get to sit all day.

At first, I found this hard to believe. But then I started looking around town. There's the McDonald's, the fish plant, the truck repair shop. I went down a list of job openings -- Occupational Therapist, McDonald's, McDonald's, Truck Driver (heavy lifting), KFC, Registered Nurse, McDonald's.

I actually think it might be possible that Ethel could not conceive of a job that would accommodate her pain.

The private sector (or the free market if you prefer) is completely incapable of doing anything about this problem. It has no interest in doing something about it. That's not their job, you see. Their job is to provide a service or a product that people will pay for and that they can make a profit on. Jobs are a byproduct. And in the modern world they are not an inevitable byproduct. Look honestly at the last few decades and you will find that the same Wall Street institutions that are now saying they are worried about the job market and how consumers have no money to spend are the same ones that have consistently encouraged publicly traded corporations to fire people in the name of cost cutting and increasing profits. If a business is actually having serious problems that can threaten it, this strategy is understandable. When they don't have problems but are just firing people to look good to analysts who have unrealistic expectations when it comes to growth they are eliminating assets as often as they are "cutting the fat". Where we find ourselves now is the result of decades of these policies. However the jobs are eliminated, whether by shipping the work overseas, automating them out of existence, restructuring the system so they no longer exist or using IT to enable fewer people to do the same amount of work the effect is the same. Fewer jobs exist and of those that do fewer of them pay a living wage.

The last sad truth that I think should be recognized when this issue is discussed is that there are those who remain convinced that the free market can fix it. They appear to believe that the free market can fix anything or at least come close enough that private charities can close the gap. There is no evidence that this is true. Appeals to history that claim that it has always been true are false and even if they were, the aphorism that history always repeats itself doesn't hold up that well when the world truly has changed in so many ways. It's a popular logical fallacy to believe in and one that will likely prevent us from finding a solution to this problem any time soon.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

How “dongle” jokes got two people fired—and led to DDoS attacks | Ars Technica

Ars Technica reports on an instance of social media firestorm hitting the real world big time. I tend to think that if the woman was offended by the joke they were telling she should either have let them know it then or just reported it to the PyCon organizers, not taken to Twitter with their pictures. But that's just a judgment call, isn't it? Now two people are unemployed and the ripples are hitting the employer of one of them and hurting other people's livelihoods. But the really bad part is how nasty these idiots attacking and threatening her and her former employer are. DDoS attacks on a business because of an employee tweet? And far worse, threats of violence against Adria Richards for a minor "offense" that isn't really any such thing? This isn't the first time that something relatively minor has escalated out of all reason, either. You really have to wonder about the people who choose to become so offensive because they are offended by something they see online.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Michelle Bachmann can't go too far

...in her mind or the minds of her supporters. Not even when she says that Obamacare literally kills people. Unfortunately in today's GOP you can't go too far to the right unless it costs an election (See Akin, Mourdock, Angle, etc.).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mega-eruptions Caused Mass Extinction, Study Finds

Well, it's more like study confirms and fills in the Details about what scientists already had strongly believed. It's one of the great things about science, the constant self-questioning and desire to get the answers just right or at least as close as we can. Whether it's because of technology revealing more to us or stumbling over new evidence we just hadn't found before scientists like finding something new that tells us more about the universe we live in.

Since fresh water is something that might get scarce...

...we should really hope that this discovery by Lockheed Martin pans out. The researchers think that this new material will make it much easier and cheaper to desalinate ocean water if they can scale up production of their new filtering material.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

NASA rep tell Congress the truth on asteroid defense

In Congressional testimony Charles Bolden is honest with a House committee. He tells them

From the information we have, we don’t know of an asteroid that will threaten the population of the United States. But if it’s coming in three weeks…pray.

Why? Because it's so easy to pretend that it will never happen so that money shouldn't be spent on it.

CBS News also reports on this and points out that Bolden also told the committee that

We are where we are today because, you know, you all told us to do something and between the administration and the Congress, the funding to do that did not - the bottom line is always the funding did not come.

Remember, government should be small and cheap no matter what.

Google Keep is live and ready to take your notes | Ars Technica

Google Keep sounds like an app that I'd like to check out. But it also points out what I consider one of the weaknesses of the Android system. I can't use it any time soon (if ever) because they're never going to update the OS of my Droid X2 and that's going to be my phone for the foreseeable future. I wonder how many others are in the same position?

Google Fiber Expanding to Olathe, Kansas | News & Opinion | PCMag.com

Google skipped several other affluent suburbs while moving their fiber service to Olathe. Maybe it was because Olathe offered them a good deal. But if you can do that, Google, any chance you could skip your way over the state line to the southeastern metro suburbs? Like the one I live in?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Newt Gingrich: GOP establishment must 'enter the age of the lightbulb' | World news | guardian.co.uk

So Newt wants the GOP to enter the age of the lightbulb. Of course it was invented 134 years ago. Most of the light in my house is from compact fluorescent bulbs, invented in 1976 and entering the market in 1995. By the time the GOP moves into that age of technology everyone else will probably have moved on to light emitting plastics.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Portman Announces Support for Gay Marriage | At the Races

This article from Roll Call refers to Senator Portman as a possible 2016 contender for President. After this he is not a contender in the GOP to win the primaries.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Giant New Telescope Inaugurated in Chile Today

Space.com reports on the opening of the ALMA radio telescope. Between this, the Kepler and the future launch of the James Webb telescope there ought to be lots of interesting discoveries in the near future.

Time for a new RSS reader

Google to kill off Google Reader in 'spring cleaning' | ZDNet

Douglas Holtz-Eakin: Balancing the Budget Is Just a Sales Gimmick to Gut the Federal Government. And We Republicans Think It Will Work! [UPDATED] | Angry Bear - Financial and Economic Commentary

A balanced budget for the federal government, as the GOP and their sympathizers define it, is actually not a virtue. They don't really think it is one, either. It's just a way to begin the process of eliminating programs they don't approve of. First you kneecap the programs in the name of fiscal responsibility. After the gutting you pushed for has made the programs ineffective at their stated goals you then push for them to be eliminated because everyone can see that these programs are ineffective and therefore don't deserve funding.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Paul Ryan, Faux Wonk

"Paul Ryan punts on tax reform" is the headline on The WonkBlog at the Washington Post. I consider it yet another example of why those who consider him a serious policy wonk have been hoodwinked. Ryan's wonkishness is just a mask he puts on to cover up that his true self is someone who has never really left the rut that believing in Ayn Rand created in his mind.

Paul Ryan isn't really changing anything

Ed Kilgore at the Washington Monthly tells the truth far better than Paul Ryan ever does. Why don't Republicans like Ryan ever just own up to their goals and the core truth of their ideology? Probably because they'd never win another election because most Americans aren't as blinded by their ideology as he is.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Maybe some rethinking is in order for astronomers

So this afternoon I was looking for something to watch and came upon the History Channel's The Universe on H2. It was the episode entitled "When Space Changed History" and discussed how history has possibly been changed by comets and asteroids. A major part of the show dealt with the work of the Holocene Impact Working Group. Basically they go against the tide of mainstream astronomy by claiming that impacts are more common than believed and have affected the planet and mankind's history because of that. The show presents a balanced view explaining the cases presented both by the group and those scientists that disagree with them. One of the things the astronomers who disagree with the working group's hypothesis said, though, was that we should see far more close approaches than we do if they were right. As I was watching, though, I found myself wondering if in light of 2013 ET, 2013 EC and the Chelyabinsk meteor there might be some re-evaluation going on in some scientific circles. Of course there's always this information to consider as well. Maybe a lot more money for NEO projects just might be a good idea.

Cherry-Picking is Child’s Play | Open Mind

Tamino points out yet another example of cherry picking by people who call themselves skeptics. If they were really skeptics they wouldn't need so much cherry picking in their claims.

A better article on the "extended hockey stick" study

I had an earlier post on a new study that extends the data further back in time concerning the famous hockey stick graph but Ars Technica has what I consider to be a better article on the study so I thought I'd share it.