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 -

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.

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?