August 31, 2012

Kindle Update

The Verge has an exclusive news item about Amazon's new "paperwhite" e-ink Kindle, this year's replacement for the Kindle Touch. It's a small book reader with e-ink (non-LCD) display, backlit to give the appearance of white paper and ability to read with it in the dark.

So, to update my earlier piece about the iPad "mini," where I mentioned the super book-reader-only Kindle: if you're looking for such a beast, buy this one.

Predicting the “iPad Mini” Internals

Marco Arment:

“The much more likely explanation is that iPad2,5 and iPad2,6 are the new ‘iPad Mini’ in Wi-Fi and GSM, and I haven’t recorded the likely iPad2,7 CDMA version yet.
If so, this suggests that the iPad Mini is, effectively, an iPad 2: an A5 with 512 MB of RAM and enough GPU power to drive the Gruber Display, but not a Retina Display.”

The forthcoming iPad "mini" becomes more compelling all the time. Modestly smaller than the iPad 2, but without the cost, heat and battery hit of the new iPad. The smaller size means a non-Retina display will look nearly as good as the new iPad's Retina panel. For most purposes it'll be a better iPad than the iPad.

I imagine this new product will extend Apple's ownership of the tablet market into smaller sizes, too. Just as the original and second-generation iPads essentially killed the market for any other company's full-sized tablets, the iPad "mini" will ultimately marginalize competing smaller tablets. No other company can produce a product with a rich app market as tightly integrated with what I'd call a non-clunky operating system. Non-geek users know the difference, and have voted with their dollars.

The only other tablet-like device still selling well, three years after the first iPad debuted, is the e-ink Kindle. It does what it does arguably better than the iPad due to its fine display, something no backlit LCD has been able to match. Customers exclusively looking for a book reader can't do any better than a $79 e-ink Kindle.

August 30, 2012

Jonathan Cohn: The Five Big Misrepresentations Of Paul Ryan's Convention Speech

Jonathan Cohn, writing for The New Republic:

“At least five times, Ryan misrepresented the facts. And while none of the statements were new, the context was. It’s one thing to hear them on a thirty-second television spot or even in a stump speech before a small crowd. It’s something else entirely to hear them in prime time address, as a vice presidential nominee is accepting his party’s nomination and speaking to the entire country.”

Why tell outright lies to a national audience? It’s the only way he’ll get elected.

The wheels will part from the bus, the polling numbers will diverge, and … well, you know what I’m going to write. And you know it’s true.

Andrew Sullivan: The Lies And Lies And Lies Of Paul Ryan

Andrew Sullivan, writing about Paul Ryan's Republican convention speech for The Daily Beast:

”I noted most of these lies last night. But there weren’t just lies; there was a total abdication of personal responsibility in an attack on president Obama’s alleged lack of responsibility.”

Hmm.

Click through for his take on Ryan's, um, thoughts.

Fox News: Paul Ryan’s Speech in 3 Words

Sally Kohn, writing for Fox News (yes, I’m quoting Fox “News.” Go figure.):

”Dazzling, deceiving and distracting.”

He’s a pretty man with a plan. Unfortunately for his rabid fans he’s not at the top of the GOP ticket. It’s Mitt’s game, not Paul’s.

Click through for fact checking and a short list of uncomfortable truths Ryan left out of his speech.

August 29, 2012

Unintentional Irony

Michele Catalano:

“Ann Romney said ‘I love you women!’ and I thought, really? You love women? You love women so much you want to take their choices away from them? You love women so much you preface your love for them by saying it’s the mothers who hold this country together, thereby excluding millions of women, implying that childless women don’t count as much in our society? You love women so much you support a platform that strips them of rights and depletes their ability to seek reproductive health care and breast cancer screenings when they don’t have insurance? You love women so much it doesn’t bother you that your husband chose as a running mate a man who wants to make in-vitro fertilization illegal?”

August 27, 2012

∴ How Apple's TV Box Might Work

We’ve been kicking around the idea of an Apple Television since Steve Jobs' biographer wrote that the Apple boss had “finally cracked” how to improve TV content delivery. It was a tantalizing idea for a future Apple product, but no-one has yet come up with actual design or implementation details. It’s the implementation that’ll make Apple’s product unique, revolutionary and disruptive.

The new Apple product will revolve, I think, around a little-known, little-used network technology called IP Multicast. It’s been around as long as the Internet Protocol, but most Internet users have never heard of it because so little has been done with it.

Most Internet communication occurs when a client connects to a server, requests data, and disconnects. Browse the web, check your email or stream a movie and you’re connecting your client machine and software to a server somewhere, retrieving data and closing the connection. It works well as far as it goes, but it doesn’t scale very well.

Recall what happened when Victoria’s Secret staged their first online “fashion show.” Their servers were immediately drowned in stream requests, and few users were able to watch the lingerie parade. We even have words for this sort of thing: John Gruber routinely Fireballs sites with his attention.

Service providers have created work-arounds for this kind of problem, often moving content to multiple servers or contracting with companies like Akamai to carry their content on hundreds of servers located around the world. Either way users are better served, but the original problem still exists. Client-server doesn’t cleanly scale beyond a few hundred users.

Enter IP Multicast, which turns the problem on its head. Rather than waiting for client connections, the server streams its content connectionless on one of many multicast addresses. This block of addresses, set aside by the IPv4 and IPv6 standards, is available for clients to listen in on.

You can join millions, even billions of others watching the big game If your client software listens in on the Super Bowl audio/video stream, without a network traffic jam in sight. The server only sees the one multicast address it’s broadcasting to, so its load is very light.

The trouble with multicasting is that there's little incentive to use it. Internet backbone routers aren’t configured to route it. Client software isn’t coded to make use of it. And no-one makes money when content is floating through the ether, free for the taking.

Enter the modern Internet Service Provider. Let’s use Comcast as an example. That company, the largest US cable TV and Internet provider, has aggressively rolled out IPv6 across their entire footprint recently. The routers within their corner of the Internet are theirs, so routing multicast packets is under their control rather than a committee of backbone providers. And they already have carriage agreements in place to convey all the TV content customers care about.

I’m speculating, but here’s how the whole thing might work.

Let’s say you want to become a “Comcast IPTV” customer, using a new or existing Apple TV 2 or 3. Those iOS-based devices are critical to the solution, because they’ll allow customers to download apps from an Apple TV App Store, among them the Comcast app. Signup will be handled within the app, and payment will flow through an iTunes account.

Once authorized, the customer is presented with a program guide of all Comcast-carried content currently available in their area. Network channels, “cable” tiers, pay-for movie channels, sports channels are all available through the Comcast app via IP multicast, one channel per multicast address. The customer selects a channel, the app “tunes” to the appropriate address and content appears.

There’s no need for DVR capability; content is stored in Comcast or iCloud cloud storage as it's broadcast and delivered on-demand when requested. The customer who “records” favorite programs for later playback is simply subscribing to that content as he might a podcast.

The much-maligned Apple podcast app takes on a more interesting aspect, now.

This scheme only works because

  1. Comcast controls the content and  the network, allowing them to keep programming within their IP network by properly configuring internal routers,
  2. the Comcast app only functions for properly authorized customers, so there’s no free riding (adding an encryption layer to the codec further improves security),
  3. the H.264 codec is efficient enough to handle the data, and the recently unveiled H.265 codec halves the necessary bandwidth again, and
  4. Comcast permits content flow without counting it against their per-customer service caps.

In short, the service provider is in control of the entire data path, so revenue is assured. Eventually Comcast moves all of their television customers off traditional coax-delivered content and onto IPTV. Their triple-play package becomes IP-only.

Everyone wins: Comcast makes equivalent revenue while moving customers to a newer, more modern and flexible medium; Apple sells several boatloads of Apple TV 3s (and beyond) as they become the exclusive provider of the new Comcast IPTV “set-top boxes,” and customers get a more flexible means of watching TV content with a better and more intuitive Apple-designed UI.

I believe that's how Steve cracked it.

August 26, 2012

The Bathouse

We took in a noon matinee of The Dark Knight Rises today. In short, it was a great movie.

We saw it in the IMAX format, which made the film doubly great with its size and resolution. The wall in front of us was filled with image that we enjoyed from dead-center, eye-level seats.

Arriving at the theater before it opened helped with grabbing those seats. Waiting until the film had largely played out its run helped, too.

Christian Bale, one of my favorite actors, well-reprised his role as The Batman; Michael Caine’s masterful acting stole many of his one-on-one scenes with Bale as Alfred; and the stunning Anne Hathaway made for a sexy, feline cat burglar (nee Cat Woman).

There are great things ahead for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, too. He played a cop in this outing, maybe a superhero soon, but you might remember him from Christopher Nolan’s last film, Inception.

The Dark Knight Rises is a thoughtful, contemporary story that ties together the two previous Christopher Nolan-directed Batman movies, includes tight, fast action, and surprises with significant plot twists toward the end. It’s a terrific adventure, one I’m looking forward to re-watching at least a couple of times to dig out details I know I missed.

At two hours, forty minutes we got our money’s worth. If you have the opportunity to catch a weekday matinee of this film, you should.

As good as it was, though, I’d say the best of the three Christian Bale Batman films was the second, if only because of Heath Ledger’s Joker. This film’s villain, Bane, came up short by comparison.

Not that the Bane character didn’t move along the plot. The character was an intriguing part of a major plot twist. Yet Ledger’s final role will remain the greatest Joker of all time, more captivating than Jack Nicholson’s and as iconic as Cesar Romero’s, and that ain’t bad.

One aspect marred the outing. We don’t go out to the movies very often; I think the last film I saw at a theater was the second (unwatchable) Matrix sequel. Something has changed in popular film presentation since then. We were assaulted by the ungodly loud audio track that went with the feature and trailers today.

I don’t know how or why avid movie-goers put up with the near-painful onslaught of noise in today’s theater presentations.

Surround sound enhances the viewing by bathing the viewer in complementary audio from all angles, but today’s audio was so over-the-top LOUD that I wanted to yell “turn that shit down” (and “get off my lawn”) before the trailers had finished. The main feature’s dialog was too muddy to understand all of Bane’s lines.

I didn’t like it, and it’ll probably prevent me from viewing that other greatly anticipated movie, Skyfall, in a theater this year.

Not long ago, watching movies at home detracted from the experience. The screen was small, image resolution was low, and the audio was tinny. Today’s home theater setups have changed all that. Watching a good movie at home is a pleasure now.

Even in the era of wide-screen TVs, though, little compares to a professional theater screen, let alone an IMAX screen. I’d like to say today’s big screen lured me back to the movie house, but after our experience I can honestly say I enjoyed re-watching the previous two Christian Bale Batman flicks at home last month more than sitting in the big room today. And that’s a shame.

August 25, 2012

When Wheaton Met Neil Armstrong

Wil Wheaton:

“I met Neil Armstrong once, at a dinner to honor Jimmy Doohan in the early 2000s.

He was not much taller than me, but he was a giant of a man. He was as kind as he was intimidating.

I don’t remember what I said to him, or what he said to me, because all I could think the entire time was ‘This man has walked on the fucking moon.’

Rest in peace, Neil. Because of your bravery and your courage, an entire species will forever look into the night sky and see not a mystery, but a destination.

(sorry for the full lift, Wil, but there was no part insignificant enough to leave out.)

Spread the Word

A quick note from Bazinga-land: if you’ve been reading along here and like what you've seen, do me the favor of spreading the word to like-minded people you know. I write for the pleasure of expression, but knowing that someone else is reading along is always welcome.

Thanks!

∴ Where No Man Had Gone Before

Young Neil Armstrong

I remember seeing his fuzzy image, very late at night and on a small television, against a washed-out background. I recall my mom telling me, “this is history.” I can hear his voice, shortly after he stepped off human engineering onto a planet-like body not our own. It was a lot to take in for a four-year old, but I made some small sense of it that night.

I’d look up at the Moon for the rest of the week and think, there’s a man up there. I didn’t have much of a grasp as to where up there might be, but I knew it was far away and somehow, a man was walking around there, because I had seen him do it more than once on TV by then.

Neil Armstrong has died, and that’s a shame, and I’m saddened by his passing.

But forty-three years later I’m still inspired by his audacity, and that of his two fellow travelers, and the thousands of scientists and engineers who conspired to fly from Earth to the Moon, land, experiment and return. And I know now just how far up there is, and what it took to get there in an age of propeller-powered aircraft and carburated automobile engines and computers the size of a large room. I’m still in awe.

Last week another team conspired to send a spacecraft beyond the Moon, to Mars, to fly alone through the void for eight months, enter another world’s atmosphere and enact a scene from science fiction: their creation autonomously flew a rocket-powered sky crane that lowered a wheeled science platform to the Martian surface, gently laid it down, and began our next great adventure. I am again in awe.

There’s no man up there today. There is, however, a science-laden rover exploring Mars, extending our reach and our knowledge so that someday men and women will walk up there, and erect a memorial at Bradbury Landing.

Armstrong dared greatly. What a great legacy he left behind. How great that he lived long enough to see Curiosity land itself on Mars. When humans land there, and they will, the site should be named Armstrong Landing.

New iPad Mini to Debut in October, After New iPhone's September Bow

John Paczkowski, writing for All Things Digital:

“Apple’s next generation iPhone and its so-called ‘iPad mini’ will debut at two separate events this fall, rather than a single one as has been widely speculated, according to several sources.”

Christmas comes early this year. Our three-year old iPhone 3Gs batteries are not long for this world, so count us in for two Verizon 32 GB models. Adios, AT&T.

The iPad mini looks to be a Kindle and Android tablet killer. At a rumored $200 - $300 entry-level price point, why buy anything else?

Or is it iPad Air?

Frum: Diversity at the RNC!

Favid Frum:

“Eleven prime-time speakers at the Republican national convention. Five of them women. Five of them minorities.”

The non-lunatic fringe of the GOP is getting wiser. The less the party reflects fat cat white-boys, the more it reflects the US population as a whole. That's good politics.

Now all they need do is jettison the evangelical nonsense. We'd be left with arguments about the economy and foreign policy. And the parties aren't far apart on foreign policy.

Recall all those Democratic party regulars who campaigned on the gun control issue during the nineties? You don't hear much about that issue from them anymore. The DNC realized it was a losing issue, right or wrong. The party moved on. That was good politics, too.

(The recent spate of mass gun violence might eventually turn that tide, though. Repeatedly hearing the phrase "gun was legally purchased" could resonate better than any campaign slogan.)

Polling has shown a consistent rejection of restricted abortion rights by the majority of Americans. And few want a nag as government dictating what citizens may and may not do with their personal lives.

Now would be a good time to throw the extremists under the bus.

Ihntako: Near-total Victory For Apple Stifles Phone, Tablet Design

Andy Ihnatko, writing for The Chicago Sun-Times:

“Friday’s verdict doesn’t feel like justice. It feels like the day when Apple lost a hunk of its public persona as sweet hippies motivated by excellence and freedom, who win by making the best products.”

It's a minor point in Andy's piece, but one with which I fervently disagree.

Apple's victory in its legal fight over Samsung's obvious and blatant copyright violations is only evidence of how well its managers have learned the painful lessons of the past: they popularized the graphic user interface in the early eighties, only to see Microsoft steal their thunder and crush their business with the same technology in the nineties.

Apple plays a game in a world of heavyweight contestants. They design and sell consumer electronics, some say the finest examples available of each product type. But sweet hippies and other nice guys do, indeed, finish last when their competitors will stop at nothing to beat them and they do nothing to stop it.

Apple's victory is only evidence that they understand the game they're playing, and they're playing it to win. Business, after all, is about making money, and letting the other guy take your money is just bad business. Bad business is not Apple's way.

The adage "hate the game, not the player" seems appropriate here. The problem isn't Apple dominating the smartphone arena. They did so fair and square, by building a great product, copyrighting it under existing law, and defending their copyright against a flagrant violator. Let's not lament an unpopular game well played, let's change the game.

It Begins: Sandusky Victim Sues Penn State

AP:

“A young man who testified against Jerry Sandusky sued Penn State on Friday for its ‘deliberate and shameful’ handling of complaints that the former assistant football coach behaved inappropriately and sexually toward boys.”

(Via NBCNews.com.)

I think this is the first of what will no doubt be many suits filed in the wake of Sandusky's conviction and the Freeh report's damning evidence against Penn State. How much, though, is enough to compensate someone for a lifetime of mental anguish? Sandusky's, and other pedophiles' victims can never be made whole, by any court.

A scan of the decisions for and awards to victims of Catholic priests is instructive. If those decisions are any indication, Penn State is in it for tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. It's (another) shame that such a sum is chump change for a school whose function has become as much a football machine as an institution of higher learning.

The NCAA should have completely shut down their football program for a few years, and let Penn State's administration recall what going to college is really about: learning.

August 24, 2012

Birther Romney

Dumb.

Desparation?

Jerry Nelson, Man Behind 'Sesame Street's' Count, Dies

The Count

Seth Abramovitch:

“Jerry Nelson, the skilled puppeteer who played ‘Sesame Street’s’ math-addicted vampire Count von Count, has died, The Jim Henson Company confirms. He was 78.”

The flags at Bazinga Journal are flying at half-mast today in honor of Jerry. Imbuing life into The Count, one of my favorite characters, he may have been a precursor to all the numbers, code and geekery that have come since for me.

Join me in a salute to Jerry and his best-known foil. ONE! One flag flying at half-mast. TWO! Two flags flying at half-mast. THREE! Three flags flying at half-mast. Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah.

(lightning flashes, thunder crashes, the crowd goes wild. Thanks, Jerry.)

Tour de Irrelevant

TMZ:

“Lance Armstrong is no longer a Tour de France champion … the cyclist has been STRIPPED of his seven titles in the wake of allegations that he used banned performance-enhancers. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency made the announcement this morning … Armstrong will not only lose his victories, he has also been banned from the sport of cycling for life.”

Another rider or two is disqualified, suspended or banned every year over doping allegations. What was once a bicycle race has become a race between new doping techniques and methods for discovering those techniques. What we’re left with is the vague suspicion that many of the competitors are juicing, we just don’t know how many or who.

All of which makes the race irrelevant, because the competitors are commonly called into question by allegations and the results can change, sometimes years later.

That’s a shame, because the TdF is perhaps the most grueling slog in sports. Think of it more as a multi-week marathon rather than a single long race.

August 22, 2012

Political Identity Implicit Association Test

David Frum:

”National Public Radio does a valuable service by doing yet more reporting to show that so-called “independent voters” are not really independent at all.

This story focuses on a new test by Brian Noesk of the University of Virginia which can evaluate the partisan leanings of subjects who take it.”

Click through for the ten-minute test. I was identified as moderately identifying with Democratic politics, and thinking back on the mechanics of the test I'd say that's because I was quicker on the keys when "I," "Me," and "Mine" were assigned to the same category as "Democrat," "Liberal" and "Barack Obama."

You'll see what I mean if you take the test. It's a subtle bias that sneaks in when you're trying to be quick with your responses, as the test writer urges you to be.

Apple TV Success Will Depend on Software and iOS

Rob LeFebvre, writing for Cult of Mac:

“Set top box with software, integrated HDTV, or both? One analyst thinks the former.

In an investor note today, Barclays investment analyst Ben Reitzes comes down squarely on the side of many others who believe a set top box is the way Apple has ‘cracked’ the TV scene“

I believe it'll be a "set-top box," too, but not in the manner to which we're accustomed.

Set -top boxes tend to be bulky, ugly affairs best kept in a cabinet, out of sight. Apple's set-top box, though, is small, tightly integrated and already with us: the Apple TV 3. Yet analysts and pundits seem to believe Apple will produce something new, and different, to handle live cable input.

Why does a set-top box require a cable connector at all, though? Cable companies universally provide Internet service, at ever-increasing speed. The Apple TV 3 is already capable of receiving and displaying a streamed a/v signal in 1080i format from iTunes, iCloud, Hulu, Netflix and more. A Comcast/Uverse/Cox/your-cable-company-here app and IP multicast is all that's needed to bring live cable content to our homes.

That, and a carriage deal with your cable company.

August 21, 2012

Clearly Delusional

Re-tweeted by Chuck Todd:

Hannity is lib media? MT @ToddAkin: liberal media is trying to make me drop out. Please stand w/ me tonight  http://t.co/eBWCNvs4

Reports have Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Reince Priebus (RNC Chair), Sean Hannity and the Secaucus dog catcher calling for Todd Akin to remove himself from the Missouri US Senate race.

NONE OF THOSE PEOPLE'S POLITICS QUALIFY AS LIBERAL.

Couldn't find a link to the dog catcher's video, but it's out there. It's out there.

Seriously, wouldn't it be a kick in the pants if this controversy grew to lose the US Senate and White House for the Republicans?

The Oatmeal Hits Its $850,000 Goal To Fund A (Goddamn) Tesla Museum In Less Than A Week

Joh Biggs, writing for TechCrunch:

“About a week after posting a call for donations to fund a Tesla Museum on Long Island, the goal has been surpassed by $20,000. Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal announced the plan last week in a post entitled ‘Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum’ and it looks like his dream – and ours – will come true.”

That was quick.

Hover Bike Lets You Drive Like a Jedi

MSNBC:

“Aerofex has currently limited human flight testing to a height of 15 feet and speeds of about 30 mph, but more out of caution rather than because of any technological limits. Older versions of the hover vehicles could fly about as fast as helicopters”

WANT.

The Genius Of Enemy Of The State, Tony Scott's Best Film

Will Leitch, writing for Deadspin (really):

“But for my money, the great Tony Scott film is Enemy of the State: a huge Hollywood hit, a scathing (and prescient) critique of government’s prying into the lives of their citizens, and, oh, by the way, a story featuring one of the most iconic characters in American cinematic history.”

Enemy … is one of those films I used to loved catching on a Friday or Saturday night, until I wore it out from re-watching. It had a blend of good actors, interesting plot and was contemporary enough in its gadgetry and theme to make the story relevant.

And I've always had a secret desire for an isolated technology lair packed to the hilt with explosives for an easy get-away. So don't come snooping in my basement.

Why Akin's Ignorance Matters

Because Akin isn’t alone.

Kevin Drum, writing for Mother Jones:

“If Roe is overturned and states have the authority to regulate abortion as they please, of course some of them will ban abortion completely. And if abortion is murder — which it would be under the human life laws that virtually all Republicans now support — on what grounds could the courts overturn them? They couldn’t. Everyone know this, and it’s sophistry of the tawdriest and most cowardly kind to pretend otherwise.”

Translation, if needed: elections have consequences. Laws as they exist today may not always be so. Vote for the candidates who support your views, because it’s never a given that freedoms enjoyed will remain free.

August 20, 2012

Augusta National Admits First Female Members

Houston Mitchell, writing for The LA Times:

“Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters tournament, admitted the first female members in its 80-year history Monday: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore.”

Good news for Condi and Darla, but don't cheer for those buffoons at Augusta National.

Augusta admitted their first black member in 1990. Good thing, because Tiger Woods came along shortly thereafter and won four (and counting) Masters tournaments.

Augusta used to require their caddies be black. Really.

Now they'll have a *black* *female* member, one who's of taller intellectual and professional stature than any ten of the club's backload of Judge Smails wannabes.

Welcome to the twentieth century, Augusta.

Frum: Akin's Abortion View: More Widespread in GOP Than You Think

David Frum:

“Todd Akin did not stumble his way into his cul-de-sac. The poor expression of his belief is his own fault, but the expression is not really the problem: it is the view that is the problem. Akin’s view may be outrageous, but its outrageousness is not one man’s mental spasm.”

What’s shocking isn’t Akin’s view, it’s that his view is commonplace among his fellow travelers.

Pro-life, anti-woman. Vote your conscience.

Portrait of An Ignorant Man

Hank Williams, Jr.

Intellectually bankrupt, yet surprisingly agile with the mouth. The story of country music, really.

Rep. Todd Akin, Member, Committee On Science, Space and Technology, and Friend of Women

Politics is all about ideas and persuasion. Todd Akin brings us an interesting one. And he's among those steering Congress' science committee. Really.

August 17, 2012

CO2 Emissions In US Drop To 20-year Low

The AP:

“In a little-noticed technical report, the U.S. Energy Information Agency, a part of the Energy Department, said this month that energy related U.S. CO2 emissions for the first four months of this year fell to about 1992 levels. Energy emissions make up about 98 percent of the total. The Associated Press contacted environmental experts, scientists and utility companies and learned that virtually everyone believes the shift could have major long-term implications for U.S. energy policy.”

(Via The Daily Beast.)

Huh. How about that? Now if drillers can engineer the capture of leaking methane gas from these wells, we might be able to put the coal era behind us.

Watch Light Move

This TEDTalk covers femtophotography, imaging with light pulses one one-trillionth of a second long. The results are stunning: imaging around corners and other impossible-to-reach subjects.

(via kottke.org.)

August 15, 2012

Help The Oatmeal Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum

Oh, yes ...

Well, They've Lost David Stockman

Interesting op-ed piece about Paul Ryan, the presumptive GOP VP nominee, in The New York Times by David A. Stockman. Stockman was one of president Reagan’s heads of the Office of Management and Budget, and the guy who sold supply-side economics to Reagan, ushering in an era of tax cuts and decreased regulation.

He’s no fan of Paul Ryan’s.

Caltech Wins Eco-Friendly Toilet Competition

Theodoric Meyer, writing for The Seattle Times, describes the winning design from Caltech:

“The winning design looks like a regular toilet, at least above ground. After use, the waste is flushed down to a holding tank under the floor, where the solid material sinks to the bottom. When the liquid reaches a certain level, it flows through a tube into a ‘sun-powered electrochemical reactor.’ The reaction oxidizes the chloride in the urine, killing microorganisms in it.”

(Via The Verge.)

Howard Wolowitz had a hand in this, I'm sure.

The article goes on to describe the capture of waste hydrogen from the process, and how the entire mechanism is solar powered.

Flush toilets are taken for granted in the developed world, where water is usually plentiful and bathrooms become designer fetishes for even DIY home renovators. With a little more thought, though, imagine the benefit to be had by integrating Caltech's creation into new home toilet installations.

A small, high-efficiency solar cell on the roof and a hydrogen collection tank and generator in the basement could perhaps harness enough waste energy to power the home's lighter appliances or lights, reducing the owner's grid consumption to major appliances.

How much further could these ideas be pushed?

August 14, 2012

New Apple Patent … Hmmmmm

Allyson Kazmucha, writing for iMore:

“Apple has just been granted a patent that it applied for 6 years ago that would allow them to turn the Apple TV into a cable box of sorts. This means instead of simply being able to stream content from iTunes, Netflix, and now Hulu, you’d be able to watch regular tv as well.”

As the article mentions, companies often patent features and product ideas that never see the light of day. Seeing how far Apple has taken their “hobby,” though, it’s a safe bet they’ll incorporate this technology into something.

A cable- or satellite-capable Apple TV (or Apple HDTV) sounds good ...

Uh-oh ...

ESPN:

“Alterra America Insurance, which provided the NFL with an excess casualty insurance policy last season, has asked for a New York State Supreme Court judge to issue a declaratory judgment in its favor that would clear the firm from having to defend the league and pay for the damages associated with litigation that now involves more than 3,000 former players.”

How long until dots like this one connect to look like this?

The Cows Are Lowing In the Field

The Today Show:

“Actor Ron Palillo, who played Arnold Horshack on the 1970s television series ‘Welcome Back Kotter,’ died Tuesday at his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He was 63.”

Robert Hegyes, who played Juan Epstein on the same show, died this past February. Is John Travolta next?

August 12, 2012

∴ Social Security Games, Or, You Won't Believe This

We argue over the size of our Federal debt in America, yet little of the debate is about the largest and most troubled components of it. The largest single component of the debt (not a US government web site, but very useful) is the unfunded IOU for the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes collected over the past several decades. That tax funds both Social Security and Medicare and yes, we’ve already spent all of the money, by leaving it in the general fund where other programs have eaten it.

Our arguments often center instead on nickels and dimes, relatively speaking. Bridge To Nowhere? It was a wasteful, pork-barrel project, but a drop in the bucket beside unfunded entitlements.

We should be tackling the larger problems first, assuring ourselves a stabile future benefit and heading off unsustainable expenditures.

I got a better feel for the Social Security problem while looking into the specifics of my future Social Security benefit, using the Social Security Administration’s online statement and additional resources from around the Internet. Not only is the Old Age Security and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program, as it’s named, a good deal, it might be too good.

You’re no doubt aware that a US worker, having paid into the program for at least forty credits-worth, can begin drawing a benefit at age 62.

(That requirement used to be forty calendar quarters, but the rules were changed equating a quarter to a specific dollar amount, thereby letting workers accrue the newly coined “credits” as fast as their incomes allowed.)

The monthly benefit amount increases yearly for every year a recipient holds off applying, until it reaches its maximum at age 70.

That sounds straightforward enough. Pay in, retire, get a check. Retire later, get a bigger check. Yet provisions in the FICA tax and OASDI program conspire to weaken its long-term prospects.

The FICA tax ceases for higher-paid workers each year when their income crosses an annually adjusted limit, currently $110,100. Well-paid employees get a modest increase in their take-home pay after their income exceeds this taxable limit. No such limit exists for Medicare taxes (thankfully, or that program might already be insolvent).

If we’re justifiably concerned about the future of Social Security, we should not be exempting any higher income from the FICA tax.

A Social Security beneficiary’s spouse is entitled to the larger of two benefits: his or her own, or up to one-half of the main beneficiary’s. A lower-income employee could become eligible for a substantially higher benefit than he or she is due simply by virtue of marriage. This is true whether or not the main beneficiary is actually receiving a payout himself.

The spousal benefit was created at a time when women were rarely in the workforce, instead working in the home and rearing children. That era has largely passed.

Women now enter the workforce as readily as men, stepping out for childbirth and shortly beyond. Most women (and men) who step out of the workforce step back in when their children enter school, if not before. The cost of living and stagnating wages make it a challenge to do otherwise.

In order to make such a benefit payable to the spouse, a main beneficiary may “file and suspend.” Using this strategy, the main beneficiary files for his or her benefit in order to qualify for a spousal payout, then immediately suspends payment of his or her own check. The spouse begins receiving a check, but the main beneficiary does not and continues to qualify for increasingly higher benefits, up to age 70.

Spousal benefits work both ways. Using a strategy called “restricted application,” a beneficiary may elect to file and receive only his or her spousal benefit. Later, the spouses may switch roles and benefits as age dictates a financially better arrangement.

Total household benefits can easily double simply by taking advantage of the spousal benefit in combination with file-and-suspend and/or restricted application, yet these increased benefits are not connected to any working-years income or FICA tax receipts. Indeed, some sources refer to these as "free spousal" benefits.

The is no such thing as a free lunch. We're all paying for these "free" benefits.

Use the benefit tool at Social Security Choices to see what I mean. There are additional tools for single and divorced or widowed workers, as well. (Social Security Choices is a private business, unaffiliated with the Social Security Administration.)

You could go further and pay the site’s authors for a more comprehensive report, but the freebie is adequate to understand how the Social Security program allows for manipulation and what it could be worth to you.

I was able to plan a 51% increase in our household Social Security income by using a subset of these lawful provisions. Others may be able to do better if the couple is closer in age and/or benefits.

Clearly these provisions will benefit my household, and I plan to take advantage of them. I’m advocating that we eliminate them, however.

By leveraging this bonanza of benefit re-arrangement with modest retirement savings, such as 401(k) and IRA investments, Social Security can become an avenue to significantly greater, and longer-lived wealth. Yet wealth creation is not the business of the Federal government.

The rules should be changed to make the program better-funded, yet less of a potential windfall for recipients.

  • Higher income should not be exempt from the Social Security tax. Workers should pay in at the same rate through the end of each year, as they do for Medicare. Any exemption should come at the bottom of the income curve, or the tax should be graduated to make it progressive.
  • There should be no provision for a spousal benefit. Recipients should receive what they individually earn. Workers who choose a lifestyle that keeps them out of the workforce should not receive a benefit as if they were in it. The taxpayer does not owe anyone an income.
  • Alternatively, allow a main income earner the ability to contribute more FICA tax to cover a spousal benefit for a non-working spouse, much as a working spouse may contribute up to $5000 per year to a non-working spouse's Roth IRA.
  • Higher income workers pay in more tax and should receive higher benefits. Lower income workers pay in less tax and should receive a lower benefit. Spouses with disparate incomes should receive disparate benefits.
  • Beneficiaries should not be able to file-and-suspend or practice restricted application in order to qualify a spouse for benefits or ladder-up income, while continuing to increase their own prospective benefit.
What's more, Social Security's basic eligibility ages must be upwardly adjusted. Better nutrition and health care conspire to increase our expected longevity. As a result of that and significant household debt, Americans are working later in life than ever.
  • The "early" retirement age should be upwardly adjusted to 65. The age of maximal benefit should be revised to 72. The penalty for working while collecting Social Security should expire at age 72 as well, rather than today's age 67.

Have you heard any of this in the debt debate? In the Social Security arguments? Probably not. I wasn’t aware of these lucrative provisions until I came across them by accident.

We will not reduce the US Federal debt until we both recognize the true size of it by including Social Security and Medicare entitlements in the balance and re-aligning both with life expectancies, market realities and common sense.

Plane Crashes In Illinois

NBCNews.com:

“A small airplane crashed into a Taylorville, Ill., neighborhood late Saturday morning moments after 12 skydivers safely jumped from the craft.”

Might have a "man bites dog" story here.

August 11, 2012

The Martini FAQ

Brad Gadberry (via DF.):

“High tradition dictates that you must use an odd number of olives. One olive is fine; so are three (five is excessive). Using two or four olives is a faux pas.”

I deeply enjoyed not only the informative content of the Martini FAQ, but Brad’s elegant style, as well.

I knew I was in friendly waters when I read the phrase “canonical Martinis”. Indeed.

August 9, 2012

Art Cashin Explains What The Fed's Next Bazooka Could Look Like

Sam Ro, writing for Business Insider, reprint's Art Cashin's analysis of the Fed's inability to spur the economy despite its best efforts, and what Chairman Bernanke may do next:

"Traders (both here and Chicago) think it may be an aggressive Operation Twist in mortgage backed securities (the original source of the problem).

The goal would be to drive margin rates to dramatic lower levels not seen in history. The strategy would be to make mortgage money so cheap that folks would virtually have to refinance. Others, seeing such low rates might be induced to buy other bargain basement priced housing and maybe rent it as income property."

Art Cashin is trading floor operations director for UBS at the NYSE, and a well-regarded sage. He publishes a daily piece titled Cashin's Comments, but I'm damned if I can find it online.

This is interesting speculation. By pushing lending rates even lower than current levels, the Fed would break the logjam of banks and borrowers sitting on the sidelines of the economy.

Imagine if you could refinance your home for thirty years at, say, 2.5%. You could keep your current payment level and take the benefit in less interest paid over a foreshortened mortgage, with the flexibility of making the occasional lower payment when circumstances dictate, or simply enjoy a lower monthly payment. Shorter-term loans would carry even lower rates.

The influx of new borrowers would increase the velocity of money through the economy, thereby stimulating growth (and perhaps stoking inflation, which to a moderate degree would be a good thing), while reduced monthly payments would free up cash for consumer spending, also stimulating the economy. All without a single word of political theater from candidates, Congress, or the White House.

Now aren't you glad we have an independent central bank?

August 8, 2012

The Many Names of … Sooooooda

Names for soda
I grew up in the firmly soda-speaking northeast. Interesting to see the sharp line between that and other names for carbonated sugar water, especially the soda pocket around St. Louis, and the resurgence of soda out west.

Starbucks Picks Square for Payments

Tricia Duryee, writing for All Things Digital:

"Starbucks is investing in Square, the mobile payments provider, and will use it going forward to process all of its credit and debit transactions."

(Via Really Big Week.)

Who'd have thought that the ubiquitous coffee vendor would lead the western world into cashless, cardless retail transactions?

August 6, 2012

TO to Seattle. Good Lord.

Jay Glazer:

He's baaaaaack! Terrell Owens has agreed to a one year deal with the Seahawks. Hasn't signed it yet but agreed to terms

That child support adds up. Maybe his needs will keep him from disrupting yet another locker room.

And the Seahawks, well, 'nuf said.

Curiosity Rover Caught In the Act

Curiosity Rover LandingHow stunning is this: the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught the Mars Curiosity Rover in the act of arrival, ‘chute deployed, on target and on time, and just short of rocket-powered sky crane deployment.

Holy crap, we’re working modern-day magic on another planet!

Wheaton: Setting aside anger for something that I hope is a little more kind. (Or: when I break my own law)

Wil Wheaton’s cooler head has prevailed, and his analysis of last week’s Chick-Fil-A nonsense is the better for it.

I’d add, without apology, that a bigot is a bigot and should be scorned for his bigoted opinions, regardless of his unquestionable right to express them. And that includes Dan Cathy. Wrapping bigoted opinions in religious language doesn’t make them acceptable or unquestionable.

Also, when a business owner or chief executive speaks, he or she is speaking for the company, because he or she is always the face of that business. The two cannot be separated until the owner or executive leaves the company. And consumers can (and should) vote with their dollars.

XKCD: Up All Night

Randall Munroe:XKCD Curiosity comic

Make that "a rocket-powered skycrane."

How damn awesome is it to be alive today?!

And how many STEM students did Curiosity's landing inspire? ALL of them!!

Seahawks Confirm Owens Coming to Town For a Tryout

PFT:

"The Seahawks have confirmed that receiver Terrell Owens has a Monday tryout with the team."

Owens' chances hinge only on the Seahawks' desperation to revitalize their receiver line-up. He's in the downhill slide of his athletic career, which only goes one direction.

It was debatable that Owens was worth the locker room drama he created when he was in his prime, but now that he's past his prime it would be better for the Seahawks' long-term prospects to rebuild their receivers from the draft.

JPL Curiosity Crew With Their MacBooks During Curiosity Landing

Macs computers in use at JPL for Mars Curiosity rover landingIt wasn't all that long ago that engineers wouldn't be caught dead with a Mac.

At least the lone hold-out at lower-right is rocking a Thinkpad.

Curiosity rover successfully lands on Mars, sends back first images

The Verge:

"After a journey spanning 36 weeks and 352 million miles, NASA's Curiosity rover successfully landed on the surface of Mars at approximately 1.32AM ET. "

ohhhhhh yeahhhhh!

August 5, 2012

Mountain Lion having mysterious effect on battery life for some users

Chris Foresman, writing for Ars Technica:

"A large number of Mac users are reporting that installing OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) is causing a major drop in battery life on MacBook Pros and Airs. Those users have been posting about battery life problems in Apple's support forums ever since Mountain Lion's launch on July 25, but it appears that Apple is now actively investigating the issue."

Oopsy!

This sort of issue crops up with most new major versions of OS X. By the time the x.1 version rolls out about a month later, the issue is resolved, which gives credence to the maxim "always wait for the .1 release."

So wait for the .1 release, already, because no-one likes being a guinea pig.

eBay Quietly Tests Local Same-Day Shipping Service

Mike Isaac, writing for All Things Digital:

"E-commerce giant eBay began testing a same-day delivery service on Sunday, quietly sending out invitations to San Francisco residents. Dubbed ‘eBay Now,’ the mobile app-based service allows city residents to order items $25 and above from local businesses, and have the purchases delivered directly to their homes on the same day. The service, which was first noticed on Sunday by TechCrunch, is currently in beta, though as past coverage indicates, will roll out to more cities in the future."

Looks like Amazon has competition in the same-day-delivery retail market.

Could GPS Spoofing Cause Another Flash Crash?

The Big Picture:

"But there is one input port that the network firewalls leave entirely unprotected. An unassuming set of antennas on the roof of these data centers carry unsecured civil GPS signals directly into the core of the matching engine network."
A spoofing attack that aggressively manipulated the timing in a large number of co-located servers could therefore cause a partial market vacuum, what traders call a loss of liquidity, with the result being increased price volatility and damage to market confidence."

GPS spoofing usually involves the use of a device that mocks encoded, though not encrypted time signals broadcast by the Global Positioning Satellite constellation, confusing receivers into calculating incorrect positions.

In this case, though, the spoofing is in the manipulation of those broadcast signals for their time value alone, not how that value is used to calculate position.

High frequency trading (HFT) servers, co-located at major stock exchange data centers, use GPS broadcast signals for official trade time-stamping. Manipulated time codes can yield incorrect timestamps. That can create a trading advantage and loss of trader confidence in the system.

The major exchanges take steps to thwart GPS spoofing before the time codes reach their servers, but HFT admins often elect to directly connect their servers to rooftop antennas, effectively bypassing the exchange's precautionary measures.

Done just right, a GPS spoofing attack could manipulate high frequency trading and net someone a tidy pile of cash. Witness the messy and, in some cases, unprofitable Facebook IPO resulting from untimely trades and loss of trader and investor confidence. And that was unintentional.

August 3, 2012

Tomorrow: Same-Sex Kiss Day At Chick-fil-A!

(via Boing Boing)

Our dumb culture always comes full-circle.

Police Say Handcuffed Man Shot Himself in the Head

Neetzan Zimmerman, writing for Gawker:

"The mother of a man who police in Jonesboro, Arkansas, claim shot himself in the head while handcuffed in the back of a cruiser isn't convinced she's being told the truth about what happened to her son."

Let's think about this. A young, left-handed black man, handcuffed behind his back was found in the back of a police cruiser, shot in his right temple, after having been searched by the arresting officer. A small-caliber handgun was found next to him. In Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Come on, man.

August 1, 2012

Strange (Fast Food) Day Today

I've never seen so many people so happy to dine out on junk food. Which only shows how smart marketing can make money from any situation.

Thought you were making a statement, did you? Never mind.

Why No Tech Geek Should Be Caught Dead In a Wireless Carrier Retail Store

Zach Epstein, writing for BGR:

"Regional retail sales managers at AT&T have been instructing store managers to pump the brakes on Apple’s iPhone. Instructions handed down from corporate state that customers seeking smartphones at AT&T retail stores should be steered away from Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone and towards Android phones or Windows Phone handsets like the Nokia Lumia 900 instead. BGR has confirmed the directive with three independent sources"

(Via DF.)

AT&T denies the it, but who are you going to believe: the corporate PR shill whose company fears offending a partner, or three minimum wage-slaves who don't give a rat's ass?

I've long wondered why anyone ever shops in a carrier store. Any phone or service found there can be had on the carrier's web site, sans oily salespeople.

Or, if you're an Apple fan, buy right from the source, and be happy.