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Top posts in the last 50 posts

Most comments: 34

2016-12-17 05:20:50 (34 comments; 1 reshares; 16 +1s; )Open 

What if Trump isn't taking his intelligence briefings because he thinks they're implying he isn't intelligent?

Gut-check time here... Over the past couple weeks I've been having this idea that I at first dismissed as crazy, but it's been giving me a sinking feeling and I just can't shake it...

Our President-elect, breaking from tradition set in the Truman administration, has been declining almost all of his intelligence briefings.

Anonymous sourcing from inside Trump Tower on why he's made this peculiar choice has not been very forthcoming, and the little we've gotten has been murky. Most pundits have analyzed this as just more evidence of his low regard for the U.S. Intelligence Community. Some have read into it a darker note, seeing his friendliness and implicit trust towards Vladimir Putin as fundamentally incompatible with what... more »

Most reshares: 30

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2017-01-05 20:38:14 (22 comments; 30 reshares; 42 +1s; )Open 

The facts on the cyberattacks

Many of you who follow me of a geekier bent will be aware of what I write in this post. But for those of you who aren't that familiar with cybersecurity, today's hearings have brought up some points that I think should be understood by anyone trying to evaluate the government's (and parts thereof) and individual politicians' statements. To sum up: the source of a cyberattack is always verified only after the fact; cyber intelligence and cybersecurity experts do generally know what they're talking about; we can tell the difference between Russia, China, and a morbidly obese bedridden individual; the Democrats aren't to blame; and Hillary's private email server had nothing to do with it.

If you want to know the details, presented in a way that I think does not require any special knowledge of computer security or cyber... more »

Most plusones: 42

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2017-01-05 20:38:14 (22 comments; 30 reshares; 42 +1s; )Open 

The facts on the cyberattacks

Many of you who follow me of a geekier bent will be aware of what I write in this post. But for those of you who aren't that familiar with cybersecurity, today's hearings have brought up some points that I think should be understood by anyone trying to evaluate the government's (and parts thereof) and individual politicians' statements. To sum up: the source of a cyberattack is always verified only after the fact; cyber intelligence and cybersecurity experts do generally know what they're talking about; we can tell the difference between Russia, China, and a morbidly obese bedridden individual; the Democrats aren't to blame; and Hillary's private email server had nothing to do with it.

If you want to know the details, presented in a way that I think does not require any special knowledge of computer security or cyber... more »

Latest 50 posts

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2017-01-18 19:49:15 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s; )Open 

Gkq; yfllt ndiaf;d gkq; kofde°

Having been a primary user of Dvorak for nearly 25 years now, and being a sysadmin, which means I frequently need to use systems that aren't configured or configurable to my preferences and so have had to retain my QWERTY skills, I really relate to this one.

So much so that I could immediately read the words Cueball spoke as: Okay Google send a text.

I can go the other direction, too: "Rtaf Irrin o.be a y.qy". Comes in handy when I'm typing on a high-latency connection and forgot what keyboard I'm using. (Okay, came in handy—can't recall the last time I used this "skill", but it's a brain rewiring that doesn't go away.)

In my dot files, I have my name in both broken variants — yp.f and kodt — set as shell functions to set the keyboard to whatever would be necessary to makethat s... more »

Gkq; yfllt ndiaf;d gkq; kofde°

Having been a primary user of Dvorak for nearly 25 years now, and being a sysadmin, which means I frequently need to use systems that aren't configured or configurable to my preferences and so have had to retain my QWERTY skills, I really relate to this one.

So much so that I could immediately read the words Cueball spoke as: Okay Google send a text.

I can go the other direction, too: "Rtaf Irrin o.be a y.qy". Comes in handy when I'm typing on a high-latency connection and forgot what keyboard I'm using. (Okay, came in handy—can't recall the last time I used this "skill", but it's a brain rewiring that doesn't go away.)

In my dot files, I have my name in both broken variants — yp.f and kodt — set as shell functions to set the keyboard to whatever would be necessary to make that sequence of keystrokes correctly be interpreted as trey, so that if I'm confused I just type that.

(I even have some tools—namely, custom keyboard layouts—to help me with the dreaded "double Dvorak", which happens when some annoying remote-connection software doesn't hook directly to the local keyboard device but to the UX layout, and the remote side is set to Dvorak, meaning I have to switch either the local keyboard map or the remote keyboard map to US just for the duration of the remote session, and then set it back again.)

I've never used Dvorak on my touchscreens though—I use the Android Gboard with swipey word gestures and I've found that I think of QWERTY—perhaps because it was the first I learned when I was still hunting-and-pecking—in terms of a physical layout and Dvorak as just something I touch-type (I've never owned a keyboard with Dvorak keycaps, so I necessarily touch-type Dvorak).

I tried Dvorak and it was just awful for swiping, because I don't think of the word "hello" (which is on the QWERTY keys jdpps) as "starting in the mid-right then moving leftwards then up to the top-right and finishing back mid-left"; I think of it as finger movement, almost like piano notation; something like "2R 3L 5R↑ 5R↑ 4L" meaning "from home position, press the index finger of the right hand, then the middle finger of the left hand, then use the pinky up one row twice and finally the ring finger of the left hand".

On the iPad Pro, until recently you could make a hardware keyboard use Dvorak, but you couldn't make the onscreen keyboard Dvorak. And even now that they've fixed that, I still use QWERTY onscreen and Dvorak for the hardware keyboard.

The bane of my existence, though, the one thing that makes me wish I wasn't different—is lock screens. I'm already logged in, so I don't have a box to type my username and see what keyboard I'm using. I just have a password box. And because lock screens on most OSes (all modern ones?) have special security features they use in interacting with the keyboard, many times they don't follow the same keymap rules as the rest of the GUI.

I've dealt with systems where:
1. The login screen is QWERTY without any ability to change it, but the desktop UI and the lock screen is Dvorak;
2. The login screen is QWERTY, the desktop UI is Dvorak, but the lock screen is QWERTY;
3. The login screen can be set for this login only to Dvorak, but has no way to set it permanently, and the lock screen follows whatever the login screen was;
4. Same as #3 but the lock screen can only be QWERTY;
5. The login screen is whatever was last used—which suuuucks for computers that normal people have to share with me!
6. The login screen remembers but gets reset to QWERTY after reboots; and
7. This is a FUN one that caused so, so many lockouts, let me tell you...: The login screen is QWERTY-only until I've typed in my login name (in QWERTY, mind you) and then it realizes I'm a Dvorak user so my password has to by typed in Dvorak.

Even better is that most lockscreens on corporate-IT-managed OSes have a way for administrators to break the lock, but often lack any way for the administrators to change the lock screen's keyboard, so being a Dvorak user means the admins can't break the lock unless they know their password in Dvorak (and often there's no onscreen indicator of what keyboard's in effect, so they're much more likely to think something's wrong with the machine's configuration).

Here's a fun story: at several companies I've been at, unattended-workstation-locking discipline was enforced partly by there being a command that anyone could enter into an unlocked machine that would embarrass the person who'd left their machine unlocked in some way, such as by bringing up an annoying animation saying "you left your machine unlocked" or something before locking the machine.

I did something sneaky at one company where this program sent an email from you to your entire team telling them you'd left your machine unlocked: I wrote a program that, when invoked by typing the QWERTY-on-Dvorak name of the real program, would quickly redraw the screen to replace the gibberish on the command-line with the correct program name (which often went unnoticed since people often look down at a strange keyboard when first typing on it).

Then my replacement masqueraded as the real program, which asked for the login name of the person who'd discovered the unlocked machine in order to send them kudos for their helping the company's security. It changed the terminal so that their QWERTY keystrokes would be correctly displayed as they typed. Then it would lock the screen, leaving the do-gooder to believe they'd successfully embarrassed me.

But instead, it then sent an email in that person's name to the group, saying that I had discovered their machine unlocked. (I didn't actually run the real program in their name because it was a joke and I didn't want to get them on the naughty list.)

You may question my ethics in this. Well, I'm generally pretty good—I'd say a little better than most sysadmins, who as a group are much better than the average corporate user—at remembering to lock. But some co-workers saw catching somebody with an unlocked screen as a competitive sport, to the point of stealthily sneaking up to run the "cheesing" program right behind the person's back when they were talking to someone. I didn't like that behavior.

This was just for when I was just leaving my desk momentarily, say, to the next bullpen over where I could still see my workstation the entire time. (I even made my program stop the shenanigans after a certain idle timeout was reached, and instead just switch the keyboard to QWERTY and then run the real program so that, if someone actually caught me, they caught me.)


° "It's funny because it's true."___

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2017-01-18 17:43:15 (9 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s; )Open 

A zero-g puzzle

Don't watch this video by the fantastic Tom Scott yet until I set it up and ask you a question: the idea of the Bremen Drop Tower is simple enough: evacuate air from a tall vertical column so that experiment capsules can be dropped through it to experience weightlessness for a short period of time.

As for the question: just imagine how it would work. Not the vacuum process, or the packing of the capsule, or the ensuring the capsule isn't damaged when it hits the bottom (though all of that is also explained in the video). Just think to yourself about the experiment.

The useful part of the tower is 110 meters tall. Assuming you didn't take a physics class that used US customary measurements (poor thing), you probably have the 9.8 m/s/s figure for g seared into your brain. The equation for the amount of time it takes a dropped object to fall... more »

A zero-g puzzle

Don't watch this video by the fantastic Tom Scott yet until I set it up and ask you a question: the idea of the Bremen Drop Tower is simple enough: evacuate air from a tall vertical column so that experiment capsules can be dropped through it to experience weightlessness for a short period of time.

As for the question: just imagine how it would work. Not the vacuum process, or the packing of the capsule, or the ensuring the capsule isn't damaged when it hits the bottom (though all of that is also explained in the video). Just think to yourself about the experiment.

The useful part of the tower is 110 meters tall. Assuming you didn't take a physics class that used US customary measurements (poor thing), you probably have the 9.8 m/s/s figure for g seared into your brain. The equation for the amount of time it takes a dropped object to fall from a given height in vacuum, in case you don't remember or can't derive it from good ol' v = g t, is t = sqrt(2h/g). I'll do the arithmetic for you, substituting in 110 meters. sqrt(2 • 110 m / (9.8 m/s/s)) = 4.7 s.

So here's my question: in reality, do you think the capsule expriences free-fall for:
A) exactly 4.7 s (to two significant digits)
B) slightly less than 4.7 s
C) significantly less than 4.7 s
D) slightly more than 4.7 s, or
E) significantly more than 4.7 s?

(If you don't think the answer is A, you might try hypothesizing why and what the actual time would be, given your hypothesized reason—but I'll warn you, if that's the direction you go, you better remember your calculus—and you won't be able to figure out the answer anyway, just an asymptote limiting the answer.)

Then watch the video. Did you get it right? (If so, you're a better intuitive physicist than I am.)___

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2017-01-18 05:12:16 (0 comments; 7 reshares; 21 +1s; )Open 

The President's commutation of Chelsea Manning may seem like it's one that can be reasonably argued either way. It's not.

I know for me, as a foreign-affairs oriented liberal who respects our armed forces and Intelligence Community, and believes their strength and integrity is vitally important to the protection of our country and our allies and continued peace between major world powers—and especially when all that's been suddenly called into question by Mr. Trump such that we Democrats find ourselves in the (admittedly odd) position of being our nation's defenders of the military and intelligence agencies against political attacks by Republicans—this has all resulted in a situation where figuring out how to feel about the president's commutation of Chelsea Manning's sentence requires some careful thought, when in the past gut political intuition would havegen... more »

The President's commutation of Chelsea Manning may seem like it's one that can be reasonably argued either way. It's not.

I know for me, as a foreign-affairs oriented liberal who respects our armed forces and Intelligence Community, and believes their strength and integrity is vitally important to the protection of our country and our allies and continued peace between major world powers—and especially when all that's been suddenly called into question by Mr. Trump such that we Democrats find ourselves in the (admittedly odd) position of being our nation's defenders of the military and intelligence agencies against political attacks by Republicans—this has all resulted in a situation where figuring out how to feel about the president's commutation of Chelsea Manning's sentence requires some careful thought, when in the past gut political intuition would have generally sufficed.

So now that I've had a few hours to digest it, I'm honestly surprised at how obviously necessary the commutation was, to the point of my feeling foolish that I even entertained the idea that it was arguable. Let me explain my thinking, and why it's led me to conclude the the president's commutation was absolutely correct.

First, let's all get on the same page and agree on the following facts about her crime:
• She did have a top secret clearance, and she did use her access to the confidential/secret military network to leak classified information.
• None of the information she leaked was classified top secret at the time of the leak, and 90% of it was not secret.
• The amount of information was large, but not as large as the "400,000 documents" designation some sources have been using might sound, as many of the "documents" were single-sentence situation reports or individual database records.
• She did not leak to an enemy power, and her chat transcripts show that she was wary about this and sought to convince herself of that before releasing the information.
• She had received the standard training at the time for someone at her level to receive clearance, and absolutely understood that what she was doing was illegal.
• The idea that someone with so little seniority as a 21-year-old PFC with two years' service on her first deployment would have been granted such expansive access to classified material has since been universally recognized as a mistake, and today someone in her position would not have been given access to the overwhelming majority of the documents she leaked.
• She was on first deployment to Iraq as a person questioning her sexual orientation and gender identity while the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy was operative;
The OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has compiled hundreds of cases showing that service members in precisely these circumstances were disproportionately subject to traumatic stress, above and beyond even the extraordinarily high levels of stress the average deployed service member experienced, even beyond that of LGBTQ service members on second or later deployments, who had higher seniority levels, or who were not questioning their sexuality or gender.

Second, consider these facts about her prosecution and sentence:
• She was not allowed to use her gender identity issues as a mitigating factor in her Article 32 hearing, nor in her trial—the defense psychologist was only permitted to testify that she did not intend to harm anyone with her leak.
• She pleaded guilty and expressed remorse for what she had done with regard to 10 of 22 charges, having to do with mishandling classified data and leaking classified data.
• The remaining charges were the much more serious ones related to espionage and aiding the enemy in time of war, which she maintained she did not do.
• The government's legal theory was basically that, by leaking to the public, she was necessarily leaking to anyone with access to the Internet, including our enemies, which made her leak tantamount to directly spying for the enemy.
• She was found guilty of seven charges in addition to the ten she pled to out of the 22 total charges brought against her.
• The maximum possible sentence would have been 90 years. She was sentenced to 35 years including time served.
• As of her sentencing, with sentence reductions and good behavior she could have been released as early as 2017.

I want to highlight that last point as you listen to people today opposed to the president's clemency: when it was handed down, her original sentence would have been understood at the time to possibly allow her to be released this year. While there were a few politicians and former military and intelligence officers who expressed disappointment she had not been found guilty of all charges—some who even expressed a desire that she be executed—most voices at the time were saying her sentence was adequate or overly harsh.

Of the op-ed columns at major newspapers I've been able to search up in the days following her sentencing from politicians or former military or intelligence officials, the minority that criticized her sentence as too light all expressed a wish she had been eligible for the death penalty. Most applauded her sentence or called it overly harsh. I didn't find any that formulated a wish that she'd been given a sentence somewhere between the 35 years she was sentenced to and the 90 years the law provided at maximum. (I'm not including editorials, which were almost unanimous in calling her sentence too harsh.)

In other words, as far as I can tell from contemporaneous writing, the only people who at the time were unprepared for her release in 2017 or 2018 were people who wanted her dead.

The thing I've left out of this recounting so far: she was charged and tried as a he, PFC Bradley Manning, and was confined and then remanded to men's correctional barracks.

I think we could stop there and just note that, for those who wanted her punished, President Obama's clemency today simply resulted in a total time served virtually the same as it might have been following her trial.

So the question for those today calling the clemency outrageous becomes: what was her poor behavior since her incarceration that you believe merits extending her sentence?

I invite you to search up and read about her treatment after she was imprisoned—if you haven't paid attention to this, you probably couldn't believe my retelling wasn't exaggerated. (When you do read about it, use multiple non-partisan sources, please—the bubbles weren't as impermeable then as now, but they were there.)

"Physical, psychological, emotional, and medical torture" is not an unfair description of the things that have happened to her since her incarceration.

Examples of her "bad behavior" include having a tube of toothpaste that had passed its expiration date. The most supposedly egregious examples of her "bad behavior", though, had to do with her gender identity. Until a court ruling last year, her efforts to get necessary medical treatment that would be standard for any trans person were all conduct subject to withheld privileges and disciplinary action. (She still hasn't actually received most of the treatment the court order was supposed to grant her.)

Even just last week, simply accurately recounting what had happened to her on the telephone to a reporter from The New York Times — even just those things upheld as matters of fact after adjudication — would constitute prohibited disrespect of authority for which she would be further disciplined.

I've heard and read some hand-wringing today from people in thrall to the "Obama is too soft" trope saying that his compassion got the better of him, implying that if he'd been more rational, more clear-eyed, he wouldn't have made this decision. One former general I heard say we shouldn't "coddle" a prisoner for hunger strikes or suicidality—as if these were temper tantrums by a spoiled child.

But this is a woman who is being grossly mistreated by a system that is still coming to grips (and I think I'm being extremely forgiving to even give them that much credit) with a modern understanding of gender identity and transgender issues. The Obama administration has made great strides in trying to move the entirety of the executive branch to just treatment of LGBTQ individuals, but movement in prisons and in the military on transgender concerns has been glacially slow.

Had President Obama not granted her clemency today, Chelsea Manning's life would literally depend on the Trump administration continuing to push transgender concerns. The administration headed by a man who believes that "political correctness" is the greatest problem in our society today. Anyone who believes the Trump administration will ensure Chelsea Manning is treated justly is deceiving themselves.

So, in essence, the president's clemency action today was just an attempt to reset Chelsea Manning's punishment back to what it would have been had her gender identity itself not been used as evidence of bad prisoner behavior. And it wasn't even a particularly good reset, since she can't be un-tortured, she can't retroactively receive the medical treatment even international human rights organizations said she should have received.

"In other words, as far as I can tell from contemporaneous writing, the only people who at the time were unprepared for her release in 2017 or 2018 were people who wanted her dead."

And today, the only people who are unprepared for her release this May are people who still want her dead, and just don't care if she dies through criminal institutional misbehavior and neglect.___

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2017-01-17 21:27:21 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 6 +1s; )Open 

Republicans are crying foul over CBO scoring Obamacare repeal without replace. But remember the sequester?

The report coming out of the CBO is the only news here; the contents of CBO's projections are exactly as I already mentioned here last week.

Key bits of this are:

Without subsidies ... [t]hese trends, it said, would accelerate the exodus of insurers from the individual market and from the public marketplaces.

As a result..., about half of the nation’s population would be living in areas that had no insurer participating in the individual market in the first year after the repeal of marketplace subsidies took effect. And by 2026, it estimated, about three-quarters of the population would be living in such areas.

Republicans have complained bitterly about the reduction in health plan choices for consumers under the Affordable Care Act.B... more »

Republicans are crying foul over CBO scoring Obamacare repeal without replace. But remember the sequester?

The report coming out of the CBO is the only news here; the contents of CBO's projections are exactly as I already mentioned here last week.

Key bits of this are:

Without subsidies ... [t]hese trends, it said, would accelerate the exodus of insurers from the individual market and from the public marketplaces.

As a result..., about half of the nation’s population would be living in areas that had no insurer participating in the individual market in the first year after the repeal of marketplace subsidies took effect. And by 2026, it estimated, about three-quarters of the population would be living in such areas.

Republicans have complained bitterly about the reduction in health plan choices for consumers under the Affordable Care Act. But the effects projected by the budget office would be much more severe.

And:

Republicans cautioned that the report painted only part of the picture — the impact of a fast repeal without the Republican replacement. They said the numbers in the report represented a one-sided hypothetical scenario.

“Today’s report shows only part of the equation — a repeal of Obamacare without any transitional policies or reforms to address costs and empower patients,” said the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah. “Republicans support repealing Obamacare and implementing step-by-step reforms so that Americans have access to affordable health care.”

Hatch is technically correct — a repeal without replace would probably be worse. (Probably. Some of the GOP plans are so bad, they'd actually be even worse.) They think it isn't fair to consider the impact of repeal alone since they promise to fix it.

But remember the "sequester"? In 2011 Congress passed a debt-ceiling bill that contained a time bomb: if Congress didn't come up with budget legislation, there would automatically be cuts across the board on 1 Jan 2013. The idea was that the cuts were so unpalatable to both sides (containing severe military spending cuts to make Republicans allergic to it) that they'd be forced to work out a compromise.

2012 came and went without a bill, the cuts—the "budget sequestration"—went into effect, and they remain with us to this day.

CBO has no choice but to write projections without considering promised legislation that doesn't exist yet—how could they score a bill they can't see? But even if legislation did exist, they'd be right to assume no guarantee of its passage.

No individual-market insurers at all in three-quarters of the country. Just imagine that. People in Republican-held congressional districts have been taking a page from the Tea Party and swarming member town halls and meet-and-greets demanding an answer on health care. We'd better all pray that they're as successful as the Tea Party was. Otherwise, the situation is bleak indeed.___

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2017-01-17 17:20:30 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s; )Open 

Google Assistant has gotten very chatty when you ask about the weather, but it's gotten a bit more hesitant about trying to answer vague questions.

Google Assistant has gotten very chatty when you ask about the weather, but it's gotten a bit more hesitant about trying to answer vague questions.___

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2017-01-16 19:59:17 (26 comments; 4 reshares; 18 +1s; )Open 

Right after the election, I worried about the chances of President Trump weakening NATO. It's actually happening already, right before our eyes.

Over two months ago, just days after the election I posted (https://plus.google.com/+TreyHarris/posts/fMMKjjpXVBG) my thoughts about the first clues we were getting about Trump's initial steps into foreign policy that were troubling me. Re-reading it now, I don't think I was too off-target, though I was investing a lot into the report that he had just been briefed, because if that had been the case, we could make some deductions about his presidential temperament.

It turns out that the report was wrong, and the actual date of his briefing hasn't been disclosed, so we didn't get to know what his first public actions after the briefing were.

That said, reading down my list of his possible reactions, he's... more »

Right after the election, I worried about the chances of President Trump weakening NATO. It's actually happening already, right before our eyes.

Over two months ago, just days after the election I posted (https://plus.google.com/+TreyHarris/posts/fMMKjjpXVBG) my thoughts about the first clues we were getting about Trump's initial steps into foreign policy that were troubling me. Re-reading it now, I don't think I was too off-target, though I was investing a lot into the report that he had just been briefed, because if that had been the case, we could make some deductions about his presidential temperament.

It turns out that the report was wrong, and the actual date of his briefing hasn't been disclosed, so we didn't get to know what his first public actions after the briefing were.

That said, reading down my list of his possible reactions, he's since tweeted all of the ones I predicted would scare me, and none of the ones that would reassure me. If his strangely-timed, seemingly apropos of nothing tweet — still uncontextualized today — about strengthening our nuclear arsenal, followed by his "let it be an arms race" comment, were his post-briefing reactions... I said I'd just babble like an idiot, and that's what I feel like, just considering the possibility.

Read that chyron: KREMLIN SIDES WITH TRUMP, CALLS NATO A "RELIC". Now, imagine you could replace "Trump" with just "President-elect", and change the picture out for one of, say, the front of NATO Headquarters. In other words, remove Donald Trump from the equation. Then imagine you could go back and show it to yourself as prophecy, say, in early 2014.

How do you think you'd feel? Wouldn't you be bewildered, alarmed, and frightened by it without context? What do you think you'd imagine must have happened to get us there (here)? A terrible, coordinated terrorist attack with WMD's against both the US and Russia?

Now look at "KREMLIN SIDES WITH PRESIDENT-ELECT". What would you have imagined "sides with" could mean? That there were "sides" in such an issue in the first place would seem bizarre. Who could possibly be the other side the Kremlin and the president-elect were standing together against?

If you paid a lot of attention to such things, you might deduce that Turkey had been taken over by a radical religious regime that was supporting ISIS and saber-rattling against Europe. If Turkey, as a NATO member, became a threat to the other member-states, one might imagine the President-elect joining Russia in calling NATO a "relic", and the other side being President Obama or Angela Merkel. But even that would be chilling, given that it would be a terrible deviation from the "one president at a time" and "partisan politics stops at the water's edge" norms.

That would be a reasonable deduction, and would paint a very scary picture to your 2014 self of what the future would bring. What has actually gotten us to this chyron would sound like a joke—and a very absurd one, at that. (Or maybe like a rejected screenplay for a remake of The Manchurian Candidate.) And the future it really paints is utterly terrifying.___

2017-01-16 15:52:03 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s; )Open 

Chrome for iPad: tab overview came, then went?

I don't know if I got temporarily A/B tested in a feature or if I've got some screwy setting, but for the past few weeks I've had a very nice feature that seems to have gone away: at the far upper right of the tab bar, where there was the Incognito switcher button before, I had a button (that resembled a four-paned window) that instead brought up a visual overview of all my open tabs, with tabs in the overview to switch between incognito and device tabs.

Now, it's gone, replaced with the same old Incognito toggle. Was this a test feature that's been rolled back? A test feature that I got opted into and then out of? Or was there an actual feature regression in Chrome for iPad? 

Chrome for iPad: tab overview came, then went?

I don't know if I got temporarily A/B tested in a feature or if I've got some screwy setting, but for the past few weeks I've had a very nice feature that seems to have gone away: at the far upper right of the tab bar, where there was the Incognito switcher button before, I had a button (that resembled a four-paned window) that instead brought up a visual overview of all my open tabs, with tabs in the overview to switch between incognito and device tabs.

Now, it's gone, replaced with the same old Incognito toggle. Was this a test feature that's been rolled back? A test feature that I got opted into and then out of? Or was there an actual feature regression in Chrome for iPad? ___

2017-01-15 19:00:58 (4 comments; 1 reshares; 14 +1s; )Open 

I'm infuriated at the Trump administration. Believe it or not, that's a first.

I've felt a lot of emotions about Trump since Nov. 9. Most of them have been in the general vicinity of exasperated, appalled, embarrassed, confused, bemused, despairing, disappointed, worried, and irritated. But honestly, today is the first time I can say that I am feeling white-hot anger.

I think that's because my feelings have been complicated (as you can tell from the length of my posts). What I'm feeling right now is pretty damn simple:

After Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights giant, said he wouldn't attend the inauguration because he felt the president was not a legitimate president, I'd hardly expect Mr. Trump to like it. But what he did was tweet that Rep. Lewis was "all talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!" (Along with racially-tinged... more »

I'm infuriated at the Trump administration. Believe it or not, that's a first.

I've felt a lot of emotions about Trump since Nov. 9. Most of them have been in the general vicinity of exasperated, appalled, embarrassed, confused, bemused, despairing, disappointed, worried, and irritated. But honestly, today is the first time I can say that I am feeling white-hot anger.

I think that's because my feelings have been complicated (as you can tell from the length of my posts). What I'm feeling right now is pretty damn simple:

After Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights giant, said he wouldn't attend the inauguration because he felt the president was not a legitimate president, I'd hardly expect Mr. Trump to like it. But what he did was tweet that Rep. Lewis was "all talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!" (Along with racially-tinged untruths about the district Lewis represents.) Okay, I've definitely learned to stop taking Trump's tweets literally—I'm just having a hard time taking them seriously, either. I wasn't angry—yet.

But then on at least three of this morning's political shows, Trump's chief of staff, Reince Priebus, responded by saying 1) that President Obama should get Democrats in order, essentially saying Obama should discipline Lewis for his statement of disunity, and 2) that there's no hypocrisy whatsoever in Trump taking exception to someone's questions of legitimacy, because Mr. Trump never said McCain actually beat Obama.

Here's why I'm seething over this:

1. Of anyone in Congress to say "all talk... no action" about, John Lewis is the last one. The man was nearly killed for his political action. More than once.

2. For God's sake, this is MLK weekend. Of all the times to make such a comment tip over the line from merely ignorant to offensive....

3. Apparently, Priebus's belief is that it's much more offensive to allege for true reasons that the electorate was misled by a foreign power than to allege—for years and years—that the president was personally illegitimate for false reasons, reasons that were recognized and embraced by racists.
No, Mr. Priebus. The former is far worse, far more serious. But the latter is much, much, much more offensive. If you can't tell the difference, you are an idiot, and a bigot, and so is your boss.___

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2017-01-14 21:50:35 (3 comments; 0 reshares; 8 +1s; )Open 

Will health care bring Trump supporters back to their senses?

Okay, so we agree Trump's supporters are acting irrationally. Here's the next question, then: can and will something return them to their senses?

To answer that question "yes", I've heard what I'd call the "inevitability of cold hard facts" argument: that Trump supporters will soon be outraged as Mr. Trump betrays them on issue after issue.

That Mr. Trump will renege on campaign promises is unquestionable. Some of his promises, such as rolling back regulations to bring back coal jobs or rolling back automation to bring back all sorts of well-paid blue-collar jobs, are simply impossible. (The latter obviously more than the former, since the president does have some control over regulations and none over whether companies automate. But they're very interrelated: even if... more »

Will health care bring Trump supporters back to their senses?

Okay, so we agree Trump's supporters are acting irrationally. Here's the next question, then: can and will something return them to their senses?

To answer that question "yes", I've heard what I'd call the "inevitability of cold hard facts" argument: that Trump supporters will soon be outraged as Mr. Trump betrays them on issue after issue.

That Mr. Trump will renege on campaign promises is unquestionable. Some of his promises, such as rolling back regulations to bring back coal jobs or rolling back automation to bring back all sorts of well-paid blue-collar jobs, are simply impossible. (The latter obviously more than the former, since the president does have some control over regulations and none over whether companies automate. But they're very interrelated: even if the regulatory regime that currently makes coal a disfavored energy source is reversed and a pro-coal regime is enacted, most coal jobs weren't lost to reduced coal production but to new less-worker-intensive extraction methods. The coal production can come back; the coal jobs are never coming back.)

Other promises seem politically untenable. In this post, I'll focus on Mr. Trump's promises on health care.

Taken together, his promises are that:
• He will ensure that health care—at least, emergency care—will be universally accessible: "we're not going to have people dying on the street"°
• He will preserve the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) provision requiring insurers to allow parents to include adult children under their own policies up to the age of 26
• He will preserve the ACA provision requiring insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions at no greater cost than healthy people
• Overall, premiums will go down
• Overall, out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, will go down
• The ACA mandates for individuals to purchase coverage and for employers to cover employees will be eliminated
• The overall impact of his health care policy will be to reduce the budget deficit.†

I will, for the purposes of this post, ignore his specific policy proposals (such as insurers being able to sell across state lines or out-of-pocket health care costs becoming fully tax-deductible with no minimum and regardless of income) as not constituting "promises".

I'll also consider the above promises as being meant quite loosely, under our new diktat to always take Mr. Trump seriously but not literally (although, for the record, I remain unable to listen to what's "in his heart")—for that reason, I'm going to pretend that "repealing the disaster that's Obamacare" does not, in itself, constitute a "promise", though I imagine many of his supporters think it is. (Since a recent poll of Trump supporters showed that a large proportion want to repeal Obamacare and replace it with the Affordable Care Act — that is, they want to replace Obamacare with Obamacare — I think my stance here is reasonable.)

With those provisos out of the way, here are the plans that can accomplish the above goals:
1. Specific "tweaks" to the ACA—as were originally envisioned by the Democrats even when the law was first signed—without anything resembling a "repeal".
In order to meet all the above goals, not only would the tweaks need to be very carefully planned, but they would have to be followed by more tweaks (or regulatory authority to make tweaks) on about a yearly basis in order to ensure the economics of the US health care market are working as expected. Two promises, specifically, are problematic:
• For the deficit item of the promise to be kept, the tweaks would all have to be effective enough to turn every single exchange market in the country into a competitive and profitable market such that reinsurance provisions are not triggered and more generous subsidies are obviated—not an impossibility, but highly unlikely.
• The mandates would also have to be changed in some way that, by legislative smoke and mirrors, could be said to have been "repealed" without actually repealing them,§ at least in effect: young, healthy individuals must be induced to purchase health insurance. This is difficult—especially since the Supreme Court ruling on the mandates was that they were constitutional, but only if they were done in a certain way that would allow the mandates under Congress's power to levy taxes (which Chief Justice Roberts decided the law just happened to do, even though Congress hadn't intended it to).
One possibility: the surgically precise tweaks mentioned above are so successful that they could be combined with an "opt-out" system, where people are automatically enrolled in the cheapest plan in their area unless they personally go to healthcare.gov and waive coverage every year, and this results in a system where the vast majority of young healthy people sign up even without a mandate.
That this confluence of legislative legerdemain and economic foresight is possible—in this Congress, with this incoming president—seems far-fetched. But I do want to allow that it is possible.
2. A single-payer system, a buy-in "Medicare for all", a "public option" on the exchanges, or some more aggressive nationalization of health care, combined with giving the government new negotiating powers with providers of care, devices and drugs.
Note that the effect of a new public option, combined with the effects of the other promises above, would mean all private insurers would be driven into bankruptcy and we would effectively have Medicare for all, just indirectly through a public "option" with no other options.

That's it. There are no other plans that can possibly accomplish the above goals. Notably, none of the Republican proposals that have enough detail fleshed out to be reasonably considered "plans" keep the promises above. Note, too, that neither of the two solutions just outlined—fix the hell out of Obamacare, or socialize the entire health care system to some extent—hews anywhere near to American conservatism or Republican orthodoxy.‡

Given all that, I can see only four possible outcomes. Two of them are positive ones and meet Trump's promises:

1. The tweaks to Obamacare that were always necessary and planned from its inception—the ones that up till now Republicans in Congress had steadfastly blocked—will be passed and called a "repeal and replace of Obamacare", the result will be rebranded "Trumpcare", and the information bubbles will keep Trump's supporters from ever realizing what happened.
2. Trump pulls another feat of razzle-dazzle turning the entire Republican Party to a previously unthinkable position, by pushing one of the socialization schemes such as the public option or Medicare for all through Congress, and Republicans will (falsely) claim that was their position all along.

The other two possible outcomes are negative ones that don't keep his promises:

3. The Republicans in Congress get their way, repealing as many parts of the ACA as they can through reconciliation (bills that do not require any Democratic coöperation, not even in the Senate). Unless the Democrats in Congress decide to coöperate in Obamacare's undoing (something both Democratic leaders Pelosi and Schumer have sworn they will not do), the particular components of Obamacare that could be repealed via reconciliation would be a mishmash.
This in turn would mean we'd end up in a situation much worse than we had before the ACA, because we'll still have a health care system that has reorganized around ACA lines, with no ACA to support it. Hundreds of hospital systems and private insurance companies will go bankrupt, tens of millions will lose their health coverage with little or no warning, entire swaths of the country will have no health care at all except for that provided by international medical-relief charities that, up till now, only provided care in developing countries. The few individual markets that still exist will only offer catastrophic plans at even higher costs than today.
(Note that "repeal and delay"—removing the Obamacare provisions without replacement but giving some period of years before the repeal goes into effect—improves the situation, but not as much as you might expect. Many of the reorganizations that took place as a result of ACA's passage can't be unwound. To take just one example: the many hospital systems that engaged in massive mergers will not split back up if ACA is repealed; instead, they'll either go out of business, or pull out of unprofitable markets.)
4. No one gets their way (most likely due to Republican defections on the part of lawmakers unwilling to cancel their constituents' insurance policies), and we get neither ACA repeal nor the tweaks necessary to keep the exchanges viable. While this may sound okay, believe it or not, the results would be almost identical to the results of repeal-without-replace in slow motion.
Although few individual insurance markets have yet entered the economic "death spiral" we heard so much about when the exchanges first came online, some have, and more will without the tweaks. The mass exodus of insurers from the exchanges have left a majority of exchange markets in 2017 with just one insurance company offering plans, and some of those avoided having none at all only because President Obama himself personally pleaded with insurers to stay in the market, largely on the promise of the needed tweaks (in this case, reinsurance tweaks) finally coming once Hillary Clinton was inaugurated.

With all that background, let's return to the question of whether Trump supporters can come to their senses and do it by considering their likely reactions to each of the four outcomes I've presented:

1. Trump tweaks Obamacare and says he repealed and replaced it. This one seems like a gimme. The Trump bubbles will be filled with stories about how Obamacare was fully repealed and how much better "Trumpcare" is, and Trump supporters will have no reason or need to return to their senses.

2. Trump pulls a Hail Mary half-gainer, and socializes the healthcare system with Republican support. This seems exceedingly unlikely, doesn't it? But it has two yuuuge things going for it:
a. It neatly lines up with Trump's own pre-2015 proposals for health care reform; and
b. It actually accomplishes both Trump's and the GOP's stated goals for health care reform.
Do I think it'll happen? Nah. But if it happened, would Trump supporters come to their senses? I think not. He might disillusion or permanently lose a set of Trump supporters—right-wing Republicans of a Tea Party bent, who'd see nationalization for what it is—namely, a betrayal of all conservative values—but most of them haven't been as irrational as their brethren to start with, and they're already wary of Mr. Trump's ideological squishiness.
The Trump supporters we've been talking about, the ones who support Mr. Trump emotionally rather than rationally, will happily take their "free" health care and their information bubbles will congratulate them for being right about Mr. Trump all along. So no, they won't come to their senses in this—nice to think about, but highly unlikely—scenario. (A more interesting question is whether with such a move he could pull a segment of Clinton supporters—particularly, ones who'd been for Bernie Sanders in the primary who were practically one-issue, single-payer health care voters—into his thrall.)

3. Repeal, no replace. This is the one I think is most likely to serve as the cold slap in the face folks have said Trump supporters need. Here, we need to consider the information bubble carefully. The bubble will still be feeding them information that everything's going swimmingly: the terrible Obamacare's been repealed so things will finally be getting back "to normal", which in Trumpworld will be great. Only Trump supporters who personally lose their health care coverage, or have a loved one who loses coverage, will get that slap in the face warning them the bubble's news isn't true.
The question is: how large a proportion of Trump supporters will have that lived experience to call their bubble into question? Not enough, I think. But — the highest concentration of such people are to be found in the Rust Belt, in exactly those communities that gave Mr. Trump his Electoral College victory.
In other words, this would be a disastrous outcome for American health care—but it just might make Mr. Trump a one-term president.

4. Nothing happens in Congress—no repeal, no replace, no tweaks. This one, should it come to pass, will be the test of the Trump propaganda machine. The bubble will tell supporters that evil Democrats have managed to thwart Mr. Trump's plans, and any negatives individuals may personally see in the form of ever-higher bills and ever-lessening coverage and access are Democrats' (and Obama's!) fault.
Should this propaganda be successful, and the people who put Trump and Republicans in charge of the entire federal government and most state governments are convinced that the (in reality, near-powerless) Democratic minority are continuing to be the source of all their problems, the Republic will be in grave danger.
In the last scenario, I predicted Trump could be a one-term president. In this scenario, I predict Trump could be a one-party president. Either the supporters we've been talking about come to their senses—or their unshakeable irrationality takes us over the brink.

So that's my analysis of the continued irrationality of Trump supporters when it collides with the reality of health care, and it ain't pretty. Next up: could the reality of foreign policy bring them to their senses? Watch this space.


° Note that one can take an extremely close reading of "not going to have people dying on the street" to describe a promise simply not to roll back EMTALA, the law that since 1986 has made it a requirement that patients with life-threatening emergencies be treated regardless of ability to pay. But in several interviews, Mr. Trump seemed to suggest that he meant something more expansive than this. In particular, he said several times that he'd reduce Americans' reliance on emergency-department care for non-emergencies.

† Since this is a fact that even many liberals seem to be unaware of and Republicans actively lie about, let me point out that the ACA has reduced the deficit. Repealing it while taking no other action would increase the deficit by a minimum of $350B over ten years—more if the only parts that are repealed are those that can be repealed without the help of Senate Democrats, and even more if they try to naïvely preserve the popular pre-existing conditions and adult children provisions of ACA.

§ That's why I said I'm pretending that repealing Obamacare was not, itself, a promise. And I'll admit that amending any part of Obamacare, even if it's actually just a tweak, could be easily sold as a "repeal", anyway.

‡ This should be unsurprising, since Obamacare was a national version of the Massachusetts plan, a.k.a. Romneycare, which in turn was a Heritage Foundation plan first formulated as a Republican answer to Clinton-era Democratic proposals. It was the only conservative "universal health care plan" that made economic sense then, which was why the Obama administration adopted it, in hopes of peeling off Republican support. (It didn't—not a single Republican voted for it—but it began President Obama's record—one he'd continue throughout his presidency—of compromising with Republicans before he ever came to the table.)
The same economics true then are true now—no plan "more conservative" than the ACA can meet the promises Trump has made.___

2017-01-14 01:22:09 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 12 +1s; )Open 

My promised longer post will probably take a couple days, but in the meantime I want to make an observation that still takes my breath away every time I consider it:

Mr. Trump continues, even today, to bash the US Intelligence Community and argue Russia's position. Why?

Is it because he's so insecure that he simply can't handle the simultaneous thoughts "Russia interfered in the election in my favor" and "that doesn't have to delegitimize my win or my presidency"?

Here's the terrifying thing: that is the best possible explanation of his behavior, the most positive for Mr. Trump. Every other explanation is so dark as to be unutterable.

My promised longer post will probably take a couple days, but in the meantime I want to make an observation that still takes my breath away every time I consider it:

Mr. Trump continues, even today, to bash the US Intelligence Community and argue Russia's position. Why?

Is it because he's so insecure that he simply can't handle the simultaneous thoughts "Russia interfered in the election in my favor" and "that doesn't have to delegitimize my win or my presidency"?

Here's the terrifying thing: that is the best possible explanation of his behavior, the most positive for Mr. Trump. Every other explanation is so dark as to be unutterable.___

2017-01-13 18:02:04 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 10 +1s; )Open 

Asking for a friend: does Donald Trump know that "bully" in "the bully pulpit" refers to Theodore Roosevelt's use of the word to mean "terrific", and not the other meaning?

Asking for a friend: does Donald Trump know that "bully" in "the bully pulpit" refers to Theodore Roosevelt's use of the word to mean "terrific", and not the other meaning?___

2017-01-13 17:43:54 (4 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s; )Open 

Asking for a friend: When exactly did Donald Trump say he'd "tear up" the Iran deal? I remember, when the GOP primary race was still going, that he differentiated himself from the other candidates who near-unanimously said they'd "tear it up" by saying he was a deal-maker, his specialty was to buy up bad deals and figure out how to make them work, yadda yadda...

Don't read any ulterior motives into this question, I'm writing a longer piece and I research as I go along. Though it seems like everyone in the commentariat is operating from the received wisdom that he said he'd tear it up, I'm honestly having a tough time finding the point, if any, when he shifted from "fix the bad deal" to "tear it up", and I'm wondering if this is just something that they've collectively remembered being a catch phrase of the GOP primaries and... more »

Asking for a friend: When exactly did Donald Trump say he'd "tear up" the Iran deal? I remember, when the GOP primary race was still going, that he differentiated himself from the other candidates who near-unanimously said they'd "tear it up" by saying he was a deal-maker, his specialty was to buy up bad deals and figure out how to make them work, yadda yadda...

Don't read any ulterior motives into this question, I'm writing a longer piece and I research as I go along. Though it seems like everyone in the commentariat is operating from the received wisdom that he said he'd tear it up, I'm honestly having a tough time finding the point, if any, when he shifted from "fix the bad deal" to "tear it up", and I'm wondering if this is just something that they've collectively remembered being a catch phrase of the GOP primaries and have in their minds "remembered" it as being unanimous to include Mr. Trump.

Certainly I can find lots of examples of Mr. Trump calling it a horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad deal, and his saying he'd do lots of things with it that sound an awful lot like unilateral abrogation, but I haven't found a quote of his actually saying he'd "tear it up", except in contexts where it sounds like he's echoing a questioner before offering a response.

It probably doesn't matter in the larger scheme of what policy the incoming administration is likely to follow, but I do make every attempt to keep my facts straight. Would appreciate any assistance.___

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2017-01-12 17:07:05 (9 comments; 14 reshares; 21 +1s; )Open 

Can we all just agree that Trump's supporters are acting irrationally?

“The way it is nowadays, unless I see positive proof, it’s all a lie,” Mr. Ameling said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. He added he was more concerned that government officials might have leaked the material to the news media. “I don’t know if it was classified, but if it was, whoever leaked it needs to go to jail,” he said. “We need law and order back in this country.”

Unless Mr. Ameling—who, being a "technical analyst" at an unnamed company in small-town Iowa, I assume does not have access to compartmentalized classified intelligence and is not, himself, a covert agent°—sees "positive proof" with his own eyes, "it's all a lie". Taken literally, that's an untenable position (well before we even get all Platonic with the question of whatreality is intelligi... more »

Can we all just agree that Trump's supporters are acting irrationally?

“The way it is nowadays, unless I see positive proof, it’s all a lie,” Mr. Ameling said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. He added he was more concerned that government officials might have leaked the material to the news media. “I don’t know if it was classified, but if it was, whoever leaked it needs to go to jail,” he said. “We need law and order back in this country.”

Unless Mr. Ameling—who, being a "technical analyst" at an unnamed company in small-town Iowa, I assume does not have access to compartmentalized classified intelligence and is not, himself, a covert agent°—sees "positive proof" with his own eyes, "it's all a lie". Taken literally, that's an untenable position (well before we even get all Platonic with the question of what reality is intelligible outside of the perception of one's own senses). But I'll try to take Mr. Ameling seriously rather than literally, as we've been repeatedly been told is how Mr. Trump's supporters think, and as we've been directly exhorted to think by Kellyanne Conway and others. So... he wants to see positive proof before he'll believe anything.

The public historically gets evidence about issues of public importance and controversy through the press†, and there's a long history of the intelligence community and press's at times adversarial, at times symbiotic relationship. It's never been pretty—it reached its nadir of misuse to the government's advantage in the run-up to the Iraq War. (The worst of the press's excesses in the opposite direction are a bit harder to pinpoint, but probably were more diffuse over the last ten years in reaction.)

So, Mr. Ameling won't believe information negative about Mr. Trump unless he sees proof positive. Since one can probably assume neither a Republican-controlled government nor Mr. Trump's Twitter account will be publishing information unflattering to him, no matter how true, Mr. Ameling must be depending on the press—er, "the media"—for that proof should it exist.

But, no: He added he was more concerned that government officials might have leaked the material to the news media. “I don’t know if it was classified, but if it was, whoever leaked it needs to go to jail,” he said. “We need law and order back in this country.”

So: he won't believe it until he sees it, but he wants it to be a prosecuted crime if someone lets him see it. This is not rational.§

Don't jump on me for getting on one random Iowan's case for one ridiculous comment. This is the sort of “thinking” (pardon the scare quotes) we've heard time and time again from many Trump supporters. Trump's not going to follow through on promised actions I find personally objectionable that require just a stroke of his pen, like implementing anti-Muslim immigration policy, but he is going to do the impossible (or, at best, highly implausible) things that I want, like bringing back coal jobs or reversing trends towards automation.

Or take the ACA (Obamacare) repeal, which as of last night's Senate vote-o-rama is well underway. Many reporters, such as Sarah Kliff of Vox, have interviewed Trump voters who don't believe that ACA will actually be repealed, despite promises from all parties who are now fully in control—and they don't say this because they think savvy Senate Democrats will find parliamentary maneuvers to preserve it. They just can't believe he'd do it, despite his promises to.

Debbie Mills, a Trump voter from Kentucky whose husband is waiting for a transplant covered by an ACA exchange plan, on why they voted for him despite the threat: “I don't know. I guess I thought that, you know, he would not do this. That they would not do this, would not take the insurance away. Knowing that it's affecting so many people’s lives. I mean, what are you to do then if you cannot … purchase, cannot pay for the insurance?” (http://www.vox.com/2016/12/13/13901874/obamacare-trump-voter-health-insurance-repeal) This is not rational.

Trump voters in parts of Oklahoma racked by earthquakes increasing in frequency and intensity at an alarming rate due to hydrofracking hope that the Trump EPA will bring in jobs by allowing more hydrofracking, and say they hope the earthquakes will just go away of their own accord. Trump voters who believe in and are concerned about anthropogenic global warming (about 40% of them, according to polls before and after the election) think the administration will continue global environmental work, even after Trump's nomination of a climate change denier as EPA administrator. This is not rational.

Trump voters don't believe the Obama administration. Oh man, do they not believe the Obama administration. They don't believe the economy's improved—not just in the specific areas of the economy where some of Trump's voters (but not as many as snap post-election analyses said!) actually were experiencing economic stagnation or regression, but they don't believe unemployment has gone down. They don't believe job creation has been higher. They don't even believe the stock market has gone up—and that's a number they can just Google!

This level of disbelief is not, independently, irrational. These figures could be wrong, and, especially if you and your family or acquaintances personally have been economically suffering during the Obama administration, you could give lived experience primacy over those figures. But this requires another step: that one believe that the non-political bureaucrats are, in fact, political pawns in thrall to a cravenly propagandistic president; that even the Wall Street indices, for some reason far beyond my ken, are in on buffing the president's reputation.

But they don't appear to believe that. Less meddling than that was enough reason to impeach Nixon, and reason for him to resign before they could do it. Yet Obama enjoys a 57% approval rate, and a majority approval rate even among Trump voters, and especially among Trump voters who were previously Obama voters—a group that seems to be especially prone to this sort of thinking. How do you approve of a president who you seem to simultaneously believe is coordinating the greatest politicization of the civil service, the greatest conspiracy with Wall Street, and the greatest coverup in American history? This is not rational.

They hear Trump's own statements about Russia, about nuclear proliferation, about China and other world governments. On nukes, he says, “let it be an arms race”. On Iran, he promises full-out war if Iranian sailors ever again make rude gestures to American sailors. On military leadership, he says he knows more than the generals and that there needs to be a “housecleaning”, either unaware or uncaring that the Pentagon's personnel operations are controlled internally and direct presidential intervention has been an extremely rare action up till now only taken in (or instigating) a crisis.‡ His first two statements on internal DoD matters after the election were apparently attempts to tweak Boeing and Lockheed. Yet they say they trust him to be “stronger” than President Obama and believe he'll strengthen the military. This is not rational.

We've been told time and again, first by a few right-leaning pundits and lately by members of the incoming administration themselves, that the liberals' mistake was in taking Trump “literally but not seriously”, while his voters did the opposite, taking him “seriously, not literally”.

Kellyanne Conway went even farther this week on CNN, saying: “You can’t give him the benefit of the doubt on this and he’s telling you what was in his heart? You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.” This is not rational.

No, it's not rational. It's emotional. You've no doubt heard the truism, "feelings aren't facts". In Al-Anon, they have a rejoinder: "no, feelings aren't facts, but it's a fact that I'm feeling this way."

What do we who oppose Mr. Trump do about this? I have some thoughts about this I'll get into in a later post. But can we all just agree that Trump voters are treating him irrationally? Not all of them, not all of the time, but some of them all of the time and most of them at least part of the time?

(To any Trump voters reading this: when I asked if we all can agree, yes, I mean you too. You should be okay with that; Mr. Trump's top people are saying this too, to the point of upbraiding journalists who fail to accede to the point.)


° Though from innumerable thrillers, "technical analyst at a nondescript small-town Iowa company" is exactly the sort of person who would be a secret agent, no? For the moment I'll pretend no.

† Notice how even this terminology has become dichotomized across partisan lines? Democrats: "the [free and fair] press". Republicans: "the [lying lamestream] media". Shibboleths like these seem to be becoming more and more rife: Mr. Trump's own press release last Friday on the ICA briefing used the epithetical misnomer "Democrat Party"—while Republicans have used this epithet to demean the Democratic Party since the 1940's, I believe this is the first time a Republican P(E)OTUS has ever used it in written form. (George W. Bush said it a number of times, but in each case the transcription of his remarks read "Democratic Party".)

§ I'll admit it's technically possible for these two statements to exist in a non-contradictory way: namely, that whistleblowers who care about our country should not only be willing to accept punishment, but that even when the majority of the public applauds and agrees with the whistleblower's actions, we should still demand his or her punishment as a way to keep the cost for leaking high.

But while it's a philosophically arguable position, it's just not an American way of thinking about things. The "good guys" don't get punished once we figure out they're the good guys, especially if they were good guys working against bad guys with greater power. When someone's cleared of manslaughter after being found to have lawfully defended children from grave bodily harm by an assailant intent on killing them, we generally don't turn around and charge them with technical violations of weapons or trespassing laws.

I'm going to assume here, too, that Mr. Ameling isn't taking the philosophically esoteric view that we as a society sometimes need to punish the "good guys" for the greater good.

‡ Or, just maybe, Mr. Trump in this one case has read the Constitution a little too closely, and holds the constitutionally novel position that his power to appoint, with the advice and consent of the Senate, commissioned officers means he has hire/fire power over every commissioned officer in the armed forces, including low-level generals?

Or maybe he hasn’t read the Constitution at all and, as befits a man whose catch phrase (good Lord, until this moment I didn't put together that we're about to have a president with a catch phrase) is “you’re fired”, thinks he's the CEO who can make direct personnel decisions about anyone employed by the United States government? That sounds a lot more likely, but doesn’t particularly reassure me....

I'll note without comment that polls of the military showed that, while overall they preferred Trump, commissioned officers preferred Clinton (and Johnson) over Trump by fifteen points.

And, enough about "the generals" — what is his position on rear admirals? Does it differ if they’re lower-half? I’m really dying for the answer here.___

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2017-01-11 17:54:51 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 3 +1s; )Open 

Always fun when the news wakes up Siri.

(Google Assistant never seems to wake up to anyone else's voice—and definitely not from the TV. Siri does it all the time.)

Always fun when the news wakes up Siri.

(Google Assistant never seems to wake up to anyone else's voice—and definitely not from the TV. Siri does it all the time.)___

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2017-01-09 18:02:10 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 14 +1s; )Open 

"Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood"... Right. She's very possibly the greatest actor of any gender of all time, but all those people who insist on calling her the best in the universe, when we really don't know how good alien actors are.... Sad.

Or (h/t to my loving and lovely husband) maybe it was an autocorrect, and he meant to type one of the most decorated actresses?

"Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood"... Right. She's very possibly the greatest actor of any gender of all time, but all those people who insist on calling her the best in the universe, when we really don't know how good alien actors are.... Sad.

Or (h/t to my loving and lovely husband) maybe it was an autocorrect, and he meant to type one of the most decorated actresses?___

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2017-01-08 19:41:48 (0 comments; 1 reshares; 12 +1s; )Open 

Why did they leak about Russian officials "celebrating"?

A thought that's been nagging at me since I read the Intelligence Community Assessment: the only place I noticed where there was a divergence between the three main agencies authoring the ICA (the FBI, CIA and NSA) was first mentioned on preface page ii, where the assessment says that all three agencies agree with the assessment that "Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him". But it goes on with a curious two sentences (emphasis mine): "All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence."

If you're a security geek (in either sense) you know what this... more »

Why did they leak about Russian officials "celebrating"?

A thought that's been nagging at me since I read the Intelligence Community Assessment: the only place I noticed where there was a divergence between the three main agencies authoring the ICA (the FBI, CIA and NSA) was first mentioned on preface page ii, where the assessment says that all three agencies agree with the assessment that "Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him". But it goes on with a curious two sentences (emphasis mine): "All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence."

If you're a security geek (in either sense) you know what this underlines: FBI and CIA are HUMINT, while NSA is SIGINT—that is to say, NSA primarily uses eavesdropping while the other two mainly use spies. In the parlance, "moderate confidence" means they're more confident than not and have information that is both credible and plausible, while "high confidence" means quite sure (former spies have generally said 85%–90%+) and have highly credible, plausible, and corroborated information from multiple independent sources.

(Note that NSA would not state they have "moderate confidence" on the basis of FBI and CIA; if they had no intelligence of their own independent from FBI and CIA, they would have called that out with something like "CIA and FBI agree and have high confidence in this judgment. NSA does not have intelligence on this judgment and takes no position on it." Most likely it would also have been redacted from the declassified document. The wording they included means NSA does have corroborative evidence, just not enough to independently come to the same analytic confidence level that FBI and CIA does.)

I've been wrestling a bit with what, if anything, that should mean to us. The past 16 years have shown us that, in general, HUMINT is vitally necessary (the 9/11 Commission concluded that our increasing reliance on SIGINT to the exclusion of all else had damaged our intelligence position significantly), but it's also more likely to be politically motivated and manipulated than SIGINT. That has been worked into the analysis, of course; they don't give "high confidence" to a HUMINT finding as readily as they used to before the Iraq War debacle, after known-bad HUMINT was used to great effect by Cheney's people.

Given that this particular point is a motives question, though, it seems like it might just be a natural result that you're more likely to determine motives through your human spies than from eavesdropping—spies can ask "why?" while signals just catch whatever traffic is intercepted, and assets generally don't talk about why they're doing whatever it is they do.

Then I remembered the leak from intelligence sources on the same day: that Russian officials were heard celebrating Trump's win. This initially felt to me like the IC's warning shot across Trump's bow, that they were trying to show him how uncomfortable they could make him by leaking intelligence that could be personally embarrassing to him if he chose to denigrate them and put the lives of their agents at risk.

But then I noticed a detail: the leak wasn't simply that they had intelligence that Russian officials celebrated; it was that they had signals intelligence of Russian officials celebrating. In other words, this is NSA. While I still think it's possible that that leak may have had that political-warning aspect, I think we should also consider the possibility that NSA wanted to get out there the evidence for their "moderate confidence". Remember, a "high confidence" analytic assessment requires not only a highly-credible and plausible source, but multiple corroborating sources. A photographed page from Vladimir Putin's journal confessing to the crime, by itself, would only earn "moderate confidence".

So I think it's at least possible that the NSA (or someone in the IC, anyway) wanted to explain exactly what NSA's evidence was so that their "lower" confidence level wouldn't be misunderstood as undermining or blurring the overall intelligence picture when it doesn't.

___

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2017-01-06 21:45:53 (6 comments; 0 reshares; 7 +1s; )Open 

These two-pronged touchless, no-liquid carbon-black lens cleaners are awesome.

I've fought a battle with smudged glasses for decades. My bad myopia and astigmatism require a prescription that makes smudges particularly bothersome when there are brighter-than-background lights directed at me (like looking at a computer or TV screen, at the movie theater, or practically anywhere in New York City at night) — I get lens flare that would make JJ Abrams proud,¹ and it's really bothersome.

Over the years I've tried so, so many microfiber cloths—tons of different ones, including pre-moistened ones in single-use pouches, dry disposable ones, reusable ones, ones with smooth texture or terry texture or chamois texture—with various cleaning fluids or none, and at best was getting results that were okay for awhile but, as the glasses got older, built up residue thatcouldn... more »

These two-pronged touchless, no-liquid carbon-black lens cleaners are awesome.

I've fought a battle with smudged glasses for decades. My bad myopia and astigmatism require a prescription that makes smudges particularly bothersome when there are brighter-than-background lights directed at me (like looking at a computer or TV screen, at the movie theater, or practically anywhere in New York City at night) — I get lens flare that would make JJ Abrams proud,¹ and it's really bothersome.

Over the years I've tried so, so many microfiber cloths—tons of different ones, including pre-moistened ones in single-use pouches, dry disposable ones, reusable ones, ones with smooth texture or terry texture or chamois texture—with various cleaning fluids or none, and at best was getting results that were okay for awhile but, as the glasses got older, built up residue that couldn't be removed without stripping the lens coating—and at worst, stripped the coating themselves.

I knew what the issues were: the cleaning solutions and the wiping. I needed something gentler that could still get the lenses spotlessly clean. With no wiping!

With my last three pairs of glasses, I'd finally devised a cleaning routine that worked—functionally, anyway. Every morning, I'd:
1. Rinse the lenses with almost-hot water,
2. Apply a tiny dab of detergent-, color-, and scent-free liquid dish soap to each lens,
3. Clean the lenses by rubbing the soap with a bit of water using my (clean!) fingertips,
4. Rinse the soap off with a gentle flow of water that wouldn't splash or sheet on the lenses until the lenses were free of water but for a few beads,
5. Use a microfiber cloth with pinked edges (that is, lots of little corners) to touch the barest point of cloth to any remaining beaded water, wicking each bead away without touching the cloth to the lens.

This worked. It didn't cause build-up over time—even a three-year-old pair I've only cleaned this way still looks as good after cleaning as it did when they were new. It generally gave me a full 24 hours before smudges would be noticeable again.

But: it probably sounds like a royal pain in the butt, and it often was. If the sink faucet could produce a laminar flow at some pressure (that is, a flow without any turbulence or bubbles), I could sometimes clean my glasses without needing to wick away water at all—I just had to dry the water that had run to the edges of the lenses. At worst, with such a faucet I could get a rinse that left only three or four beads of water to wick away.

Unfortunately, most bathroom sinks can't produce a laminar flow, and if I was, say, at a hotel or in a public restroom, getting the water off the lenses without wiping could take several minutes. And from the pair I had before I'd developed this method, I knew that even a little wiping or rubbing the lens with a cloth—any kind of cloth—would damage the lens coating.

And worst, touch-ups were impossible; if a bit of dust that wouldn't come off with a light brush or if sweat or oil got onto a lens, I had to start over—quite impractical most of the time and impossible without access to a faucet and my little bottle of soap and my cloth.

So when someone recommended carbon-black lens cleaning, and this particular tool combining a soft brush with self-recharging cleaning pads on tongs to allow cleaning both sides of the lens at once without touching them, I decided to give it a try on my oldest pair of eyeglasses on which I'd, up till now, used only my new "spotless" cleaning method.

After a week, I'm so happy with the results that I bought a single-pad "pen" version for cleaning my VR headsets' lenses. If the results continue to be this good and don't seem to damage the coating after a month or so, I'll be ready to ditch my old method completely.

With these "Peeps" cleaners linked below, cleaning is as simple as:
1. Brush dust and debris off both sides of each lens,
2. Breathe lightly on the lenses to fog them momentarily,
3. Use the pad tongs to rub the lenses in a circular motion until clean.

No extra fluids or cloths, no faucet, no unforgiving system that requires starting all over if they're inadvertently smudged again, in an all-in-one package that can be carried in a pocket. Provided it continues to work this well over a longer period of time—and I'll keep you posted—this is literally life-changing.

From what I've read in reviews, the main dangers are getting a hard particle like a grain of sand embedded into the pad and scratching the lenses, and using the pads past their expected lifetime (about 500 uses), at which point the pads can become abrasive.

The only real downside I've come across so far is that the pads can't fit into the nooks around the fittings of my rimless pair of glasses—the pads really need to make full contact on the lens to do their job, and even though they're small, they aren't small enough to negotiate into the corners around the rimless frames' screws.

But if nothing else, by now I've probably convinced you that I'm stringent to the point of obsessiveness about my eyeglasses' cleanliness. For the probable majority of you who wear eyeglasses and don't have such exacting standards, there's no question that these things will work great for you. Give them a try and let me know what you think!


¹ I know that what I experience is not the same, optically, as movie camera lens flare; just cut me some slack here.___

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2017-01-05 20:38:14 (22 comments; 30 reshares; 42 +1s; )Open 

The facts on the cyberattacks

Many of you who follow me of a geekier bent will be aware of what I write in this post. But for those of you who aren't that familiar with cybersecurity, today's hearings have brought up some points that I think should be understood by anyone trying to evaluate the government's (and parts thereof) and individual politicians' statements. To sum up: the source of a cyberattack is always verified only after the fact; cyber intelligence and cybersecurity experts do generally know what they're talking about; we can tell the difference between Russia, China, and a morbidly obese bedridden individual; the Democrats aren't to blame; and Hillary's private email server had nothing to do with it.

If you want to know the details, presented in a way that I think does not require any special knowledge of computer security or cyber... more »

The facts on the cyberattacks

Many of you who follow me of a geekier bent will be aware of what I write in this post. But for those of you who aren't that familiar with cybersecurity, today's hearings have brought up some points that I think should be understood by anyone trying to evaluate the government's (and parts thereof) and individual politicians' statements. To sum up: the source of a cyberattack is always verified only after the fact; cyber intelligence and cybersecurity experts do generally know what they're talking about; we can tell the difference between Russia, China, and a morbidly obese bedridden individual; the Democrats aren't to blame; and Hillary's private email server had nothing to do with it.

If you want to know the details, presented in a way that I think does not require any special knowledge of computer security or cyber intelligence:

1. The idea that to definitively catch hacking, you have to "catch them in the act" is totally incorrect. This is an idea put forth by Mr. Trump as early as statements weeks before the election, but he made it most succinctly in a tweet on 12 Dec. (at https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/808300706914594816):
Unless you catch "hackers" in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn't this brought up before election?
This is so incorrect as to leave my head spinning. The basic idea of catching someone "in the act" as being more probative may be intuitive, particularly if you get your information about hacking from dramatic depictions in movie and TV. But I've been involved in investigating attacks on my prior employers' systems many times, and I can testify unequivocally that this is rarely—almost never—the case with hacking.
There are a few reasons for this, but it basically comes down to the difference between crimes in "cyberspace" (i.e., on computer networks, principally the Internet) and crimes in "meatspace". My apologies for being pedantic, but let me break it down to some perhaps obvious basics. In meatspace, people have eyes and ears; "catching someone in the act" means that a person who can later testify has seen or heard the crime while it is in progress.
But with computers, there's no such thing as direct experiential evidence. First responders attempting to stop the attack (if still in-progress) and mitigate its effects, and investigators attempting to ascertain the source of the attack, can only use the output of computer programs to build evidence. And nearly universally, the programs used to do this forensic work "log" what they do—meaning they keep a detailed, timestamped, immutable record—or, more commonly, work on logs generated by other programs.
This is such an ubiquitous characteristic of our forensic tools that in "post mortems", analyses which most professionally-managed sites do after any large-scale outage—whether cyberattack-related or not—we tend to discount any hearsay evidence. If a responder says they saw a certain alert or a user or administrator noticed an unusual event, we generally use that testimony only to guide us in reconstructing events, not as evidence itself.
This is for several reasons:
a) because responders are only human, and long experience has shown that in the heat of an incident—particularly an adrenaline-pushing incident like many in-progress cyberattacks are likely to be—responders do not have faultless memory, particularly when it comes to sequence of events or sense of time intervals;
b) much or all of the sort of evidence we're interested in are names and numbers—port numbers, service names, system utilization percentages, Internet addresses, times—or other arbitrary information of the type that humans are poor at recollecting perfectly — and, for many such kinds of testimony, a slightly-off recollection is worse than no recollection at all;
c) Humans are very good at recognizing patterns, even when no pattern is there. This has the unfortunate result that responders in-the-moment often come to unwarranted conclusions based on a pattern they think they see. (To make this a bit more concrete, I can think of several times when an incident response I was involved in temporarily went on a wild goose chase because a responder said they recognized an Internet address from a prior event, only to later discover that the address they thought they had recognized was actually a digit transposition or numerically close to the other address.)
d) Because humans involved can't directly "see" an attack, only the output of tools used to monitor the attack, it's nearly always possible to use logs to recreate what the human had seen—a sort of "crime scene reenactment", if you will—that surpasses in precision, accuracy and detail anything the humans can recall.
To put this into non-cyber terms: suppose a bank vault break-in is observed in realtime by a security guard—not directly, but by the guard's watching security camera feeds. If the guard testifies that he saw four robbers enter the vault on his screen, but the recording of that same feed shows only three robbers, it would be ludicrous to give the guard's recollection of seeing four the same weight, as evidence, as the recording itself. It might prompt an investigation into whether the recording had been tampered with, but most likely it would just be written off as a poorly-recollected detail.
Responding to or investigating a cyberattack is like investigating a meatspace crime where all witnesses were only able to witness recorded camera feeds. The existence of the recording not only makes human testimony redundant, but means that it doesn't matter whether the investigation is being done at the time or later—at minimum, the same information will be available after the fact as during, and more likely, more information will be available later.

2) Most cyberattacks aren't the kind you think they are. Here I must explain what we call "APT's", or "advanced persistent threats". A cyberattack being an APT basically means that:
i. The attack uses sophisticated techniques;
ii. The attack continues for a prolonged period of time (days, weeks, or months) before being discovered; and
iii. The attack is directed at a single target. ("Target" has a very loose definition here; it could be a particular document or database, but is more likely against a certain network, or the entity who owns that network.)
Most hacking is not part of any APT. I've written about this before, but the misconception that most attacks are APT's is one of the most harmful misconceptions about cybersecurity for laymen to hold. It leads people to say things like, "yeah, I know that website I put up for my kid's choir doesn't have the latest security patches, but who's going to try to hack a site like that?" To the contrary, most attacks are aimed not at stealing data from the owner of the machine under attack, but to gain secret control of the machine for use in a later attack. It doesn't matter the function of the machines under attack in this context: your kid's choir's web server is a perfectly good launchpad for an attack on something else of greater value.
Many attacks, such as DDoS (distributed denial of service), depend on the attacker having access to an army of unwitting accomplices in the form of computers like that youth choir web server. The attacker may use this army ("botnet") in the service of an advanced persistent threat, but the APT is directed at a target entirely distinct from the owners of the botnet. The attacker effectively is mounting two different attacks: an APT against the attacker's true target, and a dragnet attack to recruit any machines that can be successfully compromised so that they can be turned to the attacker's use.

3) The idea that an attack from a state actor could be indistinguishable from that of a lone hacker operating independently (the "400-pound person sitting on a bed") is theoretically possible, but in practice quite implausible. This follows from the previous point. State-actor attacks are usually some variety of APT or in the service of an APT. The government of country X wants access to data held by government (or ministry or corporation) Y. They mount an APT against Y using various means, and usually a combination of them:
a) Specific penetration tests, where a known vulnerability (known to the attacker, anyway) is used to gain access;
b) Denial-of-service (DoS) or distributed DoS (DDoS) attacks;
c) "social engineering" attacks;
d) insider (mole) attacks,
as well as others. A few points of explanation here:
• In a known-vulnerability penetration, it's only necessary that the attacker know the vulnerability. A site can be fully patched and be following all the best security practices but still compromised by a vulnerability not known to the security community. These are called "zero-day attacks" (so named because their identification means the target had no time to fix the vulnerability before it was used against them). State-sponsored actors are not the only, or even primary, users of zero-day vulnerabilities. But when security people speak of "14-year-old hackers", they're usually referring to neophytes using "root kits" or other prepackaged hacking tools available online, which, by definition, do not rely on zero-day vulnerabilities. (Are there precocious 14-year-olds who have found previously-unknown vulnerabilities? Sure. It's just not a particularly likely scenario, certainly not more likely than zero-day vulnerabilities being used by state actors, many of whom have been known to stockpile information about such vulnerabilities for use as warranted.)
• A DoS or DDoS may not seem to be particularly useful in an APT where the desire is to gain illicit access, since, if a service is down, it can't be accessed anyway. This is true, but service-denials can still be a useful tool because
i. They cause a distraction—both human, in that responders will be busy trying to get service back up and likely not focusing on other simultaneous attacks, and technical, in that an overloaded system typically has impaired monitoring. (Think of the trope in espionage-thriller movies where the spy pulls the fire alarm and escapes detection by melting into the evacuating stampede.)
ii. Overloaded systems—particularly ones overloaded by a massive DDoS—sometimes expose vulnerabilities the same systems, under normal operation, are impervious to. For instance, a common response tactic to a DDoS on a website is to temporarily replace the normal servers with one(s) optimized for speed that do nothing but serve a "fail whale" sort of page in order to let the other overloaded systems calm down. These "fail whale" servers are often hand-built outside the normal web server build process (among other reasons because, if the outage isn't a DDoS but is due to a programming or configuration failure inside the system, a "fail whale" server built using normal practices might fail in the same way as well). This in turn means that such servers often lack the latest patches or may have vulnerabilities that the normal-traffic system does not.
iii. A DDoS "botnet" gives the attacker thousands or millions of points from which to mount their attack(s). The attacker's ability to conceal their location and being able to quickly move from one attack machine to another (to prevent trivial blocking from being successful) is very useful to an APT attacker.
• "Social engineering", or SocEng, refers to a variety of attacks where the attacker uses an unwitting accomplice inside to get access otherwise unobtainable to them. Clinton campaign chair John Podesta's responding to a phishing email is an example of social engineering. While Podesta's incident is one that should have been preventable, it is hard or impossible to get everyone in a large organization who might be useful to an APT attacker to follow security procedure 100% of the time—particularly since prevention of many types of social engineering attacks requires the person unwittingly under attack to be rude or create inconvenience for the attacker (who, for all they know, is not an attacker but a coworker, customer or client).
If you've ever taken a phone call from your bank, insurance company, healthcare provider, cable company, etc., and answered their security questions before they can tell you why they're calling, then you've made yourself a possible vector for a social engineering attack. The "correct" response is to ask the caller how to reach them starting with a phone number you can obtain and authenticate yourself, such as the number on the back of your credit card, hang up, and call back before providing any personal information. But this is inconvenient, rude, and sometimes impossible. It's hard enough to act correctly in these circumstances as a customer, but treating a customer or client in the way necessary to mitigate SocEng attacks if the caller isn't a real customer or client can risk disciplinary or poor-performance action for an employee who is supposed to be helpful to callers.
• The next step beyond social engineering, where the attacker uses unwitting accomplices, is actually installing moles within the organization. This is so difficult (and so illegal) that state actors are the near-exclusive deployers of this tactic. But they do it. Indeed, many multinational companies keep operations in countries that are known state-sponsors of corporate-espionage cyberattacks siloed, and have the rest of the company act as though there are definitely moles at all levels within the siloed subsidiaries.

The point you should be deriving from all this is that it most definitely is possible to tell likely state-sponsored attacks from ones conducted by "some random 14-year-old". And this is even before considering detailed forensic analysis, where logs can show likely origin, types of attack that are distinctive of particular state actors, notes, comments or source code left behind whose language and terminology can provide clues to the attacker's identity, and so on.

4) The idea that the DNC is responsible for its own hacking is, at best, a dangerous one. What we know of the phishing attack on John Podesta's account certainly doesn't paint his or his IT team in the best light. There are mitigating factors at play here, but let's dispense with them for the moment and imagine that the entirety of all attacks on Democratic Party targets was due to Podesta's response to the phishing attack and the failure of the campaign's IT people to warn him effectively. Even accepting that, using it to blame the DNC for its own hacking—even if it were a true and complete account of their actions (and it's not)—is like blaming someone leaving their door unlocked for getting burgled, or (not to put too fine a point on it) claiming someone's dress or behavior makes them responsible for their own rape. We wouldn't accept this line of reasoning for any other crime; we shouldn't accept it for this one, either.
Not to mention, there's evidence that Republican targets were hacked as well. If we assume that the weird concatenation of mistakes that resulted in John Podesta's capture by a phishing attack didn't also occur at the GOP, then one can reasonably assume that the attackers could have gained the access to Democratic targets they wanted through other means.

5) Hillary Clinton's private email server has nothing to do with the attacks being discussed in today's hearings. This is a line that Republicans at all levels have tried to make fuzzy, but there are simply no shades of gray to fuzz. We don't know of any successful attack on Clinton's private server (though proving the negative, as always, remains impossible). The successful attacks attributed to Russia happened after the private server was permanently shut down. Mr. Trump's exhortation to Russia at his last press conference to "please" hack into Hillary Clinton's emails to get the deleted ones was unprecedented, but it was never practical.

I hope the above is accurate, helpful to readers who aren't security experts, and isn't slanted by my own partisan bias. (If you disagree, let me know in the comments. I know I skated over a lot of detail for security folks, but as I wrote in the opener, I didn't write this with you in mind as an audience.)___

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2017-01-03 20:17:42 (8 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s; )Open 

Now that Breaking News app is gone, what do you use?

The last three Breaking News notifications I got seemed almost sardonic in progression: "George Michael dead", "Carrie Fisher dead", "Debbie Reynolds dead" and "NBC News shutting down Breaking News app".

2016 was a shit year, and it had gotten to the point where that Breaking News notification sound had started filling me with dread. It seemed to have become nothing but terrorist attacks and celebrity deaths. My new husband and I were just returning home from our wedding dinner last week when the sound went off, and he said, "oh no, who died now?" I pulled out my phone and thought there had maybe been a game-of-telephone mistake when it said Debbie Reynolds had died just one day after her daughter. For the de-cluttering philosophy asking if things "bring you joy", one... more »

Now that Breaking News app is gone, what do you use?

The last three Breaking News notifications I got seemed almost sardonic in progression: "George Michael dead", "Carrie Fisher dead", "Debbie Reynolds dead" and "NBC News shutting down Breaking News app".

2016 was a shit year, and it had gotten to the point where that Breaking News notification sound had started filling me with dread. It seemed to have become nothing but terrorist attacks and celebrity deaths. My new husband and I were just returning home from our wedding dinner last week when the sound went off, and he said, "oh no, who died now?" I pulled out my phone and thought there had maybe been a game-of-telephone mistake when it said Debbie Reynolds had died just one day after her daughter. For the de-cluttering philosophy asking if things "bring you joy", one would think removing this app without replacement would be one of the best de-cluttering measures I could take.

Still, I did appreciate the app. Since I have a subscription to The New York Times, I get news alerts from their app, but Breaking News was generally 10 –15 minutes faster and included a somewhat wider breadth of news in alerts than The Times. (The Times also didn't have a way to exclude sports and entertainment stories from the alerts, so I appreciated Breaking News for that, but The Times fixed this shortcoming earlier this year.)

Is the NY Times app the best alternative now, or would you recommend another?___

2016-12-17 20:24:27 (14 comments; 0 reshares; 12 +1s; )Open 

Please: stop pronouncing "Putin" wrong.

I hear Americans, well-educated ones and even ones who deal in foreign policy every day and who should really know better, make this mistake all the time. They pronounce Putin as "Pyootin." This is just wrong and it drives me crazy.

It's Путин, pronounced in Russian [ˈputʲɪn]; in standard English, it's properly rendered [ˈpuː.tɪn], POOH-tin. No /j/ or English consonantal y sound. (Not "Poutine"; that's the Canadian fries with cheese curd and gravy. But that's considerably closer to the correct pronunciation than "Pyutin" is.) POO, tin. Putin. Simple. Got it? Got it.

But if it were * /pjuː.tɪn/, PYOOH-tin, how would Russians spell it?

(Warning: much linguistics geekery ahead.)

Well, Russian has no consonant corresponding to our y insound. So yo... more »

Please: stop pronouncing "Putin" wrong.

I hear Americans, well-educated ones and even ones who deal in foreign policy every day and who should really know better, make this mistake all the time. They pronounce Putin as "Pyootin." This is just wrong and it drives me crazy.

It's Путин, pronounced in Russian [ˈputʲɪn]; in standard English, it's properly rendered [ˈpuː.tɪn], POOH-tin. No /j/ or English consonantal y sound. (Not "Poutine"; that's the Canadian fries with cheese curd and gravy. But that's considerably closer to the correct pronunciation than "Pyutin" is.) POO, tin. Putin. Simple. Got it? Got it.

But if it were * /pjuː.tɪn/, PYOOH-tin, how would Russians spell it?

(Warning: much linguistics geekery ahead.)

Well, Russian has no consonant corresponding to our y in sound. So you can't just stick a letter in there like you can in English * "Pyutin".

It would have to have a different vowel — notice the vowel between the Pi thing П (capital peh) and the tee thing т (lowercase teh, which, I should warn you so you won't be confused later, is written like an English em in italics, like so†: т): the vowel у is like an upsilon, pronounced /u/ or "ooh" when stressed as it is in Путин (and there you see how things change in Russian cursive, a.k.a. "italics"). An у ("an" is correct, the name of the letter is just /uː/, "ooh") is what Russians call a "hard" vowel. The vowel ю (pronounced /juː/, "you") is what Russians call the "soft" version of the vowel.

Much like what you probably learned in elementary school about "long" and "short" vowels in English, there's nothing linguistically particularly "soft" about the ю as compared to у. But quite unlike our elementary-school English vowel learning, which is totally ungrounded in phonology and is just trying to give poor kindergarteners something to grasp onto about why our English vowel letters each have at least two totally different sounds (the actual linguistic explanation of which is hard enough for linguists to describe if they haven't studied it recently!) the Russian dichotomy of "hard" and "soft" vowels actually means something phonologically important; it groups the vowels into two sets that behave very differently.

The most immediately obvious difference—and the one we obviously care about here—is that a soft vowel, like ю, is an "iotated" variant, meaning it has a /j/, that is, an English consonantal y sound, preceding it. (Not an English y after it, like bow vs. boy — that's "diphthongization", a totally different thing.)

All the Russian vowels have "soft" and "hard" variants°, and all the "hard" versions aren't iotated—they do not begin with a /j/ sound. The Russian vowel у in Путин is "hard"; therefore, it's pronounced OOH, not YOO.

So what would * "Pyutin" be in Russian? If it were pronounced "PYOO-tin", you'd have to change that vowel to the soft version, giving you Пютин. But that wouldn't be correctly rendered into English the way people incorrectly pronounce * "Pyutin", either. Sorry. It's that soft/hard thing again: like I said, iotation is part of the difference between the two kinds of vowels, but it's just a part. Soft vowels also transform the stress pattern and the pronunciation of following vowels; specifically (though very roughly), once a soft vowel appears, the following syllables' vowels are more distinctly pronounced. In a word like our hypothetical Пютин, stress moves from the first syllable to the second.

In English, unstressed vowels tend to turn towards a bland uh noise. The same goes in Russian, to a much greater degree. (And in another dimension, too, but we won't get into that.) So the last vowel in Putin's name, the backwards-N thing и (cursive и, sorry about that, it's just Russian), is pronounced /i/ ("ee" like bee) when stressed, but when unstressed is usually somewhere in between /œ/ (think French jeune or Cockney or New Zealand bird) and /ɪ/ ("tin" rhymes with "pin"). So in the actual name Путин, the final vowel gets that diminishment, hence the correct English pronunciation being "POOH-tin" since, aside from our Cockney and Kiwi friends, we don't have that other vowel available for our use.

But our proposed Пютин, changing just the first vowel to its soft variant, wouldn't work because then the second vowel would change, too. You'd end up with [pjuˈtin] — "pyuh-TEEN". The stress has moved, so the vowel sounds change, too.

But we can fix that! We can put a stress mark, the acute accent, over the first vowel, like in Spanish, to force the stress back onto the first syllable: Пю́тин. While this is pronounced almost exactly like the incorrect pronunciation of English speakers I'm criticizing, it's now become a really weird word for Russian phonology; it's actually getting hard to pronounce in Russian. (Try copying and pasting it into Google Translate to get the Russian text-to-speech engine to try pronouncing it. It ends up enunciating both syllables very carefully, with near-equal stress, and what sounds like a quick flap in between: "PYOO'TINN".)

What's gone wrong here is that we've now dealt with the "soft" vowel ю's iotation and stress, but not the other things soft vowels do—yep, there's more. Better would be to leave the stress pattern alone—the syllable-syllable, soft-hard of ю-и is violating at least two rules of Russian prosody. So let's try this: Пютын. See what we did? Now, in addition to a soft vowel in the first syllable, we changed the second syllable's vowel to the soft form as well, the letter ы, pronounced... well, make your lips into an "oo" sound and then try to say "ee", and you'll get close; the IPA for it is /ɨ/. ("But now, it'll be iotated!" I'm hearing you cry. Well, no, you probably aren't. But it isn't iotated for two reasons, one of which is that there is no /ji/ vowel in Russian; unlike the other hard/soft pairs, the и/ы pair doesn't get the iotation. The other reason... let's just ignore it. It's complicated.)

Okay, so play that (Пютын) through Russian text-to-speech. Uh-oh! Now the stress is all messed up again! And the tone has gone weird too, it sounds like an English question: "Pyutin?"

The issue now is that the soft vowels do yet another thing, which is to "palatalize" the prior consonant. A palatalized consonant is one which sounds as if a little /j/ sound has been added to the end of it. We don't use them in English for any meaningful purpose. But in Russian, a palatalized consonant is "softer", allowing the stress pattern to move away from the syllable in which it appears. Palatalization also causes its syllable to move lower in tone, making the entire word now have a low-high pattern that sounds like an English question.

(A quick digression: Russian uses rising-tone for questions as well, but does it in a different way. Where in English, we rise tone on the final syllable for simple yes-no questions, Russian rises tone on whatever word is standing in as the head of the "predicate variable" of the question. This is convenient because in English, the sentence "Is Mother home?" could be asking whether Mother or someone else is home, or whether Mother is home or not. In Russian, the sentence "Мама дома?" could also have either meaning in written form, but in speaking, you'd raise intonation on Мама (/mama/, mother) to ask the first question, and on дома (/doma/, home) to ask the second.)

So the palatalization of the initial /p/ in П is the problem. Well, turns out the Russian alphabet has an answer to this, too: the letter ъ, called the твёрдый знак ("tvyordi znak" or "hard sign"). When changing a vowel's hardness or softness makes everything else change badly, you use this (or its counterpart, the ь, мягкий знак ("myaki znak" or "soft sign") to switch it back up. So, let's try this:

Пъютын

Play it through the TTS. Et voilà! (Or should I say, Вот оно!) A Russian voice perfectly mis-pronouncing Putin's name.

If nothing else, now you Russians who haven't been watching American TV news will know how so many of us insist on saying it.

† Well, depending on the font. It looks like on some devices, you just get an oblique lowercase T. Same with the italic и to come; in some fonts it'll just be oblique, but in others it will look like a lowercase u.

° (For the record, the hard vowels and their soft counterparts are: а → я (a/ja), э → е (e/je), о → ё (o/jo), у → ю (u/ju), and и → ы (i/ɨ), but note the last one isn't iotated—it has no initial /j/ sound.)___

2016-12-17 05:20:50 (34 comments; 1 reshares; 16 +1s; )Open 

What if Trump isn't taking his intelligence briefings because he thinks they're implying he isn't intelligent?

Gut-check time here... Over the past couple weeks I've been having this idea that I at first dismissed as crazy, but it's been giving me a sinking feeling and I just can't shake it...

Our President-elect, breaking from tradition set in the Truman administration, has been declining almost all of his intelligence briefings.

Anonymous sourcing from inside Trump Tower on why he's made this peculiar choice has not been very forthcoming, and the little we've gotten has been murky. Most pundits have analyzed this as just more evidence of his low regard for the U.S. Intelligence Community. Some have read into it a darker note, seeing his friendliness and implicit trust towards Vladimir Putin as fundamentally incompatible with what... more »

What if Trump isn't taking his intelligence briefings because he thinks they're implying he isn't intelligent?

Gut-check time here... Over the past couple weeks I've been having this idea that I at first dismissed as crazy, but it's been giving me a sinking feeling and I just can't shake it...

Our President-elect, breaking from tradition set in the Truman administration, has been declining almost all of his intelligence briefings.

Anonymous sourcing from inside Trump Tower on why he's made this peculiar choice has not been very forthcoming, and the little we've gotten has been murky. Most pundits have analyzed this as just more evidence of his low regard for the U.S. Intelligence Community. Some have read into it a darker note, seeing his friendliness and implicit trust towards Vladimir Putin as fundamentally incompatible with what intelligence briefers are telling him, so he's rejecting those messages.

But... every time he's been asked about this, he's repeated a particular and specific line: "I'm a smart person." This has been generally interpreted as typical Donald Trump bluster, in line with his claim that he knows more about ISIS than the generals do. But what if that's not what it is at all?

Call me crazy, but what if he literally doesn't understand the meaning of "intelligence" in this context? What if he thinks accepting an "intelligence briefing" implies that he's not an intelligent person? Previous presidents have accepted daily intelligence briefings, but he feels that, since he's smarter—i.e., he has more "intelligence"—than any previous president, he doesn't need to be briefed daily on "intelligence".

The first time I thought of this, I laughed at myself for thinking it, it seems so absurd. But yet he keeps repeating this line, "I'm a [very] smart person," every single time the question of his not accepting intelligence briefings comes up.

But, c'mon, this is crazy. Totally bonkers. This explanation just can't be right. Or... can it? It keeps nagging at me.

Could the man really be this batshit? If so, we're in a lot more trouble than I thought, and I already thought we were in a huge amount of trouble.___

2016-12-16 20:21:56 (7 comments; 0 reshares; 3 +1s; )Open 

"Double-tap to check phone" + YouTube notifications = embarrassment

I was eagerly looking forward to the Android Nougat 7.1.1 update for the two new "moves" on the Pixel: double-tapping a sleeping screen or lifting the phone to check notifications. (So eagerly, that those of you reading my posts last week may have seen how annoyed I was that getting the update installed didn't go very smoothly.)

Now that I have it, though, it turns out there's an unexpected consequence: if you have YouTube Red, YouTube will play in the background.

And if you have YouTube notifications, this means you can reach in your pocket to fumble for something, and suddenly your phone's blaring some random video because you just inadvertently woke up the phone and tapped a notification.

This has happened a couple times already. I can turn off YouTube... more »

"Double-tap to check phone" + YouTube notifications = embarrassment

I was eagerly looking forward to the Android Nougat 7.1.1 update for the two new "moves" on the Pixel: double-tapping a sleeping screen or lifting the phone to check notifications. (So eagerly, that those of you reading my posts last week may have seen how annoyed I was that getting the update installed didn't go very smoothly.)

Now that I have it, though, it turns out there's an unexpected consequence: if you have YouTube Red, YouTube will play in the background.

And if you have YouTube notifications, this means you can reach in your pocket to fumble for something, and suddenly your phone's blaring some random video because you just inadvertently woke up the phone and tapped a notification.

This has happened a couple times already. I can turn off YouTube notifications, obviously, but I don't see any setting to keep the notification but prevent this particular behavior (such as, tapping a notification requires a further tap directly on the play button in the YouTube app before the video begins playing perhaps?).

What's worse is that this can happen even if your phone's in do-not-disturb and/or vibrate mode since YouTube overrides those settings! (Or rather, uses the third "media" volume that doesn't get muted with the other two.)

This makes me sad. In the meantime, I'm making do with lift-to-wake only.___

2016-12-15 19:53:13 (4 comments; 0 reshares; 0 +1s; )Open 

Are there no premium 3rd-party wireless game controllers with cross-platform support?

I have games and graphics programs on both my Androids and my iPad that support game controllers, and they're the kind of apps that would be much improved with a couple analog sticks and tactile feedback, but I have trouble justifying a purchase like that unless it can at least be used on both flavors of mobile. And, since Android appears to use a Bluetooth profile that's not incompatible with the standard gamepad HID, it should be possible for there to be a single gamepad that can support Android and Mac/PC as well. (And it is possible, there are several Android+Mac/PC controllers from the major peripheral makers.)

(I know if you jailbreak iOS, root Android and/or install a community-supported driver on Windows, you can use a PS3 or PS4 controller on all of these. But I'm looking... more »

Are there no premium 3rd-party wireless game controllers with cross-platform support?

I have games and graphics programs on both my Androids and my iPad that support game controllers, and they're the kind of apps that would be much improved with a couple analog sticks and tactile feedback, but I have trouble justifying a purchase like that unless it can at least be used on both flavors of mobile. And, since Android appears to use a Bluetooth profile that's not incompatible with the standard gamepad HID, it should be possible for there to be a single gamepad that can support Android and Mac/PC as well. (And it is possible, there are several Android+Mac/PC controllers from the major peripheral makers.)

(I know if you jailbreak iOS, root Android and/or install a community-supported driver on Windows, you can use a PS3 or PS4 controller on all of these. But I'm looking for compatibility without jumping through too many hoops.)

But it looks like all the major third-party vendors only sell platform-specific controllers. I'm not sure why this is—if Apple's MFi program forbids cross-branding Android support officially (and if so, does that mean that an MFi+Bluetooth controller, of which I've seen a few, should support Android despite the spec sheets not mentioning it?), if the manufacturers are hoping to pick up redundant sales through ecosystem incompatibility, or if there's some technical complexity I'm failing to grasp.

The cross-platform ones I have dug up from searching shopping sites are all either NES-style gamepads or are of questionable origin and quality.

So, my question for y'all fine people: Do you know of a good controller (Xbox/PS-style dual analog stick, standard buttons and triggers, haptic feedback preferred) that supports at least the two mobile platforms? I'm willing to take a reasonably solid knock-off (which at this point should be pretty close to XBox 360 quality) but not a total semi-disposable piece of junk.

Appreciate any pointers!___

2016-12-11 19:28:22 (5 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s; )Open 

DIY help: what tool am I looking for?

(Update, 14:35 EST: Solved, it's a "razor scraper", thanks to +Adam Liss.)

I know I've owned this tool in the past but I can't find it nor recall what the hell it's called. I hope somebody can help.

It's a handle that holds a utility knife blade such that it can be used for shaving off rough protrusions from a surface. IOW, if you lay it so the utility knife's blade is on top of and parallel to a horizontal surface like a table, the handle will rise up, almost to an L. It looks kind of like the razor a nine-foot-tall man might use.

I'm killing my poor thumbs trying to plane off some nubbins from a plastic surface by holding the bare utility blade between my thumbs and forefingers, so I would definitely appreciate having a tool like that again.

But I don't need a real... more »

DIY help: what tool am I looking for?

(Update, 14:35 EST: Solved, it's a "razor scraper", thanks to +Adam Liss.)

I know I've owned this tool in the past but I can't find it nor recall what the hell it's called. I hope somebody can help.

It's a handle that holds a utility knife blade such that it can be used for shaving off rough protrusions from a surface. IOW, if you lay it so the utility knife's blade is on top of and parallel to a horizontal surface like a table, the handle will rise up, almost to an L. It looks kind of like the razor a nine-foot-tall man might use.

I'm killing my poor thumbs trying to plane off some nubbins from a plastic surface by holding the bare utility blade between my thumbs and forefingers, so I would definitely appreciate having a tool like that again.

But I don't need a real plane, as I never do woodworking; I just sometimes need to get protrusions shaved off plastic surfaces.

Anyone have an idea what I'm talking about?___

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2016-12-08 17:09:18 (13 comments; 0 reshares; 3 +1s; )Open 

Is this what system updates looks like on Nougat 7.1.1 on a Pixel when it's waiting for you to decide to reboot? It's been stuck here for an hour, and this is my first update on this phone, so I don't know what to expect.

Is this what system updates looks like on Nougat 7.1.1 on a Pixel when it's waiting for you to decide to reboot? It's been stuck here for an hour, and this is my first update on this phone, so I don't know what to expect.___

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2016-12-07 16:24:36 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 10 +1s; )Open 

Radia Perlman at LISA 2016

The inventor of the spanning-tree protocol giving a lovely talk on "Modern Cryptography Concepts: Hype or Hope". A hint: it's mostly hype.

(Somewhat distressingly, I know at least a dozen people working at companies whose ultimate success is predicated on assuming that a cryptographic breakthrough of something like generalized secure multiparty computation will happen by the time they need it to by their business plan.)

Radia Perlman at LISA 2016

The inventor of the spanning-tree protocol giving a lovely talk on "Modern Cryptography Concepts: Hype or Hope". A hint: it's mostly hype.

(Somewhat distressingly, I know at least a dozen people working at companies whose ultimate success is predicated on assuming that a cryptographic breakthrough of something like generalized secure multiparty computation will happen by the time they need it to by their business plan.)___

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2016-12-07 14:45:37 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 4 +1s; )Open 

A quick follow up on this...

In my defense, when I wrote the quote in the linked post a couple weeks ago, that I wasn't yet aware that Trump was actively refusing his presidential security briefings. The idea of that even being a possible thing that could really happen† was so far from my ken that I hadn't considered any of the possible insanity that might result.

But falsely thinking that Air Force One is a bamboozle on taxpayers is a pretty obvious one, now knowing this.

Next, Donald will say that owning a private long range heavy jet should be a requirement for the presidency. We could just replace the Nobility (Emoluments) Clause with the "Bring Your Own Plane to Make America Great Again Clause". #BYOPMAGAC

† That the president-elect would refuse his briefings, not that he could do so.

I don't like saying "I told you so" on issues of national security, but...

I did: https://plus.google.com/+TreyHarris/posts/gf7DbSfRMsj


"This is a conflict whose resolution I'm really interested to see — if we hear that he complained but was quickly shut up after the Secret Service, Air Force and intelligence explained to him the extreme expense and equally extreme necessity of the classified parts of the planes, then it's a sign he's probably finally starting to become resigned to the fact that his life will change whether he likes it or not. If he makes some attempt to superficially luxe up the Air Force VC-25's, I'd take it as a sign he's still fighting the idea of truly becoming the President rather than simply being the President as he is. If he continues to fly the Trump plane around, it would be unprecedented and highly inadvisable — but when has that stopped him before?"

For some reason, I didn't even think of the now-obvious possibility he'd attack the planes before even getting briefed. Oh well....___A quick follow up on this...

In my defense, when I wrote the quote in the linked post a couple weeks ago, that I wasn't yet aware that Trump was actively refusing his presidential security briefings. The idea of that even being a possible thing that could really happen† was so far from my ken that I hadn't considered any of the possible insanity that might result.

But falsely thinking that Air Force One is a bamboozle on taxpayers is a pretty obvious one, now knowing this.

Next, Donald will say that owning a private long range heavy jet should be a requirement for the presidency. We could just replace the Nobility (Emoluments) Clause with the "Bring Your Own Plane to Make America Great Again Clause". #BYOPMAGAC

† That the president-elect would refuse his briefings, not that he could do so.

2016-12-07 14:35:44 (15 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s; )Open 

Android and repetitive captive portals

I am now in a place where my Android devices do no unencrypted traffic at all in the background—yay!

Unfortunately, as I've learned this week traveling, that means that when a hotel network wants me to re-authenticate to its captive portal (not authenticate the first time: then, Android is expecting it and offers a notification) what instead happens is, seeing SSL (encrypted) traffic either get blocked or returned with a spoofed cert, the background processes just silently retry. If any background process tried an HTTP (unencrypted) transaction, the capture portal page would pop up instead, triggering notification (or commonly, in the case of re-authentication, would just get an automatic redirection—unblocking all the waiting background processes—once the portal had verified the device had access).

It's not until Itry t... more »

Android and repetitive captive portals

I am now in a place where my Android devices do no unencrypted traffic at all in the background—yay!

Unfortunately, as I've learned this week traveling, that means that when a hotel network wants me to re-authenticate to its captive portal (not authenticate the first time: then, Android is expecting it and offers a notification) what instead happens is, seeing SSL (encrypted) traffic either get blocked or returned with a spoofed cert, the background processes just silently retry. If any background process tried an HTTP (unencrypted) transaction, the capture portal page would pop up instead, triggering notification (or commonly, in the case of re-authentication, would just get an automatic redirection—unblocking all the waiting background processes—once the portal had verified the device had access).

It's not until I try to do something active and get a network error, or notice that some widget or notification seems to be missing updates, that I realize I have to kick off the re-authentication by manually going to an HTTP site. (And since Google products all try to steer you to SSL whenever possible, that's surprisingly hard to do—entering a random search term and clicking on the first link probably won't do it. For the moment, http://m.xkcd.com/ works, and I just keep a bookmark to it on my home screen.)

Is there an Android-side fix for this?___

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2016-12-07 14:23:43 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 7 +1s; )Open 

___

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2016-12-06 18:56:39 (3 comments; 1 reshares; 7 +1s; )Open 

I don't like saying "I told you so" on issues of national security, but...

I did: https://plus.google.com/+TreyHarris/posts/gf7DbSfRMsj


"This is a conflict whose resolution I'm really interested to see — if we hear that he complained but was quickly shut up after the Secret Service, Air Force and intelligence explained to him the extreme expense and equally extreme necessity of the classified parts of the planes, then it's a sign he's probably finally starting to become resigned to the fact that his life will change whether he likes it or not. If he makes some attempt to superficially luxe up the Air Force VC-25's, I'd take it as a sign he's still fighting the idea of truly becoming the President rather than simply being the President as he is. If he continues to fly the Trump plane around, it would be unprecedented and highlyi... more »

I don't like saying "I told you so" on issues of national security, but...

I did: https://plus.google.com/+TreyHarris/posts/gf7DbSfRMsj


"This is a conflict whose resolution I'm really interested to see — if we hear that he complained but was quickly shut up after the Secret Service, Air Force and intelligence explained to him the extreme expense and equally extreme necessity of the classified parts of the planes, then it's a sign he's probably finally starting to become resigned to the fact that his life will change whether he likes it or not. If he makes some attempt to superficially luxe up the Air Force VC-25's, I'd take it as a sign he's still fighting the idea of truly becoming the President rather than simply being the President as he is. If he continues to fly the Trump plane around, it would be unprecedented and highly inadvisable — but when has that stopped him before?"

For some reason, I didn't even think of the now-obvious possibility he'd attack the planes before even getting briefed. Oh well....___

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2016-12-05 16:23:20 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s; )Open 

Sorry, but no; you didn't measure that monitor down to the ten-micron scale.

It always amuses me when I see non-US tech sites review equipment and quote absurd measurements like — for a new LG ultra-widescreen monitor — "896.62 mm × 393.7 mm × 91.44 mm". That's clearly exactly 35-⅓″ × 15-½″ × 3-⅗″.†

The real question is: are the monitor's measurements actually in inches, or was the spec-sheet compiler given US customary units already converted from slightly-less-insane units like 896 mm, 393 mm, and 91 mm respectively and converted them back with too many significant digits?

People screw up significant digits in doing calculations involving only decimal units, there's no surprise that they really screw it up when trying to work between decimal and non-decimal units. It's amusing nonetheless.
(What's really... more »

Sorry, but no; you didn't measure that monitor down to the ten-micron scale.

It always amuses me when I see non-US tech sites review equipment and quote absurd measurements like — for a new LG ultra-widescreen monitor — "896.62 mm × 393.7 mm × 91.44 mm". That's clearly exactly 35-⅓″ × 15-½″ × 3-⅗″.†

The real question is: are the monitor's measurements actually in inches, or was the spec-sheet compiler given US customary units already converted from slightly-less-insane units like 896 mm, 393 mm, and 91 mm respectively and converted them back with too many significant digits?

People screw up significant digits in doing calculations involving only decimal units, there's no surprise that they really screw it up when trying to work between decimal and non-decimal units. It's amusing nonetheless.

(What's really amusing is when you see the rare case of a dimension that can be perfectly represented in one unit system as a float but not in another and the conversion was done at the wrong point so you end up with numbers that perfectly miss rounding off—so you see numbers like "3.94443" pop up because the human writer is trying to justify why they can't just write "3.94", "3.95", "3.9", or even "4". Who knows which is correct?—it depends exactly where they made the error and how many significant digits the original measurement had—but the "just add more digits" impulse, while an understandably human one, is the one that always gives you the wrong answer. This is what we call "compromise.")

† (For those of you not on a device with good Unicode vulgar fraction support, those numbers were 35-1/3, 15-1/2, and 3-3/5, respectively.)___

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2016-12-05 16:05:10 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s; )Open 

___

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2016-12-04 17:19:38 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 7 +1s; )Open 

It's Trump's world now...

I believe Energy Transfer Partners has taken down this statement from their website since posting it—I can't find it anymore. But here's a screenshot from yesterday's AM Joy with +Joy-Ann Reid.

I think it's... amusing, I'll just go with that... that just three days ago, I wrote about how I was having trouble understanding the new political world, and I wrote, as an example of how my prior understanding hadn't all just been knee-jerk partisanship: "I could say with pretty fair certainty that people to my left were wrong, that we weren't going to war in Iraq for the oil." (https://plus.google.com/+TreyHarris/posts/JVJdv1eCxXe)

Here's Energy Transfer Partners (the Dakota Access Pipeline people) though, showing that the new reality works both ways: now a fossil fuels company can wrap itself int... more »

It's Trump's world now...

I believe Energy Transfer Partners has taken down this statement from their website since posting it—I can't find it anymore. But here's a screenshot from yesterday's AM Joy with +Joy-Ann Reid.

I think it's... amusing, I'll just go with that... that just three days ago, I wrote about how I was having trouble understanding the new political world, and I wrote, as an example of how my prior understanding hadn't all just been knee-jerk partisanship: "I could say with pretty fair certainty that people to my left were wrong, that we weren't going to war in Iraq for the oil." (https://plus.google.com/+TreyHarris/posts/JVJdv1eCxXe)

Here's Energy Transfer Partners (the Dakota Access Pipeline people) though, showing that the new reality works both ways: now a fossil fuels company can wrap itself in the flag... by claiming that service members did die for the oil?

This business of "Trump can make his own facts", which this week has begun being literally stated by his surrogates on the record, seems to be starting to infect others, like a slow rot.

This is truly sickening.___

2016-12-02 18:17:05 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 8 +1s; )Open 

Dear Android,

Please put a delay into your system modal pop-ups (like the "app is not responding, wait or close") between their appearing and accepting taps.

I don't know why the Pixel XL (and/or Nougat) seems to be doing this more frequently than I'm used to, but I regularly go to tap something in an app and between my finger hovering and reaching the glass a pop-up appears under my finger and I've tapped a button without knowing what I just did.

From doing UI programming (and event-loop programming in general), I know how easy this kind of thing is to say but how difficult it is to get right, especially in cases where the user might need to play a brief game of whack-a-mole for which a delay wouldn't be a welcome addition. You'd always rather a system seem over-responsive than unresponsive when you're targeting the reviewers looking... more »

Dear Android,

Please put a delay into your system modal pop-ups (like the "app is not responding, wait or close") between their appearing and accepting taps.

I don't know why the Pixel XL (and/or Nougat) seems to be doing this more frequently than I'm used to, but I regularly go to tap something in an app and between my finger hovering and reaching the glass a pop-up appears under my finger and I've tapped a button without knowing what I just did.

From doing UI programming (and event-loop programming in general), I know how easy this kind of thing is to say but how difficult it is to get right, especially in cases where the user might need to play a brief game of whack-a-mole for which a delay wouldn't be a welcome addition. You'd always rather a system seem over-responsive than unresponsive when you're targeting the reviewers looking for that "buttery" experience.

But usability has to be the nonpareil measure. I know your developers have more eye-tracking study data than nearly anyone else working in OS UX; you know exactly how any milliseconds it takes for someone who's decided to tap the screen to abort that decision based on something on-screen that's changed. I'm sure the upper error bar inconveniently overlaps with the lower error bar for "buttery responsiveness", but there's gotta be a Pareto optimal.

(...or maybe there is, and you've got that delay built-in, and I've just confessed to having poor eye-hand coordination. 🤔)

Love,

Trey___

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2016-12-02 02:22:17 (5 comments; 1 reshares; 19 +1s; )Open 

I don't think I'm emotionally or intellectually equipped to understand politics anymore.

In the linked post, +Yonatan Zunger makes a point that I think dovetails with something I've seen discussed a bit recently: the difference between taking Trump literally and taking him seriously.

It's arguable that journalism's biggest single institutional failing this election cycle was in taking Donald Trump literally but not seriously, while failing to realize or report that Donald Trump's supporters for the most part were taking him seriously but not literally.

This led to reporting like fact checking his many spurious claims without getting deeper into what a Trump presidency would presumably mean, while assuming that his supporters in "the heartland" were existing in media bubbles that shielded them from their debunking. (At best; some... more »

I don't think I'm emotionally or intellectually equipped to understand politics anymore.

In the linked post, +Yonatan Zunger makes a point that I think dovetails with something I've seen discussed a bit recently: the difference between taking Trump literally and taking him seriously.

It's arguable that journalism's biggest single institutional failing this election cycle was in taking Donald Trump literally but not seriously, while failing to realize or report that Donald Trump's supporters for the most part were taking him seriously but not literally.

This led to reporting like fact checking his many spurious claims without getting deeper into what a Trump presidency would presumably mean, while assuming that his supporters in "the heartland" were existing in media bubbles that shielded them from their debunking. (At best; some journalists took a harsher view, namely that many Trump supporters were dunces, conspiracy theorists, or willfully ignorant.)

I understand why they'd do this. Certainly, since the election when I've managed to have a somewhat civil interaction with a Trump supporter, inevitably we get to a place where I quote Donald Trump to try to make a point, and the Trump supporter dismisses the quote by insisting I was treating him and his supporters unfairly by assuming that he meant what he said and supporters supported what he said rather than what (they believe) he meant.

Perhaps the most ostentatious and disarming example of this has been Peter Thiel's statements about what he thinks President Trump will do. He personally has attacked "the media" specifically for taking him literally but not seriously, but when you examine what Thiel thinks President Trump will do, it works out—remarkably enough—to be exactly what Peter Thiel would like President Trump to do.

Politically, if you can pull it off—and it seems like Republican nominee Donald Trump did—it's absolutely ingenious, because your supporters will love everything you say that they agree with, while assuming that anything you say that they don't agree with is something that shouldn't be taken literally. You can do no wrong. (Perhaps Trump himself had an inkling of this when he said that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any supporters.)

This is why in one such exchange with a Trump supporter, I wrote, "You're saying that you can't take a candidate's statements, or his past behavior, as offering any indication of how he might govern. This is insane, and you seem to have no comprehension of how insane it is. In fact, my own inability to see your way of thinking and magically divine Trump's intentions as separate from what he's said, as you apparently can and do, is making you furious at me and further proving to you how out of touch I am. If this is how politics works now, then good lord: we're lost. Democracy is now inoperative."

And in response, I was told I was being blocked.

I've been writing about politics for a long time. You who read me know I've been posting about politics for the entire time Google+ has existed; well before that, I had a weekly political newspaper column in college. Thinking about politics is second nature to me, and I've always felt like I had a certain knack for it. But over the past week or so, I've felt increasingly unmoored. The world of politics no longer makes sense to me. I suddenly feel unequipped to handle the news.

It's not that I don't know how to deal with a government of the other party. I was writing on another platform when the 2000 election happened. The Florida recount was crazy, but I could make some sense of it. 9/11 was terrible, but if I couldn't explain the event itself, I could follow the aftermath. I knew how to distinguish partisan spin from reality. I could say with pretty fair certainty that people to my left were wrong, that we weren't going to war in Iraq for the oil. I could say with pretty fair certainty that people to my right were wrong, that the evidence Saddam Hussein supported Osama bin Laden seemed flimsy at best. When the horror of the "missing" WMD's and later, the Cheney manipulation of the news media came to light, I was appalled, but I could engage with it.

But this... I've never lived in a third-world country, I've never tried to analyze the internal politics of authoritarian regimes. The things I could always count on in the United States were that the truth would out, that petty corruption would be caught sooner or later, that corruption wouldn't escalate to the point where it undermined our institutions, that Tammany Hall was gone forever, that political patronage happened but was limited to appointments where a donor's lack of competence wouldn't do much harm (mostly to ambassadorships to sunny countries; Michael Brown's appointment to FEMA, by its very controversy, showed how rare patronage like that had become).

Most of all, I could count on the power of shame. Politicians might do almost anything until they were caught—but once they were caught, shame kicked in. The confessional press conference with the spouse, dabbing tears, beside the contrite politician; the only question being if the politician was going to resign on the spot, try to serve out the current term but announce an intent to then retire, or ride it out hoping for rehabilitation through pleas to God and excuses about moral or psychological or substance-abuse failings.

I could count on the flip side of shame, saving face. The announcement that a privately shamed politician had decided to spend more time with family. The embarrassing attempt at playing off a naked lie as a joke, ignorance, or a big misunderstanding. The magnanimous words spoken by the winner in the moment of triumph; the conciliatory and uniting words spoken by the loser in defeat.

I could count on the civil service being used, for the most part, apolitically. When former GE CEO Jack Welch proclaimed that the Obama administration's Bureau of Labor Statistics had "cooked" the unemployment numbers to help Obama's reelection, this was a laughable claim; the BLS were bureaucrats, number-crunchers, their every tweak to a formula announced in requests for comments, their corrections made as regularly and as publicly as their announcements. Nixon had used the bureaucrats for political ends and it nearly tore the presidency asunder; I could count on this lesson having been learned well.

I could count on access for the press. Friday night and pre-holiday news dumps, venue shopping, going on the record and off the record and on background, the softball interview, the "humanizing profile", the rush to a scoop, the strategic leak, the "press statement" the politician delivers before rushing off stage without taking questions: these were the tools of the game, often frowned upon but permitted because there was a hard backstop, always: at some point, sooner or later, the politician would have to "meet the press", would have to answer even the questions that had been dodged.

I could count on bigotry always being an institutional force echoing from history into now; sometimes being a personal failing of a politician, staffer, or other public persona; but rarely being nakedly expressed, and never with pride. To do so was to invite shunning, excommunication from the body politic. There was nothing so quickly and surely ruinous to someone's reputation than to baldly express blatant bigotry on the record. Of course, I knew what was considered bigotry was always changing; I knew that, by my year of birth, I had only just missed seeing overt racism and anti-Semitism being "acceptable". I was privileged to watch some of the "long arc of history bend towards justice" as homophobia, prejudice towards the disabled, and Islamophobia move from one side of that boundary to the other; I watched with fascination as transphobia began to move in that direction as well. You could tell it had happened by two easy markers: one, the press no longer felt bound to get a bigoted opinion from "the other side" as "balance"; and two, an expression of bigotry openly and on the record would lead to personal political ruin.

I could count on power or ideology, not personal enrichment, being the primary motivator of the politician. "Primary" being a key word there; the machinations to try to ensure a comfortable post-government life, the revolving-door of lobbyists, the perks of a trip on a private plane and junkets to sunny places with nice golf courses, those were always there, but they were always secondary. ("[T]he primary motivator of the politician" was also key: for the power brokers, the major donors, the bundlers, the super PACs, personal enrichment of someone was always at play; you just followed the money to see where it intersected with the power.)

These were the things I could count on. These were the things that anchored my analysis of current events, that guided me in figuring out what had really happened and in predicting what tomorrow might bring.

You very well might think me amazingly naïve—for someone who claims to have had some understanding of politics—to say I "could count on" these things. No; to be utterly clear, these were things that were never, by any means, universal, and sometimes were privately not even common, but were, publicly, the norms by which outliers were judged. Deviation—when eventually discovered because of the access of the press—was harshly punished using that all-powerful force, public shame.

But now, those things I could count on, those norms that anchored me to reality, they all seem to have come undone in an absurdly short period of time. Before, I analyzed current events knowing that these norms pertained even if they were being violated: that was what we called "scandal".

But now I face a reality where nakedly expressed bigotry is no longer scandal; where denying press access is no longer scandal; where personal enrichment from serving in office is no longer scandal. I face a reality where denying reality is no longer scandal.

In this new reality, I don't know how to understand politics, or make predictions about it. I lack the tools, I lack the frameworks. I feel like an artlover in the eighteenth century trying to appreciate modern art, or a contemporary devotee of baroque music trying to make sense of hip hop.

I think I'm beginning to understand why, when I was a child, some of my older relatives who were electrical and mechanical engineers kept books on computers and electronics and solid-state physics by their bedsides and struggled so mightily, and so emotionally, with them, as if they weren't just new things to know, but were malevolent forces inflicting terrible change upon the world—worse, were inflicting these changes at them.

In other words, I think I may be beginning to understand what it may feel like to be a Trump voter.___

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2016-12-02 00:08:39 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s; )Open 

What's an "Unknown" cellular network?

I'm on Project Fi now so my Pixel XL switches between T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular. I got a nifty little app called Signal Spy to be able to keep tabs on what network I happen to be on (along with a nice little notification bar icon).

On my way to an errand this evening (walking), I got this weird thing in my history as I passed the same spot on my way out and back. (The linked album has the details.)

The spot happened to be the sidewalk in front of a police station. Any chance this is what a (presumably unconfigured) Stingray would look like? If not, what is this, anyway?

What's an "Unknown" cellular network?

I'm on Project Fi now so my Pixel XL switches between T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular. I got a nifty little app called Signal Spy to be able to keep tabs on what network I happen to be on (along with a nice little notification bar icon).

On my way to an errand this evening (walking), I got this weird thing in my history as I passed the same spot on my way out and back. (The linked album has the details.)

The spot happened to be the sidewalk in front of a police station. Any chance this is what a (presumably unconfigured) Stingray would look like? If not, what is this, anyway?___

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2016-12-01 19:12:13 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s; )Open 

On the Pixel XL, Google Now can tell Google Maps appointment time, but Maps doesn't do anything with it...

I wanted to see when I needed to leave for my doctor's appointment this afternoon. Google Now on my Nexus 6 often offered me directions showing when I need to leave, but for some reason Google Now on my Pixel XL does not. Update, 14:25 EST: Once I got within 2 hours of time to depart, the card did update to include the "Leave by" directions. Added to the photo album.

It does show the event itself, though (first photo in album), so I can tap the location to open Google Maps. And Google Maps' thumbtack even has the appointment time (second photo)! So it's just a matter of tapping the "get directions" (blue car, train, etc.) button, and...

Wait, no. Instead of showing me the directions pegged to the time the thumbtack... more »

On the Pixel XL, Google Now can tell Google Maps appointment time, but Maps doesn't do anything with it...

I wanted to see when I needed to leave for my doctor's appointment this afternoon. Google Now on my Nexus 6 often offered me directions showing when I need to leave, but for some reason Google Now on my Pixel XL does not. Update, 14:25 EST: Once I got within 2 hours of time to depart, the card did update to include the "Leave by" directions. Added to the photo album.

It does show the event itself, though (first photo in album), so I can tap the location to open Google Maps. And Google Maps' thumbtack even has the appointment time (second photo)! So it's just a matter of tapping the "get directions" (blue car, train, etc.) button, and...

Wait, no. Instead of showing me the directions pegged to the time the thumbtack showed, it shows directions departing now (third photo). What about tapping the time? I can manually select departure or arrival times, but there's no way to select the appointment time without scrolling for it like any other time (fourth photo).

Maybe "Last"? Nope, that's just the last train in the schedule (fifth and final photo).

This is a disappointing feature loss between Nexus 6 and Pixel XL, especially since it seems there's no workaround. (Well, except for manually remembering the appointment time and entering it as the arrive-by time, but that's always been there as an option, before Google Now existed.)

(Note that I say "Google Now" meaning the personalized cards you get when you swipe left from the phone's home screen; on Pixels, saying "Okay Google" brings up Google Assistant instead. I've tried various ways to ask Google Assistant for the directions, but I haven't been able to convince it to give me times arriving at the right time, either. At best, I can get it to show when I need to depart to arrive at the next hotel I'll be staying at in a few days, which isn't exactly useful information for this. :-)

And yes, I do know that it's possible to read the blurred doctor's office. It's okay, it's the best I could do with the editor on my Android and I didn't feel it was worth downloading to the PC and re-editing.___

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2016-11-30 21:38:18 (2 comments; 1 reshares; 3 +1s; )Open 

A data visualization suited for VR?

As some of you know, my recent project has been to experiment with SRE/DevOps applications in VR. One of the disappointments has been that it's hard to find data visualizations that are a) genuinely useful in themselves and b) indisputably better in VR than on a 2D display.

I had settled on one that I thought fit the bill, the spiral plot (I only found that it had a name today; I had come to it independently). The picture below (which is of a 2D spiral plot) actually demonstrates why very well. Can you compare the values—the lengths of the bars—in the inner coil (purple) with the ones in the outer coil (pink) with any precision or accuracy?

Probably not. But imagine this were a birds' eye view of this same graph, lying on a virtual table, with the bars in a flat spiral, and their lengths in this image being mapped tothe... more »

A data visualization suited for VR?

As some of you know, my recent project has been to experiment with SRE/DevOps applications in VR. One of the disappointments has been that it's hard to find data visualizations that are a) genuinely useful in themselves and b) indisputably better in VR than on a 2D display.

I had settled on one that I thought fit the bill, the spiral plot (I only found that it had a name today; I had come to it independently). The picture below (which is of a 2D spiral plot) actually demonstrates why very well. Can you compare the values—the lengths of the bars—in the inner coil (purple) with the ones in the outer coil (pink) with any precision or accuracy?

Probably not. But imagine this were a birds' eye view of this same graph, lying on a virtual table, with the bars in a flat spiral, and their lengths in this image being mapped to the height of the bars. Then, it would be very easy to do comparisons: just compare the heights of the bars.

(What do you do if the values in the outer coil are larger than in inner coils? You just "lean over" and look down to see the coils that would otherwise be obscured.)

Some experimentation suggests that this works best when "the table"—the plane representing the zero value—is on a level at about knee-height, with the maximum extreme at about elbow level; this is "flat" enough to make the "leaning over" mechanism easy, but give enough height overall to read values fairly precisely. Also, not strictly required but very helpful, is a cross-section tool, its plane perpendicular to the floor, locked to the center of the spiral but free to rotate about it, so you can look at the same datapoint in each coil (time cycle) as a 2D scatter plot.

This visualization is best suited to time-series data such that a wedge cross-section represents the same point in each cycle. (For instance, divide the circle into seven wedges, and have each coil correspond to a week, then you can read the values at, say, 18:00 on ten successive Tuesdays by comparing the heights along a line from center to edge.)

(I've thought about some other geometries, such as using a helix or a conical spiral so that time is represented not just by in-out, but by up-down. They're somewhat more visually appealing to look at and can eliminate the issue of values getting obscured, but at the expense of tossing the biggest gain of the flat spiral: easily comparing values from one cycle [coil] to the next.)

Unfortunately, this visualization requires spatial head-tracking, so it's a no-go on Gear, Cardboard or Daydream. You need to be able to lean over and around the graph as you can with Oculus or Vive. (This has in general been my experience with every 2D visualization I've tried to translate into 3D: very little value is added simply by the depth of the additional dimension; you must be able to look around the data as well. I'm eager to get my hands on a Daydream to see whether this can be alleviated by using the motion controller to "grab" the model and tilt and turn it, but so far I'm still waiting on my Daydream promo code.)

I'm excited by this, but here's the kicker: all the examples I've done have been hand-crafted fake data just to give me something to look at. I could write a new graphics primitive for translating data into a "doughnut spiral graph" as I'm calling it, but that would easily take me more time then I've put into coding any VR thus far combined, and require I delve into a lot of fiddly math I'm not that comfortable with.

Not to mention, the algorithms I've been able to come up with on my own aren't clever at all (they're basically just converting the time/magnitude tuple into polar coordinates in the x and y axis and Cartesian in the z), and I'm sure there has been clever thought put to this sort of thing before.

I wonder if any of you have any immediate feedback — sorry I haven't posted any captures of my POCs; it's been easiest for me to write code directly for the Vive and not for SteamVR, so I don't have any easy way to capture in-world video; I think it's probably time to back up and make this a proper SteamVR app.

Also, if any of you know of a graphing package (in any freely-redistributable language—Java, C++, C#, Python, R, Haskell, other, it's all good) that would let me easily transform time-series data into [ρ, ϕ, z] tuples — or, alternatively, an algorithm that will convert a 2D curve (i.e., what an ordinary Cartesian time-series plot would display) into a spiral (allowing for the "squishing" that has to happen as the data series moves from outer coils to inner—otherwise, the periodicity along wedges doesn't work), I'd love to hear about it!___

2016-11-30 20:42:36 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 3 +1s; )Open 

A question for my friends in Europe and/or academia

Something just struck me: weren't the Bologna Process (EU higher education) standards on graduate-level STEM programs being taught in English due to go into effect this academic year? Did Brexit change anything?

Obviously since Brexit hasn't, legally, happened yet, it hasn't "changed" anything in terms of the accord, but I mean just in terms of attitude about using English in graduate programs.

As a native speaker of English, I have to check my privilege here, but I remember it being excruciatingly annoying that many important books, papers, dissertations, and habilitations in linguistics were in German and French (and my languages were Ancient Greek, Japanese, Russian, Spanish and Swahili, none at the level necessary to read academic papers—oh, and Latin, in which I was proficient enough fort... more »

A question for my friends in Europe and/or academia

Something just struck me: weren't the Bologna Process (EU higher education) standards on graduate-level STEM programs being taught in English due to go into effect this academic year? Did Brexit change anything?

Obviously since Brexit hasn't, legally, happened yet, it hasn't "changed" anything in terms of the accord, but I mean just in terms of attitude about using English in graduate programs.

As a native speaker of English, I have to check my privilege here, but I remember it being excruciatingly annoying that many important books, papers, dissertations, and habilitations in linguistics were in German and French (and my languages were Ancient Greek, Japanese, Russian, Spanish and Swahili, none at the level necessary to read academic papers—oh, and Latin, in which I was proficient enough for that, but papers aren't written in Latin anymore), and it was clear when you could get a translation that the language barrier was creating different strains of thought in linguistics. (I don't know if it's true now, but back then in the 90's, linguists—and not just anglophones—would say "French linguistics" as if it were an entirely different field of study—because it basically was, there was so little cross-pollination.)

From that perspective alone, a common academic lingua franca (yes, I see the irony of that term) would have been really useful. And I imagine that if English weren't the consensus—though still very controversial—standard, the EU wouldn't have chosen French or German or Spanish or Bulgarian; they just wouldn't have set a standard pedagogical language at all.

So I'm just curious whether, politically, sentimentally or emotionally, Brexit has had any effect in raising misgivings about Bologna?

(Yes, I'm aware that English remains an official EU language regardless of Brexit and is an official or semi-official language in Cyprus, Ireland and Malta. And that having a common language with non-EU countries such as the US, Canada, and Australia is an advantage whether or not the UK is in the EU. I'm just wondering if any not-entirely-rational reaction has been happening.)___

2016-11-29 17:36:01 (5 comments; 0 reshares; 2 +1s; )Open 

Now playing "Getting Jiggy With It", by Various Artists

I don't know if this is Google Assistant, Google Play Music (with catalog access via YouTube Red subscription) or something else, but I've noticed that very frequently if I ask Google Assistant to play a top hit song from the past, instead of getting the real version, I get some random knock-off cover from a "Hits of the Whateverties" album.

My example in the post head is kinda funny because it gives a hint into one way the algorithm gets led astray. I actually first typed "Gettin' Jiggy wit It", by Various Artists as a joke, without having actually checked that this song was an example—I just thought it was funny. But then I figured I'd better choose a song that I'd actually seen this happen with—but "Gettin' Jiggy wit It" was still funny. So I said,&qu... more »

Now playing "Getting Jiggy With It", by Various Artists

I don't know if this is Google Assistant, Google Play Music (with catalog access via YouTube Red subscription) or something else, but I've noticed that very frequently if I ask Google Assistant to play a top hit song from the past, instead of getting the real version, I get some random knock-off cover from a "Hits of the Whateverties" album.

My example in the post head is kinda funny because it gives a hint into one way the algorithm gets led astray. I actually first typed "Gettin' Jiggy wit It", by Various Artists as a joke, without having actually checked that this song was an example—I just thought it was funny. But then I figured I'd better choose a song that I'd actually seen this happen with—but "Gettin' Jiggy wit It" was still funny. So I said, "OK Google, play Gettin' Jiggy wit It on Google Play", and indeed I got a knock-off, only one titled with the incorrect spelling in the header above.

So even though it was a joke, I now admit it's possible that Google Assistant will never, no matter how carefully I enunciate, be able to hear me say "Gettin' Jiggy wit It", and, because the song on the knock-off album is in fact titled as "Getting Jiggy With It", its behavior is more understandable in this case—offered the choice between a one-time smash hit song entitled something like what I said and an obscure song with exactly the title (it thinks) I asked for, the latter might more often be the right choice.

And indeed, I've caught it doing this a few times when I asked it to play a song by its popular name or by some words in the chorus rather than the official title, and that's caused it to play something in the Play Music catalog that's titled more like what I said but is a knock-off of what I actually wanted.

Still, some of the examples this has happened on were not songs where I got the title wrong. It still just chose a (seemingly) random no-name cover instead of the hit song.

I don't know what the correct fix is, but I was struck by how much this feels very like another example of the same algorithmic problem of filtering 'fake news'. From most easily-quantifiable appearances, the thing the algorithm is giving me is a perfectly good response—maybe a better one, given what the algorithm knows, than the thing I "should" have gotten. But from all unquantifiable (or at least, not yet quantified) respects, the thing the algorithm has given me is an absolutely inappropriate thing, one that is a disservice not only to me but also to the thing I actually wanted.___

2016-11-27 19:07:49 (11 comments; 0 reshares; 7 +1s; )Open 

A few random thoughts on recounts

1) I certainly think the chances of all three states (MI, PA, and WI) flipping is near-zero. Michigan, at a ∆ < 0.2% (+Trump), is well within the margin of past recount-flips (and it actually hasn't been called by the news organizations yet, the margin is so close there). Wisconsin, at ∆0.8%, is getting out of reach—but there are more reports of irregularities there. The margin in Pennsylvania, at ∆1.2%, would be unprecedented for a result-flip (and as the total vote numbers get larger, the likely margin for a recount change shrinks, too). I'd personally lay even money on one of the states flipping, though, and maybe a 5–10% chance of two.

2) I posted a few days after the election that I was worried about the swings from Obama to Trump I was seeing out of counties using paperless ballot (i.e., undetectably hackable) electionmachines ... more »

A few random thoughts on recounts

1) I certainly think the chances of all three states (MI, PA, and WI) flipping is near-zero. Michigan, at a ∆ < 0.2% (+Trump), is well within the margin of past recount-flips (and it actually hasn't been called by the news organizations yet, the margin is so close there). Wisconsin, at ∆0.8%, is getting out of reach—but there are more reports of irregularities there. The margin in Pennsylvania, at ∆1.2%, would be unprecedented for a result-flip (and as the total vote numbers get larger, the likely margin for a recount change shrinks, too). I'd personally lay even money on one of the states flipping, though, and maybe a 5–10% chance of two.

2) I posted a few days after the election that I was worried about the swings from Obama to Trump I was seeing out of counties using paperless ballot (i.e., undetectably hackable) election machines in PA and FL, which seemed greater than the swings in counties using paper (optical scan) or electronic with instant paper audit, which are not undetectably hackable.

  In that post, though, I mentioned a potential explanation besides hacking for the discrepancy: since almost all counties in both states replaced their machines at the same time as a result of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, and in both Florida and Pennsylvania, almost all those original machines were paperless, and it's since been pretty much accepted that paperless machines must be phased out, the counties with less resources to buy new machines may be precisely the same ones as those that would tend to swing Obama to Trump for demographic reasons.

  Since then, a number of folks have done this analysis and it looks like that is true: the paperless-machine county vote swings may not track with that of other counties in the same state, but they do track with counties with similar demographics in adjoining states.

  That said, a) a recount in Pennsylvania would result in the little auditing that can be done on these paperless machines to be done and released, which should give researchers enough information to more definitively answer the question and b) ultimately it doesn't matter; even if we found definitive proof that paperless ballots were tampered with, there is no mechanism for holding a new vote. (It is just barely possible that a judge could be persuaded to throw out all those counties' votes, just as a single spoiled ballot is thrown out. And Clinton won the counties of PA with election paper trails. But that scenario seems so perilous as to be unthinkable.)

3) To understand why a recount may cause a change in vote totals absent election fraud or Russian hacking: In addition to any corrections to precinct tallies, there are many uncounted provisional ballots in these states—and a few uncounted absentee ballots thrown in for good measure—however, and the margins were razor-thin. While absentee ballots may slightly lean Trump, provisional ballots are likely to greatly favor Clinton. People who voted a provisional ballot because they were purged from the rolls or couldn't prove ID to a precinct official on Election Day will be considered one at a time, and from past experience, most will be counted. There are also usually some machines found whose tallies weren't added to the precinct's total, some arithmetic or transposition errors, etc.

  Note that in all three states, every county's board of elections is controlled by Republicans and all three states had significant "anti-voter fraud" legislation spearheaded by Republicans and intended to depress Democratic votes, so it's not impossible to imagine that any conceivable place where a finger could be put on the scale, one was put on the scale. The effects of any one of these actions may be small, but cumulatively they could add up and matter, especially within such small margins.

4) The Trump campaign is using a framing that much of the press is going along with, simply because it's dramatic and makes for an easier telling of the story: Jill Stein is contesting the race and the Clinton campaign is "joining the bandwagon"; ergo, Clinton is "contesting" the race and isn't that hypocritical when she bashed Trump for refusing to say he'd accept the race?

  This framing is one of those that seems to make sense at first blush, but collapses under the slightest scrutiny. First, isn't the hypocrisy, if any, to be found in Trump's argument that Clinton shouldn't contest when he reserved that right for himself? Second, note that Trump representatives will be present at all stages of the recount(s), just like Clinton's; it's simply that, because they are the presumptive winners, they are not considered to be "contesting", while Stein, Clinton, Johnson, McMullin, etc., are. It would be utterly ridiculous, if a lawful recount is happening anyway, for Clinton to boycott participation even as Trump does not.

5) Note that for Russia (on whose payroll, one assumes, Jill Stein will once again soon be, via RT), this is a win-win scenario. If any state flips—and like I said, I'd bet even money one will— or if hacking is discovered, I can't even begin to imagine the political chaos, even if there's no change at the Electoral College level. If the results flipped—as unlikely as that is—the certain reaction would be protests much more widespread (and, I assure you, with many more guns, simply because of the difference in laws in states that voted for Trump) than those in blue cities after Nov. 8. They'd also involve the KKK and other neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, which would scare millions of Americans. (I know, I know, not all Trump voters are bigots. But basically all bigots were Trump voters.)

  I've heard people say, "but why would Russia support Stein in a recount? Doesn't Russia want President Trump?" If Trump does turn out to be the "useful idiot" in KGB parlance, and does decide he likes being allied with people like Putin and Assad, then yes, with President Trump, Russia wins. But they can't be sure of that. On the other hand, political chaos in the US is a benefit for Russia regardless. They'd be perfectly happy with (and this an extremely unlikely scenario, but I'm just using it for illustration) Clinton suddenly getting the presidency after all and having to govern a country that is in chaos on the verge of literal civil war.

  (Note that we've carefully set things up—in both countries, thankfully—such that the nuclear arsenal can only be in one government leader's hands at any one time, so the immediate objection to "chaos is good for them"—that chaos could end up with missiles flying without warning—is nearly impossible.)

6) As long as we're considering recounts, I'm not sure it's entirely out of the realm of possibility (again, remember how crazy this entire election has been already!) that by December 19, enough electors will have personally had a pitch from a constitutional scholar about the Emoluments Clause and the role of the Electoral College in our Constitution that we could actually have a lot of "faithless" Trump electors.

  In debates in the Constitutional Convention, when it was asked who would, for example, prevent someone under 35 who had been elected somehow from being inaugurated, the answer was the Electoral College. Not that the hypothetical teenaged president would be sworn in and impeached by Congress for being unqualified; the Electoral College would be sworn to prevent this in the first place. An unexpectedly large number of surprisingly-mainstream (and even conservative) legal scholars have gotten on board this theory as the only solution to the untenable situation we've found ourselves in with disentangling a President Trump from paterfamilias of the Trump Organization, unless Mr. Trump begins to take irrevocable steps now to ensure all the company's assets are in the control of people other than himself and his children before Inauguration Day.

  Likely to make a difference? Probably not. Even if at least 37 Trump electors were persuaded to be "faithless", denying Trump victory in the Electoral College, given that his electors were mostly Trump supporters, it's hard to believe that 38 (40 if two Washington State electors do in fact refuse to vote for Clinton as they've said they'll do) would ditch Trump to vote for Clinton. And if no candidate got 270 votes, it would go to the House, which would use a peculiar voting system where each state's congressional delegation would vote to give the state's single vote to one of the top three electoral vote candidates for President (i.e., Clinton, Trump, and possibly someone else faithless electors chose)—likely result, Trump. (The inside-straight result is the House deadlocks and it's thrown to the Senate to choose between the top two candidates for Vice-President — result, Pence.)

(Update 13:17 EST: I edited the final paragraph to more correctly describe the contested-election process. The House vote is between the top three Electoral College vote-getters, regardless of popular vote, and if the House deadlocks, the Senate chooses between the two, not three, top VP electoral vote-getters.)___

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2016-11-25 19:48:36 (1 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s; )Open 

What an odd error in the Knowledge Graph!

(This information is wrong in an odd way. Edward VIII abdicated—he wasn't deposed—in 1936 resulting in George VI's accession.)

Or is this a funny technical sense of the word "deposed" that's unfamiliar to me and means the opposite in British political terms to American, like "to table"?

What an odd error in the Knowledge Graph!

(This information is wrong in an odd way. Edward VIII abdicated—he wasn't deposed—in 1936 resulting in George VI's accession.)

Or is this a funny technical sense of the word "deposed" that's unfamiliar to me and means the opposite in British political terms to American, like "to table"?___

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2016-11-25 00:40:14 (9 comments; 0 reshares; 6 +1s; )Open 

Shall I warm up that ice bath for you?

Sorry, this is squarely in the #firstworldproblems category: I made a sous vide turkey porchetta (a fabulous recipe I've done before) which, due to the long cooking times for sous vide recipes, was already underway when our dinner guests had to cancel.

A big advantage of sous vide recipes is that they're usually very forgiving: you can leave your cooked food in the bath until you're ready to serve (for hours for things like this turkey to as long as a couple days for some foods like steaks); the vacuum-sealing pouches makes it easy to prepare and then to refrigerate or freeze the food before cooking, after cooking, or both; and for any recipe over 130 °F (54 °C) taking more than a couple hours, you're effectively pastuerizing the food while cooking it, so you can store it easily for later finishing.

This recipec... more »

Shall I warm up that ice bath for you?

Sorry, this is squarely in the #firstworldproblems category: I made a sous vide turkey porchetta (a fabulous recipe I've done before) which, due to the long cooking times for sous vide recipes, was already underway when our dinner guests had to cancel.

A big advantage of sous vide recipes is that they're usually very forgiving: you can leave your cooked food in the bath until you're ready to serve (for hours for things like this turkey to as long as a couple days for some foods like steaks); the vacuum-sealing pouches makes it easy to prepare and then to refrigerate or freeze the food before cooking, after cooking, or both; and for any recipe over 130 °F (54 °C) taking more than a couple hours, you're effectively pastuerizing the food while cooking it, so you can store it easily for later finishing.

This recipe calls for a water bath at 140 °F, so pasteurization had occurred and I could safely refrigerate or freeze the pouch for later reheating and finishing. But to get the best results—as well as to be absolutely safe—you still need to get a dense lump of several pounds of 140 °F meat to safe storage temperatures < 40 °F as quickly as possible. And that means a saltwater ice bath.

So I cut the immersion circulator, drained the tank of hot water, and replaced it with a bag of ice, a cup or so of salt, and enough water to get liquid to the low-water line on the circulator. Then I set the circulator to its lowest temperature setting, and turned it back on.

I've done this before, and it works really well—it chills food, particularly those with lots of heat mass like this one, much faster than an uncirculated ice-brine bath. (As soon as you're done, it's important to run the circulator for a few minutes in a freshwater bath—room temperature is fine—to prevent corrosion.)

But the lowest temperature on my circulator (an Anova Culinary model) is 32 °F (0 °C). So an unfortunate side-effect of doing this is that the circulator runs the heater to try to get the brine up to freshwater's normal freezing point. It doesn't make much difference in the scheme of things, but it does slow down the chilling a bit and, more importantly, it's wasteful of energy.

Last week I received the second-generation Nomiku, which I'd Kickstarted at a moment when there were no good, cheap (relatively speaking) immersion circulators on the market. Literally within weeks of that Kickstarter closing, though, good models from Anova and Sansaire appeared on the market, and you didn't have to wait over two years for it. So I bought the Anova. (It won't be a waste; I actually have wanted to sous-vide at two different temperatures simultaneously many times.)

So I gave the Nomiku a try, and... it also has a minimum temperature setting of 0 °C, and it also has no way to prevent the heater from trying to get the ice bath up to zero. So that's disappointing. These really need a "heater off" setting somewhere.

They're firmware-upgradable, though, so maybe one of them will hear my plea....___

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2016-11-23 19:30:39 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 3 +1s; )Open 

Things I like: VR Lens Lab

Since the holiday gift season is almost upon us, I thought I'd share this (no, I'm not getting a kickback).

My recommendation is for VR lenses from the VR Lens Lab. I recommend them to anyone with an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift — even if you don't wear glasses. (I'll explain why in a bit.)

While the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift can both be used while wearing eyeglasses, doing so presents some big and small annoyances.

(Let me take a quick sidetrack here to dispel a common misconception: I've had friends with glasses think they wouldn't need them in VR because they're nearsighted and the HMD lenses are just centimeters from your eyes. But that's not how VR displays work. They're focused to infinity and so basically cause the same eye behavior as real-world scenes would.

(A quicki... more »

Things I like: VR Lens Lab

Since the holiday gift season is almost upon us, I thought I'd share this (no, I'm not getting a kickback).

My recommendation is for VR lenses from the VR Lens Lab. I recommend them to anyone with an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift — even if you don't wear glasses. (I'll explain why in a bit.)

While the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift can both be used while wearing eyeglasses, doing so presents some big and small annoyances.

(Let me take a quick sidetrack here to dispel a common misconception: I've had friends with glasses think they wouldn't need them in VR because they're nearsighted and the HMD lenses are just centimeters from your eyes. But that's not how VR displays work. They're focused to infinity and so basically cause the same eye behavior as real-world scenes would.

(A quick illustration to make my point: I'm getting to that age where, in addition to being myopic as I have been since childhood, I'm becoming presbyopic as well, so I have to hold writing with fine print a little farther away or push my glasses down my nose to lower their effective strength. Since I've been a little hard-of-hearing since I was a teenager, I turn the subtitles on in video games. To my amusement, some titles, such as ADR1FT, place the subtitles so "close" in virtual space that I had trouble reading them — and I couldn't move them farther away or push my glasses down my nose! I sent bug reports instead.)

The annoyances of eyeglasses and HMD's (head-mounted displays, a.k.a. the "VR headset"):

1. You have to adjust the lenses of the HMD farther away than might otherwise be comfortable to allow for the extra room.

2. Even if you do that, if your glasses have metal protrusions on the front (like almost all rimless glasses do), you can easily scratch the Fresnel lenses on the HMD. I did so within days of getting my Vive.

3. Compared with someone not wearing glasses, the field of view is reduced because of the greater distance of the displays from your eyes (and possibly also by the glass's frames or nose bridge).

4. The foam padding on both headsets and the nose light baffle on the Vive both pick up sweat and oil like crazy, and you can't help but brush them across your glasses when putting the HMD on or taking it off. In practice, this means you must clean your glasses every time you take the HMD off, even if you're going to put it right back on.

That last one was the really big nuisance to me. Since the current generation of headsets can be fiddly, it's not at all uncommon to put the HMD on, discover some setting is wrong, and need to take it off again to access the operating system. (SteamVR has an in-VR mirror of the OS desktop built-in, and there are apps for the same on Oculus, but they're not really usable for messing with control panel settings unless your monitor is small or you've intentionally set a lower resolution or high scaling factor; with larger monitors at normal resolution, you literally have to walk around the room to be able to read the text on the sides of the screen.)

And for applications like 3D design or VR development, where you're frequently "ducking your head in and out" of the virtual space to check things while you work on the flat desktop, smudging the hell out of your glasses every time is just not workable.

After getting my Vive, I originally used an old pair of glasses for use in the Vive so that when I took it off I could swap back to my new, clean glasses. But sometimes I forgot. And it was a pain anyway, especially when I was working on something incremental like a particle effect or a model placement where I wanted to take a lot of quick glances at the virtual space while working on the flat panel.

So when I saw the VR Lens Lab on Kickstarter, I immediately backed it. (These folks are the same ones who make the very nice Gauss color-changing computer glasses I already owned, so I knew they had the manufacturing capability that derail so many Kickstarters.) And sure enough, they delivered as-promised and on-time (how many Kickstarted projects do that?).

And they've been absolutely fantastic. They have models for both Oculus and Vive. I'm not sure how the Oculus ones work, but the Vive ones are dead simple: you open the ordinary lens distance adjustment dial to its deepest setting, place each lens over the Vive's Fresnel lens, and then turn the dial back to its shallowest setting, and the lenses lock into place by tension against the Vive housing itself. It works like a dream; they've never so much as wobbled, even when I spin my head around frenetically or look straight down or up.

(I understand the Oculus Rift versions have sometimes fit slightly less well because it turned out that different batches of production Rifts had ever-so-slightly different dimensions, but the VR Lens Lab includes spacers now for that case and have provided them for free to prior customers.)

I actually got a pledge level including two sets of lenses, one with prescription lenses and one with non-prescription (Plano) lenses. The second set I'd recommend as a must have to anyone with a VR headset. As I mentioned, I scratched my Vive's lenses the very first day I had it because my rimless glasses had metal fittings protruding from the front. Since almost anyone who has a VR rig (and friends or family) undoubtedly demos it a lot, you'll breathe a lot easier if the Plano lenses are installed so your eyeglass-wearing friends don't scratch the HMD's lenses.

My own prescription is a rather annoying one — I'm astigmatic in both eyes, and very nearsighted in both, but my left eye's diopter power is just under the point where normal poly lenses get unbearably thick, while my right eye's diopter is well past that point. So I need special "high-index" lenses ground to deal with this.

The VR Lens Lab had no issue with this special order, even though they aren't using a standard grinding process. Rather, they grind lenses that have been flipped around so that the convex side faces you, so that it doesn't make glass-to-glass contact with the HMD lens leading to scratches. (This, by the way, is why you shouldn't just buy the adapters and try to take them to your local optician to fill the prescription; they won't be able to do it easily.)

This inside-out process causes an artifact called "barrel distortion", which many people (such as myself) can easily ignore. But some people can't deal with barrel distortion without getting headaches, or they can't stop seeing the image "squished". (If you're someone who sometimes can't switch back and forth between two pairs of glasses without discomfort, you probably are in this category.) And so in addition to high-index and "blueguard" (UV- and blue-filtering, like "gamer glasses") lenses, for those folks, VR Lens Lab even offers special "RABS" (aspherical freeform) lenses that correct for barrel distortion.

Delivery for my Kickstarter pledge took just two months, and now orders ship in less than two weeks.

I now have to take off my glasses before putting the HMD on and replace them when taking it off, but that's much less bothersome. Their solid lock against the Fresnel lenses keep dust or oil from getting on the far side of the lenses, and they don't seem any worse about getting dirty from use than any pair of eyeglasses.

And the view is magnificent. Since my day-to-day glasses actually have a narrower field of view up-to-down than the Vive, I see better in VR than I do the real world. Combine that with being able to ratchet the HMD all the way in without hitting your glasses, and the immersiveness is noticeably better than the Vive with eyeglasses.

The prescription ones are pricey, and there's no guarantee that the next generation of either headset will still fit them. But still, I can't recommend these highly enough.

(Note that if you're going the prescription-lens, rather than Plano route, you'll need an optical prescription from an ophthalmologist or optometrist, including pupillary distance measurement. And one additional thing to be aware of: at least for my order, the lab is based in Thailand and they did not pay duty, so it was held at the border and a customs official called me; I had to pay the duty for it to enter, and that was around an additional $30 total.)___

2016-11-23 18:24:13 (4 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s; )Open 

Morning, afternoon, and evening don't always mean the same thing...

It was nice when +Inbox by Gmail and Google Keep added a feature to reminders where you could set your own personal defaults for "morning", "afternoon", and "evening" reminders and snoozes, since the default times weren't the ones I preferred.

In using my new Pixel XL, it seems like there's been a feature regressions with Google Assistant, however. When I create a reminder using it and don't specify the time or specify "morning", it sets 0800, not the 0930 I've set for other Google apps. I see nowhere in settings to change it just for Google Assistant (or Google Now), either. Am I missing it, and if so, can someone point me at it?

Morning, afternoon, and evening don't always mean the same thing...

It was nice when +Inbox by Gmail and Google Keep added a feature to reminders where you could set your own personal defaults for "morning", "afternoon", and "evening" reminders and snoozes, since the default times weren't the ones I preferred.

In using my new Pixel XL, it seems like there's been a feature regressions with Google Assistant, however. When I create a reminder using it and don't specify the time or specify "morning", it sets 0800, not the 0930 I've set for other Google apps. I see nowhere in settings to change it just for Google Assistant (or Google Now), either. Am I missing it, and if so, can someone point me at it?___

2016-11-22 23:32:07 (5 comments; 0 reshares; 5 +1s; )Open 

What the hell is going on with G+ formatting?

All of a sudden (like, as of today, I think), if I edit a post or comment, it loses all formatting. The underscores and asterisks just disappear when I go to re-edit. Now that I've gotten wise to it, I select-all, copy, update, edit again, select-all, paste, and update again. And rinse and repeat if I need to make another edit.

That's really bizarre behavior.

What the hell is going on with G+ formatting?

All of a sudden (like, as of today, I think), if I edit a post or comment, it loses all formatting. The underscores and asterisks just disappear when I go to re-edit. Now that I've gotten wise to it, I select-all, copy, update, edit again, select-all, paste, and update again. And rinse and repeat if I need to make another edit.

That's really bizarre behavior.___

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2016-11-22 19:53:28 (2 comments; 0 reshares; 6 +1s; )Open 

He means what he says...

There was a lovely moment in Glen Beck's interview with The New York Times where he said: "We both play that game; we’ve done, on the right, the same thing that we accuse the left of doing."

I know what he meant to say, namely that "we've done on the right the same thing that we criticize the left for doing". But reading it literally is quite delicious, as it is exactly what our president-elect has been doing: the same things he accuses his opponents of doing, even when they haven't.

(The above was copied from my comment in another thread.)

He means what he says...

There was a lovely moment in Glen Beck's interview with The New York Times where he said: "We both play that game; we’ve done, on the right, the same thing that we accuse the left of doing."

I know what he meant to say, namely that "we've done on the right the same thing that we criticize the left for doing". But reading it literally is quite delicious, as it is exactly what our president-elect has been doing: the same things he accuses his opponents of doing, even when they haven't.

(The above was copied from my comment in another thread.)___

2016-11-22 18:32:39 (34 comments; 0 reshares; 19 +1s; )Open 

Don't let President-elect Trump play you by making you distrust journalists, too.

I'm writing a longer post on this, but the below was from a comment in another thread I just wanted to bubble up.

Don't be part of the problem. Don't allow yourself to be manipulated. Trump is attempting to undermine the free press in such a way that even people of a liberal bent begin to doubt, just as he has undermined so many other institutions vital to our democracy.

Trump is gaming the rules of journalistic ethics by violating long-established norms. This, like so many other battles with Trump and his supporters, is an asymmetric battle; journalists can respond by a) breaking their own norms, undermining their own credibility, or b) by not breaking their own norms, playing into Trump's narrative and becoming unwilling propagandists, or c) by... more »

Don't let President-elect Trump play you by making you distrust journalists, too.

I'm writing a longer post on this, but the below was from a comment in another thread I just wanted to bubble up.

Don't be part of the problem. Don't allow yourself to be manipulated. Trump is attempting to undermine the free press in such a way that even people of a liberal bent begin to doubt, just as he has undermined so many other institutions vital to our democracy.

Trump is gaming the rules of journalistic ethics by violating long-established norms. This, like so many other battles with Trump and his supporters, is an asymmetric battle; journalists can respond by a) breaking their own norms, undermining their own credibility, or b) by not breaking their own norms, playing into Trump's narrative and becoming unwilling propagandists, or c) by refusing to play the game.

We can't ding them for choosing "c", even when that means we have to go outside the straight press to find out why. Doing so, even when it's "bullshit", just helps Trump to minimize, marginalize, denigrate and, eventually, deprecate and then destroy the free press.___

2016-11-22 04:47:58 (10 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s; )Open 

Math-heads: how does quaternion algebra work?

In my VR programming I've been using quaternion rotation, which is not a new concept to me, but I just tried to work out an optimization and I realized I got the wrong answer because I don't know how algebra works with quaternions since i, j, and k are non-commutative across multiplication.

In high-school algebra, there's a simple rule that if you perform an operation to both sides of an equation, the equation holds.

Is there a simple rule like that when using quaternions, like "given q1 and q2 as expressions involving quaternions, where q1 = q2, it's valid to multiply both sides of the equation by m but you must put m first on the left-hand-side of the equation but last on the right-hand-side"? Or does non-commutativity make multiplying both sides of an equation, at all, an invalid identity?

Math-heads: how does quaternion algebra work?

In my VR programming I've been using quaternion rotation, which is not a new concept to me, but I just tried to work out an optimization and I realized I got the wrong answer because I don't know how algebra works with quaternions since i, j, and k are non-commutative across multiplication.

In high-school algebra, there's a simple rule that if you perform an operation to both sides of an equation, the equation holds.

Is there a simple rule like that when using quaternions, like "given q1 and q2 as expressions involving quaternions, where q1 = q2, it's valid to multiply both sides of the equation by m but you must put m first on the left-hand-side of the equation but last on the right-hand-side"? Or does non-commutativity make multiplying both sides of an equation, at all, an invalid identity?___

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2016-11-21 18:55:44 (0 comments; 0 reshares; 1 +1s; )Open 

I picked a gaming headset: a review of the SteelSeries Siberia 800.

An update to my post last week (https://plus.google.com/u/0/+TreyHarris/posts/H32RD92CYBC) asking for suggestions for headsets: The day I wrote the post, the balance on the Corsair VOIDs got so out of whack that I could no longer get enough gain to rebalance while being able to maintain a reasonable maximum volume level. So it was time to just make a damn decision already.

I picked the SteelSeries Siberia 800 (previously known as the Siberia H Wireless, and available at http://amzn.to/2gvapEA). These have a great reputation in e-sports (where folks are usually reflexively against anything wireless for fear of latency), the build and sound quality is excellent, and several of the reviewers I trust have rated it as their top headset (not just wireless headset, but headset) for several years running. There are some... more »

I picked a gaming headset: a review of the SteelSeries Siberia 800.

An update to my post last week (https://plus.google.com/u/0/+TreyHarris/posts/H32RD92CYBC) asking for suggestions for headsets: The day I wrote the post, the balance on the Corsair VOIDs got so out of whack that I could no longer get enough gain to rebalance while being able to maintain a reasonable maximum volume level. So it was time to just make a damn decision already.

I picked the SteelSeries Siberia 800 (previously known as the Siberia H Wireless, and available at http://amzn.to/2gvapEA). These have a great reputation in e-sports (where folks are usually reflexively against anything wireless for fear of latency), the build and sound quality is excellent, and several of the reviewers I trust have rated it as their top headset (not just wireless headset, but headset) for several years running. There are some newer models from SteelSeries, but this one was available on Prime Now and I needed a working headset. So rather than continue the decision paralysis, I just went with it and hoped for the best.

And... I like it. It's super-comfy; being wireless it's great for VR (yes, the Vive HMD has both 3.5 mm and USB ports available for wired headsets, but if you want to use them for non-VR stuff it's a pain to open up the HMD to disconnect and reconnect them, and one less dangling wire is a win when doing room-scale VR anyway).

As far as slippage goes: when it's at its most comfortable adjustment for my head, it doesn't slip at all when I look up or even look up while leaning back (something I do a lot in cockpit games). It does slip when I look straight down at the floor. But that's only generally going to be a problem in VR, and it turns out that the Vive's head straps add enough friction to stop that slippage, too. (Making the headphones a notch tighter than I'd ideally like fixes the issue, too.) I wear a medium-sized men's hat; if have a smaller head, slipping might be an issue.

Unlike the VOIDs, which while closed-cup weren't acoustically isolating, these are isolating to the point of being passively noise-cancelling. Basically if you've got a moderate amount of sound coming from the headset (music or "stuff happening" in a game) you won't be able to hear someone talking to you, but if it's silent or just ambient environmental VR sounds, you will. (The VOIDs allowed the sound of street-level sirens in, which could really break immersion in a game, or, worse, make me spin around in VR looking for the in-game source of sirens. These don't allow that, so that's nice.)

That's pretty much perfect for my use-case, as with the VOIDs I'd talk to my fiancé not knowing if he was occupied with a game and he'd get annoyed; with these, he just won't hear me in that case, which is fine by me. I get less annoyed by his talking to me, so less isolation didn't bother me very much, but this is a fine compromise.

Note that while these are wireless, they are not Bluetooth audio (A2DP). The aptX codec of A2DP is probably low-latency enough for gaming (though not, I would bet, good enough for e-sports), but most other codecs are not, and aptX doesn't have great fidelity. Instead, the Siberia 800's use a proprietary DC-powered base station/charging dock/DAC with USB, optical, and analog ports (which you can source-switch and mix using an OLED panel on the base station, also controllable via a control dial on the headphones). So it appears as a normal USB headset to the PC, or a normal headphone amp to anything hooked up to the analog or optical ports.

The base station, in addition to serving as transmitter, mixer, and DAC (well, USB audio device; the wireless signal is digital, so technically the DAC is on the headset itself; also, since the box accepts analog, it's technically an ADC), also has a slot for recharging the headset's battery. Two (proprietary) batteries come in the box, and they recharge faster (about 2 hours from empty) than they discharge (about 8 hours of normal use), so you can theoretically game forever by swapping batteries back and forth.

(More importantly for most users, I assume — at least, I hope — they tuned the batteries for this use case, as battery life is just destroyed by the normal headphone-like usage of constant topping-up from different, often small, levels of discharge; in this setup, you only ever recharge a discharged battery, so they should have a much longer duty lifetime.)

The battery is replaced by turning and removing the left ear cup panel, which is helpfully marked with arrows to help you replace it. Unfortunately, the removable panel is smooth and glossy, so removing it can be a challenge until you learn the trick: push your whole palm against it and use the friction to twist. (It only needs to be turned about 15° counterclockwise to remove it, and it has a solid latch, though unfortunately not one that provides any tactile feedback to let you know when you've removed or replaced it.)

The right ear cup panel is also removable in the same way, and reveals a mini-USB plug. It presented as a USB audio device when I tried plugging it in but it caused Windows 10 to complain about it misbehaving. So either it's for firmware upgrades or for powering it and/or recharging the battery without the dock—I didn't wait with a discharged battery to see, and wasn't about to plug in a mini-USB AC adapter and take the risk of frying the thing.

Speaking of AC adapters: in addition to the source ports, the back of the base station/charging dock includes a barrel-connector DC receptacle; the DC plug provided terminates in a USB-A connector, and the provided wall-wart comes with a full set of replaceable international AC plugs. The etching on the wall-wart says it's a dumb 5V 1A charger, and the base station/dock end does not have any polarity or power markings, so I assumed it was safe to plug into any standard USB source—and it was.

That said, I'm not sure why it's necessary. The base station draws power from the micro-USB input as easily as from the DC barrel connector. (It will even hot-swap between the two without power-cycling.) The thin setup manual shows the DC connected even when the USB is connected. I assume it's just in case the selected USB port can't deliver enough power. In any case, for now I'm giving it a try without the DC connection because one fewer cable and wall wart is always good; I haven't yet had a chance to see whether this affects battery recharging, but will update here once I have.

The base station/charging dock's front has a crisp black-and-white OLED screen, a push button/dial wheel, and a back/cancel button. By default, the wheel controls volume, but with a press it goes into a hierarchical menu system that controls input sources, Dolby and equalizer settings, screen brightness, source mixing, and so on.

The headset has a pushwheel as well, easily located on the top-rear of the right ear cup, right where you'd grab it when taking the headset off; by default it also controls volume, but a press takes you to sources, equalizer presets, and other screens (you can select which screens to show via an editor on the base station; there being no "back" button on the headset, cycling through the settings, or waiting for it to time out and go back to controlling volume, is the only way to choose what the headset dial controls).

There's also a power button on the headset, in an easy-to-find, hard-to-press-by-mistake recess under the right ear cup. Holding it down powers the headset on and off; tapping it mutes or unmutes the boom mic. When the mic is muted, an LED ring on the end of he boom pulses. Unfortunately, this is purely a software mute; if you plug in an analog source directly to one of the jacks found under a rubber door on the right ear cup, it will receive audio from the mic regardless of when the LED shows. This is probably the third-worst flaw in the headset to me (stay tuned for the other two, also mute-related); if there's going to be such a visible "this is muted" light, it shouldn't be able to lie to you so easily. Since the headset mic mute status is not communicated to the OS, so it's just muted at the base station, this seems doubly odd to me.

(I understand why this is: it turns out that if you plug in an analog TRS or TRRS cable directly into the on-cup jack, bypassing the wireless, you can use the headphones and mic unpowered, even with a dead battery. Adding circuitry so that the mic-mute was done on the headphones rather than in the base station would have added cost and complexity. I still think they should have done it, even if you couldn't mute the mic when the headset was running in this wired and unpowered mode, which seems unlikely to be common.)

The second-greatest-flaw, also mute-related: the headset doesn't remember the mic-mute state when turned on, and there's no option to have it muted by default. I prefer headsets to default mic-off. It does remember the volume setting, so this is annoying.

A similarly perplexing case of "we had the technology but we didn't do it" is that, when you switch the source from USB to optical or analog, the USB audio device disconnects from the PC (though it continues to draw power), letting the OS switch to, say, the monitor, if you can have your outputs ordered in your OS by preference; but if you just turn the headset off, without switching sources, it does not disconnect the audio device. This seems to me like it should at least be an option; it's annoying to fiddle with audio settings (though, admittedly, changing sources on the base station is easier than changing them in Linux or Windows).

The boom mic retracts fully into the ear cup, or can be pulled out to whatever length you like. It's initially unclear which side of the cylindrical boom should face the mouth — there are two mics on opposite sides with differently-shaped holes — but there's a huge improvement in mic level and quality if you turn the smaller of the two holes to face your mouth and position the boom correctly (in case you don't know what that is: as close to your face without touching as possible and extended just beyond the edge of the corner of your mouth so plosives don't cause a shock wave directly into the condenser).

But here's the third and greatest flaw in the Siberia 800's: the mic does not automatically mute if you fully retract it. (It clearly isn't meant to be used in that position, as some retractable booms can be; the sound quality is horrible.) This is annoying, but the combination of easy-access to mic muting (the power/mute button is very easy to find without feeling around; it's directly below the right ear cup) and very visible mute LED makes this a smaller quibble than it would otherwise be for me.

The ear cups rotate both for better fit and so that they can be stored flat. For some reason, they rotate in the opposite direction from most headphones, towards the back, so that's going to take getting used to, especially when I'm putting them on with the VR headset blinding me.

The sound quality is excellent. It's certainly the best sound from any wireless headphones I've ever tried (and I've tried a bunch over the years, both analog and digital). I'm slightly hard of hearing so I won't give impressions of how it compares to wired audiophile sets; but I know when it was released (as the Siberia H Wireless), many reviews said it had near-audiophile quality. Even with poor hearing, I can tell it's better than my Parrot Ziks, which are supposedly one of the best Bluetooth headsets out there, so that's something.

One possible caveat: if I'm wearing them when the audio source has gone silent, I have heard the occasional crackle or hiss just barely in my audible range. It's nowhere near constant, and it doesn't really bother me, but since I'm hard of hearing it might bother people with normal hearing more.

Because of my hearing I tend to crank stuff up — that means with wired, unamplified headphones, and with my Parrot Ziks, around 60-70%. The Siberia 800's are relatively quiet in comparison. In my opinion, I should never want more volume when everything's at 100% — 100% should be just beyond comfortable — and there's been a case (playing a podcast on the PC that has always been mixed too quietly for me; I usually use BeyondPod to increase the gain a couple notches) where 100% wasn't sufficient. Just tweaking the EQ to add gain across the board fixed that problem (and the "voice" EQ preset also was sufficient, but I didn't like the sound otherwise; its flat response is fine). But these aren't going to be a good choice if you like blaring, booming cans on your head.

(One thing to note: it appears to your OS as a standard USB audio device. There is no software to tweak it; a bit unfortunate, since the hierarchical menus are a little clumsy to access the more obscure options, but you can create your own named presets if you want to switch between settings quickly. This confused me because the packaging suggested there was software, as did the SteelSeries website, which invited me to download the SteelSeries Engine app—like Logitech and so many other peripheral manufacturers, they've moved to having a single customization app for all products—but I couldn't get that app to recognize the Siberia 800's. I plugged and unplugged cables and played with the Device Manager trying to get the SteelSeries Engine to recognize it, then finally found the answer by Googling. The app can't recognize it because they have no OS-accessible configuration.)

So, with a couple days' use, my verdict so far is: very, very good, and the muting-related quibbles are manageable. I'll update if something changes my mind or I have any new information (like if it will recharge the battery sufficiently running only on USB power).___

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