Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 12th, 2015

Evening links: Intriguing stories

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Here are some very interesting posts that I won’t blog in detail. But I will say that they are well worth teh click:

Three Studies Confirm: Obamacare Isn’t a Job Killer (important because the GOP repeatedly claimed that Obamacare will kill jobs. It didn’t.)

The Iran Deal Benefits U.S. National Security: An Open Letter from Retired Generals and Admirals (no better deal is possible, and this deal is in fact good—most of those criticizing have never read it, and none of them have a better alternative to propose.)

Whatever happened to that sequester thingy? (another example of the dysfunctional, nonproductive, self-indulgent, and corrupt US Congress)

Rare Octopus’s Mating and Preying Habits Have Cephalopod Fans Psyched (I feel close to the spirit of Stephen Maturin in this article.)

Radley Balko has his own excellent collection of links, to wit:

 

  • Two journalists, one from the Huffington Post and one from the Washington Post, who were arrested during last year’s Ferguson, Mo., protests have been charged with what essentially amounts to “contempt of cop.” That isn’t and shouldn’t be a crime, but it isn’t even clear they did that. Certainly doesn’t do much to dispel the accusation that St. Louis County prosecutors are petty, vindictive, and use their power as a weapon.

One Congressman Has The Courage To Admit The True Consequences Of His Vote For The Iraq War (quite striking: a GOP Congressman from NC, who states,

“I did not do what I should have done to read and find out whether Bush was telling us the truth about Saddam being responsible for 9/11 and having weapons of mass destruction,” Jones said during an interview on The Tyler Cralle Show. “Because I did not do my job then,” Jones continued, “I helped kill 4,000 Americans, and I will go to my grave regretting that.”

This Deep-Sea Creature is Creepy As Hell (creepy, but also very interesting)

Scott Walker Finally Finds a Big-Government Subsidy He Loves (directing $250 million of taxpayer money to a professional sports team: certainly that’s more important than education or the pensions of state workers)

Obama Is Playing Hardball, and Guess Who Doesn’t Like It? (cute column by Kevin Drum—not to spoil his surprise, but do you notice that the initials W.P. can stand either for Washington Post or “whining putz”?)

Democrats Continue to Delude Themselves About Obama’s Failed Guantánamo Vow (Obama made a serious vow and then ignored it—and that seems to happen a lot with him)

 

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2015 at 9:21 pm

Food on the new leaf

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So the first part of meatless cooking is, of course, like any cooking. Take this Martha Stewart recipe I just made:

Roasted turnips with Parmesan

  • 2 pounds turnips (about 4 medium), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan (1/2 ounce) (Do not forget)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, combine turnips, cayenne, nutmeg, and oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss well to coat. Sprinkle with Parmesan and toss gently to combine. Arrange turnips in a single layer and roast until golden on both sides, 25 to 30 minutes, flipping halfway through.

25 minutes did it for me. Terrific.

Peeling them is totally optional. I tried some with the skin removed, some with it left on. I like the skin-on better.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2015 at 3:58 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb

Singularity on the way: Robot developed to make an improved generation (which will then… etc.)

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This has been used in a lot of science fiction novels. Emiko Jozuka reports in Motherboard:

Researchers at Cambridge University and ETH Zurich have built a robot mom capable of independently building a set of kids. But the robot mom not only assembles her automaton family from plastic cubes equipped with motors, she also evaluates which of her cubic kids is best, and bases her next generation on these winning traits. So it’s survival of the fittest, but robo-style.

Taking inspiration from natural evolution, Professor Fumiya Iida from Cambridge University’s Department of Engineering told me that the aim was to build creative robots that could eventually be used to accelerate and optimize design and innovation processes. The potential of building hundreds of different robots that perform better each time also exists.

“Robots are usually built for repetitive tasks, and for mass production instead of mass customization. But we are hoping that a robot can be an inventor,” Iida told me. “That’s why we’ve called this the Inventor Project—because the robot can actually invent something that we can’t invent.” . . .

Continue reading.

What could possibly go wrong?

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2015 at 3:31 pm

Posted in Technology

Build it and they will come—to steal.

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And certainly it’s true of the referenced game. But check out this fascinating article in Motherboard by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

Before its spectacular bust, GameOver Zeus, perhaps the most successful online criminal operation ever, infected hundreds of thousands of people around the world, creating a collection of zombie computers that at one point stretched to more than one million bots.

The operators used the botnet to steal millions of dollars from banks all over the globe. For more than two years, thanks to its innovative, peer-to-peer infrastructure, the FBI and others watched as GameOver Zeus grew, seemingly unstoppable.

GameOver Zeus was designed to be “impossible” to be taken down, as the main FBI agent assigned to the case put it last week during a talk at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas. The botnet was built to be “indestructible,” said a researcher who helped with the investigation.

So how did it end up being taken down? Elliot Peterson, the agent that led the FBI’s investigation, talked to Motherboard ahead of his presentation in Las Vegas, and shared some of the details that allowed the bureau, along with its private partners, to do what seemed impossible.

Everything started on June 2012, when the FBI’s branch in Pittsburgh stumbled upon a case of . . .

Continue reading.

Of course, think of all the criminal activity we’ll see if the FBI succeeds in legally requiring that any encryption must be insecure. They are certainly trying for that.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2015 at 3:25 pm

The Coddling of the American Mind

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Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt write in the Atlantic:

Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Educationdescribing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.

Two terms have risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. For example, by some campus guidelines, it is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American “Where were you born?,” because this implies that he or she is not a real American. Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response. For example, some students have called for warnings that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart describes racial violence and that F. Scott Fitzgerald’sThe Great Gatsby portrays misogyny and physical abuse, so that students who have been previously victimized by racism or domestic violence can choose to avoid these works, which they believe might “trigger” a recurrence of past trauma.

Some recent campus actions border on the surreal. In April, at Brandeis University, the Asian American student association sought to raise awareness of microaggressions against Asians through an installation on the steps of an academic hall. The installation gave examples of microaggressions such as “Aren’t you supposed to be good at math?” and “I’m colorblind! I don’t see race.” But a backlash arose among other Asian American students, who felt that the display itself was a microaggression. The association removed the installation, and its president wrote an e-mail to the entire student body apologizing to anyone who was “triggered or hurt by the content of the microaggressions.”

This new climate is slowly being institutionalized, and is affecting what can be said in the classroom, even as a basis for discussion. During the 2014–15 school year, for instance, the deans and department chairs at the 10 University of California system schools were presented by administrators at faculty leader-training sessions with examples of microaggressions. The list of offensive statements included: “America is the land of opportunity” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”

The press has typically described these developments as a resurgence of political correctness. That’s partly right, although there are important differences between what’s happening now and what happened in the 1980s and ’90s. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2015 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

The Iran Deal discussed by readers of Fallows’s column

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I may have already linked to this column by James Fallows, in which a reader named Betsy marshals her arguments on why we reject the deal. (Trigger warning: Betsy’s writing is jarring in many ways, but (as Fallows points out) it is not an outlier but is typical of the mail attacking the Iran Deal.)

In a column today, Fallows includes three additional emails, these being from readers commenting on Betsy’s email. The first one is difficult: he seems enraged that Fallows quote Betsy (the writer of this email clearly has a very low opinion of Betsy), but seems unaware of Fallows’s point: that Betsy’s email was typical of those emails that opposed the deal. The other emails are more interesting.

Today’s column begins:

On Monday I mentioned again that I hope the U.S. Congress does not manage to block the Iran deal. For more on the reasons why, consider this new letter from three dozen retired U.S. flag officers arguing that the deal makes sense from a military perspective. They join the 100-plus former U.S. ambassadors, the 60-plus former senior U.S. national-security officials, the 29 physicists from America’s nuclear-weapons programs, and the five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel and three former U.S. undersecretaries of state who have all recommended the agreement. [Update: plus the head of an organization set up to oppose the deal, who after studying its terms now recommends it.]

Obviously diplomatic judgments are not simple numbers games, and experts can be wrong. But think for a moment how this deal’s prospects would look if comparably experienced and bi- or non-partisan groups kept emerging to warn against it—rather than emerging to recommend it, as they have done.

In that post on Monday I also quoted a letter from a reader named Betsy that was representative of the anti-deal mail I get round the clock. I’m about to disappear from online life for a week or so to finish writing an article for the magazine. Before I go, three letters with three perspectives on Betsy’s letter.

First, from a tech-world veteran who is now a government contractor in the D.C. area. He does not at all like the fact that I quoted this letter: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2015 at 12:31 pm

The Many Things Wrong With the Anti-Encryption Op-Ed in the New York Times

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Jenna McLaughlin reports in The Intercept:

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and his counterparts in Paris, London, and Madrid took to the New York Times op-ed page Tuesday morning to pose a flawed argument against default encryption of mobile phones, a service being commercialized and implemented gradually by Apple and Google.

The op-ed misstated the extent of the obstacles to law enforcement, understating the many other ways officials bearing warrants can still collect the information they need or want—even when confronted with an encrypted, password protected device.

The authors failed to acknowledge the value to normal people of protecting their private data from thieves, hackers and government dragnets.

And they demanded—in the name of the “safety of our communities”—a magical, mathematically impossible scenario in which communications are safeguarded from everyone except law enforcement.

Apple and Google are attempting to provide strong, reliable, and user-friendly encrypted systems for their customers. A user who has installed iOS8 on an iPhone automatically encrypts their text messages, photos, contacts, call history, and other sensitive data simply by using a passcode.

Android devices also include a system that encrypts downloaded files, application data, and other data with a PIN or passcode. But contrary to what the op-ed stated, that is not the default setting for most Android phones.

It’s true that when law enforcement asks for information that is encrypted with the user’s passcodes, Apple and Google cannot actually deliver it. But that’s typically not the whole story.

For one: Apple, for instance, copies a lot of that data onto its own cloud servers during wi-fi backups, where the company can in fact access it and turn it over to law enforcement.

Plenty of other data is still available from the phone companies: SMS text messages, phone numbers called and phone calls received, and location information.

And then there’s the ability to break in. Responding to Tuesday’s op-ed, ACLU technologist Christopher Soghoian tweeted “If law enforcement can’t hack the hundreds of millions of Android phones running out-of-date, vulnerable software, they’re not trying.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2015 at 9:37 am

The Teflon Toxin: DuPont and the Chemistry of Deception

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Corporations are sociopaths. Sharon Lerner reports in The Intercept:

Ken Wamsley sometimes dreams that he’s playing softball again. He’ll be at center field, just like when he played slow pitch back in his teens, or pounding the ball over the fence as the crowd goes wild. Other times, he’s somehow inexplicably back at work in the lab. Wamsley calls them nightmares, these stories that play out in his sleep, but really the only scary part is the end, when “I wake up and I have no rectum anymore.”

Wamsley is 73. After developing rectal cancer and having surgery to treat it in 2002, he walks slowly and gets up from the bench in his small backyard slowly. His voice, which has a gentle Appalachian lilt, is still animated, though, especially when he talks about his happier days. There were many. While Wamsley knew plenty of people in Parkersburg, West Virginia, who struggled to stay employed, he made an enviable wage for almost four decades at the DuPont plant here. The company was generous, helping him pay for college courses and training him to become a lab analyst in the Teflon division.

He enjoyed the work, particularly the precision and care it required. For years, he measured levels of a chemical called C8 in various products. The chemical “was everywhere,” as Wamsley remembers it, bubbling out of the glass flasks he used to transport it, wafting into a smelly vapor that formed when he heated it. A fine powder, possibly C8, dusted the laboratory drawers and floated in the hazy lab air.

At the time, Wamsley and his coworkers weren’t particularly concerned about the strange stuff. “We never thought about it, never worried about it,” he said recently. His believed it was harmless, “like a soap. Wash your hands [with it], your face, take a bath.”

Today Wamsley suffers from ulcerative colitis, a bowel condition that causes him sudden bouts of diarrhea. The disease also can — and his case, did — lead to rectal cancer. Between the surgery, which left him reliant on plastic pouches that collect his waste outside his body and have to be changed regularly, and his ongoing digestive problems, Wamsley finds it difficult to be away from his home for long.

Sometimes, between napping or watching baseball on TV, Wamsley’s mind drifts back to his DuPont days and he wonders not just about the dust that coated his old workplace but also about his bosses who offered their casual assurances about the chemical years ago.

“Who knew?” he asked. “When did they know? Did they lie?”

Until recently, few people

had heard much about chemicals like C8. One of tens of thousands of unregulated industrial chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA — also called C8 because of the eight-carbon chain that makes up its chemical backbone — had gone unnoticed for most of its eight or so decades on earth, even as it helped cement the success of one of the world’s largest corporations.

Several blockbuster discoveries, including nylon, Lycra, and Tyvek, helped transform the E. I. du Pont de Nemours company from a 19th-century gunpowder mill into “one of the most successful and sustained industrial enterprises in the world,” as its corporate website puts it. Indeed, in 2014, the company reaped more than $95 million in sales each day. Perhaps no product is as responsible for its dominance as Teflon, which was introduced in 1946, and for more than 60 years C8 was an essential ingredient of Teflon.

Called a “surfactant” because it reduces the surface tension of water, the slippery, stable compound was eventually used in hundreds of products, including Gore-Tex and other waterproof clothing; coatings for eye glasses and tennis rackets; stain-proof coatings for carpets and furniture; fire-fighting foam; fast food wrappers; microwave popcorn bags; bicycle lubricants; satellite components; ski wax; communications cables; and pizza boxes.

Concerns about the safety of Teflon, C8, and other long-chain perfluorinated chemicals first came to wide public attention more than a decade ago, but the story of DuPont’s long involvement with C8 has never been fully told. Over the past 15 years, as lawyers have been waging an epic legal battle — culminating as the first of approximately 3,500 personal injury claims comes to trial in September — a long trail of documents has emerged that casts new light on C8, DuPont, and the fitful attempts of the Environmental Protection Agency to deal with a threat to public health.

This story is based on many of those documents, which until they were entered into evidence for these trials had been hidden away in DuPont’s files. Among them are write-ups of experiments on rats, dogs, and rabbits showing that C8 was associated with a wide range of health problems that sometimes killed the lab animals. Many thousands of pages of expert testimony and depositions have been prepared by attorneys for the plaintiffs. And through the process of legal discovery they have uncovered hundreds of internal communications revealing that DuPont employees for many years suspected that C8 was harmful and yet continued to use it, putting the company’s workers and the people who lived near its plants at risk.

The best evidence of how C8 affects humans has also come out through the legal battle over the chemical, though in a more public form. As part of a 2005 settlement over contamination around the West Virginia plant where Wamsley worked, lawyers for both DuPont and the plaintiffs approved a team of three scientists, who were charged with determining if and how the chemical affects people.

In 2011 and 2012, after seven years of research, the science panel found that C8 was “more likely than not” linked to ulcerative colitis — Wamsley’s condition — as well as to high cholesterol; pregnancy-induced hypertension; thyroid disease; testicular cancer; and kidney cancer. The scientists’ findings, published in more than three dozen peer-reviewed articles, were striking, because the chemical’s effects were so widespread throughout the body and because even very low exposure levels were associated with health effects.

We know, too, from internal DuPont documents that emerged through the lawsuit, that Wamsley’s fears of being lied to are well-founded. DuPont scientists had closely studied the chemical for decades and through their own research knew about some of the dangers it posed. Yet rather than inform workers, people living near the plant, the general public, or government agencies responsible for regulating chemicals, DuPont repeatedly kept its knowledge secret.

Another revelation about C8 makes all of this more disturbing and gives the upcoming trials, the first of which will be held this fall in Columbus, Ohio, global significance: This deadly chemical that DuPont continued to use well after it knew it was linked to health problems is now practically everywhere.

A man-made compound that didn’t exist a century ago, C8 is in the blood of 99.7 percent of Americans, according to a 2007 analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control, as well as in newborn human babies, breast milk, and umbilical cord blood. A growing group of scientists have been tracking the chemical’s spread through the environment, documenting its presence in a wide range of wildlife, including . . .

Continue reading.

The way that DuPont seems forced by the profit imperative to keep churning the stuff out in spite of the obvious dangers reminds me of how oil and coal companies continue to encourage use of their product despite the obvious (and now occurring) dangers of global warming.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2015 at 9:34 am

Fine shave with Green Irish Tweed and the Apollo Mikron

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SOTD 12 Aug 2015

A very smooth, very pleasant shave today. On reading the description for Stirling Soap Company’s Sharp Dressed Man, I saw that he was going for the fragrance of Creed’s Green Irish Tweed, so today I’d thought I use that. The soap is expensive but also extremely good, and the lather is fragrant indeed. Calling it “Sharp Dressed Man” somehow brings the fragrance in a new focus, different from when I think of it as “Green Irish Tweed.” Our minds shape our perceptions significantly.

The Rooney Style 2 Finest is a favorite brush and did its usual great job. The Apollo Mikron seems to me like the parent of the Merkur Progress, and both razors are truly excellent. Three passes to a trouble-free BBS result, enjoyable all the way. (It’s interesting that when I first got this razor, it seemed to nick me unmercifully, to the point that, had I not liked the look of it so much, I would have abandoned it. But I did like the look, so I persisted, and then—fairly quickly—the nicks became less frequent and then stopped altogether. Apparently I had unconsciously adapted my technique—i.e., I had “learned” the razor.)

A small splash of Creed’s Green Irish Tweed EDT as an aftershave, and the day is open to me.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2015 at 9:21 am

Posted in Shaving

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