Later On

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

Archive for October 10th, 2017

We have a pretty good idea of when humans will go extinct

leave a comment »

Christopher Ingraham has a very interesting column in the Washington Post. I won’t include the diagrams/charts, but give you enough of the gist so you’ll click the link. He writes:

“The probability of global catastrophe is very high,” the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned in setting the Doomsday Clock 2.5 minutes before midnight earlier this year. On nuclear weapons and climate change, “humanity’s most pressing existential threats,” the Bulletin’s scientists found that “inaction and brinkmanship have continued, endangering every person, everywhere on Earth.”

Every day, it seems, brings with it fresh new horrors. Mass murderCatastrophic climate changeNuclear annihilation.

It’s all enough to make a reasonable person ask: How much longer can things go on this way?

A Princeton University astrophysicist named J. Richard Gott has a surprisingly precise answer to that question, which I’ll get to in a second. But to understand how he arrived at it and what it means for our survival, we first need to take a brief but fascinating detour through the science of probability and astronomy, one that begins 500 years ago with the Polish mathematician Nicholas Copernicus.

You may remember Copernicus as the guy who formulated the heliocentric model of the solar system, which has the sun at the center and the Earth and the other planets orbiting around it. This was a slap in the face to the prevailing view during his time, which was that the Earth was the center of the universe and that the sun and the other planets revolved around us.

That radical notion — that we are not, in fact, at the center of the universe — gives rise to what modern scientists call the Copernican Principle: We are not privileged observers of the world around us. We don’t occupy a unique place in the universe. We are profoundly ordinary. We are not special.

Over the centuries, as our understanding of the cosmos has grown, the Copernican Principle has proven to be correct time and time again. Copernicus discovered that the Earth wasn’t at the center of the solar system. Later astronomers discovered that the solar system is located far from the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Edwin Hubble then discovered that the universe extends well beyond the reaches of the Milky Way.

These examples show the application of the Copernican Principle with respect to our position in space. Several decades ago, Princeton’s J. Richard Gott got the idea of applying the principle to our position in time.

The notion came to him in 1969, during a visit to the Berlin Wall in Germany. Back then people had no idea how long the Wall would stay standing. Some thought it would be gone quickly, a casualty of say, rapid political change or a city-destroying war. Others thought it would be around more or less forever — the Great Wall of China had stood for thousands of years, after all.

Gott decided to apply the Copernican Principle: “I’m not special,” he reasons in the book “Welcome to the Universe,” co-written with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Michael Strauss. He shouldn’t assume his visit was special either — there was nothing particularly noteworthy about the time he decided to visit the Wall, he just happened to go check it out while on a post-collegiate trip to Europe.

“My visit should be located at some random point between the Wall’s beginning and its end,” he wrote. If you drew a very simple timeline from the Wall’s (known) beginning to its (unknown, as of 1969) end, for instance, it would look like this. . .

Continue reading.

And then it gets interesting. From later in the article:

. . . So by that logic, there was a 50 percent chance that the Wall would come down between 1971 (2.66, or 8/3 years into the future) and 1993 (24, or 8 x 3 years into the future). In reality, the Wall fell in 1989, well within his predicted range. . .

The great thing about Gott’s prediction is that it relied solely on statistics. He didn’t have to try to make assumptions about human behavior, which is wildly unpredictable. No need to take the pulse of East German politics, or calculate the odds of war between West Germany and the Soviet Union. He just ran the numbers. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

10 October 2017 at 7:37 pm

Posted in Math, Science

How Israel Caught Russian Hackers Scouring the World for U.S. Secrets

leave a comment »

Nicole Pearlroth and Scott Shane report in the NY Times:

It was a case of spies watching spies watching spies: Israeli intelligence officers looked on in real time as Russian government hackers searched computers around the world for the code names of American intelligence programs.

What gave the Russian hacking, detected more than two years ago, such global reach was its improvised search tool — antivirus software made by a Russian company, Kaspersky Lab, that is used by 400 million people worldwide, including by officials at some two dozen American government agencies.

The Israeli officials who had hacked into Kaspersky’s own network alerted the United States to the broad Russian intrusion, which has not been previously reported, leading to a decision just last month to order Kaspersky software removed from government computers.

The Russian operation, described by multiple people who have been briefed on the matter, is known to have stolen classified documents from a National Security Agency employee who had improperly stored them on his home computer, on which Kaspersky’s antivirus software was installed. What additional American secrets the Russian hackers may have gleaned from multiple agencies, by turning the Kaspersky software into a sort of Google search for sensitive information, is not yet publicly known.

The current and former government officials who described the episode spoke about it on condition of anonymity because of classification rules.

Like most security software, Kaspersky Lab’s products require access to everything stored on a computer in order to scour it for viruses or other dangers. Its popular antivirus software scans for signatures of malicious software, or malware, then removes or neuters it before sending a report back to Kaspersky. That procedure, routine for such software, provided a perfect tool for Russian intelligence to exploit to survey the contents of computers and retrieve whatever they found of interest.

The National Security Agency and the White House declined to comment for this article. The Israeli Embassy declined to comment, and the Russian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Russian hackers had stolen classified N.S.A. materials from a contractor using the Kaspersky software on his home computer. But the role of Israeli intelligence in uncovering that breach and the Russian hackers’ use of Kaspersky software in the broader search for American secrets have not previously been disclosed.

Kaspersky Lab denied any knowledge of, or involvement in, the Russian hacking. “Kaspersky Lab has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts,” the company said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. Kaspersky Lab also said it “respectfully requests any relevant, verifiable information that would enable the company to begin an investigation at the earliest opportunity.”

The Kaspersky-related breach is only the latest bad news for the security of American intelligence secrets. It does not appear to be related to a devastating leak of N.S.A. hacking tools last year to a group, still unidentified, calling itself the Shadow Brokers, which has placed many of them online. Nor is it evidently connected to a parallel leak of hacking data from the C.I.A. to WikiLeaks, which has posted classified C.I.A. documents regularly under the name Vault7.

For years, there has been speculation that Kaspersky’s popular antivirus software might provide a back door for Russian intelligence. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 October 2017 at 7:31 pm

Sarah Huckabee Sanders states that Sen. Corker “rolled out the red carpet” for the Iran deal he voted against

leave a comment »

Sarah Huckabee Sanders is not only extremely unpleasant, she’s just as dishonest as her boss. Jonathan Easley reports in The Hill:

The White House on Tuesday escalated President Trump’s feud with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), saying the senator was partially responsible for the Iran nuclear deal.

“Senator Corker worked with Nancy Pelosi and the Obama administration to pave the way for that and rolled out the red carpet for the Iran deal,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a briefing.

Corker’s office said the claim is “not true” and that the Tennessee Republican opposed the Iran deal and worked with lawmakers to craft a bill ensuring Congress could review the deal, against the Obama White House’s wishes.

“He worked with them on the legislation that rolled that out,” Sanders responded. “That’s what helped I think put things in motion. He may have voted against the deal ultimately, but he not only allowed the deal to happen, he gave it credibility. I stand by my statement.”

Trump has called the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran an embarrassment and will announce soon whether he will decertify the pact. He and other top administration officials have said Iran is not complying with the deal.

It appeared that Sanders came ready to criticize Corker at Tuesday’s briefing, repeatedly hammering the retiring senator, who is not seeking reelection in 2018.

Some of Trump’s allies, including former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, have called for Corker to resign. Sanders refused to say whether Corker should stay.

“I think that’s a decision for Sen. Corker and the people of Tennessee,” Sanders said.

Since announcing his retirement, Corker has lashed out at Trump, saying in a New York Times interview that the White House is like an adult daycare center and that Trump could lead the country into World War III.

Trump responded Tuesday by mocking Corker’s height.

Sanders on Tuesday bristled at Corker’s criticism, rattling off a list of accomplishments she said Trump has achieved in his first months in office, including  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 October 2017 at 6:58 pm

FBI targets black racial justice activists

leave a comment »

Radley Balko’s law-enforcement links include an example of how the FBI targets activists (“troublemakers” in the view of the FBI, I would guess). The full list is at the link. Here are some:

Written by LeisureGuy

10 October 2017 at 6:41 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

How Chicago Gets Its Guns

leave a comment »

Mick Dumke reports in ProPublica:

John Thomas set up the deal the way he had arranged nearly two dozen others. A friend said he wanted to buy as many guns as he could, so Thomas got in touch with someone he knew who had guns to sell.

The three of them met in the parking lot of an LA Fitness in south suburban Lansing at noon on Aug. 6, 2014. Larry McIntosh, whom Thomas had met in his South Shore neighborhood, took two semi-automatic rifles and a shotgun from his car and put them in the buyer’s car. He handed over a plastic shopping bag with four handguns.

None of the weapons had been acquired legally — two, in fact, had been reported stolen — and none of the men was a licensed firearms dealer.

Thomas’ friend, Yousef, paid McIntosh $7,200 for the seven guns. He always paid well.

Thomas did little but watch the exchange, but he got his usual broker’s fee of $100 per gun, $700 total. It was “the most money I’ve seen or made,” he recalled — his biggest deal yet.

It was also his last.

Amid Chicago’s ongoing epidemic of gun violence — with nearly 500 people killed in shootings and more than 2,800 wounded this year through September — the availability of guns has been blamed as a root cause and become a defining political and public safety issue.

City police have seized nearly 7,000 illegal firearms so far in 2017 and federal authorities have stepped up efforts to take down dealers.

Still, it’s by no means clear that targeting those like John Thomas makes a real difference.

Most of the guns police seize come from Indiana and other states where firearms laws are more lax, police and researchers have found. After they were purchased legally, most were sold or loaned or stolen. Typically, individuals or small groups are involved in the dealing, not organized trafficking rings, experts say.

Unlike the drug trade — often dominated by powerful cartels or gangs — illegal gun markets operate more like the way teenagers get beer, “where every adult is potentially a source,” said Philip Cook, a researcher at the University of Chicago Crime Lab who’s also a Duke University professor.

Under pressure to respond to the violence, law enforcement has focused on making examples of people caught selling, buying or possessing guns. But authorities acknowledge that these cases do little to stem the flow of guns into the city.

“You are a single salmon swimming upstream at Niagara Falls,” said Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department. “If your policing strategy is to decrease the number of guns in your city, good luck, because there are too many guns out there. It’s better to go after the person with the gun.”

An in-depth examination of Thomas’ case — based on police reports, court records and interviews, including a series of conversations with Thomas — shows how authorities target mostly street-level offenders, sometimes enticing them with outsized payoffs. In this and other cases, critics say their techniques raise questions of whether they are dismantling gun networks or effectively helping to set them up.

“You have this specter of whether it’s creating crime, which is troubling to a lot of people,” said Katharine Tinto, a professor at the University of California Irvine School of Law who has studied the investigative tactics of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “It’s not as if you’re trying to get someone you know is a violent gun offender. You’re going after someone and purposely trying to entice them into doing a felony.”

A Natural Salesman

At 33, John Thomas has a charming smile that sometimes displays his chipped front tooth. His mother’s name, Val, is tattooed on his left forearm — a tribute to her for bringing him into the world, though he said he could never count on her. His daughter’s name, Jataviyona, is tattooed on his right shoulder.

Even as a kid, Thomas was a natural salesman, quick with a hustle.

“That’s my gift, I guess — to sell,” he said.

He grew up in the part of South Shore known as “Terror Town.” A short walk from a popular Lake Michigan beach, it’s long been a mix of middle-class homeowners and lower-income renters, with bungalows, condominiums and multi-unit apartment buildings on tree-lined streets.

By the time Thomas was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, the neighborhood was struggling. Many white homeowners and merchants had fled after African-Americans moved in. Thousands of people in South Shore and surrounding communities lost their jobs when the nearby steel mills closed. When the crack epidemic hit in the early 1990s, gang violence soared.

Thomas’ father wasn’t around, and his mother struggled with addiction, according to Thomas and a younger sister, Sade Thomas-Adams. With five other siblings, Thomas was raised by an aunt and uncle he considered his parents.

Thomas’ uncle was a pastor, and the family spent a lot of time at church, giving him a lifelong faith. During the week, the kids were told to focus on their studies and come home right after school to avoid the dangers of gangs and drugs. Thomas and some of his siblings chafed at those rules, though, escaping from the house to hang out with friends, drink and smoke marijuana.

“They had their foot in both worlds — the church and the street,” said Thomas-Adams.

Thomas developed his first hustle while in grammar school, he said. He and his friends would offer to help shoppers with their bags and carts outside an Aldi supermarket. He learned he could talk to people and earn tips.

Thomas graduated to other ways of making money. First, he said, he sold baggies of fake marijuana. Eventually, neighborhood dealers set him up with real drugs. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 October 2017 at 6:37 pm

Grocery observations, Canada vs. US

leave a comment »

Garlic here is much better than California, probably because this far north a different (and better) variety is required. Bulbs are red and the cloves are enormous and very garlicky.

Greens so far are uniformly limp, well past their prime. Perhaps I was spoiled in California, where greens were fresh and crisp (and probably grown relatively nearby).

Butter seems commonly sold in 454g (1-lb) chunks.

Yams (i.e., sweet potatoes) are not sold by variety: they are all “yams.” I am accustomed to having Garnet and Jewel yams labeled as such (and Jewel are the best). Here no one knows what I’m talking about: yams are yams.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 October 2017 at 6:32 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

A “shave créme” is not a shaving cream: Archipelago’s Botecario de Havana Formula No. 312

leave a comment »

I squeezed out an almond-sized amount of Boticario de Havana Shave Créme, spread it over my stubble, wet the Copper Hat silvertip, and brushed in eager anticipation. The formula’s inclusion of orange peel, vitamin E, coffee, and pineapple extract sounded intriguing.

Nothing happened. Nothing except that I brushed off all the créme that I had applied. Very disconcerting. Exhibiting a certain amount of denial, I tried the same thing again, hoping for a different outcome. Nope. Nothing. Hmm.

I switched to Nancy Boy Signature shaving cream, and immediately got a fine lather. Three passes with the iKon open-comb and my face was as smooth as can be. A splash of Alt-Innsbruck to finish, and then to the computer to check out the créme.

Aha: the instructions are:

For best results: Men should apply small amount under favorite shaving foam, shaving first in the direction of the grain of hair then repeating against the grain. [The two-pass shave; I prefer a three-pass shave. – LG]

It’s a pre-shave cream along the lines of other pre-shave creams like Proraso Pre- and Post-Shave Cream, Crema 3P, PREP Classic Cream, and others: rub into stubble, apply lather over it, and shave. Its ingredients:

Purified Water, Cyclopentasiloxane, Jojoba Esters (Buxus Esters), Dimethicone, Wheat Milk (Triticum vulgare Germ Oil), Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Potassium Palmitoyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Stearic Acid, Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides (Cocos Nucifera Esters), Glycerin, Orange Oil, Cetearyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate, Peg-40-Stearate, Pineapple Extract, Coffee Extract, Carbomer 940, Essential Oil Fragrance Blend (Parfum), Trolamine, Vitamin E, Phenoxyethanol.

It may work well as a pre-shave cream, and I’ll give it a try. An interesting bit from the link:

Crème contains orange oil, wheat protein, coffee & pineapple extracts and Vitamin E – ingredients rich in alpha hydroxy acids known to reduce the appearance of razor burn. [Emphasis added. LG]

I like the modesty of the statement: you may still get razor burn, but at least people won’t see it.

Live and learn: my motto.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 October 2017 at 10:31 am

Posted in Shaving

%d bloggers like this: