Thursday, October 29, 2015

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Going To 10

Today Microsoft releases their newest operating system, Windows 10.  Users of their current systems, 7 and 8, have been offered free upgrades, and since I’m on 7, I signed up.  Via CBC, HT Bryan:

Windows 10 is coming to PCs and tablets first, but it’s also designed to run phones, game consoles and even holographic headsets. It has new features, a streamlined Web browser called Edge and a desktop version of Cortana, the online assistant that is Microsoft’s answer to Google Now and Apple’s Siri.

Still, the company insists Windows 10 will seem familiar to users of Windows 7, the six-year-old operating system still running on most PCs. Microsoft and PC makers want to erase the memory of the last big update, 2012’s Windows 8, which alienated many with its jarring, unwieldy design.

Microsoft skipped the name Windows 9, as if to distance itself further from the last release. While many analysts believe Windows 8 made sagging PC sales even worse, it’s unclear if Windows 10 will spur the industry back to growth.

Microsoft operating systems are like Star Trek movies: every other one is bad (remember Vista?) so presumably 10 will be an improvement.  I will let you know after the upgrade happens here, which could be anytime between now and the Rapture.

Here’s a trip down Memory Lane for Microsoft users over the last 30 years.  Tada.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


It is somehow reassuring that all is not lost when you have a justice of the Supreme Court quote a comic book when rendering an opinion on the complexities of patent law.

”The parties set no end date for royalties, apparently contemplating that they would continue for as long as kids want to imitate Spider-Man (by doing whatever a spider can).”

It will be the acme of nerdity when Antonin Scalia renders an opinion in his native language, Klingon. Qapla’!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Short Takes

NATO troops are moving through Poland.

The trail of the New York prison escapees has gone cold.

AT&T faces $100 million fine over “unlimited” data plans.

Remnants of Tropical Storm Bill soak already-drenched Texas.

Kansas Gov. Brownback dodges ethics inquiry bullet.

More top-level changes at Microsoft.

The Tigers lost 8-4 in extra innings to the Reds.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sunday Reading

Think of the Children — In the New York Times, Gabriela Herman talks to sons and daughters of gay and lesiban couples to see what marriage equality means to them.

My mom is gay. But it took me a long time to say those words out loud.

She came out nearly 20 years ago when I was in high school. My parents soon separated, and eventually, she married her longtime partner in one of Massachusetts’ first legal unions. It was a raw and difficult time. I hardly spoke to her for a year while I studied abroad. It felt like a fact that needed to be hidden, especially among my prepschool classmates. The topic was taboo even within our otherwise tight-knit family.

Five years ago, at age 29, I embarked on a project to meet, photograph and interview people with a similar story. I had never encountered anyone else raised by a gay parent.

My sister directed me to Colage, an organization that supports people with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender parents. Danielle Silber, who has six parents and who had become an organizer for the group, invited me to her East Village apartment one night. Her living room floor was filled with young people each telling their own family’s “coming out” story. Since that night, I’ve documented the stories of dozens of children and met many more. Each portrait and interview has become, in an unexpected way, my own therapy session.

The Supreme Court is set to issue a ruling soon that could make same-sex marriage legal in every state. In the past, when confronting this subject, the justices have pondered the impact on children. In 2013, during oral arguments on same-sex marriage in California, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wondered about the “some 40,000 children in California” who live with same-sex parents.” The justice asked: “The voice of those children is important in this case, don’t you think?”

The lawyer defending the ban replied, “On that specific question, Your Honor, there simply is no data.”

The studies may be sparse, but the stories are plentiful.

In my interviews, I met Ilana, whose mom unintentionally came out to everyone at her daughter’s Sweet 16 party. And Zach, who found himself compelled to defend his two moms in front of an Iowa House committee. And Kerry, who was raised as an evangelical Christian and who felt she needed to “save” her mom.

As we talked, we recalled having to juggle silence and isolation. Needing to defend our families on the playground, at church and during holiday gatherings. Some aspect of each story resonated with my experience and helped chip away at my own sense of solitude.

We — the children of gay and lesbian parents — are not hypotheticals. While my experience was difficult, I am hopeful that won’t be the case for the next generation. This inequality will fade, and my future children will wonder what the fuss was about.

Hillary Clinton Goes Populist, Almost — John Cassidy in The New Yorker on Ms. Clinton’s appeal to the people at her launch rally yesterday.

If there was ever any doubt that Hillary Clinton was going to run a populist Presidential campaign, she dispelled it on Saturday with her speech on Roosevelt Island. Seeking to move beyond the controversies surrounding her family’s charitable foundation and her deleted e-mails, she spoke about the great disjuncture in the modern U.S. economy, and portrayed herself as an indefatigable battler for ordinary Americans.

The best part of the speech came toward the end, when Clinton said, “Well, I may not be the youngest candidate in this race. But I will be the youngest woman President in the history of the United States!” According to her staff, it was a line she picked up from someone at a campaign event in South Carolina a couple of weeks ago, and it brought loud cheers from her supporters, some of whom had traveled from as far as California to attend the rally.

But the guts of the address, delivered from a H-shaped stage erected in Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, which opened in 2012, came earlier. “You see corporations making record profits, with C.E.O.s making record pay, but your paychecks have barely budged,” Clinton said. “While many of you are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, you see the top twenty-five hedge-fund managers making more than all of America’s kindergarten teachers combined. And often paying a lower tax rate. So, you have to wonder, ‘When does my hard work pay off? When does my family get ahead? When?’ ”

Clinton went on, “Prosperity can’t be just for C.E.O.s and hedge-fund managers. Democracy can’t be just for billionaires and corporations. Prosperity and democracy are part of your basic bargain, too. You brought our country back. Now it’s time—your time—to secure the gains and move ahead.”

Had someone on Clinton’s staff been reading the speeches of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and purloining bits of them? Not necessarily. The line about twenty-five hedge-fund managers making more than all the kindergarten teachers in the country was actually delivered by President Obama a few weeks ago. But, in placing C.E.O.s and hedge-fund managers center stage, and comparing their outsized remuneration and avarice to the tribulations of ordinary working people, Clinton was acknowledging not just the economic realities of modern America but the fact that the center of gravity in her party has shifted.

“I’m running to make our economy work for you and for every American,” she said, singling out “factory workers and food servers who stand on their feet all day … nurses who work the night shift … truckers who drive for hours … small-business owners who took a risk. For everyone who’s ever been knocked down but refused to be knocked out.”

In promising, prior to Saturday’s speech, to end mass incarceration, expand voting rights, and provide a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, Clinton had already shifted to the left on issues that are major concerns to key elements of the modern Democratic coalition. Until now, though, she hadn’t said very much about the issues of wage stagnation, inequality, and corporate piggery, which progressives like Sanders, Warren, and Mayor Bill de Blasio (a conspicuous absentee from Saturday’s rally) have seized upon. Rhetorically, at least, Clinton answered calls for her to make clear where she stood on these issues: the middle of an article by Robert Reich or Joseph Stiglitz, or so it seemed.

“Our country’s challenges didn’t begin with the Great Recession, and they won’t end with the recovery,” she said, continuing,

Advances in technology and the rise of global trade have created whole new areas of economic activity and opened new markets for our exports, but they have also displaced jobs and undercut wages for millions of Americans. The financial industry and many multinational corporations have created huge wealth for a few by focussing too much on short-term profit and too little on long-term value—too much on complex trading schemes and stock buybacks, too little on investments in new businesses, jobs, and fair compensation. Our political system is so paralyzed by gridlock and dysfunction that most Americans have lost confidence that anything can actually get done. And they’ve lost trust in the ability of both government and big business to change course.

There remains, of course, the question of what Clinton intends to do about these evils. She said that she would encourage companies to invest for the long term, change the tax code so that it “rewards hard work and investments here at home, not quick trades or stashing profits overseas,” and “give new incentives to companies that give their employees a fair share of the profits their hard work earns.” All of these may be worthwhile policies, but it’s hard to see them having much impact on the great divide she had just identified.

Open Hailing Frequency — Adrienne LaFrance at The Atlantic reports that the internet in space is like dial-up.

Outer space has its perks. But super-speedy Internet is, so far, not one of them.Connection speeds from the International Space Station are “worse than what dial-up was like,” the astronaut Scott Kelly said on Twitter. (His colleague, Reid Wiseman, agrees: “We have a very slow internet connection, but reliable email,” he said back in February.)

Internet connectivity in space is structured around a network of tracking and data relay satellites—the same fleet of communications satellites that NASA engineers on the ground use to communicate with astronauts on the International Space Station. And it’s not like there’s any shortage of technology aboard. “They have laptop computers, including one in their personal sleeping quarters, which they can use for limited web access—email, tweeting, and news,” David Steitz, a spokesman for NASA, told me. “They also have tablets onboard they can use for various operational tasks, but also video conferences with family and friends on the ground.”

Astronauts first got Internet access five years ago, a move that NASA said would help improve their quality of life and help them feel less isolated in space.

What makes the connection so slow compared with broadband Internet speed on the ground? The easiest way to understand it is to consider the distance that data has to travel. When an astronaut clicks a link on a website in space, that request first travels 22,000 miles away from Earth, to a network of geosynchronous satellites far beyond the relatively close station. The satellites then send the signal down to a receiver on the ground below, which processes the request before returning the response along the same path.

Another way to think about the Internet connection from space is as “remote access to the Internet via a ground computer,” as NASA once explained. Or, as one Redditor put it in a discussion of the Internet connection: “The ping is quite high because of the satellite transmission to earth, but the bandwidth isn’t too terrible.” So the capacity for data transmission is robust, but the time it takes to transmit is—by an Earthling’s standards—pretty slow.

To get online, astronauts are plugging into the same channel that’s used for all kinds of commands to the International Space Station. “It’s the satellite constellation that we use for all of our spacecraft operations,” said Dan Huot, a spokesman for NASA. “It’s used for a number of things—not only their Internet access but any telemetry, basically any data from spacecraft systems going up to the station or coming down.”

So when the crew on the International Space Station wants to tweak the thermostat or boost its altitude, all of that work is done by an engineer on the ground. “We use our uplink through these satellites to send those commands,” Huot said, “and using the same channels, basically, we’ve enabled them with Internet access.”

A temperature change is a straightforward enough command that it’s basically “instantaneous,” Huot says. And while Internet speeds may be slower than that, they’re not exactly terrible. “They have decent speeds,” he said. “We have the capability to send up and down large-format video files. We’re sending gigs and gigs and gigs of video every single day just from live downlinks of the crews themselves. […] We have bandwidth to send that down to the ground without overloading the system.”

“In their off-duty time, they do have the capability to watch live television shows, and live sports,” Huot said. Astronauts even watch movies in space, though they aren’t relying on Netflix to do so. “The astronauts can pick, before they fly, anything they want to watch up there,” he said. “They actually have a projector and a screen they can use to watch movies.” (He declined to share which films are on the current rotation, but astronauts said they watchedGravityand Star Wars from space in recent months.) Livestream video is possible on the International Space Station—of course, there are limitations other than connection times. “It’s still basically a work network,” Huot said. “So it’s not totally unfiltered access to the Internet.”

Either way, Internet connectivity is likely to improve for astronauts as NASA makes the switch to laser-based systems. Already, engineers have transmitted a high-definition video from the International Space Station to the ground on a laser beam. It’s a “much faster” way to transmit data, NASA said in a demonstration, and one that hints at the “future of communications to and from space.”

Doonesbury — Secede already.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Short Takes

Search continues for last of the the suspects in Charlie Hebdo massacre.

The U.S. Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube accounts were hacked.

Attacks against ISIS continue.

Cuba released 53 political prisoners as promised as part of the thaw in U.S. relations.

South Dakota’s ban on same-sex marriage is struck down, but the order is immediately stayed.

Paul Ryan isn’t running for president.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Who Goes There?

AOL got hacked yesterday.  Change your passwords if you use it.

AOL Inc on Monday urged its tens of millions of email account holders to change their passwords and security questions after a cyber attack compromised about 2 percent of its accounts. The company said it was working with federal authorities to investigate the attack, in which hackers obtained email addresses, postal addresses, encrypted passwords and answers to security questions used to reset passwords. It said there was no indication that the encryption on that data had been broken. A company spokesman declined to say how many email accounts are registered on its system.

Meanwhile, the feds are warning against using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer until a security flaw can be repaired.

The U.S. and UK governments on Monday advised computer users to consider using alternatives to Microsoft Corp’s Internet Explorer browser until the company fixes a security flaw that hackers used to launch attacks. The Internet Explorer bug, disclosed over the weekend, is the first high-profile computer threat to emerge since Microsoft stopped providing security updates for Windows XP earlier this month. That means PCs running the 13-year-old operating system will remain unprotected, even after Microsoft releases updates to defend against it.The Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team said in an advisory released on Monday that the vulnerability in versions 6 to 11 of Internet Explorer could lead to “the complete compromise” of an affected system.

I’m really amazed.  Is anyone still using AOL?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Happy Birthday, Macintosh

Thirty years ago today Apple introduced the Macintosh, and according to Anick Jesdanun, it’s still an influence in our lives.

Macintosh 01-24-14Look around. Many of the gadgets you see drew inspiration from the original Mac computer.

Computers at the time typically required people to type in commands. Once the Mac came out 30 years ago Friday, people could instead navigate with a graphical user interface. Available options were organized into menus. People clicked icons to run programs and dragged and dropped files to move them.

The Mac introduced real-world metaphors such as using a trash can to delete files. It brought us fonts and other tools once limited to professional printers. Most importantly, it made computing and publishing easy enough for everyday people to learn and use.

Apple sparked a revolution in computing with the Mac. In turn, that sparked a revolution in publishing as people began creating fancy newsletters, brochures and other publications from their desktops.

These concepts are so fundamental today that it’s hard to imagine a time when they existed only in research labs — primarily Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and his team got much of its inspiration from PARC, which they visited while designing the Mac.

The Mac has had “incredible influence on pretty much everybody’s lives all over the world since computers are now so ubiquitous.” says Brad Myers, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute. “Pretty much all consumer electronics are adopting all of the same kinds of interactions.”

I remember seeing my first Mac.  It belonged to my brother, who showed it off on my sister’s kitchen table.  I was amazed with the mouse and the graphics.  After all, my first work with a computer was in 1967 with a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP 8/S which was the size of a kitchen refrigerator and ran off paper tape generated by a teletype machine.  So this little wonder was like going from a Model T to a Ferrari.  (“Little” is a relative term.  My brother’s Mac was the size of a small beer cooler.)


Apple IIc

Six months later I bought my first home computer.  It was the Apple IIc, which sold itself as the first “notebook” computer — as long as you didn’t need a monitor.  I used it until 1995, then switched to a Gateway PC with the awesome capability of a 2 gigabyte hard drive.  It cost $2,500, including monitor.  Now I’m using a Toshiba laptop with a 2 terabyte hard drive attached and it cost me $500.  (I still have the Apple IIc in its original boxes stored in the garage.  You can see it in the background of the photo in today’s Friday Catblogging below.)

There’s more computing power in my cell phone — which is just a plain phone, not a smartphone — than there was in that PDP 8/S, and I carry a 4 gig jump drive in my pocket.  I paid $10 for it.  I suppose your average iPad could land a man on the moon.

Technology is groovy.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Via the New York Times:

Not limiting their activities to the earthly realm, American and British spies have infiltrated the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and scooping up data in the online games played by millions of people across the globe, according to newly disclosed classified documents.

Fearing that terrorist or criminal networks could use the games to communicate secretly, move money or plot attacks, the documents show, intelligence operatives have entered terrain populated by digital avatars that include elves, gnomes and supermodels.

Actually, what I think happened is that a bunch of nerds got busting playing while at work so they came up with this story that they told their bosses that terrorists really do concoct their ideas while fighting Orcs and scoping out the lingerie at Victoria’s Secret.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Reading

Stop Helping Them — Zerlina at Feministing would like journalists to stop enabling the Obamacare bashers.

If I see one more journalist symbolically log on to the Obamacare website, I’m going to scream. If you’re making faux calls into the call center, only to complain about the lack of hold music, as if that is what’s critically important here, you’re severely missing the point.

And even when you defend your negative reporting about the Obamacare website glitches, as The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein did last night on MSNBC, having the privilege of analyzing the process from the perspective of someone who is already insured and not in need of coverage allows the core impact of the new program on the health and security of millions of Americans to be missed.


Obamacare is more than a website. More than half of the people I worked with on the Obama campaign in 2008 said health care reform was their reason for joining the campaign and working to elect a Democrat. Forty-seven million Americans, including me, were uninsured until now. When I finally was able to log into the site–after a few days and a few false starts–I was floored by the number of affordable options. When I scrolled through my list of choices–124 different plans to be exact–I realized that this is the reason Republicans hate the program so much: it will fundamentally change lives, including my own.

There are a few glaring omissions in the coverage of Obamacare’s shaky rollout. For the most part, those covering the problems are insured themselves and consequently greatly underestimate the patience of a chronically uninsured person who has been counting down the days until Obamacare began so they could have a little peace of mind that if they got sick they wouldn’t be staring down bankruptcy.

And while some young men may think they are invincible and don’t need health insurance, preventative care is not something that the majority of women can roll the dice with. Between recommended regular pap smears and appointments to access birth control, seeing a doctor is often a necessity. And, let’s be clear, thanks to Obamacare, young people can stay on their parents insurance until they are 26; By 27 young people, regardless of their gender, tend to be more responsible and much more risk averse.

The website problems are being fixed–the New York exchange that I am using to compare plans is working just fine as of this morning–and the Obama administration has promised to work on the glitches to ensure that Americans who will likely wait until the last minute to sign up will have a working website. Enrollment lasts until February 15th and the coverage begins January 1st. While the early website issues are frustrating, they by no means indicate that the program as a whole has failed.

And unless you are a journalist who has been chronically uninsured, your feigned frustration about website issues reeks of privilege. To me, a few website glitches are a lot less frustrating than having to use the same inhaler for over a year because I can’t afford to go the doctor. Perspective is everything.

Think of That — In The New Yorker, Gary Marcus evaluates the threat of artificial intelligence.

If the New York Timess latest article is to be believed, artificial intelligence is moving so fast it sometimes seems almost “magical.” Self-driving cars have arrived; Siri can listen to your voice and find the nearest movie theatre; and I.B.M. just set the “Jeopardy”-conquering Watson to work on medicine, initially training medical students, perhaps eventually helping in diagnosis. Scarcely a month goes by without the announcement of a new A.I. product or technique. Yet, some of the enthusiasm may be premature: as I’ve noted previously, we still haven’t produced machines with common sense, vision, natural language processing, or the ability to create other machines. Our efforts at directly simulating human brains remain primitive.

Still, at some level, the only real difference between enthusiasts and skeptics is a time frame. The futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil thinks true, human-level A.I. will be here in less than two decades. My estimate is at least double that, especially given how little progress has been made in computing common sense; the challenges in building A.I., especially at the software level, are much harder than Kurzweil lets on.

But a century from now, nobody will much care about how long it took, only what happened next. It’s likely that machines will be smarter than us before the end of the century—not just at chess or trivia questions but at just about everything, from mathematics and engineering to science and medicine. There might be a few jobs left for entertainers, writers, and other creative types, but computers will eventually be able to program themselves, absorb vast quantities of new information, and reason in ways that we carbon-based units can only dimly imagine. And they will be able to do it every second of every day, without sleep or coffee breaks.

For some people, that future is a wonderful thing. Kurzweil has written about a rapturous singularity in which we merge with machines and upload our souls for immortality; Peter Diamandis has argued that advances in A.I. will be one key to ushering in a new era of “abundance,” with enough food, water, and consumer gadgets for all. Skeptics like Eric Brynjolfsson and I have worried about the consequences of A.I. and robotics for employment. But even if you put aside the sort of worries about what super-advanced A.I. might do to the labor market, there’s another concern, too: that powerful A.I. might threaten us more directly, by battling us for resources.

Most people see that sort of fear as silly science-fiction drivel—the stuff of “The Terminator” and “The Matrix.” To the extent that we plan for our medium-term future, we worry about asteroids, the decline of fossil fuels, and global warming, not robots. But a dark new book by James Barrat, “Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era,” lays out a strong case for why we should be at least a little worried.

Barrat’s core argument, which he borrows from the A.I. researcher Steve Omohundro, is that the drive for self-preservation and resource acquisition may be inherent in all goal-driven systems of a certain degree of intelligence. In Omohundro’s words, “if it is smart enough, a robot that is designed to play chess might also want to be build a spaceship,” in order to obtain more resources for whatever goals it might have. A purely rational artificial intelligence, Barrat writes, might expand “its idea of self-preservation … to include proactive attacks on future threats,” including, presumably, people who might be loathe to surrender their resources to the machine. Barrat worries that “without meticulous, countervailing instructions, a self-aware, self-improving, goal-seeking system will go to lengths we’d deem ridiculous to fulfill its goals,” even, perhaps, commandeering all the world’s energy in order to maximize whatever calculation it happened to be interested in.

Fading Fast — Charlie Pierce on the future of Republican Savior Marco Rubio.

His strength is failing. The shrink-wrap is winning. And Marco Rubio (R-Flashinthepan) continues to flail around like a scarecrow in a windstorm. When our adventure began, young Marco was going to be the smiling face of the rebranding of the Republican party, which was going to habla the daylights out of the ol’ espanol because it finally had concluded that it wasn’t going to win an national election even if it did get the votes of everyone who owns the complete Murder, She Wrote on Blu-Ray. Of course, then Rubio made the mistake of believing that the party was serious about this whole rebranding business, proposed an immigration reform plan that made a little bit of sense, and then found his standing in the party sinking into Middle Earth. Ever since, he has done everything to romance the base save dress up as Angela Lansbury.

Witness recently, as he announces, in his Young Statesman’s voice, that his signature issue is as dead as Kelsey’s nuts because the president has declined to destroy the signature accomplishment of his administration the way that Marco Rubio would like him to do it, because the president’s duty is to help stop the crazy people in the Republican party from being so mean to Marco Rubio, Transformative American Political Figure.

Sen. Marco Rubio gave a downcast assessment Sunday about Congress passing immigration reform, arguing that fellow Republicans are leery about dealing with President Obama on the issue since he would not negotiate fairly during the recent fiscal crisis. “Immigration reform is going to be a lot harder to accomplish than it was three weeks ago,” Rubio, R-Fla., who helped pass the Senate legislation handed to the Republican-controlled House, told “Fox News Sunday.”

If there is a more pathetic figure in American politics today, I don’t know who it is. He’s crossing the yard again. Does he see the rake? Are you kidding?


Religious Teachings — Charter schools are being infected with faith-based curricula.  Jonny Scaramanga reports in Salon.

When Joshua Bass, an engineer, sent his son to iSchool High, a Houston charter school, he was expecting a solid college preparation, including the chance to study some college courses before leaving high school. Instead, the Basses were shocked when their son came home from the taxpayer-funded school with apparently religiously motivated anti-science books.

One of these books blamed Darwin’s theory of evolution for the Holocaust:

[Hitler] has written that the Aryan (German) race would be the leader in all human progress. To accomplish that goal, all “lower races” should either be enslaved or eliminated. Apparently the theory of evolution and its “survival of the fittest” philosophy had taken root in Hitler’s warped mind.

For Joshua, attacks on science in the classroom were unacceptable. Joshua began to research ResponsiveEd, the curriculum used at iSchool High. It emerged that ResponsiveEd was founded by Donald R. Howard, former owner of ACE (Accelerated Christian Education). ACE is a fundamentalist curriculum that teaches young-Earth creationism as fact. Last year it hit headlines because one of its high school science books taught that the Loch Ness Monster was real, and that this was evidence against evolution.

ResponsiveEd is the latest in a long line of concerns raised over the religious affiliations of charter schools. Civil libertarians have raised concerns over Jewish schools converting to charter status. In 2010, more than 20 percent of Texas charter schools reportedly had a religious affiliation. And ResponsiveEd aims to expand further.

After Howard left ACE in the 1990s, he founded Eagle Project charter schools, which became Responsive Education Solutions, or ResponsiveEd, in 2007. ACE’s selling point was that it integrated Bible lessons into every academic subject. ResponsiveEd planned to do the same, but without the explicitly religious basis. Howard told the Wall Street Journal in 1998: “Take the Ten Commandments ­– you can rework those as a success principle by rewording them. We will call it truth, we will call it principles, we will call it values. We will not call it religion.” But in Joshua Bass’ mind, at iSchool High, his son was taught religion in class.

Charter schools receive public funding but operate privately. While promoting creationist science is deemed unconstitutional in public schools, ResponsiveEd charter schools appear able to challenge mainstream science in the classroom.

ResponsiveEd says it has 60 schools in Texas, with an extended charter to open 20 more by 2014. It also has facilities in Arkansas, and plans to open in Indiana. Amazingly, it isn’t the only charter school curriculum based on Accelerated Christian Education’s format.

Paradigm Accelerated Curriculum (PAC) was founded by former ACE vice president Ronald E. Johnson. Where ACE is an “individualized, accelerated” curriculum based on the “five laws of learning,” PAC is an “accelerated individualized” curriculum based on the “six principles of learning.” Like ACE and ResponsiveEd, it questions the theory of evolution and presents the “catastrophist theory” of Noah’s Ark as a credible rival explanation. Like ResponsiveEd, PAC teaches that the theory of evolution influenced Hitler to create the Third Reich.

Doonesbury — Pay to play.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rough Start

I don’t think that anyone with any knowledge of the web and the internet thought that the roll-out of the Obamacare websites would be easy or error-free.  Ezra Klein doesn’t mince words.

Windows_XP_BSODWe’re now negative 14 days until the Affordable Care Act and most people still can’t purchase insurance. The magnitude of this failure is stunning. Yes, the federal health-care law is a complicated project, government IT rules are a mess, and the scrutiny has been overwhelming. But the Obama administration knew all that going in. They should’ve been able to build an online portal that works.

Early on, President Obama like to compare the launch of the Affordable Care Act to Apple launching a new product. Can you imagine how many people Steve Jobs would’ve fired by now if he’d launched a new product like this?

So is anybody going to be held accountable? Is anybody going to be fired? Will anyone new be brought in to run the cleanup effort? Does the Obama administration know what went wrong, and are there real plans to find out?


One thing has gone abundantly right for the Affordable Care Act: The Republican Party. Their decision to shut down the government on the exact day the health-care law launched was a miracle for the White House. If Republicans had simply passed a clean-CR on Oct. 1 these last few weeks would’ve been nothing — nothing at all — save for coverage of the health-care law’s disaster. Instead the law has been knocked off the front page by coverage of the Republican Party’s disaster.

Let me give you a microcosm of the task the administration had.  When we installed a new accounting software system at the Miami-Dade County school district, it took us nearly three years to get all of the elements together: payroll, budget, personnel, accounting, purchasing, auditing, grants, and the hundreds of tentacles that tie all of them together.  We went through countless days of design, testing, consultation, more testing, training, yet more testing, and when we finally went live it was bumpy as hell for the first six months.  People complained bitterly about not being able to get it to work, there were jokes about “workarounds,” and even to this day, three years later, we’re still working out some very recalcitrant kinks.  And we’re just one — admittedly very large — school district.

Now imagine you’re doing it for the entire country with fifty or more different portals and under a very tight deadline, working with rules and regulations that very few entities in the private sector have to deal with.  Oh, and don’t forget that all the while you have a very dedicated bunch of people with a lot of money and big mouths working against you the entire time.  It’s not outside the realm of possibility that they’re actively sabotaging your work behind the scenes.

I’m not trying to excuse or sugar-coat the problems with the Obamacare go-live.  But I also think that unless you’ve actually done something remotely comparable to it — and on a scale that no one has before — perhaps you might cut them a little bit of slack.

From my own experience I can tell you that six months in, we all hated the new system and desperately wanted the old — I’m talking from 1979 — one back.  Now we can’t imagine how we ever got anything done with the old one.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Short Takes

President Obama weighs “limited” strikes against Syrian forces.

Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to close.

Former JP Morgan employee arrested in $6 billion loss.

Family of Israel Hernandez is suing Miami Beach Police in the taser death of their son.

Lots of same-sex couples are getting licenses and getting married in New Mexico.

That explains it: The New York Times website was hacked today for a few hours.

The Tigers lost to the A’s 6-3 in a game shortened by rain.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Reading

Objective Evidence — Andrew Cohen of The Atlantic offers Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) proof of voter suppression.

Dear Senator Rand Paul:

If you want to be president of the United States one day, if you want more people to take you seriously as an independent thinker within the Republican Party, if you want to lead your party back to control of the Senate, or if more modestly you want simply to tether yourself to some form of reality, you are going to have to stop making false and insulting statements like you did Wednesday when you declared: “I don’t think there is objective evidence that we’re precluding African-Americans from voting any longer.”

I guess it all depends upon your definition of “objective evidence.” On the one hand, there are the factual findings about evidence and testimony contained in numerous opinions issued recently by federal judges, both Republican and Democrat, who have identified racially discriminatory voting measures. And on the other hand, there is your statement that none of this is “objective.” It’s a heavy burden you’ve given yourself, Senator — proving that something doesn’t exist when we all can see with our own eyes that it does.

Last August, for example, three federal judges struck down Texas’s photo identification law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because it would have led “to a regression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.” Those judges did find that some of the evidence presented to them was “invalid, irrelevant or unreliable” — but that was the evidence Texas offered in support of its discriminatory law. You should read this ruling before you talk about minorities and voting rights.

While you are at it, you should also read the opinion — issued almost exactly one year ago — by another panel of federal judges who determined that Florida’s partisan plan to shorten early voting days constituted evidence of racial discrimination. Or if that doesn’t rise to your level of “objective evidence” read what U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, an appointee of President George W. Bush, wrote last fall in a voting-rights challenge in South Carolina. Section 5 of the federal law, he wrote, acted as a vital deterrent forcing recalcitrant lawmakers to enact less discriminatory voting measures.

Now, you may disagree with what all of these federal judges (Republican appointees as well as Democratic ones) concluded about the discriminatory nature of these laws, after they heard sworn testimony and read the voluminous records in these cases. But you can’t say they offered “no objective evidence” for the conclusions they reached. Your conclusion, on the other hand, directly contradicts the experiences of countless citizens, in and out of the South, who have been victimized by the new generation of voter-suppression efforts.

Stupid Computers — Gary Marcus of The New Yorker on why your computer doesn’t understand you.

Hector Levesque thinks his computer is stupid—and that yours is, too. Siri and Google’s voice searches may be able to understand canned sentences like “What movies are showing near me at seven o’clock?,” but what about questions—“Can an alligator run the hundred-metre hurdles?”—that nobody has heard before? Any ordinary adult can figure that one out. (No. Alligators can’t hurdle.) But if you type the question into Google, you get information about Florida Gators track and field. Other search engines, like Wolfram Alpha, can’t answer the question, either. Watson, the computer system that won “Jeopardy!,” likely wouldn’t do much better.

In a terrific paper just presented at the premier international conference on artificial intelligence, Levesque, a University of Toronto computer scientist who studies these questions, has taken just about everyone in the field of A.I. to task. He argues that his colleagues have forgotten about the “intelligence” part of artificial intelligence.

Levesque starts with a critique of Alan Turing’s famous “Turing test,” in which a human, through a question-and-answer session, tries to distinguish machines from people. You’d think that if a machine could pass the test, we could safely conclude that the machine was intelligent. But Levesque argues that the Turing test is almost meaningless, because it is far too easy to game. Every year, a number of machines compete in the challenge for real, seeking something called the Loebner Prize. But the winners aren’t genuinely intelligent; instead, they tend to be more like parlor tricks, and they’re almost inherently deceitful. If a person asks a machine “How tall are you?” and the machine wants to win the Turing test, it has no choice but to confabulate. It has turned out, in fact, that the winners tend to use bluster and misdirection far more than anything approximating true intelligence. One program worked by pretending to be paranoid; others have done well by tossing off one-liners that distract interlocutors. The fakery involved in most efforts at beating the Turing test is emblematic: the real mission of A.I. ought to be building intelligence, not building software that is specifically tuned toward fixing some sort of arbitrary test.

Under the Gun — Alex Pareene at Salon on why John Boehner has to keep making crazy threats.

You probably read [last week] about the efforts of John Boehner and the Republican leadership in the House to convince the rank-and-file members that shutting down the government until Obamacare is defunded is a Bad Idea, and not a Brilliant Political Maneuver. Robert Costa’s account in the National Review has the basic narrative. It looks, now, like Boehner has succeeded in defusing the shutdown threat. All he had to do was promise something worse. Now we are going to not raise the debt ceiling instead.

As Jonathan Chait points out, replacing the shutdown threat with a default threat is actually much crazier and more potentially disastrous. But Boehner couldn’t get Republicans to agree to just give up on defunding Obamacare this year. He had to promise to exchange their one crazy plan to do so with another one that will go into effect later. And when it is time for that one to go into effect, he will need to find something else to distract them for a little while, until the next crazy plan is ready to go. As Brian Beutler says, we’ve seen this play out over and over again. Boehner has to promise to let Republicans do some apocalyptic thing later in order to get them to avoid doing some apocalyptic thing now. So far we’ve avoided an apocalypse.

But the people Boehner is trying to deal with here don’t see any of these threats as particularly apocalyptic. They don’t really see anything at all that might contradict their ideological stances. The House members Boehner’s trying to walk back from the ledge don’t read the Times or the Post. They don’t care what Brookings or the CBO or CRS say. They believe every “nonpartisan” or “objective” information source to be a part of the vast liberal conspiracy, and they rely for their facts and predictions strictly on sources explicitly aligned with the conservative movement. And those sources are just telling them crazy, untrue things, all the time.

That’s Boehner’s problem: He’s trying to ease his members into the real world, where defunding Obamacare is impossible as long as Obama is in the White House, and where attempts to do so via incredibly unconventional means could have disastrous consequences. What makes his job more difficult is that this reality isn’t acknowledged by most of the conservative organizations his members, and his party’s voters, exclusively follow.

Doonesbury — They need women.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Short Takes

Egypt erupts in massive demonstrations and scores killed by government troops.

Bradley Manning apologizes for “hurting my country.”

Jesse Jackson, Jr. gets 30 months in prison.

BSOD at the Grey Lady — New York Times website crashed for a couple of hours on Wednesday.

R.I.P. Jack Germond, 85, one of the best political reporters in the business.

The Tigers‘ slump ends with a win against the White Sox 6-4.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Beam Up Extra Pepperoni

Another bit of Star Trek technology is on the brink of coming true.

NASA can send robots to Mars, no problem. But if it’s ever going to put humans on the Red Planet, it has to figure out how to feed them over the course of a years-long mission.

So the space agency has funded research for what could be the ultimate nerd solution: a 3-D printer that creates entrees or desserts at the touch of a button.

Yes, it’s another case of life imitating “Star Trek” (remember the food replicator?). In this case, though, the creators hope there is an application beyond deep-space pizza parties. The technology could also be used to feed hungry populations here on Earth.

Texas-based Systems and Materials Research Corp. has been selected for a $125,000 grant from NASA to develop a 3-D printer that will create “nutritious and flavorful” food suitable for astronauts, according to the company’s proposal. Using a “digital recipe,” the printers will combine powders to produce food that has the structure and texture of, well, actual food. Including smell.


One of the first goals for SMRC’s printer is the humble pizza. It was chosen because it contains a variety of nutrients and flavors, said David Irvin, director of research at SMRC. More importantly, a pizza is made up of layers, a key principle used in 3-D printing technology.

And you don’t have to figure out how to wedge the empty box into the trash can.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Short Takes

North Korea removes missiles from launch site.

U.S. blames China for cyberattacks.

Three women abducted in Ohio years ago have been found safe.

Senate passes internet sales tax bill.

Irony of the Day — Head of Air Force anti-sexual abuse team arrested for…

Germany arrests 93-year-old man who was a guard at Auschwitz.

The Tigers had the night off, but they’re in first place in their division.