25 May 2018

It's Completely Nuts


Seriously, Easter Eggs?
Elon Musk is giving Donald Trump a seriously run for his money in the insane tweet division.

Who in their right mind thinks that it wouldn't be completely insane to put "Easter Eggs" in the critical systems of a 2 ton death machine?

No one, that's who.

Elon Musk just tweeted thinks that it's just ducky to put a f%$#ing Rick Roll in the display for his cars.

This is profoundly unhinged.

And Now We Have Dope Fiend Mollusks

Mussels in Puget Sound have tested positive for opioids, which raises the obvious question, how the hell do you get them to pee into a cup?
Scientists at the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife have found that mussels in Seattle's waters are testing positive for opioids.

The finding suggests "a lot of people" are taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound, researchers say.

Scientists used mussels as a way to test pollution in Seattle's waters and discovered high enough oxycodone levels for the shellfish to test positive.

Mussels do not metabolise opioids, but some fish can become addicted.

Mussels are filter-feeders, which means they filter water for nutrients to nourish themselves. In the process, they end up storing pollutants in their tissues, which makes them a prime indicator species.

State researchers distributed clean mussels around the Puget Sound and extracted them months later to test the waters.

Of the 18 locations scientists used, three showed traces of oxycodone. The drug traces were not enough to get any humans high from consumption, but enough to indicate a problem, officials said.
There is a stand-up comedy routine in this story.

And Sesame Street is Suing Who?


I Gotta See This
Ben Henson, Jim Henson's kids, and director of many Muppet movies, is being sued by Sesame Street over the marketing of his latest film, an R-rated cop movie with puppets:
Not everything is A-OK on Sesame Street today. The creators behind the beloved children’s show are suing STX Entertainment for the use of their brand name in the trailer and other marketing of the R-rated Muppets-inspired movie The Happytime Murders, according to Variety.

Both the trailer and the poster for the risqué project, directed by Jim Henson’s son Ben Henson, carries the tagline “No Sesame. All Street.” As such, the Sesame Street makers claim that this tarnishes their child-friendly brand, and they want all references to it completely Gonzo or else.

The film imagines a world where Muppet-like puppets get up to all manner of no good (the trailer contains drug use, foul language, and a pretty graphic puppet sex scene, watch below) with Melissa McCarthy playing a detective on the hunt for a serial killer who is intent on blowing the loveable creatures to pieces of fluff.
I am so going to see this movie.

Clearly, We Need to Regulate Video Games

Another school shooting, this one in middle school just outside of Indianapolis:
A teacher and a student were injured in a shooting Friday morning at Noblesville West Middle School, and a male student was arrested. Here's what we know:
The Noblesville school shooter had two handguns

The shooting began shortly after 9 a.m. A male student asked to be excused and returned to the classroom with two handguns, Noblesville Police Chief Kevin Jowitt said.

The identity of the student, who was in custody Friday, was not released. What prompted the shooting and how events unfolded in the classroom were unclear. Authorities said Friday afternoon they were still investigating.
F%$# the NRA.

Without lube.

24 May 2018

Another Stopped Clock Moment

Donald Trump has granted a posthumous pardon of former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson:
For more than 100 years, Jack Johnson’s legend as the first black heavyweight boxing champion has been undisputed, but his legacy had been tarnished by a racially tainted criminal conviction.

His battles against white opponents, in the ring and outside of it, gave rise to “The Great White Hope” play and movie and he came to be lionized as a barrier breaker.

But the criminal conviction from 1913 that most would find abhorrent today — for transporting a white woman across state lines — haunted Johnson well after his death in 1946 and motivated politicians and celebrities for years to advocate for a pardon, however symbolic.

On Thursday in the Oval Office, Johnson posthumously found an unexpected champion: President Trump.

Although his own record on civil rights has come under question, often harshly, Mr. Trump, flanked by boxing champions and Sylvester Stallone, the actor who brought the case to his attention, signed an order pardoning Johnson.

The president called Johnson “a truly great fighter” who “had a tough life” but served 10 months in federal prison “for what many view as a racially motivated injustice.” Mr. Trump said the conviction took place during a “period of tremendous racial tension in the United States.”

………

Still, in Johnson, Mr. Trump found a way in one swoop of the pen to stake a claim on civil rights and rebuke his predecessor, Barack Obama, for not taking action on an issue that seemed in line with the principles of fighting injustice that he had championed.

Though other presidents passed up the chance to pardon him, Mr. Trump noted that the last resolution in Congress calling for the pardon was while Mr. Obama was in office, in 2015.

“They couldn’t get the president to sign it,” Mr. Trump said.
It's not surprising that Obama did nothing about this: he was parsimonious in his pardons, and he was remarkably timid regarding any issue that involved the intersection of bigotry and law enforcement.

FWIW, I give very little credit to Trump for this:  As a casino owner, he's made a lot of money from boxing, and he has long of history of being involved with the sport, so for him, it's about boxing, not race.

The Law is for Little People

Elon Musk just tweeted that if his workers vote to unionize, they will lose their stock options.

I'm really not sure how much value the stock options would be to the shop floor workers, they will be locked up well past when they are worthless, much as it happened in the Dot Com bust, but still his threat is a direct violation of the NLRA, which prohibits penalizing workers for exercising their labor organizing rights:
The United Auto Workers has been Elon Musk’s target for days of derision on Twitter, and his posts may open Tesla Inc. up to trouble with U.S. labor regulators.

………

The UAW, which is actively trying to organize Tesla’s California assembly plant, has fired back with tweets of its own. But the more consequential outcome from the spat on the social-networking service may come in the form of unfair labor practice allegations made to the National Labor Relations Board, according to Wilma Liebman, who led the agency during the early years of the Obama administration.

Musk posted earlier this week that nothing was stopping Tesla employees in Fremont, California, from voting to join a union. But, he wrote, “Why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?” Liebman read this as a warning that the company would take away workers’ stock options if they succeeded in organizing the factory.



“If you threaten to take away benefits because people unionize, that’s an out-and-out violation of the labor law,” Liebman, who’s done legal work for the UAW in the past, said in an interview.
This, is, as the saying goes, black letter law, and, if the expected complaint is filed, I would expect the NLRB to take some sort of action.

Ironically enough Trump's NLRB might be more likely to take action than the Obama's, because the Trump administration is less enamored with Silicon Valley than was the Obama administration, though I would not expect much beyond a stern warning.

These Guys Could F%$# Up a 2 Car Funeral

And Donald Trump's summit with Kim Jong-un has been canceled:
President Trump on Thursday pulled out of a highly anticipated summit meeting with Kim Jong-un, accusing the North Koreans of bad faith and lamenting that “this missed opportunity is a truly sad moment in history.”

The president made his announcement in a remarkably personal, at times mournful-sounding letter to Mr. Kim, North Korea’s leader, in which he cited the North’s “tremendous anger and open hostility” in recent public statements as the specific reason for canceling the meeting.

Mr. Trump said later that the meeting, which had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, could still happen, and North Korea issued a strikingly conciliatory response, saying it hoped Mr. Trump would reconsider.

But Mr. Trump also renewed talk of military action against the North and vowed to keep pressing economic sanctions, guaranteeing that for now, at least, his unlikely courtship of Mr. Kim will give way to a more familiar cycle of threats and tension.
So, now we are back to nuclear chicken.  This is a YUGE screw up.

Headline of the Day

Iran’s Khamenei Likens U.S. to Cat in ‘Tom and Jerry’
Bloomberg
So Iran's supreme religious leader knows enough about US culture to make a Tom and Jerry reference, specifically that, "The U.S. has tried various political, economic, military and propaganda undertakings to hit the Islamic Republic, but all these plots failed. Like the famous cat in Tom and Jerry they will lose again."

I cannot imagine a Saudi cleric even knowing who the hell Tom and Jerry are.

Gawd Help Me, I am Praising New York Jets Management


Post and Daily News on Same Side
I am not a Jets fan, and as such, it probably makes me more likely to praise the management of that football franchise, but still, this is not something that I would have anticipated doing.

The short version of this is that the owner is saying that he's going to cover the fines for anyoneone on his team kneeling during the anthem:
The Jets are not standing with the NFL in regard to standing for the national anthem.

After the league announced a rule change Wednesday — saying players must either stand for the anthem or stay in the locker room while it is being played — Jets Chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson said the team would support players who might choose to kneel anyway, and not issue any team fines.

“I plan to sit in the very near term with Coach (Todd) Bowles and our players to discuss today’s decision regarding the National Anthem,” Johnson said in a statement.

“As I have in the past, I will support our players wherever we land as a team. Our focus is not on imposing any Club rules, fines, or restrictions. Instead we will continue to work closely with our players to constructively advance social justice issues that are important to us. I remain extremely proud of how we demonstrated unity last season as well as our players’ commitment to strengthening our communities.”

Under the new league rule, if a player does go on the field and protest during the anthem, the team would be fined by the league. The new policy also enables each club to have its own rules if a player is on the field and does “not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.”And, Johnson told Newsday, the team will absorb any league-imposed fines.

“I do not like imposing any club-specific rules,” he said. “If somebody (on the Jets) takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players.
Good for them.

They are doing the right thing, and they are doing the smart thing.

They might want to consider extending this whole, "Doing the right thing and doing the smart thing," bit to the game of Football, where their performance over the past two seasons has been lackluster.


23 May 2018

Read This

The editors are at Rolling Stone are sadists, so they assigned Matt Taibbi to do a review of the new HBO hagiography of Senator John Sidney McCain III's life, and he is brilliant and savage:
I hope my editors boil in oil in the afterlife for asking me to review John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls, the new HBO doc that premieres Memorial Day and stars David Brooks, Henry Kissinger, George W. Bush and a succession of other wax-museum escapees who line up to evade and prevaricate about things McCain-related and not.

The review copy might as well have been titled, Go Ahead, Say Something Bad About a Terminal Cancer Patient. I felt like a monster 20 seconds in.
It is a beautiful take-down, with quotes like this:
So McCain brought in Sarah Palin, who was a hell of a change, all right, with the IQ of a cheese-wheel – she made Dan Quayle sound like Spinoza. McCain's campaign was cooked from that moment, because as the months passed, he couldn't conceal his growing contempt for his own decision, leading to a fracture within the party that has persisted to this day.
This review is a thing of beauty, and you need to read the whole thing.

Tweet of the Day

This is in response to the NFL announcing that they are banning players kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner.

What a group of cowards.

A New Definition of Hell

Did you know that there was a high school in Pennsylvania that is punishing students for not smiling?

No, this is not The Onion. This is hell on earth:
Northern Lebanon School District students in Pennsylvania must smile while walking the hallways at the institution or they will be punished, according to a report.

Students who do not smile in the hallways between periods will be instructed to, and if they refuse, they will be sent to the guidance counselor’s office to talk through their problems, reported Lebanon Daily News. Meanwhile, parents claim that reports of bullying in the district are mostly ignored by administrators.

Teachers at the institution, who have not been named, told the news agency that Benjamin Wenger, the assistant high school principal, has been strictly enforcing the rule, though it has not yet been put into writing within the district.
It appears that the difference between kindergartners and assistant high school principals is that the latter do not have meaningful adult supervision.

And if you think that my, "Adult Supervision," comment is over the top, I would note that Mr. Wenger's boss, High School Principal Jennifer Hassler, and a colleague, Middle School Principal Brad Reist, have taken to playing catch with sex toys for their own personal amusement.  (More horrifying details at the link)

This is unbelievably f%$#ed up.

I Love This

It appears that the denizens of Silicon Valley are experiencing some butt hurt because a popular pastor in the area has described their world as an, "Elitist den of hate."

Truth hurts, don't it?

These are people who make their money from regulatory arbitrage and government subsidies (patent, copyright, not having to pay sales tax, etc), collude to hold down worker wages, bust unions, etc.

No sympathy from me:
A Silicon Valley pastor has resigned from his church after calling the city of Palo Alto an “elitist sh%$t den of hate” and criticizing the hypocrisy of “social justice” activism in the region.

Gregory Stevens confirmed on Monday that he had stepped down from the First Baptist church of Palo Alto, an LGBT-inclusive congregation, after his personal tweets calling out the contradictions of wealthy liberals in northern California surfaced at a recent council hearing.

In emails to the Guardian, the 28-year-old minister detailed his “exasperation” with Palo Alto, a city in the heart of the technology industry, surrounded by severe income inequality and poverty.

“I believe Palo Alto is a ghetto of wealth, power, and elitist liberalism by proxy, meaning that many community members claim to want to fight for social justice issues, but that desire doesn’t translate into action,” Stevens wrote, lamenting that it was impossible for low-income people to live in the city. “The insane wealth inequality and the ignorance toward actual social justice is absolutely terrifying.” He later added: “The tech industry is motivated by endless profit, elite status, rampant greed, and the myth that their technologies are somehow always improving the world.”

………

The underlying messages to Stevens’ tweets, however, touched on continuing tension in Silicon Valley, where some of the world’s wealthiest companies and entrepreneurs have pledged to better the world through innovations, yet working-class families and poor residents struggle to afford the most basic necessities. The region has one of the worst homelessness crises in the country and a huge shortage of affordable housing, forcing tens of thousands of low-income workers to commute more than 50 miles to work.

………

He argued that the church’s rich neighbors could afford to “feed and house” all the homeless people in Palo Alto and surrounding cities, but instead focused on passing laws that further criminalized this population, encouraging police to harass those sleeping outside or in cars. The city had also made it hard for the church to provide meals for the homeless by requiring costly permits, he said.

………

But Palo Alto, he said, “wanted nothing to do with actual justice and was more interested in guarding their enclave of power and wealth”, adding: “If the wealth inequalities are not addressed, any talk about climate change, homelessness, and migrant rights is in vain.”
I agree with him completely, and I would apply it more generally to the hyper-wealthy throughout the west, particularly the US.

The world has become an increasingly brutal and hypocritical place.

22 May 2018

Primary Night

Not sure what it all means, the results were more mixed than last timea few weeks ago.

Stacey Abrams is the Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia, which makes her not only the first black major party nominee for governor in the Peach State, but it also makes her the first black woman major party nominee for governor in the US.

Laura Moser lost the Congressional primary runoff in Texas to Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, the DCCC's choice for TX-7.  Fletcher is also a partner in a union-busting law firm, so I am bumming, particularly as it was not even close.

On the other hand, Lupe Valdez, former Dallas County Sheriff, won the Gubernatorial nod from the Democratic Party with an unabashedly populist pitch.

It does seem that there is a general trend this season that favors political newcomers.

My quick take is that these are mixed results, but I am neither a glass half full nor a glass half empty guy, I am an engineer, so I say that your glass is to f%$#ing big.

Speaking of Bureaucrats Lying to Legislators,

The ational Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has been lying to legislators to encourage them to dump billions into new warheads:
There are many reasons to keep certain parts of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex a secret. But fraud, waste, and abuse run rampant when the mystique and awe of nuclear bombs gets in the way of effective oversight. And it is the taxpayer who ends up suffering.

The secrets to creating a nuclear explosion and the materials to do so are kept by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy, and it has a $1.2 trillion plan to build new nuclear warheads and facilities over the next 30 years.

But new documents obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) discussing the life expectancy of nuclear weapons components show that the uranium cores may have a longer life span than originally thought. This may undermine some justifications for an expansive—and expensive—nuclear modernization plan.

Although much of the documents are redacted, likely to keep safe the most sensitive details of the U.S. nuclear enterprise, the remaining details seem to suggest that initial life-span estimates were too conservative. These initial estimates were partially used as justification for plans to build an expensive new facility and revising plans based on these findings could result in billions of savings for taxpayers.
But there’s no getting around the fact that twice now the NNSA has either obscured facts that would suggest a more limited capacity is all that’s required or has pursued an expensive plan without knowing all the facts beforehand.
In light of NNSA’s rhetoric about the aging nuclear arsenal and the desperate need for more money to modernize, POGO endeavored to determine exactly what upgrades were truly needed to support a credible nuclear deterrent. In 2013, we released a report that called for a study into the lifetime of uranium secondaries in order to determine what capacity would be required of a proposed new facility. A study would make clear how many of these secondaries would need to be manufactured in the new building. POGO’s report on the proposed Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) highlighted how the public was being kept in the dark about this number, an important justification for continued and increased funding. At the time, a number of Energy Department sources told POGO several hundred warheads had already gone through the life extension process and would not need remanufactured secondaries.
Once again I will quote Ike, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

Rule 1 of FBI Legislative Proposals is Don't Trust the FBI

Rule 2 is see rule number 1:
The FBI has repeatedly provided grossly inflated statistics to Congress and the public about the extent of problems posed by encrypted cellphones, claiming investigators were locked out of nearly 7,800 devices connected to crimes last year when the correct number was much smaller, probably between 1,000 and 2,000, The Washington Post has learned.

Over a period of seven months, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray cited the inflated figure as the most compelling evidence for the need to address what the FBI calls “Going Dark” — the spread of encrypted software that can block investigators’ access to digital data even with a court order.

The FBI first became aware of the miscount about a month ago and still does not have an accurate count of how many encrypted phones they received as part of criminal investigations last year, officials said. Last week, one internal estimate put the correct number of locked phones at 1,200, though officials expect that number to change as they launch a new audit, which could take weeks to complete, according to people familiar with the work.

“The FBI’s initial assessment is that programming errors resulted in significant over-counting of mobile devices reported,’’ the FBI said in a statement Tuesday. The bureau said the problem stemmed from the use of three distinct databases that led to repeated counting of phones. Tests of the methodology conducted in April 2016 failed to detect the flaw, according to people familiar with the work.

………

Since then, Wray has repeated the claim about 7,800 locked phones, including in a March speech. Those remarks were echoed earlier this month by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“Last year, the FBI was unable to access investigation-related content on more than 7,700 devices — even though they had the legal authority to do so. Each of those devices was tied to a threat to the American people,” Sessions said.

Officials now admit none of those statements are true.

The FBI’s admission is likely to fuel further criticism from lawmakers, privacy advocates and tech companies, and hinder the bureau’s public efforts to address encryption issues.
If you believe that this was an unintentional error, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell to you.

If law enforcement gets their way in shaping criminal justice, you get a police state, because it makes their job easier.

This is why I get paranoid about legislative initiatives from law enforcement.

It's Time for Metaphor Mania

There is a sinkhole on the White House north lawn.

There is some sort of metaphor here, but it's just out of my reach:
For all the concern over leaks at the White House, a more pressing problem might be the sinkhole on the North Lawn that appears to be growing by the day.

The pit in the ground, which was first reported by White House correspondents on site this week, appears to have opened just outside the press briefing room and deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley’s office.

Steve Herman, a reporter with Voice of America, tweeted that he first spotted the sinkhole last week. It has since grown, and another sinkhole has opened next to it.
It appears that Twitter machine is going crazy over this.

Another Magical Space Drive Bites the Dust

The "EM Drive" is alleged to provide reactionless thrust.

Someone finally set up a sensitive and repeatable test protocol, and they measured thrust.

A small fly in the ointment though, the thrust occurred without regard of how the motor was facing.

It appears that the thrust came from the current flowing to the motor, with the magnetic field of the earth acting as a stator, and no thrust came from the motor itself, but the current was pushing against the magnetic field of the earth:
It was bound to happen eventually. A group of researchers that may actually be competent and well-funded is investigating alternative thrust concepts. This includes our favorite, the WTF-thruster EM-drive, as well as something called a Mach-Effect thruster. The results, presented at Space Propulsion 2018, are pretty much as expected: a big fat meh.

The key motivation behind all of this is that rocket technology largely sucks for getting people around the Solar System. And it sucks even worse as soon as you consider the problem of interstellar travel. The result is that good people spend a lot of time eliminating even the most far-fetched ideas. The EM-drive is a case in point. It's basically a truncated hollow copper cone that you feed electromagnetic radiation into. The radiation bounces around in the cone. And, by some physics-defying magic, unicorns materialize to push you through space.

………

The key problem seemed to be that the main proponents of crazy space thrusters may actually be pretty bad at doing experiments. All in all, I would have moved on, but others are more thorough than I am.

Let the adults have a go

A group of German scientists has now gotten a reasonable amount of money under the rubric of testing all the things. Basically, because the various space agencies have whispered that no idea is too silly to ignore, we need an effective way to quickly test all the stupid space stuff on the Internet. The Germans are currently building something that is designed to do all that testing. It is an awesome bit of equipment.

First, everything is done in vacuum. And, not just the poor vacuum that you might get by attaching a Hoover to a leaky box—they can get down to a respectable billionth of atmospheric pressure. This is not world-class vacuum, but it is certainly overkill for testing the various WTF-thrusters.

Inside the vacuum, the researchers use a torsion balance attached to a calibrated spring to measure thrust. They’ve got the whole thing automated, so they can level the balance, change the tension of the spring, run calibrations on the torsion bar (they have two methods of calibration), and do tests without ever opening the box. They can even rotate the thruster during the test. Being automated, they can repeat the same measurement under the same conditions multiple times and take the average. The current system is sensitive to around 10nN (nano-Newtons) of force.

………

Testing all the things

Instead of getting ahold of someone else’s EM drive, or Mach-effect device, the researchers created their own, along with the driving electronics. Let’s start with the EM drive.

The researchers used precision machining and polishing to obtain a microwave cavity that was much better than those previously published. If anything was going to work, this would be the one. The researchers built up a very nice driving circuit that was capable of supplying 50W of power to the cavity. However, the amplifier mountings still needed to be worked on. So, to keep thermal management problems under control, they limited themselves to a couple of Watts in the current tests.

The researchers also inserted an enormous attenuator. This meant that they could, without physically changing the setup, switch on all the electronics and have the amplifiers working at full noise, and all the power would either go to the EM drive or be absorbed in the attenuator. That gives them much more freedom to determine if the thrust was coming from the drive or not.

………

WTF-thruster is a magnetic WTF-thruster

And the winner is… Physics, without much doubt. Even with a power of just a couple of Watts, the EM-drive generates thrust in the expected direction (e.g., the torsion bar twists in the right direction). If you reverse the direction of the thruster, the balance swings back the other way: the thrust is reversed. Unfortunately, the EM drive also generates the thrust when the thruster is directed so that it cannot produce a torque on the balance (e.g., the null test also produces thrust). And likewise, that “thrust” reverses when you reverse the direction of the thruster.

The best part is that the results are the same when the attenuator is put into the circuit. In this case, there is basically no radiation in the microwave cavity, yet the WTF-thruster thrusts on.

So, where does the force come from? The Earth’s magnetic field, most likely. The cables that carry the current to the microwave amplifier run along the arm of the torsion bar. Although the cable is shielded, it is not perfect (because the researchers did not have enough mu metal). The current in the cable experiences a force due to the Earth’s magnetic field that is precisely perpendicular to the torsion bar. And, depending on the orientation of the thruster, the direction of the current will reverse and the force will reverse. The researchers made some calculations, based on the location of the experiment and the amplifier current, and got a torque that agreed quite well with the measured torque.

This is, of course, not the final word. But it is an excellent cautionary tale. The thrust that the researchers measured with just a couple of Watts of power was the same as that measured previously with 50W of power. And that was all due to a shielding problem. When the amplifiers are properly mounted and the shielding is in place, it will be even more difficult to detect the thrust, because the effects of noise will grow as well. I expect a flood of null results in the next year.
They also did similarly precise tests on something called, "Mach Effect Thrusters," with similarly dismal results.

Score one for physics.

There may be some ways to cheat the laws of physics, thought Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott has always been dubious of such things, as have I.

If you think that you have a breakthrough in basic physics on the macro level,* check your experimental design and methodology.

You've probably f%$#ed something up.

*Note that one does get seemingly "magical" results from some quantum mechanical effects, but these actually reflect the theory, they are just weird, they don't actually violate the laws of physics they follow it.