2018 December 13

originally posted on facebook

(See previous post)

After Democrats won every state-wide election in Wisconsin, the Republican controlled legislature rushed into law hundreds of pages of new legislation to cripple the executive branch by embroiling it in red tape and giving the legislative branch authority to directly intervene into numerous specific activities of the executive branch. (See previous post and links below for how rushed it was.)

The bills contain provisions that would reschedule a primary election, at an estimated cost of $7 million which would be borne by counties and cities without state assistance, to a time more favorable to a Republican candidate for the state supreme court. (A letter opposing this was signed by more than 60 of the 72 county clerks.) The bills would limit early voting, almost identically to a previous bill that was struck down as unconstitutional. They lower taxes on those making more than about $250k/year. They move control over how the state handles most legal actions, particularly federal lawsuits, from the Attorney General to the legislature. (This particularly affects ongoing suits regarding the Affordable Care Act.) They prevent the governor from re-nominating someone for any office once they’ve been voted down by the senate. They allow the legislature to demand financial analyses of any proposed rule by an executive agency. They reduce the ability of the governor to control how funds are spent on (e.g. infrastructure) project, and limit the use of federal funds for such projects so that federal rules (on e.g. worker safety or wages) don’t apply as often. They limit the ability for the governor to implement ACA, or to undo contractions of medicaid. They create voter ID requirements.

Discussion at 44m10s: Opening Arguments

Rushed-ness and more info:






2018 December 13

originally posted on facebook

Context and comments to follow:

"I would first invite the committee to perk up a little bit. If this is a long day you’ve had an easy life, because there are Wisconsinites who’ve been on their feet when we got up this morning and they’ll still be working when we go home tonight, and they’re doing it for a lot less money than we make, because they’re not making a living wage. …

I am the state co-chair of Our Revolution Wisconsin, a non-partisan group with one aim, and that is to restore democracy in the state of Wisconsin because we’re well aware it does not exist in its current state. And as an organizer, there’s always that, that fear of what you’re going to do if people lose attention, when they lose focus, after an election. So unlike others that have spoken to you today I’m going to thank you, for these ridiculous bills. For all this attention! …

This is a pointless short-term power grab that has been chosen in place of adult, bipartisan governance. … The most disgusting thing about this is the attack on elections themselves. My father spent 30 years in the United States Army and was a veteran before he had the right to vote in his home state of Georgia. And what you’re doing to deployed servicemen and veterans in this state is disgusting. I will keep fighting the same way that my father did for this country and for our rights, the same way that my brothers do as marines, as police officers; I will plant my flag and die for this, I will make sure that my people vote everywhere in this state.

Before this election, we reached out to all 72 county clerks in the state of Wisconsin to see if they needed help, and I was wondering what unifying issue I was going to bring to every municipal clerk this spring: Thank you. Thank you so much, for starving them of resources, for disrespecting their wishes, and for making holding a legal election almost impossible. Beyond anything else, all you’ve done is remind us that we need to never take our eyes off of you. There is not a moment in this state that we can rest on our laurels. This will not work. We will restore democracy in this state. This moment of power that you have before we get fair maps – and we will get fair maps – will be remembered, and corrected. Not vindictively, not in the way this party operates. But out of fairness and concern and love for our neighbors, which is how things should be governed in the state of Wisconsin. Thank you." -Terrence Warthen

On Fri Nov 30 at 5pm, after Democrats won every state-wide election in Wisconsin, the Republicans on the Wisconsin legislature announced hundreds of pages of new legislation that would cripple the incoming Democratic executive branch (details forthcoming). The bills were rushed through committee Monday night Dec 3, after 10 hours combined of public hearing and debate, and then passed into law 8am Wednesday.

The above quote is from the public testimony given at the hearing; at 5h47m in this video: http://www.wiseye.org/Video-Archive/Event-Detail/evhdid/12961

There was a lot of dramatic rhetoric, especially from the public testimony, but also the Democrats on the committee in session. While I don’t suggest watching all of it, I watched enough that I now have favorites (maybe Rep. Katrina Shankland: “Wow [the state is] delivering an unfunded, ridiculous mandate to you [cities] in order to rig a supreme court election, to give political preference to Republicans, weren’t not going to send you the money to help you administer this election, we’re just going to leave you hanging dry. So all the municipalities have to fund this from their own local pot of money that then would take away from local services, garbage pickup, paving their roads, nursing homes.” … “You guys are going crazy here, it’s like gremlins past midnight.” 2h30m)

One more excerpt, this time best with video, from someone who repeatedly demands the Republicans look her in the eye (3h51m):

“I’m speaking mainly to the Republicans here, because I believe there is something you don’t understand. And that is that you lost! You lost! You lost! And democrats were more votes, but less representation. So, the problem is you can’t let go of power. And you’re stealing! You think you’re stealing from Governor Evers, but you’re not, you’re stealing from the people, and Miss Vukmir over there, I’ve looked at this panel for six hours, you can look at us!” -Jan G—-

2018 December 02

originally posted on facebook

Evidence of systematic election fraud has been found in the North Carolina 9th House district. Multiple voters have given sworn affidavits that they witnessed improper election behavior, including the collection of absentee ballots by third parties (which is illegal). 538 lays out the very clear statistical signs of fraudulent voting, which are also apparent in the previous two elections in this district.



2018 October 25

originally posted on facebook

Infrared image of Category 5 Yutu as it struck the US earlier today.


2018 October 13

originally posted on facebook

In 2010, the Catholic church excommunicated a nun for authorizing an abortion at a Catholic hospital where she worked as an administrator. (The woman who received the abortion would have died without it, and was too ill to move to another hospital.) Excommunications are very rare; wikipedia lists about one per year. The article points out that not a single priest has been excommunicated for child abuse, although this is no longer true – the sole exception is an Argentinian priest who was excommunicated after being convicted of sexual abuse of five children.

While this incident ended well – the patient’s life was saved – other patients can be less fortunate and have their medical care in the hands of a doctor or administrator who makes decisions based on Catholic doctrine instead of medicine. This incident is part of a larger pattern of a growing fraction of Americans, particularly in rural regions, only having access to a Catholic hospital, and thus being subjected to the Catholic church’s regressive and immoral practices.




2018 October 01

originally posted on facebook

Some researchers at Penn State in the 90s decided that using nuclear bombs for spacecraft propulsion (“Project Orion”) was not a crazy enough idea, and proposed igniting the nuclear bombs with antimatter. Each bomb would contain a microgram of antihydrogen to serve as a detonator, replacing the plutonium primary stage of a traditional design; the secondary stage could be fission or fusion.

Surprisingly there are actual advantages to this approach, although with the downsides that we currently have no technology for making enough antihydrogen, and that the fuel would detonate if looked at sternly.


2018 September 19

originally posted on facebook


2018 August 22

originally posted on facebook

Big oil asks government to protect it from climate change


2018 August 22

originally posted on facebook

Just read Cohen’s plea agreement. In addition to the well-publicized campaign finance violations, he admitted to underpaying $1.5 million in taxes and lying to a bank to illegally obtain loans. The agreement recommends 4-5 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines (on top of restitution).

The unreported income is mostly in connection to his extensive taxi medallion business, but also includes (among others) $30k in income for brokering the sale of a single handbag (a “Birkin bag”).

According to the plea agreement, Cohen says he did in fact get the $130k from home equity, as previously claimed… only now he admits the loan was illegally obtained.

The Trump Organization agreed to pay Cohen $420k to reimburse him for the $130k settlement with Stormy Daniels, and asked him to produce fraudulent invoices for “retainer” fees of $35k / month for 2017. Trump has made public statements that Cohen was paid a retainer like so. Note that if this money had actually been a retainer, use of it in this way (without properly notifying one’s client) would have been very disbarrable and probably illegal.

Unresolved matters:

  1. The agreement does not shed light on whether Keith Davidson was colluding with Cohen.
  2. I still have seen no explanation for the transactions that make it appear that Cohen laundered $130k from the Trump Campaign immediately before paying Stormy Daniels.
  3. Last I heard, Stormy Daniels’s own legal case against Cohen was on hold pending this case. I guess it will resume soon?
  4. In May, Trump disclosed in his personal liabilities report having paid Cohen an amount in the range $101k-$250k. It’s unclear to me whether the inconsistent amount is significant.


Update: It looks like the inconsistent amount I mentioned in point 4 is likely to be a violation of something or other:


2018 August 17

originally posted on facebook

“A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

According to the study below, around 5% to 40% of respondents gave the answer “5 cents”, varying from one survey to another. Asking for both the price of the bat and the ball did not improve the accuracy. When further asked if their answers differed by $1, 86% of those who said the bat was $1 and the ball was 10 cents claimed that their answers differed by $1.

When forced to choose between either 5 cents or 10 cents, the percentage correct increased from 10% to 19%.

Returning to the original problem, giving a massive bold warning to check one’s answer carefully did not significantly change the correct response rate. When instead being told specifically “Hint: 10 cents is not the answer”, the percentage correct surged from 38% to 67%, with the percentage answering 10 cents dropping from 54% to 20%.

Being specifically instructed to consider that the answer might be 5 cents increased the percentage correct from 12% to 32%. (Although, 8% of participants chose 33 cents when asked to consider if the answer is 33 cents.) https://law.yale.edu/system/files/area/workshop/leo/document/Frederick_Bat-BallProblem.pdf

2018 August 05

originally posted on facebook

I saw a paper that used the symbol \theta_{\beta_{k + 2}^{-1} (j_{**})}^{M, n}:

\theta_{\beta_{k + 2}^{-1} (j_{**})}^{M, n}

2018 August 04

originally posted on facebook

Prior to 2000, civilian GPS had an intentional error of about 100 meters… except during the 1991 Kuwait War, when the US military didn’t have enough military GPS receivers, so they turned off the error for civilian receivers. (GPS played an important role in that war by allowing the US to rapidly advance through large expanses of barren desert at night.) Nowadays the US military uses jamming of GPS signals to maintain a GPS advantage.


2018 July 02

originally posted on facebook

Of the 300000 documents seized in the raid on Michael Cohen, only 7 were found to be subject to attorney-client privilege related to Cohen being an attorney. So, while Trump has characterized Cohen as his “personal attorney”, the overwhelming majority of the work that Cohen performed was not in the capacity of being a lawyer.

It is clear from this, if it were not clear already, that Cohen is in very deep legal trouble. The question then is what material in the documents implicates Trump and others (or whether Cohen will testify against him).

In fact, 149 documents were found to be subject to attorney-client privilege related to Cohen being a client of an outside attorney. So Cohen has been much more a client of another lawyer than a lawyer himself.


2018 July 01

originally posted on facebook

The early Earth produced somewhat more geothermal heat, before most of the initial heat of formation was dissipated and short-lived radioactive isotopes depleted. This made possible higher temperature Komatiite lava which had a vicosity close to water and flowed rapidly in sheets as thin as 1cm.

The only known volcano in human history to produce carbonatite lava is Ol Doinyo Lengai in Tanzania. The lava is so cold (510 C) that it is black instead of glowing red, and it also flows like water. And there is video of it!

In 2009 the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project struck liquid magma, leading to the first magma-powered geothermal system.





2018 June 15

originally posted on facebook

On the subject of people pardoning themselves, in 1856 the governor of Washington Territory pardoned himself of a $50 fine he was levied by territorial judge Edward Lander for the offense of having Lander arrested twice (in retribution for unfavorable court findings).

We’ve known for a while that the Trump Foundation is a sham charity that Trump uses as a personal fund. Yesterday, it was indicted in state court for just that: “the Investigation revealed that the Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments to not-for-profits from Mr. Trump or the Trump Organization. This resulted in multiple violations of state and federal law because payments were made using Foundation money regardless of the purpose of the payment. Mr. Trump used charitable assets to pay off the legal obligations of entities he controlled, to promote Trump hotels, to purchase personal items, and to support his presidential election campaign.”.

One of the new things in this indictment is a handwritten note, signed by Trump, ordering the foundation to pay $100k to cover a lawsuit Trump had settled – a lawsuit in which Trump had sued the other party for $25m.

Upcoming today: Paul Manafort will have his pretrial release from jail revoked due to witness tampering.



Opening Arguments

2018 June 05

originally posted on facebook

Until radar observations in 1965, Mercury was believed to be in 1:1 tidal locking with the Sun instead of 3:2 because Mercury could be only be observed optically every other Mercury year.

Thanks to the high eccentricity of Mercury, the hottest temperatures on Mercury can be found only at 0N, 0W and 0N, 180W, on alternating years (there are two Mercury years to a Mercury day). At those points, the Sun goes directly overhead about an Earth week before Solar noon, then goes overhead backwards at Solar noon, then goes overhead forwards again after Solar noon. Effectively, the Sun stops overhead for several weeks when Mercury is at perihelion.

In 2012 NASA confirmed the existence of permanent ice on Mercury; this is possible because Mercury has the least axial tilt of any planet. (This is the same reason the coldest observed temperatures in the solar system are on the Moon.)

John Bevis is the only person known to have observed a planetary occultation, seeing Venus occult Mercury for a few seconds in 1737 between gaps in the clouds.

The next visible occultation will be in 2079. There will be one in July 2067, but it is only visible from the North Pole, which will (A) be in sunlight and (B) be underwater. The previous occultation was in 1818.

More trivia: asteroids 13579 and 24680 are respectively named “Allodd” and “Alleven”. Asteroid 2309 “Mr. Spock” led to the IAU explicitly disallowing names after pets… Mr. Spock being the name of the discoverer’s cat.

2018 May 23

originally posted on facebook

Cambridge friends: on June 1-14, Somerville Theater will be showing “2001: A Space Odyssey”. If you are interested in joining me, let me know!

Fun fact: Hal’s eye was a working camera which was used for several shots – but not for Hal’s perspective, as those shots required a fish-eye lens.

YouTube Trailer


2018 May 17

originally posted on facebook

In 1770 it was proven that every positive integer is a sum of at most four perfect squares (and no fewer suffices). In 1912 it was proven that every positive integer is a sum of at most 9 positive cubes (and no fewer suffices). Then in 1940 it was proven for 73 sixth-powers; then in 1964 for 36 positive fifth-powers; then in 1986 for 19 fourth-powers. A formula for the number of k-th powers, k > 6, was conjectured in 1944, and proven to have at most finitely many exceptions in 1957. As of 1990 it is known the conjecture is sound up until k = 471 million.

What made fourth powers so hard?


Presumably unrelated, but four dimensions are generally weird topologically:


2018 April 04

originally posted on facebook

Just listened to the latest Opening Arguments podcast on the latest legal jeopardies of Trump:

  1. The Stormy Daniels case was moved to federal court, but in so doing Trump effectively admitted in court to being DD, thus making him vulnerable to the previously mentioned legal difficulties (violation of campaign contribution laws, and admission that Daniels possess material damaging to Trump that was enumerated in the original settlement, e.g. text messages and pictures). Daniels’ lawyer has filed a request for jury trial within 90 days to settle the question of whether the settlement and its arbitration clause are enforceable; notably whether an arbitration clause is legit is not something an arbitrator can decide. He also requested as part of discovery 2 hours sworn deposition with each Trump and Cohen and 10 documents; this is apparently a much smaller request than would be standard.
  2. The Maryland emoluments case was not dismissed, so will proceed to discovery. The plaintiffs have requested Trump’s tax returns, among other documents.
  3. With Alex van der Zwaan’s conviction and sentencing comes the news that he (and now Mueller) possessed tapes of Richard Gates (Trump’s then-deputy campaign manager) talking with someone that Gates knew was a Russian intelligence official.

Opening Arguments

2018 April 04

originally posted on facebook

I thought I was unique but apparently I’m not even the only person named Eric from Indiana who wrote a roguelike game in Haskell!


2018 March 27

originally posted on facebook

Something I learned today: every meaning of the English word “check” (e.g. to verify against a list, to limit, to block in sports, a money order, a restaurant bill) ultimately comes from “checkmate” in chess, which is from Persian “the king is dead” or “the king is helpless”. This is true of both “cheque” and “exchequer”, although those two diverged earlier than one might think: the latter is named after the checkered pattern of cloth that financial transactions were done on, and the spelling of the former was likely changed to mimic the latter.

2018 March 23

originally posted on facebook

Current Stormy Daniels status/updates:

  1. The $130k settlement was ultimately paid by the Trump campaign (and laundered through the Trump organization through a series of 5 payments marked eg “Facility rental / catering services” that totaled $129,999.72). Michael Cohen has explicitly denied any involvement by the Trump campaign or organization. [1][2]
  2. Here is a podcast in which a lawyer discusses all the various ways that the settlement would be illegal if the “DD” of the settlement is Trump. [3]
  3. Michael Cohen’s lawyer explicitly stated that Trump is “DD”, and Sanders heavily implies it. [4][5]
  4. What’s upcoming: Trump supposedly has about 60 days to act in the ongoing court case, which would require admitting to being “DD”, and thus that the settlement was a violation of election financial disclosure laws etc. Failing to act would presumably void the settlement, and thus lead to the same outcome.

[1]  https://viewfromll2.com/2018/03/11/on-the-origins-of-stormy-danielss-130k-settlement-payment-and-the-probability-of-the-disbursement-records-matching-the-settleme

[2]  https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a19366207/michael-cohen-trump-lawyer/

[3]  Opening Arguments

Opening Arguments

[4]  https://lawandcrime.com/high-profile/michael-cohens-lawyer-struggles-to-explain-stormy-daniels-agreement-in-explosive-interview-watch/

[5]  CNN

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