December 25, 2014 archive

No Jail Time for Billionaire But There Is a Bit Of Justice

As David Dayen puts it, “it isn’t prison” but the consequences are at least a bit satisfying.

Finally, a Financial Executive Is Sacked for His Company’s Misdeeds

By David Dayen, The New Republic

Lets say you run a company whose misdeeds are splashed across the pages of the business section on an almost weekly basis. you might reasonably expect to be fired without delay. But then let’s stipulate that you’re in the financial service industry. Recent history suggest that you’ll be able to keep your job and your handsome bonus, and that even if law enforcement decide to penalize the company for improprieties, somebody else – like your shareholders – will pay those fines, leaving you to continue your charmed life unscathed.

William erbey, the billionaire chairman of the mortgage serving giant Ocwen, probably thought that would be his fate as well, but he didn’t anticipate the determination of New York Superintendent of Financial Services Benjamin Lawsky. On Monday, Lawsky announced that Erbey would step down from Ocwen and four related businesses, as part of the settlement of an investigation into the companies sad enduring legacy of ripping off homeowners.

The consequences for Erbey have been huge financial losses as Ocwen shares dropped 31% “after agreeing to a settlement that prevents it from acquiring mortgage-servicing rights until the company makes improvements to satisfy New York regulators.” The company must also provide $150 million for relief to homeowners and hire a monitor who will approve the appointment of two independent directors to Ocwen’s board and continue to oversee the business.

According to Forbes, poor Erbey is no longer a billionaire:

Erbey, according to Forbes’s Real Time Wealth Rankings for billionaires, lost over $300 million on Monday causing his net worth to fall to around $800 million and knocking him out of the billionaire ranks. He was worth as much as $2.5 billion in March when we published our annual listing of the world’s wealthiest. [..]

Forbes now calculates Erbey’s net worth at $802 million, as of late afternoon trading.

As Atrios said, “it’s sad that this is all we’ll get.”  

The Breakfast Club (Last ek’smas)

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Autistic Polymath.  Yup.  Astute readers can guess where my head is at.  No spoilers, but I know.

No news either, too depressing for ek’smas, just some sciency stuff (c’mon, that’s at least as good as timey whimey).

I am filling my TV with Mythbusters Marathon goodness.  Beats dealing with relative(aties).

That Old PlayStation Can Aid Science

By LAURA PARKER, The New York Times

DEC. 22, 2014

Making a supercomputer requires a large number of processors – standard desktops, laptops or the like – and a way to network them. Dr. Khanna picked the PlayStation 3 for its viability and cost, currently, $250 to $300 in stores. Unlike other game consoles, the PlayStation 3 allows users to install a preferred operating system, making it attractive to programmers and developers. (The latest model, the PlayStation 4, does not have this feature.)

“Gaming had grown into a huge market,” Dr. Khanna said. “There’s a huge push for performance, meaning you can buy low-cost, high-performance hardware very easily. I could go out and buy 100 PlayStation 3 consoles at my neighborhood Best Buy, if I wanted.”

That is just what Dr. Khanna did, though on a smaller scale. Because the National Science Foundation, which funds much of Dr. Khanna’s research, might not have viewed the bulk buying of video game consoles as a responsible use of grant money, he reached out to Sony Computer Entertainment America, the company behind the PlayStation 3. Sony donated four consoles to the experiment; Dr. Khanna’s university paid for eight more, and Dr. Khanna bought another four. He then installed the Linux operating system on all 16 consoles, plugged them into the Internet and booted up the supercomputer.

Dr. Khanna’s observations caught the attention of the Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, N.Y., whose scientists were investigating PlayStation 3 processors. In 2010, the lab built its own PlayStation 3 supercomputer using 1,716 consoles to conduct radar image processing for urban surveillance. “Our PS3 supercomputer is capable of processing the complex computations required to create a detailed image of an entire city from radar data,” said Mark Barnell, the director of high performance computing at the Air Force Research Laboratory. The lab later entered into a cooperative research-and-development agreement with Dr. Khanna’s team, donating 176 PlayStation 3 consoles.

His team linked the consoles, housing them in a refrigerated shipping container designed to carry milk. The resulting supercomputer, Dr. Khanna said, had the computational power of nearly 3,000 laptop or desktop processors, and cost only $75,000 to make – about a tenth the cost of a comparable supercomputer made using traditional parts.

Dr. Khanna has since published two more papers on black hole collisions with results from simulations on the PlayStation 3 supercomputer. Later this year, another 220 consoles from the Air Force lab will arrive. While the plan is to use the consoles to perform more involved and accurate simulations of black hole systems, Dr. Khanna has invited colleagues from other departments to use the supercomputer for their own projects: An engineering team, for example, has signed on to conduct simulations that will help design better windmill blades and ocean wave energy converters, and the university’s math department would like to use the supercomputer as a tool to attract students into areas like computational math and science.

But the PlayStation 3 supercomputer isn’t suited to all scientific applications. Its biggest limitation is memory: The consoles have very little compared with traditional supercomputers, meaning they cannot handle large-scale calculations. One alternative is to switch to an even better processor, like PC graphics cards. These are also low-cost and extremely powerful – each card is the equivalent of 20 PlayStation 3 consoles in terms of performance.

Do Aliens Know It’s Christmas?

Dennis Overbye, The New York Times

DEC. 22, 2014

If your dog can go to heaven, can E. T.? Astronomers have discovered in the last two decades that there are probably tens of billions of potentially habitable planets in the Milky Way. Only last week, NASA scientists reported that Mars had blown a methane sigh into the face of the Curiosity rover, though whether from microbes or geochemical grumblings may not be known until there are geologists’ boots on the Red Planet.

This has engendered a sort of how-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin argument about whether Christ died for the entire cosmos, or whether the son of God or the metaphysical equivalent has to be born and die on every populated planet.

Each alternative sounds ridiculous on the face of it. The first alternative would make Earth the center of the universe again, not just in space but in time, carrying the hopes for the salvation of beings that lived and died millions or billions of years ago and far, far away.

The second alternative would be multiple incarnations, requiring every civilization to have its own redeemer – “its own adventure with God,” in the words of Professor Peters. That is hardly better. As the old troublemaker Thomas Paine wrote in “The Age of Reason,” “In this case, the person who is irreverently called the son of God, and sometimes God himself, would have nothing else to do than to travel from world to world, in an endless succession of deaths, with scarcely a momentary interval of life.”

In “The Star,” published in 1955, an expedition to the site of an old supernova explosion discovers the remains of an ancient civilization, carefully preserved because its members knew they were about to be obliterated. The story is told through the eyes of the astrophysicist onboard, a Jesuit. He is able to figure out exactly when the explosion that doomed this race took place, and exactly what it would have looked like 2,000 years ago from Earth.

“There can be no reasonable doubt,” he concludes, “the ancient mystery is solved at last. Yet, oh God, there were so many stars you could have used. What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?”

Restoring a Master’s Voice

George Johnson, The New York Times

DEC. 22, 2014

After reading about the case of Anna O., made famous by Sigmund Freud, Pavlov began contemplating neurosis in a dog. Freud believed that Anna’s condition – hysteria, it was called back then – arose from the stress of caring for her dying father. She was devastated by his plummeting health yet determined to repress her grief and maintain a cheerful face. The result of these opposing psychological forces, as Freud saw it, was a nervous breakdown.

Pavlov thought he recognized a similar phenomenon in a dog named Vampire. The animal had been trained, through salivation experiments, to react differently to two images: an ellipse and a circle. One shape would be reinforced, the other suppressed. As the ellipses were made increasingly rounder and less oval-like, the task grew harder until finally Vampire could not tell the two shapes apart.

And so the poor dog snapped. Originally calm by nature, he began yelping and running in circles, habitually barking for no apparent reason and drooling copiously. Like Anna O., he was caught between two impulses – excitation from the circle and inhibition from the ellipse.

As his theories developed, Pavlov proposed that behavior in dogs and in people could be explained through half a dozen such processes. But he was soon overwhelmed by the complications. Even dogs, he came to realize, had different personalities. Early on, he counted three “nervous types,” a number that later grew to more than 25.

“The time will come – and it will be such a wonderful moment – when everything becomes clear,” he wrote in a moment of anticipation. And yet, as his biographer notes, “the opposite proved true.” As his lab expanded, with more scientists, dogs and experiments, Pavlov was cursed by a proliferation of variables. “There are now before us many more questions than there were earlier,” he said. “We are surrounded – nay crushed – by a mass of details demanding explanation.”

Fuel Rods Are Removed From Damaged Fukushima Reactor

By MARTIN FACKLER, The New York Times

DEC. 20, 2014

Tokyo Electric Power Company, removed the last remaining fuel rods from the ruined No. 4 reactor building, putting the rods inside a large white container for transportation to another, undamaged storage pool elsewhere on the plant’s grounds. The company, known as Tepco, had put a high priority on removing the No. 4 unit’s some 1,500 fuel rods because they sat in a largely unprotected storage pool on an upper floor of the building, which had been gutted by a powerful hydrogen explosion during the March 2011 accident.

Tepco still faces the far more challenging task of removing the ruined fuel cores from the three reactors that melted down in the accident. These reactors were so damaged – and their levels of radioactivity remain so high – that removing their fuel is expected to take decades. Some experts have said it may not be possible at all, and have called instead for simply encasing those reactors in a sarcophagus of thick concrete.

The fuel cores from those three reactors, Nos. 1-3, are believed to have melted like wax as the uncooled reactors overheated, forming lumps on the bottom of the reactor vessels. Scientists have warned that the hot, molten uranium may have even melted through the metal containment vessels, possibly reaching the floor of the reactor buildings or even the earth beneath.

Ancient Stone Tool a Clue to Early Human Migrations

by Tia Ghose, Live Science

December 24, 2014 12:45pm ET

Archaeologists working in Turkey have unearthed a 1.2-million-year-old stone tool.

“This discovery is critical for establishing the timing and route of early human dispersal into Europe,” study author Danielle Schreve, an archaeologist at the Royal Holloway University of London, said in a statement. “Our research suggests that the flake is the earliest securely-dated artifact from Turkey ever recorded and was dropped on the floodplain by an early hominin well over a million years ago.”

Stone tools are some of the longest-lasting evidence of ancient human culture, and their workmanship can reveal much about the intelligence and lifestyle of human ancestors. The oldest stone tools are about 2.6 million years old, and the style of their workmanship is called Oldowan, after the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania where they were found, according to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Later, about 1.7 million years ago, ancient hominins such as Homo erectus began making more sophisticated tools, such as hand axes, scrapers and flaked tools.

Google in tussle with state attorney general after Sony leaks

By Grant Gross, IDG News Service

Dec 23, 2014 7:48 PM PT

The recent data breach at Sony Pictures Entertainment has prompted a war of words between Google and the U.S movie industry, with the Internet giant accusing a state attorney general of collaborating with movie studios in a copyright enforcement campaign against it.

Google on Friday asked the court to throw out the subpoena, days after the company accused Hood of using Motion Picture Association of America lawyers to draft a letter accusing Google of profiting from online piracy and illegal drug sales.

The movie studios have long accused Google of not doing enough to stop online distribution of pirated films. The latest tiff started after emails released by Sony hackers showed the MPAA, Sony and five other large movie studios worked together to attack a company code-named Goliath, widely believed to be Google.

The multi-year campaign by the studios would “rebut Goliath’s public advocacy” and “amplify negative Goliath news,” the Verge reported in mid-December. The campaign included an effort to work with state attorneys general and major ISPs to control the flow of data online, the Verge reported.

News reports about the MPAA’s Goliath campaign prompted Google general counsel Kent Walker, in a blog post last Thursday, to accuse the MPAA and Hood of trying to revive the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act SOPA], the antipiracy bill killed in the Congress in early 2012 [after massive online protests.

FBI warned Year Ago of impending Malware Attacks-But Didn’t Share Info with Sony

By Jana Winter, The Intercept


Nearly one year before Sony was hacked, the FBI warned that U.S. companies were facing potentially crippling data destruction malware attacks, and predicted that such a hack could cause irreparable harm to a firm’s reputation, or even spell the end of the company entirely.  The FBI also detailed specific guidance for U.S. companies to follow to prepare and plan for such an attack.

But the FBI never sent Sony the report.

The FBI warning from December 2013 focuses on the same type of data destruction malware attack that Sony fell victim to nearly a year later.  The report questions whether industry was overly optimistic about recovering from such an attack and notes that some companies “wondered whether [a malware attack] could have a more significant destructive impact: the failure of the company.”

In fact, the 2013 report contains a nearly identical description of the attacks detailed in the recent FBI release. “The malware used deleted just enough data to make the machines unusable; the malware was specifically written for Korean targets, and checked for Korean antivirus products to disable,” the Dec. 2013 report said. “The malware attack on South Korean companies defaced the machine with a message from the ‘WhoIs Team.'”

Sony Hack Reveals That MPAA’s Big ‘$80 Million’ Settlement With Hotfile Was A Lie

by Mike Masnick, Tech Dirt

Wed, Dec 24th 2014 12:09pm

For years, we’ve pointed out that the giant “settlements” that the MPAA likes to announce with companies it declares illegal are little more than Hollywood-style fabrications. Cases are closed with big press releases throwing around huge settlement numbers, knowing full well that the sites in question don’t have anywhere near that kind of money available. At the end of 2013, it got two of these, with IsoHunt agreeing to ‘pay’ $110 million and Hotfile agreeing to ‘pay’ $80 million. In both cases, we noted that there was no chance that those sums would ever get paid. And now, thanks to the Sony hack, we at least know the details of the Hotfile settlement. TorrentFreak has been combing through the emails and found that the Hotfile settlement was really just for $4 million, and the $80 million was just a bogus number agreed to for the sake of a press release that the MPAA could use to intimidate others.

Still, is it any surprise that the industry famous both for its fictional “Hollywood Endings” and “Hollywood Accounting” where a hit movie like one of the Harry Potter films can bring in nearly a billion dollars, but still have a “loss” for accounting purposes, would create a made-up scenario in which everyone pretends many tens of millions of dollars are paid due to “infringement”?

Irony: Sony Turns To Google, The Company It Was Plotting Against, To Stream The Interview

by Mike Masnick, Tech Dirt

Wed, Dec 24th 2014 10:57am

To me, the biggest story to come out of the Sony Hack remains how the MPAA and the major studios were conspiring to attack Google by paying for state Attorneys General to drum up silly investigations of the company. Most everyone else in the press seems much more focused on the gossip and, of course, what happens to The Interview, the Seth Rogen/James Franco movie that some think was the reason for the hack in the first place (even if the evidence on that remains questionable). Either way, as you know, Sony briefly shelved the plans to release the movie (which has fairly dreadful reviews from those who have seen it), but then decided to allow a few independent theaters to show it, followed by the announcement this morning that it would stream the movie via YouTube.

There are lots of bizarre story lines related to this — including, apparently, Apple turning Sony down when approached with a similar deal for iTunes. Or the whole idea of how this might actually show the Hollywood studios the value of releasing movies online at the same time as in theaters (a message many have been trying to send Hollywood for ages, which Hollywood is quite resistant to). And, of course, there’s the whole story line about a giant company being bullied by a few stray threats about showing the film in theaters, which almost no one thinks were serious.

Still, the story that is most fascinating to me is tying this whole thing back to that original story, about “Project Goliath” and the plan to conspire to attack Google — and the fact that when Sony needed to find a place to stream the film, it turned to YouTube, a Google-owned company. Huh. Of course, this fits with the long history of the legacy entertainment industry lashing out and attacking the creators of the innovations that industry most needs. The recording industry attacked radio when it first came on the scene, though it eventually enabled the music industry to grow so big. Hollywood, famously, claimed the VCR was “the Boston Stranger” to the movie industry — yet four years after that statement was made, home video brought in more revenue for Hollywood than the box office. The RIAA sued one of the first MP3 players, yet digital music is a major, growing source of revenue these days. And, of course, Viacom engaged in a many years-long battled with YouTube.

How The CIA’s Torture Program Is Destroying The Key Foreign Power The US Had: The Moral High Ground

by Mike Masnick, Tech Dirt

Wed, Dec 24th 2014 7:39pm

Over a year ago, we wrote about a wonderful piece in Foreign Affairs by Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore, noting that the real “danger” of the Snowden and Manning revelations was that it effectively killed off the US’s ability to use hypocrisy as a policy tool.

The argument that Farrell and Finnemore made was that the revelations that came about because of the whistleblowing by Snowden and Manning made it such that this hypocrisy didn’t function as well, because it made it much easier for others to simply call bullshit.

Now, a new article at Foreign Policy, by Kristin Lord, takes this argument even further, by looking at the CIA torture program and how it has totally undermined America’s “soft power” in diplomacy. Lord, thankfully, makes it quite clear that the problem here is the CIA’s program and not (as some have tried to argue) the release of the report about the program.

The basic stated values of the US are something worth spreading and perpetuating. But the only way you can legitimately do that is to admit when the country has strayed from those values, and that means a true and honest accounting of where things went wrong, along with a transparent and concrete plan for dealing with those failings and making sure they don’t happen again. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be happening, and many in power don’t seem to understand the damages this is doing to the US’s power around the globe.


Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

I would never make fun of LaEscapee or blame PhilJD.  And I am highly organized.

This Day in History

Technology Oriented Video!

On This Day In History December 25

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

December 25 is the 359th day of the year (360th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are six days remaining until the end of the year. This day is commonly known as Christmas Day.

On this day in 1818, the first performance of “Silent Night” takes place in the church of St. Nikolaus in Oberndorf, Austria.

The song was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village on the Salzach river. The young priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had come to Oberndorf the year before. He had already written the lyrics of the song “Stille Nacht” in 1816 at Mariapfarr, the hometown of his father in the Salzburg Lungau region, where Joseph had worked as a coadjutor.

The melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf. Before Christmas Eve, Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the church service. Both performed the carol during the mass on the night of December 24.

The original manuscript has been lost. However a manuscript was discovered in 1995 in Mohr’s handwriting and dated by researchers at ca. 1820. It shows that Mohr wrote the words in 1816 when he was assigned to a pilgrim church in Mariapfarr, Austria, and shows that the music was composed by Gruber in 1818. This is the earliest manuscript that exists and the only one in Mohr’s handwriting.

Iron Santa

I am Santa Claus!

Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!

Flying through the snow

Can you hear him “Ho, ho, ho?”

He’s so full of cheer

Only has to work one day a year

Children in their beds

Visions of sugar plums fill their heads

So many kids out there

Santa must be a billionaire

Red suit, boots of black

Big sack of toys hangin’ off his back

How much does he weigh?

How do the reindeer pull his sleigh?

Nobody sees him

As he travels the world

Leaving his presents

For the good boys and girls

Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!

Sees every move you make

Better be good, for goodness’ sake

Leave him cookies and beer

He’ll be back to your house first next year

I am Santa Claus

Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!

Late Night Karaoke