Thursday, May 7, 2020

Trump Doubles Down on Ending Obamacare ↦

Devlin Barrett reporting for The Washington Post:

“We want to terminate health care under Obamacare,” Trump told reporters Wednesday, the last day for his administration to change its position in a Supreme Court case challenging the law. “Obamacare, we run it really well. . . . But running it great, it’s still lousy health care.”

While the president has said he will preserve some of the Affordable Care Act’s most popular provisions, including guaranteed coverage for preexisting medical conditions, he has not offered a plan to do so, and his administration’s legal position seeks to end all parts of the law, including those provisions.

The comments are related to a case now scheduled to be argued in front of the Supreme Court which seeks to invalidate the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. The Court is unlikely to issue a ruling on the case before the November election.

The latest ACA suit was organized by Republican attorneys general in Texas and other states. When the Trump administration declined to defend the law, a coalition of Democratic-led states entered.

The case began after the Republican-led Congress in 2017, unable to secure the votes to abolish the law, reduced to zero the penalty for a person not buying health insurance. Lawyers for the state of Texas argued that in doing so, Congress had removed the essential tax element that the Supreme Court had previously ruled made the program constitutional.

A district judge in Texas agreed and said the entire law must fall. Eventually the Trump administration agreed with that assessment.

In the middle of a pandemic, Trump wants to kill health care coverage for millions of Americans. The previous efforts to repeal Obamacare were so toxic, the Republicans in Congress couldn’t pass a bill to do it in spite of being the majority in both houses during Trump’s first two years as President. Now they are asking the courts to do what they couldn’t. If it wasn’t already accompanied by a deluge of inhumanity from this Administration, it would be breathtakingly cruel.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Trump Demotes Government Scientist for Raising Alarm ↦

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Michael Balsamo, and Colleen Long reporting for the Associated Press:

Dr. Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, alleges he was reassigned to a lesser role because he resisted political pressure to allow widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug pushed by President Donald Trump. [...]

“I witnessed government leadership rushing blindly into a potentially dangerous situation by bringing in a non-FDA approved chloroquine from Pakistan and India, from facilities that had never been approved by the FDA,” Bright said Tuesday on a call with reporters. “Their eagerness to push blindly forward without sufficient data to put this drug into the hands of Americans was alarming to me and my fellow scientists.”

Dr. Bright further alleges that his attempts to spur action early on met with resistance from Trump Administration officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec. Specific efforts to acquire N95 respirator masks as early as January and February were ignored. He also alleges that there pressure to award contracts to the well-connected:

“Time after time I was pressured to ignore or dismiss expert scientific recommendations and instead to award lucrative contracts based on political connections,” Bright said in the call with reporters. “In other words, I was pressured to let politics and cronyism drive decisions over the opinions of the best scientists we have in government.”

So often, underneath the lies and incompetence constantly coming from the Trump Administration, we also find grift. He is without a doubt the most corrupt President of the modern era and very likely ever.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Amazon VP Resigns over Whistleblower Firings ↦

Kate Cox reporting for Ars Technica:

Amazon VP Tim Bray, who had been with the company for more than five years, has resigned in protest of Amazon’s treatment of warehouse workers and the firing of other employees who spoke out.

The company fired multiple warehouse and office workers in recent weeks amid organizing efforts to improve conditions in the company’s distribution centers, where individuals have contracted COVID-19. Firing the whistleblowers is “evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture,” Bray said in a blog post explaining his departure. “I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison.”

It’s quite rare for an executive to resign over worker treatment and even more rare to do so publicly. I feel that Tim Bray made the right move here.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A Trinary Star System with a Black Hole ↦

Jennifer Ouellette reporting for Ars Technica (emphasis added):

The [European Southern Observatory (ESO)] team had been conducting a study of double-star systems, and HR 6819 was included as part of their observational data-gathering since it appeared to be just such a system. But while reviewing their data, the astronomers found clear evidence of an unexpected third object in the system: a black hole that had previously eluded detection.

This black hole is the closest ever found at only 1,000 light years away. It’s also relatively small — 4 solar masses compared to an estimated 4.28±0.1 million solar masses for the black hole at the center of our galaxy. The proximity of this black hole suggests that these smaller black holes may be quite common throughout the Universe. And more specifically, these previously-unknown trinary-with-a-black-hole systems may be somewhat common as well:

“If such a system happens to be in the immediate neighborhood, it is likely common in other regions of the galaxy as well,” said Rivinius. His back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that there could be 2,500 such systems. That’s not going to clear up the large discrepancy between the black holes we’ve discovered and the number astronomers believe could be out there. “But considering so far we were not aware any such triple could exist, it is quite a step,” he added. The ESO team has already identified a second star system that might also be a trinary with a black hole, although more observational data is needed to confirm this.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Swift Supports New Linux Distributions ↦

The Swift open source project recently announced that they are now officially supporting some Linux distributions other than Ubuntu:

It is my pleasure to announce a new set of Linux distributions officially supported by the Swift project. now offers downloadable toolchain and Docker images for the following new Linux distributions:

  • Ubuntu 20.04
  • CentOS 8
  • Amazon Linux 2

The above are added to the Linux platforms we already supported:

  • Ubuntu 16.04
  • Ubuntu 18.04

To include Ubuntu 20.04 in a list of newly supported distributions when versions 16.04 and 18.04 were already supported is a bit of a stretch but it is at least fairly quick turnaround1. The support of CentOS and Amazon Linux are nevertheless most welcome.

I can’t help but point out, however, that Swift’s support of Linux remains... quirky. The downloads for all of these platforms comes in the form of a .tar.gz file that must be manually verified, expanded, resulting files moved into a desirable location in the filesystem, and added to the PATH. Why aren’t they at least offering packages (.deb for Ubuntu and .rpm for CentOS and Amazon Linux)? Where is the PPA for Ubuntu to enable apt install commands? To say nothing of persuading the distributions to themselves include Swift as they do with other languages like Python, Ruby, Go, Rust, etc.

Still, this is progress.

  1. Ubuntu 18.04 wasn’t supported until several months after it was released. 20.04 is being supported within a week or two of its release. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Stuffing a Universe Onto a Single CD‑ROM ↦

Lee Hutchinson from Ars Technica recently interviewed Rand Miller about the creation of the seminal ’90s video game Myst:

Originally available only for Macintosh computers, I had to play Myst at a friend’s house as my parent’s computer was a PC. I was immediately captivated by the surreal world created by Rand and his brother Robyn. Myst has been regularly re-released, including for iOS, so now my children have played it, too.

If you were into computers in the ’90s, and possibly even if you weren’t, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this interview.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Jay Sekulow Is the Blue-Haired Lawyer From the Simpsons

So, in case you haven’t heard, President Trump has been impeached by the House of Representatives and that impeachment is now being tried in the Senate. It’s a very serious matter, even if Mitch McConnell treats it very unseriously.

But speaking of unserious, can we just pause for a moment to reflect on something quite remarkable? One of Trump’s personal lawyers participating in his defense in the Senate is Jay Sekulow. Jay Sekulow, it turns out, bears a remarkable resemblance to the ubiquitous but anonymous blue-haired lawyer in the long-running animated series The Simpsons:

Comparing Jay Sekulow to Simpsons Lawyer

Apropos of nothing, but funny nonetheless.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Saudi Crown Prince Was Involved in Hacking Jeff Bezos’ Phone ↦

Mark Fisher of the Washington Post reports that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in hacking Jeff Bezos’ phone:

[…] on May 1 [2018], the prince sent Bezos a WhatsApp message containing a video in Arabic promoting Saudi Arabia’s telecom market. Allegedly inside the video file, according to a United Nations report released Wednesday, was a tiny, malicious piece of code that allowed the sender to extract massive amounts of information from the phone over the course of many months.

Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, which published opinion pieces from Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was later killed in October 2018 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Terry Jones Has Joined the Choir Invisible ↦

Terry Jones, most famous for being part of the legendary comedy troupe Monty Python, has passed away at the age of 77.

You may remember him as the nude organist, or as Sir Bedevere. But he also did a fantastic Karl Marx:

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

“How Swift Achieved Dynamic Linking Where Rust Couldn’t” ↦

Alexis Beingessner digs into some of the details of Swift’s recent effort to achieve ABI stability and contrasts that to Rust:

For those who don’t follow Swift’s development, ABI stability has been one of its most ambitious projects and possibly it’s defining feature, and it finally shipped in Swift 5. The result is something I find endlessly fascinating, because I think Swift has pushed the notion of ABI stability farther than any language without much compromise.


Also for context on why I’m writing this, I’m just naturally inclined to compare the design of Swift to Rust, because those are the two languages I have helped develop. Also some folks like to complain that Rust doesn’t bother with ABI stability, and I think looking at how Swift does helps elucidate why that is.

What is ABI stability and why is it important?

When the Swift developers talk about “ABI Stability” they have exactly one thing in mind: they want native system APIs for MacOS and iOS to be written in Swift, and for you to dynamically link to them. This includes dynamically linking to a single system-wide copy of the Swift Standard Library.

Ok so what’s dynamic linking? For our purposes it’s a system where you can compile an application against some abstract description of an interface without providing an actual implementation of it. This produces an application that on its own will not work properly, as part of its implementation is missing.

To run properly, it must tell the system’s dynamic linker about all of the interfaces it needs implementations for, which we call dynamic libraries (dylibs). Assuming everything goes right, those implementations get hooked up to the application and everything Just Works.

Dynamic linking is very important to system APIs because it’s what allows the system’s implementation to be updated without also rebuilding all the applications that run on it. The applications don’t care about what implementation they get, as long as it conforms to the interface they were built against.


So dynamic linking is our goal, and ABI stability is just a means to that end.

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t really follow all of the details here. I’ve never been much of a compiler nerd. My takeaway is that ABI stability is hard. Really hard. So hard, in fact, that even though Apple has wanted Swift to be ABI-stable from the beginning, it took 5 years and 5 major versions of Swift to achieve.

There are some features of Swift’s design and approach to compilation that lend themselves well to the goal of ABI stability. Even so, ABI stability and dynamic linking are complex goals even under the best of circumstances. I think this final thought from the article sums it up nicely:

Rust actually originally tried a polymorphic design similar to Swift’s, but they eventually backed off from it once the difficulties became clear. Supporting both polymorphic and monomorphic compilation helped Swift a lot, but I think the key difference was ultimately just that Apple had a more significant motivation than Mozilla to pursue dynamic linking and way more resources to throw at this very hard problem.