The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Your mouse knows when you're lying

Via Bruce Schneier, interesting research into how to use mouse movements to detect lying:

Cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists have long noted a big "tell" in human behavior: Crafting a lie takes more mental work than telling the truth. So one way to spot lies is to check someone's reaction time.

If they're telling a lie, they'll respond fractionally more slowly than if they're telling the truth. Similarly, if you're asked to elaborate on your lie, you have to think for a second to generate new, additional lies. "You're from Texas, eh? What city? What neighborhood in that city?" You can craft those lies on the fly, but it takes a bit more mental effort, resulting in micro hesitations.

In essence, the scientists wanted to see whether they could detect -- in the mouse movements -- the hesitation of someone concocting a lie.

Turns out ... they could. The truth-tellers moved the mouse quickly and precisely to the true answer. The folks who were lying jiggered around the screen for a bit, in a sort of hemming-and-hawing adaptation of Fitts' Law.

That's kind of cool. And kind of scary.

A light story

Chicago Public Media's Curious City blog examined the city's plan to replace 270,000 sodium vapor streetlights with LEDs in the next three years:

[C]ity officials are undertaking an ambitious four-year plan to use LEDs for about 80 percent of the city’s streetlights. They hope this plan will save the cash-strapped city $100 million over a decade and improve public safety. This summer, the city will charge forward with the next phase of the plan, which will ultimately replace 270,000 lights around the city by 2021.

But critics say this isn’t a bright idea — or maybe too bright of an idea? — and they point to a growing body of science showing links between some LED lights and health and environmental problems.

Here’s a rundown of those concerns, what experts say, and how the city responded.

1. Light pollution: Will I be able to see the stars in the sky?

What’s going on? Chicago has long been one of the most light polluted cities in the world, hampering citizens’ ability to see stars, according to some scientists. Over the past year, the city has been installing a type of LED light that it says will reduce overall light pollution. Those lights clock in at 3,000 Kelvin, which is the unit used to measure light temperature with higher numbers having more blue light. But critics say those lights give off too much blue light, which can worsen light pollution, and they want the city to use LED lights that are lowered to 2,200 Kelvin with a much more orange hue.

What do the experts say? Professor Martin Aube, a Canadian physicist and light pollution researcher, says the LED lights the city is installing now could actually slightly reduce light pollution compared to the older, non-LED lights they’re replacing. But he says using 2,200-Kelvin LED lights would reduce Chicago’s light pollution by “at least 50 percent” of current levels.

Also interesting is who asked the question and how far he got on his own.

The whole truth

Former DNI James Clapper, now a private citizen (though one who knows a lot more about these things than almost everyone else), believes Russia threw our 2016 presidential election:

Clapper noted that the intelligence community’s formal 2017 assessment of Russian interference was not charged with assessing its impact. But this is exactly the point. It wasn’t the place of the intel community to place its imprimatur on this debate one way or the other. But now that Clapper is free to offer his own view, he believes Russia did swing the election — and he knows a lot more about the specifics of what Russia did than we do.

We probably will never know whether Russia’s interference — whose tip we only glimpsed in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals for their sabotage plot — was sufficient to swing the election. The result had many causes. But allow me to point out that journalists regularly suggest, on an even flimsier basis, that this or that Hillary Clinton failing caused the outcome. Yet even asking whether Russian interference — or, say, James B. Comey’s 11th-hour intervention — might have been sufficient to swing a relative handful of votes is regularly greeted with knee-slapping ridicule, even though, as Brian Beutler has noted, every journalist knows that it is absolutely plausible.

But this Clapper claim has relevance well beyond whether Russian interference was decisive. It places the ongoing efforts by Trump and his allies to frustrate an accounting of what happened in a whole new light.

The key point is this. Even if you put aside whatever the Trump campaign did or didn’t do to conspire with Russian sabotage, what’s left is this obvious fact: Trump and his GOP allies don’t want to know the full story of what Russia’s operation entailed in and of itself, because it doesn’t concern them in the least, and indeed they are engaged in an active effort to keep that story suppressed.

Why might they not want the truth to come out? I mean, if I believed I were innocent of something someone accused me of, I'd want all the evidence of my innocence possible. (Remember the dialogue in Shawshank Redemption: "Since I am innocent of this crime, I find it decidedly inconvenient that the gun was never found.")

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall is tired of equivocation about what the President and his team are actually up to:

“Norms” aren’t laws for a reason. They are like bumpers on the roads of our civic and political life which are there to keep people of basically good faith from crossing lines they shouldn’t cross. They can also be warning posts so others can see when someone is either going down a bad path or needs to be brought back into line.

One reason that “norms” aren’t laws is that sometimes new or unique sets of facts create situations in which they do not or cannot or should not apply. But the problem with almost everything President Trump is doing today is not that he’s violating norms. The problem is that he is abusing his presidential powers to cover up his crimes and his associates’ crimes. Full stop.

Don't even get him started on "conflicts of interest:"

What we’re seeing now are not conflicts of interest. They’re straight-up corruption. It’s like “norms”. Defining “conflicts of interest” is meant to keep relatively honest people on the straight and narrow or create tripwires that allow others to see when people in power cross the line. Nothing like that is happening here. We have an increasingly open effort to make vast sums of money with the presidency. It’s happening in front of our eyes, albeit not quite as visibly as the coverup.

Future historians won't have any trouble coming to these conclusions. So why are people ignoring these things right now?

Chicago coyotes: how are they thriving?

Darryl Fears, writing for the Washington Post today, highlights a new study that explains why coyotes have adapted so well to human environments:

As mountain lions and wolf packs disappeared from the landscape, coyotes took advantage, starting a wide expansion eastward at the turn of the last century into deforested land that continues today.

For reasons biologists do not quite understand, coyotes prefer open land over forest. It could be that bigger predators that kill them over territory and competition for food could better sneak up on them in forests, [Roland Kays, a research associate professor at North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences] theorized. But now, cameras have caught coyotes in forests where the apex predators have largely been removed, opening the prospect that coyotes could continue to move into territories where they have never been, such as into South America.

Unlike mountain lions, wolves and bears that were hunted to near-extinction in state-sponsored predator-control programs, coyotes do not give in easily, Kays said. “Coyotes are the ultimate American survivor. They have endured persecution all over the place. They are sneaky enough. They eat whatever they can find — insects, smaller mammals, garbage,” he said.

I've reported on coyotes before, in part because I'm happy they've found a home in Chicago. I've even seen them on my street, no more than 50 meters away from me.

The Cook County Forest Preserve District has some FAQs on coyotes, including what to do if one takes an interest in you.

Sleep in on the weekends if you can

A Swedish psychologist has preliminary data that suggest sleeping in on the weekends can make up for some sleep loss during the week, maybe:

Sleeping in on a day off feels marvelous, especially for those of us who don't get nearly enough rest during the workweek. But are the extra weekend winks worth it? It's a question that psychologist Torbjorn Akerstedt, director of the Stress Research Institute at Stockholm University, and his colleagues tried to answer in a study published Wednesday in the Journal of Sleep Research.

Akerstedt and his colleagues grouped the 38,000 Swedes by self-reports of sleep duration. Short sleepers slept for less than five hours per night. Medium sleepers slept the typical seven hours. Long sleepers, per the new study, snoozed for nine or more hours.

The researchers further divided the groups by pairing their weekday and weekend habits. Short-short sleepers got less than five hours a night all week long. They had increased mortality rates. Long-long sleepers slept nine or more hours every night. They too had increased mortality rates.

The short-medium sleepers, on the other hand, slept less than five hours on weeknights but seven or eight hours on days off. Their mortality rates were not different from the average.

Personally, getting 9 hours seems like a luxury. But I haven't been getting 7 enough lately. I have a dream that someday I will have a full week of 7+ hour nights again. I last had this happen in January.

What sort of fish are you?

When reading Josh Marshall, one has to let any phrase starting with "big" go through several levels of filters before investing a lot of emotion into it. Many things, according to Marshall, are "big deals" and "big problems" for the President. Perhaps in a normal world, they would be; but here on Bizzaro World, so many things that would have ended another politician's career bounce off Trump's hair like clichés off a hack's keyboard.

Tonight, however, he may have chosen the right adjective phrase:

[A Michael] Cohen business partner...has agreed to cooperate [with prosecutors]. Bad news for Cohen. But here’s where it gets more interesting and complicated. These are not federal charges. They’re state charges. But the agreement obligates [Evgeny "Gene"] Freidman to cooperate with state and federal prosecutors, basically on an as-needed basis.

Freidman also got a very good deal. The charges he was looking at carried, in theory, as much as a hundred years of prison time. The deal he made will allow him to avoid any jail time. He’s literally getting a get-out-of-jail-free card. ... The state is basically walking away from a very big case and it’s not clear what kind of cooperation on other state prosecutions would merit such a generous deal. Freidman is also cooperating with the feds. You don’t do that unless you have a clear understanding that the the feds won’t come at your with further indictments based on your cooperation. Finally, note that this is a prosecution out of the office of the now-disgraced ex-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who we know was working assiduously to backstop Mueller’s probe with potential state charges.

[M]y sense is that federal prosecutors probably have more than enough to indict Cohen on various bank fraud- and financial fraud-type crimes. It’s always great to have more evidence, more pressure. But the kind of deal Friedman got seems like one that assumes something more than just adding to the evidence against Cohen on those sorts of crimes.

Don't get me wrong; I've read Marshall's blog since it started in the winter of 2000. He's usually absolutely correct about the facts but never quite right about the outcomes. In this case, he might be right about both.

Japanese train station psychology

CityLab's Allan Richarz reports on the techniques Japan uses to get 13 billion passengers through its rail system each year:

Ridership of that volume requires a deft blend of engineering, planning, and psychology. Beneath the bustle, unobtrusive features are designed to unconsciously manipulate passenger behavior, via light, sound, and other means. Japan’s boundless creativity in this realm reflects the deep consideration given to public transportation in the country.

Standing at either end of a platform in Tokyo’s labyrinthine Shinjuku Station, one might detect a small square LED panel emitting a pleasant, deep-blue glow. Nestled among vending machines and safety posters, the panel might be dismissed as a bug zapper. But these simple blue panels are designed to save lives.

Operating on the theory that exposure to blue light has a calming effect on one’s mood, rail stations in Japan began installing these LED panels as a suicide-prevention measure in 2009. They are strategically located at the ends of each platform—typically the most-isolated and least-trafficked area, and accordingly, the point from which most platform jumps occur. Some stations, such as Shin-Koiwa Station in Tokyo, bolster their LED regime with colored roof panels, allowing blue-tinted sunlight to filter down on to platforms.

It is an approach that has proven to be surprisingly effective. According to a study by researchers at the University of Tokyo published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2013, data analyzed over a 10-year period shows an 84 percent decline in the number of suicide attempts at stations where blue lights are installed. A subsequent study revealed no corresponding increase in suicide attempts at neighboring stations lacking such lights.

Japan also uses short ditties to let you know your train is leaving (cf. the horrible klaxon they use at O'Hare's Blue Line stop), point-and-call safety checks, and 17 Hz infrasound at busy platforms to shoo away teenagers.

So why haven't we adopted these things here? Maybe if half of Americans commuted by train instead of by car, things might improve. Notably, the UK and other European rail-friendly countries have adopted some of these techniques.

Kim plays chess while Trump plays Chutes and Ladders

What happens when an id-driven man-child with no curiosity who loathes nuance and knowledge tries to negotiate a complex geopolitical deal with the most secretive regime in the world? One of them gets punked, bigly:

The North Koreans appear to have waited until Trump announced a date and a venue to shift gears and make clear that giving up their nuclear weapons was definitely not on the agenda. In the lead-up President Trump was veritably giddy. In late April Trump praised Kim as “very honorable” for his good faith negotiations in preparation for the summit and then later effused over his “excellent” treatment of US prisoners and how “nice” he had been to free them early. (22 year old Otto Warmbier received an unexplained fatal brain injury in North Korean custody last year.)

After all this it was just five days later when the North Koreans canceled a planning meeting and began signaling that “denuclearization” was not up for debate. It’s all pretty clear (and this was widely predicted by area experts). Kim waited and waited and waited, fluffed and fluffed and fluffed until Trump had locked himself into a time and a place before threatening to cancel and saying publicly North Korea would not give up its nuclear weapons. This way Trump is either faced with attending the summit in which the two men will meet as equals and with nuclearization not up for discussion or canceling a meeting upon which Trump has banked so much both domestically and internationally.

This might have something to do with President Trump not caring about the actual contents of the deal. He just wants a deal. Any deal. Whereas Kim really only wants legitimacy, which any photo showing him standing next to Trump will give him.

The Economist points out that this is, in fact, an old script:

South Korea’s unification ministry said the North’s about-face was “regrettable”. [South Korean president] Moon’s office did not even go that far, claiming the move was “just part of the process”. The White House said it had received no indication that the Singapore summit would not go ahead.

North Korea says the summit can proceed only if America is “sincere” about improving relations. But it is the North’s sincerity that has always been in question. At the very least, the kerfuffle is a reminder that until a few months ago, Mr Kim was seen as untrustworthy and belligerent. There is little reason to imagine he has changed.

If all it takes is for Kim to act like a reasonable negotiator for a few weeks for him to get literally everything he wants from the Trump administration, why would he behave differently?

And if Kim has even one percent more patience than Trump—not hard, given that Parker has at least ten—how difficult will this be, really?

Will we be able to undo the damage?

TPM's Zachary Roth thinks the latest developments in the Justice Department portend the end of its independence:

DOJ essentially taking orders from the president on this represents a level of political interference in the U.S. justice system that may go further even than anything else we’ve seen under Trump. It’s true that DOJ’s announcement back in March that it would probe the FISA issue came after weeks of agitation by Trump and his allies own Congress. But even that sequence of events felt less direct in terms of cause and effect than what played out on Sunday.

This isn’t to criticize Rosenstein. He may well have concluded that, given a set of bad options, the least bad was to hand the issue off to the IG, with the hope of defusing it. Trump allies are already calling it a “Potemkin investigation.”

But it’s worth recognizing what’s happened. Until Trump, it was basically thought that the appropriate response from DOJ to a demand by the president that it launch an investigation, especially on an issue of such political sensitivity, was to say: We’ll consider that on the merits like any other matter, but the president doesn’t dictate the department’s priorities.

I'm not sure things have gotten as bad as TPM thinks. (I almost never do.) But President Trump has done tremendous damage to the country's institutions already, and has two and a half years to do more. How will we fix the damage once he's finally out of office?