Friday, February 25, 2005

REAL ID Act of 2005

On Feb 10, 2005, the US House of Representatives passed the REAL ID Act of 2005. Parts of this bill came from the 9-11 commission's recommendations.

I've seen articles saying things like Mohammad Atta, was in the country on a six-month visa, but was able to get a Florida driver's license good for six years. And since driver's licenses are typically all that's needed for such things as buying guns or getting on an airplane, such loopholes could prove to be a very bad thing indeed. Though I thought the driver's license was used to prove your identity so a check could be done, there's a big difference. This article can't be suggesting that people here on visas shouldn't be able to fly, could it?

But the astounding part is Section 102 which basically makes the appointed Secretary of Homeland Security the King of the U.S. border south of San Diego. No really, King. It says he has the: "authority to waive, and shall waive, all laws such Secretary, in such Secretary's sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section." And if that isn't enough, it goes on to say "no court shall have jurisdiction" on this.

That's it, slam dunk. The House is making the Secretary of Homeland Security not subject to checks and balances by either the legislative or judicial branches of government. Really. And this is in the second section of the bill. Even if you only skimmed it before voting for it wouldn't you have gotten to the second section? And wouldn't you have been interested in the title "WAIVER OF LAWS NECESSARY FOR IMPROVEMENT OF BARRIERS AT BORDERS." That much appears in the Table of Contents!

All the representatives have taken a Oath to "support and defend the constitution", how is voting to wave the founding principles of checks and balances not a violation of this?!? Did your representative vote for this? I'm proud to say mine didn't.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Google Movies

Google has a new feature that seems made for me. Preface a search with "movie:" and you'll do a movie search returning titles or local showtimes, etc. Seems like a combination of Rotten Tomatoes and You can also ask it questions like movie: Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball, though it didn't do well on the last such question I was asked, movie:dinner where diseases are whispered.

Scrolling Trackpad in Firefox

One the new features on my PowerBook is that if you use one finger on the trackpad you move the mouse, but if you use two fingers you scroll the app. I'm finding this really useful. However in Firefox I find it sometimes moves the pages through the history list. Actually if you move your fingers horizontally it moves forward or back. This could be useful, but I find it really annoying. Turns out the two finger trackpod motions acts like shift-mousewheel which in Firefox moves you through history. But you can turn this off. In Firefox visit the url "about:config" and in the "Filter" type "mouse", you'll see "mousewheel.horizscroll.withnokey.action". Double-click on it's value (2 by default) and a popup appears, change the value to "0" and click "OK" and you're done.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Movie Review: Maria Full of Grace

Maria is a 17 year old Columbian woman who doesn't know what to do. She supports her family by working in a flower factory, her boyfriend doesn't love her, her boss is unforgiving, and her family is demanding. She runs away from what she has but doesn't know where to turn and the drug trade finds her and she succumbs.

She becomes a mule, to carry drugs to the United States in her stomach. We're shown all the steps, from the introductions, to the swallowing of "pellets", obtaining papers, going through customs, etc. As one of the characters says, it's not easy but it's not too difficult either. While there are some very unpleasant things in this film, it struck me that this wasn't a filthy underworld of say Trainspotting nor a bloodfest like Scarface.

As an American, I know only a characature of Columbia. I saw ordinary people, with less opportunity than we have, with a system in place to take advantage of them. Maria wasn't kidnapped, wasn't threatened at gunpoint, wasn't tricked into it. She was jull pulled a little bit at a time further than she should have gone, when her other choices at least weren't obvious. In the end, she had only her own sense of right and wrong and possibilities. That's all any of us really have. While I haven't been faced with too many decsions as severe as Maria's, this film made the world a little smaller for me, and that's a good thing.

Brain study points to 'sixth sense''

"Following the Asian tsunami, scientists struggled to explain reports that primitive aboriginal tribesmen had somehow sensed the impending danger in time to join wild animals in a life-saving flight to higher ground. A new theory suggests that the anterior cingulate cortex, described by some scientists as part of the brain's 'oops' center, may actually function as an early warning system -- one that works at a subconscious level to help us recognize and avoid high-risk situations." More so, they've done some tests and have
evidence that might prove this. This isn't ESP but it's interesting.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Top 100 Gadgets of All Time

Mobile PC has an interesting article on The Top 100 Gadgets of All Time. It's an interesting list, where else can you see the sextant and the Magic 8-Ball in the same list?

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

New Toy

About a week ago I finally got my 15-inch PowerBook G4 Mac laptop. I've been trying to use the apple applications, it was a full week before I put Emacs on it. I've got my music, photos, mail, contacts and most docs moved over. And it was great watching DVDs on the train down to New York.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Movie Review: Million Dollar Baby

This is a magnificent film in a way that the Shawshank Redemption is a magnificent film, and not just because both have voice overs by Morgan Freeman (though that is probably no coincidence). This is a film about life and what we all want out of it, told via a boxing story.

Clint Eastwood plays Frankie, a boxing trainer with his own gym. Morgan Freeman plays Eddie, a former boxer of his who works at the gym. We meet these characters through their daily actions, working with boxers, being annoyed at some of the characters in the gym, going to church, cleaning up at night. Hilary Swank plays Maggie, a woman from a poor family, making ends barely meet as a waitress, who goes to the gym and wants to box, and in particular (though we don't know why) be trained by Frankie, who wants nothing to do with her.

Of course he ultimately does train her but that's the only conventional aspect of the film. Much as Eddie explains to us you must do with a new boxer, deconstruct him, untrain them of everything they know and build them up from the basics (e.g., put your feet under your shoulders) this film is constructed the same way. The imagery is noir, with shadows dominating and a minimal amount of light shown. If all you need is an outline or a half a face to tell the story, that's all that's on the screen. While it is a long film and it does take it's time telling the story, it's very engrossing and nothing is extraneous. Every scene adds to an aspect of the story and nothing could be left out that wouldn't hurt the impact. This isn't Rocky, it doesn't go where you expect it to but it's also not the Sixth Sense, it doesn't rip reality out from under you and it's not about a trick ending. Much like Shawshank, it's only once you get there that you realize you've been heading there the whole time.

Better maps

The best mapping software in the net is now Google's even though it's only in beta. Google, like Apple seems to understand the value of good design.