Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Risks of Web Mail

I'm amazed that so many people just use gmail (or other webmail application) and don't use a local client app on their computer. I used the VM package in Emacs to read mail for years and it was fine for me. It's still more powerful than virtually any other mail program I've seen. I could tag messages (it was called labelling) 10 years ago. When I switched to the Mac I decided to try the full experience and used Mail.app for my mail. I lost some features, but the HTML rendering was a lot better.

But I forward mail from a few accounts to gmail and use the POP interface to download mail to Mail.app. I use Mail.app to read and send mail (and it interfaces well with Address Book and Quicksilver). Some (many) people just keep all their mail on googles gmail servers and use the web interface to read and send mail. Sure it's great that they can read their mail from any connected machine (I can do that too), but they have no access to their mail unless they are online and they have no backup. Today I read that Gmail users report vanishing e-mail. 60 people lost all their mail, gone. What is your service agreement with gmail's free service? Personally I think it's crazy to not have your mail on your computer.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Don't Trust Elections

"A Florida judge yesterday ruled that a losing congressional candidate couldn't examine the inner workings of voting machines, even though the machines had no paper backup and produced 18,000 blank votes in a House race."

Voting in this country is broken, and is getting worse.

Reasons Not to Buy a Ford

Some new Fords will include Microsoft operating systems. Isn't this an old internet joke.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ford Impact on the Courts

There are a lot of obituaries on Gerald Ford around but I found this on SCOTUSBlog to be unique, Gerald Ford's impact on the Court.

Ford appointed Justice John Paul Stevens to the court 31 years ago. "To Ford's credit, the selection of Stevens for the Court was widely regarded at the time as a choice made primarily upon merit, rather than political advantage -- an example that subsequent presidents have not routinely followed."

Ford as the House Republican leader tried and failed to impeach Steven's predecesor, William Douglas. "Ford's effort to remove Douglas from the Court was widely interpreted as a blatant political maneuver to retaliate for the Senate's rejection of two Richard Nixon nominees to the Supreme Court." When Douglas retired 5 years later, Ford sent him a kind letter.

Ford also in 1970 gave a speech on the House floor that defined an impeachable offense as whatever a majority of the House says it is. Basically no objective standard and allowing pure politics to rule, 25 years later it did.

The Joys of Wisdom Teeth IX

I think I'm finally done with this. I went to the oral surgeon today for another checkup and things look good. No pain and barely any swelling. He doesn't want to see me again unless things get worse. There's still a hole in the back of my mouth but that takes about 2 months to close up. So now I get to make the appointment to have the filling done on the tooth in front that caused all this. :)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Blokus

A friend pointed me at Blokus. It's a cool puzzle game, kind like dominoes with tetris pieces.

TSA Broke Privacy Laws

The TSA violated your privacy 2 years ago. "The Homeland Security Department conceded yesterday that it violated the Privacy Act two years ago by obtaining more commercial data about US airline passengers than it had announced it would." I'm not even remotely surprised, except that they admitted it (kinda).

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Forty seconds? But I want it now!

I heard a story on NPR this afternoon that made me kinda ill. Apparently there's a grill called Hot Tomatoes in Fells Point, Baltimore that serves cheese steaks...deep fried. I'd link to it, but they don't seem to have a web page, surprise, surprise. I've actually had a deep fried hot dog (bun and all) at a small hot dog stand in Fort Lee, NJ, but it was only once and it will never happen again. Somehow a deep fried cheese steak sounds a lot worse. Apparently they don't serve them every day, the NPR story made it seem as if because it's so bad for you.

I've also had deep fried Oreos, once. They were really really good, but you could feel your arteries hardening. They put them in some dough so they formed something like a flat donut hole and the cookie melted on the inside, so it was Oreo gooey goodness.

Government Secrets

When Bush's administration cites national security as a reason to not release information, don't believe. The government has a history of using this claim to hide their illegal actions. Finally, documents about the FBI's investigation into John Lennon have been released and guess what, the claims were baseless. Our government spied on an innocent person for no reason and covered it up.

Denver Snow

Clearly this is what the internets is for, here's a flickr slideshow of snow accumulating in Denver.

Bush's Actions on Iran

Glenn Greenwald has a good post on The Bush administration's provocations towards Iran. Combine it with this Daily Kos post on Bush Censoring Op-Ed's on Iran and it's kinda fightening. Please let the Democrats do some real oversight.

The 50 Greatest Cartoons

The 50 Greatest Cartoons; with links to the videos. The winner is What's Opera, Doc? (1957) directed by Chuck Jones.

MacSanta

MacSanta is offering 20% hundreds of Mac software titles till Christmas.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Virgin Birth

Yup, it's true. Except it's a Komodo Dragon. It's still impressive, just not as impressive as if it had been a mammal. "Flora has never mated, or even mixed, with a male dragon, and fertilized all the eggs herself, a process culminating in parthenogenesis, or virgin birth. Other lizards do this, but scientists only recently found that Komodo dragons do too." Apparently the eggs (which will all be male) might hatch on Christmas, what new religion would form if that happened?

Update: Scott Adams take on this is hilarious.

WikiMapia

WikiMapia is a mashup of a wiki and Google Maps. You can annotate the satellite images with labels of what's around. Google Earth has added similar features and I imagine it will win the mindshare.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Listen to the Geeks on Privacy

FOX news finally reports on the government can turn your cellphone into a bug, remotely, without your knowledge story and Gizmodo doesn't believe it. Sigh it's true, and yes "that's some seriously creepy and privacy-invading business right there".

Engadget at least gets it right when it reports that the government does care if your passport can be cloned. Wouldn't it be nice if they did? Really, passports shouldn't be remotely readable.

And I hoped people would listen about the voting machines, but I guess we'll have the same discussions in two years but still no solution. Sigh.

Say this tongue twister, or else...

Funny Japanese TV clip: Say this tongue twister, or else....

Prejudice Against Isalm in Congress

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) was elected and decided to be sworn in on the Koran since he's a Muslim. Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) sent out a letter saying how wrong this was. "I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran." It went on to say how we must prevent illegal immigration from the Muslim world (did Ellison come here illegally?, I doubt it) and what he told a student who asked him about the Koran. How do people this stupid get elected 5 times?

Theater of the Absurd at the T.S.A.

The New York Times has a good article on the sad state of airline security. Bruce Schneier, who is quoted in the article, has some better suggestions in the last two paragraphs of this essay.

New Look

I finally moved to the new template format with the new Blogger Beta. Can't say I love the tool, maybe it just has some problems in Safari, but it was pretty painless and it was easy to pick something similar to what I had. The biggest difference seems to be the format of the Archives, which is more useful. Comments welcome.

Now if only Google were better about accepting comments or bug reports for their products in beta. E.g., while dragging and dropping template elements in Safari the UI got confused though the underlying template didn't seem to. I have no idea if it's similar in other browsers.

Joint Chiefs Unanimously Oppose Surge

The Washington Post has an article today saying that the Joint Chiefs are unanimously opposed to sending a surge of an additional 15-30,000 troops to Iraq. Maybe they've been reading Cenk Uygur too. Maybe the new Defence Secretary could get the White House to do so too.

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based crisis monitoring group that includes several former U.S. officials, released a new Iraq Study. Apparently it says "the Iraqi government and military should not be treated as 'privileged allies' because they are not partners in efforts to stem the violence but rather parties to the conflict, it says. Trying to strengthen the fragile government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will not contribute to Iraq's stability, it adds. Iraq's escalating crisis cannot be resolved militarily, the report says, and can be solved only with a major political effort."

So I guess we have to wait till January to see just how stupid Bush can be.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Former U.S. Detainee in Iraq Recalls Torment

This is how we treat innocent US citizens. Held for 97 days, without counsel, given a hearings with an anonymous board and not seeing most of the evidence, the army repeatedly concluded that he was a security risk, but never cited any reason why. This has to be completely illegal.

Bush Copying Vietnam "Success"

Think Progress has an article on Bush’s New Strategy: Copy The ‘Success’ of Vietnam.

Various News Things

Another good post by Cenk Uygur The Democrat's Plantation Mentality. "On what planet does an extra 30,000 American troops get the Shiites and the Sunnis to stop hating each other? How many times do we have to tell these people that Iraq needs a POLITICAL SOLUTION, not a military one?" Read the article for what Reid should have said in response to the proposal.

Laura Bush commented that the media only reports the bad news from Iraq and that lots of good things are happening. When asked for examples she only listed that we're building schools. Daily Kos has the facts about that, as reported in the LA Times. "But today, across the country, campuses are being shuttered, students and teachers driven from their classrooms and parents left to worry that a generation of traumatized children will go without education. Teachers tell of students kidnapped on their way to school, mortar rounds landing on or near campuses and educators shot in front of children."

Maybe schools have yet to be covered in Bush's 45 minute lessons on Iraq.

In the mean time the AP reports that Some Gitmo detainees freed elsewhere. 360 detainees were released and the AP has been able to track about 245 of them, 205 of them have been released or cleared of charges. This is a story that's easily manipulated. One view is just because they are free doesn't mean they aren't dangerous, and another is that we arrested innocent people and made enemies. In fact the AP story says: "Some former detainees say they never intended to harm the United States and are bitter." One of the lawyers said just the fact of their release proves Rumsfeld's characterization of them as "among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth." The rule of law in this country says people are innocent until proven guilty, Guantanamo seems to skirt that law too.

Movie Review: Blood Diamond

Blood Diamond tells the story of two men in Sierra Leone, one a fisherman, one a smuggler. Djimon Hounsou plays Solomon Vandy a father of 3 who early in the film sees his village destroyed by rebels and is taken into slavery to mine diamonds. He finds a large pink diamond and at personal peril, hides it, and narrowly esapes through a series of events that are a little to coincidental. These early scenes of random and brutal violence while not gory, are pretty harrowing.

Vandy ends up in a prison which is also holding a Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), a Rhodesian mercenary on smuggling charges. He hears rumor of the diamond and views it as his ticket out of Africa. He partners with Vandy with the promise of helping him find his family. They later team up with American journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) who is trying to write a story about conflict diamonds but can't get enough facts to do so.

The plot is a basic quest, with enough turns of finding family members, bribing officials, and seeing the story of people ravaged by the turmoil in the country. Moreso, it has three strong performances and gives the characters time to talk and reveal their backgrounds. Some things seemed odd to me, Archer returns to the area after visiting his current employer and is shown talking to Vandy and we have no idea how he found him. A romance between Archer and Bowen develops, though not in the typical Hollywood way and even though the script goes to some efforts to explain how that might be, and the performances are good, it didn't quite seem genuine to me.

I really enjoyed this film. It starts off very strong and is filled with action, intrigue, and social commentary. The flaws are somewhat slight but keeps it at a very good instead of a great rating. Still, it was worth the time and money to see it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Joys of Wisdom Teeth VIII

Sorry for not posting in a while. Every day I am improving. At this point I'm pretty good, I can open my mouth normally, my ear only hurts occasionally, I only take Tylenol a couple of times a day. My right jaw is still swollen to the touch but much less so than before. I'm at the state now where I feel pretty good but things happen that make me realize healing takes time. I'm able to eat pretty normally but can't take large bites and after chewing for a while my jaw hurts. Friday afternoon I sneezed a couple of times and that was not pleasant but today (Sunday) it's not so bad.

I saw the oral surgeon last Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and will see him again tomorrow. He's been good at monitoring me. I also saw my primary care physician on Friday just to check. He concurred that everything seemed ok and progress was good. The part that bothered me was the mystery about what had occurred and the idea seems to be some bacteria got in and settled in the soft tissue and caused an infection. The antibiotics are working, it's just a matter of waiting.

I also wondered how bad this would have been 200 years ago. They used to pull teeth, you just drank a lot to dull the pain. Infections were still around (and cleanliness wasn't nearly what it was, unless the alcohol helped) but there weren't antibiotics. My guess is, this would have turned out much different.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Man With No Pulse Lives in Canada

There's a man living in Canada who has no pulse. This amazing occurance isn't so amazing when you know that he is the recipient of a new form of mechanical heart. Pretty interesting.

What the Democrats are Up To

Rahm Emanuel (D-IL and chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) lied about his knowledge of Mark Foley.

I wrote in May that William Jefferson (D-LA) was corrupt and wondered what he was still doing in Congress. Remember all that stuff about the raid on his office being illegal because of the separation of powers? Turns out in July a judge ruled it was a legal search, good. But I can't find anything about the investigation since then. Can no investigation in Washington finish? They have they guy on videotape accepting the bribe and found the money in his freezer! Somehow Jefferson won reelection this term and now the Democrats have to figure out what to do with him. Now we see Pelosi May Give Jefferson a Lesser Committee Assignment or hopefully no committee assignment.

The 109th Congress (sucked and) failed to pass 9 of 11 spending bills and did basically nothing fiscally, leaving it for the 110th. The Democrats plan to concentrate on other priorities and will (I think this is the right term) agree to a year-long spending resolution. So the budget won't be resolved until the fiscal year ends but will continue on autopilot. This has the downside that things continue so some programs get squeezed but the upside the the earmark program which has turned into a pork buffet (bridge to nowhere) is stopped. "It's not a good way to do budgeting over the long term" but it seems good for the short term. I guess something favored by conservative Republicans and The Concord Coalition must be interesting.

Top 10 Real Unsafe Toys

I've previously written of a Top 10 Unsafe Toys from a David Letterman bit. I guess that should have been called the Top 10 Fictional Unsafe Toys, here's the Top 10 Real Unsafe Toys.

Saudi Arabia in the News

Recently we heard that Saudi Arabia would help the Sunni insurgents if the US pulled out of Iraq. Then we heard the White House say that wasn't so, but surprise, I don't believe them.

Then it became more complicated. It turns out the initial report was from an op-ed by "the well-connected Saudi analyst, Nawaf Obaid" which wasn't official policy and the Saudi's said so. "The Saudi Press Agency quickly issued a statement from an unnamed 'official source' saying that Obaid's op-ed 'does not represent any official Saudi authority.'" and "the outgoing Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, terminated Obaid's consultancy with the Saudi Embassy." Then the New York Times and Washington Post reported that this was policy and that Saudi's told Cheney that on his recent visit there.

This week Saudi Arabia seemed to change its mind on tightening oil supply in an OPEC vote. That should help keep gas prices down. Also this week, the US agreed to release 16 Saudis held in Guantanamo. They will still be held in Saudi Arabia but it's not clear for how long. Related? It did come shortly after Cheney's visit. You decide.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Movie Review: Happy Feet

Happy Feet is a fun animated film that reminds you of March of the Penguins. In fact, having scene that movie helps explain some of the hardships in a penguin's life that this movie just assumes. There are a bunch of musical numbers with many many penguins and they are a lot of fun. It's also a story of someone not fitting in and finding their way. There's actually a little more depth to the story than I expected. Oh and did I mention the penguins are really really cute?

Still the story takes kinda of an odd turn towards the end. It works but I found it unexpected and I'm not sure I liked it. Something else bothered me too. In the film emperor penguins all sing to express themselves but our star dances instead of singing. The other penguins find his dancing bizarre and ostracize him. But in the big musical numbers they all seem to be dancing. Another thing that bothered me was that the camera was constantly moving, sometimes very fast. I'm ok with this occasionally, but not constantly. Now I did see it in IMAX so sometimes the motion made for some good effects, but it was still a bit too much.

Anyway, the music makes up for most things and the penguins be so damn cute makes up for the rest. This is a fun film, well worth seeing. If you have small kids I don't think it's as scary as Finding Nemo. There are a couple of scenes reminiscent of the sharks in Nemo but they aren't quite as scary perhaps because they are seals and killer whales.

Will It Blend

Here's a crazy site, Will It Blend. A guy puts odd stuff in a blender and turns it on. Various videos that are pretty amusing divided into two categories: Try at Home, Don't Try at Home. E.g., here's one of him blending an iPod.

The Joys of Wisdom Teeth VII

I'm definitely doing better today. The swelling is down and I can open my mouth much more easily. I think as a result of that, the pain is down. Haven't had a Vicodin in 24 hours, though I am taking Tylenol. So it seems the antibiotics are working, hopefully things just continue getting better.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

McCain Hates Blogs

and he's doing something about it. If bloggers become responsible for tracking the comments people leave most will shut down. And since when can't convicted sex offenders have political opinions? I must not get this, because it sounds too stupid.

Saudi Arabia and Iraq

If the Saudi's are so concerned about Iraqi Sunnis if the US pulls out of Iraq, why don't they do something to help bring about peace?

"Until now Saudi officials have promised their counterparts in the United States that they would refrain from aiding Iraq's Sunni insurgency. But that pledge holds only as long as the United States remains in Iraq. The Saudis have been wary of supporting Sunnis in Iraq because their insurgency there has been led by extremists of Al Qaeda, who are opposed to the kingdom's monarchy. But if Iraq's sectarian war worsened, the Saudis would line up with Sunni tribal leaders."

Maybe the Saudi's should send troops into Iraq to help keep the peace? That makes about as much sense as us trying to do it.

Pakistan Won't Try UK Terrorist Suspect, Can I Bring Liquids Onboard?

Remember that foiled UK terrorist cell in August that was going to blow up planes by mixing liquids? Remember how we learned that the US forced the British to arrest them prematurely? Well, "A Pakistani judge has ruled there is not enough evidence to try a key suspect" arrested in Pakistan. Though the British "say proceedings against suspects arrested in Britain will go ahead."

When I can fly again can I bring my toiletries on board? I know they claim that hydrogen peroxide can be used as a bomb, but it turns out it's not as easy as they make it sound, if it's even possible at all.

Now we have federal judges saying that people we detain have no right to challenge their imprisonment in US courts. Someone needs to remind these activist judges that the end of the First Amendment says the people have a right "to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Can we just stop with the fake security measures and invading the wrong countries and actually go after the real terrorists? Maybe then we'll regain some of the respect we had in September 2001 and our "allies" like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia would actually help us capture terrorists because it's the right thing to do.

Peter Boyle, Dead at 71

Peter Boyle died. That sucks. Go watch Young Frankenstein or Everyone Loves Raymond or one of his other films.

Cool World Data Visualizations and Presentations

This is a really interesting presentation that's well worth watching. TED is an annual exclusive conference of brilliant people exchanging potentially brilliant ideas. This presentation is from the 2006 conference. Hans Rosling is a Swedish professor of International Health and a co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières (aka Doctors Without Borders who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999).

He also co-founded Gapminder, a non-profit organization "for development and provision of free software that visualise human development." They're also trying to make access to such data (as from the UN) much easier than it currently is. Check out the presentation, the graphics that they have for showing the data (such as world health and income) are really well done, even Tufte found them interesting.

If you're really into world data or statistical visualizations you may get more out of this 1 hour version of the talk given at Google by Hans' his son and Gapminder co-founder Ola Rosling. The one problem with both of them is they blur being about the data, that is the condition of people, and about the presentation, that is the software and sources of the data. You can download some of the software from gapminder.org and play with it yourself. Cool stuff.

The Joys of Wisdom Teeth VI

I went back to the oral surgeon today. The office was crowded at 9am but I had no wait. The receptionist knew me and as soon as I took my coat off the nurse brought me in. I worried that I was the possible malpractice patient.

He asked how I was and I said no worse and maybe just a little bit better. I can open my mouth a little bit more than I could Wed. He agreed. Again there wasn't any swelling inside my mouth. Well actually there was just a little by my tongue on that side which happened right after dinner last night. He took another full mouth x-ray and it looked clean. No bone spurs or anything. He rinsed out the extraction site and there was a little more stuff there than he expected. Hard to say what it was, pus or just food stuffs. He tapped on the other teeth and they were fine (didn't hurt). So based on this, he was thinking of opening up the gum on the tongue side and looking for an infection site to clean out.

At this point I'm thinking how I could politely ask for a copy of the x-rays to get a second opinion. The surgeon seemed knowledgeable but he also seemed stumped. I wanted Dr. House. Well I think to his credit he brought in his associate in the practice for a consult. He looked at the x-ray and also thought it looked good. He examined me and came to similar conclusions, but suggested waiting a little bit before opening the tongue side.

I asked what the possibilities were and they said "We know you have an infection". But usually there's some swelling inside the mouth and someplace to drain. I don't have swelling inside my mouth and what I do have seems very localized in the lymph node. So they don't know where the infection site is. I asked what possible next steps would be and they said a CT scan to find the infection site. I said "so we wait to see if something comes up to avoid an expensive test but that's the fallback", and he said yes.

So I have an appointment on Friday for another look. My guess is I'll be in a similar position and then will get a CT scan. I assume at some other site and it will be a while to make an appointment and I probably can't do it over the weekend. Sigh. If anyone has any advice or comments I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fixing Iraq

Cenk Uygur has a gift of putting the situation in simple terms. In his lastest post he asks Can Anyone Define a Military Victory in Iraq? Simply put, if the problem is building an Iraq that can defend itself, "Who do we want our army to kill? What land do we want them to conquer? What military battle do we want them to win? No one in America can answer this question. And yet, we keep sending our men and women into the middle of this quagmire for this inherently non-military mission." There's a lot more there, read his post.

Now what I want to know is why can't the White House press corps ever ask either Tony Snow or President Bush such similar questions. Why can't they ask him to explain the difference between insurgent violence and a civil war? Why can't they ask "What are you doing to realize the political victories we need?" or "How do you expect the military to achieve the political compromises needed?" But I haven't heard them ask such questions. And of course there aren't any good answers.

So Rumsfeld isn't even out of his job yet and he's already back peddling. Now he's saying "I don't think I would have called it [Iraq] the war on terror". Brilliant. He freely admits he's used the term himself (and of course Think Progress has a list. But Rumsfeld does apparently have some things right:

"But the military, given the nature of this conflict, can't win alone. There is no way the military can prevail, because what we are engaged in, in a very real sense, is a battle of ideas (and) a struggle within the Muslim faith between the overwhelming majority of mainstream Muslims and a relatively small minority of violent extremists who have access to all the modern technology [and weapons]."

I think his problem is that he also believes the violence in Iraq is a few extremists, aka terrorists, instead of a fundamental difference between ethnic groups that hate each other.

Rumsfeld does understand that adding more troops can feed the insurgency and build Iraqi troop dependency on US troops. So there are reasons not to add more troops, it could make things worse. Maybe he's catching up to the rest of us afterall. Apparently Bush has largely decided his new Iraq policy and while he hasn't dropped any hints, rumors are that he'll do something stupid. My problem is that Bush could actually do something that is stupid, as opposed to Tom DeLay who now is just saying stupid stuff. "It's the fault of the liberals and the media and the Democrats, that from the very beginning have tried to undermine the will of the American people to fight this."

The Joys of Wisdom Teeth V

It's hard to know but I think I'm feeling a little better. It was still hard opening my mouth to eat this morning it seemed a little easier at dinner. I still need the Vicodin but the swelling seems to be going down a bit. It was always hard to see, but touching it tonight it seems a little smaller. The antibiotics must be working. While I didn't think my nose was at all stuffed, shortly after taking them my nose is very very clear. The Ciprofloxacin is a oblong pill I take every 12 hours, no biggie. The Metronidazole is a medium sized round pill that tastes awful. I take it three times a day and to avoid a foul chalky taste I now put a little water in my mouth first and then add the pill and swallow as fast as I can.

I'm not sure which pill is doing it but I'm drowsy during the day. That's the reason for not too many blog posts. Hopefully it's the Vicodin and that will stop as soon as the swelling goes down. The antibiotics go on for 8 and 10 days to complete the course. I go back to the dentist tomorrow morning at 9am, so I should know a little more then.

Pureed Green Onion Soup

Tonight I made a Pureed Green Onion Soup I learned in my soup class. It came out pretty well and was easy to make.

In a large pot I sauteed in a little olive oil: 3 bunches of scallions, 3 leeks and 3 yellow onions, all chopped coarsely though I probably cut them smaller than needed. That was a lot of onions in the pot but eventually they started to soften and kinda turn translucent.

I added 5 cloves of garlic I put through a garlic press and sauteed a little longer.

I added 6 cups of (homemade) vegetable stock, 2 diced potatoes, some sprigs of thyme and a little white wine. I brought this up to a boil then lowered the heat and simmered for 30 mins for all the veges to get soft. I didn't peel the potatoes but next time I will, so they puree a little better.

I removed the thyme twigs (don't want to puree them) and then came the always fun immersion blender. Salt and pepper to taste, actually, instead of salt I used Better than Boullion which I learned to think of as flavored salt.

In class we made this and also another version that used red onions and shallots instead of the leeks and scallions. It was also good but had quite a different flavor. Have fun experimenting.

Firefly References in Comics

If you were into Firefly or Serenity, you might enjoy some of the comics in this list that make reference to them.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Bush's Approval vs Billy Wilder

Bush's approval polls drop to 34%, just about a new low. The scary part is that Bush is so pigheaded he thinks the rest of the world is wrong and will only figure out he's right after he's dead. To me, one of the more disturbing things is that Chris Kelly figured out that Bush has ruined Stalag 17.

Huge Mac Software Deal

Mac Heist is offering 10 mac applications, normally priced at close to $300 for only $49. Usually these collections aren't the best apps, but this one includes Delicious Library, DEVONthink Personal, NewsFire and TextMate. Those all all apps I know (I have and love Delicious Library) are high quality. It also includes FotoMagico and RapidWeaver which don't seem cheap. ShapeShifter, Disco, iClip4, and a Pangea game round out the list. Oh and 25% of the sale goes to a charity of your choice (of 8 they list). Goodo Stuffo.

Before you ask, yes I'm tempted. I already have Delicious so that doesn't interest me. I've been thinking about TextMate but I don't have that much use for it and have 25 years of Emacs experience. I use the free Vienna over NewsFire. DEVONthink is an interesting choice among many outliners that have intrigued me but I suspect I probably wouldn't use that much. The others I suspect I won't use either. But I still might get these.

America and the Courts

I recently found a show on C-SPAN I like. It's called America and the Courts and is weekly. One episode showed a panel of lawyers and law professors discussing a case. This last Saturday they played the Supreme Court oral arguments of Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1. showing the picture and name of the speaker (no, it's not HiDef). I think Edward R. Murrow would be pleased with this show.

The arguments in this case have been called some of the most interesting in quite some time. In the case, a Seattle school district considered the race of the students in deciding placement amongst schools in order to achieve racially diverse schools. Some parents denied the first choice of schools for their students claim this is discrimination based solely on race. So this is basically an affirmative action case (though even that is something that came up in the arguments).

ScotusBlog has some interesting commentary on the case: in Analysis: Schools' race experiments may be doomed and in A New Perspective on Monday's Arguments: Take 1 and Take 2.

Neo-Clowns

Cenk Uygur has a good post called Victory Monkeys. My favorite part: "Have you ever heard of a neoconservative plumber? The neo-clowns have absolutely no voting base. Why people continue to listen to them as if they represent real people in the real world is beyond me."

The Joys of Wisdom Teeth IV

I went back to the oral surgeon today. He saw the swelling immediately and checked out my mouth, as much as I could open it. Everything at the extraction site looked ok, there was no swelling in my mouth and "nothing to drain". He tapped on the other teeth and that didn't make me writhe in agony or anything. He said it didn't match "dry socket" situation. It all seems to be a swollen lymph node under my jaw. He prescribed some antibiotics (Ciprofloxacin and Metronidazole) and I have another appointment on Wed. The antibiotics should take affect in a day or two. I picked them up along with some more generic Vicodin at the pharmacist for $100. So more sitting...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Worst Congress Ends

Here are two articles (one and two) on the last acts of the worst Congress in memory. They extended some tax breaks, reformed the post office, extended trade benefits to Vietnam, four Andean nations, sub-Saharan African countries and Haiti.

"Republicans dumped an unfinished budget on the Democrats about to take power, with the Senate barely meeting a midnight deadline to pass a stopgap spending bill putting the government on autopilot until Feb. 15. Bush quickly signed the bill on Saturday. The failure to pass budget bills for domestic agencies, said Rep. David Obey (D-WI) amounted to 'a blatant admission of abject failure by the most useless Congress in modern times.'"

The Joys of Wisdom Teeth III

Ugh. So my mouth has gotten worse each day since I my tooth extracted. The swelling hit and and it wasn't that noticeable and still isn't, but if you touch it there's still a big difference from one side of my jaw to the other. Though that's getting less now as the swelling is starting to reach the other side. I'm on the Vicodin all the time now and the swelling is preventing me from opening my mouth very far. Eating is now a bit of a challenge as I have to carefully position the fork to fit between my teeth as far as I can open them. I tried to look in the mirror at the hole where my tooth was, but couldn't open my mouth far enough. I'll be going back to the dentist tomorrow, I'm not sure how he's going to see the hole, but I imagine it won't be pleasant.

I don't think I have an infection as I don't have a fever. The most common complication is known as dry socket which is when the clot is removed and while the symptoms kinda match what I'm feeling I didn't do any of the things that are supposed to make it more likely (smoke, alcohol, use a straw, spit, etc.). And the doctor saw me on Wed and said everything was fine.

I cancelled my trip to Dallas today. My jaw hurts when I stand up from the couch, I can't imagine what changing pressure would be like. On the one bright side, I've lost weight and am now at a new low :)

The Joys of Wisdom Teeth III

Ugh. So my mouth has gotten worse each day since I my tooth extracted. The swelling hit and and it wasn't that noticeable and still isn't, but if you touch it there's still a big difference from one side of my jaw to the other. Though that's getting less now as the swelling is starting to reach the other side. I'm on the Vicodin all the time now and the swelling is preventing me from opening my mouth very far. Eating is now a bit of a challenge as I have to carefully position the fork to fit between my teeth as far as I can open them. I tried to look in the mirror at the hole where my tooth was, but couldn't open my mouth far enough. I'll be going back to the dentist tomorrow, I'm not sure how he's going to see the hole, but I imagine it won't be pleasant.

I don't think I have an infection as I don't have a fever. The most common complication is known as dry socket which is when the clot is removed and while the symptoms kinda match what I'm feeling I didn't do any of the things that are supposed to make it more likely (smoke, alcohol, use a straw, spit, etc.). And the doctor saw me on Wed and said everything was fine.

I cancelled my trip to Dallas today. My jaw hurts when I stand up from the couch, I can't imagine what changing pressure would be like. On the one bright side, I've lost weight and am now at a new low :)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Astronaut Blogging

On the current shuttle mission, Bill Oefelein's Mission Blog.

Bush is an Idiot

Bush thinks al Qaeda is responsible for the sectarian violence in Iraq. This isn't a one time mistake, he's said it twice in 10 days. We've been in this war longer than we were in WWII, you'd think he know who the enemy is by now. Can we impeach him already?

Oh and check out what we did with North Korea this week. "The United States has offered a detailed package of economic and energy assistance in exchange for North Korea’s giving up nuclear weapons and technology." This is exactly the policy that Bush said we shouldn't do for six years. Yep guess he was wrong. And the only thing that happened is that North Korea became a nuclear power. No biggie.

Mandatory Sentences are not Justice

Weldon Angelos was sentenced in Utah to 55 years in prison for "small-time marijuana and gun charges". "Mr. Angelos is a first-time offender who sold $350 in marijuana to a government informant three times -- and carried, but did not display, a gun on two of those occasions. Police found other guns and pot at his house." This week, the US Supreme Court declined to review Angelos' case.

The sentencing judge, Paul G. Cassell, was appointed by Bush and is known to be convservative. He "declared the mandatory sentence in this case 'unjust, cruel, and even irrational.' He noted that it is 'far in excess of the sentence imposed for such serious crimes as aircraft hijacking, second degree murder, espionage, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and rape.'...And in an extraordinary act, he explicitly called on Mr. Bush to use his clemency powers to offer what he as a judge could not: justice." Bush has only commutted two sentences so far in his presidency.

Brownback's Vote For Sale

This makes me sick. "Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, a potential presidential candidate, said Friday he would lift his hold on a federal judicial nominee if she agrees to step aside from any case dealing with same-sex unions." At least he's honest about selling his vote for a Judge.

New House Intelligence Committee Chair, Not Intelligent

Ladies and gentlemen, your new House Intelligence committee chairman, Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), thinks al Qaeda is Shiite.

Expanding Table

Funky expanding table

Friday, December 08, 2006

Crackberries

Here's an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about Blackberry addiction. It takes the approach of children complaining that their parents are always using the devices and not paying attention to them. I used to use a Palm Pilot a lot but it wasn't wireless so there was no need to constantly check it. And I started using email when it was only accessible at work, I didn't have a computer at home until 2000. I guess I learned how to deal with too much email and how to avoid it, before having the added factor of having it portable and always with me.

I remember going to the beach with a few friends one day. One was a doctor on call who brought a cell phone. Of course she got a call and took some patient info over the phone and gave some instructions and then had to go into the hospital. At the time I said I never wanted to be that connected, but I realized that before cellphones she never would have been able to go to the beach while on call at all. Being connected does give you more flexibility but of course it also means that you're never away from work. There are lots of articles on this now and I'm sure in the next few years people are going to learn to just say no. For the most part, there's very little business stuff that can't wait a few hours if not a few days. But if you're trapped in that mentality, I'm sure reading that last sentence has made you say "you just don't understand".

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Joy of Wisdom Teeth II

My recovery is going pretty well. I've been quite drowsy the past couple of days but the pain less. I'm off the Vicodin and just on Tylenol. I think my face looks normal but if I feel my jaw, there is a noticeable bulge on one side. Most of the pain seems to be in the molar 2 in front of the extracted tooth. I assume it's just where in the nerve the swelling is affecting me.

I'm not quite sure how they managed this, but the bill was delivered in the next day's mail. I don't have dental insurance and when I asked they said an extraction was $300-500 depending on the difficultly and sometimes medical insurance covered it. That seemed pretty reasonable. The bill was for $750 and the medical insurance portion was $0. It turns out it was an easy extraction, only $325 and medical insurance doesn't cover it because the tooth wasn't completely under the gum line. The procedure is the same, but these are their rules. The additional $425 was the anesthesia (including an additional unit for $125). When they ask if you want anesthesia and say it's entirely up to you, they don't tell you it will double the bill.

Iraq Plans

I know I have posted yet on the Iraq report released this week but I honestly can't figure out what to say. Some reports say it was damning for the President, well yeah, but everyone knew that already, this was what, just making it official? And Bush in the press conference remade history saying he's been saying it bad in Iraq. McCain wants to know why his idea of increasing troops a little wasn't considered. It just all strikes me as theater until we start actually pulling troops out next year. Get on with it already.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Joys of Wisdom Teeth

Sorry for the lack of posts today. I had a wisdom tooth removed this morning and so far all is well. As usual, I learned a few things and I figure I'd share.

As a kid I had 4 teeth removed for braces, but I don't really remember that. I never had my wisdom teeth removed as my mother believed that you keep your teeth until there's a problem. My lower ones were impacted, meaning they grew forward into the tooth in front of them which prevented them from growing all the way in. They did grow in most of the ways, but they just don't do much except trap food so I have to be careful cleaning them. The lower ones are near the nerve and my current dentist agreed that the risk of nerve damage outweighed the benefit of removing these before something happened. I also learned that the risk increases as you age, so it probably would have been better to have them removed as kid. An x-ray showed I now have a cavity forming in the tooth in front so it's time to remove the wisdom tooth to get to it easily.

A few years ago I had a top wisdom tooth develop another cavity and had it pulled. I was surprised at how easy an experience it was. I went to an oral surgeon, had some Lidocaine (they don't use novacaine much anymore but still say it because most people know that word) and a short man with Popeye-like forearms used pliers and pulled a tooth out of my head. The whole thing took about 15 minutes, mostly waiting for the Lidocaine to take effect.

Apparently unlike the top ones, lower wisdom teeth are near a nerve. What they do is surgically open the gum, I think break the tooth in two, remove it and it just sounded much more involved. As a result I decided to have anethesia for this instead of just Lidocaine. It was my first time for anethesia. I had a hernia a few years ago and even for that they used a local and some medication that put me to sleep but not under (my own terms which I'm sure are imprecise). Afterwards I spoke to a doctor friend of mine who told me that most complications that come from anethesia happen in dentist's offices, so in the future I might make a different decision. The risk is low, but still, why take it?

I went to the oral surgeon a while ago for the initial consulatation. They took a cool full head x-ray. I previously had what I think they call bite wings where put a small piece of time in a holder inside your mouth that you bite down on to hold in place. I find it always just a little uncomfortable, almost gagging but not quite. Then of course the dentist leaves the room as short x-ray burst captures the image. This machine was different. You sit in a chair and a machine rotates 360° around your head taking one picture of your whole jaw. It looks like this. The consultation was a little weak. He actually said to me that it's the same speech to everyone and there's a small risk of permanent numbness and there's no way to know ahead of time. I know one person with a permanent dime-sized numb spot on his chin, I guess you get used to it. The tooth looked close to nerve but that doesn't correlate to problems developing. I told him as an engineer I'm used to make decisions on facts and doing some risk analysis on someone quantitative and he was giving me nothing, but so be it.

The most difficult part for me was that if you have anethesia you need to have someone pick you up and stay with you for 24 hours. Arranging that was little difficult and caused me to delay the procedure a while. Anyway it was today and in the mean time the surgeon I met left the practice so I switched to another oral surgeon in the same practice who was also recommended to me. He was more personable and said that complications are more common if the tooth is still completely under the gumline, which wasn't the case for me. That made me feel a little better.

They hooked me up to blood pressure, pulse and O2 monitors and gave me small mask with oxygen . Then they gave me an IV with the drug. It's funny, I remember then hearing that the procedure was over and after looking at my watch I commented that that was fast, but I think at the time I thought I remembered the procedure, but now I don't at all. Anyway I was a little groggy and waited in teh chair for 30 mins in part for my head to clear (and for them to monitor me) and in part waiting for my ride who had another appointment in the same building. Most reactions to the anethesia will happen shortly afterwards.

They gave me a prescription for Vicodin and I stopped at CVS on the way home to fill it. A simple prescription for 24 pills, why does it take 15 mins to fill it ? There was no one else there and no one else came in the mean time to pick up a prescription. I guess so I could wander around the store and buy some ice cream, which I did (Cherry Garcia). The surgeon's office also gave me preprinted instructions for things to do. They were all generic but I've been icing my face on and off again to help with the swelling. So far so good but they said it will peak after 2 days and will persist for 5-7 days.

So for all this you have someone stay with you for 24 I had asked the nurse (assistant?) what should they look for, that seems a reasonable question. The answer was anything out of the ordinary, which I find to be completely useless. You don't want to call unnecessarily and they shouldn't want to have to waste their time. After the office closes is out-of-the-ordinary the same as the "in the event of an emergency" that I know I'll hear if I call their number? It's known stuff, the anethesia and the Vicodin, they must know what the side effects were.

So a friend staying here this afternoon told me to not fall behind in the Vicodin, apparently once you feel pain it's too late and hard to catch up. I hadn't heard that before and decided to call a doctor friend to chat and ask. It turns out that's kinda true. This kind of pain medication apparently first "covers" the pain and only after you'er pain-free would side effects kick in. So the idea of "wait until you can't stand it" before taking pain meds is to avoid side effects because that point all the meds will go to treat pain and not give side-effects. But of course, then you're in pain and they take 15-30 mins to take effect so you don't know for a while if you've taken enough. The other theory is to take it before you feel pain to avoid it all, but of course then you have a hard time to avoid taking too much for side effects.

Also from what I understand the prescription is for limited amount so you can't get addicted. Only you can judge your own pain. Taking an extra one if you need it should be fine and you'd need to take a lot for any serious side effects. Taking a whole bottle would bad. (I'm not a doctor so don't do anything stupid, the above is not advice). The common side effects are nausia, light headedness, etc. The one thing that's apparently still possible for me is for it to slows my breathing and I evidently wouldn't notice that myself. So that's what my friend is looking out for. Would it have been so hard to tell me that in the office? I know all the pre-printed forms are to avoid lawsuits and all that, but it's just so moronic that the way they do that is to be so generic (call for anything out-of-the-ordinary) as to be less than helpful.

Another thing that was a little annoying. I had prepared for this by buying soft foodand making soup this weekend. Soup is soft. I even made my own vegetable stock. The carrot and parsnip soup came out well though a little thin. It will be better next time. I also picked up some fresh pasta from my favorite local market. Before dismissing the nurse said I could eat anything, just chew on the other side, and I should avoid hot foods like coffee, tea, and soup because they promote bleeding. Wouldn't it have been nice to tell me this ahead of time so I could have prepared properly? Oh well, warm homemade carrot and parsnip soup is still pretty tasty.

Anyway, I'm fine. i went through various stages of lower jaw numbness but that seems mostly past. My jaw hurts a little on that side but between the Vicodin and the ice it's not bad at all. Dinner was tasty and apparently my breathing isn't slow. And I can still write way-to-long blog posts. :)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Where is Patrick Fitzgerald?

Remember that whole investigation into the leaking of Valerie Plame's name?. Patrick Fitzgerald has been investigating this for well over 3 years. He's indicted only one person, Scooter Libby, and that was over a year ago.

Worst Congress Ever

The Washington Post reports Lame-Duck Congress May Run Out the Clock. They're not even showing up. Congress was in session just one week in November and will be just one week this month. "That will mean this Congress will have spent the least time in session of any in at least half a century." And those numbers inflate the time they worked. "On nine of its 'workdays' this year, the House held not a single vote -- meeting for less than eleven minutes. The Senate managed to top the House's feat, pulling off three workdays this year that lasted less than one minute."

" In the time they have met, lawmakers have failed to approve a budget resolution or pass at least eight of the 11 annual spending bills." And I guess I'm happy they didn't pass any significant piece of legislation. But my favorite line in the article is: "Lawmakers were forced to vacate their offices on Friday, and few of them want to hang around Washington with no place to sit."

If you haven't read the Rolling Stone article take a look. It describes the child-like behavior of the Republican majority. Literally not telling Democrats where meetings are, turning out the lights on Democrat meetings, and when there is a rare bipartisan agreement, they swap out the bill for the final vote. This Congress has only allowed one non-appropriations bill to be open to the possibility of amendments and without the ability to change a bill, there is no meaningful debate. Did you know that "the 109th is known as the "Dracula" Congress: Twenty bills have been brought to a vote between midnight and 7 a.m." It goes on and on with more horrifying things. I learned that Randy "Duke" Cunningham writes as badly as Lindsey Lohan.

Good riddance. The Democrats have to be better than this.

Unsafe Toys

It's that time of year again, the 21st Annual Toy Safety Survey is out.

While not the make light of that, this is one of my favorite David Letterman Top 10 lists, apparently from 1986:
  1. Junior Electrician Outlet Patrol
  2. Hasbro's Slippery Steps
  3. Black & Decker Silly Driller
  4. Roof Ranger Paratrooper Outfit
  5. Remco's Pocket Hive
  6. Traffic Tag
  7. Will It Burn? from Parker Brothers
  8. Chimney Explorer
  9. My First Ferret Farm
  10. Ooh -- You're Blue! The Hold-Your-Breath Game

That's the list as I find it on the web. From an old email joke I have number one as:
  1. Mr. Grenade-Head

Worst President Ever

The Washington Post has an op-ed today by Eric Foner, a professor of History at Columbia. He concludes by saying "I think there is no alternative but to rank him as the worst president in U.S. history."

He cites that presidents Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Richard M. Nixon usually end up at the bottom of rankings of the presidents. He then lists their failings, in short, stubborness in the face of failed policies, corruption and cronyism, disdain for the Constitution, etc.

"It is impossible to say with certainty how Bush will be ranked in, say, 2050. But somehow, in his first six years in office he has managed to combine the lapses of leadership, misguided policies and abuse of power of his failed predecessors. "

Friday, December 01, 2006

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Toy Review: HD TiVo

Wednesday the comcast service guys showed up to put the second cable card into my TiVo. They had never installed into a TiVo before and they brought two cards. Fortunately the first one worked and 20 minutes later they were gone and my TiVo was running through it's guided setup.

So all is working great now. Where previously I had a series 1 TiVo with a regular cable box and a second cable box for HD programming (switched through an A/V reciever), now I just have the one HDTiVo. The receiver only has the TiVo, DVD player and AirPort Express for iTunes connected to it. The two cable cards cost a total of $2.70 a month (we'll see when the first bill comes) and I don't need to rent the cable boxes and remotes, so my monthly bill is down a bit. I also used the current deal to transfer my lifetime TiVo subscription to the new box.

The HD TiVo has two tuners so it can record two things at once. The switch between tuners is seemless. If you're recording something and change the channel, it automatically switches to the other tuner. You don't have to think about it at all. If you have season passes setup that conflict, it will record two things at once. Unlike previous TiVo's there's a display panel with the current time and two status lines. Each line has a red light if it's recording and if it's a programmed show (as opposed to one of TiVo's suggestions) it shows the name of the show being recorded. I find this display a bit too small to read from 10 feet away, but it's kinda nice.

The HD TiVo supposedly can hold up to 30 hours of HD programming and of course more of regular programming (there's a 250GB hard drive). For most shows if they are in HD I have season passes setup on HD channels. If it's not in HD or not something where it matters (animation, news, etc.) I record it on a regular channel to save space. So far there are 5 screens of programs saved on it (3.5 are suggestions) and it hasn't had to delete anything yet. Since everything going into the box is digital cable, I don't have a quality setting to choose from, it saves everything in the same format that it comes over the wire. Everything looks great so far.

The TiVo does closed captioning if you want. Since my plasma TV is just a monitor, no tuner, I was missing this. Sometimes it's nice is to watch a show with cc on and at double speed (one fast forward speed) and read the dialog, finish in less than half the time. It's a little convoluted to turn cc on and off but you can customize the font and forground and background color. The TiVo also has aspect controls to show 4:3 programming on a 16:9 screen. It can do full (stretched), zoom (cropped top and bottom) and panel (regular 4:3 with vertical side bars). The nice thing about doing this with the TiVo instead of the TV is that the guide overlaid on the screen isn't stretched or cropped.

I bought the wireless adaptor so it's connected to my home wifi network instead of a phone line. It downloads all the scheduling info from the net. Configuring it was effortless. At first it didn't work and then it suggested I check if I had mac address filtering on and gave me the address to add. I did and it worked. Also there's a screen that gives access to Yahoo weather, traffic and photos as well as some games (connect 4, same game and scrabble) and access to movie theater tickets schedules and ordering via fandango. For Yahoo you login once and it remembers, so you can see weather and traffic for the specific locations in your account, very convenient. I can't imagine ever using it to order movie tickets, but I've already used it for the weather.

My old Tivo was a Sony so I've never had the famed TiVo peanut remote. Instead I use a Home Theater Master MX-500 universal remote. The new TiVo remote has been changed a little and I like it a lot. It is programmable for the volume and mute controls of the receiver and can turn the TV on and off, but there's no button for the receiver power (it would need two as it has discrete buttons, one for on, one for off).

An odd change is that while there are sound effects in the menus, there are no sound effects when fast forwarding or I think at any time a show is being shown. No be-boop be-boop be-boop. I miss these as they gave some feedback when you hit a key.

So overall I'm really impressed with this TiVo. With two tuners it's even more effortless to use. In spite of the fact I've had HD TV for over two years, it's a lot nicer now to watch it recorded on a TiVo due to the channel guide, recording, pausing, etc. It's crazy expensive (I got it as a gift and got a good deal on it at Best Buy due to a salesclerk in nicotine withdrawl) but it's also really really nice.

Jail in America

Guess how many American adults are in jail? Would you guess 1 in 500? 1 in 100? 1 in 50? Would you believe 1 in 32?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hurricane Season Ends Quietly

Hurricane Season Ends Quietly. It's still hard to predict the weather.

Bush Executive Order Found Unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled that portions of Executive Order 13224 was too vague and is unconstitutional. The order was meant to combat financing of terrorist organizations. The problem is it was "unconstitutionally vague as it gave the president 'unfettered discretion' to effectively 'blacklist' terror groups without applying objective criteria in making the designation. Collins said that portions of the order violated the petitioners' First Amendment rights in that it "imposed penalties for mere association" with a designated group, and because several operative terms in the order are so vague as to give the president nearly unlimited power to declare organizations illegal. "

What is Obvious?

The Supreme Court heard a case on patents this week. At issue is how do you determine if an invention is obvious and therefore not deserving of a patent. The problem is, the test is subjective. To help clarify the word obvious, the test is if "teaching, suggestion or motivation would have led a person of ordinary skill in the art" to the invention. Scalia called that "gobbledygook". Roberts asked :Who do you get to be an expert to tell you something’s not obvious? I mean, the least insightful person you can find?"

It's precisely these kinds of cases where I think strict constructionists lose. Yes laws should be precise and easy to understand but this isn't always possible. For example, the famous pornography definition. Having too many patents for obvious things really does harm the software industry and I can imagine it hurts other industries similarly. The Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches, who decides what's reasonable?

Unlike most of Congress, I read the Patriot Act. To be honest, I thought most of it was ok. Sure there are things in there that subtly change various laws and I defer to the ACLU or others to figure out what rights I'm giving up, but a lot of it was clarifying laws that were too specific. E.g., your right to privacy on the internet was different if you used Dial Up, DSL or Cable to get on the net. The law said the phone company couldn't allow tapping without a court order, but said nothing about cable companies, so you were more secure using DSL vs a cable modem. How dumb is that? As I understand it copyright law is different for vinyl records vs CDs (or at least it was). If you want laws that apply to new technologies, and don't go on for thousand and thousands of repetitive pages, you can't require every little thing to be itemized in the law. And summaries will at some point need clarifications by judges. I'll be really curious to see if they can come up with a clearer test for obviousness.

Powell Says It's a Civil War

Colin Powell comes out of hiding and says Bush should admit Iraq is in a Civil War

Paint Commercial

Here's a cool paint commercial that claims to have been staged for filming instead of just created digitally.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Winter Soups

Tonight's cooking class was Winter Soups, just a one day class. We made 7 soups. The structure of the class was a little different than others I've taken. The instructor had done some prep before we got there and gave out 7 recipes and walked us through them all briefly. We then picked which one we wanted to make, split up and cooked. I didn't like the format as much as others, since I basically made one soup (alone) and asking questions was difficult because the teacher was trying to be 7 places at once.

It was nice being able to taste 6 other soups, and two of the recipes basically just differed on the types of onions used and it was nice to be able to compare the results. Still there were a lot of people on top of each other in the kitchen, questions were a little frustrating, and you really only made one dish. In other classes we all stood around as the teacher went through the recipe handing off work (chopping, stirring, etc) so people did something and she (so far all my teachers have been women) could move on.

Anyway, I made a carrot and parsnip pureed soup and it seemed to be most people's favorite. But I claim little responsibility because it was so trivial. Saute two chopped onions until translucent. Add 6-8 cups vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add one pound each of roughly chopped carrots and parsnips. Bring to a boil and lower heat and simmer 30 mins. Add some chopped fresh thyme and sage. Puree with an immersion blender (fun). Season to taste, optionally add some cream. Easy and yummy.

The Next Two Years

Glenn Greenwald has a good post on the next two years.

Freedom of the Press to Disclose Imminent Raids?

"The Supreme Court refused Monday to shield the New York Times and two of its reporters from a prosecutor's probe into who leaked word of planned raids on two Muslim charities five years ago." I'm not sure what I think about this.

Lohan on Altman

Somehow I missed this. After Robert Altman died, Lindsay Lohan, who was in A Prairie Home Companion, (sadly his last film), released a public letter of condolence. Read it, it's moronic and incoherent. Frankie Thomas in a fun read actually compares her to the President of the United States. This should be preposterous but is sadly credible.

I didn't know that Altman's highest praise for his actors was saying they were adequate (I wonder if that applies to server performance too?). The fact that Lohan ends her letter with a reference to this and misspells it, is...(words fail me) ironically ironic.

Aside from MASH I wasn't a huge fan of Altman's films. I remember hearing him say that he hated when someone came up to him and said they saw one of his films. He made films that needed to be seen several times before you got it all, so seeing one just once missed the point. I think I'll watch Gosford Park again.

Web-style nostalgia

Someone with apparently more time than me, browsed through YouTube for various 80s saturday morning cartoon intros and made this list. Most of these are a bit past my time, maybe someone else will do one for the 70s.

Would you believe?...Yada, yada, yada

TV Land will be counting down The 100 Greatest TV Quotes and Catchphrases. Apparently it will take 5 hours over 5 nights starting December 11th. Or instead you can just read the list here.

Monday, November 27, 2006

New Mac Ads

New Mac ads are out. Amusing but not fantastic.

Looking at McCain

Kevin Drum writes about Matt Welch's article in the LA Times about McCain. I think that in comparison to Bush, McCain look decent (so does a chia pet). Of course that's completely frightening that our standards have been lowered so much. In 2000 when McCain was running I liked how he spoke and I had some respect for his statesmen like conduct, but as I looked into his actual positions, I found they didn't match mine at all, particularly on social issues. Now on Iraq I agree he's pretty far removed from reality. My guess is that he won't get the nomination this time either, at least I hope so.

Buying a President

Think Progress reports about Bush trying to raise $500,000,000 for his library. First off this is a huge amount of money for a Presidential library, apparently "the more you have, the more influence [on history] you can exert." They are trying to get "megadonations of $10 million to $20 million a pop" and these donations can be anonymous. Arianna Huffington describes why we should care about this, "captains of industry, Arab nations, wealthy heiresses, and anyone else with very deep pockets will be able to curry $10 million or $20 million worth of goodwill with the president of the United States -- and no one need know." This is just crazy.

Controlling Speeding in Denmark

Ok, this is just crazy. Warning, nudity and it plays automatically.

More on MA v. EPA

Here's some more on MA v. EPA coming up this wednesday.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Movie Review: Babel

Babel is the third film made by the team of director Alejandro González Iñárritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga. Their previous collaborations were Amores Perros and 21 Grams and if you've seen either of those films, you know what to expect from Babel.

The film shows four interconnected stories. First, two Moroccon boys, out herding goats, recklessly shoot a new rifle at an oncoming bus. In another, Richard and Susan Jones (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) are a married couple on vacation to get over a tramatic event in their lives and save their marriage. They are on a tourist bus in Morocco when Susan is mysteriously shot. They try to get her to a hospital but they are in the middle of nowhere, in a small villiage getting care in a hut while waiting for a way to a hospital. In the third story, Amelia is a mexican nanny taking care of the Jones' children in southern California. Her son is getting married in Mexico and she decides to take them with her over the border. The fouth story is less directly related but is about Chieko, a deaf mute Japanese teenage girl.

As in his previous films, I found all the stories interesting and assume that the stories are connected thematically and not merely as a plot device. However I have a hard time finding a theme that really connects all four. There's the don't do stupid things theme, which works great for don't shoot at buses or take someone else's children across a border but doesn't do as well for don't get hit by a random bullet while taking a bus ride. There's the communicate better theme hinted by the title and that's ok for a troubled teen and a troubled marriage but not so good for others. Maybe it's just the fact that each of the 4 stories are in different languages.

I thought my inability to find this theme was my own shortcoming, but the group I saw it with had a similar problem as did A. O. Scott in the New York Times so I'm in good company.I think others tried too hard finding a theme when they tried "Kafkaesque tragedies about individuals swallowed up by the bureaucratic machinery of nationhood." and "he burrows deep into the existential loneliness of each character to create a kaleidoscope of cumulative human sadness and grief over the state of the world."

I liked Babel. I found it engaging and pretty easy to follow, for such an involved story, that's good filmmaking. The acting is universally strong and there are a lot of emotionally charged scenes. A few stories left me guessing as to the outcome all the way to the ending, and usually guessing wrong. I liked all the pieces, I even got all the pieces, I'm just not sure I got the whole, or that there was a whole to get.

Dueling Vlogging

On November 6th, MIke McIntee posted this video on YouTube entitled White House Caught Doctoring "Mission Accomplished" Video. It's short and walks you through clicking on a white house video that shows Bush giving the speech though it's cropped so that the banner isn't visible and there's a black bar at the bottom. McIntee claims this is nefarious. To me it was probably just a camera angle that didn't show the banner and the bar was for news shows to show their crawling banners.

Then I found that just one day later, pudgenet posted Mike McIntee Is Lying where he has similar thoughts as I did but takes it further and clicks on other links on the White House page showing they all have the black bar the bottom. He also claims that McIntee has removed comments pointing this out.

What intrigues me about this story is that it's dueling video blogging done on YouTube. This is informal point/counter-point done by anyone. It's also a waste of bandwidth. I'm not sure how many MBs these clips are but I just described them both in 145 words, less than 1KB, but the videos are more fun to watch.

Mac Ads in Japan, Translated

This is a fascinating translation and analysis of the Japaense versions of the Mac vs PC ads. The two cultures are different and the ads have to be as well. And if you're not familiar with the differences they don't make sense unless they are explained to you. I also like the idea of just showing the rendering of Kanji characters in the two systems.

Carrier Penguin

Scott Turow on Scalia and the War on Terror

Scott Turow has an article in the New York Times Magazine entitled Scalia the Civil Libertarian?. He gives a good overview of Scalia and how they generally support the Republican views and then talks about how Scalia's originalism in the Hamdi case led him to disagree with the administration's position.

MA v. EPA

"The Supreme Court hears arguments this week in a case that could determine whether the Bush administration must change course in how it deals with the threat of global warming. A dozen states as well as environmental groups and large cities are trying to convince the court that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate, as a matter of public health, the amount of carbon dioxide that comes from vehicles."

Outlawed: Extraordinary Rendition

Worshipping a Hubble Image

I think this is a bit overstated but The Hubble Deep Field: The Most Important Image Ever Taken is a 6 and half minute video about a very cool picture. The first half rambles a bit but does have a Pink Floyd soundtrack, so it can't be all bad.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Movie Review: Casino Royale

I was 11 when I saw my first Bond film, The Spy Who Love Me, and I saw it in a theater. After that I watched whenever they were on TV (this was long before TNT's Bond marathons every 6 months) and read all of Ian Fleming's books. Of course the books were better than the films and of course the early Connery films were the best of the films. I think Connery was the best Bond, but he had the advantage of having the best scripts. Films that had stories and not just stunts. Stories that were fun and not crazy and only pushed the bounds of reality, but did not completely defy all forms of physics. I have seen the all the films, but I found invisible cars pretty stupid.

Sunday night I saw the newest Bond film, Casino Royale, and it's the best Bond film in a long long time. Casino Royale was the first Bond book Fleming wrote and the producers used it as an opportunity to reinvent the character. The opening segment shows his first 00 mission. Next we get an inspired foot chase scene in Madagascar mostly through a construction site. We don't know much about that villain but he's played by Sebastien Foucan a real life master of the sport of Parkour and free running which involves running through urban obstacles in artistic ways. It makes for a good action scene but we also see a Bond who sometimes literally runs through walls but at other times out thinks his opponent and takes short cuts to catch up. The whole movie offers such contrasts. M describes him as a blunt instrument and everyone constantly describes how he has to overcome his ego. For the first time in a Bond film, James Bond has a character arc...and it works.

He tracks a few people and then we get to the main plot. Le Chiffre is a terrorist financeer who has lost money and plans to get it back in a high stakes poker game. Bond is the best poker player in MI6. He's supposed to make sure Le Chiffre loses so that he'll need to turn to MI6 for protection so they can get him to tell secrets. It's a plan that makes some sense vs just killing him. In the book they played Baccaratt, now it's Texas Hold 'Em, that's a fine modernization.

Bond's bankroll comes from Her Majesty's Treasury and because it's a Bond story, the agent sent to look out for the money is the beautiful Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). Unlike many other films, she's actually intelligent and she and Bond verbally spar. He doesn't just sleep with her, he falls for her.

Casino Royale was directed by Martin Campbell who also directed Goldeneye, one of the better Bond films of the last 15 years. The two main writers also wrote Die Another Day and The World Is Not Enough, two of the dumber films. But this time they were helped out by Paul Haggis of Crash and Million Dollar Baby fame and that clearly helped. The end was a little drawn out and it seemed like every lead came from a cell phone but otherwise I was pretty impressed.

I haven't mentioned Daniel Craig yet, the newest Bond. A lot was made of the fact that he's blond, that's of course superficial and irrelevant. In fact I think he's perhaps the best Bond, but we'll have to wait a movie or two to find out. He's clearly the most athletic and comes across as very powerful and masculine. He runs a lot in this film and I found him very remincient of Robert Patrick as the T-1000. Connery was more sophisticated but since this was an origin story, that's specifically not in Bond's character yet. In the next film we'll see if he picks up some of that. In the various fights, this Bond gets hurt and while the scraps and cuts do take a scene or two to heal, they do have an emotional effect on him and you see bond's character forming from these early events in his career. A lot of this happens because of Craig.

I of course like Dame Judi Dench as M but I was bothered by the setting of every one of her scenes. We never used to see M's home or (I assume) M's spouse and Bernard Lee never travelled to the Caribbean.

Much of the formula is followed. Bond travels to Prague, Madagascar, London, the Bahamas, Miami, Montenegro, Lake Como (Italy), and Venice. There are fights, stunts, beautiful women, and (only a few) quips. The opening didn't follow the formula, but since this is an origin story, perhaps that's ok. The song sucked and I still can't decide if I liked the credits. They seemed like a cross between an iPod commercial and 60s animation. Again, quite different from the forumla.

I can't think of too many other films where I critique the credits, a Bond film has a lot to live up to. As I said, I haven't been too happy with the franchise for a long time, but I enjoyed Casino Royale a lot. I hope it does well and I hope the producers listen to the critics and continue this trend for the next one.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Path to Saner Copyrights?

U.S. Copyright Office Issues New Rights. "All told, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington approved six exemptions, the most his Copyright Office has ever granted. For the first time, the office exempted groups of users. Previously, Billington took an all-or-nothing approach, making exemptions difficult to justify."

Software now often comes with locks to prevent piracy but it also prevent other (legitimate) uses. Recent laws have made it illegal to circumvent these locks, even for legitimate uses. The ruling clarified some of these cases and makes it legal to circumvent the locks in these cases:
  • Film professors can copy snippets from DVDs for educational compilations
  • Blind people can use software to read aloud copy-protected electronic books
  • Software for obsolete machines can be archived (not sure I follow this, unless it's about emulators)
  • Working around a lost or broken hardware dongle

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Comcast CableCARDs Suck

So the new HDTiVo is wonderful. I've taken the CD changer and VCR off the TV Rack. The HD TiVo replaces the old TiVo and two cable boxes (one connected to the TiVo and one HD cable box that I switched with the receiver). So what was 7 boxes is now 3.

I bought the TiVo on Monday, called the cable company and was amazed that they made the appointment only 2 days later between 9 and 11am. The cable guy came at 10:30 and he knew what he was doing, he'd previously setup about 8 HDTiVos. Most of the time was spent with him on the phone to the office as they "activated" things and reading numbers back and forth. Unfortunately he got some errors so then he was on hold for 15 minutes waiting to get to tech support. Tech support wasn't that helpful, but we quickly determined that the cards were bad (thankfully it wasn't the card readers, I don't need to replace the TiVo). He had one spare and that worked.

Now I have to wait for them to come back to install the second. I had the installer call to make the appointment thinking he might have an easier time, but they said the appointment would be December 4th. I can't make that day and wanted it sooner. So I called Comcast Customer Service myself, it was about 12:15, and was told Dec 4th was the earliest. I asked politely saying it was their mistake they needed to fix and now I have less service (only one tuner instead of two) than before they got here. He said could connect me to someone in leadership and after being on hold for 15 minutes I now have an appointment on Nov 29th between 12-4. Not great, but I can live with that.

In the mean time the TiVo is great. I think because it's connected to my home network instead of a phone line I get much more interesting Internet stuff (Yahoo Traffic, Weather, Movie Times/Tickets, etc.) More info when I have more time to play.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Challenging Unlawful Detentions

former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and others challenge wartime detention policy. Maybe someone will do something.

New Toy

Yesterday I finally bought a new toy I've wanted for a while. I've done part of the setup, and the cable guy should be here tomorrow morning to finish it up. Review after I've used it a bit.

Freeport Pilgrimage

So today I made a pilgrimage that I hadn't done in 18 years of living in New England. My sister and I went to Freeport, Maine and went to the outlets and the LL Bean store. For an outlet villiage it was pretty good. It's not my favorite cup of tea but I can hold my own. We did LL Bean towards the end of the day when we were both pretty tired, and we did the Factory Outlet first. I didn't like that as it's everything mixed together and a bit disorganized. Too much effort for me to shop. But then we did the retail store and wow, that was pretty impressive.

First off, the store is actually several stores, we just did the main one which is about one full block and three stories tall. There are two other stores next to it, one for Hunting and Fishing and the other for Bike, Boat & Skiing. The main one is huge. Imagine every item in the catalog, each style has a complete rack in each color. So if a jacket comes in 4 colors, there are 4 racks of that jacket. Sometimes for something like that they'll do two colors per rack, but still it's impressive. And every size is available. The store is huge and spacious. I don't buy much from the catalog, but it was very nice to actually try stuff on and feel the textures. In the camping section they had every backpack (one color per rack), every pocket knife, every water bottle, etc.

I'm surprised I was so impressed with a store but, if you in the area, and inclined to such stuff, it's worth it. Still you won't get me near a store this Friday. I'm not that crazy.

Dick Cheney: Most Dangerous Man In The World

Cenk Uygur writes about how Dick Cheney wants to invade Iran. Idiot.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Why We Don't Stop the Genocide in Darfur

John Prendergast in the Washington Post writes So How Come We Haven't Stopped It? referring to genocide in Darfur. It turns out Salah Abdallah Gosh's is the head of security for the government which "gives him a lead role in the regime's counterinsurgency strategy, which relies on the Janjaweed militias to destroy non-Arab villages in Darfur." In a post-9/11 world, Gosh has also been helping the US in counterterrorism, so we turn a blind eye. Pretty disgusting. "Walking loudly and carrying a toothpick only emboldens the regime to escalate its attacks in Darfur.

SERE Instructors, Students Against Torture

Josh Marshall posts letters from people who've been through the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training (how to survive torture) including an instructor of the program:

"The horror of the recent revelations of the use of our school’s techniques in Iraq and Gitmo is disgusting. We are all horrified that we have destroyed the only tool we have to keep our soldiers safe … the disgust of world opinion. Waterboarding is a torture. Period."

"Torture, we revealed, was a useless and single pointed device which was wholly unreliable – torture was for sadism and the pleasure of the torturer. It had no intelligence value and the information would always be suspect."

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Friday, November 17, 2006

Breatfeeding Mother Kicked Off Plane

I first saw this in Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner's article in the Huffington Post Delta Kicks Breastfeeding Moms Off Plane. The story seemed bizarre to me and I realized that we really had no facts of what happened. Rowe-Finkbeiner thought she was being discrete but its not clear she knows she was. Then reading the comments is even more amusing as people with no knowledge of the facts make assumptions. Here's an article with a little more information, including the airlines (maybe not good enough) apology.

This strikes me as one flight attendant being overly sensitive in a society that's way too permissive of violence and so shunning of sex (except in advertising) that it stifles normal bodily functions. Then again, I'm a single male, I'm probably not allowed to even talk about the topic.