Saturday, March 31, 2007

Why Microsoft Should Fear Apple

Scot Finnie, Computerworld's online editorial director, has a well balanced article called Why Microsoft Should Fear Apple.

He's a longtime Windows user (since 2.11!) and recently switched to Mac. He understands the markershare numbers and knows they aren't going to change much except (possibly) in the long term and he doesn't "hate" Microsoft or "love" Apple. But as he says: "I undertook a simple three-month trial of the Mac last autumn, with no intention of sticking around, and realized four months later that I wasn't going back."

His point is the Mac is very usable and has fewer problems than Windows. He attributes this to having a closed hardware/software platform and that certainly helps. I think it's also attributable to OSX's unix roots. It's also the case that the Mac has plenty of software (which I attribute to clean and powerful system frameworks) and with the switch to Intel, Windows apps can run vitualized. Finally, it's clear that the Mac is pretty far ahead of other OS's and they are basically copying Apple. Given this, his point is that plenty of industry insiders are now buzzing about Mac and more and more exec's are switching.

Finally he talks about Mac's being expensive. It's not that they are more expensive than Windows, they're probably cheaper to operate than comparable systems. The problem is that there are few low-end systems and no low-end business systems. I certainly agree here. The MacBook is interesting, but a 13" screen is small and it's the only option for the MacBook. I have to believe that will change soon.

"The time for joking has passed. Microsoft hasn't exactly failed with Vista. But it's more like a double than a home run. Apple is innovating not just with the software and hardware it creates, but with the value proposition it is building in the marketplace. Apple hasn't ever been particularly good about that before. Sure, it's managed to appeal to people's aesthetic sensibilities, but almost never to people's wallets. While Macs still aren't cheap, you get a lot more bang for the buck than you once did."

With five private jets, Travolta still lectures on global warming

There's new a journalistic trend to point out hypocracy when celebrities talk about global warming while contributing greatly to it. This british article takes on John Travolta. My favorite part of it was this photo of his Florida home with two of his 5 jets parked.

All About USB

Why Powered USB Is Needed is an informative article. Part 1 is about the history of USB and part 2 is about Powered USB, an extension to the standard that's slow in materializing.

In a few cases he compares with Firewire. I will say, I hit the issues he mentions myself. When I got my iPod for my PC (pre-Mac) it wouldn't charge from the USB port. It needed to be a powered USB port and it wasn't. I added a firewire card to the PC (it was cheap, like $15 I think) and it worked great. I backup my PowerBook to a 160GB LaCie d2 hard drive using a Firewire 800 connector. Works great and is fast, in fact I'll think I go do a backup now.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Waxman Demands Answers From Rice

Think Progress explains Henry Waxman's (D-CA) problem with Condi Rice. Apparently he's asked her 11 times in the last 4 years about the claims that Iraq sought uranium from Niger and she's never replied to him. Waxman is now chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and he's had enough. He sent her a letter on March 12th requesting a reply by the 23rd and she blew him off again. He wrote her:

"I now request your appearance before the Committee at a hearing on Wednesday, April 18, 2007, at 10:00 a.m. in Room 2154, Rayburn House Office Building. At this hearing, you will be asked to provide testimony and respond to questions on the subjects outlined in the March 12 letter and the original request letters. …"

fun fun fun.

Universcale

Universcale is another take on Powers of Ten, this time as a flash animation. I found the UI a bit annoying and the music repetitive and there are a few gaps where there a no objects to show scale (nothing between Mount Everest and Pluto). At the smaller scales I appreciated seeing viruses, cells and molecules along with transisters and nanotubes.

Powercast's Technology Cuts The Electric Cord

This is pretty cool. Business 2.0 reports on Powercast. "A Pennsylvania entrepreneur has developed technology that gives you all the battery juice you need directly from the air." Recharge your (small) electronic devices without wires.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Homeland Security vs Tron

This is a clever piece of fiction that had me fooled for more than a minute.. Homeland Security has classified the 1982 Movie Tron as Sensitive. DHS has "ordered Walt Disney Studios to turn over all copies of the film in its posession. Retailers are also receiving notices to remove all copies of the film from stock shelves and turn them over to Federal officials." It's based on the true fact that portions of the movie were filmed at "Shiva, a nuclear fusion research facility created at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory". Nicely done.

The Arrow of Time

On June 17th, every year since 1977, the family goes through a private ritual: we photograph ourselves to stop, for a fleeting moment, the arrow of time passing by.

The Rolling Bridge

The Rolling Bridge is an alternative to a draw bridge. Pretty cool.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Gonzles Now Accused In Teen Sex Scandal Cover-Up in teen sex scandal 'cover-up'

Seriously. This is just getting crazy. "Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, both already under siege for other matters, are now being accused of failing to prosecute officers of the Texas Youth Commission after a Texas Ranger investigation documented that guards and administrators were sexually abusing the institution's teenage boy inmates." The article I think jumps a little at the political motivations of this, but regardless, not wanting to prosecute this seems inconceivable.

Prep for Kyle Sampson's Testimony Tomorrow

Talking Points Memo has some prep for Kyle Sampson's testimony tomorrow.

"[Deputy Attorney General Paul] McNulty was the one who went up to the Hill and said the firings were for poor performance. But McNulty has since told Sen. Schumer that he explicitly asked Goodling and others, who were briefing him for his testimony, various questions about what had happened in the attorney firings and that they lied to him. 'Misled' him might be the term of art. But the key point from what McNulty is saying is that if he misled Congress it wasn't intentionally. It was because Goodling et al. misled him. If true, that would be a crime. And that's almost certainly the real reason Goodling will take the fifth when called to testify."

The Politicization of the GSA

The House today was investigating the politicization of the General Services Administration. TPMmuckraker has a clip of Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) questioning GSA Chief Lurita Doan. Alledgedly there was a brown bag lunch of non-career employees that went over slides from Karl Rove's office in the White House about vulnerable Democratic seats and Republican seats that needed protecting. Also alledgedly after the talk Doan asked how the GSA can help the party. This is a problem because the GSA is not supposed to be political. All Doan offered as a response was "I don't remember".

White House Switching To Private Email

Think Progress is keeping a running total of various » White House switching to private email stories. It seems since the Purgegate investigation into white house emails, many staffers have given up using the White House mail system "except for purely professional correspondence" and are using RNC email systems or their own private email. Then Josh Marshall points out that while this might avoid being seen in the White House email system, if subpoenaed there can be no claim of executive privilege to protect these messasges. And someone else points out that other agencies "have apparently banned this practice over security concerns". I guess it depends what you mean by security.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cassini Images of Saturn Hexagon

I've never heard of this even though Voyager found it over 20 years ago. On Saturn's north pole is a hexagon shape that's 15,000 miles across which could hold 4 earths. Cassini just got a single images of the whole thing.

"It's amazing to see such striking differences on opposite ends of Saturn's poles. At the south pole we have what appears to be a hurricane with a giant eye, and at the north pole of Saturn we have this geometric feature, which is completely different."

Why Carol Lam's Firing is Suspcious

TPM has the the reasons Carol Lam's firing is suspicous succinctly and clearly.

Bush's Partisan Department of Justice

Andrew Sullivan in What Rove Has Wrought? points out "The central question is whether the Bush administration has used the U.S. Attorneys as a systematic weapon in targeting the opposition party, rather than rooting out corruption and malfeasance wherever it appears." In this study he found that it's a little complicated and perhaps nefarious.

They looked at "U.S. Attorneys' federal investigation and/or indictment of 375 elected officials" from 2001-2006. The elected officials break down as 50% Democrats, 41% Republicans, and 9% Independents. If you look at the 66 state or federal officials who were invested there's not much partisan disparity, 55% of these investigations were Democrats and 45% were Republicans (none were independents). But if you look at the 309 investigations of local officials you'll find 85% were of Democrats, 12% were of Republicans and 3% were of independents.

The theory goes that the national press keeps tabs of the state and federal officials but the local ones are covered by local press. "This strikes me [Sullivan] as classic Rove. He works below the radar, using the U.S. Attorney system to throttle the opposition party, knowing that only local media will pick up on the local stories and that the pattern likely won't emerge in the national media. Hence the panic from Gonzales when the media started pulling at the thread. Pull some more, guys. We may have deep, deep corruption of the justice system, all designed to foment unstoppable, uncheckable one-party rule."

The 2 Minute Haggadah

The two-minute Haggadah by Michael Rubiner. "A Passover service for the impatient"

Homer Evolution

This Sunday's Simpson's had a great couch gag. It's about a minute into this.



I love how other characters appaer in it. Bart and Lisa are fighting dinosaurs, Moe devolves, etc. This is up there with their spoof of the Powers of Ten.

Taking the Fifth Before Congress

Talking Points Memo has a post about DOJ White House liaison Monica Goodling's plan to plead the 5th before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"A party can request a hearing (in federal or state court) to examine whether the party invoking the Fifth has done so properly. Goodling's attorney's letter does not provide a valid basis for invoking the Fifth. You can't invoke the Fifth to avoid perjury charges (or obstructing justice with the selfsame testimony). (I have the cases here, if you want them.) You can't invoke the Fifth because you think the Committee is on a witch hunt. Etc."

Planet Earth in HD

When people get an HD TV they often start watching nature shows. In part it's because there aren't that many channels and Discovery HD is one of them, but it's also because it looks gorgeous in HD. The Discovery Channel has a new 11 part mini-series called Planet Earth. It took 5 years to make and uses new techiques to capture things never seen before and it's amazing.

Here's a clip of a Bird Of Paradise doing a dance to attract a mate. Just before this they showed him literally cleaning the stage before his show.



You can see more clips here but you really want to watch this in HD.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Chapter 1 of Rumsfeld

The New York Times has the first chapter of Andrew Cockburn's new book Rumsfeld. Looks good.

South Park Studios

The Apple site has a profile on South Park Studios. They crank out an episode in just 6 days, which is how they keep their humor topical. "That studio now includes a 120-processor (Linux) render farm, more than 30 Mac workstations and almost 10 terabytes of Xserve RAID storage space." Nice.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Movie Review: Hot Fuzz

I went to an advanced screening of Hot Fuzz tonight. This is from the same British team that did Shaun of the Dead, a slacker zombie film. The writer-director (Edgar Wright) and two stars (Simon Pegg, also a co-writer and Nick Frost) were there and took questions. Wright described this film as Agatha Christie getting it roughly in the rear from Michael Bay. It was an absolute riot.

The movie opens with a description of London Police Officer Nicholas Angel. He's a supercop with a great record. In fact, it's so great he's making the rest of the force look bad. So he's promoted to Sergeant and moved out into the country to the idyllic village of Sandford. His first night there (before he starts working) he throws a dozen kids out of a pub for underage drinking, arrests a man for drunk driving, another for public urination, and several others. He's an overachiever. He's a bit disappointed the next day as he learns that there's no crime in Sandford and the police force is to him, not taking their jobs seriously. His partner, Danny Butterman is a fan of action cop films and looks up to Angel and his London record. However he's disappointed that this real life hero hasn't done the various things his film heroes have. Their days are filled with catching an escaped swan and dealing with a farmer who's chopping other peoples' hedges. Then some fatal accidents happen and Angel suspects foul play.

The previous summary is just the beginning of the film and doesn't do it justice. The script is just brilliant, without a single wasted line or scene. There are constant funny one liners, and then it gets self-referential about them. Then it becomes an all out action film, that's still riotously funny (spoof isn't quite the right word). And there's a mystery in there with a few nicely done twists. There's also a great supporting cast including: Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, Bill Nighy, Edward Woodward, and even a 3 second cameo by Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings fame) as a killer Father Christmas. For the squeamish there are a few very bloody scenes, but they are all quick and done mostly for comic shock value. There are a lot of references to action films, particularly Point Break and Bad Boys 2, but if you're not up on them, they show clips in the film so you can follow along.

See this film in the theater, it's great with a crowd. Then see it again on DVD to catch the lines you missed. It's great fun and you'll enjoy it. Again and again. I know I will.

Scott Wade's Dirty Car Art Gallery

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Surprise Party

I saw this article, Surprise Party, in The Atlantic.

"Over dinner, some of the best political minds of the 1970s, Republican and Democratic, reached bipartisan consensus: none could any longer recognize the political parties in which they had once been major players. The cynical focus on divisive ‘wedge’ issues and the ferocious negativity of recent campaigns, which fed in to an inability to govern once elected, dismayed everyone at the table."

"And then came the leap. The three decided on the spot that they would create a third party to represent the center in the 2008 presidential election. To guarantee that it would, they decided that the ticket itself would be bipartisan: one Democrat and one Republican."

Unity '08 has a website where you can sign up as a delegate. The plan is to have an online "convention" that (via secure online voting) nominates a bipartisan ticket and gets them on the 2008 Presidential ballot in all 50 states. Nominations are open to anyone but like Lieberman did last fall, if one of the major candidates can't win their party's nomination, they're welcome here.

It sounds pretty crazy and I hope we don't have a repeat of Nader on 2000 helping to swing the election. The interesting part is the online campaigning and how it might remove some of the money from elections. Apparently the 2004 presidential election cost $2.2 billion

Gonzales Lied about Purge Involvement

The New York Times has an AP story, Documents Show Gonzales Approved Firings. "Attorney General Alberto Gonzales approved plans to fire several U.S. attorneys in an hourlong meeting last fall, according to documents released Friday that indicate he was more involved in the dismissals than he has claimed."

Ana Marie Cox asks Michael Kinsley is it a scandal yet based on his article Monday There Oughta Be A Law .

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Bush Administration and the GOP

The Pew Research Center for People and the Press published the results of a new survey that shows "Public allegiance to the Republican Party has plunged since the second year of George W. Bush's presidency". Both Cenk Uygur and Andrew Sullivan wrote about it.

"In 2002, the number of people who identified themselves as Republican or Democrat was the same. Both parties had 43% of the population on their side. In 2007, that number has become 50% for the Democrats and 35% for the Republicans. That is an enormous lead for the Democrats. The Pew Research Center says that is the biggest lead either party has ever had since they have been asking the question."

Sullivan was unhappy with Rove before. I think he said something like it's one thing to sell your soul for a majority, but a 51% one is not worth it. "They may have created the most loyally Democratic generation since the New Deal with the under 25s."

"It turns out that Karl Rove has gone a long way toward securing a permanent majority in American politics ... for liberals and Democrats."

I'm happy.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ira Glass on Storytelling

Here are four 5 minute videos from Current TV of Ira Glass on Storytelling. The first one is really good on how to tell a story, you need two things and I'll let him tell you what those are. The second one is geared a bit more on if you do radio (or podcasting) professionally you need to spend as much time finding good material as you do producing it and you have to throw away bad stuff. The third is convincing you to keep trying through bad stuff and he gives a great example of a bad program from his own past and picks it apart. The last part is convincing you to be yourself and don't pretend to be someone else. Good stuff.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Daily Show on Oaths

Tonight's Daily Show was really good and of course it won't be on YouTube soon. Here's a bit from Jon Steward talking with John Oliver about Bush's issue with Oaths.

Stewart: The president right now is suggesting that the only reason he's doing this is to preserve his ability for executive privilege to get good council from his advisors and it strikes me as, and I don't mean to be rude here but it strikes me as bullshit.

Oliver: Bullshit or Bullfact. Look John, if Karl Rove knew he'd one day be forced to testify under oath about advice he gave the president, he'd have to limit that advice to things that weren't shameful, illegal or spectacularly boneheaded.

Al Gore Goes to the Senate

Here's a decent summary of - Al Gore's appearance before Senate EPW. He spoke in front of the House in the morning.

Inhofe is an Ass

Sen James Inhofe (R-OK) is telling Al Gore that Global Warming isn't serious and that scientists are changing their mind from alarmist views to realizing this. According to wikipedia "In a July 28, 2003 Senate speech, he "offered compelling evidence that catastrophic global warming is a hoax"

He also says the estimated $300 billion dollar cost is a tax increase that is disproportionate on the poor since they "as a percentage of the monthly budget spend 5x more on energy than the average household". He's confusing the cost with the means of paying for it, and my guess is it's the first time he's cared about taxes being disproportionately on the poor.

Tony Snow Job

Tony Snow's press conference today is really amusing. He's dancing all over the place making a big deal about transcripts and then asking why everyone is making a big deal about transcripts. Here's my attempt at a transcript of one of the last questions:

Question: Yesterday the president said and you repeated that the principle at stake here with executive privilege is that the president needs to get candid advise from his advisors, right?
Snow: What the president has talked about is privileged communications with close staff members, that is correct.
Question: It occurs to me earlier you were saying that when I asked about well was the president informed of this decision did the president sign off on the US Attorney's being fired, you said the president has no recollection of being informed of all of this.
Snow: Right.
Question: So were his advisors really advising him on this, is this really privileged communications involving the president and his advisors if the president wasn't looped in your saying on this decision...
Snow: That also falls into the intriguing question category
Question: Well I mean...
Snow: No your asking me... look Ed, there are a number of complex legal considerations here and I'm not gonna try to play junior lawyer, these are the sorta things that people are going to have an opportunity to talk about
Question: You're saying the president wasn't in the loop but you need to cite executive privilege for the president's communications
Snow: No what you are saying is were conversations that didn't take place privileged. Well no they didn't take place.
Question: So what are you protecting?
Snow: No, we're not... what we're trying to do is is to protect the ability of the American people to see folks in Washington get at the truth without in fact engaging in the kind of unseemly partisanship that is too often been a factor in recent political life.

Fun fun fun.

How DoJ Works

The Daily Journal reports E-Mails Shed Light on Inner Workings at Justice. They go into some detail on the internal DoJ discussions about San Diego's Carol Lam and San Francisco's Kevin Ryan. "But in the 3,000 pages of documents released Monday night, a picture emerges of a department in which the top officials are intimately involved in every twist and turn of each U.S. attorney's office."

"Even an innocent query from a Daily Journal reporter about the future of Kevin Ryan two months before he was removed from office required the attention of six officials, including Gonzales' now-departed chief of staff, Kyle Sampson."

Tony Snow Flip-Flops On Executive Privilege

Let's just use Tony Snow's Own Words On Executive Privilege against Bush: "Taken to its logical extreme, that position would make it impossible for citizens to hold a chief executive accountable for anything. He would have a constitutional right to cover up."

"Most of us want no part of a president who is cynical enough to use the majesty of his office to evade the one thing he is sworn to uphold — the rule of law."

Of course Snow said this about Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal. I think most of of us would like politicians who believe the same thing no matter what party is in office.

Former AG Bell on the DoJ

Griffin Bell was the Attorney General under Jimmy Carter. Law.com has an article on his thoughts about Purgegate, Politics Has No Place at the DOJ. It's mostly a description of what the department was like BR, Before Reagan.

Iglesias on Why He Was Fired

Former US Attorney David Iglesias has an op-ed in the New York Times: Why I Was Fired. He talks about how Representative Heather Wilson (R-NM) and Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) called to ask him about "about sealed indictments pertaining to a politically charged corruption case widely reported in the news media involving local Democrats" which prosecutors can't legally talk about.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Daily Show Good

Jon Stewart had John Bolton of UN fame on tonight and it was very fun. I wish Stewart was in the White House Press Corp.

Bolton had a few points but I think they're bull. He talked about the entrenched bureaucracy in Washington and when they disagree with the president's policies they should work within the system. Apparently that's only true sometimes. If you're a US attorney and they don't like what you're doing, they just fire you, and don't even give you the real reason, let alone tell you they have concerns and give you a chance to correct them. Then there are the claims of changing the scientific reports to match policy, there's something wrong with that.

To some extent, his point of having people who aren't comfortable in the bureaucracy is a good thing to keep it minimized. But to use it as the excuse to put someone opposed to arms control in charge of it or opposed to the UN as ambassador to it (both Bolton) is ridiculous. The argument is that Bolton was to supposed to fix the UN, I don't see him being even remotely successful at that. Instead, his positions made it almost a guarantee that he would fail when working with others.

He mentioned that the president should be able to have an executive branch that executes his policies because the people elected him, otherwise there's a problem with the democratic theory. First off I think using the term democratic theory is interesting given the irregularities of the 2000 and 2004 elections. Otherwise I agree, we get what we elect. It's interesting that he is blaming Bush's failures (at the leaks) on the entrenched bureaucracy of the executive branch. This poor president, even his own branch of government is against him.

All Right, I'll Call it Purgegate

Glenn Greenwald points out Republicans and U.S. attorneys -- then and now. See it's routine to to replace the US Attorneys when you come to office, and when Bush did in 2001 Democrats didn't make an issue of it, even though Republicans did when Clinton did it in 1993. "What none of those administrations did -- until now -- was cherry-pick a list of prosecutors to be fired in the middle of the administration for clearly political purposes and then lie to Congress (and the country) about what happened."

TPM has a review of the latest document dump. Plenty of hints of partisan reasons though no smoking gun yet. Kevin Drum sums it up as "that the five firings with the weakest official explanations are the same five prosecutors who have been suspected of being either too tough on Republican corruption cases or too weak on Democratic ones. You can't very well put that on your summary sheet, though, which probably explains why the DOJies had trouble coming up with good reasons for firing them. The dots are practically begging to be connected here."

In a vote today the Senate overturned the clause in the Patriot Act allowing the AG appoint US Attorney's without Senate confirmation. I assume Bush has to sign it but the vote was 94-2 so it's veto proof, and also bi-partisan.

Bush spoke this afternoon at 5:45, which seems an odd time. Maybe hoping people were commuting? A transcript is up. Basically he said we've already given 3,000 pages of internal documents and my staff will testify, but only in a non-public meeting, not under oath and without any transcript taken. I interpret that as meaning he doesn't want anyone to watch or any record of them lying to Congress. Unless they're Quakers, they can take an oath to tell the truth. Think Progess reports that There Is No Precedent Barring White House Aides From Testifying To Congress. "Under President Clinton, 31 of his top aides testified on 47 different occasions." Bush "refused three invitations from Congress for his aides to testify, a first since President Richard Nixon in 1972."

Oh and Bush didn't mention the gap in the documents "from mid-November to early December in e-mails and other memos, which was a critical period as the White House and Justice Department reviewed, then approved, which U.S. attorneys would be fired while also developing a political and communications strategy for countering any fallout from the firings."

The Democrats have already rejected these conditions. Bush said that if they did they would be playing partisan politics instead of getting to the truth, but I think that 94-2 vote proves it isn't that. Expect subpoenas to be issued shortly. Bush said today he will fight them by taking this to court. Daily Kos points out that this is merely the first battle between Bush and the Democratic Congress. Bush is fighting now to defend himself to keep "leverage in investigating NSA spying, the DeLay/Abramoff-financed Texas redistricting, Cheney's Energy Task Force, the political manipulation of science, the Plame outing... everything."

Attorneyga...um...Purgegate is far from over.

Time Was Right

The thing about the anti-Hilary Vote Different ad to me is that it proves Time Magazine was right in their Man of the Year pick.

US Government Honoring WWII Glider Pilots

There must be some back room dealing going on in the US House of Representatives that needed more time. They are currently having a 5 minute vote to "suspend the rules and agree to house concurrent resolution 42 as amended". The title of the resolution as read by the clerk is "House Concurrent Resolution 42 Concurrent Resolution Honoring the Heroic Service and Sacrifice of the 6,500 Glider Pilots of the United States Army Air Forces During World War II". Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Update: And now they are voting to rename the Ellis Island Library to be the Bob Hope Memorial Library. The vote was 420-1 with 13 not voting. I wonder what the 1 Democrat has against Bob Hope.

Movie Review: The Host

The Host is a Korean monster movie getting rave reviews. Calling it a monster movie is a bit unfair, it's actually a combination of lots of genres. Walking out I called it 28 Days Later crossed with The Office. There are also elements of Brazil and Little Miss Sunshine in it. The elevator pitch for this movie is inconceivable.

The film opens with an American scientist telling a Korean scientist to pour chemicals down the sink and into the Han River. Apparently this is based on a real life incident in 2000. Then we meet the nice but dysfunctional family Park. Gang-Du is a dumb, semi-narcoleptic guy working at a food stand run by his father near the river. Gang-Du is the single father of a 13 year-old daughter Hyun-seo. Gang-Du has a sister Nam-Joo who's an archery champion with a penchant for taking too long to shoot and a brother Nam-il who's a college graduate who can't get job. Quickly into the film the monster comes out of the river in broad daylight in all it's CGI glory and enjoys munching on the pedestrians. This is people running and screaming and real monster stuff. Hyun-seo is grabbed by the monster just before it goes back into the river.

The victims are gathered at some gymnasium-like room with pictures of the dead and lots of crying. We see the whole Park family gather mourning Hyun-seo. While very sad, this degenerates to the 4 of them literally writhing on the floor in their grief. if you're not sure whether to laugh or not, it continues until there is no choice. Then we the government agents, here to help, and to collect those exposed to the creature for fear of a virus. While Gang-Du is in the hospital he gets a call from Hyun-seo who's still alive and in trapped in the sewer with the monster. No one but his family will believe him and now we have a family quest film to rescue the child.

Did I say they were dysfunctional? They are each so inept or stupid in their own way. it's uncomfortable and leads to laughter right up until people die. Hyun-seo is trapped in a sewer with dead bodies and filth all around her. it would be bad for an adult, but with a child there's an extra element of cruelty to it. She's the most capable of the family and tries to escape but can't on her own.

The rest of the population is strange too. The military has taken control but is barely seen. The doctors don't listen to anything the Parks say and are trying to quarantine them and worse because of "the virus". The US is intervening to prevent a world-wide crisis, clearly we're the bad guys.

So with all this, does it work? Mostly. I enjoyed it, but I have no need to see it again. I've seen many reviews that say it's so deep and can be taken on so many levels and i think they're nuts. I thought the middle was a bit long. Some scenes drag on far longer than needed and I don't think it was to add to Office-like discomfort. It picked up in the end and that helps. For a film that's supposed to be fun, there's a lot of sad of in it. There were a lot of occasions where I wasn't sure how I was supposed to react. Maybe that's the point, but, I'm not so sure.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Congressional Combatants

Sen Kennedy (D-MA) is talking on the floor about Attorneygate and giving a history of an issue with Georgia trying to circumvent the Voting Rights Act by demanding photo ids and charging $20 for them. In spite of the fact the Dept of Justice didn't investigate the courts found it a poll tax. There were several iterations and there was a Dept of Justice official who was opposed to the Georgia laws eventually moved out to a different job. Long story short, Kennedy says he asked Gonzales about the move, was it retaliation for his position. He says he never got an answer! Kennedy says he asked the same question of other Justice Department officials and never got an answer!

Given Gonzales' view of the unitary executive and the separation of powers, maybe the Senate should declare Gonzales and other high ranking Department of Justice officials to be Congressional Combatants. They should be moved to secret holding facilities where irregular interrogation techniques could be used. This is obviously needed to protect democracy because the standard techniques are ineffective. I'm sure the Attorney General would approve.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Grand Central Already Obsolete?

David Pogue gushes over new web service Grand Central which apparently will unify your phones. Tim O'Reilly then gushes over Pogue's gushing.

I haven't tried it but apparently Grand Central gives you a new unified phone number which you have to get all your friends and acquaintances to use. You tell them about all of your phone numbers. When your new "one number to rule them all" is dialed, all your phones ring. Or you can go through and configure what you want to happen. It does caller id so it can tell you who's calling and you configure specific things to happen for specific callers. Your children, spouse, friends, co-workers, parents, third cousins twice removed can all hear different songs playing instead of rings while waiting for you to pick up one of the cacophony of phones ringing because they called you.

Pogue says "Millions of people have more than one phone number these days — home, work, cellular, hotel room, vacation home, yacht". First off the yacht crowd really isn't a broad target market. After that people have a cell phone, maybe a work number and maybe a home number. Hotel phones are used to call other hotel phones. If you call out on them they charge you a fortune and you arrived too late at night to give the number to anyone else. And anyone else you've given the number to, already has your cell phone number and is using it because it's preprogrammed in their cellphone's memory.

Seriously, I think the cell phone has already made this product obsolete. I know many people who have no home number. If I want to reach them I call their cell. If you've got the desk job you have a work number too, but if your co-workers or customers really need to reach you, you give them your cell phone number. From my experiences contractors like electricians and Verizon tech people live by the cell phone on the job.

In the early 90s I worked on a industry standard networking platform called DCE. While you could use it to write your own networking applications, it included a distributed file system that meant that whatever workstation you were using (wherever it was), you could still get to your home machine's files. In the late 90s I realized the laptop mostly made all of that obsolete. The important networking standards weren't how to find your files from a strange computer or how to find the same programs that worked on this different kind of computer. The important ones were how did you connect your portable computer, with all your stuff on it, to the network from this new place (DHCP) securely because you can't trust the network (SSL, VPN).

Pogue lists many of the wonder features, but I think my cell phone already does them:

Caller Naming - yep, caller id and my phone shows my friends picture on the outside, without me having to open the phone
Listen In - you can listen to the message your friend is leaving while they leave it. Um if you want to hear it, talk to them. If you want to wait, wait. And if you're under 30, they're probably texting you anyway.
Record the call - because all those calls are so important they need to be saved
Ringback music - um yeah.
Customized Greetings - oh however many will I make?
Switch Lines - you can change to a different phone during a call and the caller never knows, that is until you drop one of the phones you're juggling. Does anyone need this?
Phone Spam Filters - I have an unlisted number and am in the Do Not Call Registry, I don't get telemarketing calls. Except from the Fraternal Order of State Firefighters, they won't leave me alone. I do get wrong numbers sometimes, and I don't see Grand Central offering anything new on that.

They do seem to do some neat things with voice mail but I think voip and call forwarding can do it too. I love voice dialing on my cell phone, I don't see that as a service they can offer without making it just a little too slow to use (first call grand central then call who you want).

I must be missing something because all these industry luminaries think Grand Central is a good idea. Can someone explain to me why the cell phone doesn't make it obsolete?

Movie Review: Mission: Impossible III

I was interested in this film because JJ Abrams of Alias and Lost fame wrote and directed it. I was less interested because of Tom Cruise reprising his role of Ethan Hunt. If you remember all his recent antics happened a bit before the opening. So I ended up catching it on DVD and I'm content with that. Yeah it's a big summer spectacle, but there's something nice about seeing it while home on a snowy weekend after seeing Oscar nominees for a couple of months.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is the villain Owen Davian and he's great. if he had more screen time, he might have been one of the best villains of all time. As it stands, he's merely one of the most capable, ruthless and remorseless. Hoffman's Davian pwns Cruise's Hunt and to prove it the movie opens with an insanely tense scene between them. It's perhaps the best scene in the film and I won't ruin it. I will say this, while most other films would be counting to 3, in this one they count to 10 (not 11) and they use that extra time to go through every cliche version of that scene ever done. It's visceral and it's great. Many reviews say it throws off the pacing of the film but I don't agree.

Many reviews also complain that the film is just action pieces strung together with no story and little tension. There are a lot of action scenes, they're strung together with the minimal motivation needed and in a couple of cases none, because the characters don't know what's happening to them. The central plot is certainly a MacGuffin, but so what; they were good enough for Hitchcock. There's a sub-plot about Hunt getting engaged and whether someone with his job can afford a normal relationship. They don't spend enough time on them and we don't get to know her but it does give Hunt some motivation which is all the film wants from it.

So the film is about the action, how was it? Good. Yes they are a bit over the top, but not crazy so. Laws of physics are not egregiously violated and in a shot used in the commercials and explosion actually blows Hunt into a car, see physics. While the law of physics are conserved the laws of logistics are not. Yeah there's some crazy equipment (infrared vascular id?) and people travel all over the place and large boxes of stuff appear out of no where, but I found that easy to overlook.

The DVD had some extras about the stunts and Cruise did many of his own. There's a cool shot of him climbing a wall with a small pulley, it's real. Then he uses it to fall down the wall a la the first MI film and he really did the fall. And there's a scene where he uses a pulley to leap off a skyscraper and swing to another building. This one doesn't go perfectly and I found it very fun. The fact that these are actual stunts done by the star gives it a sense of realism that so many other films don't have. Perhaps it's because the shot can show the whole stunt without cutting so you can actually follow the action. So many other films fail at this but this one doesn't.

In films like Born on the 4th of July, Magnolia, A Few Good Men, and Rain Man Tom Cruise has proven he can act. In films like Minority Report, War of the Worlds and the previous Mission Impossible films he's proven he can do stunt work. In this film he does good stunts and he runs very very well. Seriously, it's like watching an Olympic sprinter. In a lot of heats.

I had a lot of fun with this film. It could have just been my mood, but I think it's a good minimalist approach to an action film. it's got the stunts, a great villain, pokes some fun at itself and has the obligatory Mission Impossible twists and turns and latex masks.

Oh and Philip Seymour Hoffman needs to guest star on 24 so Davian can go up against Jack Bauer, I really want to see that.

Blogs Can Top the Presses

The Los Angeles Times has an article Blogs can top the presses which uses Talking Points Memo as a case study of how blogs can effectively add to journalism and the political debate. I read TPM and cite it regularly but didn't know the history of it. Good article worth reading.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Two Views of Al Gore

Cenk Uygur has a post Al Gore Was Right where he cites a speech from Sept 23, 2002 that Gore gave about Iraq and got all the problems right. Combine that with his Global Warming work and he asks "How right does a man have to be before we start listening to him? Or pick him to be our next leader?"

Meanwhile Paul Mirengoff writes Al Gore -- as phony as ever where he calls Gore "one of the great hypocrites of our time" because he took tobacco contributions after his vow to take on the tobacco industry after his sister's death from lung cancer; uses lots of energy in his large home; and now about a Zinc mine on his land.

Mirengoff wrote: "Now we learn that this alleged environmentalist has collected more than $500,000 in royalties from the owners of zinc mines who held mineral leases on his farm near Carthage, Tennessee. Apparently, before the mines closed in 2003, they emitted thousands of pounds of toxic substances. On several occasions, moreover, the water discharged from the mines into nearby rivers had levels of toxins above what was legal. The mines now have a new owner and are set to reopen this year."

If you read the story he links to and watch the little video the message is different. "Al Gore Jr. received more than $500,000 in royalties from the owners of zinc mines who held mineral leases on his farm near Carthage, Tenn. Now the mines have a new owner and are scheduled to reopen later this year. Before the mines closed in 2003, they emitted thousands of pounds of toxic substances and several times, the water discharged from the mines into nearby rivers had levels of toxins above what was legal. State environmental officials say the mine has had a good environmental record and there is no evidence of unusual health problems in the area. But the mine's reopening again raises concerns about threats to the environment."

Note what they are doing, spreading FUD. The state environmental officials say the mine had a good environmental record and reported only minor issues. This becomes "they emitted thousands of pounds of toxic substances and several times, the water discharged from the mines into nearby rivers had levels of toxins above what was legal."

Why are right-wing "journalists" such scumbags? I mean really. And why are they going after someone who isn't even a candidate?

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Claims

I found a transcript of the "Combatant Status Review Tribunal Hearing" for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed here. It's 26 pages and a few things just seem wrong. First off, the names of all personnel are redacted. Second they make clear that this is the unclassified portion and that there is another classified portion of the hearing and evidence. So we have secret anonymous trials.

The tribunal is to determine if KSM is an enemy combatant. I might have misunderstood something but it begins with a presentation of evidence against KSM, mostly things he supposedly said to others and a lot of info gathered from his computer. He's asked if he has comments and one of them is that it wasn't his computer and wants to call two witnesses. He is denied this because the president of the hearing found it "not relevant to status". If this evidence is relevant enough to be presented why isn't counter-evidence?

As to the claims that he was involved in 31 terrorist actions they seem real. He speaks some english and has the aid of a translator. The list is his statement, it's read for him and he even makes some corrections as the list is read saying "I was not responsible, but share" (this referring to an attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II while visiting the Philippines). He says he was tortured but that is for a later trial, and he admits these claims freely. Ok.

He gives a long closing statement saying that he's at war with the US and this is the way of war. He regrets killing children during his acts but that's what happens in war and that even the US has been responsible for the killing of children in Iraq. He says they are revolutionaries like George Washington was and they try to pick military, economic and political targets. He says he was the friend of the US while in Afghanistan fighting the Russians but now that's changed, and that many Afghani's who have been captured aren't enemies of the US but merely caught up in the battle. Also, that the US needs to distinguish between Afghani's, Taliban and al Qaeda, that they are all different.

It seems KSM is an evil man responsible for horrible terrorist acts. It's also clear that he understands more than many Americans. I saw some survey recently (sorry can't find a reference) that showed some large number of US military in Iraq think we're there for revenge of 9/11. The sorry thing about this is that KSM is so probably guilty, why are we screwing up the trials with secret evidence and anonymous judges?

Why Americans Hate Politicians

Kyle Sampson was Alberto Gonzales' Chief of Staff. He resigned over Attorneygate. Well, they can't even be straight about his resignation. He resigned, but was still technically there as he transitioned out, which is almost reasonable. But after that it seems he was getting setup with a new office as a lawyer for the environmental division of the Department of Justice. Yesterday, Sampson's lawyer talked about why he resigned:

"Kyle did not resign because he had misled anyone at the Justice Department or withheld information concerning the replacement of the U.S. Attorneys. He resigned because, as Chief of Staff, he felt he had let the Attorney General down in failing to appreciate the need for and organize a more effective political response to the unfounded accusations of impropriety in the replacement process."

The reason Attorneygate is a story is because it seems the administration fired what are supposed to be independent positions for purely political reasons. Each time the administration speaks they change their story which makes it seem like they are hiding something. The new story also seems to implicate higher and higher people. This becomes an illegal act if it turns out the firings were because of current ongoing cases the administration didn't want continued. There are hints of this but nothing solid yet, which is why more info must be gathered.

But here's the point of this post. Sampson is apologizing not for doing something wrong but for letting it become a story. If you wanted to be cynical it's for failing to coverup things effectively. To be less cyncial, it's for not handling things well. Gonzales and Bush have repeated (Nixon's phrase) "mistakes were made" regarding not the firings but that we didn't tell those involved. The problem is they lied to Congress about it, at this point that's pretty clear.

Another quote from the Nixon era is, "it's not the crime, it's the coverup". The importance of saying something correctly has overtaken the importance of saying something correct. Politicians are so handled today they can't say anything without a staff to back them up. John McCain can't even say if contraceptives prevent the spread of HIV without asking for a study paper. He even says "You know, I’m sure I’ve taken a position on it on the past. I have to find out what my position was." Is this a joke? This is man who thinks he has the qualifications to lead a nation?

I think HIlary is quite smart and capable. I liked her health care plan of 1993 but think she badly bungled the politics of it. Given that I was surprised at how effective she's been as a Senator, she's clearly learned a thing or two. I also clearly agree with many of her (social and economic) positions. I have doubts if she could win the national election, based solely on how so many of the right still hate her husband. But my biggest problem with her is that, I have no idea what she would do about the middle east.

People ask HIlary if she thinks her vote to authorize the President to use force in Iraq was a mistake. Whether it was or wasn't, the problem is, she won't give a straight answer to it. You can tell her handlers have told her to never admit to a mistake, even if you were lied to about the information at the time. Media Matters might not think the question is important, but I think it's one of the big questions for Hilary, is she real or she is another prepacked candidate you can't trust.

This is why Obama is interesting to people, he comes across as genuine. It's as simple as that, and the state of our politics is as pathetic as that. Imagine if all or even most of the candidates were genuine, maybe then we could choose the candidate who had the best ideas and the best ability to execute them. HDNet is showing A Man for All Seasons, maybe more politicians should watch it.

Friday, March 16, 2007

How We Know About the Universe

At the various astonomy lectures I've gone too I see different people try to explain the science behind things we know about stars and the universe to varying degrees of success. I figured I'd take my shot at it, with the help of Wikipedia. I'm hoping this helps the layman (and is correct).

You've all seen a prism. Issac Newton did this first in the 1670s and we know now that regular light is made up of component colors. Colors are just different frequencies of light that our eyes can detect differently. There are other frequencies of light like infrared, x-ray and radiowaves that our eyes can't detect but we can build machines that detect them. The component colors are called the spectrum and it's the same colors as the rainbow (water vapor in the air acts as prisms to make rainbows).

In the early 1800s two scientists independently discovered when looking at spectrums from the sun that there were some dark lines in the colors seen. These dark lines are called Fraunhofer lines after one of those scientists, Joseph von Fraunhofer.



In the mid 1800s scientists were discovering and cataloging the different chemical elements, (the Periodic table was invented in 1869). Around this time, scientists discovered that if you heat a substance until it glows and look at the spectrums produced from that light, that different substances showed unique Fraunhofer lines. Therefore, by looking at the spectrum you could determine the chemical makeup of the source. We understand now that this is related to photons energizing electrons in the elements but I won't go into that detail here.

It's important to note that a substance won't be indicated by one just dark line. In fact, a substance is indicated by several lines, in specific positions (ie at specific frequencies) and of different widths. Scientists were looking at the spectrum of stars and categorizing them for a while but it was Cecilia Payne in the 1920s that related the spectra to the temperature and chemical makeup of stars. For this, she earned the first PhD in Astronomy from Harvard. She found that stars (and in fact the universe) consist mostly of Hydrogen and the remainder being almost entirely Helium, but that's the topic of another post.

So lets shift to a different topic. How do we know how far away stars are? For stars relatively close to us scientists starting using parallax around 1830. Hold your finger up to your face and look at it with one eye and then the other. Notice how it's position seems to change against the background. Scientists do this with stars against their background but instead of using the distance of your eyes (a couple of inches) they use the diameter of Earth's orbit. If you look at stars throughout the year and study how they are positioned, you can do geometry to figure out the distance to these close stars. Stars that are further away, however don't seem to move, so you have to use another method to determine their distance.

If they don't move, how do you tell the difference between a bright star far away and a dim star close to us? Wouldn't they both look the same? What scientists use is known as a standard candle, that is something that we know shines at the same luminosity no matter how far away it is. Luminosity is how bright something actually is as compared to how bright it appears because of distance.

If you look at different stars, some are bright, some are dim, some are different colors. Some stars vary how they look (size, brightness) and are called variable stars. Cepheids are a specific type of variable star that are bright (1,000-10,000 times as luminous as the Sun) and pulse over the course of tens of days. The length of this pulse is known as its period. The North Star is a Cepheid variable star.

In 1908 Henrietta Swan Leavitt published her first paper that showed that Cepheids have a pattern that brighter ones have longer periods. Scientists knew the distance of nearby Cepheids by using the parallax method. Studying those, Leavitt could figure out a formula for how much light they produced (their luminousity) based on their period. Now by looking at distant variable stars and measuring their periods, scientists could compare their brightness (appearance) against their luminosity and figure out how far away they were.

In the early 1920s, Edwin Hubble used Cepheids to measure the distance to several nearby "nebulae". Well at the time they were thought to be nebulae but Hubble found they were much further away from other objects. He found some stars were (relatively) close and other objects were very far away and this is how we learned that there are different galaxies from our own (the Milky Way).

So we can figure out how far away things (stars and galaxies) are and we can analyse their spectrum and figure out what they are made of. There's another big discovery here. It turns out when you look at the spectra of different objects, they don't line up exactly the way we think they should. This is where the fact that substances show several different Fraunhofer lines is important. If there was just one line and you saw a line in a different location you'd assume it was different. But scientists saw the set of lines in proper relationship to each other but in the wrong position on the spectrum. They were all shifted to the red side a little bit.

The reason is related to the Doppler Effect, which is the same thing in sound waves. When a train approaches you, it compresses the sound waves making the train sound higher pitched and as it passes the sound waves elongate, making the pitch lower. When light waves shift to the red (longer wave lengths) it shows the object is moving away from us. The crazy part, is that whatever direction from the Earth we look, everything is redshifted, there's nothing that is blue shifted. This means everything is moving away from us.

Hubble didn't discover this redshift but he did correlate the shifts from several galaxies and in 1929 came up with a formula, (known as Hubble's Law) that more distant objects are moving away from us faster than closer objects are. That is, the redshift of more distant objects is greater than the redshift of closer objects and the differences are in proportion to the distance. The neat thing, which is again something for another post, is that this matched up with Einstein's theory of relativity that said the universe is expanding. Einstein (and others) had the theory and Hubble found the evidence.

So here's the last bit, if the universe is expanding now, it was probably expanding before. So in the past it was smaller. If you keep extrapolating backwards, it was very small, the size of a point and then started expanding; that's the Big Bang. There's a lot more to the theory than just this extrapolation and there's even evidence backing it up. For more on the Big Bang, I highly recommend Simon Singh's book Big Bang.

Open questions remain about what will happen to the universe. Will it keep expanding? Since gravity attracts things together will it ultimately stop expanding reach equilibrium or even start contracting?

There's obviously a lot more to these topics. But I think the basic concepts should be understandable to most everyone and in the last two years they've fascinated me. If you found this interesting please post in the comments, I'll do more in the future.

White House Cites Hazy Memories in Attorneygate

The Guardian writes 'Hazy Memories' Cited in Attorneys Probe

"The latest e-mails revealed between White House and Justice Department officials show that Rove inquired in early January 2005 about firing U.S. attorneys. They also indicate Gonzales was considering dismissing up to 20 percent of U.S. attorneys in the weeks before he took over the Justice Department."

"Presidential press secretary Tony Snow previously had asserted Miers was the person who came up with the idea, but he said Friday, 'I don't want to try to vouch for origination.' He said, 'At this juncture, people have hazy memories.'"

"'The story keeps changing, which neither does them or the public any good,' Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday. 'They ought to gather all the facts and tell the public the truth.'"


At the Pleasure of the President

There's something about Attorneygate that I haven't heard anyone ask about. The defenders of the administration constantly point out that the US Attorney's "serve at the pleasure of the president" (anyone know the origin of that phrase, I can't find it) and he can fire them at any time for any or no reason. Ok that's true. So are they saying that Bush was displeased with them? Are they saying Bush was involved in their firing? If so, why? All I've heard is that Bush once mentioned to Gonzales that he's heard some US Attorney's haven't been prosecuting voter fraud cases. That's a big difference from being displeased enough to fire them.

Khalid Sheik Mohammed Confession

The Washington Post reports Alleged Architect Of 9/11 Confesses To Many Attacks. I've seen a bunch of speculation on this. The right says: see how bad he is! The left says: he was tortured for years, he's probably just saying this. I've also seen speculation that the release of this is just the administrations way of changing the news topic from Attorneygate.

I'm surprised that if the right believes what he says, they don't also believe his statement that others at Guantanamo are innocent and should be released.

To me the important point is this. By the nature of what we've done, capturing these people, holding them prisoners for years, without rights, while torturing them; people don't trust any information we get out of them. Post 9/11 the world was on our side. Because of this kind of behavior (and invading countries under false pretenses) the world doesn't believe us when we talk. This is how Bush has so badly damaged this country. It's also why another administration will have an easier time, after a little non-Bush I'm hoping the rest of the world will start trusting us again.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Astronomy Night: The Hubble

Tonight's astronomy night lecture at the CfA was about the Hubble Space Telescope. Recent PhD Anil Seth gave the lecture and it was funny when giving the history of the Hubble and getting some questions he said he got his undergraduate in 1998 so this was ancient history to him. The Hubble was launched in 1990.

He covered a few things about the instruments. It's about the size of a bus with the main mirror being 7.5 feet in diameter. It's in a low Earth orbit so that the space shuttle can service it. It's 353 miles up, orbits the Earth in 97 minutes and travels at 19,500 miles per hour.

He researches galaxies and talked a bit about how scientists measure astronomical distances. I'll do that in another post.

He spent some time on the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image.



It's the deepest picture of the universe ever taken in visible light. They pointed the Hubble at the same patch of sky over 800 times over 4 months for a total exposure of 11.3 days. Most everything in it is a galaxy. The faint red ones are 13 billion light years away, which means we're seeing back in time 13 billion years. The universe is 13.7 billion years old, so we're looking at things in the very young universe. There are 10,000 galaxies in the image, each with 2 billion stars!

The part that made this amazing was this. Take a (US) quarter, hold it at arms length, edge-on. You want to see the edge of the coin not the face. They told us that's the area of sky covered by this image, the width of the quarter's edge, square. The wikipedia page actually says the area covered by it "is smaller than a grain of sand held at arm's length". 10,000 galaxies in a swatch of sky the size of a grain of sand; the universe is big.

FIOS Woes V

I think I'm passed this now. The problems with the 8 channels resolved themselves over the weekend and have been working since. I can watch CNN again :) I don't know what changed but I now get a strong 100% signal lock on them. I assume Verizon changed something since I told them which channels were the problem.

My landlord sent a bill and I called Verizon. I will say, their phone people have always been good and helpful. This one (Steve) hadn't heard this one before but I can't say I blame him. He forwarded me to his supervisor Paula who gave me a discount off my bills. While it was an odd request, the fact that my install took 3 visits and 14 hours was a bit ridiculous, particularly with people leaving the job in the middle. Also, the fact that to simplify the install I added TV service to my bill probably helped. My landlord agreed to pay part of the total since he was partially at fault in this as well. As it turns out, I paid a little and I'm ok with that.

The only outstanding problem I have is that 3x Fast Forward on the HDTiVo doesn't work, it jumps around all over the places and is pretty much unusable. This seems to be a TiVo problem specific to the HD TiVo since it doesn't digitally encode the video itself but depends on Verizon's encoding that they send over the wire. There must be something they don't agree on. According to the TiVo forums they know about the problem and are working on it. I hope it's resolved soon, but expect it to take a few months.

My internet service has been good. I've done speed tests and have actually gotten 5Mbps download and about 1.7Mbps upload. Hopefully this is the last post on this topic.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Understanding Human Evolution Newsweek Technology - MSNBC.com

Newsweek has an article Beyond Stones & Bones about how "The new science of the brain and DNA is rewriting the history of human origins." We now have more tools than just looking at bones to figure out evolution. Read how lice DNA helped scientists figure out our origins.

But can it explain this? While sitting, raise your right foot off the floor (keeping your shin vertical) and make clockwise circles with it. Now with your right hand, draw the number 6 in the air. Your foot will switch directions.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Oh Yeah, There is an FBI Scandal Too

The other major scandal of last week was a Justice Department audit of the FBI's use of National Security Letters. The ability to use NSLs was greatly expanded by the Patriot Act. The report says the FBI Misused the Patriot Act.

"A National Security Letter is a form of administrative subpoena used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is a demand letter issued to a particular entity or organization to turn over various record and data pertaining to individuals. They require no probable cause or judicial oversight. They also contain a gag order, preventing the recipient of the letter from disclosing that the letter was ever issued. Compliance is mandatory."

Got that. Pretty powerful stuff with great potential for misuse. The FBI says from 2003-2005 they issued 143,074 NSLs but the report found in their sample they under-reported to Congress by about 20%. For comparison in 2000 there were 8,500 NSLs issued. They also found a lot of mistakes in the data reported. In 2003 39% of the NSL Requests were for US citizens, in 2005 it was 53%. NSLs were used in 15% of the counter-terrorism cases opened in 2003. It was 29% in 2005. The FBI amazingly didn't keep data about how the info gathered from NSLs was used in criminal trials. But in the cases that the report found "the most common charges were fraud (19), immigration (17), and money laundering (17). That will teach al Qaeda.

The FBI is supposed to be self-policing on the use of NSLs. From 2003-2005 they reported a total of 26 possible violations. 22 of those were for FBI errors like writing down the phone number. In the audit's analysis of 77 cases which included 293 NLSs, they found 22 more possible violations. That's a big percentage. Well it's 7.5%. 7.5% of 143,000 is 10,750. Thats a lot of violations. And if you realize that the FBI only reported 26, they possibly reported only 0.25% of the violations. That's investigative ability.

There are lots of other issues found in the report. E.g., 60% of the investigated files contained at least one violation of FBI policies involving NSLs. "Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, conceded that the bureau had improperly used the USA Patriot Act to obtain information about people and businesses."

Glenn Greenwald writes that the problem is Blind faith in the Bush administration. When the Patriot Act was being reauthorized there were concerns of this power by some Senators and the Washington Post. The Department of Justice said the concerns were false, that safeguards were in place. Well no they weren't, the DoJ was wrong, though I'm not sure if they were lying or incompetent. We also know that Arlen Spector (R-PA), was Judiciary Committee Chairman from 2002-2006 was the one pushing for the Patriot Act reauthorization and saying there were no problems with NSLs. And now he's complaining loudly about the FBI. Sorry Arlen, you're to blame too.

Geoffrey Stone, University of Chicago Law Professor, writes "One reason the Bush administration has fared so poorly over the past several years is its obsessive fear of public accountability and separation of powers."

"As the Framers of the Constitution well understood, however, such an approach to governance is a recipe for disaster. The Framers believed in both openness and checks-and-balances"

"What this blunder of executive branch arrogance proves once again is clear – “trust us” is not a viable principle of a well-functioning democracy."

Coming to Virginia: Trials with Secret Evidence

Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman are accused of passing US secrets to Israel, that is spying as part of the AIPAC espionage scandal. Their trial is coming up in Virgina. The problem is the government is proposing presenting secret evidence. That is giving it to the judge and jury but not to the public or press. Do these guys even known what the Constitution is?

Bush Lies in Speech Today

Think Progress reports ‘No Trend’ Showing Escalation Is Working. "On Tuesday, President Bush gave a speech claiming the Iraq escalation is showing 'encouraging signs' of progress. But in today’s Washington Post, a senior Bush administration official acknowledges that 'right now there is no trend' showing the escalation is working." The rest is a comparison of things Bush said offset by facts. Why do these guys bother speaking and who listens?

Administration Destorying Evidence in Padilla Case?

Glenn Greenwald over the weekend asked What happened to the Padilla interrorgation videos. Jose Padilla is a US Citizen, arrested in Chicago in May 2002, and held in miltary prison as an enemy combatant since June 2002. He has yet to be charged with any crime. He claims he's been tortured. He might well be a terrorist, but that doesn't excuse what we've done.

His lawyers wanted the recordings of his interrogation sessions, particular the last one from March 2004. The government has claimed they lost that one. Seriously. And to put it in Grey's Anatomy terms, seriously. Reminds me of this recent SNL skit. Thankfully "U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke was incredulous that anything connected to such a high-profile defendant could be lost."

Greenwald writes: "Of course, even if administration's patently unbelievable claim were true -- namely, that it did 'lose' the video of its interrogation of this Extremely Dangerous International Terrorist -- that would, by itself, evidence a reckless ineptitude with American national security so grave that it ought to be a scandal by itself."

I was talking about the TV show 24 with a friend recently. I said that I think it's really fun during the hour, but if you think about it afterwards it's getting very ridiculous. Compared to say West Wing, it seems every aspect of the government in that show, which is the CTU and the White House is incompetent and filled with traitors. My friend responded: "Isn't that what your blog is all about?"

Greenwald on Cheney

Glenn Greenwald has a good article Dick Cheney's warped vision of the world, where he describes his paranoid view of the world and how it's similar to bin Laden's and as a result how the rest of the world perceives the US ("We're sandwiched between Iran and North Korea").

What Rove Knew

Here's the beginning of how Rove is connected to Attorneygate. It's a small discrepancy in what he knew and when he knew it but I suspect he was involved and will escape unscathed.

Gonzales Press Conference Today

Gonzales said: "First I believe the independence of our US attorneys. They are the face of the department. They are my representatives in the community. I acknowledge their sacrifice. I acknowledge their courage to step into the arena on behalf of the American people.

Second, the AG, all political appointees such as US Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president of the US.

Third, I believe fundamentally in the constiutional role in the Senate in advice and concent with respect to us attorneys and would in no way support an effort to circumvent that constiutional role.

I believe in accountability. Like every CEO of a major organization, I am responsible for what happens at the Department of Justice. I acknowledge that mistakes were made here. I accept that responsibility and my pledge to the American people is to find out what went wrong here, to assess accountability and to make improvements so that mistakes that occurred in this instance do not occur in the future."

He went on to say that Kyle Sampson, his chief of staff, was responsible to evaluate which attorneys were strong and which were weak and to make improvements.

"I just described for Pete the extent of my...of the knowledge that I had about the process. I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood. What I knew was that there was an ongoing effort, that was led by Mr. Sampson, vetted through the Department of Justice to assertain where we could make improvements in US Attorneys performances around the country."

I'm amazed that no reporter there asked this question. "Are you such a hands off manager that when you had your chief of staff replace 9% of 'your representatives in the community' you weren't involved at all. That you didn't look at the criteria he used to make his decisions?

At least Sen Charles Schumer (D-NY) just said on the floor: "Mr. President, did the Attorney General not know that 8 US Attorneys were to be fired. If he didn't know he shouldn't be Attorney General, plain and simple. That is not a minor personel decision. That is a major act that has now shaken the intgrity of the US Attorneys offices, not only those in question, but all of them to the core. To simply say decisions were delegated, that is a sorry excuse. Then of course if the AG knew, that one doesn't work either.

Oh and that third point of Gonzales is just a lie. That he would in no way support a way to circumvent the Senate's constitutional role of advice and consent of US Attorneys. Section 502 of the 2005 renewal of the Patriot Act is called "Interim appointment of United States Attorneys" and says "Section 546 of title 28, United States Code, is amended by
striking subsections (c) and (d) and inserting the following new subsection: ''(c) A person appointed as United States attorney under this section may serve until the qualification of a United States Attorney for such district appointed by the President under section 541 of this title.''. " Now that's vague unless you lookup the original law that's being modified. What strikes me as interesting is that this section was not in the original Patriot Act. It was (I assume consciously, how could it be otherwise) added in 2005 and Gonzales pushed hard for Congress to pass it. Here's his op-ed saying so. I'm sick of this administration's officials constant lies.

Why is this not called Attorneygate?

I've been silent on the firing of the 8 US Attorneys last December. Well no more.

Andrew Sullivan quotes a lawyer as saying: "The key is crude political direction of the prosecutorial service - go get Democrats, and do it in a way to get maximum electoral benefit; lay off the corrupt Republicans; use your prosecutorial authority for voter suppression projects targeting minorities."

The Daily Kos has details of how one of the attorneys, John McKay, may be have been dismissed because the didn't investigate the 2004 Washington Governor election which was one of the closest in US history. It was hotly contested and did go to trial.

Well we learned last Tuesday when 2 of the 6 of the fired attorneys testified to Congress "that GOP lawmakers or staffers had made improper telephone calls asking about ongoing criminal investigations. A third prosecutor said a Justice Department official warned him two weeks ago that he and his colleagues should keep quiet or risk retaliation." One example is Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) is alleged to have "pressured a New Mexico prosecutor to bring indictments against a Democrat just before the November elections" and has hired a attorney to represent him.

You know how the Bush administration says they won't comment about an ongoing investigation when it comes to the Libby trial? We learn todaythat Bush told Gonzales that he received complaints about the prosecutors not investigating voter fraud. So you don't talk to the press, you talk to the prosecutors. But it's deeper than that. In Feb 2005 Harriet Miers suggested firing all 93 US attorneys (this was 8 months before Bush nominated her to the Supreme Court). Apparently that's common when the office of the President changes parties, but it's unusual to do so mid-term. Gonzales and Rove dismissed the idea as impractical.

According to the Washington Post: "The aide in charge of the dismissals -- [Gonzales'] chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson -- resigned yesterday, officials said, after acknowledging that he did not tell key Justice officials about the extent of his communications with the White House, leading them to provide incomplete information to Congress." Already a coverup. And yes, apparently Rove was involved in firing the attorneys.

I can't find the transcript (though I've seen the video) but this Washington Post article tells how on January 18, 2007, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the fired U.S. attorneys: "I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney for political reasons or if it would in any way jeopardize an ongoing serious investigation. I just would not do it." He said the changes were for performance reasons.

And yet the New York Times finds that "Internal Justice Department performance reports for six of the eight United States attorneys who have been dismissed in recent months rated them 'well regarded,' 'capable' or 'very competent.'"

Last Friday Paul Krugman in The New York Times basically said Gonzales lied to Congress: "But it's already clear that [Gonzales] did indeed dismiss all eight prosecutors for political reasons -- some because they wouldn't use their offices to provide electoral help to the G.O.P., and the others probably because they refused to soft-pedal investigations of corrupt Republicans."

Krugman goes on to point out that the real question is what about the US attorneys who didn't get fired what did they do to curry favor? "Donald Shields and John Cragan, two professors of communication, have compiled a database of investigations and/or indictments of candidates and elected officials by U.S. attorneys since the Bush administration came to power. Of the 375 cases they identified, 10 involved independents, 67 involved Republicans, and 298 involved Democrats. The main source of this partisan tilt was a huge disparity in investigations of local politicians, in which Democrats were seven times as likely as Republicans to face Justice Department scrutiny."

There were election tampering charges against Republicans with phone jamming in the NH 2002 elections that I wrote about last may and last August. The Daily Kos points out that US attorney Thomas Colantuono took "more than a year before the FBI questioned their top/only suspect" but "just before the 2004 elections, he moved fast to block Democrats from questioning phone-jamming suspects".

Oh and another detail in all of this is that the Patriot Act added another provision that the Attorney General can name interim replacement US attorneys without Senate confirmation, thereby bypassing Congress. Nice.

I think the important point is this. Bush has the right to fire these attorneys for any reason. As I just heard on NPR, these are political appointments, but there are not political jobs. The problem is, that Bush, the guy who called himself "the uniter", believes that he only needs to protect the rights of Republicans and should only prosecute Democrats. He's ignoring his oath to serve the whole nation and protect the Constitution.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Squirell Torture

I wonder if this really works. Bird feeder technology is an ever escalating battle, this is a valiant entry into that. The squirrel's weight starts the feeder rotating until the squirrel becomes dizzy and falls off.

Trekkie Nutcase

Some guy in central England apparently went bankrupt converting his apartment into the Starship Voyager. He's now trying to sell it for close to a $1 million. His apartment even has it's own website.

Dean Kamen Invents Cyborg Arm

Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway has created a prototype Cyborg Arm. He was commissioned by DARPA to create a better prosthetic arm for soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. " The arm can scratch a nose, pick up a pen, and perform other delicate actions. It weighs six pounds and can be covered with a mirror-image cast of the person's other arm." Grainy video here.

Fox Propaganda

Cenk Uygur has a post called Fox Has Jumped the Shark about their coverage of the Libby trial. It also has a pointer to this collection of their misleading headlines.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

VA Hospitals Still Good

With all the problems at Walter Reed Hospital I was wondering if what I saw last August about the success of the VA Hospital System was wrong. The Boston Globe has an article today and apparently they are different and the VA is still looking like the best and most efficient health care system in the country.

Movie Review: Breach

Six years ago, FBI agent Robert Hanssen was arrested for spying against the US for the Soviets and Russians for 15 years. His actions have been called "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history".

Hanssen is a contradiction. He's devotely religious, attending mass every day and a member of Opus Dei. According to the film he's a talented analyst and the FBI's "best computer guy". He's conservative to the point of not liking women who wear pants. Yet, he secretly videotapes he and his wife having sex and send those tapes to friends and of course he was a traitorous spy. He's also an obnoxious and demanding boss. Chris Cooper plays Hanssen and does a great job of making this character conflicted, secretative and real.

Breach covers the last 2 months of the investigation before his capture. It's told from the point of view of Eric O'Neill, a young FBI employee, hoping to become an agent, who is assigned as Hanssen's clerk. Ryan Phillippe plays him and it's a difficult role. He has to be young and inexperienced while spying on a senior agent, often lying to him to and not speaking about it all to his wife. Phillippe is ok but he's overpowered by Cooper, which is probably in character. The other agents keep things very dry. Laura Linney is O'Neill's contact and she's given a few moments of doubt about the toll of being an agent, but the role is otherwise forgettable. Dennis Haysbert and Gary Cole have minor roles, but I can never see Gary Cole in a suit with suspenders without thinking of Office Space.

Breach is directed by Billy Ray who previously directed and co-wrote Shattered Glass about a journalist fabricating stories. Breach doesn't attempt to show the whole story of Hanssen's crimes or every aspect of how he was found out. Even though we know the outcome from the first scene, there are some tense scenes as O'Neill tries to manipulate the master manipulator and risks being found out. However, by showing Hanssen mostly through O'Neill's eyes and by showing only 2 months of the story, Breach really tries to be a character study of Hanssen. When captured, an agent asks Hanssen why he did it, and his answer is as unclear as his life.

I was going to say this was the best film I've seen of 2007, but counting films that actually came out in 2007 this is only the second I've seen after Zodiac. Both are good films and worth seeing.

FIOS Woes IV

I thought I should post some progress. First off I have the bedroom TV and cable box all configured with my old TiVo. I dug up an old Universal Remote and have that all configured and working fine.

I tried video chatting with my sister and it wasn't working. I realized it was the new Actiontec router that came with FIOS, I had to open the appropriate ports. Configuring port forwarding for this is why I dumped my D-Link 524 and was happy with my Linksys WRT54GC which did UPnP which automatically configured this. Apparently this isn't on by default on the Actiontec and trying to turn it on wasn't obvious and didn't seem to work. I thought I'd have to configure the dozen or so ports by hand and started that but I found it had a preset for iChat which did all the relevant ports and that worked. I could video chat with my sister so I could help her debug her computer issues (she wanted a different image for her IM picture, otherwise her mac is working fine).

I've heard from my landlord for his bill. It's a lot but he was calm and reasonable while talking with me. I'll call Verizon tomorrow (when a supervisor might be in the office if I need it) and probably have them come out to adjust the signal to my HDTiVo. The HDTiVo also has some fast forward problems with FIOS, it tends to jump around at differing speeds. The HDTiVo uses the digital encoding that Verizon sends and is a little confused by their format. TiVo knows about the problem and is apparently working on it. For now I FF at double speed not triple speed for you TiVo knowledgable folks.

Friday, March 09, 2007

One Red Paperclip

I remember hearing about this before but I'm not sure I ever read through the whole thing. This guy started with one red paperclip and traded it over the course of a year for a house! There's got to be a marketing lesson in there somewhere.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Libby

Libby was found guilty in 4/5 charges. The jury was convinced that he lied to cover up the deliberate outing of Plame for political purposes. So, I'm baffled as to why Fitzgerald has stopped the investigation. What came out in the trial were many people in the administration trying to discredit a Democratic critic by attacking his wife. If it's not illegal, these are not people who should be in office.

I'm also tired of the right saying that it hasn't been proved that Plame was covert. Oh please. It's true it didn't come up in a trial but it must be the reason the CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate in the first place. A year ago Newsweek wrote Plame Was Still Covert.

I also heard typical left v right talking heads on MSNBC. The idiot on the right was saying Plame sent Wilson on the trip to Niger. What pissed me off was the idiot on the left could merely say "that's not true" to which the idiot on the left said "yes it was" and the idiot moderator didn't say anything. After all this time is it so hard to know that Cheney asked the CIA for more info about Iraq's alleged attempts to acquire yellow cake. The CIA office thought it would need to send someone there and wondered who was qualified. Plame said her husband was potentially qualified and the officers (not Plame) interviewed him, found him qualified, and sent him. Why do journalists leave it to the other side to disprove lies and not state facts themselves?

Also is it so hard to know what Wilson reported? That people told him Iraq did approach them to buy yellow cake but because of the embargo they refused. So the evidence was Iraq did try, didn't succeed and the embargo worked. Is that what Cheney says?