Friday, August 31, 2007

AM Radio in the Mid-West Still Strong

Here's a techie's rationale for why right wing talk radio dominates the mid-west. Well not really but kinda. AM is still going strong and small stations can cover a huge area.

Google News Now Hosting AP Stories

Google Begins Hosting AP Stories on Its Site "Internet search leader Google Inc. on Friday began hosting material produced by The Associated Press and three other news services on its own Web site instead of only sending readers to other destinations."

A quick look on my news summary page and I didn't find any google hosted stories. I searched for "mortgage" and found one and when I clicked on it I got a 404 error. Some bugs to be worked out still I guess.

The speculation is that this will hurt traffic to newspaper sites, which are for the most part already hurting. One firm says referrals from Google account for 2% of news site traffic. "For its part, the AP intends to work with Google to ensure readers find their way to breaking news stories on its members' Web sites, said Jane Seagrave, the AP's vice president of new media markets. In recognition of the challenges facing the media, the AP froze its basic rates for member newspapers and broadcasters this year and already has committed to keeping fees at the same level next year."

Cucumber Melon Salad

Doesn't this Cucumber Melon Salad sound good? I'm going to make it as soon as the melon ripens.

NBC and iTunes Split

NBC Universal announced today that they will stop selling TV shows on iTunes. NBC needed to give 90 days notice to Apple so the shows were to be pulled in December, but Apple punched back and is not selling the shows at all this season to avoid yanking them mid-season. Here's Apple's side of the story.

3 of the top 10 shows on iTunes were from NBC: Battlestar Galactica, The Office and Heroes. That accounted for 30% of iTune's TV show revenue. Do they only sell 10 shows? I've not paid to download an episode but I have friends that have watched whole seasons of Galactica this way. Two years ago I downloaded the 5 Oscar nominated best short films for $10 total which seemed like a deal to me, particularly as I had no other option to see them. Last November we learned that strong iTunes sales saved The Office.

NBC wanted to charge more and the ability to bundle shows to sell more of them. Apple works hard to maintain the same price ($1.99/episode) across the board. Apple claims under NBC's terms the price would go up to $4.99/episode which seems way to expensive. $110 for a 22 episode season is crazy when the DVD is $40-60.

NBC must be betting on it's new online service hulu being as popular for their shows as iTunes is. We'll see. The web makes it easy for customers to go to difference places, but sites that aggregate things (google, yahoo, amazon, ebay, etc.) are really popular for their convenience. If there's a lot of content on iTunes will fans looking for some shows go to another site to pay more (the whole reason for this) or will they find something else to watch for less at the site they're already at?

Piracy was another reason NBC mentioned. BitTorrent while easy is still beyond most people's ability. I definitely believe it provides a better experience as you can watch it on the computer or your TV or reformat it for your iPod or whatever you want to do. I find streaming large videos through a browser to be annoying.

This article on CNet seems more like a rant to me but I agree with this: "Sad as it is, there's no way to fully eliminate piracy. Whether you want to believe it or not, the best way to stop piracy is to give people most of what they want: no DRM, an affordable price and ease of purchase. NBC wants stronger DRM and higher prices and it's making its product less available. Sounds like a recipe for trouble." Piracy of TV pilots is also a problem but it seems to me the networks could use it as marketing tool. Aren't these the people that love focus groups so much?

One thing is for sure, neither NBC nor iTunes are going away anytime soon. Well, by soon I mean in the next 5 years, it's hard to predict anything too far out. I know this, a couple of times I've downloaded an episode of a TV to watch. It usually because my TiVo didn't record it or I came to the show a little late and wanted to catch up and there was no other way to see them. Finding the shows was a little difficult, but downloading and watching was really nice. Having feeds that downloaded new shows automatically would be great. Oh wait, Miro already does this, really easily. Now if only they could get some really good content, I wonder who has some? If Miro had as simple a billing system as iTunes it would be ideal. Oh wait, the simple billing system was the problem wasn't it?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tribbles by Edward Gorey

Someone found out that Gorey became a Star Trek fan and postulated (and drew) what if Edward Gorey Drew the Trouble With Tribbles.

Wiretapping News

Wired has a long story on How the FBI Wiretap Net Operates. "The FBI has quietly built a sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device, according to nearly a thousand pages of restricted documents newly released under the Freedom of Information Act."

So I don't think this program is recording every call made, but it seems the FBI can just type into a computer in their office and record any calls (voice, sms, etc.) to any number they want. This is probably how a lot of people think wiretaps work but until recently there's been a lot more to the process (and here another opportunity to plug HBO's The Wire). The problem seems to be, and there isn't enough info to know this, that there are few internal checks to prevent the system from being abused by an insider (or an attacker that becomes an insider) let alone an agency that decides to investigate stuff without warrants.

Speaking of wiretapping, Slate has some interesting (and 10 pages long) speculation about the NSA's abilities and the FISA laws. Page 5 is particularly good.

You doubt this is important. Here's the true story of two men caught in an FBI sting who were convicted of "supporting terrorism by agreeing to help launder money" for a fake assassination attempt. They may have been the subject of illegal NSA wiretaps and this came up in the trial. "The case involves secret arguments by the government, and more astonishingly, secret opinions by the judge that only government prosecutors were allowed to read." Imagine going to jail for 15 years and not having the right to hear part of the decision that put you there.

Secret government spying. Secret court rulings. Is this the US?

Nuclear Fuel Accidents Kept Secret

It seems post 9/11 secrecy went a bit too far (I know, shocker). Tenn. Nuclear Fuel Problems Kept Secret. According to an NRC document released one of two private companies licensed by the NRC to manufacture, possess and store highly enriched uranium had 9 violations or test failures since 2005. In near serious accident at Nuclear Fuel Services "some 35 liters, or just over 9 gallons, of highly enriched uranium solution leaked from a transfer line into a protected glovebox and spilled onto the floor."

So Congress is complaining that the policy is bad and the NRC wants to release documents about the other company, BWX. Seems to be missing the bigger picture. KInda gives you that warm, glowy feeling doesn't it?

Cliff Notes on the Katrina Anniversary

With the 2 year anniversary of Katrina lots of journalists are writing things. Here's The Cliff Notes to the Katrina Anniversary Literature. The Mother Jones article he points to is good.

Your Tax Dollars, Used for Republicans

I'm not sure there's something new this report from a week ago but it seems to be more confirmed. Commerce, Treasury funds helped boost GOP campaigns "Top Commerce and Treasury Departments officials appeared with Republican candidates and doled out millions in federal money in battleground congressional districts and states after receiving White House political briefings detailing GOP election strategy." Waxman apparently confirmed it to. (Yeah I'm being lazy on this one.)

Iraq Update

The army says they can maintain the surge only as long as another year. The problem is that while attacks in Baghdad against US troops are down, attacks against Iraqi's are the same and the Iraqi government has met only 3 of 18 benchmarks set by Congress. As much as I'm sure Bush will try to avoid this, the fact was the surge was merely supposed to buy time for the government to stabilize. We're also finding that weapons the US gave to Iraqi security forces are being used in crimes in Turkey. Just great.

This is according to drafts of a GAO report that Congress will get net week. This comes after a National Intelligence Estimate last week that "depicts a paralyzed Iraqi government unable to take advantage of the security gains achieved by the thousands of extra American troops dispatched to the country this year." The Bush administration is supposed to provide a report on progress in mid September. The question is will the Bush administration "water down" the report by cherry picking the good stuff and playing down the bad? General Petraeus says he'll write his own report, uninfluenced by the White House.

It turns out the military is divided over it's recommendations and in an unusual occurrence, won't make a unified recommendation to Bush. Daily Kos interprets this as "Pentagon Gives Up; Hands War Over to Bush".

Meanwhile Bush Wants $50 Billion More for Iraq War. This is "on top of about $460 billion in the fiscal 2008 defense budget and $147 billion in a pending supplemental bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq." Now the question is, will the Democrats lead?

ZINK, Zero Ink Printing

A friend is pointing me at ZINK which is a new printing technology that doesn't use ink. Yep, it stands for "Zero Ink". It's all in the paper. Printers can be much smaller but I want to know what the paper will cost.

Great T-shirt

Combines two movies:

Simpsons Star Wars



But as friends would say, the hardest part is synching the voices to the video.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Outrage Over Larry Craig

I honestly don't care who Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) has sex with, just like I didn't care about Clinton's escapades. I liked Clinton's policies and I don't know anything about Craig's. Glenn Greenwald has an interesting angle on the story on right wing commentator hypocrisy. Greenwald refers to "various right-wing commentators" though I think most all he mentions are bloggers.

"Last October, just weeks before the midterm election, gay activist Mike Rogers reported that the married, GOP "family values" Senator repeatedly had sex with anonymous men in public bathrooms. His report was based on "extensive research," including interviews with several men whom Craig solicited for bathroom sex."

Rogers was chastised by the right. "A virtually unanimous chorus on the Right furiously insisted that nothing could be more irrelevant than whether the married family values Senator had sex with men in bathrooms (acts that are simultaneously criminal and adulterous). The same political movement that impeached Bill Clinton and which has made a living exploiting issues of private morality for political gain insisted that Rogers had reached a new and despicable low in politics even by reporting this."

Now the right is all over Craig to get rid of him. Before election season begins.

It's the Shipping Costs That Will Get You

Remember those $400 dollar hammers and $600 toilet seats? That was nothing. C&D Distributors was (is?) a small defense contractor of small parts, things like washers and screws. It was founded by twin sisters Darlene and Charlene Corley. "The company used a government system that fast-tracked items to priority military installations. C&D submitted the shipping costs separately and the system paid them automatically." Except, they exploited this as described by the Washington Post, Defense Contractor Was Paid $1 Million to Ship 2 Washers.

"Among the invoices was a 2004 order for a single $8.75 elbow pipe that was shipped for $445,640, according to the documents. Also that year, a $10.99 machine thread plug was shipped for $492,096. Last year, six machine screws worth a total of $59.94 were shipped at a cost of $403,436. The Pentagon paid 112 of the fraudulent invoices until the scheme was detected last September." Darlene committed suicide in October "after being approached by federal investigators".

SAT Averages at Record Low

Well I guess it's not just Miss Teen South Carolina, SAT Averages Decline to Record Low.

The Damage Bush Has Done

John Edwards says he will enact Brownie's Law: "Edwards will enact a new requirement - 'Brownie's Law' - ensuring that senior political appointees actually are qualified to perform the job to which they are appointed. Brownie's Law will require that heads of executive agencies and other senior officials have demonstrated qualifications in the field related to their job."

In the last Demoncratic debates Bill Richardson said "But the reality is, what the American people want is a president who says, "I will follow the Constitution of the United States; I will not go to war unless the Congress authorizes me to go to war. And we're going to get rid of those blemishes that America has, like Guantanamo, like eavesdropping on our citizens, like policies of torture, like returning habeas corpus."

This is what we've come to.

Thanks W. Worst President Ever.

Edutain Me

The word of the day is edutainment. I had never seen it before today. I saw it in the comments of this digg article, "dammit, mirror needed. i want to be edutained." (which I'm still laughing at).

It sounded derisive to me but wikipedia says "The noun edutainment is a neologistic portmanteau coined by Bob Heyman while producing documentaries for the National Geographic Society."

Wow, National Geographic, it must be good. I guess they were trying to copy something like Schoolhouse Rock or even Private Snafu and get more kids to learn, but it really does sound like a dumbing down of education to me.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Daily Show - Now Less Dailier

I was looking forward to the Daily Show coverage of Gonzales resigning, but tonight's episode seemed...familiar. Checking the schedule I see two week of reruns. The next new episode is not merely post Labor Day but a week later on September 10th. Grrrr.

Same goes for Colbert.

To the TiVo To Do List Robin! Time to hit cancel scheduled recording a lot.

Scaring Ourselves

A running club sprinkles flour on the ground to mark a route and New Haven Panics. "Just before 5 p.m., the police received a call that someone was sprinkling powder on the ground. The store was evacuated and remained closed the rest of the day. The incident prompted a massive response from the New Haven police and authorities from surrounding towns." Two people "were charged with first-degree breach of peace, a felony" after the police knew it was just flour.

Total Lunar Eclipse Early Tue Morning

"A total eclipse of the Moon occurs during the early morning of Tuesday, August 28, 2007. The event is widely visible from the Unite States and Canada as well as South America, the Pacific Ocean, western Asia and Australia. During a total lunar eclipse, the Moon' disk can take on a dramatically colorful appearance from bright orange to blood red to dark brown and (rarely) very dark gray." Not sure I'll be up for it.

Miss Teen South Carolina



Yep, education really should be a big issue of the election. And what better evidence that pagents aren't just about beauty.

Leopardmania

Even I'll admit that some mac fans go way overboard. With Leopard (the next rev of OS X, shipping in October) Apple is adding Time Machine to do automatic backups. When searching through the backups it uses a space based user interface, kinda like a Star Trek wormhole as you travel back in time to find your file. I remember some people complaining that it was yet another Apple user interface that looked like no other. I've never been bothered by the fact that one app's background was shiny metal while another was duller. It all looked similar enough I could figure them all out. Yeah Time Machine is a bit crazy flashy but since you won't be using it often it's not that obnoxious and opening another dimension on your machine is kinda appropriate for what it's doing.

When Jobs first demo'ed Leopard he said he was leaving out some big features. When he got around to showing them it was a bit of a letdown, nothing all that interesting. Still people were really angry that the menubar was now translucent and the dock was 3D. Forgive me but I barely notice the difference.

Now I read that the latest developer build of Leopard has a new default desktop image and it's a space image. There's also a new welcome movie and it's also space based. Yes, a welcome movie.

Then I read Phill Ryu's blog post Where We're Going, We Don't Need Roads*. Or Aqua.. "We're witnessing Apple phasing out the aging, decorated, and beloved Aqua, in exchange for a new, hotter interface. Time Machine seems to be where the overall UI is going, with a theme of immersive interface design and space exploration visuals, and the glitz powered by Leopard's Core Animation technology. The mission is to reinvent the OS experience. Instead of a slightly prettier version of the standard desktop OS look, Time Machine and many of Leopard's upgrades reek of a new direction towards something completely different. Something visually intuitive, and unlike anything we've seen before."

Oh please. It's a new default desktop image and a welcome movie. As if no one has ever had a space image for a desktop image. Jobs in his presentation even said that no mac users use the default desktop, they use their own images. And as if space and wormholes are somehow more "intuitive".

It is true that Apple is pushing Core Animation effects into its apps and encouraging third party developers to do the same by making it so easy to do. But that's a far cry from scraping Aqua. With macs becoming more popular, I'd expect Apple to make them familiar to (but better than) the Windows machines they are coming from.

Gonzales Pedictions

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog ask Who Will Be Our Next Attorney General? with a few possibilities.

Then again who knows if they're right? Here's a post from 3 weeks ago giving four reason why Bush can’t afford to let Gonzales go. We'll see if any of those predictions come true.

I wonder if the internal DOJ purgegate investigation is concluding. Remember, that's the reason Gonzales recused himself from knowing anything. Maybe that's why he resigned.

The only major original bushies left are Cheney and Rice, I don't see either of them going.

Possible Gonzales Motive

Maybe Gonzales announced his resignation today because he knew Michael Vick would plead guilty today. CNN is besides themselves trying to figure out which story to cover. And apparently nothing else is happening in the entire world.

Rove and Katrina

Digby wrote about Karl Rove and Katrina.

Google Sets

Need to name conference rooms or computers? Try using Google Sets.

Gonzales Resigns

It's about time. Apparently, like other things, he didn't tell anyone at the Dept of Justice about it and they're all surprised. I doubt we'll know what caused it to happen now.

The question is who will replace him. Given the resignations of so many top people at Justice, it seems unlikely they'll promote from within (though I don't know much about who is there). DHS chief Michael Chernoff and Sen Orin Hatch (R-UT) are being spoken about. I also heard this morning that there are new indicators of an Al Qaeda attack, so maybe it's not the best time to change the head of Homeland Security. Then again, maybe Chernoff wants to flee before it gets bad.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Astronomers Find a Hole in the Universe

I don't really follow how significant this is but Astronomers Found a Hole in the Universe. "Astronomers have stumbled upon a tremendous hole in the universe. That's got them scratching their heads about what's just not there. The cosmic blank spot has no stray stars, no galaxies, no sucking black holes, not even mysterious dark matter. It is 1 billion light years across of nothing. That's an expanse of nearly 6 billion trillion miles of emptiness." There's some more detail here.

The hole is in the constellation Eridanus in the southern hemisphere. The region was discovered in 2004 by studying a
map of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation made by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotopy Probe (WMAP) satellite. It's been known as the "WMAP Cold Spot".

Remember we're looking out at three dimensional space but since all our instruments are in the same place (on or near earth) it's hard to judge distance. This hole is roughly 6-10 billion light-years from Earth and there's stuff in front of and behind it. Also we gather data with different instruments that see visible light and various other frequencies (infrared, radio waves, etc.) and that has to be combined. The paper describes analysis of this data and "results suggest that the dip in extragalactic brightness and number counts and the WMAP cold spot are physically related, i.e., that the coincidence is neither a statistical anomaly nor a WMAP foreground correction problem." Basically all the data is consistent with a 1 billion light-year wide void of nothing and we don' t know yet how to explain that. Did the universe form that way and if so why or did something cause that void?

Someone Stole My Idea

I'm a big fan of Life is Good, and in the spirit of demotivational corporate art, I thought there should be a Life is Bad. Instead there is Life is Crap and they have a lot of ideas.


SUNW To Become JAVA

This is about the dumbest thing I've heard. Jonathan Schwartz, the CEO of Sun Microsystems explains on his blog that Sun is changing their NASDAQ trading symbol from SUNW to JAVA. "But there's no doubt in my mind more people know Java than Sun Microsystems. There's similarly no doubt they know Java more than nearly any other brand on the internet."

Oddly they are not changing the name of the company, just the trading symbol. Apple changed their name recently, dropping the word "Computer" to show the new focus of the company on consumer products. Sun isn't doing that. "To be very clear, this isn't about changing the company name or focus - we are Sun, we are a systems company." So they're just changing the ticker symbol. If you knew you wanted to buy Sun stock would you think to look under JAVA? If you think that brand is so important change the name of the company.

And I still don't see how Sun makes much money on Java. They at least used to get money from licensing the J2EE brand to fewer and fewer vendors and probably J2ME as well. This might have changed with the recent open sourcing of Java but I can't imagine it's a lot of money. In Schwartz's post he describes students using it and consumers seeing the brand, but conspicuously no revenue sources. One comment in the blog I think got it right, maybe the board will realize that the CEO is out of ideas.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

TFSU

Saw this post on Gizmodo and loved this image:



Took me a bit to get "TFSU", there are hints in the comments. Awesome.

Ok some hints. You can get what the F is and so you can get the T as well. As for the SU, what would you say to a whining Luke? And it's Yoda, so the whole phrase is out of order.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Class of 2011

This version isn't my favorite, but Beloit College has released their list of the mindset for the class of 2011.

4. They never “rolled down” a car window.
7. They have grown up with bottled water.
15. Russia has always had a multi-party political system.
39. Fox has always been a major network.
55. MTV has never featured music videos.
61. They never saw Johnny Carson live on television (actually he retired in 1992)
66. The World Wide Web has been an online tool since they were born. (this is wrong, it wasn't available till 1991, and wasn't widely used for several more years)

Gonzales

TPM lists six of Gonzales' lies and Daily Kos sums up the impeach Gonzales movement.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Understanding PCR or Polymerase Chain Reaction

PCR is a technique for isolating and duplicating DNA fragments. It was invented in the 80s and Kary Mullis the creator won the 1993 Nobel Prize for it. It's quick and cheap and has many uses and is one of the linchpins of modern genetics. Here's a good flash movie explaining PCR. There aren't that many Nobel prize worthy things you can understand in a few minutes but this is one of them.

I would change a few things about the presentation. I'd move earlier the explanation that nucleotides pair up as A with T and G with C. Also I'd explain that the enzyme walks the DNA chain in just one direction. The primers are deliberately chosen to represent the two ends of the specific sequence you're interested in duplicating, and must be long enough to be unique across the whole strand of DNA (usually 20 base pairs is enough). While this video does a good job of showing how some duplicated DNA has extraneous trails, it took me a few times thinking it through of how you get duplicates of just the material you're interested in.

Top 100 Sci-Fi Books

Here's a list of the Top 100 Sci-Fi Books. I'm surprised by how many I've read 56 of them, many more than I would have expected. And I brought one with me this week that I'm in the middle of.



Top 40 Magazine Covers of the Last 40 Years

Nice list of the Top 40 Magazine Covers of the Last 40 Years.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Calvin & Hobbes

I don't know how long it will last, but here are all the Calvin & Hobbes strips. My all-time favorite (and perhaps the first one I saw):


Hansen Replies on Global Warming Data Error

A few days ago I posted about Correcting Global Warming Data. Some statisticians found mistakes in the US temperature data. Jim Hansen has written two replies. His sentiment is yes there were mistakes, they are corrected, the differences are tiny for the US and "indistinguishable" for the global data (1/1000 of a degree C). He also goes on to discuss how making a big deal about this is a deception by those who prefer short term profits to saving creation.

He makes liberal use of the word usufruct which I had never heard before, fortunately wikipedia did. "Usufruct is as American as the Declaration of Independence, implicit in the Preamble "...to ourselves and our Posterity...". It is explicitly discussed in a famous letter of 6 September 1789 from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, discussing the proposed Bill of Rights to be added to the Constitution: "The question whether one generation of men has a right to bind another. . . is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also among the fundamental principles of every government. . . . I set out on this ground, which I suppose to be self-evident, 'that the Earth belongs in usufruct to the living' . . ." Jefferson’s philosophy regarding generational relations was based on this “self-evident” principle. That we have an obligation to preserve Creation for today’s and future generations is a widely held belief."

I gather the data correction is minor. I'm concerned with the claims that the data wasn't available and they had to reverse engineer some of the work to find the flaw. But I'm more interested in the concept of "usufruct".

My View

Bush’s SCHIP Veto Threat Rejected By His Own Experts

Think Progress reported Wednesday Bush’s Veto Threat Rejected By His Own Experts; Cancer Panel Calls For Higher Tobacco Taxes

"When the Congress passed legislation this month raising tobacco taxes to fund the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), President Bush threatened a veto. Defending the health insurance and tobacco industries, Bush said, ‘If Congress continues to insist upon expanding healthcare through the SCHIP program — which, by the way, would entail a huge tax increase for the American people — I’ll veto the bill.’"

"But in a direct rebuke, the President’s Cancer Panel today recommended that Bush no longer ‘acquiesce to the demands of the industries that encourage’ the ‘disease and death caused by tobacco use.’ Specifically, the panel recommended that the federal government raise taxes on tobacco and more heavily regulate the tobacco industry to ‘weaken’ its influence."

You can probably guess how I feel about smoking.

Surveillance Camera Not So Helpful

Something to think about before supporting video surveillance cameras everywhere (like in London), there are problems.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports S.F. public housing cameras no help in homicide arrests. "The 178 video cameras that keep watch on San Francisco public housing developments have never helped police officers arrest a homicide suspect even though about a quarter of the city's homicides occur on or near public housing property, city officials say."

The article is pretty good. Though Bruce Schneier corrects this: "He added that he thinks the cameras may have "a scarecrow effect" in that they give residents the feeling they are safer when they actually have little impact on crime." As Schneier points out, "That's not a scarecrow effect. A scarecrow is security theater that works: something that doesn't actually prevent crime, but deters it by scaring off criminals. Mirkarimi is saying that they have the opposite effect; the cameras make victims feel safer than they really are."

Pogue Rips on iMovie ’08

David Pogue in the New York Times writes Apple Takes a Step Back With iMovie ’08. "IMovie '08, on the other hand, has been totally misnamed. It's not iMovie at all. In fact, it's nothing like its predecessor and contains none of the same code or design. It's designed for an utterly different task, and a lot of people are screaming bloody murder."

It seems in their rewrite they removed a lot of features. Things like a timeline of your clips, visual effects, basic audio editing features, audio effects, plug-ins, chapter markers for iDVD. They added some new ones but it's a big change.

I never used the old one and I've played with the new one in the store a bit. There are some nice UI bits. If I had used the old iMovie, I'd be annoyed. Of course I'd still have the old one, and I'd probably continue to use it.

Perhaps Insight on Rove

This (London) Times article Bush rocked as another key aide resigns, is about Tony Snow resigning, but also mentions Rove. This paragraph intrigued me:

"Karl Rove, hailed as the ‘architect’ of George W Bush’s two election victories, announced his resignation as a White House aide last week. One senior Republican strategist said: ‘Republicans in Congress were ready to mutiny if he hadn’t left. They have had enough of the politics of division.’"

I can believe Republicans wanted Rove out. I'm sure Republicans have not enjoyed being in the minority in Congress. If they weren't already House members are now starting to thing about reelection.

"A Gallup poll on Friday revealed that only 29% of voters currently identify themselves as Republicans, compared with 37% as independents and 33% as Democrats. A majority, 56%, said they had an unfavourable view of the Republican party, its worst rating for 15 years. It was a shattering verdict on Rove’s attempt to build a lasting Republican majority."

We'll see if anyone wanted to hire newly available Rove for their campaign.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rudy gets a C- on Foreign Policy

Fred Kaplan in Slate rips apart Rudy Giuliani's essay in Foreign Affairs Toward a Realistic Peace. "Had it been written for a freshman course on international relations, it would deserve at best a C-minus (with a concerned note to come see the professor as soon as possible). That it was written by a man who wants to be president—and who recently said that he understands the terrorist threat "better than anyone else running"—is either the stuff of high satire or cause to consider moving to, or out of, the country."

Jazz Drummer Max Roach Dead at 83

I learned from one of the law blogs i read that Max Roach, Jazz Great Dies at 83. That page has some youtube clips of him. Roach was one of the best drummers of all time. I saw him play a few years ago at Regattabar. He walked out very slowly and then slid into his drum kit like it was his second skin. He had lost a bit of his speed but was still amazing.

He played on many of the great jazz albums, try (these are iTunes links) Money Jungle, Jazz at Massey Hall or any of the albums of his quartet with the great Clifford Brown.

Could You Live Without China?

Newsweek asks Could You Live Without China?. "Author Sara Bongiorni and her family spent a year avoiding anything with a “Made In China” label. The experience was more difficult—and expensive—than you might imagine."

Their coffee maker broke and they didn't buy a new one because Italian ones are too expensive and all the others come from China. My favorite quote is about teaching their kids to look at where toys were manufactured, "So China became this magical place that makes all these wonderful toys."

Her book is A Year Without Made in China.

A Different Way to Peel an Egg



We'll see if Mythbusters busts this one too.

A Little Dig For Boston

Storrow Drive runs along the Charles River in Boston. It's one of the major roads in Boston after the central artery (subject of the Big Dig) and the Mass Pike. It's described on the traffic report and about 100,000 cars drive it a day. Well one of the small tunnels on it is crumbling and needs to be repaired. The tunnel is just in the eastbound lane, the westbound lane has no tunnel. I used to commute it on it and this is where my gunfight story took place.

The repairs could take 2 years or more. What to do with the traffic during the repairs? On one side is Beacon Hill, not the most spacious of places to route 100,000 cars. On the other side is a park known as the Esplande that borders the river. Here's a map (I understand next week I'll be able to embed it on this page). The tunnel is in the middle where the Y is. The building in the park is the Hatch Shell where a lot of free summer concerts are and the Boston Pops play on July 4th.

So one plan is to route traffic through Beacon Hill, the other is to build a temporary 1,000 foot road 40 feet into the Esplande. The Boston Globe reports Revived plan for detour on Esplanade stirs outrage. "Richard Sullivan, commissioner of the State Department of Recreation and Conservation said the bypass road would cut construction time by six months and save the state $5 million."

"Sullivan argued that the benefits outweigh the temporary impact on the Esplanade, which he promised would be completely restored. Building a road, he said, would allow construction to take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., instead of just at night, and keep emergency evacuation lanes open at all times, with two lanes in each direction. The plan, he said, would allow the project to be completed in two years at a cost of $50 million. Even without the road, repairs on the tunnel will intrude into the Esplanade, at one point as far as 25 feet, according to engineers hired by the state."

The arguments against the bypass road are: "But it's a park!". Well there's a little more. The fear would be the road would become permanent which seems moronic to me. More plausible is that the state has a bad track record on road projects and this could last 3-5 years. I know nothing about civil engineering but don't understand at all why this has to take 2 years in the first place, but as someone who wasn't surprised at all by cost and time overruns on the big dig, I still don't trust their estimates. Also, estimates for the repair are from $25 million to $200 million to replace the tunnel. How can a $5 million savings estimate be accurate in such a range?

You may have guessed I favor the bypass road, apparently I'm in the minority.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Economist on Iran

A few weeks ago the Economist had a 15 page report on Iran, The revolution strikes back. I highly recommended it.

Warrantless Domestic Spying Trials

Spencer Ackerman writes: "The Justice Department argued yesterday before a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that two class-action lawsuits involving warrantless surveillance needed to be thrown out of court for potentially exposing state secrets. And it practically got laughed out of court."

"This seems to put us in the 'trust us' category," Judge M. Margaret McKeown said about the government's assertions that its surveillance activities did not violate the law. " 'We don't do it. Trust us. And don't ask us about it.' "

At one point, Garre argued that courts are not the right forum for complaints about government surveillance, and that "other avenues" are available. "What is that? Impeachment?" Pregerson shot back.

Padilla Found Guilty

Glenn Greenwald writes about the Padilla verdict (guilty on all charges) following the script

Andrew Cohen comments: "For the government, it's a verdict that brings a huge sigh of relief. Now the feds don't have to worry about what to do with Padilla, the once-upon-a-time "dirty bomber." Now they can declare victory even though the people who have followed this case closely know that Padilla ultimately was convicted on evidence that federal authorities did not believe amounted to a crime when it was gathered back before 2001. Now the folks at the Justice Department can claim we are safer from terrorism even though the constitutional mess left over from the initial Padilla affair -- his designation as an enemy combatant -- could hamper terror law efforts for years to come."

"For the defense, it's further proof that if you can convince an American jury that a man in the dock had anything to do with al-Qaeda, you can pretty much bank on a conviction no matter how tenuous the evidence. And in this case, all the government's resources were brought to bear upon this trio of (let's face it) losers who were so inept as terror "trainees" that the feds gave up their trail in 2000. If this is a grand victory in the war on terror, I do not look forward to seeing what a defeat looks like."

Andrew Sullivan comments here and here..

Bill Maher Making Religion Documentary

Bill Maher Making Religion Documentary: Religulous.

The Petraeus Report Is From Bush

A few days ago this LA Times article, Top general may propose pullbacks sparked some controversy. "Despite Bush's repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it would actually be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government."

Everyone is up in arms that it's not Petraeus' report but the White House's. Daily Kos assembled a list of quotes from Senate Republicans "when they filibustered the Defense Authorization Bill last month" mentioning General Petraeus' report to the Senate.

Harry Reid said "The White House’s effort to prevent General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker from testifying openly and candidly before Congress about the situation in Iraq is unacceptable. Not only does it contradict the law President Bush himself signed in May, but it appears to be yet another politically driven attempt to avoid giving Congress and the American people an honest and open assessment of a war we can all see is headed in the wrong direction."

Notice he talks about "testifying". Perhaps Reid is referring to what was described in todays Washington Post: "Senior congressional aides said yesterday that the White House has proposed limiting the much-anticipated appearance on Capitol Hill next month of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker to a private congressional briefing, suggesting instead that the Bush administration's progress report on the Iraq war should be delivered to Congress by the secretaries of state and defense. White House officials did not deny making the proposal in informal talks with Congress, but they said yesterday that they will not shield the commanding general in Iraq and the senior U.S. diplomat there from public congressional testimony required by the war-funding legislation President Bush signed in May."

People seemed to have missed the next paragraph of the LA Times article: "And though Petraeus and Crocker will present their recommendations on Capitol Hill, legislation passed by Congress leaves it to the president to decide how to interpret the report's data."

So what does the law actually say? Looking up H.R. 2206 in Thomas it's easy to find Sec. 1314. (b) (2) (D): "The President shall submit a second report to the Congress, not later than September 15, 2007, following the same procedures and criteria outlined above."

Sec 1314. (b) (3) "TESTIMONY BEFORE CONGRESS- Prior to the submission of the President's second report on September 15, 2007, and at a time to be agreed upon by the leadership of the Congress and the Administration, the United States Ambassador to Iraq and the Commander, Multi-National Forces Iraq will be made available to testify in open and closed sessions before the relevant committees of the Congress."

Unless Don Young got to this bill too, it seems pretty clear. If Congress wanted a report from Petraeus, they should have asked for it. They'll have to make due with his testimony. And if they don't trust a report from Bush, they shouldn't have bothered making him prepare one.

Stop Using Antibacterial Soap

"In the first known comprehensive analysis of whether antibacterial soaps work better than plain soaps, Allison Aiello of the U-M School of Public Health and her team found that washing hands with an antibacterial soap was no more effective in preventing infectious illness than plain soap. Moreover, antibacterial soaps at formulations sold to the public do not remove any more bacteria from the hands during washing than plain soaps. Because of the way the main active ingredient---triclosan---in many antibacterial soaps reacts in the cells, it may cause some bacteria to become resistant to commonly used drugs such as amoxicillin."

Scientists Start to Understand How Memory Works

"Prof. Yadin Dudai, Head of the Weizmann Institute’s Neurobiology Department, and his colleagues...recently discovered that the process of storing long-term memories is much more dynamic, involving a miniature molecular machine that must run constantly to keep memories going. They also found that jamming the machine briefly can erase long-term memories."

Star Ejecting Its Outer Layers

Bad Astronomy Blog explains why this image is so cool.



"Mira is on the right hand side, and is moving left to right. The long tail of ejected material is incredible — it’s 13 light years long! It has taken Mira 30,000 years to move this distance, which means that the material in the left hand side of the tail was ejected 30 millennia ago. If you look at the location of the star itself, you’ll see a parabolic arc in front of it; that’s the bow shock, where Mira’s ejected material is slamming into the material between stars."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Jon Stewart Tonight With Stephen Hayes

Jon Stewart had Stephen Hayes, author of Cheney, on the Daily Show tonight. Stewart was better than I've seen him in a long time. Maybe they'll post the video soon, until then here's a brief part:

Stewart: I can't jive the portrait you paint of the stedfast leader with the fear mongering not bright guy that I've seen.

Hayes: Yeah but I mean, no really I mean, Isn't it the case that that's essentially what the political debate has been about since 2001?

Stewart No, they keep saying that we don't understand the nature of this war and critics keep saying we understand the nature of it, you've been doing it wrong.

Hayes: What's the quality of difference there.

Stewart: Well no, the difference there is we're not calling them traitors.

What the Cheney YouTube Clip Says About Democrats

Jon Stewart covered this tonight in a segment called "Even Dick Don't Know Dick". This clip of Cheney from 1994 showed up on YouTube recently:



Martin Lewis in The Huffington Post points out that the 1994 Cheney YouTube Clip Reveals Massive Dem Failure."Why on earth did the DNC not discover and secure a copy of this videotape at some point between the invasion of Iraq in May 2003 and the election in November 2004?" Or a transcript? What about the Kerry Campaign? This would have been a good rebuttal for the flip-flopper claims. The Democrats need to do better at opposition research.

Representative Alters Bill After Vote

Talking Points Memo has a 7.5 minute video Don Young v. The Constitution "in 2005, to guarantee an earmark payoff to one of his political contributors, Rep. Don Young (R-AK) actually went in and rewrote the text of a transportation spending bill after the thing had been passed by Congress and it was waiting to be signed by the president."

I like the clips from Schoolhouse Rock (a classic), but the biting clip was a bit egregious. And Tufte help me, I really would have liked a powerpoint-like graphic to help me follow the relationships.

Dan Rather Reports on Voting

If you get HDNet what Dan Rather Reports this week. If not you get watch here. And I don't think Diebold was mentioned once. When this show is good it puts to shame most every other US news show. The ability to see a full hour to a topic is so wonderfully refreshing.

Rather reports on touch screen voting machines and how large numbers of them have demonstrated problems with the digitizers falling out of alignment. I can completely believe this as the Palm Pilot had to solve this by making a "digitizer" tool available in the preferences. What surprises me is why the interface is designed so poorly so that it's such a big deal. The checkbox you need to select is so small you need to be precise, but there is all this empty space that would allow a larger box and avoid most of the problem. The machines are manufactured in the Philippines and a worker said (from shadows) that quality was unimportant to management, they just had to meet their quantity goals on time.

He also spends time with former workers from Sequoia, the company that made the punch ballots used in the 2000 Florida election. The company had a zero defect policy until 1999. These people, most of whom were with the company for decades, said that management stopped caring about quality and they used inferior paper that caused hanging chads and other problems. The company wouldn't respond, but the show used their qualitiy tests on actual blank Florida ballots from that year and it seemed to confirm all that they said.

Whatever Happened to Estonia

Back in late April and early May, the country of Estonia was the victim a denial of service attack. A ton of internet messages flooded the systems making it impossible to perform their regular function. At least some of the messages supposedly came from Russian IP addresses. "The cyber attacks came after Estonia removed a Soviet-era statue of a Bronze Soldier in Tallinn, which angered many Russians."

CNET reports that at recent computer security conferences Gadi Evron gave presentations on lessons learned from the event. Oddly the article is titled and begins by saying flash mobs may have been responsible and then doesn't mention them again.

I had to lookup Flash mobs, "a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, do something unusual for a brief period of time, then quickly disperse." "About 200 people flooded the lobby and mezzanine of the Hyatt hotel in synchronized applause for about fifteen seconds." That sounds like a lot more fun than participating in a DoS attack. Though whatever the source, the attack on Estonia is probably not the last such event.

$1.6 Billion in Federal Propaganda

The Washington Post reports on Prepackaged News. The Bush administration, spent about $1.6 billion over 2.5 years on prepackaged news items to give to media outlets to describe administration programs. It's hard for me to judge if this is spreading propaganda or just publicizing policies. It sounds like a lot. Fortunately I don't have to figure it out, the GAO did.

"Around the same time, a spat erupted between the GAO and the White House over whether the government's practice of feeding TV stations prepackaged, ready-to-air news stories that touted administration policies (but did not disclose the government as the source) amounted to "covert propaganda." The GAO said that it did. The administration disagreed, saying spreading information about federal programs is part of the agencies' mission, and that the burden of disclosure falls on the TV stations. Congress sided with the GAO. Lawmakers inserted a provision into an annual spending bill requiring federal agencies to include "a clear notification" within the text or audio of a prepackaged news story that it was prepared or paid for by the government."

Land Sharks

Conquest of land began in shark genome. "When the first four-legged animals sprouted fingers and toes, they took an ancient genetic recipe and simply extended the cooking time"

“We’ve uncovered a surprising degree of genetic complexity in place at an early point in the evolution of appendages,” said developmental biologist Martin Cohn, Ph.D., an associate professor with the UF departments of zoology and anatomy and cell biology and a member of the UF Genetics Institute. “Genetic processes were not simple in early aquatic vertebrates only to become more complex as the animals adapted to terrestrial living. They were complex from the outset. Some major evolutionary innovations, like digits at the end of limbs, may have been achieved by prolonging the activity of a genetic program that existed in a common ancestor of sharks and bony fishes.”

Ganzales Get New Death Penalty Powers

Rule Change Shifts Death Penalty Responsibilities to Gonzales ""

"The rules implement a little-noticed provision in last year's reauthorization of the Patriot Act that gives the attorney general the power to decide whether individual states are providing adequate counsel for defendants in death penalty cases. The authority has been held by federal judges."

Yep, another "little-noticed provision in last year's reauthorization of the Patriot Act". When are people going to read the bill they vote for? I read the original patriot act, I guess I should read the reauthorization. Maybe I can find more little-noticed provisions.

"Some Arizona officials say the new procedures are long overdue. 'If you are going to have the death penalty at all, it shouldn't take 20 to 25 years,' said Kent Cattani, the chief capital litigation counsel in the Arizona attorney general's office. 'Either get rid of it altogether, or try to have a good system in state courts and then accelerate it through the federal courts.' On the other side, advocates for death row inmates and some legal experts say the rules would make a bad system worse."

Nation's Soul Is at Stake in NSA Surveillance Case

Nation's Soul Is at Stake in NSA Surveillance Case (according to friends of the plaintiffs):

"Today the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is hearing arguments on two of the most important cases in decades dealing with the rule of law and personal privacy. The cases are Hepting v. AT&T and Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation v. Bush. At stake is whether the government can immunize itself from public oversight and prosecution for illegal activities by claiming that whatever actions it took were done in the name of national security. These cases will also influence whether the government is entitled to warehouse citizen phone calls and e-mails for subsequent unsupervised searching and data mining."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Boston Blogs

The Boston Globe reports OutsideIn.com says Boston is city where blogs flourish most "According to OutsideIn.com, a website that tracks neighborhood blogging, Boston was the 'bloggiest city' in America for the two-month period it examined, March and April."

Of course blogs reported on this yesterday. Newton, MA was 4th on the list of bloggiest neighborhoods. You're welcome. :)

Update: Apparently there are some problems with the study.

Animator vs. Animation

A very clever and fun animation: Animator vs. Animation.

Persieds

I went out the last three nights to look at the Persied Meteor Shower. I just went to a nearby open field so there was still plenty of light pollution and we had partially cloudy skies. But I did manage to see some. Mostly faint wisps that you weren't really sure were actually there. Tonight there were others nearby and I could hear them say "there's one" when I saw something too, so I knew it was there. I saw one real bright one though it was more towards the western sky than I was expecting. I saw another one there too but it turned out to be a firefly. I don't think the first one was. Really, it wasn't.

Monday, August 13, 2007

10 Scenes From The Office

I don't know if these really are The Top 10 Scenes From The Office but they're good.

Karl Rove Resigned

Announced today in the Wall Street Journal: Karl Rove to Resign At the End of August. Paul Gigot has a good commentary on it. There's plenty of speculation on what it means but not many facts.

He apparently handed in his letter on Friday, but it didn't make the news till today. Monday in mid-August, hard to think of a better time to bury a story. "White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten told senior aides that if they stayed past Labor Day they would be obliged to remain through the end of the president's term in January 2009." So Rove didn't want to stay that long. Or maybe he thought with Purgegate he'll be a liability. The Libby outcome assures him he won't do jail time. Maybe he wants to help someone else in the next election (if anyone would have him). Or maybe he's just tired of working so hard.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Jesus: The Guantanamo Years

Last night I saw Abie Philbin Bowman's one-man comedy show, Jesus: The Guantanamo Years.

"Jesus Christ (the original stand-up comedian) returns to earth for His long-awaited comeback tour. But He doesn't get past U.S. immigration, because He's a bearded, Middle-Eastern guy, prepared to die as a religious martyr, detained under the Patriot Act and sent to Guantanamo Bay. In His first one-man show for almost two millennia, Jesus talks candidly about His time in Guantanamo, His relationship with His Father, and His on-going legal battle with Monty Python’s Life of Brian."

In spite of the Boston Globe's review I enjoyed this show. The first part is purely about his return and stick to religious humor and some Monty Python riffs. He plays the character as representing the good parts of religion (love thy neighbor) and teaching it as comedy. The second part combines this humor with true details about life at Guantanamo. He points out many of the absudities ("where's bin Laden?", "Well I've been here for 2 years and I'm pretty sure he's not in my cell but I'd be glad to check again") but unlike the Daily Show he does get a bit preachy and apologizes for it several times. If you can deal with the irreverence I recommend it.

It was the last night of the run in Boston and he was headed back to Ireland (his visa had expired). The show was filmed and he mentioned the possibility of an iTunes download. So to those of you who miss seeing comedies with me, if you find a recording, you'll definitely hear my laughter. My first laugh-track.

Movie Review: Summercamp

Summercamp is a documentary about, yes a summer camp. It follows several kids during a 3 week session at the Swift Nature Camp in Wisconsin. At a short 85 minutes, Summercamp no interviewers, questions, or much of a narrative. Instead it just has various clips of many campers in various activities: swimming, canoeing, talent shows, choosing names for cabins, fighting, being punished, flirting, getting wedgies, etc. I guess relating to modern times, there's a segment about how many of them have ADHD and what medications they're on. I had missed when they added an H to it.

It meanders a bit but does kinda concentrate on two kids. Cameron is an overweight 13.5 year-old who has problems getting along with others and misses his mom. Holly is a 9 year-old obsessed with chickadees and small stuffed animals. This starts off cute then becomes discomfiting and finally poignant.

It's a pleasant film, with some funny lines, but isn't in the class of Spellbound or Mad Hot Ballroom.

The Impossible Quiz

The Impossible Quiz. Annoyingly fun. I'm on 79.

Earth From Space

Hard not to like photos of Earth From Space

Saturday, August 11, 2007

iMovie 08 Review

Here's a pretty interesting review of iMovie '08, a product I haven't used yet. iMovie 08: One Step Forward. Two Steps Back..

Gouge in Shuttle

The New York Times reports Gouge Made by Debris Seen on Shuttle Wing "A piece of [ice] hit the underside of the space shuttle Endeavour during liftoff on Wednesday and gouged a small but potentially worrisome divot in a heat shield tile, NASA officials said yesterday."

It's about 3 inches long on the underside of the shuttle "about four feet behind the landing gear door on the right wing". It will be examined on a space walk and the crew supposedly has the ability to repair it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Enigma Simulation

I don't remember the details of how the Enigma machine worked, but wikipedia has a detailed article on it. It was used by the Nazi's to code their messages and famously the code was broken by the allies. I've seen one in the National Cryptologic Museum. And now thanks to the web, here's "the definitive Macromedia Flash simulation of the three-rotor ENIGMA". It's very cool.

"A brief example: Open the machine window, click on the "Input:" textbox and enter "c" on the keyboard. The plugboard leaves C as C while highlighting the specific wire in red. The electrical current then moves to the rightmost rotor, that is, to its letter A. A is then connected to B. The current enters the middle rotor, that connects G with R. The third (leftmost) rotor maps V to I. In the next step, the reflecor maps B to R. Then the current moves way back along the green wires through the rotors back to the plugboard, where Q leads to Q. As a result, we have the encryption of C to Q.

If you now enter "c" again, you see that in this case it yields G! This is because the rightmost rotor moves one step to the left before a letter is entered. Special case: whenever the right rotor moves from V to W, the second rotor is also changing its position by one step. This holds true for the middle rotor accordingly. All in all, the rotors behave like an odometer."

Correcting Global Warming Data

Watts Up With That? reports 1998 no longer the hottest year on record in USA. It seems blogger Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit found a mistake in NASA's data of US temperatures.



Notice the jump that happens to be at January 1, 2000? It's not a Y2K bug as has been reported, but represents a change in the data was collected. McIntyre contacted Jim Hansen earlier this month and they changed their data to correct the error.

With the correction, 1998 is no longer the US's hottest year, 1934 is, by just a 1/10 of a degree Celsius. "Four of the top 10 years of US CONUS high temperature deviations are now from the 1930s: 1934, 1931, 1938 and 1939, while only 3 of the top 10 are from the last 10 years (1998, 2006, 1999). Several years (2000, 2002, 2003, 2004) fell well down the leaderboard, behind even 1900." The new data is here.

Note that 2005 and 2006 both look to be particularly warm (2006 is 3rd) but there has been enough time to compute 5 year averages so they aren't included. If you look at 5 year means the top 11 years (all those 0.5 degrees hotter than average) are 2000, 1999, 2004, 2001, 1932, 1933, 2003, 2002, 1998, 1988, 1989.

It seems McIntyre was also involved in correcting other climate data, the so-called Hockey stick controversy. The wikipedia article seems to be quite a good summary. In short, in 1998 several scientists published a graph of the mean temperature changes of the northern hemisphere over the last 1,000 years. It looked like this:



It was prominently featured in the 2001 IPCC report and was in An Inconvenient Truth in a slightly altered form. The thing to note is that it shows temperatures being in a narrow range for 1,000 years and now they are warmer than they've ever been.

However it seems there's a medieval warming period centered around 1450. Climate scientists knew of this but the 1998 graph was the first that smoothed out that data. Now computing all this stuff is difficult. There are various data sets used from different parts of the world in different forms (tree rings, ice cores, etc.) There is a lot of math applied to the data to normalize it and make it useful. Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick went through the data, needing to reconstruct it because the graph's authors wouldn't provide it. They found numerous errors and believe the hockey stick isn't accurate because it understates the medieval warm period which was warmer than it is now. That casts some doubt that the current temperatures are caused principally by man-made greenhouse gases. The wikipedia article describes various investigations and further papers. The matter isn't settled but more scientists are questioning the data. "The 4th Assessment Report of the IPCC now presents a whole range of historical reconstructions instead of favoring prematurely just one hypothesis as reliable."

Bush's Vacation Record

2 years ago I wrote Bush Breaks Record about his breaking Reagan's vacation record of 335 days over 8 years in only 4.5 years. There were no links in that post but it was probably based on this Washington Post article.

Now the Houston Chronicle reports Bush on track to become the vacation president. It says "The presidential vacation-time record holder is the late Ronald Reagan, who tallied 436 days in his two terms. At 418 days, and with 17 months to go in his presidency, Bush is going to beat that easily."

So which is it? 2 years ago we (hey I'm a blogger) probably confused this: "Until now, probably no modern president was a more famous vacationer than Ronald Reagan, who loved spending time at his ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif. According to an Associated Press count, Reagan spent all or part of 335 days in Santa Barbara over his eight-year presidency." Reagan probably spent 101 days vacationing not in Santa Barbara.

So from two years ago I apologize to Bush. You didn't break reagan's 8 year record in merely 4.5 years. It will probably take you 7.

10 Best Foods You Aren't Eating The 10 Best Foods You Aren't Eating - Men's Health

Men's Health has The 10 Best Foods You Aren't Eating. I actually eat two of them.

Malcolm Gladwell On Spaghetti Sauce

Malcolm Gladwell spoke at TED 2004 about What we can learn from spaghetti sauce. It's 17 minutes, a lot of fun and a great lesson on how not to use slides.

Perseid Meteors Sunday Night

Bad Astronomy Blog lists 12 things you need to watch the Perseid meteors Sunday night. It's actually easy, go out and look. It's a new moon so there won't be light from the moon to get in the way. Go out late at night, stare up at the sky and you'll probably see some. Look east towards Perseus but a broad view of the sky is helpful. Sit on a reclining chair or blanket for comfort. Saturday night and Monday night might be good too. The BBC has some more.

The Internet is Strange and Wonderous


FiOS Installation Gone Wrong

Maybe my Verizon FiOS installation woes weren't so bad. Verizon tech sets fire to home -- accidentally.

Olympic Medals Per Capita

Unusual Maps has a graphic Average Olympic Medals Won Per Million Inhabitants from data of the Olympic Summer Games between 1996 and 2004. Would you guess that the US is 46th? The Bahamas are number one with 5 medals from a population of just 331,000.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Massachusetts Bridges on NPR

NPR did a story, Massachusetts Engineers Inspect Bridges. There are 5,000 bridges in MA. 24 are truss bridges like what collapsed in Minneapolis. They visit the Farwell St. bridge in Waltham, MA which I can walk to. It was built around 1850, last upgraded in 1938, inspected last summer. The bridge is near Russo's, which has the quality of becoming your favorite place to buy groceries after one visit.

So there are structural deficiencies in 500 bridges in MA and of course no one knows where the money will come from to fix them.

Schneier on Assurance

Bruce Schneier uses voting machines as an example of how backwards (software) security can be and how Assurance is used when more security is required, at greater expense.

California has conducted a security review of all electronic voting machines used and found serious flaws in each of them. They've been decertified and yet "California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has conditionally recertified the machines for use, as long as the makers fix the discovered vulnerabilities and adhere to a lengthy list of security requirements designed to limit future security breaches and failures." The problem is, it's pretty probable that these aren't the only vulnerabilities, merely the only ones found.

Read the whole article, it's short.

Fossils Challenge Old Evoluton Theory


The Washington Post reported Fossils Challenge Old Evoluton Theory.

"The old theory is that the first and oldest species in our family tree, Homo habilis, evolved into Homo erectus, which then became human, Homo sapiens. But [Meave] Leakey's find suggests those two earlier species lived side-by-side about 1.5 million years ago in parts of Kenya for at least half a million years"

"This is not questioning the idea at all of evolution; it is refining some of the specific points," Anton said. "This is a great example of what science does and religion doesn't do. It's a continous self-testing process."

Mr. B Natural

Somehow I was recently reminded of a great episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, when they did the short film, Mr. B Natural. If you don't know MST3K was a tv show that showed a usually bad old film with 3 people (well one person and two robots) watching it and making (hysterical) comments. This is brilliant, one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Remember the film was real and done seriously.



"Conform. Conform."

"Why does my kid have to be such a dud? I was popular."

"Spanking time!"

"Uh, Mr. B, what would you know about dignity."

"I think Oscar Wilde only wished he were this gay."

"If you get near a song, play it"

"Well the old clock on the wall says that it's that's all from the Stridex Medicated Band hour"

The Great Bill Paxton

What do The Terminator, Commando, True Lies, Aliens, and Titanic have in common? Believe it or not Bill Paxton. I watched Aliens last night with some new friends and I had forgotten about sniveling Private Hudson, possibly the universe's worst marine, played by Bill Paxton.

I had also forgotten his most famous line, "game over man", part of the more complete quote: "That's it man, game over man, game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?" Some more of Private Hudson's words of confidence:

"What do you mean 'THEY cut the power'? How could they cut the power, man? They're animals! "

"Seventeen days? Hey man, I don't wanna rain on your parade, but we're not gonna last seventeen hours! Those things are gonna come in here just like they did before. And they're gonna come in here AND THEY'RE GONNA KILL US!"

I'm going to have a hard time watching the next episode of Big Love.

I Really Like Xkcd



Some uses of imaginary numbers are in the comments here.

Joss Whedon Interview

Entertainment Weekly has an interview with Joss Whedon on life after ''Wonder Woman". Whedon created Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Flrefly. He was writing a movie script for Wonder Woman but that fell through and is now working on other projects.

Branded with Science

Branded with Science has various science oriented tattoos. More in the comments.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I've only read the first Harry Potter book but I've seen and liked all the films. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the fifth film in the series and perhaps my least favorite. I know as the books have gotten longer it's been harder to fit them into a single film. At 138 minutes this was the shortest film, which seems to have been an odd decision to make.

Harry confronted Voldemort in the last film and this film again begins with Harry in the world of muggles. After surviving an attack by Dementors, where he is forced to use magic in front of his muggle cousin, he's put on trial to be expelled from Hogwarts. Of course he's not but we're introduced to the Ministry of Magic which seems to not believe in the return of "he who shall not be named". They also appoint Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) to a position at Hogwarts to watch things. She's in all pink and sickeningly polite but she's hiding an agenda to cripple the school. Students are supposed to learn magic by reading and writing not casting spells and Dumbledore seems content to allow this so he's obviously hiding something too.

Meanwhile the students start off dubious of Harry's claims but some come around and he surreptitiously starts training them. He also has his first kiss with Cho Chang (Katie Leung) who's role is important but small. In fact all of the roles are small. This film seemed seemed both rushed and slow to me. Each scene seemed abbreviated and you needed to recognize recurring characters because they weren't introduced. As for new characters, I don't know what their names are because they were mentioned just once. There was little sense at all that this covered an entire school year. Yet, with all these rushed scenes, the film seemed a bit slow because no side stories were developed to any depth so we were forced to wait for the inevitable final confrontation.

The final battle was worth waiting for. The final battle had lots of magic going on and I enjoyed it more than the magic fight in the second Lord of the Rings. I saw it in IMAX in 3D and only last the 30 minutes or so are in 3D. While a few times it looked a bit cheesy at other times it was very very nice. If you have the opportunity to see it in 3D, I recommend it.

Oddly I wasn't really frightened by Voldemort or the Dementors. They appear, do their stuff and then are dispatched. But the new teacher, Mrs. Umbridge, scared the shit out of me. I found her political machinations reminded me all too much of Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales. She says what she does is for the good of the school and the students but manages to "teach for the test", perform warrantless eavesdropping, use extraordinary interrogation techniques, and her position is all based on inaccurate intelligence. What bothered me most was the ease with which she did all this and how all students and teachers seemed powerless before her. This went on for too much of the movie for my comfort but maybe more people will realize the references Rowling was obviously making.

Harry manages to grow up in this film, with little help from the adults. His isolation from his friends through much of the film gives a bleaker feel than previous ones. I know things will get darker, but I hope he continues realizes the importance of his friends and the future filmmakers emphasize this more.

Movie Review: Stranger Than Fiction

I had missed Stranger Than Fiction last year and caught it on Netflix recently. It was good, better than I expected but also different. Will Ferrell plays Harold Crick, a nice but boring IRS agent who's favorite word is "integer". One day he starts hearing a voice (Emma Thompson) narrating his life, as he brushes his teeth and walks to work, etc. He's the only one who hears the voice and it obviously is disturbing to him. He really starts worrying when the narrator mentions "his imminent death". After a visit to a psychiatrist (Linda Hunt) proves unfruitful ("No, no. It's not schizophrenia. It's just a voice in my head. I mean, the voice isn't telling me to do anything. It's telling me what I've already done... accurately, and with a better vocabulary.") he visits a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman).

Meanwhile he goes about his life which involves auditing a local baker played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. She didn't agree with the policies of the government. He calls this anarchy, she's more like a post-modern hippie. Perhaps because of the narrator telling him his feelings, he falls for her. In a bit that was a bit confusing in the film but will work better in print, he gives her "flours".

The film makes no attempt to explain the metaphysics of what's going on, instead it gets a bit Zen in explaining that we all die and what matters is are you part of a good story and we should just live our lives. It's a romantic comedy that's more clever than funny and a bit deeper than typical Meg Ryan fare.

Maggie Gyllenhaal in the film has a rather large tattoo on her upper arm in the film and I couldn't find on the web if it was real or not. I saw images of her without it, but they were all from before the film. Anyone know?

iPhone Apps, not web apps

Why do people want real apps on an iPhone and not just web apps, so you can do cool things like run an Nintendo Entertainment System on your iPhone: iPhoneNES. Apparently right after Hello World, comes an NES emulator.

Monday, August 06, 2007

John From Cincinnati?

Would someone please explain HBO's John From Cincinnati to me? Or at least tell me why I'm still watching it?

Rapture Ready: The Christians United for Israel Tour

"Max Blumenthal's latest takes us on a shocking and at times bizarre tour of right-wing Pastor John Hagee's annual Washington-Israel Summit, blowing the cover off the Christian Zionist movement in the process. Starring Joe Lieberman, Tom DeLay, Pastor John Hagee, Ambassador Dore Gold and a host of rapture-ready evangelicals praying for Armaggedon"



More Max Bluementhal here.

Movie Review: The Ten

The Ten is a series of comedy sketches based on the Ten Commandments, loosely based. With several members of The State involved, it's mostly absurdist humor and a few musical numbers. While some skits hit and others at least have good premises, most didn't work for me and I was waiting for the end.

The first skit, "Thou Shalt Worship No God Before Me" is about a guy who sky dives without a parachute, survives, but is trapped partially underground. If he's moved he'll die. The story is really about celebrity as he gets a TV series, becomes famous, his fiance (Winona Ryder) leaves him, etc. It really wasn't funny.

Fortunately the best skit was next. In "Thou Shalt not Take the Lord's Name in Vain" a virgin librarian (Gretchen Mol) travels to Mexico and has an affair with Jesus (Justin Theroux) who's hanging out as a carpenter before getting around to the business of the rapture. Their first love story plays out well with nice parallels to finding religion and some good sight gags thrown in. They also have a lot of fun with the language. It's unfortunate that the next 8 episodes didn't reach this level.

"Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's House" has an interesting absurd premise where Liev Schreiber and his neighbor try to top each other by collecting more CAT Scan machines. But it doesn't go anywhere.

Some characters reappear in later sketches. Winona Ryder falls for a ventriloquist's dummy and it's amusing, but my biggest laugh was noticing she was wearing two watches. A doctor in one skit leaves surgical instruments in a patient "as a goof" and is convicted of murder. In a later skit in prison Rob Corddry covets him as his own prison "bitch". The conversations about anal rape against his will are very very very wrong. If you can get past that it could be funny, but I'm not sure I was able to.

Paul Rudd introduces each skit via interstials with a running story of him cheating on his wife (Framke Janseen) with Jessica Alba. For the most part I don't think any of those worked either.

Most reviews call it a hit or miss kind of film and I agree that most of them are misses.

The Black Sites

Jane Mayer in the New Yorker has a long article on the The Black Sites of the CIA. "A rare look inside the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program." Spencer Ackerman has a summary in TPM.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

15 (Other) Uses For Vodka

A friend sent me these. 15 (other) uses for Vodka:

1. To remove a bandage painlessly, saturate the bandage with vodka. The Solvent dissolves adhesive.

2. To clean the caulking around bathtubs and showers, fill a Trigger-spray bottle with vodka, spray the caulking, let set five Minutes and wash clean. The alcohol in the vodka kills mold and mildew.

3. To clean your eyeglasses, simply wipe the lenses with a soft, clean cloth dampened with vodka. The alcohol in the vodka cleans the glass and kills germs.

4. Prolong the life of razors by filling a cup with vodka and letting Your safety razor blade soak in the alcohol after shaving. The vodka disinfectsthe blade and prevents rusting.

5. Spray vodka on vomit stains, scrub with a brush, and then blot dry.

6 Using a cotton ball, apply vodka to your face as an astringent to cleanse the skin and tighten pores.

7. Add a jigger of vodka to a 12-ounce bottle of shampoo. The alcohol cleanses the scalp, removes toxins from hair, and stimulates the growth of healthy hair.

8. Fill a sixteen-ounce trigger-spray bottle and spray bees or wasps to kill them.

9. Pour one-half cup vodka and one-half cup water in a Ziploc freezer bag and freeze for a slushy, refreshable ice pack for aches, pain or black eyes.

10. Fill a clean, used mayonnaise jar with freshly packed lavender flowers, fill the jar with vodka, seal t he lid tightly and set in the Sun for three days. Strain liquid through a coffee filter, then apply the tincture to aches and pains.

11. To relieve a fever, use a washcloth to rub vodka on your chest and back as a liniment.

12. To cure foot odor, wash your feet with vodka.

13. Vodka will disinfect and alleviate a jellyfish sting.

14. Pour vodka over an area affected with poison ivy to remove the Urushiol oil from your skin.

15. Swish a shot of vodka over an aching tooth Allow your gums to absorb some of the alcohol to numb the pain.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

TSA Interview

Last week, Bruce Schneier posted an interview with TSA head Kip Hawley. Now the whole piece is up. Certainly some good questions, some answers though many dodges and not enough followups (it was conducted by email).

Republican Hypocracy

Digby writes about Giuliani. Dittohead In Chief.

"In spite of their paeans to patriotism and religion, I have always believed that the heart of the conservative movement was really just simple racism and authoritarianism and all their bleating about "values" is a nothing more than a weapon with which to hit Democrats over the head. After all, the highest rates of divorce, single motherhood and abortion are in the deepest of conservative red states. There's a lotta preachin' but not a lot of practicin'."

"[Guiliani] has to go straight for the Republican id. And unsurprisingly the polls indicate that the Republican base is liking what it hears. And why wouldn't they? Rudy's campaigning as if he were a right wing talk show host. They didn't care that Rush was a thrice married drug addict and they don't care that Rudy's a thrice married, pro-choice cross dresser. They just hate Democrats, period, and they don't care what you do or even what you believe, as long as you hate Democrats too. Rudy is the first full-blown dittohead presidential candidate."

Bush Lies

TPM points out that Bush Nixed Dem-DNI FISA Deal. Bush said when the Congress sends him a bill that fixes FISA he'll ask Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell: "Does this legislation give you what you need to prevent an attack on the country? Is this what you need to do your job, Mr. DNI? That's the question I'm going to ask. And if the answer is yes, I'll sign the bill. And if the answer is no, I'm going to veto the bill."

A key Democrat in the negotiations, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), says that a deal had in fact been reached with McConnell, who has been busy lobbying Congress on a FISA update all week. "We had an agreement with DNI McConnell," Hoyer spokeswoman Stacey Bernards tells TPMmuckraker, "and then the White House quashed the agreement."