Sunday, September 30, 2007

Giant Corn Maze

I went with some friends about 45 mins west to Davis Farmland in Sterling, MA. They have a giant cornfield maze to wander through that was pretty fun and difficult (just taking all lefts doesn't let you solve it). There are seven bridges through the maze and several stations. You can just try to find the exit or try to find all the things and go over all the bridges. They also have apple picking and another park for kids.

Stumbling onto a Film Set

Walking through the South End yesterday we came across a film crew for the movie Bachelor No. 2 filming a scene. First in a small courtyard we saw what looked like an interview with Alec Baldwin. He was in a chair with lights on him and the interviewer seated opposite him just a little further away than you'd expect. Lights, a single camera and a large light-colored backdrop. We guessed it was for the DVD extras. Further back, behind some brownstones that are fortunate enough to have their own parking we saw a scene being setup. Around a car were four actors preparing. We recognized Jason Biggs and Dane Cook and saw some other guy and a woman who turned out to have been Diora Baird, who I've never heard of. Kinda cool but also disappointing to be reminded how boring a film set is.

We were actually on our way to the Beantown Jazz Festival. I learned that it was very crowded with very slow moving people, had lots of food booths that looked really not appetizing, and a few stages with music playing that wasn't very loud so didn't carry far. We went at the very end and heard briefly a latin female vocalist, a modern jazz fusion group and what was billed as a big band but was really bop with a large number of players. I only cared for the last but standing in a baseball field with dirt blowing into our faces I realized there was a reason jazz is usually listened to in small dark clubs while sitting around small tables drinking. Gotta try things at least once.

I Want A New Mainstream Media

No More Mister Nice Blog writes Now Do You Believe Me When I Say A Democrat Won't Be Elected President In '08?:

"On Election Night 2008, when Democrats are watching Hillary Clinton's concession speech and wondering how we blew another one, we should look back to this day. It's the day when the tide began to turn and the 'liberal media' began rooting for a Democratic defeat -- as many of us knew it inevitably would.Today, in The New York Times, there are not one, not two, but three articles focusing on the Absolute #1 Burning Issue of Our Time -- Hillary Clinton's laugh. How weird is it? How forced is it? What does it say about whether we can possibly endure four years with her in the White House?"

Dan Rather is right

Eric Boehlert in Media Matters outlines why Dan Rather is right.

"The simple, yet apparently elusive, truth is that CBS' report on Bush and the National Guard could have (and should have) been broadcast without the controversial memos. And if it had been, the results would have been exactly the same. Meaning, the documents were irrelevant because they provided texture (the supposed frustration of Bush's commander), not new facts about Bush's service. Yet journalists pretend the memos are the National Guard story and that without them, questions about Bush's military dodge disappear. Why do they think that? Based on the coverage last week, it's clear that journalists who mocked Rather still don't have the slightest clue what the established facts of the Guard story are."

Responding to Bad Reviews

I haven't read Drew Westen's new book The Political Brain nor David Brooks review of it in the New York Times, but I agree with tristero that Westen's response is wonderful.

Gary Kasparov on Putin.

Interesting article on Gary Kasparov on Putin. Former chess champion Kasparov is the leader of the opposition movement "The Other Russia". "In Kasparov's view, the main goal of Russian foreign policy is to raise the price of oil, no matter what - that's why the tensions in the Middle East are so important to Putin"

New Train Wreck Coming on FISA Open Left:: New Train Wreck Coming on FISA

Open Left had an interesting article last week on New Train Wreck Coming on FISA. Incite into the "disorganized" Democratic leadership.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Will A Google Phone Change The Game?

Business Week's Will A Google Phone Change The Game? makes a compelling case that Google "could launch the first ad- supported, and free, nationwide phone service."

Computing With DNA

Here's a PDF of a Scientific American article from 1998 by Len Adleman called Computing with DNA. He describes his first attempt to do computation with DNA choosing to solve a Hamiltonian path problem.

Radio Burst From Space Mystifies Astronomers

"Astronomers who stumbled upon a powerful burst of radio waves said on Thursday they had never seen anything like it before, and it could offer a new way to search for colliding stars or dying black holes." It lasted only 5 miliseconds and came from 3 billion light-years away and we don't know what it is. "We think it has got to be some sort of catastrophic event happening in another galaxy -- like two stars colliding and merging or maybe a black hole. Something kind of exotic."

Big Bear Rescue on the Donner Memorial Bridge

"A bear was walking across Rainbow Bridge (Old Hwy 40 at Donner Summit, Truckee) on Saturday when two cars also crossing the bridge scared the bear into jumping over the edge of the bridge. Somehow the bear caught the ledge and was able to pull itself to safety. At one point the bear tested its ability to climb down by lowering its feet down the side but decided against that idea and pulled itself back up! Authorities decided that nothing could be done to help Saturday night so they returned Sunday morning to find the bear sound asleep on the ledge. After securing a net under the bridge the bear was tranquilized, fell into the net, lowered, then woke up and walked out of the net." More pics on the site.

Campaign Commercials

The Living Room Candidate is a collection of presidential campaign commercials from 1952-2004. Some are really amazing. Check out Johnson's from 1964, click on either with a little girl. "The "Daisy Girl ad," made for the Lyndon Johnson campaign, uses a striking combination of images and sounds to imply that if elected, the Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater, might start a nuclear war."

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Trouble With Wide Screen TVs

Roger Ebert has a rant It’s NOT because it’s on TV, dummy about getting the aspect ratio correct on your TV. Don't squish the people or stretch them wide to fill the screen. Old movies like Casablanca were filmed in 4:3 just like regular TV, don't make everyone look like Katherine Helmond in Brazil.

1 Mission to Iraq or 11 to Mars

Burton MacKenzie points out that for the cost of the Iraq War we could have funded 5 to 11 human missions to Mars (estimated at $40-80 billion each). "Maybe if the Bush cabal thought there was oil on Mars they'd have told everybody that's where Saddam was hiding weapons of mass transportation."

Mom's Willam Tell Overture

Thanks for this, Mike.

New TV Season

Some thoughts on the new TV season so far...

Journeyman - has a lot of potential. Like one of my fav books "Replay" or like Quantum leap for a better known reference. I think it will be less about the sci-fi and more about the dramatic stories.
Cane - a cross between the Sopranos and Dynasty and I don't care.
Bionic Woman - I didn't like any of the characters in the pilot and found their actions and reactions completely unbelievable. As an example, at the end the Oscar Goldman-like character seems to do exactly the wrong thing to recruit a new agent to his organization.
Private Practice - The pilot spent its time with dumb quirky cases instead of getting to know the characters. If it continues like that I won't like it.
Chuck - Didn't care for it. The tech stuff was crazy stupid, but so were the plot and the characters. It's going for a comedic Alias vibe and the combination isn't working at all.
The Big Bang Theory - A sitcom of beauty and the geeks. The pilot was standard dumb sitcom fare, but the physics was right though used at the wrong times. Still I was surprised that I laughed a few times and kinda liked it. I'll try it again and see.
Back To You - Another sitcom, set in a TV news station in Pittsburgh with two ex's working together again. I've seen two episodes and it's Just okay enough to try again.

House - I really like this show and I really liked the season opener. It's Sherlock Holmes in a hospital with good writing and consistently new riffs on the same characters with the same character traits. You get a lot of freedom if you allow smart characters to be cruel to each other.
The Unit - I liked the first season and really liked the second season opener. Good twisty plot and action. What else would you expect from David Mamet?
Heroes - The opener was just ok, with potential. Like much of the first season.
Dexter - Just finished the first season and it's probably my favorite show. The lead is particularly compelling as a serial killer working as a CSI and keeping his true self hidden from his coworkers, sister and girlfriend. I love how the voiceovers convert what would be typically banal scenes into something completely different.
Weeds - I've found previous seasons to be good but not great. I enjoyed the episodes but didn't look forward to them. This season I've found a lot of fun. My favorite small bit was when the drug dealer switched his crew to driving hybrid cars because they're silent when sneaking up for a driveby.
The War - The new Ken Burns series on WWII is fantastic.

Why Dogs Bite People

Funny Dog Costumes.

Snap Circuits

Saw Snap Circuits at a friend's a few weeks ago. Great toy for kids to learn electronics. Kinda like electronic components done as Legos. "Each block has a function: there are switch blocks, battery blocks, conductor blocks, integrated circuit blocks, etc. These blocks are different colors and are numbered so they can easily be identified while constructing your circuits."

What's your favorite kid toy?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

David Macaulay Lecture

Tonight I went to a lecture by David Macaulay author of one of my favorite books, The Way Things Work. His next book due in 2008 is called The Way We Work about human anatomy and physiology. He has 160 drawings to finish by January.

It was mostly a slide show of his drawings from various steps in the process. He described in what would sound to layman as technical terms what we were looking at. This was a little odd as we weren't trying to learn anatomy. Every few slides he would throw something funny in. E.g., he had some drawings of the brain which he did in huge scale; the brain was a museum building and he had people walking through it. For one section he said "which in ancient times was the seat of the soul but in my museum it's where the restrooms are." Another drawing showed a tongue being delivered by a barge.

He had a drawing comparing the bones of the hand with the bones of the foot. The fingers and toes have the same number of bones in similar positions but of different lengths since their purpose is different. He said "That kind of comparison that suggests the body changed over time is going to kill the book in Kansas and Oklahoma."

Afterwards I went up to him and said I loved his books and wondered if he would consider writing "How the Universe Works". He thought if it could spread knowledge it would be a good idea. So if that's his next book, you heard it here first.

MIT Halo Hack at Harvard

"To mark the Halo 3 release, MIT students gifted the John P. Harvard statue in Harvard Yard with a Spartan helmet (with 'Master Chief in Training' written on the back) and an assault rifle."

Bush and Insuring Children

I don't know much of the details of this legislation but as Bush and Congress fight over the State Children Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), Concurring Opinions offers a SCHIP Fact Check and Think Progress describes Bush’s $83,000 Lie About SCHIP.

Feel Good Climate Story

Scientists Hopeful Despite Climate Signs "Climate scientists say mankind is on the path for soaring temperatures that will melt polar ice sheets, raise seas to dangerous levels, and trigger mass extinctions. But they say the most catastrophic of consequences can and will be avoided. "

Movie Review: 3:10 to Yuma

I didn't grow up watching westerns but have tried to fill in the gaps by seeing some of the better ones. I'm often surprised, as with The Man Who Shot Liberty Vance as to how much depth they have. When I heard 3:10 to Yuma was a remake of a 1957 original, it didn't surprise me that I'd never heard of it. After seeing the current remake I'm very curious to see the original.

Christian Bale plays Dan Evans a rancher who lost his leg in the civil war and is now at risk of defaulting on his ranch because of a drought and a landlord who's diverting water from his land, burning down his barn, and wanting to sell the land to the railroad. His wife (Gretchen Mol) and boys have little if any faith in him.

Russell Crowe plays the outlaw Ben Wade. He and his gang rob a stagecoach carrying railroad money. The robbery is a western version of a modern car chase; there's a gattling gun and one horse explodes when shot, just like a car in a bad action film. Still it's an exciting well done sequence. Dan probably has a different view as he watches it happen with his boys. He helps the lone survivor, an unrecognizable Peter Fonda, back to town. Ben and his gang also go to town to celebrate their success but Ben stays too long and is captured. Authorities decided to send him to the feds which involves transporting him to the train station in Contention so he can take the 3:10 train to the prison in Yuma. Dan joins the posse to escort Ben to earn $200. Ben's gang tries to rescue him and Dan's 14 year-old son comes along despite Dan's objections. So that's the setup; the rest of the film follows the chase.

You know it's going to come down to Ben vs Dan. Both are smart men. Ben quotes the bible, sketches, has been to big cities, manages his gang well and charms the ladies. Dan has lost the faith of his family, is about to lose his farm, has lost his leg, is quiet, and...well maybe Dan isn't so smart, but he's played by Christian Bale so he must be smart.

Actually this kind of stuff is what bothered me. The various scenes of the chase all play out well except for their initial stupidity. Ben keeps getting the draw on members of the posse because they forget to watch him. He's handcuffed but I would have tied him to a tree. If you escort him out of camp so he can relieve himself, watch him, don't keep spinning in circles. If you're worried about Indians, bring two people to watch him and don't have a camp fire going all night. If you arrive in a town, bring him to the jail to hold him, don't go to the bridal suite in a hotel and bring the marshall to you.

I also forgive that injuries in this film seem to involve blood and scraps but cause no other impediment to people's capabilities. People shot in the gut can ride horses and run posses. People bashed in the face just sorta laugh (or rather sing) it off. And Dan didn't seem at all hindered by his wooden leg. When Ben asked him how he "got that hitch in his step" I wondered "what hitch"?

So these were all (almost) little things that I could forgive. The end baffled me a bit and I won't give it away. I just didn't believe the motivations of the characters and yes I did understand them. it just seemed out of character and the growth argument seems to be too much of a leap. To be clear it's a problem with the script and not the acting which I thought was superb. I did check my watch a few times in the film, but each time I was surprised much more time had gone by then I expected. The film is a little slow but there's a lot there and it's well done. I'm now really curious to see the original as it's a half hour shorter and there are some differences, particularly in the ending.

** MASSIVE SPOILERS (read after seeing the film) **

Dan proves he's smart by negotiating the deal at the end for everything Ben was offering him ($1000) and more (legitimacy, no problems with the landlord). Dan raised his son well, though neither of them would agree to that before the ending. Ben was clearly going to escape from Yuma. He whistled for the horse and had escaped twice before.

My problems with the end begin when Dan and Ben leave the hotel. First off, 7 guys should have easily been able to cover all the exits. Then at that point I didn't buy Ben voluntarily going with Dan through a flurry of bullets. I would have forced him to drag me but Ben is running out in front. It wasn't just his own men shooting so he wouldn't have trusted their aim.

Ben's true colors come through in the building when he says he's not playing along anymore and attacks Dan. At this point Dan tells the story of how he lost his leg and at this point Ben turns entirely. The fact that just before this Ben was beating on Dan and was getting away means this conversation changed his mind. So what to take from it?

Dan was a coward and ashamed of himself to his own son and he was doing what he could for his family. He was managing to pull it all together (being brave, doing the right thing, negotiating a good deal for his family and not being taken advantage of) and I can see Ben respecting that. I think Ben saw Dan grow since the beginning of the film. But I don't buy Ben risking his own life because Dan had shown growth. If Ben wanted to help Dan he could have told his gang to stop shooting. And if they didn't, he could shoot one like he did in the beginning and then they'd stop.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Movie Review: Eastern Promises

David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises is another crime drama like A History of Violence that combines ordinary people and vicious criminals. Naomi Watts plays Anna, a mid-wife trying to find family of a baby girl who's 14 year old mother died. Armin Mueller-Stahl plays Semyon the head of a Russian crime family in London. Vincent Cassel is Kirill his only somewhat competent son and Viggo Mortensen is Nikolai, Kirill's driver and foot soldier.

The story unfolds nicely and I won't give anything away. I think the plot works and holds up but the acting in this film is what's really special. Every character is well realized with a lot of nuance that's often added by just one line in the script and a huge amount expressed on faces. Normally I find such things excuses for long slow scenes that add far less than what an actual conversation could express but that wasn't the case here at all.

Oh and did I mention a fight scene that better than anything in any of the Bourne films? Really good stuff with a remarkably vulnerable hero. It is Cronenberg, so he passes up every opportunity to cut away from a scene a moment early to spare the audience something particularly gruesome, violent or disturbing. While such things don't normally bother me, I was wincing at some scenes in the beginning of this film, but not at some later things. I'm not sure what that means.

This is definitely one of the best films I've seen this year. Every aspect is skillfully constructed and contributes to a tight story. Eastern Promises is not as ambitious or epic as Goodfellas, but that's the film I want to compare this with. It's certainly far better than The Departed.


Not So Andromeda Strain

A week ago I wrote about a possible Real Life Andromeda Strain in Peru. The New York Times reports Peru's Meteor Illness Explained. Apparently the meteor's impact caused some underground arsenic deposits to be released as steam which sickened 30 people.

Meanwhile National Geographic reports Lethal Bacteria Turn Deadlier After Space Travel after a 2006 experiment on the space shuttle Atlantis found that Salmonella came back to earth 3 times deadlier than when it left. Apparently it has to do with space causing low fluid shear around the cell. This is similar to inside our gastrointestinal tracts and maybe that explains why bacteria thrive there. If anyone can explain this better than this horrible NYT blog which just punted on an unintelligible explanation, I'd appreciate it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Retired Generals Speak Out Against Iraq War

Generals opposing Iraq war break with military tradition "In op-ed pieces, interviews and TV ads, more than 20 retired U.S. generals have broken ranks with the culture of salute and keep it in the family. Instead, they are criticizing the commander in chief and other top civilian leaders who led the nation into what the generals believe is a misbegotten and tragic war."

Israel's Attack on Syria

I've been trying to understand Israel's Sept 6 bombing of some site in northern Syria. Last week Raghida Dergham wrote that the Israeli Strike Aimed to Break the Syrian-Iranian Alliance. Now the story is that the Isareli's destroyed nuclear equipment sent from Iran. "The Israeli attack came just three days after a North Korean ship docked at the Syrian port of Tartus, carrying a cargo that was officially listed as cement."

The Washington Post reports Israel, U.S. Shared Data On Suspected Nuclear Site saying that North Korea was shipping nuclear material to Syria. "Syria has actively pursued chemical weapons in the past but not nuclear arms -- leaving some proliferation experts skeptical of the intelligence that prompted Israel's attack."

As Kevin Drum writes, "Either someone is dead serious about planting some disinformation about a Syria-North Korea nuclear connection in the press, or else there really is such a connection. I don't know what to think about it myself, but it's now officially a story to follow."

Now the London Times reports "Israeli commandos seized nuclear material of North Korean origin during a daring raid on a secret military site in Syria before Israel bombed it this month."

The Washington Post raises the question is this the neo-cons way of sabotaging the six party talks with North Korea? Last week ago China postponed talks. "Some North Korean experts said they are puzzled why, if the reports are true, Pyongyang would jeopardize the hard-won deal with the United States and the other four countries. 'It does not make any sense at all in the context of the last nine months,' said Charles 'Jack' Pritchard, a former U.S. negotiator with North Korea and now president of the Korea Economic Institute."

Newsweek asks is Israel's Raid on Syria: Prelude to a Nuke Crisis?. "A few months before he quit, according to two knowledgeable sources, [Cheney's Middle East adviser David] Wurmser told a small group of people that Cheney had been mulling the idea of pushing for limited Israeli missile strikes against the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz—and perhaps other sites—in order to provoke Tehran into lashing out. The Iranian reaction would then give Washington a pretext to launch strikes against military and nuclear targets in Iran."

The London Times reports "The United States Air Force has set up [Project Checkmate] a highly confidential strategic planning group tasked with “fighting the next war” as tensions rise with Iran. It reports directly to General Michael Moseley, the US Air Force chief, and consists of 20-30 top air force officers and defence and cyberspace experts with ready access to the White House, the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Checkmate’s job is to add a dash of brilliance to Air Force thinking by countering the military’s tendency to “fight the last war” and by providing innovative strategies for warfighting and assessing future needs for air, space and cyberwarfare."

I don't know what to believe but I'm not happy.

Be Careful How You Sponsor

Ken Burns has a new documentary now airing on PBS. It's about World War II and is called simply "The War". It's the story of four American towns and how their citizens experienced the war.

Some sponsors were smarter than others. E.g., an announcer said "Bank of America is proud to sponsor this epic series." But then I also heard, "corporate funding for the war is provided by General Motors" and "major funding for the war is provided by the Lilly Endowment".

Simpsons Season Opening

Starting from where the movie left off. Big Boobed Eskimo Woman and Spider-Pig.

The Real Reasons for the Ahmadinejad Protest Open Left:: The Real Reasons for the Ahmadinejad Protest

I agree with Matt Stoller at OpenLelt on The Real Reasons for the Ahmadinejad Protest.

Simpsons Movie References

Seemingly made for me: Simpsons Scenes and their Reference Movies.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Movie Review: The Fountain

Like probably everyone who's seen The Fountain, I was looking forward to the next film by Darren Aronofsky the creator of two of the most intense films I've ever seen, Pi and Requiem for a Dream. I knew the reviews were mixed and expected an ambitious but incoherent work. Oddly I found it mostly understandable and wish it had tried to be more.

The film tells three stories in three time periods. The earliest about Tomas, a Spanish conquistador searching for the fountain of youth in the Mayan empire for Queen Isabel. Another is set in present day about Dr. Tom Creo a drug researcher struggling to find a cure for his dying wife Izzi. The last is set in a distant future as a snowglobe-like ship with a tree and a man inside travels through space toward a nebula. The man in all three stories is played by Hugh Jackman. Rachel Weisz plays Queen Isabel and Izzi.

The obvious core of the film is the present story. While Tom is unwilling to accept the thought of losing her, she's fascinated by Mayan creation myths about a father figure dying and the universe growing as a tree from his body. One night Tom and Izzi look through a telescope at a nebula which she describes as a dying star that gives birth to other stars. Izzi is writing a manuscript called The Fountain about a Spanish conquistador searching for the fountain of youth in the Mayan empire. She's written all but the last chapter and asks Tom to finish it. So we know how two of the stories relate, the question is how the future one connects to the others.

The hair on nape of Izzi's neck appears on the tree. Queen Isabel's dress in the past looks like roots and limbs. The tree in the ship is obviously Izzi. Tom the spaceman has the same ring tattoo and pen as Dr. Tom. He also has memories of both Izzi and Isabel or are those just transitions? Is this the future of a Dr. Tom who has found a way to cure or put off death and is bringing the tree he planted on Izzi's grave to the nebula they looked at? Or is it the last chapter of the The Fountain he's written for Izzi. It's probably the latter, but I don't think it really matters. The plot isn't the emphasis but rather the thematic exploration of the idea of rebirth; in other words, it's a work of art.

The title is a reference to the fountain of youth. The film makes explicit references to the tree of life and is about the circle of life where life is reborn from death. Izzi loves the quote "death is the road to awe" and incorporates it in her story. We don't see Izzi arrive at this acceptance but we can contrast it with Tom's attitude. In the final scenes he seems to accept the notion though it's not clear we've witnessed the transition.

There are thematic connections between the time periods. Triangles in the past, rectangles in the present and circles in the future. There are similar travel shots in each of the time periods involving a horse, a car and a spaceship. Star fields appear in each of the time periods as do rings. Set designs are dominated with tunnels and lead from dark to light.

If you accept it as a work of art the next step to realize the main characters are creating a work of art in the form of a story. The scenes often blend together, but Izzi telling Tom to "finish it" also says " together we will live forever". Spaceman Tom at the end says "All these years, all these memories, there was you. You pull me through time." By creating things like art we can live forever. Is this what Aronofsky is trying to say and do? If so I think he achieved immortality better with his previous two films.

You can download a director's commentary that Warner Brothers wouldn't put on the DVD. He deliberately doesn't discuss the main themes, leaving it for the viewer to interpret. The sense I got was that the film was inspired by independent ideas rather than being being aspects of a whole. He liked Mayan culture and wanted a warrior aspect. He wanted to do a space story that looked unlike things done before, no trucks in space.

I don't expect to live forever as the result of this review or even this blog; even if I suggest that life springs from previous things. And yes, I do believe that all the elements heavier than iron found on earth (and everywhere else) came from previous supernovas.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Most Important SCOTUS Decision Last Term

Michael Dort wrote in August The Supreme Court Wreaks Havoc in the Lower Federal Courts--Again.

"Can you name the most important Supreme Court decision of the last Term? Was it Gonzales v. Carhart, the ruling upholding the federal Partial Birth Abortion Act? Or how about Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, which invalidated the voluntary use of race by public school boards in Kentucky and Washington? Not even close, at least by one important measure: How many times has the ruling been cited by the lower federal courts?

According to my WestLaw research at the end of last week, the partial-birth abortion case had been cited 11 times since it was decided in April, and the schools case had been cited just twice since it was decided in late June. In contrast, the hands-down winner for most-cited was Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly. Since the case was decided in late May, it has been cited by the lower federal courts a whopping 457 times.

The Twombly case, as I explain in this column, concerns the standard to be used by federal district judges in deciding whether to dismiss a lawsuit before allowing the plaintiff to conduct civil discovery (interrogatories, depositions, document requests and the like). It is fundamentally about what we might call "lawyer's law." However, the case was produced by a Supreme Court whose Justices have had very little trial court experience.. Unfortunately, here and elsewhere, that lack of experience sometimes shows."

The rest of the article is long but I found it interesting.

What Petraeus Said

The Democratic Caucus's Senate Journal has a good summary of what Petraeus testified about a few weeks ago. Yeah it's old, sorry.

The Falling Dollar

Paul Krugman in his New York Times Blog writes about the declining dollar in Is This the Wile E. Coyote Moment?. I know it's been US policy to keep the dollar low for a few years but I don't really know enough to follow the implications. I know it had short terms benefits and was risky if it led to the dollar's collapse. Fears of dollar collapse? that Krugman cites gives some more info it got from this article, "Saudi Arabia has refused to cut interest rates in lockstep with the US Federal Reserve for the first time, signalling that the oil-rich Gulf kingdom is preparing to break the dollar currency peg in a move that risks setting off a stampede out of the dollar across the Middle East."

Bush on Mandela

Think Progress feels the need to report Nelson Mandela is alive after "President Bush inartfully gave the impression that Saddam Hussein had killed former South African President Nelson Mandela, saying 'Somebody said to me, I heard somebody say, Now, where’s Mandela? Well, Mandela’s dead because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas.'"

First off I don't believe it. I think Bush is using it as an argument that the Iraqi's are not "ready to step up" and I think "the success at Anbar" proves my point (and my I hate using his phrasing). But what I want to say is look at the video clip. Have we ever had a less presidential president? (Yeah I know nothing new).

Google's Facebook Strategy?

Interesting rumor: Google To “Out Open” Facebook On November 5. "Google will announce a new set of APIs on November 5 that will allow developers to leverage Google’s social graph data. They’ll start with Orkut and iGoogle (Google’s personalized home page), and expand from there to include Gmail, Google Talk and other Google services over time."

I've been playing with Facebook for a couple of months and agree that there is a lot of potential there. The key is the privacy controls and the fact that it knows how you know people. Don't show my work colleagues my pictures is the key. Yes there are a lot of apps on it now (portlets, widgets, whatever you want to call them) but they are mostly pretty lame. Imagine real business ones oh like Google Apps or a live whiteboarder for groups.

Bill Clinton - Uncut

Bill Clinton on the Daily Show this week. I like this theory on a sleep deprived Congress (at the end).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

New Prototype Lunar Rover

Fraser Cain writes about CMU's New Prototype Lunar Rover. "Consider this: there are two rovers crawling around the surface of Mars. Isn't it strange that we don't have anything similar on the surface of the Moon. I mean, come on, it's so close. Well, researchers at Carnegie Mellon are working to fix this problem. They've been tasked by NASA to develop a prototype lunar rover. One which can travel in the low lunar gravity, and hang on tight when it needs to drill down beneath the lunar soil."

Other details at the CMU Project Page.

Secret SR-71 Precursor Unveiled by CIA

Gizmodo reports Secret A-12 Spy Plane Officially Unveiled by CIA, No X-Men Found Inside.

"This is the A-12, a supersonic spy plane which was the precursor of the SR-71 —and according to the CIA, even while they look similar, in some ways it was more advanced than the famous Blackbird. It's one of the ten that survived the 15-plane OXCART program, one of which is in the USS Intrepid in Manhattan. This one was unveiled today by our dear friends at the CIA in an official ceremony at their Langley HQs. The story of this Mach 3.2 technological wonder starts in 1957 and, like all secret flying things full of gadgets, it's fascinating."

God Replies to Lawsuit

Yesterday I wrote God Sued For Terrorism. Today the AP reports that God Apparently Responds to Lawsuit. "His response argues that the defendant is immune from some earthly laws and the court lacks jurisdiction."

Video Cameras Don't Stop Crime

I've heard people (like my barber) say that London has all those video cameras recording everything and that helped them catch the terrorist bombers. I've had my doubts and here's some proof. Tens of thousands of CCTV cameras, yet 80% of crime unsolved.

"A comparison of the number of cameras in each London borough with the proportion of crimes solved there found that police are no more likely to catch offenders in areas with hundreds of cameras than in those with hardly any. In fact, four out of five of the boroughs with the most cameras have a record of solving crime that is below average."

On ringtones and copyrights

Macworld has everything you always (or never) wanted to know about ringtones and copyrights.

Wil Shipley adds more to the discussion (though he's really talking about Apple and their closed systems. iPhone & iPod: contain or disengage? "Not that, uh, we have to pay attention to what the record companies think is Not Allowed, because we have already licensed the song for playback on any device if we bought a CD -- we are allowed to play it on our iPhone already. Just not in response to someone calling us. The record companies have MADE UP some new, retroactive copyright and Apple is enforcing it for them. The result is, a million customers don't get to do something cool with their iPhones. Because of greed."

Warrantless Wiretaps

New York Times wrote Warrantless Wiretaps Not Used, Official Says "The National Security Agency has not conducted wiretapping without warrants on the telephones of any Americans since at least February, the nation’s top intelligence officer told Congress on Tuesday. Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, told the House Judiciary Committee that since he took office that month, the government has conducted electronic surveillance only after seeking court-approved warrants."

So here's what I don't get. "In a rush just before the August recess, Congress passed a law, effective for only six months, that the administration had argued was needed because its ability to conduct effective surveillance was slipping. That measure allowed the government to eavesdrop, without court-approved warrants, on international communications between an American and someone overseas, as long as the foreigner is the target of the surveillance." And yet, McConnell said this should be made permanent. If we haven't used warrantless spying since February is it really needed or just convenient?

"He added that the N.S.A. was forced to reduce the volume of surveillance it was conducting. “What we did do was, as the numbers got smaller, we prioritized in a way that we kept the most important, the most threatening on coverage, and we worked very quickly to try to catch up,” he said. “And what we found is there’s so much volume that we’re falling further and further behind. But Mr. McConnell said that the bill passed in August ended the bottleneck, and that the N.S.A. was back up to speed about five days after that legislation was signed into law." I'm not sure I buy this. They fell deeper and deeper behind but caught up in just 5 days?

"Democratic leaders have now largely accepted the idea of warrantless surveillance of international calls as long as the target is foreign, but they have been arguing that a special court should play a stronger role in reviewing the surveillance after it has been conducted, to make certain that Americans are not being caught up in the program." Ugh.

43 Republicans Vote Against Habeas Corpus

Senate Rejects to Expand Detainee Rights "The Senate narrowly rejected legislation on Wednesday that would have given military detainees the right to protest their detention in federal court. The 56-43 vote against the bill, by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., fell four votes shy of the 60 needed to cut off debate."

"Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), one of the architects of the law, said the system includes checks and balances to determine whether a person is being held unlawfully." Two US military lawyers say otherwise in a GQ article.

Sen. Jon Kyl, (R-AZ) said "Never has such an unprecedented legal right been granted to a prisoner of war or detainee." The problem is if they were prisoners of war the Geneva Conventions would clearly apply. As we have been repeatedly told, the War on Terror is different. For example, it's a war on a tactic not a nation, so when does it end? With no end we do what, hold these people prisoners in limbo in another country forever?

Sen Arlen Specter (R-PA) gets it right. "The lone Republican to cosponsor the bill, has said he anticipates the court will rule the ban unconstitutional. Habeas corpus "is a constitutional right that has existed since the Magna Carta in 1215," he said."

Movie Review: Ratatouille

I'm a few months late reviewing Ratatouille but it took me a while to see it. The Incredibles is my favorite Pixar film so I had high hopes since it was also written and directed by Brad Bird. I found Ratatouille to be fun but not particularly funny.

Remy is a rat with a remarkable sense of taste which means he doesn't care for the typical rat diet of garbage. He and his clan live at a French country home owned by an old woman. She watches cooking shows and Remy learns about the great chef Auguste Gusteau and reads his cookbook, Anyone Can Cook. After leaving the country, Remy finds himself alone in Paris and stumbles upon Gusteau's formerly 5 star restaurant. Gusteau had died after a bad review and loss of a star (causing the loss of another star). Alfredo Linguini is a gawky kid looking for a job in the kitchen now run by Gusteau's former sous-chef Skinner now trying to get rich off Gusteau's name. Linguini is in a kitchen but knows nothing about cooking, Remy can cook but can't be in the kitchen. They work together and Skinner is suspicious of his new surprise star.

The movie covers a lot of themes. Remy has to learn to believe in himself and do what he loves while balancing his family responsibilities. He also has to work hard to merely survive in man's world, let alone cook in a kitchen surreptitiously. There are even some racial overtones as humans seem to just despise rats. The plot also goes further than I expected which meant I left the theater pleasantly surprised. I also like the beginning in the country, but I had problems with the middle. I think my problem was with Linguini. He succeeded because of Remy but not for anything he really did himself. I just wasn't rooting for him I was rooting for Remy. Not liking the main character was my problem with Cars so I'm sorry to see this in two Pixar films.

I was impressed with voice acting. During the film I didn't recognize any voice and in fact didn't even think about it. It was only afterwards that I found out Brad Garrett was Gusteau, Ian Holm was Skinner, Janeane Garofalo was Colette and Peter O'Toole was Anton Ego. Nice job of supporting the film and not individual celebrity.

There were a few sequences tried to do for taste what Fantasia did for sound. I think they were pretty successful at showing imagery for flavors and then combining them into something more, but they were short and I would have liked more For example, when the customers were eating or when Remy was cooking.

Some friends commented they had a hard time with swarms of rats, particularly in kitchens. I honestly found these to be some of the most fun scenes. I also think Pixar achieved new heights in animation, getting the movements of the rats down perfectly.

This was a fun film and it probably hurt that I saw it with very few people in the theater. Still it's not in the league of The Incredibles or Finding Nemo or even Monster's Inc.

I also finally saw the Pixar short Lifted in the theater. It's a very fun short. Alien abduction as passing your driver's exam with a really bad computer interface. Very clever.

10 Most Amazing Temples in the World

Neatorama has the 10 Most Amazing Temples in the World as well as 10 Divinely Designed Churches..

In The Air Tonight

This is a riot. (30 second video)

What I Hate About Political Coverage

I completely agree with What Paul Krugman Hates About Political Coverage.

"One of my pet peeves about political reporting is the fact that some of my journalistic colleagues seem to want to be in another business – namely, theater criticism. Instead of telling us what candidates are actually saying – and whether it’s true or false, sensible or silly – they tell us how it went over, and how they think it affects the horse race. During the 2004 campaign I went through two months’ worth of TV news from the major broadcast and cable networks to see what voters had been told about the Bush and Kerry health care plans; what I found, and wrote about, were several stories on how the plans were playing, but not one story about what was actually in the plans."

In 1996 I did the same thing. I had moved and instead of moving my paper Globe subscription I tried to get my news from the web. I found I did fine on national news but not state or local coverage. To prep for the election I went through about 80 online Boston Globe articles, several months of coverage in one day. I found I learned about the ads the candidates ran and whether they were accurate and effective and how many people turned out for speeches and how they reacted but there were only a couple of articles on the candidates positions and platform.

This was before candidates had their own websites, maybe that's improved things a little, but when I looked a couple of weeks ago I found them all following the same template. They started with a full screen form to get you to sign up I guess for email blasts. Finding the platform information is difficult but at least possible. Maybe the news media is succeeding in making itself irrelevant.

Cmu Professor Gives His Last Lesson On Life

Here's a really sad article on a CMU computer science professor dying of cancer. No I don't know him.

He's 46 years old and "In his 10 years at Carnegie Mellon, Dr. Pausch helped found the Entertainment Technology Center, which one video game executive yesterday called the premier institution in the world for training students in video game and other interactive technology. He also established an annual virtual reality contest that has become a campuswide sensation, and helped start the Alice program, an animation-based curriculum for teaching high school and college students how to have fun while learning computer programming."

Read the whole article it's worthwhile.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Movie Review: I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With

I know Jeff Garlin from Curb Your Enthusiasm. I didn't like that show at first but then it really grew on me and I liked it a lot for several seasons. However the first two episodes of this season have been horrible. Almost completely unfunny. When I saw Garlin wrote, directed and stars in I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With I figured maybe he was concentrating on the film and the TV show suffered. That doesn't seem to have been the case.

The film is an homage to Marty a classic film for which Ernest Borgnine won a Best Acting Oscar and Paddy Chayefsky won his first of three Best Writing Oscars. Marty is about a 30 something butcher who lives at home with his mother and well, looks like Ernest Borgnine. He meets an equally unglamorous teacher at a dance and in spite of the objections of his mother and friends decides to give love a try. It was a huge breakout heartwarming hit in 1955 and garnered 8 academy award nominations and 4 wins (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor).

This film is not Marty. First off it's trying to be a comedy. Instead of a butcher, Garlin plays James, a second city comedian, who's fat and living with his mother at 39. He's fired from a TV show that's Candid Camera with an unfunny cruel streak. He binges on sweets and just makes bad or almost no choices in his life. He runs into Sarah Silverman who is less annoying than she usually is but is as quirky if not crazy as ever. They might be dating but it's hard to tell, even for them.

Garlin's film is a like a series of sketch comedy ideas. Most scenes have two characters to play off of each other and is shot with a stationary camera showing both of them. In fact there are a few scenes that explicitly are about improvs. While there were some laughs there weren't enough and certainly none were huge. The biggest was probably seeing a horrible remake of Marty with Gina Gershon as the mother and 20 year old Aaron Carter as Marty saying he's fat and ugly. I was the only one in the theater that laughed at the impossibility of actors who had never heard of Paddy Chayefsky. The pieces didn't really fit together or rather didn't lead anywhere. To mention Marty and Chayefsky so often and to lack a tight plot and real character arc is just bizarre to me.

It's amusing and not horrible, but it's not worth theater prices. if I were watching it on cable without a lot of friends over I would only stay to till the end because of its short running time.

Republicans Filibustering Everything

Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly writes about Republican Filibusters: "As you can see, Republicans aren't just obstructing legislation at normal rates. They're obstructing legislation at three times the usual rate. They're absolutely desperate to keep this stuff off the president's desk, where the only choice is to either sign it or else take the blame for a high-profile veto."

Talk Like A Pirate Day

Apparently Sept 19th is International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Take a quiz to find out your pirate name or just get one from the generator. Google Sightseeing has Pirate related places to visit.

How Federal is Star Trek's Federation?

Some of you will enjoy this. What happens when a law blog brings up Star Trek, How Federal is Star Trek's Federation?.

Lightsabers Come to Wii

Another reason to own a Wii. Next Spring Star Wars: The Force Unleashed comes out. You'll be able to wield a lightsaber using the Wii Remote and duel your friends. I hope they understand how many geeks will be crushed if this game sucks.

God Sued For Terrorism

Amazingly this is not an Onion article, Wired reports Nebraska State Senator Sues God to Stop Terror Threats. "Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers (D - Omaha) filed suit against God Friday, asking a court to order the Almighty and his followers to stop making terrorist threats." The 5 page pdf is pretty humorous.

"Chambers does admit that God is omnipresent and omniscient, however. Since God is everywhere, the Nebraska court has jurisdiction, Chambers argues, and since God is all-knowing, Chambers need not serve him with a notice of the lawsuit."

The AP report adds this little detail: "State Sen. Ernie Chambers sued God last week. Angered by another lawsuit he considers frivolous, Chambers says he's trying to make the point that anybody can file a lawsuit against anybody."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Cleric Turns Against Al Qaeda

The New York Sun reports Cleric Turns Against Al Qaeda. "A prominent Saudi cleric once praised by Osama bin Laden has published an open letter condemning Al Qaeda's violence."

Restaurant Prices

Scott Haas in Raw Deal in The Boston Globe complains about inflated restaurant prices.

Why g ~ π<sup>2</sup>

God Plays Dice explains Why g ~ π2. That's the acceleration due to gravity, at the surface of the Earth is about pi squared and it's no coincidence.

The Northwest Passage is Open

"Satellite photos show that Arctic ice levels have reached their lowest point in recorded history, opening up the Northwest Passage."

"Climate researchers were predicting that there might be an ice free passage above North America in the middle of the 21st century, not this summer. The loss of sea ice has beaten their predictions by about 40 years. Some researchers are predicting the Arctic will be completely ice free in 2070 - they might want to revise their predictions."

It's Really Not the Holiday Season!

Almost two weeks ago I complained It's Not the Holiday Season!. I was in Macy's last Wednesday and they were setting up a Christmas tree. No pumpkins. No Turkeys. Just a Christmas tree. That's just wrong. Labor Day was just two weeks ago and Columbus day is still 3 weeks away.

Basic Economics on the Surge

Oliver R. Goodenough ("a professor of law at Vermont Law School and a faculty fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School") explains Lessons on the surge from economics 101 using a "dollar auction".

"America is long past the possibility of some kind of profitable outcome in Iraq. Neo-con dreams of a quick, cheap victory, delivering democracy and peace and self-financed from Iraq's own oil revenue, got us started on this misadventure."

"We can cut our losses now and take our lumps, or we can keep throwing good money after bad until maybe we wear the other side out, but in the process raising our own ultimate losses substantially. And in Iraq, the losses are already desperately high, on both sides, in blood, in money, and in the erosion of institutions like law and national cohesion."

It's All Just Meaningless Blather

Glenn Greenwald wrote about The endless, meaningless blather from the Washington establishment: "It has been extremely difficult over the past several months to pay any attention at all to the discussion of Iraq from our political and media stars. It is all just complete blather, and never means anything. All of these stern and worried and tough words spill endlessly from their mouths -- they all proclaimed in May that September was the Day of Reckoning: there would be bipartisan, forced withdrawal if the political benchmarks weren't met -- only for the same thing to happen over and over. The conditions are not met; Bush proclaims we are staying; and the Washington Establishment submits."

I agree completely. "We continue to wage one of the most absurd wars in history -- one in which all of the original justifications have long ago vanished and nobody can identify any specific purpose in staying, yet one which continues with no remote end in sight. Put another way, we have exactly the war that befits our political establishment."

Last Week Bush Spoke, Uh Lied

I was traveling and didn't see Bush's speech last week. I just watched the video on YouTube here. Andrew Sullivan wrote "He seemed almost broken to me". Maybe but I don't care about that.

The Washington Post did some fact checking. I think they were polite in saying "In his speech last night, President Bush made a case for progress in Iraq by citing facts and statistics that at times contradicted recent government reports or his own words." I would say the President repeated lied to us.

He didn't mention the lack of political progress even he mentioned recently. And what do you call getting something like this just wrong: "Bush also thanked "the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq." But the State Department's most recent weekly report on Iraq said there are 25 countries supplying 11,685 troops -- about 7 percent of the size of the U.S. forces." Can he and his staff actually not know how many countries are there?

I saw This Week and the panel agreed that a centralized government won't happen and there is no political plan for what to actually put in its place. Tom Friedman said no democrat has a plan for anything other than a centralized government, I guess he hasn't heard Joe Biden speak. On Meet the Press while John McCain continued the lies, John Kerry spoke the truth and called him on it in the most monotone boring way possible.

House Members Resist Subpoenas in Cunningham Scandal

"More than a dozen House members from both parties have been served with subpoenas in the case of defense contractor Brent Wilkes, who is facing charges stemming from the bribery conviction of former Rep. Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham. The 13 lawmakers have joined forces behind the scenes to try to fight the wave of subpoenas they have received in recent days from an attorney for Wilkes. A source familiar with discussions among the lawmakers and lawyers said they were organizing the joint effort on grounds that the subpoenas are overly broad requests for testimony and documents"

I wish I could figure out what's going on here. Are the subpoenas overly broad or are congressmen trying to be above the law?

Most Corrupt Members of Congress

"Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released its third annual report on the most corrupt members of Congress entitled Beyond DeLay: The 22 Most Corrupt Members of Congress (and two to watch). This encyclopedic report on corruption in the 110th Congress documents the egregious, unethical and possibly illegal activities of the most tainted members of Congress. CREW has compiled the members’ transgressions and analyzed them in light of federal laws and congressional rules. Sixteen members have been replaced from last year’s list of 25."

Only 4 are Democrats.

Real Life Andromeda Strain?

"Villagers in southern Peru were struck by a mysterious illness after a meteorite made a fiery crash to Earth in their area, regional authorities said Monday."

Yahoo Buys Zimbra

Zimbra was just bought by Yahoo. Never heard of them but they seem to have a pretty nice mail/calendar program. I watched the Zimbra demos. I'm not impressed with drag and drop calendaring or threaded mail views, that's basic functionality these days. The UI is a combo of the mac's brushed metal with rounded boxes and Window's ugly toolbar icons with text to the right. On the whole it does look like a nice product and I like that they seem dedicated to supporting other client apps not just their own.

Their cool feature is the hovering and autolink generation. It recognizes phone numbers and lets you click on them to call with skype and addresses can easily be shown in google maps. It can be extended by a company to include tracking numbers and the like.

I like this feature so much I had written an Emacs package called mouseme to do the same thing in 1997. Since I used Emacs for everything (mail, news, calendar, programming, etc.) I had these features no matter I was doing. Whether there was a bug number in an mail message or a code comment, I could click it and see the bug report in the bug database in my browser. I do the same thing now on the mac with Quicksilver. It's a few more steps, typically I highlight something and hit a keystroke to perform a search in wikipedia, google, google maps, imdb, etc. I can also do other things like start a mail message, sms, phone call, calendar appointment, etc. Again this works in any app on the mac not just my mail/calendar.

I guess I should have formed a company to do this stuff.

Surge Cartoon

I'm not sure how long this will be available...

FOX Censored This?!?

Twice during the Emmy's FOX cut to an obscured view and I wasn't sure what was going on. I thought maybe they were censoring but it could have been a glitch too. They showed most of this speech and cut off only from 1:30 into this, another words the last sentence. Lame.

BTW, it was an odd production with seemingly random things included. Lewis Black had a diatribe against network executives that was almost funny but irrelevant. At one point the cast of the Sopranos went on stage I guess to commemorate the end of a once great show. No one said anything though so it was kinda strange. It became even more useless when later it won Best Drama and the whole cast and crew were up on stage for real this time.

The theater-in-the-round stage was ok for TV but otherwise strange. It wasn't really theater in the round since all the action faced one direction the whole night. So as James Spader pointed out in his acceptance speech, half the stars had the worst seats ever.

The best part of the night was Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert presenting an award (lead actor in a comedy?) that Ricky Gervais won but since he wasn't there, they decided to give it to Steve Carrell who ran up on stage and accepted it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Do Tokens Expire?

Here's a bizarre story, New Hampshire Jails 68-Year-Old Man For Paying Toll With Tokens. The phased out tokens but a guy who had some left figured he bought them, giving the state money, they should still take them.

"The way he sees it, the tokens represented a contract between the state and himself, and he’s angry that the state has turned his pre-paid tokens into what he calls worthless souvenirs. To rub salt in his wound, Jensen says New Hampshire lost his request for trial and, assuming he ignored the citation, issued a bench warrant for his arrest. When he was involved in a minor car accident this summer, he was arrested. The warrant was thrown out when a court clerk found his initial request for trial. However, Jensen was still found guilty in Rochester District Court of ‘‘theft of services,’’ for not paying the toll, which is a misdemeanor in New Hampshire. He was given the option of paying a $150 fine, 15 days of community service, or three days in jail. He chose jail."

A Couple of Mac v PC Experiences

Mark Cuban has switched to the mac and writes Once you go Mac. "Then I upgraded my PC to Vista. What a disaster. I had grown accustomed to my PC freezing every now and then. Enter Vista and my PC was frozen more often than it was working. The biggest culprit was MicroSoft Outlook." He switched and is happy. His complaint that he wants a second mouse button is easily solved as mac work fine with a two button mouse and the mighty mouse actually has four.

Steven Frank discovers Macs Really Do Run Windows Betterwhich is really a rant about the extra software that most Windows manufacturers install on their machines and how difficult some make it to reinstall (aka restore to) a clean Windows installation with all the right drivers. His nightmare experience was with a Sony Viao.

Apple ships macs with install DVDs and having been through the process it was painless, including copying all my user info from a backup drive (works as if it were a second machine). Apple does ship some demo apps with the mac but they mostly useful or interesting and are all in the Applications folder and to remove them just drag them to the trash.

Seven Things to Know About Michael Mukasey

The Wall Street Journal LawBlog has Seven Things to Know About Michael Mukasey, Bush's expected nominee to Attorney General.

Bob Dylan Remixed With Cylons

Video of Dylan remixed with Cyons.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Movie Review: The King of Kong

The King of Kong is a documentary about people (ok they are all grown white men) pursuing world records in old (they call them classic) arcade video games; specifically Donkey Kong. Get over the subject matter and see this film. It's as good as Murderball but much funnier.

A Life magazine article in the early 80s gathered the premiere video game players of the day. Billy Mitchell was the elite of them and was the first to achieve a perfect score at Pac-Man and holds the record high score on Centipede and has an astounding Donkey Kong record that stood unapproached for decades. In 2003 Steve Wiebe decided to try to break the Donkey Kong record. Twin Galaxies is a web site that officiates video game high scores. They set the rules and Billy is one of the founders. Steve has to jump through various hoops to have his scores accepted.

The film sets up Steve as the underdog good guy and Billy as the villain trying to keep his title. Steve has a loving family and a history of lots of talent (musical, athletic, smart) and failures just when success seems to be in his grasp. His own mother says she thought he was slightly autistic or at least obsessive-compulsive. He was laid off from Boeing the day he bought his house and is now a high school science teacher. Billy is quite successful at both video games and the family restaurant he runs and the chicken wing sauce he sells. He has an ego to match. We see his his wife (whose neckline seems to be that of a video game character) but his kids are never mentioned in the film.

Various people explain what's so difficult about Donkey Kong and there are clever visuals of Steve writing notes on the screen. On screen graphs plot the progress to the records. The underdog vs the establishment theme recalls Rocky and not just when "Eye of the Tiger" is playing. "You're the Best" playing during the practice scenes references The Karate Kid. These kinds of things alleviate the tedium of many shots of people playing video games.

The interviews and characters help that a lot as well. One says "I wanted the pretty girls to say 'Hi, I hear you're good at Centipede'" but lamented it never happened. A self-described "Mr. Awesome" describes Steve's capitulation to a ruling against him as he "chumpatized himself". If this same film were released as directed by Christopher Guest it would have been called a wonderful mocumentary, but it's all true (if not somewhat biased in presentation). It's never more biting than when Steve's young daughter tells him "I never knew the Guinness Book of World Records was so important." When he says "A lot of people read that book" her penetrating response is "Some people sort of ruin their lives to be in there".

Since the film was made, on July 13, 2007, the 25th anniversary of his original world record Billy Mitchell scored 1,050,200 points setting a new world record in front of a live audience of hundreds of onlookers. Steve Wiebe is already working at overtaking it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Gary Hart: J'Accuse

Gary Hart wrote a good 9/11 article explaining everything that's wrong with the administrations policies. It's worth a read

Fight For Kisses

Watch the Wilkinson Trailer here. Pretty funny ad. Seems to be a game you can download but I'm not sure. The trailer is also here.


I did watch most of Petraeus' testimony. It was pretty boring. The House testimony was worthless. Ever be in a meeting with 20 people? Realize how little was done? Imagine one with 109. The Senate went into more depth but still there were people like Barbara Boxer (D-CA) who spent all of her time asking her first question (it was a good one) and needing to settle for his answer in writing.

Paul Rieckhoff writes This Is What We Waited For?.

Here's a nice critique of one of his slides. It looks like it shows troops coming home but not so much. There's only one date which is the first one and it's a date that's forced by "operational realities". It's actually a timeline because we don't have enough forces to keep up that level for longer. Oh and that date is next July. Anyone remember that the surge was supposed to be about 6 months? How did it become almost a year and half? Also the surge was in Baghdad. They keep talking about the success in Anbar. But didn't we mostly leave Anbar? Isn't it some evidence that leaving can bring "success"?

So what I heard was this. The military men described their mission. Some security aspects have been improved while others have not. We can keep this up for another year. The political progress hasn't happened yet. In order for it to happen we need stability and we don't have any other ideas for making progress. So continue or leave. Also completely missing was any thought of understanding how sunken costs factor into the decision. It's harder to stop a pointless exercise after you've been doing it for 5 years vs 3 months.

Yep Supply-Siders Were Wrong

Matthew Yglesias writes The Relevance of Supply-Siders. "One of the points that Jon Chait's book, The Big Con makes is that the central element of the Republican Party's tax policy -- lower taxes rates will lead to higher tax revenues -- is a discredited crackpot notion. Megan McArdle takes on the interesting task of denying that this is, in fact, an influential idea."

His article is discrediting McArdie's point. They both write for the Atlantic so it seems a little odd but still I'm interested in the book.

Stephen Hawking on his Simpsons Appearance

Video here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Traveling with an iPhone

Be careful if you travel internationally with an iPhone, you might get a $3,000 Bill, even if you don't think you're using it.


It's 45 minutes into the Petraeus Report to the House and he's yet to say a word. The Congressmen have spoken, bloviated is more like it, and once they do ask him to speak, his microphone doesn't work.

How the Senate Works

While this is rumor, Wrong…Very, Very Wrong, Part Deux describes how things happen in the Senate. It's about how Arlen Specter (R-PA) played Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to buy time in the committe so the GOP could get Diane Feinstein (D-CA) to vote for 5th Circuit Court nominee Leslie Southwick.

"Bottom line: Specter played Leahy like a badly tuned fiddle, and DiFi fell for a schmooze campaign because she was feeling like the girl who doesn’t get nearly enough attention at the dance. And what do we get? Southwick on the bench. Lovely. I contacted Sen. Leahy’s office about this issue last week — asking why a vote had been called if it was already known that DiFi was voting to pass the Southwick nomination through, and I’ve gotten no answer to my query as yet."

Iraq Debate is Sea of Statistics

The AP reports the Iraq debate is sea of statistics. This graph says it all:

"The report used the defense intelligence's countrywide figures to conclude that the average number of daily attacks against civilians has remained 'about the same' during the past six months."

"The auditors could not determine if sectarian violence had declined since the start of the president's troop increase. The agency's findings are contentious because the Bush administration and military officials in Iraq have said security has improved over the same period due to the additional 30,000 U.S. troops in Baghdad and other trouble spots."

iPod Touch Calendar Crippled

This just seems dumb: Apple Cripples iPod Touch, Eliminates "Add" Button from Calendar.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Astronomy and the Internet

Using a fast data connection, radio telescopes in Australia, China and Europe (and interestingly not the US) were connected into a real-time telescope almost as big as the Earth. The Earth is 7,900 miles in diameter and the two most widely separated telescopes were 7,645 miles apart. "The telescope-linking technique, VLBI (very long baseline interferometry) used to take weeks or months."

Since Google Earth added a sky view, scientists having been adding new sky data to it.

"One of the best and most incredible things about platforms like Google Earth is the ability of scientists to directly communicate and share research, information, and ideas with the larger public without having to enlist the traditional mediators of publishers and librarians. Perhaps more importantly, web 2.0 platforms permit everyone to work with the data themselves, re-working and re-combining the data in ways that the original creators would never have imagined. "

Early Galactic News

Hubble Sees Ancient Galactic Building Blocks. Hubble and Spitzer look back to when the universe was just 1 billion years old (as best we figure, it's 13.7 billion years old now) and " reveal a collection of the smallest, faintest, most compact galaxies ever seen".

In other early galactic news: "Astronomers now believe there's a supermassive black hole at the centre of almost every galaxy in the Universe. These black holes can have millions, or even hundreds of millions of times the mass of the Sun. Unlike stellar mass black holes, the supermassive versions might have formed differently, going from a cloud of gas directly to a black hole - skipping the star stage entirely."

Improving TiVo

Interesting thoughts on How TiVo Can Get Its Groove Back.

Airport Security

Think your airport experience is bad? Imagine if you were Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Fein. My favorite part: "You must be Irish," he said. "You look like that guy, Adams."

Apple locks TV Out in new iPods

This is crappy, Apple locks TV Out in new iPods, breaks video add-ons.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Map the Candidates

Map the Candidates is a cool Google Maps mashup. It shows 2008 presidential candidate events. You can pick the candidates to show and the timeframe and of course zoom and navigate around the map. Nicely done.

iPhone Price Drop

Some interesting thoughts on the iPhone price drop in a New York Times blog: Steve Jobs Speaks the Truth About the iPhone Price Drop.

I'll add another thought. Apple wanted more iPhones sold before the gPhone ships to claim marketshare.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

I'm Smarter Than a 5th Grader

I watched for the first time tonight. "Who was the only person to be elected US President four times?" for $300,000?!? "Ivan the Terrible was a czar of what country" for $500,000!?! Some of the earlier ones I'm not sure if I knew or guessed. Was it ligaments or tendons that attach muscles to bone? I said tendons and it was right.

The contestant bailed before the $1,000,000 question: "Which Frenchman was the first European explorer to navigate the Saint Lawrence River in Canada?" The answer is Jacques Cartier and I had no clue. If I were Canadian I might have known it but oh well.

Movie Quiz (Actually Pretty Easy)

100%The Movie Quiz - Movie Reviews

Bluetooth on the iPod Touch?

There are rumors that the iPod Touch Has Bluetooth Support. It's not clear if it's real, was a photoshop glitch, or is something that's builtin but disabled at first, say until bluetooth headphones are available.

Personally I think it would be great to use it with the new Apple Wireless Keyboard. People whined that the keyboard was missing the number keypad but Apple said it was to keep the keyboard small. I agree it would be nice to have both models but why would they go small? I think it would be convenient to use with Safari on the iPod touch or the iPhone.

I think this would be much more attractive than the now dead Palm Foleo. Google Apps anyone? (Yeah I know, flash support would be useful for this idea).

Movie Review: Akeelah and the Bee

Akeelah and the Bee is a pretty standard "kid does well in school competition" melodrama. Think Searching for Bobby Fisher or Finding Forrester or Little Man Tate. It's the academic equivalent of the high school sports film.

Akeelah (Keke Palmer) is a good speller from a single parent home in South Central LA. She's bored at school and doesn't apply herself. Her mother, Angela Bassett is angry that she's not doing well in school and doesn't want this spelling thing to be a distraction. Mom doesn't have much time to devote to Akeelah as she has to work and deal with her teenage son who's spending too much time on the streets. The principal is played by Curtis Armstrong and I kept thinking Booger from Revenge of the Nerds is now the principal? He wants the school to be well represented in the spelling bee and connects Akeelah with a spelling coach in the form of Laurence Fishburne. Morpheus as your spelling coach, that's pretty intense.

Of course it's not really about spelling but about growing up and learning what's important. The characters have perhaps a few too many issues to get over but the film works and should be enjoyable by all. This is a drama that was able to be made because of the success of the documentary Spellbound. I liked Spellbound better but this was fun too.

It's Not the Holiday Season!

Apple announced that they lowered the price of the 8GB iPhone by $200 (and dropped the 4GB model) just two months after it started shipping. Many people are annoyed that they paid too much just a month ago. Apple just announced they will give $100 Apple Store credit to anyone who bought an iPhone which is potentially reasonable.

I heard this story on NPR today and I see it in Steve Jobs note. Today is September 6th. It is in no way "the holiday season". I know that retailers need to think about getting products into stores now, but this is way to early for consumers to be hearing "holiday season". The holiday season used to start when Santa appeared at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Ok, I can kinda deal with hearing about it at the beginning of November. But I will not accept, the "holiday season" being anything post-Labor Day.

US Nukes and Iran?!?

The Air Force lost track of five nuclear missiles. "Anonymous sources say that five Advanced Cruise Missiles were mistakenly loaded on a B-52 bomber that flew from a base in North Dakota to one in Louisiana. The missiles, set to be decommissioned, should have been removed from the plane. Instead, they were mounted on the bomber’s wings."

Larry Johnson picks at the threads of this story. "Barksdale Air Force Base, [where the missles were taken], is being used as a jumping off point for Middle East operations. Why would we want to preposition nuclear weapons at a base conducting Middle East operations?" Also since there would be no obvious way for someone to recognize the nukes on the plane, the story was probably leaked. "Did someone at Barksdale try to indirectly warn the American people that the Bush Administration is staging nukes for Iran?"

Tristero thinks "that Bush's is so anxious to drop The Bomb that his administration is simply scouring the world to find an excuse". That might be a bit much but there's little I doubt with this administration.

Bush Success Rating at Historic Low

Bush Success Rating at Historic Low. He won only 14% of the House votes and 72% of the Senate votes. Much more details in the article.

Bush's Lies This Week

Bush said he didn't know how the Iraqi military was disbanded, but letters from Paul Bremer show he knew in advance it would happen.

Bush said on Monday: "Do you realize that the United States is the only major industrialized nation that cut greenhouse gases last year?" But as the Washington Post points out, even the White House can't substantiate that.

"[Bush] believes success is being achieved in Iraq and told the Deputy Prime Minister, Mark Vaile, upon arrival on Tuesday night that 'we're kicking ass'." But of course the GAO report says otherwise.

Petraeus "told the Australian that there had been a 75 percent reduction in religious and ethnic killing since last year". Daily Kos points out, "In all of 2006, there were 16,564 reported (emphasis on reported) civilian deaths, and in the first eight months of 2007, there has been 14,732 deaths. So, civilian deaths are down about 11%...but there are four months left in the year. Or was Gen. Petraeus comparing the same time periods from last year and this year? If that's the case, in the first 8 months of 2006, there were 8,490 civilian deaths versus the 14,732 in the first 8 months of 2007, which is an increase of nearly 75%. Is Gen. Petraeus using Karl Rove's math?"

The LA TImes has a long article on this, here's just one bit: "According to U.S. military figures, an average of 1,000 Iraqis have died each month since March in sectarian violence. That compares with about 1,200 a month at the start of the security plan, the military said in an e-mailed response to queries. This does not include deaths from car bombings, which the military said have numbered more than 2,600 this year."

Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) says "We’re clearly seeing some major improvements. Clearly in the Anbar Province, we’ve seen significant improvement. We were able to walk the streets of Fallujah. Sectarian deaths are down." But Wolf Blitzer throws facts back at him. "You say that the number of casualties is going down. But we took a closer look — and The Los Angeles Times did as well — citing Iraqi Health Ministry numbers. In June, it was 1,227 civilian deaths in Iraq. In July, it went up to 1,753 civilian deaths in Iraq. And in August, the month that just ended, 1,773 civilian deaths in Iraq. Those numbers are going in the wrong direction." Daily Kos has more on lies about Anbar. Cenk Uygur calls the surge completely useless, "That's because our strategy in the Anbar province has NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING to do with the surge. It doesn't involve more U.S. troops. It involves less U.S. troops!"

John Kerry calls the escalation a "tragic failure".

Here's advanced warning on some budget lies. "There will be lots of celebrating in Washington next month when the Treasury announces that the federal budget deficit for fiscal 2007, which ends September 30, will have dropped to a mere $158 billion, give or take a few bucks." Apparently if you use real accounting, "the real federal deficit for the current fiscal year is more than 2-1/2 times the stated deficit."

Gonzales and Perjury and Irony

In case you missed this from a week ago. The DOJ is now investigating Gonzales for perjury. And in a bit of irony, "Gonzales' resignation will take effect on Constitution Day, September 17."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Yep, No One Wants Karl Rove

Well it seems no one wants Karl Rove to run their campaign. Instead he's going to take charge of the Bush library and museum.

Microwave Popcorn Can Be Deadly

It turns out the butter flavor in most microwave popcorn might be bad for you. Anyone surprised at that?

"The chemical -- diacetyl -- adds buttery taste. Government worker safety investigators have linked exposure to the synthetic butter to the sometimes fatal destruction of the lungs of hundreds of workers in food production and flavoring factories."

"Despite the worker safety findings -- and despite scores of jury decisions and settlements awarding millions of dollars to workers who sued after having their lungs destroyed by exposure to diacetyl -- neither the Food and Drug Administration nor the Consumer Product Safety Commission have investigated. The FDA years ago declared the chemical safe for consumption. Labels on almost all products containing it call it a flavoring and only rarely do the labels mention diacetyl."

It's not clear if it's bad for consumers, but it's clearly bad for workers and would you want to support a food that kills the people making it? "And while Pop Weaver has dropped diacetyl from its product, it remains in widespread use in thousands of other consumer products, including the microwave popcorn brands Orville Redenbacher and Act II" (both from ConAgra).

Movie Review: Death at a Funeral

Death at a Funeral is a farse set at an English funeral directed by Frank Oz (yes Miss Piggy). The various family members are all characters. The oldest is played by Matthew Macfadyen (Mr. Darcy from the most recent Pride & Prejudice) is the straight man, he's strapped for cash for a down payment on a flat so he and his wife can move out of his parents place. His brother is a famous writer living in New York, an ocean away from his family. There's the hypochondriac who has to take care of the wheelchair bound uncle and the ugly guy using the funeral as an opportunity to hit on women.

While the Brits all do a fine job, the film is stolen by two American actors. Peter Dinklage (from The Station Agent and Elf) plays a friend of the deceased who the family doesn't know. Alan Tudyk (Wash from Firefly) plays the boyfriend of a cousin nervous about meeting the parents. He accidently takes an hallucinogen and while you can guess where that goes each scene is laugh-out-loud funny.

Death at a Funeral has some slow points and is a bit predictable, but it also has some wildly funny moments. Definitely fun.

Foiled Terrorist Plots Worldwide

Bloomberg reports Germany Foils `Massive' Bomb Attack: "German police arrested three people suspected of planning 'massive'' terrorist attacks on U.S. and other targets in the country, preventing the deaths of 'many, many people', the Chief Federal Prosecutor Monika Harms said."

Doesn't that sound like another 9/11 to you? Here are more details from the article.

As part of 41 raids by police anti-terrorist units, three men (2 Germans and 1 Turk) of a local cell of Jihad Union, a terrorist group claimed to have ties to al Qaeda, were captured in Westphalia. They had 1200 lbs of "peroxide-based liquid explosives" and planned to attack Frankfurt airport (Europe's 3rd busiest) and a U.S. military base in Ramstein which is the headquarters for the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and a NATO installation. "This plot was still in its very early stages.''

Doesn't sound quite so bad now does it? And it seems police can be effective at stopping terrorism, it doesn't have to be a military matter.

Also reported, "Danish police arrested eight 'militant Islamists' alleged to have al-Qaeda links and who were suspected of plotting a 'major' attack, the country's intelligence service said yesterday." While there were similarities to the German group, no direct links have been found yet.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Declaring War

In What the Constitution says about Iraq in the Los Angeles Times Mario Cuomo makes the case that Congress has to reclaim its authority to declare war.

"Even if it is too late for Congress to remedy its failure to comply with the Constitution with respect to Iraq, at the very least our candidates for president and our congressional leaders should assure us that they will not allow this lapse to result in further unilateral acts of war -- against Iran, Pakistan or any other nation -- by this president or any other. Our leaders must make it clear that in the future, Congress will insist on compliance with Article I, Section 8 for any military action that is not fairly deemed an unexpected emergency."

Congress did authorize the use of military force in Iraq, but I think they didn't realize what this President would do with it.