Sunday, November 30, 2008

Venus and Jupiter and the Moon

Here in Boston, we had clouds and rain tonight, but tomorrow looks promising to see The "Venus and Jupiter" Show.

SawStop Test

There's plenty of warning before you get to the part that would seem to be scary but isn't.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Man Arrested For Singing Spider-Pig

Who Was Arrested For Singing Spider-Pigt. I haven't checked this anywhere else, even for the article that's an exaggeration, but he did get an extra 3 months in jail for singing it. Most addictive song ever.

Coffee Loving Astronaut Invents Zero-G Coffee Cup

Astronaut Invents Zero-G Coffee Cup since sipping coffee through a straw sucks. It's shaped like a wing so surface tension forces the liquid to the pointy side and up to the rim.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tool Bag Lost During Space Walk, Seen From Earth

Last week on November 18th, one of the shuttle astronauts, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, lost a tool bag during space walk. It was caught on video:

It's still floating around the earth. Slashdot wrote, "Last night, Nov. 22nd, veteran satellite observer Kevin Fetter video-recorded the backpack-sized bag gliding over his backyard observatory in Brockville, Ontario. "It was easily 8th magnitude or brighter as it passed by the 4th magnitude star eta Pisces," he says. "

Hip Hop Violin

US Officials Flunk Test of American History, Economics, Civics

Yahoo News reports US officials flunk test of American history, economics, civics

"US elected officials scored abysmally on a test measuring their civic knowledge, with an average grade of just 44 percent, the group that organized the exam said Thursday. Ordinary citizens did not fare much better, scoring just 49 percent correct on the 33 exam questions compiled by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI)."

The test is here, it's not easy. There are 33 questions. I scored 97%. I'm convinced the one question I missed has two right answers but I didn't choose the conservative answer.

I also disagree with their claim that this information should be taught in college. I think it all should be taught in high school. I'm pretty sure I learned it all in high school and many college students are not US citizens.

25 Tips For The Frugal Astronomer

Frugal Astronomer has 25 Tips For The Frugal Astronomer. I knew about many of these and have been using them (Stellarium, Astronomy Cast, Sky & Telescope). I didn't know about the college classes at iTunesU. There are many more than listed including one with video from Michigan Tech. Should be fun.

Helvetica and the New York City Subway

If you're into fonts or the New York City subway you'll be interested in this lengthy and detailed (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway.

Bush Still Screwing Science

Bush Appointees Land Career Science Jobs With Seemingly Unrelated Backgrounds. It's happened in previous administrations and is known as "burrowing".

"The president of the nation's largest general science organization yesterday sharply criticized recent cases of Bush administration political appointees gaining permanent federal jobs with responsibility for making or administering scientific policies, saying the result would be 'to leave wreckage behind.'

'It's ludicrous to have people who do not have a scientific background, who are not trained and skilled in the ways of science, make decisions that involve resources, that involve facilities in the scientific infrastructure,' said James McCarthy, a Harvard University oceanographer who is president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 'You'd just like to think people have more respect for the institution of government than to leave wreckage behind with these appointments.'

His comments came as several new examples surfaced of political appointees gaining coveted, high-level civil service positions as the administration winds down. The White House has said repeatedly that all gained their new posts in an open, competitive process, but congressional Democrats and others questioned why political appointees had won out over qualified federal career employees."

I Must Avoid Film Theory in the Future

During a conversation about Quantum of Solace last week, a friend wondered if I'm too critical on some films meant to be popcorn entertainment. I wondered about that too. I know that writing movie reviews has helped me understand my own thoughts about films, but has it made me more critical? Probably. Have I lost my ability to enjoy popcorn entertainment? I don't think so.

Some of my favorite films this year have been fun action films. I loved Wall-E and The Bank Job. I thought The Dark Knight was great, though my least favorite part of that film were the action scenes. I liked Iron Man though not as much as lot of people, but my favorite parts of that film were the action scenes and the testing of the armor. I even did ok with The Incredible Hulk.

Last year I liked the start of the Transformers and the opening action sequences but the later ones got progressively dumber and harder to follow. In spite of its complete stupidity I even liked Live Free or Die Hard.

I think I just don't like stupidity in my films, unless I'm in a particularly good mood or it's done for laughs. I like action enough that I want to see it and understand it and savor it. I know editing is now faster and video game playing audiences can handle it more. I enjoyed but barely kept up with the second Bourne movie, by the third I really liked the technique. The third one was edited by Christopher Rouse, the second by Rouse and Richard Pearson and it's Pearson who was a co-editor on Quantum. Maybe it's just Pearson I don't like.

But all of that is a long intro to the fact that I now know I really don't like Film Theory. Thursday I went to a lecture at Harvard, Hitchcock's Mountain: Technologies of Engagement in North by Northwest. It sounded like something I'd really enjoy, how my favorite director made one of the best scenes in one of his best films.

There was some good stuff in the talk. Basically it was filmed in a studio using optical mattes and rear projection. Closeups and medium shots using painted materials (rocks) were intercut with these shots. All of that is pretty obvious on viewing. There are tricks employed to make all this movie magic work better. First, keep the shots short so that the audience don't have time to stare at the image and find the seams in the mattes. Also loud music cues at the cuts help to distract the viewer so it will take longer to process the image (and see the flaws). Closeups of the actors, particularly with dramatic facial expressions, help too.

He also talked about some of the technical innovations that led to these techniques. Rear projection was limited by fringing, that is the center was bright and the edges dark, so it would look like a projection. In 1953 this was solved (I think with Vistavision but I might have misunderstood). Also he described some of the techniques artists used to paint the enormous mattes realistically.

The problem was the above was only about 15 minutes of an hour and half talk. I found the first 20 minutes a pretty worthless introduction. I don't remember much of note and at the time found nothing worthwhile to take notes of. Some if it was quotes by other film theorists that struck me as general, though I might have been missing something. Much of the rest of the talk was minutia stretched far longer than it was worth.

He explained the importance of an establishing shot to set up such a set piece, showing examples from both the beginning of Psycho (shots of Phoenix) and this Mount Rushmore scene. For this film, Hitchcock used a small round image of Rushmore straight on, like you've seen on every postcard. But the blackness around it suggests a telescope view and indeed he shows Cary Grant looking through one of those coin operated binocular viewers found at scenic locations. Hitchcock's two shots were effective and succinct but the speaker went on at length about how these viewers are so recognizable and found at various US National Park sites, listing at least a half a dozen like Niagara Falls, etc. If it's so well known, you can expect us to know about it.

There was a lot on why it was filmed on a set instead of on location at Mount Rushmore. What I expected to be a quick list of reasons, cost, the control a soundstage affords, the insurance costs of having stars climb Mount Rushmore and the difficulty of convincing the National Park Service to allow it, went on for a quite a while, including slides listing the actors salaries and a list of the other sets built on that soundstage. It's as if he needed to prove those reasons.

The presentation itself also had issues. The speech was read word for word and that's rarely a good thing. A powerpoint presentation at least avoided the use a slide template and just had large images with some overlaid text which was usually in some garish color and sometimes slid in using awful transitions. But ok, I know what to expect with powerpoint, what got me was the first question. It was another academic who was so blown away by the presentation was almost speechless but then needed to comment at length on how technically marvelous the slides were and if in fact powerpoint was used. He said the presentation was a self-referential example of the topic in how technology was used to perfect the point and that he spent the time trying to find a pattern to the color choice but was "undone". The speaker replied that he hoped he was undone in a good way and the response was "aren't we always looking to be undone?"

Personally I was undone by the fact that his list of the techniques (mattes, rear projection, painted materials and closeups) were not in the same order as they were mentioned in the talk. And if there was no system to the color choices of the text, why change the color? This is undone in a bad way. It's just sloppy presentation skills as far as I'm concerned.

The extensive listing of examples was a theme of the talk and included dates and names that didn't aid me at all in understanding the point. They seemed extraneous and I found them a distraction. If I was a film theorist I'd say it was Greenawayian. I kept thinking to myself, "I get the point, move on". However the second questioner picked up on this aspect and praised him for it, saying it would be useful to students to always remind them that these details were choices and made by someone to create this film. I suppose that's possible, but wouldn't a film student already know this? What really surprised me was the speaker's response; he said was "brought to tears" by this comment and he literally was!

The first commenter then found more to say. He was thinking about the shoes in this scene and how they would provide the least traction possible. The speaker said "yes you could write a whole paper on the shoes in this scene". Really? They were wearing everyday shoes because they didn't expect to be climbing down a mountain and Eva Marie Saint did slip because of her heels, it was a plot point. Sometimes a high heel is just a high heel.

Watch a Fiery Meteorite Burn Up the Sky

Watch a Fiery Meteorite Burn Up the Sky "Thursday night, a meteorite fell in Western Canada, burning up as hit the Earth’s atmosphere and creating a brilliant flash over Alberta and Saskatchewan. Witnesses got to experience the brightest fireball the country has seen in over a decade. Fortunately for us non-Canadians, several video cameras captured the meteorite’s luminous fall."

The brightest meteor I ever saw was one years the Cape watching the Perseid's. Of a bunch of us looking, only one other friend saw it Thankfully we could back up each other's claim. :) This one is much brighter that that.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Another List of the Top 100 Films of All Time

The Telegraph lists in English the Top 100 films of all time according French cinema magazine Les Cahiers du Cinema. I've seen only 38 of them, but a few more are on my TiVo.

About Those Auto Worker Wages...

Daily Kos has a nice post, About Those Auto Worker Wages..., busting the myth of the auto worker paid $73/hour and how last year the UAW negotiated to take over the health care of auto workers and pointing out that GM CEO Rick Waggoner made $9,500/hour.

Winning the Netflix Prize

If You Liked This, Sure to Love That catches you up on the current state of the $1 million Netflix prize.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Final Resting Place of Nicolas Copernicus is Confirmed

Universe Today reports Final Resting Place of Nicolas Copernicus is Confirmed.

The rightful place of the man who put the Earth in its rightful place has now been confirmed. New DNA analysis confirms that the remains of a 70-year old man found in Frombork Cathedral in Northern Poland are those of Nicolas Copernicus. Discovered three years ago, the remains allowed archaeologists produce a facial reconstruction from the skull, creating a likeness to portraits of Copernicus. But though the placement of the grave and the age of the body corresponded to the details of Copernicus' death, scientists couldn't be sure that the remains were actually those of Copernicus"

They had strands of hair from a book he was known to have owned and compared to the DNA from a tooth and femur taken from the grave and they matched. The article includes a possible picture of Copernicus based on the reconstruction (in Bones they can do this in seconds). I nominate James Cromwell to play him in the movie.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bruce Lee Playing Ping Pong

This seems to be an 11 second clip of Bruce Lee playing ping pong using nunchucks instead of paddle.

iPhone Your Life

iPhone Your Life is a page on Apple's site with recommended third party iPhone apps. Neat list.

All About Black Holes and I Saw Uranus

Tonight was the Monthly Observatory Night at the Harvard Center for Astrophysics. Dr. Daniel Evans spoke about black holes.

He started with some basics. Escape velocity V is the square root of 2GM/R, where G is the gravitational constant, M is mass and R is the radius. So if you wanted to know how big a black hole with the mass of the sun would be, solve for R which is the square root of 2GM/c where c is the speed of light. You get a 3km radius, that's under 4 miles diameter.

A black hole will only suck in matter that's within 3 times radius of the event horizon. As matter is pulled into the black hole, it rubs together and via friction generates heat and light, particularly in x-rays. Other light is generated but x-rays are easy for us to see since few other things generate them.

Chandra is a spece telescope, like Hubble but sees x-rays. Here's the Chandra Deep Field-North image.

cdfn_xray_420 1.jpg

"The Chandra Deep Field North image (left) was made by observing an area of the sky three-fifths the size of the full moon for 23 days...More than 500 X-ray sources are present in this high-energy core sample of the early universe. Most of the sources are supermassive black holes located in the centers of galaxies. If the number of supermassive black holes seen in this patch of the sky is typical, the total number detectable over the whole sky at this level of sensitivity would be 300 million."

Super-Massive Black Holes (SMBH) are those found at the center of galaxies. They're much much larger than those formed from supernovas. He said the theory was that they formed from coalescing dark matter in the early universe. While it was unexpected, it seems there's a direct relationship between the size of a SMBH and the size of its galaxy.

As SMBHs spin, the matter that gets sucked into them forms a disk known as an accretion disk. As this matter is sucked into the black hole, some of it spins around it and is released in huge hot gas jets perpendicular to the disk. These can be hundred of thousands of light-years long and can generate huges amounts of energy. Here's an image of a gas jet in Centaurus A, shown in x-rays generating 1038 Watts.

NGC_5128 1.jpg

Galaxy clusters are huge collections of galaxies. I didn't realize that there's hot gas between the galaxies at about 10 million degrees. Also, the mass of the gas is greater than that of the galaxies. I read now that the mass of this gas is not enough to account for the galaxies clustering together and this missing mass is the evidence of dark matter (I knew the general principle, but not the intracluster gas part). So when SMBHs blow jets they blow this intracluster gas away, forming actual bubbles. Without these bubble, the gas would collapse and form stars. So the jets are regulating the amount of star formation.

The last part of the talk was about 3c321 a particular system he's studying. Here's the image:

3c321 1.jpg

This is a composite from several different telescopes showing various wavelengths of light. From corner-to-opposite-corner is about a million light-years. The purple in the lower left are x-rays and the two parts are two different SMBHs at the centers of two different galaxies (who's stars are glowing red and orange in this image) which are rotating around each other. The blue is radio waves, it's actually a jet from the lower left SMBH heading to the top right of the image. It's colliding with the second galaxy who's gravity is diffusing the jet into the cloud seen in the right portion of the image. This is known as the Death Star Galaxy because the lower one is actually attacking the upper one. This is all happening about 1.5 billion light-years away.

So all that was fascinating, but for me the real fun was then going to the roof to look through telescopes. For the first time I saw Uranus. It looked like a big blue star, but it's still cool. So I've now seen all the planets but Mercury and Neptune (and Pluto if you still count it).

Visions of Mars

National Geographic's Visions of Mars has some amazing images.

75 Comics Being Made Into Films

Den of Geek lists 75 comics being made into films. "Comics are the new spec-scripts, and Hollywood is very amenable to a script with big pictures..."

I've only even heard of about 40 of these and I'm only looking forward to a handful of them.

Amateur Astronomers Photograph Charon and Jupiter

This just blows my mind. “Amateur” astronomers capture Jupiter, Charon.

This is a picture of Pluto and it's moon Charon. It was taken by an amateur astronomer in Italy.


"Mind you, Charon wasn’t even discovered until 1978 by a pro, using a 61 inch telescope! The image above was using a 14″ telescope, and is in fact much better than the discovery image. In 30 years of progress, a much smaller commercial telescope can do better than a professional setup could. Wow."

Here's a picture of Jupitor taken with an iPhone (and an 8" telescope)


"The photo shows three of the four "Galilean" moons of Jupiter: Ganymede, Io, Europa, on the right, left to right. Callisto was not in the frame, and a faint star can be seen on the left of Jupiter. A few of Jupiter's cloud bands can be seen in the iPhone photo."

Behind the Screens of Election Maps

Behind the Screens of Election Maps

FBI Can Track Cell Phones Without Phone Company's Help

The ACLU Blog reports With Technology Like This, Who Needs the Law?.

"The ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation have received several batches of Justice Department documents in response to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request (and subsequent lawsuit) for records relating to the government’s use of cell phones as tracking devices. What they tell us is that the government doesn’t even need the help of a cell phone service provider to track us with our phones. The FBI now has what is called ‘triggerfish’ technology — a cell site simulator that forces cell phones in the area to register its phone number, serial number and location — allowing it to track cell phones on its own. This raises the risk that they will do so without bothering to go to a court for permission first, since they no longer need to compel the provider to cooperate."

A few civicly minded geeks shouted when tracking technology was added to cell phones, saying it was ripe for abuse by a surveillance nation. Now we have one.

Black Holes Supply Lifeblood for Galaxies

Universe Today reported Black Holes Supply Lifeblood for Galaxies.

"These scientists say the powerful black holes at the center of massive galaxies act as hearts to the systems, pumping energy out at regular intervals to regulate the growth of the black holes themselves, as well as star formation. ‘Just like our hearts periodically pump our circulatory systems to keep us alive, black holes give galaxies a vital warm component. They are a careful creation of nature, allowing a galaxy to maintain a fragile equilibrium,’ said Alexis Finoguenov, of the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany."

See, your heart is like a black hole.

LIFE photo archive hosted by Google

LIFE photo archive hosted by Google "Search millions of photographs from the LIFE photo archive, stretching from the 1750s to today. Most were never published and are now available for the first time through the joint work of LIFE and Google."

Plame, Wilson Seeking Supreme Court Review

The Blog of Legal Times writes Plame, Wilson Seeking Supreme Court Review.

"Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, alleged Cheney and other Bush administration officials violated constitutional rights in revealing her identity as an undercover CIA officer. In a 2-1 vote, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in August affirmed a district judge’s order dismissing the lawsuit saying, among other things, the complaint failed to establish a constitutional issue."

Now they are trying to bring it to the Supreme Court. “There must be consequences when government officials abuse their power and endanger national security for political ends. This is an issue worth fighting over and we will not give up.”

Going After Torturers

The AP reports The Associated Press: Obama advisers: No charges likely vs interrogators.

"Barack Obama's incoming administration is unlikely to bring criminal charges against government officials who authorized or engaged in harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists during the George W. Bush presidency. Obama, who has criticized the use of torture, is being urged by some constitutional scholars and human rights groups to investigate possible war crimes by the Bush administration."

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said Bush administration officials would not face war crime charges.

I agree with an Andrew Sullivan reader that "What Obama needs to do is have a panel fully study and document what occurred--give it subpoena power, appoint eminently respected and nonpartisan figures to it, and issue strict orders to the intelligence community, the State Department, the Department of Defense to cooperate."

I also agree with this from the AP article:

"But Michael Ratner, a professor at Columbia Law School and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said prosecuting Bush officials is necessary to set future anti-torture policy. 'The only way to prevent this from happening again is to make sure that those who were responsible for the torture program pay the price for it,' Ratner said. 'I don't see how we regain our moral stature by allowing those who were intimately involved in the torture programs to simply walk off the stage and lead lives where they are not held accountable.'"

Jenny Egan has more at the ACLU blog, How Will the Imperial Presidency End?. "Which is why investigations are critical both to ferreting out wrongdoing and preventing such abuses in the future. This becomes trickier, however, if Bush issues a blanket pardon as he’s rumored to be contemplating. The pardon wouldn’t grant immunity to a specific class of people — like Carter’s blanket pardon to Vietnam draft-dodgers — but would be programmatic and would apply to a broad swath of people who participated in any activity related to the Bush administration’s torture and interrogation programs."

Suzanne Ito posted on the ACLU blog, “We Won’t Torture.” Trust us. about related torture issues, whether we deport people to places where they are likely to be tortured. "You may recall the plight of Sameh Khouzam: he fled Egypt in 1998 to avoid torture for being a Christian. Last summer, the U.S. government was ready to deport him back to Egypt, after assuring Khouzam that it received a "diplomatic assurance" from the Egyptian government that it would not torture him upon his return. So despite a federal court’s finding that he would likely be tortured back in Egypt, a deportation date was set. The ACLU stepped in on Khouzam’s behalf, and secured a stay of his deportation."

"The [Convention Against Torture] prohibits the U.S. from transferring a person "to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture." The United States signed CAT in 1988 and ratified the treaty in 1994. Despite this and our own domestic laws against torture, the U.S. has deported people based on diplomatic assurances from Syria, India, Egypt, Romania and Mexico. And those are just the ones we know about."

SCOTUSBlog writes in its Primer on Boumediene’s week of reckoning that not everything will wait for the Obama administration to start.

"Judges and lawyers, however, have schedules to meet, and cannot wait to see what President-elect Barack Obama will do once in the White House. So, starting Thursday, and in sequence, a Circuit Court panel will hold a crucial hearing on civilian courts’ powers in reviewing military detention decisions; a District judge will decide the first of the contested Guantanamo habeas cases — a reprise of the very same Boumediene case that went to the Supreme Court and returned; a Circuit Court panel will hear government pleas to keep any detainees from being transferred to the U.S.; a District judge will try to sort out the links and conflicts between habeas, claims of torture and war crimes evidence, and the Supreme Court will get its first look at the first major sequel to Boumediene — a test of the President’s power to detain an individual who was lawfully in the U.S., was seized inside this country, and is now being held indefinitely and without charges in a military jail in South Carolina."

They go into detail of the above in the article making them each understandable to a layman.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mysterious Source of High-Energy Cosmic Radiation Discovered

NASA announced Mysterious Source of High-Energy Cosmic Radiation Discovered.

"The new results show an unexpected surplus of cosmic ray electrons at very high energy -- 300-800 billion electron volts -- that must come from a previously unidentified source or from the annihilation of very exotic theoretical particles used to explain dark matter.

'This electron excess cannot be explained by the standard model of cosmic ray origin,' said John P. Wefel, ATIC project principal investigator and a professor at Louisiana State. 'There must be another source relatively near us that is producing these additional particles.'

According to the research, this source would need to be within about 3,000 light years of the sun. It could be an exotic object such as a pulsar, mini-quasar, supernova remnant or an intermediate mass black hole. "

Obama's Supreme Court

This is my favorite of a few such articles I've seen. Justin Jouvenal in Salon writes Ten picks for Obama's Supreme Court.

Whatever Happened to Hoop Dreams

The Chicago Tribune checks in on the stars of 1994's Hoop Dreams. It is one of my favorite documentaries, following the lives of two high school basketball players hoping to make it to the NBA.

"Gates, the reserved one, has become an authoritative force who leads a church in the Cabrini area. He is married with four kids. Agee, a spirited charmer, doesn't have a regular job but is launching a line of 'Hoop Dreams' apparel. He has five kids by five different women."

I can't believe the movie is 14 years old and Gates and Agee are in the mid-thirties!

Black Music that Black People Don’t Listen to Anymore

I thought today's entry in Stuff White People Like was very funny, #116 Black Music that Black People Don’t Listen to Anymore.

Harvard Square Closings

The Harvard Crimson reports that the Harvard Square Crate & Barrel Will Close. I've never been in this one and will have to wander through just to see it.

Even more iconic is that Out of Town News is closing. It's the kiosk located outside the Harvard Square T station that sells (sold) newspapers and magazines from around the world. It's closing because "Nobody buys newspapers anymore."  I've actually been there fairly recently because they did carry hard to find magazines.

All Hail the Apple Maggot!

All Hail the Apple Maggot! begins with an interesting thought, "‘We spend so much time wailing about extinction, but we never celebrate new species.’"

Still More Firefly Stuff

For a TV show that only aired 11 episodes six years ago, I'm amazed at how much Firefly fan continue to talk about it.

Yesterday I saw posts of an extensive Map of the Verse you can buy and a discussion of why the storytelling engine the writers created worked so well.

I loved the show and if you haven't seen it, all 14 completed episodes are on DVD and are fun. There's also the 2005 followup film, Serenity that explains a few of the shows long running mysteries.


I have another round of friends joining Facebook and one asked me, if there's a primer of sorts that explains what productive uses Facebook actually has? Here's my response.

No, because there are no productive uses of Facebook. Here's the deal, as best as I can figure.

You get two kinds of email, from people you know, and from people you don't know. Which is more useful? If you go to a website that a lot of people go to, you behave differently than if you knew them all and you get different kinds of information from it. Facebook is somewhere in between.

Facebook's unique feature is that it knows about how its users related to each other. They call it the "social network", to everyone else it's "friends". Facebook's best app is their photo sharing. Not only can you post photos, you can also tag the photos with the people's names and the system tracks it. So if I post a photo of Alice, Bob could notice it and add the annotation to say Alice is in it. But then the system can show "photos of Alice" to anyone who's interested in them, regardless of who posted them. So when you go to Alice's profile on facebook you see both, "photos posted by Alice" and "photos of Alice".

But the cool thing is that you can control the security of who sees your photos. You can say, don't show these photos to everyone, just to my friends. And while a lot of people don't use it, when you connect to friends, you can give friend details of how you know them (through another friend, from work, from school, etc.) I'm not sure you can actually do this but everything is in place to say "only show my photos to my college friends, not my work friends". That's valuable.

When facebook opened up the platform allowing others to write applications, people were excited that there would be more like the photos app. But it turns out, the developers wrote apps that turned your friends into zombies and set up a "lil green patch" and various "poke your friend" apps that did nothing useful except pyramid schemes to give your friends an excuse to install the app and give more ad views for the author. Hey, turn your friends into a zombie and you'll be a more powerful zombie. Some are fun, like the movie one that has quizes and lets you rate movies and then compare your scores and favorites to your friends. Fun, but not quite useful.

Facebook's other cool feature is the newsfeed. When your friends make changes it gets published to all their friends. You see these on the main page in the newsfeed. There were lots of privacy concerns at first but it's what makes facebook usable. I know when you've posted new photos or changed your status to married or single, or someone posted a (public) message on your wall, etc. You post info once, and it goes to all your friends. I read a feed of all my friends stuff and can know what's going on about people I care about without constant contact or direct emails. The unexpected part is I now know some background info so when I do see you I have stuff to ask about that's more specific than "what's new?". I have my twitter posts set my facebook statuses. I saw a friend I hadn't seen in a few months and he asked, oh, so why were you in NJ a few weeks ago?

Again the privacy controls can set who sees your feed. The least understood and most underused feature of facebook is that the security settings are the best I've ever seen in any application because it knows who you know and in what relationship (work, college, etc.) Other system let you set up security groups, but this lets you set them up and use the relationship for more than security.

There are other things. Anyone can easily create a group that's open to anyone or just to people you invite. The group gets a page and shared space for files, photos, etc. It gets it's own wall to post messages on. I understand that students use it for class projects to share info. Look at how hard it is in a corporate environment to set up a mailing list for a small team or a shared file store or a small wiki site. You send a request to IT and it takes weeks if they can do it at all. In Facebook you can set one up in as much time as sending the request to IT would take. The problem is that groups don't update your feeds, so you have to go to the group page to see changes. This is an issue if you're in a lot of groups.

Here's where the fact that it was written by 22 year olds come in. It started out as the facebook of harvard, then they expanded to other schools so they said, based on your email address (, yale,edu) we'll put you in a "network". You can see more things about people (who aren't your friends) in your own network than in another network. Then they expanded to more schools and then to non-schools and they couldn't verify membership easily. If your email address is they can't prove you work for CitiCorp. So they created groups so you could put yourself in the groups you want. But then groups don't update the feed, so they created Pages. You can become a fan of pages (there are pages for Obama, The Big Bang Theory, etc.) When pages you're a fan of get updated you don't see it in your feed but you do see a notification. I think that these three things, network, groups and pages all need to be combined into one more useful thing. Now it's too confusing of how I should see, say New York Giants stuff. Do I install a Giants app on my profile, join a group, become a fan of a page? Why should I do all three?

Here's the last bit. I think the reason college students loved it was that you could send direct message to your friends with it. It's not just wall posts that everyone can see, you can send private (email-like) messages. And you can connect it to your cell phone so you text message to it and get text messages from it. College students connect with facebook via their phones and use it as their email system. I first started playing with facebook because a friend's 13 year-old thought email was how old people communicated. She used myspace, as did all her friends. then I found out they used myspace private messages so it was just their email system instead of gmail or yahoo or a work system. College students also just want to have really high friends counts, and will post any picture of them for anyone to see, and have no real work they need to get done. So facebook is perfect for them.

So as far as I can tell, Facebook still has a lot of potential it's squandered. Now other sites are copying the social aspects. Netflix has friends so I can send recommendations to my friends and see their queue, ratings, etc. It's nice. LinkedIn won the workplace social network and is now adding application support so hopefully they will have useful workplace features, though I don't know what they'll be.

This is what I've figured out from using Facebook for a couple of years. If you have more ideas I'd love to hear them.

Not the Bailout We Bargained For

Robert Reich writes A Bottom-Up Bailout Rather Than Trickle-Down which is a far too polite title for a post that describes the crap that's happening with the bailout money.

"Hank Paulson has just about burned through $300 billion, and it's not clear what the public has got out of it. Perhaps things would be worse without the bailout but they're certainly no better. Wall Street banks have not significantly stepped up their loans to small businesses, college students, car buyers, or distressed homeowners. Much of the auto industry is on the verge of bankruptcy. And the rate of foreclosures is rising.

What happened to all the money? About a third has gone into dividends the banks are paying their shareholders. Some of the rest into executive salaries and bonuses. Another portion toward acquisitions designed to raise share values. Another chunk for bailing out giant insurer, AIG."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Movie Review: Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story is a Frontline documentary that got a theatrical release. Atwater was a successful and dirty political operative and Karl Rove's mentor who died of cancer in 1991 at the age of 40. While there were negative politics before him, most would say he's father of the modern negative attack campaigns.

Atwater is described as a brilliant political mind who cared about winning regardless of the cost or method. He didn't even care about policy and joined the Young Republicans in South Carolina because they were smaller and it would be easier for him to get ahead.

In 1973 Karl Rove was the executive director of the College Republican National Committee and was running to be the chairman. Atwater was his southern campaign chair and the deal was if Rove won, Atwater would take over the executive director position. It was a close campaign with a lot of dirty tricks including throwing out votes of Rove's competitors. It came down to a tie and the chairman of the RNC had to decide it. That person was George H. W. Bush. He probably chose Rove because the campaign manager of the competitor leaked accusations of Rove's dirty tricks to the Washington Post. At the time, Bush was dealing with Watergate and didn't want the party tarred by dirty tricks leaking to the press.

In 1980 Atwater worked on a congressional campaign in SC and brought up his Tom Turnipseed's (his Democratic challenger) previous electroshock therapy, describing it as being hooked up to jumper cables. After that success, Reagan hired him in Washington and we worked for Ed Rollins before viciously backstabbing him. Atwater was Bush's campaign manager in the 1988 presidential election, responsible for the Dukakis tank ad and the Willie Horton ad. At this time he became friendly with George W. Bush. After the election he became chairman of the RNC and there were more dirty tricks.

In early 1990 he collapsed and was diagnosed with brain cancer. He was treated with radiation and steroids and was paralyzed and swollen. He went from looking like a young Michael J. Fox to an old Larry Flint. As he dropped out of politics he turned to religion and apologized for some of his actions, though the film suggests they may not have been sincere.

The story is told with lots of archival footage but mostly via interviews with people who worked with him and competed against him, including Dukakis, Ed Rollins, Robert Novak, Sam Donaldson, Tucker Eskew, Roger Stone, Mary Matalin (who was his chief of staff at the RNC), etc. They all often said similar things about different parts of his life or different political attacks. I wished there more details. Also many of them seemingly admired his audacity to pull these things off, even some of the reporters who were manipulated by him into spreading damaging lies.

Atwater was apparently a lot of fun to be around and an accomplished blues guitarist. The film is full of clips of his playing. While it's clearly positioning him as the source of modern day Republican dirty campaigning, his likability and illness are supposed to yield a dramatic arc or at least some compassion. Some say at the end that he found peace in the Bible and apologized for his career. Tom Turnipseed read a letter he got from Atwater, which said he knew what he did "was bad and bad for the country".

I learned a lot about Atwater but I felt no sympathy for him whatsoever. It could be because the film sets up the proposition that without Atwater there would have been no Bush presidency, either of them and no Karl Rove. For giving us that and for the completely amoral way he operated, I'm happier he's not around. I don't care how well he played the blues or how much fun he was while drunk or if he ultimately realized what he did was wrong. That's certainly callous, but the film never showed Atwater showing sympathy for anyone.

Quotes from FCC v. Fox Oral Arguments

Two weeks ago I wrote about the U.S. Supreme Court Hearing a Case on Broadcast Indecency. I read the transcript of the oral arguments and found these quotes to be amusing:

JUSTICE BREYER: I just have a practical question. I'm just curious about this. What are the networks supposed to do, or the television stations? They cover a lot of live events. They're not just sports events. They're also like but the Golden -- you know, the Emmys, the Oscars, and you deal with a cross-section of humanity. And my experience is some parts of that cross-section swear.

and this exchange between Justices Stevens and Scalia:

JUSTICE STEVENS: Maybe I shouldn't ask this, but is there ever appropriate for the Commission to take into consideration at all the question whether the particular remark was really hilarious, very, very funny? Some of these things -- you can't help but laugh at. Is that -- is that a proper consideration, do you think?

JUSTICE SCALIA: Oh, it's funny. I mean, bawdy jokes are okay if they are really good.

Movie Review: JCVD

JCVD stands for Jean-Claude Van Damme the star and main character of this crime drama. The action star, well actor, well the first billed name on a bunch of movies, well direct-to-video releases, plays a (presumably) fictionalized version of himself with a lot of the basic facts based on his real life. He's from Belgium, starred in action films based on his kickboxing skills, was married 5 times, has several kids, and took drugs and watched his film career decline.

JCVD starts with an opening tracking shot of him making his way through various stunts in an obviously bad film. We then see him losing a child custody battle. His ex-wife's lawyer uses his (real-life) DVDs against him. Then he's at the center of a hostage situation at a Brussel's post office (which as in most European countries, also serves as a bank). The hostage story is the center of the film and it's told a few times from different points of view. It mostly works though it is a little slow in some parts.

The surprise is the Van Damme does a good job acting. He's, ahhhh, quite believable as himself, but can also emote. I wondered if it was because he mostly speaks in his native French. Also surprising is that almost a third of the film is improvised (including a taxi ride with a, ah, talkative driver and a conversation with JCVD's agent.). There's a long monologue by Van Damme, where he talks directly to the audience in one 8 minute long take. I've seen some reviews call it indulgent but I found it quite absorbing and it set up the end of the film. What I found indulgent was some of the cinematography which has a strong sepia tone and some halo-like effects from strong overhead lighting.

In spite of some small flaws, this Being John Malkovich-lite film worked for me. A lot, but not all of the tension was effective and the emotional response for and from someone who previously played a violent android was surprising and welcome.

Between this and In Bruges, both being set in Belgium, I'm fairly certain that Belgium has never been as well represented on the screen of US cinemas.

Angler at TPMCafe Book Club

TPMCafe Book Club is talking about Angler this week. That's the book on the Cheney presidency that started as the Washington Post investigative story.

Who's The Final Cylon?

Prepping for the return of Battlestar Galactica in January? io9 has a nice summary of our clues on, Who's The Final Cylon?. Don't read it if you haven't seen the first part of season 4.

TiVo Adds Domino's Pizza Ordering?

I don't really get this. TiVo Completes The Evening TV Dinner: Adds Domino's Pizza Ordering. Yup, apparently you can now (or will soon) order Domino's from your TiVo. I haven't had Domino's since college. And yes, deliberately. But lets say this was Dining In or something better. I'd still hate to enter the info using a remote control rather than using the phone or the internet. Is this for those homes with a TiVo without broadband?

Obama on 60 Minutes

Here's the 60 Minutes interview with Obama. In spite of the title of the show, the full interview is 41 minutes long. Gotta love commercials. Note also, this didn't play for me in Safari but did in Firefox (on the mac).

Watch CBS Videos Online

It's clear that he's not just repeating previously agreed on phrases. He had been briefed on the facts of various issues, understood them, and could reformulate them as needed. You know, intelligence. That's so refreshing and so sad that it's so.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Movie Review: Quantum of Solace

So I loved Casino Royale and was really looking forward to the next Bond film, Quantum of Solace. Even though I've seen a lot of criticism against the title, I liked it, maybe because I knew what all the words meant. The reviews weren't that favorable. Some of the specific complaints I read about, particularly the quickly edited action sequences, I thought I might be okay with.

It had the same writers as Casino Royale and I think that showed. It's really a continuation of that story. Bond is seeking revenge on who killed his love, Vesper. There are a few references to Casino Royale and there's no quick summation or flashback, so it might be a good idea to watch the DVD before going out to the theater to see Quantum. It starts with a car chase in Italy and I didn't realize until I read it afterwards that it's only an hour after Casino Royale ends.

So the good things. First the plot is good. As usual, given a slim lead and some unlikely circumstances, Bond finds his way into a bigger and bigger plot. Like Casino Royale it doesn't get beyond human scale and there are hints of something deeper. The plot is about limited world resources and the various government agencies actually talk about political compromise.

Daniel Craig is the same strong, capable, determined, yet damaged Bond. I said last time that he might be the best Bond, but the role hasn't yet fully developed. It does by the end of this film, so we'll know in the next one how he compares to Sean Connery. Judy Dench is good as M and her role is a bigger. The Bond girl (Olga Kurylenko) is yet again a strong woman who isn't limited by the cliche role. There are some good conversations between her and James but the the relationship between Bond and M is the strongest and most developed and that's fitting.

I liked how the gadgets were done. There were no laser watches or invisible cars. Instead they just enhanced things that already exist. MI6 has Minority Report-like computers and Bond's mobile phone has a great camera and a tracking interface.

There were some disappointments too. First off the villain is lame. I've seen reviews complain about his mundane name, Dominick Greene but I'm fine with that and it's even appropriate. What bothered me was that he was a twerp. He never portrayed a villainous gravitas or presence. I think Mathieu Amalric was miscast and I didn't believe him lasting more than a few seconds in a fight with Daniel Craig.

The real problem I had with the movie was the editing. The action sequenced are edited as many very quick cuts, much like the Bourne films. But unlike those films, I couldn't follow what was going on. I could sense that this person is going there and then there's a punch and that kind of thing, but not enough to care about the scene. You already know Bond will survive so the interesting part is how.

In the opening car chase there's a part where they swerve to another road. I never saw that happen. I never saw the opportunity and I didn't follow that I was seeing the car make a turn. Then I see them on another road and pieced it together. That's not suspense or tension, it's confusion.

In a boat chase, another boat appears out of no where, and it's not clear at first whether it's a new boat or the one we've been following. A fight on some interior scaffolding reminded me of the first Mythbusters episode I saw and I wanted them to recreate it so I could follow what was going on.

Usually at the start of a sequence there's an establishing shot, a long shot that sets the scene. Most of the action sequences didn't have one that conveyed any sense of the location. There's an homage to a previous Bond film. A body is shown and for some reason they don't show the whole thing until the end of the scene.

Look, I'm totally fine with Jaws falling from a plane onto a circus tent and walking away (Moonraker). I wasn't ok with Bond jumping out of a 3rd story window and grabbing the cord on the window blinds and having it magically turn into a 3 story long rope for him to reach the sidewalk with (The World Is Not Enough). I expect big stunts in a bond film. Whether it's the longest boat jump or ski jump or whatever, they are a staple of the series. Casino Royale's opening parkour chase was fantastic. If you're going to have a stunt man make an impressive jump across roofs and onto balconies, have the decency to show it in the film for more than a split second.

Yes there's something to be said for quick disorienting editing to put you into the scene. But in a construction site, the events that happened were so quick and so involved and so unfathomable from various closeups of pulleys, I'm sure the characters involved would not have been able to follow what they were doing.

I was annoyed at most all the action pieces. I didn't realize that the four big ones represented earth, water, air, and fire until I read it in a review afterwards. My reaction is so what, I would have preferred to have enjoyed them for what they were, not a meaningless thematic reference. The film is not all action, there were other aspects that I enjoyed, but it's the action sequences that made this film worse than Casino Royale. Not the fact that there more of them. It's still better than many of the recent Bonds but Casino Royale remains the definitive Daniel Craig Bond.

McClellan Says Bush Authorized Plame's Outing

Here's Scott McClellan on Saturday at the 2008 Miami Book Fair from C-SPAN Book TV. He states that Bush told him directly that he authorized Scooter Libby to leak Valerie Plame's name. I haven't read his book but is this new info? Did he change his story? Will there ever be an investigation?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dead Parrot sketch is 1,600 years old

The Daily Telegraph reports that Monty Python's Dead Parrot sketch is 1,600 years old.

"A classic scholar has proved the point, by unearthing a Greek version of the world-famous piece that is some 1,600 years old. A comedy duo called Hierocles and Philagrius told the original version, only rather than a parrot they used a slave. It concerns a man who complains to his friend that he was sold a slave who dies in his service. His companion replies: 'When he was with me, he never did any such thing!' The joke was discovered in a collection of 265 jokes called Philogelos: The Laugh Addict, which dates from the fourth century AD."

The Best Way To Watch America's Got Talent

Watch the best clip, once a year on YouTube:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Not So Fast Bush

On Halloween I wrote about Bush's Last Push To Deregulate. "So Bush is not making the same mistaking and is trying to get stuff through by tomorrow. There are 60 and 30 day congressional review periods for some of these so Nov 20th and Dec 20th are some deadlines on them. "

Apparently there is something called the Congressional Review Act of 1996 and it's The Best Law You've Never Heard Of: "In short, Congress and Obama can repeal any new rule in the next congressional session for up to 60 days. Even better, no filibuster – Senate debate is explicitly limited to 10 hours. I presume the legal eagles working for Obama know all this – but it can’t hurt to remind them."

Politico has more, pointing out that Democrats (including House Global Warming Committee Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA)) already know about it.

Stop! Or I'll Say Stop Again and again and again...

TPM reports Senate Dems To White House: Preserve Records (Especially You, Cheney).

"Democrats from the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees last week sent a letter to the White House demanding that it preserve all records produced by the Bush administration. The letter expressed particular concern that the office of Vice President Cheney would not comply with the law."

If it's illegal to do something, is it extra illegal if Congress tells you not to do it?

Maybe this means Congress will investigate, but really why wait? Why not start now?

Photos of Another Planet

Bad Astronomy writes in Discover HUGE EXOPLANET NEWS ITEMS: PICTURES!!! "For the first time, ever, astronomers have captured an optical image of a planet orbiting a star like our own. And that’s not all: we also have a second picture showing TWO planets orbiting a second star!" Here's the first one, taken by the Hubble:

3026603168_a57722cf33_o 1.jpg

Click the image to see details about the photo. The star is black spot, it's blocked out of the image to avoid washing it out from the brightness. The radial lines are optical illusions but the ring is real. The star, Fomalhaut, is the brightest star in Aquarius and is just 25 light years away. The planet's orbit is 4 times larger than Neptune's and is probably about the mass of Jupiter.

Fast Food Made Up Mostly of Corn

If you haven't seen King Corn, this article from National Geographic might inspire you, Fast Food Made Up Mostly of Corn.

"A chemical analysis of popular fast foods reveals that some form of the grain appears as a main ingredient in most items—especially beef. The researchers examined the molecular makeup of hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, and french fries purchased from three fast food chains in six U.S. cities. 'Out of the hundreds of meals that we bought, there were only 12 servings of anything that did not go straight back to a corn source,' said study lead author Hope Jahren, a geobiologist at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Playing with Google Streetview

STREET WITH A VIEW documents a hack on Google Streetview.

"On May 3rd 2008, artists Robin Hewlett and Ben Kinsley invited the Google Inc. Street View team and residents of Pittsburgh’s Northside to collaborate on a series of tableaux along Sampsonia Way. Neighbors, and other participants from around the city, staged scenes ranging from a parade and a marathon, to a garage band practice, a seventeenth century sword fight, a heroic rescue and much more..."

Be sure to check out the page of scenes.

Blasphemy, But Funny


This image apparently made the rounds two years ago and I missed it. It took me a minute to get it which was followed by 3 minutes of uncontrollable laughter.

Toshiba Timesculpture Commercial

More info here.

xkcd on Terminology

Today's xkcd Terminology comic always bugged me too.

Obama's New National Security Force

A friend (and loyal reader) send me email about this MSNBC article, U.S. rep: Obama wants Gestapo-like force wondering why Jon Stewart hasn't commented on it.

I did hear it mentioned on Rachel Maddow last night. She commented about Rep Paul Broun's (R-GA) comment about Obama, "That's exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it's exactly what the Soviet Union did... We can't be lulled into complacency .. You have to remember that Adolf Hitler was elected in a democratic Germany. I'm not comparing him to Adolf Hitler, What I'm saying is there is the potential of going down that Road." Maddow gave Brown crap for comparing him to Hitler (since that's what he's doing) and then mentioned that he apologized for "putting it that way". She then gave him crap for apologizing merely for the phrasing.

Maddow didn't at all mention what Broun was complaining about. He complained about Obama's plans for a national security force. He quotes this line from an Obama speech "We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded." Broun also combined this with Obama's pro-gun control position to make it even scarier.

Ok, that is a little scary. In 2004 I was in London for all of 11 hours and regularly saw cops with machine guns on street corners. It didn't occur to me to wonder if they were a city or state force or how much English law differentiates. I don't want a heavily armed federal police force wandering around my neighborhood.

So I googled for "Obama national security force" and found lots of rants. First, here's a YouTube clip of Obama's quote:

Ok, now I believe he said it. It was in a speech in Colorado on July 2nd, 2008. I found a bunch of sites ranting about his plans to create a police state.

The right-wing WorldNetDaily wrote last week, Dollars lining up for 'civilian national security force'? that Democrats are "floating an idea" to cut $150 from the annual military budget, that Republicans are already opposing it and that a "report from blogger Jay tea" suggests this would fund the new security force. A "report", here's what he wrote:

"Representative Barney Frank, apparently not content with his role in wreaking havoc on the nation's financial system, has announced that he will push for a 25% cut in defense spending. This could actually work hand-in-hand with one of Obama's proposals for a "civilian National Security Force," which he said would be as well funded as the military. If the defense budget is slashed, then it makes it easier to fund a new organization at the same level."

So Tea made up the connection and now it's a "report". Ok, I've clearly gotten too involved in following stupid blog posts. What's really going on here?

Because of the West Wing, I know that the Posse Comitatus Act prevents the military from being used as police in the US (it's a law from reconstruction). The Insurrection Act says federal troops can put down lawlessness and rebellion only after state and local forces have failed, so it imposes a delay. And unlike Bush, I know that Obama was a law professor and knows about these acts (even if he didn't watch the West Wing) and probably isn't about to ignore them or change them.

Here's Obama's entire 27 minute speech from July 2nd:

It's all about community service and increasing funding to the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps and other groups. That one line appears about 16 minutes in and is a bit vague as to what it means.

The Volokh Conspiracy a site which I regularly read and like, wrote about this topic on July 19th, Funding Barack Obama's "civilian national security force. "If you listen to the whole speech –- or even the couple minutes before his security force proposal — I think that it’s reasonably clear that Obama is talking about expanding a range of domestic and international agencies such as AmeriCorps, the Foreign Service, and the Peace Corps — and adding some new ones."

It also points to Obama's campaign website where it talks about Universal Voluntary Public Service saying: "He will establish a Classroom Corps to help teachers and students, with a priority placed on underserved schools; a Health Corps to improve public health outreach; a Clean Energy Corps to conduct weatherization and renewable energy projects; a Veterans Corps to assist veterans at hospitals, nursing homes and homeless shelters; and a Homeland Security Corps to help communities plan, prepare for and respond to emergencies."

Hey that sounds pretty good. I just read that a "report finds that the nation's defenses against emerging infectious diseases are insufficient, creating serious consequences for the U.S. health system, economy, and national security."

The Volokh Conspiracy article goes on to talk about the scope of Obama's proposal, being as strong and well-funded as the military. There is some cause for concern but I didn't realize that " AmeriCorps currently has about 1.875 million members in its various programs". According to Wikipedia, the DoD had 2.3 million military personnel in 2004. It's hard to find the stats on DoD's website but I found this that said as of September 30, 2008 there are 1,401,757 "Active Duty Military Personnel".

Oh and that 25% cut in military spending Barney Frank proposed? Here it is. He made it at a meeting with the editorial board of the SouthCoast Standard-Times on Oct 23rd, before the election. I saw a bunch of right-wing articles quoting Frank as saying "We don't need all those fancy new weapons systems", here's what that article says:

"I was teasing (U.S. Rep.) Jack Murtha (a key supporter of military budgets) and I said to him, 'For the first time, somebody else has got a bill that's almost as big as yours.' [referring to the economic stimulus package] We don't need all these fancy new weapons. I think there needs to be additional review." This article in The Hill says that while Murtha is warning against dramatic cuts, even he "has expressed willingness to trim the defense budget where he can."

Ok, I've had my fill of reading right-wing conspiracy theory rants for a while. Pulling a single sentence out of context, extrapolating to what it might mean, and ignoring all context and related information is pointless. It's also the bread and butter of the wing nuts on both the right and the left. The problem is the ones on the right have the large public voices of talk radio and Fox News to spread them. (No I didn't cite those as sources above, but I did find Fox News articles on the topic repeating the crap, particularly from Sean Hannity).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What Makes Us Happy?

The Atlantic had an article this month First Person Plural by Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom. The summary is:

"An evolving approach to the science of pleasure suggests that each of us contains multiple selves—all with different desires, and all fighting for control. If this is right, the pursuit of happiness becomes even trickier. Can one self bind’ another self if the two want different things? Are you always better off when a Good Self wins? And should outsiders, such as employers and policy makers, get into the fray?"

But I think the third paragraph is a better hook to get you to read it...

"If you ask people which makes them happier, work or vacation, they will remind you that they work for money and spend the money on vacations. But if you give them a beeper that goes off at random times, and ask them to record their activity and mood each time they hear a beep, you’ll likely find that they are happier at work. Work is often engaging and social; vacations are often boring and stressful. Similarly, if you ask people about their greatest happiness in life, more than a third mention their children or grandchildren, but when they use a diary to record their happiness, it turns out that taking care of the kids is a downer—parenting ranks just a bit higher than housework, and falls below sex, socializing with friends, watching TV, praying, eating, and cooking."

14 Reasons To Become A Professional Foosball Player

If you liked The King of Kong, and of course you did, then you'll enjoy ESPN's Fourteen reasons to become a professional foosball player.

The Climate for Change

Al Gore wrote an op-ed this weekend The Climate for Change. He outlines a "five-part plan to repower America with a commitment to producing 100 percent of our electricity from carbon-free sources within 10 years."

Is Bin Laden Planning a New Attack?

I was watching the Today show this morning and they spent most of their first hour interviewing Sarah Palin. It was pretty uninteresting. What did catch my eye was that in the crawling thing on bottom of the screen it said several times something like "bin Laden plans bigger US attack". It was short and vague and what was most notable was that that was the only mention. In watching for over an hour no one mentioned anything about it, not even in the brief news segments. It just scrolled by.

So I searched now online. Nothing in the New York TImes, Washington Post or the McClatchy news service or Reuters. There's nothing on the MSNBC web site about it. How strange. But there, in the Sydney Morning Herald is an article from yesterday, Bin Laden 'plans new attack on US'.

"Osama bin Laden is planning an attack against the United States that will 'outdo by far' September 11, 2001, an Arab newspaper in London has reported. The warning, on the front page of an Arabic newspaper published in London, Al-Quds Al-Arabi - and reported widely in the major Italian papers - quotes a person described as being "very close to al-Qaeda" in Yemen. The paper is edited by Abdel al-Bari Atwan, who is said to have been the last journalist to interview bin Laden, in 1996."

There are other rumors in that report, including potential attacks in Britain. So is this just fear mongering or is this real with some kind of news blackout going on?

Asking the Non-Obvious Question

Here are two recent posts asking things that question the conventional wisdom:

Why exactly is the Senate permitted to expel a felon? ""

Why Not Let GM Go Bankrupt?

Obama and the Supreme Court

Jan Crawford Greenburg writes about Supreme Court Rumors of Retirement. They may be just that, rumors.

Hand Painting

I've heard of finger painting and body painting, but not Hand Painting.


Harnessing Energy from Children

Russia today writes Children become latest source of renewable energy. "Have you ever watched little kids playing on a playground and thought: ‘If only I could harness their energy?’ That’s precisely what a group of green-minded U.S. inventors have done by transforming playground equipment into systems that generate electricity."

This is so obvious and has been said by so many people and yet it took this long to happen...

A Butler Well Served by This Election

Last Friday, the Washington Post wrote A Butler Well Served by This Election. It's a must read through to the end.

"For more than three decades Eugene Allen worked in the White House, a black man unknown to the headlines. During some of those years, harsh segregation laws lay upon the land. He trekked home every night, his wife, Helene, keeping him out of her kitchen. At the White House, he worked closer to the dirty dishes than to the large desk in the Oval Office. Helene didn't care; she just beamed with pride. President Truman called him Gene. President Ford liked to talk golf with him. He saw eight presidential administrations come and go, often working six days a week. 'I never missed a day of work,' Allen says. His is a story from the back pages of history. A figure in the tiniest of print. The man in the kitchen."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fixing The Economy

Paul Krugman's Franklin Delano Obama? is worth a read.

"Suddenly, everything old is New Deal again. Reagan is out; F.D.R. is in. Still, how much guidance does the Roosevelt era really offer for today’s world? The answer is, a lot. But Barack Obama should learn from F.D.R.’s failures as well as from his achievements: the truth is that the New Deal wasn’t as successful in the short run as it was in the long run. And the reason for F.D.R.’s limited short-run success, which almost undid his whole program, was the fact that his economic policies were too cautious." He goes on with some history of the New Deal and again, it's really worth reading.

He followed it up with Stimulus Math. "When I put all this together, I conclude that the stimulus package should be at least 4% of GDP, or $600 billion. That’s twice what the unreliable rumor says. So if there’s any truth to the rumor, my advice to the powers that be (or more accurately will be in a couple of months) is to think hard – you really, really don’t want to lowball this."

Robert Reich says basically the same thing but with more of an explanation in The Mini Depression and the Maximum-Strength Remedy which is also worth a read. Consumers are tapped out and not spending so the economy is stalling, businesses aren't investing and the rest of the world is affected too so exports are down. That leaves the government to spend and it should invest in infrastructure, health and child care.

For more reading, here's a review of the upcoming book The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence by Robert J. Samuelson. If the book is half as interesting as the review it should be great.

And on the actual bailout that's happening, James Kwak writes The Overpayment Begins. "Today’s government re-re-bailout of AIG can be hard to follow, but one provision is the creation of a new entity with $5 billion from AIG and $30 billion from the government to buy collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). The goal is to buy CDOs that AIG insured (using credit default swaps), because if those CDOs are held by an entity that is friendly to AIG, that entity will no longer demand collateral from AIG. The theory is that in the long run these CDOs will not default and that the new entity will make money on the deal." He goes on to say that the 50 cents on the dollar they are paying is more than they are worth and in the case of default, AIG still has to pay.

Secret Order Lets U.S. Raid Al Qaeda

The New York TImes reported today, Secret Order Lets U.S. Raid Al Qaeda

"The United States military since 2004 has used broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, according to senior American officials. These military raids, typically carried out by Special Operations forces, were authorized by a classified order that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed in the spring of 2004 with the approval of President Bush, the officials said. The secret order gave the military new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States."

"According to a senior administration official, the new authority was spelled out in a classified document called “Al Qaeda Network Exord,” or execute order, that streamlined the approval process for the military to act outside officially declared war zones. Where in the past the Pentagon needed to get approval for missions on a case-by-case basis, which could take days when there were only hours to act, the new order specified a way for Pentagon planners to get the green light for a mission far more quickly, the official said."

Maybe I've been watching too much James Bond or TV (well The Unit did have a plot how they aren't authorized to go into Syria) , but I don't understand why it should take days to get such approval (given reasonable cause). Is Bush that hard to find? And I don't think the solution to it taking too long to get approval, to no longer need to get any approval. It's their same excuse for warrantless wiretaps. Maybe it wasn't so bad...

"Even with the order, each specific mission requires high-level government approval. Targets in Somalia, for instance, need at least the approval of the defense secretary, the administration official said, while targets in a handful of countries, including Pakistan and Syria, require presidential approval."

Obama Roasts Rahm in 2005

The middle finger line is awesome.

Young jurors can't listen, need "screens"

Ars reports Lord Chief Justice: Young jurors can't listen, need "screens"

"England's Lord Chief Justice now believes that things have gotten so bad, young jurors need to have information in court shown to them on 'screens.' An Internet-enabled multitasking lifestyle has apparently destroyed the ability to simply sit and listen."

"He believes that tech-savvy youngsters have, in a very real sense, either lost or failed to cultivate the ability to process large chunks of oral information. Accustomed to skimming articles, multitasking between projects, constantly clicking links to other sites, such people would better process key information if presented on screens instead of simply through oral argument."

If that was too much text to read, just look at this pic:

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Obama Planning US Trials for Guantanamo Prisoners

The AP reports Obama planning US trials for Guantanamo prisoners.

"President-elect Obama's advisers are quietly crafting a proposal to ship dozens, if not hundreds, of imprisoned terrorism suspects to the United States to face criminal trials, a plan that would make good on his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison but could require creation of a controversial new system of justice."

"Under plans being put together in Obama's camp, some detainees would be released and many others would be prosecuted in U.S. criminal courts. A third group of detainees - the ones whose cases are most entangled in highly classified information - might have to go before a new court designed especially to handle sensitive national security cases, according to advisers and Democrats involved in the talks. Advisers participating directly in the planning spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans aren't final."

Get Your War On

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Up Trailer

Here's the Trailer for Up, Pixar's next film.

McCain and Palin in Pictures

Zina Saunders perspective on the McCain/Palin presidential campaign. Click the image for more.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

"Star Wars" - an a capella tribute to John Williams

The Paulson Legacy

The Baseline Scenario writes about The Paulson Legacy.

What Happened to Conservative Intellectualism?

Mark Lilla wrote in the Wall Street Journal The Perils of 'Populist Chic'.

"So what happened? How, 30 years later, could younger conservative intellectuals promote a candidate like Sarah Palin, whose ignorance, provinciality and populist demagoguery represent everything older conservative thinkers once stood against? It's a sad tale that began in the '80s, when leading conservatives frustrated with the left-leaning press and university establishment began to speak of an 'adversary culture of intellectuals.' It was a phrase borrowed from the great literary critic Lionel Trilling, who used it to describe the disquiet at the heart of liberal societies. Now the idea was taken up and distorted by angry conservatives who saw adversaries everywhere and decided to cast their lot with 'ordinary Americans' whom they hardly knew. In 1976 Irving Kristol publicly worried that 'populist paranoia' was 'subverting the very institutions and authorities that the democratic republic laboriously creates for the purpose of orderly self-government.' But by the mid-'80s, he was telling readers of this newspaper that the 'common sense' of ordinary Americans on matters like crime and education had been betrayed by 'our disoriented elites,' which is why 'so many people -- and I include myself among them -- who would ordinarily worry about a populist upsurge find themselves so sympathetic to this new populism.'

The die was cast. Over the next 25 years there grew up a new generation of conservative writers who cultivated none of their elders' intellectual virtues -- indeed, who saw themselves as counter-intellectuals. Most are well-educated and many have attended Ivy League universities; in fact, one of the masterminds of the Palin nomination was once a Harvard professor. But their function within the conservative movement is no longer to educate and ennoble a populist political tendency, it is to defend that tendency against the supposedly monolithic and uniformly hostile educated classes. They mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders. They ridicule ambassadors and diplomats while promoting jingoistic journalists who have never lived abroad and speak no foreign languages. And with the rise of shock radio and television, they have found a large, popular audience that eagerly absorbs their contempt for intellectual elites. They hoped to shape that audience, but the truth is that their audience has now shaped them."

Linda Greenhouse Interview

Above the Fold a few weeks ago had an interesting Interview with Linda Greenhouse.

"When Linda Greenhouse started covering the United States Supreme Court for the New York Times Jimmy Carter was president Except for a couple of years in the '80s, she remained on the beat continuously for three decades. No other Times reporter of this era seemed so inseparable for so long from the subject she covered. Greenhouse is a woman of legendary intelligence, focus and seriousness. Right from the start, every story she wrote about the Court had two signature qualities: all of them were easy to understand, and all of them were authoritative. When she announced earlier this year that she had decided to take the buyout and retire, it felt like an indispensable part of the Times was falling away. This week was the first time in more than 20 years that the Court reconvened without Greenhouse there to chronicle its decisions."

American Civil Liberties Union : Surveillance Society Clock

A few weeks ago the ACLU started it's Constitution Free Zone Campaign. Border agents have long had extra authority to perform searches and detain people as part of protecting the nation. As you might guess, the Bush administration is abusing this.

"The government says that “the border” — where there is a longstanding view that the Constitution does not fully apply — actually stretches 100 miles inland from the nation’s “external boundary.” And increasingly, we are seeing DHS vigorously utilize that authority."

"CBP has been setting up checkpoints far inland — on highways in states such as California, Texas and Arizona, and at ferry terminals in Washington State. Typically, the agents ask drivers and passengers about their citizenship. People are also reporting that even after they provide passports or state driver’s licenses, CBP continues to interrogate them and try to pressure them into permitting a search."

To make the point, the ACLU has a drawn a map showing a hundred miles inland of all borders. This includes all of Massachusetts. They further point out that nearly two-thirds of the US population lives in this zone.

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I can't wait for Obama to fix this.

Wind Farms and Radar

The Economist writes about Wind farms and aircraft and describes a problem I hadn't heard of before.

"Wind farms are controversial. Some people think they are an excellent way to generate green electricity whereas others reckon they are a blot on the landscape and a danger to birds. Such arguments aside, aviation safety is one of the main reasons why plans to build wind farms are held up. The concern is that they interfere with the radar used in air-traffic control. Some people even argue that they could be used as cover by enemy aircraft in time of war. In Britain such worries have caused the shelving or refusal of more than 40 proposed wind farms. Now, however, an Anglo-American company called Cambridge Consultants thinks it has come up with a snazzy way of solving the problem. It calls its invention holographic-infill radar."

Android Security Hole

Google isn't better than everyone else on security. Worst. Bug. Ever. describes a bug on the new Google phone OS, Android. I'm assume it was just a debugging thing that slipped passed QA, but this shouldn't have happened.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Energy Thinkers Ponder the Future

On Wed, a New York Times energy blog posted Energy Thinkers Ponder the Future. "In the wake of Mr. Obama’s decisive victory on Tuesday night, Green Inc. contacted experts from a variety of fields with four questions relating to the energy priorities and pitfalls facing the new administration. Their e-mailed responses were a mix of high expectations and sober realism."