Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Resume Tips

Squakfox has 6 Words That Make Your Resume Suck.

iPhone and TiVo

Last week The Unofficial Apple Weblog wrote Got a TiVo? Your iPhone is your friend (TUAW) comparing several iPhone apps that control your TiVo. Anyone try any of them?

The comments also mention iTiVo, any experiences with that?

Guantanamo Recidivism: 4-5%

Spencer Ackerman sums up the info from Defense Secretary Bob Gates on Gates on Guantanamo: Only a ‘Four or Five Percent’ Recidivism Rate.

The 61 detainees found on the battlefield again number I had heard was bogus.

"Also, Gates is “heartened” in terms of Afghanistan, where the Bush administration already returned around 500 detainees from Guantanamo to Afghan government custody — which has put about 200 on trial, with a “conviction rate about 80 percent.”"

Senate GOP Votes

FiveThirtyEight writes Fili-Buster Watch describing how Senate Republicans voted on the 7 nontrivial votes so far. Certainly not in lockstep. Here's the pretty graph:


Breaking Free From Rush

The Progress Report wrote Breaking Free From Rush. It briefly describes the current rantings and effects of Rush Limbaugh. Interesting, if like me, you pay no attention to him whatsoever.


Presentation Zen writes Lessons from the art of storyboarding. Includes a 13 minute video starting with Walt Disney's use of it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

iWork '09 First Impressions

I got my Mac Box Set at the Apple Store today. It's certainly a good deal. I already have Leopard but will give the new license to my sister. I installed iLife and iWork. iLife required a reboot and took about 15 minutes. It replaces the installed iLife apps. iWork install was done in about 5 minutes and creates a new iWork '09 folder so your iWork '08 installation is still there. If you're happy with the new iWork, remember to delete the '08 version to reclaim some disk space.

A few quick observations in Pages and Numbers. I opened my Quicksilver Manual in Pages '09 and it opened quickly. There is a format upgrade going on but it's just a few seconds, which is significantly better than the upgrade to '08 (which hung my machine for a while).

I looked at the manual in Outline view and wasn't that impressed with the results. It might be better if I started the document that way. I didn't play with it long.

Full screen mode is oddly on option-command-U but it looked pretty good. The tool bar that appears when you mouse to the top of the screen had a zoom drop down and I choose 2 Up and Fit Page. Two pages fit very nicely on my 24" Cinema Display. The page break was in the middle of the screen so I scrolled so that the two full pages were on the screen, the page break was not visible. Then I hit the Page Down button the keyboard and it scrolled, but it scrolled just a little more than a full page and the page break was visible a little from the top. Hitting Page Down repeatedly moved this down further on the screen. I found no way to correct this. Did no tester hit Page Down in Full Screen mode?

What worse is when I went back to the regular view I still had two pages wide displayed in the window. I looked through all the tool bars and menus to undo the 2 Up presentation but didn't find anything. I use the Help search feature (add to Leopard) and it didn't find anything. I had to go back to Full Screen mode and use the Zoom drop down in its toolbar. LAME.

Numbers now has a nice Function Browser, similar to what's in Excel. When I first opened it, it was a small dialog with two columns on top and one wide column on the bottom. The top left was formula categories (Engineering, Financial, etc.) and the top right listed the function names in the selected category. The bottom panel was blank. It turns out the help text was in there but there is a huge blank header and I needed to scroll down to see the text of the documentation. It was good, and making the browser window bigger helped, but there's no reason for the large blank header.


Oktapodi is nominated for a Best Animated Short Film Oscar this year. Watch it here: Oktapodi.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Biden and Transparency

Joe Biden is also into the transparency and compared to his predecessor it's literal. Think Progress reports Vice President’s house now appears unobscured on Google Maps..

Conyers Subpoenas Karl Rove

The AP reports House Judiciary chairman subpoenas Karl Rove. "The House Judiciary Committee chairman [John Conyers D-MI] subpoenaed former White House adviser Karl Rove on Monday to testify about the Bush administration's firing of U.S. attorneys and prosecution of a former Democratic governor."

Rove had ignored previous subpoenas but this time he doesn't have a sitting president protecting him. The subpoena is to appear next week, we'll see what happens. Even if he does appear, he won't remember anything.

New Planet Found

The Bad Astronomy Blog has a good post Super-Neptune caught by small telescopes.

"Astronomers at the Harvard/Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) have announced that they have discovered a planet orbiting a star 120 light years away, using roughly the same technique. Called 'transit searching', they use small telescopes to look at lots and lots of stars all at the same time. They look for tiny drops in the amount of starlight."

"But sometimes, a planet orbiting that star has its orbit aligned so that we see it edge-on, and that planet crosses the face of the star. When that happens, the star light dips a bit. In cases like that, the star is flagged for more observations. If the culprit is a planet, and it’s close to the star so that its orbital period is short, it’ll quickly pass in front again on the next orbit, and the dimming repeats. And again, and again."

They do a good job in a short article describing the technique in layman's terms. And the fact that they used really small 4" telescopes, makes it all the more accessible.

Obama orders push to cleaner, more efficient cars

The Associated Press reports Obama orders push to cleaner, more efficient cars.

"President Barack Obama opened an ambitious, double-barreled assault on global warming and U.S. energy woes Monday, moving quickly toward rules requiring cleaner-running cars that guzzle less gas — a must, he said, for "our security, our economy and our planet.""

"Starting his second week in office, Obama took a major step toward allowing California and other states to target greenhouse gases through more stringent auto emission standards, and he ordered new federal rules directing automakers to start making more fuel-efficient cars as required by law. The auto industry responded warily. Reducing planet-warming emissions is a great idea, carmakers and dealers said, but they expressed deep concern about costly regulations and conflicting state and federal rules at a time when people already are not buying cars. U.S. auto sales plunged 18 percent in 2008."

"'It is very telling that at a time when he's working feverishly to pass an $825 billion stimulus package, he took these concrete steps on day six,' she said. 'That speaks volumes to his commitment.' Environmental advocates, she added, are 'all going to be applauding him — and holding his feet to the fire.'"

Vaccines and autism: yet another dead link

Vaccines and autism: yet another dead link.

If there is a Supreme Court appointment this summer….

Here's some early speculation If there is a Supreme Court appointment this summer.

In Which George W. Bush Enters History

In Which George W. Bush Enters History:

"For years now, persons close to Bush have been advertising him as resembling Harry Truman (1884-1972), thirty-third president of the United States, meaning that however unpopular he might be upon leaving office, they expect Bush to be viewed in historical perspective as having been a pretty good leader. A more apt comparison is to Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) twenty-eighth president, about whom ambivalence remains great even after ninety years. Bush may be remembered with the same tincture of admiration and regret."

Ok, I learned a lot about Wilson, well probably relearned stuff I had forgotten since school. And if Bush is convicted of war crimes like I hope (but doubt) that will no doubt change his standing.

1.4Gb Photo Of President Obama's Inaugural

Photographer David Bergman writes How I Made a 1,474-Megapixel Photo During President Obama's
Inaugural Address

How to Choose Chart Types


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Oscar Nominations for 2008

I'm late on my Oscar nomination commentary. Here are the list of nominated films ordered by number of nominations. This doesn't include short films, foreign films or documentaries.

13 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
10 Slumdog Millionaire
8 The Dark Knight
8 Milk
5 The Reader
5 Frost/Nixon
5 Doubt
3 Revolutionary Road
3 Changeling
2 Wanted
2 The Wrestler
2 The Duchess
2 Iron Man
2 Frozen River
1 Vicky Cristina Barcelona
1 Tropic Thunder
1 The Visitor
1 Rachel Getting Married
1 Kung-Fu Panda
1 In Bruges
1 Hellboy II: The Golden Army
1 Happy-Go-Lucky
1 Defiance
1 Bolt
1 Australia

I've seen all but the bold ones and should be able to catch them all before the awards on Feb 22nd. I've seen all the nominated films in just 7 of the minor categories and 2 of the major ones (Actor and Supporting Actress). But seeing The Reader will give me a few more.

I've not seen any of the 5 foreign films and in fact have only heard of two of them, Waltz with Bashir which is playing at one theater in the Boston area, and The Class, which is coming to the theater soon. I really liked Timecrimes, Mongol and Tell No One but none of them got nominated.

I've seen 2 of the 5 documentaries and the other 3 aren't in theaters and don't yet have a planned DVD release date. Of the 14 nominated shorts, I've seen just one, Presto which was in front of WALL-E. The Coolidge Corner theater will be showing some of the shorts in two weeks.

So what do I think of the nominations? For the most part ok. I'm still figuring out my favorite films of the year, but I'm not sure any of them are nominated for Best Picture, though the nominated ones are mostly in my top 10. I think WALL-E and The Dark Knight are my top two and are certainly deserving of Best Picture consideration.

David Fincher and Danny Boyle deserve directing nods, but so does Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight. With the acting nominations I'm really glad that strong performances in small films did well, particularly Richard Jenkins in The Visitor; Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married and Penélope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

I don't think Brad Pitt deserved a nomination. How they attached his head to other bodies for most of the film was innovative but I found his performance to be one dimensional. It's also interesting that Michael Shannon got one for Revolutionary Road and the two leads, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio didn't, even though they were leading contenders. Shannon's role was the most fun in the film, but I'm not so sure it deserves an acting nod. The four main roles in Doubt all got deserved nominations; should best casting director be a category?

I'm thrilled that In Bruges and WALL-E got original screenplay nominations.

More thoughts as I see more films. And yes I'll be running the oscar pool again and will send it out shortly. Let me know if you want to participate.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Archimedes Was Smarter Than We Knew

Science News writes in A Prayer For Archimedes "The researchers have discovered that Archimedes was working out principles that, centuries later, would form the heart of calculus and that he had a more sophisticated understanding of the concept of infinity than anyone had realized."

Movie Review Catch Up

Here are short reviews of 4 current films I've seen in the last two months that I haven't gotten around to do longer reviews of:

Australia - Big sweeping story with an odd tone. It's trying to be Gone With the Wind. It's set in 1939 (the year Gone with the Wind came out) and makes lots of references to the Wizard of Oz which also came out that year. Nicole Kidman plays British Lady Sarah Ashley who goes to the Faraway Downs cattle ranch in Australia to find her husband who's been there a long time. Well he's killed and there's a rival ranch that's buying up all the cattle to monopolize the market. One thing leads to another and Lady Sarah is participating in a cattle drive to save her farm. It's let by a drover played by Hugh Jackman. He's all Australian and they bicker and ultimately fall for each other. There are also aborigines who have to be careful to avoid the Austalian authorities because it's common practice to take their children to be brought up "western". Nullah is an aborigine boy on the drive and his father is a witch doctor. Lots of color, lots of big scenes. There's also an invasion by the Japanese in the second half of this almost 3 hour film. See, it's trying to be Gone With The Wind, and Red River and Rabbit Proof Fence and Out of Africa. I really enjoyed the cattle drive a lot but the rest didn't quite sweep me off my feet.

Milk - This is a nicely done, straight up biography of Harvey Milk, who in the 1970s became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. The film covers about 8 years of his life. He moves to San Francisco with his partner, opens a photography store and becomes a gay rights activist. The film gives a taste of what life in the Castro at the time was like, show's Milks various campaigns for office and the effect they had on his personal life. As he says in the film "It's not an issue, it's our lives". Sean Penn gives a wonderful performance as Milk and Josh Brolin does the same as Dan White, his fellow board member and killer. I had some minor complaints (it drags a little at times and I'm tired of seeing Tosca in films) but they would be quibbling. It ended with photos of the real life persons next to their characters in the film. I wish all biographies would do this. It convinced me their fashion choices weren't just those of the costumer.

Frost/Nixon - This is another play brought to the screen, this time by Ron Howard. It covers the famous television interviews with Richard Nixon by David Frost in the late 1970s. Frank Langella plays Nixon and Michael Sheen is Frost, roles they both played in the stage productions in London and on Broadway. The plot includes the setup of the interviews through to the end of them. Frost was little known in the US at the time and had difficulty raising funds to do the interviews. Having finally set it up, then came the interviews themselves and how was he going to get something interesting from Nixon. I don't remember the real event other than that it happened. My understanding is that there are some changes made for dramatic effect and some quotes moved from one day to another which gives more weight to them. Nevertheless, the story was interesting, the characters had depth, the two lead performances were strong. They aren't really impersonations of the real life people as much as they manage to capture their essence. In spite of the fact the film is mostly conversations in hotels and offices and a house, there's enough movement and outdoors stuff that it feels more exciting than a cramped play. It all leads up to one look on Nixon's face and the film does that so well I'm wondering how it was done on stage. I learned that Nixon had an agent, "Swifty" Lazar who looked like the 6 flags guy, and apparently that's accurate. The pivotal phone call is apparently fiction.

Revolutionary Road - is based on a famous 1961 novel by Richard Yates I'd never heard of. Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet) are suburbanites living in Connecticut in 1955. He has an office job he hates and she's depressed with her life as a homemaker and mother of two. April dreams of moving the family to Paris and Frank agrees, then life intervenes. There are lots of arguments with screaming and shouting and crying. Then there are scenes with co-workers and neighbors where they try to hide their troubles. I found the film a mixed bad. I thought the dialog was natural during some fights but contrived in others. He was a little too Jack Nicholson at times, she was convincing in some scenes not so much in others. Some found the characters two dimensional, but my comment was they had long scenes where the actor just stood there emoting, so that's supposed to make them 3D, right? In spite of the early praise of the performances, only Michael Shannon got an Oscar nomination for this film. He plays the son of a neighbor who's been institutionalized for mental illness who visits the Wheeler's a few times. I can say this with confidence: many films would be improved by adding an insane character.

NASA Sees the Dark Side of the Sun

NASA Sees the Dark Side of the Sun. Yes that's kind of a joke, but the STEREO spacecraft are two solar observatories that are in earth's solar orbit, ahead of and behind the earth, and that are schedule to be on opposite sides of the sun.

"STEREO's deployment on opposite sides of the Sun solves a problem that has vexed astronomers for centuries: At any given moment they can see only half of the stellar surface. The Sun spins on its axis once every 25 days, so over the course of a month the whole Sun does turn to face Earth, but a month is not nearly fast enough to keep track of events. Sunspots can materialize, explode, and regroup in a matter of days; coronal holes open and close; magnetic filaments stretch tight and—snap!—they explode, hurling clouds of hot gas into the solar system. Fully half of this action is hidden from view, a fact which places space weather forecasters in an awkward position. How can you anticipate storms when you can't see them coming? Likewise researchers cannot track the long-term evolution of sunspots or the dynamics of magnetic filaments because they keep ducking over the horizon at inconvenient times. STEREO's global view will put an end to these difficulties. The global view is still two years away. Already, however, the two spacecraft are beaming back over-the-horizon images that have researchers and forecasters glued to their monitors."

Movie Review: Doubt

Doubt is written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, based on his 2005 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning play. The last film he directed was the underrated Joe Versus the Volcano, which he also wrote.

The story is set in a Catholic grade school in the Bronx. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is the strict principal and Sister James (Amy Adams) is a young naive history teacher. Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the recently transfered progressive priest. Also new to the school is Donald Miller, the first black student in the school and serving as an alter boy. Sister James reports an unusual private meeting between the Father and Donald to Sister Aloysius and she begins a witch hunt to find out if Father Flynn is abusing the boy. She doesn't have evidence but she has her certainty.

I thought I knew where it was going, but the film took a couple of surprising turns that added more ambiguity to the moral. One of those turns involved a conversation between Sister Aloysius and Donald's mother (Viola Davis). Davis got an Oscar nomination out of a single scene with Meryl Streep and it was very well deserved. In fact, all four major characters (and the only characters in the original play) received Oscar nominations.

Good story that leaves you thinking. Based on the title you shouldn't be surprised to have some questions at the end of the film. I liked it a lot based on the strength of the story and the acting. As a film adaptation there were too many thunder storms and dramatically exploding light bulbs acting as obvious metaphors. There were also too many inexplicable Batman camera angles. I was waiting for a Pow! and a Zowie! This felt like a play brought to the screen unlike Frost/Nixon which felt like a film. But not having seen the play, I was very happy to get this story via the screen.

This is the kind of film you want to talk about after seeing, so I'll continue below after a spoilers warning:


I think the film left little doubt that he did it. The undershirt, his response to Sister Aloysius' lie about contacting the nun at his previous parish, his history of transfers, and his constant evasion of questions about what happened. That's not a lot of evidence but his explanations were pretty weak. What really convinced me was the other boy who flinched whenever Father Flynn's hand was near, and he didn't seem like the hitting type. Donnie may have been willing but that doesn't make it any less wrong.

Now, my views and the rationale I gave are not enough to convict him of a crime. Well maybe they would be enough to convince a jury, but they shouldn't be. I also don't think they are enough to get him to lose his job. They are enough to begin an investigation, and yes Father Flynn might reasonably request a transfer to avoid the suspicions and the gossip that would result from that.

I think the real doubt of the title is what Sister Aloysius expresses at the end. I think it's doubt in her faith as she's clutching her cross and lamenting that the male controlled church saw fit to give this man a promotion. There must be something wrong for that to happen. She's clearly old school in her social views how children should be taught and what's best for them. If ballpoint pens, sugar and Frosty the Snowman can be the source of moral failings, shouldn't child molestation be too? The opening sermon was about doubt, in particular doubt when you're alone, without the comfort of a group. Sister Aloysius feels that way, since everyone else seems to be ok with the secularization of the world.

I think a lot of people will view Sister Aloysius. solely as the mean authoritarian nun and these people will be confused by the last line coming out of nowhere. But that's forgetting a lot of small things about Sister Aloysius that we learn. She wants to bend the rules to help her fellow nun who is going blind. She loves listening to the transistor radio. She was married. She committed a mortal sin. While there isn't much to go on, there are hints to more depth of her character and we should have doubts about what we think of her.

I found the last scene odd. Sister Aloysius is breaking down and Sister James tries to comfort her; but it's Sister James who puts her head in Sister Aloysius' lap. That seems reversed to me. Sister Aloysius was her superior, so in that sense it's right, but I think I'm missing something.

Was there any real reason to make the boy the first african-american in the school? Yes there's an alternate reason for fights, but do you really need one for kids? Mrs. Miller really wanted him to do well to get into a better high school and then college. That's more a challenging dream for a black family in 1964 but it could be any mother's dream. Is that the point?

The nuns and priests were less religious than I would have thought. We rarely saw them praying. When Sister James mentions her brother is sick, Father Flynn expresses compassion but doesn't say he'll pray for him. Sister Aloysius doesn't even care which Pope is on the wall.

Obama to Reverse Global Gag Rule

The AP reports Obama to reverse abortion policy

"In a long-expected move, President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order ending the ban on federal funds for international groups that perform abortions or provide information on the option, officials told The Associated Press on Friday.

The policy bans U.S. taxpayer money, usually in the form of U.S. Agency for International Development funds, from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion. It is also known as the "global gag rule," because it prohibits taxpayer funding for groups that lobby to legalize abortion or promote it as a family planning method."

This is the stupid part:

"Liberal groups welcomed the decision while abortion rights foes criticized the president. Known as the "Mexico City policy," the ban has been reinstated and then reversed by Republican and Democratic presidents since GOP President Ronald Reagan established it in 1984. President Bill Clinton ended the ban in 1993, but President George W. Bush re-instituted it in 2001 as one of his first acts in office."

Really, is this how US policy should happen?

Wiimote Cake

Gizmodo reports that a Brooklyn Pastry Chef Crafts Perfect, Gigantic Wiimote Cake.

Wiimotecake1 1.jpg

R.I.P. Ookla T. Mok


Our friend Ookla passed away yesterday at almost 12 years old. That's pretty amazing for a bulldog.

pants with litter 1.jpg

My friend Ed bought her from a breeder as a puppy. We went to pick her up and it was one of the most disgusting homes I've ever seen, we felt like we were rescuing her.

Ookla was named after a Thundarr the Barbarian character. For a while there was talk of getting another bulldog and naming it Ariel so that Ed could yell "Ookla, Ariel, we ride!" Then from a dog training book, we learned that a dog's name should be two syllables and end in a short vowel sound. Perfect. Ookla was also called Ook, pants, cat, and a few other things. Diner's Club offered her a credit card once.

I learned a lot about bulldogs. They sleep a lot and don't feel much pain, which gets them in trouble. They're usually born cesarian because their mothers often fall asleep during child birth. When growing, her front legs grew faster than her back ones. She dragged her hindquarters around for a month or two because she couldn't support her own weight. But she grew out of it.


When she was just a few months old Ed brought her to Cahoon Hollow Beach on Cape Cod. He carried her down the huge 90' sand dune and then towards the shoreline. He put her down on the wet sand above the water line and let her walk along the beach towards us. When it was time to turn inland to our beach towel she struggled for a full 5 minutes to get up a six or eight inch sand cliff at the wet/dry sand line. Her legs kept moving as she panted and her huge tongue drooped into the sand. She kept at it and when she made it over the cliff the whole beach around her erupted in cheers and applause.


She snorted and drooled and for a while was deathly afraid of garbage can lids. She could play with an empty 2 liter soda bottle for about an hour before having destroyed it completely. She was pretty good at fetch but really bad at letting go of the object (bulldogs were bred to not let go). You could try pulling a ball out of her mouth for a long time before succeeding. You could even lift her up off the floor by a big rubber ball gripped tightly in her mouth.


She was the first dog I ever saw dressed in a Halloween costume. She went as a Stegosaurus in a doggy sweater with spines on her back. They got stuck as she tried to walk under chairs as she usually did and she didn't understand why she no longer fit. She put up with a lot.


Ed and Taiko loved Ook immensely, she was even the ring bearer at their wedding. They took great care of her. Her nose would dry up and looked like parts would fall off, so they moisturized it. Her eyes got cloudy and crusty with gunk, so they were always wiping them clean. She had an infection and had one of her ears sewn shut. Stairs were a problem, but then again, except in her prime, they often were for her.

Ookla, I hope you're in a place with non-slippery surfaces and plenty of empty 2 liter soda bottles and no trash can lids.

Cheney Upset About No Libby Pardon

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog writes Cheney 'Strongly Disagrees' With Bush's Decision Not to Pardon Libby.

"We opined on Tuesday that the Bush Pardon Party had gone out with a whimper. The former Veep, it seems, agrees. Cheney told the Weekly Standard that his former chief of staff, I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, whom he described as a ‘victim of a serious miscarriage of justice,’ deserved a presidential pardon."

Obama vs Torture...

Balkinization describes four executive orders Obama signed Thursday about Interrogation and Detention. Some of the quotes below are from the article and some from the executive orders themselves.

Obama Executive Order Establishing Lawful Standards of Interrogation and Detention "In the first executive order (reproduced below) President Obama gets rid of every secret Bush Office of Legal Counsel opinion authorizing torture and cruel treatment and requires full compliance with Geneva Common Article 3." It's also makes the Army Field Manual the controlling document for CIA interrogations, which is the thing that John McCain voted against. "The order also requires closure of CIA detention facilities, including its secret "black sites" and requires access to and identification of detainees to the Red Cross."

Second Obama Executive Order Setting Up Interagency Task Force on Detention and Trial Practices. "The mission of the Special Task Force shall be to conduct a comprehensive review of the lawful options available to the Federal Government with respect to the apprehension, detention, trial, transfer, release, or other disposition of individuals captured or apprehended in connection with armed conflicts and counterterrorism operations, and to identify such options as are consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice." They must provide a report within 6 months.

Third Obama Executive Order Closes Guantanamo Bay, Stops Military Commissions. "This third Obama Executive Order requires that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay be closed within a year and requires determinations as to the best way to deal with its remaining detainees."

Fourth Obama Executive Order Reviews Treatment of Al-Marri. "For more than 5 years, the Department of Defense has detained Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri as an enemy combatant in facilities within the United States. Al-Marri is the only individual the Department of Defense is currently holding as an enemy combatant within the United States. Because he is not held at Guantánamo Bay, al-Marri is not covered by the review mandated in the Review and Disposition Order. Yet it is equally in the interests of the United States that the executive branch undertake a prompt and thorough review of the factual and legal basis for al-Marri's continued detention, and identify and thoroughly evaluate alternative dispositions."

These executive orders are posted at the White House web site. These are all good steps and I'll attribute their delay until his second full day in office on the state of White House technology. :)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama Staff Unhappy With White House Tech

Obama Staff Arrives to White House Stuck in Dark Ages of Technology "Two years after launching the most technologically savvy presidential campaign in history, Obama officials ran smack into the constraints of the federal bureaucracy yesterday, encountering a jumble of disconnected phone lines, old computer software, and security regulations forbidding outside e-mail accounts."

Maybe they'll buy a lot of Macs; they're used to them.

Some call this whining. "Guess what? Outside the Manhattan media bubble and Silicon Valley's startup cube farms, this is how most Americans work. Want a Macintosh? Sorry, IT hasn't approved it. Oh, you need to use Facebook to interact with customers? Sorry, that site's blocked — and management suspects that "social media" is a buzzword which means "getting paid to waste time chatting with friends." Want to use some new blogging service? Fill out this three-page questionnaire about the site's security practices, please."

I know people in the Manhattan media elite. No laptops; XP; and Lotus Notes, version 6.5.

At least Obama is looking at Open Source for the government. Though having Sun's Scott McNealy prepare the report sounds like an odd choice.

Mac Trojan Horse Found

Mac Trojan Horse OSX.Trojan.iServices.A Found in Pirated Apple iWork 09. Apparently there are pirated copies of iWork '09 floating around on bittorrent. Another reason not to steal software is you don't know what you get. In this case someone's added a malicious program that installs itself in /System/Library/StartupItems/ with full privileges (since you entered an admin password during the iWork installer). It just calls home telling someone that it's there and is ready to accept (any) command to run. Not cool.

On Day One, Obama Demands Open Government

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is happy that On Day One, Obama Demands Open Government.

"All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA."

"UPDATE: President Obama issued two more documents related to government transparency today. A new executive order reverses changes made in recent years to the Presidential Records Act, while a second memorandum provides the Administration's general policy on transparency and open government."

He also reined in some of Bush's early orders to protect his secrecy. Obama to Bush: I Can Release Your Records. Don't Like It? Sue. "[Obama]'s basically saying if there's a dispute, and a former president thinks something should be covered by executive privilege and Obama doesn't agree, then Obama would direct the Archivist to release it [despite the former president's claim of privilege]. The only option a former President would have at that point would be to go to court and sue. [Obama]'s set up a process to review these claims which requires the Attorney General and White House Counsel to agree that these claims should be invoked, which indicates that it won't be either casually invoked or casually defended."

Presidential Oath Take Two

Out of an abundance of caution, Obama took the oath of office a second time yesterday. "The AP report said Obama made light of the episode tonight. When Roberts asked him if he was ready to take the oath, Obama said, 'Yes, I am, and we're going to do it very slowly.' After the second oath was over, Roberts said to Obama, 'Congratulations, again.'"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

From the Typewriter to the Bookstore: A Publishing Story

RIP 50-State Strategy

RIP 50-state strategy

"In short, the DNC will be moving away from the long-term, decentralized, fifty-state strategy of Howard Dean's tenure, and toward serving as a short-term, centralized re-election effort for President Obama in 2012."

"There reason that there's an inherent conflict with turning the DNC into Obama's 2012 reelection effort is that there's no reason for the Obama operation to have staffers in Utah. But there's a reason for the Democratic Party to have staffers in Utah -- helping Democrats get elected to important local- and state-level offices and building a bench for federal offices."

Seems dumb to abandon what worked.

So This is the Crap Fox News Will Pull...

9/11 Families Outraged by Obama Call to Suspend Guantanamo War Crimes Trials.

Treasury Secretary Confirmation

I'm watching some of the Senate confirmation hearing for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. It's just amazing to me that with the state of the economy as it is and the importance of this position and Geithner's outstanding qualifications for the position, that all they seem to care about is what by all accounts seems a reasonable mistake on this tax returns which he has admitted and corrected. Come on Congress.

As near as I can tell, he worked for the IMF but for some reason still owed self-employment tax. He did it first year and then in following years used an accountant and everything seemed fine, so he continued doing the same thing.

Obama Speech Censored in China

It seems not everyone like Obama's Inauguration speech. Obama speech censored in China. "China has censored parts of the new US president's inauguration speech that have appeared on a number of websites. Live footage of the event on state television also cut away from Barack Obama when communism was mentioned. China's leaders appear to have been upset by references to facing down communism and silencing dissent. English-language versions of the speech have been allowed on the internet, but many of the Chinese translations have omitted sensitive sections."

President Obama’s inauguration Seen From Space

There are several articles about the GeoEye satellite photos of the inauguration. Venture beat has the easiest to use collection: Pictures: President Obama’s inauguration, as seen from space. Here's one, click through for the bigger versions:

inaugural-big-image1 1.jpg

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Crowd

According to Daily Kos there were an estimated 2 million people at the inauguration. That makes the crowd larger than 66 countries (mostly island nations, but still). They also report that lots of people with tickets didn't get in, even those that showed up as early as 7:30am!

Openness on White House Web Site

Here's a real geeky detail. Kottke reports on The country's new robots.txt file. This is a web standard that tells search engines like Google what URLs on the site they are allowed to index. The old one was 2400 lines long, the new one is just 2.

The Oath

Here's the video of Chief Justice Roberts administering the oath of office to Barack Obama:

Notice the flub? You're not the only one. The oath is short and prescribed in Article II of the Constitution as: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Jan Crawford Greenburg had this posted in within the hour, Chief Justice Fumbles. A few minutes before that, The World Newser wrote Chief Just Slip-Up. The law blogs were all over it too: WSJ Law Blog, the Blog of LegalTimes, and The Volokh Consipiracy.

So here's what happened:

1. in the first phrase "I Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear", Roberts paused in the middle and Obama started to repeat, and Roberts continued talking over him. But that worked out correct in the end.

2. Roberts misspoke the next part, moving "faithfully" to the end of the clause. Obama starts to repeat "that I will" and then pauses and nods as if giving Roberts the opportunity to correct himself. Roberts flusters but puts "faithfully" in the right place however Obama repeated what he first said, moving "faithfully" to the end.

3. While it's not in the oath it's been common to end with "so help me god". Some atheists were protesting this this year on the separation of church and state grounds. In a filed lawsuit a distinction was made between was the Chief Justice says and what the President says, allowing the President to end with a personal prayer. But in this case, I think at Obama's request, both said "so help me god".

At the luncheon, ABC news claimed that when greeting the President, the Chief Justice admitted it was his fault.

Now the conspiracy theorists can claim for all eternity that Obama was never properly sworn into office and isn't officially president.

Some of the posts I linked to above report about other flubs in the oath.

I'm just happy that whoever scheduled this thing made it early enough that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert can cover it tonight, though they had plans to do a live show at 11pm anyway.

Update: This is the funniest post on the topic: "To my mind, the flubbed oath at today's inaugural teaches one important lesson: The answer to the question, "How many former editors of the Harvard Law Review does it take to administer the Presidential oath properly?" is "More than two.""

Update: SCOTUSBlog adds Commentary: Was Obama's oath valid?

They Need More Lego People

The Presidential inauguration of Barack Obama in Lego Bricks. "You can see the Lego Presidential inauguration at Legoland California until Memorial Day."

Minnesota Senator...

Today Barack Obama was sworn in as President. It's been 77 days since American's cast votes in elections, and still Minnesota hasn't finished counting their ballots.

Tag Cloud of Obama's Speech


White House Web Site

The White House web site has been updated. It's pretty nice and easy to navigate. There's even a blog.

He's made his first proclamation:

"NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 20, 2009, a National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation, and call upon all of our citizens to serve one another and the common purpose of remaking this Nation for our new century."

The Inaugural Address will be here.

"The President has not yet issued any Executive Orders."

My Inauguration Tweets

Less than 12 hours to an end of an error
Extreme Home Makeover: White House Edition
Dick Cheney leaves White House in wheel chair
W. Has left the building!
HIllary set inauguration bar high: "The sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing". Accept nothing less.
That's a lot of people
Obama to be sworn in on Lincoln's Bible
Cheney is in a wheelchair for a hurt back. Straining over a shredder?
Come on Aretha, they can't hear you at at Lincoln Memorial
VP Biden
Ok, I could do without this "unique musical arrangement". Get to the oath.
John Williams wrote this? It should be evoking images of the Death Star exploding and ET flying across the moon.
Here we go already updated
W. couldn't even pronounce "recriminations" when he was sworn in.
Is that a celestial choir I hear?

The effects of Obama's refusal to investigate Bush crimes

I agree with Glenn Greenwald on The effects of Obama's refusal to investigate Bush crimes. Obama hasn't refused yet, but he seems to be leaning that way.

The impact of Obama's latest excellent DOJ appointments

Glenn Greenwald writes in Salon about The impact of Obama's latest excellent DOJ appointments. David Baron and Marty Lederman join the Office of Legal Council.

"It is the DOJ generally, and the OLC specifically, that has a real ability to impose legal constraints on what a President can do, to decree that what a President wants to do is contrary to a valid statute or the Constitution.  Much of the Bush illegality was accomplished by having DOJ lawyers do the opposite:  by decreeing that anything the President wished to do was legal.  It is unlikely in the extreme that this group of new appointees would do that."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Kung Pow Enter The Fist Kung Fu Cow

World Court: U.S. execution broke global law | SCOTUSblog

SCOTUSBlog wrote World Court: U.S. execution broke global law.

"The International Court of Justice ruled unanimously on Monday that the U.S. government violated a duty under international law by failing to stop Texas from excuting a Mexican national last summer.  The Court located at The Hague in The Netherlands, however, seemed to absolve the U.S. Supreme Court of any specific violation even though it refused to block that execution"

"On Aug. 5, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to stop Texas from carrying out the execution of Mexican Jose Ernesto Medellin for a murder in that state, and he died in Texas’s death chamber that night. Earlier, the Court had ruled that a 2004 World Court ruling that the U.S. had lost in the case of Medellin and 50 other Mexican nationals was not binding on Texas or on the federal government That 2004 decision required the U.S. to take steps to assure that foreign nationals facing execution had a chance to show that their cases were harmed because they were denied access to a diplomat from their own country."

Soyuz 5's Flaming Return

This is a really amazing story of Soyuz 5's Flaming Return. "Fliers love to tell tales of overcoming hazards, and the more dangerous and unusual, the better. But for Russian cosmonaut Boris Volynov, his brush with fiery death on a spaceflight forty years ago was a state secret so deep that it only came out recently. As his Soyuz landing capsule plunged wrong-way-forward into the flames of atmospheric re-entry and smoke filled the cabin, he and everyone in Mission Control in Moscow assumed he was about to die. But when he didn't, the next order of business was to pretend it had never happened, and Volynov was ordered to NOT tell the story. " More Expensive Than CVS

I've used for a year or two, ordering various health and cleaning products every few months. They're convenient, let you keep a shopping list of items you like, and provide free shipping on $50 orders or sometimes $25. They also give you bonus dollars after a purchase which expire in about a month.

Today I stopped in CVS to pick up a couple of items I didn't want to wait for. I decided to do some comparison shopping. I took photos of 12 products and their prices with my iPhone and compared them to the prices at home. was cheaper for only 2 of them and on one of them I'm not sure if the count in the package was the same. On average CVS was 12.7% cheaper and for half of them it was over 16% cheaper in one case 46.7% cheaper.

So much for I probably never would have done this if not for a cellphone with a camera with easy synching to my computer.

Sentiments I've Seen Today

Its the End of an Error.
WTF: W. Thanks and Farewell

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Today's Snow

I think we got about 6-8 inches today. Here are a couple of pics:



BSG: Sometimes a Great Notion

By now you've all had time to have watched the season 4.5 premiere of Battlestar Galatica and I want to talk about it. Spoilers will abound, so DO NOT READ THIS UNTIL YOU'VE WATCHED IT.


Sci-Fi ran a marathon of season 4.0 all day Friday leading up to the premiere. I watched most of it and I have to say I enjoyed it a bit more than the first time I watched it when it originally aired. My biggest complaints were with the pacing and characterizations. Maybe knowing what happens and watching them all together was a different experience than watching them once a week. I think there are a number of shows that are better on second viewing. If that's the case, the real trick is still making them good the first time through. I can see that being difficult for a creator who's so immersed in the product. Still, I found the cylon stuff in 4.0 to be much more interesting than the human stuff and found the episodes were limited to telling just one part of the story and wished more things were shown simultaneously. That really would have done better to pull out the similarities and contrasts between the stories.

This story was again pretty straight forward. They've found earth was nuked and everyone is depressed. With one exception, I was pretty happy with what they showed; and unlike the first half of the season, this episode had some interesting revelations in the ongoing story.

The fact that's we've had months to come to terms with a nuked earth I think hurt the story telling. I'd long ago realized that fine, this is bad, but they'll move on and have to find another habitable world to repopulate. We know they're out there because they had found New Caprica. But of course the characters haven't had a few months to deal with it so we have to watch them be depressed as their dreams come to a crashing halt.

I really liked the revelation that earth was populated by cylons and nuked 2000 years ago. I also liked the final four seeing glimpses of their former lives and realizing they (or copies of them) populated earth. Is this happening 2000 years from now? Are we in fact cylons? Does the book of Pythia have it reversed? Did cylons from earth populate the 12 colonies after earth was destroyed? Maybe the humanoid cylons made the humans and the humans made the mechanized cylons. That could be the part that all this happened before. It does fit that the cylons are monotheistic and we are too. Then again, our spines don't glow during sex. Then again it seems the Book of Pythia was written 3,600 years ago and earth was nuked 2,000 years ago. But the book talks of the great exodus which happened 1,600 years after it was written, or about 2,000 years ago. Maybe the final five are from the previous iteration of things happening. Perhaps they followed humanity to earth and caused the destruction. Lots of posibilities, so I think it's a good mystery.

The Kara story was good. Once Leoben found part of her viper, it was clear where things were going. Still her finding it is significant and mysterious. Assuming that is the real Kara's body and viper (and we have little reason to suspect it isn't), then what she told Lee on her return was accurate. She had been to earth. So Lee didn't see her ship explode, so what happened? How did she get to earth, why did she crash, and what recreated her and the viper? Anything that scares Leoben, scares me. I'm thinking it has something to do with the Ship of Lights from the original series.

I also really liked the Dualla story. Dee was always in the background and optimistic in her faith in her leaders. You saw that when she was working on the bridge, that Adama made her feel safe. While with Lee, she was his backbone and support, giving him the strength to do what he needed to. If that wasn't obvious, they repeated that here. Earth's destruction would weigh hard on her. Her faith not only in their future, but in her leaders would have been horribly shaken. We saw her trying to hold it together in the raptor on the return from earth. And apparently, even babysitting Hera and going out on a date with Lee wasn't enough to change that. Her suicide shocked me and I'll miss her. It might be because of those gorgeous green eyes, but that scene worked for me.

I didn't follow how their separation happened. I thought the goodbye scene when Lee resigned his commission was bizarre but apparently they broke up over him defending Baltar. Ok. I also didn't buy Lee's reaction. He'll never know why she did it? I do. Did he really not know her that well? He doesn't know what they'll do now? They'll look for another planet. It doesn't have to be earth. They found a habitable one in New Caprica. The cylons are no longer immortal so they are more defeatable and half of them are their allies.

I also had problems with Laura reaction. When the door of the raptor opened on Galactica and no one said anything it was too extreme. Ok, they're distraught, but one of these leaders would have led. We see her find out about the cylons on earth and then burn her book and then curled up in a fetal position. You've dealt with cancer and destruction of the colonies. This isn't much different.

The one scene I really had a problem with as a broken suicidal Adama. He's privately had problems with dealing with things but has always found a way, through the destruction of the colonies various cylon encounters, dealing with Cain, coping with the New Caprica situation, etc. Ok, he recently came to terms with his love of Laura and left command to stay back to find her, but that was just a more responsible way to do that than he did when holding the whole fleet waiting for Starbuck. I didn't buy him falling apart that badly after finding out Tigh was a cylon, he's had problems with Tigh after New Caprica. Maybe he now believed in earth, but it was a recent concession for him. This should have been a situation where he could be the strength for others. And I don't remember ever seeing him care so much about Dee, even though she was his daughter-in-law.

The final reveal that Ellen Tigh was the last of the final five was a good one. I hadn't thought of her or of the possibility that the fifth was dead. The fact that Tigh killed her is somehow fitting. He screws up everything he touches. What this means for prophesies or the future, I have no idea.

Overall I liked it a lot. I was also happy to get some answers and new mysteries. I wish there was a bit less melodrama and some more from others. I want to know about Baltar's reaction and that of the other cylons.

Why Google Employees Quit

Why Google Employees Quit.

"In 2008 Google HR set up a private Google Group to ask former employees why they left the company. We’ve been forwarded what appears to be authentic posts to the thread by a number of ex-Googlers, which we reprint below minus identifying information other than their first names."

Friday, January 16, 2009

Amazing Sailing Pictures

Sailing, around the world has some amazing photographs.

s01_15663769 1.jpg

Citizen journalism and the Hudson Plane Crash

The net is all aflutter about how twitter and TwitPic were the first to report the plane crash (I mean ditch) in the Hudson yesterday. Wikinomics has a reasonable summary, Citizen journalism and the Hudson Plane Crash "If there was any doubt before, yesterday’s plane crash in the Hudson river provided ample proof of how useful Twitter can be for emerging news"

At least the title was technology agnostic. I think Twitter is just the site-of-the-day for this stuff. But at least they seem past many of their stability problems. If this had happened a year ago, Twitter would have crashed too.

Twitter lets you broadcast short messages to people who follow you. As a reader you can see the tweets of people you follow, or all the tweets that everyone writes (or just search them for a particular phrase).

I first heard about the crash on Twitter. davewiner wrote "This just in: Plane crash on Hudson. Plane crash on Hudson. Plane crash on Hudson. Plane crash on Hudson. Plane crash on Hudson!!!" I replied to him "really, once is enough".

I'm not sure Twitter is adding much aside from a little more immediacy. I saw the tweets and then turned on CNN to see some details. Me knowing about this via Twitter a few minutes sooner isn't really that important. I liked this observation too: "I love how our earliest news is most certainly going to contain typos from now on".

Yes, being able to report an event quicker and even take pictures of it is a good thing. But I think that's provided by camera phones and pervasive wireless internet. It's not Twitter so much, it's the hardware.

Then again, there are some nice things happening. A few twitter accounts specialize in what they report and often retweet related things by others. BostonTweet has stuff about Boston and 02138now has stuff specific to Harvard Square. Even Logan Airport has a twitter account, BOS. This makes it easy to subscribe to news specific to you. And while 140 bytes doesn't allow for long messages, it's more than enough for headlines, and I've read too many newspaper articles that didn't add much to the headline.

Maybe it's not the immediacy that's important. Maybe it's the fact that everyone can now report something and post photos of it from wherever they are and people can manageably consume it. Chowhound and Yelp are now the way I find out about restaurants. I haven't read a newspaper restaurant review in a quite a while. I pick hotels from tripadvisor reviews not AAA guidebooks.

I didn't check wikinews for the plane crash but their first report was at 3:50pm ET and the short article already has over 500 edits. Maybe if it wasn't so painful to type on a phone people would want to type more than 140 bytes. I also suspect that many of those 500 edits fixed typos; probably grammar mistakes too.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Plane Crash in NY

Boing Boing posted an article today For once, news about why we're safer than we used to be - Boing Boing

"That was seven years ago. I bring up this story now because American 587 was the last fatal crash on U.S. shores involving a full-size jetliner. That is an incredible run, and for some reason it is almost never talked about. Seven years of a perfect track record is more than just a statistical anomaly; we have clearly taken what has always been a safe form of transportation and made it into a staggeringly safe mode of transportation. In an age where we are bombarded by fear media at every turn -- from the household menaces of local nightly news ("Something in your kitchen may be killing your children -- tune in at eleven for more!") to the endless scaremongering about international terrorism, you'd think there would be an appetite for news about how ordinary life just got a lot safer"

"So it was heartening to see in my hotel copy of USAToday that the latest good news -- zero fatalities on any US commercial aircraft in the past two years, a first in our jet age history -- managed to get on the front page."

And today US Airways flight 1549 from LaGuardia crashed into the Hudson River. "There were 146 passengers on board the flight, along with 5 crew members. There is no report on their conditions."

A commenter on the Boing Boing post wrote: "How about tomorrow you write about how great it is that an asteroid hasn't hit the Earth?"

Update: There's more at the Wall Street Journal. There's a photo of lots of passengers on the wings of the plane in the water and " It was not immediately clear if there were injuries." Maybe the article will be less ironic, hopefully still no fatalities on a plane flight.

Amazon’s Add-to-Cart Evolution

Hidden Secrets of the Amazon Shopping Cart describes "Amazon’s Add-to-Cart Evolution".

Life on Mars?

NASA reports Martian Methane Reveals the Red Planet is not a Dead Planet.

"New research reveals there is hope for Mars yet. The first definitive detection of methane in the atmosphere of Mars indicates the planet is still alive, in either a biologic or geologic sense, according to a team of NASA and university scientists.

'Methane is quickly destroyed in the Martian atmosphere in a variety of ways, so our discovery of substantial plumes of methane in the northern hemisphere of Mars in 2003 indicates some ongoing process is releasing the gas,' said Dr. Michael Mumma of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. 'At northern mid-summer, methane is released at a rate comparable to that of the massive hydrocarbon seep at Coal Oil Point in Santa Barbara, Calif.'

Methane -- four atoms of hydrogen bound to a carbon atom -- is the main component of natural gas on Earth. It's of interest to astrobiologists because organisms release much of Earth's methane as they digest nutrients. However, other purely geological processes, like oxidation of iron, also release methane. "Right now, we don’t have enough information to tell if biology or geology -- or both -- is producing the methane on Mars," said Mumma. "But it does tell us that the planet is still alive, at least in a geologic sense. It's as if Mars is challenging us, saying, hey, find out what this means." Mumma is lead author of a paper on this research appearing in Science Express Jan. 15."

Bank of America Getting $25 Billion

Baseline Scenario writes about the $25 billion going to Bank of America, Here We Go Again . . .. They end with this:

"It is true that one price we are paying in these bailouts is the creation of a new tier of mega-banks that, because they are Too Big To Fail, have the competitive advantage of being essentially government-guaranteed. What we really need as a condition on TARP money is a new regulatory structure to make sure that these mega-banks do not abuse the oligopolistic position we have just handed them, and perhaps a commitment to break them up when economic circumstances allow. That would be considerably more valuable than a cap on executive salaries and corporate jets. But it will also be a lot more difficult to define and to agree on."

Robert Reich writes What Should Be Done With The Next $350 Billion of Taxpayer Bailout Money: Criteria for TARP II

Top 25 Most Dangerous Programming Mistakes

Coding Horror writes on the Top 25 Most Dangerous Programming Mistakes. This is really commentary on the CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Programming Errors list but I think this one is easier to read.

Snipers - Cowardly assassins, or surgical soldiers? [printer-friendly] • The Register

The Register had an interesting article on Snipers - Cowardly assassins, or surgical soldiers?.

The best film account I saw was in Generation Kill, the HBO mini-series on the Iraq War by the same people as The Wire.

Carrying Gunpowder through Airport Security

Wild Bee writes Carrying Gunpowder through Airport Security "Last Thursday, December 5, I brought five ounces (140 grams) of old-fashioned black gunpowder to San Francisco airport. I also brought along a boarding pass for United flight 720 to Denver that I had created at home, in an computer art program. TSA agents accepted the boarding pass. They also took no notice at all of the gunpowder. "

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Friday's BSG to Run Long

If you're looking forward to Friday's new episode of Battlestar Galactica, be warned, it might run long 3.5 minutes. If you're setting a VCR or DVR, let it go a little long.

New Telescopes

Here's a nice summary of all the new telescopes coming online soon: Astronomers hit a telescopic jackpot.

Intellectual Dishonesty by a Conservative Economist?

Here's a fun exchange talking about tax policy that I'm completely unqualified to evaluate, but I still have my opinions. I read blogs by both authors:

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw wrote this article in the New York Times: Is Government Spending Too Easy an Answer?

Then Nate Silver of wrote this critque: Politics Done Right: Intellectual Dishonesty (Gasp!) from a Conservative Economist

Mankiw responded in The Importance of Being Exogenous.

And Silver responded in Is There a Serious Conservative Argument Against the Stimulus?.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Growing Up Star Wars

TIme's Nerd World blog writes about Growing Up Star Wars.

"This flickr slideshow will make you forget everything terrible that happened after the Ewoks' original Yub Yub song played its final notes."

Tons of pics in the slideshow. And it does seem a lifetime away.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Imperial Transition

About a month ago in The Imperial Transition Tom Engelhardt of wrote about all the sites following and writing about the presidential handover. I haven't followed it much except to see that Obama seems to be picking very qualified people. Of course we'll have to see how they actually do. I recently saw The West Wing pilot again and was reminded of how crappy they performed their (fictional) jobs during their first year.

Find Images By Color

Multicolr Search Lab by Idée Inc. "We extracted the colours from 10 million of the most ‘interesting’ Creative Commons images on Flickr. Using our visual similarity technology you can navigate the collection by colour."

A Rare Peek at Homeland Security

A Rare Peek at Homeland Security.

Azidotetrazolate Salts

In the Pipeline had a fun post Things I Won't Work With: Azidotetrazolate Salts "The authors report a whole series of salts, X-ray structures and all, which range from the ‘relatively stable’ lithium and sodium derivatives all the way to things that couldn’t even be isolated. In the latter category is the rubidium salt, which they tried to prepare several times. In every case, the solution detonated spontaneously on standing. And by ‘spontaneously’, they mean ‘while standing undisturbed in the dark’, so there’s really just no way to deal with this stuff."

The Best Comment on Amazon

Ari Brouillette's review of The Secret on Amazon.

Update: His other (hilarious) reviews are here.

The History of Visual Communication

The History of Visual Communication "This website attempts to walk you through the long and diverse history of a particular aspect of human endeavour: The translation of ideas, stories and concepts that are largely textual and/or word based into a visual format, i.e. visual communication"

The Obamamobile

The British paper, The Daily Mail writes New presidential limo is unveiled - and it can withstand rocket and chemical attacks. Pretty graphic.

New Thing To Worry About: Yellowstone

The good news is, if this sucker blows, global warming is not going to be a problem..

"You have already heard that there has been increased seismic activity at Yellowstone National Park over the last few days. Since December 26th, there have been several earthquakes a day, some jut over 3.0 magnitude, in the vicinity of the north side of Yellowstone’s lake. This is a seismically active region, but the level of earthquake activity being seen now is much greater than seen in perhaps decades (though the data are still not sufficiently analyzed to make positive comparisons yet).Volcano experts have absolutely no clue as to what this means. A major reason for virtually total uncertainty is that Yellowstone sits on top of a very large caldera of the type that is formed by a so-called ‘super volcano’ and the last super volcano to erupt was a few years (like, 70 or so thousand years) before any seismic or other geological monitoring station were set up anywhere. Indeed, the first really serious data collection at Yellowstone began just over 30 years ago."

There's a nice scary Naked Science video at the post. Apparently everything within 60 miles will be destroyed and a giant cloud of ash will cover half the US. I don't know anything more about it than this post.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Wither Comedies 2

A couple of years ago I wrote Wither Comedies. I speculated that there have been fewer and fewer really great five star comedies in recent years.

Today's Entertainment Weekly lists 25 Great Comedies from the Past 25 Years. Here they are in the order they gave, which I'm not sure is significant:

1. Ghostbusters (1984)
2. National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)
3. Beverly Hills Copy (1984)
4. This is Spinal Tap! (1984)
5. Office Space (1999)
6. South Park Bigger Longer & Uncut (1999)
7. There's Something About Mary (1998)
8. The Big Lebowski (1998)
9. A Fish Called Wanda (1998)
10. Dazed and Confused (1993)
11. The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)
12. When Harry Met Sally... (1989)
13. Waiting for Guffman (1997)
14. Wedding Crashers (2005)
15. Trading Spaces (1983)
16. Superbad (2007)
17. Tropic Thunder (2008)
18. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
19. Clueless (1995)
20. Best in Show (2000)
21. Clerks (1994)
22. Old School (2003)
23. Austin Powers (1997)
24. The Naked Gun (1998)
25. Withnail and I (1987)

Ok, I've never heard of Withnail and I , I'll have to add it to my Netflix queue. Here's their list ordered by decade for comparison with mine.

National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)
Trading Spaces (1983)
Ghostbusters (1984)
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
This is Spinal Tap! (1984)
Withnail and I (1987)
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
When Harry Met Sally... (1989)

I count Beverly Hills Cop as more a cop movie than a comedy and When Harry Met Sally... more as a romance than a comedy, but ok. I would give Vacation 4 stars not 5, but I could see an argument. I think there's no excuse for them to have left off Meaning of Life, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Raising Arizona or The Princess Bride. Then again, I wasn't keeping my list to 25.

Dazed and Confused (1993)
Clerks (1994)
Clueless (1995)
Waiting for Guffman (1997)
Austin Powers (1997)
The Naked Gun (1998)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
There's Something About Mary (1998)
Office Space (1999)
South Park Bigger Longer & Uncut (1999)

We only have two overlapping choices in the 90s: There's Something About Mary and Office Space. Lebowski is definitely five stars. South Park was a riot but I had eliminated animation. I was thinking Disney/Pixar and not South Park/Simpsons but they are both worthy.

Best in Show (2000)
Old School (2003)
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)
Wedding Crashers (2005)
Superbad (2007)
Tropic Thunder (2008)

The last two weren't out when I made my list. I agree with Superbad and still have to see Tropic Thunder. Otherwise our lists match except I had O Brother, Where Art Thou? and they have Napoleon Dynamite. I see that as reasonable disagreement. Forgetting Sarah Marshall had some fans but I wouldn't put it on a list of five star comedies.

Windows 7

I've never used or seen Vista, but this xkcd comic called Windows 7 (the next windows release after Vista, which is currently being tested), is very funny.

Paulson's Bailout Is Apparently a Giveaway

Bloomberg reports Paulson Bailout Didn’t Give Taxpayers Buffett’s Terms.

"Henry Paulson may be the most powerful manager of money in the world and he still couldn’t do for taxpayers with the $700 billion bailout of American banks what Warren Buffett did for his shareholders in investing in Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The Treasury secretary has made 174 purchases of banks’ preferred shares that include certificates to buy stock at a later date. He invested $10 billion in Goldman Sachs in October, twice as much as Buffett did the month before, yet gained warrants worth one-fourth as much as the billionaire, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The Goldman Sachs terms were repeated in most of the other bank bailouts."

Britain Seen from Above

Britain Seen from Above is pretty amazing. Animations showing ships in the English Channel, plains above Britain, telephone calls and other data traffic, also various views of and from small aircraft and a fighter jet.

Skiing to the North Pole

Ben Saunders skis to the North Pole | Video on "Arctic explorer Ben Saunders recounts his harrowing solo ski trek to the North Pole, complete with engaging anecdotes, gorgeous photos and never-before-seen video."

Cassiopeia A Comes Alive in 3-D Movies

Universe Today describes how Cassiopeia A Comes Alive in 3-D Movies. They describe and link to several new visualizations of a supernova remnant in the constellation Cassiopeia. The coolest is this one that shows a fly through of the remnant, starting at the small neutron star in the middle and flying through the (false-color) debris. But the others are good too.

Can You Crack a Code?

The FBI gives you an opportunity to Try Your Hand at Cryptanalysis.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Bush Years Then and Now

MSNBC has The Bush years -- then and now showing several political and economic statistics (with sources) from January 2001 and now.

Razzie Award Nominations, Kinda

The Razzie Award Nominations for the worst movies and performances of 2008 are out. Well not really. A preliminary list was leaked, which explains why there are 12 choices in each category rather than the traditional five. Still I'm very happy to report that of all the films and (I think) permformances listed, I've only seen one, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

No More History Channel For Me

I don't really watch the History Channel much, but my TiVo recorded an episode of Decoding The Past,
Doomsday 2012: The End of Days. Here's the blurb:

"There are prophecies and oracles from around the world that all seem to point to December 21, 2012 as doomsday. The ancient Mayan Calendar, the medieval predictions of Merlin, the Book of Revelation and the Chinese oracle of the I Ching all point to this specific date as the end of civilization. A new technology called 'The Web-Bot Project' makes massive scans of the internet as a means of forecasting the future... and has turned up the same dreaded date: 2012. Skeptics point to a long history of 'Failed Doomsdays', but many oracles of doom throughout history have a disturbingly accurate track record. As the year 2012 ticks ever closer we'll speculate if there are any reasons to believe these doomsayers."

Seriously? "Skeptics point to a long history of 'Failed Doomsdays', but many oracles of doom throughout history have a disturbingly accurate track record" Seriously?!?

The new end of the world is supposed to be Dec 21, 2012. There's even a web site, December 21, 2012: The Definitive Guide To The End Of An Age. It really bothers me when people don't know how to capitalize titles properly.

The rationale is because that's when the Mayan Long Count Calendar ends. Except is doesn't, it just resets. If the world didn't end when the Gregorian calendar rolled over to 2000, why would it end when the Mayan calendar rolls over to

Do people who believe this believe anything else from the Maya civilization? Are these the people that paid to see Mel Gibson's Apocalypto?

It's seems the Maya would have treated this calendar rollover just as we did 2000, with lots of celebrations.

Sadly I was curious how emacs' insanely completely calendar package handles that date. Yup, just fine, it will roll over to Of course.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Men and Women In Film

I watched the 2009 Macworld Keynote

I watched the video of the Macworld 2009 Keynote. A lot of stuff was much clearer to me. iPhoto and iMovie really look amazing. iMovie has real innovation in it's UI making it easy to do sophisticated video editing.

iPhoto's new features of face detection and labeling and geotagging support is also very impressive. I suspect the idea might have stemmed from their Facebook integration. It's obvious to want to upload photos to the photo sharing sites like flickr and Facebook is more and more popular for this in particular for it's people labeling ability and linking to their social network. Of course Apple made sure they sync the labels. iPhoto also did it one better with auto-face detection and then using that to make it's automatically generated slideshows better by knowing where the faces are. They are very good at making complete use of a new technology.

I hope that there is Address Book integration as well. I'd like to be able to drop a contact from Address Book onto the name field and have it all filled in and linked. The way iPhoto is the central place for all my pictures, I still want Address Book to be the central place for all my contact info. This will be much easier to manage if a name changes to a maiden name. Also, let me set location info by dropping a contact on the place field and using the home address field.

The geotagging is also nice and the map views built in to iPhoto and iMovie make really good use of knowing the location info. These are just fields in the photo file that include latitude and longitude info and the iPhoto demo reminded me yet again of how well Apple leverages technologies it builds into the OS and makes available to all third party apps. iPhoto immediately finds photos of the same people and taken in the same place. I'm sure it's doing this by using spotlight search technology that is keying off metadata fields in the files. This is stuff that was added in Tiger and improved in Leopard. It also obviously uses a lot of Core Animation to make the slideshows and UI as luscious as they are. Yes iLife requires Leopard and won't run on Tiger and that's probably why there is a new bundle that includes Leopard practically for free with iLife and iWork.

I want a bit more though. Locating pictures by location is so good, I want to be able to locate any files by location. If spotlight can deal with arbitrary metadata on any file type, I want to geotag all my files. I want my laptop to have a GPS in it so it knows where it is. Let me find files not just by their name or when I created them (Leopard added built in saved searches for Yesterday, Past Week, etc.) but also where. If I visit a client and take notes, I want the machine to keep track of where I am automatically and give me a central place to see all my location information. Also hook in network location info into it so it keeps track of wifi passwords based on where the machine is. Use location to know what password to use regardless of which network named "linksys" I'm on. When I visit that client again, give me a saved search of "stuff I worked on the last time I was here".

And while we're at it, let me associate contacts with arbitrary files as well. If I send a document to someone via email, let the computer keep track of that for me automatically. When I do a spotlight search for Tia (the name used in the demo), let me see all the documents she reviewed; automatically. That would be cool. And I think everything Apple needs to do it is there. They can just build on the capabilities they built in to OS X.

Why Newspapers are Dying has this 3 slide graphic today: Tips for walking on ice. Seriously?!?!

Before some wiseass tells me that is different than the Boston Globe (which I know but still don't really understand), two of the slides made it on the front page of todays globe. In fact there's a whole article Sheer ice? Just walk this way and hope. This is what we consider news?

Actually the article is almost ok, talking about how bad it was monday and reporting on the huge number emergency room visits at MGH, but it's not a front page story.

The Seven Best Capers of 2008

Threat Level from Wired lists The Seven Best Capers of 2008. "Competition was tough, but after an exhaustive search, Threat Level has produced this authoritative list of the best capers of the year."

It Finally Happened

I'm not sure how long ago I switched to using Compact Florescent Bulbs, maybe 3 or 4 years ago. Last night, I finally had one die. I had bought some replacements, like I would have done with regular bulbs, and they've sat around for long time. Yes the bulb life is a lot longer than regular bulbs.

Now I have to go to the town trash and recycling depot to drop off the bulb since it contains mercury. It's hazardous waste and I can't just throw it out with the regular trash. Seems dumb to make a trip to throw out one bulb. How much gas would that waste? How much greenhouse gas emitted. Even if I had an electric car, the electricity to run it for the trip would come from somewhere.

I don't generate a lot of hazardous waste. I suppose I should wait for a few more CFLs to die. I wonder how long that will be?

Update: The New York Times has an article, Light Bulbs: Which Do You Use?. The average life of a CFL is 4.5 years.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Who Writes Wikipedia?

I saw this quote floating around on a few sites today including Andrew Sullivan's post The Wiki Core.

"Wales decided to run a simple study to find out: he counted who made the most edits to the site. 'I expected to find something like an 80-20 rule: 80% of the work being done by 20% of the users, just because that seems to come up a lot. But it's actually much, much tighter than that: it turns out over 50% of all the edits are done by just .7% of the users ... 524 people. ... And in fact the most active 2%, which is 1400 people, have done 73.4% of all the edits.' The remaining 25% of edits, he said, were from 'people who [are] contributing ... a minor change of a fact or a minor spelling fix ... or something like that.'"

Well if you follow the links to the original article, as I usually try to do, you get to Aaron Swartz's Raw Thought, Who Writes Wikipedia?. Yep the above quote is from there, but it's just the start of the article. Yes Wales claimed the above, but if read the rest of the article, Swartz didn't believe it and did his own investigation, which he describes, and concluded:

"When you put it all together, the story become clear: an outsider makes one edit to add a chunk of information, then insiders make several edits tweaking and reformatting it. In addition, insiders rack up thousands of edits doing things like changing the name of a category across the entire site -- the kind of thing only insiders deeply care about. As a result, insiders account for the vast majority of the edits. But it's the outsiders who provide nearly all of the content."

Time Machine Lessons: Deborking your Mac

Ars Technica recently had an artlcle Time Machine Lessons: Deborking your Mac. It's pretty good. I've yet to restore more than a file or two from Time Machine. I wish it was easy to practice this before it's a critical task, but with only one mac around, that's just not the case.

The more I think about Time Machine, the more impressed I am with how apple approached the problem. The fact that old versions are preserved has a big advantage over merely keeping one mirror copy of your data. If the data is corrupted and not caught before the mirror is updated, you're backup would be corrupted as well. Not so with Time Machine. Just go back further in time.

Gingerbread Houses For Geeks

Kontraband has pictures of Gingerbread Houses For Geeks.

MacWorld Keynote


iPhoto updates look nice. Faces copies the killer feature from Facebook's photos and does it automatically (wonder how well that works). I've been manually adding tags or notes for people names. Great for searching, annoying for entering, this could be nice. Adding the Places info based on geotagging info is nice and good, they linked with Google Maps. That iPhone relationship is growing. Looks like they're killing MemoryMiner!. And it's integrated with Facebook and Flickr and it's easy to get a slideshow to your iPhone. Very attentive to how people actually use photos today. Very Apple-like. I have a lot of space photos in my iPhoto Library (good for a Wallpaper album and screen savers). I wonder if the geo-location stuff will work? I suspect the geo- prefix is significant.

iMovie looks like another nice update. Added more interesting features with a very interesting UI. iPhoto copied face detection in cameras and iMovie copies image stabilization. And the Google Maps integration continues.

GarageBand has never really interested me. I have looked into using it to create podcasts and ringtones but that's it. Still it's an impressive app and I love that they borrowed the interface ideas for X-ray, their software performance development tool build on dtrace. But only Apple could get Sting to give you guitar lessons. I suspect these would be more popular if they taught how to play Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

We're expecting snow overnight. I was already thinking if I should go to the Apple Store today to pick this up. But iLife '09 doesn't ship till the end of the month.


Keynote got some new transitions, themes and some prettiness. I like the new Keynote Remote app for the iPhone. It's probably why they stopped bundling the Apple Remote, they want you to buy an iPhone instead. But showing the slides, using swipes and having a real wifi connection instead of using IR is nice.

Pages gets a full screen view, if you're incapable of turning off other distracting programs. MathType and EndNote support will be big for academics. If they can understand that there are programs other than MS Office. More templates, etc. Update: They didn't mention it but Pages also adds Outlining and Mail Merge from spreadsheet data.

Numbers got new formulas and templates. It can auto create tables from selected cells. There are lots of new chart features and the ability to link charts from Numbers into Pages documents. That's nice. Wonder what other features they added as they try to get closer to excel. I think conditional formatting needs to be better and I need array functions to do my oscar pool (not that anyone else could use it if I did it in Numbers).

So iLife is $79 and iWork is $79, I'll go buy those. I really like the new Mac Box Set product which is $169 for iLife, iWork and Leopard. I might get that for my sister.

Ok, it's probably good that they thinking of an I think it's great that they are just dipping their toe in and doing a beta and that it's not full featured. I'm happy that it works with the desktop app and allows commenting but I'm dubious about the editing features. Though I have no idea who will use this. Not businesses. I doubt students. Not sure if there's any security on the site. Maybe soccer team coaches? It's going after Google Docs but it won't be free.

17" MacBook Pro

Seriously, that's the hardware they're announcing? I was wrong about no laptop updates. I guess this was to be expected, but I wanted other stuff first. It's the world's thinnest 17" notebook at 0.02" less than an inch thick. Um, wow, kinda. Otherwise they bumped up all the features (disk:320GB, memory:up to 8GB, casing, screen:1900x1200, graphics: both 9400M and 9600M GT, etc.). Glossy only with a $50 anti-glare option. Firewire 800 but it looks like Firewire 400 is dead.

And the battery isn't removable. That is bad. Remember those battery recalls? If it happens with this, I have to send in the computer and not just get a new battery delivered to me that I swap out. I don't like that at all. Fortunately I'm not interested in a 17" laptop, but I suspect this will come to the 15" ones next. They claim "8 hours on a charge, and can be charged 1000 times" from the space savings. The magazines will have fun testing that claim. Also it does seem much greener with a EPEAT Gold certification.

It comes in one config -- $2799." 2.66GHz Core 2 Due, 4GB RAM, 320GB hard drive and a super-drive. I wonder how long till I hear the complaints of still no blu-ray drive. Ships at the end of this month.

One More Thing...iTunes

Apple and the music companies have negotiated. Apple gets DRM free music (80% now 100% by April). The music companies get variable pricing. Three tiers at $0.99, $0.69, and $1.29. More songs are going to be offered at $0.69 than $1.29. Last is the that iPhone will have access to the full iTunes Music Store over the 3G network, I didn't know it was a limited version before.

So it wasn't a desktop event. It's their last MacWorld appearance, so they now have the flexibility to do events whenever they want. They get the press coverage regardless. With so many product lines now, they can't possibly fit too much in a single 1.5 hour keynote. So I expect a desktop even in the next few months (WWDC at the latest), probably combined with the Snow Leopard ship (making WWDC more likely). Would you really want to buy a new desktop and have a new OS to buy ship in a couple of months? New desktops probably mean new processors with more cores which needs Snow Leopard to make full use of.

iPhone and iPod updates will get their own event. iPhone events have been in early July, so there's a trend. I don't expect a tablet this year. A media server or Apple TV update? I have no idea.