Sunday, May 31, 2009

Last Survivor of Titanic Dies at 97

The Associated Press reports Last survivor of 'unsinkable' Titanic dies at 97.

"Millvina Dean, who as a baby was wrapped in a sack and lowered into a lifeboat in the frigid North Atlantic, died Sunday, having been the last survivor of 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic. She was 97 years old, and she died where she had lived — in Southampton, England, the city her family had tried to leave behind when it took the ship's ill-fated maiden voyage, bound for America. She died in her sleep early Sunday, her friend Gunter Babler told the Associated Press. It was the 98th anniversary of the launch of the ship that was billed as 'practically unsinkable.'"

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Judge Sotomayor and Race

SCOTUSblog writes on Judge Sotomayor and Race — Results from the Full Data Set.

"Other than Ricci, Judge Sotomayor has decided 96 race-related cases while on the court of appeals. Of the 96 cases, Judge Sotomayor and the panel rejected the claim of discrimination roughly 78 times and agreed with the claim of discrimination 10 times; the remaining 8 involved other kinds of claims or dispositions.  Of the 10 cases favoring claims of discrimination, 9 were unanimous.  (Many, by the way, were procedural victories rather than judgments that discrimination had occurred.)  Of those 9, in 7, the unanimous panel included at least one Republican-appointed judge.  In the one divided panel opinion, the dissent’s point dealt only with the technical question of whether the criminal defendant in that case had forfeited his challenge to the jury selection in his case.  So Judge Sotomayor rejected discrimination-related claims by a margin of roughly 8 to 1."

Friday, May 29, 2009

Torturing Democracy

Bill Moyers Journal showed the film Torturing Democracy tonight. It's devastating.

I want hearings and I want trials and I want the people responsible for this to go to jail. It did happen, someone is responsible. Sounds like Bush authorized it himself and is fine with it.

Cool Watches

Watchismo has "Cool Watches & Unique Watch designs from around the world" is live.

"The purpose of is to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. Although the initial launch of provides a limited portion of the rich variety of Federal datasets presently available, we invite you to actively participate in shaping the future of by suggesting additional datasets and site enhancements to provide seamless access and use of your Federal data. Visit today with us, but come back often. With your help, will continue to grow and change in the weeks, months, and years ahead."

The Radical Status Quo Menace

Daniel Larison wrote The Radical Status Quo Menace. it includes the best summary of the Ricci case I've seen:

"There is something eerily similar to conservative reactions to the Ricci case and the common conservative reaction to the rulings of the courts in the Schiavo controversy: the actual substance of law in the matter was fairly straightforward and clear, but it yielded a result that many conservatives found unacceptable, and they therefore sought all manner of political remedies to undo the reasonable decisions of the courts. Rather than locating the problem in the law or in the unusually difficult circumstances of the case in question, conservatives determined that it was the judges who were the problem."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rachmaninov Had Big Hands

You are Brilliant, and the earth is Hiring

My friend Greg pointed me at this. "Paul Hawken gave the commencement address for the University of Portland earlier this month." You are brilliant, and the Earth is hiring. He tries to inspire them to save the planet. Here are some fun facts from it...

"The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. And dreams come true. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe, which is exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a 'little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven.'"

MacUpdate Promo Spring Bundle

The MacUpdate Promo Spring Bundle. is an interesting deal. If you buy now it's 13 apps for $50. The one that interests me is Circus Ponies Notebook which I've been looking at for a long time and is $50 on its own. Another good app in the bundle is Parallels Desktop which lets you run Windows in parallel on the mac (you need to have windows to install). It's normally $80. There are several DVD utilities included to rip, backup and play movies.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Justice Alito on Empathy and Judging

Glenn Greenwald writes on Justice Sam Alito on empathy and judging.

Alito said: "When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account. When I have a case involving someone who's been subjected to discrimination because of disability, I have to think of people who I've known and admire very greatly who've had disabilities, and I've watched them struggle to overcome the barriers that society puts up often just because it doesn't think of what it's doing -- the barriers that it puts up to them."

Greenwald writes "Anyone who is objecting now to Sotomayor's alleged 'empathy' problem but who supported Sam Alito and never objected to this sort of thing ought to have their motives questioned (and the same is true for someone who claims that a person who overcame great odds to graduate at the top of their class at Princeton, graduate Yale Law School, and then spent time as a prosecutor, corporate lawyer, district court judge and appellate court judge must have been chosen due to 'identity politics').  And the idea that her decision in Ricci demonstrates some sort of radicalism -- when she was simply affirming the decision of a federal district judge, was part of a unanimous circuit panel in doing so, was supported by a majority of her fellow Circuit judges who refused to re-hear the case, and will, by all accounts, have at least several current Supreme Court Justices side with her -- is frivolous on its face."

Can we now accept that empathy in a judge is good and move on?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Liquid Water Present on Mars Now

Universe Today reports More Researchers Say Liquid Water Present on Mars Now.

"Finding perchlorates on Mars was not only surprising for the Phoenix lander science team, it also has created a bit of a rift among the researchers. In March, Ian reported on one scientist who used strictly photographic evidence to say that blobs appearing on the lander’s legs were actually water. Other scientists, however, including principal investigator Peter Smith were dubious about the ‘water on Mars now’ claims. But now, a group of researchers at the University of Arkansas say they have now demonstrated a potential stable liquid on present-day Mars in the immediate environment of the lander."

The article has a couple of cool pictures too.

Before Star Was was Good

Mystery Man on Film writes A Long Time Ago.. about the dreadfully bad early scripts of Star Wars.

Business Lessons from The Wire

Dan Matthews writes Business lessons from The Wire "I’ve just completed series three of the excellent HBO series The Wire and it occurs to me that in amongst all the cops, drugs and guns there are some valuable business lessons to be learned."

Warning there are spoilers for season 3 in that post. I happen to agree though they missed a point that I loved about the series. Season one spent about equal time on the police bureaucracy and the drug organization. There were many mangement challenges presented in both, from in fighting to managing very unskilled and sometime untrustworthy workers.

I started rewatching season 4 last friday and watched all 13 episodes straight through. I couldn't stop and now believe it's the best of all 5 seasons.

More on Sonia Sotomayor

SCOTUSblog writes The Dynamic of the Nomination of Sonia Sotomayor "I discuss below the four most probable lines of attack that committed ideologues are likely to advance, but to my mind basic political considerations make it very unlikely that mainstream Republican politicians will vocally join the criticism."

The Wall Street Journal Law blog writes A Sotomayor Sampler. "For now, let’s get you up to speed on some of Judge Sotomayor’s more notable rulings, decisions and comments." This is a good and short read.

Sotomayor has had six decisions reviewed by the Supreme Court and four have been overturned. But remember, the Court picks it's cases and if the decision is not an issue, it's not taken. I've heard estimates that 75% of decisions reviewed are overturned. She also has a seventh case currently up for review by the Supreme Court, Ricci v. DeStefano.

SCOTUSblog wrote on Sotomayor’s Record: The Ricci Effect "As Tom discussed, much attention will now turn to Judge Sotomayor’s record as a judge on the Second Circuit, and in particular on the decision she joined in Ricci v. New Haven, the case involving a suit by white and Hispanic firefighters passed over for promotion when the City declined to implement the results of a promotion test upon which black firefighters performed disproportionately poorly."

It should be noted, that Sotomayor didn't write any of the decisions. She was part of a 3 judge panel that agreed with the lower court ruling and then the full appeals court voted 7-6 to uphold that decision (she was one of the 7).

The Wall Street Journal Law blog lists some Views from the Right and Views from the Left on the Sotomayor pick. The Blog of Legal Times gives another Roundup of Reaction to Sotomayor's Nomination.

1998 Senate Vote Confirming Sotomayor

NPR: The 1998 Senate Vote Confirming Sotomayor To The Appeals Court "Here's how current Senate Republicans voted on the Sotomayor nomination back in '98"

Obama Nominates Sonia Sotomayor to Supreme Court

This morning Obama has nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to fill Souter's position in the Supreme Court. She's one of three widely reported front-runners and would be the first hispanic american appointed.

She'll be 55 next month. She'd be the second youngest Justice on the court, about 7 months older than John Roberts. Assuming she starts in October, she would be the 62nd youngest justice to start on the court. Of current sitting Justices, Scalia, Roberts, Souter and Kennedy were all appointed at 50 or 51 and Thomas was 43.

Obama said today about his approach to picking a justice: "First and foremost is a rigorous intellect, a mastery of the law, an ability to hone in on the key issues and provide clear answers to complex legal questions. Second, is a recognition of the limits of the judicial role. An understanding that a judges job is to interpret, not make law. To approach decisions without any particular ideology or agenda, but rather a commitment to impartial justice, a respect for precedent, and a determination to faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand. Now these two qualities are essential I believe for anyone who would sit on our nation's highest court and yet these qualities alone are insufficient. We need something more. For a supreme court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said "The life of the law has not been logic it has been experience." Experience being tested by obstacles and barriers, by hardship and misfortune. Experience insisting, persisting and ultimately overcoming those barriers. It is experience that can give a person a common touch and a sense of compassion. An understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live. And that is why it is a necessary ingredient in the kind of justice we need on the Supreme Court."

She "has worked at almost every level of our judicial system"; was nominated to federal court by a Republican (Bush Sr.) and promoted to the federal court of appeals by a Democrat (Clinton). "Walking in the door she would bring more experience sitting on the bench and more varied experience sitting on the bench, then anyone currently serving on the United States Supreme Court when they were appointed." She's Replacing Souter as only justice with experience as a trial judge. She saved baseball by ending the strike of 1994.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Global Warming Twice as Bad as Thought

Last Wednesday Kevin Drum posted a Chart of the Day. Global warming is twice as bad as we though even 3 years ago. "The carbon sinks are saturating, and the amplifying feedbacks are worse than previously thought."

"To repeat, on our current emissions path, we have a 9% chance of an incomprehensibly catastrophic warming of 7°C by century’s end, but less than a 1% chance of under 3°C warming."

Mac OS X Java Security Hole

Even though this came out last week, there still hasnt' been anything done. Mac OS X Java security hole exposed "As Landon Fuller has pointed out, a potentially nasty Java exploit remains unpatched in Mac OS X, including last week's OS X 10.5.7 update. Essentially, this exploit can allow malicious code to run outside of the confines of Java, and run arbitrary commands with whatever user permissions the logged in user has. So just by visiting a website, you could be allowing malicious software access to running commands on your system. Not cool. Not cool at all."

Fuller wrote: "Mac OS X users should disable Java applets in their browsers and disable 'Open "safe" files after downloading' in Safari."

Over a dozen years after Java promised browser security with sandboxing, we still can't get it right.

Update: I think this finally got fixed today, July 15th, 2009.

Obama's Civil Liberties Speech

Last week Glenn Greenwald wrote about Obama's civil liberties speech. His updates refer to what other bloggers thought of the speech and are a good summary.

I'm not particularly happy with the path Obama is taking. I'm also curious if the conservatives on the Supreme Court will vote to give the President unlimited wartime powers when it's a Democratic President.

The Economics of CAFE

Last week, James Kwak wrote about The Economics of CAFE.

He did an update, CAFE, Part Two.

Friday, May 22, 2009

25 Best Programmer Comics

25 Best Programmer Comics. At least half are xkcd. And in case you couldn't figure it out, my favorite is 10 but I also love the two bonus ones.

Frank Lloyd Wright LEGO Sets

Frank Lloyd Wright LEGO Sets "The LEGO Group and Adam Reed Tucker of Brickstructures, Inc. officially introduced the LEGO Architecture line in 2008. The line currently consists of six buildings – now including two of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous and recognizable buildings, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and ‘Fallingwater.’"

I'm surprised it took so long.

Astronomy Night

Tonight was the last CfA Monthly Observatory Night of the season. Marcia Bartusiak gave a talk based on her new book, The Day We Found the Universe about the various other people involved that led up to Hubble's discovery of galaxies and an expanding universe. It was a little too much history and not enough science for me, but she's a good speaker and it was interesting.

The host, while introducing her, mentioned her previous book, Archives of the Universe: 100 Discoveries That Transformed Our Understanding of the Cosmos. which I coincidently had bought as part of a sale at Border's but haven't read yet. Now I'm looking forward to doing so.

Afterwards there was some very nice observing on the roof. I saw four different viewings of Saturn and Titan, which never gets old. We also saw, M13, the Ring Nebula, the double double, and another double star that I'm not sure which it was but one star was clearly blue and another clearly white, it might have been Sheliak.

We also saw some satellite go by and later got a really good view of the International Space Station going by. Heavens Above is a good site for tracking satellites, but I'm thinking of getting GoSatWatch for the iPhone.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

More Difficult Than It Should Be

Yesterday I was a reading an article about the Supreme Court and saw that Justice Stevens just turned 89 years old. I was a little surprised by this, thinking he was a young 86 years old. I wondered if he was the oldest justice to ever serve on the court and if not, what was his rank. This is something the net should be able to tell me but it turns out it wasn't so easy.

I first tried the wikipedia page on the Supreme Court but that had the serving justices current ages but not that of the previous justices. Another page could tell me that Justice Holmes was the oldest justice but not where Stevens ranked.

A couple of Google searches didn't yield much info.

Wolfram Alpha should be able to do this but it didn't have the data and I've found it's not very good at showing a list of rankings. It sometimes says things like the US is the 3rd ranked country in terms of area, but I haven't been able to figure out how to get a list of all countries ranked by area.

Wikipedia lists all the justices including their birth and death dates and times of service. So it shouldn't be hard to turn this into a spreadsheet and sort it as I wanted. Not so much.

First I cut and pasted it into an emacs buffer to run some text macros to turn it into a csv file. The dates had newlines in them so I had to collapse those to one row per justice. Easy enough but I found that rows had varying number of fields since there was a column for term as chief justice which was mostly "(none)" but sometimes had a date range which turned into two fields. I decided to remove that column and all the ones to the right since I didn't care about that data. Also since the dates were of the form "August 21, 1798" I choose semi-colon as the separator.

I've never been much of a spreadsheet user but have been playing with Apple's Numbers from iWork. I tried importing my new csv file but found that Numbers couldn't deal with ; as separators. So I imported into Excel which I knew could. I then had problems convincing it to treat the date columns as actual dates instead of text. It didn't help that for a few records we don't know an actual date, just a year.

Then in Excel I wanted to do the math, so I created a column with a formula that was the end date of their service as justice minus their birthdate. That doesn't work because Excel doesn't work with dates before 1900!

So I saved it as an xls file and then opened it in Numbers. It dealt with the "old" dates and I could do the math, but the result showed as a number of days which wasn't very intuitive. I tried just dividing by 365 but that didn't work. I then had to learn about the YEARFRAC function to do the date arithmetic which did what wanted though I'm not sure it accurately dealt with leap years in the math, though I didn't care about that detail. I also found out about the TODAY() function and inserted it where wikipedia had "(present)".

Anyway, I found out my answer. Stevens is the 2nd oldest serving justice and there have been 13 to have served into their 80s.

90.8 Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
89.1 John Paul Stevens
87.6 Roger Brooke Taney
85.7 Harry Andrew Blackmun
85.6 Hugo Lafayette Black
84.2 William Joseph Brennan, Jr. *
83.2 Thurgood Marshall
82.3 Louis Dembitz Brandeis
82.1 Gabriel Duvall
81.4 Joseph McKenna
81.1 Stephen Johnson Field
80.9 William Hubbs Rehnquist
80.1 Samuel Nelson

I also have a new appreciation for what Wolfram Alpha is trying to do. Even data like this has some consistency problems. I mentioned that for some justices we don't have exact birth dates; there are other problems to. A couple of justices retired and then returned to the court as chief justice so there's a gap in their service. Wikipedia also lists their state when they were nominated to the court, but in one case, Rehnquist was nominated as a justice from AZ and as chief from VA, the only justice to need two states for this field, though I'm not sure if they just don't list a different state for other justices elevated to chief.

FYI, the ages of the current justices are:

89.1 John Paul Stevens
76.2 Ruth Bader Ginsburg
73.2 Antonin Gregory Scalia
72.8 Anthony McLeod Kennedy
70.8 Stephen Gerald Breyer
69.7 David Hackett Souter
60.9 Clarence Thomas
59.1 Samuel Anthony Alito
54.3 John Glover Roberts, Jr.

I'll be very impressed when Alpha can answer "When was the average age of the US Supreme Court the oldest?" It does estimate now that Stevens should live to 94.31 and Scalia to 86.26 though I can't enter anything other than age to improve the estimate.

My New Desktop Wallpaper

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day. It's a little dark, but works well.

mwcenter_gendler 1.jpg

"What does the center of our Milky Way Galaxy look like? In visible light, no one knows! It is not possible to see the Galactic center in light our eyes are sensitive to because the thick dust in the plane of our Galaxy obscures it. If one looks in the direction of our Galaxy's center - which is toward the constellation of Sagittarius - many beautiful wonders become apparent, though. Large dust lanes and star clouds dominate the picture. As many as 30 Messier Objects are visible in the above spectacular image mosaic, including all types of nebulas and star clusters. Two notable nebula include the Lagoon Nebula (M8), a red patch just above and to the right of center, and slightly to its right is the red and blue Trifid Nebula (M20)."

As a bonus, check out this Time-Lapse Photo of the Galactic Core of the Milky Way posted by Gizmodo.

Free Online Graph Paper

Free Online Graph Paper / Grid Paper PDFs. Lots of different kinds of paper to print out.

Health Visualizer

GE writes Taking a New Look at Health "What are the major health issues facing Americans today? What are some of the most common conditions, and how are they related to one another? What can we do to improve our health?"

It's a cute interactive graphic letting you compare some risk factors (gender, age, BMI, smoking) with conditions (diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hubble's Final Servicing Mission

Amazing photos of Hubble's final servicing mission. Really must see stuff.

100 Amazing How-To Sites to Teach Yourself Anything

100 Amazing How-To Sites to Teach Yourself Anything "Learning new skills and expanding your knowledge doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. There are loads of free resources on the Web that can help you find instructional videos, tutorials and classes to learn a wide variety of skills from fixing basic car problems to speaking another language. With 100 sites to choose from, you’re bound to find something here that will help you learn just about anything you could want."

Distorting Public Opinion on Torture Investigations

Glenn Greenwald writes Distorting public opinion on torture investigations. It boggles my mind that Democrats are letting Republicans play out the Nancy Pelosi issue. If they think torture was right, what do they think Pelosi did?

I've never agreed with Obama's "let get past this" notion. Bush blew the public opinion of the world and finding out publicly exactly what he did is the only way to get it back. If releasing more photos of what we did might enflame some people, imagine what trying a former Vice President for war crimes would do to calm them down?

And am I the only one who remembers the tactics the Bush administration did with warrantless wiretapping? They didn't inform the whole oversight committee just the leaders. And since it was classified the leaders couldn't bring it up with the whole committee and therefore couldn't do anything about it. The administration could say top Democrats were briefed and didn't care. Is this was happened with Pelosi and torture?

And honestly, if the Democrats had a spine about defending our constitution and weren't always afraid of the public opinion polls the republicans will always use against them, then they wouldn't have gotten themselves into this mess. Ugh.

The Supreme Court’s Stealth Hard-Liner

Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker wrote Annals of Law: No More Mr. Nice Guy about Chief Justice John Roberts.

"When Antonin Scalia joined the Court, in 1986, he brought a new gladiatorial spirit to oral arguments, and in subsequent years the Justices have often used their questions as much for campaign speeches as for requests for information. Roberts, though, has taken this practice to an extreme, and now, even more than the effervescent Scalia, it is the Chief Justice, with his slight Midwestern twang, who dominates the Court’s public sessions."

"Roberts’s hard-edged performance at oral argument offers more than just a rhetorical contrast to the rendering of himself that he presented at his confirmation hearing. “Judges are like umpires,” Roberts said at the time. “Umpires don’t make the rules. They apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.” His jurisprudence as Chief Justice, Roberts said, would be characterized by “modesty and humility.” After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party."

Space Tools

Gizmode writes about Weird and Wonderful Space Tools that Fixed Hubble. Fun stuff.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Maureen Dowd Plagiarized

Editor & Publisher wrote Maureen Dowd in Hot Water, Admits Wrongdoing, 'NYT' Will Correct. Turns out she plagiarized Josh Marshall which is just stupid. Don't copy from someplace that someone else is likely to notice. Her explanation doesn't explain how a whole paragraph was copied word-for-word with the exception of changing "we were" to "the Bush crowd was."

Microsoft Issues Bonds

I was curious why Microsoft with $20 billion in cash would issue corporate bonds for the first time in its history this week. The Baseline Scenario explains it,
Microsoft: Just Another Company.

"Earlier this week, Microsoft issued long-term debt for the first time in its history, selling $3.75 billion of 5-, 10-, and 30-year bonds. From a corporate finance perspective, I guess this makes sense, since it got to lock in historically low borrowing rates. Treasuries are low, and Microsoft paid only about one percentage point more than the U.S. government, which makes sense since it does have over $20 billion in cash, no other long-term debt, and – let’s not forget – a virtual monopoly on computer operating systems and basic desktop software."

There's a nice "Corporate Finance for Beginners" tutorial and some more points. Worth a read.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Shuttle and Hubble Transiting Sun

Universe Today writes Amazing Images of Shuttle and Hubble Transiting Sun. They were taken by amateur astronomer Thierry Legault.


Update: Some details on the shot.

Quicksilver Plugin for

Iusethis is a site that lets you create a profile and select what applications you use. It has metadata about the app including it's latest version, homepage and a link to the download. There are other sites like this but it's pretty slick.

Quicksilver is my favorite app of all time.

marcus ramberg wrote a Quicksilver plugin for It's a cute idea. His demo video didn't make it clear to me what it does but I looked inside the plugin. It adds 3 actions for applications and 5 for text:

app Show iusethis Profile
app Open Homepage
app Download Latest Release

text Apps Tagged With
text SearchFor Apps
text Show iusethis Profile
text Open Homepage
text Download Latest Release

So getting to the homepage of an app is easy as is downloading the latest version. And if you don't have the app installed you can still just enter the name. The text actions are easily down with a websearch but it's kinda clever. I'll see if I start using this. It would be a way clean out a lot of bookmarks I keep in safari of apps' homepages.

How Long Will This Drag Out?

CNN reports Powell aide says torture helped build Iraq war case though that headline is a bit misleading. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff for then-Secretary of State Colin Powell says that Cheney's office ordered continued torture until victims admitted a fictitious connection between al Qaeda and Iraq and this was used to justify the war. I suspected this years ago, why does all of this trickle in so slowly? I want these war criminals tried.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Paper Folding

Simon Schubert posts pictures made by folding paper. It's not origami, you have to see it to understand. Very cool.

New Get a Mac Ads

Apple has put out a bunch of new Get a Mac TV Ads. I particularly like Elimination, PC Choice Chat and Legal Copy.

Best Introductory Books

Septivium writes Ask MetaFilter’s best introductory books.

"When talking about the Best Books I linked to this great Ask MetaFilter thread from 2007: What single book is the best introduction to your field (or specialization within your field) for laypeople?. The whole thing’s worth a read but a while back I decided to go through, give it a squeeze, and extract the juicy bits: the books themselves. So below is a list of books, grouped into topics, as recommended by the thread."

Multiplex IMAX Screens

Gizmodo writes Cineplexes Getting IMAX, But Is It IMAX or Conspiracy? about the retrofitted IMAX screens in multiplexes. It's everything you wanted to know about these screens.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Kind of Blue as a Management Lesson

Kind of Blue: Pushing Boundaries with Miles Davis "Since it hit the airwaves half a century ago, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis has influenced the hearts and minds of jazz fans everywhere. Its songs became instant classics, and it has also converted many a nonfan to appreciate the music's subtlety and complexity. In a new business case, HBS professor Robert D. Austin and Carl Størmer highlight the takeaways for thoughtful managers and executives from this story of creation and innovation"

Obama Avoids Don't Ask Don't Tell Change

Bill Clinton got bogged down with gays in the military at the beginning of his presidency. Obama may be trying to avoid that. But in a time when now five states allow gay marriage, this just seems stupid. Obama To Fire His First Gay Arabic Linguist.

"Dan Choi, a West Point graduate and officer in the Army National Guard who is fluent in Arabic and who returned recently from Iraq, received notice today that the military is about to fire him. Why? Because he came out of the closet as a gay man on national television."

Aaron Belkin went on to write: "I spent a day with Dan Choi last month, and he is not someone we want to fire from the military. He loves the armed forces. He served bravely under tough combat conditions in Iraq. His Arabic is excellent, and he used his language skills to defuse many tough situations and to save lives, both Iraqi and American. All of his unit mates know he is gay, and they have been very supportive of him. But he doesn't want to live a lie."

Update: Here's Choi's open letter to Obama and Congress

Star Trek YouTube Spoofs

io9 collects Our Favorite Star Trek Tributes, Spoofs and YouTubes some of them are pretty funny.

Hubble's WFPC2's Last Photo

0893801D-CEE3-4425-BB4D-91B4329B7788.jpgHubble Photographs a Planetary Nebula to Commemorate Decommissioning of Super Camera. "The Hubble community bids farewell to the soon-to-be decommissioned Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) onboard the Hubble Space Telescope. In tribute to Hubble's longest-running optical camera, a planetary nebula has been imaged as WFPC2's final 'pretty picture.'"

Shuttle Launch Today

The Space Shuttle is launching today at 2pm ET. It's a mission to the Hubble Space Telescope for repairs and upgrades. NASA has lots of info online and mission specialist Mike Massimino is twittering it.

Charlie Card Restaurant Discounts

Use your Charlie Card for great food discounts.

Genetics at Home

The Boston Globe writes Cambridge woman navigates the genome in the comforts of her own home.

"In her humble first-floor apartment, Katherine Aull is searching for a killer that has stalked her family for generations...The 23-year-old MIT graduate uses tools that fit neatly next to her shoe rack. There is a vintage thermal cycler she uses to alternately heat and cool snippets of DNA, a high-voltage power supply scored on eBay, and chemicals stored in the freezer in a box that had once held vegan 'bacon' strips."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Simpsons Theme a Cappella

I feel ashamed not having seen this before seeing it in the closing credits of The Simpsons. (I did know about the A Capella Spider Pig.)

The American Press on Suicide Watch

Frank Rich wrote a New York Times Op-Ed yesterday, The American Press on Suicide Watch that does a pretty good job of describing the problems newspapers face today.

"It’s immaterial whether we find the fruits of their labors on paper, a laptop screen, a BlackBerry, a Kindle or podcast. But someone — and certainly not the government, with all its conflicted interests — must pay for this content and make every effort to police its fairness and accuracy. If we lose the last major news-gathering operations still standing, there will be no news on Google News unless Google shells out to replace them. It won’t."

I do spend money on news. I subscribe to The Economist and The Atlantic. I also assume some of my cable TV fees go to entire networks devoted to news. I used to subscribe to the Boston Globe but found it consistently less and less valuable. I had already found out about most things the day before (it's yesterday's news) and it didn't have much in the way of analysis. More and more election coverage is about the gaff of the day or a review of a TV spot instead of actual analysis of positions on issues. There were occasionally really interesting investigative features and I enjoyed them. But I could get them for free on the Globe's website when they published them.

I can pay for a paper or read online for free. I think online is just better. My news isn't wet on a rainy day. I don't have to wash my hands after reading it. With a little mac magic I can click on any word to get a definition or look it up in google or wikipedia. I can usually see the article on one page but if it is continued, clicking a link is easier than finding the next section, page and column (particularly if you're on a train or plane). Even the paper gets better feedback on what articles I read and what interests me.

I can get an electronic edition of the New York Times that's just like the paper edition. I don't want that. I don't want to install a different application to read newspapers. A standard browser or RSS reader should do. I don't want it to look just like the newspaper. Show me the whole article on one page and figure out a way to show me a "front page" in a reasonable way. The home pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post are gigantic wastes of space and difficult to find "news" on. I also want to be able to blog about and link to news articles so I can talk to others about it and let them know what I think and let them read the original article for themselves.

I think part of the problem with this transition is that newspapers put their content on the net for free. As long as some good news sources are free, I'll use them. If the Times, Post, etc. all charged a reasonable fee, I'd happily pay for one. And I still want some way to read the occasional article from another source that someone points me to (either for free or a small fee). I can subscribe to a "paper" on the kindle, why can't I on the web or on my iPhone?

The fact is, newspapers have increased their reach with the web. We don't need 100 papers covering Washington. We don't need 200 professional film critics covering the same 5 films that get national releases each week. And no we probably don't need 50,000 bloggers doing the same, but they aren't trying to get paid. I think local newspapers will have to start concentrating on local news and will be smaller and should charge less. Not having to print and deliver papers should save some costs, shouldn't it? I expect to subscribe to news sources for local, state, national and world coverage. Probably with organizations that specialize in each.

Update: Berkely Blog writes their experience having cancelled the NY Times after 25 years of subscribing. I agree completely.

Tropicana Redesign

A few months ago I went to buy orange juice and found that Tropicana had changed their packaging. It was incredibly frustrating to figure out which carton had no pulp and no pineapple juice or other contaminant. I noticed last week that the old packaging was back. Turns out I missed the whole internet discussion of the bad redesign.

Astuteo describes Eight Major Failures of the Tropicana Redesign.

Fast Company announced Never Mind! Pepsi Pulls Much-loathed Tropicana Packaging. They also mentioned the branding was done by the Arnell Group and point to this 27 page pdf doc, Breathtaking Design Strategy. It's perhaps the dumbest looking document I've ever seen. FC previously said, "It may be one of the most ridiculous things ever perpetrated by somebody calling himself a designer."

There were conspiracy theories on why they redesigned at all. Was it to look like cheaper generic brands? Was it deliberately bad to generate buzz? Regardless, it seems sales fell 20%.

At least I can easily find my orange juice again.

BCA v Singh: BCA Wins First Round

Simon Singh is a British science author and journalist. His latest book is Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. He wrote this short article for the British newspaper The Guardian, Beware the spinal trap. It included this passage:

"The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments."

The British Chiropractic Association sued for libel. Jack of Kent writes about BCA v Singh: An Astonishingly Illiberal Ruling. "Yesterday the English High Court made an astonishing and highly illiberal ruling in the libel case brought by the British Chiropractic Association against Simon Singh."

British libel law differs depending on if the passage is a comment or a statement of fact. A comment merely has to be fair, a fact has to be justified. Immediately after oral arguments ended, Judge Eady read his prepared judgement.

"The judge ruled that, notwithstanding that the passage in Singh's article was a comment piece and published on the comment page, it was a statement of fact...But the judge continued. The word "bogus" meant deliberate and targeted dishonesty...The judge held that by the mere use of the word "bogus" Simon Singh was stating that, as a matter of fact, the BCA were being consciously dishonest in promoting chiropractic for those children's ailments."

So now people are looking up the word "bogus" in dictionaries and trying to figure out if this judgement is extreme or not. It would be unusual for a ruling on meaning to be changed on appeal, this means Singh's options for appeal will be difficult to prove. He has 3 weeks to file an appeal.

President Obama at White House Correspondents Dinner

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Lake Mead Is Drying Up

Lake Mead Is Drying Up "The combination of a changing climate and a strong demand for the lake’s remaining water has resulted in 100 foot drop since 2000. While that’s just 10 percent under the lake’s high water mark in 1983, Lake Mead is like a martini glass—wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. That 10 percent dip represents a loss of half Lake Mead’s water supply in nine years, from 96 percent capacity to 43 percent."

History of Programming Languages

One Div Zero writes a hilarious A Brief, Incomplete, and Mostly Wrong History of Programming Languages. Geeks only.

Movie Review: Star Trek

There's a lot I don't understand about the reactions to the new Star Trek film. It's starts with the expectations. Nearly every review begins with how Abrams was tasked with breathing life into the dead franchise. I've been a Star Trek fan since I was about 10, though I've never been to a convention or dressed in a trek costume. Still I guess I'm one of the "faithful trekkies" that Abrams needed to keep happy while he attracted new viewers. Is it so wrong to think that a franchise that lasted 40+ years, spawned 5 TV series and 10 movies and countless books and other things might actually have some good ideas that people are interested in? Is it so strange to think that recent entries have done poorly because they were bad? Four years after Batman was rebooted and three years after Bond was, is it so strange that Star Trek was rebooted? After all, this is the genre that has time travel and alternate universes.

I gave up on Voyager, though I did stick it out with Enterprise. The characters weren't that interesting but the stories were getting better in the fourth season and were doing a good job at fleshing out the backstory of the early federation. Abrams' film takes the opposite approach. There's no exploration and little of the federation aside from the academy; and forget about any social commentary. There are however familiar characters who feel more developed than they've ever been.

I don't envy the actors having to play roles that have been around for a long time and yet have only been played by the original actors. Roger Moore stepped into Bond only 11 years after Sean Connery debuted in Doctor No, and George Lazenby had already played the role once. No one else has played Kirk or Spock or the others in 43 years. Still, the whole cast does a good job. The performances aren't imitations (thankfully) but you can definitely see the old characters here, particularly with McCoy and Scotty. Uhura is now (sensibly) a linguistic expert and is also a love interest. Chekov and Sulu each have a substantial scene or two, which is about what they had in the whole original series.

What's more interesting is what's done with Kirk and Spock. This is kind of a buddy film where the buddies don't really get along. Spock is the cold logical genius who's viewed as inferior by Vulcans because of his human half. Kirk is the impulsive natural born leader. Spock aced his science academy tests, kirk scored as a genius on "aptitude tests" whatever they are. The two now meet in Starfleet Academy and argue about everything. I think it went a little too far having them competing over the same girl but I really did like how they approached situations differently. The scenes in the trailer of Spock being angry had worried me, but they work just fine

The film has the same problem that shows like ER or Grey's Anatomy have (I have you curious now) which is how to take people right of school and put them in interesting positions in their job. In medical shows the interns are all unsupervised and have way too many rare cases. In Star Trek, none of our heroes work their way up through the ranks. They all seem to be prodigies and the only people capable of performing under pressure. I think that's just something to accept to make the story work. But there's definitely something to these characters, if only slight reimaginings of them, in and of themselves, make an entertaining film.

Some reviews toss off the plot as "the universe needs saving again". That's not a plot, it's barely even a premise, but it is roughly what we're given. There's a villain though his motivation isn't told to us until later in the film and even then it's only briefly described. In fact there's enough there for another story and it's been told in a graphic novel that sets up the film. It wasn't that good and the plot wasn't much more than what was mentioned in the film, but reading it did give me time to have the story make an impression. I wonder how those who hadn't read it react to the villain.

I don't care for JJ Abrams the director. There's too much shaky handheld camera moving around for no reason. It's not as bad as in Cloverfield (which Abrams produced) but someone needs to get this man a tripod. He also went overboard with glowing lights and lens flares. It's fine when there's a sun nearby, but there's no reason for them when in the Enterprise, it's like the crew would always be blinded. And finally I didn't care for the pacing. Everything is amped up and there's no downtime. It's not that I needed to rest or I couldn't follow things, but I wanted buildup to climactic moments. That's just basic storytelling. This feels like all fire and no frying pan.

I didn't love the ships. They're both crowded and roomy. The engineering sections look like enormous warehouses with no people in them. Other sections have desks so close together they could be cubicles without the walls. And they're all white and glass and look like Apple stores. There's a scene with Scotty trapped in a long twisty man sized water pipe that leads to a "liquid turbine". I thought of Signorney Weaver in Galaxy Quest complaining, "What is this thing? makes no logical sense, why is it here?"

There's some bad science in this film but that never really bothered me in Star Trek. I'll leave it to astronomer Phil Plait to review of the science of this Star Trek film.

The first hour or so really worked for me. They did a great job adding more to characters that have been around for 40 years. They didn't actually add too much but they put what little we know of their backgrounds into a meaningful context and that really worked. The second hour didn't work as well for me. I was waiting for a similar effort to establish the plot and there really wasn't one. The villains actions have ramifications for our characters, but it was a plot device for an average action film rather than a good sci-fi story.

I hope the next film adds a worthy sci-fi story to the mix. The new Battlestar Galactica has shown that it's still possible to set socially relevant stories in space. Abrams did a great job establishing new actors as characters that I've already been willing to follow to other worlds and stories. Hopefully in the sequel he'll find a world with tripods.

Update: I'm completely shocked that I didn't remember the first place I saw "red matter". It's lame to reuse a plot device this boldly.

Update: Here's some of the easter eggs, the comments have even more.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Maddow Map Room

Rachel Maddow has posted an online Map Room with links to various interesting maps augmenting their reporting. Cool stuff.

New David Simon HBO Series in a Year

The New Hour reports New David Simon Drama Will Depict Life in Post-Katrina New Orleans. "Fans of the groundbreaking TV drama 'The Wire' can expect a new David Simon series about life in urban America next year. HBO has reportedly picked up 'Treme,' a new series about musicians in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans."

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Real-Time Dracula Blog

"Experience Bram Stoker's Dracula in a new way -- in real time. Dracula is an epistolary novel (a novel written as a series of letters or diary entries,) and this blog will publish each diary entry on the day that it was written by the narrator so that the audience may experience the drama as the characters would have."

Freaknomics wrote: "Dracula started on May 3 and ends November 6. Think of it as a new series to follow with your friends now that The Wire is over. Freakonomics readers will notice that this whole terrible adventure is set off by a real-estate agent who helps a lusty Transylvania count buy a house in London."

Four Useful Quicklook Plugins

I really do like the Leopard feature known as QuickLook. Just select the icon of a file in the Finder and hit space and you see a preview. It's great for image files or to read txt files like READMEs or to look at most any document.

It doesn't do much for folders or archives. Here are Four Useful Quicklook Plugins that show the contents of archives, pkgs and folders. And if you're programming, one will color code source files. Nice.

Justice Souter

This link has been down but is back up. Statements from the Supreme Court Justices on Justice Souter.

Also, Heather K. Gerken, a Yale law professor and former clerk of Justice Souter wrote at The American Prospect, Race, Voting Rights, and the Genius of Justice Souter "Souter doesn't care for politics, but he understands the politics of race better than his colleagues to his left or his right."

MA Budget Crisis

WBUR writes Economists Warn Of Worst Fiscal Crisis In Mass. History.

Tax revenues have declined 35% in one month. "Massachusetts is watching April income, sales, corporate and, especially capital gains tax revenue, collapse, said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation."

Economic models for the budget have failed and the recommendation is the state cut $1.8 billion in spending.

State Treasurer Tim Cahill said “Even though the goal of covering every individual in the state is noble, it may not be doable in this environment. You’ll probably have to cut local aid; you may have to cut education. Those are the three big ticket items in the budget and you’re not gonna do it with cutting waste, cutting fraud and trimming around the edges.”

Wikipedia Hoax Quoted in Newspapers

The Irish Times reports Student's Wikipedia hoax quote used worldwide in newspaper obituaries. "A Wikipedia hoax by a 22-year-old Dublin student resulted in a fake quote being published in newspaper obituaries around the world. The quote was attributed to French composer Maurice Jarre who died at the end of March. It was posted on the online encyclopedia shortly after his death and later appeared in obituaries published in the Guardian, the London Independent, on the BBC Music Magazine website and in Indian and Australian newspapers."

Here's my favorite part: "The quote had no referenced sources and was therefore taken down by moderators of Wikipedia within minutes. However, Fitzgerald put it back a few more times until it was finally left up on the site for more than 24 hours."

The Kindle DX

Amazon has announced the new Kindle DX described as "Amazon's 9.7" Wireless Reading Device (Latest Generation): Kindle Store".

A 9.7" diagonal screen supporting 16 shades of grey with auto-rotation. It's 10.4" high x 7.2" wide x 0.38" thick. Supports PDFs and text-to-speech and has 3.3GB. It's $489 and best sellers and most new releases are under $10. It has textbooks and newspapers at a reduced price for longer subscriptions.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Interview With President Obama

David Leonhardt interviewed President Obama for last weeks New York Times magazine. After the Great Recession. It's a good read.

Conor Clark in the Atlantic picks apart one of his answers.

School Lunches

F is for French Fry writes about school food, here's what they found about school lunch in France: "Here’s what students in one Paris school district ate for lunch last Tuesday: cucumbers with garlic and fine herbs; Basque chicken thigh with herbs, red and green bell peppers and olive oil; couscous; organic yogurt and an apple. For snack, they had organic bread, butter, hot chocolate and fruit."

"I’m starting to see a trend here with school meals in other countries. In both France and Japan, school meals are important. Both countries spend more on school lunches than we do, and both use school meals as an educational tool to instill proper eating habits and good manners. The French government recommendations acknowledge that students only eat one meal each day at school. The purpose of that meal, then, is to “assure an elementary formation of taste” and provide nutrition education. Lunches should incorporate lessons on the vocabulary of taste, regional specialties, food preparation techniques and culinary heritage, the government suggests, adding that the midday meal “is much more than nutrients and calories.”

Monday, May 04, 2009

Researchers Hijack Botnet

Ars Technica reports Researchers hijack botnet, score 56,000 passwords in an hour "Researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara have published a paper (PDF) detailing their findings after hijacking a botnet for ten days earlier this year. Among other things, the researchers were able to collect 70GB of data that the bots stole from users, including 56,000 passwords gathered within a single hour. The information not only gave them a look at the inner workings of the botnet, they also got to see how secure users really are when it comes to online activities. (Hint: they aren't.)"

The 13 page paper is quite good.

Boston Restaurants on Twitter

Boston Restaurants on Twitter is a surprisingly long list. Though I'm not sure how useful it is.

Hospital Food Blog

Hospital Food is a blog about just that, photos of hospital food from around the world. It's new so there are only two pages of the most unappetizing food you've ever wanted to see.

Kevin Smith Talks About His Superman Script

I saw this on boing boing. I had heard some of this stuff before but never saw this video, Kevin Smith talks about his Superman script. He's a very good storyteller. If you're watching this at work, I warn you that every other word is fuck.

Larry Summers’ New Model « The Baseline Scenario

Simon Johnson wrote about Larry Summers’ New Model. Johnson doesn't agree with Summer's approach.

"Larry Summers spoke on Friday afternoon at the InterAmerican Development Bank in Washington DC.  As he was addressing a group with  much experience living through and dealing professionally as economists with major crises, he spoke the ‘language of economics’ (as he called it) and largely cut to the analytical chase. Summers made five points that reveal a great deal about his personal thinking - and the structure of thought that lies behind most of what the Administration is doing vis-a-vis the crisis.  Some of this we knew or guessed at before, but it was still the clearest articulation I have seen."

It's a good read and pretty short.

Why Pay Tuition?

The Baseline Scenario writes: Why Pay Tuition? "Salman Khan has created dozens of YouTube videos covering the basics of banking, finance, and the credit crisis. (There is also a series on the Geithner Plan that doesn’t seem to be on the main index page yet."

The site says "We have 700+ videos on YouTube covering everything from basic arithmetic and algebra to differential equations, physics, and finance which have been recorded by Salman Khan"

Catching up on Torture News

Balkinization wrote about Rice's statements on the memos. "In this excerpt, she seems to suggest that (1) President Bush directly ordered enhanced interrogation practices, (2) that she did not authorize these practices, but merely conveyed the authorization to others, and finally, (3) that because the President authorized them, these practices did not violate the Convention Against Torture. Rice did not, however, explain why they did not violate the Anti-Torture Statute or the War Crimes Act, both passed by Congress." It then goes on to shred all the arguments.

ProPublica wrote Torture Memos vs. Red Cross Report: Prisoners’ Recollections Differ from Guidelines "Below is a comparison of the recently released 'torture memos,' prepared by Bush administration lawyers, and a leaked Red Cross report in which prisoners were interviewed about being on the receiving end of the interrogation techniques. The chart is based on research by the ACLU, which filed lawsuits to get the memos released."

The ACLU Blog of Rights wrote Torture, Plain and Simple. "It doesn’t matter if torture works, because it’s illegal...And it doesn’t matter what the polls say, because it’s still illegal." and they add, "And while we’re at it, let’s call a spade a spade. As constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley said on Rachel Maddow the other night: It’s obviously disturbing to hear torture still referred to by the president as a ‘technique.’ That’s like saying bank robbery is a ‘technique’ for withdrawing money from a bank. It’s not a ‘technique’, it’s a crime…"

Politicians and Twitter

CNET's Webware reports on Politicians who get Twitter...and some who don't.

The White House Takes Stock

Last week the White House blogged Taking Stock with links to 100 day progress reports for each department.

The also posted about White House 2.0.

Amazon to Launch Kindle for Textbooks

Amazon to Launch Kindle for Textbooks on Wednesday. Something needs to shake up the textbook market.

IMAP, Gmail, and Apple Mail

Joe Kissell in TidBITS writes Achieving Email Bliss with IMAP, Gmail, and Apple Mail. It's everything you've every wanted to know about using Mail and Gmail over IMAP. Well not quite everything,

I've been running into issues with Time Machine backups taking an excessive amount of time I think because some of my gmail folders (like sent) have 10,000 messages and if I add one sent message to it, Time Machine has to create a new folder, put 9,999 hard links in it and one new file. But I'm not sure about that and for no reason I can explain yet it seems to be better these last couple of days.

We Need More Time Captain

YOUgNeek on Etsy lists a handmade Star Trek Clock.

"This beautiful clear and chrome Sterling and Noble clock boasts 12 vintage classic Action Fleet Micro Machine starships, warships and other vessels. I never know what I will have on hand, some may be kinda rare and go for $15 each and up. They are hand finished in a black and silver pewter-like color."

I'm not sure what's worse. That I kinda like this? That I could identify all but 3 and 8 o'clock? That I'd really want a different species at each hour so I could say "quarter past vulcan". Or that I think I could identify 12 different species ships to fill the clock? I should probably just stop now.

And no I'm not ordering one.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Giant Crater Found on Mercury

I haven't been successful in seeing Mercury the last couple of weeks. Either I haven't had the opportunity to look or the weather wasn't cooperating. Though I definitely wouldn't have seen this. Discover's Bad Astronomy blog writes Mercury hides a monster impact.


"This new MESSENGER image of Mercury was taken when the spacecraft swept past the tiny planet back in October 2008. The big circular feature is the Rembrandt impact basin, which is a ginormous 715 kilometers (440 miles) across. Incredibly, this feature has never been seen before on Mercury! That goes to show you how hard it’s been to study the planet in the past. From Earth, Mercury never gets very high above the horizon so it’s always a fuzzy blob, and previous spacecraft encounters only imaged parts of the planet."

The article says "Colorado would comfortably fit inside it." Colorado is 280 x 380 miles. But by area, the Rembrandt impact basin is just a little smaller than California. The NASA Messenger site has more info. Including a map showing it about 4 times the size of New England.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Movie Review: Grace

I'm not all that into horror films but I did catch the midnight showing of Grace at the IFFBoston. It's not nearly as disgusting as I had heard but rather was a slow thriller with a lot of psychological elements.

Jordan Ladd plays Madeline Matheson a pregnant vegan with a distrust of modern medicine and a disapproving mother-in-law. I won't give too much away but think zombie baby (or maybe it's vampire baby). If you were it's mother, how would you feed it? And you'd probably hide the fact from others and they'd be suspicious.

The story was reasonably quite well thought out and really played on the common fears of new mothers: will the baby be healthy, nursing, exhaustion, intrusive mother-in-laws, etc. The performances were good and there was plenty of creepy isolated atmosphere; and a fair amount of blood (though not gratuitous or exploitative).

I wasn't scared but I was creeped out a few times. The pacing is slow but it's a short film and enough happens. It's writer-director Paul Solet's first feature and it looks like it's going straight to DVD which is a shame, because even to me, it's a better film than that sounds.

Movie Review: The Lost Son of Havana

I'm not much of a baseball fan and had never heard of Luis Tiant. He was a great pitcher in the sixties an seventies. He's also Cuban and has been in exile since 1961. He wanted to go back to Cuba and see his family. It's still illegal for Americans to go there except under special arrangement by both governments. They tried and failed but then got permission provided the film crew play in an exhibition baseball game. The Lost Son of Havana documents his trip in 2008.

I found the first hour to be pretty slow. Tiant was pretty quiet, even while visiting an old friend in Miami in a stop before going to Cuba. There was some backstory about his father, another great pitcher who played in the black league in the US from 1926-1948. As Tiant makes it to Cuba we see a lot of shots of the streets as he drives around. He also runs into a former childhood friend at his old home who's mad at him. It's clear to us or to Tiant what to make of this guy. In the mid 60s Tiant was a pitching sensation. He had a shoulder injury that reduced his speed but he adjusted his pitching style to be more like his father's with more varied pitches and a style that had him turned away from the plate for much of the pitch to hide his intent.

If the rest of the film was like this I really would not have liked it. Friends called me an insensitive asshole for having this view and I can actually respect that. Fortunately the last 45 minutes is really good. He had a lot of injuries from 1969 to 1971 and was now playing for the Boston Red Sox. He had an amazing comeback in 1972 and was one of the most popular players in baseball for several years. In 1975 the Red Sox were in the World Series which included some of the greatest games ever played. Through a special allowance by Castro after being asked by a state department offical, Tiant's parents were allowed to come to the US. They spent 14 months in the US before their deaths, and hearing Tiant tell the story is devastating. After this he visited with more relatives on his Cuba trip and was more talkative about how difficult it was not seeing his family, how difficult life was for them in Cuba, and how he could have done more for them even though he tried.

Perhaps the first half was needed as setup for the payoff of the end. I'm not sure. Tiant was certainly keeping his feelings to himself at the beginning of his trip and that didn't help. But I'd rather have the second half be better than the first and the second half was a very strong film.

Tiant and the filmmakers were at the screening and they brought many of their friends. And of course the rest of the theater were filled with Red Sox fans. There were lots of cheers during the exciting moments of the games and it was impossible not to be caught up in the excitement. Though i think it would be exciting even without the special audience.

How Not To Drive in Paris

Wikipedia has all the details of this 9 minute 1976 film C'était un rendez-vous. Yep it's all real.

Helios iPhone App

A friend wrote his first iPhone app, Helios. "Designed primarily as an aid to Cinematographers, Helios is an essential tool for any professional who needs to predict the position of the sun at a specific time and how that may influence the planning of a shoot." It's very pretty and has one of the better demo videos I've seen.