Thursday, October 28, 2010

The President's Puzzling Strategy

Stephen Spruiell wrote about The President's Puzzling Strategy. "The White House plans to test Republicans' unity and political resolve on three controversial issues: repealing the Bush tax cuts, implementing the deficit commission's findings, and pushing immigration reform. Obama's team says that these issues will make for good policy — and good politics, forcing Republicans elected in swing districts to choose between placating Democrats and independents and risking a possible Tea Party challenge in 2012."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Creative Pumpkins

15th Annual Pumpkin Contest! "For the fifteenth year in a row, Duarte has caught Pumpkin Fever.
And I must warn you, it’s highly contagious. This year’s contest has brought 50+ creatively carved, carefully crafted works of pumpkin art. And YOU get to pick the winners.

Take a look and vote for your favorite!"

Galaxy Zoo shows how well crowdsourced citizen science works

Not much new here, but a nice article, Galaxy Zoo shows how well crowdsourced citizen science works. "The Internet has enabled the public to participate in science in a way that was never possible before. Starting with SETI@home and a growing number of other projects that use the BOINC infrastructure, home computer users could contribute processing time to actual science projects and, in return, get a glimpse of some of the analysis that was being performed on their computers. But these projects left the public as passive participants, watching as their computers did all the heavy lifting. There are many problems where humans are actually better than computers, and a new set of projects is using the Internet to harness the abilities of non-scientists to contribute towards a scientific goal."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Science Stuff

The Telegraph wrote The 10 weirdest physics facts, from relativity to quantum physics. "Physics is weird. There is no denying that. Particles that don’t exist except as probabilities; time that changes according to how fast you’re moving; cats that are both alive and dead until you open a box. We’ve put together a collection of 10 of the strangest facts we can find, with the kind help of cosmologist and writer Marcus Chown, author of We Need To Talk About Kelvin, and an assortment of Twitter users."

Symmetry Breaking of Fermilab wrote Hogan’s holometer: Testing the hypothesis of a holographic universe "In 2008, Fermilab particle astrophysicist Craig Hogan made waves with a mind-boggling proposition: The 3D universe in which we appear to live is no more than a hologram. Now he is building the most precise clock of all time to directly measure whether our reality is an illusion."

Meanwhile, we've found the oldest thing we've ever seen, "Using the Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have looked back to find the most distant galaxy so far. “We are observing a galaxy that existed essentially when the Universe was only about 600 million years old, and we are looking at this galaxy – and the Universe – 13.1 billion years ago”" Ars has more.

And just to put all this in context, here's Jesus and Mo...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Our Coming Mega-Drought

Kevin Drum writes about the bad news on Our Coming Mega-Drought.

I really wish the right wasn't anti-science.

The management of Juan Williams

I agree with Ezra Klein on The management of Juan Williams.

iLife '11

I've been playing with iLife '11 this afternoon, specifically the new iPhoto. It's pretty nice but I do have some gripes. First the install is large, about 3.5GB and took about 15 minutes. Then it was another 15 minutes to upgrade my iPhoto library. Now Time Machine is backing up 18GB of data over wifi, so that's taking a while.

I tried some of the new slideshow themes. There are still only 12 (I think that's how many there were before) and while the new holiday one with pictures hanging from a thread while snow falls in the backgroud, is cute, it's kinda specific and very similar to another one (just without the snow). I do like the places one which uses geo-tagged info to place the photos on a map and then zooms in to show them. Of course you need to properly assign the tags and so I got caught up fixing some of these. Here is where I ran into a problem.

The new editing stuff is a panel that opens in the right and there's a small map at the bottom and I wish it were bigger. I had tags on my images but not all were correct. I had a group of photos (all of an event) that were in the same place but where listed as two places on the map. Finding which photos they were required selecting each photo one at a time. Changing the place name required typing and doing a new search which didn't always yield the right places. There's also a big map you can get to from the left panel (under photos, events and faces) but you can't move the push pins there. It might be the same as previous versions but it seemed more difficult. Also you can not longer assign a location to a event, you have to go into the event, select all the photos and then pick a place.

Also I found after a little bit of this and rerunning the slideshow (which required downloading maps each time which took 5 minutes) I was using tons of memory and wanted to restart iPhoto. These are all things I expect an update in a couple of weeks to fix.

I know at least one of you is interested in iLife and needs to upgrade to Snow Leopard (required for iLife '11). The Mac Box Set has been updated to include iLife '11 for $129. My guess, based on the Mac Buyer's Guide, is that the MacBook Pros will get an update in a month or two and iWork will get updated at the same time. So you may want to wait (then again, you might not care).

Map of State Unemployment by Month

Nice interactive graphic on States Unemployment by Month.

James Bonds

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Wikipedia has a whole page devoted to the James Bond film Gun barrel sequence. I do think this is cool small multiple comparison:

Various Bonds

"The six James Bond actors of EON Productions films, as they appear in their individual gun barrel sequences, from left to right - Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Emperor's Clothes

Kevin Drum nails it talking about the health care mandate, The Emperor's Clothes "But you can't just say this, even though it's plainly true. You have to pretend to take conservative arguments about this seriously. You have to write detailed responses, complete with quotes from law professors and health experts. You have to pretend that this is an actual issue, not just a handy attack point. And so we all spend mountains of time in a sort of pundit fantasyland where we all agree to talk about stuff that we all know nobody truly cares about."

And here is a refutation of an anti-health care reform argument, A Health Reform Critic Flunks Math.

Google 2.4% Rate Shows How $60 Billion Lost to Tax Loopholes

Bloomberg reports that Google is really good at managing its taxes. Google 2.4% Rate Shows How $60 Billion Lost to Tax Loopholes.

"Google Inc. cut its taxes by $3.1 billion in the last three years using a technique that moves most of its foreign profits through Ireland and the Netherlands to Bermuda. Google’s income shifting -- involving strategies known to lawyers as the ‘Double Irish’ and the ‘Dutch Sandwich’ -- helped reduce its overseas tax rate to 2.4 percent, the lowest of the top five U.S. technology companies by market capitalization, according to regulatory filings in six countries."

John McCain: The Man Who Never Was

Vanity Fair has a long artilce on John McCain, The Man Who Never Was. I think the most interesting paragraph was this...

"At one point last summer, J. D. Hayworth said the country was better off with Obama as president than it would have been with an unreliably conservative McCain. McCain took great umbrage, but it’s an interesting thought experiment to imagine what the first two years of a McCain-Palin partnership in the White House might have produced. There would probably have been no stimulus bill, and the country’s economic condition would be no better (and probably worse). General Motors and Chrysler would have been allowed to go bankrupt rather than helped to emerge into a state of healthiness, as they may well be doing. There would have been no significant new regulation of the financial industry. The Bush tax cuts for those Americans with the highest incomes—something McCain had opposed before reversing himself—would have been extended. There would have been only modest health-insurance reform, at best—McCain’s proposals were Republican boilerplate and meant for use in the campaign, never a serious program. Perhaps there would have been greater progress on immigration, though McCain had already abandoned that issue, and it’s easier to imagine his taking the more nativist stance he has since adopted. There would be no Supreme Court justices Kagan and Sotomayor, but there would likely be two more conservative justices, and the days of Roe v. Wade would be numbered. There would be no troop drawdown in Iraq. The United States might well have bombed or blockaded Iran in response to that country’s flawed election last year, or in response to its nuclear program. There would have been serial feuds between aides to the president and vice president, but the fact that Vice President Palin had an independent power base, far larger and more enthusiastic than McCain’s own, would have limited what President McCain could do about it. The ‘Ground Zero mosque’ dispute would probably have arisen anyway, and McCain might have been hard put to do anything but side with the opponents. The Palin-family soap opera would now be daily fodder for the national press rather than mainly the tabloids. Like Obama, President McCain would probably have been asked to give the commencement address at Arizona State University. Unlike Obama, he would probably have been awarded an honorary degree."

Joe Miller's private "guards" were active-duty military

Glenn Greenwald writes Joe Miller's private "guards" were active-duty military.

"One of the more disturbing election incidents took place in Alaska on Sunday night, when private 'guards' working for GOP Senate nominee Joe Miller forcibly detained and handcuffed a journalist as he tried to ask the candidate questions which he did not want to answer."

"This story became much worse yesterday when video was released that was taken by a reporter from the Anchorage Daily News showing that these guards thuggishly threatened at least two other reporters, from ADN, with physical detention as they tried to find out what happened, demanded that they leave or else 'be handcuffed,' and physically blocked them from filming the incident all while threatening to physically remove them from the event, which was advertised to the public."

But revelations today have made the story much, much worse still.  ADN now reports that not only was Joe Miller's excuse for why he had hired private guards a lie, but two of the guards who handcuffed the journalist and threatened others are active-duty soldiers in the U.S. military:"

More on Separation of Church and State

Christine O'Donnell: I Won That First Amendment Debate! "'It's really funny the way that the media reports things,' O'Donnell told ABC News this morning. 'After that debate my team and I we were literally high fiving each other thinking that we had exposed he doesn't know the First Amendment, and then when we read the reports that said the opposite we were all like 'what?''"

She went on to say that he ignored the next phrase in the First Amendment " or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". But I don't know that he's campaigned on preventing some exercise of religion or what religious exercise she feels is being prohibited that she feels the need to defend. If O'Donnell's point is that "separation of church and state" doesn't appear in the constitution I'd say that Rick never said "Play it again Sam" in Casablanca but that doesn't prevent millions from misquoting it.

What she's missing is any interpretation by the Supreme Court on the matter, which Coons did mention in the debate. Jefferson wrote the phrase "a wall of separation between church and State" in a letter about the constitution and proposed different amendments on the matter before the first amendment was ratified. Jeffersons letter has been quoted in Supreme Court cases bringing the phrase into Constitutional law. He also added the No Religious Test Clause to Article VI, "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Anyway I used this as an opportunity to learn about some of the more important relevant cases.

Of course free exercise of religion can be regulated if there is a compelling state interest. You can't sacrifice your first born even if God tells you to. I think the first time such a question came before the court was Reynolds v. United States (1878). The court found that a Morman charged with bigamy could not claim it was his religious duty to have multiple wives to get around a law. This is also the first case that quotes Jefferson's letter bringing the phrase "a wall of separation between church and State" into constitutional law.

A 1947 case, Everson v. Board of Education was about a tax payer suing to prevent his money from funding the religious education of others. "A New Jersey law authorized payment by local school boards of the costs of transportation to and from schools - including private schools. Of the private schools that benefited from this policy, 96% were parochial Catholic schools." He lost, but the decision written by Justice Black defined a test to be used in such cases and for the first time incorporated the establishment clause on the states. Meaning it applied not just to federal laws but to state laws. It was a 5-4 opinion based on the fact that money was given to parents (not churches) for sending children to any school (not just religious ones). The dissenters said "Here parents pay money to send their children to parochial schools and funds raised by taxation are used to reimburse them."

Engel v. Vitale in 1962 was the first prayer in public school case. It found by 6-1 that a state could not write even a non-denominational prayer and require it to be said at the beginning of school. The dissenter was Justice Potter Stewart and he argued that separation of church and state doesn't appear in the constitution and God is mentioned on US coins, in the Nation Anthem and int he Pledge of Allegiance.

The current governing test is the Lemon Test from Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971). All three of these must be true for a law to be constitutional with respect to the establishment clause:

1. The government's action must have a secular legislative purpose;
2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.

Apparently in following cases Lemon has been applied haphazardly and Justices Scalia and Thomas don't like it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mac Event

So today was a big Mac event. They announced iLife '11, Facetime for Mac, gave a brief preview of OS X 10.7 aka Lion and announced the new MacBook Air. Here are some thoughts.

The iLife upgrade seems like a pretty reasonable evolution. All I use is iPhone and I like the new stuff but it just seems that stuff will be easier and nicer and not that there's much new to do. The changes to iMovie are more significant with better audio editing and face detection in video. The movie trailer stuff is cute, but I'd be surprised if anyone used it more than three times. Maybe teenagers will post tons of them to facebook. The Garage Band stuff is nice, maybe I'll learn how to play keyboards (haven't played since 8th grade).

I've installed the facetime beta and used it once. It's fine, but I probably won't use much if at all. I don't use it on my phone and I don't see any improvement on using iChat video with my sister.

I'm not so sure about the Air. First off the base 2GB isn't enough, so plan on $100 more for the 4GB option (which seems reasonable for an Apple memory upgrade). While flash mem is great, it is expensive. 128GB total storage? Not so sure. If you go 256GB then you're at $1699 and why not get a small macbook or mb pro for about $500 less (and with a faster processor)? If you go smaller and use it as a second machine, then you have to sync stuff and syncing with an iPad is much easier. I guess if you don't have much music or photos or video then maybe 128GB is ok and it is tiny.

Before the event, I thought the app store rumors were lame, but after Steve announced it, it made perfect sense. For small indie developers, setting up a site and dealing with licensing and upgrades (even with sparkle) is a pain. Also, the discoverability of apps for regular users that don't scan all the sites/reviews will help the developers a lot. It's optional, but provided Apple's fees are small (much less than the 30% they take for iOS apps) and restrictions are minor, it could be very nice.

The rest of Lion features weren't that interesting and seemed mostly logical or dumb. The green button now does what everybody thinks it does (full screen), expose/spaces is expanded a little. The launcher doesn't seem any nicer than the dock and most people don't have a lot of apps (maybe the store changes that). Folders in the launcher that look like iOS looked dumb. I still expect some big features like spotlight or time machine in Lion.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why Have Deficits Exploded?

Paul Krugman wrote on Tue, Why Have Deficits Exploded? and showed this graph:


I didn't see this post until today and just before that I was working on creating the same graph. I came up with this one:

fredgraph-1 1.png

I think Krugman's is all governments, state and federal (and maybe local) and mine is just federal, which I think is more relevant. Also by showing a longer timeline, the trend is clear and the Reagan deficits stands out. Clinton's surplus is also clear and it's clear he did it by raising government income, and it's not mostly by raising taxes but by growing the economy (the blue line is the change in GDP from the previous year), and that's clearly what we need now.

How Tea Partiers Get the Constitution Wrong

Newsweek had a great article, How Tea Partiers Get the Constitution Wrong. It concludes:

"The Tea Partiers are right to revere the Constitution. It’s a remarkable, even miraculous document. But there are many Constitutions: the Constitution of 1789, of 1864, of 1925, of 1936, of 1970, of today. Where O’Donnell & Co. go wrong is in insisting that their idealized document is the country’s one true Constitution, and that dissenters are somehow un-American. By putting the Constitution front and center, the Tea Party has reinvigorated a long-simmering argument over who we are and who we want to be. That’s great. But to truly honor the Founders’ spirit, they have to make room for actual debate. As usual, Thomas Jefferson put it best. In a letter to a friend in 1816, he mocked ‘men [who] look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched’; ‘who ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment.’ ‘Let us follow no such examples, nor weakly believe that one generation is not as capable as another of taking care of itself, and of ordering its own affairs,’ he concluded. ‘Each generation is as independent as the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before.’ Amen."

See Comet Hartley 2

Sky and Telescope provides some great pictures of Comet Hartley 2 and gives instructions on how to spot it during the next few weeks.

Clarence Thomas’s Wife Asks Anita Hill for Apology

The New York Times wrote Clarence Thomas’s Wife Asks Anita Hill for Apology. "Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left a message last weekend on the voicemail of Anita Hill, who accused her husband of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings, a spokeswoman for Ms. Thomas confirmed on Tuesday."

Ok, here's the bizarre message. “Good morning, Anita Hill, it’s Ginny Thomas,” she said, according to ABC News. “I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. Okay have a good day.”

Now I could see being quite surprised by this, or thinking it's a prank, but would you do this? "Andrew Gully, senior vice president of the Brandeis University Communications office, confirmed that Ms. Hill had received the message, that she had turned it over to the campus Department of Public Safety Monday. They, in turn, passed it on to the FBI."

I had missed this op-ed Hill wrote 3 years ago after Thomas' book came out.

I Want to See This

Deadline reports Ben Affleck Mulling ‘Replay’. "Warner Bros is in early talks with Ben Affleck to come aboard to direct and possibly star in Replay, a Jason Smilovic-scripted adaptation of a Ken Grimwood novel." I loved the novel and think it could be a great movie.

Mad Men Finale

Heather Havrilesky wrote a brilliant and spoiler full review of the Mad Men finale: Hello darkness, my old friend. She found much more in it than I did and I don't have anything more to add.

The season had some great moments and perhaps the great depth to the writing, but I think it wasn't quite as exciting as some of the previous ones.

Update: Ezra Klein has a different take Is Don Draper right?.

The True Size of Africa

This infographic was making the rounds last week. Information Is Beautiful has more.

true_size_of_africa 1.png

Greenhouse on Breyer

Linda Greenhouse on Justice Breyer's new book, Making Congress All It Can Be. I look forward to reading the book.

Christine O'Donnell is Ignorant

This clip from a radio debate between Chris Coons and Christine O'Donnell this morning. She's an evolution denier and sought some argument about the separation of church and state being in the constitution. Maybe she meant to say the phrase doesn't appear in the text, though Coons did right to say it's in the first amendment and supporting Supreme Court case law.

One nice thing is that seems to still talk as much as she did on Politically Incorrect in the nineties. Hopefully it's apparent to a large majority of voters how dumb she is.

In Climate Denial, Again

The New York Times had an editorial, In Climate Denial, Again. " With one exception [Mark Kirk in IL], none of the Republicans running for the Senate — including the 20 or so with a serious chance of winning — accept the scientific consensus that humans are largely responsible for global warming."

Didn't the stimulus take care of our infrastructure needs?

On Real Time with Bill Maher last week, he had tea partier Dana Loesch on (who I'd never heard of). The impression I got was the standard one. They hate the stimulus, are misinformed about it and have no real plan other than lowering taxes and stopping spending (except on defense). When asked what specifically she'd cut, she didn't name anything other than the stimulus (which is already done). When Dan Neil cited some stats she came up with the brilliant followup that some people dispute those figures. Anyway while catching up on a backlog of RSS feeds I came across this from Ezra Klein, Didn't the stimulus take care of our infrastructure needs?

"That suggests it would be useful to go back and review Recovery and Reinvestment Act's spending. The proposal finished at $787 billion. Of this, infrastructure accounted for a bit more than $100 billion. Where did the rest go? Well, $288 billion went to tax cuts and incentives. Another $150 billion went to the health-care system, most of it to help Medicaid and COBRA deal with the millions of Americans who'd lost their jobs and, thus, their health-care coverage. Education got another $100 billion, with most of it going to local school systems so they could avoid layoffs and continue with needed building maintenance. About $82 billion went to aid for unemployed workers, including unemployment benefits and food stamps. About another $50 billion went to scientific research, housing subsidies, miscellaneous other items like law enforcement. Wikipedia has a detailed breakdown here."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tuning Canabalt

Pretty interesting read on Tuning Canabalt. "A friend asked recently if I'd thought about putting the source code to my Flash game Canabalt up on the web for people to pick apart and study.  He thought it would be handy for people to see just how the player physics were set up, etc.  I still feel a little leery about putting all the source up for a couple of reasons, but mainly this: source code for a game written in 5 days is a hellish wasteland of spaghetti balls that isn't gonna help anybody.  So, in honor of Canabalt's first birthday (back on September 1st), why not write a guided tour of how everything works instead?"

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tech Support

I wish todays xkcd, Tech Support were true.

The XIX Commonwealth Games Photos

The Big Picture has some crazy amazing photos of The XIX Commonwealth Games. "After much worry and criticism before the start, the nineteenth Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India have now reached a successful conclusion without any of the disastrous events that had been predicted. Of the 71 participating countries, Australia topped the medal chart, taking home 177 medals, 74 of them gold. Host nation India also fared well, coming in second overall with 101 medals. The games were held from October 3rd through the 14th, ending with a closing ceremony in New Delhi yesterday. Collected here are photographs of the XIX Commonwealth Games from around India over the past couple of weeks. (51 photos total)

26 Sitting Lawmakers Corrupting the Halls of Congress

26 Sitting Lawmakers Corrupting the Halls of Congress "Corrupt lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are polluting the United States Capitol. These members highlight the need for increased oversight by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), as well as the need for a similar independent ethics watchdog in the Senate. Today my organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released The Most Corrupt Members of Congress: Unfinished Business, which highlights the need for active ethics enforcement in Congress. The report shows that ethical lapses are the only true bipartisan activity in Washington today."

For Runners, Static Stretching May Be Outdated

NPR reports For Runners, Static Stretching May Be Outdated.

"At the end of three months, Pereles found that 16 percent of all the runners had sustained an injury. But it turns out the stretchers fared no better than the non-stretchers.

'I was surprised actually that the stretching didn't prevent injury,' says Pereles. 'But that's just the way it was. There was absolutely no benefit.'

At the same time, the researchers in Pereles' study spotted an interesting trend among runners who'd been in the habit of stretching before the study began: Those who were put in the 'no-stretch' group sustained more injuries during the three-month experiment."

It goes on to discuss dynamic stretching.

Not All Terrorists Are Muslims

Given the stupid Bill O'Reilly appearance on The View yesterday, Glenn Greenwald reminds us that not all terrorists are Muslims.

A Modern U.S. President

Thursday, October 14, 2010

John Sculley interview on Apple and Steve Jobs

Cult of Mac has a great interview, John Sculley on Steve Jobs "It’s long but worth reading because there are some awesome insights into how Jobs does things."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

TEDTalk: Dan Gilbert on our mistaken expectations

Dan Gilbert on our mistaken expectations "Dan Gilbert presents research and data from his exploration of happiness -- sharing some surprising tests and experiments that you can also try on yourself. Watch through to the end for a sparkling Q&A with some familiar TED faces."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Progressive Hunter

John Hamilton wrote a scary piece in Media Matters, Progressive Hunter. " How the right-wing media and Glenn Beck's chalkboard drove Byron Williams to plot assassination"

Top 10 Craziest Tea Party Quotes of All Time

Above The Chatter: Fantasy, Falsehoods and Delusions "It has been quite a year in politics especially with the emergence of the Tea Party. The Tea Party now has several candidates on the ballots of many states in key political positions. To find out what some of the Tea Party's movers and shakers are saying, here are the 'Top 10 Craziest Tea Party Quotes of All Time.'"

Inside The Senate’s Battle Over Climate Change

Ryan Lizza wrote a fantastic article in the New Yorker, Inside the Senate’s battle over climate change. It's very much an insider's view and walks you through all the deals and hurt feelings. In the end, I respect all involved significantly less, except of all people Lindsey Graham (well I didn't respect him all that much to begin with).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Foreign Donations Missing Anonymous Part

For all the complaints about foreign donations going to the Chamber of Commerce which is funding political ads, I'm surprised more isn't made of the anonymous part. Anonymous donations were actually brought up in the Citizens United decision and 8 out of 9 justices thought it was constitutional to require donators be named (that is banning anonymous donations). Thomas was the only one supporting anonymous donations (on a free speech grounds, since it would clearly stifle those speakers that wanted to remain anonymous or felt threatened). Now it's a bit different since it's not donations directly to candidates but to groups that directly produce "political ads", but I'm still surprised I haven't heard mention of it at all.

So it 10/10/10


Here's the part I don't get. Check out Yahoo Answers, Whats the big deal about 10.10.10?.

"It happens once every 1000 years." Um, no it happens every hundred years. Oct 10, 2110 will also be 10/10/10.

"Only happens on Sunday, once every 400 years." Um, no. Let's see, there are 7 days in a week,...

Why are people dumb?

I do like that 101010 is binary for 42.

And 11/11/11 will be in 13 months.

The National Ignition Facility

The Big Picture has some crazy amazing science photos in The National Ignition Facility.

"'Creating a miniature star on Earth' is the goal of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), home to the world's largest and highest-energy laser in Livermore, California. On September 29th, 2010, the NIF completed its first integrated ignition experiment, where it focused its 192 lasers on a small cylinder housing a tiny frozen capsule containing hydrogen fuel, briefly bombarding it with 1 megajoule of laser energy. The experiment was the latest in a series of tests leading to a hoped-for 'ignition', where the nuclei of the atoms of the fuel inside the target capsule are made to fuse together releasing tremendous energy - potentially more energy than was put in to start the initial reaction, becoming a valuable power source. The NIF has cost over $3.5 billion since 1997 and is a part of the federally funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Scientists at NIF say they hope to achieve fusion by 2012. (27 photos total)"

Grover is the Old Spice Guy

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Movie Review: The Social Network

The Social Network reminded me how much I miss The West Wing. It's all Aaron Sorkin trademark dialog and it starts in the first scene with two people talking and keeping multiple threads dangling simultaneously. I was just shocked that they were sitting and not walking down a corridor.

As everyone knows at this point it's the story of the founding of Facebook based on a controversial book by Ben Mezrich called The Accidental Billionaires.

I liked the early scenes best. There's a great breakup in a bar, a number of good Harvard scenes and the story of Zuckerberg's prank site, facemash. The rest had some good moments and lines but all seemed a similar blur switching between 20 year-olds trying to talk like businessmen with characters coding in the background and parties with drunk women. All of this was interspersed with depositions from two lawsuits.

Jesse Eisenberg apparently did a good job as Zuckerberg, but he seemed like every other character I've seen him play, even with Sorkin dialog coming out of his mouth. The other actors were all fine but not particularly noteworthy. Their job was to deliver lines not really to build characters.

David Fincher directed. I didn't notice much of his trademark visual flare, but then that might be the mark of a very good job. I didn't realize that the twins in the film were mostly just one actor. Benjamin Button built up his digital skills well. The soundtrack (by Trent Reznor) did a great job pulling my forward in my seat and building up some adrenaline while watching people sit in a chair and type.

In the end, I think all the partying added to plot did more to make me disbelieve the story I saw than to make the story more exciting or dramatic. Then again, I realized that The Social Network wasn't the first film to show emacs on screen, it might have been the first to mention it by name. Noticing that probably removes me from the target demographic.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Turducken of Pastry

This Is a Cake With Pies Baked Inside of It. "The Pumpple, consisting of apple and pumpkin pies "baked inside layers of chocolate and vanilla cake." This Pumpple comes from The Flying Monkey Patisserie in Philadelphia."

Ezra Klein

Ezra Klein in the Washington Post has become one of my favorite reads. Here are a few recent articles,

Austan Goolsbee on the Bush tax cuts, a payroll-tax holiday and what he'd do with $700 billion.

Will America come to envy Japan's lost decade?. He quotes Goldman Sachs's Jan Hatzius and Paul Krugman and concludes, "So the political system is biased toward caution, which isn't a particularly good bias to have amid a financial crisis that requires massive, unconventional economic policy interventions. But because the policies were too cautious, they don't solve the problem, and that discredits them, which leaves the government without tools and the economy in tatters. It's a bit like taking too few antibiotics, noticing that you're still sick, and swearing off antibiotics altogether."

He then quotes Martin Feldstein on the stimulus " As Feldstein says, the stimulus was too small, and the proper argument now is over how to do more of it, not whether we should do more of it -- or, even worse, whether we should have done it at all."

He then pointed to this great graphic, Why it doesn't feel like a recovery by Neil Irwin in the Washington Post. I can't embed it so visit the article.

Let’s Get Our Priorities Straight

Kevin Drum pointed to this article by Michael Linden and Heather Boushey, Let’s Get Our Priorities Straight.


"All those facts and figures reinforce what most people already know: The middle class took this recession right on the chin while the rich suffered no more than a glancing blow. And yet somehow in Washington the talk is all about tax cuts for rich people."

"This is how absurd our national conversation has become. We’re actually fighting over whether we should borrow hundreds of billions of dollars and give that money to the only group of people in the country who are already back on track. Instead of focusing on a policy that would exclusively benefit those who make more than $250,000 a year we should be discussing how to get wages and middle-class incomes rising again, the best ways to bring people out of poverty, and what we can do to address the ever-widening disparities between the super-rich and everyone else."

Bank of America Halts Foreclosures

The Wall Street Journal writes BofA Halts Foreclosures. "Bank of America Corp. is placing a moratorium on all foreclosure proceedings and sales across the U.S. amid mounting political pressure on big U.S. banks to examine foreclosure-documentation problems."

I first heard about this issue last night on the Daily Show. Here's the interesting part to me: "The nation's largest bank by assets is the first financial institution to stop all foreclosure actions amid revelations that the banking industry had used "robo-signers," people who sign hundreds of documents a day without reviewing their contents, when foreclosing on homes."

Really? Robo-signers? The banks don't even read the forms they generate before they sign them? It seems no one reads documents before they sign them. No one reads license agreements before they click Accept. No one reads cell phone agreements or credit card agreements or insurance policies. You can't. They're in legalese and are too long and depend on external contract law knowledge to really understand. The issue is we can't just refuse to sign or accept them because then you can't do anything. Elizabeth Warren is absolutely right that regulation is needed to clean this up. There's no other way.

Mac Smart Folders

I've previously posted some tips on using smart folders on a mac, here's another one from MacWorld, Smart ways to work with smart folders. It contains at least one thing I didn't know...

"OS X lets you create a smart folder from within an application’s Open or Save dialog box, and then save it so that it’s visible only when you’re using that application. Start in the application, and choose File -> Open or File -> Save. Press Command-F or click in the Spotlight search field in the dialog box. As soon as you type something, the search bar appears just as it does in Finder search windows, letting you set parameters such as the scope of the search, and even add criteria bars. When you click the Save button in the Search bar, the dialog box that appears provides a special option: Display Smart Folder For This Application Only. Check the box, and a new category—Saved Searches—appears in the dialog box’s sidebar, with your new smart folder listed beneath it. Every application gets its own personal Saved Searches list, and none of these smart folders show in the Finder sidebar."

It sounds like that's only useful in an apps Open dialog, because you can't save to a smart folder.

Smart folders can be really useful, but in practice I don't use them very much. I don't use any in the Finder. I have a pretty good organizational scheme for my Documents folder and use Quicksilver (or spotlight) to find stuff quickly. I use a few in Mail, mostly to filter out messages to mailing lists without removing them from Inbox. I used to use a Recently Viewed mail folder, but now that I use IMAP with GMail and don't copy the enormous Archived folder to my mac, it's less useful since it doesn't show deleted (archived) messages.

Do you have clever uses for smart folders?

Campbell's Makes Halal Soups

TPM writes Sound The Sharia Alarm! Campbell's Makes Halal Soups.

"Earlier this year, Campbell Canada introduced a line of halal-certified soups. The 15 soups comply with Islamic dietary regulations which, much like kosher regulations, prohibit certain foods and define the right way to slaughter animals."

And the nuts go nuts...

"So why is Campbell's Soup rushing to do its bidding?" Spencer wrote on Tuesday. "'M-M-Muslim Brotherhood Good?'"

"Park51 opponent Pamela Geller is now calling for a boycott of Campbell's."

"The Tea Party Nation is on board, too, tweeting today, " Campbell's now making Muslim approved soups. Mmmmm Mmmmm not good. No more campbells for me.""

"A Facebook group created just Tuesday called "Boycott Campbell Soup" already has almost 2,000 members."

Timeline Reader

AP shows a really nice (experimental?) HTML5 Timeline Reader for news stories. Modern browsers only.

2010 Nobel Prizes

Medicine - Robert Edwards Wins Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for Pioneering In Vitro Fertilization. "Edwards' work with Patrick Steptoe resulted in the first birth of a test-tube baby--Louise Brown in 1978."

Physics - Graphene Researchers Geim and Novoselov Win Nobel Prize in Physics. "One-atom-thick sheets of carbon have been on the scene for just six years but have already drawn a wealth of research interest." In 2000 Geim won an IgNobel for levitating a frog with magnets.

Chemistry - Nobel Prize in Chemistry Honors Technique for Synthesizing Complex Compounds. "Three chemists will share the award for developing chemical reactions that enable the building of complex organic compounds with wide applications in medicine, industry and agriculture."

Literature - Vargas Llosa Is Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature. "The Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, whose deeply political work vividly examines the perils of power and corruption in Latin America, won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday. Announcing the award in Stockholm, the Swedish Academy praised Mr. Vargas Llosa “for his cartography of the structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt and defeat.”"

Peace - Nobel Peace Prize Given to Jailed Chinese Dissident. "Liu Xiaobo, an impassioned literary critic, political essayist and democracy advocate repeatedly jailed by the Chinese government for his writings, has won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of 'his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China'.”

Economics - Economics Nobel Awarded for Efforts to Understand and Fight Unemployment. "Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) associate professor Peter A. Diamond, Northwestern University professor Dale T. Mortensen and Longer School of Economics and Political Science professor Christopher A. Pissarides won the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences on Monday. Their work in the 1970s and 1980s sought to explain "search friction," in particular in the employment market, where unemployed workers and employers expend time, effort and money to find and fill job openings."

Thursday, October 07, 2010

President Obama Acting Like Bush on Signing Statements and Intelligence Oversight

Jake Tapper reports In 'Signing Statement,' President Obama Affirms Right to Keep Tight the Circle of Congressmen in the Loop "Congress told President Obama in the new Intelligence Bill that if he didn’t describe covert actions to all the members of the full House and Senate Intelligence Committees, he at least needed to give them a ‘general description’ of the activities. But in a signing statement the president issued today, the president said he was interpreting the notion of providing a ‘general description’ to mean that he would notify them that there was something he wasn’t telling them."

Ok, I'm not happy about this for a few reasons. First off, I don't like games with signing statements. Second, is this: "Presidents in general aren’t all that keen about looping in members of what they see as a leak-prone Congress when it comes to the most sensitive operations the US conducts, and President Obama is not different. He has asserted the right to keep the pool of those informed narrow, confining such information to the “Gang of Eight” – the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees."

One of the big problems with just telling the 'Gang of Eight' about covert operations was that since the info they received was classified they couldn't tell the rest of their committee members and therefore couldn't bring it up in committee and therefore couldn't do anything about it. The effect was not just that the president was limiting who knew about the actions, he was preventing Congress from performing any oversight on the matter.

This is more Bush crap that Obama is perpetrating and it's wrong.

Saturn’s Rings Formed from Large Moon’s Destruction?

Saturn’s Rings Formed from Large Moon’s Destruction.

"Canup’s new alternative theory is that Titan-sized moon with a rocky core and an icy mantle spiraled into Saturn early in solar system history. Tidal forces ripped off part of the icy mantle, distributing it into what would become the rings. But the rocky core was made of more durable material that held together until it hit Saturn’s surface. ‘The end result is a pure ice ring,’ Canup said in an article in Nature.

Over time the ring spreads out and its mass decreases, and icy moons are created. Due to changes in the evolving Saturn system, these ‘spawned’ moons then spiraled outward rather than inward. In this way, ice rings and ice-enhanced inner moons originate as a primordial byproduct of the same process that produces Saturn’s regular satellite system, making the whole process simpler than if there were several events."

And on a similar note, Cassini Catches Saturn Moons in Paintball Fight. "Scientists using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have learned that distinctive, colorful bands and splotches embellish the surfaces of Saturn’s inner, mid-size moons. The reddish and bluish hues on the icy surfaces of Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione and Rhea appear to be the aftermath of bombardments large and small."

Law Suit Graphs

Seems there's a new trend in graphs of who's suing whom...

The Guardian wrote Microsoft sues Motorola over Android – and all the other mobile lawsuits, visually.


The New York Times wrote An Explosion of Mobile Patent Lawsuits....


And Information is Beautiful wrote Who’s Suing Whom In The Telecoms Trade?NewImage.jpg

Senate sitting on 420 bills passed by House

Senate sitting on 420 bills passed by House - War Room - "The new numbers are in, and the tally of bills stalled in the World's Most Deliberative Body now stands at 420. According to The Hill, the gap grew by 48 bills during the three weeks Congress was in session in September"

"Senate procedural reform should probably be the number one progressive priority, considering that the Senate is what is standing in the way of most other big domestic progressive goals (softening the blow of years of far-right Republican judicial appointments, appointing liberals to the Fed, fixing the nation's crumbling infrastructure, etc.) -- but I'm not holding my breath."

End of TARP

An op-ed in the Financial Times, How an unloved bail-out saved America.

"America’s troubled asset relief programme – better known as Tarp – died on Sunday, at the age of two. The causes of death were bitter politics and financial illiteracy. Hatched in the post-Lehman bankruptcy panic, Tarp allowed Barack Obama, US president, and his predecessor, George W. Bush, to bypass laborious Congressional approval and deploy $700bn to rescue a collapsing financial system. In its short life Tarp soon became the programme that everyone loved to hate.

To conservatives it epitomised the meddling nature of a bail-out nation. To liberals it rewarded the same Wall Street financiers who took the economy down. And Congress quickly recognised that flexible Tarp capital was precisely the opposite of what the legislative body likes to do, which is to micromanage funding requests, not issue blank cheques. But instead of euthanising Tarp we should be eulogising it as, without exaggeration, this legislation did more to keep America’s financial system – and therefore its economy – functioning than any passed since the 1930s."

‘The Wire’ Monopoly Game

I want ‘The Wire’ Monopoly Game:.

“The Wire is all about corners,” says Hasbro spokesperson Jane McDougall, “and the Monopoly board is all about corners. It was a natural fit.”

GOP Gains Advantage After 'Citizens United' Ruling

NPR wrote GOP Gains Advantage After 'Citizens United' Ruling "We've been writing a lot lately about the heavy spending this campaign season by interest groups who've been freed up to put lots and lots of ads on TV because of the Supreme Court's ruling earlier this year in the Citizens United case.

On All Things Considered today, NPR's Don Gonyea and Mara Liasson look at what the millions of dollars of money being spent by the independent groups is doing to the Republican and Democratic parties."

Lou Dobbs, American Hypocrite

The Nation writes Lou Dobbs, American Hypocrite "Based on a yearlong investigation, including interviews with five immigrants who worked without papers on his properties, The Nation and the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute have found that Dobbs has relied for years on undocumented labor for the upkeep of his multimillion-dollar estates and the horses he keeps for his 22-year-old daughter, Hillary, a champion show jumper."

Why Wesabe Lost to Mint

Here's a pretty interesting starup post-mortem Why Wesabe Lost to Mint by Wasabe founder Marc Hedlund. I've never heard of Wesabe and have never used Mint.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Save Science Friday

Jim Fruchterman wrote in the Huffington Post : 'Science Friday' Radio Program Faces Funding Crisis. "We at SciFri are facing severe financial difficulties, i.e. raising money. NSF [National Science Foundation] has turned us down for continuing funding, saying they love what we do, we are sorely needed, but it's not their job to fund us. At the same time, NPR has said the same thing, telling us that if we want to stay on the air, etc, we now have to raise all our own money. Despite what listeners may think, NPR only gives us about 10 percent of our funding."

You can done here or become a sponsor here. "Until the end of 2010, the Noyce Foundation will match your gift to the Science Friday Initiative $2 to $1."

Science Journalism

Last week Martin Robbins wrote a spoof article, This is a news website article about a scientific finding "In the standfirst I will make a fairly obvious pun about the subject matter before posing an inane question I have no intention of really answering: is this an important scientific finding?" It went on and on and was quite amusing.

This week he follows up, Why I spoofed science journalism. "A science journalist should be capable of, at a minimum, reading a scientific paper and being able to venture a decent opinion. A more reasonable excuse is lack of time. Full-time reporters are expected to cover breaking stories quickly, and churn out several articles a day. Under that sort of pressure, even if the journalist wants to delve deeper into the murky depths of a story they may simply not have the time to do it justice.

Ultimately, though, if all you're doing is repeating press releases, and not providing your own insight, analysis or criticism, then what exactly is the point of paying you? What are you for? What value do you add for me? What right do you have to complain if you're going out of business?"

"Many of the problems in science reporting come not from the journalists or editors themselves, but as a result of the pressures and constraints they're under, and journalists at the BBC are under more constraints than most."

"In 2010, news stories on a website are actually being optimised, and reorganised for Teletext. Seriously." The rest of the points were spot on and explained the scientific process well (as news articles generally don't). And my favorite quote:

"It was several decades before the full significance of the 1896 observation by Svante Arrhenius that increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere would lead to an increase in global temperature became obvious. Or at least obvious to all but a minority of ideologically driven morons."

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Mad Men Reading List

The New York Public Library has a Mad Men Reading List "If you follow The Battery Park City Library on Twitter then you've seen our tweets linking to books that have appeared in the hit television show Mad Men. These titles are a great way to gain insight into the episodes and the social and cultural times in which the series is set. Like the set and costume design, the literary choices of the show really add a stamp of authenticity. Dipping into these classics is also a great way to help with withdrawals while waiting for new episodes to air."

Public Option Taken Off The Table Due To Understanding With Hospitals

The Wonk Room at Think Progress wrote Daschle: Public Option ‘Taken Off The Table’ In July Due To ‘Understanding People Had With Hospitals’ "In his book, Daschle reveals that after the Senate Finance Committee and the White House convinced hospitals to to accept $155 billion in payment reductions over ten years on July 8, the hospitals and Democrats operated under two ‘working assumptions.’ ‘One was that the Senate would aim for health coverage of at least 94 percent of Americans,’ Daschle writes. ‘The other was that it would contain no public health plan,’ which would have reimbursed hospitals at a lower rate than private insurers."

But then when TPM asked Daschle about it, he changed his mind. "In describing some of the challenges to passage of the public option in the health reform bill, I did not mean to suggest in any way that the President was not committed to it," Daschle emails. "The President fought for the public option just as he did for affordable health care for all Americans. The public option was dropped only when it was no longer viable in Congress, not as a result of any deal cut by the White House. While I was disappointed that the public option was not included in the final legislation, the Affordable Care Act remains a tremendous achievement for the President and the nation."

And of course Glenn Greenwald wrote about it at the time and has comments about this.

Civilian Trials Beat Military Commissions

Ben Smith wrote at Politico Pete King on Shahzad: 'A bit of luck involved' "The swift conviction and life sentence for the attempted Times Square bomber Faisal Shazad looks, on its face, like a triumph for the civilian legal system's ability to try terrorists. Shahzad was arrested, read his rights, tried, convicted, and sentenced, while other terror suspects languish in the troubled military commission system. "

He goes on to talk with skeptic Rep Peter King but of course this was an easy case and because of torture, the remaining Guantanamo cases aren't.

Found in Translation

The author of The Hours, Michael Cunningham, wrote Found in Translation in the New York Times about writing, translating and reading.

"As the author of “Las Horas,” “Die Stunden” and “De Uren” — ostensibly the Spanish, German and Dutch translations of my book “The Hours," but actually unique works in their own right — I’ve come to understand that all literature is a product of translation. That is, translation is not merely a job assigned to a translator expert in a foreign language, but a long, complex and even profound series of transformations that involve the writer and reader as well. “Translation” as a human act is, like so many human acts, a far more complicated proposition than it may initially seem to be."

Monday, October 04, 2010

Lessig on The Social Network

I haven't seen The Social Network yet but I will soon. Lawrence Lessig wrote a pseudo-review Sorkin vs. Zuckerberg in The New Republic. "What it shows is worth watching. But what it doesn’t show is an understanding of the most important social and economic platform for innovation in our history." He (not surprisingly) makes the case for Net Neutrality as clear as I've seen.

Justice Stevens Interview

NPR's Justice Stevens Interview: An Open Mind On A Changed Supreme Court is a nice article.

A Taxpayer Receipt

Daniel Pink posted Idea of the day: A Taxpayer Receipt "The goal is to keep Americans informed about where their tax money really goes and to force citizens to confront the hard choices we’ll have to make to do something about our staggering and endless budget deficits. It also offers an antidote to the budget blather on both the right (e.g. Republicans who claim they can balance the budget by snuffing out waste, fraud, and abuse without touching Social Security, Medicare, or defense) and on the left (e.g. Democrats who think that boosting taxes on a small slice of the population will do anything to raise the money needed to finance our spending.)"


Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck in Right Wing Radio Duck

YouTube - Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck in Right Wing Radio Duck ""

"This is a re-imagined Donald Duck cartoon remix constructed using dozens of classic Walt Disney cartoons from the 1930s to 1960s. Donald's life is turned upside-down by the current economic crisis and he finds himself unemployed and falling behind on his house payments. As his frustration turns into despair Donald discovers a seemingly sympathetic voice coming from his radio named Glenn Beck." by Jonathan McIntosh.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Really? This is What They Were Doing?

The AP reported Senate votes to turn down volume on TV commercials "The Senate unanimously passed a bill late Wednesday to require television stations and cable companies to keep commercials at the same volume as the programs they interrupt."

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Cause of the Flash Crash?

The Wall Street Journal reports How a Trading Algorithm Went Awry.

"The eagerly awaited report on the causes of the May 6 'flash crash' portrayed a market so fragmented and fragile that a single large trade could send stocks into a sudden spiral.

The report, released by federal regulators on Friday, went further than many in the market had expected by pinpointing one trade by a mutual-fund company as a key contributing factor to the market's plunge.

Regulators say that the firm— which was Overland Park, Kan.-based Waddell & Reed Financial Inc., according to people familiar with the trading—chose to sell a big number of futures contracts using a computer program that essentially ended up wiping out available buyers in the market.

The 104-page report by the staffs of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said high-frequency traders quickly magnified the impact of the mutual fund's selling. Among other points, the report shows six of 12 high-frequency trading firms remained in the market as stocks began to crash. However, those firms took 'significant' buying power out of the market. As well, the report plays down the impact of data delays and a shutdown of the links between some exchanges, which the SEC directly oversees."