Saturday, July 30, 2005

Movie Review: Fantastic Four

In 1961 Stan Lee and Jack Kirby started Marvel Comics with Fantastic Four #1. They wanted something different from the traditional comic book superheroes. The characters wouldn't be in some Metropolis or Gotham City, they would be in New York. If they had super powers he'd want everyone to know it, so no secret identities. Their heroes would be real people, with real problems like paying the rent and family squabbles and even for a couple of issues, without costumes. FF comics combined adventure (with mundane super-villians and with earth-shattering cosmic ones) with everyday life and a little bit of Quasimodo-like self-pity. This movie, for better or worse, captures this pretty well, but without the earth-shattering cosmic villians.

The bulk of the movie is the obligatory origin story. Reed Richards and his buddy Ben Grimm want to study a space cloud which could unlock the origin of life. NASA turned them down so they turn to Reed's MIT classmate Victor von Doom who's the head of a huge company with its own space station. Sue Storm is a scientist who used to date Reed but now works for and dates Doom and her younger brother Johnny is a pilot who washed out of NASA where he worked with Ben. Doom agrees to help for 75% of any profits and off they all go. The storm hits early and they are subjected to special effects. They return to earth and while under observation at Doom's private medical facility in snow covered mountains find they have super-powers. Johnny can burst into flame (fire), Sue can turn invisible and generate force fields (air), Reed can stretch elastically (water), and Ben has turned into a super-strong rocky orange creature (earth). Doom is also affected and turns into metal and can conduct electricity or something. Reed vows to cure Ben, Johnny is enjoying the celebrity and Sue acts like mom keeping them all from fighting while falling for Reed again. Doom however lost his company somehow and wants revenge against not just Reed but all four of them.

I think the above captures some of the feel of the movie, meandering while trying to get details out that don't really fit together all that well. We see a few scenes were Sue gets mad at Reed for not taking action in their relationship, and that provides the impetus for the resolution but we get nothign to explain what attracted her to him and nothing on her relationship with Doom. Ben's story could be quite tragic, he's become a monster who's site scares children and causes his fiancee to leave him, but again it's treated superficially. Doom's character and company make no sense whatsoever. It's a pre-IPO company with enormous towers and its own space station. It's not clear if he's the CEO or smartest scientist, but for some reason the bankers give him a week to turn things around or they'll back out. Nothing is remotely realistic. And while the four undergo transformation they don't ask Doom if he is, he keeps them secret, and they don't want to examine him to find out why he wasn't affected by the same phenomenon.

There are some funny bits and it's pretty true to the comic. But in comparison with Batman Begins it misses all the details. It turns out the original comic, while ground breaking, isn't all that good by today's standards. Spider-man explores responsibility and the difficulty of having a secret life. The X-Men explores prejudice. The FF are left to explore normalcy and that's not all that interesting for superheroes. The Incredibles seemed to be mostly based on the Fantastic Four, but is so remarkably better it makes this film seem pointless.

Friday, July 29, 2005

100,000 Superballs, Dropped

What's sure to be the meme of the day this photo from FlickrBlog about a commercial being filmed in what looks like San Francisco. Every kids dream.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Removing a brain tumor - a photoset on Flickr

This seems real and is quite disgusting, don't follow the link if you're squimish. But this guy in NJ had a brain tumor and he keeps a blog and is into photography and so was the surgeon and he posted a photoset on Flickr of his surgery and the results. It's been two weeks since surgery and he seems to be doing fine.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Rick Santorum on the Daily Show

Jon Stewart is doing a great job getting Republicans on his show and have "rational discourse". Last night he had Rick Santorum on, who was hawking a new book. The first thing they did was agree that ice cream is a delicious treat but too much could spoil the appetite. They moved on to another simple issue, homosexuality.

Santorum talked about virtue and Stewart said he lived in NY, a sea of homosexuality and it seems virtue is unrelated to homosexuality, and Santorum agreed. Though he went on to say that for raising children the ideal is one man one woman, not that others can't work (he mentioned single women). He went on to say gov't should encourage the ideal. Stewart asked if you can legislate an ideal and Santorum said "of course you can, you have to, we owe it to children, children need a mom and doesn't mean that one parent can't do it but we should be for the ideal"

That doesn't make any sense to me. I thought the government was supposed to protect the minority position because the majority position doesn't need protection. If you legislate that you need a father and mother for children that doesn't allow for single parents. If you have an allowance for single parents, wouldn't two same sex parents be better?

Santorum said he was concerned about the popular culture and the influence on children, that they are bombarded with things that don't promote virtue. Stewart brought up the same thing he has previously, is our culture worse now with things like Victoria Secret ads (which Santorum brought up) or back (only) a few years when segregation was around. Santorum said Segregation and racism were bad and we needed a strong federal government to correct that. Is he a federalist?

Overall, another really good Daily Show, Stewart's on a roll.

...The Whole Truth...

I don't care if Roberts was in the Federalist Society, apparently a lot of talented people are. But if you're asked if you're a member, you don't walk a fine line on the meaning of membership, you describe your affiliations with the group. And if you're the White House you don't continue the deception when caught, unless you're this White House.

Roberts seemed like a slam dunk, now it's not for two things the White House (not Roberts, though he doesn't remember membership in the Federalist Society) did. First is this, second is refusing to provide records of Roberts service to the White House in the 90s. Open and honest is always better than closed and secretive. You'd think a uniter (and not a divider) would know that.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Reason Gonzales Wasn't Nominated

Here is a fun new bit in the Plame case. When the Justice Department started the investigation they first told Gonzales, who was White House counsel at the time, at 8pm. Gonzales told White House chief of staff Andy Card immediately but with the Justice Department's permission waited until the next morning (12 hours) before telling anyone else.

This could be a simple, end of business day thing (anyone know what the standard procedure would be?) or could be an 18 1/2 minute gap thing. Either way, it's clear Gonzales will go through some investigation on this, and that certainly would have delayed any confirmation the Senate would have been doing.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Party of Responsibility

The Party of Responsibility is a great post by Cenk Uygur, a former Republican on how Bush Jr. has lost the lessons of his father. I couldn't agree more.

Sadly, Life Imitate Art

I saw this story on Andrew Sullivan's blog, some good politicaly commentary from a rational, conservative republic, who's also gay. "Ronnie Paris Jr., 21, of Tampa, Florida is accused of abusing his 3-year-old son in an effort to prevent him from being gay, until the boy slipped into a coma and died." The defendant's Bible-study friend, testified, "He didn't want him to be a sissy" Yep, Paris was in Bible study. Maybe there needs to be a "love thy children" commandment.

The oddest part is that The Onion had a fake news story a month ago entitled New Dat Thinks Baby Might be Gay. But even their creativity couldn't imagine a father killing his infant son in this way.

Movie Review: The Village

M. Night Shyamalan's fourth movie is of course difficult to talk about without giving stuff away but I'll try. it's set in a 19th century village surround by woods that the people don't go into because dangerous creatures live in them. The young boys of the village play a game at night of standing with their backs up against the forrest for as long as they can before getting scared. The creatures wear red cloaks and the villagers sometimes wear gold ones.

We meet several families, the Walkers led by Edward (William Hurt) and Kitty (Judy Greer) with two daughters Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is blind and Tabitha (Jayne Atkinson). Alice Hunt (Sigourney Weaver) is a single mother of Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix). Both of the hunt girls have feelings for the restrained and serious Lucius. Then there are Robert and Vivan Percy, parents of Noah (Adrien Brody) who is, as they would say in that time, slow. All of these parents are part of the elder council who rule the town and they have to deal with strange goings on as the creatures start skinning livestock. When someone gets injured, someone ventures through the woods to "the towns" to get medicine.

Since it's a Shyamalan film we know to expect some twist. This meta-knowledge hurts his films. In order to avoid us merely waiting for the end, or constantly thinking up theories, the film has to engage us throughout. Good fleshed out characters and intresting plot developments, not just hints for the twist. I didn't love most of The Sixth Sense, I found it slow and realized that as soon as I got engaged in a scene it switched to another, sometimes abruptly which seemed unnatural, but the ending made up for it. I think Unbreakable was his worst film because I didn't care about the characters (it's hard to care about a numb Bruce Willis) and they themselves would have figured out the twist if they were really in those situations. The film was merely a construct to keep a mystery from the audience at the expense of everything else. Signs got this balance better but still twisted the plot outside of authenticity of the characters that he created.

Ivy is an interesting character and her sister has some life in her. We're not quite sure what they see in Lucius but the romance story moves and is at least enough to hold our interest. William Hurt plays the typical Shyamalan stoic but so do the other adults and in their roles as elders we accept this. Life in this 19th century town is mostly missing. The romance while interesting isn't a lot of screne time and rather than seeing views of everyday life, we see scenes that bait the twist. So I found myself wondering what was going to happen and within the first 10 minutes guessed correctly. There was a point in the middle where I had my doubts but it didn't last long. Now that wouldn't be enough to have ruined this film. What did is how inconsequential the film is. If there was more of a metaphor to our own world or more put into how these people live their lives and the moral choices they make, this film would give us something other than is our twist theory right. Shyamalan's films are films for films' sake, but after a few of them, we've been conditioned to know what to expect. To still entertain, he has to add more to the mix. There is a reason it's so hard to write reviews about his films without giving the ending away, there's nothing else in them to write about.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Firefly Reruns start tonight

Firefly was a great sci-fi series from the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Unfortunately it didn't find it's audience on FOX and it was cancelled after only a few episodes. Like Family Guy, the DVD sales were huge (currently #27 on amazon, was as high as #2) and now a feature film based on it called Serenity is coming out in September. The Sci-Fi channel is starting reruns (in the right order, something FOX didn't do and including 3 episodes never aired) tonight at 7pm ET, one a week until the movie comes out. Tell your TiVo.

Stupid Software

Excel doesn't understand dates before 1900 (on Mac, on Windows it's 1904). Cut and paste September 21, 1874 into a cell, format it as a date and all looks fine. Try to refer to that cell in a formula and you get a cryptic error. Ok, the OS natively uses dates starting from those times, you have to do some extra work to handle old dates, and dealing with date math involving leap years and the conversion to the gregorian calendar(which happened in 1752 in America but as early as 1582 in parts of Europe) isn't easy. But really has no one in Microsoft ever dealt with history or genealogy? You can find free plugins to add extended date functions but really why should you have to?

Spotlight is OS X's new search technology and it's pretty good. At first I didn't use it much and now I'm using it more. While it normally searches inside files I saw a hint that said if you surround your query with quotes it will only search filenames which is useful to narrow down a search. I had a file called "WikiBookConf.txt", if I searched for "Wiki" (with quotes) I didn't get that file in the results. It turns out at least for filename searches (and maybe others) Spotliight only searches whole words, not parts of words. How dumb is that? Yeah I'm now adapting my naming conventions but it would have been nice if any of the spotlight documentation indicated this is how it worked.

Area 51 on Google Maps

Where's Mulder to see Area 51 & Surrounding Area Satellite Images Via Google Maps

Distractions suck

Gee, what a surprise interruptions are counter-productive. I've read a lot of great things about growl a notifications manager on the mac. I tried it but found the notifications distracting. I guess I was right.

More Proof the Music Industry is Inept

Here's yet more evidence that the music industry might have the worst understanding of their customers of all industries. The Guardian reports that Beethoven sales beat the beatles in downloads by 1.4 million to 20,000. One was free the other was $1 plus change but the remarkable piece is that the music industry was shocked that classical was so popular. Know thy customers, or lose them.

Great interview with Wil Shipley

This is a great interview with Wil Shipley who's a founder of OmniGroup and Delicious Monster. A luminary in the mac programming community. It's a great read that covers: management styles, mission statements, good software design, getting fired, algorithm design, selective seratonin re-uptake inhibitors, and extreme gardening. Well worth the time.

Strict Constructionist

I'll be reading more about this stuff, but I think Karen Russel get's it wrong in her post Why the “Strict Constructionist” Crowd Makes Me Really Nervous.

The dissent in Griswold was that the law was silly but it wasn't the role of the US Supreme Court to declare it so. The alternative is that the elected legislators of CT change it, it's in their power to do so and in fact it's the right place. I'm sure there are counter arguments (in the legal sense) but I don't know them yet, if anyone wants to enlighten me please do. Now if we did what the strict constructionists wanted, we pass a Right to Privacy amendment that they could strictly interpret. 3/4 of all states isn't easy, but aren't the conservatives the ones that want to keep gov't small? :)

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Roberts connection to the Brady Bunch

In the print version of this Boston Globe article they included a picture of the house John G. Roberts grew up in. Does anyone care? The only thing that occurred to me when seeing it was how similar it looked to the Brady Bunch house. Maybe Roberts is actually Greg Brady.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Scotty is Beamed Up

I've been a Star Trek fan as long as I can remember, it definitely encouraged an interest in science. But in hearing of the passing of James Doohan, who played Scotty the chief engineer I realized that I wasn't at all influenced by that character to get into engineering. I've seen a number of articles where NASA employees and others describe the influence of Star Trek in their careers, but few mention Scotty (several black women mentioned Uhura). In spite of the character being a second fiddle to the big three, he had many of the most memorable lines. I imagine today there are people who say or hear "Captain I need more time" or "the engines canna take much more of this" in a scottish accent and don't know why.

More on Roberts

This Boston Globe article has a little more Roberts.

It points out the argument against Roe he made in 1991 was on behalf of a client (George Bush Sr.) and might not represent his own views. He is a member of the Federalist Society, a fraternity of legal conservatives whose members often espouse the view that the Constitution should be interpreted literally and oppose ''activist" judicial decisions that find implicit but unwritten rights in the document -- including the unwritten right to privacy from which abortion rights are derived.

However, during his 2003 confirmation, Roberts said, ''Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land. . . . There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent." I think this means he supports Stare decisis which means that courts will not overturn established precedent without an extraordinary reason to do so, though it could be that in a lower court he had no choice. Thomas is the only current justice who doesn't believe in it and is willing to overturn decisions he views as incorrect, even if they've been established and working law for over century.

The last paragraph in the Globe article is: "I think it's very hard to say what his legal views are," said Dennis Hutchinson, associate dean of University of Chicago Law School. ''Everybody is going to be spinning it from both sides. But no one knows the Supreme Court better, of all the candidates. He was widely regarded as one of the best oral argument makers in the last decade on the court. He has impeccable academic credentials. He has a calm, judicial demeanor. He's going to be very tough to fight."

Book Review: Longitudes and Attitudes

Thomas Friedman is a foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times who's won two Pultizers. His new book is The World is Flat about globalization and I'll be reading that soon. But first I read Longitudes and Attitudes which is a collection of his columns from just before 9/11 to April 2003. If you read his column regularly there's no need to read this book, if not, it's really worth while.

Friedman is mostly liberal but did support the war in Iraq, though he feels it was handled badly. As a result he's criticized by both the left and the right. He travels extensively through the Middle East and South Asia and talks with leaders. He comes across as quiet knowledgable about that part of the world.

"The Bush folks are big on attitude, weak on strategy, and terrible at diplomacy." He's unhappy at how they handled the Kyoto treaty and ABM treaty, basically that we pissed off the whole world, and then we say in the war on terrorism, you're either with us or against us. He also warned, before the war, that the reconstruction will be hard and we won't be successful if we try to do it alone.

He wonders how there are many unhappy people in the world, and some perform terrorist acts, but it seems only Sunni Muslims become suicide bombers. He says Muslims have a poverty of dignity that while their's is supposedly the most refined take on monotheism, they seem to be behind (economically, techinically, militarily) the Christians and Jews in the modern world. The Arab governments have failed the people in building a viable economy or education system. He thinks that sucessfully bringing democracy to Iraq might help inspire the other Arab nations to change their ways.

He also notes that the extremists don't offer any solutions, only destruction. That bin Laden talks only about destroying the US not about building up anything. As the education system and the culture is intolerant anything other than Islam, he finds lots of hatred for jews and Israel. Some unfounded, like the myth that 4000 Jews where told to stay home on 9/11, and some reasonable criticisms of Ariel Sharon. But he places most of the blame squarely on Arafat who rejected the Oslo accords which offered Palestinians about 97% of what they wanted and in return neither he nor any Arab nation offered a non-violent alternative.

I wondered if it would be odd reading newspaper columns from 4 years ago, but the perceptive of knowing what happened was interesting. The last 70 pages are a diary from his travels. Some of this info went into his columns of the time and that was boring. But other parts were descriptions of conversations with various leaders and average people in that part of the world and those were always interesting. I'm really glad I read this, and I'll be reading his column regularly from now on.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Nominee John G. Roberts Jr.

Here's his career:
  • 1976, BA from Harvard
  • 1979, Law degree from Harvard
  • 1979-1980, Clerked for Henry Friendly on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals
  • 1980-1981, Clerked for Justice Rehnquist on the Supreme Court.
  • 1981-1982, Special Assistant to the U.S. Attorney General
  • 1982-1986, Associate Counsel to the President
  • 1986-1989 Associate Hogan & Hartson law firm
  • 1989-1993 Principal Deputy Solicitor-General (argued ~30 cases before the Supreme Court)
  • 1993-2001, Partner at Hogan & Harston
  • 2001, Appointed as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit
  • 2003, Confirmed as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit

He's only 50 years old, so he'll potentially be on the court a long time. But the average age of an appointed justice is 52.75 (since WWII it's a little higher at 53.88). Scalia, Thomas and Ginsburg all came from the important DC Circuit Court, where Roberts has been serving.

A little more disturbing is that he's only been a judge for 2 years. That still gives him more judicial experience than Rehnquist or Thomas when they were nominated, but less than all the others by 2-12 years. Rehnquist wasn't a judge at all, he was assistant Attorney General of the US for 2 years. Stevens was a federal judge for 5 years. O'Connor was a state judge for 6 years. Scalia was a federal judge for 4 years, Kennedy for 13. Souter was a state judge for 7 years and a federal judge for less than 6 months. Thomas was a federal judge for 1 year, Ginsburg for 13 years and Breyer for 14 years. Is it odd that the 3 most conservative justices (and now perhaps 4) all have the least judicial experience coming into the court?

With so little experience we don't have a long record to look at. Slate has some background info on him.

We know from a 1991 brief for Hodgson v. Minnesota that he opposes Roe having said "the Court's conclusions in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion and that government has no compelling interest in protecting prenatal human life throughout pregnancy find no support in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution."

He seems weak on the separation of Church and State. In 1992 in Lee v Weisman he argued that public high-school graduation ceremonies could include religious ceremonies. The Supreme Court disagreed 5-4.
And he seems to have several times voted or argued against environmental regulation. In Rancho Viejo v. Nortion, 2003 he found that the interstate commerce clause didn't give the federal government the power to create the Endangered Species Act. I just saw an episode on Penn & Teller's Bullshit about the ESA, they were not impressed with it either.

I think some amendments are in order :)

Need Nominations Be So Partisan?

The choice of the next Supreme Court Justice is being closely watched by all sides. Some are geared up to protest the moment the nominee is announced. Some feel that depending on the nominee, their rights might change, particularly the current right of abortion (though some feel it would need two new justices to change that).

How could this be? Doesn't the Constitution define a system of government with separation of powers where no one person has so much power? Isn't the Supreme Court supposed to interpret the Constitution and not make law? Well kinda. They are supposed to interpret, that's the only way they can figure out if a search and seizure is "unreasonable" or not. It turns out that many rights aren't explicitly mentioned in the constitution or the amendments (well they are only in amendements) but have been inferred. I'm a loose constructionist and don't have a problem with that, but it does cause problems. Some are strict constructionists (which is perfectly valid) and feel that regardless of what the current moods of culture might be, they have to rule based on what the constitution says, since any two people could infer different things from a sentence.

The 14th Amendement was adopted in 1868 to address the rights of citizens post-slavery. The Due Process Clause states "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . ." Making sure the rules are followed properly is called procedural due process. The real question is, what is "liberty"? While "freedom" is a good answer, it isn't any more specific. Substantive due process is ruling on the substance of the law (not just the procedures followed) to ensure liberty isn't infringed.

This is a big deal and greatly expanded the role of the Supreme Court. Substantive due process was used in the late 1800s to strike down regulations on corporations based on "liberty of contract". In the 1920s liberty was used to include parents' right to send their children to private school and have them taught a foreign language (really, there were laws preventing this). In 1967 a case defined that liberty includes the right to marry who one chooses and struck down laws preventing interracial marriage (it took until 1967!). In 1965 the decision of Griswold v Connecticut struck down a CT law that made it crime to use or counsel anyone in the use of contraceptives. In so doing the court found a "right to privacy" in the constitution including it as part of "liberty" in the 14th amendment amongst other places. Roe v Wade then expanded on this to include a right to abortion in a right to privacy defined as part of "liberty".

Justice Potter Stewart dissented in Griswold. He wrote "I think this is an uncommonly silly law...But we are not asked, in this case, to say whether we think this law is unwise, or even asinine. We are asked to hold that it violates the United States Constitution. And that I cannot do" He couldn't find a "right to privacy" in the constitution, and indeed, you have to go through some contortions to do so, and some aren't comfortable with that and hence the court struggles with figuring out which rights are implied by the word "liberty" and other things.

There is a way to remove this problem. Article V describes how to amend the Constitution. Imagine if we actually defined a right to privacy that said things like the government can't regulate the behavior of consenting adults when such behavior doesn't affect others; that the government can't interfere with families except to prevent abuse and that the government can legislate to protect the right of privacy from unreasonable abuses by other people, corporations, and the press. Maybe there's more but that's a start (the above is vague with respect to abortion, maybe it should be maybe it shouldn't, I'm not sure). It would need ratification by 3/4 of the states but would people really object to something like the above?

Having such an amendment, would make it much easier for strict constructionists and originalists to do the right thing. And it might make Supreme Court Justice nominations a little less partisan. Imagine that, no really imagine it. Isn't it nice?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Wilson's Findings

If we're going to be so concerned with specific words such as "involved", "identity", "name", "leak", etc. (and I think we should) we should be concerned with all the words. I've heard a lot this weekend about what Wilson's trip to Niger found. The facts seem to be that he found that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium but didn't succeed.

In a Boston Globe article today Diedtra Henderson wrote: "In a first-person article about his grand jury testimony in this week's issue of Time, Cooper said he called Rove about Joseph C. Wilson IV, author of a New York Times op-ed article on his mission to Niger in which he found no evidence that Saddam Hussein was trying to procure uranium to make nuclear weapons. The Bush administration justified going to war in Iraq as necessary to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and Wilson's article said it twisted intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." The sentence structure is screwy but I think the bit about the Niger trip is her summary of the facts rather than referring to the op-ed article or Time article. If so, they're false.

The following is all according to the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence Report (pages 39-46). Wilson went to Niger, reported verbally to the CIA, the CIA wrote a routine report based on the trip which Wilson never saw. The report said that that in June 1999 an Iraqi delegation wanted to meet with former Nigerian Prime Minister Mayaki (it's not clear if he was Prime Minister in 1999 but he was definately not when Wilson met with him in 2002) about "expanding commerical relations" and that the meeting took place but that Mayaki never discussed what they meant by that phrase. Wilson also reported that no sale happened, that Mayaki didn't want to discuss trade issues with a country under UN sanctions, and that due to how the uranium mines in Niger are structured it would be very difficult to conseal any such sales.

That report got an internal, routine grade of "good" and the reports officer said it "merited because the information responded to at least some of the outstanding questions in the Intelligence Community, but did not provide substantial new information. He said he judged that the most important fact in the report was that the Nigerien officials admitted that the Iraqi delegation had traveled there in 1999, and that the Nigerien Prime Minister believed the Iraqis were interested in purchasing uranium, because this provided some confirmation of foreign government service reporting."

The Senate's report says "When the former ambassador spoke to Committee staff, his description of his findings differed from the DO intelligence report and his account of information provided to him by the CIA differed from the CIA officials' accounts in some respects. First, the former ambassador described his findings to Committee staff as more directly related to Iraq and, specifically, as refuting both the possibility that Niger could have sold uranium to Iraq and that Iraq approached Niger to purchase uranium." The intelligence report described how the structure of Niger's uranium mines would make it difficult, if not impossibIe, for Niger to sell uranium to rouge nations, and noted that Nigerien officials denied knowledge of any deals to sell uranium to any rogue states, but did not refute the possibility that Iraq had approached Niger to purchase uranium." it goes on to describe other discrepancies.

So when you see all the stuff on the air about what Wilson found and reported, keep the above in mind. And to be clear, the Senate report is quite damning of the intelligence used to justify war. It's over 500 pages and I haven't read it all, but Republicans should not be proud of its conclusions.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Murderball is in theaters

I saw Murderball in April at the Independent Film Festival of Boston It's now out in limited release. This is a really great documentary, you can read my review here. It's playing near you, go see it.

Rove lied and the Republican leadership is supporting him

Whether or not Karl Rove or others in the administration actually commited a crime will have to wait for the grand jury results and any possible trials after that. The bar is high and it's not clear that Mrs. Wilson was covert anyway. What is clear is that 2 years ago, Joe Wilson wrote an Op-Ed critical of the president and after that various people in the administration, including Karl Rove, spoke with various journalists about Wilson and his wife. Then it occured to someone that identifying (not naming, but merely identifying) a CIA agent might be illegal and the administration denied they did it. The CIA got the Justice Department to investigate and after a connection to Rove was established Ashcroft (Rove's friends) appointed a special prosecutor and by all accounts the administration has fully cooperated.

But Scott McClellan made the public statement that Karl Rove "was not involved", and anything to contrary was "ridiculous". But as we learn, Karl Rove spoke to Novak (and was his second source) and to Matthew Cooper and probably to other reporters. That seems to be "involved". Now if this administration came out and said something to the effect that we checked, we were mistaken, he (and maybe others) spoke about this, we don't think anything illegal was done but are cooperating with all investigations to confirm this, any reasonable person would say ok, let's see what happens. But this administration has never admitted making any mistakes, even in the face of obviously conflicting facts. This morning's Meet the Press was just another example.

On today's Meet the Press Ken Mehlman (not technically part of the administration but the chairman of the RNC) blatently lied to distort the facts. The full transcript will be posted soon but it's clear that the talking points have been established and they are sticking to them. He says that the news that has come out in the last few days "actually exonerates and vindicates, it doesn't implicate" Karl Rove.

Tim Russet: But he said they were not involved, is that accurate?

Ken Mehlman: Well according to the information that's come out this week and again we're here speculating but the information that's come out this week that we all agree on says that they were not involved in a leak

John Podesta: Oh well I think that's absurd and I think the American public see that. The question at the time that Mr. McClellan was answering, was Karl Rove one of the two sources for Mr Novak, now we know that he was.

Karl Rove and others might not have done anything illegal but it's clear that he was doing to Joe Wilson what he's often done in the past, smear someone else and deflect the story away from the president. Then he made a mistake, he denied being involved which was clearly a lie. And still rather than come clean they keep denying it, smearing Joe Wilson. blaming the Democrats for partisanship, and trying to deflect the questions on technicalities, which to me reinforces the accusations.

Russet asked the dumb question of if this had been reversed and if the Democrats were in the White House wouldn't the Republicans be screaming for a resignation. I'd wish he had stuck to the facts rather than hypotheticals but comparisons to Clinton are ripe so lets follow them. David Brock made up a stories about Clinton in American Spectator and Paula Jones sued for sexual harrassment. While undergoing a grand jury supposedly about Whitewater when asked about a relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Clinton denied it. He was then impeached for perjury. The suit by Jones, once brought to court was summarily dismissed as groundless. He wasn't found guilty of anything to do with Whitewater. So the underlying event was false, but the Republicans impeached on perjury of the investigation. Now we don't know what Rove said to the grand jury, we'll see, but he certainly covered up his involvement and lied to the American people. What should the Democrats be doing? Taking the high road or fighting fire with fire? I"m actually not sure, but maybe there's a lesson for Mr. Rove. If your career is based on smears and sleeze maybe it comes back to haunt you.

But more importantly this really shouldn't be about getting Rove. Let's not forget what Wilson was investing were claims that Iraq was pursuing weapons of mass destruction which were found to be false even though they were used to justify going to war. The big picture here is that Bush misled the American people on going to war with another country (inventing a pre-emptive war doctrine). Whether you think the war was a good thing or not, the rationale was false.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Homeland Security and Genealogy

Anyone else find it odd (and maybe a little creepy) that the Department of Homeland Security's web page has a item called "Genealogy & Education" in their library? It's because the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service is part of the DHS but it seems a bit odd.

Big Brother Wants to Listen on Planes

You might be able to use Wi-Fi soon on airplanes, that will be nice. So the government is butting in and saying that for security from terrorists they need to be able to tap into any communications with 10 minutes notice. They're saying it's a reasonable extension of the exiting CALEA act but as this Wired article points out, they've been extending it to as much as they can.

This argument really bothers me. It's not too much of a leap to say that the FBI needs to be able to remotely control cars because terrorists could use car bombs. In 23 pages the proposal offers no justification other than mentioning that hijackers could use such systems to coordinate attacks, and federal agents on board could use it to communicate with the ground. For the latter no extra support is needed and on 9/11 such communication via cell phone from the fourth plane was the only thing that was effective in saving lives. For the former there's no explanation what would be gained, it wasn't available or used on 9/11 so why would a terrorist use such capabilities? All the video monitoring in England didn't prevent or lessen the attacks in London, though they have made the after-the-fact investigation easier.

MacWorld Boston

I went to MacWorld Boston yesterday. It's was my first conference where I wasn't working. One thing I found is the course tracks were designed for musicians, movie makers and graphic designers which I am not. So I went to the Mac OSX Tiger classes. Two were by David Pogue author of The Missing Manual series. He's a very fun speaker, and covered a number of tips. He was at the O'Reilly booth signing books they were selling for 30% off. I picked up the Tiger Edition of Mac OSX: The Missing Manual and also AppleScript The Missing Manual because AppleScript: The Definitive Guide is boring me to death (100 pages in and not up to "Hello World" yet). In the afternoon I heard a similar talk by Dan Frakes

The best tip I learned was that in the Keyboard Shortcuts tab of the Keyboard and Mouse Preferences you can add or change keybindings for any menu command in any program. For example, in iPhoto there's no keybinding for "Revert to Original", in this tab, you add one. Another fun one is If you create ~/Library/PDF Services/ you can put aliases in there and they will appear in the PDF drop down of all print dialogs. It's a good place to put a link to your Desktop and in /Library/PDF Services apple includes various Automator workflows to do useful things like mail PDFs or save in a ~/Documents/Web Receipts/ folder. The last good one is I learned that Tiger added a slideshow mode so you don't have to bother with iPhoto. Just select some images in the finder, Control-Click on one and select "Slideshow" from the context menu.

There were fewer exhibitors than I was expecting and nothing all that interesting. Harmon Kardon had a good adaptor to connect the iPod to a car. It had a remote display to mount on the dash or windshield and a click-wheel like remote control. It has a line out and an FM transmitter. It doesn't ship till October and will probably be a whopping $200. On the lower tech fronts cableyoyo is a neat way to avoid tangled cables and Invisible Shield seems like a good iPod protector. While waiting for the exhibition floor to open some kid said to me "Hey man, same notebook" and pointed to the moleskin in my shirt pocket. Someone else was low tech too.

That being said, i didn't go back today. Parking was $29 and I'd seen all the exhibitors. The courses would have been more tips which I can basically find online. Maybe the California one is more interesting.


Fujitsu brings us electronic paper. Now in color. When can I buy this?

More Daily Show Goodness

Jon Stewart's guest tonight was Bernard Goldberg who wrote the book "100 People Who Are Screwing Up America". It's apparently mostly (but not completely) liberals and Hollywood types. Stewart was in top form doing what only he can accomplish, being both serious and funny at the same time, and in this case a wee bit antagonistic.

Goldberg's argument is apparently that culture is deteriorating and we should clean it up. He said he didn't want laws to do this (good that would be censorship) but that we should be able to have a conversaton about it. Jon Stewart did a wonderful job commenting that Barbara Streisand was in the book (#91) and she "hadn't ruined a culture since Yentl". Goldberg said Chevy Chase called the president a dumb fuck at the Kennedy Center (missed that) and only Stewart could come back with "once upon a time Thomas Jefferson fucked slaves", Making the point that Chevy Chase used a bad word on TV but segregation and slavery no longer exist, sometimes that nostalgia for the past leaves out some important pieces.

So Stewart says it's just words vs. real issues and Goldberg makes a reasonable point that it does matter. Would we really want a bigot channel on TV, basically, doesn't culture matter enough to talk about it? Stewart got the last word: "I think it is the general detritus and static that exists in a world that is complex but in Washington, transparency is the real issue and I wish smart guys like you spent more time not worrying about Barbara Streisand but worrying about, you know, Richard Pearl, Karl Rove or whoever the Democrats would have had in that position during the Clinton years."

Goldberg came across as a pretty reasonable guy just wanting to make a point about culture (and sell a book) and he knew he was on the air with someone who he could make him his whipping boy at any time and he just wanted to survive (John McClain made comment to that effect a few weeks ago). Stewart came off as someone who could do that but had genuine respect for and a disagreement with a guest. I was reminded of Stewart's classic segment on Crossfire. First that Stewart does have rational discourse (he even used the word "detritus" :), but also that Stewart fell back on that he was a comedian and didn't have responsibility to ask hard hitting questions or be a journalist (but CNN did). I agree he's a comedian, but he's so close to real news he needs to be a little careful. Stewart's a smart guy too, if he can be merely a comedian, then Goldberg can comment on culture and doesn't have to limit himself to commenting on government. Though there is a point that the conservatives (media and government) often attack liberal Hollywood (some would say to avoid serious issues) and perhaps Mr. Goldberg is playing into that.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

This Copyright Lawsuit Could be Huge

In the latest Internet lawsuit the Internet Archive has been sued over over Wayback Machine. If you don't know the Internet Archive, Brewster Kahle founded it in 1996 to be like the great Library of Alexandria, containing all human knowledge, but he doesn't want it lost as that library was. The archive has been taking snapshots of the web (and other things) and is available for anyone to search through. One interface is the Wayback Machine which allows you to look at what any website looked like at any time since the archive started. As the article states, this has been useful for various lawsuits. Well someone who had this used against them is now suing the archive on copyright violation.

The sad part is, I'm willing to guess the archive will lose (IANAL). I think it's one thing to copy something for your own personal use (you do that whenever you surf, your browser copies the data to your machine so you can see it). But to then make that available to others is where copyright comes in. Google does the same thing with their cache. These things are all very useful, but they are in the questionable range of copyright law. Maybe this will be the impetus to get the law updated to modern technology, it's sorely needed.

What is Mac OS X?

What is Mac OS X? is an excellent, although rather technical description of OSX.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Welcome Back Jon Stewart, McClellan and Rove Still Suck

I've missed the Daily Show. It was on hiatus for two weeks and is finally back. Tonight they did the best coverage of the Plame leak story I've seen. It was both hilarious and as I near as I could tell accurate. In today's events, now that we know Rove was involved contrary to White House claims two years ago, the White has decided it won't comment during an investigation, even though it has until now. Among many other clips he showed David Gregory of NBC at a press conference today saying to Scott McClellan "I mean, this is ridiculous". And Stewart followed up saying "We have secretly replaced the White House press core with actual reporters". Just great.

On WikiNews I found that Gregory went on to say "No, you're not finishing -- you're not saying anything. You stood at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke out about Joseph Wilson's wife. So don't you owe the American public a fuller explanation?" And McClellan just held fast and didn't comment. These guys are looking more and more like jerks.


Pretty cool. Someone hacked something together so you can play Tron Life Cycles in real life with bicycles, GPS receivers and laptops.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Movie Review: Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights was originally a 1990 book by award winning reporter H.G. Bissinger. He spent 1988 in Odessa, Texas and describes the town's obession with their high school football team, the Permian Panthers, the winningest team in Texas history. It's not a flattering picture. Odessa is in the west Texas desert and there's little there other than oil. Economically it's tied to the boom/bust cycles of the oil industry and the boom in the 70s and 80s left a 19,000-seat astroturf football stadium costing $5.6 million. Everything in Odessa revolved around football and nothing else. After high school, players lives were over, always looking back on their prime.

A two hour movie can't do the same thing as a 400 page book. The film concentrates not so much on the town or the players but on football games. We see a lot of them, well really a lot of plays, or rather glimpses of plays. The editing is all modern ADD-style, I don't think any play is shown without a cut or ten. Most of the sentences are fragments, cut together to give the sense of what's going on. And of course it all comes down to the last play of the season in the championship game (though some liberties are taken with the true story).

We get a little background on some of the players but not much, just enough to paint their roles in story. We see the player who fumbles during practice and his father, a former player, comes down on the field to chew him out and hit him. Later on we see more of him with his father and hear him say that after high school it's all babies and memories. We see star tailback Boobie Miles tear an ACL in the first game and go through denial until breaking down with his uncle in a car crying that he can't do anything but play football. Billy Bob Thornton does a good job as head coach Gary Gaines who has the pressure to deliver a state championship, because anything else is failure and he's reminded of it everywhere he goes in town, all season long.

While the editing and lack of depth would normally bother me, mostly I liked this film. Somehow the style suggests the point, that there's nothing other than football in this town. It's just that the book is better.

Book Review: What's the Matter with Kansas

Thomas Frank's 2004 book tries to explain why one of the poorest states would vote Republican rather than for the Democratic platform that would seem to be more economically beneficial to them. The first half has a lot of history and facts, unfortunately the second half brings a lot more opinion and anecdotes into the mix.

Kansas has three main economic divisions. Kansas City in the east has wealthy suburbs from large businesses, Witchita has a large Boeing plant but has had many jobs losses (particularly after 9/11), and in the west are farms that have been hurt by big agri-business. Kansas has always been Republican but it's also always been moderate. It was founded to keep slavery from spreading west. It's always been religious (apparently Topeka is home of "What would Jesus do?") but that had a different meaning before the nineties, e.g., until recently Kansas was very pro-choice. In the late 1980s two US Representatives were Democrats and 2 others were moderate Republicans.

Things changed in 1991 with a division between conservative Republicans and moderate Republicans. Economics were removed from the debate and it became about moral issues with a strong pro-life movement. Hollywood presented immoral lifestyles from "latte drinking" liberals who were in charge of everything. Several moderates retired (and Bob Dole left the Seanate to run for President) which opened up positions of power. He mentions a few wealthy conservatives and how they funded this vicitmized backlash movement that pitted poor conservatives against rich elitists (whether they were liberals or moderate Republicans). In 1994 the rise of Newt Gingrich brought the conservatives to power and of course since 2001 they've had the White House. So the question is, how can they whine about vicitimization, they have the power and what have they done with it aside from cut Hollywood's taxes?

So ends part one, asking the question of the book. But I'm not sure part two answers it. The chapters seem like arbitrary collections of points. One talks about class warfare, the Ten Commandments monument in Alabama, the conservative media including O'Reilly, Coulter and Limbaugh, and how removing ecomonics from the debate is necessary for a backlash style movement (you can attack the media as having a liberal bias if you ignore the fact they are for-profit ventures offering what people are willing to buy). He describes a conservative stategy of "plen-T-plaint", lots of complaining about things that are unlikely to change. This allows you to have a long lasting strategy of playing the victim.

We get a chapter describing the authors experiences growing up in Kansas, but it seemed indulgent. He describes Tim Golba who's very religious, lives a monastic lifestyle and tirelessly campaigns for conservatives. Kay O'Conner is a state senator who says the poor are more spiritual than the rich and amazingly is against women's suffrage! Mark Gietzen reversed the view of Republicans being the party of the rich by showing how the Democrats do fund raising from rich liberals and view the poor as "trailer-trash". So if both parties are of the rich, the poor might as well side as the one that respects them and understands their values.

He make a comparison between the pro-life movement (including stem-cell research and cloning) and the abolitionist movement of the past. Abolutionists were persecuted for their views, views that are universally agreed today. Therefore, in this twisted logic, pro-lifers just need to persevere. He says the Republicans are the party of anti-intellectualism. The rank and file and many of the leaders of this conservative movement have no college degrees. He says the evolution issue was just grandstanding for an election but as it played out the scientific establishment won't debate the creationists so they come off feeding into the stereotype of elitists persecuting the average person. To the conservatives, persecution has taken on a new meaning. It's not the historical concepts of imprisonment, excommunication, or disfranchisement, but rather any form of criticism such as news reports that disagree with their position. And this from the group that taunts their opponents as pro-aborts, totalitarians and Nazis!

The last two chapters spend most of their time describing David Bawden and Phil Kline. Bawden thinks the Pope has stolen the church and proclaims himself to be Pope Michael to take it back; though Frank says he doesn't seem crazy when you meet him. Phil Kline is a conservative politician who's always been running for something. At a speech he says POWs in Vietnam risked torture to say the Pledge of Allegiance and yet a court in San Francisco banned it from the classroom and in Pennsylvania a court ruled that porn has to be allowed in the classroom (the ruling was against Internet Filters). Again, more examples of individuals but how do we know these are really exemplary?

His epilogue wraps it up saying the conservatives framed the debate the as the elite are liberal and the conservatives are the only other option. He puts blame on the liberals too for courting big business and giving up on the economy which was the liberal connection to the masses. So people hear nothing from the left and from the right they get an explanation and a battle plan, even if it doesn't actually solve the problems.

The book provides various examples of this backlash movement theory, but few real statistics to prove it. Maybe such facts are hard to come by and I'm demanding too much, but the second half of the book felt like plen-T-plaint to me as stuff never really came together. I was left wondering how the majority of voters bought into these ideas presented by various folks that came off as nutcases. While the Kansas economy was falling apart how did people accept economics being removed from the debate? Is what Tim Golba said correct or just one man's view?

The paperback edition adds a very good afterward. It walked through various points in the 2004 presidential election (swift boat veterans, Democrats downplaying liberal economics to woo the business vote, gay marriage an imminent crisis though illegal in 49 states, Zell Miller, etc.) and explained how it fit perfectly into the "backlash narrative [which was] more powerful than mere facts." "A cleaning lady voted for Bush because she couldn't vote for a rich man." And while the exit polls showed moral values as the deciding factor, the day after the election Bush ignored it and spoke about privatizing social security and reforming the tax code. It was perhaps the most convincing part of the book, but it wasn't a slam dunk. E.g., as an example of how the Republicans catered to big business he offers that wall street surged 8% after the election. Doesn't the market climb after every election (this is the closest I could find)?

There are a number of endnotes and they are worth reading, I wish a lot of the info would had been in the text proper. On page 72 a footnote says that Republicans framed the repealing of the estate tax as saving family farms, but that in 35 years of study, one economist said he found zero farms that needed to be sold because of the estate tax. Why is this lost in a footnote? And moreso why isn't it more than an unnamed, uncited "ag economist from Iowa State".

In the end, I liked the book. While I don't think it's proven its point, it does offer a good framework for a conversation and it does expose many fallices of the radical conservative platform.

Apples Switch to Intel Chips

Here's an interesting take on Apple's switch to Intel chips. Basically it was all about getting a good volume discount. Apple has a history of jerking around their suppliers and with the iPod there's a new need for chips that boosts Apples demand. Given the broad range of chip requirements Apple should be able to get a good discount from Intel. Plausible. He also mentions a (much rumored) video iPod but describes it as allowing all the media supported by iLife (including music, photos, video) to be portable, which sounds compelling.

PBS Series: Guns Germs, & Steel

A PBS series
starts tonight based on the book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. It was a good read though some of the theories have been controversial (or proven false depending on how far you want to take it). Still, I'll give the series a shot, should be interesting.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Movie Review: The Great Dictator (1940)

This is the last film starring the Little Tramp and Charlie Chaplin's first talkie. It was nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Picture, Actor, and Supporting Actor. Those facts alone secure this film its place in history, but they doesn't touch on its importance. In this film Charlie Chaplin criticizes and lampoons Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, the first film to do either. Production started in 1937 and it was released in September of 1940, a year after Hitler invaded Poland and over a year before Pearl Harbor, while the US was still isolationist. Chaplin was trying to have an effect on the world during one of its most critical times. While he was unsuccessful, in light of what happened, he has to be credited with trying.

Chaplin plays two roles in this film. First is a Jewish Barber who is the Little Tramp character. The barber served in World War I and suffered amnesia and returns to the Ghetto in 1937. The plot device allows an outsider's view of the racial policies. The barber fights with stormtroppers who paint "Jew" on his store front (as they have all store fronts) and he doesn't understand what's going on. Chaplin's second role is the Dictator of Tomania, Adenoid Hynkel, obviously modeled on Hitler. The physical similarities between Hitler and the Tramp are put to good use. Hynkel meets with Benzini Napaloni, the Dictator of Bacteria (obviously Benito Mussolini) as they both have plans to take the country of Osterlich (Austria). It's in these scenes we see Hynkel as a vain, egomanical, twerp. There is absolutely nothing to like in him. Thoughout the film Chaplin pokes fun at all of Hitler's mannerisms and the Nazi uniforms, salute, march, etc. In the end the barber is mistaken for Hynkel and gives a speech to crowd. The speach is serious and out of character of the film and is really Chaplin speaking to the audience, pleading for world-wide tolerance.

There are several famous scenes in this film, but I don't think they are particularly well known anymore, I rarely see them referenced. In one Hynkel dances with a balloon globe, imagining himself as world ruler. In another he shaves a man in perfect time to a Brahms Waltz played on the radio. Hynkel has Napaloni sit in a low chair so he can tower over him and this is taken to extremes as they sit in adjacent barber chairs and each raise their chairs to above the other until they hit the ceiling. It's interesting to note that all of these scenes either were or could have been silent.

Chaplin wasn't Jewish, but he shows the plight well. Stormtroppers terrorize the Ghetto, at one point hanging the barber. Other such scenes are played for more comedic effect with the heroine (Paulette Goddard, Chaplin's wife at the time) hitting them on the head with a frying pan. In 1968 Chaplin stated that he wouldn't have been able to make such jokes if at the time he knew the extent of was going to happen. Hitler is known to have seen The Great Dictator twice but it's not known what he thought of it. Chaplin commented he'd have given anything to know. This film was baned in Nazi occupied Europe, that probably provides a clue.

While this is a comedy I didn't laugh out loud. As with anything on this topic It has many tragic scenes. By conventional measures it's a very good film though not great. And while it didn't have the effect desired by Chaplin, I think it's still an important movie. Art can (and should) express opinion and try to influence others. This film is probably the best example of a failed attempt that should have been heeded.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Movie Review: Whipsaw (1935)

This is an old movie I caught on cable. It stars Spencer Tracy (my all-time favorite actor) and Myrna Loy (of The Thin Man and Mr. Blandings fame). It was directed by Sam Wood who I've never heard of but it turns out he has a good resume including A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, The Pride of the Yankees, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and Our Town. So coming from these people it should be a great film. Unfortunately it's only ok.

Loy plays one of a group of theives who's stolen 4 extremely valuable pearls. She's separated from her group and the cops are following her to get to them. Tracy is a federal agent, pretending to be a thug who ends up on the lamb with her, though he's trying to find the pearls as well. There's more but the basic plot is the paired up strangers trying to deal with each other. It never really connects but is ok.

One thing that I noticed in this and the Harold Lloyd films is that these films are really a window onto a different age. On the one hand I know 70 years isn't that long, but on the other hand the differences are apparent. People pulled up to a strange house while driving in a rain storm and the people let them in. A flight to Kansas City makes three 10 minute stops along the way and people get on and off the plane with no security checks. In a car accident no one asks for identification or proof of insurance and the parties just drive off. Phones aren't everywhere, they go out during storms, and the mouth and ear pieces are separate. Though we might not think it, slang was commonly used though quite different from now. The title is slang though I didn't catch the meaning (yes the dictionary has it, to be cheated in two ways at once). There was no TV, no nuclear anything, no space program, World War II hadn't happened, and Iraq was granted independence from Britian just 3 years prior. Old movies are time machines in a way that photos and books can't be.

Fox News Shows its Colors Again

Fox News showed it's true self yesterday covering the London bombing. Here are three disturbing quotes.

During Fox News' coverage of the July 7 London bombings, Washington managing editor Brit Hume said "I mean, my first thought when I heard -- just on a personal basis, when I heard there had been this attack and I saw the futures this morning, which were really in the tank, I thought, "Hmmm, time to buy." Nice to think of personal gain during a bombing.

Biran Kilmeade and Stuart Varney discuss on Fox & Friends how the attacks put terrorism at the number 1 spot and global warming and African aid come off the front burner. "I think that works to our advantage, in the Western world's advantage, for people to experience something like this together"

And I wish I knew where I got this reference but on Thu Jul 7 2005 at 9:48 AM EDT someone on Fox News said " That these people are, If necessary, prepared to spill Arab blood in addition to the blood of regular -- of nonarab people living in London." I'd like to know who else doesn't count as a regular person.

Just disgusting.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London Attacks

I don't have any unique perspective on the atrocious attacks. There are early reports that some timing devices were found, if so the perpetrators are probably still alive. I hope they are found soon and brought to justice. My heart goes out to the families of the victims. I will say I'm pretty impressed with the BBC's web coverage of the attacks.

Movie Review: March of the Penguins

Emperor Penguins This film has absolutely gorgeous scenery of Antartica and amazing shots of Emperor Penguins. It's also further proof that Morgan Freeman is the best narrator alive. The penguins' breeding habits are just amazing. They travel over ice to their place of birth, mate, and wait for the egg to be laid. The females leave to get food which can take 2 months, while the males cover the eggs with their bellies and wait for them to hatch and females to return to feed the chicks. All this waiting takes place though winter with temperatures of -80°F and 100 mph winds. The penguins can go for months without food and then have to trek 70 miles to get some. It's a great story.

That said I had some complaints. The print I saw seemed a little grainy, it could just be I'm getting used to HDTV but I wanted it crisper. Since it was just penguins in the snow and ice there was no sense of scale. You don't know from watching this film that Emperor Penguins are about 4 feet tall, and in some long shots it's hard to tell them from rocks. And forget about telling males and females apart, they are identical. That's not the film maker's fault but I found myself wishing for VH-1 style popups to tell the players apart.

A note for parents, while the film does deal with death it's usually hidden from view and described as going to sleep and fading away, there is one particular shot of a dead baby penguin which they linger on and is quite sad. It's shown for a reason but it might not be for small children (though there were plenty in the matinee I saw). Also this film does show seals as the murderous sharp toothed killers they are (though it's all shown in the trailer so you can see for yourself before going to the film).

I'm not sure why but throughout this film I kept wondering how different it would be with a different narrator, say Chris Rock. There would be many more four letter words, the mating would be described as a giant outdoor orgy, the penguins would walk around asking each other if they're male or female. The young would survive by hiding under their dad's beer bellies, and the adults would be described as so lazy that instead of walking they sometimes slide on their bellies. You'd hear a lot about how they grow up with abandonment issues. Maybe this will be the incentive I need to go play with iMovie.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Dashboard Widgets I Use

The Dashboard is one of Tiger's big new features. It's another layer of your desktop, available via the push of a function key or by moving the mouse to a corner of the screen. Widgets then move to cover the screen, let you use them, and then will move out of the way when tell them too. Hence they are always easily available but separate from your regular applications. You can cut and paste to and from them but you can't drag and drop to them. There's only one screens worth of widgets, they can overlap but that seems less useful, so screen real estate is pretty valuable. I didn't use the Dashboard much at first, then I tried a bunch of third party widgets and now I've settled into using just a few.

There seem to be several kinds of widgets but I find only some of them useful. Some widgets are just search engine wrappers, like those that search wikipedia or yahoo or google maps. Some of these display the info in the browser, others have their own mini-browsers to show the info. For these I'd rather just use a real full-featured browser (particularly with keyword searches) rather than waste screen real estate with several search boxes. Others are better done as applications such as RSS displays (I already use NetNewsWire), mail counters, IM buddy status, (I use Adium) wikis (I use MoinX) , or asteroids games because you want them to be more complex or because you wouldn't use them frequently enough to reserve space on the Dashboard. Others like iTunes controls are things you use so frequently you want it on the real desktop and not have to go to the Dashboard to see it.

In spite of the above limitations there is a set of things I've found very useful as a widget. Something that I use frequently enough that I want it easily available though not so much that I want it on the desktop, and that provides information visually (for some reason widgets should be pretty). Below are the widgets I use, first the Apple supplied ones.
  • Weather - I probably check the weather 3 times a day and this widget shows a lot of info, in a little space, in a very pretty way, and it remembers where I am
  • Dictionary - I'd prefer if Command-Control-D works in all apps, but it only works in Cocoa ones. And Quicksilver's Lookup in Dictionary doesn't always work either. As a result I use this one pretty often.
  • Calendar - Nice to see a calendar in easy reach without having to open iCal. Since the clock in the menubar doesn't show the date, this is an easy solution
  • Stocks - Just like the weather, it's easy to check several stocks a few times a day
  • Unit Converter - I didn't use this much and then I had need for a couple of conversions in a few days time and found this easiest way to get to it
  • Phone Book - I think I've used this once since installing Tiger, but it's still on my Dashboard, it does Yellow Pages look ups

And the third party ones:
  • iCal Events - The Calendar widget should show your upcoming appointments but it doesn't so this one does
  • RadarInMotion - This is a great adjunct to the Weather widget. I keep two up, one showing the weather radar and one showing the satellite view
  • SysStat - This shows CPU, Memory, Drive and Process stats. I don't want it up all the time but it's nice to be able to see easily
  • RabbitRadio - This plays various NPR stations broadcast over the net. I don't use it much, but it is on my Dashboard
  • QTFS - Rather than buy QuickTime Pro to enable full-screen Quicktime movies, I use this free and legal widget
  • YOLK Mini - I use two of these timers, one for the washer and one for the dryer
  • Package Tracker - When I order something online I want it now. Rather than look the email with the link to the order to find the link to the package tracker, I enter an UPS, FedEx or DHL number in the widget and it displays the current location of my delivery, easy to check three times a day
  • AirPort Rader - This isn't planes but Wi-Fi, shows the strength and channel of available networks. Nice to see the channels so you can set yours to be a different one
  • iClip Lite - Has several clipboards for easy use, seems cool but I don't use it much

Some I don't use:
  • Stickies - Too limited to be useful
  • Translation - I don't need this enough
  • Flight Tracker - I don't need this enough
  • Tile Game - Not interested
  • Address Book - I'd rather use a full-featured Address Book or Quicksilver
  • iTunes - Rather use iTunes itself
  • Calvin & Hobbes - I'd use it if it worked better

The Dread Pirate Bin Laden

Legal Affairs magazine has an interesting article by Douglas R. Burgess Jr. called The Dread Pirate Bin Laden. It's a good read about how defining terrorism using the established laws of piracy might help in the War on Terror.

There are some interesting similarities. Piracy started as a state sponsored (via formal Letters of Marque and Reprisal) form to attack other states. Same with state sponsored terrorism. International law defines piracy and encourages all states to combat it (and it was largely succesful). Doing the same for terrorism would seems to be wise. Pirates were individuals that basically declared war against other states and their citizens, that seems to apply to terrorists as well.

I'm not completely sure but I think he proposes defining terrorism in part, as citizens from one state attacking citizens from another. I'm not sure if it's good that terrorist acts within a nation would be defined as a different (domestic) crime, but it would provide a distinction between terrorists and freedom fighters. One advantage is that states couldn't crack down on freedom fighters by treating them as terorists. Terrorists would be properly defined as enemies of all nations and universal jurisdiction would apply. That means they could be captured anywhere by anyone that found them. Also states wouldn't harbor terrorists. Finally, terrorism would be defined as an international crime that could be prosecuted before the International Criminal Court, and therefore other nations might assist us more.

Mr. Burgess doesn't claim to have all the answers, nor does he think this would be a complete solution, but it does seem to be an interesting avenue to explore.

Toy Review: Etymotic ER-6

Once I got my iPod and while I was doing some business travel I became interested in the Bose QuietComfort 2 headphones, mostly because of their advertising. Seemed like a good thing, cancel out the noise of the plane and hear music sounding good. I borrowed a pair of the first version from a friend and they were good, though they're large and bulky in your carry on luggage and they're $300.

I did some research online mostly at a Head-Fi forums and at HeadRoom which has good product guides including one on noise cancelling headphones. There I learned that the active noise cancelling system used by Bose achieves about 10 dB of isolation but another kind of headphone, in-ear-monitors, fit inside the ear canal like ear plugs and can achieve over 20 dB of isolation and apparently sound great.

I bought the Etymotic ER-6 for about $120 about a year and a half ago. First off they're tiny, like ear-buds, so they're perfect for plane travel. Second they block out almost all outside sound. Engine rumbles, babies, etc. Third, they sound great. You can get more expensive models that sound better, but I'm no audiophile and these are fine, though clearly better then the earbuds that came with my iPod. Fourth, unlike the Bose, no batteries are needed. The downsides are that they are little uncomfortable. They're fine for a few hours, but by the end of a flight to Provo (about 5 hours), it's nice to get them out of my ears. I use them at the gym because the iPod earbuds didn't block out the obnoxious music they play, with these I don't hear anything else. I'm very cautious wearing them while walking to and from the gym to be on the lookout for traffic. I walked by a leaf-blower one day and didn't hear it, I wouldn't hear a screeching car headed for me.

One last story. I wore them at the airport waiting for my plane at the gate. It was great, I was sitting there listening to my music (or a podcast) and then saw everyone at the gate get up and walk away. I didn't hear the announcement of a gate change for my flight. Now when I fly I bring the iPod earbuds for the airport and the Etymotic's for the plane.

The ER-6's are great. If you get them you might want the ER6-16 Airline Jack Adapter so you can listen to the inflight movie. Or there's now the ER-6i's which are designed for the iPod, which I think just means they're white. Then again, many folks are avoiding iPod white headphones since it makes them a target for theft.

Deep Impact, not the movie

I stayed up late Sunday night to watch Deep Impact hit comet Tempel 1. It was a little disappointing. If you don't know (and no one else in the 14 person group I was with had heard of it), Deep Impact is a NASA mission that launched in January and was deliberately crashed into a comet to see what would happen. A day before impact the ship split into two, one part to crash, the other part to sit back a little and record what happened. Based on the impact, we hoped to discover clues as to the composition of the comet which are formed from debris from the early formation of the solar system.

The impact was at 1:52AM Monday morning. I stayed up late to watch it. I couldn't find any mention of the upcoming impact on CNN or other news channels and the mission web site wasn't any help either (many of the links were broken). Then, at the time of impact, CNN switched to the JPL and showed the view from mission control. They showed a grainy black and white photo and a lot of reaction shots of scientists cheering. Easily could have waited till the morning. Still, it's pretty cool stuff.

There's also a stupid part to the story. Russian astrologer Marina Bai has sued NASA for $300 million, claiming Deep Impact "ruins the natural balance of forces in the universe," and caused her "moral sufferings".

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Movie Review: Howl's Moving Castle

his is Japanese anime by the master Hayao Miyazaki who's previous films include Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. Both of those are better than this one but this is still pretty and better than many other films.

Fans of Miyazaki will find a lot of familar elements in the story. There are two warring kingdoms in what looks like early 20th century Europe. Sophie is a young girl who runs to Howl, a wizard being chased by some dark blobs. They escape but she's smitten. She's then visited by the Witch of the Waste who casts a spell on her turning her into an old woman. She goes looking for Howl who lives in wondrous moving castle. She meets various others characters, the most interesting of which is a fire demon in servitude to Howl, and stuff happens.

The stuff happens part is unfortunate because that's roughly how well it holds together. The first half is very good as we're introduced to about eight characters, but as the resolution happens I was reminded of the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I really didn't know what was going on or why characters were doing what they were doing. Nevertheless, the individual scenes are often fantastic, the castle itself is an organic marvel and you'll find yourself remembering the Wizard of Oz and the Yellow Submarine.