Wednesday, August 31, 2005

State of X Windows

Here's a good technical article on the state of X Windows.

Windows Vista Beta 1 vs. Mac OS X "Tiger" (Part 1)

Here's part 1 of a comparison between Windows Vista Beta 1 vs. Mac OS X "Tiger". There are a number of screen shots and it seems a pretty balanced view. It covers three areas.

In Look and Feel Tiger is still prettier but Vista is an improvement for Windows. In Search both are very similar. In what he calls Data Visualization and organization he likes some of the Vista features. It comes with predefined "saved searches", which doesn't seem like a big deal to me. He likes that there are more obvious ways to add meta data to files, particular in the Save dialog, which sounds nice, but the problem with meta data as always is getting people to actually add it. Maybe the vista features will help.

He also likes Vista's eye candy of use an image of the first page of a doc as the icon, saying it's easier to find things. He says "there's nothing like it, per se, in Tiger". But that's not true. Tiger does this for images and when minimizing a document to the Dock. I find it useful in those contexts, images are different enough, something comes through at that small size. Same with the different apps you might have open. But for a lot of Office files in a folder, particularly if they all use the same corporate template, I'm not sure much will be helpful.

A new wrinkle in the Plame affair?

The Financial Times offers a new theory in the Plame affair.

"Many have assumed that [Judy] Miller - who never actually wrote a story identifying Plame as an operative - is protecting Rove and/or other administration officials. But the missing link is that Miller is not a political reporter, but rather an investigative journalist who co-wrote a book on America's secret war against biological weapons and later published controversial articles on Iraq's effort to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Now here's the twist: Plame herself is a CIA operative who also specialised in weapons of mass destruction and bio-terrorism. So did Miller get to know Plame while she was writing her book or even use her as a source for other WMD stories?"

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Another Greenhouse the Administration Disblieves

Bunnatine H. Greenhouse is one of the whistleblowers against Halliburton scandals. Her background is impressive with a BS and 3 MS degrees. She was the Army Corps of Engineers' top procurement official (a civilian post) since 1997. On Saturday she was demoted for what the Corps of Engineers called a poor job performance.

The Army threatened the demotion October 6, 2004 when she first came public with complaints last Oct but agreed to wait until a "sufficient record" of her allegations is complete. Her demotion now is the Army reneging on that deal. Three congressmen believe that this is illegal retaliation for her testimony to the Senate on June 27, 2005 and have asked Rumsfeld to investigate.

Her testimony was damning: "I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts awarded to [Halliburton/]KBR represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career." She describes how KBR wrote the $7 billion contract in such a way that only they could fill it. Normally those contracted to write such a plan are prevented from bidding on it. But in an even more disgusting twist the army didn't just let them bid on it, they awarded it to them with out any competive bids for 2 years with a 3 year renewal, which is completely against policy. Oh and awarding such contracts are normally done by the army, but in this case it was controlled by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office, which is illegal.

How are these crooks getting away with this?

Bush and Katrina

There's much in the blogosphere about Bush and Hurricane Katrina. it seems in December of 2001 FEMA listed a Category 5 Hurricane hitting New Orleans was one of the "three likeliest, most castastrophic disasters" that could affect the US (California Earthquake and NY terrorism being the other two. People connect this with Bush in three ways:

1. Budgets have reduced funding in ways to protect New Orleans. The numbers cited are the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is having federal funding reduced a record $71.2 million in 2006. In 2001 they spent $147 million, and it looks like 2005 will be $82 million. But I haven't found a good listing of their total costs and total funding.

This presentation from 2004 shows they want to replace a lock and I think some bridges. The total cost to complete in 2014 is $770 million. In 2003 they needed $23 million and got $15 million. In 2004 they requested $20 million and at least at the time the budget had $7 million.

In this article from 2004 the Corps thinks they could protect New Orleans with a 20 year $1 billion project to raise levees and build floodgates. "Just the study would take four years and cost $4 million, Naomi said, but the money is not in the federal budget for 2005, though the Senate has yet to act."

2. Scientists agree that global warming is making these storms worse, but of course Bush thinks the debate is still out with global warming (and evolution), so the US isn't doing much of anything help reduce it.

3. You know how the first thing the president does in such a situation is to declare a disaster and send out FEMA and the National Guard? Well Bush did just this Sunday though his talk was 3 paragraphs on Katrina and 12 on Iraq. Well people point out that much of the National Guard (people and equipment) is in Iraq and as a result can't help the cleanup effort. And in fitting irony, Louisiana has lost more National Guardsmen in Iraq than any other state except New York.

The bloggers on the right are already accusing the left of acussing Bush of causing the storm. Obviously that's moronic. The above issues are perhaps not slam dunks, but why does it seem like the Bush administration is death by a 1000 cuts. Sitting here now I can't think of a single thing I think he's done right, Not in Iraq, the budget, science, health care, civil rights, education, or foreign affairs. But that's a subject of another post. For now, I just send my support to those affected by the storm.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Stellarium - Free Astronomy Software

Stellarium looks like a great, free, open source astronomy program that runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux. It shows the night sky wherever you want, plays movies over time, can draw stars, planets, nebulas, constellations and their names. And can also show some pretty art for the constellations.

There's a Mac .dmg and X Windows is not required. To get full screen on odd Mac dimensions, set the resolution in the file instead of the GUI. Very nice stuff.

Bright Blue Dot

The MESSENGER space craft is going to Mercury but went by the Earth on Aug 2, 2005 in a gravity assist maneuver. It took some great pictures including a movie of a full rotation of the earth that's a real photo, though it looks like CGI. Just amazing.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Hurricane Katrina in Wikipedia

I think you have to be impressed with the coverage of Hurricane Katrina in Wikipedia. In addition to articles in WikiNews the main article has more detail than I've ever seen in a newspaper on a Hurricane and has been updated about once every minute or two for the last several days.

Imagine if newspapers could release continually updated versions of a story. For anything that lasts more than a day, that will save a lot of rewriting of backstories.

Cutest Bug Ever

My friend Mike found this in his backyard. It's real, not photoshopped. He's trying to figure out what kind of bug it is, who knew there were that many insect sites on the web?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Who are the Activist Judges?

A Yale Law School professor tried to measure judicial activism on the Supreme Court. The question is what measure to use? While nothing perfect came to mind, he figured the number of times a justice voted to strike down a law passed by Congress was a reasonable measure. "Until 1991, the court struck down an average of about one Congressional statute every two years. Between 1791 and 1858, only two such invalidations occurred...Since the Supreme Court assumed its current composition in 1994, by our count it has upheld or struck down 64 Congressional provisions." Here's how often the justices voted to strike down the law in each of these 64 cases.


By this measure, the conservative justices are the most activist. While this might not be a good measure, it does question the conservative claims that liberal activists are ruling from the bench. From this It seems that conservative justices are far more likely to strike down laws passed by an elected (and during this time Republican) Congress. I guess that's why Congress is so upset about it. One thing that strikes me about the figures, I'm not sure why they didn't look at all decisions, not just these 64, surely there must of have many times when the Court voted to retain the law and had some dissenters who wanted to strike it down.

Three By Reference

Here are three interesting articles I'll just point to.

Roberts Knew He Was Acting Unethically points out that while Roberts didn't recuse himself in a ruling on Guantanamo prisoners while he was interviewing with Bush he did recuse himself in the same situation with Reagan.

In Was Pat Robertson's Call For Assassination Of A Foreign Leader A Crime? John Dean (yes that John Dean), shows us US Code Title 18, Section 112(b) which says threatening foreign officials is a crime. He also points out some nice irony for a strict constructionist.

In Leaked Document Exposes Bolton's Reforming Genius, Arianna Huffington shows the leaked edits John Bolton made to the 38 page draft document of UN Reform. I think his edits are disgraceful.

Friday, August 26, 2005


Photoshop contests can be really interesting. In this one, people needed to merge plants and animals.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Movie Review: The Aristocrats

Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame came up with the idea for this documentary about comedy. In jazz you listen to various musicians play the same song while putting their own improvisational touches on it. It turns out that comedians do the same thing. To demonstrate, he gathered the best comedians and writers and had them all tell the same joke. There aren't that many jokes suited to this, so they choose an old joke known as "The Aristocrats". It has very little structure, a one sentence intro, and a one word punchline which isn't even that funny. The middle is left for the comedian to personalize and to push the boundaries of outrageous, stomach-turning, revulsion. Comedians don't usually tell it to audiences but rather to each other. The tagline of the film is "No Nudity No Violence Unspeakable Obscenity".

George Carlin opens with one of the best tellings. Kevin Pollack tells the joke doing a fantastic Christopher Walken impression, Mario Cantone does it as Liza Minelli. Bob Sagat is probably the most extreme, then again, Cartman of South Park manages to offend everyone and still explain how the joke isn't funny. Gilbert Gottfried told it at the Friar's Roast of Hugh Hefner 3 weeks after 9/11 and let everyone remember how to laugh again. There are variations you never would have expected. Eric Mead tells it as a card trick, jugglers turn it into a juggling joke and seeing a mime tell this joke you've watched some of the funniest people in the world tell, needs to be seen to be believed.

This film is not just clips of stand up, it also has these comedians explain how they approach it, what works and what doesn't. When Drew Carey tells it he adds a little flurish at the end and you hear what the ten other comedians think of it. George Carlin explains the importance of telling extreme things in a matter-of-fact way. Women explain the gender differences in telling the joke. Whoopi Goldberg explains how everyone expects her to swear so he she to go some place else with it. Eric Idle discusses differences between Americans and British.

The 2002 film "Comedian" with Jerry Seinfeld was about what it takes to build the material for a standup act. This film shows that it's not the material as much as the comedian that matters and how no two comedians are alike. I walked out thinking George Carlin's opening telling was the best, and then remembered one funny part after another for two hours.

Klingon Fairy Tales

These are funny, particularly the first.

Republicans and Election Tampering

James Tobin was Bush's 2004 campaign chairman for New England. A few weeks before the November 2004 election he stepped down from the post because Democrats suggested he was involved with tampering with an election.

On December 1, 2004 he was charged with tampering with the November 2002 New Hampshire election. At the time Tobin was the New England Regional Political Director for the RNC. Tobin was concentrating on the Senate race in which John Sununu defeated Democratic former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen by about 19,000 votes.

He's been indicted for conspiring with Charles McGee, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, to repeatedly call the get-out-the vote phone banks of the NH Democratic Party and the Manchester Professional Firefighters. These lines offered voters free transportation to the polls. Mr. McGee has already pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors.

The RNC spent nothing for McGee's defense, but even though the case against Tobin seems pretty strong (there's another witness too), the RNC has spent more than $722,000 on Tobin's defense. The first payment was made on December 9, 2004 under former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie. But additional payments were made on May 19 and June 15 under current chairman Ken Mehlman who took over in January 2005. There's some idle speculation that they must be paying Tobin's bills for a reason. It's a much bigger deal if Tobin was involved because he was a national official not just a state one. If the RNC really did tamper with an election, that's bad.

Why Does Anyone Listen to Pat Robertson?

First he says about Hugo Chavez on The 700 Club on Aug 22: "You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war."

Then he lies about saying it on an Aug 24 broadcast, where he says: "Wait a minute, I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should, quote, "take him out," and "take him out" can be a number of things including kidnapping. There are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted by the AP, but that happens all the time."

He did in the original say "We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability." "take him out" could also mean for dinner and a movie, but I don't think that's what he meant. The first quote was clear enough.

The Need for Copyright Reform

Here's a Flowchart for Determining when US Copyrights Expire. This in itself seems a good rationale for the need of reform. Should copyrights really last 95 years or more before others can remix the work?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

More on Bush vs Science

BBC News has an article on the Bush administration's hostility to science something I wrote about before. They of course have more facts. Since entering office Bush has cut university research funding by almost half. Vint Cerf wrote about this in the Wall Street Journal.

Here's another scary quote "How radically we have moved away from regulation based on professional analysis of scientific data regulation controlled by the White House and driven by political considerations." That's from Russell Train, an EPA administrator under Nixon and Ford.

There's a reason geeks are creating things like this.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Jon Stewart in Wired

This month's Wired has a 2 page interview with Jon Stewart and Daily Show executive producer Ben Karlin. They spend a little too much time being funny rather than serious but it's still entertaining. They talk about how content is king and the internet is just another delivery vehicle, "The Internet isjust a world passing around notes in a classroom. That's all it is." My favorite line is about how people are pushing technology to absurd levels, "Do you need TV on your watch as you walk from your cell phone to your BlackBerry?"

The Ex

Here's a crazy new design on the traditional knife block. Have to give them credit for being unique, though I don't want to know what inspired this.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Credit Card Checksums

I came across this while surfing. I knew credit card numbers had checksums in them but never knew exactly how they worked. It's known as the Luhn Algorithm after it's creator Hans Peter Luhn. A simple checksum wouldn't catch swapped adjacent digits, one of the most common errors. So Luhn uses a weighted sum where alternate digits are multiplied by 2 and if that's greater than 10 it's digits are summed. It will detect swapped digits 97.8% and garbled or forged numbers 90% of the time. Simple and elegant.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Another try with Franken

I saw a friend this week who asked me what I had against Al Franken. I guess the answer is disappointment. I want to like the guy, I think he's smart and he's trying to represent the left, I give him credit for that. And I mostly liked his book. So I keep trying his show but usually dislike it. I watched the Al Franken Show on Sundance from Aug 18, 2005. Here's what I found.

The started reading a letter written to Franken from some who didn't like him. No biggie. Then he talked about what he calls Bushes management style. He brought up how on September 12, 2001 "Rumsfeld tells Richard Clarke let's bomb Iraq" because "they have better targets in Iraq". And at "the first National Security Council meeting they had they were talking about attacking Iraq". I saw this meeting on a PBS special in Sept 2002 and I saw one person (I think Wolfowitz) mention it and everyone else ignore it. If I'm remembering right, "talking about" is a bit of an exageration (though that doesn't let Wolfowitz off the hook). Then Franken said that in Woodward's book (Plan of Attack) "it says that he didn't ask, he didn't sit down and say give me 12 reasons to go into iraq, give me 12 reasons not to. He didn't have that discussion. Woodward's book, he had total access, if this had happened we would have heard about it." I read the book, and one complaint is that it doesn't cover any discussion about where the idea came from, it talks mostly about how the battle plans were formed and negotiating with other countries and the UN (hence the title). it does not say that there wasn't any debate about invading or not, it just doesn't cover that, the same way it doesn't cover health care.

Then Franken said "tell me about this guy's business successes, he had one failure after another". Franken said they did some research "first of all every business he had been in until the Texas Rangers had lost money, and he was bailed out by his dad's friends". The TV show put up screen shots of the quotes he gives in this segment and cites them from "The Washington Post, June 31, 1999". Now since June only has 30 days, I think they meant this Washington Post article from July 31, 1999. He read three quotes by Peter Ueberroth (MLB commissioner) from one paragraph from this article" "There is no question that Rainwater and Rose were the primary investment group and I asked them to consider taking George in..." and "He was an asset because his father's career was going up and reaching the top". And Franken's favorite "We just brought the young man over somewhat out of respect for his father."

Franken didn't quote the next paragraph in the article which reads:
Several major investors disputed Ueberroth's recollection. "It was a merger of the two groups," said Gerald Haddock, Rainwater's attorney and later the Rangers general counsel. "It is a fact that Eddie Chiles wanted to give the deal to George W. . . . Without George, this group could not have done the deal."

Franken also said he invested "$606,302 or 1.8 percent of the purchase value but he was given 10% of the team, that's his profit, so that's where his profit came from". Well the first part of that come right from the article. But what Franken left out was the whole sentence around the 10% part. It says: "For running the team and his role in putting together the deal, Bush was promised an additional 10 percent share when the team was sold -- after all other investors received a return." A few weeks ago I heard Franken railing against Rush Limbaugh for not quoting article accurately. Pot meet kettle.

In this segment Franken was talking about Bush's management style, so it surprised me that he left out this part of the article that actually talked about it. But I think to include this, Franken would have had to mention that Bush ran the team with Edward Rose splitting the work 50/50.
Running the team together, Rose and Bush were a study in contrasts -- Rose is as studied, cerebral and shy as Bush is impulsive, loquacious and brazen. "George is very intuitive, very quick to come to the path he wants to take," said Rose. "And I'm pretty plodding. Never in our partnership did we have a disagreement over the paths. But George came up to a path in 15 minutes, and I never was able to come with the path until three days. . . . Sometimes he called me daily and I'd say, well, I still got the abacus whirling."

Franken continued talking about where Bush raised the money for this deal. He got a loan from a bank that he was a director of and used his stock in Harken Oil as collateral. He talked about the possible insider trading issues with Harken Oil and there's real stuff there. Bush sold, before the price collapsed and didn't file required forms with the SEC for 8 months. There was an SEC investigation but it apparently did nothing and was filled with Bush family friends. I give Al credit for mentioning this, though he covered it all in less than a minute. I would have prefered he dove into this in more detail and didn't (mis)cover the Rangers so much.

After a commercial they spoke with Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. They talked about Jack Abramoff a Washington lobbist who was just indicted on fraud charges. He's accused of frauding Gus Boulis in buying his casino gambling ship. Boulis had mafia ties with the Ghotti's and was murdered several months later. This week the police said they'd like to interview Abramoff about Boulis and Abramoff's lawyer said they'd cooperate. While the AP Story is a little vague, this South Florida Sun-Sentinal article makes it clear that Abramoff is not a suspect. While all this is being explained, Franken says "It's possible that Abramoff murdered Boulis". Ms. Sloan said "well I wouldn't go that far". Franken then explained that Abramoff as a lobbyist has close tied with Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist, and Ralph Reed and Ms. Sloan confirms this (this is well known). But then Franken goes on to say "Now could these guys have been involved in a gangland-type slaying?" Ms Sloan replies "Seems pretty unlikely to me that they would have gone that far." "Ok, so you don't think that, I'm not saying that Reed pulled the trigger, I'm saying that, and how was Boulis killed?" I'm really, this is ridiculous and it's the same kind of crap Limbaugh does. But he continued, as Sloan described the gangland-style hit, and said they hadn't caught the killer, Franken says "Did he look like Reed, did he look like Ralph Reed, did he look like Grover Norquist?" Sloan said "I don't think they have any information" and Franken replies "See that's why they're still under suspicion".

At this point Franken's co-host Katherine Lanpher chimes in being annoyed at Franken. She says "I thought guilt by association wasn't something that good people liked to do." She says "it's idle wicked speculation that we usually take the other side to task for." Then they go on to (Speaker of the House) Dennis Hastert and accusations that he received large amounts of (illegal) campaign donations from Turkish nationals. Ms. Sloan's organization just filed a complaint with the FEC on this based on an article in the September Vanity Fair. Franken said "And of course Hastert is innocent until proven guilty, just like Reed and Norquist, there's no reason to say they did kill Boulis". On TV you see Ms Lanpher hold and shake her head in disbelif that he's saying this and they go to commercial.

They then spoke to Manal Omar of Women For Women International about women's rights in Iraq. Throughout this segment the TV show cited her incorrectly as being from "Women to Women International", though they said it correctly on their air. The TV show folks need to get their act together. She spoke about inequalities of marriage and divorce law in Islamic countries and how it seems the Iraq constitution might adopt these. Franken asked about women's rights under Saddam Hussein and Ms Omar said that in the 70s and 80s he was not against women and they in fact had the right to vote, same as men, though she pointed out that in a dictatorship the right to vote isn't much. She also pointed out that in the 90s to gain support of tribal and religious leaders, Saddam adopted much tribal law and raped and tortured many women. She said "I don't want to present him in any way as a champion of women's causes." This was a fine segment.

After the break they came back and Al and Katherine talked about Abramoff again. Franken kept speculating on connections between the Boulis murder and Norquist and Reed. Lanpher kept protesting this, at one point calling it libel (actually it's slander). Then Franken goes into a skit playing fictional special investigator Anthony Panzzini of the Department of Justice. He then interviews Anthony while playing him as well with a thick stereotypical italian accent "cal me Tony, Tony Six Ducks" Franken asks "Is it fair to speculate about whether Abramoff has any involvment". "Tony" replies "Oh, yeah yeah yeah, he did it, he put a hit on the guy". Lanpher shouts "What?!?...but Jack Abramoff was out the country when Boulis was killed". Tony responds "Katerin [sic] you can put a hit on a guy anyone from anywhere. Abramoff didn't pull the trigger he had a goon do it". This goes on and gets worse, but one thing that the TV show makes clear is that both Franken and Lanpher are reading from scripts throughout this. All her shock at what he's saying is scripted and part of the act. At one point she reads "I think you're a crude anti-italian stereotype that Al invented just so he could accuse Jack Abramoff of being a murderer." Calling the skit out explicitly for what it is makes it seem a little better, but I don't really think it is.

They then spoke with Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant. Who's
op-ed the prior Sunday talked about how Republican are having problems recruiting strong candidates to run. First up was Jeanine's Pirro annoucing she was going to run against Hilary Cliinton for NY Senator. During her speech, she paused for 32 seconds because she didn't have "page 10". Franken played the whole cliip and it was pretty amusing. They pointed out how this DA was apparently so scripted, she couldn't wing it. Also that the Republicans had hoped NY Governor George Pitaki or former mayor Rudy Giuliani would run against Hilary, but they declined. Others running for the Republican spot include Richard Nixon's son-in-law Ed Cox. They moved on to North Dakota which is a red state but has a strong Democratic Senator Kent Conrad who has "no big time oppenent". Then on to Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) where the two "the Republican race is missing its best-known potential candidates -- Domino's Pizza CEO David Brandon [and] Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land". Then on to Florida where to oppose Democrat Bill Nelson the best they can come up with is Katherine Harris who according to Oliphant the White House views as damaged goods. She aparently is accusing the media of darkening her eye shadow during the 2000 election. Then on to Washington State where Democrat Maria Cantwell where Dino Rossi isn't going to run against her. His conclusion was that the Democrats might be able to save money by not needing to defend many candidates early in the election cycle. That could be good. Overall it was a fine summary piece early in the election cycle.

So there's a show (well the radio show is 3 hours and the Sundance show just an hour but still). Manal Omar. I didn't like the Bush on Iraq bit, the Texas Rangers bit and I thought the Abramoff bit was mudslinging if not actual slander. He still hasn't won me over, maybe I should just stop trying.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Bush Breaks Record

So today, Bush broke the all-time vacation record for a President. The previous record was 335 days accomplished by Reagan over his 8 years. Bush broke the record after 4.5 years and has two weeks to go on his current vacation.

On July 29th, White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters "Spending time outside of Washington always gives the president a fresh perspective of what's on the minds of the American people". Amazing huh. it's not like he talks to many people, certainly not Cindy Sheehan. In addition to about 20% vacation time (that's a 1 day out of 5 average), he doesn't work weekends, nights, and takes 2 hours in the middle of each day for exercise. Jon Stewart pointed out that he's the first president to look better after being in office. But really how is this country club work ethic helping him understand what's on the minds of the american people. The answer is it doesn't. It's just a meaningless line from a press office that doesn't say anything worthwhile. It's certainly not comparable to the plight of the US worker.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Onion on Intelligent Design

The Onion is still funny. Their latest is Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory. It may not have all the facts of this New Yorker article but it's a lot funnier.

The Internet Need Not Be Everywhere

Engadget points to a story about smart light bulbs that texts you when it dies. That's right, if you're at home, and a bulb dies, your phone will start beeping to say....the bulb died. Will wonders never cease?

Soon, someone will write a little message filter that notices these messages and automatically orders new replacement light bulbs online. Of course since you're in the dark, you'll want to pay for overnight shipping to get it quickly. Maybe you'll want to order a couple of backups, just in case. Wait, that can't be right, then you wouldn't need the text message in the first place. Oh wait, I know, this will work if you're not home so you can pick up bulbs on your way home. That's it, so just be sure to leave your lights on if you're not home.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


This article in speculating that last-mile problem by offering free Wi-Fi and gain functionality (maps, ads) by knowing your geographic location.

They say that Google spends as much as $60/Mb but I find that high. A simple search I did returned 55,581 bytes which is 444,684 bits. According to them this cost Google about $25 for just my one search, that's doubtful. But even still, this make a lot a sense.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Learning Kayaking

No it's not the name of an open source project, I mean real boats in water. I know a few folks who enjoy it and there's a good rental place me so I signed up. Three classes and unlimited practice rental for 3 weeks, a good deal.

I had no idea that there were foot rests (like pedals that don't push) inside and you sit with your legs scrunched a little so your thighs are touching the inside top of the kayak. This way, by wiggling you can lean the boat. We learned some basic strokes the first week, and this week we learn rescue techniques and more strokes. Pretty fun stuff.

Friday, August 12, 2005


You may notice the little counter at the bottom of the right column. It just cross the 1000 mark today or yesterday. I've been enjoying the writing, but it's nice to know someone is reading. statcounter tells me some info, number of page loads, unique visitors, returning visitors. It also tells me that more than half of you use Firefox, it's nice to know it's not IE. I also get some data on referrals which is mostly what search words let people to this blog. it's almost always Daily Show searches. I guess I have to find more interesting things to write about :)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Fact checking the Boston Globe...

According to this Boston Globe article Bush signed an executive order which allows him to block the release of John Roberts memos from the Reagan administration. First some background.

The Presidential Records Act of 1978 (PRA) says that presidential records are not the property of the individual president, but after 12 years are public property. Within a 12 year period after the president leaves office, they are subject to requests for disclosure via the Freedom of Information Act, but the former and incubant presidents get to review the requests and potentially block the release by invoking executive privilege. it excludes some records such as those relating to national defence, appointments, trade secrets, advice between the president and his advisors and medical files. As near as I can tell, anything after 12 years after the last term in office is public property.

In 1989 Bush Sr enacted Executive Order 12667 which seems to be description of procedures to follow for review by the current and former presidents of any records disclosure so they can determine if they want to invoke executive privilege and block the disclosure. Doesn't seem to be anything big.

Then in November 2001 Bush Jr. enacted Executive Order 13233 which according to the Globe article "all but repealed the Presidential Records Act". But as I read it, it's not so bad. Section 6 explicitly calls out that it does not change Congress' rights to obtain access via section 2205 (2) (c) of the PRA which says "Presidential records shall be made available ... to either House of Congress ... if such records contain information that is needed for the conduct of its busines." Section 8 is troubling, it expands the records that the president may claim privilege for during the 12 year period to any record. Section 13 revokes Executive Order 12667, I'm not sure if that's at all significant.

H. R. 4187 was a bill in House in 2002 (search here for Bill Number H.R 4187 in the 107th congress) that would overturn Executive Order 13233, but it has gone no where (it's not law).

Whew, what a mess, why is this so difficult? So what does this all mean? Well according to the Globe article:
Bush's executive order said the ''incumbent president may assert any constitutionally based privilege" after the 12 years have lapsed to block the release of these files. Included among these many ''privileges" were ''records that reflect . . . legal advice or legal work."
But I don't think that's right, Section 8 I think only applies to before the 12 years are up.

Then again, the article says "the National Archives office said it was prepared to release thousands of pages of files from 1982-1986. But Bush's executive order did not permit their release until ''the incumbent president" can ''review all the records," the archivists said. And "Two White House lawyers have been sent to review the files." Reagan's term ended in 1988 so either they're wrong or I am.

If someone could clarify this, I'd appreciate it. Either way, according to the article "The White House has said the Reagan-era files will be released on or before Aug. 22" so this shouldn't be a big deal, unless of course they block the release.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Observing the Perseids

The Perseids are the largest annual meteor shower. If the skies are clear, it's a great deal of fun to watch. We used lie on the beach staring into the dark sky shouting out when we saw one. This year they peak early Thursday morning. Go outside when it's very dark (after 11pm) and look northeast near Cassiopeia (the big "W"). Don't use binoculars or telescopes, just stare into the sky trying to see as wide a field as you can. Every once in a while you'll see what looks like a star shooting across the sky.

Good Op-Ed on Science and Creationism

This is a good piece by Robert Vanasse entitled Reason, faith at a crossroads which points out how Creationism and Intelligent Design is flat-earth thinking and that science and religion don't need to be in conflict and in fact for all but the fundamentalists, it's not.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Roberts Memos and Nomination Process

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts served in the executive branch of the federal government in three roles:
  • 1981-1982, Special Assistant to the U.S. Attorney General
  • 1982-1986, Associate Counsel to the President
  • 1989-1993, Principal Deputy Solicitor General
The Senate has asked for papers written by Roberts in these roles to help them to "advise and consent".

The White House has turned over memos from his first two roles but refused to for his time in the Solicitor General's office. The rationale given is attorney-client privilege, that such internal memos are key to the solicitor general's deliberations over legal strategy, and releasing them would damage traditional privilege. I'm no expert on these roles but I would have thought that counsel to the president would be closer to a role that deserved the protection of privilege. After all, the solicitor general represents the government in cases before the Supreme Court. Last week Democrats asked for documents from 16 of the more than 300 cases Roberts worked on while Deputy Solicitor General but the Justice Department refused saying it was "simply contrary to the public interest" to release the material.

But of course, they're lying. As Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) points out, there's precedent for tuning over the papers as Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, former federal appellate judge Robert H. Bork, former Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III and others had given up documents written while they worked for the Justice Department. "Those working in the solicitor general's office are not working for the president," Mr. Leahy told George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program "This Week." "They're working for you and me, and all the American people."

And it seems attorney-client priviledge doesn't apply to Congress. To quote former Senator Fred Thompson, who is sheparding Roberts nomination for the White House "An invocation of attorney-client privilege is not binding on Congress. It is well established that in exercising its Constitutional investigatory powers, congress possesses discretionary control over a witness' claim of privilege. It is also undisputed that Congress can exercise its discretion completely without regard to the approach the courts might take with respect to that same claim." He said this when Clinton tried to invoke it. Times do change.

I would think these memos would be subject to a Freedom Of Information Act request. it doesn't seem to be covered by any of the 9 exemptions in subsection (b). But if anyone can tell me why they aren't, I'd appreciate it.

The other question I have is why can't you ask a nominee about previous (landmark) decisions that they must have an opinion on? Every law student must study Roe v Wade and must have an opinion on it. Why shouldn't they have to explain their position as they would have in law school? The usual argument is that it might bias a future decision in a similar area, but that doesn't make any sense to me. First of all, if they are going to bias an opinion based on what they think, whether they speak about their biases or not doesn't change if they have them. Second, I'd hope a Justice could work past a bias they had, and if they can't, isn't that relevant to their appointment?

Roberts so far seems like he would make a good Justice. But of course we're not done looking into him. Ross Perot seemed good to me when he announced his run for President, but once he started talking it became clear I wasn't going to like him. We have to learn more about Roberts before we (ie the Senate acting for the people) can make an informed decision. And it should be the role of the White House to help us do this, he's their nominee.

The Daily Show and Tivo

That's it, I had to do it. I got rid of my Daily Show season pass. With the show on 5 times a day and no up-to-date info on who the guest is in TiVo's records it would try to record them all. Sometimes I'm good and remember to scan through "View Upcoming Episodes" and delete the repeats, but sometimes I forget. And after, it's TiVo, I shouldn't have to care.

So now I have four manual recordings, one for each weekday except Friday (the show isn't new on Fridays) on Comedy Central from 11 to 11:30. I wish TiVo could do a Mon-Thu repeat just for this show, I'm sure it's one of the most season passed shows on TiVo. But I really wish they could get better meta-data so it would know which are repeats.

My only problem now is if something of higher priority conflicts, it won't know to record one of the repeats. I will personally start an internet campaign to boycott any show that I watch that starts running over to 11:01.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Bradley's Bromide

Saw this today on Quotes of the Day, never heard it before:

If computers get too powerful, we can organize them into a committee -- that will do them in.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Universe Today - Cassini's Zips Past the Death Star

It turns out Saturn's moon Mimas looks like the Death Star. Mimas was discovered in 1789 by William Herschel. The 80 mile wide crater is named Herschel after him.

Another Great Daily Show

While monday was a repeat, the Daily Show had new episodes the rest of this week. Tonight's is prime example of why this show is so great. Every segment hit.

First he covered Robert Novak walking off of a CNN show. You can watch the video here. After the Daily Show taped, CNN suspended him for this.

Then he did a great bit on Flight 358. He started by explaining "within 2 minutes all 309 passengers and crew got out alive, a remarkable testament to the training of the crew and the emergency personal and their competence." He then showed a dozen clips of news casters calling it a miracle, which incensed him. He ponted out that miracles are supernatural events, and the only aspect of this that was supernatural was the lightening strike, an act of God. "His plan was foiled by the crew's Satanic competence. Can't someone take some human credit for a job well done!" He went on to say "If the passengers had died and then three days later come back to life, that would be a miracle."

He then showed a clip which exemplifies why network morning shows suck. The Today Show had Ann Curry seguing from this miracle story "it is pretty amazing, thank you Kevin, is there a baby boom for pandas in this country?"

Then in a segment called "The Less You Know" he walked through some of the Bush administrations more annoying traits. The ACLU wants the Pentagon to release all the photos from Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the Pentagon is refusing. He showed Bill O'Rielly saying that "more Abu Ghraib pictures help the terrorists as do Geneva Convention protections and civilian lawyers. So there's no question the ACLU and the judges that side withm are terror allies." Stewart followed this up by explaining that this was from the book The O'Reilly Factor for Kids With No More Than a Passing Aquaintance With the Rules of Logic.

He went on to say the administration figured the best way to avoid the problem was to hide the prisoners themselves. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have a bill "that would prevent the military from hiding prisoners from the Red Cross" which seems like a logical thing you would want to avoid. He then showed a clip of McCain on O'Reilly where McCain said torture doesn't work and O'Reilly saying he's heard it does. Stewart did point out the absurdity of arguing with McCain about torture.

Finally he talked about how the White House is refusing to release documents about Supreme Court nominee John Roberts when he worked there under Bush Sr. It's all just more in a long line of things this administration has tried to lock down tight.

They then did a Stephen Colbert report on the new Dukes of Hazard movie and how the original Cooter is complaining that the movie doesn't accurately portray the good clean family fun of the TV show. He interviewed some guys that gave fraternity brothers a bad name (ok, it wasn't a stretch). Then he interviews the president of the SC NAACP who's protesting that the movie has the confederate flag in it.

The guest was CNN's NASA correspondant talking about the shuttle. It was ok, but Stewart made a lot of jokes about the tiles and the shuttle plans and didn't once mention the competence of NASA and all involved in building the shuttel and sending it into space in the first place.

Still between the Daily Show, Battlestar Galactica, and Rescue Me, there are some good things on summer TV.

Better Ways To Work

Two good reads came out recently. First is Joel Spolsky's Hitting the High Notes which argues that hiring the best programmers really does make a difference. The second is Paul Graham's latest, entitled What Business Can Learn from Open Source.

Graham describes three lessons. The first is that open source allows people to work on what they love and businesses have to compete with them. While not all of these projects are good, businesses have to compete with the best of themwhich can be difficult. His second point is that typical work environments suck and are not very condusive to productivity. The third point is something about bottom up being better than top down but I can't say I followed what he was applying it to. He talks about ideas bubbling up from the bottom and things being successful when many eyes look at and pick out the best ideas. He also suggests that openess is faster giving a publishing example.

He is "not claiming companies can get smarter, just that dumb ones will die", a macro view of things. But is that really a new notion? He's arguing for more startups but I think the fact he did only one, which turned out to be highly successful, biases him. I can nitpick about a lot of things in the essay, but I agree with his general point, businesses must adapt to this new form of competition.

Open source isn't perfect, it's a lot slower than other development methods (it took a dozen years before Linux became popular and 6 years for the Mozilla foundation to ship Firefox 1.0). it's also not good at getting done what isn't interesting, even if it is important, like the version 3.2 he mentions. And a lot of open source projects fail, I'd be really interested to know how the statistics compare to failed startups.

Businesses have been the same for a while. I'm not sure if they're going to change much because some startups do things differently. Particularly when in a previous essay Graham said "most startups that succeed do it by getting bought." So what kind of company is going to do be doing the buying?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Harlan McCraney: Bush speech writer

This is a really funny video from Comedy Central on Harlan McCraney a ficticious Bush speech writer. The clips from Bush are hysterical.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Nuclear Hubris in Idaho

This op-ed in the New York Times is the first I've heard of this. Apparently the Energy Department wants to produce plutonium 238 near Idaho Falls, Idaho, for unspecified national security purposes. Here are the 3 most important paragraphs of the article:

The department wants to produce plutonium 238 in a nearly 40-year-old test reactor containing more than 30 times the amount of radioactive material estimated to have been released from Chernobyl. Unlike commercial reactors, the test reactor has no containment dome and is near the greater Yellowstone area, one of the most active earthquake sites in the world. Yet the Energy Department seems quite confident that these risks are all "allowables."

A 40-year-old reactor? No problem, the reactor's internal core parts are replaced every 8 to 10 years by highly competent engineers and contractors. No containment dome over the reactor? Not to worry, there won't be any releases of plutonium since the reactor meets all department regulations, which anticipate every eventuality. Earthquakes? Come, come, the reactor doesn't sit precisely on a fault. Perhaps an independent safety oversight board would be wise? Not at all, the department has its own safety oversight and besides, its engineers are on the safety lookout 24/7.

At the Idaho Falls public meeting, a former nuclear safety specialist who had spent 16 years doing risk assessments and safety analysis on the test reactor before her disputed departure this spring said that it had been out of compliance with safety and earthquake regulations for years, and that the department's environmental impact report "had serious omissions that significantly understate the risk to workers and the public." She had routinely seen the department "sweep safety issues under the rug so they could start up the reactor on schedule." Sound familiar?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bush: Intelligent Design Should Be Taught

This just frightens me. The President of the US doesn't understand how much evidence there is for evolution. If he did, he couldn't possibly think this.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Bush Bypasses Senate, Nominates Bolton

I'm not sure if he used political capital or just lost some, but Bush certainly made no friends today when he appointed John Bolton to UN Ambassador without the advice and consent of the Senate. He has the right to do so on a temporary basis and Bolton will serve until January 2007 when a new Senate will come to session after the 2006 elections. This seems like a dumb rule, it would make more sense for the position to be filled until the Senate resumes session (in a month) and can deliberate, perhaps with him serving until he gets an up or down vote.

For the party so upset that Democrats might fillibuster judical nominations because it had never been done before, they had no problems using a recess appointment for an (UN) ambassador something that has never been done before. The Democrats blocked the nomination while the white house refused to turn over information about Bolton. We'll have to see how Bolton does. Given how he got his appointment his fellow ambassadors could view him as strongly representing the president or as not really representing the US (since Congress has to ratify any treaties).

Bolton's history of being a non-politic hardliner probably won't help him, and neither will his role in the Iraq invasion or the investigation into WMD. And now it seems there's some connection to the Plame investigation.

Something Different: 5 Wits

Today I went to 5 Wits! near Fenway in Boston to play an interactive game called Tomb. It's like an extended Disney ride you play with a group of people, that's more interactive than the usual stuff, something more like a Disney Quest game. Adventures start every 15 minutes or so, you enter several rooms and as a group you solve various puzzles that might be finding hidden things, playing simon, or matching patterns.

It was pretty fun though some of the puzzles were too familar (e.g., Towers of Hanoi) and there's some sections where you're listening to instructions for a little too long. We only played it once but apparently there are a couple of paths you can take, basically you can die at a couple of points. Also there isn't much replay value as the puzzles only change slightly. A game costs $14-$20 a person depending on what day you go (nights and weekends are more expensive) and lasts about 45 minutes. It's kinda fun, moreso with a good group, but it needs a better location. It's not something I'd make a special trip for but it might be good after a movie at the Fenway cinema.