Thursday, August 31, 2006

20 Things You Didn't Know About... Death

Discover magazine has 20 Things You Didn't Know About... Death.

Remember that Healthcare Problem?

This week's Time has the story How VA Hospitals Became The Best. Kinda surprising but also cool. Kevin Drum wrote about it and refers to a year old article in the Washington Monthly by Phillip Longman called The Best Care Anywhere.

Apparently in the last 12 years the VA has changed a lot mostly due to Undersecretary Kenneth Kizer who Clinton appointed in 1994. " He oversaw a radical downsizing and decentralization of management power, implemented pay-for-performance contracts with top executives, and won the right to fire incompetent doctors. He and his team also began to transform the VHA from an acute care, hospital-based system into one that put far more resources into primary care and outpatient services for the growing number of aging veterans beset by chronic conditions...It also involved an obsession with systematically improving quality and safety that to this day is still largely lacking throughout the rest of the private health-care system."

They have very high tech records keeping with laptops and bar codes on patients and drugs and a nationwide database with complete patient records that track the life of the patient not just their visits with one doctor. Longman's article describes how the current pseudo-private system doesn't support a business case for quality care and it makes a lot of sense. I've been saying for a long time that health care isn't a good free market system because the buyer is not knowledgeable and can't evaluate health care choices.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

People 1 Verizon 0

A few weeks ago Verizon DSL subscribers got a letter saying that a federal surcharge was being removed ($1.20-$2.83) their bills but a new Verizon fee was being added. The effect was that your bill would drop only 5-13 cents. People called foul saying Verizon was gouging rather than passing on savings. Apparently the complaints were loud enough the FCC sent a letter to Verizon asking them to explain themselves. Less than a week later, Verizon dropped the new fee. Similar thing happened for Bell South.

Supernova Live

Scientists watch supernova in realtime. Pretty cool.

More on Iran

Here's an interesting article by Matthew Yglesias on the Iran Debate. Maybe we shouldn't be listening to the liars talk about Islamofascism and think about how Iran borders Pakistan which is now nuclear. Read it and then wonder why politicians don't talk this way on such important matters.

New Planetary Mnemonics

The Language Log has some tips on Make Very Excellent Mnemonics: Just Start Using Noggin!.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Plame Leak News

So Dick Armitage was Novaks source and the FBI has known this since before Fitzgerald was appointed. Make you wonder what they've been investigating for 3 years. His disclosure seems innocent. He knew about Plame because Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman wrote about her while on orders by Libby. Just get it done already.

Katie's Exteme Makeover

I know photoshopping fashion pics is common practice and with the recent bit of photoshopping war photos I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but I am. Here are the before and after photos of Katie Couric, CBS' new news anchor. Would they do this for Edward Murrow? Why photoshop the image for a magazine but not for the official release? Why do it at all?

Impostor Scams Louisiana Officials

Crazy story from CNN Impostor scams Louisiana officials. Apparently a group of people known as The Yes Men do some kind of performance art political statement thing and impersonate officials to point out bad policies.

In this case one represented himselve as a HUD spokesman and gave a speech introduced by the Governor of LA and Mayor of New Orleans saying HUD was going to change it policy of tearing down perfectly good housing to build different housing.

I don't know the details of the policy issue. As far as the effectiveness of the method it seems everyone is focusing on the prank as opposed to the message. It makes sense, everyone who might be asked to comment on it (the governor, mayor, HUD) were fooled and looked foolish. Though the article does end with a quote from the media coordinator for a tent city: "Right now, a lie is better than the truth"

Baby Name Wizard

NameVoyager is a java applet that shows a cool graphical UI of the popularity of names over the last century. Type in a name or just the first few letters and see the matching names on a graph.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Flickr Photo Maps

Some new cameras have GPS systems built in and can store latitude and longitude info in the photo file. There are also external devices that work with some cameras to do this. People have written applications to show the photos on maps and there have been some Google mashups doing similar things.

But Lifehacker reports that photosharing giant Flickr can now show a yahoo map of photos. This really will bring it to the masses and I think make this a common occurrence.

Now how long until someone puts a Time Machine interface on this to show both where and when pictures were taken? In a hundred years, imagine being able to look at a map and see pictures taken of a location over a previous century.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Pat Buchanan, Racist

If you didn't think Pat Buchanan was a racist pig, in his new book, State of Emergency, he basically comes out and says it. "If we do not get control of our borders, by 2050 Americans of European descent will be a minority in the nation their ancestors created and built." Think Progress summarizes him as saying: "Buchanan argues quite explicitly that only whites have the appropriate 'genetic endowments' to keep America from collapsing"

What made America great was a lot of people overcoming their differences and working hard to make a great nation. The Irish, Italians, Germans, and British didn't view themselves as all coming from European descent, in many cases they hated each other. They built a strong economy and used science (not creationism) to advance civilization.

What's really depressing, is that his book is the number 1 ranked book at amazon.

Friday, August 25, 2006

We're Just Scaring Ourselves

Here's a Canadian newspaper report from Tue Aug 15 that a plane declared an emergency over a suspicious package which turned out "has been identified as an electronic device commonly known as an iPod."

Ok first off, what's with the overly officious English? Why not just say "was an iPod"?

Ok, the fun part is this posting on a World of Warcraft forum claiming to be the guy on this flight who accidently dropped his iPod in the toilet and told the stewardess. His account of what happened next, if true, is frightening. If we're going to over-react to everyday accidents like this, we will no longer be able to function as a society.

Next Up, Iran

Cenk Uygur writes in the Huffington Post The NeoClowns Are at it Again. It looks like to NeoCons, Iran is the new Iraq. There's stuff coming out about Iran including a House Intelligence Committee Report. That talks a lot about their nuclear program but also says they probably have biological and chemical weapons. Sound familiar? The report says:

"Although it does not have unequivocal evidence, the U.S. Intelligence Community believes Iran has an offensive chemical weapons research and development capability."

"Iran probably has an offensive biological weapons program but lacks clear intelligence proving that this is the case."

But that's it, it doesn't present any of the evidence they do have. I call foul.

Glenn Greenwald adds that Bush thinks war decisions are solely his. Now I think his quotes from Bush are little weak to back his position but inherent authority has been a theme of the administration. The part I don't get, is that Article I, Section 8 makes it very clear that Congress has the authority to declare war, not the President, why didn't Greenwald mention that? Was it too obvious? Is it not obvious enough for Bush?

Stupid Security, We're Now Scared of Writing

Get your very own "I am not a terrorist," in Arabic T-shirt. It seems Rae Jarrar was traveling through JFK and was wearing a t-shirt that said "We will not be silent" in both Arabic and English and security officials made him cover it up or not be allowed on the flight. I can almost perhaps vaguely understand why I can't fly with toothpaste (ok, I can't) but needing to cover a t-shirt!??!

The Odds of Things

I don't know how accurate these are, but it's a good read: The Odds.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

House Majority Leader Uninformed on Iraq

Daily Kos reports on how the House Majority Leader's grasp of Iraq War is, um, not so hot. He said "The problems are in Baghdad and within a 30 mile radius of Baghdad. The rest of the country is peaceful." This map from CBS News says otherwise.

Verizon Fails Again

Here's a bad review of the chocolate phone from Verizon. While pretty, it turns out the buttons don't work and are layed out badly, no speakerphone, crippled bluetooth, no mac support, etc. In short, "the Chocolate is a usability disaster". David Pogue summed it up: "Whenever I review a product this badly designed, I just stare at the ceiling and try to imagine how it could possibly have gotten out the door."

I echo the sentiments of some of the commenters. I just want a phone that works and integrated with my computer's address book. I'd do that with a wire, but bluetooth was made for this and is already on the phone.

Pluto's Out of the Planet Club

Yep, Pluto is no longer a planet, it's a dwarf planet. We only have 8 planets in our solar system. Get over it. Oh and the solar system is still about 4.5 billion years old and planets revolve around the Sun, not the Earth, and that's not going to change.

Pot Meet Kettle

New York Times today has an article that a list of approved majors for a federal grant program of low-income college students came out by the Dept of Education and Evolutionary Biology has been removed. A spokewoman said it was a clerical error and will be corrected but it hasn't been fixed yet. More troubling is that in a list of 300 majors this is the one that was removed. Hardly a clerical error. Reasonable doubt.

In yesterday's Boston Globe was an article Activists target hotel porn. A Hilton spokewoman said "Really ultraconservative groups try to target the hotels in their zest to eliminate porn. In their zest to have their personal morals prevail, they're eliminating choice for others." This just seems so dumb, if you want want it, don't order it, why tell others what they can or can't do? Doesn't that sound like what the "evil-doers" are doing?

I really don't know what Islamo-fascism is, but if it does mean something, this is sounding like Evangelico-fascism.

Bush is a Failure, According to Google

If you Google for "failure" the first hit returned is the Biography of President George W. Bush from the White House.

More PC v Mac Spoofs

Here are three more Mac v PC ad spoofs. The first one isn't so great, but the second is brilliant and the third draws on that a bit. part 1, part 2, part 3.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Movie Review: Snakes on a Plane

Yes I saw this. I wasn't going to since it's really not my kind of movie but the hype was there and when I had last looked, Rotten Tomatoes had a good rating for it, not so much now, and I understand why.

Ok, I went in with the right expections, all set from the title, there's a plane, and there are snakes on it. And Samuel Jackson. The setup was pretty economical. Some guy witnessed a crime boss killing someone in Hawaii and Jackson the FBI agent is getting him to LA to testify. The crime boss wants him dead, so snakes on a plane. Now they do mention enough stuff to cover enough details of a stupid plane. The flight is over the pacific so landing in water isn't a great choice. The snakes are on a time release so they are at the half-way point. There are a lot of snakes and they crawl around the guts of the plane and might bring the whole plane down, so it avoids the question (raised in the film) how do they know they'll bite the witness. Oh and they also say that the cold blooded snakes defeated the detection techiques (though they used dogs and the dog carried on the plane barks at the snakes.

But look, it doesn't really matter, this is snakes on a plane. The above just shows they did the minimum to help you suspend disbelief. The problem is they didn't do much more. The big flaw is there is no sense of time or pacing. These are pretty important things in a thriller. There's not a lot of building of tension. Things are started and then kinda forgotten. E.g., Sam Jackson and Julianna Margulies are piloting the plane (the real pilots are perhaps the dumbest ever) and trying to pull up from a dive at 17,000 feet. Cut to the cabin and various stuff happens. Ten minutes later cut to the air traffic controllers who say the plane is under 1,000 feet. Finally cut to the cabin and they're straining and pull up a few hundred feed from the water. Where were any of the jump cuts to show them straining and not succeeded? They only way we knew the plane was diving was that a Moutain Dew can was rolling.

This could have been stupid fun. But there's only a little fun. Basically things that fit into throwaway scenes, but not anything significant. Oh and don't get me started on the plot about getting the anti-venom. Avoid this film.

Earthquakes in the last week

Earthquakes aren't so rare. Here's a Google Maps mashup showing Earthquakes in the last week.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

US v. $124,700

Driving With Money is a Crime: "Eighth Circuit Appeals Court ruling says police may seize cash from motorists even in the absence of any evidence that a crime has been committed."

What Bush Knew of Islam

Reading this Cenk Uygur rant pointed me at this Raw Story report. "Former Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith is claiming President George W. Bush was unaware that there were two major sects of Islam just two months before the President ordered troops to invade Iraq."

Apparently this isn't quite news. A New York Times Magazine article from early 2003, that I won't pay to search for, said he didn't know the difference in Sept 2002.

The Raw Story article goes on about Galbraith's ideas. "the invasion of Iraq destabilized the Middle East while inadvertently strengthening Iran. One of the administration's intentions in invading Iraq was to undermine Iran, but instead, the Iraqi occupation has given Tehran one of its greatest strategic triumphs in the last four centuries."

Animator vs. Animation

This is a good stick figure fighting flash animation Animator vs. Animation. The sound makes it. It took 3 months to make, watch it for a few minutes.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Here's a 35 minute video of Steve Jobs demoing NeXTSTEP Release 3 from 1992. A few things to note. First, this is a great demo, Jobs really is a master at this. He shows things in a good order, building up on things he presents. He shows it from the point of view of the user and explains what looks so easy on the screen. If you forgot what enterprise computing was like in 1992, the little jab at Lotus 123 in DOS will remind you.

Second is just how little things have advanced since then. Most of the stuff you see is still the core of OS X. New macs don't come with modems so the fax capability is an add-on. There isn't an image editor built-in. I don't think live object-linking as shown in the demo is there either.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

When Will the Majority Speak Against the Fundamentalists?

Kathleen Reardon, who I've never heard of, has a post in the Huffington Post called What About God's Own Timetable?. It's a little thick on the reason for the war is to bring about judgement day, but it's doesn't actually say that. What I did like was this:

"So many Americans are indignantly, and with good reason, expecting peaceful Muslims to stand up against the radicals in their midst. Well, where are the Christians who think hijacking their religion is not part of God's plan either?"

Meanwhile back in Iraq

Glenn Greenwald has a good post called Meanwhile, Iraq unravels even faster. He ends with:
There are no good options for Iraq. Simply withdrawing in the face of the horrendous mess we made is both reckless and dangerous, but staying is achieving nothing good. But the first and most important step is to recognize who it is who led us into this disaster and, through deceit and desperate irrationality, kept us there due to a refusal to acknowledge reality. And then we should stop listening to them immediately and completely.

So, we broke it and we have to fix it, but us staying there makes things worse, not an easy nut to crack. We need some way to convince others that we understood we made a mistake. I think impeaching the administration that made the grievous mistake is a reasonable solution. It would be a good demonstration of democracy instigating regime change.

Snow Jobs

The Washington Post has an article, Trying to Spin the Truth Away, which talks about the White House's attempt to spin the news earlier this week that Bush is frustrated about Iraq.

Math News

The New York Times wrote an interesting article this week Elusive Proof, Elusive Prover: A New Mathematical Mystery about how a reclusive Russian mathematician solved a 100 year old math problem about the topology of 3 dimensional space called the Poincare conjecture. Slate explains why this is important.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

GOP Defections

What's Going on in the Red States? in the Daily Kos points to several Republicans that have switched to become Democrats.

Bush's Katrina Report Card

An AP article tracks Bush's results one year later in cleaning up Katrina: Bush fulfills few promises to Gulf Coast. "The job of clearing debris left by the storm remains unfinished, and has been plagued by accusations of fraud and price gouging. Tens of thousands of families still live in trailers or mobile homes, with no indication of when or how they will be able to obtain permanent housing. Important decisions about rebuilding and improving flood defenses have been delayed. And little if anything has been done to ensure the welfare of the poor in a rebuilt New Orleans." The rest of the article has more details, some of which are better than that quote, but some are worse.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Wait, Aren't You Scared?

Kung Fu Monkey has a good post "Wait, Aren't You Scared?". It seems to be written by a John Rogers, a comedian, TV, movie, and comics writer. His biggest thing seems to be being one of the screenwriters of Catwoman. But this post is good, I particularly liked:

"Osama Bin Laden got everything on his Christmas list after 9/11 -- US out of Saudi Arabia; the greatest military in the world over-extended, pinned down and distracted; the greatest proponent of democracy suddenly alienated from its allies; a US culture verily eager to destroy freedoms that little scumfuck could never even dream to touch himself -- I would like to deny him the last little check on the clipboard, i.e. constant terror. I panic, they win. To coin a phrase, Osama Bin Laden can suck my insouciance."

How Right-Wingers See the NYT

The Huffington Post has a cute flash app up of How Right-Winger See the New York Times. Move your mouse over the headlines to see the translation.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

NSA Domestic Spying Program Unconstitutional

SCOTUSblog report NSA program struck down by judge. Read the article, the quotes from the judge are great. The President of the united States, a creature of the same Constitution which gave us these [First and Fourt] Amendments, has undisputedly violated the Fourth by failing to procure judicial orders as required by FISA, and accordingly has violate the First Amendment rights of these plaintiffs as well."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

There Was No Vaseline

Was this the first panic attack that caused two F-15s to be scrambled? Don't you feel safer?

Was it Real or Fake?

Kevin Drum writes in The Washington Monthly about the state of the London bomb plot. "As little a year or two ago I would have rolled my eyes at the idea that even the timing of the arrests was politically motivated, let alone the possibility that the plot itself was being exaggerated. But today? I don't know"

Holding People Without Charges

Andrew Sullivan in The Alleged UK Terror Plot points out that no one has been charged with anything yet. In spite of Sullivan's "days are ticking by" rhetoric it's only been 6 days since the arrests. Under new British law, passed after the transit bombings last year, police can hold you for 28 days without charges. In the US it's 2 days, but Gonzales is saying 28 days would be more useful. Think about that, you would be giving your government permission to hold you for a month without charges. Blair at one point asked for 90 days!

Sullivan points to a post by Craig Murray who's view is that since they hadn't made a bomb, didn't have plane tickets, and some didn't have passports, they plot was not imminent and will be difficult to prove the case in court. Reports are that Bush rushed the British into making arrests. Murray is known for criticisms of western policies allowing torture and make that case here. Supposedly our evidence comes from tortured people in Pakistan. I'm not sure about that but this is what I found interesting in his post. He writes:
Of the over one thousand British Muslims arrested under anti-terrorist legislation, only twelve per cent are ever charged with anything. That is simply harrassment of Muslims on an appalling scale. Of those charged, 80% are acquitted. Most of the very few - just over two per cent of arrests - who are convicted, are not convicted of anything to do terrorism, but of some minor offence the Police happened upon while trawling through the wreck of the lives they had shattered.

He doesn't cite sources for these numbers but if true, that's pretty frightening.

Flight Anxiety

This morning a plane from Heathrow to Dulles (United 923) was diverted to Boston's Logan airport. Channel 7 news was the first to cover it here with live pictures of the plane already on the ground. The initial report was that three passengers created a disturbance and had suspicious items in their carry-on luggage. Then a few minutes later we heard a woman was tied up in the back of the plane. At this point other stations still weren't covering it. Then we heard that the woman had vaseline, matches, a screwdriver and a note referencing "al Qaeda".

The pictures showed the plane on a runway with nothing around it except for many police cars, fire engines, etc. But the people on the ground were calm. A staircase had been rolled up to the plane. There was one fireman and two other guys on the staircase just talking. It didn't look anything like police dealing with a terrorist situation.

CNN now covered it and had a report from the FBI that it was a just a woman who had an anxiety attack, and that it wasn't terrorism. Passengers were disembarking. The pilot had called in a passenger disturbance and there were two fighter jets escorting the plane.

CNN broke to a commercial, the first thing on was a commercial for a later CNN program with the caption "The Politics of Terror" and Paula Zahn saying: Tonight at 8, terror, anxiety, and voter manipulation. How might some politicians use last week's alleged terror plot to scare voters to the polls this fall." With all the craziness of the heightened terror alert, no wonder one of many passengers had an anxiety attack.

CNN came back on and got the vaseline, matches, screwdriver and al qaeda note from an AP story and then started asking some terrorism expert about it. Ridiculous.

Update: An hour into this, Channel 7 is reporting she didn't have the vaseline, matches, screwdriver or note (VMSN) but CNN is reporting that she did have the VMSN with a reporter saying he confirmed that with a "police office close to the investigation".

Update: 20 mins later, CNN is saying maybe she didn't have VMSN and they are reporting how in such situations even reliable sources have incorrect information. It's amazing to me that no one applied common sense that a terrorist wouldn't have VMSN. I mean al Qaeda uses suicide bombers, why would they have a note!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Did Humans Evolve? Not Us, Say Americans

This depresses me so much. The current issue of Science has a survey of various countries on their belief of evolution. "The acceptance of evolution is lower in the United States than in Japan or Europe, largely because of widespread fundamentalism and the politicization of science in the United States." The New York Times has this
graphic on the results. Are we really that dumb?

Bush in Fantasy Land

Dan Froomkin writes in the Washington Post, Another 'Mission Accomplished' Moment? about Bush and his claim that Hezbollah had been defeated. As he says it "once again raises questions about his ability to acknowledge reality when things don't turn out the way he intended."

Even George Will says "This farrago of caricature and non sequitur makes the administration seem eager to repel all but the delusional." This was in response to an anonymous senior administration official saying "The law enforcement approach doesn't work" after the London bomb plot was foiled enforcement.

Jews for Lieberman...Not

Newsweek has a web-exclusive commentary by Rabbi Marc Gellman. In it he expresses his mystification that more Jews didn't vote for Joe Lieberman.

Gellman supports Bush and doesn't know why more than 22-26% of Jews don't too. Maybe for the same reasons that only 33% of the country supports Bush. Things like lying about reasons to start a pre-emptive war, building up an enormous national debt, having no energy policy, being one of the most secretive administrations, supporting torture, failing to respond to Katrina, and losing the support of the world after 9/11 have something to do with it. And those are just the non-controversial things, not supporting stem-cell research, interferring in Terry Schiavo's case, spending time on banning gay marriage, nominating Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, having no health care policy aside from a confusing perscription drug give away to the pharmaceuticals, trying to privatize social security, not doing anything about global warming and probably not believing in evolution are things I think most people would agree are problems.

But Gellman wants to talk about Lieberman. "Joe voted the Democratic line 90 percent of the time...He is modest and self effacing. He is moral and faithful. He is principled and intelligent ... and he is one of us! What more do you want of the guy?" Well I agree with those things. But then Gellman says "So he supports the war. So what?" and then goes on to say that intelligent people position on the war is similar. But he confuses things. He only talks about what to do now. Pulling out tomorrow and "nuking the bastards" are both nuts. I agree, but that's not the question here. The question here is was attacking Iraq sensible? Gellman says 29 other Democrats voted for the war, but that's not right. They (and the rest of Congress) voted to authorize military action if diplomacy didn't work and they voted under false pretences of WMDs being in Iraq and there being an al Qaida connection to Iraq. The Bush administration also did not make available all the intelligence to Congress. If you voted for the resolution at the time, fine, but looking back in hindsight you have to realize it was a mistake, and Lieberman doesn't. Lieberman's view that "in matters of war we undermine Presidential credibility at our nation's peril" doesn't take into account that Bush has already undermined his own credibility and that blindly supporting him only makes things worse.

But the heart of Gellman's argument is that if you're a Jew you should vote for Lieberman, "the way blacks voted for Barack Obama or Catholics voted for John F. Kennedy". Well I'm sorry, that's moronic. If everyone voted for their own religion (or race) we'd have elected officials that matched this map. Almost all Senators would be Baptist or Catholic with a handful of Mormons and Lutherans. There would be no Jews in the Senate. Or is it just Jews, blacks and Catholics that are supposed to vote their own? Gellman makes the distinction between the Jewish race and Judaism (a religion). I'm sorry but voting for someone because they are the same race as you is racist. You're supposed to vote for the person who will best represent your political positions.

For the most part I like Lieberman, but his view on the war and this presidency is wrong, and that's what this election is about.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Movie Review: World Trade Center

I've heard a lot of people are upset about the film World Trade Center because it was made by conspiracy nut Oliver Stone. Well it's nothing like an Oliver Stone movie. Tackling perhaps the most tragic event of the 21st century, this film avoids the political issues and even the full scope of the day's events and tells the true story of two Port Authority policemen and their families as they deal with tragedy. John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) were rescued after spending hours trapped in the wreckage of the towers.

The film is told from a human point of view. Most all the camera shots are from eye level or are closeups. The purpose is to give us the knowledge of the people at the time, which wasn't much. McLoughlin and Jimeno didn't know a second plane had struck the second tower and they didn't know the buildings had collapsed until they were pulled from the rubble.

It's pretty early in the film that they are trapped, they were still in the lobby having just gathered equipment. As a result, Cage and Pena performances consist mostly of closeups of parts of their faces as they can't move at all. They both do a good job.

To avoid too much claustrophobia in the film we also see the story of the families as they wait to hear if their husbands are still alive. Maria Bello plays Donna McLoughlin and Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Allison Jimeno. All the performances are strong. I thought I'd find Maria Bello more compelling but I found I cried more during Gyllenhaal's scenes. Yeah I cried at times, everyone did, this is powerful stuff.

The other story told is that of ex-Marine Staff Sgt Dave Karnes (Michael Shannon) who was near New York City when he heard about the events. He decides to go to ground zero to help, after first getting a haircut. While searching through the rubble, he was the one to find McLoughlin and Jimeno. You might think this is some made up Hollywood contrivance, but it's actually a true a story. Reality is stranger than fiction. The hallucination of Jesus with a water bottle was also according to Jimeno's recollection.

It's hard not to compare this film with United 93, but they are very different films. United 93 tells it's story in close to real-time. World Trade Center covers about a full day. In real life Jimeno was pulled out after 12 hours and McLoughlin after 22 hours but this isn't apparent from the film, probably because they couldn't keep track of time either. I was surprised when a rescuer said it would be dark in a half hour, wondering where the day had gone.

United 93 used unknown actors (and in many cases the real life people playing themselves in air traffic control centers) and we didn't ge to know them. World Trade Center uses famous actors and gives us personal stories and flashbacks. While the performances were strong I found knowing the actors distracting. One of the other cops was familiar and I spent some time figuring out that it was Mike Novick from TV's "24".

United 93 told the story of the air traffic controllers and the people on that flight. It kept to those sets and had a documentary feel to it. World Trade Center mostly does the same but there are occasional shots that break the mold. There's an aerial shot of lower Manhatten showing smoke rising from ground zero and a montage of world leaders offering support. That's the closest the film comes to getting political but I sat watched that thinking "my how times have changed", just like I was supposed to.

In United 93 you knew the people would sacrifice themselves to save others, and that's what the film shows. In World Trade Center you know McLoughlin and Jimeno survive. The film ends with a voice over saying how that day also brought out the best in us, people helping other people. But aside from Karnes' story there's little of that actually shown in the film. It's mostly about two men trapped and facing their own deaths and their families being anxious, in other words, drama bordering on melodrama.

This is a really good film. It told a story I didn't know and it told it honestly and powerfully. It's Oliver Stone's best film in two decades. Go see it. And yet, United 93 told a stronger story in a more compelling and less Hollywood way.

Speaking of other films, there were a lot of previews at the beginning of World Trade Center. Here are the interesting looking ones that I could remember: The Departed, Hollywoodland, Flyboys, The Prestige, The Black Dahlia, Invincible, and Babel.

Stupidly Firing Arabic Language Specialists

Andrew Sullivan makes a good point. It seems the military has fired at least 55 arab language specialists. Why? Because they're gay. Isn't that moronic? He asks: "Does president Bush care more about winning this war and protecting Americans than pandering to a bigoted anti-gay base?"

He also points to this excellent New York Times article about the differences between the US anti-terrorist efforts and MI5's. He pointed out that MI5 had a far larger number of foreign language speakers but there are many other interesting bits in the article.

NASA Loses Moon Landing Film

NASA says the original film depicting Neil Armstrong taking his 'giant leap for mankind' on the moon has been lost. Well perhaps not really lost, merely misplaced. Maybe it's next to the Ark of the Covenant.

25 Sites Time Can't Live Without

This list of 25 Sites We Can't Live Without is pretty good.

A Safer Table Saw

Here's the story of Stephen Gass who invented a Table saw that can differentiate between wood and flesh and can stop in a fraction of second. The video showing a test with a hot dog is impressive. The industry's reaction to this is not.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Movie Review: Little Miss Sunshine

This is up there with Thank You For Smoking as one of best comedies of the year. I won't give anything away but I found it very funny and touching as well. Ostensibly, it's about a family that travels by VW bus to California so the seven year-old daughter Olive can compete in the Little Miss Sunshine contest. There's a little bit of Vacation in it but it's really about how six characters, all freaks in their own ways, deal with each other and what life throws at them. The script is very tight, there's nothing extraneous in it, and the acting is superb. See it.

Bad Reporting on the Terror Plot

The Wall Street Journal says "The plot was foiled because a large number of people were under surveillance concerning their spending, travel and communications." and then attacks the ACLU and Democrats. At least someone else points out that this came from a tip by a British Muslim.

ABC has a crappy report that the FBI is investigating "a possible connection between people in the United States, in major east coast cities, and the London bomb plotters". They say the White House Homeland Security Advisor says "while there is currently no indication of any plotting in the United States... 'There are leads that the FBI is running.'" What the hell does that mean? The FBI only has jurisdiction in the US so if there's no indication what are they doing? The ABC report then confuses matters further by saying next "With at least five, and maybe more, suspects still at large, it is the missing plotters who are the greatest security concern". That's well and good, but they don't say where these people are, and by context it seems as if they are in the US, but by other accounts I think they're in Pakistan.

NBC reported yesterday that the plot was not imminent and the British wanted to wait "at least another week" to gather more evidence and to make sure that the leader Rashid Rauf was arrested "in circumstances where there was due process" and the US pressed them to act sooner. But, the Sunday talk shows mostly ignored this.

Did Bush Blow it on Bomb Detection?

The title might be a little simplistic, but it makes a good headline: Bureaucracy impedes bomb-detection work.

The lead seems even more blatant: "As the British terror plot was unfolding, the Bush administration quietly tried to take away $6 million that was supposed to be spent this year developing new explosives detection technology."

The middle says: "Homeland Security is spending a total of $732 million this year on various explosives deterrents. It has tested several commercial liquid explosive detectors over the past few years but hasn't been satisfied enough with the results to deploy them."

If you make it to the end of the article you get to: "The administration's most recent budget request also mystified lawmakers. It asked to take $6 million from the Sciences & Technology Directorate's 2006 budget that was supposed to be used to develop explosives detection technology and divert it to cover a budget shortfall in the Federal Protective Service, which provides security around government buildings."

So it's just impossible for the reader to know if it was a truly stupid decision or merely efficient budgeting.

More on Faked News Photos

See this opinion column by Dave Kopel.

The Better Way of Fighting Terrorism | The Huffington Post

Yet again I think Cenk Uygur gets it absolutely right in The Better Way of Fighting Terrorism

Bad Term: Islamic Fascists

Here's a really good Daily Kos article that does a better job than the Reuters article it references.

On Thursday Bush used the term "war with Islamic fascists". Now I think he was attempting to say it wasn't a war with all of Islam just with a particular radical group of Muslims. I also think calling them fascists is an odd use of the imprecise term. Here's a good about why it's a dumb term.

It seems some (many?) Muslims take offense at connecting their religion with the term. The Kos article adds a pointer to a Gallup poll that cites prejudice against Muslims and maybe there's a point to it.

It also quotes how the British Home Secretary described them merely as terrorists and points out that most of the victims of these groups have been Muslims.

The last point is the best. While we don't really know details of how this current plot was foiled it seems it came from a tip guessed it a Muslim in Britain. See we want good relations with the Muslim community if we're going to win this war. And maybe starting a war on false pretenses isn't the best way to do that.

Schneier on Last Week's Terrorism Arrests

As usual, security expert Bruce Schneier has very sensible things to say about Last Week's Terrorism Arrests.

Wondermark by David Malki

This looks like a fun internet comic. Here's one called In which a Plan comes together. Has a nice RSS feed too.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Whither Cartoons

John Kricfalusi, the creator of Ren & Stimpy has a blog where he discusses cartooning. I find is very interesting. This post, What is a Cartoon? is based on a lecture he gave recently. With all the animation that's happening now, why are there so few cartoons. He presents the five things necessary in a cartoon and gives example images and video clips. A good read.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Supremes Decimate Bush's Spying Argument

In this Huffington Post article, Shayana Kadidal claims Supremes Decimate Bush's Spying Argument with the Hamdan deicision which I still need to read :)

Lieberman on Terror

The New York TImes reports Lieberman, on the Offensive, Links Terror Threat and Iraq. It mostly comes from this sentence: "If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England", which sounds remarkably stupid to me.

Why is it the hawks don't understand this? Iraq had nothing to do with terror, that's what all the evidence says. Us being there is inflaming many and inciting more terrorism. Why? Because we lied about reasons for invading a country and botched the aftermath so badly it's descending into a civil war.

But what bothers me so much about this argument is that it's so stupid. Pulling out by a certain date because that date is reached is as dumb as staying indefinitely with no plans to measure success or failure or ways to adjust actions to help ensure success. And yet these are the two choices our great democratic political system offers. Really, there must be something wrong with it.

Wikinews on Terror Plot

For the kinds of news stories where with more info becomes available over time I often find that Wikinews does the best job. I think that's the case for Police in Britain uncover suspected terrorist plot too. They're just repacking reporting from other others, sometimes adding interesting analysis, but the format just lends itself so well to these kinds of stories. I suspect that web sites from traditional news sources will start updating stories in such ways.

More on Sky Terror

Some more info from Pajamas Media on Foiled UK Plot.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Bush Seeks Political Gains From Foiled Plot

Regarding the foiled terrorist plot in the UK, "Weeks before September 11th, this is going to play big," said a White House official. Are you disgusted yet?

This article from Agence France-Presse is very good at putting things in perspective.

"His remarks came a day after the White House orchestrated an exceptionally aggressive campaign to tar opposition Democrats as weak on terrorism, knowing what Democrats didn't: News of the plot could soon break."

"But a senior White House official said that the British government had not launched its raid until well after Cheney held a highly unusual conference call with reporters to attack the Democrats as weak against terrorism."

Haven't read this in the US media. And it all makes sense. Bush knew about the plot last Saturday. Tony Snow said the comments were not made "in anticipation", but how could they not be?

So Much For Do Not Call

The other day I got a phone call during dinner for some survey. I just said "I'm in the middle of dinner and hung up". Afterwards I thought I really should have used the magic words "Put me on your do not call list".

Just now 6:50pm I got a call. Caller ID said the ever-so-useful "Out of Area". It was someone with a survey. I remembered (and wasn't chewing) and said "Please put me on your do not call list". He said he couldn't do that. I said "I'm on the state Do Not Call list" and he said "that doesn't affect us". I said "I'm also on the federal Do Not Call List" and he said "that doesn't stop us from calling. I said I thought it should and that there is a $50 fine for violating it and hung up.

Turns out, it probably doesn't apply to them. Oh well, I can still hang up on them.

NH GOP and Election Tampering

Remember the investigation into the tampering with the New Hampshire Nov 2002 election? I wrote about it a year ago and again last May when James Tobin was found guilty.

On August 7th, Democrats filed a motion to unseal NH Republican State Committee internal documents regarding the issue. Democrats allege a deliberate cover up by the GOP. The GOP's position is that it was a single rogue employee that broke the law. However, it seems a lot of NHRSC officials knew about the plan before it happened.

Ever notice that all investigations seem to take years?

Greenland Is Melting

I'll guess we'll need to wait for Al Gore to tell us what this could mean. "increased dramatically" and "could add 0.56 millimeters annually" don't reconcile in my book.
I know I know, but really, someone has to put this terms people can understand. If you haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth, you should.

Then again, maybe we should be reading this.

Airport Feature Request

Here's a fairly dumb Huffington Post blog article I Need Some Hair Gel and Bottled Water about how the new airport restrictions are a little late. From what I can gather the restrictions are until they can perfect screening techniques to be used to find liquid component explosives. Whatever.

What I thought of is this. People have gone to the airport with all these toiletries and left them there since they can't fly with them. So they fly, arrive and get to another airport...where people have left all these toiletries around. Sounds like a perfect swap shed opportunity. Maybe there should be a checkin counter at the airport where you drop off stuff, get a receipt and then at the destination airport you show the receipt for a mini Colgate Total Plus Whitening Gel and get one that someone else left. Maybe the airlines could work it into their checkin kiosks. Companies do such things for DVDs, why not for impossible-to-distinguish-from-highly-explosive toiletries?

What is Fair Use?

Here's an interesting article by a 3L law student Is publishing screenshots Fair Use?.

Protecting Torturers

Yesterday the Washington Post reported War Crimes Act Changes Would Reduce Threat Of Prosecution. The Bush administration is proposing changes to a war crimes law that would retroactively protect those that authorized humiliating or degrading war prisoners. Bastards.

Foiled Terror

Pajamas Media and the Counterterrorism Blog have a fair amount of information on the broken up plot to blow up airplanes traveling between the UK and the US. There isn't much know other than 21 people have been arrested and they were planning on bringing liquid bomb components onto a plane and assembling the bombs in the cabin. Various things are banned from carry-on items. British flights have banned laptop computers, mobile phones, and iPods from the passenger cabin! Some reports say no carry on bags at all.

What I want to know is who are the those arrested and how did officials find out about the plot.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The $2,130,000 Comma

Ok, I think that's Canadian dollars but still, commas in contracts are significant.

Solar Flare v. Earth

Tufte's latest book Beautiful Evidence makes a point that including a scale on images helps a lot. Here's a perfect example. We've all heard of solar flares and have seen photos of them like this one taken July 1, 2002. But what makes it is the inset Earth. I believe the relative sizes are right but the distance isn't.

Do Not Buy Food or Medicine from Wild Animals

Flickr Chinglish and Engrish sets.

Absolutely Disgusting

Allegedly on March 12, US solders raped a 14 year-old Iraqi girl and killed her and her family. The case was made public last month but the details came out today from a hearing trying to determine if they should face a court martial. If this is true, I think they fry or give them to the Iraqi's to deal with.

This article from The Age in Australia is just a description of what supposedly happened, as a result it's very dramatic and compelling. This story in the Seattle Times has a little more info.

This AP story by Ryan Lenz tells how combat stress played a role. I don't care, there's no excuse. "U.S. officials have said they were concerned it could strain relations with Iraq's new government if Iraqis perceive that the soldiers receive lenient treatment." Well it should strain relations and they shouldn't receive lenient treatment.

Reminds me a lot of Brian De Palma's underrated film Casualties of War which told a similar story set in Vietnam apparently based on real though unnamed events. The cast of Sean Penn, Michael J. Fox (yeah really), John C. Reilly helped though it was all sold by the amazing and tragic performance of Thuy Thu Le as the victim.

Misfit Toys

Yet another photoshop contest. This one on Misfit Toys. My favorite is the play school switch blade.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Apple Time Machine

The much anticipated keynote of Apple's World Wide Developer's Conference was today. The new Mac Pro and Xserve machines were announced, everything is Intel now. They previews a number of features of Leopard (due out in Spring) and while there was a lot of just evolutionary things (virtual desktops, spotlight improvements that should have been in Tiger, better mail/ical stuff) there was one thing that's truly amazing.

Apple seems to be addressing the backup problem, namely that people don't do it. But rather than take the standard approach of letting you schedule backups, they did something completely new. Apparently the system will automatically backup everything on your machine that changes. And to make it better you can a version of anything from any time in the past. In fact the feature is called Time Machine and the Interface for it is astounding. You have to watch the video of Time Machine.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Pajamasmedia seems to have a good set of links on Reutersgate! The Tipping Point about some Reuter's photographs from Lebanon that have been photoshopped. Reuters has admitted it's true. The photographer, Adnan Hajj, has been under suspicion before for his photos of Qana.

The Sound of Clothes

Show Studio has a collection of various projects but the one I saw first was The Sound of Clothes which is quicktime clips of a model putting on haute couture and swishing around into a microphone. Hear a rubber top, oversized sequins, a leather cape, PVC pants, etc. Not safe for the office.

DCI Group Abusing YouTube

It all started on May 24, 2006 when a 2 minute spoof, Al Gore's Penguin Army showed up on You Tube. It's kinda odd and has Linux's Tux being bored and brainwashed by Gore dressed as the Batman villian, the Penguin.

The video clip says it was posted by toutsmith a 29 year-old who according to his myspace page lives in Beverly Hills and doesn't want children.

However the Wall Street Journal found that it was really posted by the DCI Group, who ABC calls a slick Republican public relations firm. Is that fair? Well looking at their leadership you see a few ties to several Republican campaigns. Source Watch makes it clear. The main partners all worked in the 1990s for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and has the quote "We are a political firm and all of our partners have political campaign experience". They are "associated with telemarketing company Feather Larson & Synhorst DCI" which gets a lot of money from the RNC and has "close ties" to Karl Rove.

Faking grassroots campaigns is known as astroturfing and it seems to be a specialty of DCI Group. Do Democrats do this? Can anyone give me an example? Personally I like how the first two links on their site, About Us and Our Approach have exactly the same content.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Iraqi Civil War

And now we spend the time debating if it's a civil war. And by we, I include
U.S. troops.

Better Than a Pine Air Freshener

"New Hampshire woman bakes cookies on dashboard of her Toyota"

Tom Friedman: About Face

Unfortunately his articles for the NYT are part of Times Select and you must pay to read them. But Think Progress reports that after years of saying "give it 6 more months" in today's column, Tom Friedman says it's time to get out of Iraq.

Checking Out Cheney's Story

Here's a 10 minute You Tube video of some guy doing a Mythbusters thing doing A Ballistics Test: Checking Out Cheney's Story on his shooting of Harry Whittington. Pretty interesting. Not a slam dunk, but I'd like the real Mythbusters to do this.

Update: Of course there's more to this

Thursday, August 03, 2006

As Seen on the Daily Show

The Rapture Index where you can learn things like "Satanism is reported to be flourishing in Russia". Also in the Mark of the Beast category they for some reason list "The U.S. Patriot Act has failed to get enough votes for extension." Then you get to crazy self-referential stuff like "The occurrence of the 06/06/06 date has increased interest in numerical date speculation." Yep, the rapture is right around the corner.

The MacBook WiFi Exploit

Here's a good description of what we know of the MacBook WiFi Exploit in the news.

No More Swift-Boating

Apparently Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) successfully defended himself from being swift-boated today. And without the help of the DNC. At least according to some marketing guy who worked on the Kerry campaign.

The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs

The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, Aged 51 1/2

Many Haditha Probe Non-Updates

Here are four articles (one, two, three, and four) that proport to be updates on the investigations into the Haditha incident last November. I found them all unclear and difficult to follow (particularly chronologically).

What we know is this. On Nov 19, 2005, marines were in an incident in Haditha. 24 civilians died (including 11 women and children) and there are two ongoing investigations by NCIS. One is looking into the incident to see if marines did anything wrong and the other into the officers in the chain of command to see if there was a cover up of the incident. Neither probe has released anything official.

In March a Time magazine report said the killings were deliberate acts. On May 17, Rep John Murtha (D-PA) said he had heard the killings were done "in cold blood". Yesterday one of the marines involved filed a federal suit accusing Murtha of making false claims.

The news in these articles seems to be that some unnamed (and untitled) officers have said that evidence shows the killings were in fact deliberate. But really is that anything new? We still need to wait for the investigations to be complete and any charges to be filed. Oh and one of these says the report on the possible cover-up is 3-4 thousand pages.

Well at least Rumsfeld decided to testify in public. Maybe we'll get clarification this? Nah.

NORAD Tapes from 9/11

Michael Bronner has written an interesting article for Vanity Fair. He was an associate producer on the film United 93, which I think is the best film of the year so far. As part of his research for the film he requested tapes from NORAD from 9/11 (just how do you do that?). He got snippets and made do. Seven months later he got the full 30 hours of tapes. 9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes is the result. The website lets you play the audio of the recordings.

The recordings show the array of misinformation that was going around and restraint of the military. "What emerges from the barrage of [misinformation] flying... from all directions is a picture of remarkable composure. Snap decisions more often than not turn out to be the right ones " To tell you the truth, I think seeing United 93 helped me appreciate this article more.

Which makes it all stranger that the other thread running through this article is how the military lied to the 9/11 commission about their ability to take down United 93.

Read the article.

Orrin Hatch Supports Torture

Andrew Sullivan has a letter from a reader who corresponded with his Senator, Orrin Hatch (R-UT) about the US torturing prisoners. I liked Sullivan's summary: "It's amazing that a president who claims to see the world in black and white, and good and evil, sees the question of torture as one full of gray."

Kansas is Evolving

The New York Times reports on a recent election in Kansas that ousted the conservative majority on the board that was pushing for intelligent design. They seems to see-saw every few years, but this is at least good.

The Media Aims its Missiles

Here's a long article from the Jerusalem Post on the media's bias in the current conflict. The print view is easier to read.

A Fun Rant

This is a fun rant. Maybe Bush isn't merely predicting the end of days.

Chad Vader

Life is hard when you're Darth Vader's less-talented, less-charismatic younger brother and you manage a grocery store. Watch Chad Vader - Day Shift Manager episode 1 and the better episode 2. Episode 3 is apparently coming.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Rumsfeld is Shy

Donald Rumsfeld would deny us more poetry. He says he's too busy to testify at a public Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Iraq War. He will speak in front of the whole Senate at a closed session and feels that's enough. So much for that open government we used to have.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Mac Ad Spoofs

These spoofs are really funny. Watch them all. Watch Security towards the end.

Cenk Uygur: Blood On Our Hands

Cenk Uygur writes Blood On Our Hands in The Huffington Post. After showing pictures of dead children he writes:

"The whole world called for a cease fire so there wouldn't be more civilian deaths. Except the United States -- we said keep on bombing. There were already over 400 dead civilians. No one was under the illusion that Israel wasn't killing civilians, predominantly civilians. But still we gave the green light. Keep killing."

I wanted to quote more but I realized it would be the last 7 paragraphs. Just go there and read it.

Castro Not Dead Yet

Fidel Castro temporarily relinquished his presidential powers to his younger brother Raul, 75, to undergo surgery.