Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Movie Review: The Devil Wears Prada

This was kinda cute but also really annoying. Anne Hathaway plays the young innocent working as an assistant for Meryl Streep who heads a fashion magazine and is a dragon. She is rude, condescending, obnoxious, and more. She makes absurd demands and wants things done immediately. One was "I need 15 skirts from Dior". When asked "what kind of skirts" her response was "bother someone else with the details". Now that's kind of minor and it's one of hundreds in the film, the most absurd was also the most amusing. My children finished the latest Harry Potter book last night and want to know what happens next, get the next book by 4pm for them". Of course the next book hadn't been published next.

Now of course, Hathaway starts out with all these self doubts and being awkard then through hard work and perseverance does ok at the job (though barely gets any recognition of this) at the cost of her friends and life. At the end she moves on to something else because she doesn't want to be like Streep.

What's annoying is that Streep's character is a blight on humanity. I would have quit the first day and there's nothing wrong with that. No one deserves to be treated as she treats everyone. After a short time Hathaway has her inevitable breakdown and talks with the one person in the company who helps her at all (Stanley Tucci in a nice role). He tells her she's not really trying. Ridiculous. A change of clothes later and she's doing great until the requests get crazier still. Streep's character never gets told off and at one point we're supposed to feel sorry for her. Wasn't going to happen.

While this movie tried to have a good message, it just reinforced bad ones by even tolerating them.

Bomb Scare in Boston

I'm watching local TV news as the police detonate a suspicious package found hanging in an elevated structure at a subway station near Interstate 93 (Sullivan Square). It's surreal.

Update: They just detonated it, live on TV. It was like the size of a firecracker. Really anti-climatic (thankfully). The effect (aside from traffic backups, is that some birds flew away.

Update: The devices found are part of an ad campaign for the Cartoon Network and feature a character from Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bush Lied in the State of the Union

Keith Olbermann ended tonight's Countdown with a special commentary on Bush's claims in the State of the Union speech to have prevented four terrorist plots. In the notes I took during the speech I wrote that I doubted them but I admit I was too lazy to research them. Olbermann got his information from this blog post by David Swanson: Bush's Four Anti-Terror Successes All Fictional. Swanson has worked for several Democrat organizations and has on his site a very long list of Impeach Bush books, so he's not exactly unbiased, but that doesn't make him wrong.

I like Olbermann's show but I'd like it much more if he removed the celebrity gossip and daily Oddball segments. The segment immediately preceding his special commentary was about Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan and I think that lessens his credibility. Maybe he should split Countdown into two half hour shows.

Bush Exerts More Control

The New York TImes reports on a new Bush executive order that requires every federal agency to "have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities."

At first this sounded strange to me. If the agencies are in the executive branch, don't they already do what Bush wants? The EPA is doing nothing about global warming, scientists are being stiffled, Apparently not entirely:

"Typically, agencies issue regulations under authority granted to them in laws enacted by Congress. In many cases, the statute does not say precisely what agencies should do, giving them considerable latitude in interpreting the law and developing regulations." Now to issue a regulation they must show “the specific market failure” or problem that justifies government intervention. Also they have to estimate “the combined aggregate costs and benefits of all its regulations” each year.

Apparently the order will also reign in so-called guidance documents. "Under the new White House policy, any guidance document expected to have an economic effect of $100 million a year or more must be posted on the Internet, and agencies must invite public comment, except in emergencies in which the White House grants an exemption." And they can't create new mandatory requirements.

The Times managed to find some people with impressive sounding titles to give really damning commentary:

Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said: “The executive order allows the political staff at the White House to dictate decisions on health and safety issues, even if the government’s own impartial experts disagree. This is a terrible way to govern, but great news for special interests.”

Wesley P. Warren, program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who worked at the White House for seven years under President Bill Clinton, said, “The executive order is a backdoor attempt to prevent E.P.A. from being able to enforce environmental safeguards that keep cancer-causing chemicals and other pollutants out of the air and water.”

Bush v. Science

Think Progress has a post Bush Administration Has Pressured Half of Gov’t Scientists to Downplay Global Warming about a report by scientists presented to a House committee. Maybe we'll get somewhere.

Judith Miller Testifies

The Washington Post has an update. Her testimony contradicts Libby's, so ultimately all this will come down to whether the jury believes Libby was lying or merely misremembering. I would be a bad juror because my mind is already made up.

Cenk Uygur has a post The Most Insidious of Traitors that tries to jump to the point.

"There are only two reasons why they haven't been charged with that offense. First, Scooter Libby impeded the investigation by lying about what they did - and that is why he is now being tried. If he had not impeded the investigation, there very well might have been charges on the underlying crime. Second, it is hard to prove in a court of law that the Rove, Libby and the others knew for sure that Plame was undercover. They knew she worked at the CIA, they knew they were leaking her identity, and they knew they were doing it for a political purpose. But they might or might not have known for sure that she was a covert agent."

"So, this uncertainty might protect them for criminal prosecution. But it does not protect them from moral, political and societal judgment for what they have done. They all admit that they leaked Valerie Plame's name in what was an obvious attempt to smear her and her husband for political purposes...Whether Rove and Libby are criminals who have violated the letter of the law is an open question. But what is indisputable is that they have violated our trust"

And he points out while many of those involved are no longer in the administration, Karl Rove still is.

Movie Review: Click

It was nominated for Best Makeup so I netflixed it. I'm not an Adam Sandler fan and I expected it to suck. I wasn't disappointed; and by that I mean it was somewhat (slightly) better than my expectations. Groundhog's Day did this kind of story a lot better.

Senator Tom Coburn

This is an interesting article in GQ on Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). He's the reason we've all heard about the "bridge to nowhere". At some point he got fed up with all the pork in Congress and decided to do something about it. He doesn't like the Democrats any more than the Republicans.

I also really liked Tom Carson's article on actors today and how they concentrate on inner angst and showing how serious they are about their craft (like a young DeNiro), instead of actually connecting with audiences. I'd link to it, but they don't have it online.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Point of White House Press Briefings

Arianna Huffington has a post with some updates from the Libby trial and condemnation of the White House Press Corp that still accepts the lies of the administration.

If you didn't know last week former Cheney aide Cathie Martin said that the administration considered Meet the Press as their best venue to be able to control their message. Tim Russert must be so proud.

More recently Ari Fleischer admitted that he danced around the facts on the State of the Union reference to Saddam attempted to acquire yellow cake from Niger. "I had been told to be careful not to stand by the 16 words, that the ground might be shifting on that, You can't say yes. You can't say no. At that briefing, I basically punted. I said yes and no."

Alan Moore's Writing, Unlike Mine

Eddie Campbell is a comics artist (and writer). He's most well known for having illustrated From Hell, written by Alan Moore (of Watchmen and V for Vendetta fame among many others). Eddie has a blog and he often posts pages from From Hell with the associated script.

Moore is famous for writing very long very detailed scripts; often over 1,000 words describing each page, (apparently except during tax season). I came across this and just loved it: "In another writer's script you will read that 'it is raining', but In Alan Moore's you may read that the precipitation falls 'like morse code for some huge, depressing Russian novel'."

We're all going to Hell

I really like this one from indexed

Cheney's Strategery

Digby rips apart a Cheney interview in Cheney's Strategery:

"That's just a small sample of the non sequitors and muddled thinking throughout this interview. When asked about Iraq's civil war he talks about al Qaeda. When the sectarian devision in Iraq are the subject he switches to Afghanistan in the 1980's It's all over the place, bizarre and disjointed."

John Bolton, Gone But Not Silent

Think Progress tracks some contradictory comments by John Bolton. "Bolton’s comments are a stark reminder of why he was unfit for the U.N. International diplomats could never determine what was his real agenda."

3D Morphable Model Face Animation

What to Do in Iraq

Glenn Greenwald has a 9 minute video clip from the BBC showing what life is like for our troops in Iraq. The beginning shows the Shia militia beating up some Sunnis as our troops cheer them on from their vehicles. They describe it as "giving him the Rodney King treatment."

I'm torn by this. It's obviously an example of how we're not helping. What's missing is how common is this. Is this just the problem of one (or a few) group(s) or are many of our troops screwing up this badly? If this is the mission, then we're just participating in ethnic cleansing.

The second half of the film shows troops finding a sniper site and trying to help oppressed mixed Sunni-Shia families. It puts a real (innocent) face on the violence. My sad guess is that there isn't a solution to two sects hating each other. There are countless other examples of this and I don't think humanity has come up with an answer. Still does that mean we don't try? What about in Darfur? I'm liking religion even less.

Bush v Churchill

Glenn Greenwald has a good article Our Little Churchills about the Administration's anti-American view that they don't need Congress' support. He describes at length how Winston Churchill would have found such a view repulsive and even manages to sneak Lincoln in there too.

"Churchill then proceeded to give an account of the war and a defense of his strategic decisions (along with numerous admissions of grave error) far more detailed, substantive, lengthy and candid than any given by George Bush on any topic, at any time, during the last six years. He knew that he could and should continue in the war only if he had the support of the Parliament and his country for his decisions, and that support had to be earned through persuasion and disclosure. It was not an entitlement that he could simply demand."

Movie Review: Children of Men

Children of Men is a near future story set in 2027 with a simple premise; in 2009 humanity became infertile and now the youngest human is 18 years old. Faced with the end of humanity, how would we react? In this world, apparently badly. Most other cities we are told are in shambles and London is the only major city still "soldiering on". However, there's a big illegal immigrant problem and there are soldiers everywhere. And there are rebels who want the immigrants treated better, and they blow things up.

The star is Clive Owen, who does disspationate well. He's contacted by his ex-wife (Julianne Moore), who is working with the rebels. It turns out they have an illegal immigrant named Kee (get it?) who happens to be pregnant. He's enlisted to help transport her off shore to the utopian Human Project, which may or may not be real. They quickly end up in the middle of various urban battles. A great place for the only hope of the future of humanity to be wandering through.

The camera work in this film is amazing. Most shots are handheld and very long. Most of the battles are continuous 5 minute tracking shots. This has an effect of putting you in the action, right next to Owen. It's really nice to see a film without so many quick edits that you can't follow anything. The film has an immediacy about it that isn't common. It almost got to me not to think about some of the dumb things in the plot, but not quite.

Many of the reviews I've seen call this a cautionary tale. Perhaps, but if it's cautioning us against anything it's about the subtext. The visions of the imprisoned illegal immigrants were similar to those of imprisoned "enemy combatants". The urban battle scenes were reminiscent of Iraq. Even the rebels are as bad as the government. My problem was all of this was in the background of the plot, so it can't say much more than "this stuff is bad". Maybe there isn't much more about them to say.

I view this as kind of a shame, because the actual plot of the film could have been so interesting. Is your life worth living if civilization doesn't continue? Are children the only thing to live for? It certainly seems that way for Owen, who's life has no purpose until he begins his mission.

There are some quick gags about these things that are fun. Various religious cults have sprung up. The "Renouncers" flog themselves for the forgiveness of humanity, while the "Repenters" do something else equally stupid. Shades of the Life of Brian. There's a brilliant bit of absurdist humor involving a giant balloon in the shape of a farm animal, visible in the background floating over the city. There's various graffiti in the background, one was "Last one to die, please turn out the lights".

Again, the camera work in this film is amazing. As my mother would have said, it was just a middle. The end, while not as bad as it could have been, isn't really satisifying. Great filmmaking but not a great film.

British Mac Ads

Gizmodo has collected the British Mac ads found on YouTube. Some are variations on the existing US ads, some are more original. This is my favorite:

Movie Cliches

Three pages of amusing movie cliches

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Truth About Clarence Thomas

Here's an interesting article on Clarence Thomas by Jan Crawford Greenburg. She is a legal correspondent for ABC News and is hawking her new book Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story for Control of the United States Supreme Court. She says in researching the book she found in Blackmum's papers that Thomas often took a position by himself and then others joined him. He's not Scalia's lackey as is commonly thought.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Movie Review: Venus

Peter O'Toole plays Maurice an actor in his 70s. He hangs around with his friend Ian (Leslie Phillips) going to the coffee shop and theater and doing small acting jobs. He's divorsed but still on friendly terms with his ex-wife (Vanessa Redgrave). Early on we learn he has prostate problems and requires surgery. Maurice is old and not long for this world and knows it. He's at the point where he has to slap himself to bother getting out of bed in the morning.

Enter Ian's 20 year-old grandniece Jesse (Jodie Whittaker). He's staying with him and driving him crazy. She's a slacker, hoping to get a modelling while sitting at home eating junk food. Maurice is intrigued. What begins isn't so much of a romance as a friendship with (measured) benefits. Maurice spends time with Jessie, buys her things and she lets him touch her neck or kiss her cheek. They are both using each other. Maurice gets some friendship, pleasure and a reason to wake up in the morning. Jessie learns how to properly mix drinks, gets clothes and jewelry, and a few life lessons. But when Ian finds out it he accuses Maurice of taking advantage of her. More opportunity for fun banter.

You probably know where this films goes, and that's ok. Maurice's view is that whatever gives you pleasure is good. The soundtrack by Corinne Bailey Rae perfectly matches this philosophy and the tone of this film. It grabs you immediately, hooks you and is good all the way through. Afterwards you think there was something more to it, but can't put your finger on it, but then you realize that doesn't matter at all, it was pleasurable enough to make you want to wake up in the morning.

There are some holes. Maurice apparently has 3 children (and I would assume grandchildren) which is the usual reason people want to wake up in the morning, but he seems estranged from them but not their mother. Jessie's moods change a little too conveniently (rather than convincingly) for the for plot. Maurice seems to find Jessie a breath of fresh air and a new opportunity and yet his charm and consistent work would seem to present such opportunities to him on a regular basis.

O'Toole's performace is believable enough to overcome these flaws. I wondered if this was autobiographical at all and then realized what a complement this was. If anyone has a chance of beating Forest Whitaker for Best Actor, O'Toole is the one to do it (well I have two more performances to see).

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Movie Review: Dreamgirls

I saw Matt Lauer interviewed on the Tonight Show a couple of weeks ago. Leno asked if he saw Dreamgirls and said he had and it was great. He followed up by saying he's not really a musical kind of guy but that he liked Chicago and Moulin Rouge and ... then said "I guess I do like musicals". I feel the same way and I really liked Dreamgirls.

The story is loosely based on Diana Ross and the Supremes and the rise of Motown, neither of which I knew much about. It's an ensemble cast and one character doesn't really dominate the story. Three girls, Deena, Effie, and Lorrell, form a singing group. Effie's brother C.C. writes their music. After a competition they hire Curtis Taylor as their agent and sing backup for James Early on his road tour. Then comes success, love triangles, drugs, greed, etc. And a lot of good singing. The story covers about 10 years through the 60s and 70s so we also get a lot of fun costumes and sets.

Most every scene is set to a song and in the particular the first act seems like an extended video. Four of the songs are original to the film, and three of these were nominated for Oscars for Best Original Song. Personally though I thought the songs that ended the first Act ("It's All Over" and "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" were the best, but they were in the stage version and are not nominated.

Beyoncé as Deena Jones and Jamie Foxx as Curtis were both good but they were outshined by the supporting cast. Eddie Murphy as James "Thunder" Early and Jennifer Hudson as Effie were very strong and their supporting actor nominations reflect that. I wasn't that impressed with Murphy at first, but when he reappears in the 2nd act as the drug addicted has-been he's really good. Hudson probably has more screen time than anyone. Her role as the more talented member of the group, pushed aside by the prettier Deena, who also steels Curtis from her, has the widest range, and Hudson delivers. I think Supporting Actress is a category filled with strong performances this year but hers might be a little better than the rest.

This film was a lot of fun and delivered more than I expected. And unlike a lot of other films nominated this year I couldn't really nitpick about anything in it. This isn't a timeless classic or a movie with deep themes, but it is a really good time. After Pan's Labyrinth the day before, it's just what I needed.

Viruses by OS

I saw this in the IP mailing list:

"I recently talked to the CTO of a well known AV company. I asked him how many virus/malware he was aware of by platform type. He told me:"

Win32 200,000
Symbian 341
Linux 300
MacOS 4
FreeBSD 0

Movie Review: Pan's Labyrinth

I was not prepared for this film. I didn't know much about it, aside from the fact that it got several Oscar nominations and was about a little girl who enters some kind of fairytale land. This is more like a gothic fairy tale, set in fascist Spain during WWII and has a Hamlet-like ending. I was really disturbed by this film.

The film opens with 10 year old Ofelia traveling with her pregnant mother to the country to live with her new stepfather. He turns out to be a ruthless Captain in the army trying to put down a rebellion. Captain Vidal kills, tortures, and terrorizes people, as well as being an authoritarian father who cares more about his unborn child than his new wife.

Ofelia follows a fairy into an underground cave and meets a fawn who tells her she's a princess of the underworld and if she completes three tasks she can return to her kingdom. The movie shows us several stories. Ofelia's quests, the Captain's efforts to squash the rebellion, and the rebels efforts to survive.

Life for all these people is harsh and bleak if not outright terrifying. The New York Times says: "Fairy tales (and scary movies) are designed to console as well as terrify. What distinguishes "Pan's Labyrinth," what makes it art, is that it balances its own magical thinking with the knowledge that not everyone lives happily ever after." I don't really find that "consoling". Ofelia's fantasy is obviously an escape from her bleak life which she has no control over, but I think they take it too far.

I'm not a fan of horror films but I've seen a few and enjoyed some. Pan's Labyrinth is a horror film and I wasn't expecting it and as I left the theater I really felt like I needed a happy film to wipe this one away. This seems to be what the director was hoping to achieve. Job well done. Now about that happy film...

The State of the Union

Think Progress has lots of stuff on Bush's State of the Union last night. They've found many things disputing his facts and even have an annotated video of the speech.

Many people commented about the history beginning of "Madam Speaker". Think Progress remembered all the dire warnings Republicans (including Bush) said before the election about Pelosi becoming speaker.

Overall I didn't find much in the speech to like. Having read the previous speeches recently, this sounded like a rerun. Bush's claims about halving the deficit is laughable. Let's remember he inherited a surplus and started a war and his tax cuts are the biggest contributor to the deficit. The bit on earmarks is correct but misses the point that it all happened under his watch for 6 years and he did nothing about it, not vetoing one budget bill that the Republicans managed to pass. Also his line on Social Security was completely vague and therefore useless since they won't agree on how to fix things.

Think Progress apparently had nothing to say about No Child Left Behind. But I think Bush's statements are overrated. I don't think our math and science numbers are good compared to other industrialized nations. And Bush said "We must increase funds for students who struggle" but that's not a call to fund the program which is what the biggest complaint about it.

I actually think health care is the biggest domestic issue in America. The more I think about it the more I think there should be some government run mechanism for health insurance. I think it's crazy that employers pay for a health insurance and think it would help our companies compete with other nations that have nationalized health insurance if they didn't have to burden these skyrocketing costs. It also would be more helpful to people to not have to worry about their health insurance when they change or lose jobs. I think there's a lot to learn from the innovations at the VA recently.

Bush's proposed tax deduction for health insurance seems mostly likely to benefit those who already have health insurance. For those that don't $4,500 in tax savings for a family of 4 (and why do I doubt that number) won't do much to get coverage which for a family is more like $1,000+ per month. And I read that 50% of uninsured adults pay no federal taxes, this doesn't incent them at all.

Bush's "Affordable Choice" grants sound good to help states be innovative, but according to Think Progress it will just redirect funds from hospitals to cover people without insurance. That may or may not balance out, I'm not sure but I have my suspicions. The Health Saving Accounts seem to have their doubters as well.

The immigration stuff, yeah yeah. I really don't care much about the issue but if you're going to reform it, do it comprehensively. The Congress didn't seem too enthusiastic either.

The environment stuff was very similar to things he said in previous years. Mostly non-specific. Sure technology is good, but Think Progress points out that he failed to deliver on his 2006 engergy promises I'm not sure what "mandatory Fuels Standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017" means and "modernize fuel economy standards for cars" is good but also non-specific. Would he really approve raising the minimum fuel efficiency of cars say 10 mpg? But he also asked to double the "capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve". How would he do that? Buying more middle east oil? Is this how he's placating his Saudi friends? Oh and there was nothing specific on fighting global warming. Wimp.

The bit on judges was lame, anticipating fights I suspose, but he already caved on some very conservative nominations since the Democrats took over. He mentioned nothing about judicial pay, I wonder what John Roberts thought of that.

Now we get to terrorism. There was a reluctant standing ovation on the "we must take the fight to the enemy" probably because we disagree on who the enemy is. Some of us thinks it's al Qaeda, Bush thinks it's sectarian violence in Iraq. As far as the surge he's said nothing new tonight and I'm glad to see that Congress isn't buying it. Bush did say that his administration was using "every lawful and proper tool of intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement, and military action to do our duty" I'm really curious what diplomatic tools he's using.

Bush also said "Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk." Unfortunately as it relates to the middle east that has been our policy. It's one of the reasons we had such problems getting tribal leaders to help us at first, they didn't believe we'd follow through. But I'm not sure that's a reason we should be staying. Bush wants "to establish a special advisory council on the war on terror, made up of leaders in Congress from both political parties." The Democrats think there is already a structure in place to do that.

Bush said "We have a diplomatic strategy that is rallying the world to join in the fight against extremism." That seems laughable. Our "coalition of the willing was never impressive and is now gone. And the rest of the world thinks we're war mongers.

This year was the first time Bush mentioned Darfur in a State of the Union speech, how is that possible? "And we will continue to speak out for the cause of freedom in places like Cuba, Belarus, and Burma — and continue to awaken the conscience of the world to save the people of Darfur." And what does that mean? We haven't done squat about Darfur.

Bush also spoke about continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa and his Millennium Challenge Accounts. Think Progress reports his AIDS policy is making things worse since it's not helping with condom education and merely teaches abstinance and that Millennium Challenge program is almost bankrupt.

He ended pointing out various guests and their individual accomplishments, which just seemed out of place for a State of the Union speech. What was conspicously absent was any mention of Hurricane Katrina and what we could or should be doing to help the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast recover. Maybe we could give Bush to Africa or the Middle East, he seems to care more about them.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Stupid Signs

I went to an ATM today and was surprised to see a sign on it that said "There's a talking ATM available at this location". I had to think it through for a second but then I wondered who this was for? Talking ATM's would be needed by people who couldn't see the regular ATM and therefore they couldn't see the sign. Now I know the reason that the drive-thru ATM's have braille on the keypads is because of standardized parts. It would be more expensive to buy keypads that didn't have the braille. But this sign is clearly extra. Do they expect people to tell their blind friends about this?

Wikipedia's New Anti-Spam Tactic

Here's the best description I've seen of Wikipedia's new anti-spam policy of using nofollow links. Wikipedia Leads; Will Search Engines NoFollow?.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

State of the Union Prep

In prep for Bush's state of the union speech tonight in which he's supposed to announce some new global warming initiative, I looked up what he said in previous State of the Union speeches about the environment or energy. Here it all is:

"My budget will improve our environment by accelerating the cleanup of toxic brownfields. And I propose we make a major investment in conservation by fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (Applause.) Our national parks have a special place in our country's life. Our parks are places of great natural beauty and history. As good stewards, we must leave them better than we found them. So I propose providing $4.9 billion over five years for the upkeep of these national treasures. (Applause.)

As we meet tonight, many citizens are struggling with the high cost of energy. We have a serious energy problem that demands a national energy policy. (Applause.) The West is confronting a major energy shortage that has resulted in high prices and uncertainty. I've asked federal agencies to work with California officials to help speed construction of new energy sources, and I have direct Vice President Cheney, Commerce Secretary Evans, Energy Secretary Abraham and other senior members in my administration to develop a national energy policy. (Applause.)

Our energy demand outstrips our supply. We can produce more energy at home while protecting our environment, and we must. (Applause.) We can produce more electricity to meet demand, and we must. (Applause.) We can promote alternative energy sources and conservation, and we must. (Applause.) America must become more energy-independent, and we will. (Applause.)"

"Good jobs also depend on reliable and affordable energy. This Congress must act to encourage conservation, promote technology, build infrastructure, and it must act to increase energy production at home so America is less dependent on foreign oil. (Applause.)"

"Our third goal is to promote energy independence for our country, while dramatically improving the environment. (Applause.) I have sent you a comprehensive energy plan to promote energy efficiency and conservation, to develop cleaner technology, and to produce more energy at home. (Applause.) I have sent you Clear Skies legislation that mandates a 70-percent cut in air pollution from power plants over the next 15 years. (Applause.) I have sent you a Healthy Forests Initiative, to help prevent the catastrophic fires that devastate communities, kill wildlife, and burn away millions of acres of treasured forest. (Applause.)

I urge you to pass these measures, for the good of both our environment and our economy. (Applause.) Even more, I ask you to take a crucial step and protect our environment in ways that generations before us could not have imagined.

In this century, the greatest environmental progress will come about not through endless lawsuits or command-and-control regulations, but through technology and innovation. Tonight I'm proposing $1.2 billion in research funding so that America can lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles. (Applause.)

A single chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen generates energy, which can be used to power a car -- producing only water, not exhaust fumes. With a new national commitment, our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom, so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free. (Applause.)

Join me in this important innovation to make our air significantly cleaner, and our country much less dependent on foreign sources of energy. (Applause.)"

"Consumers and businesses need reliable supplies of energy to make our economy run -- so I urge you to pass legislation to modernize our electricity system, promote conservation, and make America less dependent on foreign sources of energy. (Applause.)"

"To keep our economy growing, we also need reliable supplies of affordable, environmentally responsible energy. (Applause.) Nearly four years ago, I submitted a comprehensive energy strategy that encourages conservation, alternative sources, a modernized electricity grid, and more production here at home -- including safe, clean nuclear energy. (Applause.) My Clear Skies legislation will cut power plant pollution and improve the health of our citizens. (Applause.) And my budget provides strong funding for leading-edge technology -- from hydrogen-fueled cars, to clean coal, to renewable sources such as ethanol. (Applause.) Four years of debate is enough: I urge Congress to pass legislation that makes America more secure and less dependent on foreign energy. (Applause.)"

"Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources -- and we are on the threshold of incredible advances.

So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative -- a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research -- at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy. (Applause.)

We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We'll also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. (Applause.)

Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. (Applause.) By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past. (Applause.)"

Pretty sad isn't it. This is the guy that pulled us out of the Kyoto agreement in 2001. That LWCF fund he mentioned? It's almost never been fully funded, instead its funds are traditionally used to offset the huge deficit. And funding for it has gone down every year since Bush mentioned it. Yep it was really important to him. In 6 years not once did he propose raising the fuel efficiency standards of cars, maybe he'll do that tonight.

Maybe he'd propose raising the gas tax. That's what a lot of people say we need, because we won't change behavior until it affects our pockets. Of course no one running for office would propose raising taxes. Oh yeah, Bush isn't running for office (thankfully) and neither is Cheney, he could afford the political cost and actually do something that shows leadership. Nah, never happen.

Oscar Nominations

Oscar nominations were today. I hadn't really thought about predictions for the nominations but they seem pretty reasonable. Below are those films that got more than one nomination.

8 Dreamgirls
7 Babel
6 The Queen
6 Pan's Labyrinth
5 The Departed
5 Blood Diamond
4 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
4 Notes on a Scandal
4 Little Miss Sunshine
4 Letters from Iwo Jima
3 Little Children
3 Children of Men
3 Apocalypto
2 United 93
2 The Prestige
2 The Devil Wears Prada
2 Flags of Our Fathers
2 Cars
2 An Inconvenient Truth

I've seen most of them. Dreamgirls got 8 because it got 3 nominations for 3 different songs. I'm seeing it tomorrow. And I think I'll see Pan's Labyrinth this afternoon. Of the rest I still need to see Pirates of the Caribbean 2, Children of Men, Apocalypto, The Devil Wears Prada, and Flags of Our Fathers. Of those non-documentary, short, or foreign film that got one nomination, I still need to see 9:

Curse of the Golden Flower
Half Nelson
Marie Antoinette
Monster House
The Pursuit of Happyness

I can't believe I'm going to try to see Click, Poseidon and Apocalypto.

Of what I have seen, I think there were a lot of good movies this year but not a lot of great films. I really really liked Little Miss Sunshine and United 93. I also really enjoyed Thank You for Smoking. I also really liked Casino Royale, but it's right that it didn't get a nomination.

As far as the Oscar Pool this year I think a lot of the big categories have a very strong favorite (though not Supporting Actor), so it will come down to the smaller categories or an upset. I'd love to see Paul Greengrass (United 93) beat Martin Scorsese (The Departed) for director.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Movie Review: Letters From Iwo Jima

Letters From Iwo Jima is Clint Eastwood's second film on the topic this year. I haven't seen Flags of Our Fathers yet, perhaps I would have gotten more out of this if I had. This is a good anti-war film. While not quite up to All Quiet on the Western Front or Paths of Glory, it can be talked about in the same conversation.

Most descriptions would be that Letters From Iwo Jima tells the story of the battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese point of view. While that's true, the battle seems like a MacGuffen to tell the story of soldiers. Yes it's in Japanese and is subtitled.

The film follows a few soldiers telling their backstories and their lives. To tell the story of an average grunt, we follow Kazunari Ninomiya as Saigoa. He was a baker at home who was conscripted and forced to leave his pregant wife. We see him early on, unhappy about digging trenches and saying the Americans can have this useless rock. He and his friends are tired, hungry, and many are suffering from dysentery. This could be any American soldier in any war movie made since Platoon.

Ken Watanabe plays General Kuribayashi and he seems the only officer with any ability for independent thought. Or maybe it's just that he's the only one that knows there are no reinforcements coming. His staff views his plans as idiotic but it's probably because he has only told them the next step and not what the overall plan is. I'm always annoyed when conflict happens merely by lack of communication.

The officers seem more concerned with committing suicide than with killing the enemy or following orders. Some things I think they should know: (1) If you're sneaking up on the enemy in the dark, don't yell just before you get to them; (2) don't run directly across the enemy's line of fire, without cover, while standing up; and perhaps most important (3) when you pull the pin on a grenade, you're supposed to throw it at the enemy, not hold it close to you.

The reviews I've seen are greatly impressed that this film shows the enemy, the Japanese, as humans, who aren't that different from us. Maybe this is new compared to the classic John Wayne WWII movie, but isn't it obvious? The film shows each side treat some prisoners badly and some prisoners humanely, should that really be a surprise? It was (only?) 20 years ago that Sting asked if the Russians love their children too.

If you don't know about the battle you're not going to come away with much more than a few details and certainly not a sense of the timescale. My biggest problem with the film is that you barely see the Japanese fighting. Based on this film you'd think only a handful of Americans died in the battle.

The cinematography by JimaTom Stern is amazing. It's not in black and white but looks like it is. As in his other recent films there's a very noirish look as shadows often cover much of the shot. In this film you get the effect of masses of faceless soldiers that could be anyone.

This is a good film though it is a little slow and ponderous. Early on Kuribayashi spends time walking around the island getting an understand of the land. It gives us the opportunity to see the island as well. Most of the other officers and soldiers thought he was a little crazy but we obviously knew he was figuring out defensive strategies. To avoid his troops thinking he was crazy don't you think he would have mentioned that? Wouldn't it have been nice to see the meeting where he told his officiers in some depth what the plan was? But that's not what the film was about. It was enough to see a WWII film in reverse. The enemy we fought were real people with families and they didn't want to die for their country anymore than our soldiers did, but they (mostly) followed orders, because they really didn't have another choice.

Draw the parallels you want with our present war. I guess that conflict is evidence that not everyone gets the obvious message of this film.

Reconsidering Star Wars IV in the light of I-III

If you've seen the Star Wars movies, READ THIS. Reconsidering Star Wars IV in the light of I-III is brilliant. I was howling when it got to Chewy.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Real Answers

I really liked this one.

National Sanctity of Human Life Day

It's National Sanctity of Human Life Day, really. President Bush calls "upon all Americans to recognize this day with appropriate ceremonies and to underscore our commitment to respecting and protecting the life and dignity of every human being." Maybe we could protect the lives of Americans by not putting them in a civil war in the middle east. Maybe we could protect the dignity of Americans by not viciously attacking anyone with a dissenting opinion. Personally, I think an impeachment ceremony would be appropriate.

Bill Kristol's an Ass

Here's his latest on Fox. Congress should be quiet for 6-9 months and just let the President do what he wants (because Democrats don't want us to win). Argh! No oversight let's not have that. Let's not even have conversation!. And lets ignore that this isn't new, it's just the latest in a 3 year history of trying to use the military to police a civil war.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Road to Reality II

The next two chapters of The Road to Reality (i.e., chapters 3 and 4) covered number systems: integers, real, and complex (aka imaginary) numbers. I'm comfortable with all of these though I haven't dealt with complex numbers since college. If these were new to me I'm not sure how well I would have followed his discriptions, which makes me nervous.

Penrose asks something about each of these number systems that I don't remember from my math classes. That is, do they have some real meaning in the real world? While -3 has some obvious meaning when balancing your checkbook, what does it mean to have -3 cows in a field? It turns out that electron charges are a physical thing that require integers to represent them.

For real numbers he lists a few things that we use real numbers for. While there's a limit to distances we can measure, when you consider volumes you cube them and the numbers get large. On the small scale, irrationals are useful, but when dealing with quanta there might be a limit to how small we have to measure. He promises that real numbers will be necessary for calculus when we get to it.

For complex numbers I remember manipulating them but never knowing why they were important (aside from being how to deal with the square root of -1). First off it seems arithmetic and arbitrary roots in complex numbers always yields solutions in complex numbers. This wasn't the case for say the rational numbers where the square root of 2 gets you into trouble quickly. Also all polynomial equations have one (or more) complex solutions.

I also don't remember graphing complex numbers with the x axis for the real part and the y axis for the imaginary part. And I certainly didn't remember using such graphs to know if infinite series converge or diverge. And I didn't realize that Mandelbrot sets were on a complex plane (I never studied them in school, I just saw pretty pictures). Apparently complex numbers come up in quantum mechanics. Next up, logarithms.

Movie Review: Black Like Me

I found this 1964 film on an odd cable channel, it's not out on DVD. Black Like Me is a film version of a book which documents the true story of John Howard Griffin, a white journalist who changed his skin color and lived in the segregated south as a black man. When I first saw the description I was reminded of the Eddie Murphy skit from SNL when he dressed as a white man and wandered around. This was nothing like that.

Griffen took large doses of a drug and sat under a sun lamp to change his skin color. He has various encounters with both whites and blacks which I won't detail. He struggles getting rides, finding places to stay, eat or even go to the bathroom. He keeps applying for clerk jobs but is always turned down. He's chased a few times.

There are two things that struck me about this. First was just how often he's asked about interracial sex. One white man who gave him a ride says he's never hired a black woman unless he slept with her. It came up often and it struck me even more out of place as I think of other black and white movies from 1964, you just didn't hear of this. The second his how much of an affect it had on Griffen. In just a few weeks he became very irritable, depressed, angry and to some extent violent.

Griffen had a remarkable life. He was a decorated soldier from WWII and was blind for a decade due to injuries from the war. He says in the beginning of the film, when you're blind you can't tell if someone is black or white. After this experience he became a well-known advocate for civil rights.

The movie is a product of its times. There are some heavy handed montages with loud slow drum beats in the background. Some of the edits are rough too, at one point you hear the piano music before he starts playing. Still the story itself is powerful enough it covers everything else over. If it's on cable, catch it.

Friday, January 19, 2007

For Want of a Penny...Lawyers

It's January, so I, like everyone else, am collecting the various tax documents that arrive in the mail. I was surprised to see a year-end summary of the 401K I had from my former employer. I had transfered that account to an IRA in July of 2005, so the 401K account had a zero balance. The statement I received this month shows a $0.01 balance. It turns out my employer saw the need to give me a penny in Feb of 2006.

So I called Fidelity who manages the 401K account. After a short wait and a notice that the conversation may be recorded for my safety, I got a very nice guy on the phone who confirmed my identity and asked how he could help. I told him the story and we laughed a little bit and concluded that I wanted them to send me a check for a penny. He read some boiler plate legal stuff and I said uh huh. Then he asked if I had see the document outlining tax consequences (of a penny) of withdrawl within the last 3 months. I said "Let's say that I have". He asked something else and then asked me to hold.

After a short while he came back to me and asked if I had internet access. Because I had said "Let's say that I have" and it was recorded, they wanted to make sure I saw the form. He said, if I had answered slightly differently we would not have had to do this. Ugh. So I found the 9 page document I needed to see. I didn't actually have to read it and if anyone listens to the recording they plainly know I didn't have to time to, but he said it was enough, they had provided the document as they were required to. He then asked if I want to expedite the shipping of the check for a fee of $25 or $45 or something. We both laughed at paying to send a one penny check quickly.

I tried to the read the 9 page document, I couldn't do it. It's filled with all this stuff of if you have this kind of account or that kind of account you can or can't do something, etc. Roth stuff is taxible and can't be rolled over, blah blah blah. As an example, here's part of the first paragraph:

"As a participant in the Plan you must receive these notices at least thirty (30) days prior to your distribution, and you must receive a new notice if you have received the notice more than one hundred eighty (180) days prior to taking a distribution. You can waive the thirty-day period and take a distribution immediately after receiving the notices. You will be considered to have waived the remaining unexpired period if you elect a form of payment before the end of the 30-day period."

So you must get this 30 days before you take or money, unless you don't want to. It's all just lawyerese of companies covering their asses. They can claim they fully informed you and they did, they just did so in such a way that it's completely uninformative. Unless you want to be informed in which case you have a pay another lawyer or tax professional to actually inform you, or just do what they think is right for you if you don't want to be informed about what they do.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Astronomy Night: Andromeda

I went to the Monthly Observatory Night at Harvard's CfA tonight. I had missed most of the fall ones due to cooking classes.

Tonight, Pauline Barmby of the CfA talked about the Andromeda galaxy (known hereafter as M31). She works on the team running the Infrared Array Camera on the Spitzer Space Telescope.

M31 is big and fuzzy. The first recorded viewing was in 900AD. It's about the width of 7 full moons in the sky and is better seen with binoculors than a small telescope. It's 180,000 light-years across and is 2.2 million light-years away from us. It's the nearest large spiral galaxy to us.

It was Edwin Hubble looking at M31 in the 1920s from the Mt Wilson Observatory that first saw individual (Cepheid variable) stars in it and and concluded that it was not part of the Milky Way but was in fact a distant galaxy of its own. At the time it wasn't known that there were other galaxies outside of our Milky Way.

Barmby structured her presentation around observations of M31 via 3 of the great observatories available to us: Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer.

The Hubble Space Telescope gives us a view of M31 in visible light. In 1993 we saw a 2nd brighter spot in the center of M31. There are bright blue (young) stars moving fast in the center. For them to be moving so fast there's probably a black hole in there (exerting lots of gravity as they do). But it's a mystery how young stars formed so close to a black hole (they couldn't have formed someplace else and moved there because they are too young).

Hubble also let us see globular clusters in M31. These are "small" collections of 1 million stars orbiting a galaxy. M31's globular clusters are about the age of the globular clusters orbiting our galaxy. Most globular clusters don't have a black hole in the center as many galaxies do, but one of the gc's in M31 does have a black hole. Because of this they think it might be a remnant of a galaxy that was absorbed by M31 and not a globular cluster. A 3.5 day exposure image allows individual stars in the outer halo of M31 to be seen and hense studied (composition, age, etc.) Another mystery is that they seem to be younger than the stars in our galactic halo. Though she always pointed out, that measuring stuff in our galaxy, from within it, is very difficult. It's like an amoeba in the Pacific Ocean trying to see (and measure) all of the ocean from shore to shore.

The Chandra X-Ray Observatory sees not visible light, but x-rays. The Earth's atmosphere blocks x-rays (good for us) so Chandra has to be outside of the atmosphere and it's good to be away from Earth's radition belt. It's orbit is not centered on the earth but next to it and takes it 1/3 of the distance to the moon.

X-Rays are emitted by hot gas, so usually black holes, neutron stars, white dwarfs (things left over when stars die) as well as binary stars (stars that orbit each other and pull material from one to the other). With Chandra we found that the black hole at the center of M31 was too cool, but superimposing visible Hubble pictures they found they were looking at the wrong thing. They found right next to what we thought was the (cool) black hole at the center the real black hole at the center and it was similar temperature to what we expected.

The Spitzer Space Telescope looks at the infrared, which show heat. So, you want it to be very cold so that it's own heat doesn't mess with the observations. So Spitzer is far from earth, in fact it's not in Earth orbit but in orbit around the sun, sorta trailing behind the earth. Also, it's cooled with liquid Helium which will last about 5.5 years. It was lauchned in August of 2003. M31 looks like this from Spritzer:

Combining the heat from these images with the luminisity of Hubble images, lets them estimate that M31 has about about 1 trillion stars, which is a lot for a galaxy. The red stuff you see is warm dust. Astronomers analyze the shape of the rings to figure out what's happening in the galaxy. Notice the bulge at the left of the image, how did that form? There's the other one at the lower right which they think is formed by the gravitational effects of M32 which is the bright spot at about 5 o'clock in the image. There's an inner ring in the center but it's off center from the big ring, how did that form? The guess is that 210,000,000 years ago M32 crashed through the center of M31 and caused these disturbances. There's also a theory that in about 3 billion years M31 will crash into the Milky Way. She had a pretty animation of this future cataclysm that she played a few times :)

She took questions at the end and I asked if they knew what the dust they kept referring to in many of images was and if it was all the same stuff. She said some of it was this multi-word incredibly long technical term which she then said the black stuff you scrap off your BBQ is the same stuff. She said that if her study gets chosen for telescope time she might be able to answer what the other stuff was. :)

It was another fun evening, even if it was too cloudy to do any observing on the roof afterwards.

Senate v. Gonzales

Good article: Gonzales Faces Sharp Criticism By Senators about the Warrantless Domestic Spying program. I think I hate Gonzales more than anyone in the Bush administration.

House Voting Not Partisan

I have CSPAN on in the background and see that there are several votes on the Oil Tax Bill. They seem to be falling completely along party lines. I wondered for this new Congress and these contentious first 100 hours if the votes have really been partisan.

You can find the voting record here. Clicking on teh Roll Call number (the first column) shows the vote break down). Of the first 31 votes (rolls 2-33):

10 are unanimous or off by just 1-2 votes
7 are purely along party lines
4 are close to partisan with 1-9 Republicans voting with Democrats
2 are close to partisan with 1-2 Democrats voting with Republicans
6 are split with 24-124 Republicans voting with Democrats
2 are split with neither party voting as a solid block

Some of the unanimous ones were easy, honoring Gerald Ford or Muhammad Ali (really) or the "Commending the Boise State University Broncos football team for winning the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and completing an undefeated season." (really really).

The two completely split votes were on Stem Cell Research. The 6 votes that large blocks of Republicans voting with Democrats varied in topics from House Rules, Implementing the 9/11 Commision Report, Increasing the Minimum Wage, the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act, and the College Student Relief Act.

For all the complaints that the Republicans have about the first 100 hours and how the Democrats are not letting them do things, they aren't presenting a unified front. Perhaps the Democrats are in fact doing good things where as the last Congress couldn't manage to pass virtually anything of significance. Go Nancy.

Life at Guantanamo

The Washington Post has Detainee's Letters Give Peek at Life at Guantanamo. What we've done is just horrible.

Tom Hanks as James Bond

More on FISA Courts

Orin Kerr has a theory that the court is using anticipatory warrants.

Keith Olbermann had a good segment tonight with Constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley on the topic. They point out that the new Democratic Congress now has subpoena power and was threatening to us it. Also that this is just another case of the Bush administration "gaming the system" and getting away with stuff and misdirecting things until finally called to task. He said they did the same thing with the Padilla case, charge him with terrorism until a judge calls them out on the facts and then they drop the charges. They also brought up Gonzales attacks against judges and his failure to take any action against Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles “Cully” Stimson for his call for a boycott of law firms representing suspected terrorists for which he delivered a non-apology apology. Again, hopefully things will improve.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Plans for Iraq

In response to the Republican lies that the Democrats don't have a plan about Iraq (there are many, they've even made the press), Cenk Uygur wants to learn from the Marshall Plan. His idea is to use the $20 billion a surge will cost and instead give the money to Iraq for rebuilding projects if they meet certain benchmarks. It might sound like a bribe but it sounds better than a surge, and you can't say it's not a plan.

Bush Stops Warrantless Domestic Spying

I was in the car today and heard on NPR that Bush caved on the warrantless domestic spying and has agreed to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Cour. While they didn't have a lot of details as to why they just caved, they speculated that they didn't think they'd win.

The Washington post has the details. The letter Gonzales sent to Lehey and Specter announcing this is here.

Tony Snow when asked about the political motivations for this decision happening now said it wasn't politically motivated and is the result of 2 years of efforts. Glenn Greenwald has a lot on the questions raised by the White House's actions and how this seems to contradict all the previous warnings we were told by them.

Personally I think this is proof of why oversight is important. I think this change came about merely because of the threat of oversight. Here's hoping the Democratic Congress can do even more to rein in this out-of-control administration. Gonzales has done other things today that prove its needed.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Klingons in the White House

Somehow I missed this a week ago but Jon Stewart just covered it so I'm not too late. Rep. David Wu (D-OR) made this ridiculous speech on the House floor.

"Unlike the real Klingons of Star Trek" Heh. Jon Stewart had Leonard Nimoy and George Takei comment on it and it was hilarious.

Bush on Iraq

Jim Leher interviewed Bush tonight and most of it was more of the same, but I haven't heard him this clear on what happens if Iraq in his terms "fails":

"20 years from now it's conceivable the world will see a Middle East that's got radial Shia and radical Sunnis competing against each other for power. Which will cause people to have to choose up sides in the Middle East. Supporting ideologies that are the exact opposite of what we believe.

Secondly it is likely if that scenario were to develop that Middle Eastern oil would fall in the hands of radicals which they could then use to blackmail western governments.

Thirdly when you throw a nuclear weapons race in the midst of this you've got a chance for radicals to use weapons of mass destruction in a form that would cause huge devestation.

In other words there would be a cauldron of radicalism and extremism that a future generation would have to deal with. Now is the time to succeed in Iraq. That's why in my State of the Union Address and why in other speeches I have and will spend time talking about the need to defeat this ideology with a ideology that is hopeful. An ideology of hate with an ideology of hope. And that would be democracy.

And so Iraq must be viewed in a context larger than just that single battlefield. It must be viewed in context of how Iran reacts. it must be viewed in the context of democracies like Lebanon and the Palestinian terrirtories. All these young democracies by the way are being attacked by the same type of extremists that are attacking democracy in Iraq."

Wow, hard not to object to every single thing there. So radical Shia and radical Sunnies are competing against each other and we should be in the middle of this because? The answer is oil. So it really all is about oil. And what are we doing to prevent this? Getting ourselves less dependent on middle eastern oil? No we're doing nothing about that, we're not even being asked to drive less. No we're going to fight future blackmail with present violence, because that will bring about hope. And it seems that all the countries in the Middle East are fighting the same battle. It's not like the Palestinian issues have anything to do with Israel and he didn't mention anything he's doing to help resolve that mess.

The real problem in Iraq is that the current Iraq government isn't a unity government, it's a sectarian one, and that's why people are fighting. The Saddam hanging made it clear if you were blind before. And Bush's plan doesn't even address this.

Here's a much more reasoned article: Bush lying again about Iraq.

Physics Books, Crochet, and the Universe

Since the start of this sabbatical I've been reading some books about astronomy and the nature of the universe. If you want a really fun gentle introduction I highly recommend A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. As I read more I realized I wanted not a chronological history of what mankind has discovered but something organized differently starting with simple concepts and working up to the more advanced stuff, like a text book. Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos did that but after a while all the layman's descriptions of these things get a little stale and I wondered if I could handle some of the math. I was always good in math and my BS is actually in Applied Math/CS so maybe I had a shot.

I found out that Roger Penrose recently wrote a 1000 page tome called The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe. His approach included math because he felt that's the only way to really understand it. So the first 400 pages are a math primer. This is just what I was looking for. I waited till a new edition came out this January and picked it up last week.

Penrose begins with the pythagorean theorem, something I'm quite comfortable with. To prove it he shows a lattice of squares (that is squares next to each other like a tile floor) overlaid on another lattice of squares at an angle. Ok. And then he started talking about Euclid's 5 basic postulates which are all pretty simple including the 5th which says if you have an infinite straight line and a point not on the line, then there is exactly one line through that point that does not intersect the line. Basically it's the parallel line.

But then he starts imagining a geometry where this postulate is not true, what if there were more than one line through the point yet still parallel to the original line? To demostrate this geometry he shows me drawings by Escher of a lattice of black and white fish in a circle, and he wants to know if the Pythagorean Theorem is still true.

It turns out the drawing is a representation of hyperbolic geometry in 2 dimensional euclidian space (a fancy way of saying on a sheet of paper). Then he talks about other other forms of representing this space but after going through a few more sections, I'm realizing this chapter isn't about the Pythagorean Theorem but is about hyperbolic space and I'm lost. Well that didn't take long. All I know about hyperbolic geometry is that many scientific calculators have extra trig buttons called sinh, cosh, and tanh and I remember an older cousin telling me no one ever uses them. Ok, time for some help, off to the web.

A google search for hyperbolic geometry yielded the usual suspects of wikipedia and Wolfram's Math World which I found defined it in math terms I didn't understand. But there were many other pages found too. I found this page helped a lot because of the Java applets that let me move points around and see how the lines are drawn. But then I found The Institute for Figuring had these Hyperbolic Space Crochet Models created in 1997

The bit that helped me was he description how she created these. "Taimina intuited that the essence of this construction could be implemented with knitting or crochet simply by increasing the number of stitches in each row. As you increase, the surface naturally begins to ruffle and crenellate." And crenellate my OSX dictionary tells me means "provide (a wall of a building) with battlements" so isn't that clear. :)

So I'm working my way through this. I think it becomes important because the universe might not be what we think of as flat (just as the Earth isn't flat even though it looks that way to us). Here are some other drawings suggesting this and in crochet form it turns out the shape of the universe may be a pair of pants.

I gotta keep reading.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Movie Review: Little Children

Little Children is the latest film from Todd Field. If you saw 2001's In the Bedroom you have a sense of the tone of this film. It's a story of suburbia and while much tamer than Blue Velvet, it's still a little twisted and about how no one is perfect. And if you want a Madam Bovary analogy, it's spelled out for you in a book club meeting.

Kate Winslet's husband is always working and she spends the days taking care of her small daughter Lucy. It's suburbia so she walks to the park and the pool. At first we see her with other mothers at the park and she's an outsider. If the seating arrangement didn't tell us this the anthropologist voice-over informs us. It's a device that worked well in The Gods Must be Crazy but it's not quite as funny here, because the movie isn't as funny. Anyway, the other mothers oggle Brad (Patrick Wilson) who brings his son the park. They dress up for him but have never spoken to him, Sarah (Winslet) actually makes the move and speaks to him and to win a bet, kisses him.

We learn that Brad is married to documentary producer Jennifer Connelly and is studying law to pass the bar. But he's not really studying, he goes out at night and watches kids skateboard. Add to this mix that a sex offender (Jackie Earle Haley!) is out of jail and has moved back into the neighborhood with his mother and a former cop who's taken it on himself to watch (and harass) him.

So you can see that Sarah and Brad start an affair and things get messy. You probably can't see how it all ends. The movie's tone stays very human, this isn't melodrama, but gets very bleak. Surprisingly I found the end could go in a lot of different ways and I was kinda on the edge of my seat. All the characters are flawed but I found myself caring for some of them and not necessarily the ones I would have thought of at the beginning of the film. The film is well shot and acted, but I didn't find it particularly profound (like say Crash) or particularly funny (though the woman next to me said the book was funnier). It was ok and would be a fine DVD rental.

Jack Bauer

The 24 premiere was last night and it was a fun ride. It's gotten more ridiculous as in just 2 hours Jack got off a plane from being imprisoned in China for 20 months, showered, was turned over to a terrorist, was tortured (stabbed twice), escaped, rescued a terrorist from an air raid and foiled a subway bombing and changed clothes twice. Still, it was fun. Gizmodo is already on it with What Jack Bauer Needs in a Cellphone.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Movie Review: The Matador

I had heard this was good but missed it in the theater, thank you Netflix. Pierce Brosnan plays an assassin having a mid-life crisis. I was expecting something very dark, but adding Greg Kinnear lightened it up a lot. This reminded me of Grosse Point Blank but it's not as laugh out loud funny.

Brosnan is the kid that never found morals. He's an assassin, drinks, sleeps with prostitutes and enjoys bullfights. But after 30 or so years, it's not as much fun, or he's not as good at it. Kinnear is deparate to close a business deal and meets Brosnan in a hotel bar, and have a conversation even through Brosnan's occassional cracks in bad taste. Nevertheless, they hang out together and Brosnan eventually confesses his true profession and an odd friendship forms. The movie jumps ahead to Brosnan showing up at Kinnear's home because he's his only friend and his mid-life crisis is affecting his work. Kinnear and his wife are excited to have a real-life assissin in the house and well it goes on from there.

Some quirky characters and more fun and depth than I was expecting.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Comet McNaught Sunset Tonight

If you're in the Northern Hemisphere, tonight is the last night to observe Comet McNaught. I hadn't heard of this but it's been out the last couple of days. Just after sunset, look west where the sun went down and a little to the right, maybe you'll see it. Those of you in Florida have the best view.

If you're in the Southern Hemisphere then this is your early warning, you get to see it January 15-18.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bush's 10 Fallacies on Iraq

I think this sums up my feelings on Bush's "strategy" as well as anything. Bleech.

State of Rice

Not that I normally care what Robert Novak says but he describes the numerous changes at the State Departement and references unnamed "Republicans in Congress...tell me that the State Department under Condoleezza Rice is a mess." But at least Rice says she loves the Fox reporters.

The Joys of Wisdom Teeth X

So I've had some discomfort over the last couple of weeks. It's always varied from like a dull pain either in the bottom (where the tooth was removed) or the top above it. Sometimes it's felt like pizza burn, other times like when I had my braces tightened as teenager, other times it's just been sore after chewing. The socket is healing and closing up but I decided to go back to the oral surgeon to have him take a look. HIs conclusion, the bone around the socket is pretty thick and as the gums grow over it it's causing irritation. There are two alternatives. Wait for it to heal naturally, his expectation was about 2 months, or help it along by opening up the gum and using a bone file to shave off the bone. That procedure is easy but has a 10 day recovery for the gum to heal. I've heard that before. The risk of leaving it is if the bone pokes through it's a pain to clean everything up, about 3 months of recovery there.

Anyway, tomorrow I'm having the cavity filled that started all this. After that I'll figure out how to schedule 10 days of recovery.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Why won't God heal Amputees?

I'm awestruck: Why won't God heal Amputees?. It's a very lengthy argument against the Bible, using logic and common sense to show it's a book written by primitive man and not God. For a (still long but merely one page) summary see chapter 26.

Why The Surge?

Why the surge? "Because it was not a key feature of Baker-Hamilton." Carpet Bagger Report pulls this info out of a longer Washington Post article. Bush is just playing games, though I will say he looked more Presidential tonight than ever before. I didn't see one smirk.

Get Rid of Tony Show

When the White House Press Secretary lies to us shouldn't someone do something about it? I guess it's better than making up constitutional powers: "The President has the ability to exercise his own authority if he thinks Congress has voted the wrong way."

2006 in Review: Privacy

EPIC has a 2006 Privacy Year in Review covering what happened as well as things to look for in 2007. Ugh.

Charity Support

My former co-worker Mike Foley and fellow blogger is participating in a charity bike ride. If you'd like to support him raise money for Emmaus, and help homeless people, visit his sponsorship page.

Making Dinosaurs


Gizmodo has some good pictures demonstrating the importance of contrast in that big screen TV you want.

Hottest Year Ever

or at least of the last 112. NOAA released their yearly report. "Every single state checked in with the highest average temperature in the 112 years that NOAA has records for." "The generally high temperatures are part of a trend that now puts 16 of the past 25 years onto the list of the top-25 warmest years on record."

iPhone the Cause of the Switch to Intel?

The iPhone uses intel processors and it runs OS X (some flavor of it at least) and it's been in development for 2.5 years. Maybe this is why the Mac moved to Intel. I don't know if there's a PPC chip suited to a cellphone. Then again, maybe it doesn't use Intel chips.

More on the iPhone

Tao of Mac has his perspective, ars technica has theirs, and David Pogue actually played with an iPhone for an hour.

And while MacWorld is going on there's also this little thing called CES in Las Vegas. Here's an update on what's going on there. Yeah, nothing nearly as interesting as an iPhone.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

More on iPhone

Interesting list of limitations in the iPhone:

* No 3G. We know you know, but still, it hurts man.
* No over the air iTunes Store downloads or WiFi syncing to your host machine.
* No expandable memory.
* No removable battery.
* No Exchange or Office support.

New Apple Toys

I still have to watch the MacWorld keynote ("Due to exceptional demand your request could not be completed at this time. Please try again at a later time". I'm sorry, I'd like to try again at an earlier time.) but here are some thoughts on the new Apple products.


The big one is the new iPhone. It's freakin' amazing. I'm really impressed with the new interface and that they had the balls to not have a click wheel. It looks like a great phone, the interface for voicemail alone is worth it. The music interface seems closer to iTunes (with cover scroll) than it does to an iPod. The browser looks great, particularly with maps and widgets.

So the other neat thing about the phone is that runs some version of OSX, and the subtle thing is that it's 320x480 screen is at 160dpi when every mac is at 100dpi. That probably means the resolution independence of Leopard is in use here. So I'm also guessing that Leopard will make more use of transparency in its interface as is done here.

Here's a comparison chart. There are good points that this phone is locked to a particular vender, and can it be unlocked. EDGE is kinda current data technology but there are 3G phones and by June I'd expect many more. I see a calendar widget in the display but I don't know about a real calendar application and I wonder if 3rd party apps can run on it (I'd guess that widgets made in Dashcode will).

This is just amazing, but also expensive and I don't even know anyone that uses Cingular. $599 for the device plus monthly fees and who knows what the EDGE service will cost. I could probably get away with a 450 minute phone plan for $40/month but would need an unlimited data plan for those google maps and stuff. That will be about $45/month (that's what their Data Connect Plan is but they have unlimited smartphone for $20 and unlimited laptop for $60 or $80). So I'm guessin about $90/month in service fees. Well it's not available till June and my current Verizon contract runs till january '08, so perhaps that's enough time to wait for the bugs to be worked out.


The new AppleTV lets you stream iTunes video to your big TV. This makes sense if you buy videos from iTunes but I haven't really done that with the shiny new HDTiVo I have. But the way to think of this device is as an iPod connected to your TV and stereo. It's got a 40GB drive and syncs with ITunes like your iPod does. You can stream from up to 5 devices, sounds like iTunes doesn't it? But a 40GB drive?!? iPods come in 30 and 80GB! Great that I could use this as a music server but I have over 30GB of music in iTunes and videos take up a lot of room, let alone my iPhoto library. Apple says 50 hours of movies but that's at 480p (regular DVD) not HD. And the HD is only 720p, that's fine for what I have now, but my next TV will do 1080i native and most fanboys today want 1080p.

And I think it only works with iTunes videos, like the Airport Express does. Why can't I stream any audio to my Airport Express? There's a 3rd party app to do this but Apple doesn't give you the ability. Seems to be the same with the AppleTV. Why can't I stream a YouTube video to it, or some other downloaded video file?

The AppleTV might make sense for a lot of people, but not for me. There's certainly room for the second release to improve it, a bigger hard disk and at least 1080i support. And really, DVR support would be nice. Now if only I could copy video from my HDTiVo to my Mac.

Airport Extreme

I have a Linksys wireless router because the Apple AirPort Extreme basestation was $200, (originally I had a D-Link which was only $20). I still want to connect my (now unused) PC to network via a wire, there should be one machine wired in case you have wireless problems.

Apple also announced a new Airport Extreme and it's still overpriced ($179) and still doesn't look like something I'd want. Ok, so it's faster but the 802.11n standard isn't done yet, so it's not clear this would be compatible with stuff that supports the final standard. It won't speed up my surfing because the bottleneck is the broadband (3MBit) not the wifi (now 54Mbit). The faster speed would be used between devices at home.

What devices would those be? Well a laptop, but I'd have to add a compatible (remember the standard isn't final) network card, since my two year old Powerbook doesn't do 11n. Though Apple was sneaky and several Macs support 11n today with a software enabler. There's also the new AppleTV to connect but as I said, I'm not interested in that either.

Then there are devices you could connect to the basestation with a wire. You can connect a printer, but I do that with my AirPort Express now, and that also lets me connect my stereo so I can stream iTunes to it, this doesn't. I could connect my PC and make it available, but the ethernet ports are only 100Mbit, not Gigabit like all the Macs. So the ~250Mbit I get from the 802.11n (slower if I have one 802.11g device connected, like oh my AirPort Express or say an iPhone) is at most going to be 100Mbit to my PC. This does let me connect a hard drive and make it available on the wifi which would completely rock for live wireless Time Machine backups, but there's only one USB 2.0 port so it's either a printer or a hardrive, seems a little weak for $179 box.


So new things announced, but nothing for me to spend money on, at least for a while. Still the new iPhone is an amazing device, everyone else will be playing catch up for a while.

Monday, January 08, 2007

More on Bush Opening Mail

Here's more on Bush's claimed ability to open your mail. Apparently it's not clear if his signing statement is actually declaring a new power or just restating an existing one. "It may be that this signing statement is nothing, and it just reveals the Administration's willingness to issue signing statements about everything. On the other hand, it may be that it hints at a program allowing the government to open postal mail under the claimed authority of the AUMF." Isn't their claim that these signing statements are supposed to make things clearer?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Early Barriers to Oversight

The Pentagon is refusing to take action on the newly released FBI documents detailing detainee abuse at Guantanamo. And it looks like Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Gonzales will go at.

Meanwhile the White House visitor records are now secret. They are now Presidential records instead of Secret Service records, so they are not subject to FOIA requests. "The memo last spring was signed by the White House and Secret Service the day after a Washington-based group asked a federal judge to impose sanctions on the Secret Service in a dispute over White House visitor logs for Abramoff."

Bush's Plans

Digby writes well about the surge, but more chillingly about what the military leadership shuffle means for Iran.

Reich on the Politics of the Surge

Robert Reich in Why Dems Won't Stop Bush's "Surge" in Iraq briefly describes the current political dilemma of opposition to a surge.

2 More From Cenk Uygur

Cenk Uygur has two new good articles. The first points out that if the White House thinks Harriet Miers is too weak to fight of the Democrats, why did Bush nominate her to the Supreme Court? He concludes it so she could cover Bush's ass.

The second is more in his series of articles on religion. "I am not concerned with how the world would be with or without religion. I care whether the religions are true or untrue." Good stuff.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Funny Diagrams

These are pretty funny. Various simple diagrams by Jessica Hagy. Click on either for (many) more.

Memories of Cities

This image of "power washing" 188 Suffolk St. in New York City brings back memories of being in Pittsburgh during the 1980s:

Friday, January 05, 2007

More on Bush Opening Your Mail

The Washington Post has Bush Warned About Mail-Opening Authority. "'The administration is playing games about warrants,' Martin said. 'If they are not claiming new powers, then why did they need to issue a signing statement?'"

What We Learn About Rehnquist

The Freedom of Information Act says that government records on people can be released when they die. So when famous people die, there are FOIA requests for things like their FBI file. This just happened with late Chief Justice William Rehnquist and a 1,561 page file was released. Legal Times has a long summary Rehnquist FBI File Sheds New Light on Confirmation Battles, Drug Dependence.

The gossip part is that Rehnquist was addicted to a sleep aid from 1971 until he checked into a hospital in December 1981. He was taking 3 times the maximum dossage and this medication is usually only prescribed for one week. "The fact that Rehnquist checked into George Washington University Hospital for a week in late December 1981 to be treated for back pain and dependence on a prescription drug was previously known." But the details weren't previously known. Apparently during withdrawl he suffered paranoid delusions including that the CIA was plotting against him. The thing I haven't seen in the articles is that Chief Justice John Roberts was Rehnquist's clerk from 1980-81, at the height of his problems. But this is all just gossip because it doesn't seem to have affected his decisions.

The other thing people are talking about is how Nixon and Reagan used the FBI to invistigate the people that were going to testify at his confirmation hearings (for the court and then for chief justice). This is why we shouldn't trust the government.

"According to a memo in the Rehnquist file, an unnamed FBI official cautioned that the department 'should be sensitive to the possibility that Democrats could charge the Republicans of misusing the FBI and intimidating the Democrats’ witnesses.' But then-Assistant Attorney General John Bolton — who more recently served as ambassador to the United Nations — signed off on the request and said he would 'accept responsibility should concerns be raised about the role of the FBI.'"

Congresswoman Praises Sports Teams for 5 Minutes

It turns out the first 100 hours starts on Monday. Right now Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) just spoke for 5 full minutes on the Appalachian State Mountaineers victory over U Mass on December 15th to with their NCAA division and on Wake Forest Demon Deacon football team winning the ACC championship. It's like she read two sports articles from a newspaper. This is what we elect people to Congress for?