Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A diesel Honda? That gets 62.8 miles a gallon?

CNet describes A diesel Honda that gets 62.8 miles a gallon. Diesel is now green.

TiVo Series2 DVR free after rebate

TiVo Series2 DVR free after rebate

What Does 200 Calories Look Like?

What Does 200 Calories Look Like? shows 200 Calorie portions of various foods. The pictures on the page are actually thumbnails. If you click on the pictures you'll see the full shot which is portional for each, so you can really see a comparison on a same sized plate with the same camera setup.

Sen. Stevens Home Searched By FBI

The New York Times reported Alaska Home of Senator Is Raided by U.S. Agents. The FBI searched the home of Senator Ted Stevens (R-AL) yesterday. I'm not sure of the difference between a search and a raid but they had a warrant based on his relationship with with Bill Allen. "The businessman, Bill J. Allen, the founder of an oil fields service company that has won tens of millions of dollars in federal contracts with the senator’s help, has pleaded guilty to bribing state legislators."

Sen. Stevens is mostly recently known for calling the Internet a series of tubes and being an adamant supporter of the infamous Alaskan bridge to nowhere.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Chief Justice Roberts Is Hospitalized After Seizure

Chief Justice Roberts Is Hospitalized After Seizure. At 2pm today Chief Justice John Roberts took a fall in his Maine vacation home. He was brought to a hospital and it was caused by a “benign idiopathic seizure”, similar to one he suffered 14 years ago. The cause is unknown and the court said “a thorough neurological evaluation, which revealed no cause for concern.”

ABC Sci-Fi Masters Anthology Next 4 Saturdays

I don't know anything about this, ABC ready to air Sci-Fi masters anthology but I've set my TiVo.

The Power of the Internet

Harry Potter 7 Translated into chinese in Two Day. The official translation is supposed to take several months.

"The final Harry Potter book was translated in just two days. On the Chinese site yWeekend (see translation by ESWN), high school freshman Xiao Wang explained how he tested and organized the 60 volunteer translators online, via the popular Chinese chat and blogging service QQ".

This article has many more details of the effort.

How to Predict the Weather Without a Forecast

Here's an interesting article on wikiHow: How to Predict the Weather Without a Forecast. Some interesting tidbits:

"Plants release their waste in a low pressure atmosphere, generating a smell like compost and indicating an upcoming rain."

"Clouds going in different directions (e.g. one layer going west, another layer going north) - bad weather coming, probably hail"

"If birds are flying high in the sky, there will probably be fair weather. (Falling air pressure caused by an imminent storm causes discomfort in birds' ears, so they fly low to alleviate it.)"

Screencast on Excel Graphics

Juice Analytics has an interesting screencast on Recreating the NY Times Cancer Graph in Excel. The graphic is below. The screen cast gets a little bogged down centering some text manually but there are some good hints in it.

Movie Review: The Simpsons Movie

The Simpsons Movie opened on Friday. I saw it on Saturday and then again on Sunday. Yes, I loved it. I think they completely nailed this. It's like a really good long episode that has no problems sustaining itself for an hour and a half. I laughed almost constantly at this film, both times. In fact the two groups of people I saw it with both commented on this ("Well we know how Howard felt about it"). It's 88 minutes long and I laughed during about 84 of them. Two times we weren't supposed to laugh and I didn't, and about 2 jokes didn't work for me.

One problem with writing this review is that there's so much in this film, even after seeing it twice I have a hard time remembering specific lines, because it was all so good. Like a good episode, the plot jumps around a lot while keeping a strong narrative thread. Part of the fun is just keeping up with the ride, as such I won't spoil anything with what would be a pointless plot recap. The story concentrates on the family. Bart and Homer have good father-son fights, bonding and adventure; Homer and Marge have lots of good scenes and some pathos; Lisa meets the perfect guy ("And I still haven't told you best part") and Maggie saves the day several times.

There are some really funny lines, lots of visual puns and some good music. I also really appreciate that the trailers didn't ruin anything. Yes, Spider-Pig is even funnier in the movie. If there's a flaw in the film it's that aside from Ned Flanders, the supporting characters don't have much more than cameos. Many have good lines that are in character, and Ralph Wiggum has two fantastic ones (I'll now always think of him when I hear the word "blowback"). There are a few large crowd scenes that might hold everyone who's ever been on the show but I missed Kang and Kodos. There were fewer guest voices than I expected. Tom Hanks makes a good appearance. Albert Brooks has a big role as an evil government official but I found his very recognizable voice distracting and not quite in character since he doesn't normally play evil.

I've seen complaints that unlike the South Park movie, South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut, (which was fantastic), this film doesn't go much further than the TV show. That's true but I think there's a reason. South Park the TV show is definately not for kids and the movie went straight for the R rating. The Simpsons is kinda for kids, at least for older kids and the movie is just a PG-13 version of the show. Is it for young kids? There are several quick bits that might be difficult to explain. Homer gives people the finger, Otto is actually shown smoking a bong, there's a scene with Bart skateboarding naked through town that goes a little further than the TV show.

I thought there might have been a mistake and needed to go back and watch Lisa's First Word (season 4, episode 10). Lisa's first word was "Bart" and Maggie's was "Daddy" (voiced by Elizabeth Taylor), though no one else heard it.

In a review filled with plot details, the Washington Post said "It's really one of the best movies of the year." I completely agree; it's certainly the funniest.

I have to say one thing that's a very mild spoiler. See below if you're willing.


At one point the Simpsons house is destroyed (in a visual homage to Poltergeist) and I have to admit, I was really sad looking at the rubble of all of their memories. I hope the TV show never ends, I'm not sure I could handle it.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Free Memory Card with Digital Cameras

This looks like good deal from Amazon, Free 2GB Memory Card with Qualifying Digital Cameras if you're in the market for a digital camera.

Watch Bill Moyers Journal on Earmarks and Iraq

Bill Moyers Journal on PBS is a great show. It actually goes into issues in understandable terms and cuts right to the heart of the matter. This week's episode has two great segments.

In Earmark Reform?, Moyers explores the congressional process of adding funding to bills without debate. It used to be an exception (and even was anonymous) and in the last 10 years it's become common practice and costing us billions.

Seven members of Congress earmarked ten additional C-17s, the big cargo aircraft for $2.4 billion. It was not requested by the Pentagon. And the members of Congress who requested it all had a local vested interest in it. In 2005, "most earmarks went to defense spending ... tax payer's dollars delivered without competitive bidding".

'In 1996 there were 300 earmakrs attached to the Federal Budget...By 2006 there were 12,000. there are now - get this - 32,684 earmark requests up for approval in the House of Representatives."

"When Democrat Nancy Pelosi was elected Speaker of the House in January, she put earmark reform on the agenda. She's called for cutting the number in half. And the House has now approved new rules: Members must put their names on each earmark; they must disclose the beneficiary and purpose of the earmark; they must declare that they and their spouses have no financial stake in the project; and earmarks must be open for public inspection. But this transparency is still opaque." It's not posted on the internet, you can go to an office and read the paper and take notes but not make copies or take pictures. Sounds the same as a hearing without a transcript to me.

The next segement was on Al Qaeda and Iraq. "Who exactly is the enemy in Iraq and how does Al Qaeda fit in? Bill Moyers talks with West Point Instructor, Brian Fishman, and Middle Eastern and International Affairs Professor Fawaz Gerges, discussing the growing power of Al Qaeda and its connections to the war in Iraq."

FAWAZ A. GERGES: Bill, most of the insurgents and resistance fighters in Iraq have nothing to do with al Qaeda. In my interviews with the insurgents or resistance leaders in Iraq, basically they tell me al Qaeda is liability. al Qaeda-- al Qaeda represents a liability. Bill, there is civil war taking place today in Iraq-- Between some of the Sunni tribes, Iraqis, and al Qaeda. And we are arming some of the Sunni tribes. And the larger argument about Iraq, in fact, if we succeed in convincing Iraqi public opinion and the larger Muslim public opinion that we are genuine, I mean, about leaving Iraq, this is where the beginning of the end of al Qaeda. That is, in fact, Iraqis are the only competent agents who can defeat al Qaeda. We are telling the administration, "Mr. President, you have a larger problem on your hands. And the larger problem is that your strategy, your-- your-- by being in Iraq, you are fueling the insurgency in Iraq. You are providing al Qaeda with motivation. You are radicalizing mainstream Arab and Muslim public opinion. Convince them that we will be out in a year or two and begin the process of fighting al Qaeda."

BRIAN FISHMAN: I don't disagree. The only solution in Iraq is a political solution. [Agreement between the Sunnis and the Shiites and the other] And between different Shiite factors, between different Sunni factions. And it's absolutely true. I am more hopeful that however the United States leaves in Iraq, al Qaeda will not be able to build a base there precisely of what Fawaz was saying. That not-- the Sunni community in Iraq wants nothing to do with them. These are people coming in trying to tell them what to do. And they want to run their own affairs rather than have al Qaeda impose-- or al Qaeda inspired groups is probably a better way to say it-- try to impose their vision of religious law.

Honestly, the whole conversation is as good as the above. Watch it on PBS or the website has both the video and a transcript of each episode.


In June I posted What Happened to the Bees? referring to a Daily Kos summary of the possible causes of the collapse of bee hives.

A friend pointed me at this Reuters story Asian Parasite Killing Western Bees. A Spanish scientist says "A parasite common in Asian bees has spread to Europe and the Americas and is behind the mass disappearance of honeybees in many countries. The culprit is a microscopic parasite called nosema ceranae." They've found nosema ceranae in 50% percent of Spanish hives as well as in Austria, Slovenia and other parts of Eastern Europe as well as in Canada and Argentina. They haven't tested in the US.

That Daily Kos summary mentions nosema cerane. "A fungus, Nosema ceranae has been implicated in some collapsed hives, but other hives infected with this fungus don't collapse while some collapsed hives don't have the fungus. That doesn't mean that some as yet undetected disease isn't responsible." The wikipedia page on nosema cerane supports that quoting some articles saying it has been found in some US bees but can't be the sole cause, though the links to the source material are no longer functioning. The good news is that if this is the cause there's a relatively cheap effective treatment.

House Passes "Carbon Copy" Farm Bill

In April I pointed to an article about the Farm Bill. Yesterday the House Passes "Carbon Copy" Farm Bill.

"What Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) refers to as 'a landmark achievement' is a carbon copy of the 2002 DeLay-Combest corporate farm bill that suckered taxpayers to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a year. Multi-millionaire 'farmers' living in the heart of San Francisco, New York City, and Washington, D.C. will continue to receive government handouts and insurance companies will continue to get hundreds of millions of dollars in profits directly from Uncle Sam courtesy of this legislation. It’s a shame that the new Congress sent to reform Washington couldn’t even pass legislation to cut off the subsidy spigot for millionaires."


Friday, July 27, 2007

Bush Administration Subpoenas Michael Moore

Rather than having the Department of Health and Human Services do something to fix the health care problems brought up in Michael Moore's film Sicko, this administration has the Treasury Department investigate if he "violated restrictions on travel to Cuba”. Moore claims his documentary qualifies for the journalism exception to the ban. I think that's certainly true enough that an investigation is clearly for political reasons.

Warrantless Domestic Spying

Spencer Ackerman and Paul Kiel get it. In their Analysis: Gonzales Testimony Part of Broader Effort to Conceal Surveillance Program they walk through the history of the issue, what Gonzales has said that has brought about the perjury accusations and what it might all mean. Ackerman follows up with a little more today.

To those of you who think "what's the difference if the government listens" today's news has your answer. Sometimes the government gets it wrong or deliberately lies and knowingly puts innocent people in jail for 30+ years. "A federal judge held the FBI "responsible for the framing of four innocent men" in a 1965 gangland murder in a landmark ruling yesterday and ordered the government to pay the men $101.7 million for the decades they spent in prison."

US Drops Baghdad Electricity Reports

The Los Angeles Times reports U.S. drops Baghdad electricity reports. "The State Department, which prepares a weekly 'status report' for Congress on conditions in Iraq, stopped estimating in May how many hours of electricity Baghdad residents typically receive each day. Instead, the department now reports on the electricity generated nationwide, a measurement that does not indicate how much power Iraqis in Baghdad or elsewhere actually receive."

Baghdad still only gets 1 or 2 hours of electricity a day, it just now we won't hear so much about it. That's progress, right? The state department says they're not trying to hide anything, just trying to find a more accurate metric. There's debate on that but one thing is clear, when you change metrics, you lose the ability to compare things to the past.

AT&T iPhone Bills Are Thick

The Unofficial Apple Weblog talks about The curious case of how bad AT&T sucks Episode 2: Just the Internet - every last bit of it . "Both David Pogue and John Gruber are reporting that their first post-iPhone bill from AT&T includes multiple pages (6 for Pogue, a whopping 45 for Gruber) of every chunk of data they downloaded for the account period. Now this isn't a rational listing like 'nytimes.com, tuaw.com, goapeshirts.com,' no no - every graphic downloaded from every page and the time and data of every message sent and received laid out in tree-obliterating detail that could only appeal to a rabid accountant."

Comments present the idea that it's not really AT&T's fault. Government regulations require them to list your usage and privacy reasons prevent listing the URLs. As someone said, imagine if Google had to report your monthly usage to you. Still, it would be annoying. Oh and activation apparently costs $36, I hadn't heard that mentioned before.


Dan Dunn paints. Pretty cool. Wait till the end, it takes about 5 minutes but it's worth it.

Here's another:

U.S. Embassy in Iraq Built by Kidnapped Workers?

Saw this via Jeff Hoard's post U.S. Embassy Built by 'Slaves'?. A US Embassy is under construction in the green zone in Baghdad. At a cost of $592 million it will be the largest US Embassy in the world, able to support a thousand people and is apparently about the size of Vatican City. It's being built by a Kuwaiti company called First Kuwait.

The Washington Post reports Foreign Workers Abused at Embassy, Panel Told. "Two American civilian contractors who worked on a massive U.S. Embassy construction project in Baghdad told Congress yesterday that foreign laborers were deceptively recruited and trafficked to Iraq to toil at the site, where they experienced physical abuse and substandard working conditions."

YouTube has videos of the hearing. Mayberry's Opening was the most interesting (and damning):

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Good Journalism: America's Secret Obsession

Found via an excellent edition of Bruce Schneier's Crypto-Gram, America's Secret Obsession is from the Washington Post on June 10th.

"For the past six years, I've been exploring the resurgent culture of secrecy. What I've found is a confluence of causes behind it, among them the chill wrought by 9/11, industry deregulation, the long dominance of a single political party, fear of litigation and liability and the threat of the Internet. But perhaps most alarming to me was the public's increasing tolerance of secrecy. Without timely information, citizens are reduced to mere residents, and representative government atrophies into a representational image of democracy as illusory as a hologram."

"But the notion that information is more credible because it's secret is increasingly unfounded. In fact, secret information is often more suspect because it hasn't been subjected to open debate. Those with their own agendas can game the system, over-classifying or stove-piping self-serving intelligence to shield it from scrutiny. Those who cherry-picked intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war could ignore anything that contradicted it. Even now, some members of Congress tell me that they avoid reading classified reports for fear that if they do, the edicts of secrecy will bar them from discussing vital public issues."

Stacking the Court

Professor Jean Edward Smith has an op-ed in today's New York Times called Stacking the Court. "When a majority of Supreme Court justices adopt a manifestly ideological agenda, it plunges the court into the vortex of American politics. If the Roberts court has entered voluntarily what Justice Felix Frankfurter once called the 'political thicket,' it may require a political solution to set it straight." He suggests that a Democratic president and Congress might add justices to the court to correct the current 5 man conservative majority.

He points out that the size of the US Supreme Court is not set in the Constitution but is set by a majority vote of Congress (well in today's climate you need 60 in the Senate and that means nothing gets done). He then lists the various times in history the size of the court has been changed and he points out the political reasons for doing so. He also glosses over the fact that the court has had 9 justices since 1869 and that FDR's attempt to stack the court is one of his least appealing actions. "Still, there is nothing sacrosanct about having nine justices on the Supreme Court. Roosevelt’s 1937 chicanery has given court-packing a bad name, but it is a hallowed American political tradition participated in by Republicans and Democrats alike."


I'm sorry but changing the ground rules won't solve anything. The next time there's a change of power they'll just change something else in their favor. If the country doesn't want conservative justices, we should elect officials that won't appoint them. If we're not happy with the decisions of the court, we should amend the Constitution to more accurately reflex our wishes. And if we're not willing to do those things, too bad for us. Now if only politicians didn't lie, journalists actually reported the facts, money was removed from politics, and people were educated enough to make intelligent decisions we'd be ok.

Iraqi Refuges

The News Hour tonight did a segment on the 2 million Iraqi refuges. They are the third largest refuge population in the world (after the Palestinians and Sudanese) and are the fastest growing.

The Atlantic has an article No Forwarding Address about "the disintegration of a Baghdad neighborhood" including this map:

Drunk Astronauts Were Allowed to Fly

Universe Today reports Drunk Astronauts Were Allowed to Fly. "Apparently twice in the past, shuttle astronauts were permitted to fly, even though they had levels of alcohol in their system so high they posed a risk to the shuttle mission." There will be a press conference on Friday.

Google Maps of UK Flooding

Central UK is experiencing its worst flooding in 60 years. No there's no way to know if it's caused by global warming. Google Maps has the BBC Berkshire: Flood Map "A map showing photos, videos, flood warnings and BBC audio reports across Berkshire." Nice job.

Torture News

Andrew Sullivan last week wrote about The Executive Order on Torture. "I can't see how this offers any ambiguity with respect to waterboarding, hypothermia, sleep deprivation, and 'stress positions.' And yet the administration will not confirm that these are illegal. Why not? They say they want to keep detainees in the dark. But if we're in compliance with Geneva and the US Code, there's no darkness. There's legal clarity. At some point, you have to believe what the president says. But to be blunt: I don't believe a word out of his mouth on this subject."

FEMA Still Sucks

Also from last week in the Washington Post FEMA Knew of Toxic Gas In Trailers. "The Federal Emergency Management Agency since early 2006 has suppressed warnings from its own field workers about health problems experienced by hurricane victims living in government-provided trailers with levels of a toxic chemical 75 times the recommended maximum for U.S. workers"

"A trail of e-mails obtained by investigators shows that the agency's lawyers rejected a proposal for systematic testing of the levels of potentially cancer-causing formaldehyde gas in the trailers, out of concern that the agency would be legally liable for any hazards or health problems. As many as 120,000 families displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita lived in the suspect trailers, and hundreds have complained of ill effects." There may be one death already related but investigation was blocked by FEMA lawyers.

Here are video clips of the oversight hearing. Watch the last one (11 mins) as Chairman Henry Waxman questions FEMA Administrator David Paulison.

Bad Journalism

Brad DeLong points out bad journalism by David Broder in the Washington Post. Broder wrote: "His budget allocates only $5 billion in additional money for the [State Children's Health Insurance] program in the next five years -- a sum that supporters of the program say is too small to cover even the 6.6 million children who are currently receiving help..."

Seems innocuous enough but DeLong jumps on that "supporters" word. As Dean [Baker] points out, it's not just "supporters": it's also the Congressional Budget Office--the high priests of nonpartisan reality-based budgeting" who say the amount is short. This is the standard journalism myth of saying every story has two equal sides (like climate change or evolution). Sometimes there are facts.

Last week Arianna Huffington pointed out In the Name of Objectivity, Media Clouds the Reality of Terror Report. "Here we go again. Another devastating report being spun as a mixed bag -- with the spin dutifully echoed by the media. Another administration brain tumor being "offset" by shiny hair. This time it's the new National Intelligence Estimate report on the threat of terrorist violence against America that is being given the utterly ludicrous "on the one hand... and on the other hand" treatment."

HDMI Cable Battlemodo

Gizmodo posts HDMI Cable Battlemodo: The Truth About Monster Cable - Grand Finale (Part III). In other words, don't buy Monster cables, they're overpriced and you won't notice the difference.

Gitmo Lawyers

This months GQ has an interesting looking article The Defense Will Not Rest. "Two U.S. military officers are jeopardizing their careers to protect the legal rights of those held at Guantánamo Bay. The way they see it, justice should be blind—for everyone" I ended up getting a subscription when another magazine I subscribed to folded. I''m surprised but I'm really liking many of the articles in GQ.

A week ago the Senate Rejected Moving Gitmo Detainees to U.S. Soil in a 94-3 vote. Notice how Mitch McConnell (R-KY) words things. Detainees "including senior members of Al Qaeda", should not be released to American society" or moved to "facilities in American communities and neighborhoods." As if they would be in the local school. Oh and remember the detainees are not all al Qaeda in fact only a small percentage are and hundrds of them have already been released because they were innocent. These people were not all captured on battlefields and have not had trials. I don't favor putting them in "communities", I favor putting them in prisons and applying the rule of law, not leaving them in limbo.

Senators Call For Special Counsel To Investigate Gonzales For Perjury

Think Progress reports Senators Call For Appointment Of Special Counsel To Investigate Gonzales For Perjury. They wrote to Solicitor General Paul Clement who's acting Attorney General on matters Gonzales as recused himself from.

"We ask that you immediately appoint an independent special counsel from outside the Department of Justice to determine whether Attorney General Gonzales may have misled Congress or perjured himself in testimony before Congress."

What $4.6 Billion Won't Buy

So much for Google's $4.6 billion attempt at network neutrality. Verizon signals receptiveness to open access for 700MHz spectrum auction.

Inbox Zero

Merlin Mann has a series of articles called Inbox Zero about managing your email. He gave a Google Tech Talk this week on the topic. The talk was about 30 minutes and there were 30 minutes of questions and answers.

There are slides but skip them, here's the important point, borrowed from Getting Things Done. Process your email regularly and choose something to do with each message. Here's the list of things Mann chooses from for each message:

Delete (or archive)

Once you get in the habit of doing something with each message supposedly it's easier and requires less thought. My inbox currently has 65 messages and I usually keep it at 30. When working I tried to keep it at about 100 and I usually got 200 messages a day. Merlin makes a good point, if you email volume is enormous, it's probably not an email problem you have but a problem with the way your company communicates. Still in the Q&A he has some suggestions. Now to get that inbox to zero.

Megan Jaegerman's Brilliant News Graphics

Edward Tufte posts many of Megan Jaegerman's brilliant news graphics for the New York Times.

Bush's Polls

The Washington Post writes Disfavor for Bush Hits Rare Heights: "The latest Washington Post-ABC News survey shows that 65 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush's job performance, matching his all-time low. In polls conducted by The Post or Gallup going back to 1938, only twice has a president exceeded that level of public animosity -- Harry S. Truman, who hit 67 percent during the Korean War, and Richard M. Nixon, who hit 66 percent four days before resigning."

Chris Bowers expands on this in Open Left.

Contempt of Congress Charges for White House Staff

"Today, the House Judiciary Committee sent a report and resolution to the House of Representatives finding former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten in statutory contempt of Congress for failing to respond to the Committee's subpoenas in the U.S. Attorney investigation. The report passed by a vote of 22-17. " Here are quotes from various committee members on the issue.

"The full House of Representatives is now required to vote on a contempt resolution before the matter is sent to the District of Columbia's U.S. Attorney for action." That's not expected to happen before the August recess.

Tony Snow began his press conference today with: "Hello, everybody. As you probably know, the House Judiciary Committee has just voted along partisan lines to have a criminal contempt of Congress referral against White House legal counsel and the White House Chief of Staff. For our view, this is pathetic. What you have right now is partisanship on Capitol Hill that quite often boils down to insults, insinuations, inquisitions and investigations rather than pursuing the normal business of trying to pass major pieces of legislation, such as appropriations bills, and to try to work in such a way as to demonstrate to the American people that Congress and the White House can work together." He then went on to describe all the things they offered but none of the (reasonable) things they were asked for and didn't provide.

Then he just out right lied: "They have legitimate oversight interest, and we have made available any individuals and any facts that would be necessary for them to conduct their deliberations. Interestingly enough, nobody has cited or recited anything that they think they've been denied" I call bullshit.

"The last time a full chamber of Congress issued a contempt citation was in 1983. The House voted 413-0 to cite former Environmental Protection Agency official Rita Lavelle for contempt of Congress for refusing to appear before a House committee. Lavelle was later acquitted in court of the contempt charge, but she was convicted of perjury in a separate trial."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Gonzales Mess, AP Misrepresents

A big point during Gonzales' testimony Tuesday was his visit to Ashcroft while in the hospital. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) asked about how Gonzales' said there was no dissent about the Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP) but now we hear about all this dissent and people willing to resign rather than support the program. Gonzales was saying the dissent was about another program. Schumer was questioning this because he thought it contradicted previous testimony (which would be a crime), I'm not so sure.

Anyway, now the AP reports Documents contradict Gonzales' testimony. That may be but I object to this in the article. They write:

"The dissent related to other intelligence activities," Gonzales testified at Tuesday's hearing. "The dissent was not about the terrorist surveillance program." "Not the TSP?" responded Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. "Come on. If you say it's about other, that implies not. Now say it or not." "It was not," Gonzales answered. "It was about other intelligence activities."

That's not really how it went. Gonzales kinda misspoke on the last "it was not" and didn't really say that. In fact, if they went on with the quote, Schumer tried at least 3 times to get Gonzales to say it was not the TSP program and all he would say was the phrase "it was about other intelligence activities". That's why Schumer said "Come on. If you say it's about other, that implies not. Now say it or not." Still Gonzales would not say it and Schumer moved on. This would be obvious to anyone who watched or heard the testimony. "Lara Jakes Jordan, Associated Press Writer" either didn't watch or deliberately is misleading her readers, much as Gonzales was misleading the senators.

Apple Stores

I thought I'd add this addition to Apple news. I was in my local Apple Store last friday at 1:15pm and it was mobbed. Mid-day on a friday in the summer, tons of people. I commented to the genius who was helping me and he said it was average traffic. I go to this store (it's in the Chestnut Hill Mall) fairly often and it seemed crowded to me.

I went in again this Tue, also just around lunch time. It was much less crowded. Still there were a lot of people, but for example there was no one playing with iPhones. I noticed there were 4 people making use ofApple's One to One personal training. One was using iDVD another was learning Mail, another was managing bookmarks in Safari.

Honestly I think this is a great program for those that can make use of it. Session are 1 hour and you can do one a week. That's up to 52 personalized one-on-one training sessions a year for only $99. That's a great deal. If you need help getting oriented when switching or learning to use a new class of application (like video editing) it's a great option. It's really helpful for users and it's something that companies without retail locations can't do.

Raw Fish

The New York Times had an op-ed last week, Chicken of the Sea about the risks of eating sushi (particularly while pregnant). It's turns out "raw mollusks [oysters and clams], not the fish typically used in sushi, that are responsible for the overwhelming majority, about 85 percent, of seafood-related illnesses."

"If you take raw and partly cooked shellfish out of the equation, the risk of falling ill from eating seafood is 1 in 2 million servings, the government calculated some years back; by comparison, the risk from eating chicken is 1 in 25,000."

TSA Warns of Terrorist Dry Runs, Does Good

Bruce Schneier reports TSA Warns of Terrorist Dry Runs. It seems based on some suspicious incidents, the TSA has issued warnings to airports to be on the lookout.

Schneier lists some of the details of the suspicious incidents and this AP story sums it up nicely: "Citing four incidents since last September at the San Diego, Milwaukee, Houston and Baltimore airports, the agency said screeners had found in checked and carry-on luggage various combinations of 'wires, switches, pipes or tubes, cell phone components and dense clay-like substances,' including block cheese. 'The unusual nature and increase in number of these improvised items raise concern.'"

Schneier points out "Note that profiling didn't seem to help here. Three of the incidents involved U.S. persons," and from the report, "Individuals involved in these incidents were of varying gender, and initial investigations do not link them with criminal or terrorist organizations. "

In San Diego on July 7 the memo cites: "A U.S. person -- either a citizen or a foreigner legally here -- checked baggage containing two ice packs covered in duct tape. The ice packs had clay inside them rather than the normal blue gel." The AP article says it was "A female U.S. citizen in her late 60s" and it turns out they were 10-15 year-old ice packs and she wrapped them to prevent leaking. "She had a legitimate medical reason for carrying ice packs and did not appear to be able to afford to buy new ones"

Even if this all turns out to be innocent false alarms, this is the kind of things (finding suspicous items, issuing warnings based on facts) that the TSA should be doing instead of confiscating nail clippers and banning liquids (though now breast milk is allowed again).

Analysts are Useless

The Boston Globe has an article today Apple shares fall on report iPhone demand may slow. Shares fell $8.81 on Tuesday, from $143.70 to $134.89. The iPhone went on sale on June 29th at 6pm. The quarter ended on June 30th, so there were only 30 hours of iPhone sales counted. AT&T said it had 146,000 iPhones activations. Analysts apparently expected many more. The Globe article says as many as 500,000. Om Malik says it went as high as 700,000 and points out how moronic this was. The analysts just pulled numbers out of the air and didn't do actual, you know, analysis. He also points out that over 30 hours thats, "4867 iPhone activations per hour or 82 activations per minute"'; not bad for a product that costs $2000 over 2 years.

So today Apple announced they sold 270,000 iPhones in the first two days (that's 150/minute) and that Q3 profits were up 73% as was demand for macs and iPods. Analysts expected $0.72 per share earnings when the reality was $0.92 (Apple was projecting $0.66 and last year it was $0.54). In after-hours trading today, as of 7pm APPL is up $11.40 to $148.52.

So because analysts had crazy numbers for 30 hours of sales, the market made AAPL take a one day 6% dip. The crazy part is that intuitively people should have known better. iPhones are everywhere and the hype hasn't died down. At a movie group 10 days after the launch we had 20% "iPhone penetration". So yesterday was a good buying opportunity. I bought two years ago at $43.74 so I'm happy (except I wish I bought more).

Romney and Obama Argue

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are arguing over sex education in public schools. This is one of the things I hate about politics lately.

Obama favors teaching kindergartners about inappropriate touching to defend themselves against sexual predators. Romney says that Obama favors sex education in kindergarten. Obama defends by saying Romney is implying something that's not true, we favor "age appropriate sex ed". Romney says what's appropriate for kindergarten age is none. If I were Obama I would say "Mitt Romney doesn't want to protect your children from sexual predators". I think it would be a more effective comeback.

But of course it's not a more effective level of debate. This is the equivalent of "I know you are but what am I?" I don't know if it's true or not but as I remember, it's always the Republicans who start this (as in this case). Bleech.

Top 10 Best Spacewalks in History

Fogonazos has the Top 10 Best Spacewalks in History with some amazing photos and videos.

As a bonus here's the Best pictures of the Earth from deep space.

Movie Review: Paris, je t'aime

Paris, je t'aime (2006) is a collection of 18 short films in and about Paris. All are by different directors and have no connection between them. Originally there were to be 20 shorts, each centered in one of the arrondissements (boroughs) of Paris, but that didn't quite pan out. First there are only 18 and second I didn't get a real sense of place out of any of them. As with any collection it's a mixed bag.

The Coen brothers did the very fun "Tuileries" with Steve Buscemi accidently violating social customs at a Métro station. Sylvain Chomet, the creator of The Triplets of Belleville did his first live action film "Tour Eiffel" about a couple of mimes meeting. I also really enjoyed Wes Craven's "Pere-Lachaise" about an engaged couple (Emily Mortimer and Rufus Sewell) arguing while visiting Oscar Wilde's grave.

Alexander Payne (of Sideways) does a great segment with Margo Martindale as a Denver letter carrier who after 2 years of learning French takes her dream trip to Paris. She travels alone and narrates the experience for us. I don't speak French but even I could appreciate the horrible accent. It was quite funny up until the last moment which was simultaneously happy and sad.

Several segments are best described as poignant. In Walter Salles' "Far From the 16th," a young mother leaves her baby to take care of another as a nanny. In Isabel Coixet's "Bastille" a man about to leave his wife finds out she's terminally ill. "Place des Fêtes” by Oliver Schmitz is about a man who's fallen for a woman who turns out to be the paramedic treating him.

Others just don't work at all. Christopher Doyle's "Porte de Choisy" is a surreal story set in and around a Chinatown hair salon that's just a mess. Alfonso Cuaron does a long tracking shot with Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier having a conversation I didn't care about. Same with the conversation between Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands in “Quartier Latin” by Frédéric Auburtin and Gérard Depardieu. Juliette Binoche sees Willem Dafoe as a cowboy on a horse while grieving her dead son in Nobuhiro Suwa's one note "Place des Victoires".

The others were just okay. Overall I found it a little long and I was happy to get out of the theater. Thinking back I really enjoyed some of them and the last one was worth the wait.

Gonzales and Domestic Spying

I don't get all this amazement at Gonzales' testimony yesterday. See Senators Signal Gonzales Perjury Inquiry over Spying Testimony for details.

"Today, Gonzales did something absolutely unexpected: he said that Comey's doubts were about "other intelligence activities" than the warrantless surveillance program President Bush confirmed in December 2005 -- i.e., the TSP. That's how his 2006 statement that the TSP was uncontroversial could still be correct. But the senators weren't buying it. And they say that they'll be examining Gonzales' statements closely to see whether the attorney general has perjured himself."

I remember when he testified earlier this year about the warrantless domestic spying and he was careful to add the phrase "about the program the president disclosed" or something like it to virtually everything he said. It was obvious to me then that there were other relevant programs and Gonzales wasn't talking about them and none of the Senators enquired about it. I assumed because it was classified and they would hear about it in a secret session.

TiVo HD News

With the new $300 TiVo HD out, ars technica releases their review Nine months with HD TiVo: the Series 3 platform. To all those not following this, the new one is $300 and the old one is $800 (or maybe $500 with discounts) and the difference you'll care most about is the smaller drive.

Shattered Beliefs

Rod Dreher has started an interesting meme in Once upon a time, I believed... "I reflected on what things I believed at the onset of the [Iraq] war, that I no longer do as a result of the war". Go to his site to see the first 4 and other updates but here's number five:

"5. I have a far greater appreciation for how rare and fragile liberal democracy is, and a corresponding revulsion at the American assumption that it's the natural state of mankind. Which is to say, the war has made me rethink my ideas about human nature, and I'm far more pessimistic now than I ever was."

Scott Adams generalizes this and makes it funny.

Why Netflix Was Down

Webware explains in GameSpot and Craigslist, where did you go? why I couldn't get to the Netflix site yesterday. Yup, electricity is still needed. A power failure in San Francisco took out the data center known as 365 Main, even though they guarantee "24/7/365 power, cooling, connectivity and security capabilities". Though they seem to have been without power for only 45 minutes, I found netflix was down for hours, practically the whole day. Coincidentally it was when they announced a rough quarter, new lower prices, and their stock was getting pummeled.

As usual, Jamie has a the real answer.

Update: Nope, it wasn't the power outage.

Mars Rovers' Most Amazing Discoveries

Mars Rovers' Most Amazing Discoveries from space.com.


Interesting site: Banksy:

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Navigate by the Stars

Here's a nice tutorial to help you learn to Identify constellations, stars, planets and how to navigate at night. It takes 10 mins and you'll learn to find the Big Dipper, Orion, Cassiopeia, where north is and where to see planets.

Gonzales Testifies Again

Gonzales testified to the Senate Judicial Committee today. I've run out of words to describe these sessions. Kafkaesque. Orwellian. Kabubi. Surreal. Frightening.

Now the Senators are calling him out on the specific things he says that are inaccurate or inconsistent. On visiting Ashcroft in the hospital, torture, Guantanamo, warrantless domestic spying, a death penalty case, and oh yeah the US attorney firings.

When he said fixing the FISA court was the more important thing the department wants to do, Leahy asked why he never called him or told him about it. Gonzales said he'd be surprised if his staff wasn't contacted. Leahy said his number is in the book.

Chuck Schumer railled into him about saying there was no dissent on the terrorist surveillance program (warrantless domestic spying) and then comparing that to the Ashcroft in the hospital event. Arlen Specter also dug in, in fact it seems like everyone did except for Orrin Hatch. Dick Durbin when asking about the administration's torture policies and interpretation of the Geneva Convention article 3 asked if he knew how his answer sounded to the rest of the world?

Really, it's all just ridiculous.

CNN-YouTube Democratic Debates

Last night's CNN-YouTube Democratic Debates were kinda interesting, perhaps better than others I've seen. It's still hard with 8 candidates. YouTube has a site with the questions and the responses.

Survey USA has detailed results of a poll conducted on the debates. Political Wire has a nice short summary of the results. "39% of those watching said they thought Clinton won" and Biden went up the most of all the candidates though he's still 4th.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Republicans Setting Filibuster Record McClatchy Washington Bureau | 07/22/2007 | Senate tied in knots by filibusters

Kevin Drum writes about filibusters. Senate Republicans are on track to more than double the previous record of filibusters. In just the first 6 months of the current term they have 42, the previous record for a whole 2 year session is 58.

Drum though points out what's worth noting: "It's also worth noting why Republicans are filibustering everything in sight. It's not because it's the only way they have of blocking legislation they dislike. After all, a Republican is president. The real reason is a desperate desire to kill popular legislation quietly (the press doesn't spend much time reporting on routine filibusters) rather than force President Bush to kill popular legislation in full public view (the press does report on presidential vetoes). The problem is that the public tends to be on the side of Democrats when domestic issues actually get some attention, so Republicans benefit by keeping their disagreements as low key as possible. The last thing they need is a bunch of high-profile vetoes that would make it crystal clear exactly what they're fighting against."

Movie Review: Knocked Up

According to Rotten Tomatoes Knocked Up is the 4th highest rated film of the year (behind Once, Away From Her, and Ratatouille). Given the strong reviews and the fact It's written and directed by Judd Apatow of the 40 Year-Old Virgin I was expecting a really funny film that wasn't going to be stupid. Instead I found Knocked Up to be a funny film with some really stupid humor that took itself seriously in a good way.

Katherine Heigl plays Alison Scott, who works at E! and is promoted to an on-air position. She lives in the guest house of her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) and her husband Pete (Paul Rudd). Pete manages bands, apparently well enough to have a guest house. Seth Rogen plays Ben Stone, a 23 year-old stoner-slacker who lives with his 4 friends building an internet site about porn. Yes they're constantly high. After an unlikely one night stand aided by alcohol (the cause of and solution to all of life's problems) Alison is [insert-title-of-movie-here]. After some advice to the contrary, Alison decides to have the baby and tells Ben and they try to see how they can get along. The film juxtaposes this with Debbie and Pete and it turns out they aren't such a happy couple either.

Sounds like a laugh-riot doesn't it? Well parts of it are. Ryan Seacrest has a hilarious cameo as himself annoyed that Jessica Simpson is late for their interview ("Maybe I'll ask her if she has an exit strategy for the middle east"). There's a mushroom induced survey of the five different kinds of chairs in a hotel room. Debbie rails into a doorman to be let into a club and he has a brilliant heartfelt response. Alison and Ben do have funny scenes and both do well in their roles. There are also plenty of examples of uncomfortable and stupid humor that I didn't think worked as well. There are also several minor characters played by Saturday Night Live actors and when I saw them I was taken out of the movie. Particularly when Kristen Wiig was essentially playing one of her SNL characters.

Knocked Up manages to have pretty realistic conversations but unrealistic characters. Alison seems to have no friends or interests. Ben has no grasp on reality. Everything gets better when Ben grows up, Alison had to change nothing. Pete and Debbie are both scared about growing up but she wants to appear young and he wants to act it.

Dramedy is combination of drama and comedy, usually emphasizing drama. Knocked Up tries to be the reverse, emphasizing comedy. I don't think "Comama" works as word, and I'm not sure it works well as a movie either. The 40 Year-Old Virgin was a (sometimes stupid) comedy with a heart that worked. Knocked Up tries to make that heart a little deeper. The comedy that's deeper works well with that (sometimes very much so), but when it adds in the stupid factor it stretches the framework perhaps a bit too far. Knocked Up is fun and worth seeing, but that binary rating shows a flaw in Rotten Tomatoes system. 91% might agree it's worth seeing, but it's not in the 91st percentile of comedies.

Movie Review: Interview

Interview is a remake of a dutch film by director Theo Van Gogh who was killed a few years ago. I haven't seen the original so I have no idea how this one compares. Steve Buscemi directs and stars as Pierre Peders a political journalist stuck doing a celebrity interview with B actress and tabloid fodder Katya played by Sienna Miller. He's woefully unprepared and she's over an hour late. The interview goes badly and then due to an accident they end up in her loft. The film is basically an 83 minute long conversation.

The two argue, fight, make out, lie to each other, confess, etc. I found the various connections between these parts to be unconvincing. I think he's walking out the door one minute and then he's not. These characters seem less like people and more like acting exercises. And as far as the acting goes, both Buscemi and Miller are very convincing even as they make abrupt emotional changes. Here's a slight spoiler but at one point I knew Katya was acting; that's a dig on Katya and praise for Sienna Miller. It was entertaining and I might even say interesting but the ending makes it pretty inconsequential.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Web Trend Map 2007

Information Architects in Japan have created their 2nd Web Trend Map 2007, taking various internet companies and maping them to a tokyo subway map in meaningful ways. Kinda cool.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Google's $4.6 Billion Plan for an Open Wireless Internet

Salon explains Google's $4.6 billion plan for an open wireless Internet. The 700 MHz band is freeing up from TV going digital. The FCC will have an auction and the telecoms are salivating but they want to build more closed networks. Google, interested in the net wants openness (net neutrality). They've gotten the FCC to agree to some of it but not all. The telecoms argument is that agreeing to all would lower value and the FCC would get less at auction. Google just trumped that argument.

Iraqi Government Vacation Maybe Understandable

It was earlier this week (or maybe last week) that US politicians and TV personalities were complaining that the Iraqi parliament was taking August off because it was too hot. The argument went, if our troops can patrol in full gear in 130 degrees, politicians can sit in air conditioned rooms. My first thought was: air conditioning? I thought Iraq only had electricity a few hours a day still, did they fix that?

It turns out no they didn't. The Boston Globe today has an article Utility report shows Iraq still depends on US. "The Army Corps of Engineers has been forced to resume control of a crucial power plant in Baghdad after poor maintenance by untrained Iraqi staff led to the "catastrophic failure" of key equipment in the plant, according to an inspection by the special inspector general of Iraq reconstruction."

"Power production in Iraq has consistently failed to meet the State Department's goal of an average of 6,000 megawatts per day -- about 2,000 megawatts more than production under Saddam Hussein. Iraq's power plants have averaged 4,000 megawatts per day this past month. Baghdad, which got plenty of power under Hussein, now gets a few hours per day"

Now I'm not commenting on the idea of the parliament taking a vacation. All right, I'll comment a little to say that our Congress and President are taking vacations this summer and have taken previous ones, while the nation is at war. The point of this post was to say that I'd expect politicians and journalists talking via the press, news and fake news to remember that air conditioning requires electricity and to remember the state of power production in Iraq, it's one of those benchmark thingies.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes

Mark Bittman in the New York Times writes Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less.

Can you name all the U.S. Presidents?

Here's a little quiz, Can you name all the U.S. Presidents?. You'll have 10 minutes to enter the last names of the presidents in the box at the top. The clock starts when you load the page. I got 33 out of 43, missing just one since 1885. I should have watched more Animaniacs.

Movie Review: Talk to Me

I wanted to see the biopic Talk to Me because Don Cheadle is in it. I had never heard of the Washington DC DJ he played Petey Greene. He was a loud mouth, in-your-face, ex-con who talked his way into becoming a radio DJ in the 1960s.

Cheadle was good but the character didn't really have any form of arc. Perhaps true to life, Greene stayed the same throughout his career. Chiwetel Ejiofor played Dewey Hughes, first Greene's boss and then after seeing something special in him, his manager. Their two stories are intertwined as Hughes pushes Greene into standup comedy and then television. The problem is that Greene isn't that comfortable doing these things and eventually the two have it out and split.

I actually think the film should have ended there, it was a very dramatic moment. Instead it goes on a bit longer but focuses on Hughes' story. The fact that Hughes' real-life son was a co-writer might have something to do with that. Given Greene's apparent lack of real-life change this was perhaps a good dramatic decision, but it still feels off.

Apparently Greene grabbed his audience like few others before him. There are some early scenes of him on the air but it didn't feel like there was enough. He famously was on the air the night of Dr. Martin Luther King's death and did a lot to calm the riots. But the film didn't show enough of this. it showed that people reacted well to him but didn't give us enough to discover this on our own.

So good film not great. Definitely some good performances but needed a tighter more focused script.

Home Truths About Telecoms

As I catch up on the Economist I found the Home truths about telecoms in their technology quarterly from June.

"Next, despite much talk of ‘convergence’ within the industry, people are in fact using different communications technologies in distinct and divergent ways. The fixed-line phone ‘is the collective channel, a shared organisational tool, with most calls made 'in public' because they are relevant to the other members of the household,’ she says. Mobile calls are for last-minute planning or to co-ordinate travel and meetings. Texting is for ‘intimacy, emotions and efficiency’. E-mail is for administration and to exchange pictures, documents and music. Instant-messaging (IM) and voice-over-internet calls are ‘continuous channels’, open in the background while people do other things. ‘Each communication channel is performing an increasingly different function,’ says Ms Broadbent. Another finding is that despite the plunging cost of voice calls, and the rise of free internet-calling services such as Skype, people seem to prefer typing."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Media Ignores Greatest Living American

Yesterday Norman Borlaug was given the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award given by Congress. Nancy Pelosi awarded it and Bush was at the Capitol for the ceremony and yet the main stream media ignored it. I know last night's Countdown spent a bunch of time on celebrity crap.

So who's Norman Borlaug? I admit I didn't recognize the name but I did remember his story from the West Wing. He created semi-dwarf high-yield, disease-resistant varieties of wheat. In the 1960s he worked with Mexico, India and Pakistan and greatly increased their food production. "These collective increases in yield have been labeled the Green Revolution, and Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people from starvation." In 1970, Borlaug was the first Nobel Peace Prize recipient for work in agriculture. In 1977 President Ford gave him the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1986 he started the World Food Prize.

The crazy part to me is that Congress voted to approve this and Bush signed the bill into law back in December 2006. Why did it take 7 months to get the medal to the 93 year-old Borlaug? No wonder we can't get armored vehicles resistant to IEDs to the troops in Iraq.

If Clicks Were Votes If Clicks Were Votes - Republican Candidates

If Clicks Were Votes maps "the total number of visits to each of the top Republican candidate’s sites over the past six months"

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Movie Review: Transformers

I really had little interest in seeing Transformers. In fact I had none at all until I heard reviews that said it was good, if mindless, fun and had a really great action sequence at the end. Yesterday at various times I almost saw Knocked Up, Hairspray and Paris Je T'aime, but in the end, I saw Transformers, in part because I had a free ticket to use. This was my favorite Michael Bay film. Yes I hate the others. The reviews are correct that it's pretty fun and a half hour too long but the last sequence was perhaps my least favorite of the film.

Transformers are alien sentient robots in two groups. Autobots are good, Decepticons are bad. They can reshape themselves and disguise themselves as vehicles. Long ago, Megatron the leader of the Decepticons, came to earth but froze in the artic ice. He was found in the 1930s but an expedition and now the grandson of the leader of that expedition wants his first car. Nice transition there huh? Actually it's kinda fun. It's a contrived plot to setup a "boy and his robot" story. Sam Witwicky ends up buying a beat up yellow Camero that is in fact the autobot Bumblebee who is his protector. They want his grandfather's eyeglasses which have imprinted on them the location of the cube which is their power source. Sam put the glasses up for auction on eBay.

Meanwhile, Decepticons are fighting the miltary and trying to invade government computers to find the cube. There's a desert battle between an 8 man army unit and a scorpion-like robot that's really good. There's another one with a large robot at an army base. It's shot mostly from a human's point of view and really expresses that these things are big and way out of our league. Tanks and planes blow up real good and soldiers run while firing uselessly at the robot.

The movie breaks up this action well with stories of Sam and his new car and trying to win over Mikaela, the hot girl who only goes for jocks who also happens to be a wiz at engine repair and has a secret. When the Autobots reveal themselves to Sam and Mikaela it's pretty fun, but a scene where giant robots hide from his parents in their backyard went on too long and it went from amusing to annoying. There are a surprising number of other side characters the film follows including some soldiers, signal analysts trying to decipher a sound and a hacker kid who does next to nothing.

The plot gets progressively dumber as secret and inept government agencies are uncovered. The eyeglasses somehow have encoded in them not the original location of the cube but the current one. Also when you have a power failure and all your systems are down, you don't have the info to know it's a global phenomenon.

And then there's that final battle. Lots of good stuff happened, if only we could have seen it. Again this is mostly shown from the point of view of human participants and bystanders, so cars are thrown toward the camera a lot and robots go crashing. And there were too many closeups. Bay has to figure out how to use medium shots and allow you to see the characters particularly for the Optimus Prime vs Megatron battle. And it didn't help that the robots were always frenetically shifting. I couldn't tell the Decepticons apart and don't have any idea how many were killed. The CG animators had their debris filters set on high. And the score is taken from Terminator 2.

There are some funny bits. A Decepticon disguised as a police car says "To Punish and Enslave" on it's side. I also know how some of the writing process went. "Hey, Taco Bell is a sponser, give the boy a chihuahua and work in a Taco Bell line." "Ahhh, ok. Hey let's give the dog a cast on one of its legs."

Shia LaBeouf actually does a good job as Sam Witwicky. We want to like him. The rest of the cast is passable, given what they're asked to do. The robots are pretty well done and the destruction is on the right scale. If only the camerawork and editing were saner and the plot didn't give out at the end. Transformers was much better than I expected but I'm glad I got in free.

62 Little Known Uses Of Vinegar

62 Little Known Uses Of Vinegar.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bill Kristol, Delusional

Bill Kristol wrote a stupid article in yesterday's Washington Post called "Why Bush Will Be A Winner" (no I won't link to it). I didn't have the energy to rip it to shreds as it deserves. Fortunately today Arianna Huffington did Bill Kristol: On the Train to Delusionville. Though she only touches on the Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq parts. Kristol was delusional on Bush's domestic polices too.

Finally, Lifted

In February I complained Steve, Where is Lifted?. It was the only oscar nominated animated short I didn't see this year because it wasn't out. As a friend commented, it did indeed come out with Ratatouie. How it got nominated for last years Oscars I don't know. At least now you can see it online:

Lifted - Click here for another funny movie.

iPhone v1.0 Bugs

AppleHound has a list of iPhone v1.0 Bugs.

My Old Gunfight Story

I was telling this story to some friends tonight and had to go dig up the email. This happened to me now 12 years ago. It was before cell phones. amazon.com had just started as had Netscape. Windows '95 had shipped a couple of weeks before. It was before online mapping services, so I had to draw this ASCII map!

Date: September 12, 1995 11:08:09 AM
Subject: True Story: Howard was in a gun fight this morning...

About an hour ago (9:10AM 9/12/95) I witnessed a high speed chase and gunfight on Storrow Drive. I'm really glad I tried to get into work early this morning. :-)

I was heading East on Storrow coming out of the tunnel just before the Government center exit.

Center Onramp

\ \ <--Eastbound /
P3\ \ / /
Grass \ \ / /
X\ ============================== /
======== 3 ========
P1 2 1
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
P2 P
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
<----- C --------

I was in the right lane and traffic was moving slowly (nothing unusual). I had heard sirens just before and it came from some vehicle traveling westbound. When I started hearing sirens again I assumed they were also westbound, but they weren't. While at "1" above a police car came on the onramp with sirens blazing moving really frantically through the traffic, or at least trying too. Cars were pulling over to the right to let him through but it was crowded. The siren was blaring with all the extra noises.

Anyway, he went by and while at "2" I heard more sirens so I pulled over to "3" (I honestly think you should loose your drivers license for not getting out of the way of an emergency vehicle, this experience only reinforces that.) Another cop goes by with sirens blaring. Lots of other folks pulled over and by this time the left lane is empty and the middle lane had only one or two cars in it, the right lane is filled.

Then I heard a "pop" behind me, I turned and looked and saw a Policeman at "P" standing in the road about 50 feet from me shooting at a white "Camaro-like" car driving by. The right front of the "Camaro" was all banged up and it was moving at about 60 MPH (speed limit on Storrow is 35, but it's not uncommon to go 55'ish) I saw him fire (about) four shots at the car as it drove by. The first when the car was next to the cop and the last when the car was across from me (where the "C" is).

I thought about ducking down and did for a moment (I guess the right choice) but then got back up to keep watching (probably the wrong choice). I believe the Camaro took the Government center exit but I didn't see it do so. If it did, I don't know how it made it past the cars on the ramp.

When I looked up I saw two police cars (this was all state police for you local types, not sure if MDC or not) at P1 and P2. A red sedan (civilian?) was on the grass by the exit at "X". There was at least one police car on the grass at P3. The exit ramp was pretty filled with cars. I saw at least two cops running around the cars on the exit ramp with their guns drawn. They ran away from their cars and then back into them. The cars then took off across the grass onto the exit ramp leaving a hugh cloud of dust. I'm not sure if other police cars came up from behind me and took the ramp to follow.

People just sort of sat around doing nothing. Just like deers in the middle of the road. I turned back and looked and saw one car (van?) in the middle lane perpendicular to the road about where the cop was standing and shooting. I saw the driver get out of the van and just kind of shake his head and look dumbfounded. He seemed fine. We sat around for a while, I'm not really sure how long, but not very. Then we started moving, I assume because the light at the end of exit ramp changed. The police cars at P1 and P2 were blocking traffic from moving down Storrow and there wasn't much moving behind me. As I drove by the ramp I saw that the red sedan was banged up and the cloud of dust was still really thick.

I got to work a few minutes later. My boss subscribes to DisasterNet, a pager service that reports on local accidents, etc. This was on it. He said it started around Chinatown (basically across town) and that one person (a cop?) was down with a head wound. A few minutes later it was reported that the suspect was apprehended. That's all I know so far.

Why don't they open bars at 9:30AM? :-) I guess I'll just have to settle for coffee.

A headhunter called as I started writing this note. She asked if it was a good time to talk and I said "no, it really wasn't". She commented that I sounded kind of frazzled and I said "Well you'll hear about it on the news tonight, I just witnessed a gunfight on Storrow Drive." She was shocked and said she would call back some other more convenient time. :-)


I had saved the Boston Globe and Boston Herald's from the next day and actually found them now. The Herald's cover story is "Wild chase grips school in fear". The car was a corvette, it was stolen a few days before. He was pulled over for not having a registration sticker. A woman and child got out of the car and it sped away, hitting a cop. The chase started and after my involvement he drove through the city a while before being shot in the leg outside a Chinatown elementary school while kids were arriving. No children were hurt. The Globe headline is "Police defend gunfire outside Boston school". The articles had the guys name, George Correia. He was 24 years old at the time of the incident and the Herald described him as "a bold career criminal with at least 70 prior offenses".

A little googling found this 2004 appeal decision. "Following trial, the jury convicted Correia on twenty-one of the forty-eight counts: assault and battery with the Corvette (1 count); assault with the Corvette (1); receiving stolen goods (2); leaving the scene after causing personal injury or vehicle damage (11); and failing to stop for a police officer (6). (1) The trial judge denied Correia's ensuing motions for a new trial, and sentenced him to imprisonment for 12 to 17 years, well within the sentencing range prescribed by statute." His appeal was that the sentence was too harsh but was denied.

The main headline in the Globe is "Clinton raps national service cuts", it begins "President Clinton, with Republican businessman Mitt Romney by his side, assailed GOP-controlled congressional panels yesterday for voting to abolish federal aid to the AmeriCorps national service programs."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

iPods Run OSX Too

The fact that the iPhone runs OS X has been of some interest. It turns out that iPods already run OS X, well at least "a Mach kernel and a Unix userland". Given the memory limitations, iPods don't run Cocoa. The last section of the article on the future of an embedded OS X is a bit overstated but it's still interesting.

Update: Nope it's fake, I have to stop reading slashdot.

Bill Moyers on Impeachment

I've been enjoying Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. This week's episode was Tough Talk on Impeachment and was outstanding.

"Unhappiness about the war in Iraq isn't the only cause of the unsettled feelings of the electorate. Recent events like President Bush's pardoning of Scooter Libby, the refusal of Vice President Cheney's office to surrender emails under subpoena to Congress and the President's prohibition of testimony of former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers in front of the House Judiciary Committee have caused unease over claims of "executive privilege." In addition, many of the White House anti-terror initiatives and procedures — from the status of "enemy combatants" in Guantanamo to warrantless wiretapping — have come under legal scrutiny in Congress and the courts.

Bill Moyers gets perspective on the role of impeachment in American political life from Constitutional scholar Bruce Fein, who wrote the first article of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, and THE NATION's John Nichols, author of THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT."

The site has both video and a transcript. You might also find it scheduled on your local PBS channel.

Darth Vader vs. Dalek vs...

A british car show Top Gear set up a race in a Honda Civic, between cosmic bad guys: Ming the Merciless, Darth Vader, a Klingon, a Cyberman, and a Dalek.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Hating Bush

I've caught a bit of a couple of Bush speeches this week. After a few moments I get so sick of the half-truths and lies I have to change the channel. A week ago, Marty Kaplan did a good job ripping apart Bush's July 4th speech. I'll point you at that to understand the contempt I feel.

Media Matters reports that a Washington Post editorial echoed Bush's misstatements about Al Qaeda in Iraq, "[t]he same people that attacked us on September the 11th is the crowd that is now bombing people, killing innocent men, women and children."

Andrew Sullivan collects some stories on how the administration after attacking Iraq supposedly on the rationale that they had WMDs, did nothing to secure those or any weapons after the invasion. "They certainly were concerned with securing the oil fields but did nothing to prevent weapons from falling into terrorist and insurgent hands."

"This was a preventable disaster. Iraq's nuclear weapons-related materials were stored in only a few locations, and these were known before the war began. As even L. Paul Bremer III, the US administrator in Iraq, now admits, the United States had far too few troops to secure the country following the fall of Saddam Hussein. But even with the troops we had, the United States could have protected the known nuclear sites. It appears that troops did not receive relevant intelligence about Iraq's WMD facilities, nor was there any plan to secure them. Even after my briefing, the Pentagon leaders did nothing to safeguard Iraq's nuclear sites."

John Dean (yes that one), breaks down the administrations order that Harriet Miers ignore congress' subpoena. "By not responding to the subpoena, the President and Ms. Miers all but invited the House Judiciary Committee and, in turn, the House of Representatives to vote to deem her in contempt of Congress. It was a defiant, in-your-face insult to Congress. No president would do this unless he was quite confident of the outcome. Clearly, Bush's White House and Justice Department lawyers believe that the solidly conservative federal judiciary will grant them a favorable ruling, and that, in the process, they will greatly weaken congressional oversight powers, to the advantage of the White House. In short, the Bush White House is not bluffing with this act of defiance. Rather, the White House truly wants to test, and attempt to expand, presidential power."

Scott Thill follows that up with Bush Wants a Showdown. Give Him One Already. "His ratings are lower than ever, yet his power is greater than ever. If that doesn't say dictator, I sincerely don't know what does."

Keith Olbermann on Libby Pardon

I'd missed this on July 3rd. Here is Keith Olbermann's Special Comment after the Libby Commutation.

Good Commentaries on the UK Terrorist Plots

Bruce Schneier points some Good Commentaries on the UK Terrorist Plots.

10 Things Your Grocery Store Doesn't Want You to Know

Nothing surprising but a good list none-the-less: 10 Things Your Grocery Store Doesn't Want You to Know.

Gmail Spam

I've been quite happy with Gmail's spam filtering. I normally get zero or just 1 spam message a day through it and the false positives have been very low. But this week I've gotten several spam a day and just now I got a viagra/cialis message that made it through the filter. Anyone else having similar problems? Is Google broken? Has spam gotten smarter? Still, letting a viagra message through?

iPhone Forcing Net Neutrality? Open Left

Open Left has a video update of the iPhone Hearing. When the chairman of House committee finds out his iPhone is locked to AT&T, it seems some things may change.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Movie Review: Live Free or Die Hard

Last night I was in the mood to see things explode so I went to the latest Die Hard film, Live Free or Die Hard. Hard to believe it's been a dozen years since the last Die Hard film. I think the first one is the best action film made. This one wasn't that good but in the theater it was fun. I laughed a lot during this film. I'd say half the time was with the film and the other half was at the film. And unlike the first one which I remember very well almost 20 (!) years later, this one I'm already forgetting lots of.

Bruce Willis is back as John McClane. Justin Long is his hacker sidekick Matt Farrell. I'm not sure they have actual chemistry together but they both do well in their roles. The film opens with a glitch at the DHS cyber office or some such place. Think CTU from 24. Suspecting it was an attack, the commander orders the round up of anyone capable of doing this. I hope that's still illegal in country but ok. Since there were enough federal agents to do this, they call local police departments to get the suspects and bring them to DC! So to catch a kid in Camden NJ which is right outside Philadelpha, they call the New York City police who send detective John McClane who at the time (3 am) is in Rutgers NJ. Riiiight. Ok we begin the film just ignoring time and space. It only gets worse on this front.

Later the characters go from DC to West Virgina. The bad guys by helicopter and the good guys by car which takes only slightly longer. The helicopter then makes it to Maryland without refueling. There's a big chase scene at the end. An F-35 fighter jet vs a truck. You read that right. The truck is driving on the lower deck of an elevated concrete highway. At one point the jet slowy passes the truck in the background; cause that's how mach 1 compares to say 70 mph. The jet fires a missile at the truck and misses. So then it hovers between the decks just in front of the truck. In this scene, McClane is in the truck. Yep the truck wins and at one point McClane is surfing on the plane. It made the ridiculous scene in True Lies with the jet hovering for 15 minutes seem possible. But by far the worst part of this scene was that after this whole exchange takes place, the van with the bad guys which sped away in front of McClane is only about 400 yards away; close enough for McClane to limp to them.

Ok, evaluating this film on physics probably isn't fair. The plot involves the bad guys hacking into various computers and screwing up traffic lights, TV, powerplants, etc. Not just in once city but across the whole east coast. This isn't small time and I think it loses something from the more human scale of the previous Die Hards. The Cholefication of films (and know it was around long before 24) is starting to bother me. I'm actually depressed that the computer industry has done such horrible job of presenting the machines that virtually everyone uses in so horrible a way that they don't understand to the degree that this plot (and most every plot involving computers) was impossible. Donald Norman would say we don't present a model to the user so that they can understand things.

Some things I have to say: Cell phones don't use satellites. CBs have short ranges. When the east coast has a power failure, the networks go down too, even if you have your own personal generator. When a gas line explodes, gas doesn't continue approaching. If a building explodes, hiding in a van won't help.

I was very happy to see that cars in this film don't typically explode, which is an improvement over many action films. One (or was it two) of the villains lept around like Trinity in the Matrix or Sebastien Foucan in Casino Royale or Spider-Man. It was a bit ridiculous. People don't just get hit by cars, they hold onto them as they drive really fast and then are thrown off them. And they getup just fine. At another point McClane is thrown several stories out of a window and just gets up. Later when someone fell down an elevator shaft I wondered if they would just get up. But then a van fell on them (yes down the elevator shaft) and exploded so that settled my confusion.

What about the rest of the cast? Maggie Q is fine as an assistant villain hacker geek ninja. This is probably possible because the character has no depth other than a serious look. The rest of the casting is questionable. I liked Timothy Olyphant in Deadwood but I didn't like him as the underwritten villain Thomas Gabriel. He's no Alan Rickman or even a Jeremy Irons. Tim Russ who was supposed to be a useless White House liason thought he was still playing Tuvok from Star Trek Voyager. I found Kevin Smith as the hacker Warlock living in his mom's basement to just be ridiculous.

Ok. It may possibly sound like I didn't enjoy the film. Oddly I did. I really did. It was fun and as I said I laughed a lot. it has some very good lines. When McClane asks "Doesn't the government have dozens of agencies setup to deal with situations like this?", Matt replies "The government? After Katrina FEMA couldn't get water to the Superdome in 5 days." It doesn't take itself too seriously and for that reason doesn't come close to the original Die Hard. Maybe that's too much to expect from Hollywood these days; then again, I'm looking forward to The Bourne Ultimatum. If you're in the mood to see things explode this will kinda do the trick. If you're in the mood for a mindless summer action flick Live Free or Die Hard will definitely satisfy.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ginormous Now a Word

A Sampling of new words and senses from the new 2007 update of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate® Dictionary, Eleventh Edition.

Be a Simpsons Character

If you go to the Simpsons movie web site you can create your own avatar. Yes I have this T-Shirt in this color.

Homer Simpson

What do the British know of Homer Simpson? it seems quite a bit. In a long profile in the Sunday Times (of London) they compare him to Falstaff, Sancho Panza and Chaplin's Little Tramp.

"Homer is good because, above all, he is capable of great love. When the chips are down, he always does the right thing by his children – rejecting an offer of $1m from Mr Burns for a teddy bear of Maggie’s – and by Marge – he is never unfaithful in spite of several opportunities. And it’s not because he fears being found out; it’s because he can’t. What Marge understands and what her sisters don’t is that having all of Homer is far, far better than having half of any ordinary man."

"Homer makes celebrity out of what we all have – incompetence – and what we all want – love. And, when it all goes wrong, as it always will, he utters what has become the curse and prayer of Everyman – D’Oh!"

16 days to go.

Bush Approval: 27.7%

Pollster shows Bush's approval rating at 27.7% (and average of several polls). I still think he'll be able to beat Nixon's low. In January of 1974 Nixon was also at 27%, in August 1974 when he resigned he was at 24%. Though this article says Bush is at 26% and Nixon was at 23% in January 1974. Either way, Go Bush!

Sicko: Commenting on Commentaries

Following up on my review of Sicko, here's a good article (via Moore's website) Commenting on Commentaries.

Bush Suppressing Science Again

Daily Kos reports: "Former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona told a Congressional committee [Tuesday] that top officials in the Bush administration repeatedly tried to weaken or suppress important public health reports because of political considerations."

Will it Blend: The iPhone Smoothie

So sad....

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Movie Review: Sicko

I've liked all of Michael Moore's documentaries and Sicko was no exception. Apparently trying to head off some of the criticism he usually gets, he toned things down in this one. He doesn't appear in the first part of the film at all, merely narrates it. As a result there are fewer "stunts" in this film; there are no CEO ambushes in Sicko.

The first half of the film is Americans telling various health care horror stories. The ones you've seen in the commericals are all from the first few minutes and he says "but this film isn't about them". They didn't have insurance; instead he covers a lot of people with insurance that were denied coverage by their HMO, usually with tragic results. He also talks with several people who used to work for insurance companies who's job was to deny claims to save the company money. One testified to Congress that her decision to deny coverage for a man ultimately killed him but led to her promotion in the company. Another was employed as an internal investigator to find a reason to deny claims. One woman says her payment was retroactively denied because she once had a yeast infection that she never "declared".

In the US people literally die waiting for help in the emergency room. That happened too recently to make the film, but he did show video tape of an HMO dropping off patients at a free clinic, on the street, delusional, because their insurance had capped off. Apparently this happens frequently at this clinic.

He showed the start of the HMO craze by playing Nixon White Tapes where he first heard of Kaiser Permanente. Nixon interrupts saying he doesn't like these plans. When he's told this is all about private insurance and profits so the incentives are to give less care, he likes it more. Moore then shows Nixon's speech the next day saying HMOs will help Americans. He also graphically shows how much members of Congress are given by the Health Care industry for their campaigns. The prescription drug benefit of 2003 was a boon to these companies and Moore comments how 14 congressional aides moved to insurance companies and the Congressman who led the bill has as well; for a $2,000,000 salary. Nope, no conflict of interest there.

The second half is spent looking for a better system in other countries. He goes to Canada, England, France and Cuba. All these places have single payer universal coverage; that is everyone can get health care paid for by taxes. in this system the practitioners are given incentives to provide better care as opposed to ours in which the motivation of insurance companies is to give less care to save money. Moore spends a lot of time interviewing various patients and doctors and asking "how much does this cost" and they keep saying it's free. It gets a little repetitive but he does clever things to keep it interesting. In an English hospital after being told everything is free he looks for a cashier and has hard time finding it. When he ultimately does it turns out they give cash to patients to reimburse travel expenses. Yeah the cashier pays you, maybe that's why it was hard to find. In France he travels with a night doctor who makes free housecalls within an hour. He also finds that for the new mothers the national system provides nannies for 4 hours a day that take care of the kids and even do laundry. Moore says in the US, the government doesn't do your laundry.

The big stunt is in Cuba. It would surprise most in the US to learn that Cuba actually has quite a good health care system. In the list Moore shows, the US is at 37 which is shameful. The screen shows but he doesn't mention that Cuba is at 39. The crazy thing is that in the US we spend $7,000 per capita on health care, in Cuba it's $250. Moore shows a few clips of soldiers and politicians explaining that detainees at Guantanamo Bay are given good health care. I was a bit surprised that Moore didn't use the opportunity to mention the torture. He then brings 9/11 workers who were denied claims, on a boat just outside the bay and using a bullhorn asks for health care. "We don't want any more care than you're giving the evildoers". Of course they then get good care in the Cuban system.

The point of the film isn't so much to provide an answer merely to say that things can be better and to start public debate. Though I'm not sure what public debate looks like in this country any more. Al Gore's The Assault on Reason does a decent job of describing how broken public debate is. Since everything seems to be money-based, maybe a high box office take for Sicko would spur some action. Public debate by seeing movies, I think I could like that.

Moore doesn't point out the flaws in the other systems. I've heard him interviewed saying their side has been presented enough already. But he does tackle the typical knock on single-payer systems, that socialism is bad. He successfully points out we have socialized firefighters, police forces, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. He shows doctors making good livings in socialized programs. He shows people not having crazy wait times. And really...house calls!

The movie is good. Very touching and at times very funny, often in a very dark way. As an internal memo written by a Capital BlueCross employee after seeing the film says "You would have to be dead to be unaffected by Moore's movie..." Like all of Moore's films I think he concentrates too much on anecdotes and doesn't give enough statistics. If there was a little more substance I think it would help his case.

I think what's missing from a lot of the debate is the state of our system. Ever try to make an appointment for a checkup? Last time I did it was a 4 month wait. Critics say that free health care isn't free because they pay higher taxes; but they miss the point that the tax increase is less than the current out-of-pocket cost. Those insurance company profits have to come from somewhere. I'm also surprised that the Republicans aren't for helping businesses by alleviating them of their skyrocketing health insurance costs which make them less competitive around the world. I'm annoyed the Democrats can't make this case.

Michael Moore's site is having some problems today. Yesterday he was on CNN with Wolf Blitzer. They ran this piece before him and Moore went on this 10 minute rant because of all of these factual errors in the CNN piece. Ah, reasoned public debate between journalists and filmmakers.