Friday, November 30, 2007

What's Mike Gravel Up To?

Mike Gravel might not be in the debates any more but he is still making YouTube videos.

You know a campaign is in trouble when it says this on it's home page: "This site is getting another makeover. (Technically speaking we're putting everything into Drupal - the Forum is already in Drupal)." Drupal is a free open source content management system (written in PHP). Somehow I doubt anyone viewing the site cares what's running it.

How to win a Yankee Swap

From a friend of mine from several years ago, How to win a Yankee Swap.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Movie Review: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Sidney Lumet's first movie was 12 Angry Men, my favorite courtroom drama. While not all his later films were good, he managed to add Fail-Safe, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and The Verdict to his accomplishments. Ebert said: "It's wonderful when a director like Lumet wins a Lifetime Achievement Oscar at 80, and three years later makes one of his greatest achievements." That film is Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.

The film is constructed as Stanley Kubrick's The Killing was. That is, the story is told out of sequence. With the exception of the opening scene it's clearly described when each scene takes place. Sometimes we see the same events a second or third time, from a different point of view, or just with more background and more understanding. While this could be annoying, in this case it's done very well. We learn about the characters by finding out the events that lead up to the actions; as such I'm not going to say much about the plot.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is Andy. Ethan Hawke is his younger brother Hank. They decide to rob a store. Albert Finney plays their father as if he's channelling Peter Finch from Lumet's Network. Marisa Tomei is Andy's wife Gina. Hoffman and Finney give stand out performances, Oscar nominations seem assured. Andy is so emotionally constipated that even when he throws things around his apartment he doesn't break anything. Tomei has never looked better, her role is smaller but she does have the funniest scene in the film as well as several good dramatic ones.

While buying my ticket, the counter guy at the theater explained the title. I was impressed until I saw it in the opening title credits. It's from an old Irish proverb, "May you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead." As Andy explains in the movie, "I don't add up. I am not the sum of my parts." Luckily for us, we get to work out that math by watching this film. 11 months into the year, this is my favorite film so far. It's a bit depressing, but also a lot of fun.

Movie Review: No Country for Old Men

The new Coen brothers film No Country for Old Men is an adaptation from the novel by Cormac McCarthy. Apparently it's a pretty faithful adaptation which is amazing, because it has exactly the feel of Coen brothers film. Maybe McCarthy borrowed from them?

Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a Vietnam vet, now in 1980 a welder out hunting in West Texas. He comes across the scene of a drug trade gone wrong and takes $2 million in cash. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is the psychopathic killer hired to retrieve the money. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is looking for them both and is always a step behind. Those are just basic plot points, this film is all about atmosphere and suspense.

Bardem's Chigurh will go down in movie history as one of the great villains. He's intense, devoid of mercy, and unrelenting in the way the Terminator and Jason Voorhees are unrelenting. Tommy Lee Jones is an obvious casting choice that works well. Woody Harrelson is one that didn't work for me; seeing him, I thought "Woody Harrelson" and was taken out of the film. Brolin is good too but overshadowed by Bardem and Jones. Jones gets to deliver the best lines, including the dry comic ones. My favorite was a long story ending with "Even in man vs steer the outcome isn't always known".

Much of the film has no dialog because it isn't needed, but calling it silent would be an insult to the wonderful sound design. Still much of the story is told visually. You don't need to see the fight to find out how evil it was. Showing the aftermath is enough when you see they even shot the dog.

Kenneth Turan writes, "It's clear that the Coen brothers and McCarthy are not interested in violence for its own sake but for what it says about the world we happen to live in. "I got it under control," a confident deputy says, and in moments he is dead. He didn't have anywhere near the mastery he imagined, and in this truly despairing vision, neither does anyone else. The theme of the film, told through some long discussions between Bell and others, is that there's evil in the world, there always has been and there always will be. My response to that is so what? Isn't that kinda obvious?

Roger Ebert says "It involves elements of the thriller and the chase but is essentially a character study, an examination of how its people meet and deal with a man so bad, cruel and unfeeling that there is simply no comprehending him." Again I say, eh. That may be true but I didn't find the "study" to be enlightening at all. Chigurh asks someone "do you see me" implying that will influence if he kills him or not. Are we to draw comparisons to Quantum Mechanics?

This is a great crime thriller and chase film. It's exquisitely constructed (cinematography, sound, acting, editing, etc.). If you liked Fargo, you'll love No Country for Old Men, though it's not as funny. Be warned that it can be intense and gory at times, similar to Fargo.

The first three quarters are straight ahead story telling; easy to follow and suspenseful. In the last quarter that changes a bit, so pay attention. The ending is not open-ended or ambiguous as I've seen some say. It's not obvious and needs to be worked out. It wasn't until a group of 12 of us started talking that we worked out all the details.

This will easily make my Top 5 of the year. Go out and see it. (Unless you hated Fargo).


Wikipedia has a good plot summary but here are some details:

At the bus station the Mexican asked the mother where they were going. From his conversation with the beer woman we know Llewelyn was at the motel for several days. The Mexicans go to the hotel and kill Llewelyn (we see the new clothes he bought and the boots on the body) but they didn't find the money hidden in the vent. Chigurh showed up later and got the money from the vent, using the same dime as he did before. Bell shows up while Chigurh is still there. The closeup on the window shows it's locked from the inside, not that Chigurh escaped from it (as I've seen posted). Chigurh is hiding behind the door. Bell sitting on the bed basically gives up and decides to retire. The mother dies of cancer. Chigurh kills Carla because he promised Llewelyn he would. The car crash is random. Chigurh pays the kid with a $100 bill from the money.

The only thing I had problems with was that Bell didn't check behind the door for the Chigurh. He seemed a thorough enough cop to do so. I'm assuming Chigurh didn't kill Bell because Bell didn't see him. I've seen guesses that Chigurh is supernatural and disappeared, but I didn't get that sense from any other scene. The other idea is that Bell knew he was there and at that moment he gave up and decided not to check behind the door. But that doesn't seem right either. I could see him giving up if the trail was dead, but not moments before getting him. He didn't strike me as afraid the way he previously ran into the shooting aftermath.

Glenn Kenny has some good Notes on the final quarter of 'No Country For Old Men'.

Rudy's Ties to a Terror Sheikh

digby comments on this report Rudy's Ties to a Terror Sheikh. I hope he gets the nomination. He should be as easy to beat as Bush should have been. Ooops.

Crappy Hilary Polling Reported

This week I've seen some stuff on a Zogby Interactive poll that showed Hillary losing to other opponents in one-on-one matchups. That surprised me because previously I'd seen her doing well. I know there has been some bad stuff but still it didn't seem like much. Well kos in Daily Kos explains Zogby "interactive" polls are junk. The "interactive" polls are different from their "phone" polls and are far less reliable. In fact, there was a recent Gallop poll with Hilary winning in one-on-one matchups.

Greg Sargent puts it in terms that really bother me. 'You could argue that the Zogby poll got all the coverage it did precisely because it is out of sync with multiple other polls, and thus is news. But the truth is that the reporters and editors at the major nets know full well that the Zogby poll is bunk -- yet they breathlessly covered it anyway. Worse, the Zogby poll was covered with few mentions either of its dubious methodology or of the degree to which its findings don't jibe with other surveys. Bottom line: The Zogby poll was considered big news because many in the political press are heavily invested in the Hillary-is-unelectable narrative for all kinds of reasons that have little to do with a desire to, you know, practice journalism."

Bush Still Can't Speak

Bush totally butchered the names of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Honestly, is it too much to ask for the host to learn how to say the names of the honored guests? In 7 years of being president has he even tried to say these names out loud? It didn't sound like it.

Cenk Uygur in Bush Makes an Ass of Himself Again goes off on his laziness and calls him a moron. Keith Olbermann commented on it too. Both include video of Bush blowing it. I can't disagree. I mean, he knew he was going to be speaking to the world.

Comet Holmes is Fading Away

Universe Today reports Comet Holmes is Fading Away I looked over Thanksgiving but it was very dim. We couldn't make it out with the naked eye but in binoculars you could sorta kinda make it out. I thought it was due to the full moon, but apparently not. "Although it's still a 3rd magnitude object, and should be visible with the unaided eye, it's so large in the sky that it's actually quite faint now."

But it might get interesting again. "Astronomers are hoping that it'll repeat history. During its last outburst back in 1892, the comet underwent a second bright flareup five months after the first one. So, if history is any judge, we might just see the comet brighten again, and we'll all get another chance to see it before it's gone for good."

Astronaut View of Shuttle Landing

Got this from the IP mailing list. This lo-res 8.5MB (6min 45sec) video looks through the HUD (Heads Up Display) on the flight deck. You hear the flight deck audio of the three astronauts interacting. The video starts at about FL830 (83,000 ft), 260 Kts, Mach 2.5 velocity and 1.1 Gs. You'll hear the term HAC (Heading Alignment Cylinder) used a lot. It is the shuttle's version of a traffic pattern to line up with the runway centerline. It is a circular instead of rectangular pattern.

Ever Hear of Henry Ward Beecher?

I hadn't. And yet in the 19th century he was the most famous man in America. Really. That's according to the book, The Most Famous Man in America by Debby Applegate which won this year's Pulitzer Prize in biography. I only found out about it because a friend was going to a talk by the author at the Old South Church and I tagged along. Dr. Applegate gave a fascinating talk. She started this project as an undergraduate and it took almost 20 years to complete.

The Beechers were a famous family. Henry's sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. His other sister, Catharine, basically invented home economics as a study. Applegate described her as the Martha Stewart of her day. Henry was a preacher like his father. He was remarkably gifted as a speaker and had 3,000 people attend his services at the now famous Plymouth Congregational Church in Brooklyn Heights, NY. Applegate described this as the first megachurch. Abraham Lincoln was wildly impressed with Beecher and attended his services twice before giving his Cooper Union speech. Beecher was outspoken about virtually everything. He was anti-slavery, pro-civil war, pro-temperance, for women's suffrage, and pro-Darwinism. His fame spread by train and telegraph. He was the first to bring flowers into the church, sent Connecticut rifles to Kansas to help free slaves (known as "Beecher's Bibles"), and brought slave girls into church to be auctioned off into freedom.

At the age of 57 he was accused of adultery with his friend's wife Elizabeth Tilton. Unlike today, it went to trial which lasted for months and literally generated more headlines than the Civil War. Applegate described it as the OJ trial of the day. There was apparently a news blackout on aspects of the war, but still. The trial had a negative affect on the suffrage movement. Tilton confessed and recanted, in writing, several times. One confession was taken by Susan B. Anthony.

I went to the talk with little interest. I left with a signed copy of the book and look forward to reading it (though there's a lot ahead of it on the reading list). Applegate was exceptionally skilled at presenting 19th century America in ways we could relate to and in pointing out the differences that we would not have expected that make it more interesting. She ended with a story about temperance, hoop skirts and a fact about pantalettes that was a riot.

As Sean Wilentz said of the book "If you thought that the personalities and machinations surrounding the Clinton impeachment scandal were interesting, you will find the Beecher exposé riveting."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

6 Upgrades That Are Downgrades

Webware has a list of 6 upgrades that are downgrades which I like. Vista is worse than XP. New Quicken versions are not better than old ones. Apparently the latest Linksys WRT54G router isn't good. Mega-megapixel compact cameras don't produce images that aren't as good.

The last two I'm not so sure about. The old Zune can be turned into the new Zune with a software upgrade for much less. Still sounds like improvement. The iPod is on the list because you used to be able to send video via the audio jack and now you need an adaptor. That may be a new (unnecessary) limitation but there are plenty of good new features on a new iPod.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Glenn Greenwald vs Joe Klein in Time on FISA

Glenn Greenwald is furious at Time Magazine for the Joe Klein story on the FISA bill and the Democrats. It contains factual errors the falsely portray the Democrats as weak against terrorism. Klein and Time at first refused to admit the errors and are only slowly making corrections. Greenwald's story grows into asking why Democrats have been almost completely silent on the false claims and why the mass media can't do fact checking.

More on the Surge

Andrew Sullivan says a reader nails it regarding the surge and Iraq. As I said yesterday I agree with this. The reader's letter goes a little astray at the end.

"Is there some earthly reason to think that the Iraqis are more likely to put together a democratic government that is capable of unifying and securing the country just because they have some relative peace and quiet? Why would that matter?"

Well it is reasonable to believe that that it's easier to get things done when your meetings aren't being blown up. But that doesn't mean that the parties will succeed and come together in agreement, no matter how much peace there is (or if that's even what they want).

Google's Energy Initiative

Tim O'Reilly writes about the Google's Energy Initiative. "Google believes that there are alternative energy technologies that can produce electricity at scale at a cost less than coal, and can do this in years, not decades. The goal is to produce a full gigawatt of power -- 'That's quite a lot -- enough to power the city of San Francisco.'"

This Didn't Suck

I'm lucky enough to have a massage school about 1 mile from my home. Students have to practice. Today I went to the Student Massage Clinic of the Cortiva Institute. $35 for a one hour session, no tipping allowed.

It's in a large room with areas seperated by curtains. It's like hospital emergency rooms look on TV or better than how curtains work in real hospital rooms. Since it's a large space and there are limited clinic hours, a lot of people show up at once. You're assigned a student and meet in the common area to give your history and say what you want out of the session. Then the massage and another interview which was less of an evaluation and more ways I can alleviate stress in my life. Personally I think I'm doing pretty good at that. :)

The massage was quite good, better than many I've had. Apparently I'm carrying a lot of stress in my shoulders, though I don't know why. Fortunately they have a frequent buyer program, buy 9, get the tenth free. I'm on my way.

Verizon Wireless To Open It's Network

In a word, wow. Verizon Wireless To Introduce ‘Any Apps, Any Device’ Option For Customers In 2008. They'll allow any device (that's certified at their lab) to run any application on their network. Cool. This is probably in response to the Google phone but also perhaps to help strengthen their CDMA network. The rest of the world uses GSM so devices like the iPhone are designed for that so they can be sold anywhere. In the US, AT&T uses GSM technology but Verizon and Sprint use CDMA. The in the US the CDMA network has more coverage, but also crappier phones. I've also seen speculation that this might help strengthen their bid for 700 MHz spectrum, showing how open they are.

Update: Om Malik has more analysis.

Yet More on Facebook Ads

Here are more details on Facebook's ad beacon that I previously wrote about here. Not sure if it's getting better or always worked this way.

Worlds Best Speed bump

Here's a fun German commercial. The worlds best speed bump.

Chicks With Dicks

I really thought this was something from the Onion, but it's real Dick's Sporting Goods acquires Chick's Sporting Goods. How pissed is Jon Stewart about the writers strike?

I Just Wanna Fucking Dance

Here's a video mashup of movie dance scenes. I'm surprised at how many I could name. It's more of the same for over 5 minutes, so if you get board, feel free to quit. And yes there's music and it says the title of this post so if you're in a place that's sensitive about the F word turn the sound down or wait till you're someplace else.

Fun Animation

Click here and a site will load that looks like a Dutch shopping site. Let it finish loading a few seconds and you see a really fun Rube Goldberg-like animation. There is sound which helps and it ends with some loud music if you care.

Catch Me If You Can Credits

Friends sent me lots of video links this morning. This first one is the opening credits sequence from Catch Me If You Can, which was a pretty fun movie. This is obvious an homage to Saul Bass who's done some of the most fun animated movie credits of all time. Bass also did famous logos including the two famous AT&T logos (the bell and the death star-like globe).

5 Foods and Phones Numbers

It seems the Today show is doing a series this week of 5 things to change your life. Yesterday was 5 good-for-you, bizarre foods including Acai, Alligator, Cupuacu, Laver and Yerba mate. I've had alligator and yes it tastes like chicken, I just didn't know it was so good for you (high in protein, very low in fat). I gather laver is similar to Japanese Nori which I've of course had with sushi.

Today's installment was 5 phone numbers. 866-MY-TRAFC gives traffic info by which has other tools to use too. With Verizon in Boston I've been happy with *1 which is similar. 334-844-4244 is Auburn University’s Foy Information Line, you get a human and can ask them anything. Settle those bar bets.

The others were the San Francisco Sex Information line, 415-989-SFSI (which does not provide phone sex), the Ohio Tobacco Quit Line, 800-QUIT-NOW, and 866-411-SONG which lets you play (I assume that's not hum) part of a song and they'll text you title and artist.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Google Checkout and PayPal Holiday Discounts

Google Checkout and PayPal Spend Big to Lure Buyers. "Both Google Checkout and eBay’s PayPal unveiled generous promotions today to increase their share of holiday spending."

"But at the end of the day, how much business is either system going to have if they don’t pay people to be their customers?"

Problems with Copyright

Bruce Schneier points to a 13 page Law Review Article on the Problems with Copyright. The point being that the law as written, and apparently as interpreted by the courts makes many now common actions be violations. Things such as forwarding email messages and digital photographs, handing out articles in class, reading poems and singing aloud in public (famously including Happy Birthday), and getting tattoos of cartoon characters are no-nos. As Schneier sums up: "The point of the article is how, simply by acting normally, all of us are technically lawbreakers many times over every day. When laws are this far outside the social norms, it's time to change them."

Sullivan on McCain

Andrew Sullivan talks about McCain and his new ad. "But McCain was right [about the surge], and he deserves credit for it. I find myself wanting him to be the nominee more and more. He's deserved it. And he is the one Republican who won't needlessly exacerbate polarization. Imagine an Obama-McCain race: adult, graceful, necessary, and good for us. On torture and climate change, McCain is also a rare Republican prepared to embrace reality rather than base-bluster."

I'm not so sure. I expected more troops to bring down violence in Iraq. I also expected fewer troops to bring down violence, like what happened in Anbar. The real problem is that there has been no political progress and everyone agrees to that. So will it happen? I doubt it and we're not helping things.

I've wanted to like McCain, even in the last election. But I disagree with him on Iraq and that's a big deal. My other problem is that I disagree with his conservative positions on social issues. As far as I'm concerned his positions on torture and climate change just proves he's sane. The bar is higher than that for my vote. His health care plan is small tweaks on what we have now. He's pro-life, and anti-gun control, anti-stem cell research, anti-gay marriage, on the wrong side of the Terry Schiavo case, etc. I could deal with some differences, but not every single one. Though he now says in hindsight Congress was wrong about Schiavo and I think he favors stem cell research.

He wouldn't be the worst Republican candidate (he might be one of the best) but he wouldn't get my vote.

Bush's "Principles" for Permanent Iraqi Presence

Talking Points Memo describes White House Releases "Principles" for Permanent Iraqi Presence. "After years of obfuscation and denial on the length of the U.S.'s stay in Iraq, the White House and the Maliki government have released a joint declaration of 'principles' for 'friendship and cooperation.' Naturally, the declaration is euphemistic, and doesn't refer explicitly to any U.S. military presence." We're going to defend the unpopular al-Maliki led Shiite government. With troops. Oh and since it's not called a treaty, Congress doesn't have to ratify it. There's more on how Bush is trying to tie the hands of the next administration.

Talking with Stephen King

Time Magazine has an interview with Stephen King that's pretty fun.

"You know, this morning, the two big stories on CNN are Kanye West's mother, who died, apparently, after having some plastic surgery. The other big thing that's going on is whether or not this cop [Drew Peterson] killed his... wife. And meanwhile, you've got Pakistan in the midst of a real crisis, where these people have nuclear weapons that we helped them develop. You've got a guy in charge, who's basically declared himself the military strongman and is being supported by the Bush administration, whose raison d'etre for going into Iraq was to spread democracy in the world. So you've got these things going on, which seem to me to be very substantive, that could affect all of us, and instead, you see a lot of this back-fence gossip."

It gets more fun.

David X. Cohen of Futurama

Interview with David X. Cohen the creator of Futurama on the new episodes to be released first on DVD and then shown on Comedy Central at some point.


Howtoons are instructional cartoons for making kids science projects. Fun stuff. Done by Saul Griffith, a MacArthur Fellow and Joost Bonsen and cartoonist Nick Dragotta. They've published a book of them. There's also a blog.

Found it because he complained to Tim O'Reilly over Thanksgiving dinner that "Take all that talk about the exponential growth of various web sites. Don't people realize that those curves are actually sigmoidal?"

Science Class Classic Updated

Charge an iPod with an onion and Gatorade. I'm a little surprised it works with a USB adaptor and wonder how you clean it.

The Golden Compass Already Has Religious Groups Protesting

The Boston Globe on Sunday had an article, God in the dust about Catholics attacking the new movie The Golden Compass based on the first book in the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. The article has a few spoilers but tells how (yet again) some religious groups miss the point of a work of art.

"But this is a sad misreading of the trilogy. These books are deeply theological, and deeply Christian in their theology. The universe of "His Dark Materials" is permeated by a God in love with creation, who watches out for the meekest of all beings - the poor, the marginalized, and the lost. It is a God who yearns to be loved through our respect for the body, the earth, and through our lives in the here and now. This is a rejection of the more classical notion of a detached, transcendent God, but I am a Catholic theologian, and reading this fantasy trilogy enhanced my sense of the divine, of virtue, of the soul, of my faith in God. The book's concept of God, in fact, is what makes Pullman's work so threatening. His trilogy is not filled with attacks on Christianity, but with attacks on authorities who claim access to one true interpretation of a religion. Pullman's work is filled with the feminist and liberation strands of Catholic theology that have sustained my own faith, and which threaten the power structure of the church. Pullman's work is not anti-Christian, but anti-orthodox."

I haven't read the books yet but want to and am looking forward to the movie.

Swift Boat Founders Now Making Up Conspiracies

Yesterday the Boston Globe had an article The Amero Conspiracy. I've never heard of it but apparently there's a full blown conspiracy theory that the US, Canada and Mexico will combine to form something like the European Union.

"The North American Union is a supranational organization, modeled on the European Union, that will soon fuse Canada, the United States, and Mexico into a single economic and political unit. The details are still being worked out by the countries' leaders, but the NAU's central governing body will have the power to nullify the laws of its member states. Goods and people will flow among the three countries unimpeded, aided by a network of continent-girdling superhighways. The US and Canadian dollars, along with the peso, will be phased out and replaced by a common North American currency called the amero. If you haven't heard about the NAU, that may be because its plotters have succeeded in keeping it secret. Or, more likely, because there is no such thing. "

The article begins by saying Romney gets questions about it at events. "Ron Paul has made the North American Union one of his central issues." You can see reference to this at his web site here: "NAFTA’s superhighway is just one part of a plan to erase the borders between the U.S. and Mexico, called the North American Union. This spawn of powerful special interests, would create a single nation out of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, with a new unelected bureaucracy and money system. Forget about controlling immigration under this scheme."

"So how real is the NAU? In the literal sense, not very. Its underpinnings turn out to be a hodgepodge of mostly unconnected facts and suppositions. The [Security and Prosperity Partnership] does exist, and its tri-national task forces continue to meet, but its members consider it a way for the United States, Canada, and Mexico to collaborate on issues such as customs, environmental and safety regulations, narcotics smuggling, and terrorism. The amero, on the other hand, appears to be purely theoretical. It was first proposed in 1999 by a Canadian economist named Herbert Grubel, when the euro was first entering circulation. Grubel says he did manage to interest Vicente Fox in the idea, but whenever he brought up the topic with American officials, he recalls, he got nowhere. "There wouldn't be very much benefit for the United States" in an amero, he concedes."

"The NAFTA Superhighway has a more complicated origin. One piece is a nonprofit organization, called the North America's Supercorridor Coalition, or NASCO, dedicated to ensuring the efficiency and safety of some of the country's major truck trade routes - a map from the organization's website has shown up on NAU watchdog websites, erroneously labeled the blueprint for the NAFTA Superhighway. Another is a controversial toll highway that Texas is considering building to accommodate the sharp increase in freight traffic brought by NAFTA."

Ok, my mind is officially blown. There's a fictitious plan to unite the continent and presidential candidates are taking it seriously. I feel like I'm in Oz. People think Bush is weak on protecting the border because he favors the NAU! Then it starts to make sense:

"A fully realized theory was born. In the fall of 2006, Phyllis Schlafly, along with the conservative author Jerome Corsi and Howard Phillips, founder of an organization called the Conservative Caucus, started a website dedicated to quashing the coming North American "Socialist mega-state." If the anti-NAU cause has a prophet, it is Corsi. In 2004, Corsi was a leading spokesman for Swift Boat Veterans for Truth; last year, he co-wrote a book on the Minuteman Project with its founder, Jim Gilchrist. Earlier this year Corsi published a book, "The Late Great U.S.A.," and it was here - and in his columns on the conservative websites WorldNetDaily and Human Events - that the NAU conspiracy theory emerged in full flower."

"Corsi's warning cry and gift for detail have given the theory traction in circles where anxieties about immigration and corporate oligarchy intersect. Lou Dobbs, whose CNN show portrays both free trade and increased immigration as sops to multinational corporations and body blows to the middle class, has devoted investigative segments to the NAU, the amero, and the NAFTA Superhighway. The John Birch Society a month ago devoted an entire issue of its magazine to the NAU."

A nut bags that promoted the Swift Boat Veterans, made up this fake plot so Republicans can run to prevent it. Politics is now professional wrestling. I wonder if the script has Republicans successfully blocking the NAU?

If these are this years tactics I'm worried. How will Democrats look when they say it doesn't exist? Can you see Obama doing anything but stuttering when asked about it? Richardson will just talk about comprehensive immigration plans (which are fine but besides the point). Hilary will either attack them for lying or agree that it's important to defend America against the NAU. I'm not sure how Edwards will react. At least I didn't see anything about the NAU on Romney's or Giuliani's sites.

Cities Eliminate Right to Contest Parking Tickets - Maybe

This sucks: Cities Eliminate Right to Contest Parking Tickets.

"By the end of next year, Washington, DC's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will not allow anyone who believes he unfairly received a citation to have his day in an administrative hearing." Instead they must use mail-in and email means to protest. "As one-third of those who contest citations in the city are successful, the hearings cut significantly into the $100 million in revenue tickets generate each year." How disgusting is that. Let's rephrase this in the worst way possible; the City is trying to steal $30 million a year from innocent residents. I wonder what the overturn rate is for mail-in and email protests?

"Motorists in many cities besides DC complain about unfair citations. So far, Baltimore, Maryland's Inspector General has uncovered 10,000 bogus parking tickets issued to innocent motorists. In Boston and other cities in Massachusetts, motorists cannot challenge a $100 parking ticket in court without first paying a $275 court fee. If found innocent, the motorist does not receive a refund of the $275."

Rather than just assume the worst possible, I tried to find out if this was true. I couldn't verify this via Boston web sites after a half hour of looking and all the other articles on the web I found about this point back to the article cited above. So I called the Office of the Parking Clerk of the City of Boston. After circumnavigating the voice menu system I got to a person. It then took a little bit to establish that I was asking a hypothetical question. First off, a $100 parking ticket sounded high to me; I got one in Boston this year and it was only $40. I was told there are $75 and $120 tickets depending on the infraction. There are procedures to dispute a ticket via the Parking Clerk and those are easy to find on the web site. You can visit in person, send postal mail or use a web form, so that's pretty simple. If the clerk finds against you, you can appeal in court. That would be the Suffolk Superior Court and they do have fees that come to $275.

I called them to find out if the fees were refundable. First off they did say they were the right court to dispute the finding of the Parking Clerk and the fee was $275. I asked if they were refunded if it was decided in my favor and was told no, not automatically but I could file a motion to recover the fees. I asked how to do that and was told via the normal procedures and that I do not need a lawyer. The best I can find to describe these procedures is Rule 9A which don't really clarify it for me. I was told that I can't do it at the time of the hearing and another visit to the court would be required but that there are no fees for filing a motion.

So the information on the web is an exaggeration. Shocker. Disputing a parking ticket with the Parking Clerk is relatively simple and is free. Note the original article referred to challenging "in court" which is unnecessary for a dispute. While it does have a fee that is not automatically refunded for a finding in your favor, you can apply for one though that involves a separate visit. I can't attest for other cities, but in Boston it's not so bad.

Human Calendar

The Human Calendar is a Brady Bunch-like calendar that has all the faces pointing to the current date. Four years in the making. You can have your own updating version on your own page. There's also a Human Clock.

humancalendar_dot_com 1.jpg

Negroponte Experiences Competition on OLPC

The Wall Street Journal had an article this weekend, A Little Laptop With Big Ambitions about the One Laptop Per Child project of Nicholas Negroponte (aka the $100 laptop and the XO). It now costs $188 (+shipping) and is facing competition from the Intel Classmate ($300) with a $3 copy of Windows. Shocker that poor countries would be interested in getting name brand machines.

Of course it leaves out that the XO was designed specifically to work in poor environments. No reliable electricity? Use the hand crank. Want to learn how computers work? Dive into the Open Source code (it's Linux-based) and there's a View Source key on the keyboard. Not a computer administrator? It automatically forms networks with nearby machines. Scared about security problems rampant in Windows? Since there's no backwards compatibility OLPC has a new security model that seems much more secure (time will tell).

Competition should make products better. Based on the article, Negroponte's not so good at this. The product is double the promised price. He "demanded that Intel stop selling the Classmate" as if that's likely to happen. He won't participate in pilot programs that include the Classmate, calling them "bake-offs". He also seems to be violating a "nondisparagement" clause in an agreement with Intel when their CEO joined the OLPC board. And the end of the article is clearly not the way to sell your product:

"Mr. Negroponte said some initial tech support would be provided by Brightstar Corp., a Miami-based wireless equipment distributor. Just who would provide support a few years from now, he said, was 'a frightening question.' The students, he said, will need 'to do as much maintenance as possible.'"

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mythbusting Galileo

I'm not a fan of Dinesh D'Souza but he has an article in todays Philadelphia Inquirer, He didn't suffer all that much that busts some myths about Galileo and the church. Interesting reading.

Planet Earth Reruns

If you missed it the Discovery Channel is rerunning Planet Earth. Catch it in HD if you can.

''Battlestar Galactica: Razor'' Recap

Entertainment Weekly has a 'Battlestar Galactica: Razor' recap. "All in all, Razor was pretty much everything you could ask for — provided you didn't ask for it to further the ongoing story lines. But as a stand-alone adventure, it satisfied the hunger that so many of us have had for Galactica — good Galactica — since midway through last season. Now, if only the wait for next season didn't feel so interminable..."

I agree.

The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush

Joseph Stiglitz writes in Vanity Fair about The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush. It's a good article. It assumes causation and I wish there was a little more evidence presented of it but the issues are well described.

"I can hear an irritated counterthrust already. The president has not driven the United States into a recession during his almost seven years in office. Unemployment stands at a respectable 4.6 percent. Well, fine. But the other side of the ledger groans with distress: a tax code that has become hideously biased in favor of the rich; a national debt that will probably have grown 70 percent by the time this president leaves Washington; a swelling cascade of mortgage defaults; a record near-$850 billion trade deficit; oil prices that are higher than they have ever been; and a dollar so weak that for an American to buy a cup of coffee in London or Paris—or even the Yukon—becomes a venture in high finance. And it gets worse. After almost seven years of this president, the United States is less prepared than ever to face the future. We have not been educating enough engineers and scientists, people with the skills we will need to compete with China and India. We have not been investing in the kinds of basic research that made us the technological powerhouse of the late 20th century. And although the president now understands—or so he says—that we must begin to wean ourselves from oil and coal, we have on his watch become more deeply dependent on both."

Old Apple Stories Still Around

Poor Cliff Edwards. On May 21, 2001 he published a commentary in Business Week called Sorry, Steve: Here's Why Apple Stores Won't Work and now it's on digg. Of course he was wrong. The Apple Stores have been a success. At the time, who knew that Apple would announce the iPod 5 months later? Or that they would use the stores not just to sell things but to help people use them, doing maintenance at the Genius Bars and giving free classes and one-on-one instruction.

He's changed his tune (like everyone else) and some of his recent articles are pretty good:
Plucking the Fruits of Apple Accessories
I Want My iTV
Apple iMac: Still the Desktop Star

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Movie Review: The Lookout

I had missed The Lookout in theaters this spring. It's the directorial debut of writer Scott Frank, who has this great resume, having written Dead Again (a guilty pleasure of mine), Little Man Tate, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Minority Report and The Interpreter, among others. Like Ben Affleck did with Gone Baby Gone, this is straight up story telling with no flashy flourishes; though it spends much more time on characterization.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Chris Pratt, a high school hockey star in Kansas City who had a brain injury in an accident and now struggles to perform every day tasks. Chris has problems remembering sequences and has to write things down to remember them. It's not quite as bad as "First pants, THEN your shoes" but it's close (actually, maybe it is that bad). There are some Momento-like elements but it's not told as a puzzle.

Jeff Daniels plays his blind roommate Lewis and they dream of opening a small restaurant together. Chris currently works as a night janitor at a bank and hopes to become a teller one day. He doesn't seem to realize this clashes with the restaurant dream. The first half is all character study of Chris dealing with his life, the second half tells how he gets mixed up with the wrong crowd which in this case is Gary's gang who plans to rob the bank Chris works at.

The end follows from what precedes it, in some ways rather nicely. However not everything set up comes back. Chris' family is a little too conveniently uncaring. And the thing I had the most problem suspending disbelief about was that Chris still drives.

I enjoyed it, but found it a little slow at times. When came out The Lookout got some reviews as the best movie of the year so far. Of course it came out March 30th.

Flickr: The Far Side Reenactments Pool

This is a riot. The Flickr The Far side Reenactments Pool.

Tonight: New Battlestar Galactica: Razor

Battlestar Galactica: Razor, tonight on Sci-Fi at 9pm. It's set in the middle of season 2, so if you're waiting for the season 3 DVDs you can still watch. There are short videos on the website that show flashbacks of Bill Adama's rookie Viper mission during the first Cylon war. Season 4 won't start till probably April, so enjoy.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

How Elvis Got Fat

Forbes has an article called Extreme Eats describing crazy disgusting food which seem to be mostly invented by Americans.

"Elvis Presley made famous a meal known as the Fool's Gold Loaf, reportedly his favorite: To construct one, mix one jar of peanut butter, one jar of grape jelly and a pound of bacon. Scoop the mixture inside a hollowed-out loaf of fresh-baked bread, smother the outside in butter and bake. Elvis would eat the whole thing in one sitting--and once flew from Memphis to Denver in the middle of the night to get one from a restaurant called the Colorado Mine Company."

They have a picture gallery where you can see a Turducken, a 100% Bacon Patty Hamburger, Deep Fried Pizza, The Philly Taco, and more.

Movie Review: Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone is a film adaptation of the novel by Denis Lehane. It was written by Ben Affleck and his friend Aaron Stockard. It's also Affleck's directorial debut. If Affleck's hands all over this frightens you, you should also know it stars his kid brother Casey. It's also one of the best movies I've seen this year.

Amanda is a four year-old girl who went missing in Boston three days ago; the police and media are all over it. Amanda's aunt Bea (Amy Madigan) and uncle Lionel (Titus Welliver) hire two private detectives, Affleck as Patrick Kenzie and his girlfriend Angie Gennaro played by Michelle Monaghan, to augment the police's efforts. They can talk to people that won't talk to the police. Apparently Boston has some policy that the police will cooperate with them as the head of the Crimes Against Children police task force (Morgan Freeman) begrudgingly assigns Det. Remy Bressan (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton) to cooperate. There are a lot of reservations on all sides but soon they cooperate. It turns out Amanda's mother Helene (Amy Ryan) is a drug addict and not the best of mothers. The investigation leads to drug dealers and to bars with surly regulars and to nastier things.

About a half hour into the film I turned to my sister and said this "made every other movie I've seen look like Hollywood". The atmosphere seemed genuine. Sets looked like real homes, streets and bars. Extras seems like people on a street, not out of work models. The language is rough and the violence is fierce, though not gratuitous. The characters face interesting dilemmas but this is a plot-based film.

For those that care about such things, the plot works. I did not figure out the mystery though several hints registered, I just ignored them. Ebert said "I am grateful when a movie springs something on me, and I feel rewarded, not tricked" and I completely agree. I was engaged the whole film and cared about the plot and the characters. There were parts, particularly in the second half, where it was a little difficult to follow things, but it wasn't for long and I was able to catch up again soon.

A lot has been said of Casey Affleck's performance and it is very strong. He pulls off tough, sensitive, clever, scared, self-righteous, self-doubting, and more. Ed Harris is always great, as is Morgan Freeman, who thankfully doesn't narrate this film. If you're a fan of HBO's The Wire (and you should be), Michael K. Williams (Omar) makes a brief appearance.

I had heard good things but my expectations were low. I was really pleasantly surprised with well done interesting detective story. Well worth seeing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What If Kids Designed Laptops

The Morning News has several samples of construction paper laptops designed by kids. Pretty fun.

What If Gmail Had Been Designed by Microsoft?

What If Gmail Had Been Designed by Microsoft? is pretty amusing. Follow along as the progression gets worse and worse. Be sure to read the described changes, the last one is priceless.


It's snowing. For real. While it's not sticking to the road, my car is white. The forecast was just for rain (still is). I guess it's winter.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Obama and Islam and Cheney and Iran

Sy Hersh's next article looks interesting as usual.

iPhone Privacy

Uneasy Silence reports Apple Secretly Tracking iPhone IMEI and Usage. It seems when the Stocks and Weather widgets send a request to Apple to get the info they want to display, they include the unique identifier for the iPhone. This theoretically allows them to track when you use these apps and what info you're interested in (companies, locations). Nefarious or not, it seems a little rude. More so, because if you remove the id from the request, it stops working.

Why Should I Listen to Laraine Newman?

Laraine Newman is one of the original Not Ready For Primetime Players (that's the first cast of SNL for you youngins). She never had the star power (or ability) of Belushi, Aykroyd, Gilda Radner or Chevy Chase. Now she's blogging in the Huffington Post. She begins her Body Snatchers post with "I remember when Al Gore and John Edwards were running their campaign in 2000". I surprised myself that I made it to the end, but it didn't get much better.

RIght-Wing Sleazebag Tactics Again

digby goes off on the latest Robert Novak slime and No More Mister Nice Blog describes how the same right-wing sleazebags are involved.

"Ah, the same old names keep coming back. The rumor that Clinton was behind the Edwards story came from Ben Smith at the Politico and was the gleeful obsession of Slate's Mickey Kaus. And now the people who are trying to give the Obama story legs include ... Ben Smith and Mickey Kaus. I hate these people."


This week was my new favorite Mythbusters scene. They tested whether the exhaust of a 747 jet engine would flip a taxi. Then they tried a bus and a small plane.

And as a bonus I found this hilarious unaired myth:

Fun Things in Safari 3

I've upgraded to OS X 10.4.11 and now have Safari 3.0. Looking at Ten New Things in WebKit 3 shows some neat stuff that seems to work.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Buying a New PC

No not me. My future brother-in-law is having even more problems with his (about) 7 year-old Windows ME machine. It's time for a new computer, one without a floppy drive. Here's what I think he should get. He's a minimal computer user; Web surfing, web-based email, MS Office and TurboTax. Digital photos and music are in the future only if I convince him slowly. In particular gaming and home video are not in the cards. Here is how I spec'ed out a Dell machine (with some definitions for novices), comments appreciated.

CPU: The cheapest processor (Intel or AMD) since he's not a gamer. Is it worth avoiding the low end Intel Celeron and getting a Pentium for about $40 more?
Memory: 2GB. 1GB might be ok but with Vista I'm thinking it might be tight. Also, this is the single best place to splurge with a computer. You can probably save money buying your own cheaper, but then you have to install it and sell the original memory on eBay.
Hard Disk: >100GB. He doesn't need much since he's not doing store video or music or much of anything else. In a desktop adding more is usually easy. If a laptop comes with 80GB that's fine.
Optical Drive: DVD +/-RW. He won't use this much since he doesn't listen to music CDs or watch movies on it, so there are two uses. Installing software and doing backups. CDs hold 740MB, DVDs hold 4GB (thats 4000MB). While that sounds like a lot, the difference might be between picking and choosing individual files or just backing up a whole folder which is much easier. Backups to DVD will be easier and more future proof. A CD Burner/DVD Combo drive will read DVDs but not write them, so I think he wants a DVD+/-RW (RW is for read and write) which are also sometimes called "super-drives". The 8x or 16x or 32x that often appears in the choices refers to speed and won't matter much to him for these uses.
Graphics Card: get the cheapest, he doesn't plays games
Sound: get the cheapest
Networking: you want ethernet (which is wired networking) and I'd say wifi (802.11g - it's the "g" that's important) would be convenient. It can be added later, but might as well get it if it's available.
Ports: You want some USB ports, they will all come with at least one or two, four are actually useful (printer, keyboard, mouse, thumb drive, camera). Sometimes keyboards and oftentimes monitors have extra USB ports. USB 2.0 is much faster than USB 1.1. Firewire (aka IEEE 1394) is fine if it has it but unnecessary (easily added later if you every buy something like a camcorder that wants it).
Expansion Slots: this is expandability. a second drive bay is good because adding a second drive might be a good future backup solution. Other expansion slots are fine, it's good to have 1 or 2. The cheapest Dell desktop didn't have much of this so I choose the next one up for $20 more.
Speakers/Keyboard/Mouse: I choose getting the cheapest new speakers on the Dell for $20 because it seemed worth it rather than worrying about any (unlikely) compatibility issues with his existing old speakers. I did the same thing for a keyboard and mouse.
Modem: He doesn't need one.
Monitor: I'd recommend a new flat screen LCD monitor. They seem to be about $200 for 17" or 19". After memory, this is the next single thing you can do to make the computer experience better. An LCD will use less power than the CRT he has now, have a bigger screen, and take up less space on the desk. Dell got very aggressive with their monitor prices a few years ago and are the standard here. $200 for 19" or $400 for 24" widescreen. These are very nice and will be usable with any future computers.

Windows Vista Home Basic - I don't think the premium features apply. You could get XP but with a new system Vista should work fine and will be supported longer. it will also probably work better with a Mac in the house.
Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 - This doesn't include Outlook, but he uses webmail so it's probably not a problem. Dell will install it for $150 but Amazon lists it for $125 if you want to install it yourself. The Standard edition includes Outlook but Amazon lists that at $324. Amazon will sell you Outlook separately for $90 if needed in the future. The Basic edition includes Outlook but not PowerPoint. Avoid Microsoft Works. And don't anyone tell me about OpenOffice, I know about it and while it's improving I don't think it's worth compatibility issues for a novice user compared to $150 for MS's version.
Norton Internet Security 2007 - I priced the Dells with 15-months of this. I hear that Symantec Norton is better than McAfee or TrendMicro.

So a Dell Inspiron 531 desktop came out to $990. A Dell Inspiron 1501 notebook came out about $20 less. An HP Pavilion a6200t (what kind of a model name is that?) desktop came out to $877.

An iMac with 2GB ram came out to $1350 without MS Office. But it includes a video camera, bluetooth, 802.11n, nice hard disk, gigabit ethernet, and a better graphics card.

If you have additional advice I'd appreciate it.

The CIA Lied about Torture Evidence, Shocker

McClatchy reported last week, CIA admits to recording interrogations of top al Qaida captives.

"The CIA has three video and audio recordings of interrogations of senior al Qaida captives but misled federal judges about the evidence during the case against terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, federal prosecutors revealed in a Nov. 9 court filing that was made public Tuesday."

"'The fact that audio/video recording of enemy combatant interrogations occurred, and that the United States was in possession of three of those recordings is, as noted, inconsistent with factual assertions in CIA declarations dated May 9, 2003 . . . and November 14, 2005, the prosecutors wrote."

More on Facebook Ads

Facebook’s Brilliant but Evil design: "As Ethan and David mention, the defaults for this system are wrong. Though Facebook can talk a pretty game, what they’re doing feels like a step down the slippery slope of evil."

I really haven't thought about this enough to know where I come down on this. My early initial thought is that it would be better if on first use of each 3rd party, facebook sends you a notification (they are already very good at that) asking what your preferences are for this 3rd party. Yeah that will have few participants, but then again, it will just eliminate those that don't want to participate.

McKay Says Gonzales Could Be Prosecuted

The former U.S. attorney for Western Washington John McKay said "The U.S. Inspector General may recommend criminal prosecution of departed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at the conclusion of an investigation, possibly as early as next month."

"Gonzales 'lied about' reasons for the firings when questioned under oath in July by the Senate Judiciary Committee and now has hired a lawyer and is refusing to answer questions from the Inspector General, McKay said."

“When [the report] lands … it is going to be an extremely negative report on President Bush’s Justice Department,...There was a conspiracy to politicize the Justice Department, and they did not get away with it."

Social Security Isn't the Problem

Paul Krugman in Long-run budget math describes how Social Security really isn't a big budget problem. He says some of the often stated issues like an aging population aren't really a problem. The biggest issue is rising medical costs which affects Medicare and Medicaid which are the real problems.

NBC Fires SNL Staff Due to Strike

Writers' Strike's First Casualty: "Saturday Night Live"

"As of late last week, NBC has fired nearly the entire production staff of 'Saturday Night Live.' This is a result of the Writers Guild of America's on-going strike which is entering its third week. To make matters worse, the laid off staff received no severence checks." NBC is considering doing the same for the staffs of their weekday late night line up (the Leno, O'Brien, and Carson Daly shows).

It seems Letterman is a really nice guy. "Over at CBS, David Letterman is paying out of his pocket the salaries for both staffs of 'The Late Show with David Letterman' and 'The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.' He will continue paying them until the end of the year."

Last night, NBC showed a rerun of the much praised Brian Williams SNL episode from two weeks ago. I watched and it was quite good. Meanwhile, the staff of SNL did a live new performance at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.

Senate Stays In Session to Block Recess Appointments

The Washington Post reports Senate Stays In Session to Block Recess Appointments. I'm pretty happy at the tactic. Reid did something good. But we'll see about over Christmas and New Years.

"Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV), in a showdown with the White House over executive branch nominations, refused yesterday to formally adjourn the chamber for a planned two-week Thanksgiving break in order to thwart President Bush's ability to make recess appointments."

"I am committed to making that progress if the President will meet me half way," Reid said in a statement inserted in the Congressional Record. "But that progress can't be made if the President seeks controversial recess appointments and fails to make Democratic appointments to important commissions."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

CNN Pre-Planned Audience Debate Questions

I missed the last debate, but Diamonds v. Pearls" Student Blasts CNN. Sigh.

Why You Shouldn't Go To Law School

Why you shouldn't go to law school explains why I'll keep my interest as just a hobby and not a profession.

Did NSA Put a Secret Backdoor in New Encryption Standard?

Bruce Schneier asks Did NSA Put a Secret Backdoor in New Encryption Standard? regarding a new random number generator standard.

Law Blogs Discuss Facebook

Sometimes I think this blog covers too many different topics and I should separate out things to different blogs. Here's a case where two different areas converge. I would not have expected Concurring Opinions, a law blog I read, to have a story about facebook which refers to this story from the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

"Last Sunday the Law Blog purchased three tickets to Bee Movie on Fandango, the movie site. After we did this, Facebook automatically updated our profile to say, 'Peter bought Bee Movie on Fandango.'"

Fandango and Facebook now have a business relationship. if you ever glanced at those privacy polices (I know you've never read one) they mention "partners" or "third parties" and that's what they've become. The blogs looked into the privacy policies and yeah they allow this, but they're buried in 2474 and 3514 word legalese documents. And they change without notice. Concurring Opinions ends with:

"There's another way to protect people's privacy -- opt-in. If Fandango wants to share your information with Facebook, it should ask for your consent first before doing so. Simply providing a privacy policy, a verbose and lengthy document that nobody reads and that is subject to change at any moment isn't sufficient. You don't consent just because they assume you do. If Facebook wants to disclose what you're doing and buying on other websites, or use your name or image in an ad, then it should ask you. Instead, these companies hide behind thousands of words of legalese, claiming that by merely providing a little link to these policies at the bottom of their websites, you've consented to them the second you start using the site. This isn't meaningful consent. And it isn't a meaningful way to protect consumer privacy."

I checked my facebook privacy settings and there's a (new?) category for "External Websites" which says "You can edit your privacy settings for external websites sending stories to your profile." If I go to edit it, no external sites are listed and it says "No sites have tried sending stories to your profile." So you can't restrict privacy before stuff has actually leaked out. Stupid. Stupid enough that facebook will have to fix this soon.

Only a week prior, Concurring Opinions posted about facebook's new ad policy. They post an ad and include pictures and names of facebook profiles mentioning something about it. E.g., "Meagan Marks gave a 4-star rating to the movie Top Gun". However, Meagan might have given that rating but not expected her name and likeness to be used in an ad.

"What is deemed to be valid consent to appear in the ads? It seems as though Facebook might be assuming that if a person talks about a product, then he or she consents to being used in an advertisement for it. But such an assumption might be wrong, and the use of a person's name or image in an advertisement without that person's consent might constitute a violation of the appropriation of name or likeness tort. According to the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652C: 'One who appropriates to his own use or benefit the name or likeness of another is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy.'"

Facebook has some work to do. Maybe they need someone older than 23 years old in a prominent position.

Omega-3 demystified

Omega-3 demystified was pretty clear.

Joel on Software Demos

I think How to Demo Software is one of Joel's better pieces.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Suitcase Nuclear Bomb Unlikely To Exist

Suitcase nukes, not so much.

Oil Prices (vs Red Bull Prices)

Shai Agassi on Oil Prices: "The cost of the average used car in Europe is now cheaper than the cost of gasoline to drive it for a year– talk about razor and blades businesses. Big oil still can’t supply the global demand for this concentrated energy liquid, yet the US prices gasoline less than its other concentrated energy liquid – Red Bull – when we compare on a gallon-to-gallon basis. [If you are like me you now wandered into the 'how much is a gallon of Red-Bull' part of your $2 for a can of 8.3 ounces it costs $30 for a gallon...if you buy it at a club for $6 a can you are looking roughly at $100 a gallon - or 30x more than Gasoline...but then again, where do you find a gasoline that would give you the buzz-worth 15 cans of Red Bull?]"

Colossus vs PC, Fight

Boing Boing reports Bletchley Park's Colossus codebreaker to race modern PC in cracking Nazi codes: "Tony Sale and a group of British vintage computer enthusiasts is rebuilding Colossus, the gigantic proto-computer that Alan Turing and the Bletchley Park scientists built to crack German codes during WWII. The original Colossus machines were all broken up (into pieces 'no bigger than a man's hand'!) after the war for security reasons, but Sale has tracked down the surviving Colossus engineers and is making great strides in completing the machine. The finished Colossus is to be pitted against a contemporary general-purpose PC in a code-breaking race."

The two source BBC articles are very good:

The past is the future at Bletchley Park

Colossus cracks codes once more

Update: Colossus lost

Duracell Powersource Mobile 100

I don't think I'm running out to buy one, but the Duracell PowerSource Mobile 100 is a neat idea. It's roughly 5x3x1.5 inches and weighs a pound. You charge it and it has two USB ports and one AC plug. Use it on the road to provide power, roughly 2 hours for a laptop or 18 hours of talk time for a cell phone, or 8 hours for a portable game.

Hubble's View of Comet Holmes

Universe Today describesHubble's View of Comet Holmes.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Spice Dump

I've seen on various cooking shows that (particularly ground) spices lose their potency after a few months and that if you have old jars of spices in your cabinet that you should just throw them out. I finally did that today. I took a trip to Penzeys, which has a store in Arlington and stocked up on the basics. They have a lot of blends but I figured I'd start with things that recipes actually call for. Also I remember seeing a comparison done by America's Test Kitchen of some particular spice and Penzeys didn't win and are usually more expensive. I got a lot of small containers so I could try them and they were typically $1.19 or $1.49. All in all I spent only about $35, so it's no great investment. It seemed much more economical to pick what I wanted rather than getting one of their $100+ gift boxes.

The store conveniently had the spices in glass canisters you could smell (or I assume taste) which helped and was organized with similar spices together. So all the varieties of peppercorns were together and you could compare. Their descriptions were also helpful, explaining how one cinnamon is what you grew up with and this other one is sweeter with less of a bite.

So I got home and cleaned out the spice shelf. I kept some things, mostly to compare with the new stuff when I pull it out to use. I also dumped a lot. As I was throwing out some containers the recycling logo stared up at me, so I was good and opened up the plastic jar and dumped the spice into the trash and collected the jars to wash and recycle. Then I noticed some of the larger jars (it doesn't seem right to use that word for plastic) were old. Very old. They were apparently older than the recycling logo. I'm guessing about 20 years old. Yep, time to get rid of those.

My garbage smells very good though.

Not the Daily Show

If you are in Daily Show withdrawal, this will help. Jason Ross, one of the show's 14 writers, does and indie Daily Show sketch about the writers strike. It's just as funny as the Daily Show with a special indie cred of holding up posters instead of having imbedded graphics. I haven't laughed this hard since the strike began.

Word '08 vs Pages 3.0

Apple Insider has a nice comparison of Word '08 vs Pages 3.0. I'll probably buy Mac Office 2008 but continue to use iWork '08 for most things I do.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Obama, The Open Technology President

Open Left: reports on : Transformative Proposals from Obama: "Today, Obama is throwing down the gauntlet on a internet freedom, telecom lobbyists, and on opening up government in general to the public. It's some genuinely radical stuff, and it includes the use of blogs, wikis, and openness in government hearings.  Significantly, Larry Lessig has endorsed Obama's platform." Sounds like good stuff.

Guantánamo Procedures Manual Leaked

The Miami Herald reports Guantánamo how-to manual hits the Web. "Guantánamo detainees were denied Red Cross visits and mail, had criticism of the U.S. government or leaders censored and dogs were allowed to patrol at the detention hospital, according to a once-secret prison camps manual that has suddenly appeared on the Internet."

Impeachment Polling

Daily Kos reports on a new poll about Bush and Cheney and impeachment. "55% of voters believe that George W. Bush has abused his powers in a way that rises to the level of impeachable offenses." 52% for Cheney.

However, while they say what's he's done is impeachable, only 34% think we should actually impeach Bush and 43% think the same for Cheney.

I'm assuming these people are misunderstanding the term impeachment. Clinton was impeached and found guilty, but his punishment was merely censure, not removal from office. To be clear, I think Bush and Cheney need to go, and censure (an afternoon of yelling at them) would be pretty pointless. After all, I've been yelling at them for several years now.

2008 Senate Race

Open Left has a look at the Senate 2008 Picture One Year Out. Fingers crossed.

Intelligent Design Next Tactic

Ars Technica takes a look at Intelligent Design rebranding as PBS looks at landmark Dover trial:

"That's not to say that the Discovery Institute and other ID
proponents have packed up and called it a day; instead, they seem to
simply be changing tactics. Recent developments indicate that the next
wave of anti-evolution agitation will take a two-pronged approach. The
first will be to try to foster doubt regarding evolution during high
school education, while the second aims to explicitly carve a space for
ID proponents at the college level by pressuring for their inclusion as
a form of academic freedom. We'll take a brief look at both of these

So Much For OpenDocument Formats

I saw this headline today, OpenDocument Foundation closes up shop after slamming OpenDocument Format. No it's not from the Onion, it's real. I can honestly say I can't keep track of this crap.

I'm still strongly in favor of open formats. Documents contain my data and shouldn't be locked in formats owned by some company.

It seems ODF's problem was that it wasn't open enough. "The group voiced criticism of ODF last month, claiming that the format was encumbered by patents held by Sun and was designed in a manner that isn't conducive to interoperability with existing document formats"

"The OpenDocument Foundation has ceased operations in the wake of the controversy. The heated debate over open document formats continues to escalate, even as businesses in North America exhibit utter apathy about XML-based standards for documents. Despite the raging controversy, PDF remains the single most ubiquitous document format used in industry. As the controversy continues to unfold, it's likely that Microsoft's [OOXML] format will win by default, simply because it's tied to the most popular office software."

O'Connors' Alzheimer's Story

I've seen a few stories about Justice Sandra Day O'Connor telling the story about her dealing with her husband's Alzheimer's disease. "John O'Connor, 77, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's 17 years ago and now lives in a Phoenix nursing facility. That fairly common story took a turn when the couple's son, Scott O'Connor, revealed that his father had fallen in love with another woman who also lives at the Huger Mercy Living Center. [Justice O'Conner] is said to be happy that her husband has found joy in his life."

Apparently that "turn" is in fact "fairly common" according to caregivers I've seen interviewed. I've not seen any mention of how similar this story is to the movie Away From Her. I can't be the only one who saw it. People were saying Julie Christie was radiant. Ok, this one from ABC news mentions it. According to Google news it's the only one of 18 stories on the topic.

I wonder if the Onion will do a story, "O'Connors' Alzheimer's Story Sets Apostrophe Record".

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fast Food Restaurants & Nutrition Facts Compared

Fast Food Restaurants & Nutrition Facts Compared: "So I figured, if you are still going to eat this junk, you might as well at least know which is the best of the worst, and which is the worst of the worst. To show this, I've compared the nutrition facts of the most popular foods from over 20 popular fast food restaurants to see how each restaurant's version of the same food stacks up against the others. If this isn't enough to convince you to eat less (or none) of this stuff, it will at least give you the information you need to make the better choice and avoid making the worst one."

I'm glad I don't eat this stuff.

Alternative To Torture

The New York Daily News reports In book, FBI agent says Saddam Hussein cried at last meeting.

"The self-effacing G-man [FBI Special Agent George Piro] was hardly surprised - he had spent nearly a year carefully becoming Saddam's best friend in a successful ploy to extract confessions from the notorious brute. Piro's inside account of spending up to seven hours a day, every day, for eight months with Saddam is revealed in the new book [The Terrorist Watch] by journalist Ronald Kessler. Piro, then 36, began grilling Saddam in early 2004. Instead of bright lights, loud music or waterboarding, the Beirut-born Arabic speaker - who immigrated to the U.S. as a teen - built a rapport with the dictator nabbed in a spider hole. He treated him with respect and took care of his every need."

Comet Holmes Halo Bigger Than The Sun

Universe Today reports Comet Holmes is Bigger than the Sun. "Astronomers from the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy recently measured the halo surrounding Comet Holmes to be 1.4 million kilometres (0.9 million miles)...that makes it larger than the Sun."

I still check every night if the skies are clear to take a look at it. Thursday is astronomy night at CfA and I'm hoping the weather predictions of rain are wrong.

The Real News

Paul Jay a Canadian journalist is starting a new TV News Network supported by viewers, not corporations or governments. The Real News is the name of the network but I think it used to be the name of just one program. They're planning both a TV and web presence. Here's an intro. They already have several interesting news stories on the website and I'm impressed with the quality. Curious to see what happens.

AFI's 100 Greatest Movie Quotes

It's missing 8 of them, full list is here. I've seen all but 2 on this list and am about to see one of those. This one is surprisingly fun too:

and for those who just have to know (I've seen all but 2).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Judge Orders White House to Not Delete E-Mail

The AP reports : "A federal judge Monday ordered the White House to preserve copies of all its e-mails, a move that Bush administration lawyers had argued strongly against."

Iraq Improvements?

Andrew Sullivan posts a readers letter describing a possible turn around in Iraq.

Depressing Energy Graph

Daily Kos has a graph of US Energy R&D Investments vs the Iraq War. It's really long. So long you have to click the link, I won't include it here.

"The really awful thing? That graph doesn't even cover the most recent request for additional funds in Iraq. The really important thing? Small increases in those little bars at the bottom may be the best action we can take to make sure that one of those giant bars never happens again. The really irritating thing? Did you notice that, even when you get down to the tiny amount being put into energy research, more of it is going into coal than anywhere else?"

FYI, there are other really interesting energy graphs in the Annual Energy Review from the Energy Information Administration. Things like this:

Take That Vikings

Magnetic-induction cooking really is the next big thing in cooking technology.

Things To Do With Vinegar

The book Vinegar: Over 400 Various, Versatile, and Very Good Uses You've Probably Never Thought Of has a very long title. Boing Boing has a short list of sample recommendations.

Dry Your Razor Blades After Use

Apparently you can Extend the life of razor blades by drying them after use since it's rusting that dulls them most. Some people got 6 months or a year on a single blade. Worth a shot.

Stop! Or I'll Say Stop Again!

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has been asking the White House for documents regarding "this Administration’s legal justifications and policies with regard to torture and interrogation" for year without response. Well it will be a year on Thursday. TPMmuckraker has the latest.

Title from Robin Williams. I wish it weren't so apt. What's supposed to happen when the While House doesn't do what Congressional oversight committees request?

Krugman v. Brooks, Fight!

Talking Points Memo describes the flame war between BYT columnists Paul Krugman and David Brooks this week.

Rising Prices at the Pump

In May, the New York Times had some interesting gas price charts showing both the actual and inflation adjusted historical prices back to 1920 as well as then current regional differences in the US.

The 50 Dumbest Things Bush Ever Said

The 50 Dumbest Things Bush Ever Said. My favorites:

44. "You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror." --interview with CBS News' Katie Couric, Sept. 6, 2006

34. "We need an energy bill that encourages consumption." --Trenton, N.J., Sept. 23, 2002

32. "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." --on "Good Morning America," Sept. 1, 2005, six days after repeated warnings from experts about the scope of damage expected from Hurricane Katrina

31. "I would say the best moment of all was when I caught a 7.5 pound largemouth bass in my lake." --on his best moment in office, interview with the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, May 7, 2006

15. "Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?" --Florence, South Carolina, Jan. 11, 2000

13. "I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace." --Washington, D.C. June 18, 2002

6. "There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee -- that says, fool me once, shame on --shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again." --Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002

4. "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." --Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004

3. "You work three jobs? ... Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." --to a divorced mother of three, Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005

Movie Review: American Gangster

Sometimes there isn't much to say about a movie and review takes a little time to write. I saw Sir Ridley Scott's American Gangster a week ago and what's stuck with me is that it was long and Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe both gave good performances that I've seen before.

Denzel plays Frank Lucas, a real life Harlem drug lord from the 70s. He cut out the middleman, negotiating with growers in Vietnam and shipping it back to the US himself and selling pure heroin at half the price of the cut product his competitors were. He named his product Blue Magic and treated it like a brand. Denzel played him as Denzel. Strong, confident with a commanding presence, Crowe plays Richie Roberts, an honest cop in a completely corrupted New York City police department. Crowe's performance was reminiscent of his Jeffrey Wigand role in The Insider.

At two and half hours the film is on the long side, but what's worse is that it feels long because not much happens. I checked my watch twice, but more out of curiosity than boredom. We see events unfold and Frank's rise to power and fall but the film would have been better served if it was a half hour shorter or denser. None of the many supporting characters are anything more than props. The final takedown was drawn out but the very end of the film had an unexpected turn which was very interesting. It ends the film on a high note but it would have been more fun if more time was devoted to it. Good film, worth seeing, certainly not great.

Unaired 24 Pilot from 1994

Holiday Shopping Tips

Wired describes How to Hack the Holidays and Score the Best Deals Online.

Do Creationists Drink Guinness?

I'm guessing they won't like their new Reverse Evolution commericial

Extreme Dominos

New Guinness commerical (supposedly no special effects):

Sunday, November 11, 2007

History of Touch Systems

Bill Buxton of Microsoft Research has posted Multi-Touch Systems that I Have Known and Loved. It's a great description and includes a timeline going back to 1982 of various systems you've never heard of and would love to play with.

Hands on With MS Surface

A loyal reader of this blog sent me a link to Surface in Boston This Week and gave me an assignment to go and see it. I did yesterday and watched a demo and got to play with it a little.

Yes that's me. The paint program only worked if you touched the surface rather hard. Waving or a light touch didn't register at all. In the demo of water covering some stones (which is very cool) you can just wave your hand over the screen to impact the water. The faster you wave, the faster the ripples. Touching also works. I got the sense these differences were just how the apps were tuned.

So the demo was a machine with one MS person seated on one side and about 6 of us standing around the other side. Shortly after we got there I realized one of the other people around the machine was Dan Bricklin inventor of the spreadsheet with Visicalc. I recognized him from some other events I'd seen him at. Others didn't know who he was and I laughed when I heard an MS person ask him if he was "in tech". Dan's a faster blogger than I am and wrote about the demo. He even uploaded within a few hours some videos I didn't realized he took. In video number one you can see me in the black jacket on the left with my friend Mike in a cap to my left. The video of me playing with the paint app above is Dan's video number two.

He met with MS for 30 minutes the day before and posted a video of that interview that shows the experience very well. At about 6 mins in they describe the device. It's a regular windows computer with a DLP and 5 infrared cameras. The table top is a diffuser, so only close things are "seen". At about 27 mins in there's a nice demo of an in store system showing more info about cell phones for sale. I expect there's more at the MS Surface site, but it didn't load in Safari. The thing to note is that surface is based on this optical system and will never be a handheld device. It won't compete with an iPhone. I suspect Apple could scale up their touch screen technology, though I doubt it they could ever make it study enough for Surface's market of public lobbies, casinos and stores.

The music app was similar to an iPhone's coverflow, except with the larger screen they could show 3 rows of album covers. You click on the corner of the cover to "turn it around" to see the list of songs on the album, also similar to an iPhone. With the greater screen real estate you pick a song by dragging it to the semi-circle on the side of the screen representing the playlist. That's very nice and you can use two fingers (or two people with two hands) to drag multiple songs to the playlist at the same time.

I'm not sure I saw anything really amazingly more useful than a normal computer. The dining app allowing you to order and pay and divide the bill is very nice. Such things could be done via other systems. Today at (at say LTK) they bring a device to your table allowing you to swipe your own credit card, add a tip, get a receipt and complete the transaction. A screen could show images and allow dragging and dropping just like the surface demo. The cell phone info app in Dan's video could work today with a computer with a mouse, but people don't make them that pretty. Yes the touch interface is slicker but it got me thinking I'd like to see more visual-based interfaces on regular computers. Their photo app has a popup menu to allow e.g., emailing the photo, I'd much prefer an outbox on the side of the screen letting you drag to the image (or several images) to it, like the music app allowed adding a song to the playlist.

According to MS, Surface may not roll out for 3-5 years, that's a long time. At $5,000 a pop I suspect it will be much longer before you start routinely running into these. I like the innovation and I suspect MS and Apple will argue over intellectual property. Dan is already thinking about how to get standard gestures in these UIs across venders. I'll note I was surprised that mouse gestures in Opera and Firefox were the same and that FPS controls standardized. Maybe it will "just happen" but that seems like a big if.

FYI, the Sherridan Hotel in Boston is part of the Prudential parking system. I paid $24 to park for less than 2 hours. Bleech.