Monday, December 31, 2007

Snow Update

Northern MA got 6 inches but Boston got 0.8 inches. We needed 1 inch to tie the record for December snowfall of 27.9 inches, but it didn't happen. Second snowiest December ever with 27.7 inches will have to do.

FoxTrot on Copying Movies

FoxTrot tackled digital copyright yesterday. Nice job.

Starbucks v Independent Coffeehouses, Not So Clear

Slate has an article Why Starbucks actually helps mom and pop coffeehouses.

"But closures like this have been the exception, not the rule. In its predatory store placement strategy, Starbucks has been about as lethal a killer as a fluffy bunny rabbit. Business for independently owned coffee shops has been nothing less than exceptional as of late. Here's a statistic that might be surprising, given the omnipresence of the Starbucks empire: According to recent figures from the Specialty Coffee Association of America, 57 percent of the nation's coffeehouses are still mom and pops. Just over the five-year period from 2000 to 2005—long after Starbucks supposedly obliterated indie cafes—the number of mom and pops grew 40 percent, from 9,800 to nearly 14,000 coffeehouses. "

Fun article.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Airport Security Follies

Patrick Smith has a New York Times blog post about The Airport Security Follies. "Six years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, airport security remains a theater of the absurd. The changes put in place following the September 11th catastrophe have been drastic, and largely of two kinds: those practical and effective, and those irrational, wasteful and pointless." This is one of the best summations I've seen of why the TSA rules have been a joke.

Football Broadcasting

So I thought I was going to be one of the few people to be able to watch the New England Patriots play the New York Giants tonight because FiOS carries the NFL Network. But a couple of days ago apparently the NFL relented and allowed both CBS and NBC to broadcast the game to a large audience. So it's game time and I see not only do NFLN, CBS, and NBC have it but ABC as well. The same thing on 4 different networks. Presidential election debates don't get this coverage.

So the Pats are undefeated at 15-0 and while the Giants have a 10-5 record, they really aren't that good. But in 1998 the Giants defeated the 14-0 Buffalo Bills with an even worse team. It wouldn't surprise me if they won, but I don't really expect it.

I think I'll watch on...ABC.

Top 10 Bush Administration's Dumbest Legal Arguments of 2007

Dahlia Lithwick in Slate writes a Top 10 list that's funny and scary The Bush administration's dumbest legal arguments of the year. It includes lies such as "The NSA's eavesdropping was limited in scope" and idiotic statements such as "the vice president's office is not a part of the executive branch" and evil things like "Water-boarding may not be torture". And those are just in numbers 6-10.

Bill Kristol to Become New York Times Columnist

Apparently Bill Kristol is to Become a New York Times Columnist. "Media Matters has documented numerous instances of conservative misinformation from Kristol on a variety of topics." and then goes on to give 18 examples.

Yes the White House Manipulated Climate Change Science

This is a little old but should come as no surprise, House Committee Report: White House Engaged in Systematic Effort to Manipulate Climate Change Science. "The evidence before the Committee leads to one inescapable conclusion: the Bush Administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming." Impeach him already.

He Directed That?

Daily Film Dose has an interesting list, "of the most famous cinematic anomalies from great directors". The list isn't bad films made by good directors, though many on the list are clearly bad; rather it's a list of films that don't seem like the director's style. The first one on the list exemplifies this, Robert Altman directed Popeye.

Still there are a few on the list that are very worth seeing. Spartacus may not be typical Stanley Kubrick, but it's still a great film. I never saw David Lynch's The Straight Story but want to. If you're not a Woody Allen fan, see Woody Allen's Match Point. Gus Van Zant's Finding Forrester may be a bit saccharin but I liked it too.

Ron Paul Doesn't Accept Theory of Evolution

Another reason not to vote for him:

Benazir Bhutto Assassination Photos

The New York Times published a slideshow of images of the Assassination of Benazir Bhutto by photographer John Moore. He also provides audio commentary in the 3 min clip. Warning, the images are pretty graphic.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Movie Review: Waitress

Waitress is a quirky film about a poor woman trapped in a small town. Pushing Daisies is a new TV show about a pie maker that's quirky. In comparison, Waitress has no mystery, a muted palette and no narration.

Keri Russell plays Jenna who's married to a horribly self-centered abusive loser named Earl (Jeremy Sisto). She works as a waitress at Joe's Pie Diner with her friends Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (writer/director Adrienne Shelly). At the film's opening she finds out she's pregnant and isn't thrilled about it. The baby will prevent her from following her dreams of escape by earning money in a pie contest. Nathan Fillion is the new OB/Gyn in town and he and Jenna have an adulterous attraction for each other. Jenna's sole release is inventing new pies and giving them fun names like "Marshmellow Mermaid Pie", "I Hate My Husband Pie" and the "I Don't Want Earl's Baby Pie".

The film is mostly odd conversations between Jenna and her friends about their jobs or miserable husbands. Dawn starts dating a persistent nerd, Jenna serves Joe (Andy Griffith), the diner's owner who demands everything be exactly as he specifies, Dawn wants Jenna to make her up pretty for her 5 minute date, etc. It's peculiar that much of the dialog seems forced and the situations contrived, yet the characters are likable. I laughed a few times and was mildly entertained.

IT Manager at the South Pole

Computer World has a really interesting artlcle: The Big Chill: Ch-Ch-Chatting with the IT manager at the South Pole.

"It is incredibly dry [so] static electricity is a huge problem for us. We lose more laptops and hard drives to static electricity than anything else. Our biggest failures are things like power supplies and hard drives. We're at an altitude of 12,000 feet and with the thin air here, cooling fans don't push a lot of air. Anything heat related tends to need a lot of extra TLC. Hard drives also have a problem with the high altitude. Most hard drive heads float on a cushion of air above the platter. We have fewer air molecules for hard drives to float on so we have more hard drive crashes than anywhere else."

"We have this tradition called the 300 Club. When the temperature drops below -100 we hike the sauna up to 200 degrees and stay in there as long as we can stand it. Then we run outside, naked, around the geographic pole and back inside so we get that total 300-degree change in temperature. That happens every year and it's absolutely amazing. Just the feel of that cold on your skin is like nothing else. People always wonder if you can feel the difference between 60 below and 100 below and the answer is absolutely."

"My first year down here we had a guy that ended up tearing a tendon in his knee. It wasn't a life threatening injury. but if we didn't repair it surgically he would not have been able to walk normally for the rest of his life. We ended up using this primitive videoconferencing system and we did remote telesurgery down here. We had an orthopedic surgeon in the states watching and telling our doctor how to repair the tendon. The satellites weren't nearly as stable as they are now. We had several dropouts during the surgery and our guys were scrambling around at night to get the signal restored. We didn't want to leave this poor guy on the table with no doctor to guide us on what to do. But we restored the signal and [the doctor] finished successfully."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Survey of Candidates on Executive Power

The Boston Globe had an interesting article today, Survey reveals candidates' views on scope of executive power. The author sent a survey of 12 questions on presidential power to all the candidates and all but 3 (Giuliani, Huckabee and Thompson) replied.

Glenn Greenwald goes off on Romney's answers, calling them a "pursuit of tyrannical power, literally".

Romney's responses came off to me as a bit wishy-washy with only a couple of answers as being particularly egregious. Then I read Biden's answers and was reminded was clarity is.

FBI Prepares Vast Database Of Biometrics

The Washington Post reports FBI Prepares Vast Database Of Biometrics. I honestly don't know how I feel about this.

Romney vs. Facts

New York Times in Romney Learns That ‘Facts Are Stubborn Things’ collects some of his recent misspeaks (and I think I'm inventing that word).

The Dark Side of Mike Huckabee

In The dark side of Mike Huckabee Max Brantley in Salon shreds Mike Huckabee's term as Governor of Arkansas .

"If you think he left a well of warm feelings in Arkansas, note that Hillary Clinton had raised more money in Arkansas at last report and that a recent University of Arkansas Poll showed her a 35 to 8 percent leader over Huckabee in the presidential preferences of Arkansas residents. Only one-third of 33 Republican legislators have said they will support him for president."

Sci-Fi Movie Sound Quiz

I'm not sure how the scoring works that Rich beat me by a point, but this was pretty fun.

Take the Sci fi sounds quiz I received 84 credits on
The Sci Fi Sounds Quiz

How much of a Sci-Fi geek are you?
Take the Sci-Fi Movie Quiz canon s5 is

Reading List by Alan Kay

"The following [reading] list was prepared by Alan Kay for his students and is presented here for those who want to learn more about the ideas and philosophies that influenced the creation of Squeak."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Full Metal Rudolph

Warning, this is disturbing...

Energy Bill Scorecard

Rep Ed Markey (D-MA) has a Scorecard of the Energy Bill passed last week.

Kevin Drum has some comments. Comparing it to the 2005 bill passed by the Republican congress he says, "Today's bill, by contrast, actually accomplishes something. The CAFE increase to 35 mpg, all by itself, is historic, and 60% of the fuel mandate is for advanced biofuels and cellulosic ethanol, rather than the corn variety. This is real legislation that addresses a real problem, not a handout for campaign donors masquerading as 'reform.'"

Macs Join The Army

Forbes reports in that the Army is integration Macs into it's computer choices. 20,000 of 700,000 machines are Macs.

"Lieutenant Colonel C.J. Wallington is hoping hackers won't expect it either. Wallington, a division chief in the Army's office of enterprise information systems, says the military is quietly working to integrate Macintosh computers into its systems to make them harder to hack. That's because fewer attacks have been designed to infiltrate Mac computers, and adding more Macs to the military's computer mix makes it tougher to destabilize a group of military computers with a single attack, Wallington says."

No the Mac is free of security flaws, but at this point there are fewer attacks against it, though that's growing too. "In the past two years, until this October, F-Secure found only a small handful of malicious programs targeting Macs. In the past two months, the company has found more than a hundred specimens of Mac-targeted malicious code."

2008 Movies Again

I actually read through the list and here's what seems most intriguing:

Blindness by Fernando Meirelles, the director of City of God and The Constant Gardener starring Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore, Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Glover, and Alice Braga. A doctor's wife becomes the only person with the ability to see in a town where everyone is struck with a mysterious case of sudden blindness. She feigns illness in order to take care of her husband as her surrounding community breaks down into chaos and disorder.

Burn After Reading by the Coen brothers starring George Clooney, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton. A disk containing the memoirs of a CIA agent ends up in the hands of two unscrupulous gym employees who attempt to sell it. The date is merely "late 2008" which probably means post Thanksgiving.

The Changeling by Clint Eastwood, starring Angelina Jolie, Jeffrey Donovan, John Malkovich, Amy Ryan. Script by JMS of Babylon 5 fame. A mother's prayer for her kidnapped son to return home is answered, though it doesn't take long for her to suspect the boy who comes back is not hers.

Curious Case of Benjamin Button by David Fincher (director of Se7en, Fight Club, and Zodiac) starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, and Elias Koteas. Tells the story of Benjamin Button, a man who starts aging backwards with bizarre consequences.

The Fighter by Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) starring Mark Wahlberg and Brad Pitt. A look at the early years of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward and his brother who helped train him before going pro in the mid ’80s. I don't love the plot description but I'll see this regardless.

Frost/Nison by Ron Howard starring Michael Sheen and Frank Langella.

The next Pixar film is WALL-E and two teaser trailers are up at the official site.

As far as sequels go, next year brings Rambo 4, Narnia 2, Indiana Jones 4, Batman 2 (or 6 depending on how you count), X-Files 2, James Bond 22, Harry Potter 6 and Star Trek 11.

Timelines of 9/11 and More

Here's a Complete Timeline of the Destruction of CIA Interrogation Tapes. It's part of a much larger Complete 911 Timeline from the History Commons.

"The History Commons contains summaries of 9,056 events, which are published on the website in the format of dynamic timelines. These timelines can be filtered by investigative project, topic, or entity (e.g., a person, organization, or corporation). You can even generate a ‘scalable context’ timeline for any event in the History Commons database simply by clicking the date of the timeline entry. You can search for events by using the search box at the top right-hand corner, or by browsing through the list of projects."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Justice Clarence Thomas Doesn't Like His Job

The Orange County Register reports on a speech Clarence Thomas gave at Chapman University on Monday.

"'There's not much that entices about the job,' Thomas said, answering questions from the public that provided a rare glimpse of the man behind the office. 'There's no money in it, no privacy, no big houses, and from an ego standpoint, it does nothing for me.' Thomas, 59, said the position is satisfying because he feels he's serving the public, and he's honored by it, 'but I wouldn't say I like it. I like sports,' Thomas said. 'I like to drive a motor home.'"

Then I think it's simple, nothing is keeping you there, resign. I don't think anyone should stay at a job they don't like.

Snow Update

About 4 more inches today. I'm already sick of snow and winter doesn't even start until tomorrow. Here are some pics from my front porch.


Leaf Blowers

My town is considering banning leaf blowers. When I'm home in the summer, there always seems to be some in use nearby, and they're very freakin' loud (not to mention bad for the environment). Then again, this picture is pretty cool in an American Beauty kind of way.

Is All Garbage Gross?

Glad Box.jpg

Paul Krugman at Google

Interesting talk by Paul Krugman at Google this week. He spends most of the time on the sub-prime crises, but talks about his recent book a little too. It's an hour video.

Romney's Lies About Martin Luther King Jr.

Here's a fun one. Mitt Romney has said several times "I saw my father march with Martin Luther King." Here's a clip of him saying it, on December 6, 2007 at the George H. W. Bush Library in Houston, TX. Here's another You Tube clip of him on Meet The Press saying "My dad marched with Martin Luther King".

The Boston Phoenix in Was it all a dream? "can find no evidence that the senior Romney actually marched with King, nor anything in the public record suggesting that he ever claimed to do so."

"Mitt Romney’s campaign told the Phoenix that it took place in Grosse Pointe, Michigan...But that account is incorrect. King never marched in Grosse Pointe, according to the Grosse Pointe Historical Society"

Yesterday Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom, said "He was speaking figuratively, not literally". WTF?!? How do you interpret "I saw my father" figuratively? What else has he said that we should interpret figuratively? And was the campaign's previous statement that his happened in Grosse Pointe also supposed to be taken figuratively?

And how does that relate to the fact, "Nor did Mitt Romney ever previously claim that this took place, until long after his father passed away in 1995 — not even when defending accusations of the Mormon church’s discriminatory past during his 1994 Senate campaign."

Then again, he could just be emulating Ronald Reagan. This reminds me of the story he told in 1983 to the real Congressional Medal of Honor Society about a B-17 pilot getting the award posthumously for going down with the plane with a trapped ball-turret gunner. The problem was, it wasn't true, it never happened. Apparently the story came from the 1944 movie Wing and a Prayer. Should you tell people with real medals of honor about figurative ones? I didn't think so.

Presidential candidates making up stories about their parents to show how committed they are to causes, how surprising. I also assume that Romney getting chocked up on Meet the Press was also figurative.

Update: a grassroots Romney site says yes he did march. Though if you look at the quotes and facts they've assembled it's not at all clear. It seems King marched in June and Romney in July. There are other things saying George Romney did a lot for civil rights, but no one is disputing that. What people are disputing is stories Mitt Romney is telling.

Doj Slowed Probe Into NH Election Phone Jamming

McClatchy reports Official: Justice Dept. slowed probe into phone jamming. "The Justice Department delayed prosecuting a key Republican official for jamming the phones of New Hampshire Democrats until after the 2004 election, protecting top GOP officials from the scandal until the voting was over." So it's not just the GOP that covered it up, but the DOJ too. Thanks George.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mat Ricardo on "Raymaan is Laat"

This is juggler Mat Ricardo. Most of it is just good, but the last 20 seconds really make it worthwhile.

2008 Movies

Why 2008 Will Be An Awesome Year For Movies is a bit hyped up, and for some reason organized alphabetically. Still I look forward to The Dark Knight, Get Smart, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Speed Racer and Star Trek films. I also saw a lot more that have good potential. The shocker is that they're remaking The Day the Earth Stood Still with Keanu Reeves!?!?!

Traveler IQ Challenge

Traveler IQ Challenge is a fun flash game testing your geography knowledge. Given a map of the world they flash the name of a place and you have to click as close to it as possible. You're scored on distance and time and need 30,000 points to advance to the next level. It took me a bit to realize the rules but I scored 263,045 reaching level 8. I was short of advancing to level 9 by 50 points.

Second time through I made it to level 10 and got 356,925.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

White House Visitors Logs Are Public Records, Sorry George

The Washington Post reports Secret Service Logs of White House Visitors Are Public Records, Judge Rules. "A federal judge ruled yesterday that White House visitor logs created by the Secret Service are public records, and he ordered information involving the visits of nine conservative Christian leaders with Bush administration officials to be released to an advocacy group." Daily Kos has more on this.

Even Longer Lost Season 4 Trailer

Primary Summary

Open Left on Sunday had Nomination At A Glance showing recent poll numbers for all candidates in the first six primaries. Hillary has the lead in all but Iowa, the Republican field has no clear leader.

My favorite was this comment by Atrios:
Obama: The system sucks, but I'm so awesome that it'll melt away before me.
Edwards: The system sucks, and we're gonna have to fight like hell to destroy it.
Clinton: The system sucks, and I know how to work within it more than anyone.

RIAA Thinks Ripping CDs is Stealing

Last week ars technica reported that the RIAA thinks that ripping CDs, even for your own personal use, is stealing. That's right, in their view, If you bought a CD (and possibly a record or tape too) of an album and put it in your computer so you could put it on your iPod, you're stealing.

Adapt or die people, adapt or die.

No Surprise: Junk Food is Cheap

Culinate summarizes the articles about a study showing that junk food really is cheaper than healthy food. "As Serious Eats pointed out, the study’s findings are “sad, obvious, and true."

And this from the NY Times: "A 2,000-calorie diet would cost just $3.52 a day if it consisted of junk food, compared with $36.32 a day for a diet of low-energy dense foods. However, most people eat a mix of foods. The average American spends about $7 a day on food, although low-income people spend about $4."

Yes, There Will Be Hobbits

Glenn Kenny reports! that after The Golden Compass, New Line has made up with Peter Jackson and green lighted, not one, but two Hobbit films. And he adds a very appropriate video.

Building a Fort: Lessons in Software Estimation

Building a Fort: Lessons in Software Estimation is pretty entertaining and helpful too. I point out that another issue with his estimate may have been that he designed a fort that seems to be way more than his (or any) kids need.

He does point out that in this case the estimate didn't really matter, but he doesn't mention that doing an accurate estimate probably would have taken a full day (there I go, using round numbers to estimate). But if he really did a good survey of the land, inspected all his tools, got weight estimates of his materials, let alone drew a blueprint it would take time.

The US Sub-Prime Crisis in Graphics

The BBC has a fantastic piece The US sub-prime crisis in graphics.

Andrew Sullivan Picks Ron Paul

Andrew Sullivan's choices in the primaries is Barack Obama vs. Ron Paul. He picks Paul over McCain because of Iraq and he likes Paul's conservative stance, even though it's an anti-federalism libertarian stance instead of a conservative one.

The Rich and Taxes

income+tax+progressivity.gifThe Wall Street Journal has this chart and Robert Reich explains why The Wall Street Journal Gets it Wrong Again

Christmas Lights Go Social Networking

Four neighbors in Ontario connected their christmas lights via the web to go off in synch. You can change their lights from your browser or blackberry. Next year I bet people in different locations do this and connect them via web video. Will you be my xmas light friend?

And here are some hints for taking photos of Christmas lights.

How To Spot a Cylon

How To Spot a Cylon Poster:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Thai Sylvania Light Bulb Commercial

This is just a riot:

jwz says: "From this I learned that the Thai translation of "no son, that's a transvestite" is a one syllable word."

Bush's Paper Shredding Spending

Here's information on Federal Contracts for Paper Shredding Services from FY2000-2007 from the federal government itself. Notice anything about it? Expenditures on paper shredding have increased six-fold since Bush took office. It's now $3 million a year (note the 2007 bar is for just the first 3 quarters).

Movie Review: I'm Not There

I'm not a huge Bob Dylan fan. I saw him live in 1989 and understood 3 words the whole night. Really, that's not an exaggeration, I counted. 3 words. And two of them were the same. I gained much more appreciation for Dylan after seeing Martin Scorcese's biography No Direction Home but I saw it over 2 years ago so I had forgotten many of the details.

I went to see Todd Haynes' I'm Not There mostly because Cate Blanchett is getting such rave reviews and I liked Haynes' previous film Far from Heaven. I also thought I'd like the idea of six different people playing Dylan in six different parts of his life. However what I wasn't expecting was a complex, allegorical interpretation of both his life and his music. The scene that sums it up for me is when Cate Blanchett as Dylan is in an abstract night club kind of setting with video projected on the wall. At one point an old man says "The sky isn't yellow, it's chicken". At the time I was in no mood to try to figure out what this meant. A little googling and I find Toombstone Blues contains the lyric:

The Commander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, "Death to all those who would whimper and cry"
And dropping a bar bell he points to the sky
Saving, "The sun's not yellow it's chicken"

Maybe I remembered it wrong and maybe it was different. I don't care. So go read a review by Roger Ebert or Owen Gleiberman, they are much more qualified than I to comment on it.

Movie Review: Juno

I followed up Lars and the Real Girl, a story about a guy and his sex doll coming out of his shell, with Juno, a poignant comedy about teenage pregnancy. Juno goes for more laughs but refreshingly, no one is an idiot or a caricature.

I won't say much about the plot; not because it will give away spoilers, but because it won't make much sense without understanding how the characters develop throughout the film. Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is 16 year-old smart aleck high school junior who finds herself pregnant. The father is her friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), a dorky cross country runner who will support her with whatever she wants to do but the situation is way beyond what he is equipped to handle. Juno decides to have the baby and give it up for adoption to a family (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) she found in the Penny Saver. She then tells her parents (J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney) who are stunned and so supportive as to be almost cavalier about it. Nevertheless, as the film goes on, you quickly see where Juno got her quick sarcastic wit from.

I thought Knocked Up was too much comedy broken up by drama. I think Juno's mix is much better. Parts are very funny and the snappy dialog is rapid fire. Sometimes too much so. I'd see it again just to catch all the lines I missed from laughing at the previous lines, not that I think it will work any better the second time. A friend said they heard complaints that "real people don't talk that way" and his response was "clever people do". The clever dialog also works in the drama when characters are not so much arguing but struggling with some difficult situations.

As strong as the dialog is, lots of the drama and character development comes through the wonderful performances by all involved. I shocked to look on imdb and see that Ellen Page played Kitty Pryde in the last X-Men film (she's the one who ran through walls). It's hard to imagine a more different role. She's sure to get an Oscar nomination for Juno and I wouldn't be surprised if anyone else gets a supporting nod. Looks and glances constantly add more to what's said and left unsaid. This film isn't trying to make profound statements about life but is telling the story of these characters and making it heart felt. They may be somewhat exaggerated for comedic or dramatic effect but I was happy to see characters more verbally adroit and more sincere than people I know.

Juno is the first screenplay by Diablo Cody. Diablo started as a blogger who eventually wrote about her experiences as a stripper. This turned into a successful memoir, Candy Girl. She was encouraged to write a screenplay, which was Juno. It was written in two months and filmed pretty much as written, without the usual never-ending tweaks by other screenwriters Hollywood is now known for. I'm thrilled to see she has several other scripts in development as well as a Showtime pilot in development, The United States of Tara starring Toni Collette.

Jason Reitman directed Juno. This is his second feature after last year's biting Thank You for Smoking; and I'm happy to see he's signed up to direct the Tara pilot. His father is Ivan Reitman, who worked on Animal House, Stripes and Ghost Busters as well as a lot of crap. I think Jason is off to just as good a start.

See Juno, you'll like it.

Snow Update

My ruler shows about 13" on the ground. I measured as high as 19" in parts. Stuff is melting and will freeze into an icy covering. Joy.

Why Are Some HD Shows S T R E T C H E D?

Here's a good post explaining Why Are Some HD Shows S T R E T C H E D? and why you shouldn't mind the vertical bars on the side of the screen for stuff in 4:3 format. Stretched pictures look wrong and stretching at variable rates is nauseating when the camera pans around a room.

Snow Update

Winter is off to an annoying start. Looks like we got another 6 inches of snow and sleet is still falling. More movie reviews coming.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Movie Review: Lars and the Real Girl

A tender story about a guy and his life-sized anatomically correct sex doll. Try pitching that to a producer. Better yet, try making that film keeping it completely chaste. All right, now try having everyone in town treat the doll as if it was a real person and have it not come off as stupid. Amazingly, this is what Lars and the Real Girl manages to do.

Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) is an extremely shy guy. At work, people speak to him and are friendly, and he can barely make eye contact with them or utter a few words. He lives in the separate garage of his old family home. His brother Gus (Paul Schneider) lives in the main house with his wife Karin (Emily Mortimer) who's expecting. They live in a small northern town. Aside from work and church it seems Lars sits alone in the dark. Karin can't even convince him to have meals with her and Gus and he hides from her when she knocks on his door.

A coworker shows Lars a website with sex dolls and 6 weeks later one is delivered to the garage. What's strange (well maybe not so strange) is that he doesn't want it for sex as much as for companionship. He introduces "Bianca" to Karin and Gus by inviting the two of them over for dinner. They are stunned, but at least it got him out to have dinner right? The next day they all go to the local doctor's (Patricia Clarkson) so that Bianca (wink wink) can get a checkup. The doctor's opinion is to let Lars play this out. Gus thinks his brother has gone crazy, but surprisingly the whole town is pretty accepting of Bianca as she starts attending church and parties with Lars.

As bizarre as all this sounds it works. Probably because of Ryan Gosling's amazing performance. He comes across as nice but incapable of communicating. You believe that that girl in the office would keep trying to talk with him. You also believe that he's so completely repressed that using the doll for its intended purpose is as beyond him, just as going postal would be. There are definite laughs in this film but for the most part, it's about people being nice to each other and a very shy guy starting to come out of his shell. I found it so believable that at one point, I thought Bianca was about to blink.

This is the director's, Craig Gillespie, debut year. He also directed Mr Woodcock with Billy Bob Thornton earlier this fall, but I don't even remember hearing about that. The writer, Nancy Oliver has written some Six Feet Under epsiodes but this is her first film. I hope they both do many more.

Republican Candidates According to Reich

Robert Reich has A Short Primer on the Republican Candidates.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Snow Update

It's 11 hours after the start and it doesn't look like anything more is accumulating. Men with plows, snow blowers and shovels came and cleared my driveway. Looking at virgin snow in the front yard I got 8" and 10" measurements. It's hard to tell what's drift and what's protected by the house or tree.

I see tonights low listed as 23 but the current temperature is shown as 21. Tomorrow's high is listed as 33 and that's the high for the next several days, so I don't think there's much risk of melting and icing.

Seems like a perfect time to point out the Calvin and Hobbes Snow Art Gallery. I blogged about it 2 years ago and my post has been getting a lot of hits from Google lately.

A Man's Got To Know His Limitations

I've written before about film critic Tom Carson's writing in GQ. This month he has an article about No Country For Old Men, which as I've also said before, you should see. I need to point out this sentence about Javier Bardem's performance:

"Made up and coiffed in a blatant tribute -- once a film nerd, always a film nerd, eh, Joel? -- to Lon Chaney's getup in London After Midnight uttering every line with the sepulchral calm of a man who thinks his larynx is a government, he's terrifyingly funny."

I've been trying my hand at public writing for close to 3 years now and I can say I can't write like that. Sure I can be self deprecating and call myself a nerd. I might even make a reference to Lon Chaney (and I've seen some of his films) but I've never heard of London After Midnight, probably because there are no surviving prints. While I've never used them in a sentence I know what sepulchral and coiffed mean. But to come up with the phrase "a man who thinks his larynx is a government"?!?! It's been almost a year since a sentence has impressed me as much.

I'll stick to straight ahead blogging and software user guides, cause I can't do that other stuff.

Republicans Avoid Mentioning Bush

Here's a transcript from yesterdays Republican debate. Note that President Bush was not mentioned once. His father was and Romney said, "Education's an important topic, and the president was right to fight for No Child Left Behind, because we allow states now to test our kids and see how well they're doing, particularly in math and English." but that's it.

Ron Paul is Still Nuts, That's Why

Daily Kos has a post Ron Paul is Still Nuts, That's Why which begins a list of some of his crazy positions. I enjoy him in debates, and appreciate his straight talking; but once you get past that you realized he's all about completely dismantling government.

Google Zeitgeist 2007

Google Zeitgeist 2007. Fun and kinda lame at the same time.

Apple Santa Claus Ad

Apple has a wonderful new mac ad called Santa Claus. It's animated in the style of the classic Christmas cartoons like Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town. Fantastic.
santaclaussbm12132007 1.jpg

Snow Update

7 hours in and there's 8" on my front lawn. A friend asked if I rescinded my 4" prediction, no need to rescind, I was just wrong.

Snow Update

4 hours in and there's just over 4 inches.  Still lots of white falling but the flakes are smaller and the accumulation seems to have slowed.  My prediction could be right.

Snow Update

Just saw my first snow plow at the 3 hour mark. 3.5 inches on my front steps.

Our Students Have Been Misled By Bush

A Professor at St Lawrence University, writes: "I have now received three (3) student papers that discuss Iraq's attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11. All three papers mention it as an aside to another point. I've had two papers on the virtue of forgiveness that argue that if we had just forgiven Iraq for the 9/11 attacks, we wouldn't be at war right now. I just read a paper on the problem of evil which asked why God allowed 'the Iraq's' to attack us on 9/11. The thing that upsets me most here is that the the students don't just believe that that Iraq was behind 9/11. This is a big fact in their minds, that leaps out at them, whenever they think about the state of the world."

How depressing. And in 6 years, why haven't parents or teachers corrected them? Perhaps a sadder thing is that in the comments, the same professor writes: "I didn't grade any of the students down at all, because in each case the remark was an aside or an example. Nothing in the argument of the paper depended on it."

Snow Update

2 inches in 2 hours.

Obama Turned Down Law Clerkships for Politics

Legal Times writes in The Man That Got Away: "In 1990, Obama had been elected the first African-American president of Harvard Law Review, which made him a blazingly hot prospect as a law clerk for one of the top federal appeals judges, who in turn would almost certainly send him on to the Supreme Court as a clerk. But with a remarkable certitude that still amazes his friends and elders, Obama said no to all that, preferring to return to Chicago after graduating in 1991 to resume community and civil rights work and to write a memoir that turned into a best seller, Dreams from My Father."

Spirit's Big Discovery

spirit-silica.thumbnail.jpgUniverse Today describes Spirit's Big Discovery: "A recent discovery by Spirit at an area called Home Plate has researchers puzzling over a possible habitat for past microbial organisms. What Spirit found is a patch of nearly pure silica, a main ingredient in window glass...The silica could have been produced from either a hot-spring type of environment or another type of environment called a fumarole, where acidic steam rises through cracks in the planet’s surface. On Earth, both of these types of environments teem with microbial life." This isn't to say there are living microbes there but their might be microbial fossils.

Meanwhile both the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Rovers are trying to prep for the Martian winter. They were only expected to last a few months but it's been almost 4 years that the rovers are running. The issue is power, which they get from solar panels. Scientists figured when the panels were covered by dust, that would be it, but it turns out dust devils not only dump dust on the panels but also clear them off. Between them they've sent back about 200,000 images from the Martian surface and driven almost 12 miles.

By the way, now is a good time to look at Mars. It reaches it's closest point with earth on Dec 18th and it's directly opposite the sun on the 24th. It's brighter this month than it will be for 8.5 years and it will be as high in the sky as it gets.

Snow Update

Pretty impressive, just 40 minutes later, the entire ground including the roads are covered and white. This could be fun.

Straight No Chaser - 12 Days

One of the funniest versions of the 12 Days of Christmas I've seen. "The original members of Straight No Chaser perform their comedic version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" at the Musical Arts Center, Bloomington, Indiana. December 7th, 1998"

Top 30 Magic Trick Tutorials Of All Time

Top 30 Magic Trick Tutorials of All Time. Pretty cool, all videos.

Superfluid: Liquid Helium Phenomenon

A Child's View of the OLPC

The BBC has a report on A child's view of the $100 laptop. The report is about 9 year-old's Rufus Cellan-Jones experience. "With no help from his Dad, he has learned far more about computers than he knew a couple of weeks ago, and the XO appears to be a more creative tool than the games consoles which occupy rather too much of his time." Pretty cool.

And The Snow Just Started

We've had a little big of snow so far but it's mostly been some bad ice. Today we're getting a storm that yesterday they said would leave about 2-4 inches by me (more to south) and an hour ago I heard 5-12 inches. But I'm really just expecting about 4 inches. We'll see.

The snow just started. I've got my rock salt, food, and plenty to read. I also have movies to watch which is useful because TV is just about over. Last week I had it off a lot to read The Golden Compass and I've been catching up on my Economists and Sky & Telescopes and I really can concentrate much better without the background noise. Shocker.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More Torture News

Andrew Sullivan writes "The former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Harry Soyster pushes back against the torture-advocates"

TPM has assembled a Timeline of the CIA's Torture Tapes

How Super-Precise Atomic Clocks Will Change the World in a Decade

I won't even begin to summarize Wired's article, How Super-Precise Atomic Clocks Will Change the World in a Decade. Pretty amazing stuff.

"At F1's level of precision, even general relativity introduces problems; when technicians recently moved F1 from the third floor to the second, they had to re-tune the system to compensate for the 11-and-a-half foot drop in altitude."

If you don't know this is how your GPS works and NIST envisions new uses medical imaging and geological surveys. "That means passing a precise clock over different landscapes yields different gravity offsets, which could be used to map the presence of oil, liquid magma or water underground."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

This Weeks Torture News

ABC has a very interesting interview with John Kiriakou, the retired leader of the CIA team that captured and tortured Abu Zubaydah. Andrew Sullivan provides commentary on the information. Basically we tortured with water boarding and sleep deprivation. Kiriakou calls the techniques torture and while at the time he thought they were justified, he's rethought that and now thinks otherwise. Also, he says every single thing done was approved up the chain of the command. I think Sullivan jumps the gun a little saying that it's clear Bush himself knew about the specifics, but I'd guess that he did. Kiriakou also says that the information gotten via waterboarding Zubaydah absolutely helped prevent dozens of attacks against US interests but not on US soil. Sullivan goes on to compare this information with Gestapo toture techniques.

In related news, digby wonders: "Gosh, I sure hope nobody tore up these photos [of bruises to Binyam Mohammed after being totured by the CIA] over the week-end before the Attorney General finally got around to ordering everyone to cease destroying evidence."

Think Progress asks: "Is CIA Director Michael Hayden Lying About When The Agency Stopped Videotaping Interrogations?" Amnesty International reports tell of prisoners seeing cameras after 2002 but then again Kiriakou thought the cameras were closed circuits and not being recorded. Think Progress adds Spencer Ackerman's comments "The CIA lied for years about the existence of videotaped interrogations, so there’s no reason to credit Hayden’s account of when the recordings ceased."

Ackerman wonders in TPM How Do Classified Letters Get Classified?. Personally I wonder about how congressmen find out about classified stuff and then can't discuss it with anyone or each other. I think this is a deliberate tactic by the Bush administration. Instead of releasing information to say the entire Intelligence committee they release it to just the top 4 members (2 of each party). But then they can't discuss it with the rest of the committee so how can they perform any oversight duties?

Bike for a Cure

My friend MIke is trying to raise $2,500 by bicycle riding 550 miles over 7 days to help find a cure for diabetes in the Tour de Cure ride. Help him if you feel like it.

Former Chief Prosecutor for the Office of Military Commissions Resigns

Morris D. Davis writes "I was the chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until Oct. 4, the day I concluded that full, fair and open trials were not possible under the current system. I resigned on that day because I felt that the system had become deeply politicized and that I could no longer do my job effectively or responsibly. " He goes on to describe three reasons for his resignation:

"Susan Crawford...the convening authority...had her staff assessing evidence before the filing of charges, directing the prosecution's pretrial preparation of cases (which began while I was on medical leave), drafting charges against those who were accused and assigning prosecutors to cases, among other things." The problem is, "the convening authority is supposed to be objective". "Intermingling convening authority and prosecutor roles perpetuates the perception of a rigged process stacked against the accused."

The hearings are secret and justice should be transparent.

And the straw that broke the camel's back was when Davis was put under the chain of the command of Defense Department General Counsel William J. Haynes who had a "role in authorizing the use of the aggressive interrogation techniques some call torture."

"The president first authorized military commissions in November 2001, more than six years ago, and the lack of progress is obvious. Only one war-crime case has been completed. It is time for the political appointees who created this quagmire to let go. Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have said that how we treat the enemy says more about us than it does about him. If we want these military commissions to say anything good about us, it's time to take the politics out of military commissions, give the military control over the process and make the proceedings open and transparent."

This story reminded me of an NPR piece I heard a few weeks ago. "By all accounts, Colby Vokey is a model officer in the U.S. Marine Corps...For the past four years, Vokey has served as chief of all the Corps' defense lawyers in the western United States — and he's played a key role in some of the military's most sensitive legal issues, including the murder investigation in Haditha, Iraq, and in the debate about detainees at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay."

"So when Vokey announced recently that he wanted to leave the Corps, it said something troubling about the military system of justice that he's served for almost 20 years. Vokey charges that some commanders and officials in the Bush administration have abused the system of justice, and he's going to retire from the Corps May 1, 2008."

Here's another problem with this administration, many of the good people are choosing leaving the military because they have too much integrity. How screwed up is that?

16 Inspirational Portrait Photography Techniques

16 Inspirational Portrait Photography Techniques. I don't think I can do any of these, but the pictures are nice.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Movie Review: The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass is the first book in a fantasy trilogy by Philip Pullman. Based on the trailers I saw before the new movie based on it, it's one of many movies trying to capitalize on the success of The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series. It's not fair to say that about the book since The Golden Compass was actually published two years before Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

The world of the series is similar to ours, but slightly different. Technology is at the time of zeppelins, fantastical creatures exist, and every human has a personal small creature that stays with them called a daemon. Daemons are an outward representation of the soul and we see them as cats, birds, rodents, monkeys, etc. Childrens' daemons change forms but as they reach puberty the daemon settles on a single form. A daemon is always with its human and touching someone else's daemon is strictly taboo.

The story centers around an 11 year-old girl named Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards). She's an orphan and her uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) had her placed at Jordan College in Oxford where she studies with the scholars and plays with local children. She overhears a conversation between her uncle, the scholars and a representative of the Magisterium about mysteries in the frozen north involving "dust" and other worlds. Her friend Roger is kidnapped by the "Gobblers" who've been kidnapping children for a while. She wants to go find him but had recently met the politically powerful Mrs. Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman) and agrees to study with her in London. Just before leaving, the master of the school gives Lyra a small gold device called an alethiometer which can "measure the truth". Lots more happens as Lyra goes off on a long adventure, meeting various people and creatures such as witches and armored polar bears.

On advice from a friend I had read the book before seeing the film. As is usual, the book is better. The book is 350 pages and the film is just under 2 hours. Most scenes are still in the film, but abbreviated; and while there seems to be a lot of exposition in the film, I kept noticing how much they left out. The book is a typical quest where one event leads to the next. In each instance Lyra learns a little more about the daemons, the Gobblers, her past, the alethiometer, etc. The film introduces some of this information very early which takes away some of the mystery. Also the book was told from Lyra's point of view and the film had some scenes where Lyra wasn't present. Overall it was pretty faithful though some major events are also out of order. I'm not sure how well those who hadn't read the book would follow some things, and the changes made things confusing for me.

The special effects are very very good, in fact they are the best thing in the film. The interaction of the daemons with the humans was seemless. Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellen) is an armored bear that befriends Lyra and several of his fight scenes are spectacular. The set design and costumes also uphold their share in creating a different world. The acting is fine, but the film is really about the whirlwind plot.

For all the complaints of some religious groups, most of the religious aspects of the book have been removed (and I think most of them develop in the second book anyway). The problem is that the soul of the story has been removed too. The film is a series of events and because it's the first of a trilogy there are many questions left unresolved, but aside from the giant bear, it's hard to get excited by any of them.

How to Make a 3D Paper Snowflake

WikiHow provides instructions to Make a 3D Paper Snowflake just like this:

74621550_44bb79776f 1.jpg

What to buy organic in winter

What to buy organic in winter "Ten tips to eat healthy and get the most bang for your buck"

Understanding Subprime

Two old British men explain the Subprime crisis.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Romney Spokesman Won't Say If Atheists Have Place In America

Well I'm not voting for Romney. Romney Spokesman Won't Say If Atheists Have Place In America: "A spokesman for the Mitt Romney campaign is thus far refusing to say whether Romney sees any positive role in America for atheists and other non-believers, after Election Central inquired about the topic yesterday." I can understand a "spokesman" ducking that question and letting Romney address it himself, but really, that's pretty scary.

I propose the following amendment to the Constitution, all uses of man or person are to be clarified by meaning homo sapiens. I'll accept a difference in rights based on citizenship, but otherwise all "humans" (that is living beings of the same species as me) should be treated the same under the law and by the government. Is that so difficult to figure out? It shouldn't matter to the law what you look like or what you believe or how much money you make.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Sen. Whitehouse Reveals Secret DoJ Legal Memos

I'm a big fan of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). As a former US Attorney he's been very critical of what Bush has done to the DoJ and was one of the most critical of Gonzales. Today he gave a speech (real player video). saying he read secret DoJ Office of Legal Council decisions that basically confirm that Bush thinks he's above the law. "The President, exercising his constitutional authority under Article II, can determine whether an action is a lawful exercise of the President’s authority under Article II" and "The Department of Justice is bound by the President’s legal determinations".

It's really time to impeach him. This is violating his oath to uphold the Constitution. Really.

C.I.A. Destroyed Tapes of Interrogations

New York Times reports C.I.A. Destroyed Tapes of Interrogations. "The videotapes showed agency operatives in 2002 subjecting terror suspects -- including Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in C.I.A. custody -- to severe interrogation techniques. They were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that tapes documenting controversial interrogation methods could expose agency officials to greater risk of legal jeopardy"

They tortured people and covered it up because they fear reprisal. Now the investigators have to figure out if they actually lied or merely covered it up. And of course it's not the agents that should be held accountable but Cheney and Bush.

Another Look at Gas Prices

An economics professor takes another look at gas prices in Why The Goldilocks Economy Can Handle $3 Gas


Keith Olbermann on Bush's Iran Lies

Kieth Olbermann on Thursday night about Bush: "either a pathological presidential lier or idiot in chief":

Yeah we knew this and heard it before. When if ever will Congress do something about it?

Boumediene v. Bush, U.S. Supreme Court Oral Argument

Oyez has the transcript and audio of the oral arguments of Boumediene v. Bush. This is the case about Guantanamo prisoners argued at the US Supreme Court this week.

Update: Orin Kerr has some analysis.

Speed Racer Trailer

Jalopnik has the trailer for the Wachowski's Speed Racer movie coming out in May. Wow the trailer looks bad. I have hope the movie itself could be good, but I have no idea why.

Pop-Up Book Photoshop Contest

Here are some strangePop-Up Book ideas, e.g.,

Alystair 1.jpg

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Super Freaky Documentary to be Made

Imagine if the creators of ’The King of Kong’, ’Super Size Me’, ’Jesus Camp’, ’Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room’, ’My Country My Country’, ’Why We Fight’, and ’Control Room’ all got together to make a documentary. That's exactly what's happening for the film version of Freakonomics. Wow.

Gift Idea: HistoryShots Prints

Possible gift idea if that someone is into interesting charts. HistoryShots Information Graphics cover political, military and sports topics.

Movie Review: In Bruges

Bruges is a city in Belgium. From the 12th through 15th centuries it was a huge economic capital in Europe, but then a river changed and the city fell in decline. I was at a conference in Brussels in the 90s and spent a day sightseeing around Bruges. Much of the medieval architecture is still there and it's like stepping 700 years into the past. Tonight I saw an early screening of the film In Bruges and all I knew about it was the title. It's not coming out until next year.

Like so many of the films I've liked this year, it's another dark crime thriller, but this one also has a lot of comedy. Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are hit men who need to lay low after a job. They are sent to Bruges and are supposed to stay there until their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) calls. Ken is fascinated by the history, architecture and sights; Ray is bored out of his mind and can't wait to get back to London. His mood changes when they come across a film set and Ray is smitten by Chloë (Clémence Poésy) and fascinated by Jimmy a dwarf actor (though through the film I kept thinking it was Peter Dinklage, no it's not, yes it is, but no it was Jordan Prentice). They go out, they party and yes this is a crime thriller, violence does ensue, with some graphic (though brief) shots.

The casting was superb. There's a lot of Colin Farrell's reputation in Ray, a wild boy who constantly swears, drinks, argues and fights with people. Farrell sometimes annoys me but is perfect in this role. Gleason is even more impressive, giving Ken a soul and making us care about this killer and understand his conscience. These two have lots of conversations on history, morality and some are very funny. Ralph Fiennes' Harry is volatile angry man, who reminded me of Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. A phone message that Harry leaves was one of my favorite scenes. Yes, there's a fair amount of Tarantino in the script and sometimes it felt a little contrived (like when someone at the next table at dinner started arguing with Ray) but mostly it worked wonderfully; I laughed a lot at this film.

I always appreciate a tight script and In Bruges delivered. Things established early on are followed up on later. Things that you think are a fun throw away come back into relevance. It's not a jigsaw puzzle like The Usual Suspects, but an internally consistent story without fat to trim. I was annoyed a couple of times at things like people not slipping when running on wet cobblestone roads (probably because I slipped on icy steps Tuesday), and I wondered why there weren't more cops in Bruges, but mostly it was well done. There are a lot of shots of beautiful old buildings and canals but sometimes they were a bit blurry and that annoyed me. Also, while the music was overall fine, I thought in two scenes the songs were overdone. But those are minor complaints for a very entertaining film.

In Bruges was written and directed by Martin McDonagh. His previous film was a 27 minute short called Six Shooter which won the Best Live Action Short Film Oscar in 2006. It's a bleak dark comedy and is available on iTunes for $1.99.

After the film we were given long questionnaires to fill out. One woman starting screaming that film the was a piece of crap that merely glorified violence. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but everyone else in the audience seemed to enjoy it. I certainly had a lot of fun with it. It will play at Sundance in January, and IMDB lists a limited US release in February. I say catch it.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bush Makes Impeachment Case

Bush is giving a news conference right now. I honestly think it is enough to impeach him. The new NIE report says Iran isn't developing a nuclear weapons program and hasn't since 2003. Reporters are questioning him about it in the context of his speeches recently saying we need to stop Iran before WWIII breaks out. They ask him about the escalating rhetoric when his own intelligence agencies already had this data and was working to produce the report. He says he didn't know about the intelligence. When asked specifically, saying they had new info in August and it was being worked on, didn't someone in his intelligence agencies come to him and say maybe you should tone back the rhetoric, he says no. He then goes on to say even with this new report, "nothing has changed" Iran is still a threat. This man doesn't deal with facts at all, or care.

BTW, he looks horrible. Half asleep, very wrinkled forehead, he's finally aged in the White House.