Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Viacom vs Time Warner: NY and LA losing Comedy Central and Nik

According to Om Malik Viacom to Take Jon Stewart, MTV & SpongeBob Off The Air on Time Warner Cable Networks. Yep, it's about money. Viacom packages up several channels including Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV and VH1. Cable providers like Time Warner, buy these and make them available to their customers, for a fee. Viacom wants more money. According to the article it's either $0.25 a month or $3 a month, I'm not sure.

Viacom claimes "Americans spend more than 20% of their TV viewing time watching our networks, yet our fees amount to less than 2.5% of what Time Warner generates from their average customer." Though I don't know what an additional $0.25 a month will give them; 3% of generated revenue?

Time Warner doesn't want to raise prices for their customers given the economic situation (or something). They're saying they will tell their customers where to find the Viacom shows on the Internet (using presumably, Time Warner broadband).

I don't know who's right here but, TV is as broken as music and investment banks. It's just going to take a little longer for the system to collapse.

I know this. I'd change cable providers to find The Daily Show. And I think that my friends with kids would rather do the same than to explain why their kids can't watch Nickelodeon anymore.

Two Movie Lists

Den of Geek has two lists I like.

Top 50 movie special effects shots - I don't agree with a lot of these and can think of many others, but it's an interesting collection.

Top 10 Mindf**k Movies - Everything on this list I've seen I either like or at least have respect for. I hadn't heard of "F For Fake" but have added it to my netflix queue.

The Kennedy Center Honors The Who

Last night, was the Kennedy Center Honors of 2008. "Recipients to be honored at the 31st annual national celebration of the arts are: actor Morgan Freeman, singer George Jones, director, singer, actress, composer and producer Barbra Streisand, choreographer Twyla Tharp, and musicians Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of The Who."

Rolling Stone and Mo Rocca give their review. Here's mine of The Who segment.

Jack Black gave a very funny and touching speech that only he could give. He called them "triumphant dragonslayers of emotionality" and then said they're probably wondering why he was chosen to give the speech. He then narrated a video biography of the band that was pretty good. They got a standing ovation and the camera showed George Bush snarling at them. I could have done without that.

Then came a 10 minute performance of Who songs. I'm not sure I see the point of having legendary artists sit in an audience and listen to their work performed by inferior musicians.

Joss Stone's performance was completely unmemorable, though I did like a shimmy or two. Pete looked on like "look at the kids now-a-days". It's even more insulting (or maybe that's "fitting") given that it was My Generation she was singing. Am I Simon Cowell yet?

Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters did pretty well with an abbreviated Who Are You? but I was waiting to see if he he'd have the balls to sing "Who the fuck are you?" and he didn't. The Who was not about holding back.

Bettye LaVette made the evening with a blues version of my favorite Who song, Love, Reign o'er Me. It's from 2:55 to 6:20 in the clip and is well worth listening to. Even Barbara Streisand said it was fantastic, and she looked otherwise bored with every other act.

Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty then sang Baba O'Riley. It looked like he was giving it his all, but it wasn't nearly enough for that song. It was saved by having a choir of New York City Police and FIrefighters sing the "teenage wasteland" chorus. Pete and Roger gave a performance for them after 9/11 and it was great payback.

I give the drummer props for play the Keith Moon part so well.

Now I have to go listen to some Who albums.

Lego Aircraft Carrier

This was done a while ago but here's a Lego Aircraft Carrier, the Harry S. Truman. "It's a 200,000-brick, 350-pound aircraft carrier -- the Harry S Truman -- complete with electrical lights as well as moving elevators and radar dishes." Click the image for tons more pictures.

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How Many Rocket Strikes Against Israel

I knew that Israel claims the attack on Gaza is in response to repeated rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel, but I couldn't find out the details. Most interviews and articles merely repeated that statement but provided no details. While I haven't been following the news that closely this month, I certainly hadn't heard anything about rocket attacks in Israel.

This is where I find WikiNews works really well. Instead of new articles that provide increasingly less background information, usually a single article is extended and linked to further background info. This article, Israeli air strikes hit government compounds in Gaza from Dec 27th pointed me at this List of Qassam rocket attacks in Israel in 2008. Assuming it's accurate and complete, there were a lot in the first half of the year, then a ceasefire from July 10th to Nov 21st. And since then 11 in November and well over 300 rockets and mortars fired in December before the Israeli strikes.

New Year's Eve Snow

We're expecting 6-10" today...

Uncle Jay Explains 2008

This was surprisingly funny...

Monday, December 29, 2008

10 Programming Languages Worth Checking Out

10 programming languages worth checking out is pretty interesting. I hadn't heard of Io or Factor before.

And then there's Everything You Need To Get Started With Common Lisp.

Read it and Weep

Salon wrote Read it and weep "The end of days is here for the publishing industry -- or it sure seems like it. On Dec. 3, now known as 'Black Wednesday,' several major American publishers were dramatically downsized, leaving many celebrated editors and their colleagues jobless. The bad news stretches from the unemployment line to bookstores to literature itself."

Matt Blaze: The Metadata is the Message

Cryptographer Matt Blaze wrote The Metadata is the Message. He hypothesizes about the NSA wiretap programs based on the various published articles. A recent Newsweek article included this about the visit to Ashcroft's hospital bed:

"Two knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that the clash erupted over a part of Bush's espionage program that had nothing to do with the wiretapping of individual suspects. Rather, Comey and others threatened to resign because of the vast and indiscriminate collection of communications data. These sources, who asked not to be named discussing intelligence matters, describe a system in which the National Security Agency, with cooperation from some of the country's largest telecommunications companies, was able to vacuum up the records of calls and e-mails of tens of millions of average Americans between September 2001 and March 2004. The program's classified code name was 'Stellar Wind,' though when officials needed to refer to it on the phone, they called it 'SW.' (The NSA says it has 'no information or comment'; a Justice Department spokesman also declined to comment.)"

He goes on to describe the historical rationale for easier access to call metadata than content and how that translates in the Internet era. He ends with...

"If this was indeed what was going on -- and the recent Newsweek sidebar seems to corroborate it -- it would represent a much more invasive reach into the private lives of innocent Americans by the NSA than previous reports about the program have been able to confirm. And if AT&T really provided the government with sweeping access to the calling records of all its customers, that would be a huge personal disappointment -- not only a violation of the law, but a betrayal of the fundamental privacy values instilled into me from my very first day at Bell Labs, and that, I had genuinely believed, were embedded in the core of the company's culture."

On a related note, Daniel J. Solove wrote The Year in Privacy Books: 2008.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Calvin and Hobbes Snow Art Gallery

I posted this three years ago, it's time to post it again, The Calvin and Hobbes Snow Art Gallery.

Christmas Song Quiz

No, I don't have the answers (at least yet). Maybe we can work them out in the comments.

1. Approach Everyone Who Is Steadfast
2. Ecstacy Toward The Orb
3. Hush, The Foretelling Spirits Harmonize
4. Hey, Miniscule Urban Area Southwest Of Jerusalem
5. Quiescent Nocturnal Period
6. The Autocratic Troika Originating Near the Accent of Apollo
7. The Primary Carol
8. Embellish The Corridors
9. I Apprehended My Maternal Parent Osculating with a Corpulent, Unshaven Male in Crimson Disguise
10. I'm Fantasizing Concerning a Blanched Yuletide
11. My Singular Desire For The Impending Yuletide Season Is Receipt Of A Pair Of Central Incisors.
12. During the Time Ovine Caretakers Supervised Their Charges Past Twilight
13. Celestial Messengers From Splendid Empires.
14. The Thing Manifest Itself at the Onset of a Transparent Day
15. The Tatterdemalion Ebony Atmosphere
16. The Coniferous Nativity
17. What Offspring Abides Thus?
18. Removed in a Bovine Feeding Trough
19. Creator Cool It Ya Kooky Cats
20. Seraphim We Aurally Detect in the Stratosphere
21. Valentino, The Roseate Proboscissed Wapati
22. Father Christmas Approaches the Metropolis
23. Ag Glockenspiels
24. The Slight Percussionist Lad
25. The Antelered Quadruped With The Cerise Proboscis.
26. The Event Occurred At One Minute After 11:59 PM-Visibility Unlimited.
27. Ornament The Enclosure With Large Sprigs Of A Berry-bearing Evergreen.
28. Anticipation Of This Noel's Memento's: Nil.
29. The Approach Of The Holiday Commemorating The Birth Of Christ Is Becoming Evident.
30. During the Dark Hours When Herdsman Attended Their Charges.
31. A Trio of Non-Occidental Potentates Is Our Identity.
32. A Meteorological Melody Is Manifest.
33. The Yuletide's Diurnal Dozen.
34. Please Permit Pristine Precipitation.
35. 'Rimey', The Mannikin of Crystalline H2O.
36. Our Desire Is Your Yuletide Cheer.
37. Aged Matriarch Plowed Under By Preciptious Darlings.
38. Are You Experiencing Parallel Auditory Input?
39. Endeavor to personally experience singular, miniscule Yule!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How to Make a Beer Bottle Christmas Tree

With 1,050 bottles, college students should start early in the semester...

Alzheimer Linked to Herpes 1 Virus

Science Daily reported a couple of weeks ago, Cold Sore Virus Linked To Alzheimer's Disease: New Treatment, Or Even Vaccine Possible.

"The virus behind cold sores is a major cause of the insoluble protein plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer's disease sufferers, University of Manchester researchers have revealed. They believe the herpes simplex virus is a significant factor in developing the debilitating disease and could be treated by antiviral agents such as acyclovir, which is already used to treat cold sores and other diseases caused by the herpes virus. Another future possibility is vaccination against the virus to prevent the development of the disease in the first place."

Monday, December 22, 2008

How Not to Stimulate the Economy

Economist's Greg Mankiw's How Not to Stimulate the Economy was as fun and entertaining as a Mork & Mindy rerun.

Lego Hoth

brickplumber's Photostream on flickr shows a very impressive Lego rendition of Hoth. More info at



A Matter of Loaf and Death

A Matter of Loaf and Death is a new Wallace & Gromit film from Aardman. It premires on the BBC on Christmas. I don't know when it will be available in the US. Unfortuantely the trailer says it's unavailable in my country or domain. Ugh.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Methane Bubbling Up From Undersea Permafrost?

National Geographic reports: "The East Siberian Sea is bubbling with methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, being released from underwater reserves, according to a recent expedition by a Russian team. This could be a sign that global warming is thawing underwater permafrost, which is releasing methane that has been locked away for many thousands of years."

This is one of those really bad things that Al Gore talks about.

Father Offers Daughter To Shoe-Thrower

Father offers daughter to shoe-thrower.

"An Egyptian man said on Wednesday he was offering his 20-year-old daughter in marriage to Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush in Baghdad on Sunday. The daughter, Amal Saad Gumaa, said she agreed with the idea. 'This is something that would honor me. I would like to live in Iraq, especially if I were attached to this hero,' she told Reuters by telephone."

Film Addict

FIlm Addict takes the IMDb top 250 films and lets you check off what you've seen and then lets friends compare themselves to you. As it says, I'm 94.8% addicted to film. Now you can compare yourself to me.

It's Officially Winter

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I tried to measure in non-drifts and got between 11 and 17 inches around the house.

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Scientists Use Playstations to Create Supercomputer

Scientists use PlayStations to create supercomputer.

"Frustrated with the cost of renting time on supercomputers, which he said can cost as much as $5,000 to run a 5,000-hour simulation, Khanna decided to set up his own computer cluster using PS3s, which had both a powerful processor developed by Sony, IBM and Toshiba, but also an open platform that allows different system software to run on it. PlayStation 3 systems retail for about $400 Cdn."

"Massachusetts Dartmouth computer scientist Chris Poulin, who co-wrote the instructional manual with Khanna, wouldn't reveal the number of flops the system can achieve, but said anecdotally the cluster has allowed him to run simulations in hours that used to take days on a powerful server computer."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hot Chocolate in Boston has Hot chocolate in the Boston area. L. A. Burdick's is amazing. The chocolate soup at the Chocolate Bar at Cafe Fleuri is a religious experience.

Secret Agency Man

In early November the San Antonio Current had an interview with James Bamford about the NSA. It corresponded to the release of his new book The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America.

Bristol Palin's Baby's Grandmother

Sarah Palin could become a grandmother tomorrow when Bristol's baby is due. The other grandmother is on bail from 6 felony drug charges.

The President is Just Full of Crap

I just deleted my TiVo season pass to Countdown and Keith Olbermann says The president is just full of crap'.

Kevin Drum has some more Bushisms from his farewell interviews.


WiigoBot is a Lego NXT Wii Playing Robot that can bowl a perfect game"

The Dumbest Thing I've Heard Today

Burger King’s New Fragrance. "While fast-food chains aren't exactly best known for selling signature fragrances, on Sunday The Home of the Whopper rolled out a men's body spray called Flame by BK. The 5-ml bottles are available for sale in Ricky's stores in New York City and on a dedicated Web site,"

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stanley Kubrick's Boxes

A 50 minute documentary, Stanley Kubrick's Boxes is on Google Video. It's utterly fascinating. Kubrick never threw anything away. His house is filled with thousands boxes of various research and memos and letters.

He never took vacations or even understood what they were about. He immediately recovered from interruptions and got back to work, within a second. He obsessed over every minute detail. He hired a photographer to take photos of London as research for Eyes Wide Shut. A photographer spent a year and took an estimated 30,000 photos and Stanley Kubrick anxiously looked at every single one of them. He read all the fan mail, noted if it was positive or negative or a crank and filed it by the city of the writer and the film.

At one point he designed his own boxes. And got them manufactured.

The boxes are now archived at the University of the Arts London.

34 Essential Tutorials To Get Started With Digital Photography

34 Essential Tutorials To Get Started With Digital Photography

And Pogue’s Photography Tips and Tricks

The Physics of Movie Trailers

Popular Science wrote The Science of Star Trek or more precisely, the physics of the car scene in the new Star Trek trailer. It would have made a nice homework problem in Physics I, when we stopped dealing with frictionless planes and massless pullies.

After $10 Billion Bailout, Goldman Sachs’s Pays 1% in Taxes

Bloomberg reported Tuesday, Goldman Sachs’s Tax Rate Drops to 1%, or $14 Million.

"Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which got $10 billion and debt guarantees from the U.S. government in October, expects to pay $14 million in taxes worldwide for 2008 compared with $6 billion in 2007.

The company’s effective income tax rate dropped to 1 percent from 34.1 percent, New York-based Goldman Sachs said today in a statement. The firm reported a $2.3 billion profit for the year after paying $10.9 billion in employee compensation and benefits.

Goldman Sachs, which today reported its first quarterly loss since going public in 1999, lowered its rate with more tax credits as a percentage of earnings and because of ‘changes in geographic earnings mix,’ the company said."

"This problem is larger than Goldman Sachs,” [US Rep Lloyd] Doggett [D-TX] said. “With the right hand out begging for bailout money, the left is hiding it offshore."

Rachel Maddow on Bush’s Legacy Tour

I complain a lot that Jon Stewart seems to be the only one on TV that can show a politician talking and then pull up a video of that politician saying the opposite in the past. Well Jon Stewart is on vacation till next year (when I'm sure I'll see the video of a shoe being shown at Bush again) but thankfully Rachel Maddow has taken on the task. (If the embedded video doesn't show, try here.)

Straight No Chaser - 12 Days

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Apparently Only God Can Keep Us Safe

Two weeks ago the Associated Press reported, Atheists want God out of Ky. homeland security.

"A group of atheists filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to remove part of a state anti-terrorism law that requires Kentucky's Office of Homeland Security to acknowledge it can't keep the state safe without God's help.

Of particular concern is a 2006 clause requiring the Office of Homeland Security to post a plaque that says the safety and security of the state 'cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon almighty God' and to stress that fact through training and educational materials."

I haven't heard of God doing any cleanup nor rescuing anyone without the aid of humans ("it was a miracle they were found" kind of things). If bad storms are "acts of God" and announced early warnings and human rescue crews do all the clean up, it seems like God makes us more unsafe.

Two Conservative Judges Challenge Justice Scalia

Adam White writes in the weekly Standard, Wilkinson and Posner, Dissenting. It's a really interesting article about how and why some conservative judges disagree with originalism as pushed by Scalia and Thomas.

"Recent articles by two Republican-appointed judges, however, identify a fault line along which intra-conservative debate could arise. Each focuses on the Supreme Court's recent decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, where the Court struck down the District of Columbia's draconian regulation of handguns by a vote of 5-4."

"But Wilkinson's specific criticisms are overshadowed by a broader criticism of originalism per se: that Scalia's exclusive reliance on originalism disregards a host of other longstanding conservative values, such as 'textualism, self-restraint, separation of powers and federalism as well.' Heller, he argues, 'has left only originalism as the foundation of conservative jurisprudence. A set of reasonable tenets each providing a separate check on judicial activism has now been replaced by a singular focus on original understanding.'"

It's short and pretty accessible.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Apple Patents

Technologizer has Apple Patentmania: 31 Years of Big Ideas "A visual history of Apple patent filings: the brilliant, the bizarre, the just plain bad." It's a brief description and link to 38 (well 37, you'll see if you look) patents filed by Apple; some that became products, some that didn't.

The Torture President

Aside from the shoe, the bigger story is from the end of last week. Bipartisan Report on Detainee Abuse Blames Rumsfeld, Other Top Bush Officials. Here's the 19 page pdf of the executive summary.

"'In the most comprehensive critique by Congress of the military's interrogation practices, the Senate Armed Services Committee issued a report yesterday that accuses Rumsfeld and his deputies of being the authors and chief promoters of harsh interrogation policies that disgraced the nation and undermined U.S. security. The report, released by Sens. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), contends that Pentagon officials later tried to create a false impression that the policies were unrelated to acts of detainee abuse committed by members of the military.

The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own,' the report states. 'The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.'

The report is the most direct refutation to date of the administration's rationale for using aggressive interrogation tactics -- that inflicting humiliation and pain on detainees was legal and effective, and helped protect the country. The 25-member panel, without one dissent among the 12 Republican members, declared the opposite to be true."

Dan Froomkin commented on the story in Pack of Liars and started going back and pointing out the lies of the administration, that a few bad apples did the torture. He points to other articles by various newspapers and includes other reactions such as from the ACLU.

Glenn Greenwald wrote Senate report links Bush to detainee homicides; media yawns. "This Report was issued on Thursday. Not a single mention was made of it on any of the Sunday news talk shows, with the sole exception being when John McCain told George Stephanopoulos that it was "not his job" to opine on whether criminal prosecutions were warranted for the Bush officials whose policies led to these crimes."

Scott Horton in The Torture Presidency mentions a little about what's in the still classified sections. "It studies with some care the introduction of specific torture techniques, showing how they were reverse engineered from the SERE program—used to prepare American pilots to resist interrogation techniques used by the Soviets, North Koreans, Chinese and North Vietnamese."

"And deep in its classified hold, the report looks into the use of psychotropic drugs which were, with Donald Rumsfeld’s approval, routinely administered to prisoners in order to facilitate their interrogation—in violation of international agreements and American criminal law."

Brian Kalt in Concurring Opinions wonders, Can the President Pardon Himself? His thought is no, but it's not at all clear. We might have to wait for it to actually happen to know. Isn't that broken?

Meanwhile, Jennifer Turner writes in the ACLU blog, The Chickens Are Coming Home to Roost. "Friday brought another pre-trial hearing in the military commission case against Canadian Omar Khadr, the last Western national still being held at Guantánamo Bay."

"Friday’s hearing revealed that this case should never have been brought before a military commission in the first place. The government could have properly charged Khadr in a U.S. federal court, but instead the current administration intentionally bypassed the U.S. legal system to create commissions outside the bounds of law. Now the chickens are coming home to roost: the government faces the possibility that the murder charges against Khadr will have to be thrown out as a result."

Overall, I think we have more evidence that Bush is a war criminal.

Bush v. Shoe

Here's the incident and Bush's comments afterwards:

Here's a collection of the US media coverage:

Interesting List of Tourist Scams

I found Tourist Scams, 2005 via Bruce Schneier's Cryptogram.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Old Balloons

Les grands ballons de Macy's has some old photos from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. It looks like from the 40s. They had very cool balloons.

Dubbing The Wire into German

Here's an interesting article On the dubbing of “The Wire” in German. It doesn't contain spoilers, so if you haven't watched it yet you can still appreciate the difficulties of translating a show with so much slang and local dialects. In fact, most Americans I know watched it with closed captioning turned on because often it was hard to make out what was said.

If you want more The Wire stuff, here's a 3 hour podcast on the series. I haven't listend yet myself, but will soon.

The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2008

Foreign Policy put out its annual list of The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2008.

Mike Huckabee v. Jon Stewart on Gay Marriage

Mike Huckabee was on The Daily Show last night and the second half of that interview was all about gay marriage. These two people disagreed completely and yet the conversation was polite, without yelling, and fairly broad and insightful. It didn't get into the legal matters (wills, etc.) or the distinction with civil unions but it did still manage to be funny. Why is Jon Stewart the only one who can do this?

The Sultan

"The Sultan Gaming Table is designed to be the ultimate accessory for gaming. " That is Dungeons & Dragons type gaming.

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I was enough of a geek in high school to think up something like this, thought not nearly as grandiose. It was before the time that cars had cup holders, so I didn't think of them for a gaming table. I was never enough of a geek to build one or buy one for $10,000.

Newton Atrium Mall Parking Garage Ceiling Collapses

Atrium mall parking garage ceiling collapses. "An estimated 50’ of ceiling tile fell from the valet parking area of the garage, on the first floor. The collapse was reported around 11 a.m. Wednesday."

I was just there last Thursday.

Ruben's Tube - Sound Visualization With Fire

"The classic physics experiment involving sound, a tube of propane and fire. Created for Flash Forward 2006, but useful in any case where you are not allowed to have fire. I push through the tube 449 Hz then higher frequencies, then some jazz and then some rock. This is real life sound visualization." With Fire.

The Doghouse

The Doghouse is a funny marketing campaign.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Election Transparency Project Finds Ballot-Counting Bug

Ed Felton wrote on Freedom to Tinker, Election Transparency Project Finds Ballot-Counting Bug in Premier's, nee Diebold's, machines.

"I don't know which is more alarming: that the vendor failed to treat as an emergency a programming error that silently deletes ballots, or that the tabulator's 'audit log' looks more like an after the fact reconstruction of what-must-have-happened rather than a log of what actually did happen"

How to Teach Your 6 Year-Old Algebra

Made to Stick writes about Tutoring your kid in math.

Yet Another Second Before Obama is President

There will be a leap second added to 2008. Not sure I can take an extra second of Bush.

Monday, December 08, 2008

LinkedIn's Next Generation Architecture

SOA Zone has an article by Yan Pujante, Building LinkedIn's Next Generation Architecture with OSGi. It's a pretty interesting overview of their architecture, Java, Tomcat, Spring, etc. and their ways of dealing with reving .war files.

Laptop searches at border might get restricted

Laptop searches at border might get restricted.

"Given all the personal details that people store on digital devices, border searches of laptops and other gadgets can give law enforcement officials far more revealing pictures of travelers than suitcase inspections might yield. That has set off alarms among civil liberties groups and travelers' advocates - and now among some members of Congress who hope to impose restrictions on the practice next year. They fear the government has crossed a sacred line by rummaging through electronic contact lists and confidential e-mail messages, trade secrets and proprietary business files, financial and medical records and other deeply private information. "

I suspect this is just another Bush administration policy that Obama will correct. I think this is a place where Negroponte's atoms vs. bits distinction is useful. Countries can protect their borders and I don't have a problem searching for illegal contriband, weapons, or drugs. But reading documents crosses a line and seems counter-productive or at least a huge waste of time and inconvenience. Customs could flip through a book looking for a hollowed out section but they shouldn't be able to read a diary. Particularly without a warrant or even suspicion.

Dean Kamen Has a Private Island

Gizmodo was all excited about how Dean Kamen's Private Island Is Now Entirely Off the Grid. If you don't recognize his name, Kamen invented the Segway among other things.

I was more impressed that he has his own replica of Stonehenge!

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Netflix on TiVo

I just setup Netflix on TiVo. It tooks seconds and there were 20 movies already in my queue that were available. I'll probably watch one later today. This is could be a time sink :)

A Couple of Infrographically Interesting Sites

The Newseum has a Map View of Today's Front Pages.

FeedVis is "an interactive tagcloud for your feeds".

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Eberts Best Films of 2008

Eberts list of The best films of 2008... and there were a lot of them. I've only seen 8 and that's counting Milk which I'm seeing tonight.

He adds Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg which I did see and wasn't for me. It's a bizarre hazy dream of a film.

He adds 5 documentaries of which I've only seen two "Encounters at the End of the World" and "Man on Wire" both of which are very good. I'd have to include "Bigger Stronger Faster" in that list.

The Real Bill Ayers

William Ayers (you know, the unrepentant terrorist guy?) wrote an op-ed in the New York Times today The Real Bill Ayers. Good stuff.

And a response from Hilzoy.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Photos of Helen Keller

The Library of Congress is putting lots of old photos on Flickr. Today the put up several of Helen Keller from 1910.

CNN Shutting Down Science Unit

CNN is shutting down it's science and technology unit. The Intersection in Announcing Unscientific America a new book on the media's failure on science reporting has the best analogy I've seen:

"A PBS show we like called Sid The Science Kid recently depicted the title character asking why he can't eat cake for every meal. In the end, he learns that he needs to round out his diet with nutritious foods in order to grow and stay healthy. American journalism should take a lesson from Sid. The media has grown fat by feeding us a steady diet of figurative and often frivolous, sugar-coated dessert, and unfortunately, the dramatic reduction in substance forecasts a grim future."

Get the Most Out of Google Maps

Lots of useful tips on HOW TO: Get the Most Out of Google Maps.

Have We Always Been This Divided?

CrossingWallStreet writes A Healthy Democracy:

"This is stunning.

Total Democratic Presidential Votes Since 1932: 745,407,082

Total Republican Presidential Votes Since 1932: 745,297,123

Total Third-Party Presidential Votes Since 1932: 66,061,486"

I didn't check the sources cited but a 109,959 vote difference between Democrats and Republicans over 76 years!

The 2008 Ovatio Awards

Ars Technica offers The 2008 Ovatio Awards a pretty good summary of various computer related stories of 2008, many that I didn't follow too closely.

Twitter Stuff

I've seen a few articles on Twitter recently so I figured I'd collect them. Walt Mossberg's assistant Katie wrote Birds of a Feather Twitter Together on the Wall Street Journal AllThingsD blog. It's a pretty standard intro for the uninitiated. Here's my version:

Twitter is a service that lets "twitters" post short "tweets" that others can view. There's a web site and various applications to both read and tweet and you can configure your cell phone to use it via SMS text messages. As a result all tweets are limited to 140 characters so it's short blurbs. Some people tweet haikus.

It's plain text without formatting so back to computer use from the 70s, some characters take on special meanings. You can put a @ in front of a twitter's id, like @hmelman and then it becomes a link to their page. Tweets that begin with one of these are called @replies and Twitter tries to make it easy to send one (there's a reply link that will insert this) and follow them (there's a link to see the post that was being replied to). Keywords are supposed to begin with # like #Obama but that's kinda unnecessary.

You can search all tweets for keywords. I follow a search of "Quicksilver" to see tweets about my favorite Mac application. Often they are questions and I reply, even to people I don't know. It's one of the good things about twitter. You can ask a question and someone might give you the answer.

But reading every tweet is crazy so you can follow certain accounts which means you subscribe to those user's tweets. Your Twitter home page shows the tweets of those you follow and probably any @replies sent to you.

That all sounds ok, but Twitter has had a lot of stability problems and was down a lot. To alleviate some of that they curtailed some features but they seem to be getting better. I find the link to the original tweet of an @reply is often broken and I'd really like to see a single page showing the whole thread like a gmail shows conversations. I said I search for Quicksilver but I often see tweets about the book or movie or other things I'm not interested in, this is why natural language (particularly english) doesn't work so well with computers. Also while I follow some friends I follow some well-known industry twitterers and I'm finding my home page is a little crowded and my friends are twittering less.

So here's "Examples of how the popular service's community puts it to use", Power-Tweeting: 101 Everyday Uses for Twitter. Most of these I find pretty lame.

Nevertheless I have gotten some value from Twitter. I see tweets about news items before I see them in the news. It takes far less time to compose 140 characters than a complete article. Also some things are better off in short form than padded out to make an article. Too often I read things where the headline told me everything I needed to know, twitter is just headlines.

Some feeds have been great, the Mars rover had an account sent out updates when it had news. They anthropomorphized it and it was fun. Also with some friends who I see infrequently, I find I keep up with them a little more often when they tweet about something they're doing. When I do see them I can ask about stuff. I once tweeted "being irradiated" and that started a few conversations. :)

So yes, Twitter just seems to be the next Web 2.0 social site of the moment. In fact they were in talks to work or merge with Facebook (the previous Web 2.0 social site of the moment) but Twitter turned them down. The real reason seems to be Facebook's super-inflated $15 billion evaluation. I suspect their current $5 billion valuation is still crazy high.

Twitter's own valuation is about $100 million which seems crazy given that "Twitter has raised $20 million from venture capitalists, but has brought in virtually no revenue, choosing growth over everything else." But then the recession is changing that strategy. “Revenue is now a priority for the first quarter of next year" since they don't want to have to raise money in 2009. I'm curious as to what will change.

Update: Here's some research on Twitter from HP Labs.

A Venti Quiz on Quirky Sizes

A Venti Quiz on Quirky Sizes. I got a 70%.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Who Administers the Oath?

On January 20th, Barack Obama will be sworn in as president. As is tradition, the Chief Justice of the US will administer the oath of office. Interesting tidbit: "Barack Obama will be the first president sworn in by a chief justice -- John Roberts Jr. -- whose nomination he opposed."

As to who will swear in Joe Biden as VP, that tradition has more variation, but Justice Stevens Will Swear In Biden as Vice President. Though it seems Justice Alito holds a grudge from the confirmation hearings.

Ebert Reviews Expelled

Win Ben Stein's mind is Roger Eberts tour de force review of Ben Stein's creationist propaganda film "Expelled". This is the least interesting part of the review:

"That is simply one revealing fragment. This film is cheerfully ignorant, manipulative, slanted, cherry-picks quotations, draws unwarranted conclusions, makes outrageous juxtapositions (Soviet marching troops representing opponents of ID), pussy-foots around religion (not a single identified believer among the ID people), segues between quotes that are not about the same thing, tells bald-faced lies, and makes a completely baseless association between freedom of speech and freedom to teach religion in a university class that is not about religion."

Watch Ads Are Consistent

The New York Times had an article the other day, Why Time Stands Still for Watchmakers. It seems in virtually all ads for watches, the watch is shown set to 10:10.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

CBS Tonight

CBS tonight is airing three shows tonight: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, the live Grammy Nominations Concert, and the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. That's pretty impressive coverage of different demographics. Is there anyone who would watch all three?

The Incredible Convenience of Mathematica Image Processing

I've never used the high end math package Mathematica but I know it's impressive. This new blog post, The Incredible Convenience of Mathematica Image Processing has me wondering if they're going to be leading new developments in user interfaces or languages.

Movie Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire is this year's Juno. By that I mean, it's a perfectly enjoyable film that it's hard to imagine anyone not liking. That explains its 92% Tomatometer rating. However I give it more a B+ than an A but maybe I'm just being harsh.

It's sort of City of God with Who Wants to be a Millionaire as a framing device. Jamal is a Mumbai orphan who grew up on the streets with his brother Salim and at times his first crush Latika. As a young adult he works as a "chai wallah", someone who serves tea to the people working in call centers. The movie begins with him doing well on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Since he's uneducated he's questioned by the police on suspicion of cheating, and by questioned I mean tortured like by Jack Bauer. This sets up a series of flashbacks showing his life and how he knows the answers to the questions.

It's a rags to riches fantasy and a love story that shows the rise of India in the last twenty years. It could be classic Hollywood where it might be described as Oliver Twist becomes Mr. Deeds with the heart of the Little Tramp. But then there's this Jack Bauer-like torture and a Fagin character that would make Fagin wince in terror.

I suppose this dichotomy makes sense for a film directed by Danny Boyle, who's previous films include Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and Millions. It's written by Simon Beaufoy who also wrote The Full Monty. The visuals and sound track are often very good. It's an immersive tour of India.

Jamal, Salim and Latika are played at various ages by new or mostly inexperienced actors. The kids are better, the adults mostly stare in confusion or terrified obedience. They're all fine but I wouldn't expect any acting nominations. A Best Picture nomination wouldn't be out of the question, but it's not going to sweep many awards.

I have a few friends I want to recommend this film to but they'll be upset by some of the violence. There's something to be said for not sugar coating the hardships of poverty. Born into Brothels made that clear. but it wasn't trying to be a rags-to-riches fantasy romance. With torture. My friends will need to close their eyes a few times, it's like if Jaws was a romance.

It's a good film, definitely one of the best of the year. But at the end the smile on my face wasn't as big as for Wall-E. It's a bit predictable. I guessed the end within the first 10 minutes, but the middle kept me interested. If the acting was a little stronger and the tone a little less confused I'd easily give it an A but now it's just close.

The closing credits are done over a Bollywood dance number. The friend I saw it with and I both thought it was the most fun part of the film, particularly the segments with the child actors. It's very well done, but I wish some of that joy was in the film itself and not the credits. Maybe that's why they do it that way in Bollywood films.

Change for Campaigns

Nice Wall Street Journal article, Campaigns Are Where the Real 'Change' Will Take Place.

Google Finance Annoyance

Picture 3.pngI see this problem with Google Finance a lot. Notice that the graph and the stats at the bottom don't match. There's really no excuse. Is the graph a little out of date or is the data from around 11am?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Little Thanksgiving Holiday Reading

James Fallows pointed to A little Thanksgiving holiday reading. Little isn't the right word, but it does look interesting.

1) The Global Trends 2025 report from the National Intelligence Council.
2) America's Defense Meltdown

No I haven't read them yet, but I did download the 2nd and the preface and summary look interesting.

How Big Is the International Space Station?

A week ago Gizmodo asked How Big Is the ISS Compared to Science Fiction Spaceships?. There's a nice scale graphic.

Ebert on Newspapers

I like Roger Ebert's rant a few days ago against the trend in newspapers, Death to film critics! Hail to the CelebCult!. "The news is still big. It's the newspapers that got small."

One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex

David Barstow had this lengthy story in the New York Times on Sunday, One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex. It's a followup to previous stories about how retired generals, with ties to the defense industry are often on news programs stating opinions and don't disclose their business interests. Glenn Greenwald has a summary of the articles so far and some, um, opinion on the matter in The ongoing disgrace of NBC News and Brian Williams.

So here's what the Times said: "Within [4] days of hiring [retired] General McCaffrey, the Defense Solutions [15 page] sales pitch was in the hands of the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military [General David Petraeus]."

That's not really the problem, other than the Eisenhower military-industrial complex thing. Here's a problem:

"General McCaffrey did not mention his new contract with Defense Solutions in his letter to General Petraeus. Nor did he disclose it when he went on CNBC that same week and praised the commander Defense Solutions was now counting on for help — “He’s got the heart of a lion” — or when he told Congress the next month that it should immediately supply Iraq with large numbers of armored vehicles and other equipment." He also criticized a Pentagon plan to use a competitor.

The article goes through a long history of similar events. During the war he was a consultant for another defense contractor Veritas. He supported the war, but afterwards criticised Rumsfeld's handling of it. Rumsfeld yelled at him and cut off access, so McCaffrey did what many pundits did and caved. In June 2003 he said "I am 100 percent behind what the administration, what the president of the United States, is doing in Iraq.”

McCaffrey made many media appearances, learning to state criticisms in more politic ways. The Pentagon gave him access and trips to Iraq. While it's good to inform the media, I suspect it was more to get a critic to be quiet. While talking with military leaders on the ground he didn't mention his defense contractor employer, supposedly to avoid a hint of conflict of interest. So which is worse? Hiding potential bias or admitting it and letting the parties take it into account?

I'm not sure when it comes to generals and contracts but when it comes to journalism I prefer to be informed. Here's my biggest issue with what the article raises. "General McCaffrey is not required to abide by NBC’s formal conflict-of-interest rules, [the president of NBC News, Steve] Capus said, because he is a consultant, not a news employee. Nor is he required to disclose his business interests periodically" So why don't consultants count? They're giving their opinions as news, why not disclose the biases?

It's similar for contractors too. When we count how many troops we have in Iraq we say 130,000, which doesn't count the other 130,000 contractors we have there who aren't subject to US military or Iraqi law (well maybe that's changing). Companies don't count contractors as employees, don't have to provide health care to them and can more easily fire them and find interesting tax loopholes for them. Something seems wrong here.

Rogue on the iPhone

It's official, the iPhone is a computer. Rogue - classic Unix game comes to the iPhone.

The Holy Church of Bacon

For people who take a love of bacon too far, The Holy Church of Bacon.

Wood Plank Found on Mars?

I don't think urban legends are being spread by email as much lately, but if you see something about a wood plank found on Mars Universe Today reports it's not wood. Here's the real picture in question.


And here's the explanation, "'What you're seeing is a piece of flat, platy, layered sulfur-rich outcrop rock like we've seen almost everywhere the Opportunity rover has been in Meridiani Planum,' said Bell. 'Sometimes, like in this case, those flat, platy rocks have been tilted or dislodged, this one probably from the forces associated with the huge impact crater that formed nearby.'"

Monday, December 01, 2008

Borders Incorrect Math and Definition of Success

Borders is having a sale on DVD box sets. Use coupon code CM2008 to get 40% off. So I went to look at their price for the The Wire Season 5. (I previously got a great deal from Amazon on seasons 1-4.)

The list price is $63.99 and it sells for $57.59 (a 10% discount). I entered the promo code and it said "40% Off List Price on DVD Boxed Sets Limit 2 - Unless Better Online Discount Already Applied" and also "Promotional offers and coupons are calculated off of the item's list price." The reduction shown was -$19.20 for a total of $38.39.

Not bad, but something didn't seem right. $19.20 is neither 40% of $63.99 nor $57.59. It's actually 30% of $63.99. The email sending me the coupon and the shopping cart say it's a 40% off coupon but the price applied is 30%. Grrrrr.

40% of $63.99 is $25.60. So the final price should be $57.59-$25.60 = $31.99.

For comparison, Amazon shows the list price as $59.99 (why is Border's list $4 more?) and has a regular price of $38.99 which is correctly labelled as 35% off. But Borders should be $7 less.

So how do I complain? There's Borders' customer care site and a link to Contact Us. There's an email form and a phone number. Since a human might be able to get the site fixed before any email was read, I figured I'd call.

"Thank you for calling Borders Customer Care Center. Due to the overwhelming success of our new web site, we are experiencing extended hold time."

And just how does that work? Is everyone calling to say how thrilled they are with the site? It goes on to suggest sending email which they might not get to for 48 hours, by which time the sale is over. I sent some anyway. Since it's a web form, I couldn't include a screen shot of the shopping cart.

I partially agree with them, the web site is overwhelming.

Update: Ok, their math isn't wrong it's just misleading. If they show a list price of $63.99 and "Your Price" of 10% off or $57.59 and then you apply a 40% off coupon, the price you're going to pay is just 40% off the list price or $38.39. This is actually reasonable. What threw me is that their shopping cart prominently shows useless info like "Your Price" and "Item Total". They have two sentences in bold "Promotional offers and coupons are calculated off of the item's list price.The amount shown here reflects any additional discounts from Your Price." which give the right explanation but I was apparently too dense to figure it out.

The end result is that Borders 2 day only 40% off sale is only 60 cents less than Amazon's everyday price.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Venus and Jupiter and the Moon

Here in Boston, we had clouds and rain tonight, but tomorrow looks promising to see The "Venus and Jupiter" Show.

SawStop Test

There's plenty of warning before you get to the part that would seem to be scary but isn't.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Man Arrested For Singing Spider-Pig

Who Was Arrested For Singing Spider-Pigt. I haven't checked this anywhere else, even for the article that's an exaggeration, but he did get an extra 3 months in jail for singing it. Most addictive song ever.

Coffee Loving Astronaut Invents Zero-G Coffee Cup

Astronaut Invents Zero-G Coffee Cup since sipping coffee through a straw sucks. It's shaped like a wing so surface tension forces the liquid to the pointy side and up to the rim.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tool Bag Lost During Space Walk, Seen From Earth

Last week on November 18th, one of the shuttle astronauts, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, lost a tool bag during space walk. It was caught on video:

It's still floating around the earth. Slashdot wrote, "Last night, Nov. 22nd, veteran satellite observer Kevin Fetter video-recorded the backpack-sized bag gliding over his backyard observatory in Brockville, Ontario. "It was easily 8th magnitude or brighter as it passed by the 4th magnitude star eta Pisces," he says. "

Hip Hop Violin

US Officials Flunk Test of American History, Economics, Civics

Yahoo News reports US officials flunk test of American history, economics, civics

"US elected officials scored abysmally on a test measuring their civic knowledge, with an average grade of just 44 percent, the group that organized the exam said Thursday. Ordinary citizens did not fare much better, scoring just 49 percent correct on the 33 exam questions compiled by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI)."

The test is here, it's not easy. There are 33 questions. I scored 97%. I'm convinced the one question I missed has two right answers but I didn't choose the conservative answer.

I also disagree with their claim that this information should be taught in college. I think it all should be taught in high school. I'm pretty sure I learned it all in high school and many college students are not US citizens.

25 Tips For The Frugal Astronomer

Frugal Astronomer has 25 Tips For The Frugal Astronomer. I knew about many of these and have been using them (Stellarium, Astronomy Cast, Sky & Telescope). I didn't know about the college classes at iTunesU. There are many more than listed including one with video from Michigan Tech. Should be fun.

Helvetica and the New York City Subway

If you're into fonts or the New York City subway you'll be interested in this lengthy and detailed (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway.

Bush Still Screwing Science

Bush Appointees Land Career Science Jobs With Seemingly Unrelated Backgrounds. It's happened in previous administrations and is known as "burrowing".

"The president of the nation's largest general science organization yesterday sharply criticized recent cases of Bush administration political appointees gaining permanent federal jobs with responsibility for making or administering scientific policies, saying the result would be 'to leave wreckage behind.'

'It's ludicrous to have people who do not have a scientific background, who are not trained and skilled in the ways of science, make decisions that involve resources, that involve facilities in the scientific infrastructure,' said James McCarthy, a Harvard University oceanographer who is president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 'You'd just like to think people have more respect for the institution of government than to leave wreckage behind with these appointments.'

His comments came as several new examples surfaced of political appointees gaining coveted, high-level civil service positions as the administration winds down. The White House has said repeatedly that all gained their new posts in an open, competitive process, but congressional Democrats and others questioned why political appointees had won out over qualified federal career employees."

I Must Avoid Film Theory in the Future

During a conversation about Quantum of Solace last week, a friend wondered if I'm too critical on some films meant to be popcorn entertainment. I wondered about that too. I know that writing movie reviews has helped me understand my own thoughts about films, but has it made me more critical? Probably. Have I lost my ability to enjoy popcorn entertainment? I don't think so.

Some of my favorite films this year have been fun action films. I loved Wall-E and The Bank Job. I thought The Dark Knight was great, though my least favorite part of that film were the action scenes. I liked Iron Man though not as much as lot of people, but my favorite parts of that film were the action scenes and the testing of the armor. I even did ok with The Incredible Hulk.

Last year I liked the start of the Transformers and the opening action sequences but the later ones got progressively dumber and harder to follow. In spite of its complete stupidity I even liked Live Free or Die Hard.

I think I just don't like stupidity in my films, unless I'm in a particularly good mood or it's done for laughs. I like action enough that I want to see it and understand it and savor it. I know editing is now faster and video game playing audiences can handle it more. I enjoyed but barely kept up with the second Bourne movie, by the third I really liked the technique. The third one was edited by Christopher Rouse, the second by Rouse and Richard Pearson and it's Pearson who was a co-editor on Quantum. Maybe it's just Pearson I don't like.

But all of that is a long intro to the fact that I now know I really don't like Film Theory. Thursday I went to a lecture at Harvard, Hitchcock's Mountain: Technologies of Engagement in North by Northwest. It sounded like something I'd really enjoy, how my favorite director made one of the best scenes in one of his best films.

There was some good stuff in the talk. Basically it was filmed in a studio using optical mattes and rear projection. Closeups and medium shots using painted materials (rocks) were intercut with these shots. All of that is pretty obvious on viewing. There are tricks employed to make all this movie magic work better. First, keep the shots short so that the audience don't have time to stare at the image and find the seams in the mattes. Also loud music cues at the cuts help to distract the viewer so it will take longer to process the image (and see the flaws). Closeups of the actors, particularly with dramatic facial expressions, help too.

He also talked about some of the technical innovations that led to these techniques. Rear projection was limited by fringing, that is the center was bright and the edges dark, so it would look like a projection. In 1953 this was solved (I think with Vistavision but I might have misunderstood). Also he described some of the techniques artists used to paint the enormous mattes realistically.

The problem was the above was only about 15 minutes of an hour and half talk. I found the first 20 minutes a pretty worthless introduction. I don't remember much of note and at the time found nothing worthwhile to take notes of. Some if it was quotes by other film theorists that struck me as general, though I might have been missing something. Much of the rest of the talk was minutia stretched far longer than it was worth.

He explained the importance of an establishing shot to set up such a set piece, showing examples from both the beginning of Psycho (shots of Phoenix) and this Mount Rushmore scene. For this film, Hitchcock used a small round image of Rushmore straight on, like you've seen on every postcard. But the blackness around it suggests a telescope view and indeed he shows Cary Grant looking through one of those coin operated binocular viewers found at scenic locations. Hitchcock's two shots were effective and succinct but the speaker went on at length about how these viewers are so recognizable and found at various US National Park sites, listing at least a half a dozen like Niagara Falls, etc. If it's so well known, you can expect us to know about it.

There was a lot on why it was filmed on a set instead of on location at Mount Rushmore. What I expected to be a quick list of reasons, cost, the control a soundstage affords, the insurance costs of having stars climb Mount Rushmore and the difficulty of convincing the National Park Service to allow it, went on for a quite a while, including slides listing the actors salaries and a list of the other sets built on that soundstage. It's as if he needed to prove those reasons.

The presentation itself also had issues. The speech was read word for word and that's rarely a good thing. A powerpoint presentation at least avoided the use a slide template and just had large images with some overlaid text which was usually in some garish color and sometimes slid in using awful transitions. But ok, I know what to expect with powerpoint, what got me was the first question. It was another academic who was so blown away by the presentation was almost speechless but then needed to comment at length on how technically marvelous the slides were and if in fact powerpoint was used. He said the presentation was a self-referential example of the topic in how technology was used to perfect the point and that he spent the time trying to find a pattern to the color choice but was "undone". The speaker replied that he hoped he was undone in a good way and the response was "aren't we always looking to be undone?"

Personally I was undone by the fact that his list of the techniques (mattes, rear projection, painted materials and closeups) were not in the same order as they were mentioned in the talk. And if there was no system to the color choices of the text, why change the color? This is undone in a bad way. It's just sloppy presentation skills as far as I'm concerned.

The extensive listing of examples was a theme of the talk and included dates and names that didn't aid me at all in understanding the point. They seemed extraneous and I found them a distraction. If I was a film theorist I'd say it was Greenawayian. I kept thinking to myself, "I get the point, move on". However the second questioner picked up on this aspect and praised him for it, saying it would be useful to students to always remind them that these details were choices and made by someone to create this film. I suppose that's possible, but wouldn't a film student already know this? What really surprised me was the speaker's response; he said was "brought to tears" by this comment and he literally was!

The first commenter then found more to say. He was thinking about the shoes in this scene and how they would provide the least traction possible. The speaker said "yes you could write a whole paper on the shoes in this scene". Really? They were wearing everyday shoes because they didn't expect to be climbing down a mountain and Eva Marie Saint did slip because of her heels, it was a plot point. Sometimes a high heel is just a high heel.

Watch a Fiery Meteorite Burn Up the Sky

Watch a Fiery Meteorite Burn Up the Sky "Thursday night, a meteorite fell in Western Canada, burning up as hit the Earth’s atmosphere and creating a brilliant flash over Alberta and Saskatchewan. Witnesses got to experience the brightest fireball the country has seen in over a decade. Fortunately for us non-Canadians, several video cameras captured the meteorite’s luminous fall."

The brightest meteor I ever saw was one years the Cape watching the Perseid's. Of a bunch of us looking, only one other friend saw it Thankfully we could back up each other's claim. :) This one is much brighter that that.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Another List of the Top 100 Films of All Time

The Telegraph lists in English the Top 100 films of all time according French cinema magazine Les Cahiers du Cinema. I've seen only 38 of them, but a few more are on my TiVo.

About Those Auto Worker Wages...

Daily Kos has a nice post, About Those Auto Worker Wages..., busting the myth of the auto worker paid $73/hour and how last year the UAW negotiated to take over the health care of auto workers and pointing out that GM CEO Rick Waggoner made $9,500/hour.

Winning the Netflix Prize

If You Liked This, Sure to Love That catches you up on the current state of the $1 million Netflix prize.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Final Resting Place of Nicolas Copernicus is Confirmed

Universe Today reports Final Resting Place of Nicolas Copernicus is Confirmed.

The rightful place of the man who put the Earth in its rightful place has now been confirmed. New DNA analysis confirms that the remains of a 70-year old man found in Frombork Cathedral in Northern Poland are those of Nicolas Copernicus. Discovered three years ago, the remains allowed archaeologists produce a facial reconstruction from the skull, creating a likeness to portraits of Copernicus. But though the placement of the grave and the age of the body corresponded to the details of Copernicus' death, scientists couldn't be sure that the remains were actually those of Copernicus"

They had strands of hair from a book he was known to have owned and compared to the DNA from a tooth and femur taken from the grave and they matched. The article includes a possible picture of Copernicus based on the reconstruction (in Bones they can do this in seconds). I nominate James Cromwell to play him in the movie.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bruce Lee Playing Ping Pong

This seems to be an 11 second clip of Bruce Lee playing ping pong using nunchucks instead of paddle.

iPhone Your Life

iPhone Your Life is a page on Apple's site with recommended third party iPhone apps. Neat list.

All About Black Holes and I Saw Uranus

Tonight was the Monthly Observatory Night at the Harvard Center for Astrophysics. Dr. Daniel Evans spoke about black holes.

He started with some basics. Escape velocity V is the square root of 2GM/R, where G is the gravitational constant, M is mass and R is the radius. So if you wanted to know how big a black hole with the mass of the sun would be, solve for R which is the square root of 2GM/c where c is the speed of light. You get a 3km radius, that's under 4 miles diameter.

A black hole will only suck in matter that's within 3 times radius of the event horizon. As matter is pulled into the black hole, it rubs together and via friction generates heat and light, particularly in x-rays. Other light is generated but x-rays are easy for us to see since few other things generate them.

Chandra is a spece telescope, like Hubble but sees x-rays. Here's the Chandra Deep Field-North image.

cdfn_xray_420 1.jpg

"The Chandra Deep Field North image (left) was made by observing an area of the sky three-fifths the size of the full moon for 23 days...More than 500 X-ray sources are present in this high-energy core sample of the early universe. Most of the sources are supermassive black holes located in the centers of galaxies. If the number of supermassive black holes seen in this patch of the sky is typical, the total number detectable over the whole sky at this level of sensitivity would be 300 million."

Super-Massive Black Holes (SMBH) are those found at the center of galaxies. They're much much larger than those formed from supernovas. He said the theory was that they formed from coalescing dark matter in the early universe. While it was unexpected, it seems there's a direct relationship between the size of a SMBH and the size of its galaxy.

As SMBHs spin, the matter that gets sucked into them forms a disk known as an accretion disk. As this matter is sucked into the black hole, some of it spins around it and is released in huge hot gas jets perpendicular to the disk. These can be hundred of thousands of light-years long and can generate huges amounts of energy. Here's an image of a gas jet in Centaurus A, shown in x-rays generating 1038 Watts.

NGC_5128 1.jpg

Galaxy clusters are huge collections of galaxies. I didn't realize that there's hot gas between the galaxies at about 10 million degrees. Also, the mass of the gas is greater than that of the galaxies. I read now that the mass of this gas is not enough to account for the galaxies clustering together and this missing mass is the evidence of dark matter (I knew the general principle, but not the intracluster gas part). So when SMBHs blow jets they blow this intracluster gas away, forming actual bubbles. Without these bubble, the gas would collapse and form stars. So the jets are regulating the amount of star formation.

The last part of the talk was about 3c321 a particular system he's studying. Here's the image:

3c321 1.jpg

This is a composite from several different telescopes showing various wavelengths of light. From corner-to-opposite-corner is about a million light-years. The purple in the lower left are x-rays and the two parts are two different SMBHs at the centers of two different galaxies (who's stars are glowing red and orange in this image) which are rotating around each other. The blue is radio waves, it's actually a jet from the lower left SMBH heading to the top right of the image. It's colliding with the second galaxy who's gravity is diffusing the jet into the cloud seen in the right portion of the image. This is known as the Death Star Galaxy because the lower one is actually attacking the upper one. This is all happening about 1.5 billion light-years away.

So all that was fascinating, but for me the real fun was then going to the roof to look through telescopes. For the first time I saw Uranus. It looked like a big blue star, but it's still cool. So I've now seen all the planets but Mercury and Neptune (and Pluto if you still count it).

Visions of Mars

National Geographic's Visions of Mars has some amazing images.

75 Comics Being Made Into Films

Den of Geek lists 75 comics being made into films. "Comics are the new spec-scripts, and Hollywood is very amenable to a script with big pictures..."

I've only even heard of about 40 of these and I'm only looking forward to a handful of them.

Amateur Astronomers Photograph Charon and Jupiter

This just blows my mind. “Amateur” astronomers capture Jupiter, Charon.

This is a picture of Pluto and it's moon Charon. It was taken by an amateur astronomer in Italy.


"Mind you, Charon wasn’t even discovered until 1978 by a pro, using a 61 inch telescope! The image above was using a 14″ telescope, and is in fact much better than the discovery image. In 30 years of progress, a much smaller commercial telescope can do better than a professional setup could. Wow."

Here's a picture of Jupitor taken with an iPhone (and an 8" telescope)


"The photo shows three of the four "Galilean" moons of Jupiter: Ganymede, Io, Europa, on the right, left to right. Callisto was not in the frame, and a faint star can be seen on the left of Jupiter. A few of Jupiter's cloud bands can be seen in the iPhone photo."

Behind the Screens of Election Maps

Behind the Screens of Election Maps

FBI Can Track Cell Phones Without Phone Company's Help

The ACLU Blog reports With Technology Like This, Who Needs the Law?.

"The ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation have received several batches of Justice Department documents in response to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request (and subsequent lawsuit) for records relating to the government’s use of cell phones as tracking devices. What they tell us is that the government doesn’t even need the help of a cell phone service provider to track us with our phones. The FBI now has what is called ‘triggerfish’ technology — a cell site simulator that forces cell phones in the area to register its phone number, serial number and location — allowing it to track cell phones on its own. This raises the risk that they will do so without bothering to go to a court for permission first, since they no longer need to compel the provider to cooperate."

A few civicly minded geeks shouted when tracking technology was added to cell phones, saying it was ripe for abuse by a surveillance nation. Now we have one.

Black Holes Supply Lifeblood for Galaxies

Universe Today reported Black Holes Supply Lifeblood for Galaxies.

"These scientists say the powerful black holes at the center of massive galaxies act as hearts to the systems, pumping energy out at regular intervals to regulate the growth of the black holes themselves, as well as star formation. ‘Just like our hearts periodically pump our circulatory systems to keep us alive, black holes give galaxies a vital warm component. They are a careful creation of nature, allowing a galaxy to maintain a fragile equilibrium,’ said Alexis Finoguenov, of the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany."

See, your heart is like a black hole.

LIFE photo archive hosted by Google

LIFE photo archive hosted by Google "Search millions of photographs from the LIFE photo archive, stretching from the 1750s to today. Most were never published and are now available for the first time through the joint work of LIFE and Google."

Plame, Wilson Seeking Supreme Court Review

The Blog of Legal Times writes Plame, Wilson Seeking Supreme Court Review.

"Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, alleged Cheney and other Bush administration officials violated constitutional rights in revealing her identity as an undercover CIA officer. In a 2-1 vote, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in August affirmed a district judge’s order dismissing the lawsuit saying, among other things, the complaint failed to establish a constitutional issue."

Now they are trying to bring it to the Supreme Court. “There must be consequences when government officials abuse their power and endanger national security for political ends. This is an issue worth fighting over and we will not give up.”

Going After Torturers

The AP reports The Associated Press: Obama advisers: No charges likely vs interrogators.

"Barack Obama's incoming administration is unlikely to bring criminal charges against government officials who authorized or engaged in harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists during the George W. Bush presidency. Obama, who has criticized the use of torture, is being urged by some constitutional scholars and human rights groups to investigate possible war crimes by the Bush administration."

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said Bush administration officials would not face war crime charges.

I agree with an Andrew Sullivan reader that "What Obama needs to do is have a panel fully study and document what occurred--give it subpoena power, appoint eminently respected and nonpartisan figures to it, and issue strict orders to the intelligence community, the State Department, the Department of Defense to cooperate."

I also agree with this from the AP article:

"But Michael Ratner, a professor at Columbia Law School and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said prosecuting Bush officials is necessary to set future anti-torture policy. 'The only way to prevent this from happening again is to make sure that those who were responsible for the torture program pay the price for it,' Ratner said. 'I don't see how we regain our moral stature by allowing those who were intimately involved in the torture programs to simply walk off the stage and lead lives where they are not held accountable.'"

Jenny Egan has more at the ACLU blog, How Will the Imperial Presidency End?. "Which is why investigations are critical both to ferreting out wrongdoing and preventing such abuses in the future. This becomes trickier, however, if Bush issues a blanket pardon as he’s rumored to be contemplating. The pardon wouldn’t grant immunity to a specific class of people — like Carter’s blanket pardon to Vietnam draft-dodgers — but would be programmatic and would apply to a broad swath of people who participated in any activity related to the Bush administration’s torture and interrogation programs."

Suzanne Ito posted on the ACLU blog, “We Won’t Torture.” Trust us. about related torture issues, whether we deport people to places where they are likely to be tortured. "You may recall the plight of Sameh Khouzam: he fled Egypt in 1998 to avoid torture for being a Christian. Last summer, the U.S. government was ready to deport him back to Egypt, after assuring Khouzam that it received a "diplomatic assurance" from the Egyptian government that it would not torture him upon his return. So despite a federal court’s finding that he would likely be tortured back in Egypt, a deportation date was set. The ACLU stepped in on Khouzam’s behalf, and secured a stay of his deportation."

"The [Convention Against Torture] prohibits the U.S. from transferring a person "to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture." The United States signed CAT in 1988 and ratified the treaty in 1994. Despite this and our own domestic laws against torture, the U.S. has deported people based on diplomatic assurances from Syria, India, Egypt, Romania and Mexico. And those are just the ones we know about."

SCOTUSBlog writes in its Primer on Boumediene’s week of reckoning that not everything will wait for the Obama administration to start.

"Judges and lawyers, however, have schedules to meet, and cannot wait to see what President-elect Barack Obama will do once in the White House. So, starting Thursday, and in sequence, a Circuit Court panel will hold a crucial hearing on civilian courts’ powers in reviewing military detention decisions; a District judge will decide the first of the contested Guantanamo habeas cases — a reprise of the very same Boumediene case that went to the Supreme Court and returned; a Circuit Court panel will hear government pleas to keep any detainees from being transferred to the U.S.; a District judge will try to sort out the links and conflicts between habeas, claims of torture and war crimes evidence, and the Supreme Court will get its first look at the first major sequel to Boumediene — a test of the President’s power to detain an individual who was lawfully in the U.S., was seized inside this country, and is now being held indefinitely and without charges in a military jail in South Carolina."

They go into detail of the above in the article making them each understandable to a layman.