Saturday, May 31, 2008

Air Force Unit's Nuclear Weapons Security Is 'Unacceptable'

The Washington Post Reports Air Force Unit's Nuclear Weapons Security Is 'Unacceptable'. "The same Air Force unit at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota that was responsible for mishandling six nuclear cruise missiles last August failed key parts of a nuclear safety inspection this past weekend, according to a Defense Department report."

"Among the problems found during last week's inspection: Internal security forces did not go to assigned defensive areas during an exercise that involved an attempt to steal a nuclear weapon; security guards failed to search an emergency vehicle that entered and left the nuclear storage area during that exercise; a security guard used his cellphone to play video games while on duty; and guards were unarmed at traffic control points along the route where nuclear weapons were to travel."

Friday, May 30, 2008

Unloading on McClellan

Given all the crap like this I've seen today, Bob Dole unloads on McClellan, I have a new rule of my own (to borrow something from Bill Maher).

Only people who were against Bush can whine about McClellan not speaking up at the time. It's pretty weak to call McClellan a coward for not speaking up at the time if you were part of the group blindly supporting the administration and calling anyone who wasn't unpatriotic or uninformed.

Note that all the anti-McClellan statements these last few days haven't denied that the accusations against the administration are true.

Death Star Canteen

YouTube - Eddie Izzard- Death Star Canteen ""

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Google Spam Filter Flakey

Is anyone else having this problem? I use gmail and their spam filter is usually quite good. However, every once in a while, like now, I go through several days where it lets through a bunch of obvious cialis/viagra messages. Not all, I'd say maybe an 15% of them, but that's still about 25 in the last two days. It doesn't make much sense to me since the messages are obviously spam and look a lot like the other messages it catches (they're from "Cialias/Viagra" how difficult is that to catch?). I do go into gmail and flag them as spam so it will learn but it takes a few days and then happens again a few months later. Is this just me?

Organic Milk

Tom Philpott explains Why that organic label on your milk doesn't tell the whole story. It's probably the best article on the subject I've read and not too long either.

"The organic label, for all its success, sometimes complicates my job. Rather than challenge consumers to learn more about their food, the label too often lulls them into feel-good ignorance. For many consumers, 'organic' means food that's healthy, clean, and fair to farmers and farmworkers. Of course, the reality is much more complicated."

Iraq: One Winter Soldier's Tale

Iraq: One Winter Soldier's Tale "In the spring of 2008, a conference was held on the outskirts of Washington, DC. Entitled Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, it harkened back to the Winter Soldier testimonies held three decades ago during the Vietnam War. Of the testimonies we filmed, this one, by Iraq War vet Jon Michael Turner, was the most compelling and intense."

The Miracle Fruit

The Miracle Fruit, a Tease for the Taste Buds "They were among 40 or so people who were tasting under the influence of a small red berry called miracle fruit at a rooftop party in Long Island City, Queens, last Friday night. The berry rewires the way the palate perceives sour flavors for an hour or so, rendering lemons as sweet as candy."

Scott McClellan on the "liberal media"

Glenn Greenwald talks about Scott McClellan on the "liberal media". "How much longer can this preposterous myth be sustained when even the White House Spokesman not only mocks the phrase but derides the media for being "too deferential" to the right-wing Government "in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during [his] years in Washington"? If one were to set about with the goal of debunking the "Liberal Media" myth -- as Eric Alterman specifically did four years ago and other media critics have more generally done before that -- one couldn't dream up evidence more conclusive than McClellan's admissions."

He continues in Network news anchors praise the job they did in the run-up to the war

Seasonal Ingredient Map

Epicurious has an interactivePeak-Season Map. Select the month and the state and see what food is in season.

California and Activist Judges

MobLogic was in Georgia and asked people their views on the California gay marriage ruling (video). As usual their show notes, Traditional Values with a Twist are excellent. Here's part of it that explains why the activist judge label (in this case as in many) is specious.

"This is an emotional issue, but it’s a political one as well. Some people are calling the normally conservative, cautious California Supreme Court ‘activist judges’ who are legislating from the bench. They want to leave all gay marriage decisions in the hands of the people and the state legislators. And yes, this decision overturned a 2000 voter referendum which said only marriage between a man and a woman would be valid in California. But as for the lawmakers, they’ve made two efforts to allow gay marriage. Both times, the governor vetoed the legislation. After his vetos, Governor Shwarzenegger urged the courts to resolve the issue."

MADtv - Apple iRack

YouTube - Madtv - Apple I-rack ""

Sex and the City

My sister saw the Sex and the City movie Wed night. She said it was "the best movie ever".

$580 Later

Sunday night my check engine light came on. I checked in the manual and it suggested tightening the gas cap and seeing if it went out in a few days. It didn't and I need to get my inspection in June. Wed I brought it in to my dealer to check; I've been happy with them since 1990. Here's the result:

"The check engine light was illuminated due to a P1457 which is an evap control system leak (evap canister area). Completed a function test and Honda tablet confirmed evap system leak. Tech determined faulty canister vent shut valve because it is not clicking when activated. Canister itself must also be replaced because the threaded inserts are just spinning within the canister, so the screws holding the CVS valve cannot be removed. Also a large amount of gas found inside the 2-way valve. Will also need 2-way valve and bypass solenoid replaced because of this. Replaced the canister, CVS valve bypass solenoid and 2-way valve. Re-ran an evap function test and it passed."

That came to $325 in parts and $240 in labor and $16 in taxes (all rounded off, so don't tell me the title is wrong). The lesson is apparently don't fill the tank up too far. When the nozzle clicks the first time, stop. Oddly the two gas stations closest to me with the cheapest prices are full serve, so I don't know if they've been filling it too far.

Another trick I learned. It's good to have a dealership close to a mall to kill time. And it's good to plan to be in Brookstone sitting in a $4000 massage chair when they call to tell you how much it will cost to fix your car. Those things have really progressed in last 10 years; they're a little better than the ones I saw in Japan in 2001.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More Phoenix Stuff

Here are a few more things on the Phoenix Mars Lander. FIrst is The Full Descent Image:
psp_008579_9020_descent_800-601 1.jpg

That inset image is the Phoenix Lander descending. It's not heading into the "Heimdall" crater but is landing about 12 miles in front of it.

Phoenix will be looking below the surface of Mars. Universe Today explains what it's looking for:
permafrost_mars 1.jpg

"This pair of images...shows the similarities between the surface of Mars where Phoenix landed (top) and permafrost on northeastern Spitsbergen, Svalbard (bottom) an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean north of mainland Europe, about midway between Norway and the North Pole. The polygon patterns in the permafrost form when the upper parts of the ground thaw and refreeze from season to season. The ground contracts in the winter cold, creating small spaces that fill with melted water in the summer. When winter returns and the water freezes, it acts like a wedge, enlarging the cracks."

"And why is this so interesting? On Earth, permafrost, glaciers, and other frozen environments can preserve organic molecules, bacteria, and fungi for hundreds of thousands, even millions, of years. The Phoenix spacecraft has scientific instruments that will dig into the frozen ground of the Martian Arctic, vaporize the soil sample, and analyze the chemistry of the vapors. Scientists hope to learn whether ice just below the surface ever thaws and whether some chemical ingredients of life are preserved in the icy soil."

Astronomers Image Dying Supergiant Star

Universe Today reports Astronomers Image Dying Supergiant Star "For the first time, a team of astronomers has taken a close-up image of an individual dying supergiant star, WHO G64, in a neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, about 160,000 light years distant. Researchers have been trying for decades to look closely at how aging stars lose a considerable amount of their mass before they go supernova. But this is difficult because of the great distances. However, by combining two 8.2m telescopes in Chile as an interferometer, they achieved the resolving power of a 60-m telescope. With this super-sharp view, they discovered that the dying supergiant star is developing a thick dust torus around it. They estimated that the star had an initial mass of about 25 times the mass of our sun. But now, the star is shedding material so rapidly that it has already lost 10 - 40% of its initial mass and is speeding toward its final fate as a supernova [in a few thousand years]."

wohg64location_spitzer_hires-580x527 1.jpg

Compared to Other Liquids, Gasoline is Cheap

I used to be amazed that soda cost more per gallon than gasoline. Why bottled sugar water (now high fructose corn syrup water) should cost more than something pumped up from under the desert on the other side of the planet baffled me. Now it's not quite true. I see that a 2 liter bottle of coke costs $1.89, that $3.57 a gallon which is less than I pay for gas.

David Pogue takes this idea further and finds Compared to Other Liquids, Gasoline is Cheap. The real revelation is thinking of the price of inkjet printer ink per gallon ($4,294.58).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

No Torture. No Exceptions.

No Torture. No Exceptions. "The aim of this initiative is to join together those who oppose torture into a formidable force with a common goal: mobilizing national grassroots action to urge the Presidential candidates and both political parties to adopt “Reject Torture” planks in their party platforms."

I found this via digby. "So this is about the Democrats, and specifically the Democratic party platform, which should, in my view, come out clearly and without hedging, against torture. If the Democratic party can't stand up unequivocally for that principle, then I'm afraid all of its purported devotion to freedom, equality and social justice is pretty weak gruel. As Dick Cheney would say, this is a 'no brainer.'"

Java Data Structures That Scale to Hundreds of Processors

Cliff Click on a Scalable Non-Blocking Coding Style "Dr Cliff Click, a distinguished engineer at Azul Systems, gave a talk (slides here) at this year’s JavaOne describing a set of techniques that have allowed him to get quite some way towards a scalable, non-blocking coding style in Java. In very broad terms his approach implements a non-blocking algorithm such that stopping one particular thread does not stop global progress."

Agreement May Mean End of Cable Set-Top Boxes

Agreement may mean end of cable set-top boxes "The set-top box, a necessary appendage for millions of cable televisions for decades, is moving toward extinction. A leading television manufacturer, Sony Electronics Inc., and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association said Tuesday they signed an agreement that will allow viewers to rid themselves of set-top boxes, yet still receive advanced 'two-way' cable services, such as pay-per-view movies. "

I can't tell if this is a new cable card standard or something else. "Under the new system, customers will still need to get a cable card from their provider, but the agreement means, hopefully, technical glitches will be eliminated, "two-way" services will be available and there will be no need for the clunky boxes."

"The agreement is between Sony and the nation's six largest cable companies: Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable Inc., Cox Communications Inc., Charter Communications Inc., Cablevision Systems Corp. and Bright House Networks. The six companies serve more than 82 percent of cable subscribers." I see that Verizon FiOS is not listed.

Scott McClellan Wrote a Book

Former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan's new book says Bush used 'propaganda' to sell war. He also has harsh words about Rove and Libby about them lying to him about Plamegate (ok, he said "at best misled"). So we all knew this stuff already. And I'm tired of these books coming out now. Why didn't these people say anything at the time when something might have been done about it. Of course something could still be done, but I doubt it will be.

Software Review: Delicious Library 2

Delicious Library 2 finally shipped with lots of new features. I've been using it for a couple of days and like some things and dislike others.

It's definitely faster, which is very welcome. Also smart shelves are finally here which is also very nice. But my biggest complaint is that the search box is now limited to doing either a title/creator search or an isbn/upc/ean number search. In DL 1 I used to narrow things down by genre, illustrator, actor, a bunch of other fields and now I can't. You can do these things (and more) with smart shelves but I don't want to have to create them for all of these searches. Also there used to be a button next to creator to search amazon for that person, that functionality seems to have been dropped.

Smart shelves do have some clever features. You can search the image for a color so you can do "all my blue items" which might be better for clothing which DL 2 can also scan (though I can't imagine ever using this feature). But of course the first thing I wanted to search for was "has no cover art" (so that I could use the new Search for Cover Art feature), but I can't do that search. While text searches have both "is" and "is not" operators, there's only a "contains" and not a "does not contain". Also it would be nice if the huge popup list of fields were ordered in some way, maybe indented like the sort by popup or alphabetically like in the Export dialog. Wouldn't it be nice if all three places used the same order?

The publishing options look nice, but I don't think I'll have much use for them. Printing uses a new template that fits many fewer items on a page with bigger pictures and large star ratings. I preferred the older compact listing but appreciate that the pdf file is a couple of order of magnitude smaller. The new export features are a nice addition but it will need some formatting to make things pretty. I'll probably end up making a new template for printing, which is another nice addition. But it would have been nice if the old format was an included template.

DL2 looks even prettier than DL1. Superfluous animations are used when adding and deleting items but they're fun. Items are sized via their dimensions which helps a lot for oddly shaped books; however I found I had to select each item individually for them to be resized. I don't want to arrow through 1600 items individually. d It should happen on it's own for all items or at least allow it to happen on multiple selections. Backgrounds are removed from item images which is really nice since many amazon images are larger than the actual item and the image used to be scaled badly. I used to save the image and crop it in preview before adding it in DL. You can now add virtually anything with a upc code and I've added gadgets include all my Apple stuff. The edge finding of the background colors screws up the white of the AirPort Express and Time Capsule mistakenly making parts of them transparent.

One visual change that I really don't like is that the details pane is now at the bottom. it seems much more obtrusive and often needs resizing which isn't remembered. There's also a mini mode that shows just title, creator and rating which is nice but toggling it gets confused with the other modes. I'd like the mini mode at the bottom and the details moved back to the side. With widescreen macs and given this narrow info, it makes much more sense. Also the synopsis has a huge image of the item next to it that almost always needs to be scrolled. I think it should be smaller or not there at all and I'd like a QuickLook-like zoom on an image by hitting space to replace the now missing details window that used to appear by double-clicking.

My biggest problem with the synopsis is that it seems to overwrite the custom synopsis entries I made in DL1 with info from Amazon. I changed it for a reason and I sometimes see my version flash before it's changed to Amazon's. I hope it's just a display issue and my data isn't being lost.

Scanning barcodes with the iSight built-in to my MacBook Pro seems to work much better. Fields now autocomplete which I'm finding very useful. The upgrade went smoothly and it leaves the old version one library in place which is nice.

I've been looking forward to this update for over a year, mostly to address the speed issues and to see what wonderful new things enabled it to win an Apple Design Award a year ago. I have to say that all of the above issues are really dampening the experience. I've opened 17 bugs already. The help system hasn't been updated and is still for DL1, that just seems sloppy to me. However, I think all my issues are relatively easy fixes and I expect to see them addressed in point releases. I'm still using DL2, but if my library was a little smaller I'd stick with DL1 until some of these issues are fixed.

Recounting Recount by digby

digby's thoughts after watching HBO's Recount. I enjoyed it and yeah it did make me mad again.

Man who gave french fries to McDonald's dies in Idaho

McClatchy reports: "J.R. Simplot, who became a billionaire by developing the frozen french fry and then signing a deal with McDonald's to provide them to the nation, died Sunday morning at his condominium in downtown Boise. He was 99."

Alfred Hitchcock Wiki

I should have known there's a Alfred Hitchcock Wiki but I didn't. Too bad it's not very good yet. But it does have the audio of the Hitchcock/Truffaut interviews.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Phoenix's First Views With Color

Universe Today has Phoenix's First Views With Color from Mars.

"NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander spent its first full day in the Martian arctic plains checking its instruments in preparation for an ambitious digging mission to study whether the site could have once been habitable."

"The earliest engineers would move Phoenix's 8-foot-long arm will be Tuesday, but it'll be another week before the lander takes the first scoop of soil. After the initial taste test, Phoenix will spend the rest of the mission clawing through layers of soil to reach ice that is believed to be buried inches to a foot below the surface."

Protect Your Mac

Help! I'm Being Held Captive, and All I Have Is a Wi-Fi Network! describes various theft recovery options for macs.

Sydney Pollack dead at 73

"Sydney Pollack, the Academy Award-winning director of 'Out of Africa' who achieved acclaim making popular, mainstream movies with A-list stars, including 'The Way We Were' and 'Tootsie,' died Monday. He was 73.Pollack, who also was a producer and actor, died of cancer at his home in Pacific Palisades, according to Leslee Dart, his publicist and friend."

Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

In prep for seeing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull I watch all three previous films this past week. I hadn't seen them in a long time. Raiders is still the best and kind of perfect. Temple of Doom bothered me more than I remember. There are some fun stunts but the tone is wrong switching between really childish and pretty disgusting and Kate Capshaw was just shrieking the whole time. Last Crusade surprised me that I liked it a lot. Sean Connery was a little corny but it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role.

So how did Crystal Skull match up? I put it just behind Last Crusade but I think some people could put it ahead of it. Harrison Ford is the best he's been in years, really returning to the role of Indy. The film is of course all stunts connected with some plot excuses. For the most part, the chases are done very well, particularly the first one in a warehouse and another one while driving through a jungle.

My problem was that sometimes they got too crazy even for Indiana Jones. Both of those chase sequences end with really ridiculous things. The first one bothered me a lot and set the tone for the rest of the film. I won't ruin it but I can handle all the bad guys always missing all the good guys, but you'll know what I mean when you see it.

Also I found the major story reveals to be really obvious. It probably would have been better to not know Karen Allen was in the film. She was very good, but you're not surprised when she appears. Also the final archeological site was really obvious to me too, though parts of it were fun. Shia LaBeouf was pretty good as the greaser sidekick and Cate Blanchett was fine as the evil woman caricature. The two hours went by quickly and were fun even if not suspenseful. Yeah, it's even worth full ticket price.


Ok, so I couldn't handle escaping the nuclear blast in a lead lined fridge. Just way too stupid. Also surviving not one but three waterfalls was ridiculous. I liked the Area 51 stuff. The group I was with all wondered about why the lamps and things were only selectively magnetically attracted to the box and later were annoyed that gold wasn't magnetic but they mentioned it wasn't really magnetism so we were geekily satisfied. I was ok in jungle with Indy destroying the road making machine and yet there were still roads for the jeeps to drive through, even parallel roads, but falling over the three waterfalls was a bit much. And having John Hurt selectively remember lines just in time to deliver them was too simple a plot device. I just assumed that Shia LaBeouf was Indy's son and wasn't surprised by that at all. I also thought it was obvious the skull was extra-terrestrial and the temple was a space ship. As soon as they started talking about "the return" I figured it would take off at the end and I was convinced when the circular stairs appeared (and then disappeared) around the rocket looking thing (which I guess wasn't a rocket).

Neil Gaiman Lecture at MIT

I went to the first Julius Schwartz Lecture at MIT on Friday night. Neil Gaiman was the speaker. Julie Schwartz started Sci-Fi fanzines and was the editor at DC comics responsible for the Silver Age of comics, reinventing the Flash in 1956 and starting the Justice League of America. As Henry Jenkins said in his opening remarks, Schwartz is responsible for your concept of the modern superhero. You can read more about Schwartz here.

Neil Gaiman is probably best known as the author of the Sandman comics of the 90s but also for the books American Gods and Anansi Boys and the recent films Mirrormask, Stardust and Beowulf. Gaiman gave a speech and then answered questions from Jenkins for about an hour then took a few questions from the audience. He started by reading Alan Moore's comments from Schwartz's memorial service in 2004.

He said it's the job of a creator to explode and it's the job of academics to examine the blast site to see what kind of explosion it was, what it was designed to do and did it accomplish it. He revisited this a couple of times including some stories of people analyzing his work realizing things he never did. Apparently he often uses a non-sexual kiss 3/4 of the way through to introduce the third act; or rather did, now that he knows this he'll probably never do it again.

I learned about Sturgeon's Law: 90% of sci-fi is crap, but 90% of everything is crap. This is also Darwinian, as the 90% crap is ultimately removed from the shelves, leaving just the good stuff. I guess this probably would work for television if it weren't for all the cable channels needing to broadcast something.

Gaiman told the story of how genre stories really became clear to him when he read a book about pornography and compared it to musicals. Musicals have solos, duets, trios, and full choruses. There's man-woman songs, woman-woman songs, and many-men songs. Some songs are slow, some are fast. In a musical the plot exists to get from song to song and to prevent all the songs from happening at once. If you go to see a musical and there are no songs, you'd feel cheated. See the comparison to porn? Genre stories must give audiences what they expect.

The definition of genre is if the plot exists to get from set piece to set piece. There are spy novels and novels with spies in them. There are cowboy films and films with cowboys in them. Subject matter doesn't make genre. Some British romance novels were retold fairy tales with "shopping and fucking". Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns is great genre, Alan Moore's Watchmen isn't since nothing is filler and it's not connected set pieces.

Comics are often called a genre, but they're not, they are a medium. Prose is the most collaborative medium, as the reader fills in a lot. This is why when you go back and read something, it's sometimes not as good as you remember. Comics add pictures but (as Scott McCloud says in Understanding Comics) the reader still fills in the gutters.

He also told the story of recently attending a sci-fi convention in China. It was the first official one, because the government hadn't approved of sci-fi and fantasy but had recently changed their mind. The reason was, they were good as a nation of copying things but not creating them. When they looked at creative companies like Apple, Intel, Microsoft, etc, they found a lot of the creative employees were interested in sci-fi and fantasy. Gaiman wasn't surprised at all since these stories help you imagine things and as he said, look around the room, everything in here (the projector, microphone, etc.) was at one point someone's imagination.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Phoenix Lands on Mars

Mars Craft Succeeds in Soft Landing. "The spacecraft Phoenix landed safely on Mars yesterday, making a hazardous soft landing on the planet's far north with all its scientific systems apparently intact and ready to begin an intensive new search for life beyond Earth."

The mission site is here, but it's been pretty slow, overwhelmed with traffic. Here's a photo of Mars taken by Phoenix after landing.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Rachel Maddow: Clinton to the Convention?

Rachel Maddow on the Democratic nomineee.

"Here's my way: based on my read of NBC's delegate math, I think if the Clinton campaign won 100% of what they wanted on the Florida and Michigan dispute, Obama could still clinch the nomination -- even according to the most pro-Clinton math -- if 90 of the remaining 210-or-so undeclared superdelegates declared for Obama. If they so declared before May 31st, the Rules and Bylaws committee would have no reason to take up the Florida and Michigan dispute because it would be a moot point -- Obama's camp could concede every Clinton demand on the subject and still win the nomination."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Scientists See Supernova in Action

The New York Times reports Scientists See Supernova in Action. On January 9th, the Swift space telescope (like Hubble but works in X-rays, gamma-rays and ultraviolet) while looking at a galaxy (NGC2770) in the constellation Lynx happened to catch a star exploding as a supernova.

“Supernova 2008D was the first to be found from its X-ray emission,” said Robert Kirshner, a supernova expert at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Though in Aug 2006 I wrote about this article Scientists watch supernova in real-time which also describes a supernova seen by Swift. The difference seems to be that that one was first noticed in gamma rays and then observed in x-rays.

Still it doesn't get much better than this: "'We caught the whole thing on tape, so to speak,' Dr. Soderberg said in an interview. 'I truly won the astronomy lottery. A star in the galaxy exploded right in front of my eyes.'"

Wii Fit

I bought a Wii Fit today. I completely agree with Engaget's Wii Fit: feelin' the burn (part 1). I'll add, don't try the yoga poses in jeans.

A few more things. I did find myself moving the board around my living room as different exercises required space either behind or to the side. It did work fine on my rug and on the hardwood floor. I'll probably play it barefoot in the future, today I played in sox and slipped a little bit.

The yoga poses seemed to work well and the board senses your center of gravity and shows it as a red dot in a small yellow circle. As you get stronger and more balanced the dot will wiggle a lot less. That's what it uses to track your progress, how little the red dot wiggles, that is how steady you are.

The push ups were the hardest I did. Probably because the board is on the narrow side to put your hands on. Also because they also include side-planks with the push-ups which seems a little advanced.

The exercises are divided into 4 sections, yoga, strength, aerobic, balance. The balance games are kinda fun. One is on a soccer field where soccer balls are thrown at you and you have to lean to the right side to head them, while not heading the shoes that are also thrown. There's a skiing game works well and a tilting maze I liked.

The NYT's Latest Kristol Embarrassment

Glenn Greenwald yet again, shreds Bill Kristol's NYT column, The NYT's latest Kristol embarrassment.

What Would You Say to ET?

Universe Today in What Would You Say to ET? describes what sounds like a fun class.

"Professor Jeff Lockwood's Interstellar Message Composition class is a creative writing class using the premise of interstellar communication to spur student's imaginations about the current human condition, as well as the future...the students compiled five questions they deemed as most important to ask another species. "

Missing Matter Found Between Galaxies

Hubble Survey Finds Missing Matter, Probes Intergalactic Web. Scientists were not finding expected levels of normal matter and now they've found some. This isn't the missing matter that lead to dark matter and energy theories, but other missing matter.

"Now, in an extensive search of the local universe, astronomers say they have definitively found about half of the missing normal matter, called baryons, in the spaces between the galaxies...'We think we are seeing the strands of a web-like structure that forms the backbone of the universe,' Mike Shull of the University of Colorado explained. 'What we are confirming in detail is that intergalactic space, which intuitively might seem to be empty, is in fact the reservoir for most of the normal, baryonic matter in the universe.'"

I also really liked the diagram explaining how they found this matter:


"This illustration shows how the Hubble Space Telescope searches for missing ordinary matter, called baryons, by looking at the light from quasars several billion light-years away. Imprinted on that light are the spectral fingerprints of the missing ordinary matter that absorbs the light at specific frequencies (shown in the colorful spectra at right). The missing baryonic matter helps trace out the structure of intergalactic space, called the "cosmic web." "

Finding the Best Way to Cook All Those Vegetables

The New York Times had an interesting article... Finding the Best Way to Cook All Those Vegetables.

Roku Netflix Player the Start of a Revolution?

Bits, a New York Times Technology Blog explains Why the Roku Netflix Player is the First Shot of the Revolution.

If for just $100 you can have a box that streams whatever you want from the Internet to the TV and works well, when is everyone going to start just streaming the things we want (as opposed to what's broadcast) to our TVs.

It uses the computer to solve the crappy searching interfaces on TVs but doesn't use the computer as a server. Certainly I prefer searching on the Netflix website than using TiVo's interface but TiVo's is pretty good. If I remember right, people preferred being able to rent directly from the Apple TV than having to go through iTunes on the computer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What if the Government Recorded All Phone Calls and Email

The BBC reports that ministers are considering a plan drafted by the British "Home Office" for "a database of electronic information holding details of every phone call and e-mail sent". Seriously.

"The spokesman said changes need to be made to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 'to ensure that public authorities can continue to obtain and have access to communications data essential for counter-terrorism and investigation of crime purposes.'"

Gizmodo points out "Seriously, what is going on in England? Isn't this the country that produced 1984? Has anyone read it lately? Because between the insane number of closed circuit cameras placed around Britain and now the governments desire to have an active database of every single phone call and email sent in the country, it's beginning to look like Big Brother is alive and well across the pond."

The Nutrition Source

The Harvard School of Public Health has a site, The Nutrition Source with a lot of good information on what to eat.

Netflix Streaming Box Review

Gizmodo has a review of Netflix's Streaming Box!. "Netflix's first streaming box is finally here and it's pretty damn brilliant of a setup. First of all, the box is 99 bucks, and designed by Roku. It's fanless and quiet; has HDMI and optical outputs; and is about the size of five CD cases stacked together. Any Netflix disc mailing plan over $9 gets you unlimited streaming of almost 10,000 titles. Unlimited! 10K titles! Take that Apple TV and VuDu!"

I was in a market research group a while ago and they showed us early versions of this box. I was intrigued then and still am now. I'm also glad it's not Netflix red as were the models I saw.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Japanese Office

SNL did a Digital Short: The Japanese Office that was a riot. "It's funny, because it's racist."

Monopoly Graffiti

Not meaning to extend the graffiti theme today, but I really like this...

2008-05-12-lux 1.jpg

What Sign of the Apocalypse is This?

"In a bizarre example of Second Life leaking into the real world, a political assembly on Saturday led by chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov was disrupted by a flying penis."

Graffiti + Animation = Graffition?

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

A Picture Worth A Thousand Words

White House correspondent Helen Thomas wondered why the Washington Post got some letters complaining about publishing this AP photo on the front page and why virtually no other paper published it.

"Neither side is immune from the killing of Iraqi civilians. But Americans should be aware of their own responsibility for inflicting death and pain on the innocent."

"News people and editors were more courageous during the Vietnam War."

"Too often in this war, the news media seem to have tried to shield the public from the suffering this war has brought to Americans and Iraqis. It’s not the job of the media to protect the nation from the reality of war. Rather, it is up to the media to tell the people the truth. They can handle it."


"Ali Hussein is pulled from the rubble of his home after a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad's Sadr City. The 2-year-old died at a hospital." ABC News did cover it.

Get the Best Medical Care

Reader's Digest had Secrets of Great Doctors: Get the Best Medical Care: Become a Smart Patient. Some of the things were good ideas, others seemed obvious.

Avoid Mobile Phone While Pregnant?

The Independent reports Warning: Using a mobile phone while pregnant can seriously damage your baby.

" They found that mothers who did use the handsets were 54 per cent more likely to have children with behavioural problems and that the likelihood increased with the amount of potential exposure to the radiation. And when the children also later used the phones they were, overall, 80 per cent more likely to suffer from difficulties with behaviour. They were 25 per cent more at risk from emotional problems, 34 per cent more likely to suffer from difficulties relating to their peers, 35 per cent more likely to be hyperactive, and 49 per cent more prone to problems with conduct."

Update: Rich has looked into this further.

Fortune Cookies

xkcd is a very funny web comic that tends to very geeky side. Here's a non-geeky one on Fortune Cookies

'You will have hot, steamy, sweaty sex ... IN BED!'

Things Younger than John McCain

A friend sent me a list of "Things Younger than John McCain". It was:

Mount Rushmore
The state of Alaska
The state of Hawaii
The Polio Vaccine
The Chocolate Chip Cookie
The Golden Gate Bridge
The Shopping Cart
The TV Dinner
FM Radio
The Area Code
Baskin Robbins
The Cobb Salad
The Slinky
Keith Richards

McCain was born August 29, 1936. My father was born in 1927 so this doesn't seem that old to me. If I said how old is the Hula Hoop you'd think it's from the 50s, so is it that significant that McCain is older?

It's more interesting to me to think of this list as a list of things whose age you don't really think about. If I asked you to order them by age how would you do? I give you a hint, at least according to wikipedia one thing on the list is in fact older than John McCain, The Chocolate Chip Cookie.

Here it is ordered (all dates from Wikipedia).

The Chocolate Chip Cookie (invented 1933, published 1936, from the Toll House Inn of Whitman, MA,)
The Cobb Salad (1937)
Spam (1937)
The Golden Gate Bridge (completed 1937)
The Shopping Cart (1937 at a Piggly-Wiggly)
LSD (1938)
Scrabble (1938)
Nylon (1938)
McDonald's (1940)
Plutonium (1940)
Velcro (1941)
Cheerios (1941)
Mount Rushmore (1927-1941)
The Slinky (1943, it's the Official State Toy of Pennsylvania!)
Keith Richards (1943)
Baskin Robbins (1945)
FM Radio (1946)
The Area Code (1947)
Israel (1948)
The Polio Vaccine (tested 1952, announced 1955)
The TV Dinner (1953)
Helvetica (1957)
The state of Alaska (1959)
The state of Hawaii (1959)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Boston's Apple Store

The new Boston Apple Store might look impressive, but Mike the Mad Biologist calls it a Failure of Architecture.

"I figured that a rainy evening was a good time to check out the store. The first thing is that there is an overhang where you can close your umbrella. Good. Except for the open doors that block the entrance to the store, forcing you to walk outside. Not so bad in May, crappy in March. Then there's the elegantly designed minimalist interior which has no carpeting. That means that everyone's umbrella piddles on the floor and leaves puddles everywhere."

Then he gets to the plexiglass circular staircase with wet shoes.

J.J. Abrams' Fringe

J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost) has a new Fox series (I think next fall) too. This trailer is all I know about it.

Joss Whedon's Dollhouse

I recently found out that Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy and Firefly) has a new series on Fox this fall called Dollhouse. Eliza Dushku (Faith from Buffy) plays an agent who has her memory wiped after each mission. Here's a trailer.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

NUI Group

The Natural User Interface or ~ NUI Group is an interactive media group researching and creating open source machine sensing techniques to benefit artistic and educational applications. They are bringing multi-touch to OS X and have some amazing other videos on their site.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Iron Man Versus the Imperialists

Spencer Ackerman goes a little too in saying "Iron Man is actually a scathing critique of American imperialism." But it's a fun read.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Time Machine Hiccup

Time Capsule may be selling well and I'm mostly happy with mine, I did run into an issue yesterday. I think it's more Time Machine than Time Capsule related.

I'm not quite sure how or why, but it seems the sparse bundle disk image that Time Machine creates on the backup drive became corrupt. It no longer mounts. The problem is, this is unrepairable. My backups are lost. I have to start over.

This also happened to the only other person I know who has a Time Capsule. It happened to both of us after about 5-6 weeks. I called AppleCare and they have no suggestions. Sounding knowledgeable and realizing my data was gone but wanting to help them debug this I worked my way up some support escalation, but it only resulted in me sending in my system logs. I'll hear back in 3-5 days when a real engineer looks at it but by then I'll have a new backup started. I asked if others reported such problems and was told in a quiet voice, yes.

I regularly notice when the Time Machine icon in the menubar spins and check how much it copies (open the menu to see). I noticed it was spinning for a long time and checked the logs in I saw a lot of these:

May 14 16:11:12 Machine kernel[0]: HFS: err 5 reading VH blk (Backup of Machine)
May 14 16:11:12 Machine kernel[0]: disk1s2: 0x23 (UNDEFINED).

Then after a reboot I saw a lot of these...
May 15 08:32:05 Machine /System/Library/CoreServices/backupd[256]: Waiting for index to be ready (905 > 0)

which turned into a lot of these...
May 15 12:10:51 Machine /System/Library/CoreServices/backupd[256]: Waiting for Spotlight to finish indexing /Volumes/Backup of Machine/Backups.backupdb

This is not how you want your backups to behave. Since only Apple software writes to this sparse bundle, there's a bug somewhere in Apple's code. My friend thinks his corruption occurred when he closed the lid on his MacBook Air, putting it to sleep while in the middle of a backup. I don't think I did that but it's hard to know for sure. Still I hope they fix this soon. Now I have to go erase my corrupt backup and start a new one.

Update: My new backup seems to be working. It also seems I'm not the only one with problems.

Book Review: Dreaming in Code

Chandler was supposed to be Mitch Kapor's modern incarnation of his Lotus Agenda product. I've never used Agenda, but I've seen it demoed and I know some people who loved it. One of its problems was that it defied description, but the best I heard was that it did for text what spreadsheets did for numbers. it wasn't word processing but organizing lots of text records whether they were contact information, calendar events, notes or whatever. Agenda was the first Personal Information Management (PIM) software.

One of things I thought of doing when I started this sabbatical was contributing to Chandler. FIrst I needed to learn the Python programming language. I had started that but I was more interested in the Mac and spent time learning Objective-C and some Cocoa and participating in the Quicksilver community. And the Open Source Applications Foundation (OSAF) was making very slow progress on Chandler.

dreamingincode.jpgScott Rosenberg wanted to write about the software development process and why it was so difficult. Early on he decided to use the Chandler project as his case study and they gave him tremendous access. The problem was the project had a very difficult time making progress and defining what it wanted to be. The result is the book Dreaming in Code and the subtitle says it all: "Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software"

There are comparisons between this book and Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine (in fact they are right on the back cover). I don't expect this to win a Pulitzer as that did, but I found it to be a quick fun read.

Rosenberg is a journalist, not a programmer but as co-founder of he's been involved with a company dependent on software. He's writing for the non-programmer as well and I'm not sure I'm qualified to know if he made things intelligible. Descriptions of meetings and issues rang true to me. To give things context he explains some software history, including projects, personalities and even some famous bugs (some I hadn't known about).

Things like how Guido van Rossum invented the programming language Python and named it after Monty Python because programmers love Monty Python just add a little color. The stories of Stallman starting GNU and Linus building the kernel and Raymond describing open source as the Cathedral and Bazaar are standard fare and probably will sink in. The Mythical Man-month and Agile methodologies and even descriptions of Hungarian notation probably also work. I doubt any non-programmer will follow his explanation of the halting problem. As you may notice, there are a lot of these asides from the main story and when he refers to luminaries like Knuth or McCarthy at the end, I'm not sure people will remember which ones they were.

As for Chandler itself there are descriptions of various meetings and issues that went back and forth (and back and forth). I read about some technical issue and then was shocked to see that these debates went on not for a couple of days but for weeks and that months went by without some fundamental things being decided. With a little bit of thought I remember being in a few of these kinds quagmires, but I don't think ever this bad.

It's not at all clear why the project had so many problems. The book describes the differences between doing detailed specs up front and using a more agile small incremental improvement approach. But that really didn't explain the issues here. I can't believe they didn't do the standard thing and punt peer-to-peer to rev 2.0. With some of the people they had there it could have been too many chefs, but it didn't sound like it. My best guess is it was leadership that wasn't willing to say no or make a six-of-one half-dozen-of-another decision. It could have been merely that they were doing really hard things, but it didn't sound like that was the issue and that doesn't explain why so little progress was made. The book doesn't mention that in January of this year Kapor left the OSAF. It will be interesting to see if things speed up at all.

TiVo Lifetime Subscriptions Have Returned

Gizmodo reports TiVo Lifetime Subscriptions Have Returned. Now you can choose $12.95/month or $129/year or $299 for 3 years or $399 for the lifetime of the unit. Gizmodo says there's a $299 lifetime multi-room option too.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Farm Bill

Greg Mankiw discusses some of the worst parts of the Farm Bill. Who thinks these things up?

"New sugar program: The bill would make the government buy sugar for 2X the world price, store it, then resell it at about an 80% loss to the taxpayer. Sugar sells for about 11¢/lb on the world market. The US government would have to buy sugar for about 22¢/lb, store it, and then auction off the excess to ethanol plants. We estimate that such an auction would net the government about 4¢/lb. In addition, this new provision would require the government to guarantee that domestic sugar producers get 85 percent of the domestic sugar market."

And I don't want to subsidize farmers with million dollar incomes.

Movie Chases

Hot pursuit is "An appreciation of the most memorable chase scenes in film." It's an actual article, not a list, and it describes some really good chases.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" is a big list. It's a little unwieldy but I think I've seen 529 of them. leaving 471 to see, many of which I've never heard of. I think there are 67 since 1990. Anyone else care to go through and count?

Liberty City v. New York City

Sightseeing in Liberty City is a flickr photoset comparing images of Grand Theft Auto 4 with the real New York City. The similarities are stunning.

The Daily Show: Journalism, Satire or Just Laughs?

"The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism studied the content of The Daily Show for an entire year (2007), compared its news agenda with that of the more traditional news media, examined the lineup of guests and segments and tried to place the program into some kind of media context. The results reveal a television program that draws on the news events of the day but picks selectively among them—heavily emphasizing national politics and ignoring other news events entirely. In that regard, The Daily Show closely resembles the news agenda of a number of cable news programs as well as talk radio."

Compare the summary on that page with this AP article on it. It's sometime easy to satirize the media.

Here are the two parts of the uncut Doug Feith interview from last night. Yes there are some laughs, but this is in fact real political commentary.


1001 Fiction Books to Read
100 Essential Jazz Albums
Top 10 Pre-Death Monologues in Film

Monday, May 12, 2008

Jon Stewart v. Doug Feith

The Daily Show tonight had for undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith on. They used two segments on the interview and it was the best interview of an administration official I've seen in a very very long time. The full 22 minute video will be up on the site soon and it will be rerun several times tomorrow on Comedy Central. Stewart as usual had read the book and unlike most every other so-called TV journalist he challenged Feith respectfully on the selling of the war to the American people. Good stuff. watch it, and lament why it's a comedy show that can do this and virtually nothing else.

Celestron SkyScout for $300

You can now get a Celestron SkyScout for $299. This is the fun device that you point at stars and it tells you what you're pointing to. Or it helps you find specific celestial objects. I mentioned it a couple of years ago.

Celestron is having a $100 rebate till June 15th. I'm not sure if this is just due to competition from Meade's MySky (also $299) or if there is a new model coming out. I only looked a little, but while the MySky has better features they don't seem to work as well (difficulty acquiring GPS).

Celestron also has a new telescope, the SkyScout Scope 90 specifically designed to mount a SkyScout to. Universe Today gave it a very good review. Adorama carries it also for $299.

If anyone has experiences with any of the above, I'd be interested in hearing about them. Cloudy Nights does have a forum specifically for the Celestron SkyScout and Meade mySky.

25 Year-Old BSD Bug Fixed

A 25 year-old BSD bug was fixed recently. Here are the details for the technically inclined...When seekdir() Won't Seek to the Right Position.

Advertising Versus Reality

Nancy found a post at Funtasticus that's collected the photos from a german website that compares the images on the boxes of packaged food with what the contents look like. "The purpose of the project is not to discredit any brands or products but to critically compare the packaging advertising with the inside contents." Check it out here.

More Science Tattoos

I've previously pointed at Branded with Science for a collection of science oriented tattoos. Carl Zimmer's Science Tattoo Emporium has many more (seems like it moved to here).

"My boyfriend and I wanted tattoos that looked good on their own but had significance when they were joined... I saw a picture of a cell during meiosis, and bingo!". Hopefully they don't drift apart.
02F7AFEB-20E9-4B34-B47D-A0211275DA35 1.jpg

I liked the electrocardiograms but think they should be on his chest and not his arms. There were constellations and a lot of physics and math formulas. One had the Y combinator on his arm and another the periodic table, but I think I liked this Einstein v. Newton:

022C33D3-F7D0-42F0-A416-B6479A3B282C 1.jpg

There were lots of chemical structures. A student with celiac disease has the gluten protein that she cannot digest on her leg; a food scientist had capsaicin on her hip; another had her favorite neurotransmitter, serotonin; and a weight lifter had testosterone on his arm. But this biochemist really earned the right to her tattoo. ""Here is a picture of my science tattoo, which is a stylized structure of glycolipid A, the preformed glycolipid membrane anchor precursor I discovered as a graduate student some 20 years ago."

6E455D67-E9EE-42D3-AFB9-3CD767DB275B 1.jpg

No I have no plans to get one myself.

Keith Richard's Secret

GQ had an Interview with Keith Richards.

Like your immune system—legendary.
It’s above average, yes.

That’s a fact of medical science?
Yes. They want it so they can study it and figure out how to make other people much better. [laughs] I mean, I eat everything wrong. I shove terrible things inside me.

Yet you won’t eat cheese.
No! Cheese is very wrong.

He also doesn't moisturize or use botox but you probably guessed that.

Mario Kart

I picked up Mario Kart for the Wii this weekend. It's racing game, with go-karts or motor bikes and crazy tracks. There are lots of combinations of tracks, characters and karts. The tracks are pretty crazy and while I haven't seen Speed Racer, they seem a little muted in comparison.

mario kart.jpg

It comes with a plastic wheel that the Wiimote fits into. It seems to work pretty well. You can buy extra ones for $20 but it's just a non-functional piece of molded plastic. You can play with just the Wiimote or with other controllers.

It's pretty fun, even though I apparently suck at it. I've been play grand prix circuits which is 4 races on different tracks (there are multiple circuits each with 4 unique tracks). You earn points for where you finish in each race against 11 (in my case computerized) opponents. I've ended up first or second overall most times but you also get a ranking. I was mostly getting a D. I wasn't too upset with that for just having started but then I found out it's no just A-F ratings, above A are 1-5 stars. So I'm basically getting a 2 out of 10. I have to get much better at getting speed boost by doing tricks and using my powerups appropriately. IGN's guide was really helpful in explaining what I'm supposed to be doing. I did score an A once. And of course YouTube has tons of movies of people setting records on tracks. This clip shows shortcuts on a variety of tracks.

I bought it at Best Buy. I found from their web site that the local store had it in stock and went over and picked it up. While paying, the cashier told me that Best Buy offers a 1 year replacement warranty for $5 "in case the disk gets scratched or the wheel stops working". I said, I don't think the piece of plastic is going to stop working, thanks anyway.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Gravity Anomaly Challenges MESSENGER Mission

Universe Today reported Gravity Anomaly Challenges MESSENGER Mission:

"Scientists from the MESSENGER mission continue to analyze the data from the spacecraft's first flyby of Mercury on January 14, 2008. Initial data about the planet's gravity field grabbed the science team's attention, as the actual gravity data differed from predictions based on the Mariner 10 flyby in 1975."

"The new data about Mercury's internal structure is different from what the scientists expected. McNutt said that while it was surprising that the tracking data did not fit all of their preconceived notions from Mariner 10, MESSENGER went much closer to Mercury than did Mariner, which could account for the differences in data. Scientists believe there may be a large concentration of mass (mascons) under Mercury's surface about 10 degrees south of the equator at about 60 degrees longitude. A presentation by team member David Smith at the Lunar and Planetary conference in March showed that they were able to account for about 95% of the problem deviation using a single mass anomaly at that location."

An Eyewitness Account From Hiroshima

From the August 1980 issue of The Atlantic, "An eyewitness account of the atom bomb explosion at Hiroshima thirty-five years ago. "

Just the Roads, All the Roads

0599D425-C807-4945-B972-97FB64967B88.jpg"All of the streets in the lower 48 United States: an image of 26 million individual road segments. No other features (such as outlines or geographic features) have been added to this image, however they emerge as roads avoid mountains, and sparse areas convey low population."

Mac Theft Recovery

This story has been making the rounds. Stolen laptop recovered with Back To My Mac. Engadget summarizes it as:

"An Apple Store employee had a party in her apartment. A couple weeks later her place was cleared out to the tune of about $5,000 worth of electronics, including her new Mac. Days later, a friend sees that she's online and alerts the Mac's rightful owner. Since she was running Leopard with Back to My Mac, owner-girl logged in remotely and activated Photo Booth via the screen-share function. And what do you know, it turned out that the thieves were some 'friends' who were at the party a few weeks back. She took the photos to the cops and -- voila -- busted! The thieves, Edmon Shahikian, 23, and Ian Frias, 20, both of the Bronx, have been charged with second-degree burglary and fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property. Go go crafty nerdy girl!"

The New York Times has more details. I like this quote: “It doesn’t get much better than their bringing us a picture of the guy actually using the stolen property,” Daniel Jackson, the deputy commissioner of public safety in White Plains, said in a telephone interview on Friday. “It certainly made our job easier. The fact that they knew who these guys were certainly added solvability.”

A few years ago an app called Undercover was released that would run in the background and if you mac is stolen you report it to the company and they can get info from the mac if it comes online, including IP address, screenshots and iSight photos. They've added a new feature that will dim the screen, hoping they bring it to an Apple Store for repair; Undercover recognizes the Apple Store's network and pops up a message saying the machine was stolen.

My PowerBook didn't have a builtin in iSight so I never considered this (iSight photos were the primary feature at the time) but my new MacBook Pro does. Anyone have any experience with Undercover? I like the flat $49 price vs the $99/year .Mac membership needed for Back-To-My-Mac which I otherwise have little use for. I don't love the idea of Undercover sending a half KB of data back to the company, every 6 minutes and don't quite trust that it's non-identifying until a theft is reported.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Movie Review: Otis

Otis is a direct to video film but I saw it at the Boston Underground Film Festival. I describe it as Saw crossed with Ruthless People though it's more Ruthless People.

Otis (Bostin Christopher) is big and bit dim and kidnaps teenage girls and locks them in his dungeon and pretends to take them to prom. He definitely has problems. Riley (Ashley Johnson), his latest victim seems like the perfect teenager. Her brother is rebellious and gets into trouble. Her mother (Illeana Douglas) is a strong nurse and her father (Daniel Stern) is a weak office drone. All of these characters are more developed than you might expect and are (at first) close to believable. The bumbling FBI Agent Hotchkiss (Jere Burns) doesn't pass this test, he's a caricature of an inept and insensitive cop but Burns is excellently cast, playing yet another variation on his Dear John role. Of course there are news clips and the anchorwoman is equally insensitive and equally well cast is Tracy Scoggins. Kevin Pollak plays Otis' hard-ass brother in a surprisingly convincing and yet underdeveloped role. Pollak, Stern and Douglas bring some cachet to the cast, but Christopher and Johnson are both good in more central roles.

The film is a bizarre mix of situational and character-based comedy interspersed with shocking bits of violence. I was ok with the genre switching but it was 80/20 comedy/torture and it switched shockingly quickly, so I was disturbed that I was laughing.

As an example is when Otis kidnaps Riley. On a street in broad daylight, he throws bag over her head, and throws her in hatchback while there are people not far away. I found the unexpectedness and awkwardness of it funny. Then to keep her quiet he gives her a hard punch to the face to knock her out which stops all the laughs immediately.

This has enough story for about three films. It starts like a torture porn and then goes to a kidnapping story a la Silence of the Lambs, then goes other places.

I saw some parallels to the US and Iraq but didn't think much of it. The director spoke after the film and said that was very much the inspiration and whole point of the film. I found this puzzling since the analogies are limited at best and in some cases played for laughs. I suspect the parallels will be lost on the bulk of it's audience but those who think they might be interested in comedic torture porn will like Otis.

Movie Review: Turn the River

Turn the River was my favorite film of the festival and one of my favorites of the year so far (along with In Bruges and The Bank Job). It's the directing and writing debut of actor Chris Eigeman (who I think I last saw in Barcelona) and I hope he makes many more films.

Famke Janssen plays Kailey Sullivan, a card shark and pool hustler in upstate New York. Her 11 year-old son Gulley (Jaymie Dornan) lives with her ex-husband David (Matt Ross) in Manhattan. David has no idea that Kailey keeps in touch with Gulley through letters and secret meetings in Central Park.

The first two scenes show Kailey in a poker game and then meeting Gulley. These perfectly establish her as somewhat flawed and wanting the best for her son. We instantly care about her and it's due to Janssen's genuine portrayal. She decides to run away with Gulley but first needs to raise $60,000 for fake passports. Her mentor Teddy Quinette (a perfectly bluff Rip Torn) runs a pool hall, helps her find marks and gives her a place to crash. The pool playing is good but not overdone. The story is about Kailey not specifically a hustle, and I wasn't sure how some of the games would turn out.

Eigeman and Janssen were at the screening and answered questions. The budget was just $500,000. Janssen did do her own pool shots but only had time to learn specific shots. The big one she made on the first take. Gully is named after Gulley Jimson from the novel The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary which was made into a film in 1958 written by and starring Alec Guinness.

This was just a really good movie with an engrossing story, great acting, tight filmmaking and a good soundtrack. Some may be disappointed in the ending, but it all worked for me. I'm not sure that it's getting a theatrical release which is a shame but it seems the DVD comes out July 22, 2008.

On Learning More Efficiently

Wired has a really interesting article this month, Want to Remember Everything You'll Ever Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm. It seems the hard part isn't learning but remembering. The article follows recluse Piotr Wozniak and SuperMemo, the software program he developed to improve learning.

"SuperMemo is based on the insight that there is an ideal moment to practice what you've learned. Practice too soon and you waste your time. Practice too late and you've forgotten the material and have to relearn it. The right time to practice is just at the moment you're about to forget. Unfortunately, this moment is different for every person and each bit of information. Imagine a pile of thousands of flash cards. Somewhere in this pile are the ones you should be practicing right now. Which are they?"

Movie Review: Iron Man

I might be the last person I know to have seen Iron Mane. Everyone said it was a lot of fun and I agree with that. It uses the Marvel comics stories as a basis for a pretty well balanced movie.

Robert Downey Jr. brings billionaire inventor playboy Tony Stark to life. Stark Industries is a defense contractor and Stark goes to Afghanistan for a test of a new missile system. He's captured and forced to build a weapon (in a cave). Instead (since they don't watch him too closely) he builds a suit of mechanized armor (in a cave), takes on his captors and escapes. Back home he announces his company will stop producing arms. He offers no alternative for the company and merely locks himself in his garage working on improvements to the armor. The rest follows step by step and was a bit too predictable but still fun.

The tech is obviously fantastical but they do a reasonable job in discussing it and letting some engineering issues come into play. The obvious impossibility of the armor is the power supply (we can't even power a cell phone for more than a day or two) but that's the technical breakthrough that Stark made. You see Stark make iterations in the armor and solve unforeseen problems and learn to fly step by step. This was probably my favorite sequence in the film. it's not Apollo 13 but it's very fun.

Another strength of the film is that the three supporting characters are reasonably well developed. Gwyneth Paltrow is Pepper Potts, she is Starks more than capable assistant and potential love interest. Terrence Howard plays Jim Rhodes, a military liaison and Jeff Bridges is Obadiah Stane, Starks COO and mentor.

The special effects are very good. When he takes revenge on his captors it's very clear that regular humans have no chance against Iron Man; one punch sends bodies flying. By the end of the film there is a more evenly matched opponent for Iron Man.

The balance of the film is very good. There's action, humor, character development, and even a plot or two. And while it is an origin movie, it doesn't feel bogged down telling an origin story. And it doesn't fall into the trap of the Batman films of telling 2 or 3 origin stories in the same film.

A lot of people are calling this the best comic book movie ever. I can't say I agree with that. Let me narrow this down to superhero comic book movies since A History of Violence was originally a graphic novel and The Incredibles was never a comic book. I think I rank Iron Man 6th. Number 1 is easily Batman Begins and while i haven't seen them too recently, the first two Spider-Man and X-Men films are, I think, a little better. But then comes Iron Man and it's easily up there.

An Attention Grabbing Headline

BBC News has an article saying "At least one of Britain's birds appears to be coping well as climate change alters the availability of a key food."

"'The chicks hatch and are fully grown within two weeks, so they need something that's really abundant - that's why they synchonise their breeding so hatching co-incides with the emergence of the caterpillars.' The caterpillars' appearance is triggered by ambient temperature - that has been shown in the laboratory - and it is believed that [the birds] also begin their breeding cycle in response to temperatures."

They also list a number of species (the North American wood warbler, Dutch honey buzzard, and red admiral butterfly) are falling out of sync with their food supply. "'The UK finding is to some extent surprising in that the birds are using the same old rules, but the rules still work,' he told BBC News. 'In our study population, the same old rules don't work any more; so it's an interesting question as to which situation is the normal one and which is the exception.'"

While the article is interesting, the most noteworthy aspect is the headline.

Friday, May 09, 2008

State Department Missing Hundreds of Laptops

Hundreds of Laptops Missing at State Department, Audit Finds.

"Hundreds of employee laptops are unaccounted for at the U.S. Department of State, which conducts delicate, often secret, diplomatic relations with foreign countries, an internal audit has found. As many as 400 of the unaccounted for laptops belong to the department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program, according to officials familiar with the findings."

White House Admits Losing Emails

White House Admits To Failing to Preserve Additional Emails:

"According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the White House admitted it failed to preserve any backup tapes for emails from March 1, 2003 to May 22, 2003. The administration previously admitted it did not keep backup tapes for September 30, 2003 to October 6, 2003. CREW notes that the earlier period coincided with the US invasion of Iraq, which took place from March 20 to May 1, and the latter period coincided with a Justice Department investigation into the disclosure of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity"

Saving The Environment is Hard

A few weeks ago I bought two of those canvas bags to carry groceries in. You know, the bags you're supposed to use to save the environment and not use either plastic or plastic. So I brought home what might have been 6 plastic bags worth of food in just two reusable canvas bags, great. I even used one to bring some things to a dinner party that night, it was perfect for that.

Then I put them on the table near the back door. And the next time I went grocery shopping i forgot them. And the next. So I put them in the trunk of my car. And today I went to Russo's and realized while paying that I had left the bags in the car.

Old habits die hard. If anyone has tips for remember that you have canvas bags, I'd appreciate hearing them.

US Eavesdropping on Guantánamo Lawyers?

The New York TImes reports Lawyers for Guantánamo Inmates Accuse U.S. of Eavesdropping.

"In interviews and a court filing Tuesday, lawyers for detainees at Guantánamo said they believed government agents had monitored their conversations. The assertions are the most specific to date by Guantánamo lawyers that officials may be violating legal principles that have generally kept government agents from eavesdropping on lawyers."

Right, we're the nation of fair trials.

"The Justice Department declined to comment Tuesday. But in a legal response in March, its lawyers said they could neither confirm nor deny that detainees’ lawyers had been targets of such surveillance 'because doing so would compromise the United States Intelligence Communities sources and methods.'"

"Justice Department officials have said in the past that they had not used their terrorist surveillance powers to single out lawyers but that telephone “calls involving such persons would not be categorically excluded.”

Terrorist Triage

Terrorist Triage is a good article from| Newsweek.

"'I reject the notion that Al Qaeda is waiting for 'the big one' or holding back an attack,' [Michael] Sheehan writes. 'A terrorist cell capable of attacking doesn't sit and wait for some more opportune moment. It's not their style, nor is it in the best interest of their operational security. Delaying an attack gives law enforcement more time to detect a plot or penetrate the organization.'"

"Terrorism is not about standing armies, mass movements, riots in the streets or even palace coups. It's about tiny groups that want to make a big bang. So you keep tracking cells and potential cells, and when you find them you destroy them. After Spanish police cornered leading members of the group that attacked trains in Madrid in 2004, they blew themselves up. The threat in Spain declined dramatically."

"Indonesia is another case Sheehan and I talked about. Several high-profile associates of bin Laden were nailed there in the two years after 9/11, then sent off to secret CIA prisons for interrogation. The suspects are now at Guantánamo. But suicide bombings continued until police using forensic evidence—pieces of car bombs and pieces of the suicide bombers—tracked down Dr. Azahari bin Husin, 'the Demolition Man,' and the little group around him. In a November 2005 shootout the cops killed Dr. Azahari and crushed his cell. After that such attacks in Indonesia stopped."

"The British Tories' shadow security minister, Pauline Neville-Jones, dismissed overblown American rhetoric: "We don't use the language of the Global War on Terror," said the baroness. "We actively eschew it." The American security expert Ashton Carter agreed. "It's not a war," said the former assistant secretary of defense, who is now an important Hillary Clinton supporter. "It's a matter of law enforcement and intelligence, of Homeland Security hardening the target." The military focus, he suggested, should be on special ops."

"Sir David Omand, who used to head Britain's version of the National Security Agency and oversaw its entire intelligence establishment from the Cabinet Office earlier this decade, described terrorism as "one corner" of the global security threat posed by weapons proliferation and political instability. That in turn is only one of three major dangers facing the world over the next few years. The others are the deteriorating environment and a meltdown of the global economy. Putting terrorism in perspective, said Sir David, "leads naturally to a risk management approach, which is very different from what we've heard from Washington these last few years, which is to 'eliminate the threat'.""

San Diego GOP Chairman Co-Founded International Piracy Ring

The Raw Story reports San Diego GOP chairman co-founded international piracy ring. Is it me or do they always seem to be Republicans?

"Any job applicant knows that background checks are routine – especially for jobs involving authority or oversight of money. So why didn’t the San Diego Republican Party do a simple Google search before naming Tony Krvaric as its chairman?

Online research reveals that Krvaric is the co-founder of Fairlight, a band of software crackers which later evolved into an international video and software piracy group that law enforcement authorities say is among the world’s largest such crime rings. After co-founding Fairlight in Sweden, Krvaric established U.S. operations for the organization, including an arm headquartered in Southern California—a major center for the computer and video game industry."

All of Inflation’s Little Parts

The New York Times has a really nice interactive graph showing All of Inflation’s Little Parts as shown in how the Consumer Price Index has changed over the last year. You can roll over items to see more detail or click to zoom in. We spend more on "spices condiments and salad dressing" than we do on pork (of course bacon is its own category).

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Effect of the Supreme Court on Yesterday's Vote

MA requires me to identify myself and the poll workers check me off a list. They don't ask for ID. Apparently Indiana and Georgia in 2005 were the first states to mandate that a government photo ID must be presented. The law is widely understood to be an attempt by the GOP to prevent some (mostly Democratic) poor from voting since many of them don't have photo IDs..

Last week, in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board the Supreme Court held by a 6-3 majority that an Indiana law requiring voters to provide picture identification did not violate the Constitution.

"Three Justices said the evidence offered against the requirement in Indiana did not support a challenge to the law as written — that is, a “facial” challenge – and three others said the law only imposed a minimal and justified burden on voters"

"While the Court’s main opinion said it was 'fair to infer that partisan considerations may have played a significant role' in enacting the photo ID law, it went on to say that that law was neutral in its application and was adequately supported by the justifications the state had offered."

"In discussing the claim that ID laws are needed to combat voter fraud, Stevens noted that the record in the Indiana case 'contains no evidencde of any [voter impersonation] fraud actually occurring in Indiana at any time in its history.' Still, he wrote, 'it remains true that flagrant examples of such fraud in other parts of the country have been documented throughout this nation’s history by respected historians and journalists, that occasional examples have surfaced in recent years, and that Indiana’s own experience with fraudulent voting' in an absentee ballot scandal in 2003 in a mayoral election 'demonstrate that not only is the risk of voter fraud real but that it could affect the outcome of a close election.'"

Wikipedia says "Under the Indiana law, voters who do not have a photo ID may cast a provisional ballot. To have their votes counted, they must visit a designated government office within 10 days and either bring a photo ID or sign a statement saying they can't afford one."

Here's a documented case of the new law preventing 12 people from legitimately voting in yesterday's primary in Indiana. 12 nuns. "A dozen Indiana nuns were turned away from a polling place by a fellow sister yesterday because they didn't have state or federal identification bearing a photograph."

"The nuns, all in their 80s or 90s, did not get one but came to the precinct anyway. Some showed up with outdated passports. None of them drives. They were not given provisional ballots because it would be impossible to get them to a motor vehicle branch and back in the 10-day time frame allotted by the law, McGuire said. 'You have to remember that some of these ladies don't walk well. They're in wheelchairs or on walkers or electric carts.'"

ACS Blog wrote that Supreme Court found "Without solid proof of burden in the record, Indiana’s justifications for its laws were good enough." Maybe there will be more challenges.

More on the Ruling

Rick Hasen's Election Law Blog (seriously!) has more about the standard used in the ruling and comparing it to Harper, where the court struck down a poll tax applied equally to everyone. In Crawford the court ruled that strict scrutiny doesn't apply here and I learned that "Strict scrutiny is the second most stringent standard of judicial review" and that it's second to "super strict scrutiny".

William Mcgeveran talks about the privacy implications of the ruling. "But in Crawford, there is no mention of the privacy impact of turning voting into yet another important activity that you cannot accomplish without "showing your papers." And since it is now basically impossible to board an aircraft, enter a federal building, or cash a check without showing ID, voter ID requirements become just another event in an accelerating trend toward an ID society."

The LA Times writes how this ruling is another example of Roberts attempt to use narrow rulings to bring together majorities.

"In the past, the court was willing to strike down laws before they went into effect out of concern that the rights of some people might be violated. For example, the justices used that approach to void laws that regulated abortion or restricted pornography on the Internet. But since Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the court three years ago, that approach has been cast aside...[the new model is to ] Produce evidence that a law has actually violated someone's rights, and name names if you can. Only then might the court rule that a law is unconstitutional for those in the same situation."

"Lazarus said the voter ID and lethal injection decisions were 'an expression of the chief's stated preference for narrow rulings. What is interesting is that Stevens has been willing now to join that effort, as has [Justice Anthony M.] Kennedy.'
In both cases, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas would have gone further and closed the door to future challenges."

Yesterday's Primaries

Here's the most surprising thing to me about yesterday's primaries. Yesterday, 103,951 people bothered to vote for Mike Huckabee.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Programming as Art, Literally

D078FCE5-0720-4BC0-A495-1BD8E0AD8FE9.jpgThis is one of the strangest things I've seen. Piet is a programming language in which programs look like abstract paintings. At right is the Hello World program.

"The basic unit of Piet code is the colour block. A colour block is a contiguous block of any number of codels of one colour, bounded by blocks of other colours or by the edge of the program graphic. Blocks of colour adjacent only diagonally are not considered contiguous. A colour block may be any shape and may have "holes" of other colours inside it, which are not considered part of the block...Each non-black, non-white colour block in a Piet program represents an integer equal to the number of codels in that block."

7A8A5FD7-4538-4CE4-BEDA-68BA21D5A1AC.jpgThe language was designed to produce code modeled on the art of Piet Mondrian. This program actually looks like a Piet painting and it prints "Piet". Here are other examples including impressive programs that do prime number tests and generators. There are several versions of some of the programs, each trying to be more artistic. The Pi generator is most impressive, "Richard Mitton supplies this amazing program which calculates an approximation of pi... literally by dividing a circular area by the radius twice."

New FiOS Router Power Adaptor, Instructions by Lawyers

I got a small package today from Verizon. It was a new power adaptor for the wireless router they provide (it's only for MI424WR routers). It came with a letter that begins:

"At Verizon, we are committed to delivering the future of the Internet to you today. To achieve that goal, we continually monitor and test our products, searching for ways to improve them. We have recently improved the life expectancy of your FiOS router power adapter and are excited to share this enhancement with you."

Ok, obviously that's bullshit, but what must they have found to send everyone a replacement power adaptor? I've had mine for a little over a year. The other fun part is this: "Please follow the simple steps in the instructions sheet to replace your router power adaptor". Really, there's an instruction sheet. It has eight steps and five pictures.

Step 1 is turn off the router is which unnecessary (after all, they survive power failures) and step 2 is unplug the adaptor from the router and wall which is fair enough. Step 3 is fun, "Discard the old power adapter so that you do not get it confused with the new power adapter (they are visually identical)." They really thought that if I'd get the two confused these steps would prevent that?

Step 4 is perhaps my favorite, "Remove the new power adapter from the box. Step 5 says "Plug the new power adapter into the Black Port labeled "5VDC" on the back of the router and also into a wall outlet." Step 6 is turn it on. Step 7 is wait for a green ethernet light and step 8 is wait for a green WAN light. There are little notes about if you have a "white ethernet cable" etc.

It's really pretty amazing that changing the power adaptor can be so complicated.