Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Movie Review: Frontrunner

Frontrunner is a documentary covering Dr. Massouda Jalal's run for president in the 2004 Afghanistan elections. She was the only woman candidate running against Hamid Karzai and 16 other men. She had come in second to Karzai in the 2002 emergency elections.

The filmmakers had access to her campaign staff and showed the difficulties of a woman in post-Taliban Afghanistan. A lot of people believed that it is against Islamic law for a woman to be the head of government (ruling over men). Jalal counters this well saying that there have been woman rulers in Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey, all Islamic nations. Still a man interviewed asks "if a man fails as president what hope does a woman have?" Also captured on camera is the police tearing down her posters but not the posters of other candidates.

This film actually made me happy about the level of debate in US politics. The illiteracy rates in Afghanistan are 80% among men and 90% among women. One result of this is that the ballots are a lot nice than in the US. They are in full color and have the pictures of the candidates on them. Why can't we have that? It also made me question all the flyers she handed out that had her biography printed on it. But really what else is there to do? She said she had a hard time getting TV coverage.

We didn't learn a lot about Jalal but she did emphasize that she wasn't running on a platform specifically of women's rights but rather with a goal of helping all of Afghanistan. That probably made a lot of sense but it also undermined a film about the first female candidate. I got the sense that this film started out as a good idea, and they went and filmed as much as they could, but then had a hard time finding a good narrative thread for the film

Certainly the scenes of people voting for the first time were moving, but it's also something we'd seen before. The end is taken up with problems in the election where the famous purple ink was rubbing off and this allowed people to vote multiple times, though it's not clear how common this was or how many actually voted again. The most telling bit was that all officials looked to the Ambassador of the US to help resolve the situation instead of the temporary Afghani government or the UN.

So the film lacked a strong narrative, didn't describe the main character in any depth, wasn't particularly entertaining and didn't tell me much new; yes it was my least favorite documentary of the festival.

Senate Candidate Al Franken Pays $70,000 in Back Taxes

I just finished reading an article in the Atlantic about Al Franken's run for Senator from MN when I saw. Franken pays $70,000 back taxes, penalties "Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken, front-runner in the race to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, said on Tuesday that he has paid $70,000 in back taxes and penalties owed in 17 states, going back to 2003."

He says he trusted his accountant to get this right but of course when touring he earned income in many states and owed taxes in them. I can completely see screwing this up by accident. Sounds like otherwise he's complied with taxes and is making amends. Still, not a fun bump for the otherwise successful (so far) campaign.

Movie Review: Encounters at the End of the World

The Independent Film Festival of Boston ended tonight. I saw my 13th movie in a week, but after seeing 6 on Saturday it really maxed me out. Tonight was just one, Encounters at the End of the World a documentary by Warner Herzog of a trip he took to McMurdo station in Antarctica. The film is a combination of nature shots and interviews with out-of-the-ordinary scientists who find themselves at the bottom of the world.

I didn't realize McMurdo was as big as it is. He described it as an ugly mining town and that seems appropriate. I loved that he said it included such abominations as an aerobics studio and yoga classes. If you've travelled so far to get there, having those familiar things would be disappointing.

I'd heard the phrase "on the ice" but I never thought that it differentiated between being on land and being on six foot thick ice over a bay the size of Texas. And I never would have imagined that you can hear things through this ice, things like seals that sound like Pink Floyd. They drill through the ice and then dive in -2°C water. I don't understand how they do that with some of their faces are exposed but they did.

At the beginning he describes how he didn't want shots of fluffy penguins but at some points he does talk with some scientists studying them. His questions are a bit out of the ordinary: "Are there gay penguins?" and "Do penguins go insane?" When you see one penguin go off on its own walking towards a mountain 80km away, it seems they do.

The film is good and it made me wonder why we don't hear of more information (and images) coming from Antarctica. My only complaint was that I found the music annoying.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bush Speaks, Marketplace Corrects

NPR Marketplace does actual journalism. Today Bush spoke, in part about high gas prices and Marketplace read between the lines. Well actually I think they read all the lines and pointed out the lies. There's plenty of supply, demand in the US is actually down (first time in 17 years, probably because of high prices and this is what we want). Opening ANWR wouldn't accomplish anything for many years.

Also, refining capacity is up. "We have probably more than half a million barrels of new refining capacity per day under construction right now and I wouldn't be surprised to see another 100,000 barrels per day of new capacity announced in the next six months to a year." Republicans always talk about "building new refineries" and that's a misdirection. Yes there are fewer refineries because small ones have been bought by big ones but the big ones keep getting bigger.

So what is the cause? "Well, most analysts say it's a combination of a couple of things. They say as long as the value of the dollar keeps sinking -- and oil does get priced in dollars you know -- the price of oil has to go up then, so that the sellers can make up the difference in their purchasing power. That doesn't entirely explain this, though. Last year, for example, the dollar dropped a little over 10 percent, but at the same time, oil prices were up around 50 percent, so the major factor here seems to be the wave of investment dollars that are flowing into the oil market, the speculators driving prices higher. Here's a number for you: about $9 billion was invested in oil futures back in 2000. Well, that's now up to $250 billion and even the head of Exxon Mobil blames wild speculation for all this."


I just watched Rev Wright's interview on Bill Moyers from last week. Yeah ok, I'm tired of it. The hype on his speeches has been completely overblown. Tristero wrote these two pieces: Jeremiah Wright and They Hate Him. The interesting thing to me is how Obama is handling this media circus. For the last few weeks he's seemed tired and worn down to me. If you want to rise about politics as normal and change things, you have to be able to cope with this crap. He did that with the first Wright outbreak but isn't doing as well with this one.

Inside The Raw-Milk Underground

Nathanael Johnson in Harper's Magazine writes The revolution will not be pasteurized: Inside the raw-milk underground. A really interesting article about how unpasteurized milk might have useful bacteria to help build up the human immune system. However, only if you use grass-fed healthy cows that don't live in their own shit.


ars technica has A review of Evernote. I have an account but haven't really used it. If you have, let me know your experiences.

Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand

The New York Times reported Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand. It's not surprising, but it is astounding. They could be so effective at this and so ineffective at the war and policy in general.

"Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found. The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air."

"Five years into the Iraq war, most details of the architecture and execution of the Pentagon’s campaign have never been disclosed. But The Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantánamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated."

"The access came with a condition. Participants were instructed not to quote their briefers directly or otherwise describe their contacts with the Pentagon. In the fall and winter leading up to the invasion, the Pentagon armed its analysts with talking points portraying Iraq as an urgent threat. The basic case became a familiar mantra: Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, was developing nuclear weapons, and might one day slip some to Al Qaeda; an invasion would be a relatively quick and inexpensive “war of liberation.” At the Pentagon, members of Ms. Clarke’s staff marveled at the way the analysts seamlessly incorporated material from talking points and briefings as if it was their own."

The Wire ala The Simpsons

Periscope Studio has some Simpsonized versions of The Wire.

This can go with the Simpsonized BSG.

Review of NJ e-voting approved; won't be in time for election

Review of NJ e-voting approved; won't be in time for election. "Serious problems emerged in five counties where Sequoia voting machines were used during the New Jersey presidential primaries. Audits conducted by election officials revealed that the electronic tallies didn't match the total counts from the paper trail generated by the machines. Sequoia attributes the problem to operator error and argued that it isn't indicative of a technical malfunction."

In response to that glitch and other irregularities, election officials from Union County decided decided to subject the voting machines to an independent review. They went to Ed Felten, a voting machine security expert who serves as the director of Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy. Although preliminary evidence from the audit indicated the potential presence of some serious malfunctions, Union County decided not to go forward with the review after receiving legal threats from Sequoia. The voting machine company claimed that an unauthorized third-party review would violate the county's license agreement. Sequoia also argued that unauthorized examinations expose the its proprietary trade secrets to public disclosure and threaten its intellectual property rights."

Modular robot reassembles when kicked apart

This might be the beginning of a Terminator...

50 Ways to Use Bacon

50 Ways to Use Bacon. Is there anything more to say?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Movie Review: My Winnipeg

Guy Maddin describes his filmMy Winnipeg as a documentary fantasia, which works because it needs a new name for this form. Maddin narrates a stream of consciousness memory of city facts and family history over a set of mostly black and white images. Some are recreations others are archival footage. It reminded me a lot of Very Nice, Very Nice which I discovered a few days ago.

Some of the stories are merely odd twists of recent events like personal connections to a classic hockey arena that was recently torn down. Others are bizzare John Hodgeman-like folktales like a pack of horses freezing in a river one winter with their heads sticking up from the ice and the people visiting them all winter long and a baby boom that occurs 9 months later. While this seems fabricated, at the Q&A after the film he said it really happened.

Another tale involves the only TV series made in Winnipeg, called Ledgeman. It was a weekly show about someone threatening to commit suicide by jumping off a ledge and being talked down each week. It seemed like a bit of Hodgemanesque brilliance but again he mentioned it in the Q&A as if it were real, though it has to be a joke; right?

The film is only 80 minutes long but it only kept my interest for about 30. After a while I tired of the over-the-top reminiscences of stories mixing fact and fiction and exaggeration. If it sustains you'll like the film very much. For me, not so much.

Camera Awards

The Technical Image Press Association (TIPA) have given out their 2008 Awards. These are apparently like the European Oscars for camera equipment. If you're looking to buy a new camera or lens or something, this might be helpful.

Cambridge Science Festival

The Cambridge Science Festival started this weekend and runs through May 4th.

A physicist on the "Lessig style"

A physicist tried the "Lessig style" of presentations to a physicist conference and writes about the results.

"Let's quickly talk about the public reception. While I was giving the talk, over half the audience was listening. This may sound trivial to you, but I was the most widely listened to speaker at the entire meeting by a land-slide (I think nearly everybody was paying attention!). These are record numbers! There were two motivating factors to this: the train-wreck factor and the quick slide attention-deficit-disorder factor. The train-wreck factor is that people see something new and are waiting to see you fail, crash then burn because it will make for good dinner conversation. The quick slide factor is that the higher slide rate (slides per minute) of a minimalist style helps the attention-deficit-disorder physics pay attention. While I was giving the talk, it really seemed like people were much more interested in paying attention because minimalism is a better teaching device since it allows the speaker more control."

So whether the technique is a Lord Privy Seals or not, it does seem to be effective for others.

Scalia Emerges

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made his first media appearance last night on 60 Minutes. The site has video and a transcript of the story. I think the only things I learned was that he was a straight A student (no surprise) and is good friends with Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsberg (big surprise).

The Blog of Legal Times Delves Into Scalia's New Book, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges.

Which came first: memos or torture?

A Los Angeles Times opinion piece from a few weeks ago asks Which came first: memos or torture? about John Yoo activities in the administration.

"Yoo is now a tenured professor at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall. Recently, the National Lawyers Guild launched a campaign to have him fired because of his role in the torture issue. This move has touched off a controversy, especially among legal academics concerned about tenure and academic freedom."

"But Yoo's account of how and why the torture memos were crafted may not hold up. Congress is preparing hearings into the subject, and they have invited Yoo to testify. International law scholar Philippe Sands and other writers have punched holes in Yoo's claims about the facts. It increasingly appears that the Bush interrogation program was already being used before Yoo was asked to write an opinion. He may therefore have provided after-the-fact legal cover. That would help explain why Yoo strained to take so many implausible positions in the memos...The question becomes, was Yoo giving his best effort at legal analysis, or was he attempting to protect the authors of the program from criminal investigation and prosecution?"

"According to Human Rights First, more than 100 people have died in U.S. detention in the war on terrorism. It documented 11 cases where the deaths resulted from coercive interrogation techniques, and others where there was at least some connection."

"Is it right to say that lawyers dispensing bad advice in memos face no liability for what happens when people act in reliance on them? At the end of World War II, the U.S. took a different view in one narrow area. When the legal advice had to do with the treatment of detainees in wartime, the U.S. argued, lawyers had to adhere closely to the law or face prosecution. In one case, two German Justice Ministry lawyers were charged and sentenced to 10 years in prison for giving advice that allowed the creation of a special internment system for suspected insurgents. Their advice was close to that dispensed by Yoo."

Senate Races

Daily Kos wrote about Dems on offense in Senate fundraising. It's early but maybe the Democrats can pick up enough seats in the Senate to overcome filibusters. Kos looks at some recent figures about fund raising and points to an article a couple of weeks ago summarizing the various races.

Conspiracy to Lie to Congress?

Daily Kos wrote in Conspiracy to Lie to Congress? that FBI director Robert Mueller quite possibly lied to Congress (a felony) about using National Security Letters to obtain private information about people.

"The FBI knew that the university records were not obtainable via an NSL, and the university properly rejected that request--a request that had already fulfilled once, legally in response to a grand jury subpoena. And which was fulfilled, again, when the FBI field office came back with the proper subpoena after the whole exercise in NSL futility"

"Mueller, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, portrayed the university as intransigent and said the incident showed the FBI needed the power to force the turnover of all sorts of records without having to involve the court system. 'Now in my mind, we should not, in that circumstance have to show somebody that this was an emergency,' Mueller testified on July 27, 2005. 'We should've been able to have a document, an administrative subpoena that we took to the university and got those records immediately.'"

The problem is, it wasn't an emergency and it was easy to use the existing legal system and in fact that was done before the FBI went back and tried to do it illegally. Someone fix this crap already.

Old Torture Stuff

CIA Still Looking for Tapes Evidence "So far, the CIA has found no evidence to suggest that the destruction of interrogation videos in 2005 violated a federal judge’s preservation order — nor does the agency have any reason to believe that officials there trashed other records that might have been subject to the order. But it needs more time to investigate, agency officials said yesterday."

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

Clay Shirky has a really interesting article Gin, Television, and Social Surplus. It's definitely worth a read. It starts talking about the industrial revolution in Britain:

"The transformation from rural to urban life was so sudden, and so wrenching, that the only thing society could do to manage was to drink itself into a stupor for a generation. The stories from that era are amazing-- there were gin pushcarts working their way through the streets of London. And it wasn't until society woke up from that collective bender that we actually started to get the institutional structures that we associate with the industrial revolution today. Things like public libraries and museums, increasingly broad education for children, elected leaders--a lot of things we like--didn't happen until having all of those people together stopped seeming like a crisis and started seeming like an asset. "

He goes on to argue that television in the late 20th century was our gin. Watching Gilligan's Island was our stupor and we're coming out of it now. Wikipedia so far has taken about 100 million hours of thought. "And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that's 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads."

Make it to the end, the mouse story is great.

The FLDS Raid in Texas

The best articles I've seen about raid on the polygamous FLDS compound in TX are by Sara Robinson at Orcinus.

"I've spent the day wrangling with a post (which will probably turn into several posts) about the FLDS raid in Eldorado, TX. Oddly, last week's events occured while I had my nose buried in the best new book on the subject of the FLDS since Jon Krakauer's bestselling Under the Banner of Heaven came out in 2003, so I've got a lot of fresh and deep perspective on the matter -- too much, in fact, to be wrestled down into one coherent post."

"The problem, as it so often is with the mainstream media, is that absolutely everybody involved with reporting or commenting on this story has been airlifted into it in the past few days. (You'd think somebody would have at least taken the time on the plane flight to skim Krakauer's book and get up to speed. You'd be wrong.) And this is just one example of the ways that ignorance of the backstory cheats the rest of us out of a real understanding of what's going on here."

See her posts:
Are FLDS women brainwashed?
The Secret Lives of Saints
What We're Not Talking About, Part I: Other Issues With the FLDS
and a long piece: How Dangerous Is The FLDS?

Quake-Catcher Network

The Quake-Catcher Network at Stanford is setting up a network of people with apple laptops that have accelerometers in them to use for earthquake detection. Accelerometers are devices that sense motion. They're used in the Wii controllers and laptops have had them for a few years to detect falls and lock the hard drives before impact to prevent damage.

This is similar to SETI@home using spare computing cycles from volunteer home computers to search for extraterrestrial life and to other projects working on hard problems like protein folding. The difference is using the new hardware and using the volunteer machines as a sensor network instead of just spare computing cycles. It's closer to 911 systems letting people use camera phones to report crimes

"The client- and server-side software rapidly monitors incoming seismic signals, detects the magnitudes and locations of significant earthquakes, and may even provide early warnings to other computers and users before they can feel the earthquake. The open-source software will provide the client-user with a screen-saver displaying seismic data recorded on their laptop, recently detected earthquakes, and general information about earthquakes and the geosciences."

Yes the software can differentiate between bumps and drops and earthquakes and small tremors. Part of that undoubtably depends on coordinating signals from a large number of machines.

Letters Give C.I.A. Tactics a Legal Rationale

The New York Times wrote yesterday Letters Give C.I.A. Tactics a Legal Rationale. "The Justice Department has told Congress that American intelligence operatives attempting to thwart terrorist attacks can legally use interrogation methods that might otherwise be prohibited under international law."

Timing Mac Buys

A friend bought a new iMac on Saturday because his old iMac G4 died (well the screen). He was all happy for 2 days, then today he found Apple Updated the iMac line. Ok, so what have we learned?

1. Apple never preannounces releases. The Mac Buyer's Guide was right. It said "don't buy now, updates soon" and they were 3 days away. Though it's hard to know what "soon" means at the time; we thought about 5 weeks to coincide with WWDC.

2. If you wait for your mac to actually die before replacing it, you have less flexibility in waiting for an upgrade. The prospect of waiting 5 weeks was untenable, but waiting 3 days would have been fine.

3. If you buy from Apple you get a 2 week window to return for free upgrade in case a new model comes out. If you buy from a reseller the policy is probably different. The reseller probably has only a slightly better price, so if you fail at #2 above and you have to buy, the 2 week window might be worth it. *

4. Most bumps in hardware are small so missing it isn't a big a deal. If the bump is big it means they have a new model or line and you probably don't want the 1st generation of an Apple product.

*I'm not sure about Apple's upgrade policy if you customize it much. If you buy in a retail store the only customization they can do is add more RAM, so that probably isn't an issue for a free upgrade. If you get a RAM upgrade at a retail store be sure to ask for the stock RAM. You pay for it anyway (yes it's a little more expensive than ordering from the online Apple store) and you can keep it for possible later use or resell on eBay. If you order online with a bigger hard drive or upgraded graphics card I don't know if they exchange for free (you can return and buy a new one but that adds a restocking fee that probably eats all the gains). Mail returns take longer, you might not be happy about that. The model upgrade might make up for the options you got, so maybe you can return in a retail store and get a new stock model.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Interview with Donald Knuth

InformIT has an Interview with Donald Knuth, programming legend. Some good quotes:

"I might as well flame a bit about my personal unhappiness with the current trend toward multicore architecture. To me, it looks more or less like the hardware designers have run out of ideas, and that they’re trying to pass the blame for the future demise of Moore’s Law to the software writers by giving us machines that work faster only on a few key benchmarks! I won’t be surprised at all if the whole multithreading idea turns out to be a flop, worse than the 'Titanium' approach that was supposed to be so terrific—until it turned out that the wished-for compilers were basically impossible to write."

"Literate programming is a very personal thing. I think it’s terrific, but that might well be because I’m a very strange person. It has tens of thousands of fans, but not millions."

"My general working style is to write everything first with pencil and paper, sitting beside a big wastebasket. Then I use Emacs to enter the text into my machine, using the conventions of TeX. I use tex, dvips, and gv to see the results, which appear on my screen almost instantaneously these days. I check my math with Mathematica...I have some homemade tools, like my own spell-checker for TeX and CWEB within Emacs. I designed my own bitmap font for use with Emacs, because I hate the way the ASCII apostrophe and the left open quote have morphed into independent symbols that no longer match each other visually. I have special Emacs modes to help me classify all the tens of thousands of papers and notes in my files, and special Emacs keyboard shortcuts that make bookwriting a little bit like playing an organ."

Movie Review: The Greening of Southie

The Greening of Southie follows the contruction of the Macallen Building in South Boston. It was designed to be a green building and to achieve a gold rating on the LEED scale that measures such things. They described how each of the needed 37 LEED points were earned, using local concrete, recycled steel, rainwater collection, cotton insulation, cabinet particle board made of wheat, floor glue without certain chemicals, plants on the roof, etc. A lot is made about the dual flush toilets that have a button for using less water for umm, lighter loads.

It covers construction from pouring the concrete through people moving in, and has interviews with the architects and the construction workers and one tenant. I have friends into sustainable design so many of the concepts were familiar to me, but I was surprised how all these things were brand new to the construction workers and how many of them were doubtful. Some of those doubts are proven as some of the newer materials have problems. The wheat board expands and the floor glue buckles. The roof is filled with plants which should reduce the heat generated from a black top roof but it's very costly and the plants need to be replanted. Also it was odd that points were allocated for using local concrete and steel to cut down on transportation costs, but floor boards and other things were shipped from China and South America. One architect says that the transportation of building supplies uses more energy than the building will through its entire lifetime.

I thought the film meandered a little but was very interesting. The interviews with the workers sold it. They said they could never afford to live in this building (condos from $500,000 to $2,000,000) but if these techniques and materials go mainstream, the price will come down and perhaps all buildings will be green. Good stuff.

Studios, Writers, and Copyright

Lawrence Lessig points to an 8 page pdf that describes The most interesting part of the writers' strike. Really a good read explaining copyright law and writers and how the studios have been in a legal fiction for a while.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Movie Review: The Tracey Fragments

The Tracey Fragments is trying to push the language of film and I appreciate that, I just wish it had more of a story. Ellen Page plays Tracey Berkowitz, a troubled 15 year-old. Her parents are always yelling, she doesn't have friends at school and she has a 9 year-old brother Sonny who's missing.

The film is unusual in that it uses many simultaneous fragmented images on the screen, as many as 20 at a time. This isn't like Timecode which always showed 4 images of events happening at the same time though usually in different places. The images, their numbers, and their shapes change to affect mood. This is a different use than how 24 uses split screen. Often the same scene is shown in several images from different angles or slightly offset in time or juxtaposed with related images. It's video cubism. It often works to add weight to the scene and I found myself sucked into the film immediately.

The problem is, in this film it seems to work best expressing a jumbled emotionally wreck, which Tracey is. It's like a stream of consciousness without the stream. Tracey is upset and is simultaneous remembering fragments of what led her to this. The film reveals the details at the end but it's not really a full plot as much as part of an unresolved one. The film is about the emotional content, and about two thirds of the way through the short 77 minute run time I was bored of the experience and wanted more.

There's some interesting stuff here and Ellen Page is good, but I think the story and technique would have been better suited to a (longish) short film rather than a (shortish) feature length film. The first use of a new technique doesn't always get all the details right, but hopefully more filmmakers will try.

Movie Review: Savage Grace

I saw Savage Grace not even remembering the little bit I knew about it going into the film. In this case knowing the premise I think would have helped a lot. The film tells the true story of the murder of Barbara Daly Baekeland (wife of Brooks Baekeland, the grandson of the inventor of Bakelite) by her 25 year-old son Tony. The family relationships were very strange (and even incestuous) between husband and wife, mother and son, father and son's girlfriend, son and boyfriend, mother and son and son's boyfriend, etc.

The film covers about 20 years of time from 1947 to 1968. It's shot nicely and very well acted by Julianne Moore as Barbara, Stephen Dillane as the father Brooks, and Eddie Redmayne as the son Tony. My problem was that I just didn't care about any of these very strange characters. None were sympathetic. The film mostly shows arguments and sexual and drug encounters and doesn't have much of a narrative. I was really bored at times.

I saw this as part of the Independent Film Festival of Boston. This was only the third showing in the US and the director was there and answered questions afterwards. The film is being released unrated. While there is very little explicit nudity, the director is sure it would get an NC-17 based on the content. The film is based on a book of the same title and the real story is apparently much more bizarre than what's presented in the film.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kubrick Trailers and Lessig Presentations...

Pablo Ferro and Dr. Strangelove is an interesting article about how the trailer came to be. I had never seen it before and it reminds me of Lawrence Lessig's presentations...

I think the Clockwork Orange trailer (which I had also never seen) is just about perfect for the film...

The article is really interesting and also discusses Arthur Lipsett's 1961 film Very Nice, Very Nice which seems to be one of the earliest (if not the first) demonstration of this form.

Movie Review: Transsiberian

The Independent Film Festival of Boston started last night with a showing of Transsiberian. I'll be seeing a lot of films at the festival and will try to get reviews out as fast as I can.

Ray (Woody Harrelson) and Jesse (Emily Mortimer) are a couple traveling on the Transsiberian Express railway from Beijing to Moscow. He's a straight-laced hardware store owner who's active in his church. She has a more shady past but has changed. On the train they share a compartment with Carlos (Spanish actor Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara) who have been bumming around Asia. Sir Ben Kingsley plays Inspector Grinko, a Russian narcotics detective trying to track down drug traffickers.

The film is a thriller and it's hard to discuss without giving away plot points which I won't do. It's kind of a cross between Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes and Cronenberg's Eastern Promises but that is stretching it a bit. I will say that there were several things I saw coming that arrived and several things I saw coming that never did and a few things (some big) that I didn't see coming that really surprised me when they arrived. This combination really worked to keep me guessing, but I there were parts where I wasn't in suspense, I was just waiting for things to happen.

The film rests on Emily Mortimer and she succeeds in keeping us interested. She plays an all too trusting girl-next-door type who has to deal with building suspicion and fear. I found Woody Harrelson a bit annoying, but I think he was supposed to be the naive American. Fortunately the film concentrates on Mortimer and he mostly provides some comic relief.

I liked Kingsley as the Russian detective a lot, but I suspect a couple of my regular readers will complain about his accent. I had no problems with it. After the film was a question and answer session with the director (Brad Anderson), co-writer Will Conroy, and Sir Ben Kingsley. Here are some photos. Kingsley said he's a natural mimic and Anderson said the Russian coaches were very impressed with his accent. The film is a solid B+. A couple of my other regular readers are train nuts and I think they'll enjoy it too.

Interacting Galaxies

HubbleSite has lots of images of Interacting Galaxies.
colliding-galaxies-montage-580x446 1.jpg

Calorie Freakonomics

A Great Opportunity for Obesity Researchers is a Freakonomics look at the effects of a new New York regulation requiring menus of restaurant chains to list the calories in dishes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

$20K for Obama's Waffle

This Is just dumb... $20K for Obama's Waffle.

Weighing a McCain Economist

DAvid Leonhardt in the New York Times writes Weighing a McCain Economist.

It starts by describing McCain's top economic advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who was director of the Congressional Budget Office. He was first to have the CBO study the effects of tax cuts not just by the direct loss of revenue coming in but also by the dynamic effects it had by altering behavior (one of the main reasons we choose specific taxes is to alter behavior). This made Republicans happy and scared Democrats, but there was an unexpected outcome.

"What the budget office found, as study after study has shown, was that any new revenue that tax cuts brought in paled in comparison with their cost. This is why the deficit jumped under the last two tax-cutting presidents (Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush) and fell under the last two tax-raising presidents (George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton)."

The article goes on to describe McCain's plans and says that while he has a history of fiscal responsibility, it's been a little missing from his campaign. He's given great details on the taxes he'd cut but few on what spending he'd cut. McCain and Holtz-Eakin say give them time to finalize that, there's still plenty of time till November, and it makes some sense that they wouldn't do that part before winning the Republican nomination.

I guess we'll see. At the high level, it's hard to disagree with cutting taxes and wasteful spending. What will really matter is which programs and taxes are cut and deemed "wasteful". We tax and spend to affect behavior, I have a feeling that McCain and the Democratic nominee will differ on which behaviors they want to affect.

E.g., I'd rather spend federal money on domestic health care policies than on Iraq. I just watched Frontline's Sick Around the World which showed how five other industrialized countries (England, German, Japan, Taiwan, and Switzerland) changed their health care systems to spend less and provide better care than the US does. That seems like something Republicans might be interested in, but they don't see to be. Why is that?

Brian Greene Explains Superstring Theory for Laymen

Brian Greene in Feb 2005 at TED on Superstring theory explained (really!):

A deeper look at the NetFlix innovation contest

A deeper look at the NetFlix innovation contest was pretty interesting and described the current state of the contest.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Best Thing that Didn't Happen During The Bush Administration

In The Best Thing that Didn't Happen During The Bush Administration Robert Reich rubs it in that the Republican plan to privatize Social Security didn't happen.

"But had we privatized, they’d be totally reliant on the stock market. And look what’s happened to the market: Compared to stock values ten years ago, the S&P 500 has risen a little over 1 percent a year, adjusted for inflation. Even Treasury bonds have done better. Go back nine years and there’s been no gain at all. Go back eight years and the market has been off an average of 1.4 percent a year."

"Sure, the stock market has done well over the past half century. But there have been decades like the 1970s and this one, so far, where it’s been a disaster. That’s why we have Social Security – so that if your timing is bad and you get caught in a downdraft, you still have something to fall back on in retirement. "

The Cylons are Near

I missed this. Apparently in the last episode of Battlestar Galactica the constellation orion is clearly seen in one scene. According to Orion Speculations "The Colonial and Cylon fleets must be within 20 light years of the Solar System." and they are coming from Ophiuchus, the thirteenth sign of the Zodiac. Somehow I guess this is not just a coincidence.

Judging a Candidate By Their Font

The New York TImes has an opinion column McCain's Optimum Look that asks the tough questions about his logo's font, "What does Optima say about John McCain? And should this, or any, candidate be judged by a typeface?" I'm not sure whether to be interested or disgusted.

Happy Earth Day

Celebrate by visiting the very slow Earthday site.

Read All About It!

E7B5E3EF-A7BE-41BB-80D3-F525B9390016.jpgLaura and Jenna Bush have written a childrens' book, Read All About It!. I just saw a clip of them reading it in a school to children. My first thought was that the Bush presidency goes full circle.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Soyuz Emergency Landing

This is a crazy story that doesn't get reported on TV in the US. Universe Today reports New Facts Emerge from Soyuz Emergency Landing.

"The facts behind the "ballistic re-entry" of the Soyuz descent capsule are beginning to come to light. According to several news sources, after the capsule made an unusual steep descent through the atmosphere, putting it at least 400km off-target, the parachute was set alight causing a small bush fire on landing. The crew, who had to wait upside down, reported smoke inside the capsule. Although the Russian space agency overseeing the rescue helicopters reported that the crew were safely on the ground, in reality they were struggling to find their location. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko had to unhook himself from the askew craft, get outside and use a satellite phone to confirm they were alive and well. Tough questions are now being asked as to why mission control lost track of the capsule in the first place and why they covered up the reality of the landing till so long after the event…"

"One Russian space official cited an old naval superstition that having women on board the flight was a 'bad omen' and that planners would reconsider having a female-dominant crew in the future. These remarks understandably caused a stir."

Why are we so dumb? It's embarrassing.

I don't know if this is real or not but from Andrew Sullivan...


Chocolate Bar v Cholesterol...Fight!

Expect to see new "healthy" chocolate products...Chocolate bar shown to lower cholesterol. The study was funded by chocolate maker Mars Inc. but was double blind and published in the peer reviewed Journal of Nutrition.

“Eating two CocoaVia dark chocolate bars a day not only lowered cholesterol, it had the unexpected effect of also lowering systolic blood pressure,” said John Erdman, a U. of I. professor of food science and human nutrition.

Erdman attributes the drop in cholesterol numbers (total cholesterol by 2% and LDL or “bad” cholesterol by 5.3%) to the plant sterols that have been added to the bar and the drop in blood pressure to the flavanols found in dark chocolate."

Remember Mark Twain

Mark Twain died 98 years ago today at the age of 74.

The Bush-Cheney Economy

Hightower Lowdown describes On the gas tax, McCain is in the tank. "As for domestic policy, McCain came out with a proposal the other day that was every bit as clueless as his many gaffes on Iraq. He wants to suspend the federal gas tax for the summer driving season. "The effect will be an immediate economic stimulus, taking a few dollars off the price of a tank of gas every time a family, a farmer or trucker stops to fill up," McCain said. No, it wouldn't. McCain is failing to take two things into account: Supply. And demand."

Superconductor News

ars technica writes Superconductor breakthroughs abound.

Why the Right Says it's Against McCain

Digby writes about the McCain strategy in Gasbag Performance Art.

"Bill Clinton famously said that Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line. There you have it. The Republican party is behind their nominee, just as they always are. The problem is whether they can get the independents and swing voters who have come to loathe Bush."

"The Republicans know the brand has been severely damaged by Bush. They can read polls as well as anyone. So, they helped the supine media brush off their 2000 narrative and pretended that despite everything he's done in the past eight years, McCain isn't a Real Republican. They continue to perpetuate the myth that he's mistrusted by the Republican base in order to help him triangulate against Bush. What better way to do it than to trot out Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh's to call him a traitor to conservatism? That's music to the independent swing voter's ear in 2008 and they know it."

George Will's Elitist Views

Mark Thoma writes on George Will's Elitist Views: "George Will tries to talk about Fed policy, but if you don't understand the Fed's goals - and he doesn't - then the analysis of policy will be based on a faulty premise and reach incorrect conclusions."

Slow Progress on Torture

The New Yorks Times had an editorial yesterday on the Bush administration and torture.

Brad DeLong says: "Four years ago, this would have been a useful editorial. Today? And not even now can they nerve themselves to call for the impeachment of George W. Bush. Cowards."

Digby accepts that and asks "I have two equally urgent, perhaps more urgent questions: since impeachment is not, and will not, be on the table, is there anything that can be done to stop present torturing and prevent future torture by Bush? Second, what laws can be passed to prevent any future administration from torturing those in its grip, be they called "prisoners," "non-comabatants," or anything else?"

White With Foam...

Much like the superballs it seems Sony flooded some streets with bubbles for an ad.

Lots of pics worth seeing are here.

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city_16 1.jpg

Movie Review: Shooter

In Shooter Mark Wahlberg plays Bob Lee Swagger, a retired expert long distance sharp shooter. He lives in a mountain cabin that might be the same exterior from Commando. He's brought in to scout the location of a presidential speech because there are threats a sniper will try to assassinate him from a mile away. It's not giving too much away that Swagger was meant to the be fall guy and the film is one chase sequence and shoot out after another.

The action scenes reminded me those from First Blood in that you saw a trained expert use his skills. The overall plot is almost reasonable. The problem is that all the other characters, particularly the villains, are pretty dumb. Note to self, if you're a corrupt senior agent who runs covert operations, don't act blatantly corrupt to a judge. As the movie progresses, the plot elements used to connect the action sequences get dumber and dumber. The result is a film with a promising start and disappointing end.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Movie Review: Where in the World is Osama bin Laden

Where in the World is Osama bin Laden is the latest film from Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame. The reviews were pretty bad but the film club was seeing it and I had heard that Expelled had a better per screen average and I had to do my part to correct that.

We all generally agreed that the film was better than reviews. Not great, but reasonably good. The framing device of him looking for bin Laden I found kind of lame. It's not spoiling the ending that he doesn't find him. It opened with him learned self defense and getting all his shots. etc. That was pretty fun. He then goes to Morocco, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. If you were really looking for bin Laden, you'd start in Pakistan.

The film is at it's best when he's interviewing average people on the street for their experiences. Obviously it turns out most people hate terrorism and the majority of muslims hate violence and much of the Islamic world dislikes the foreign policy of the US government and are quick to point out they like the American people. Shocker I know, but there isn't much of this view on the news here so it was refreshing to have the truth reinforced. Some Saudi students were clearly not free to talk about their views and some orthodox Jews were hostile to him just being on the street.

When talking to people about their experiences and raising kids and their views on the US, the film works well. Sometimes when he asks random people where Osama bin Laden is, it just comes off as dumb and random and representing Americans poorly. In Afghanistan it was interesting to hear the farmers complain that water is now a problem since the base dug wells. When he embeds with the US troops they let him fire weapons (including a rocket launcher). It struck me as really ironic that he was talking with all these civilians just fine and when he meets our peacekeeping forces he fires weapons into the countryside.

Maybe the reviews set my expectations appropriately low but the film kept my interest and was pretty good. It would have been better if some structural flaws were fixed but it kinda works as a feel good documentary on the war on terror, if that's even possible.

Answer Me Jesus

I was with friends last night and they had a pink Answer Me Jesus. It's the best magic 8 ball ever. He was remarkably prophetic.


The phrases are a little hard to read but included:

Have faith
Yes my child
Let me ask my Dad
I still love you
Wait for a sign
pray harder
resist the devil
for Christ sake
I died for this?
the holy water will sting
watch out for the lightening
no chance in hell
have a nice afterlife
it is not righteous
ye of little faith

Friday, April 18, 2008

Stuff on Expelled

Scientific American has Six Things in Expelled That Ben Stein Doesn't Want You to Know....

The New York Times review begins: "One of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time, ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed’ is a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry." and ends: "Mixing physical apples and metaphysical oranges at every turn “Expelled” is an unprincipled propaganda piece that insults believers and nonbelievers alike. In its fudging, eliding and refusal to define terms, the movie proves that the only expulsion here is of reason itself."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Top 14 Faces to Give to Your Mii

The Wii let's you build customized characters. Here are someone's list of The Top 14 Faces to Give to Your Mi. Pretty clever stuff.

South Park Was Scary

This weeks South Park episode was called Over Logging "One day the citizens of South Park wake up and find the internet is gone. When Randy hears there may still be some internet out in California, he packs up his family and heads west." I found it actually frightening. And that frightened me.

The Debate

They started on Obama's "bitter gaffe" and I'm still not happy with his response. I think he meant to say that people cling to guns, religions, etc. as political issues, not that this is why they are involved with these things in the first place. Yet he didn't make this clear and this is the way Clinton choose to expand on it.

Then they went on to the Reverend Wright. Obama said "The notion that the American people are going to be distracted once again by comments not made by me but by somebody who is associated with me, that I have disowned [the comments], doesn't give the American people enough credit."

Clinton said that this is one of the things that we heard so many different explanations about. So they then went right into the sniper comments "issue". Clinton said "I can tell you I may be a lot of things but I'm not dumb. And I wrote about going to bosnia in my book in 2004 and I layed it all out there and you're right. On a couple of occasions in the last weeks I said some things that weren't in keeping with what I knew to be the case and what I'd written in my book and you know I'm embarrassed by it. I have apologized for it. I've said it was a mistake and it is I hope something you can look over...You can go back for the past 15 months, we both have said things that turned out to not be accurate. You know that happens when you're talking as much as we have talked. I'm very sorry that I said it and I've said that it didn't jive with what I've written about and knew to be the truth."

I liked what Obama said: "But look, the fact of the matter is, is that both of us are working as hard as we can to make sure that we're delivering a message to the American people about what we would do as president. Sometimes that message is going to be imperfectly delivered, because we are recorded every minute of every day. And I think Senator Clinton deserves, you know, the right to make some errors once in a while. I'm -- obviously, I make some as well. I think what's important is to make sure that we don't get so obsessed with gaffes that we lose sight of the fact that this is a defining moment in our history. We are going to be tackling some of the biggest issues that any president has dealt with in the last 40 years. Our economy is teetering not just on the edge of recession, but potentially worse. Our foreign policy is in a shambles. We are involved in two wars. People's incomes have not gone up, and their costs have. And we're seeing greater income inequality now than any time since the 1920s. In those circumstances, for us to be obsessed with this -- these kinds of errors I think is a mistake. And that's not what our campaign has been about."

The next question was from a voter who asked about why Obama doesn't wear an American flag (pin). Charlie Gibson described this question saying it "goes to the basic issue of electability". After a meandering answer that said he was patriotic and not why he doesn't just wear the pin to get passed the issue he said "This is the kind of manufactured issue that our politics has become obsessed with and, once again, distracts us from what should be my job when I'm commander in chief, which is going to be figuring out how we get our troops out of Iraq and how we actually make our economy better for the American people."

Stephanopoulos then asked about William Ayers. "A gentleman named William Ayers, he was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol and other buildings. He's never apologized for that. And in fact, on 9/11 he was quoted in The New York Times saying, "I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough." An early organizing meeting for your state senate campaign was held at his house, and your campaign has said you are friendly. Can you explain that relationship for the voters, and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?"

I like Obama's answer "George, but this is an example of what I'm talking about. This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis. And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn't make much sense, George." But I don't have as much confidence in the electorate.

Clinton then said there was more of a relationship and they served on the same board even after 9/11. Obama I think nailed the response: "by Senator Clinton's own vetting standards, I don't think she would make it, since President Clinton pardoned or commuted the sentences of two members of the Weather Underground, which I think is a slightly more significant act than me serving on a board with somebody for actions that he did 40 years ago." So Obama can dish it out, even while lamenting the need to do so.

It took 50 minutes before the questions were about real issues. The first one was about Iraq. But Charlie Gibson turned it into something stupid. "So if the military commanders in Iraq came to you on day one and said this kind of withdrawal would destabilize Iraq, it would set back all of the gains that we have made, no matter what, you're going to order those troops to come home?" The obvious answer is no, smart people change their positions as information changes and that the Bush administration has demonstrated it's incapable of this. Clinton did okay saying "So the bottom line for me is, we don't know what will happen as we withdraw. We do know what will happen if we stay mired in Iraq. The Iraqi government will not accept responsibility for its own future." but Obama did much better saying "Because the commander in chief sets the mission, Charlie. That's not the role of the generals. And one of the things that's been interesting about the president's approach lately has been to say, well, I'm just taking cues from General Petraeus."

The next question was about Iran getting nuclear weapons and I thought Clinton did much better. Obama said he wouldn't allow it but wasn't specific other than saying nothing was off the table. Clinton talks about some specific diplomatic measures she'd use with Iran and other Arab nations.

Then they went to taxes and the first question was dumb. "Two-part question: Can you make an absolute, read-my-lips pledge that there will be no tax increases of any kind for anyone earning under $200,000 a year? And if the economy is as weak a year from now as it is today, will you -- will you persist in your plans to roll back President Bush's tax cuts for wealthier Americans?" Can't we get passed these "pledges"? And to my dismay both Clinton and Obama took the bait without explicitly saying the line that Bush senior got caught up on. Was anyone else surprised that middle class was defined as earning up to quarter million dollars a year?

They followed up with questions about capital gains taxes and this did trip up Obama a bit more than Clinton. First off Charlie's question was dumb again: "It's now 15 percent. That's almost a doubling if you went to 28 percent. But actually Bill Clinton in 1997 signed legislation that dropped the capital gains tax to 20 percent. And George Bush has taken it down to 15 percent. And in each instance, when the rate dropped, revenues from the tax increased. The government took in more money. And in the 1980s, when the tax was increased to 28 percent, the revenues went down. So why raise it at all, especially given the fact that 100 million people in this country own stock and would be affected?" The obvious answer is that circumstances might be different and while cap gains rates certainly influence Wall Street they are not the only thing that do. Obama again meandered and talked about fairness. Clinton had a better answer about investing in infrastructure and energy and fixing housing markets. Charlie then got her to answer about cap gains and she said "I wouldn't raise it above the 20 percent if I raised it at all. I would not raise it above what it was during the Clinton administration."

Clinton then brought up that Obama wants to raise the cap on payroll taxes (which is currently at $97K for social security). She won't do that. Obama says we have to keep social security solvent and only 6% of the country makes more than 100K. Gibson correctly pointed out "But Senator, that's a tax. That's a tax on people under $250,000." For a candidate that's supposed to be about hope and honesty and being clear, he wasn't. They went back and forth a bit but Clinton won that pretty easily.

Then they talked about gun control and both said they supported some kind of registration or limitation but respected the 2nd amendment. It was a wash. Then they talked about affirmative action, I think Clinton spoke a little clearer on the topic but neither really said much. On gas prices and getting advice from Bush it was pretty uninteresting.

Overall, not much there. I think Obama had an off night and if he needed to catch up, I don't think this helped or hurt him.

More Primary Fun with Mob Logic

I recently starting watching They post show interviews with people on the street segments like this one, Bitter in Bethlehem but then follow each episode up with blog posts like this one, More Primary Fun!:

"Everyone quickly zeroed in on Obama’s elitism. But as Jon Stewart said on The Daily Show, don’t we want an elitist president? Shouldn’t our president be smarter than we are? And, maybe we’re wrong, but we think both Democratic candidates fit the bill. Clinton can down 50 shots of whiskey, she’s still not convincing us. And we don’t want her to.

Anyway, if you listen to the media, Obama, who had no chance in Pennsylvania, has now screwed himself royally. Obama supporters are groaning, everyone else is cheering, but the polls are telling a different story. One recent PPP poll [PDF] even has Obama winning 45 to 42. Of course, every other poll has Clinton winning by an average of 7 points, but that’s about where thing’s were before the ‘gaffe.’"

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Good As New


Hey! Watch It Back There!


A Little Help...


Cover and Let Sit Several Hours


Does That Look Level To You?


Synchronized Shoveling


IBM Internal Program To Test Migration To Macs

AppleInsider writes IBM launches internal pilot program to test migration to Macs "Long-time Microsoft Windows supporter IBM has recently initiated an internal pilot program to study the possibility of moving a significant number of its employees to Apple's Mac platform, leaked company documents show."

"After the four month test period, the 14 research scientists, 8 software engineers, a director, and a VP staff assistant participating in the pilot program were asked to provide feedback. Of the 22 of 24 who responded, Roughly Drafted reported that 18 said that the Mac offered a "better or best experience" compared to their existing computer, one rated it "equal or good," and three said the Mac offered a "worse experience." Only 3 choose to go back to a ThinkPad.

"Said another: "I have been a true PC stalwart for 2+ decades, but after trying Vista, I’m ready for a change."

The "second phase of the program that will see 50 employees equipped with Apple notebooks during the first half of 2008. Pending feedback, the company will then add an additional 50 to 100 users in the second half of the year. "

Given that they have 355,766 employees, At this rate they'll all be using Macs in about 2,000 years.

Hey Dad, Can I Help?


Hey! We Just Dug That!


The Cowboy's Gone...Quick Fill It In


"See my arm looks like the hoe's arm, and my hand is like the bucket!"

We Keep Digging But It Doesn't Get Longer


The Cowboy Says We Need a Bigger Hole


Dave Barry on Taxes

Dave Barry: How your taxes turn into manure.

"According to a group called Citizens Against Government Waste, the United States Congress (motto: ''Hey, It's Not OUR Money'') is giving $871,854 to researchers at Auburn University in Alabama so they can develop a better catfish. Now if you ask me, the way to improve on the current model of catfish is to make it look less like a hostile life form from the Planet Klorb, and more like Nemo. But the goal of the Catfish Genome Project, as I understand it, is to create a bigger, stronger catfish, a Shaquille O'Neal catfish that can stand up (so to speak) to global competition from foreign catfish. Perhaps you wonder why this project is being financed by taxpayers, as opposed to the catfish industry. The answer is that the Catfish Genome Project is crucial to achieving a vital national goal that we all share: reelecting the Alabama congresspersons who stuck it in the federal budget."

Yup, Still a Hole

Street Tear Up-2.jpg

Yup That's a Hole

Street Tear Up-0.jpg

Not content with tearing down the house across the street, digging a big hole, and building a new house, now these workmen have begun tearing up the street in front of my house. Obviously sewer lines or something. But wouldn't this have been easier before there was a house on the lot?

Surprisingly, the only loud part was when the backhoe was banging into the top layer of concrete. It was also surprising that they gave us no notice that they were going to do this. FYI, here's what the house currently looks like:

Street Tear Up-1.jpg

National Geographic Desktops

National Geographic posts their pictures as desktop wallpapers. Lots of nice stuff.

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Only in Japan

Mario Theme Played with RC Car and Bottles

Amazing Pack Mule Robot

The sound is annoying but the robot is amazing.

Maybe he'll make roboWorld.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Amazing Flash Exploit

Programmers only: Matasano Chargen has a fun writeup of Mark Dowd’s Inhuman Flash Exploit "Look at the details of this attack. It’s a weaponized NULL pointer attack that desynchronizes a bytecode verifier to slip malicious ActionScript bytecode into the Flash runtime."

Who is Most Influential?

Time magazine is polling for it's Time 100, their list of the most influential people in the world. It's a truely bizarre combination of people. It seems more a well known list than most influential. Does Tiger Woods really influence people? Does Mark Zuckerberg influence more people than the Dalai Lama?

Ok, when you get to #41 and see "High School Musical Cast" you want to stop reading and say this is ridiculous. And then you might think for a moment and say well they do influence a lot of american kids. Ok, maybe. But then you see next is John McCain followed by TIna Fey and you know it's just stupid.

Actually as you keep reading it gets funny. #73 Sara Silverman, #79 Pope Benedict XVI. Followed by Chris Rock! #109 Heidi Klum, #110 Tony Blair.

More on Woman Arrested for Dancing at the Jefferson Memorial

Here's some more (including video) of the DC woman arrested for dancing at the Jefferson Memorial over the weekend. The whole thing is stupidly blown out of proportion. The cops should have just let them dance in one portion or something. But really, the comments to this current post are great:

They're pickin' up the prisoners
And puttin em in a pen
And all she wants to do is dance, dance
Rebels been rebels
Since I don't know when
And all she wants to do is dance!

Libertarianism, iPods, bad dancing, Thomas Jefferson. Yup, all stuff white people like.

Has NOTHING been learned from the girl with the french fry?

You know, "read these walls!" just doesn't have the same ring as "don't taze me bro!"

While I do feel that it is utterly absurd that they got arrested, I cannot help but laugh at listening to this kid give his commentary about the state of america. THIS IS THE GREATEST INJUSTICE EVER! RON PAUL, SAVE ME!!!

These dancing douchebags may be right, but they're still douchebags. Jesus that guy was annoying.

61% of Historians Rate the Bush Presidency Worst Ever

The History News Network conducted an informal poll of 109 historians, 61% of Historians Rate the Bush Presidency Worst 35% placed in the 31st-41st category while only 4 ranked it as 2nd-30th. "98.2% assessed the presidency of Mr. Bush to be a failure while 1.8% classified it as a success." Yes it's far too early to judge and the sampling was self-selected for those that choose to reply, but still.

"One historian indicated that his reason for rating Bush as worst is that the current president combines traits of some of his failed predecessors: ‘the paranoia of Nixon, the ethics of Harding and the good sense of Herbert Hoover. . . . . God willing, this will go down as the nadir of American politics.’ Another classified Bush as ‘an ideologue who got the nation into a totally unnecessary war, and has broken the Constitution more often than even Nixon. He is not a conservative, nor a Christian, just an immoral man . . . .’ Still another remarked that Bush’s ‘denial of any personal responsibility can only be described as silly.’

‘It would be difficult to identify a President who, facing major international and domestic crises, has failed in both as clearly as President Bush,’ concluded one respondent. ‘His domestic policies,’ another noted, ‘have had the cumulative effect of shoring up a semi-permanent aristocracy of capital that dwarfs the aristocracy of land against which the founding fathers rebelled; of encouraging a mindless retreat from science and rationalism; and of crippling the nation’s economic base.’

‘George Bush has combined mediocrity with malevolent policies and has thus seriously damaged the welfare and standing of the United States,’ wrote one of the historians, echoing the assessments of many of his professional colleagues. ‘Bush does only two things well,’ said one of the most distinguished historians.  ‘He knows how to make the very rich very much richer, and he has an amazing talent for f**king up everything else he even approaches.  His administration has been the most reckless, dangerous, irresponsible, mendacious, arrogant, self-righteous, incompetent, and deeply corrupt one in all of American history.’ "

The author of the article wrote "In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States enjoyed enormous support around the world. President Bush squandered that goodwill by taking the country into an unnecessary war of choice and misleading the American people to gain support for that war. And he failed utterly to have a plan to deal with Iraq after the invasion. He further undermined the international reputation of the United States by justifying torture. Mr. Bush inherited a sizable budget surplus and a thriving economy. By pushing through huge tax cuts for the rich while increasing federal spending at a rapid rate, Bush transformed the surplus into a massive deficit. The tax cuts and other policies accelerated the concentration of wealth and income among the very richest Americans. These policies combined with unwavering opposition to necessary government regulations have produced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Then there is the incredible shrinking dollar, the appointment of incompetent cronies, the totally inexcusable failure to react properly to the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, the blatant disregard for the Constitution—and on and on."

Trailer Adapted Into Full-Length Film?

The Onion News Network has a pretty funny piece about how the studio plans to adapt the wildly popular Iron man trailer into a full-length film.

Wildly Popular 'Iron Man' Trailer To Be Adapted Into Full-Length Film

Jon Stewart on Bittergate

Monday, April 14, 2008

Jon Stewart Interviews Bush (Will Ferrell)

Administration Leaders Approved Torture Specifics, Ridiculed Dissent

Last week ABC reported 'Principals' OK'd Harsh Tactics. That is that the leaders of the Bush administration personally discussed and approved specific torture tactics to be used by the CIA.

"In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News."

"At the time, the [National Security Council's] Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft. As the national security adviser, Rice chaired the meetings, which took place in the White House Situation Room and were typically attended by most of the principals or their deputies."

"Then-Attorney General Ashcroft was troubled by the discussions. He agreed with the general policy decision to allow aggressive tactics and had repeatedly advised that they were legal. But he argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources said. According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: 'Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.'"

Digby is shocked. So is Tristero: "Should Bush, et al immediately be impeached and removed from office for these and other heinous activities? Should he and the others stand trial? Of course they should, it goes without saying."

Digby updates with some more reports: "whenever Powell or Armitage sought to question prisoner treatment issues, they were forced to endure what our source characterizes as "around the table, coarse, vulgar, frat-boy bully remarks about what these tough guys would do if THEY ever got their hands on prisoners...."

Honestly what were these people thinking? They've never served in the military. They have no medical, psychological or interrogation experience beyond perhaps being hazed in a fraternity, and they are the ones deciding how to get information from high value prisoners ostensibly to save lives? The two military people are ridiculed and the nation's top lawyer is thinking we should be having these discussions in a different building. And Congress does nothing and the press barely reports it (no questions on the topic in 3 press briefings). I wonder if even Jon Stewart will cover it, even he couldn't make this funny.

Meanwhile I hear on Meet the Press that Powell is the obvious choice for McCain's running mate. I've previously heard Rice (and she seems to be interested even if McCain isn't). The question for McCain shouldn't be "How do you feel about torture?" the question should be "What will you do to those that have approved torture?"

Gonzales Can't Get a Job

The New York Times reported Alberto Gonzales can't find a law firm to hire him. "What makes Mr. Gonzales’s case extraordinary is that former attorneys general, the government’s chief lawyer, are typically highly sought."

"Despite those credentials, he left office last August with a frayed reputation over his role in the dismissal of several federal prosecutors and the truthfulness of his testimony about a secret eavesdropping program. He has had no full-time job since his resignation, and his principal income has come from giving a handful of talks at colleges and before private business groups."

Though, those "handful of talks" are probably paying as much as his role as Attorney General did.

Movie Review: Contempt (1963)

I have a bad track record with French films. I keep trying, but I rarely like them. Tonight's attempt was by Jean-Luc Godard and starred Brigitte Bardot with director Fritz Lang playing himself. What could be bad? Well Contempt was bad.

The narrative is about Paul, a writer who's hired to help on a film version of The Odyssey, directed by Fritz Lang and produced by a Hollywood ass played by Jack Palance. Paul is married to Camille (Bardot) and the second act is entirely an argument they have in their flat as she breaks up with him and reconciles and he wonders what's going on. The third act takes place on Capri where filming is happening and Paul and Camille continue to argue (mostly at the stunning Casa Malaparte).

But the film is really about filmmaking and the stresses between Hollywood and "real art". It seems Godard hated one of his producers who demanded Cinemascope and more nude scenes with Bardot. So Lang has a line about cinemascope "Oh, it wasn't meant for human beings. Just for snakes... and funerals" and an opening scene centered on Bardot's nude butt was added. Oh and did I mention that the producer was an ass? I thought the little red book he reads quotes from was a reference to Mao, but that wasn't published until 1964.

So some of the shots are gorgeous vistas and others are annoying pan and scans where even with a wide screen Godard refused to put both characters in frame. The big setpiece takes place in a small apartment, with tracking shots that circle around the circling argument. Even the loud score repeats itself. I"m sure there's some disdain expressed in the fact that the opening credits are spoken instead of written (though the subtitling defeats this).

There is some praise to award for the realism of the arguments, how aggravating they can be and how the film manages to evoke those same feelings. Nevertheless, the end result is aggravation. I'm sorry Godard didn't get along with his producer, by why take it out on the audience?

Eberts review is as good as anyones.

Please, recommend good French films for me to see.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Barack Obama on Rural and Working Class America, Circa 2004

Nothing new, he just said it better here.

Obama's Latest Gaffe

There seems to be universal agreement that Obama made a mistake talking at a San Francisco fundraiser. What gets constantly quoted is this "So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

The problem is that's really out of context. I have a lot of respect for Obama who refuses to condescend to voters by speaking in sound bites. This morning This Week quoted just the one paragraph, Meet the Press had several of the preceding paragraphs. The Volokh Conspiracy has the text of Obama in San Francisco on Pennsylvanians as well as his response to the criticism.

Obama was saying that people don't believe it when politicians talk about the government helping them. They've heard about tax cuts and health care for 20 years and it never comes. That there's so much skepticism that more concrete issues like gun control, gay marriage, and immigration have become more important. "But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives." Maybe I"m an elitist white liberal, but I don't see anything wrong with that. I do think we'd all be better off if we weren't starting wars in the wrong country, committing war crimes, spending ourselves into ridiculous debt on military things instead of investments like infrastructure, alternative fuels, and preventative healthcare.

Unfortunately he blew the ending with you can't predict where the supporters are so "The important thing is that you show up and you're doing what you're doing." Kinda of a letdown for all that build up.

I'm getting tried of election coverate as gaffe of the week followed by the inevitable insincere pouncing by the other candidates. At least Obama called Clinton and McCain on it. Election coverage was quiet for a few days before this. What did we have before this? Bowling, Clinton's sniper story and before that McCain's repeated comments that al Qaeda is Shiite. I'd really like to get back to issues and policy or even personality.


Ever wonder where term upset came from? I mean the "winning underdog" meaning not the "queazy stomach" meaning. The great racehorse Man o' War ran 21 races and won 20 of them. He lost the 1919 Sanford Memorial Stakes due to a bad start, but the winning horse was named Upset.

Great story, but too good to be true. "In late 2002, researcher George Thompson, using the newly available tools of full-text online searching of the New York Times databases, turned up a string of sporting usages of upset dating back to [1877]. There are numerous uses of the term in 19th century sportswriting, proving beyond a doubt that the term was well-established by the time Man o’ War lost his only race. Upset did not father a term, he was just well named."

Wasn't the Taliban Against Dancing?

To celebrate Thomas Jefferson's birthday, several people organized on Facebook to go to the Thomas Jefferson memorial at midnight with iPods and dance.

"The background: twenty people were at the Jefferson Memorial, dancing to the private groove of their own iPods so as not to disturb anyone. Apparently cops showed up and ordered them to disperse anyway, despite the fact that they were not doing anything obviously illegal. One of the libertarians joyfully (yet tastefully and quietly) celebrating the birthday of a favorite founding father questioned why they should have to move along--at which point one of DC's finest shoved them up against a pillar, cuffed their hands behind their back, and hauled them away."

More info and links here. I'm curious to see how this develops. Is there more to it or were the park police just self-important. And yes the memorial is open 24 hours a day.