Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ah, Memories

Star Trek 1971 Text Game. I think I first played this in 1976. Well, that might have been Lunar Lander (I definately played that then). I had definitely played trek by 1983, but I think it was earlier.

TiVo Upgrade

I got the TiVo 9.4 upgrade today and it's pretty nice. I haven't dared try to see the list of all the things I've rated, but I like being able to see the Guide while watching something pre-recorded. Also it's much easier to turn on closed-captioning, though without The Wire I don't have to do that so much, though Generation Kill has presented a few opportunities.

One downside is I have to retrain my fingers to use the Live TV button instead of Guide button to get to live TV. I guess I shouldn't use it that much anyway.

From Good to Great to Below Average

From Good to Great to Below Average from Freakonomics was interesting.

"Nine of the eleven companies remain more or less intact. Of these, Nucor is the only one that has dramatically outperformed the stock market since the book came out. Abbott Labs and Wells Fargo have done okay. Overall, a portfolio of the “good to great” companies looks like it would have underperformed the S&P 500."

No The Surge Did Not Work

A Republican (Fox?) talking point, at least at the beginning of the week was that it was obvious that the surge had worked, though Obama just can't admit it (as shown by Katie Couric). I wasn't all that happy with Obama's responses but basically agreed with him. Sure violence was down but that was predictable with more troops. The real problem was that the purpose of the surge was to bring down violence so that political progress could be made, and there has been no political progress. And there was other stuff about how we were bribing insurgents not to fight and that's what was working.

Juan Cole in Informed Comment writes A Social History of the Surge, which is a much more detailed looked at what happened.

"For the first six months of the troop escalation, high rates of violence continued unabated. That is suspicious. What exactly were US troops doing differently last September than they were doing in May, such that there was such a big change? The answer to that question is simply not clear. Note that the troop escalation only brought US force strength up to what it had been in late 2005. In a country of 27 million, 30,000 extra US troops are highly unlikely to have had a really major impact, when they had not before."

"As best I can piece it together, what actually seems to have happened was that the escalation troops began by disarming the Sunni Arabs in Baghdad. Once these Sunnis were left helpless, the Shiite militias came in at night and ethnically cleansed them. Shaab district near Adhamiya had been a mixed neighborhood. It ended up with almost no Sunnis. Baghdad in the course of 2007 went from 65% Shiite to at least 75% Shiite and maybe more. My thesis would be that the US inadvertently allowed the chasing of hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arabs out of Baghdad (and many of them had to go all the way to Syria for refuge). Rates of violence declined once the ethnic cleansing was far advanced, just because there were fewer mixed neighborhoods."

And about political progress in Iraq...

"Al-Maliki lost his national unity government in summer, 2007, just as casualties began to decline. The Islamic Virtue Party, the Sadrists, and the Iraqi National List are all still in the opposition. The Islamic Mission Party of al-Maliki has split, and he appears to remain in control of the smaller remnant. So although the Sunni IAF has agreed to rejoin the government, al-Maliki's ability to promote national reconciliation is actually much reduced now from 14 months ago."

When all this started, Congress set out 18 benchmarks to be used to measure progress in Iraq. So what about those? At first (July 12, 2007) the White House said Iraq's progress on 8.5 (really) of the benchmarks was satisfactory. Shortly after that (Sep 7, 2007), the GAO's initial report said Iraq had met only 3 and partially met 4 of the 18 benchmarks. It was still 3 on Jan 24, 2008.

Jul 2, 2008 a leaked US Embassy in Baghdad report says Iraq has met 15 of the 18 benchmarks. "Since the September assessment, the report notes, the Iraqi parliament has passed significant legislation on de-Baathification reform, the division of powers between the central and provincial governments, and amnesty for former insurgents. It grades progress in all of those areas as newly "satisfactory" even as it acknowledges that the laws in most cases have been implemented slowly, if at all. Congress mandated that Iraq both "enact and implement" the benchmark laws."

At least one congressman gets it. "Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-NC, who requested the administration's updated assessment, scoffed at the May report, which he says uses the false standard of determining whether progress on a goal is "satisfactory" versus whether the benchmark has been met. He estimates that only a few of the 18 benchmarks have been fully achieved."

The last GAO report (July 23, 2008) doesn't break it down by benchmarks but reviews the presidents New Way Forward plan from Jan 2007.

"However, as of July 2008, 8 of 18 provincial governments do not yet have lead responsibility for security in their provinces, and DOD reported that, in June 2008, less than 10 percent of Iraqi security forces were at the highest readiness level and therefore considered capable of performing operations without coalition support. The security environment remains volatile and dangerous. In the legislative area, Iraq has enacted key legislation to return some Ba'athists to government, grant amnesty to detained Iraqis, and define provincial powers. The unfinished Iraqi legislative agenda includes enacting laws that will provide the legal framework for sharing oil revenues, disarming militias, and holding provincial elections. On economic and infrastructure issues, Iraq spent only 24 percent of the $27 billion it budgeted for its reconstruction efforts between 2005 and 2007. Although crude oil production improved for short periods, the early July 2008 average production capacity of about 2.5 million barrels per day was below the U.S. goal of 3 million barrels per day. In addition, while State reports that U.S. goals for Iraq's water sector are close to being reached, the daily supply of electricity in Iraq met only slightly more than half of demand in early July 2008."

I haven't mapped those to the benchmarks. And apparently the law that enacted those benchmarks only required an initial report, not followups, so it's not clear we'll get one from an unbiased source (the GAO is non-partisan). Oh and remember, the surge is ending because it's scheduled time is up not necessarily because it succeeded. The US military is stretched thin by Iraq and this was as long as we could sustain those troop levels.

Arianna Huffington gets it right: "Despite the revisionist re-writes, we didn't go to war because we were committed to demonstrating that America could unleash violence in Iraq and then, five years later, curb it through the use of reinforcements. We went to war because we were told Iraq posed a grave and imminent threat to our national security and, secondarily, as a means of fomenting democracy throughout the Middle East. Of course, the "imminent threat" turned out to be non-existent, and our presence in Iraq has strengthened the hand of every bad actor in the region: al Qaeda is safe and adding recruits, Hamas has come to power in Palestine, Hezbollah has reasserted itself in Lebanon, and Iran has become the strongest player in Iraq. Meanwhile, the reduction in casualties in Iraq is starting to be offset by increased casualties in Afghanistan -- once again showing the fatal ignorance of stealing from Peter to stop-loss Paul and keep him in Iraq. So, tell me again: how is the surge working?"

McCain's Positions on Iraq

TPM has the Definitive McCain Iraq TImeline. That is, a bunch of quotes from McCain on Iraq since March 2003. It's wrong to just say flip-floper, but it's interesting to see some of the differences over time. At points he thought we had enough troops, then thought we needed more. Was it because conditions changed? Or because he was wrong the first time?

My 3 Minutes?

MacBreak Weekly is a well known audio show about macs. Leo Laporte and Merlin Mann (of 43Folders) among others host it. Episode 100 had as a guest Nicholas Jitkoff, the inventor of Quicksilver. About 20 minutes into it they start talking about documentation. For my manual Merlin Mann called me a "dude". The conversation branches off, but I think Merlin implies it in part stopped him from writing an O'Reilly book on Quicksilver (I guess I won't try pitching one now).

The History of Printing in 15 Minutes

Frank Romano’s History of Printing in 15 Minutes is a video clip with an interesting presentation style. Romano is digitally inserted into static images of historical scenes.

I learned some things though not quite enough. I wish he gave a year for each invention. For the creation of paper I wonder why he's in Italy instead of China. He doesn't say what Italy brought to the process (or was it just that this was the first use in Europe?) or what goes into the paper (like trees) or how its so different from papyrus (woven vs molded?).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Always Check Your Work

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(click for what it should have said)

Glenn Greenwald Whines

Glenn Greenwald whines in Things I learned today about democracy.

E.g., "Even though the country is overwhelmingly against the Iraq War and intensely dislikes George Bush, it's necessary for Congressional Democrats to support the Iraq War and accommodate George Bush’s demands so that they can remain popular and be re-elected."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Commander In Chief Test

Talking to the Police

Concurring Opinions in Talking to the Police has three 7 min videos that I found interesting.

"Officer Officer George Bruch of the Virginia Beach Police Department gives this very engaging lecture to law students about how police officers interview suspects. He has interrogated over 1000 suspects, and he discusses how easy it is to get a confession. The techniques he uses are quite clever. The basic message is that it rarely, if ever, helps a defendant to talk to the police."

Update: This is a better site and the first video is better.

FiveThirtyEight has tons of election predictions and pretty graphs.

Study Questions US Strategy Against al-Qaida

Study questions US strategy against al-Qaida. I believe the study was done by Rand and was Pentagon funded.

"The United States can defeat al-Qaida if it relies less on force and more on policing and intelligence to root out the terror group's leaders, a new study contends."

"Its report said that the use of military force by the United States or other countries should be reserved for quelling large, well-armed and well-organized insurgencies, and that American officials should stop using the term "war on terror" and replace it with "counterterrorism.""

See it is a criminal and not a military problem.

Ted Stevens (R-AK) Indicted

McClatchy reports Alaska's Ted Stevens charged with failing to disclose gifts. Stevens famously said the Internet was like "a series of tubes" and pushing for the "bridge to nowhere".

"Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate and one of the chamber's most powerful members, was indicted [on 7 charges] Tuesday in Washington for failing to disclose more than $250,000 worth of gifts that he received from businessmen who were seeking his help on federal issues and projects."


This is the short that was at the beginning of WALL*E. I think it's perfect. Presto.

Felicia Day Twitters

THey're funny even when Joss isn't telling them what to say and do.Felicia Day at the Dr. Horrible panel at ComicCon.

Monday, July 28, 2008

We're Driving Less

Yes, we're driving less, 3.7% less.

DOJ Releases Goodling Report

So, 16 months after starting an investigation and 14 months after she testified to congress the DOJ Released it's Report into Monica Goodling. From the conclusions of the 146 page report:

"Our investigation found that Goodling improperly subjected candidates for certain career positions to the same politically based evaluation she used on candidates for political positions, in violation of federal law and Department policy."

"In sum, the evidence showed that Sampson, Williams, and Goodling violated federal law and Department policy, and Sampson and Goodling committed misconduct, by considering political and ideological affiliations in soliciting and selecting IJs, which are career positions protected by the civil service laws."

"Because Goodling, Sampson, and Williams have resigned from the Department, they are no longer subject to discipline by the Department for their actions described in this report. Nevertheless, we recommend that the Department consider the findings in this report should they apply in the future for another position with the Department. "

I could have told you that 14 months ago. :( So yes they did wrong and we won't do anything about it. I could see if it was just violating policy. After you leave a job they can't discipline you. But in this case federal laws were violate. But of course, congress gave Goodling immunity to testify. You're supposed to do that so you can catch bigger fish, but that's not happening. Well I liked this addition:

"In addition, we concluded that EOUSA Deputy Director John Nowaki committed misconduct by drafting a proposed Department response to a media inquiry which he knew was inaccurate. Although Nowacki knew that Goodling had used political and ideological affiliations to assess career attorney candidates for EOUSA detail positions, he drafted a media statement in which the Department would have denied the allegations. Nowacki is still employed by the Department. Therefore, we recommend that the Department consider appropriate discipline for him based upon the evidence in this report. "

After 16 months, they're literally going after the messenger.

dday has more.

Piglet Born With Monkey's Face

Ananova reports Piglet with monkey's face. There's a pic. It scares the whole family except the son who likes playing with it. How bizarre.

Yep, mutation in action. Wonder how they would feel if it was born with, say, Dick Cheney's face?

There Can Be Only One

It makes no sense that The breeding properties of M&Ms was found on Roger Eberts blog, but it deserves it's place in the immortal pantheon of great letters.

Serious YouTube Test of Copyright Law

A couple of weeks ago I stopped into the new Boston Apple Store just to look around. Honestly, Apple stores kind of bore me as I know what all the products are and I'd rather use my own mac with Quicksilver on it than anyone else's mac, including one in a store. Still I do go into Apple stores pretty often and I can't explain why.

So this time I passed a table with an iMac and an employee giving a free tutorial on something. Only two people were at the table so I joined in. It was an iLife tutorial and while I know iPhoto well, and have used iMovie briefly, I really haven't used the other apps at all, so it's interesting to see them used.

At one point he used iDVD and dragged in some video and photos and added background music from his iTunes collection. Really in a just a couple of clicks he created something that could be burned to a DVD and played on any DVD player. I knew this, but it's cool to see.

But me being me, the first thing I thought was if you did burn that DVD and give it to someone, wouldn't it be a copyright violation for the song used as background music? Well, something like this is getting tested in the courts. Serious YouTube test of copyright law

"A woman who posted a home video on YouTube of her 13-month-old son dancing to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" squared off Friday against entertainment giant Universal Music Corp. in a federal court case that tests copyright law."

It will be interesting to see how fair use gets defined. My guess is that she will lose and this will be deemed illegal. If the YouTube clip didn't have the whole song that might be different than my iDVD example, but it's related.

I don't know about the part about having YouTube pull it down without the creators permission. I suspect YouTube's terms of use gives them that ability.

Safe Road Maps

SafeRoadMaps is pretty cool. "This website is a ground-breaking tool that combines information from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System with Google Maps to give you a visual representation of traffic safety across the entire nation.   With this system, you can enter an address and view the roads that have the highest number of traffic fatalities in a specified area.  You can also view dynamically generated maps that show how public policy has been implemented to improve transportation safety by region.  Our hope is that this site brings both increased safety and awareness to transportation policy makers and private citizens. "

Loading the details takes some time, but it includes a map, satellite image and street view picture, as well as some details on the incidents. There were 4 fatal accidents in my area (I'm not sure of the timeframe). 3 were between 1:30 and 2:30 am, and 3 were near Watertown Square.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Given the success of IMDB the Internet Movie Database, I wondered if there were other i*db urls that worked. I was surprised to find that only three others had sites, and even that is being kind.

isdb is the Internet Song Database just has a notice saying they're trying and looking for "fanatics to assist in the beta test"

IVDb is The Internet Vehicle Database. "Welcome to The Internet Vehicle Database! Help us build the world's largest and most complete vehicle database. Currently indexing 2091 vehicles." While they list Motorcycles, Boats, Snowmobiles, ATV's, Airplanes, Helicopters, and Bicycles as categories, they only have automobiles entered. and from what I can see there isn't much entered for the cars.

IYDB is the Internet Yacht Database, because the Internet needs one of those. And it's not even one of those, it just displays "sponsored" search results.

Seems like an opportunity.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Star Gazing

I went star gazing last night. After an eternity of thunderstorms last night was only party cloudy so we did get to see some stuff. There were about a dozen telescopes, refractors, (up to 15") dobsonians and 8" Schmidt-Cassegrains. I saw several objects through a few of them and the views were all pretty comparable. Most had motorized tracking mounts and few were computer guided. It was the first time I saw people type an item into a controller and watched the telescope turn to the object.

The first star we saw was Arcturus a red giant star that's the second brightest star in the northern hemisphere (Sirius is first but wasn't visible). To find it in darks skies, follow the arc of the big dipper's handle and look for the bright star. It's huge compared to the sun, 25x the radius of the sun and about 37,000 ly away. Apparently people have a hard time describing the color. Some see it as reddish others as yellow or champagne or yellow-blue.

But the brightest object in the sky was Jupiter. Through the telescopes we could make out the 4 Galilean moons and see two dark bands across the face of Jupiter. It wasn't in color like in the pictures, but it's very impressive to see.

Picture 1.pngThe second brightest star we could see was Vega (3rd brightest in the northern sky). It's in the constellation Lyra which looks like a parallelogram with an extra star. Vega is only twice the size of the sun and is 25,000 ly away. In the middle of the right side of the parallelogram of Lyra is M57, the Ring Nebula. It's a dying star that's shed it's outer layers so it's donut shaped. It looked like a white smudge and I couldn't really see the dark spot in the middle. In the Hubble it looks like this

m13-2007-05-27 2.jpgM13 is the Great Globulal Cluster in Hercules. There are several hundred thousand stars there and it's about 145 light-years across and 25,000 ly away. I learned that there are very very few metals in M13 (which to astronomers means anything heaver than Hydrogen and Helium). These metal-poor star are known as Population II stars and are old, from when the universe had less metal content.

The double double is a binary star system made of two binary stars. It's in Lyra, to the bottom left of Vega in the above picture. Binary stars are two stars that orbit each other. With a naked eye they might look like just a single star, but with binoculars or a telescope you can (sometimes easily) see that they are two stars. In the double double it's easy to see the two systems, but to separate each one takes a good view and taking a moment to relax your eye and looking just off-center of the star (you're brain puts the two stars together). I could separate one of the systems but not the other.

At the end of the night I saw M31, the Andromeda Galaxy and M32 a dwarf elliptical galaxy next to it. Both looked like white smudges against the black sky. You can't expect things to look like the pictures, but it's cool to see them with your own eyes.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mad Men

I finished watching the first season of Mad Men. Great show. As I look back on the whole 13 episode season, maybe the plot was a little slow, but each episode felt full. All the major developments were foreshadowed a few episodes prior (if not through the whole season). The acting is universally strong and the characterizations are rich.

Of course the real star of the show is the world itself. For being just 50 years ago, it seems entirely different. It's hard to imagine drinking at the office, let alone having full bars in each executive's office and constant glasses of whiskey. The smoking is continuous and no one has to go outside to do it and no one complains about smoke in their face. The women are subjugated sex objects. Virtually everything most of the men say would qualify as sexual harassment today. It demonstrates how "environmental harassment" really is a problem. All of the men are adulterers, racists, and hiding from something.

Those were the days. Great show.

Alan Kay's Reading List

Alan Kay is basically the father of modern computers. "The following [reading] list was prepared by Alan Kay for his students and is presented here for those who want to learn more about the ideas and philosophies that influenced the creation of Squeak." I've read practically none of these.

Huffington Post on Katie Couric

I'm glad I don't watch Katie Couric. Katie Couric To Obama: People Are "Scratching Their Heads" About Your Opposition To Surge

Periodic Table Displays

PCT_side.jpg Lots of Periodic Table Displays including this $8,550 coffee table. "Each element sample is individually embedded inside a solid acrylic block. The blocks are arranged in the familiar grid of the periodic table, carefully illuminated and beautifully presented beneath a sheet of toughened glass." See more stuff here.

Mars is Far

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The Midnight Sun on Mars is a newly released image from the Mars Phoenix mission. "This mosaic documents the midnight sun during several days of the mission. This pan captures the polar nature of the Phoenix mission in its similarity to time lapse pictures taken above the Arctic Circle on Earth."

To me the most interesting thing is just how small the sun looks from Mars. What a difference another 48 million miles makes.

Software Patents to be Invalided?

Patently-O a patent law blog writes, "The Patent and Trademark Office has now made clear that its newly developed position on patentable subject matter will invalidate many and perhaps most software patents."

" In a series of cases including In re Nuijten, In re Comiskey and In re Bilski, the Patent and Trademark Office has argued in favor of imposing new restrictions on the scope of patentable subject matter set forth by Congress in § 101 of the Patent Act. In the most recent of these three—the currently pending en banc Bilski appeal—the Office takes the position that process inventions generally are unpatentable unless they 'result in a physical transformation of an article' or are 'tied to a particular machine'.”

I'll have to think about those restrictions but it does seem good that the PTO is trying to bring sanity to software patents.

So is a living organism a particular machine? I'd guess not. So does this mean genes and DNA tweaks aren't patentable either? Or are those physical transformations? I'd argue it's the same bits v atoms difference as software.

RIP Randy Pausch

"Randy Pausch, the professor at Carnegie Mellon University who inspired countless students in the classroom and others worldwide through his highly acclaimed last lecture, has died of complications from pancreatic cancer. He was 47."

Dinosaur Supertree

Seth found a new study from the University of Bristol that created a new Dinosaur Supertree.

"The team produced a ‘supertree’ of dinosaurs, showing the most likely pattern of evolution for 440 of the 600 known species of dinosaur. "Supertrees are very large family trees made using sophisticated computer techniques that carefully stitch together several smaller trees which were previously produced by experts on the various subgroups”, explained lead author Graeme Lloyd. “Our supertree summarises the efforts of two decades of research by hundreds of dinosaur workers from across the globe and allows to look for unusual patterns across the whole of dinosaurs for the first time." It is the most comprehensive picture ever produced of how dinosaurs evolved."

And it looks cool too.


Grain Glossary

In case you were curious, Culinate has a Grain glossary, Twenty whole grains to cook and eat.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Presidential Quiz

Michael Tomasky in the Guardian wonders Could you be president?. "What follows are 20 facts that I would like my president to know, offered to you, my perpetually disgruntled readers, in the form of a quiz. Give it a whirl. It's by definition a little idiosyncratic and not comprehensive, but I'd hope that most of us would agree that it'd be a good idea if the American president knew most of these things without having to be briefed on them. Sources are provided in the links embedded in the questions, but don't cheat. The answers are at the end."

I only got 12/20 (on two others I had the next closest answer). Some were a bit beyond what I need my president to know. Maybe they're more demanding in the UK.

Plame Outer Novak Cited After Hitting Pedestrian

Robert Novak cited after hitting [66 year-old] pedestrian with his black corvette. Novak drove away and was stopped by bicyclist David Bono (a law partner at Harkins Cunningham) who saw the accident and didn't want the car to just drive away.

"Bono said that the pedestrian, who was crossing the street on a "Walk" signal and was in the crosswalk, rolled off the windshield and that Novak then made a right into the service lane of K Street. “This car is speeding away. What’s going through my mind is, you just can’t hit a pedestrian and drive away,” Bono said. He said he chased Novak half a block down K Street, finally caught up with him and then put his bike in front of the car to block it and called 911."

Novak's comments are worse. "'I didn’t know I hit him. ... I feel terrible,' a shaken Novak told reporters from Politico and WJLA as he was returning to his car. 'He's not dead, that's the main thing.' Novak said he was a block away from 18th and K streets Northwest, where the accident occurred, when a bicyclist stopped him and said he had hit someone. He said he was cited for failing to yield the right of way."

"He's not dead", that's such compassionate wording for a syndicated columnist. And which account to believe? Did the 66 year-old roll off the windshield or did Novak not see him? Hard to imagine both could be true, so it's a shame he wasn't cited for hit and run. Fortunately the victim was treated for only minor injuries.

Update: Here's some video which gives some context to Novak's "He's not dead" comment:

Update 2: Turns out he has a brain tumor.

Why Tuesday?

Saw this on moblogic, Why Tuesday? is about fixing our voting system. They have a lot of videos of congressmen being stumped about why we vote on Tuesdays. I didn't know the answer either.

From moblogic: "On January 23, 1845, when there were only 26 states, and before slavery had been abolished, Congress picked the day for Americans to vote for president. The United States was a primarily agrarian society. Americans, who traveled at the time by horse and buggy, needed a day or longer to get to the county seat and time to get back, without interfering with the Sabbath. So that left Tuesday and Wednesday, but Wednesday was market day in many communities. So, Tuesday it was. Why November? The harvest was over. Why the Tuesday after the first Monday in November? To make certain that Election Day didn’t conflict with meetings of the Electoral College."

Gates, Bloomberg Pool Riches to Fight Smoking

"Microsoft founder Bill Gates and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are pooling their piles of money to pour $375 million into a global effort to cut smoking."

2008 Perseid Meteor Shower

NASA on the 2008 Perseid Meteor Shower "Mark your calendar: The 2008 Perseid meteor shower peaks on August 12th and it should be a good show."

Tour Nebulae and Star Clusters of the Milky Way

The Harvard Center for Astrophysics is hosting a Public Star Party Friday, July 25 at 8:30 pm in Hopkinton State Park.

"We're taking a road trip and bringing out the BIG telescopes! We invite you to Hopkinton State Park and its dark skies to tour the nebulae and star clusters of the Milky Way, as well as neighboring galaxies. We'll also offer a constellation class so that you can learn how to spot the summer's best constellations and some of the telescope targets they contain."

It's weather dependent but forecasts are currently decent (party cloudy). Anyone interested?

Places & Spaces: Mapping Science

Places & Spaces: Mapping Science is "an exhibition created to demonstrate the power of maps to understand, navigate, and manage not only physical places, but also abstract information spaces. Neat stuff, lots of links and examples.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Movie Review: The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight is perhaps the best superhero movie ever. It's better than Batman Begins and the X-Men and Spider-Man films and it's better than Iron Man. The Incredibles is the only film I think that can compare to it, though they are very different films. The Incredibles is more fun, but The Dark Knight has way better villains.

The Dark Knight is not a kids film. It has similar themes to No Country for Old Men. There is a lot of violence though they usually cut away just before showing blood or gore. At least up to a point. When they do get to gore, it's even more effective (and it reminded me of An American Werewolf in London). There's nothing funny about the violent acts, in fact in many ways they are terrifying. A couple of times I thought of 9/11, this Joker is really a terrorist. There is nothing campy in this film and few if any one-liners, certainly there are no cheap ones.

At two and half hours long, I still thought it was too short. One of the (few) things I liked about The Godfather (really!) is how well it helped you keep track of dozens of character and their involvement in a complex story. It's not an easy thing to do and in a theater, unlike a book (or DVD), the audience can't turn back a page to reread something. The Dark Knight has an enormous amount of plot and does a great job at helping us follow it. That is up until the third act where I think things are a little rushed and the film could have used a few more minutes. I could follow the current situation, but I was misremembering some of the motivations and setup which are important to every scene. There are some big action sequences but honestly I found them to be the least interesting scenes. This film is about characters and morality, and several of the conversations had me on the edge of my seat.

Batman and Lt Gordon continue to fight crime and corruption in Gotham City, one within the law and one outside of it. The Dark Knight brings in two new characters to explore two different dimensions to their limits. The Joker in this film is a truly frightening and brilliant sociopath who wants chaos to win rather than the rule of law, or in fact, any rule. Harvey Dent is the District Attorney of Gotham City and has been winning a war against organized crime. Unlike Batman, he operates during the day and publicly. He is Gotham's white knight and compared to the Joker, he is good to evil and sanity to insanity. On that last point, there are questions raised of the relationship of the Joker and Batman. Are they both are insane? Can one exist without the other? Batman and Gordon do what they can to help Harvey (and therefore Gotham) and the Joker wants to take down Batman and let the criminals win.

Other supporting characters have major roles. Rachel Dawes returns and is dating Harvey Dent. Bruce Wayne still has feelings for his ex and it might be mutual. Alfred is still his loyal butler and Lucius Fox is now CEO of Wayne Enterprises and supplies Batman with his gadgets. Both also provide a moral compass.

All the performances were good. Heath Ledger's Joker is the showiest and while he's greatly aided by the characterization in the script, his performance is extraordinary. He uses his whole body and voice and makeup and costume. He made Hannibal Lecter look sane and sedate and reminded me of Alex in A Clockwork Orange and Jack Torrance in The Shining. Ledger's performance shows the Joker will risk anything else to achieve his ends and doesn't care about anything else at all. The Joker would be thrilled if Batman killed him, just so he could get Batman to break one of his rules.

Aaron Eckhart's portrayal of Harvey Dent is perhaps just as strong but not as obvious. Harvey has the most extensive arc and Eckhart has to show the greatest range of any of the roles. Ledger is bat-shit crazy scary (I couldn't resist) but Eckhart has to show strength, confidence, love, determination, anger, fear, pain, hate, and more.

Gary Oldman's Gordon knows and does the right thing, and while brave, he does have his inner doubts. Christian Bale does fine as Bruce Wayne. As Batman there isn't as much for him to do but move around in the suit. He speaks in a gruffy voice that's supposed to hide his identity and cause fear, but it goes a little too far. Honestly, he has less to do than the above three.

Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox are their always competent selves. Maggie Gyllenhaal is an improvement over Katie Holmes' Rachel Dawes from Batman Begins. She's a competent assistant DA and I mostly believed her interrogating a suspect and being strong in dangerous situations. I also believed her as a love interest for both Harvey and Bruce.

There are some flaws, which I discuss below. Mostly I had problems following some of the action sequences and felt a few situations were a little contrived. Over all those are minor points in an otherwise stunning achievement. Go out and see this film. At this point it's my second favorite film of the year next to WALL*E but only because that film had fewer flaws.

I saw it in IMAX. I think three of the action scenes were shot in IMAX. It provides a richly detailed image and they use it for shots of the city to give you sense of scale. The opening scene is in IMAX and gives you real sense of being at the scene, in the room. The seats also rumbled which wasn't as gimmicky as it sounds. I've heard that seeing it in a regular theater it doesn't lose anything, but if possible, give the IMAX a try. I have one friend who doesn't like having to pan a large screen but I found I could see the whole screen and just outside it with my peripheral vision. Again, it helped to put you into the scene and make Gotham City another character. There were other things about the sets that helped this. E.g., the mayor has a corner office with large windows overlooking a plaza. That's probably more realistic, but when was the last time you saw that in a movie?


I'm surprised I got as far as I did without spoilers, but to talk about things I didn't like, I have to give some stuff away.

For a film so concerned with plot and motivation, there were some things that didn't make sense. At the fund raiser, Batman leaps out a window to save Rachel and leaves the Joker at the event with all the guests. What happened? Did he just leave? Wouldn't he have taken hostages? Now that he had no goons, would the guests have overpowered him?

A couple of the scenes were depended on the Gotham Police (and Gordon's unit in particular) having really bad standard operating procedures. No one sees a fire engine burning in the street and reports it so the information could forwarded to the motorcade? They don't have scouts up ahead making sure the way is clear? The don't have alternate routes planned? The streets seemed empty, why did they have to go below ground?

In the building at the end it seemed dumb to me that Batman found out the hostages were disguised as the bad guys and he had no way to communicate with any of the police. He has a sonar receiver in his helmet and can talk to Lucius but can't talk to gordon or on a police frequency? He could have just yelled. The first police to notice the hostages don't communicate with any of the comrades.

The ruse at the end works because the police units keep a perimeter with absolutely no one even looking at the scene of the action. Maybe those were Gordon's orders, but it seems dumb, and just a contrivance for the story.

I was also annoyed that the action sequences were sometimes hard to follow. It was always clear what the situation was, but where the characters were and how they moved wasn't clear. Batman's fights were just a montage of quick punches. I'm sure it was on purpose to add to the mystique of the Batman, but after seeing the Bourne movies and even Wanted I want to understand what it is I'm seeing; particularly when so much effort is put into making sure I understand the motivations of all the scenes. Also I found the Joker's actions very easy to follow, in spite of their often shocking suddenness.

The action situations weren't mindless, so the action scenes shouldn't have been. The hardest for me was the car chase through the tunnel. I knew the Joker was in a truck next to the police van, but I didn't know why it didn't just stop or turn or exactly where Batman was. And again, did that van have no radios in it?

I liked the Prisoner's Dilemma at the end with the boats, but thought it ridiculous that both captains would stand there holding the detonator in an open box in front of the passengers (particularly on the prison ship). What the conclusion said about humanity was the only bright spot of the film.

My last complaint is that I would have liked to have seen Batman be more of a detective. That is supposed to be his greatest strength.

I think the Bank robbery worked very well and I liked the sequence in Hong Kong. I was also thrilled that Batman torturing the Joker to get information out of him did not work. In fact I loved all the Joker scenes, particularly the interrogation and the pencil. I also liked how Rachel's death happened and how Alfred didn't give Bruce the letter.

The world also was bigger than just the main characters. Seeing the Scarecrow in the beginning and the copycat batmen and the accountant that figured out Bruce Wayne was Batman made me feel like this was a real world with lots of random stuff going on.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More Info on Stephenson's Anathem

Anathem and Long Now "I recently finished reading the review copy that Neal sent.  The book pulled me in immediately, and I ended up reading the nearly 1000-page tome in just a few days. Set in a genre bending alt-future-retro world where mechani-punk technology meets space opera in a blend of the best of Snow Crash and the Baroque Cycle."

Rumor: MacBook touch Coming in October

So here's the rumor, MacBook touch Coming in October. It does look nice but the comments do question the utility. Anyone have a tablet PC? Do you like it? How do you use it differently from a laptop?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Jeff Smith Exhibition on News Hour

Jeff Smith is cartoonist who from 1991 to 2004 created a series called Bone. It's a cross between Bugs Bunny and The Lord of the RIngs and is a lot of fun. At times laugh out loud funny, at other times scary and at other times really touching. I read the 1341 page one volume edition in black and white and loved it. He's now re-releasing the series in 9 colorized volumes, I think the 8th just came out.

I mention this because PBS' News Hour of all things had a segment today about the Jeff Smith Bone and Beyond exhibition at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus Ohio that's running through August 3rd. It looks pretty interesting but I don't think I'm making a special trip out there to see it.

The News Hour site has an mp3 of the audio and a slide show on his work.

Iraqis Alleging Abu Ghraib Abuse File Lawsuit

"Iraqi nationals who claimed U.S. military contractors inflicted physical and emotional abuse on them at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison filed the first of four planned lawsuits Monday in federal court."

"The suits lay out 20 allegations, including torture, sexual assault, battery and war crimes."

I'm surprised it took this long.

al-Maliki Likes Obama's Plan, the NY Times Fails

The news of the weekend is that Obama went to Iraq and also that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made a statement about Obama's plan to withdraw US forces from Iraq in 16 months. Actually I think the bigger story was how the New York Times reported it, this is what Matthew Yglesias had to say. This is what the Times wrote:

"Obama’s remarks that — if he takes office — in 16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq.”

Except, Der Spiegel translated it as "U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes....Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic." A little different huh? There was some backtracking but the statement stands and others have verified Der Spiegel's translation as accurate.

Brad DeLong comments on the comments of others on the topic. I think this helps prove the value of bloggers. If this had happened 10 years ago, who would have reported on the Times' mistranslation?

Oh and of course the White House was interested in al-Maliki's remarks, as was the McCain campaign. When Iraq is the central issue in the election (well probably after the economy), and the head of Iraq all but endorses Obama, as supposedly "a prominent Republican strategist who occasionally provides advice to the McCain campaign said, simply, 'We're fucked'." Let's hope so.

Meet the Press Was Good

In TGFTiVo digby writes about this week's Meet the Press where Tom Brokaw interviewed Al Gore about his renewable energy challenge. I agree, it was a good interview and a refreshing tone for a show.

Hopefully the Start of a Trend

"A measure seeking to commemorate President Bush's years in office by slapping his name on a San Francisco sewage plant has qualified for the November ballot. The measure certified Thursday would rename the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant the George W. Bush Sewage Plant."

It certainly a better idea than naming schools or an airport after him. I think something that generates waste rather than cleans it up is probably more appropriate, but there is some logic to the proposal. "In President Bush's case, we think that we will be cleaning up a substantial mess for the next 10 or 20 years. The sewage treatment facility's job is to clean up a mess, so we think it's a fitting tribute."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Monster Octopi With Scores of Extra Tentacles

What if octopi had 85 or 96 tentacles.

The Girl Effect

I hadn't heard of The Girl Effect.

The fact sheet is filled with interesting tidbits like "When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man." (No I didn't research the studies, but they are sourced). The notion is to fund young women in developing nations and let that build momentum. Pretty interesting. I remember seeing some UN study on the developing world that suggested that it's hard for a society to make strong advances when they ignore the potential contributions of 50% of their population.

And the way I found out about this was through this deconstruction of the effectiveness of the video.

Al Gore Speech on Energy Yesterday

“America must commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and other clean sources within 10 years.”

More info here: We Can Solve It/.


"Yet when we look at all three of these seemingly intractable challenges at the same time, we can see the common thread running through them, deeply ironic in its simplicity: our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels is at the core of all three of these challenges - the economic, environmental and national security crises. We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that's got to change."

"It is only a truly dysfunctional system that would buy into the perverse logic that the short-term answer to high gasoline prices is drilling for more oil ten years from now. Am I the only one who finds it strange that our government so often adopts a so-called solution that has absolutely nothing to do with the problem it is supposed to address? When people rightly complain about higher gasoline prices, we propose to give more money to the oil companies and pretend that they're going to bring gasoline prices down. It will do nothing of the sort, and everyone knows it."

Act Now to See Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible

Joss Whedon (of Buffy and Firefly fame) has a new internet-only "supervillian musical comedy" online. Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is told in three 13 minute acts. The first two are online now, the last arrives tomorrow (Sat) and they go away after Sunday. (It will probably be around after that on iTunes and a DVD is epected.)

It stars Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser and Barney Stinson) as Dr. Horrible, Nathan Fillion (Mal Reynolds) as Captain Hammer and Felicia Day as Penny. There are guest appearances by Simon Helberg (The Big Bang Theory's Howard Wolowitz) as "Moist".

It took me a little bit to get into it but I'm really glad I stuck it out.


Political Radar reports Hearing-Gate Exposed! McCain Has Worse Afghanistan Hearing Record Than Obama.

"It turns out that presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain has attended even fewer Afghanistan-related Senate hearings over the past two years than Obama's one. Which is a nice way of saying, McCain, R-Ariz., the top Republican on the Senate Armed Service Committee, has attended zero of his committee's six hearings on Afghanistan over the last two years. Meanwhile, Obama attended the full Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Afghanistan in March 2007, although he used the opportunity to ask Gen. James L. Jones, then the commander of NATO, about Pakistan."

"The findings are surprising given the fact that the McCain campaign loudly criticized Obama this week for failing to schedule any hearings on Afghanistan in the last year and a half. Obama chairs the European Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has oversight of military operations in Afghanistan."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Too Weird for The Wire

In Too Weird for The Wire Kevin Carey writes "How black Baltimore drug dealers are using white supremacist legal theories to confound the Feds." It really should be "to attempt to confound the feds" and it includes a nice history of all the anti-federalist conspiracy nutwing theories including Posse Comitatus started by racist anti-semite William Gale, the farm crisis, anti-taxation groups, militias, sovereign citizenship, Timothy McVeigh, and more settling in Baltimore prisons.

The Periodic Table of Videos

The Periodic Table of Videos is a collection of short (minute or two) videos about each element. If you're a Muppet fan I recommend the Germanium video.

Time for Some Campaignin'

Newest JibJab music video: Time for Some Campaignin'.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Car Talk Cartoon!?!

Click & Clack's As the Wrench Turns is a new half hour cartoon on PBS debuting this month. Bizarre.

No More Babylon 5 Ain't It Cool News: The best in movie, TV, DVD, and comic book news.

Apparently there will be No More Babylon 5 TV or video projects. I'm not sure about books. I'm not surprised, it's been a while. I got the The Lost Tales DVD and it sucked.

I'm curious about Changling, the new film by Clint Eastwood form a JMS script starring Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Movie Review: Wanted

I was mixed on seeing Wanted but had heard good thing from friends so I saw it. It's a cross between Fight Club and the Matrix and while dumb, it grabbed me and didn't let go. It doesn't take itself too seriously, that's apparent from the opening titles that explain that 1000 years ago a guild of weavers (yes weavers) formed a league of assassins. We then see an improbable, ok impossible, sniper shot after seeing someone perform Matrix style moves.

Wesley Gibson is in the Thomas Anderson role, the shlub with a crappy job and a girlfriend who's sleeping with his best friend. And he's the son of an assassin so he has a heart that beats abnormally fast and it lets him do these amazing things. Hey it makes sense when Angelina Jolie is explaining it. There is a plot, with several turns I didn't see coming, but it's all an excuse for the action sequences. They're really good, preposterous, but really good. Sure they defy the laws of physics but unlike most other action films, you can actually follow everything that's going. You might know you can't do that with a car, but when you see them turn the car sharply and it roll sideways over another car to end up the on the side of a bus, knocking it over so that it can drive off what's now the top of the bus, it all makes sense, because you just saw it all happen. There's lots of CSI style camera work and occasionally they play the scene again backwards just to make sure you see how it all goes together.

I was impressed with James McAvoy who I otherwise wouldn't have recognized from his previous roles in Atonement, The Last King of Scotland, and as Mr. Tumnus in Narnia. Jolie is fine, but her role is actually small. And she's so thin she doesn't look like she could lift the gun she's blowing you away with. Morgan Freeman plays the head of the guild and at times is channelling Samuel L. Jackson.

After the film you may have a conversation about how it would have been much easier for the guy to just leave a note on someone's doorstep rather than send a message in the way he did. Then again that might be the most minor of craziness you discuss. But you will discuss the action sequences with some glee. Ah summer.

The Letters of Stanley Kubrick

The Telegraph has some exerts from The letters of Stanley Kubrick covering several of his films and some personal correspondence. Interesting stuff.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Is McCain Eligible to Be President?

John McCain was born August 29, 1936 at the Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone where his naval officer father was stationed. I've seen reports of this before but discounted them. Today the New York Times reports A Citizen, but ‘Natural Born’? McCain’s Eligibility to Be President Is Disputed by Professor "In the most detailed examination yet of Senator John McCain’s eligibility to be president, a law professor at the University of Arizona has concluded that neither Mr. McCain’s birth in 1936 in the Panama Canal Zone nor the fact that his parents were American citizens is enough to satisfy the constitutional requirement that the president must be a ‘natural-born citizen.’"

"There are, Professor Chin argued in his analysis, only two ways to become a natural-born citizen. One, specified in the Constitution, is to be born in the United States. The other way is to be covered by a law enacted by Congress at the time of one’s birth."

"In April, the Senate approved a nonbinding resolution declaring that Mr. McCain is eligible to be president. Its sponsors said the nation’s founders would have never intended to deny the presidency to the offspring of military personnel stationed out of the country." Note the "nonbinding" term.

So, McCain has said he's appoint Supreme Court Justices in the mold of originalist Scalia. Scalia has said that the law is what the law says, not what the legislature believes it says. I think McCain should be eligible to be President, but I'm not an originalist or a strict constructionist. Shouldn't the party that upholds these principles be consistent?

CNN Betas "CNN Shirt"

Picture 1.pngAmazingly this isn't an Onion parody. If you go to the site, you'll see a small shirt icon next to some of the headlines. If you click it you can order a T-Shirt with that headline on it. Really. Why?

It's not on all the headlines, just some. Apparently CNN is willing to put "Drive your dream car for $5,000" on a shirt for you but not "Miss USA trips on gown ... again". Again I ask...Why?

No I don't really want to know.

Happy One Million Names on the Watchlist!

It' an estimate but still Happy One Million Names on the Watchlist! "

Today in Washington, D.C., the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program (TLP) marked the addition of the 1,000,000th name to the FBI-run Terrorist Screening Center’s terrorist watch list.

And if you had any doubts it's really not all terrorists. See, amazingly enough, real terrorists sometimes use fake names. So names like Ted Kennedy, Nelson Mandella, Robert Johnson, and Gary Smith are on the watch list. 60 minutes interviewed 12 Robert Johnson who get pulled aside for extra screening every time they fly. Can we please stop wasting out resources and everyone's time with this crap?

The Onion Predicted Bush

You have to go read this Onion piece from January 17, 2001: Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'. It's remarkably prescient.

"Mere days from assuming the presidency and closing the door on eight years of Bill Clinton, president-elect George W. Bush assured the nation in a televised address Tuesday that "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over."

"During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

Really go read the whole thing, it's scary.


I hadn't heard of it before but Readercon is this weekend and is in Burlington, MA.

"Readercon is, depending on your point of view, either an annual literary conference (except it's infinitely more fun than that) or an annual science fiction convention (except we've stripped away virtually everything except talking about and buying books). In the course of its twenty years, it has become the standard bearer and role model for conventions that focus on the literature."

Comments on the New Yorker Cover

Brad DeLong rounds up some comments. I think I most agree with Kevin Drum's.

An Andrew Sullivan reader.

Leonce Gaiter: The New Yorker's Fear of a Black President

Jeffrey Feldman: A Modest Proposal

Fannie, Freddie and You

In Fannie, Freddie and You Paul Krugman explains the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac crises.

Update: And Conn Carroll corrects him.


Veepstakes-o-rama is Kathy G's complete (and it does seem complete) rundown on Obama's possible VP choices. Here's just the list of names without the rationale.

Comet W1 Boattini Now Visible For Northern Skies

There's now a Comet Visible in pre-dawn skies.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bush Backs Israeli Plan For Strike On Iran?

I'm annoyed that this article in the London Times doesn't cite any sources but it's still kinda chilling. President George W Bush backs Israeli plan for strike on Iran - Times Online.

Don't Trust Me on Guantanamo, Read This

Ann Woolner wrote this commentary in Bloomberg. Read the whole article, it's not that long. Seriously.

"The federal appeals court in Washington D.C., the first court to look into the facts behind a specific Gitmo detention, decided the military had no credible evidence to label a man an enemy combatant and keep him locked up for six and a half years. ``It is undisputed that he is not a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and that he has never participated in any hostile action against the United States or its allies,'' the court said. Made public last week, the ruling found not a shred of credible evidence to support the government's claim that Huzaifa Parhat had anything at all to do with America's enemies, whether through combat or support or association with a group that may have associated with them."

Who Would Obama Nominate to the Supreme Court?:

Interesting speculation on Who Would Obama Nominate to the Supreme Court?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ask The Pilot

Patrick Smith writes the "Ask the pilot" column at Salon, his latest is quite good. He wonders why, as a pilot of a plane, he isn't allowed to bring on board the same metal knife that they hand out to first and business class passengers. it's a good rant, but he never asks the question, "Why don't they have problems with the metal fork I'm bringing on board?". He goes on about other TSA issues, it's worth a read.

Obama to sponsor NASCAR Sprint Cup car at Pocono -

What's Obama going to do with all the money he's raised? Well in addition to running a campaign in all 50 states (not conceding any to McCain) he's also going to go after a Republican stronghold...Obama to sponsor NASCAR Sprint Cup car at Pocono.

Update: Evidently it isn't going to happen.

Don't Believe ATT 3G Coverage Maps

The reason I don't already have an iPhone is that AT&T doesn't have 2G coverage in my home. The AT&T coverage maps show "best" 2G coverage at my house but just next door is an area of few blocks showing one level down "good" coverage. Best means I should get indoor coverage, good means probably not, just outdoor and in-car coverage. People with iPhones barely get one bar in my house but 3 bars on the front step. I currently have a Verizon cell phone and get 4 bars at home, inside, no problem.

So I've been waiting for the 3G iPhone, because the 3G coverage maps show solid blue all around me, for at least 3 miles in any direction. A friend got a new 3G iPhone this morning and came by this afternoon. He gets 3G coverage at his home about 1.5 miles from me, so his phone does work. But not at my house. Nope, no 3G coverage inside or outside my house and the same barely 1 bar crappy 2G reception inside. So much for that new plastic back giving better reception.

The 3G coverage map doesn't seem to show gradations of coverage, just blue or not. The fine print says: "Actual coverage area may differ substantially from map graphics, and coverage may be affected by such things as terrain, weather, foliage, buildings and other construction, signal strength, customer equipment and other factors. AT&T does not guarantee coverage."

A number of friends have asked if I really need cell phone coverage at home and it really just makes sense to me. I do have a landline but if someone calls my cell I want to get the call. And it's not like I'm out in an office all day, I'm often home.

So I called AT&T Sales at 1-888-333-6651 and got a remarkably helpful person. Seriously. He looked at his (better) coverage map and said there were six 3G capable towers within a 1.5 mile radius of my home. He even gave me the street intersections of two of them (I had guessed where one was). He said 2 of the 6 had some maintenance issues but all 6 showed they were working. He didn't know what the problem could be. He forwarded me on to tech support to see if they had more detailed info but, while they were trying, they didn't have any. If I were a customer they could open a maintenance case but not being one, they had nothing to open it against.

So now I have to wait. This could be a temporary problem (though they have no reason to suspect so) or there could be some obstruction between me and the 6 separate towers. That seems unlikely to me as the area is relatively flat. I'll have my friend over again to see if he gets reception. If so, great. If not, I'm not sure what to do. It's not like they will continue building out towers in the area, towers are already here. It doesn't make sense to me to get an iPhone to call in a maintenance problem immediately so they can figure out what's wrong.


Oh and of course otherwise the new iPhone seems great. It's fit in your hand is even nicer and Google maps had no problem pinpointing my location (I assume via GPS) from inside my living room. But the Yelp app didn't list any restaurants or bars nearby which is completely untrue (and they list many on their web site).

Update: Based on a photo here, I now believe the new iPhone found my location using Skyhook's system, not GPS).

Homemade Bacon Vodka

Instructions for Homemade Bacon Vodka. I can certainly understand the appeal, the use in a bloody mary, but I'm not big on tomato juice so I'm not sure what else I would do with this. Suggestions?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Customs Can Take Your Laptop

I was with some friends over the 4th that hadn't heard about US customs inspecting and sometimes seizing laptops of US citizens reentering the country. I had heard about this for months and knew that a US federal court had upheld the practice. They can take the laptop, copy all the data, and even keep the machine for a few weeks (I think I remember one case of 2 months before it being returned). And you have no recourse and they need no warrant or even probable cause.

Today's New York Times has an editorial on this, The Government and Your Laptop. "The Association of Corporate Travel Executives says that of 100 people who responded to a survey it conducted this year, 7 said they had had a laptop or other electronic device seized." The Christian Science Monitor also has an article on this today, U.S. defends laptop searches at the border. They point out that the Department of Homeland Security publishes no rules about the topic, such as what they do with the data, how long they retain copies, what third parties they give it to, or even reporting how many laptops are seized. The LA Times had an article a couple of weeks ago and you can see a lot of the info has been repeated from that. It followed the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights hearing on the topic. Senators. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have both urged Customs to reconsider their policies.

I think this is a place where customs (and the law) should differentiate between bits and atoms (to borrow a phrase from Negroponte). My laptop is like my luggage in that they can look through it for hiding physical contraband like weapons, explosives and drugs (without a warrant); but they can't search through my data (aka papers) looking for stuff. As a few people have pointed out, laptops are like offices or entire homes, they contain a lot of information (financial, business, medical, etc.). The argument that this had caught child pornographers doesn't hold. If the government looked through every computer in the US I suspect they'll catch some child pornographers, it's still not a good idea, nor is it legal.

All Natural High Fructose Corn Syrup

The FDA says high fructose corn syrup is "natural". By that logic so are a lot of other things that wouldn't exist without man.

The Software Behind the Mars Phoenix Lander

This is a really interesting interview about The Software Behind the Mars Phoenix Lander.

Lessig on FISA

Lessig on The immunity hysteria. I mostly agree. Well I agree with his points: 1, 3, 4, and particularly 6. I disagree with 5, there's no need for Obama to resign from the Senate to run his campaign.

His point #2 had some info in it I didn't know: "Obama has not shifted in his opposition to immunity for telcos: As he has consistently indicated, he opposes immunity. He voted to strip immunity from the FISA compromise. He has promised to repeal the immunity as president. His vote for the FISA compromise is thus not a vote for immunity. It is a vote that reflects the judgment that securing the amendments to FISA was more important than denying immunity to telcos. Whether you agree with that judgment or not, we should at least recognize (hysteria notwithstanding) what kind of judgment it was. The amendments to FISA were good. Getting a regime that requires the executive to obey the law is important. "

I know he voted for the amendments to the bill. I didn't know he promised to repeal the immunity. I'm not sure he can do that by executive order, wouldn't that be overruling a law? And of course, what if he's not president? I'm also not sure the changes to FISA are themselves good. As I understand it, they allow the administration to eavesdrop on US citizens, on US soil, without a warrant. The period for this is extended from 2 to 7 days which might no be too bad but as I understand it, if the government says there are "exigent circumstances" then the FISA court does not ever review the case. If the court later finds the tapping was improper the government still gets to use the information collected.

GOP: Gas Prices Are Clinton's Fault!

I'm listening to Republicans, Rep Mary Fallin (R-OK) and Rep John Boehner (R-OH), say things like Bill Clinton vetoed the bill to allow drilling in ANWR in 1995 saying it would be 10 years till we saw any of the oil and now the 10 years is long gone and we still don't have the oil.

As if the 5% of domestic consumption we'd get from ANWR for 10 years would make the difference in oil prices. Oil then was $13 a barrel, it's now $130. Estimates are that it might bring the price of a barrel down about 50 cents. I actually think I'd be ok with drilling there if it was part of a plan to get us off oil use, but it's bull to suggest that opening ANWR is the cause or solution to our problems.

Stop! Or I'll Say Stop Again!

Rove ignores subpoena, cites executive privilege.

"The Subcommittee quickly passed a motion to reject Rove's claim of privilege, with Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT), the ranking minority member, the lone voice of dissent. Since Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) threatened contempt last week, we're expecting a vote on that in the near future, but it won't be happening today."

Iranian Missile Launch Image Photoshopped

It seems the widely reported image of four Iranian missles launching was photoshopped.

"Agence France-Presse said that it obtained the image from the Web site of Sepah News, the media arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, on Wednesday...Does Iran’s state media use Photoshop? The charge has been leveled before. So far, though, it can’t be said with any certainty whether there is any official Iranian involvement in this instance. Sepah apparently published the three-missile version of the image today without further explanation."

"For its part, Agence France-Presse retracted its four-missile version this morning, saying that the image was “apparently digitally altered” by Iranian state media. The fourth missile “has apparently been added in digital retouch to cover a grounded missile that may have failed during the test,” the agency said."

Follow the link for the two images at the bottom.

Update: Boing boing has a collection of other edits done to the photo. Very funny.

iPhone 3G Disassembled

Tomorrow is today in New Zealand and iFixit has already taken apart an iPhone 3G.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

McCain and Obama on Budgets

Brad DeLong calls John McCain's Budget Policy: Government by the Underpants Gnomes! making a reference to South Park. "You all remember the plan of the Underpants Gnomes from South Park:"

1. Collect underpants.
2. ?
3. Profit!

That's the perfect analogy for John McCain's budget policy:

1. Cut taxes and spend more on the military.
2. ?
3. Balanced budget!!

He goes on to point out many of the proposals he's presented that will make the deficit worse.

The LA TImes tries Adding up the cost of Obama's agenda. "The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center examined Obama's plans to eliminate tax loopholes and said it could not confirm the projected savings. "If you look at official revenue estimates, the numbers come out to be less than half of what they say they're going to raise," said Len Burman, director of the center and a former Treasury official in the Clinton administration, referring to Obama's campaign staff."

Kevin Drum comments on that article saying "It's really not normal for a candidate's budget numbers to be even in the near ballpark of making sense, but by the Times' own reckoning (chart here) Obama is proposing $130 billion in new spending if every single one of his priorities is signed into law, and probably two-thirds of that is credibly accounted for by rolling back some of the Bush tax cuts, withdrawing from Iraq, auctioning emission credits, and a few other things. So even in the unlikely event that Obama gets every single thing he wants, he'd only be adding a net of $30-40 billion to the federal budget. So, sure, that means it doesn't add up. But when was the last time we had a presidential candidate who came even that close? Hell, I think McCain's plan, if you put a number to it, would fail to add up by about ten times that amount. Obama's is the most restrained, least pandering budget plan we've seen in a presidential campaign for a very long time."

FISA Passes, 4th Amendment Falls

Glenn Greenwald writes Congress votes to immunize lawbreaking telecoms, legalize warrantless eavesdropping. He notes that "Congressional Approval Falls to Single Digits for First Time Ever".

"The ACLU announced today that it will challenge this bill in court as soon as it is passed on the ground that its warrantless eavesdropping provisions violate the Fourth Amendment." If I remember correctly, the last time this went to the Supreme Court, the Robert's court ruled that the plaintiff didn't have standing because they didn't know that their phone calls were actually taped. I'm not sure how they'll get around that this time.

I like how Rachel Maddow put it on Countdown tonight. "What if Congress had responded to Watergate by immunizing the executive branch's lawbreakers and giving Richard Nixon sweeping new powers to snoop. Oh wait they just did, they just took 30 years or so to get around to it."

Wil Wheaton put it more succinctly:
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Phoenix Relegated to Scraping the Sidewalk

Universe Today has a Phoenix Lander Update.

"The robotic arm team is working to get an icy sample into the Robotic Arm scoop for delivery to the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA). Ray Arvidson of the Phoenix team, known as the 'dig czar,' said the hard Martian surface that Phoenix has reached is proving to be a difficult target, and compared the process to scraping a sidewalk. 'We have three tools on the scoop to help access ice and icy soil,' Arvidson said. 'We can scoop material with the backhoe using the front titanium blade; we can scrape the surface with the tungsten carbide secondary blade on the bottom of the scoop; and we can use a high-speed rasp that comes out of a slot at the back of the scoop.' 'We expected ice and icy soil to be very strong because of the cold temperatures. It certainly looks like this is the case and we are getting ready to use the rasp to generate the fine icy soil and ice particles needed for delivery to TEGA,' he said."

Creative Food Sculptures

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click the image for more.

We Are Quickly Using Up Our Elements

One of the things I've learned via my reading about cosmology is why some elements are so rare. Just after the big bang, the universe was so dense and hot that there were just particles, not elements. At 380,000 years old, the universe cooled and Hydrogen formed. As gravity forced clumping of H, stars were formed and ignited with nuclear fusion and fused H together to make Helium. As the H burns off if there's enough mass and therefore gravity to keep the He dense it might ignite and form other elements. Though various stellar nucleosynthesis processes all the elements up to Iron (element 26) can form (including carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, etc.) Every element higher than 26 (including gold, silver, copper, tin, etc.) all formed in the heat of supernovas. That's why these elements are so rare on earth. After supernovae send these elements out into space, the next generation of stars and planets form. I've often heard this described as "we are stardust". All of the atoms that make you and our world came from previous generations of stars and supernovae.

Sci-Fi writer Robert Silverberg writes Reflections: The Death of Gallium. "But now comes word that it isn’t just wildlife that can go extinct. The element gallium is in very short supply and the world may well run out of it in just a few years. Indium is threatened too, says Armin Reller, a materials chemist at Germany’s University of Augsburg. He estimates that our planet’s stock of indium will last no more than another decade. All the hafnium will be gone by 2017 also, and another twenty years will see the extinction of zinc. Even copper is an endangered item, since worldwide demand for it is likely to exceed available supplies by the end of the present century."

Silverberg goes on to describe how Gallium is used to make LCDs and Hafnium and Indium are used to make computer chips. A World Without Zinc (sorry no youtube link) could come to pass.

If you want more details read David Cohen's article in the New Scientist, Earth's natural wealth: an audit.. "Platinum is a vital component not only of catalytic converters but also of fuel cells - and supplies are running out. It has been estimated that if all the 500 million vehicles in use today were re-equipped with fuel cells, operating losses would mean that all the world's sources of platinum would be exhausted within 15 years. Unlike with oil or diamonds, there is no synthetic alternative: platinum is a chemical element, and once we have used it all there is no way on earth of getting any more."

"So what can be done? Reller is unequivocal: "We need to minimise waste, find substitutes where possible, and recycle the rest." Prichard, working with Lynne Macaskie at the University of Birmingham in the UK, has found that platinum makes up as much as 1.5 parts per million of roadside dust. They are now seeking out the largest of these urban platinum deposits, and Macaskie is developing a bacterial process that will efficiently extract the platinum from the dust."

Obama to Win?

Lets hope Paul Hogarth is right. Seems a little early to be predicting but I like Obama's 50 state strategy.

I also mostly agree with Hogarth's description of Obama's Move to the Center.

And Kathy G describes how McCain is a horrible candidate. He might not have faced other strong opponents, but he did manage to win the GOP nomination.

More in FISA Bill

The Bingaman Amendment to the FISA bill made some sense, let's wait to give telecoms immunity until after an Inspector General report about what the program was. The report is mandated by the bill and is due in a year. It might be stripping the immunity but then again knowing what they did might give us a better idea if want to do that. But of course this was unacceptable to the Bush administration.

So Jay Rockefeller (R-WV) speaks on the Senate floor in opposition to the Bingaman amendment. His argument was what if the report is late? As Daily Kos points out, yeah, what if the mandated report is late? In fact, there's reason to believe they won't do the report or even that they can do the report.

This bill (now to be law) is so screwed up.

Here's an article on how former FISA Judge James Robinson quit in protest to the Warrantless Domestic Spying program. Some prominent whistleblowers are against the bill too.

Iran's Missile Tests and Obama and McCain

The AP reports Iran's missile tests divide Obama and McCain. It starts with: "Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Wednesday that Iran's missile tests highlight the need for direct diplomacy as well as tougher threats of economic sanctions and strong incentives to persuade Tehran to change its behavior. John McCain, the Republican seeking the presidency, said the tests demonstrate a need for effective missile defense, including missile defense in Europe and the defense system the U.S. plans with the Czech Republic and Poland."

It then goes blah blah blah for a while and leaves the good stuff for the end: "Obama, while calling Iran a threat, criticized the Bush administration for using bellicose language against the Iranian government while increasing exports to the country. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that U.S. exports to Iran grew more than tenfold under President Bush in spite of his criticism of its government as a sponsor of terrorism and warnings against any efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. "It's that kind of mixed signal that has led to the kind of situation that we're in right now," Obama said on ABC's Good Morning America."

Consequences of Breaking the Law at the DoJ

A few weeks ago we learned of More Politicalization of the DoJ. As the Washington Post said about it, "Senior Justice Department officials broke civil service laws by rejecting scores of young applicants who had links to Democrats or liberal organizations, according to a biting report issued yesterday."

I haven't heard about any other consequences of these actions, until today, Crew Files Bar Complaints Against Former Justice Dept. Officials Elston And McDonald. "The Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit attorneys from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty and conduct that “seriously interferes with the administration of justice.” By illegally taking political and ideological affiliations into account in screening applicants for career DOJ position, Mr. Elston and Ms. McDonald may have violated bar rules could be subject to discipline."

If Congress doesn't do anything about this administration breaking laws, I'm glad some other organization is.

Didn't We Know This Already?

The Washington Post reports Cheney's Staff Cut Testimony On Warming "Members of Vice President Cheney's staff censored congressional testimony by a top federal official about health threats posed by global warming, a former Environmental Protection Agency official said yesterday."

"In a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), former EPA deputy associate administrator Jason K. Burnett said an official from Cheney's office ordered last October that six pages be edited out of the testimony of Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gerberding had planned to say that the "CDC considers climate change a serious public health concern.""

Boxer is all upset now. What about in October?

Think Progress points out the White House Lied To Hide Cheney’s Role In Eviscerating Global Warming Testimony. Dana Perino first said the White House did not water down the testimony and then said the OMB redacted testimony that contained “broad characterizations about climate change science that didn’t align with the IPCC.” Now former EPA administration official Jason Burnett says "The White House, at the urging of Cheney’s office, “requested that I work with CDC to remove from the testimony any discussion of the human health consequences of climate changed.”"

Can't we impeach these people already?

Now This is Swiftboating

Former HP CEO and now McCain advisor Carlly Fiorina Lies for McCain. "I think if you look at the record, it may be Barack Obama who is running for Bush III. But it certainly is not John McCain."

Edwards as VP?

Here's state-by-state polling data showing an Obama-Edwards Landslide--In Maps And Stuff. And apparently Edwards would accept the position. I'd be ok with it.

How McCain Runs His Campaign

The New York Times wrote At McCain Campaign, More Rivalries Among Advisers and Daily Kos wonders what this fortells about his possible administration. "Ah, yes. Cronyism, lobbyists moving in and out of the campaign, turf wars, mixed messages on every conceivable issue and/or strategy, muddled policy, no clear-cut responsibility or oversight ... what's not to love about the third Bush term?"

I don't know any of the details about the internals of McCain's campaign. But I do remember reading an article that said the best predictor of an effective president is how well they run their campaign.

Today's Coverup of Surveillance Crimes

Glenn Greenwald on Today's coverup of surveillance crimes and Barack Obama. At least my senator voted correctly (well one of them, the other was absent for medical reasons).

Social Security and the Candidates

dday writes about John McCain calling the way Social Security works a disgrace. "Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed." And it wasn't just a mistake, he said it again. Personally I'd love to hear the rest of McCain's quote. Here is a bit more.

Todd Gitlin wonders why the media isn't writing about it but this Washington Post article does discuss what the two candidates are saying they'll do about Social Security. In this case it does seem McCain=Bush, with a talk about working with Congress and private accounts (note how the market is doing now). Obama wants to raise taxes 4% on income over $250,000 split between the employee and employer. 4% on income over a quarter of a million dollars to help all retirees. Which seems more reasonable?