Friday, February 27, 2009

Recipe for Disaster: The Formula That Killed Wall Street

This month's Wired has an article, Recipe for Disaster: The Formula That Killed Wall Street that goes into some of the math of the financial crisis. In particular the model used the convinced people that complex housing backed derivatives could be rated AAA because there were so credit default swaps to mitigate the risk. It seems the fundamental problem was that instead of assessing risk based on the underlying securities (how many people would default on their mortgage) they based on the CDSs and how the market valued them. One step removed was one step too many.

The New York Times Magazine had a similar and longer article on Jan 2nd, Risk Mismanagement. It mostly talks about bad data being fed into the models (mostly VaR) and how important it is to deal with that 1% that everyone ignores when you see something is 99% safe.

Wired also has another article, Road Map for Financial Recovery: Radical Transparency Now! that describes ways to make Wall Street far more transparent. It's the first I've heard of XBRL, an XML dialect for business reporting.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The New England Webcomics Weekend 2009

The New England Webcomics Weekend 2009 March 20-22 in Easthampton, MA. Huh.

280 North: Atlas

280 North is the company that produced Objective-J and Cappuccino which impressively brought some Cocoa development to the web. Now they're working on Atlas which is something like Interface Builder for web apps running in a browser. Check out the demo video.

See Comet Lulin

Sky and Telescope describes how to Catch Comet Lulin at Its Best!. "There's a dim green comet in the sky this week (the last week in February), and you can spot it with a pair of binoculars — even through moderate light pollution. People have even been seeing it faintly with their unaided eyes in very dark, unspoiled, rural skies." At about 9pm this week look East-Southeast near Saturn. There's a chart on the site. Don't expect it to look this good....

PopeFeb21new_556px 1.jpg

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

State of the Union

I liked Obama's speech tonight. At first I thought it was just an updated version of speeches I've heard him give many times. But as it went on I found him specific in his strategy, comprehensive and inspiring. Good stuff. I'm not sure he can pull it all off, but I like what he's doing. Energy, health care and education with transparency and accountability. Hard to argue with that.

Apparently everyone got a pamphlet which I assume contained the speech. I wonder why so many people were referring to it instead of just listening to the orator in the room. Particularly Joe Biden and Nancy Peolosi who were behind Obama, should not have been looking down reading during the speech. I also noticed that the Supreme Court doesn't stand and applaud as the rest of Congress does.

Research in Sleep Deprivation Rebound

Researchers identify molecule that helps the sleep-deprived to mentally rebound.

"Sleep experts know that the mental clarity lost because of a few sleepless nights can often be restored with a good night's rest. Now, UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers have identified a key molecular mechanism that regulates the brain's ability to mentally compensate for sleep deprivation.

Working with mice, they found that a molecule called an adenosine receptor is necessary for sleep-restricted animals to attain adequate levels of slow-wave activity in the brain once normal sleep resumes. It is this increase in slow-wave activity, or SWA, during rebound sleep that helps restore normal working memory and attention skills to the sleep-deprived, the scientists report in the Feb. 4 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience."

"The research also further explains the effects of caffeine, which also "docks" to adenosine receptors, preventing the docking of adenosine and keeping the caffeine-drinker awake"

The Village Theatre Project

Readers of this blog know I love movies and watch all too much TV. I also read a lot, enjoy graphic novels, am interested in information design and computer user interfaces. I like finding efficient ways to communicate information. Related to this is comparative media studies though I've never taken any courses in it. One thing missing from this list is theater, I just haven't been to many plays though I have interest in dramas and comedies (not so much musicals).

A (I guess former) co-worker of mine acted and directed community theater shows and I enjoyed going to his shows. He then got involved in The Village Theatre Project, a recently formed company of well-respected Boston area actors, writers and directors who wanted to work with people they got along with and with whom they could build an established relationship to make bettering their craft easier. Sounds like a startup company to me.

I was a bit surprised when my friend asked me to be on their advisory board when they relocated from Groton to Boston. I said I hadn't done such a thing before and he said but you love the arts and we need some new ideas. I couldn't argue with that. I've only been to two meetings so far but I do like the people. I also like that want to get to know and involve their audience and do things like theatre workshops and youth programs.

Their first Boston production will be May 8-17th at the Plaza Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts. It's an original comedy called Better Off Dead (no relation to the 1985 movie) written by company member and 2007 Oscar Wilde Award-winning playwright Shawn Sturnick. They are hoping to give away 50 free tickets to each performance and for that they need donations.

Renting the space, sets, lighting, etc. all cost money. They're hoping to raise $25,000. The Village Theatre Project is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation and you can make a tax-deductible donation here. Who doesn't need a tax deduction in this economy. :)

If you're in the area (or even if not) I hope you at least come to see the show. I know I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

An Oscar for Best Credits?

Emily Oberman and Bonnie Siegler wrote a new York TImes Op-Ed Credit Where Credits Are Due. "There’s an Oscar for pretty much every aspect of filmmaking, except one: the title sequences." They list some all time classic titles and list 5 good ones from this year. They missed the credits for Let the Right One In which I want as a screensaver.


I thought the Oscars were pretty fun this year. I won my pool, guessing all but three awards; Sound Mixing, Foreign Film and Documentary Short.

Slumdog was the big winner with 8 awards out of 11 nominations. Benjamin Button which had 13 nominations only got three awards (Art Direction, Makeup and Visual Effects) and two each went to Dark Knight (Supporting Actor and Sound Effects Editing) and Milk (Actor and Original Screenplay).

They made a few changes to the show this year and I think they worked well. The most noticeable was that for each acting award they brought out five presenters and had one say something about each of the performances. The nominees seemed to appreciate the praise from their peers and I think people got to hear explanations of what was special about the performance.

I also really liked that they didn't cut people off during their acceptance speech if they ran a little long. Why cut someone off to save 20 seconds? It's just disrespectful and this worked much better.

Hugh Jackman did well as host. The opening monologue was fun and didn't run too long. I really liked his bit about The Reader, that he hadn't seen it. I thought the dance number with Beyonce as a salute to musicals was a bit extraneous but was happy with the rest.

Tina Fey and Steve Martin were very funny presenting the screenplay awards, particularly when Martin said "Don't fall in love with me"

Jack Black and Jennifer Aniston presented the animated film awards. Black had a funny line about how voicing animated films pays him well, "Each year I do one dreamworks film and take all the money to oscars and bet it on Pixar". They also had a video clip of WALL-E finding an Oscar in the garbage. Kunio Kato won for best animated short "La Maison en Petits Cubes". His english wasn't very good but he was very funny ending his speech with "Domo arigato Mister Roboto".

Natalie Portman and Ben Stiller presented for Cinematography. Stiller spoofed Joaquin Phoenix's appearance on Letterman. As it continued into Portman's announcing the nominees I thought it was a little rude, but she did say "You look like you work at a Hasidic meth lab" which was funny. The award winner seemed to think it was fun.

Seth Rogan and James Franco did a short spoof of their Pineapple Express stoners with various film clips and also a guest appearance by two time oscar winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List). Then all three came out to present best live action short. Kaminiski was the first cinematographer ever to present an award

Danny Boyle won best director for Slumdog and I liked his speech a lot. First he jumped up and down like Tigger because years ago he promised his kids he would if he ever won. He then praised the show this year and gave thanks for the awards the film had won so far. He then thanked many people and apologized for leaving a name off the film's credits for the choreographer of the final dance sequence. And he finished by thanking Mumbai.

Kate Winslet's speech was good but the most fun was when she had her dad whistle so she knew where he was. Sean Penn's speech was the most fun of the evening. He thanked "you commie homo loving sons of guns" and said "i do know how hard I make it to appreciate me often". He told people that voted for proposition 8 to reflect on what they did, which was appropriate given the subject matter of his film. I also liked his line, "I'm very very proud to live in a country that's willing to elect an elegant man president."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscars Tonight

I've managed to see almost every film nominated in every category. There are a few exceptions. I haven't seen Defiance which has one nomination for original score. I also missed Bolt nominated for animated feature. I did see all the animated and live action shorts but none of the documentary shorts. And I saw two each of the foreign language film and documentary nominations. So of 51 films nominated I saw 39 and missed 12 (4 of which were shorts). Not bad. I saw all 15 films with multiple nominations.

What follows is what I'd like to see win each category, not what I think will win (I'm still working that out for my pool). These also aren't my favorites for the year, I'm limiting this to films that are nominated.

Picture: The Reader
Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Actor: Sean Penn
Actress: Kate Winslet
Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger
Supporting Actress: Viola Davis
Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire
Original Screenplay: Happy-Go-Lucky, In Bruges, Wall-E (hard to decide)
Score: Slumdog Millionaire
Song: "Jai Ho", Slumdog Millionaire
Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire
Film Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Sound Mixing: The Dark Knight
Sound Effects Editing: The Dark Knight
Visual Effects: Iron Man
Art Direction: Benjamin Button
Costumes: The Duchess
Makeup: Benjamin Button
Animated Feature: Wall-E
Foreign Film: The Class
Documentary: Encounters at the End of the World
Animated Short: Presto
Live Action Short: New Boy
Doc Short: no opinion

And yes I'm very behind in writing movie reviews.

Friday, February 20, 2009

ACLU on Obama

The ACLU writes Troubling signs from Obama’s Administration. They remain hopeful, but still point thing "some increasingly troubling developments".

George Will's Lies About Global Warming

Hilzoy fact checks George Will's lies about global warming in The Washington Post's "Multi-Layer Editing Process".

A Letter From the Thugz

This might be awesome. Economist Sudhir Venkatesh met with real life (former) Baltimore drug dealers and talked about the Wire. Now those same thugs are going to comment on the economic bailout. A Letter From the Thugz.

"The unanimous opinion among The Thugz was that you must base your work around a time-tested law of ghetto capitalism: losers must die in full view. What? This doesn’t make sense. O.K., well, let me explain. Your first mistake (more accurately, your predecessor’s error) was to mix the bad apples (banks) with the good (banks). By doing so, you forgot what makes capitalism so much fun: winners win at the losers’ expense, and everyone gets to watch and laugh. Sort of like public hangings, except reported on the financial pages. Otherwise, why read The Wall Street Journal? The moral is: don’t ever take the joy of death away from the public. Because if you don’t see losers in pain, you begin to think the game is rigged. And we all know the game is fair, open, and transparent … yes?"

Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes

These sound good: chocolate whiskey and beer cupcakes. I just heard about them, haven't tried them yet.

I'm an Idiot and Back to the Doc

Everything is fine but here's what happened.

On Wed I had the splint removed and after leaving the doctors office in the afternoon my nose felt cavernous. I understood that my septum without the splint was susceptible to bumps and the doctor said he wanted to know about any.

Wed night, I was in a chair and reaching to the bottom drawer of a low chest of drawers (in the dinning room if you know my home). As I pulled, the drawer stuck and my chair rolled towards the cabinet and after a moment I realized my nose was resting on the lip of the chest. Uh oh. So then I realized that my right nostril was bit a more closed than I had remembered that afternoon. But it could have been it was just clogged, etc. I had plans Thu afternoon and figured I'd see how it felt. Unfortunately at night I was kept up a bit wondering if I had done some damage. After all, at some point I had broken my nose and hadn't realized it, how did I know what my nose was supposed to feel like?

So today I called the doctor and got an appointment for 3:30. I was appreciative they could fit me in. When the doctor walked in he ask if I had been kick boxing and I explained my stupidity at opening a drawer. He checked me out and my septum was fine.

He said a few times that he was glad I came in for a few different reasons. First it's much easier to just replace the splint in the few days after it comes out rather than waiting longer and having to reset the septum. Second he rarely sees a patient so soon after a post-operative visit and he was happy for the opportunity to see how I was healing. First off he vacuumed my nose again which was nice. As a comment on what makes an ENT's day he seemed really excited about finding "large chunks". This is a man who's found his calling.

He also noticed that there were some dry spots on my septum and taught me how to use an antibiotic ointment (not vaseline) to help that. Apparently there is so much airflow through my nose that my body will take a month or two to figure out how much mucus to generate to properly coat the surfaces. It also doesn't help that it's winter and the air is dry.

I also realized (and asked) that the reduction in airflow I experienced Wed night was in part due to the really good antihistamine from the examination wearing off. Combine that with the vacuuming wearing off and it makes sense that I feel not quite as good as I did right after the visit.

So I'm happy I'm still healing fine. I'm breathing much better and am definitely seeing an improvement in sleep. But cavernous might have been too strong a word. Even though my septum might think so, I still feel like I have a cold and have to blow my nose fairly often (using a gentle technique not really suitable for public use). But this is all normal recovery.

My next followup is in three weeks. I plan on not visiting him sooner. :)

My New Desktop Wallpaper

From APOD: 2008 November 10 - Our Galaxy's Central Molecular Zone:

galacticcenter_glimpse_big 1.jpg

iPhone ToDo Apps Review

Here's a review of iPhone ToDo apps. I don't use one but I suspect I'll start looking for one soon.

I was using iGTD on the mac and loved it, but it became more unstable on Leopard and development stopped. I've looked at a few replacements but I'm not paying $80 for OmniFocus, I don't really like Things, and Midnight Inbox while clever, can't seem to get released. The Hit List is new and in beta and looks promising, I hope it can deliver. And I think all of these plan to have companion iPhone apps.

The Bad Apple in a Group

Coding Horror writes The Bad Apple: Group Poison. "A recent episode of This American Life interviewed Wil Felps, a professor who conducted a sociological experiment demonstrating the surprisingly powerful effect of bad apples."

"What they found, in short, is that the worst team member is the best predictor of how any team performs. It doesn't seem to matter how great the best member is, or what the average member of the group is like. It all comes down to what your worst team member is like. The teams with the worst person performed the poorest."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fast Film

I find this completely bizarre and inventive

FRONTLINE: Inside the Meltdown

This week's Frontline, Inside the Meltdown was really outstanding. In very clear terms it walks through the timeline of what happened. Starting with Bear Sterns and then Fannie and Freddie, Lehman, AIG, the bailout money and the injection into the 9 largest banks. This was a great show and well worth an hour of your time.

They could have mentioned the dates a little more comprehensively but that's my only complaint. And the web site has a very clear timeline.

One thing I don't get is when Bear went down, there was a weekend where potential buyers looked through their books. For an enormous investment bank, I don't understand how you show up at 8pm on friday and 10 hours later have found enormous amounts of toxic mortgages and huge numbers of credit default swaps that made it a systemic problem. Could you walk into an office and find such info? And really, if someone could (and they did) how could it possibly be that Bear didn't know this itself? is a government website setup to track the economic recovery. See the full text of the stimulus law and various graphs and charts about the spending. Government openness at a new level is a good thing.

"As the centerpiece of the President’s commitment to transparency and accountability, will feature information on how the Act is working, tools to help you hold the government accountable, and up-to-date data on the expenditure of funds. The site will include information about Federal grant awards and contracts as well as formula grant allocations. Federal agencies will provide data on how they are using the money, and eventually, prime recipients of Federal funding will provide information on how they are using their Federal funds.  On our end, we will use interactive graphics to illustrate where the money is going, as well as estimates of how many jobs are being created, and where they are located. And there will be search capability to make it easier for you to track the funds."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Obama Sushi


5 Slide Lessons from TED

slide:ology has Lessons from TED: 5 Simple Tweaks on improving presentation slides. I think number 4 is key.

The Sound of Two Nostrils Breathing

I'm back from the doctor and my splints are out. He says I'm healing perfectly and the septum is nice and straight. I couldn't really fell the splints in my nose but there was some discomfort . When they came out they were much larger than I had realized and now my nose feels almost cavernous.

Apparently I had a serious fracture of the septum and there's no way to know when it happened. I asked if the enlarged turbinates were related to that and he said "we just don't know". It's common to see very large turbinates on the side opposite the deviation and I had that too. Maybe the tissue grows to fill the available space.

He literally vacuumed my nose, so things are much clearer. Without the splints I'm supposed to be particularly careful about bumping it. I won't be able to blow my nose like a normal person for another 3-4 weeks which is kind of annoying but I'll manage. I'm supposed to practice breathing through my nose and I assured him I already was. He also doesn't want me to take up kickboxing anytime soon. I told him I was hoping to get back to reading.

I go back in 3 weeks for what I hope is a final checkup. One pleasant surprise, apparently I don't have co-payments for post-operative visits. How nice.

Obama Delays in Signing Bills

For Obama, it’s more about showmanship than sunlight is really just whining by the DC Examiner, but it makes a point.

"Back during the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised something he called ‘Sunlight Before Signing.’ Obama complained that ‘too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them.’ So he pledged that, as president, he would ‘not sign any nonemergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House Web site for five days.’

“Sunlight Before Signing” faded into darkness with the first bill that came across Obama’s desk. The new president signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act two days after it was passed by Congress — and without posting it on the White House Web site. Then he signed the second bill of his administration, an update of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, within hours after Congress passed it."

"Then, late Friday, after House and Senate Democratic leaders moved heaven and earth to pass it, the bill was ready for the president’s signature. And did President Obama sign it rather quickly? Not at all. He also chose not to sign it on Saturday. And not to sign it on Sunday. And he chose not to sign it on Monday. Only on Tuesday, with a big campaign-style event in Denver, would the president finally be ready to put his signature on the bill."

I suspect the delay had something to do with preparing the documentation to be ready to sign. But there was clearly a delay involved in signing it in Denver and I've already stated my view of that.

Watching Republicans Grieve

If you watched Right America, you'll find this Salon interview with filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi interesting.

Letter Sent to Rachel Maddow

Love the show. Your analysis and interviews are great. I just wish the production values of the show matched up with taking the issues seriously. You've cut down on the random beeping throughout the show and I appreciate that. Now could you stop the random *moving* background graphics. As an example, during your interview with Jane Mayer tonight I was trying to pay attention to what she was saying, but my eye was distracted by the following motions:

1. In the lower left graphic your name scrolled up and to the left
2. In the lower left graphic the red/blue border below your name scrolled down and to the right
3. Along the top of the screen a light blue inkblot pattern scrolled to the right
4. In the fully saturated blue background behind the both of you (say at minute 53) in subtle shades, giant letters spelling your name scrolled in a counter-clockwise arc to left.

The human eye evolved to notice motion. By putting these things into the show I'm drawn to see them. It's one thing to have a crawl on the bottom with text that conveys actual information content. You're encouraging me to look at background patterns. Let me pay attention to one of the better newscaster's on cable tv and her guests instead.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Time's 25 Best Blogs 2009

Time lists it's 25 Best Blogs 2009. I didn't make it, but several I read and like did and I got a few ideas of blogs to try from it.

String Theory Predicts An Experimental Result

Symmetry Breaking writes A first: String theory predicts an experimental result. This doesn't prove string theory at all but it is something worthwhile.

I don't really understand this but stuff like this sounds fun:

"The tale begins in 2002, when researchers in John Thomas’s JETLab group at Duke University announced that they had created a super-cooled gas of lithium 6 atoms that behaved like a fluid; see their paper here (subscription required.) They did this, Thomas explained, by trapping about 300 million lithium 6 atoms in a tiny, cigar-shaped bowl of laser light. At this point the atoms look like a little red ball, visible in a photo he flashed on the screen. Then they hit the ball of atoms with a carbon-dioxide laser beam. The atoms started banging into each other and quickly evaporated. This cools them–something we’re all familiar with from getting chilly as our sweat dries–until they reach a temperature of about a billionth of a degree above absolute zero. At this point the blob of atoms began acting strangely. Laser flash photos showed that it expanded but only in one direction, and in a way characteristic of flowing liquid. In technical terms, they had created the first strongly interacting Fermi gas."

Apparently they created a new form of matter and string theorists were able to predict some of the properties. Pretty cool.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Movie Review: Happy-Go-Lucky

I think I only heard of Happy-Go-Lucky because it got an oscar nomination for best original screenplay. It's a British film by Mike Leigh getting a limited release here. Sally Hawkins plays Poppy, a perpetually happy and annoying giddy primary school teacher. She comes across as a naive 30 year-old girl.

That screenplay nomination is well deserved for the unusualness of the plot. There isn't really much one of one. Poppy goes shopping, dancing, hangs with friends and teaches in school. Early on her bicycle is stolen so she starts taking driving lessons.

She's always happy and talks to everyone she runs into, even those that don't want to talk with her. Those that do, she always interrupts with quips and fills every silence with chatter. For the first half hour I hated her and would never want to be around this person.

It was a full two hours long, but I was always engaged with this film. I was uncomfortable at times and laughed out loud at others, and I slowly came to understand Poppy better. The amazing thing is, that I don't think she changed at all, I think I did. I don't think I've ever seen a film like this. The closest I can think of is Amélie but this is more serious. It asks the question "Are you happy and what are you doing about it?" but does so by example.

This was an odd film that I had no expectations of and really disliked at first. But by the end it won me over and became one of my favorites of the year. Seek it out, it's worth it.

Movie Review: The Wrestler

The Wrestler by Darren Aronofsky (of Pi and Requiem for a Dream fame) follows Randy 'The Ram' Robinson, a former famous pro wrestler who's now barely eeking out an existence wrestling in high school gyms on weekends and signing autographs. And by "follow" I mean that literally. I'd say maybe a quarter of this film is shot on a handheld camera by a cameraman standing right behind him. We see the back of his head a lot.

Mickey Rourke does an impressive job as Randy. He looks the part, does many of his own stunts, is suitably depressed and as countless articles have pointed out, has actually lived this life. Marissa Tomei is similarly good as Cassidy a stripper that Randy pines for. Both are weary souls the 90s left behind. Evan Rachel Wood is his estranged daughter Stephanie who doesn't want any involvement with him anymore.

It's getting praise for its authentic and natural presentation of the characters. It's true that there's nothing sentimental about it and I'm sure that's difficult to achieve, but I found it predictable. I've seen comparison to Raging Bull but to me it's Leaving Las Vegas Lite.

Good performances, in a small film that was trying to do a slice of a lost life. I just wish there was more to it.

Article Skimmer

The New York Times is trying different web presentations of it's content. Here's an Article Skimmer that tries to show more articles on the page.

Chief Justice Roberts Launches Debate on Makeup of Court

The New York Times reports Roberts Launches Debate on Makeup of Court "For the first time in its history, every member of the United States Supreme Court is a former federal appeals court judge. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., in a lively and surprising talk a couple of weeks ago, said that development may be a good thing."

HBO Tonight: Right America: Feeling Wronged

I remember how I felt when Bush won, particularly in 2004 when I thought it was clear how bad a president he was and he still (kinda) won. Apparently there are those on the right who feel that way about Obama's (decisive) victory. Tonight on HBO (8pm ET) is a documentary Right America: Feeling Wronged - Some Voices from the Campaign Trail.

"On the day Barack Obama was elected the 44th President, more than 58 million voters cast their ballots for John McCain. In the months leading up to this historic election, filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi (HBO's Emmy®-winning "Journeys with George") took a road trip to meet some of the conservative Americans who waited in line for hours to support the GOP ticket, and saw their hopes and dreams evaporate in the wake of that Democratic victory. These voters share their feelings about the changing America in which they live."

Audio Clips of Obama Swearing

April Winchell in Barack Obama is tired of your motherfucking shit has pulled out audio clips from his reading of his book Dreams From My Father where he reads the story of a childhood friend who swore a lot. I'm surprised this didn't come out during the campaign. As one commenter said, how long till the dance remix comes out?

Another Reason to Avoid High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Mercury

The Washington Post reported a few weeks ago, Study Finds High-Fructose Corn Syrup Contains Mercury. "Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Bailouts

On the Geithner Plan:

Freakonomics has Diamond, Kashyap, and Rajan on the Geithner Plan. This is the best summary I've seen.

Paul Krugman on Tue on the Geithner plan: The Rorschach plan (wonkish, or at least hard to read). "It’s really not clear what the plan means; there’s an interpretation that makes it not too bad, but it’s not clear if that’s the right interpretation." It all depends on how the stress test is implemented and what happens when a major financial institution fails it.

On Wed Brad DeLong wrote Brief Notes on the Geithner Financial Rescue Plan. "As the Fed takes on tail risk and buys up risky assets, the supply of assets the private sector must hold declines and their prices will rise."

Andrew Sullivan summarizes some others descriptions as Not Sweden.

On the Stimulus Bill:

I'm not sure about what actually passed but as of Tue here's a comparison of the House and Senate versions of the stimulus bill.

Here's an interesting treemap representation of the 1/15 version.

Digby wrote in What Do They Know? about how few economists are on TV news explaining difficult concepts to us about the Stimulus Bill. "If one of the duties of journalism is to educate the public about complicated issues, you would think during a crisis like this they would have a stable of economists rather than political hitmen and village gossips discussing the issue. But, they don't."

digby wrote about the GOP War on Obama in The Light Dawns.

Yesterday the New York Times wrote Bipartisanship Isn't So Easy, Obama Sees. "heir unrequited overtures to Republicans over the past several weeks taught Mr. Obama and his aides some hard lessons. Advisers concluded that they allowed the measure of bipartisanship to be defined as winning Republican votes rather than bringing civility to the debate, distracting attention from what have otherwise been major legislative victories. Although Mr. Obama vowed to keep reaching out to Republicans, advisers now believe the environment will probably not change in coming months. Rather than forging broad consensus with Republicans, the Obama advisers said they would have to narrow their ambitions and look for discrete areas where they might build temporary coalitions based on regional interests rather than party, as on energy legislation. They said they would also turn to Republican governors for support - a tactic that showed promise during the debate over the economic package - even if they found few Republican allies in Washington."

OpenLeft says the GOP plan isn't working:

spkmsc5sue2tgkahrvqrxq 1.png

Bill Moyers Talks With Simon Johnson

Bill Moyers Journal this week interviewed MIT Economist Simon Johnson. "Johnson explains to Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL that the U.S. financial system reminds him more of the embattled emerging markets he encountered in his time with the International Monetary Fund than that of a developed nation. As such, Johnson believes that the U.S. financial system needs a 'reboot,' breaking up the biggest banks, in some cases firing management and wiping out shareholder value. Johnson tells Bill Moyers that such a move wouldn't be popular with the powerful banking lobby: 'I think it's quite straightforward, in technical or economic terms. At the same time I recognize it's very hard politically.'"

digby said, "The politics of this are complicated. Certainly, I don't think any more bailouts as they have been defined are politically possible. But Johnson believes it's urgent that the administration takes strong, quick action to "reboot" the system and makes a convincing case as to why. If he's right, they need to get it together because Geithner's presentation was universally panned by virtually everyone including the markets and the situation is deteriorating."

Johnson is one of the founders of The Baseline Scenario which I've found very helpful in explaining some of this stuff. Here's their Welcome to New Readers.

Americans Want Investigations Into Bush Administration

USA Today wrotePoll: Bush methods deserve inquiries.

"Even as Americans struggle with two wars and an economy in tatters, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds majorities in favor of investigating some of the thorniest unfinished business from the Bush administration: whether its tactics in the 'war on terror' broke the law.

Close to two-thirds of those surveyed said there should be investigations into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects and its program of wiretapping U.S. citizens without getting warrants. Almost four in 10 favor criminal investigations and about a quarter want investigations without criminal charges. One-third said they want nothing to be done.

Even more people want action on alleged attempts by the Bush team to use the Justice Department for political purposes. Four in 10 favored a criminal probe, three in 10 an independent panel and 25% neither."

Unfortunately, according to the ACLU, "The President and his new Attorney General have chosen to stand by the Bush administration position of “state secrets” in the ACLU’s rendition case against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan for its role in the extraordinary rendition program, claiming that torture and rendition victims should not be granted their day in court.

Darwin Debated in US: Religion vs. Evolution

150 years after the Origin of Species, Pew Research Center: Darwin Debated: Religion vs. Evolution finds only 48% of US population "agree that evolution is th ebest explanation for the origins of human life on earth". They have a nice bar chart that breaks it down by religion:

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"This view is not shared by the nation's scientists, most of whom contend that evolution is a well-established scientific theory that convincingly explains the origins and development of life on earth. Moreover, they say, a scientific theory is not a hunch or a guess but is instead an established explanation for a natural phenomenon, like gravity, that has repeatedly been tested through observation and experimentation. Indeed, most scientists argue that, for all practical purposes, evolution through natural selection is a fact. These scientists and others dismiss creation science as religion, not science, and describe intelligent design as little more than creationism dressed up in scientific jargon."


I don't understand the argument at all. The intelligent designers want this stuff taught in science classes and presumably their kids already learn it through religious teachings. They argue, teach both sides. The evolutionists want evolution taught in science class and whatever you want taught in your own religious classes and then the kids can make up their own mind. I haven't heard of evolutionists campaigning to teach evolution in church.

Fire Falls From Sky in Texas

Seriously. I'm seeing breaking news reports on Twitter like this: URGENT -- @BreakingNewsOn ... "is checking on reports that fireballs are falling from the sky across Texas. Details to come." Followup tweets mention Houston and suggest maybe it's debris from the satellite crash last week. Still nothing on Google News.

This is all biblical and stuff.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Why Is Obama Flying?

Not to pick on Obama in his first month as president during a very difficult time, but...

I've seen he's travelled a bit around the country to try to pitch his stimulus plan to the American people. On Monday he went to Elkhart, IN and on Tuesday to Fort Myers, FL to give Town Hall talks. On Monday night he gave his first press conference from the White House.

So there were two round trips via Air Force One in two days. To give a speech. Does anyone find this at all wasteful? I think his press conference was one of the best I've ever heard and I watched it live. Unlike many of the later Bush press conferences it seemed all the networks covered this in prime time from his home office. Seriously, he had to fly to IN and FL? To give speeches?

Remember a few weeks ago when Congressmen were yelling at Auto CEOs and Bank CEOs about taking private jets to Congressional hearings? These were leaders of companies that were losing tens of billions of dollars. They were being yelled at because they were seen as wasteful in even their travel plans, let alone their fiscal policies. Not to be obnoxious about it but the federal government has a trillion dollar deficit. I'm not saying he should sell Air Force One but were these trips really necessary?

Isn't it time to cut some corners? Isn't it time to lead by example? Isn't it time to realize the impact on the environment of travel?

Dumb Congressional Voting

I keep hearing about my sick Senator Kennedy making it to Washington DC to cast critical votes in the Senate when needed and being elsewhere trying to recover from brain cancer when not needed. Can someone tell me in this day and age, why a Senator needs to be present in the Senate chamber to cast a vote?

Article I Section 7 says "But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively." But otherwise I think each house can determine it's own rules.

I can see that it's difficult to allow everyone to vote electronically in general elections, but 532 elected officials? Let them use iChat video.

If The Right Were Intellectually Honest ...

Andrew Sullivan writes If The Right Were Intellectually Honest ...

"This Manzi post would be their argument going forward. Here's why they are not being intellectually honest, and Manzi's post includes the relevant facts. The GOP has passed what amounts to a spending and tax-cutting and borrowing stimulus package every year since George W. Bush came to office. They have added tens of trillions to future liabilities and they turned a surplus into a trillion dollar deficit - all in a time of growth. They then pick the one moment when demand is collapsing in an alarming spiral to argue that fiscal conservatism is non-negotiable. I mean: seriously. The bad faith and refusal to be accountable for their own conduct for the last eight years is simply inescapable. There is no reason for the GOP to have done what they have done for the last eight years and to say what they are saying now except pure, cynical partisanship, and a desire to wound and damage the new presidency. The rest is transparent cant."

I agree, but I'm still having a hard time figuring out their motivation. As near as I can tell there are only three possible reasons:

1. They want the country to fail.
2. They are dumb and don't understand the facts and options
3. They are agnostic about the country and only care about regaining power

My problem with 3 is that they had power and I don't see anyway to evaluate what they did as a success in any fashion. I mean even Bush is citing his biggest thing in office as being helping African AIDS victims. That's something US citizens barely know about and as far as I know has never been a campaign issue for anyone seeking US public office. My problem with 1 and 2 is that I really don't believe them. That leaves me wondering what their motivation is. Does anyone know?

I know the Rush's, Coultures and Malkins just want their own voice to be heard. As damaging as they are, they don't have actual power, just influence. For those with actual power, those in Congress like 177 Republican representatives and 38 Republican Senators what are they trying to accomplish?

Update: Ok, maybe it is (appropriately) number 2. It seems they are taking economic advice from a plumber, Joe the Plumber (and yes I remember he's not really a plumber and isn't really named Joe). Or there is a bit of 3 in it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The 100 Best Business Books of All Time

The 100 Best Business Books of All Time. There's even a new book that acts like a cliff notes version of the list.

I Would Count This As Pork, Not Stimulus

The Register reports US lawmaker injects ISP throttle into Obama rescue package.

"US Senator Dianne Feinstein hopes to update President Barack Obama's $838bn economic stimulus package so that American ISPs can deter child pornography, copyright infringement, and other unlawful activity by way of "reasonable network management."

Clearly, a lobbyist whispering in Feinstein's ear has taken Comcast's now famous euphemism even further into the realm of nonsense.

According to Public Knowledge, Feinstein's network management amendment did not find a home in the stimulus bill that landed on the Senate floor. But lobbyists speaking with the Washington DC-based internet watchdog said that California's senior Senator is now hoping to insert this language via conference committee - a House-Senate pow-wow were bill disputes are resolved."

10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know

10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know

"These are just ten ways that you can protect your privacy on Facebook. While there are a few other small things to keep in mind, these ten settings are most important. Keep in mind that while you may have turned off the visibility of many profile sections, there is no way to prevent all photos or videos from being visible if friends of yours make the images visible.

The best way to prevent embarrassing items from showing up on Facebook in the future is to not make bad judgements in your personal life. We’re all human though and being completely paranoid about every choice you make is probably not the best way to live your life. Be aware of what privacy settings are available and be conscious of what your friends may be publishing about you.

While you may not want to configure all of the privacy settings outlined, simply knowing how to do so is a great step in the right direction. By following the 10 settings listed above you are well on your way to an embarrassment free future on Facebook!"


Last night I managed to get some sleep, so that helped a good deal. I also have been off the percoset for 24 hours now, Tylenol seems to do the trick. My nose is still pretty clogged (with rather disgusting stuff) but I can't blow it like a normal person. That would involve closing one nostril at a time and blowing and pushing against your nose is not what you want to do when you're setting a deviated septum. The roof of my mouth is a little numb and my upper teeth hurt as if I had some dental work (all the nerves are connected). I get some sharp twinges of pain in my nose every now and then, I'm not sure if I can feel the edge of the plastic splint or not. Overall this feels at the level of having the flu but it's less consistent; it's sometimes better and sometimes worse. But it's definitely an improvement from a couple of days ago.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The packing is out and I'm feeling better. It went easier than expected and only took a minute to pull out. It didn't hurt as much as feel weird. Then lots of drainage but again, not as much as I was warned about. I feel like myself again, though with a cold and a sore nose. But this is much much better.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


So today was a bit worse, or rather more uncomfortable. I think the healing is going ok, but things are messier and there's some accumulation of things, going onto a second day. One thing they didn't prepare me for is that my eyes have been tearing since the surgery. It seems my tearducts are swollen shut or something. So yeah, crying for 36 hours straight, gets old. I'll spare the other details, but I'm looking forward to removing the packing tomorrow (at about noon). Thanks for all the well wishes.

Monday, February 09, 2009

I don't have the patience right now, but this looks like some interesting stuff...
Read The Stimulus.

I'm Home

I'm home. I'm ok. I'm very tired and probably won't post again today. Apparently I had broken my nose a long time ago on the inside and it healed strange and the doctor was surprised I lasted as long as I did. Anyway, it's fixed and the surgery went ok.

My nose is clogged with packing, I have gauze taped too. How pleasant. Breathing through my mouth means my mouth dries up and I want to drink cold water. I'm also tired but that's all to be expected. I'll post again when I'm more awake.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Here’s an Idea . . .

Baseline Scenario writes Here's an Idea . . . "Why not say that all bank compensation above a baseline amount - say, $150,000 in annual salary - has to be paid in toxic assets off the bank’s balance sheet?" It's an entertaining idea.

Oh My Nose!

This blog may be a little quiet the next few days. Monday I'm having outpatient surgery to correct a deviated septum (and enlarged turbinates) that have been making it difficult for me to sleep for the past too many months. I've tried a number of things, and surgery is the next step. If you've noticed stretches since the summer when the blog has had fewer updates or shorter posts (like in December) it's usually been because I've been sleep deprived to the extent I found writing difficult.

The procedure should be relatively simple and I'll post early monday afternoon when I'm back home. The fun part will come on wed. Stop now if you're squeamish.

When I leave the hospital my nose will be filled with sponges, each about the size of a large finger. This "packing" will stay there as a bandage for two days until the tissue heals. On wed they'll be removed. My surgeon used to have patients come into the office to have them removed, but half the time they fainted! So now he has them do it themselves at home! It seems doing it yourself is more bearable, but it may take me an hour to do it. He said the packing is vacuum sealed and to break the seal I have to pull harder than I imagine. Some patients tie the string to a doorknob and slam the door closed but he doesn't recommend that. Once the seal is broken they should come out easily. Then accumulated blood will flow out for a few minutes, again more than I'd expect. I'm supposed to want to call for an ambulance but I shouldn't as I won't actually need it; it will stop on it's own in a few minutes. Joy.

Then I should be able to breathe great...for about an hour. Then my sinuses will start to fill up as my body won't be happy with the plastic splints setting my septum. This lasts for another week until I return to the doctor's office to have them removed. By the end of the week I'm supposed to regret having had the surgery but right after the splints come out I'm supposed to be very happy and will breathe better than I have in a long time.

Last week I filled my prescriptions for antibiotics and pain killers. I wondered if I should have been concerned that the script was for 60 percosets, but at 2 pills every 4-6 hours that's only a 5-7 day supply. Hopefully I won't need them all.

Apparently most people who have the surgery on Fri are back to work on Monday, and those that aren't are back on Tuesday. My sister has come up to stay with me a few days and we've stocked up the house with food and chocolate (or that should be chocolate and some food). Wish me luck. :)

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Stimulus Plan Changes

Paul Krugman is not happy with What the centrists have wrought. "The short answer: to appease the centrists, a plan that was already too small and too focused on ineffective tax cuts has been made significantly smaller, and even more focused on tax cuts."

Brad DeLong adds to this a graph from Nancy Pelosi's office:

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An Army of Krugmans

digby wishes for a An Army of Krugmans. "Paul Krugman delivered some upside the head slaps on Morning Joe today. Pat Buchanan actually tried to argue in favor of the WARREN HARDING TAX CUTS that led to expansion - never mind the Republican Great Depression afterwards. Joe Scarborough tried the fool's game of disowning Bush, saying he was a big spender and not a classic conservative - never mind the fact that Reagan and both Bushes increased the deficit more than every other President combined. Krugman was having none of it. "

Bush Employment Numbers

The Bush Boom: Employment: "We now have job numbers for the entire 8 years of the Bush Administration. In the last 8 years, payroll jobs are up only 1.6% (0.2% annual rate). That's far and away the slowest 8 year gain on record. In the 8 years of Clinton, jobs grew by 20.7% (2.38% annual rate). In the 70 years of available data, jobs have grown at an annual rate of 2.2%. For the 62 years before Bush the average was 2.4%"

US Warns UK About Release Torture Info

I'm still not liking the press in the US. WA Today (that's Western Australia) reports Letters prove US warning.

"A FLURRY of letters between the British Foreign Office and the US State Department has revealed that Washington did threaten to withdraw intelligence-sharing with Britain if documents related to the alleged torture of a British terrorism detainee in Guantanamo Bay were made public.

The High Court in London said on Wednesday the Foreign Office had refused to allow the torture documents to be revealed because of a "threat" from Washington to stop sharing intelligence with Britain.

The US warning, related to the case of British detainee Binyam Mohamed, was promptly denied by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who insisted that there had been no threat from the US to "break off intelligence co-operation".

But on Thursday night British broadcaster Channel 4 revealed that a letter dated August 21, 2008, from the US State Department, stated the consequences if a British court published American documents on the capture and interrogation of Mohamed."

The Telegraph in the UK reported UK government suppressed evidence on Binyam Mohamed torture because MI6 helped his interrogators.

"Mr Mohamed, 30, an Ethiopian, was granted refugee status in Britain in 1994. He was picked up in Pakistan in 2002 on suspicion of involvement in terrorism, rendered to Morocco and Afghanistan, tortured and then sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2004. All terror charges against him were dropped last year." 25 lines were edited out of the court papers describing the torture, the article mentions a little of it and it makes waterboarding look taking a hot tub.

A quick search of Google News didn't find American papers reporting this except for (of course) McClatchy, Why did Obama back Bush demand for British secrecy? See, Obama apparently hasn't changed the Bush policy of wanting to keep this secret and it came up in Hillary's visit to London this week. Ugh.

10 Secrets of iMovie '09

To go along with the collection of iPhoto '09 tips, here's 10 Secrets of iMovie '09. Secrets might be a strong term, but it's the most in depth description I've seen of the product, including Apple's video tutorials.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Our Universe May be a Giant Hologram

I'm going to have to get back to reading The Road To Reality to understand this... Our world may be a giant hologram. The GEO600 is a gravitational wave detector. It splits a laser beam and precisely measures a distance. If a gravity wave passes through it, it would stretch space-time and change the measurement. It turns out that there's some noise in the measurements they can't explain. Physicist Craig Hogan independently came up with a theory that would predict noise in the GEO600 contacted them and told they were seeing similar noise.

As best as I can understand it goes like this. Based on theories about black holes and extended to the universe itself, the holographic principle says that all the information about the contents of a volume are encoded in bits on the (2D) surface of that volume. The name stems from a hologram which in 2D encodes information to show a 3D image. The theories have been that the information of the universe is encoded at tiny Planck length scales on the boundary of space-time (just go with it :). Planck scale stuff is too small for us to ever measure, but Hogan's idea was that if the info on the surface exactly described the volume, then the volume must be at larger scales, scales we could detect. This would make the universe a "grainy hologram". His idea was that we could detect quantum fluctuations of the tiny 2D surface by looking at their effects in the larger 3D volume. Essentially the the universe would be blurry and the GEO600 would be able to detect that.

If all this proves out, it would be a huge discovery about the nature of the universe. And it would have been found by noise in an instrument designed to measure something else. It's far too early to say history is repeating itself, but such things have happened before.

In 1964 Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson had built a radio telescope and it was picking up static that they couldn't identify. This turned out to be the first detection of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB). About 400,000 years after the Big Bang, when the early dense hot universe cooled from a plasma to allow electrons and protons to combine into stable hydrogen atoms, it turned transparent (and I guess into a gas). The CMB is the left over photons that were no longer being absorbed by the plasma and have since become less energetic. Penzias and Wilson won the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics for detecting this antenna static (and not ignoring it).

(I'm really just trying to follow articles written for the laymen here. If anyone can correct me I'd be appreciative.)

Working the Stimulus Bill

Yesterday the New York Times wrote Stimulus Talks Set to Continue After Centrists Push Cuts. "A bipartisan group of senators worked furiously in backroom negotiations on Thursday to cut the cost of the more than $920 billion economic stimulus plan. Senate Democratic leaders said they would await the outcome of those talks before calling for a final vote on the measure, perhaps on Friday."

"Members of the bipartisan group, led by Senators Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said they wanted to trim provisions that would not quickly create jobs or encourage spending by consumers and businesses. They spent much of the day scrutinizing the 736-page bill and wrangling over what to cut."

They describe a few of the cuts and go on to say...

"President Obama, while once again urging Congress to act swiftly, avoided taking sides by saying that a package of about $800 billion was in the ballpark of what he believed the economy needed. “The scale and scope of this plan is right,” Mr. Obama said in a speech to House Democrats who were on a retreat in Williamsburg, Va."

Is it just me or isn't it good that Senators actually read a 736 page $920 billion bill before they vote for it? I like the sound of a bipartisan group going over instead of just saying $800 billion is in the ballpark of what we think we need. Then again, I'm saying that without knowing the details myself, so I'm going by ballpark ideas too. :)

David Brooks writes more on this in The Gang System, saying the left is losing to the middle.

Who's Running TARP?

TPM wonders After Kashkari, Who Runs TARP?. Kashkari is 35 year-old Neel Kashkari, the interim Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability and ex-Goldman Sacks VP that Henry Paulson appointed to the position. He's still in charge, apparently because of Geithner's confirmation delay.

The Meaning of Sarah Palin

THis is is a good article on The Meaning of Sarah Palin. It's a little long but worth a read. It starts off I think being quite fair about how both sides distorted her image for their own purposes. It then fits that into this vision of American politics:

"In American politics, the distinction between populism and elitism is further subdivided into cultural and economic populism and elitism. And for at least the last forty years, the two parties have broken down distinctly along this double axis. The Republican party has been the party of cultural populism and economic elitism, and the Democrats have been the party of cultural elitism and economic populism."

I was thinking it was was being too sympathetic to her and got to this...

"But having finally gotten voters to listen, neither Palin nor McCain could think of anything to say to them. Palin’s reformism, like McCain’s, was essentially an attitude devoid of substance. Both Republican candidates told us they hated corruption and would cut excess and waste. But separately and together, they offered no overarching vision of America, no consistent view of the role of government, no clear description of what a free society should look like, and no coherent policy ideas that might actually address the concerns of American families and offer solutions to the serious problems of the moment. Palin’s populism was not her weakness, but her strength. Her weakness was that she failed to tie her populism to anything deeper. A successful conservative reformism has to draw on cultural populism, but it has also to draw on a worldview, on ideas about society and government, and on a policy agenda. This would make it more intellectual, but not necessarily less populist."

Again it's worth a read. But I think it missed something. Yes she started off strong and the media distorted things, but she didn't say anything more than stump speeches for weeks after her introduction. It's not just that the campaign couldn't think "of anything to say" it didn't have her say anything. Given the void, the media filled it. Then when she did give interviews, she performed poorly. She complains about being asked "what do you read up in Alaska" when in fact she asked to name the title of anything she read; and she didn't.

It's not just that she didn't display the intellectual elitism required by Washington. She said nothing of substance and at times couldn't even form coherent sentences. Some of Tiny Fey's skits included lengthy direct quotes. Her actual words qualified as comedy routines. It's not just that she didn't have an ivy league education, it's that she demonstrated no depth of understanding on issues she would need to make decisions on.

It still annoys me when people say she had more executive experience than Obama. Both brought different experiences to their positions. She didn't have legislative or Washington experience. Evaluate them as a whole, and don't forget the small detail that he was a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago for 12 years. That's a depth of knowledge I thought would be very useful in fixing the constitutional messes that Bush had gotten us into. I thought that was more useful for the job of President than hunting skills, and I don't think that's elitism.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

50 Beautiful And User-Friendly Navigation Menus

Design Showcase in Smashing Magazine lists 50 Beautiful And User-Friendly Navigation Menus. Pretty impressive stuff.

Obama Wants Appliances to Use Less Energy

Reuters reports Obama wants appliances to use less energy.

Here's the first paragraph:

"U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered the Energy Department to set energy efficiency standards for a broad range of common household appliances, which will save Americans billions of dollars in electrical costs and reduce power plant emissions. The department was charged with slashing the energy use of more than 30 product categories."

This is a good thing, but of course it's longer term. It doesn't help until people replace existing appliances which does cost money.

Here's the last paragraph:

"A U.S. District Court approved rolling deadlines for backlogged standards in 2006, after environmental groups and 14 states sued the Bush administration for not meeting efficiency deadlines."


Ginsburg's Cancer May Have Been Caught Early Enough

ABC reports ABC News: Ginsburg's Cancer May Have Been Caught Early Enough. I think it's just based on the report that it was a 1cm sized tumor. If it was Stage I and therefore hadn't spread, that's a good thing.

Last month's Wired had an interesting article Why Early Detection Is the Best Way to Beat Cancer. It's the first I learned of the Canary Foundation which is concentrating on "solving cancer" by finding early detection techniques.

Oscar Shorts

About the Oscar nominated short films. They're showing in Boston at the Coolidge Corner Theater starting tomorrow and apparently they'll be on iTunes on Feb 17th.

Apple's Design Process

Interesting Business Week article on Apple's design process.

Justice Ginsburg Has Surgery for Pancreatic Cancer

The Blog of Legal Times writes Justice Ginsburg Has Surgery for Pancreatic Cancer.

"The Supreme Court has just announced that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had surgery today in New York City for recently discovered pancreatic cancer. Ginsburg, 75, had what she described as a 'long bout' with colorectal cancer in 1999, but recovered and has worked at full strength since. Always frail, she has been the subject of retirement rumors in recent years, but last year sent strong signals that she had no plans to leave the Court anytime soon. "

Jan Crawford Greenburg adds "The Court said she will be in the hospital recovering from surgery for 7 to 10 days. She could well return to the bench, when the Court goes back in session Feb. 23. If not, she still can participate in the cases -- even if she misses the oral arguments. The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist participated in some cases when he was off the bench, after he underwent treatment for thyroid cancer in 2004 and 2005. Rehnquist returned to the bench after nearly four months off to lead the Court, serving out the remainder of the 2004-2005 term before his death that summer."

Countdown to the UNIX Epoch time being 1234567890!

Countdown (actually up) to the UNIX Epoch time being 1234567890! "Only 1 week, 1 day, 3 hours, 55 minutes and 16 seconds until the Epoch Time is 1234567890! (Friday, February 13th 2009, 23:31:30 GMT)"

Daily Show on Tom Daschle

I have to hand it to The Daily Show for Tuesday's Moment of Zen. They found this old Tom Daschle campaign commercial from 1986...

ClearCam For Clearer iPhone Pictures

iSmashPhone writes ClearCam Is The Rapid-Fire Way To Clearer iPhone Pictures. "ClearCam takes six pictures in rapid succession (around 2.5 seconds), automatically picks the sharpest of the six, then -- using that sharpest shot as a baseline -- merges the frames together to generate a super-resolved 4 megapixel image."

Pretty clever stuff, though it takes a while for the post-processing. The top of the article lists other useful camera enhancing iPhone apps.

Berkeley Class on The Wire

If I were at Berkeley I'd be all over this class, What so great about The Wire? (nice copy editing by the way). I hope they release open courseware about it.

"Discerning critics and avid fans have agreed that the five-season run of Ed Burns and David Simon’s The Wire was “the best TV show ever broadcast in America”--not the most popular but the best. The 60 hours that comprise this episodic series have been aptly been compared to Dickens, Balzac, Dreiser and Greek Tragedy. These comparisons attempt to get at the richly textured complexity of the work, its depth, its bleak tapestry of an American city and its diverse social stratifications. Yet none of these comparisons quite nails what it is that made this the most compelling “show” on TV and better than many of the best movies. This class will explore these comparisons, analyze episodes from the first, third, fourth and fifth seasons and try to discover what was and is so great about The Wire. We will screen as much of the series as we can during our mandatory screening sessions and approach it through the following lenses: the other writing of David Simon, including his journalism, an exemplary Greek Tragedy, Dickens’ Bleak House and/or parts of Balzac’s Human Comedy. We will also consider the formal tradition of episodic television."

Update: Another class on The Wire, this one at Middlebury College in VT.

Melting Lakes Release Methane - Playing With Fire

At Al Gore's TED talk yesterday he showed this video from over a year ago of someone lighting fire to methane being released from a lake in Alaska. Cool and very scary.

Apparently yesterday's TED was very depressing. As David Pogue tweeted: "Massively depressing first day of TED. Climate change, plastic-choked oceans, depleted fish, melting ice caps, dead coral. sigh."

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Evolution of the Household

Woman's Day has an article, Evolution of the Household. This is something I never would have seen before the web. :) It's an interesting pictorial presentation by decade, but it's hard to compare the data since it's not next to each other like in a table and each decade has different statistics.

Five Mysteries of the Universe

Michael Brooks writes in the Guardian Five Mysteries of the Universe. It's not a list I would have expected.

Effectiveness of Apple and Microsoft Ads

Gizmodo pointed me at this New York TImes article about the Apple and Microsoft TV ads, In Campaign Wars, Apple Still Has Microsoft’s Number. Apple is spending a lot on it's ads and it seems to be helping.

Gizmodo quoted this paragraph: "On the other hand, Microsoft’s “Shoe Circus,” in which Mr. Seinfeld helped Mr. Gates buy shoes, failed miserably with consumers. After seeing the ad, both Apple and Microsoft users had a more negative perception of Microsoft in the areas of innovation, technology, trouble-free design, and warranty and pricing. “When you see an ad perform this poorly,” said Amy Shea, the executive vice president at Brand Keys who conducted the research, “you’ve got a real problem.”"

But left out this one: "The news was not all bad for Microsoft, though. “I am a PC” — the egalitarian response to Apple that Microsoft has settled on for its ongoing campaign — has worked well to lift PC users’ perception of the brand as technologically and environmentally advanced."

I blogged about the ads back in September in this post which got a few comments and in this one where I said the "I'm a PC" ads were better.

I also saw this Google Answer that says companies that advertised during the Great Depression did ok. "studies have demonstrated that during times of recession, companies that maintain advertising during these periods experience higher sales and profits during the downturns and afterward than companies who cut their advertising budgets."

Analysis of the Financial Costs and Benefits of the “No-Fly” List

Homeland Security Affairs writes Just How Much Does That Cost, Anyway? An Analysis of the Financial Costs and Benefits of the “No-Fly” List.

"The purpose of this article is to identify the financial costs relative to the benefits of the ‘no-fly’ list. Numerous scholars, security experts, lawyers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), journalists, and bloggers have commented on the well-known flaws in the current terrorist watch list system. Lawyers have pointed out the many civil liberty issues associated with the list and its hindrance of due process. 1 The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has repeatedly published the many flaws it sees in the way that the list is administrated. 2 Bruce Schneier, a popular security columnist and blogger, documents the various reasons why the no-fly list serves no benefit at all, providing only ‘security theatre’ rather than actual protection. 3 Each of these analyses is useful and contributes to an understanding of whether or not the no-fly list is, in aggregate, helpful in protecting citizens against terrorism, and at what social and civil liberty cost. What is missing, however, is an analysis of the no-fly list from a financial perspective. This article is interested in understanding the monetary costs of the program."

It's a good reasoned article. Their medium estimate for the year cost of the No-Fly List is $89 million.

Also, ars technica has an article, racial profiling no more effective than random screen pointing to a recent study on the topic.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Pope Un-Excommunicates Holocaust Denying Bishop

German pope becomes an embarrassment in homeland "Nearly four years after a rare outburst of national pride over the election of a German pope, Germans are falling out of love with Pope Benedict because of his rehabilitation of a bishop who denies the Holocaust."

Monday, February 02, 2009

Unix Utility: Pipe Viewer

I've never heard of Pipe Viewer (aka pv) but this articles says it's A Unix Utility You Should Know About. It's basically cat with an ascii progress bar. It isn't preinstalled on my mac.

Don't Open a Coffeehouse

Slate has an article, My coffeehouse nightmare "I opened a charming neighborhood coffee shop. Then it destroyed my life."

Google & the Future of Books

Interesting article from The New York Review of Books, Google & the Future of Books.

"How can we navigate through the information landscape that is only beginning to come into view? The question is more urgent than ever following the recent settlement between Google and the authors and publishers who were suing it for alleged breach of copyright. For the last four years, Google has been digitizing millions of books, including many covered by copyright, from the collections of major research libraries, and making the texts searchable online. The authors and publishers objected that digitizing constituted a violation of their copyrights. After lengthy negotiations, the plaintiffs and Google agreed on a settlement, which will have a profound effect on the way books reach readers for the foreseeable future"

I also liked this quote: "One of my colleagues is a quiet, diminutive lady, who might call up the notion of Marion the Librarian. When she meets people at parties and identifies herself, they sometimes say condescendingly, "A librarian, how nice. Tell me, what is it like to be a librarian?" She replies, "Essentially, it is all about money and power.""

Social Media and the Federal Government

Interesting article on the Social Media and the Federal Government: Perceived and Real Barriers and Potential Solutions. There are problems with terms of service that prevent the user from suing the provider, choosing a free service without a competitive bidding process, accessibility and privacy guarantees, etc.

On another angle, the Sunlight Foundation sponsors several web projects (including Congresspedia and OpenCongress) making the government more transparent. "The Sunlight Foundation is committed to helping citizens, bloggers and journalists be their own best congressional watchdogs, by improving access to existing information and digitizing new information, and by creating new tools and Web sites to enable all of us to collaborate in fostering greater transparency."