Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Official White House Flickr Photostream

I had put off looking at the The Official White House flickr Photostream but its' really interesting.

Jon Stewart's Interviews Cliff May on Torture

"On last night's Daily Show, Jon Stewart's interview with The Foundation for Defense of Democracies President Cliff May turned to the subject of torture. Things got so intense and involved that the segment had to be edited for time, but here now is the complete discussion."

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 1
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I thought Stewart made a lot of good points and didn't let May talk enough. I thought May took only extreme positions that weren't fair. I'm sorry no one brought up what I've seen WWII US interrogators say, that they got information out of Nazi prisoners by winning them over.

There are stress and duress techniques that have been ruled to not be torture but are still inhumane and degrading. It's hard to imagine that waterboarding someone over 100 times isn't torture. Even if a doctor is present. Sleep depravation for extended periods is torture. Complete sensory depravation for much shorter periods (I think as little as 2 days) is torture.

I also know that whether the Geneva Conventions really do apply to the detainees is in fact questionable.

In these cases I want my government to err on the side of higher moral ground. I know that this is a judgement call and I think you can make mistakes and not be a war criminal. I don't think Truman was a war criminal for dropping the atom bomb. I do want to see those from the Bush administration that ordered torture, tried. I think that's how we find out what really happened and if they're guilty of war crimes.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Sneak Preview of Wolfram|Alpha

I went to this Sneak Preview of Wolfram|Alpha: Computational Knowledge Engine at the Berkman Center today. It will be available "in a few weeks" here.

It was basically a demo by Stephen Wolfram himself. The first 40 minutes were spent watching him type in various queries and briefly show the results. Enter a query and it showed a few different pods of information. E.g., entering 2+2 showed 4 and then "four" and then a visual representation with 4 dots in a row. Other things quite often showed graphs. Some other things he entered:

gdp france
gdp france / italy
internet users in europe
333g of gold
5 molar H2SO4
decane 2 atm 50C
LDL 180 male age 40
567bp upstream of MSH3
ARM 5% 20 yr
D# minor
lawyers median wage
france fish production vs. poland
height of mt everest / length of the golden gate bridge
weather in princeton NJ when Kurt Godel died
huricane andrew
president of brazil 1922
tide NYC 11/5/2015
next total solar eclipse chicago

The important thing to realize is that all of these returned multiple bits of data in readable and usable form. The GDP queries returned lots of variations on that (per captica, etc.). The gene queries gave lots of data and diagrams. The stock queries gave all the other related info, not just the quote. The weather results gave various pages and event forecasts into the future. The stock graphs gave forecasts into the future! The ISS graphed the orbital locations of the space shuttle. It generated a nutrition label for "2 cups of OJ"

In general it was quite impressive. They've collected a lot of data, normalized it, get live feeds of some info and make it available to simple queries or more involved formulas. If it doesn't know what you mean, it makes and attempt and shows what it didn't understand or other options.

There were four big areas that they worked on:

Data curation - they have both free and licensed data, lots from feeds and incorporating them is partially automated and partially done by hand by a domain expert. He said they have "a reasonable start on 90% of a reference library"

Algorithms and Computations - implemented in 5-6 million lines of mathmatica code.

Linguistic Analysis - there are no manual or docs. It's different from the general natural language problem because they concentrate on short utterances. That may be harder or easier then the general problem but he's surprised by how useful it already is.

Automated Presentation - they can compute lots of different graphs and the question is what do you show. They use domain experts to figure this out.

It will be a free site with corporate sponsors. You can embed results in other sites. There will be pro versions available via subscription where you can upload your own data sets. They'll expose their ontology via RDF.

A fun bug was when they entered info about people and came across 50¢.

If you enter "meaning of life" the result 42 comes back. If you enter "42" you don't get the meaning of life or 8*7.

Specter To Switch Parties

Specter To Switch Parties. "Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said on Tuesday he would switch to the Democratic party, presenting Democrats with a possible 60th vote and the power to break Senate filibusters as they try to advance the Obama administration’s new agenda."

Hehe. :)

GOP Stripped Flu Pandemic Preparedness From Stimulus

The Huffington Post plays I told you so, pointing out, GOP Stripped Flu Pandemic Preparedness From Stimulus.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Movie Review: The Burning Plain

The Burning Plain is written and directed by Guillermo Arriaga who previously wrote Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel. So it shouldn't be a surprise that it tells three different stories about people having emotionally difficult times.

Charlize Theron plays a detached restaurant owner, having an affair with a married co-worker and many one-night stands. A young girl in Mexico helps her single father work as a crop duster. in Texas, Kim Basinger, a mother of four, is having an affair and her teenage daughter finds out.

The fractured story telling, strong performances and emotional depth make this film really worthwhile. Unfortunately I figured out the relationship between these stories about halfway through the film and had to wait about 45 minutes as the stories were connected to see how the ending went. I still liked it a lot but this was my ninth film in 4 days and I was beginning to get drained. Still, the drama is strong and film is good.

H1N1 Swine Flu

Over the weekend I was amazed that between movies I could follow quick updates via Twitter on the spread of the swine flu epidemic. In more Web 2.0 goodness, here's a H1N1 Swine Flu Google Map of all the known cases.

Movie Review: Prom Night in Mississippi

Morgan Freeman lives in Charleeston, Mississippi where he lived as a small child. It's a small town about 90 miles south of Memphis with a population of 2,100. The Charleston High School was first integrated in 1970 but until 2007 they were still having two proms, one for white students and one for black students. Freeman finds this stupid and embarrassing. In 1997 he made an offer to pay for the prom if there was one single integrated prom. They didn't take him up on it. Prom Night in Mississippi starts with him making the same offer again for the 2008 prom, and this time they agree.

The High School has 415 students and is about 70% black and 30% white. The film interviews the students, the administrators and some of the parents. The students are interesting and personable. Most date within their race, a few date across racial lines. It isn't that big a deal to them. Freeman has a telling line early in the film, "You're not trying to change the kids, you're trying to change who teaches them". The administrators seem hesitant at first and talk about safety issues, which seemed absurd given the school is integrated every day.

It's really more about the parents. Some are ok with integration and some aren't. In fact several white parents still threw their own all-white prom before the integrated one for their children. Unfortunately these parents refused to be interviewed for the film. As some of the kids said, they're afraid of appearing racist. One father of a white girl dating a black boy was interviewed and it was one of the best parts of the film. He was raised racist and he's not happy with his daughter's decisions, but he supports her. He says that things won't change until someone breaks the cycle and doesn't teach their kids to be racist, but it's also clear he's not changing his own views.

I was really engaged with the film until the prom. In fact, it was just a prom. They ate and danced and had fun. The film had to spend time showing each of the kids and their were some nice moments, but it meant the last 20 minutes were pretty anti-climatic. Which is the way you want it, but it didn't live up to the beginning of the film. Still it's worth seeing.

Movie Review: Crude

Crude is a documentary about a law suit against Texaco (now Chevron as of 2001) for environmental damage in Ecuador. It follows lawyers representing indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Amazon rain forrest who are facing extinction from high cancer rates and other heath issues that all seem to be caused by contamination from the oil industry.

Steven Donziger is a NY lawyer who's been involved with the case since 1993. The beginning shows him preparing the plaintiffs to testify in Houston and, what looks like press conferences in the jungle but might actually be Ecuadorian court fact finding missions. We hear about the cases are dragging out for years, and that Texaco, who first drilling in Ecuador in the early 1960s, claims no responsibility and the Ecuadorian courts are corrupt. A lot of time is spent on fighting about the science studies and who funded them and where the samples are drawn from.

It all felt insubstantial. It took over a half hour to find out that Texaco left Ecuador in 1991 and the oil fields were then taken over by PetroEcuador, Ecuador's national oil company. Texaco's claims are that they met the environmental regulations and passed inspections at the time by the Ecuadorian officials and that PetroEcuador had a poor environmental record. Now that may or may not be true and they may have bribed the officials, but it took way to long to get this information in the film.

Instead it showed a lot of sick children and oil soaked villages and rivers. We meet Pablo Fajardo, "grew up in poverty in the Amazon region, attending college and law school with the sponsorship of the Catholic Church. The Chevron lawsuit is his first case." He is the subject of a Vanity Fair article that brought the case to the attention of Trudie Styler, Sting's wife and an activist. We see her visit Ecuador and get a tour of the conditions of the people. She conducts several interviews and in one of the more telling scenes of the film, we see Donziger pull her aside and ask her to say the word Texaco more often. After a little bit Fajardo is brought to the Live Earth concert on 7/7/2007 and we see Sting introduce him to the press. Fajardo says he's never heard of Sting or The Police.

Styler then returns to the rain forrest and brings large plastic water collection barrels so the people can have clean drinking water. It amazed me that after so many years of problems, this is the first practical help given to the people. And it's petroleum-based. Other than this the most significant event seems to be the election of a new and younger president in Ecuador who seems to care more about supporting the case.

The film was ok but seemed superficial. I wanted to see less lawyering and more facts. Statistics about the number of well drilled and where the people lived. Maps would have helped. It took too long to find out about PetroEcuador and the plaintiffs never said why they thought Texaco was responsible and not PetroEcuador. That must come up in the court documents. When Donziger first shows Fajardo the Vanity Fair article, they laugh about the picture, but no one ever comments about the contents of the article. Yet it was the catalyst that got Styler involved and that brought the most impact to the people. I found that hopeful and yet disturbing.

Dominoes Everywhere

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Movie Review: Pontypool

Pontypool is a zombie flick crossed with Eric Bogosian's Talk Radio. The whole story takes place in the local radio studio of the small town of Pontypool, Ontario. I'm not into zombie films but this one almost worked for me.

Grant Mazzy is an Imus-like DJ on his first day at this station. He's broadcasting from the basement of a church with his engineer and producer, the others didn't come into work that day. After some opening bits that go on a little too long they get an odd report of a riot from their traffic reporter. The newswires have nothing on it and for the first half we struggle as they do with partial information. This was the best part of the film, intriguing and somewhat tense, but certainly not scary.

But this isn't a typical zombie film and they try a different take on what's happening that plays off of the fact that the medium of the film is radio. The reveal was an interesting idea that got dumber as it went along.

I missed it but apparently there was a copy of Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash in the film. Fitting with that, I spent much of the last half hour trying to figure out if there was a meta component in the plot. If not, it's a dumb movie. If there is, I don't think it worked. And either way, I wasn't ever frightened.

Movie Review: In the Loop

In the Loop is a British satire that follows various under-secretaries and their staff as they deal with Americans in the lead up to a war. It's never said it's Iraq but it's clear that's what they're talking about. It is fast paced and hilarious. The cursing is fantastic.

The accents took a few minutes for me to catch on to and the dialog is as rapid fire as an old Billy Wilder flick. Every minute or two was an absolutely riotously funny line. This will be one of my favorites of the year, go see it.

Update: I saw this again last night and it's just as good. As of August 1st, this is my favorite film of the year.

Movie Review: Winnebago Man

Winnebago Man is a documentary about trying to track down Jack Rebney, the subject of this apparently very popular viral YouTube video that I'd never heard of:

These are out-takes from the filming of a Winnebago ad in 1989. They were passed around on VHS during the 1990s and then went wild on YouTube. The filmmakers tried tracking him down and found him living as a hermit in northern California. Then it turns a little more bizarre.

The story was interesting and the film had the right proportion of showing the video and briefly talking about viral videos and finding and then interviewing Jack. He had some things to say about the state of the country and how he hated Dick Cheney but I was a bit frustrated that the film didn't want to show that but wanted to show something else. Still there are some very good revelatory moments towards the end that really saved it for me.

Overall a fun documentary.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Movie Review: The Missing Person

The Missing Person is a contemporary film noir by writer-director Noah Buschel. He takes a classic hard drinking gumshoe character and puts him in the modern world.

Michael Shannon, the oscar nominated crazy guy from Revolutionary Road plays the lead John Rosow. It opens with a phone call from a law firm that wants to hire him based on a recommendation from a former colleague. In classic noir form, the more he finds out the more moral shadings come into play and Rosow finds some connections to his own past.

I didn't really care for the film. I thought the characters had depth but no character (except for a cab driver). The dialog is stylized and stilted. There are some good lines and a funny scene with a Hollywood cop on a segway, but I thought there were too many expository conversations separated by traveling in between.

Most of the film was shot in extreme closeups and it didn't help that I was sitting close to the screen. The camera barely moved at all and the editing left several scenes on the screen a few seconds too long

I appreciated the modern noir attempt and the depth of character. They all do have motivations and the plot makes sense. The lead character is oh so lonely (and oh so drunk) and this is in fact explained, but I had a hard time caring about him. And
I'm not sure I was supposed to care about any of the others.

Movie Review: That Evening Sun

That Evening Sun follows 80 year-old Abner Meecham as he goes AWOL from a Tennessee nursing home and returns to the farm he used to live in. His son Paul had power of attorney and rented the farm to Lonzo Choat and his wife and 16 year-old daughter. Abner isn't happy, as Lonzo is white trash and he wants to spend his end days in his home. Lonzo is trying to turn his live around and doesn't want crazy old Abner on his property. Most of the film is a battle of wills between them.

The pacing is deliberate and there are lots of lingering camera shots. I really liked the opening sequence that wordlessly and quickly setup up Abner's unhappiness in the nursing home and his escape. Hal Holbrook gives an amazing performance as Abner. My sympathies kept shifting as I saw him as rational and yet crazy and unreasonable. Lonzo's wife says to him "I wish you had something better to do with your life than to sit around being bitter and lonely. Surely that must grow old."

The story was a nice slice of life though I found the ending inevitable; and yet it took a turn I wasn't expecting but was completely believable. Still I thought the ending dragged and I wanted a little more closure with one character. This was writer and director Scott Teems first feature film and I look forward to his next effort. But see this one for Holbrook.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Movie Review: The Brothers Bloom

The Brothers Bloom opened this years Independent Film Festival of Boston. It's also the most fun film I've seen this year (out of 91!). It's written and directed by Rian Johnson, who's previously made just one film, Brick. Brick was a high school film crossed with a crime noir. This is a con crossed with a farce, maybe a sixties farce crossed with a bit of Wes Anderson. But Wes Anderson only wishes he could make films this fun.

Mark Ruffalo plays Stephen and Adrien Brody plays his younger brother Bloom. They've been con artists since their foster home childhood and the film opens with the wonderful story of their first larceny, perfectly setting up the story. As adults they are teamed up with Bang Bang, a demolitions expert who's almost silent and is a background sight gag in almost every scene. She's played by Rinko Kikuchi who got a best supporting actress nomination for Babel. I was reminded of Paul's grandfather in A Hard Day's Night, only with explosives. Bloom wants to quit the business but of course there is one last con. The mark is Penelope Stamp a heiress raised practically alone in her mansion who collects hobbies. She's played wonderfully by Rachel Weisz, who reminded me of Ally Sheedy's character in The Breakfast Club.

I won't talk about the plot, but Stephen believes the perfect con is one where everyone gets what he or she wants. I don't think I was fooled, though it's possible I was, but it didn't matter, I was riveted to the final scene and thought it payed off. My only complaint was that I missed some dialog because I was laughing so hard at the sight gags.

Supporting characters are played by the great Robbie Coltrane and Maximillian Schell and the beginning is narrated by Ricky Jay.

Bang Bang was hilarious In virtually every scene she was in, but she had almost no lines. Some fun lines by others:

Stephen: That's my new favorite camel
Bloom: Eat your waffles fat man
Penelope: I'm an epileptic photographer.
Penelope: I think your your fucking soul
Stephen: I don't like to simplistically vilify a whole country, but Mexico's a horrible place.

Go see this film. IMDb says it gets a limited US release on May 15, and a wider one on May 29th.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How Long Will Our World Last?

Gizmodo wrote yesterday How Long Will Our World Last? (Yes, We Are Screwed) with this interesting graphic.

26051202 1.jpg

They cite the source as the New Scientist, but just link to the site and not the article. Searching the site I can't find the article. Then Good picks it up and just cites Gizmodo. But that posting got an anonymous comment saying "FYI, this infographic was published in the UK magazine New Scientist some time ago, and the data is from 2006, so you’ll need to deduct three years from each prediction when reading it."

Bill Moyers Interviews The Wire Creator David Simon

Bill Moyers interviewed David Simon last week on The Journal. Simon created The Wire, the best TV series ever. The video is online on the site as is the transcript.

The interview isn't so much about a TV show, as the state of today's cities and journalism, just like the series. If this won't convince you to watch The Wire, nothing will.

"The executive producer of HBO's critically-acclaimed show THE WIRE, David Simon talks with Bill Moyers about inner-city crime and politics, storytelling and the future of journalism today. After a dozen years covering crime for the BALTIMORE SUN, David Simon left journalism to write books and tell stories for NBC and HBO, including his Peabody-winning cop show THE WIRE, which looked at the drug wars and the gritty underbelly of the inner-city."

Warner Archive - DVD on Demand

Slate writes about Robert Altman's lunar landing picture, Steve McQueen's interpretation of Ibsen, and other discoveries in the Warner Archive.

"The recent launch of the Warner Archive Collection could well portend a revolution; it's DVD on demand, a way for Warner (and, one hopes, for every other studio) to make movies available without spending the $75,000 to $100,000 it costs to release an old title into an ominously contracting marketplace. Here's how it works: Go to the archive and browse the titles. Click on the ones you want, and for $19.95 apiece, they'll burn a DVD-R and ship you the movie in a standard plastic case with cover art. There are no extras except the trailer, if it's available; there isn't even scene-by-scene chaptering. But you will get the film, shown in the correct aspect ratio and with a picture and soundtrack of mostly high quality. Virtually none of the movies in this collection has been available on DVD before. Many never even made it to VHS."

Absolut Mango

I tried the new Absolut Mango flavor. It's not very good and should be called Absolut Grapefruit.

Ben & Jerry's Free Cone Day

Ben & Jerry's Free Cone Day. Today (Tue) noon-8pm.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cassini Photos of Saturn writes Cassini's continued mission. With amazing photos of the Saturn system.

"NASA's Cassini spacecraft is now a nearly a year into its extended mission, called Cassini Equinox (after its initial 4-year mission ended in June, 2008). The spacecraft continues to operate in good health, returning amazing images of Saturn, its ring system and moons, and providing new information and science on a regular basis... Collected here are 24 more intriguing images from our ringed neighbor."

Google News Timeline

Google News Timeline is kinda interesting.

Cambridge Science Festival

The 2009 Cambridge Science Festival runs from April 25th through May 3rd.

More TED Talks

Dan Dennett: Cute, sexy, sweet, funny

Dan Ariely: Why we think it's OK to cheat and steal (sometimes)

Kamal Meattle on how to grow fresh air.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Some TED Talks

I'm in NJ for the weekend and drove down yesterday. I listened to TED Talks on my iPhone during the drive. Here are my three favorites.

Willie Smits restores a rainforest

I've never watched Dirty Jobs on The Discovery Channel, but this talk by host Mike Rowe has me interested. It's an entertaining talk though perhaps not for the squeamish, but make it through to the end for some good insights.

Aimee Mullins and her 12 pairs of legs

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Souter to Retire?

Concurring Opinions sums up the rumors that Souter is retiring.

"Above the Law is reporting that Justice Souter has not hired clerks for the upcoming Term. While he is typically the last Justice to hire clerks, this is late even for him. This fact, combined with what I'm hearing from other people who probably know what they are talking about, convinces me that unless something extraordinary occurs in the next two months, he is retiring in June."

50 Best US Television Shows

The (London) Times lists The 50 Best US television shows and it's a pretty good list. And of course The Wire, Battlestar Galactica and The Sopranos are 1, 2, and 3. If you're looking for DVDs to get this is a good list to work from.

The Wire Bible

Kottke has great stuff on The Wire Bible. Though they blew the quote, they should have taken the 3rd paragraph:

"The grand theme here is nothing less than a national existentialism: It is a police story set amid the dysfunction and indifference of an urban department -- one that has failed to come to terms with the permanent nature of urban drug culture, one in which thinking copes, and thinking street players, must make their way independent of simple explanations."

Google Profiles

The Next Web writes Google is building a social network under our very noses. It could be bigger and better than Facebook. I didn't know about Google profiles.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

CROSSROADS: The Future of Human Life in the Universe Conference

CROSSROADS, The future of human life in the universe conference might be of interest to some readers. Let me know if you're planning on attending.

Boston Area Used Book Stores writes about Used and specialty bookstores in the greater Boston area. "Hey, bibliophiles! Short on dough but craving some new food for thought? We feel your pain. The greater Boston area is full of great used and antiquarian bookstores; perfect to pad out your bookshelf while going easy on your wallet (and the environment). Here, a look at the top spots and a map that plots out even more in the Boston area. Now get reading!"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Evening With Barney Frank

I live in the 4th Congressional District of Massachusetts so Barney Frank is my representative. He also happens to live in my town. Tonight he spoke at the First Unitarian Society of Newton and I went to listen. He spoke about the economy and then took questions for 40 minutes.

He said he mostly agreed with the president's remarks on the economy today. (and why is this White House blog entry the closest I can find to the full text of his speech on the White House's website?)

He described how there have been three times of great trouble in the economy and they come when new innovations come about and there aren't rules to control them. The first was in the late 19th century when huge companies came about that could do (useful) things that small companies couldn't do. They were called trusts and at first that wasn't a bad term, but then we found we needed to regulate them and Teddy Roosevelt became a "trust-buster".

Then with the birth of large companies came the need to raise large amount of capital and stock markets became more important. As they grew unchecked in the 1920s and led to the depression in the 30s and Franklin D. Roosevelt brought regulation to that.

This current iteration was brought about by two innovations. First the securitization of loans and a large sums of money available from non-banks which were not regulated. Second was the invention of CDOs, and CDO2 (which I hadn't heard of) and of course CDSs to provide insurance for the CDOs. These instruments aren't inherently bad and allowed for a great deal of real growth in the economy, but since they were unregulated things were able to go too far. He had a lot of funny analogies and used this to describe CDSs. They were willing to insure CDOs backed by mortgages because they thought housing prices would go up forever, but of course they didn't. "These were people selling life insurance to vampires and then vampires started to die."

So his task in the next year is to come up with rules, much like FDR had to. He said a couple of times that "good regulation is pro-market" and told people when they hear arguments against regulation to go back and read the arguments that both Roosevelts faced and notice the shocking similarities. FDRs regulations lasted about 40 years and that's a good run, but starting with Reagan and continuing in Bush we had governments who thought regulation was bad and "government was the problem". It doesn't matter how good the rules are if the regulators don't enforce them.

His plan is a four point program. First, no one will be able to securitize 100% of a loan. They'll need to keep 5% of it to "have skin in the game". This should prevent them from giving out loans that they know the borrower won't be able to pay back.

Second is to control executive compensation. Rather than setting limits, they will let shareholders vote on compensation. And compensation is not limited to just a salary. The problem is there were usually performance incentives. So if the company did well they got large rewards and if it didn't, they didn't. The problem was there was no penalty for very risky behavior. He wasn't specific, but said there would be limits to compensation that encouraged too much risk.

Third he mentioned the phrase "they weren't too big to fail they were too interconnected to fail" and then talked about limiting leverage.

Fourth was to have a system in place to be able to wind down a failed large non-bank (like AIG). Now they have to play it by ear.

The questions were mostly good but unremarkable. He said he was now supposed to call the stimulus package the recovery package because Democratic analysts (both sides have them) said it polled better. But he didn't agree since most people prefer to be stimulated than to recover.

Someone asked why hasn't the liquor taxed been raised in so long. He said he didn't really know the specifics but speculated because there are a lot of people who drink and who don't like to pay taxes.

The one thing he disagreed with the Obama administration was this. Paulson pushed all the large banks to take TARP money so that it didn't look bad for those that took it because they needed it. They also made it difficult to pay it back and then added rules for those who accepted it. Frank thinks that people know there are banks that are in trouble and those that aren't and there are other ways for people to find out which is which, so it only makes sense that we do what can to make it easy to pay back the government. Today Goldman Sachs announced plans to pay back the $10 billion it got and these questions were raised.

Overall, an interesting night.

Breaking the silence about Spring

RealClimate writes Breaking the silence about Spring:

"Did you know that in 1965 the U.S. Department of Agriculture planted a particular variety of lilac in more than seventy locations around the U.S. Northeast, to detect the onset of spring — in turn to be used to determine the appropriate timing of corn planting and the like? The records the USDA have kept show that those same lilacs are blooming as much as two weeks earlier than they did in 1965. April has, in a very real sense, become May. This is one of the interesting facts that you’ll read about in Amy Seidl’s book, Early Spring, a hot-off-the-press essay about the impacts of climate change on the world immediately around us – the forest, the birds, the butterflies in our backyards."

Public Transit Derailed

Good has a graphic on public transportation cut that has some interesting information in a really dumb form.

"Last year, Americans took more than 10 billion rides on public transportation, the highest level in more than 50 years. But despite the increases, public transit systems are being forced to cut back service, risking losing many of the riders they gained due to high gas prices and a bad economy."

But really, is it obvious from this graph that San Francisco and Atlanta are the only two cities facing all three of job losses, service cuts and fare hikes?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Krugman on Republicans

In the Sunday NY Times Paul Krugman wrote an op-ed, Tea Parties Forever.

"Beyond that, Republicans have become embarrassing to watch. And it doesn’t feel right to make fun of crazy people. Better, perhaps, to focus on the real policy debates, which are all among Democrats.

But here’s the thing: the G.O.P. looked as crazy 10 or 15 years ago as it does now. That didn’t stop Republicans from taking control of both Congress and the White House. And they could return to power if the Democrats stumble. So it behooves us to look closely at the state of what is, after all, one of our nation’s two great political parties."

Following up on that digby writes about Corporate Grassroots and how the supposed grassroots tea parties are run by Freedom Works which is just a front for the GOP and operates completely differently from which they claim to emulate.

Mindfuck Movies

Mindfuck Movies by Matthew Baldwin "Some movies inform. Some movies entertain. And some pry open your skull and punch you in the brain. MATTHEW BALDWIN gathers up the films that have caused him to clutch his head and moan."

I've now seen all of these except The Quiet Earth. I just saw Primer over the weekend and need to watch it again after looking at the timeline picture. I can't say it's a great film, but it is a great story done in an interesting way and it's quite impressive for it's $7,000 budget.

Also, Timecrimes needs to be on this list. I saw it at the IFFBoston last year and loved it. It's like Primer only it's also a very good movie. It just came out on DVD.

Avoiding Sugar Key to Ending Senior Moments

Avoiding Sugar Key to Ending Senior Moments: Scientific American.

"Senior moments, those pesky instances of not so total recall—forgetting where we left our keys or what we did last weekend—are a subtle but significant part of the aging process. Another effect of growing old: rising blood sugar levels, which typically take off in our late 30s or early 40s as our bodies become less adept at metabolizing glucose in the bloodstream. Now a study has linked these rising levels with momentary forgetfulness, pinpointing exactly where in the brain the aging process acts—a finding that could help the elderly ward off memory lapses."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Zombie Jesus Day

I don't mean to offend the high holiday of many religions but I just heard about this and found it amusing.

The Zombie Jesus Day web site offers this explanation which upon hearing it seems so obvious and so remarkable that it took so long for this connection to be made.

The Urban Dictionary says it started two years ago in the web comic Cyanide and Happiness with this strip.

A Google search for "Zombie Jesus Day" shows almost 9,000 results.

Joss Whedon at Harvard Last Night

"Joss Whedon stopped by Harvard last night to receive the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism, and we were there to hear him wax philosophical, talk Dollhouse, and settle the Whedonverse's most important debate"

I'm sorry I missed it (it sold out early) but io9 has the full report.

Susan Boyle - Britains Got Talent 2009

I think Britains Got Talent is more interesting than American Idol, here's why...
Susan Boyle, Britains Got Talent 2009.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

2009 in Movies So Far

Today is the 100th day of the 2009. I've seen 85 movies so far this year. That includes in the theater, on cable (that is TiVo), and on DVD (including Netflix). 15 were Oscar nominated shorts, but the rest were feature films.

Here are the current 2009 Yearly Box Office Results. The top 10 grossing films of the year are:

1. Paul Blart: Mall Cop $143,162,362
2. Taken $140,406,000
3. Monsters Vs. Aliens $127,467,000
4. Watchmen $105,863,000
5. Fast and Furious $99,849,000
6. He's Just Not That Into You $92,967,845
7. Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail $90,095,629
8. Coraline $74,367,301
9. Hotel for Dogs $71,735,619
10. Friday the 13th $64,906,002

Paul Blart: Mall Cop is the highest grossing film of the year?!? With just a 32% tomatometer!?! Given the rest of the list I'm happy I've only seen two of these, Watchmen and Coraline. The only one I'm likely to see is Monsters Vs. Aliens if it gets a best animated picture nomination (and of course ultimately loses to Up).

How to Grow Herbs Indoors

How to Grow Herbs Indoors. "The grow-your-own movement is all well and good if you’ve got a great yard, but tons of people don’t have access to an outdoor space. So we spoke with gardening experts to figure out what it takes to grow herbs indoors."

Obama and State Secrets? Shhh…

Obama's Justice Department is following up on suits against the Bush administration's most egregious cases of violating habeas corpus taking the same position as the Bush administration.

Columbia Journalism Review writes about how the press is just barely covering it. Obama and State Secrets? Shhh… "Obama, like Bush, decides to limit what the courts and the people can know about warrantless wiretapping. Isn’t that a big story? Not just yet."

Glenn Greenwald today wrote on the topic, Obama and habeas corpus -- then and now.

I think this all started with this piece last week by Greenwald, New and worse secrecy and immunity claims from the Obama DOJ.

Movie Review: Speed Racer

A couple of thrills but sucked.

Time Travel Cheat Sheet

Gizmodo points to a Time Travel Cheat Sheet. Hang this up in your time machine to survive in the past.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Real Simpsons Stamps

The US Post Office has created Simpsons stamps. There are only 5, one each for the main family members. I think they either missed or reserved the opportunity to do all the characters of Springfield.

The Underreported First Seder at the White House

Last night Obama and family participated in a A Seder at the White House.
seder_blog 1.jpg

It's believed to be the first Sedar at the White House and I was curious as to why Obama wanted to have one. I found no stories about it at the Washington Post and all I could find at the New York Times was a blog post.

CNN had this explanation...

"Last year, in the thick of the Pennsylvania primary a group of traveling Obama campaign staff couldn't get home for seder. Instead, like the Jews in Exodus, they had to prepare a seder in haste. One junior staffer found space for the impromptu meal in the basement of a Harrisburg Sheraton. He gathered the traditional seder foods from the hotel kitchen, and from a cousin who was in college nearby.

The staffers invited then-candidate Obama. But they were surprised when he showed up...The event will be informally led by Eric Lesser, now 24, who organized last year's event. Lesser is now assistant to David Axelrod; during the campaign he handled baggage call and logistics for traveling staff and media."

Thursday, April 09, 2009

RIP Dave Arneson

Dave Arneson, the other creator of D&D, has died at age 61.

The more well-known Gary Gygax died about a year ago at age 69.

Zakim Bridge Goes Dark To Save Money

The Boston Globe reports Turnpike woes to extinguish lights on Zakim Bridge.

"The $15 billion Big Dig project, which created the 1,432-foot span, has left the turnpike authority billions of dollars in debt. Alan LeBovidge, the turnpike authority’s executive director, said he decided earlier this week to shut off the decorative lights at night to save about $5,000 per month. Safety-related lighting, including lights to keep airplanes from crashing into the bridge, will remain on."

I say good. It saves money, it doesn't waste engery and it reduces light pollution.

And buried at the bottom of the story: "Meanwhile, the House voted this week to eliminate the turnpike authority, following a similar vote by the Senate. If Patrick signs a final version of the bill, the bridge will become somebody else's problem." The Marblehead Reporter has more in House passes transportation-reform bill.

Fox Not Airing Dollhouse Finale

The Live Feed reports Fox cuts short 'Dollhouse' (sort of) and series creator Joss Whedon's blog confirmed it.

"Fox has scheduled the season finale of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, but some sharp-eyed fans have noticed that there's something missing: the show's 13th episode. The Dollhouse season finale airs May 8, titled 'Omega,' and is the show's 12th aired episode. But there's a 13th episode called 'Epitaph One,' directed by Whedon (the week after the finale Fox will air the Prison Break two-hour series closer). "

Supposedly the 13th episode will be on the season 1 DVD. Fox has apparently not decided if they will renew the series for a second season, but if they're not airing the last ep of season 1, why would they?

Dollverse gives several options for complaining to Fox for yet again screwing up a Joss Whedon series.

Clay Christensen on Disrupting Health Care

Clay Christensen on Disrupting Health Care.

"An acclaimed author and expert on the development and commercialization of technological and business innovation, HBS professor Clayton Christensen has written a new book aimed at changing our national conversation about health care. In The Innovator's Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care, Christensen and his coauthors, the late Jerome Grossman and Jason Hwang (MBA '06), focus not on how the United States will pay for health care in the coming decades, but rather on targeting innovations that will make health care both more affordable and more effective in the future.

Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air

This looks interesting, Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air: the Freakonomics of conservation, climate and energy.

Zappos Map

Zappos, the online shoe retailer, has a realtime map of sales showing a popup ballon with a picture of the shoe on a US of map where each purchase is to be shipped to. It's kind of mesmerizing.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

IFF Boston

The Independent Film Festival of Boston is coming up April 22-28. Here's what I'm currently planning on seeing (subject to change) and I have to figure out what to see Sat night.

Wed, April 22
7:30 The Brothers Bloom

Thu, April 23
7:30 That Evening Sun
9:45 The Missing Person

Fri, April 24
6:45 Winnebago Man
9:30 In The Loop

Sat, April 25
12:00 Crude
2:45 Prom Night In Mississippi
5:00 The Burning Plain

Sun, April 26
12:00 Shorts 3: Documentaries
2:45 Shouting Fire: Stories From The Edge Of Free Speech
5:00 Food, Inc.
8:15 The Escapist

Mon, April 27
7:00 For The Love Of Movies
9:15 Art & Copy

Tue, April 28
8:00 World's Greatest Dad

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Hacked ATMs

Gizmodo reports Attack of the Card Skimmers: It's Happening Right Here, Right Now. These are ATMs that have been hacked with custom fit hardware to read your card and see you type in your PIN. Ugh.

Movie Review: Adventureland

Adventureland is a perfectly good comedic first-love story incorrectly sold as an uproarious teen comedy like writer-director Mottola's last film Superbad. There are some real laughs but they are downplayed to tell an understated coming-of-age story. It turns out that college graduates and not just high school students can be awkward.

Jesse Eisenberg seems to be playing the same role he played in The Squid and the Whale. Here he's James Brennan, a recent comparative literature graduate who is going to Columbia in the fall (of 1987) for journalism grad school. He reads poetry for fun and still has his "scarlet V" and is naive enough to bring it up. He needs to raise money and in spite of his letter of recommendation from his lawn mowing job, finds the only thing he's qualified for is working at Adventureland, a local PIttsburgh amusement park.

He makes friends with his co-workers, the geek, the hot guy, the hot girl, the obnoxious guy, the cool understated girl. His co-workers can all agree that it's a crappy summer job. While I missed Twilight, I've seen Kristen Stewart in 5 other films (The Safety of Objects, Panic Room, Zathura, Into the Wild and Jumper) and don't remember her at all. Here's she's "Em", the quiet cool girl and does a good job. The characters have more depth than the easy cliches they could be, but I kept expecting to get more background to explain their actions.

It's set in 1987 and the 80s soundtrack definitely helped and the 80s clothing wasn't played up too hard.
It's a short film at 107 mins, but I enjoyed it, but I"m sure in a month I will have forgotten it.

Using iPhoto Faces and Places

I have handful of very old family photos scanned in and in iPhoto. These are from the 1920s and earlier. In the late 1990s I was doing some genealogy research with my parents and had noted the names of most of the people in the photos.

Last night I used the Faces in iPhoto to mark the names. Like facebook, this lets you draw a rectangle around a face on a photo and label the person. It also lets you easily see all photos containing a particular person. Apple went further and included face recognition software (think like what current digital cameras do for focusing on faces) to guess at where the faces are in the photo and further to compare them with already labeled faces in other photos to make the whole process quick. It mostly works. And I was able to do this easily:
Picture 1 1.png

Harry is my grandfather and Max and Lena are my great grandparents. We think this photo is from around 1906. it really pays off in this photo of Harry's wedding reception from 1922:

Picture 3 1.png

Yes you can turn off the labeling to see just the photo. If only it had better integration with Address Book or had a way of tracking maiden names. I wonder if Reunion (mac genealogy software) will start integrating with iPhoto?

My grandfather Harry owned a dress manufacturing company with some of his brothers in NYC called Modern Pleating. It no longer exists, but the remnants of the painted sign on the side of a brick building is still there and I have pic of that.

Picture 5 1.png

I found a web site listing signs in midtown Manhattan that had an address. iPhoto also has a places feature which works with geotagged photos (like taken by an iPhone) or lets you add location info using an interface using Google Maps. I entered the address from the web site, 330 W. 38th St., and saw a Google satellite map with a push pin on a building. To check that it was right I used street view on the Google Maps page and looked around a bit and found basically the same shot as I had, confirming the address.

Pretty useful stuff.

Impersonator Alert

The Boston Police yesterday issued an Impersonator Alert.

"Today at approximately 2:32pm, an elderly couple in Roslindale (District E5) received a knock on their door from a man claiming to be from the water department. The individual had an ID badge that said ‘Boston Water Department’ with a picture but no name. He told the couple he needed to check the water in the house because they would be doing work on the pipes outside in the street."

Basically 3 men in their thirties entered the house on pretext of being with the water department. The residents became suspicious, tried to call the police and the 3 men fled.

Be cautious and suspicious. If someone shows you a badge or a government ID, do you know what a real one looks like?

Internet RFCs Are 40 Years Old

Yesterday, Stephen Crocker wrote a NY Times op-ed, How the Internet Got Its Rules.

"TODAY is an important date in the history of the Internet: the 40th anniversary of what is known as the Request for Comments. Outside the technical community, not many people know about the R.F.C.’s, but these humble documents shape the Internet’s inner workings and have played a significant role in its success."

Harper's Index Archive

Harper's index Archive since March 1984.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Scientists Map the Brain, Gene by Gene

Wired has an interesting article, Scientists Map the Brain, Gene by Gene (warning, there's a pretty gross picture at the top of the page). Paul Allen started an institute who's mission is to map the human brain and make the data publicly available at They've already been working on mapping the mouse brain and are now moving on to mapping it at various developmental ages. They're also working on the human brain.

"To achieve this, the Allen Institute reimagined the scientific process. There was no grand hypothesis, or even a semblance of theory. The researchers just wanted the data, and, given the amount needed, it quickly became apparent that the work couldn't be done by hand. So, shortly after the institute was founded in 2003, Jones and his team started thinking about how to industrialize the experimental process. While modern science remains, for the most part, a field of artisans—scientists performing their own experiments at their own benches—the atlas required a high-throughput model, in which everything would be done on an efficient assembly line. Thanks to a team of new laboratory robots, what would have taken a thousand technicians several years can now be accomplished in less than 20 months. The institute can produce more than a terabyte of data per day. (In comparison, the 3 billion base pairs in the human genome can fit in a text file that's only 3 gigabytes.) And the project is just getting started."

"Over several days, Allen asked the neuroscientists to imagine a way to move their field forward dramatically. "I wanted them to think big," he says. "Like the Human Genome Project, only for the brain." Some advocated focusing on a single disease, like Alzheimer's. Others argued for more investment in brain imaging technology. But a consensus emerged that what neuroscience most needed was a map, a vast atlas of gene expression that would reconcile the field's disparate experimental approaches. It's not that scientists don't know a lot about the brain—it's that they have no idea how it all fits together."

They had to create some robotic systems to dissect the brains, takes microscopic pictures, do genetic analysis and then create software tools to manage the huge amount of data and make it searchable.

"One unexpected—even disheartening—aspect of the Allen Institute's effort is that although its scientists have barely begun their work, early data sets have already demonstrated that the flesh in our head is far more complicated than anyone previously imagined.The brain might look homogenous to the naked eye, but it's actually filled with an array of cell types, each of which expresses a distinct set of genes depending on its precise location...But the atlas has revealed a startling genetic diversity; different slabs of cortex are defined by entirely different sets of genes."

"Scientists at the institute are just starting to grapple with the seemingly infinite regress of the brain, in which every new level of detail reveals yet another level. "You can't help but be intimidated by the complexity of it all," Jones says. "Just when you think you're getting a handle on it, you realize that you haven't even scratched the surface." This is the bleak part of working at the Allen Institute: What you mostly discover is that the mind remains an immense mystery. We don't even know what we don't know.""

US Tax-Havens

The Economist wrote last week, The G20 and tax-haven hypocrisy.

"Instead of opening bank accounts in their own names, fraudsters and money launderers form anonymous companies, with which they can then open bank accounts and move assets. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in America. Take Nevada, for example. Its official website touts its ‘limited reporting and disclosure requirements’ and a speedy one-hour incorporation service. Nevada does not ask for the names of company shareholders, nor does it routinely share the little information it has with the federal government.

There is demand for this ask-no-questions approach. The state, with a population of only 2.6m, incorporates about 80,000 new firms a year and now has more than 400,000, roughly one for every six people. A study by the Internal Revenue Service found that 50-90% of those registering companies were already in breach of federal tax laws elsewhere."

Gates Defense Budget

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced his proposed defense budget. It's worth skimming as there are several things that are cut (the F-22 and the presidential helicopter).

"Today, I am announcing the key decisions I will recommend to the president with respect to the fiscal year 2010 defense budget. The president agreed to this unorthodox approach – announcing the department’s request before the White House submits a budget to the Congress – because of the scope and significance of the changes. In addition, the president and I believe that the American people deserve to learn of these recommendations fully and in context, as the proposed changes are interconnected and cannot be properly communicated or understood in isolation from one another. Collectively, they represent a budget crafted to reshape the priorities of America’s defense establishment. If approved, these recommendations will profoundly reform how this department does business."

Spencer Ackerman has more.

Someone Stole Pack

Boston Police report: "One of Boston’s cherished Make Way for Ducklings, Pack, has been reported stolen from The Public Garden this morning following the Boston’s Park Rangers daily routine park inspection. Snapped at its webbed feet, Pack is the second to last of Mrs. Mallard’s eight bronze ducklings who reside at the corner of Beacon and Charles Streets."

Update: Pack was found.

The Economist on Barack Obama's Progress

Last week's Economist had this article, Barack Obama's progress, Coming down to earth. It's more negative than I'd like, but I think it's fair.

"TWO months after his inauguration, Barack Obama can already point to some impressive achievements. He has passed a $787 billion stimulus bill—the biggest in American history—and outlined an ambitious agenda for reforming health care and education, tackling entitlements and pushing ‘green’ energy. He has also delighted his admirers at home and abroad by beginning to reverse George Bush’s policies on such controversial subjects as talking to Iran, global warming, the treatment of enemy combatants and stem-cell research.

Unfortunately, Mr Obama’s critics can also point to a striking record of failures. A startling number of his nominees for senior positions have imploded. The upper ranks of the Treasury remain empty in the midst of the most serious recession since the 1930s. Warren Buffett, an early Obama-supporter and a man legendary for holding on to stocks that he has backed, thinks that the president is taking his eye off the ball. Andy Grove, a former head of Intel, describes the administration’s performance as ‘ineffectual’. Even the commentariat, which swooned over Mr Obama’s campaign, is running out of patience."

Facebook's Photo Storage Rewrite

"This week Facebook will complete its roll-out of a new photo storage system designed to reduce the social network's reliance on expensive proprietary solutions from NetApp and Akamai. The new large blob storage system, named Haystack, is a custom-built file system solution for the over 850 million photos uploaded to the site each month (500 GB per day!)"

Facebook's photo storage rewrite briefly describes the old and new architectures.

Web Trends Map 4 Beta

Information Architects has released a beta of the fourth version of their Web Trends Map which shows the most visited web sites and influential internet people mapped onto the Tokyo subway map. Zoomorama has a good browsable version.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Congressman: God decides when "the earth will end"...

forceChange shows two videos of Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL) talking in the house, Congressman: God decides when "the earth will end".... Seriously? Southern Illinois, this is the man you want representing your views?

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Movie Review: I Love You, Man

In spite of the fact I've seen a ton of movies this year, I've fallen way behind in my reviews. I'll try to catch up, but here's one that's worth catching. I Love You, Man. Even though he had nothing to do with it, it's a Judd Aptow-like comedy.

Paul Rudd plays Peter Klaven, a real estate agent who's engaged to Zooey, played by Rashida Jones. They are perfectly in love. Zooey has a lot of girl friends but Peter has no real guy friends. He's not socially challenged, he just always got along better with women and never really bonded with men. After overhearing Zooey's friends talking about an unbalanced wedding party he decides to make some guy friends. Jason Segel plays Sydney Fife, a serial bachelor and partial man-child. They meet at an open house Peter is running and start hanging out together.

To capture the tone of the film, I'll call these man dates. The film describes forming platonic male friendships as if they were romantic ones. None of the characters are idiots or morons but they are awkward in all the mundane moments of friendship. Paul Rudd was perfect and Jason Segel wore a cardigan like Lebowski wore a robe. Rashida Jones was adorable. A large supporting cast also that does a very good job. There are a few twists at just the right times to keep things interesting.

I laughed out loud many times. This is probably the most fun movie I've seen so far this year.

Computational Legal Studies

Daniel Katz and Michael Bommarito have started a blog called Computational Legal Studies. "The Computational Legal Studies Blog is an attempt to disseminate legal studies that employ a computational or complex systems component.  We hope this venue will serve as a coordinating device for those interested in using such techniques to consider the development of legal systems and/or implementation of more reasoned public policy."

It's lots of pretty graphs about political stuff. I suspect I'll be linking to it again.

Batteries Made From Viruses

MIT team touts sci-fi style "virus battery" "It might sound like something out of a science fiction film, but researchers at MIT reckon they have developed a way of making batteries from genetically engineered viruses that promises to reduce the cost and environmental impact of a wide range of battery technologies, including those used in electric cars."

Obama Law Nominees Attacked By Right, Ignored By Left

Dahlia Lithwick wrote The radio silence continues as the far right targets Harold Koh.

Harold Koh, dean of Yale Law School, is President Obama's pick for Legal Adviser of the State Department. His biography is impressive and I note he "worked as an adviser to the Office of Legal Counsel in the Reagan Justice Department." The crazy right wing nuts at Fox are saying he "calls for US courts to apply Sharia law".

Lithwick writes: "And yet by my most recent tally, every one of the anti-Koh rants dutifully repeats a canard that first appeared in a hatchet piece in the New York Post by former Bush administration speechwriter Meghan Clyne. She asserts that Koh believes "Sharia law could apply to disputes in US courts." The evidence for her claim? "A New York lawyer, Steven Stein, says that, in addressing the Yale Club of Greenwich in 2007, Koh claimed that 'in an appropriate case, he didn't see any reason why Sharia law would not be applied to govern a case in the United States.' ""

"The New York Post today published a letter from Robin Reeves Zorthian, who actually organized the Yale Club dinner to which Stein refers. In that letter, Zorthian writes that "the account given by Steve Stein of Dean Koh's comments is totally fictitious and inaccurate" and that she, her husband, "and several fellow alumni ... are all adamant that Koh never said or suggested that sharia law could be used to govern cases in US courts." Why should we believe her and her colleagues over Stein? Well, for one thing, Koh in all his academic articles and many public statements has never said anything to suggest some dogged fealty to sharia"

Another Obama pick is Dawn Johnsen, nominated to head the Office of Legal Counsel in the Dept of Justice (which is a Assistant Attorneys General title). She used to have this position in the Clinton administration and is now a constitutional law professor at Indiana University. She faces a possible filibuster ostensibly because the right is saying "that a 20-year-old footnote in a brief Johnsen had authored 'equated pregnancy with slavery'" but really it's because she was an outspoken critic of Bush.

Lithwick says "I'm doubly bothered by the radio silence in the mainstream media because Johnsen and Koh represent two of President Obama's bravest choices. Both have been outspoken critics of Bush administration excesses, and they have done so openly and unequivocally. They were willing to use strong words like torture and illegal long before most of us could bring ourselves to do so...If we cannot bring ourselves to loudly support nominees like Koh and Johnsen, we deserve whoever it is that actually can be confirmed in this climate."

Digby adds: "If there were any chance that Johnson and Koh could actually be denied their places, I would guess that the liberal blogosphere would be intensely engaged. But from what I understand, the filibuster threat on Johnson is just hot air and that nobody takes the nutty Koh critics seriously...It's horrible that people have to put up with this, of course. But the modern conservative movement has a malignant, destructive impulse at its very core that will persist in doing this no matter what. It works for them. Right now, out of power, they don't have the capacity to really affect the outcome but they do it anyway to keep their paranoid loathing simmering until they can once again get traction."

Last night I think I figured how to combat the crap that is Fox News and Limbaugh and their ilk. The right deserves a legitimate source of news they want. They won't start listening to Air America or watch MSNBC, that won't lure them from Fox. But a real news organization that wasn't a propaganda arm might and it would certainly help to raise the level of debate.

8 Simple Ways to Improve Typography In Your Designs

"Here are 8 simple ways you can use CSS to improve your typography and hence the overall usability of your designs."

Franz Kafka International Airport

Another brilliant piece from the Onion News Network

Prague's Franz Kafka International Named World's Most Alienating Airport

10 Shows That Should Return Next Fall

Television Without Pity lists10 Shows That Should Return Next Fall (But Might Not). I agree with Better Off Ted (each of its 3 episodes were very fun), Dollhouse (Friday's was their first great episode) and Kings (anything with Ian McShane). I also think Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is getting better.

What do people think of the other shows on the list. I gave up on Fringe after two episodes, is it worth watching? I've tried Chuck a few times and I don't see the appeal. I have no interest in Rock of Love or Celebrity Apprentice.

Judge Harvie Wilkinson on the Demise of American Journalism

Judge Harvie Wilkinson on the Demise of American Journalism.

"A Baltimore cop sends a ‘memorandum’ to the Baltimore Sun that’s critical of the Baltimore Police Department’s handling of a highly publicized murder and ensuing standoff. After the Sun publishes an article based in part on the officer’s memorandum, the cop who sent the memoradum is demoted and later forced to retire. The cop sues the department, alleging a violation of his First Amendment and due process rights. Ultimately, a highly regarded federal appellate judge who also happened to a newspaperman in an earlier life, devotes a lengthy section of an opinion in the case to the demise of American journalism. David Simon, wanna take a crack at this?"

It's worth a read, as it's a nice (short) summary of the current transition state journalism is in.

Which URL Shortening Service Should You Use?

More than you ever wanted to know about Which URL Shortening Service Should You Use?.

These are commonly use with services like Twitter that only allow 140 characters in a post, sometimes long URLs don't fit. Joshua Schacter writes on url shorteners. Cory Doctorow sums it up as "URL shorteners like TinyURL are a bad idea, because they make the web more fragile, dependent on the shortener services as central points of failure. They also assist spammers, undermine googlejuice, and expose users to security vulnerabilities."

Campaign Contributions to Senators — TARP Edition

Visualizing the Campaign Contributions to Senators in the 110th Congress — The TARP EDITION is a wonderful graphic by the Computational Legal Studies blog.

"Three Important Principles: (1) Squares (i.e. Institutions) introduce money into the system and Circles (i.e. Senators) receive money  (2) Both Institutions and Senators are sized by dollars contributed or dollars received  (3) Senators are colored by Party." A more detailed description is here.

Friday, April 03, 2009

A Young Pulsar Shows Its Hand

A Young Pulsar Shows Its Hand "A small, dense object only twelve miles in diameter is responsible for this beautiful X-ray nebula that spans 150 light years. At the center of this image made by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory is a very young and powerful pulsar, known as PSR B1509-58, or B1509 for short. The pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star which is spewing energy out into the space around it to create complex and intriguing structures, including one that resembles a large cosmic hand. "

324602main_b1509_665 1.jpg

New Look

After many years I changed the template of the blog, mostly so that posts could be wider and I could embed wider videos (like the train post below). You can vote on the look in a poll on the right. Now I have to figure out how to change the preview template in my blogging tool MarsEdit.

My Train Experiences Are Never Like This

Rachel Maddow tweeted this YouTube video, Op zoek naar Maria - Dans in het Centraal Station van Antwerpen it's quite fun.

Then I saw that T-Mobile did something similar at the Liverpool station earlier this year. Also a lot of fun.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

March Torture Articles

Here are some articles from last month I finally got around to reading on the Bush administration torture policy.

In US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites, Mark Danner reviews the International Committee of the Red Cross' Report on the Treatment of Fourteen "High Value Detainees" in CIA Custody. The review is really long, so I read Brian Tamanaha''s summary, No More Debate About Whether We Tortured.

"This article by Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books ends the debate over whether we tortured. Danner's article is based upon a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which interviewed prisoners. The report explicitly concludes that we "tortured" a number of prisoners. But don't take the ICRC's word for it. Read the extensive accounts by the prisoners of their treatment and decide for yourself (although they were kept in isolation, their accounts substantially coincide).

On Sunday, the Washington Post wrote, Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots. Bush described Zubaida as "al-Qaeda's chief of operations" but he wasn't even an official member of al-Qaeda.

"When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him. The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads. In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said."

digby commented on the article. "Dick Cheney is going to hell. But we knew that. And so are Bush and Rice and all the rest who insisted on torturing Abu Zubaida, a brain damaged man who was so desperate that he made up fantastical terrorist plots just to make the torture stop. They not only committed a war crime, they made us all less safe by sending investigators all over the world on wild goose chases."

Dan Froomkin comments on it too, in Bush's Torture Rationale Debunked. "Zubaida wasn't a major al Qaeda figure. He wasn't holding back critical information. His torture didn't produce valuable intelligence -- and it certainly didn't save lives."

"All the calculations the Bush White House claims to have made in its decision to abandon long-held moral and legal strictures against abusive interrogation turn out to have been profoundly flawed, not just on a moral basis but on a coldly practical one as well."

18 Online Coupon Sites

Save some cash with these 18 online coupon sites.

The Mark-to-Market Myth

In The Mark-to-Market Myth The Baseline Scenario argues against relaxing the accounting rules.

House Approves FDA Regulation of Tobacco Products

House approves FDA regulation of tobacco products "(AP) -- The federal government would for the first time have regulatory powers over the tobacco industry under a bill the House approved Thursday after years of campaigning by anti-smoking forces."

Seriously? The FDA couldn't regulate cigarettes? Let me guess, they were neither a food nor a drug. Who made them put those warning labels on all the packs?

Obama, and the Queen of England vs Copyright

The EFF wrote iPods, First Sale, President Obama, and the Queen of England where they try to answer the question of whether Obama broke copyright law when he gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod filled with music. "You know your copyright laws are broken when there is no easy answer to this question."

"Of course, no one thinks that copyright owners are going to send lawyers after either President Obama or the Queen over this. But none of us should want a world where even our leaders--much less the rest of us--can't figure out how copyright law operates in their daily lives."


namechk lets you check username availability at more social networking sites than I've heard of.

Is Solitary Confinement Torture?

Solitary Confinement: Possibly Torture, Definitely Hell comments on the story on solitary confinement by Atul Gawande in this past week’s New Yorker that asks "is it torture?".

"The answer isn't a categorical 'yes,' but it's probably not a categorical 'no' either--it is plausible that some cases of solitary confinement in the U.S. might qualify as torture under international law."

"All that said, of course, this legal question about torture isn’t really the main point of the article—Gawande isn’t suggesting that prison officials be brought up on torture charges, but rather that we rethink the policy of throwing tens of thousands of prisoners each year into solitary confinement."

Podcasts of 2008 Nebula Best Short Story Nominees

StarShipSofa is a free sci-fi podcast. They've posted audio book versions of the Nebula Best Short Story Nominees 2008.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Franken Wins Favorable Court Ruling in MN Senate Race

I just don't understand this, Franken Wins Favorable Court Ruling in Minnesota Senate Race.

"A three-judge panel ruled that only 400 absentee ballots — far fewer than Mr. Coleman had sought — should be examined for possible counting. If the ruling stands, it could be devastating for Mr. Coleman, who trailed his Democratic challenger by 225 votes out of some 2.9 million cast and had hoped that nearly 1,400 absentee ballots might be recounted...After seven weeks of deliberations, the court said it would decide which of the 400 ballots would be counted in open court by next Tuesday."

Seriously? 7 weeks to decide to count only 400 of 1400 ballots? There were only 2.9 million votes cast and that was nearly 5 months ago. There are 2,592,000 seconds in a month, do the math. Why can't Minnesotans count?

In 2000 Gore wanted limited recounts and Bush wanted no recounts. If they had done what Gore requested Bush would have won. If they had recounted all the votes throughout Florida Gore would have won. It's an election, get all the vote counts right.

Boston Area Surveillance Cameras

The Somerville Journal reports City officials install surveillance cameras around Somerville.

"Somerville is not alone in its quest to spy on city streets. This year, government officials plan to install nearly 100 new surveillance cameras in nine cities and towns in the Greater Boston area with federal grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Somerville, Brookline, Cambridge, Quincy and Winthrop — all municipalities that previously did not have surveillance cameras — now plan to install the surveillance equipment, according to government officials.

The 95 new cameras come at a price tag of $4.6 million, which includes the cost of developing a wireless network that connects the public safety agencies in the region, according to Jennifer Mehigan, a spokesperson for Boston Mayor Tom Menino."

April Fools

TechCrunch has a collection of April Fools jokes on the web.

I really like the Guardian's that they will switch from publishing on newspaper to just using Twitter. " Experts say any story can be told in 140 characters"

The Look at the End Makes This

Just Don't Lick Me There.