Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A 13 Year-Old Tries a Walkman

BBC News Magazinge reports on Giving up my iPod for a Walkman "The Magazine invited 13-year-old Scott Campbell to swap his iPod for a Walkman for a week."

"It took me three days to figure out that there was another side to the tape. That was not the only naive mistake that I made; I mistook the metal/normal switch on the Walkman for a genre-specific equaliser, but later I discovered that it was in fact used to switch between two different types of cassette."

"Personally, I'm relieved I live in the digital age, with bigger choice, more functions and smaller devices. I'm relieved that the majority of technological advancement happened before I was born, as I can't imagine having to use such basic equipment every day."

22 More iPhone 3.0 Features You May Not Know

iSmashPhone has 22 More iPhone 3.0 Features You May Not Know. Nothing earth shattering but some are interesting.

Minnesota’s Supreme Court Declares Al Franken Senator

Finally. Minnesota’s Supreme Court declares Franken winner "Minnesota’s Supreme Court has dismissed former Sen. Norm Coleman’s challenge to the state’s November election results and declared Democratic challenger Al Franken the winner."

Ben & Jerry's BOGO Sundaes On Mondays

Ben & Jerry's is doing a Thank Goodness It's Monday promotion. Every monday through the end of Aug 2009, buy one Sundae get another one free.

Rob's Transformers 2 F.A.Q.s!

Rob's Transformers 2 F.A.Q.s! is a riot.

"It dawned on me at about 4am last night when I was finishing my review that 2500 words might not be enough to fully describe the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen experience. Additionally, I really didn't get much into the plot, as I was so busy explaining why it was a fundamentally shitty movie. So I took a little time to interview myself about the movie's story in order to help you understand what RotF is all about. Hope it helps!"

I so don't want to see this movie.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Stavros Flatley - Britain's Got Talent

Stavros Flatley from Britain's Got Talent. This is a bit disturbing but very very fun...

Cryptography Breakthrough

IBM Discovers Encryption Scheme That Could Improve Cloud Security, Spam Filtering

"A researcher at IBM reports having developed a fully homomorphic encryption scheme that allows data to be manipulated without being exposed. Researcher Craig Gentry's discovery could prove to be important in securing cloud computing environments and fighting encrypted spam."

I've seen it called "one of the most remarkable crypto papers ever" by a noted cryptographer.

Here are slides by Gentry for a presentation, Fully Homomorphic Encryption Using Ideal Lattices.

Keeping News of David Rohde’s Kidnapping Off Wikipedia

The New York TImes has an interesting article about Keeping News of David Rohde’s Kidnapping Off Wikipedia.

30 Years of Arctic Ice Shrinkage...

Paul Krugman shows us a Scary picture.

Two More Oscar Tweaks

Variety reports on on Two more Oscar tweaks.

"The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences board OK'd the music branch's recommendation to alter the best-song voting so that it's possible there will be no nominees in any given year. It's an apparent attempt to preserve the integrity of the category, but an example of 'in order to save it, maybe we could eliminate it' thinking.

The other move was the board's decision to present the 'testimonial' awards -- the Thalberg nod to filmmakers, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and the honorary Oscars for career excellence -- at a black-tie event in November for 500 invited guests, rather than presenting them on the Oscarcast"

I think I'm ok with these changes. I'll probably miss the lifetime achievement award more than the others.

Twitter in Real Life

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Stimulous Spending on Transportation

In a White House blog post DOT Sets the Record Straight...

"Those of us here over at DOT want to set the record straight when it comes to whether or not Recovery Act money is getting out to states and putting people back to work. There are reports in the press, specifically in Thursday’s USA Today, that say only a fraction of stimulus dollars dedicated for construction projects is reaching states. This simply isn’t true.
So far all 50 states and the territories have obligated or dedicated $16 billion dollars of their highway stimulus money to over 5,000 construction projects. Of those projects, over 1,500 of them are underway - bids are being made, equipment and supplies are being purchased, contractors are hiring and workers are working.
The USA Today story said states have only received '$132 million from the stimulus package out of $27.5 billion earmarked for road construction funding.' This is false and shows a misunderstanding of the way states get federal money for highway projects. Let me explain."

Lord of the Rings' marathon in Tehran

Anonymous wrote at Salon...Tehran dispatch: The regime shows us movies. "In Tehran, state television's Channel Two is putting on a 'Lord of the Rings' marathon, part of a bigger push to keep us busy. Movie mad and immunized from international copyright laws, Iranians are normally treated to one or two Hollywood or European movie nights a week. Now it's two or three films a day. The message is 'Don't Worry, Be Happy.' Let's watch, forget about what's happened, never mind. Stop dwelling in the past. Look ahead."

KT Tunstall - I Want You Back (Jackson 5 cover)

I like KT Tunstall more than I ever liked Michael Jackson.

"What Can I Do?"

Robert Reich wrote "What Can I Do?"

"We must make Obama do the right things. Email, write, and phone the White House. Do the same with your members of Congress. Round up others to do so. Also: Find friends and family members in red states who agree with you, and get them fired up to do the same. For example, if you happen to have a good friend or family member in Montana, you might ask him or her to write Max Baucus and tell him they want a public option included in any healthcare bill."

Modeling Everything, Public Plan Edition

Modeling Everything, Public Plan Edition is James Kwak talking about Nate Silver’s analysis of campaign contributions and the public health plan option and about Brendan Nyhan's counter-argument.

"So here we have: on the one hand, a quick-and-dirty model on this specific question by a guy without a Ph.D. in anything (I think), which correctly picks the positions of 87 out of 99 senators (but it’s possible that the model would have done just as well without campaign contributions); on the other hand, a guy with a Ph.D. in political science and a research fellowship in health policy at a very good university, citing a paper by three MIT professors that’s more or less on the same general topic, arguing that campaign contributions don’t affect policy."

The End of Transparency (Before It Ever Began):

The Volokh Conspiracy wrote The End of Transparency (Before It Ever Began). Obama seems to have abandoned one of his transparency ideas: "“When there’s a bill that ends up on my desk as president, you the public will have five days to look online and find out what’s in it before I sign it, so that you know what your government’s doing"

Congress is doing an even better job of it. This is about the Waxman-Markey climate change bill:

"As it turns out, there was not even a copy of the final bill language available in any form when the bill passed. Rather, as David Freddoso reports, the House Clerk had a copy of the 1090-page bill that emerged by committee and a copy of the 300-page set of amendments agreed upon at 3am Friday morning, and many provisions in the latter consist of the likes of 'Page 15, beginning line 8, strike paragraph (11) . . .' In other words, it is highly doubtful that more than a handful of member of Congress knew the contents of the legislation they voted on."

Bacon: the Other White Heat

Bacon: the Other White Heat

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Worried about mercury? It's easy to choose safer fish

Worried about mercury? It's easy to choose safer fish "The best fish: Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish. A variety of small fish is best. Don't fret over wild vs. farmed fish. A Harvard School of Public Health report shows that farm-raised fish contain as much, if not more, healthy Omega-3 fatty acids as wild species do. Fish sticks and fast-food sandwiches are commonly made from fish that are low in mercury, the EPA says."

White House Considers Indefinite Detention

The Washington Post writes White House Considers Executive Order on Indefinite Detention of Terror Suspects

"Obama administration officials, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, are crafting language for an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations."

I'm really not happy about this.

"After months of internal debate over how to close the military facility in Cuba, White House officials are increasingly worried that reaching quick agreement with Congress on a new detention system may be impossible. Several officials said there is concern in the White House that the administration may not be able to close the prison by the president's January deadline."

"On the day Obama took office, 242 men were imprisoned at Guantanamo...Since the inauguration, 11 detainees have been released or transferred, one prisoner committed suicide, and one was moved to New York to face terrorism charges in federal court."

"Three months into the Justice Department's reviews, several officials involved said they have found themselves agreeing with conclusions reached years earlier by the Bush administration: As many as 90 detainees cannot be charged or released."

Here's an example of the problem:

"Tawfiq bin Attash, who is accused of involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and who was held at a secret CIA prison, could be among those subject to long-term detention, according to one senior official. Little information on bin Attash's case has been made public, but officials who have reviewed his file said the Justice Department has concluded that none of the three witnesses against him can be brought to testify in court. One witness, who was jailed in Yemen, escaped several years ago. A second witness remains incarcerated, but the government of Yemen will not allow him to testify. Administration officials believe that testimony from the only witness in U.S. custody, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, may be inadmissible because he was subjected to harsh interrogation while in CIA custody."

I don't know what the evidentiary rules are when you can't actually face your accuser but there must be some standard.

Turner Classic Movies - Essentials Jr.

Turner Classic Movies has a series Essentials Jr. that is showing some truly essential classic films this summers. If you have seen them, I highly recommend them all.

Friday, June 26, 2009

SCOTUS on DNA Evidence Access

SCOTUSblog provides an analysis of last week's Supreme Court decision in District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne, Handing off the DNA issue.

In a 5-4 decision the conservative wing of the court ruled that you don't have a constitutional right under due process to get access to DNA evidence that was used to convict you for testing to prove your innocence in an appeal.

"The majority opinion in District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne (08-6) should not be misunderstood: it does not rule out entirely any access, in a criminal case, to genetic evidence for DNA testing.  What it does do is narrow any legal foundation for such access, primarily by leaving it up to 50 state legislatures and Congress to craft rules to control access."

"The ruling does not bar an accused individual, not yet convicted, of obtaining such evidence to check it for DNA. In fact, the Court in no way disturbed the basic constitutional requirement, under the 1963 decision in Brady v. Maryland, that prosecutors must turn over to the defense — before trial — any evidence they have that might help the defense contest the criminal charge. Presumably, the Brady right includes some right of access (before conviction) to genetic evidence held by the prosecution, to test it for DNA."

What's more interesting in this opinion is how the court reacted to a claim for a new constitutional right.

"[Roberts] opinion stopped just short of denying any authority for the Court, in interpreting a suspect’s rights in a criminal proceeding, from converting a pre-trial right (such as access to favorable evidence) into something that lasts beyond a guilty verdict."

Steven's dissent "interpreted the wave of DNA access laws in the states and at the federal level not as a reason for the courts to remain on the sidelines, but as making it “more, not less, appropriate to recognize a limited federal right to such evidence.”

Souter agreed with Roberts, "In fact, the Souter opinion is an eloquent essay on the virtues of “going slow” in recognizing “an individual right unsanctioned by tradition.”

TIred of This

Would be nice to have a different forecast for a change...

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Froomkin's Last

Dan Froomkins last White House Watch column is worth a read. It's a shame the Post fired him, I'll read that paper less as a result.

Sotomayor: Hard to Categorize

The Blog of Legal Times writes Congressional Research Service on Sotomayor: Hard to Categorize. "The non-partisan Congressional Research Service has produced a [55 page] report on the opinions of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor."

"Overall, Judge Sotomayor’s opinions defy easy categorization along ideological lines. In particular areas, a general substantive approach may be discerned. For example, her appellate court opinions in cases involving suits by individuals with disabilities could be seen as appearing to favor plaintiffs’ claims, and in various areas of international concern, she could be said to have shown a tendency to make the Second Circuit available to plaintiffs unless circuit precedent and
the political branches have indicated otherwise.

General characteristics of her approach to the judicial role are more easily identified. Perhaps the most consistent characteristic of Judge Sotomayor’s approach as an appellate judge could be described as an adherence to the doctrine of stare decisis, i.e., the upholding of past judicial precedents. This characteristic would be in line with the judicial philosophy of Justice Souter, who often displayed special respect for upholding past precedent.1 Another characteristic of Judge Sotomayor’s opinions could be described as a meticulous evaluation of the particular facts at issue in a case, which may inform whether past judicial precedents from the circuit are applicable. Her approach to statutory interpretation seems similarly nuanced. She tends to adhere to the plain meaning of the text but, in the face of ambiguous language, appears willing to consider the intent and purpose of a statute. Judge Sotomayor’s opinions also display her apparent dislike for situations in which the court oversteps the role called for by the procedural posture of a case. For example, in a dissenting opinion in a Fourth Amendment case, issued in May 2009, she wrote that the court had overstepped its role by delving into the facts in a case involving review of a denial of a motion for summary judgment."

The Only Michael Jackson Article I've Found Interesting

On Michael Jackson and the Law.

"We can only guess as to how all of this is going to play out, but one thing seems relatively certain: we’re likely to see a lot of parties claim title to at least some part of his estate. According to this AP story, Jackson was some $400 million in debt at the time of his death. Over the course of the last decade, reports the AP, as his legal troubles mounted and his cash streams dwindled, Jackson borrowed money. Lots of money."

Facebook Click Fraud 101

An article on Facebook Click Fraud. My favorite part... "One advertiser told me how he paid $200 to an Indian operation for 2,000 Facebook accounts. Another said the going rate was just $10 per 100 accounts if you supply the unique email accounts. Once the accounts are created, they use software to fill out the varied demographic information, and that software also manages all these accounts."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Onion on Obama's Performance Plan

It get's really good 1:30 into it...

Obama To Hold Job Performance Review With Every American Worker

Facebook Messages to Become Public

The Day Facebook Changed Forever: Messages to Become Public By Default.

"One of the most anticipated days in the history of social networking site Facebook has finally come: the company announced today that it has begun making status messages, photos and videos visible to the public at large by default instead of being visible only to a user's approved friends."

I checked my privacy settings and didn't notice anything different, but I'll keep checking for a few days.

Obama and Transparency

A week ago dday wrote about the Most Transparent Government In History or not. "The Obama Administration has really taken to this executive power and official secrecy thing. Duck, meet water. This has all happened in the past week"

I'm disappointed.

And then there's this, "The Obama Administration actually defended Yoo's plea to skirt testifying in this case, clearly to just close down this issue in the name of moving forwards and not backwards."

The Illegal Spying Game, Played Over and Over

Glenn Greenwald wrote The Illegal Spying Game, played over and over.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Oscars' best picture race: 10 in 2010

Oscars' best picture race: 10 in 2010. "'After more than six decades, the Academy is returning to some of its earlier roots, when a wider field competed for the top award of the year,' Ganis said at a Beverly Hills news conference. 'The final outcome, of course, will be the same -- one best picture winner -- but the race to the finish line will feature 10, not just five, great movies from 2009.'"

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this. It might be better to have two categories like the Golden Globes, drama and comedy. There are already separate categories for animated and foreign language.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Movie Reivew: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

The reviews for X-Men Origins: Wolverine were pretty bad so I put off seeing it. This YouTube spoof didn't help, Wolverine (in 30 Seconds)

I have two friends that saw it and said it was ok, so I caught a matinee. It was a perfectly reasonable summer action film but oddly, even though it tried, it's not emotionally involving at all. The action sequences were as good as the ones in X-Men 1 or 2. That is they made sense given people with these powers and weren't just unfollowable punches being thrown. I particularly liked the one with the helicopter though the others are fairly forgettable.

There were also a lot of different mutants in the film. While I didn't know most of them from the comics, it was still fun seeing lots of new characters and watching them use a variety of powers. But you really don't get to know any of them in any depth, not even the lead.

The film certainly makes an attempt to have some emotional weight and an interesting story. Wolverine's rival is his brother, the man he believes is his father is killed when he is young, he fights in many wars and lives as a lumberjack in Canada with his love Kayla. There's more in the film, but even that much should be enough for an interesting character. However it doesn't work at all. The characters are all nothing more than manipulative killing machines and from a filmmaking perspective I'm curious as to why that is.

The above spoof is accurate in that there is a lot of screaming and very little dialog. That might have something to do with it but there can be depth in silent films; the Little Tramp evoked sympathy. The lack of dialog does hint that there's very little humor and hence it's much less fun than a film like Iron Man. It could be that this is a prequel so we know who survives. Or it could be that the two main characters have healing abilities and can't really be hurt.

Any way you slice it, it's just ok. It's a mindless summer action flick and it's mostly forgettable. Enjoy the popcorn. If you want laughs, look at the list of plot keywords in IMDb, it's a riot.

Movie Review: Il Divo

Giulio Andreotti, was in Italian politics for 50 years and was prime minister 7 times and is now Senator for Life. He was connected to many scandals and many possible political murders. In the Italian trial of the century he was acquitted of ties to the Mafia.

This film is not a biography. It's more like a music video directed by Kubrick starring a still photo of Max Schreck as Nosferatu meant as a meditation on a caricature of a public image. The camera swirls around and pans over people sitting in opulent rooms as if we're supposed to be thinking about something other than how long until this ends.

A journalist asks him, "You're either the most cunning criminal in the country because you never got caught, or you're the most persecuted man in the history of Italy." The film assumes an answer but doesn't attempt to prove it. At one point, there's a dream sequence that stands out like the monologue in JCVD, where he confesses to 236 murders and 817 woundings and that's about it.

It's not that everyone looked alike, it's that everyone looked different. There were a ton of characters and many were introduced with title cards, but with only a couple of exceptions I'm not even sure they were ever in another scene. In Italy this must be as well known as Watergate is here, but the film makes no attempt to explain things, it's more like an opera.

Very little action was shown, it's usually another character describing events. It opens with several murders, they're given times and it's clear they are years apart and shown out of order, then you see many of them again at a later time. It's as if there's some relevance, but I'm not convinced there is.

Movie Review: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is a remake of a 1974 film starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. For some reason I remember seeing the original on television as a kid. I don't remember a lot of details but it made an impression. The remake is updated with more stuff going on but the basic plot is the same. A group of men strand a NY subway car on the tracks between stations and hold passengers hostage wanting ransom from the city. They talk to one of the train dispatchers.

Fundamentally it's a heist film, it should be suspense. This remake is that but amps it up and adds some unnecessary action elements. For a story about a stopped subway car, there are a lot of car crashes. Tony Scott is a good director, but there are a lot of swirling camera moves to give the sense of action when it's just someone talking on a phone in a very tense situation.

Travolta is the smart yet unstable villain and Denzel is the everyman thrust into the hero; both are familiar with these roles. It's hard to ask for a better supporting cast than Luis Guzmán, John Turturro and James Gandolfini, though the film doesn't give them much more to do than be competent and not particularly memorable.

This was fine and I enjoyed it but I'm looking forward to catching the original on DVD.

Rod's Olde Irish Tavern

Over the weekend I went to Rod's Olde Irish Tavern in Sea Girt, NJ. It's a nice place. I ordered a bowl of soup (which was good) and a Washington Boulevard Salad. This is the description of the salad on the menu: "fresh mixed greens topped with diced tomatoes, bacon, egg, sliced mushrooms and shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses". This is what came:


Yes, underneath all that cheese were the other things described, but I think "greens filled cheese volcano might have been a better description.

John Hodgman Tests Obama's Nerdom

YouTube - John Hodgman at Radio & TV Correspondents' Dinner

Stewart and Huckabee on Abortion

I finally got a chance to watch the full interview with Mike Huckabee on last week's Daily Show on abortion. It was ridiculously edited for the air, I think Jon called it a Frankenedit.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Mike Huckabee Extended Interview Pt. 1

Mike Huckabee Extended Interview Pt. 2

Mike Huckabee Extended Interview Pt. 3

This might be the best discussion of the abortion issue I've seen on TV but I think it still falls short and I mostly blame Stewart. He didn't quite follow up on things. Huckabee calls him out that murder is too strong a term but it was ok when he framed it as can a human own another human (is it better that he didn't use the word slave?).

Huckabee brought up the recent poll that showed people identifying themselves as pro-life and Jon talked about polarization without actually saying that when you boil it down to yes/no it loses all meaning and that many of those pro-life people also felt that abortion should be legal in some cases, so what does it mean? Jon mentioned allowing women to make their reproductive choices, Huckabee said yes but once those choices result in another human life... What about rape or incest? Huckabee doesn't want to allow abortion when a woman didn't make a reproductive choice.

Still this was quality television, well um quality internet video interview. I think next time (and I hope there is one), they devote the whole episode to the interview.

Apple’s Management Obsessed With Secrecy

The New York Times wrote Apple’s Management Obsessed With Secrecy.

"Few companies, indeed, are more secretive than Apple, or as punitive to those who dare violate the company’s rules on keeping tight control over information. Employees have been fired for leaking news tidbits to outsiders, and the company has been known to spread disinformation about product plans to its own workers."

"For corporate governance experts, and perhaps federal regulators, the biggest question is whether Mr. Jobs’s approach has led to violating laws that cover what companies must disclose to the public about the well-being of their chief executive." His liver transplant happened while he was on leave but in January they said that he was suffering only from a hormonal imbalance.

"'In this environment, where transparency is critical, the more information you give the marketplace the better,' said Charles Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. 'For a technology company that views itself as innovative, it’s a little odd that they are getting a reputation for lack of transparency.'"

I'm okay with the secrecy though some of the things they describe are precautions I saw at the NSA. Pretty severe.

WALL·E End Title Sequence

The Art of the Title Sequence writes about the WALL·E end title sequence with a Jim Capobianco & Alex Woo interview. This was one of my favorite sequences in the film.

"Jim Capobianco’s end credits to Andrew Stanton’s ‘WALL·E’ are essential; they are the actual ending of the film, a perfect and fantastically optimistic conclusion to a grand, if imperfect idea. Humanity’s past and future evolution viewed through unspooling schools of art. Frame after frame sinks in as you smile self-consciously. It isn’t supposed to be this good but there it is. This is art in its own right. Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman’s song, ‘Down to Earth’ indulges you with some incredibly thoughtful lyrics and, from the Stone Age to the Impressionists to the wonderful 8-bit pixel sprites, you are in the midst of something special."

Lightning Detected on Mars

Universe Today writes Lightning Detected on Mars

"The first direct evidence of lightning has been detected on Mars. Researchers from the University of Michigan found signs of electrical discharges during dust storms on the red planet using an innovative microwave detector . The bolts were dry lightning, said Professor Chris Ruf. 'What we saw on Mars was a series of huge and sudden electrical discharges caused by a large dust storm. Clearly, there was no rain associated with the electrical discharges on Mars. However, the implied possibilities are exciting.'"

Monday, June 22, 2009

Discussing the Divine Comedy with Dante

Discussing the Divine Comedy with Dante
Chinese Artists Dai Dudu, Li Tiezi, and Zhang An, 2006, oil on canvas

More TED Talks

This was just amazing. "Bonnie Bassler discovered that bacteria "talk" to each other, using a chemical language that lets them coordinate defense and mount attacks. The find has stunning implications for medicine, industry -- and our understanding of ourselves."

"In the latest release from TED2009, psychologist Barry Schwartz makes a passionate call for “practical wisdom” as an antidote to a society gone mad with bureaucracy. He argues powerfully that rules often fail us, incentives often backfire, and practical, everyday wisdom will help rebuild our world."

This one is scary. "In 2007, as the world worried about a possible avian flu epidemic, Laurie Garrett, author of "The Coming Plague," gave this powerful talk to a small TED University audience. Her insights from past pandemics are suddenly more relevant than ever." The problem is, she says everything we've tried is wrong and offers no other solutions.

This one was just fun: "Philosopher-comedian Emily Levine talks (hilariously) about science, math, society and the way everything connects to everything else. She's a brilliant trickster, poking holes in our fixed ideas and bringing hidden truths to light. Settle in and let her ping your brain."

This starts off a little preachy but then is a nice summary of recent amazing science accomplishments, even if I think he overestimates how quickly these will become common. "Even as mega-banks topple, Juan Enriquez says the big reboot is yet to come. But don't look for it on your ballot -- or in the stock exchange. It'll come from science labs, and it promises keener bodies and minds. Our kids are going to be ... different."

David Sedaris on Jimmy Kimmel Last Week

David Sedaris Talks About Book Signings, Breastmilk, and Fan Stories:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Court Rejects DNA Access Claim

SCOTUSblog writes Court rejects DNA access claim.

"Splitting 5-4, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that an individual whose criminal conviction has become final does not have a constitutional right to gain access to evidence so that it can be subjected to DNA testing to try to prove innocence.  This was one of four final rulings the Court issued Thursday, leaving ten remaining.  The next release of opinions is expected on Monday."

As I understand it, the court is saying that it's up to the states and legislature to determine the rules for DNA evidence requirements and access, there isn't a constitutional right. There are interesting details in the issue:

"In an opinion written by Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., he and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy also said that, if a defense lawyer fails to seek DNA testing during trial, and does so for tactical reasons, there is no constitutional right to seek access following conviction."

The New York Times has more on it. including details about the case and the current state of DNA laws: "Only four states — Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts and Oklahoma — do not have laws in place specifically dealing with postconviction DNA testing, and Alabama recently enacted one limited to death row inmates that will become effective soon."

Health Insurance Evilness

The Health Care Blog wrote The Dumbest Thing I Have Ever Seen An Insurance Company Do.

"So here they sat in front of a Congressional Committee and were asked if they would stop retroactively canceling sick people’s health insurance—not for real fraud but—for inadvertent non-material reasons. Representatives of the three companies each took their turn and said, ‘No.’"

Fun to Read Financial Regulation

James Kwak of the Baseline Scenario called this "The most fun-to-read post on financial regulation I have seen so far". Financial Regulation
"Sure, it would have been convenient if there were a law stating “when confronted with a bank run by a buffoon that is in the process of acquiring at a premium a bank run by a liar, the Secretary of the Treasury shall not direct the buffoon to consummate the merger.” Responsibility is a cross to bear. But the government already has more than enough power to intervene where it sees fit. What it lacks is the will."

I've been listening to one economist I respect after another talk about how Obama's "solutions" haven't been adequate and I'm getting more and more disappointed.

Q&A with Clay Shirky on Twitter and Iran

TED Blog has a Q&A with Clay Shirky on Twitter and Iran

"I'm always a little reticent to draw lessons from things still unfolding, but it seems pretty clear that ... this is it. The big one. This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media. I've been thinking a lot about the Chicago demonstrations of 1968 where they chanted "the whole world is watching." Really, that wasn't true then. But this time it's true ... and people throughout the world are not only listening but responding. They're engaging with individual participants, they're passing on their messages to their friends, and they're even providing detailed instructions to enable web proxies allowing Internet access that the authorities can't immediately censor. That kind of participation is reallly extraordinary."

"It's complex. The Ahmadinejad supporters are going to use the fact of English-speaking and American participation to try to damn the dissidents. But whatever happens from here, the dissidents have seen that large numbers of American people, supposedly part of 'the great Satan,' are actually supporters. Someone tweeted from Tehran today that 'the American media may not care, but the American people do.' That's a sea-change."

Emacs on a Cellphone

It's official, the G1 mobile phone running Google's Android is a real computer,
it runs Emacs.

On Calling Bullshit

Dan Froomkin wrote a really good article about journalism, On Calling Bullshit.

"Mainstream-media political journalism is in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant, but not because of the Internet, or even Comedy Central. The threat comes from inside. It comes from journalists being afraid to do what journalists were put on this green earth to do. What is it about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert that makes them so refreshing and attractive to a wide variety of viewers (including those so-important younger ones)? I would argue that, more than anything else, it is that they enthusiastically call bullshit."

"The return of Democrats to political power and relevancy gives us the opportunity to call bullshit in a more bipartisan manner, which is certainly healthy. But there are different kinds of bullshit. Republican political leaders these past six years have built up a massive, unprecedented credibility deficit, such that even their most straightforward assertions invite close bullshit inspection. By contrast, Democratic bullshit tends to center more around hypocrisy and political cowardice. Trying to find equivalency between the two would still be a mistake – and could lead to catty, inside-baseball gotcha journalism rather than genuine bullshit-calling."

It's Raining Tadpoles In Japan

The Guardian reports In Japan, it's raining tadpoles "... and fish and frogs. Downpours that deposit dead creatures from Hiroshima to Iwate bewilder meteorologists"

"Meteorologists admit they are bewildered by a spate of incidents in which the creatures appear to have fallen from the sky. People around the country have reported witnessing the phenomenon since the first sightings of stranded tadpoles were made in Ishikawa prefecture last week."

"One popular theory is that the creatures were sucked up by waterspouts but meteorologists say no strong winds have been reported in the areas where tadpoles were found. One expert said gusts too weak to be picked up by observatories might have sucked up small quantities of water, along with a few unfortunate tadpoles. Ornithologists said it was too early too rule out their feathered friends."

Is this biblical? Or just an homage to Magnolia?

Remember Iraq?

An Op-Ed in the New York Times wrote about The States of Iraq and Afghanistan. "As for Iraq, despite various horrible attacks, this year has not seen a reversal of previous progress against insurgents. More worrisome is the political scene; the Baghdad government has achieved 6.5 of the 11 ‘Iraq index’ benchmarks we have laid out, which include steps like establishing provincial election laws and enacting amnesty laws. This actually indicates lost ground from a score of 7 in April. On balance, the situation is much improved, but hardly stable, especially since most American troop reductions have yet to occur."

Reuters reports "Iraq has seen a significant fall in the number of foreign fighters arriving to battle U.S. and local forces, and efforts by neighbouring Syria are starting to bear fruit, U.S. General Ray Odierno said on Monday."

But, "A US soldier was killed and six people were wounded in violence across Iraq on Tuesday, two weeks before the scheduled American pullout from the country's urban centres."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

FRONTLINE: Breaking the Bank

Frontline tonight had another great episode on the economic crisis: Breaking the Bank concentrating mostly on the Bank of America Merrill Lynch merger.

What a Texas Town Can Teach Us About Health Care

Atul Gawande wrote a really interesting piece in The New Yorker, The Cost Conundrum.

"McAllen has another distinction, too: it is one of the most expensive health-care markets in the country. Only Miami—which has much higher labor and living costs—spends more per person on health care. In 2006, Medicare spent fifteen thousand dollars per enrollee here, almost twice the national average. The income per capita is twelve thousand dollars. In other words, Medicare spends three thousand dollars more per person here than the average person earns."

Really informative and changed my mind on a few things.

Krugman Schools the Right

I love when Paul Krugman gives a Stimulus history lesson to the right wingers. Love his graph.

The Baseline Scenario v The Geithner-Summers Proposals

Yesterday Simon Johnson shredded The Geithner-Summers Proposals.

"Writing in the Washington Post this morning, Tim Geithner and Larry Summers outline a five point plan for dealing with the underlying problems in our financial system, entitled A New Financial Foundation.  The authors are not completely clear on what they think caused the current crisis, but you can back out some points from their reasoning – and the implicit view seems quite at odds with reality."

He lists 5 points worth reading and then says "And of course the complete omissions from this document are breathtaking. No mention of executive compensation or the structure of compenstion within the financial sector. Not even a hint that the complete breakdown of corporate governance at major banks contributed to execessive risk taking. And no notion of regulatory capture-by-crazy-ideas of any kind."

ACLU Accountability for Torture

The ACLU has started a new campaign Accountability for Torture.

"We are finally beginning to learn the full scope of the Bush administration's torture program. Government documents show that hundreds of prisoners were tortured in the custody of the CIA and Department of Defense, some of them killed in the course of interrogations. Justice Department memos show that the torture policies were devised and developed at the highest levels of the Bush administration."

"The ACLU is committed to restoring the rule of law. We will fight for the disclosure of the torture files that are still secret. We will advocate for the victims of the Bush administration's unlawful policies. We will press Congress to appoint a select committee that can investigate the roots of the torture program and recommend legislative changes to ensure that the abuses of the last eight years are not repeated. And we will advocate for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to examine issues of criminal responsibility."

Glenn Greenwald wrote about it: "The ACLU today launched a major new campaign to impose accountability for torture and related Bush-era crimes. The campaign -- Accountability for Torture -- is devoted principally to a restoration of the rule of law and the appointment by the DOJ of a Special Prosecutor. The website to coordinate these efforts is here, and that site is also now probably the single best resource for all documents and other information relating to torture and accountability efforts. The ACLU has clearly led the way in battling for disclosure of Bush-era war crimes secrets -- so much of what we know is due to their litigation efforts and those of other civil liberties groups (rather than, say, the efforts of the "watchdog" media or the "oversight" Congress). But what has been missing up until now is a coordinated, centralized effort to galvanize public demands for accountability, and this project is intended to provide that."

What the Jim Comey Torture Emails Actually Reveal

A week and a half ago Glenn Greenwald wrote What the new Jim Comey torture emails actually reveal.

"The New York Times was provided 3 extremely important internal Justice Department emails from April, 2005 (.pdf) -- all written by then-Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey -- which highlight how the Bush administration's torture techniques became legally authorized by Bush lawyers. As Marcy Wheeler documents, the leak to the NYT was clearly from someone eager to defend Bush officials by suggesting that Comey's emails prove that all DOJ lawyers --- even those opposed to torture on policy grounds -- agreed these techniques were legal, and the NYT reporters, Scott Shane and David Johnston, dutifully do the leakers' bidding by misleadingly depicting the Comey emails as vindication for Bush/Cheney (Headline: "U.S. Lawyers Agreed on the Legality of Brutal Tactic"; First Paragraph: "When Justice Department lawyers engaged in a sharp internal debate in 2005 over brutal interrogation techniques, even some who believed that using tough tactics was a serious mistake agreed on a basic point: the methods themselves were legal")."

"The DOJ torture-authorizing memos are perfectly analogous to the CIA's pre-war intelligence reports about Iraq's WMDs.  Bush officials justify their pre-war statements about WMDs by pointing to the CIA's reports -- as though those reports just magically appeared on their desks from the CIA -- when, as is well documented, Dick Cheney and friends were continuously pressuring and cajoling the CIA to give them those threat reports in order to supply bureaucratic justification for the attack on Iraq.  That is exactly how the DOJ torture-authorizing memos came to be:  Dick Cheney, David Addington and George Bush himself continuously exerted extreme pressure on DOJ lawyers to produce memos authorizing them to do what they wanted to do -- not because they were interested in knowing in good faith what the law did and did not allow, but because they wanted DOJ memos as cover -- legal immunity -- for the torture they had already ordered and were continuing to order.  Though one won't find this in the NYT article, that is, far and away, the most important revelation from the Comey emails."

Read Comey's 3 emails, they're short and while they are in places vague, they are a bit scary. This was our government at work.

Health Care Debate

Lots of articles on the upcoming health care debate around.

digby in Choice pointed out Sen Chuck Grassley's (IA) idiocy. "He said that he was against the public option because a think tank study told him around a hundred and nineteen million people would opt out of private health insurance and join it."

"There you have it. He's obviously not including the uninsured, who are only opting out of horrible anxiety and bad health. He's admitting that over a third of the American people would leave their current crappy insurance company (or job they loathe but are stuck in because it's the only way they can get decent coverage) and choose a public health option, which is a big problem for the insurance companies. Therefore, Americans must not be given that choice."

A week ago Robert Reich saidThe Healthcare War is Now Official. "Yesterday the American Medical Association came out against a public option for health care. And yesterday the President reaffirmed his support for it. The next weeks will show what Obama is made of -- whether he's willing and able to take on the most formidable lobbying coalition he has faced so far on an issue that will define his presidency."

"The last president to successfully take on the giant health care lobbies was LBJ. He got Medicare and Medicaid enacted because he weighed into the details, twisted congressional arms, threatened and cajoled, drew lines in the sand, and went to war against the AMA and the other giant lobbyists standing in the way. The question now is how much LBJ is in Barack Obama."

A Guide to Obama’s Regulatory Reforms Announcement

The Baseline Scenario wrote President Obama’s Regulatory Reforms Announcement: A Viewer’s Guide.

"At 12:30pm on Wednesday at the White House, President Obama is due to ‘unveil’ his proposals for reforming the functioning of our financial system.  The content has already been foreshadowed in some detail, most notably by the Geithner-Summers op ed in the Washington Post on Monday, but what the President himself stresses is still important – everyone who matters for the reform of financial regulation will be in attendance and his remarks (and perhaps those of Secretary Geithner) can absolutely set the tone of the debate."

He then lists "10 important questions the President may address or shy away from tomorrow."

Trans fats hinder multiple steps in blood flow regulation pathways

Trans fats hinder multiple steps in blood flow regulation pathways "'This is the first time that trans fatty acids have been shown to interfere with yet another part of the blood-flow process,' Kummerow said. This study adds another piece of evidence to a long list that points to trans fats as significant contributors to heart disease, he said."

Providing health insurance for US children would be cheaper than expected

Providing health insurance for US children would be cheaper than expected "'The collective body of research that we have reviewed,' Ho and Short said, 'provides compelling evidence that covering all children in the United States with health insurance will yield immediate improvements in the health of children, as well as long-term returns of greater health and productivity in adulthood. The upfront incremental costs of universal health insurance coverage for children are relatively modest, and they will be offset by the value of increased health capital gained in the long term.'"

Monday, June 15, 2009

Amadinejad Came in Third?

The Telegraph reports Iran protest cancelled as leaked election results show Mahmoud Amadinejad came third.

"Iran's reformist presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi has called off a major rally to protest last Friday's election results, amid claims police had been cleared to open fire on protesters."

"The statistics, circulated on Iranian blogs and websites, claimed Mr Mousavi had won 19.1 million votes while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won only 5.7 million. The two other candidates, reformist Mehdi Karoubi and hardliner Mohsen Rezai, won 13.4 million and 3.7 million respectively. The authenticity of the leaked figures could not be confirmed."

Then again, Politico says Ahmadinejad won. Get over it. "Without any evidence, many U.S. politicians and “Iran experts” have dismissed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection Friday, with 62.6 percent of the vote, as fraud. They ignore the fact that Ahmadinejad’s 62.6 percent of the vote in this year’s election is essentially the same as the 61.69 percent he received in the final count of the 2005 presidential election, when he trounced former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani." He doesn't mention the leaked figures.

AT&T's Many Missed iPhone Opportunities - Or Not

I just don't understand rants like Jason Snell's AT&T's many missed iPhone opportunities in Macworld. The current complaints are that with the new iPhone 3.0, there's finally support for MMS (that is sending pictures as text messages) and tethering support (using the iPhone's cellular connection to connect a computer to the Internet). These are new features finally available in the iPhone but while cellular providers in some other countries are offering support for these this week, AT&T is not.

Apple called them out on this at the WWDC last week. Now Snell adds his complaints:

"And so I have to ask, what the heck is AT&T thinking?"

"It just doesn’t make sense, and not just from the perspective of rabid iPhone fans who will download the 3.0 software update as soon as it’s available Wednesday. It doesn’t make business sense to me, either"

"MMS messages, if embraced by the iPhone-using community, are an opportunity for AT&T to make money, and last time I checked, AT&T was a profit-making concern, not a bunch of hippies living in a yurt."

I'm no fan of AT&T and I have no knowledge of the issues that AT&T and Apple must be negotiating, but neither does Snell. I can easily believe that millions of iPhones densely packed in urban areas could overwhelm the network and I can accept that AT&T needs some more time to get things working. A few times Snell says something similar but then dismisses it. "Perhaps this stalling tactic is simply to build up AT&T’s network so that those features work well. But if that’s the case, then the issue remains: if AT&T’s network can’t truly withstand the iPhone, perhaps it’s not the best partner for Apple to have."

Snell seems to have completely forgotten that AT&T offers for the iPhone a very cheap unlimited cellular data access plan. By all accounts it was at the bequest of Apple and it was probably one of the things that put Verizon off from wanting the iPhone. So now AT&T is putting off MMS messages until later this summer! Oh the horrors of having to wait a few weeks to send a picture as a text message instead of an email! Just what could AT&T possibly be thinking?!? And I thought I saw something suggesting that tethering would be available by the end of the year. Perhaps that's not ideal, but I suspect AT&T probably has its reasons for the delay because they want the profits.

Snell also says "Floating in the background here is, of course, the anger many users are feeling about not qualifying for the lowest prices on the new iPhone 3G S". Seriously? I have an iPhone 3G and will get an iPhone OS 3.0 upgrade for free. The new features in the new phone aren't that huge, a better camera, a compass, a faster processor and voice control. Oh the horrors of having to wait another year before you can get these new features at a steeply discounted price because you signed an industry standard 2 year contract (though that is annoying).

There will probably be a new iPhone out by then with more new features. You might just have to skip a generation of hardware. Or you could buy it for full price. Last I checked AT&T actually pays Apple for the hardware discount and as Snell points out they are "a profit-making concern", maybe they want to not lose $400 per iPhone every year.

Investigate and Disclose Past Abuses

A couple of weeks ago Glenn Greenwald pointed out the hypocrisy in Hillary Clinton demanding China investigate and disclose its past abuses .

How the Bush Administration Ran the Country Into the Ground

Balkinization writes How the Bush Administration Ran the Country Into the Ground about a budge graphic in this New York Times story.

"The war in Iraq and accompanying defense spending, plus the badly designed Medicare Drug benefit, plus the Bush tax cuts, plus lax regulation of financial institutions (which necessitated a bailout supported by both President Bush and President Obama) turned a projected surplus under Bill Clinton into an enormous deficit and a relatively well-run nation into country burdened with enormous problems.

It would be one thing if these expenditures were a matter of national necessity that ultimately made the country better off. But they were not. The Bush tax cuts were primarily targeted to benefit the wealthiest Americans, and exacerbated a growing inequality of wealth in the United States. The Iraq War was a war of choice, justified by false claims of weapons of mass destruction and insinuations of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. It proved to be a foreign policy disaster and an enormous waste of money which we must still shoulder. Deregulatory financial policies were unwise and unsound and helped push us toward the current Great Recession.

All in all, it is one of the most remarkable displays of ineptitude, greed, and corruption in American history. And now that they have run the country into the ground, President Bush's party, now thankfully out of power, is blaming the party that succeeded them, the Democrats, for the baleful effects of deficit spending. Colossal ineptitude is being followed by equally colossal chutzpah."

Graphic of TARP Transactions

"This page is your gateway to information on the TARP transactions. Subsidyscope has gathered data on each transaction under the TARP program. The following table shows which companies received funds, how much they received, and when they received it. Detailed data on individual transactions can be downloaded into a spreadsheet, and the visualizations provide a quick view of the transactions over time, by recipient and by date."

Picture 1 1.png

I found the graphic not all that useful. Instead I looked at the table beneath it. I was surprised to see that when I sorted by Disbursement Received some of them were negative. I was then annoyed to see that when I sorted by Disbursement Received they didn't handle negative numbers properly (they sorted by the absolute value).

But downloading the data as a CSV file and opening it in numbers taught me a few things. 21 recipients have repaid in full their combined $1.6 billion. Of course that's a tiny amount of the $435 billion spent. But I also hadn't realized that we (the federal government) have made $2.5 billion in 236 dividend payments received. That's money the "loans" have generated. I'm not sure what it means that 220 of those were made between Feb 12-18. 11 were made in March, 4 in December and 1 in January.

Graphic of the Ideological History of the Supreme Court

The Ideological History of the Supreme Court of the U.S. is a graph showing how far to the left and right the justices are.

"Ideology numbers are Martin-Quinn scores, developed by political scientists Andrew Martin (Washington University) and Kevin Quinn (Harvard University) to measure 'the relative location of each U.S. Supreme Court justice on an ideological continuum.'"

I don't understand how they generated the numbers or necessarily what the different forms signify but it's pretty.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Various Snow Leopard Things

The new release of Mac OS X, 10.6 is called Snow Leopard and is due out in September. If you upgrade from Leopard it's only $29. There's lots written about it even though most of changes are under the covers instead of new features. Still there are lots of little things in it. Here are a few I learned about this week:

Mac Rumors writes New Snow Leopard Features Continue to Emerge: "Snow Leopard will bring 3- and 4-finger multi-touch gestures to multi-touch notebooks that currently do not support all available finger gestures. Examples of the gestures that will make their way to the older notebooks include swipe for Exposé and swipe for switching applications." Also iChat Video requires less bandwidth and iChat Theater supports 4x the resolution.

Ars Technica writes about Font changes coming to Mac OS X Snow Leopard "One Mac developer has discovered a few interesting changes to fonts that are coming to the next version of Mac OS X. Apple is planning to say goodbye to a long-time monospaced friend of Mac developers." The fixed width font Monaco is going away and is being replaced by "Menlo, a monospaced sans serif based on the rather popular DejaVu Sans Mono".

Tidbits writes New MacBook Pros Boot From SD Cards. The new 15" MacBook Pros have had their ExpressCard slot replaced by an SDCard slot. A few people are complaining about it but it will be more useful for me as I've never used the ExpressCard slot. "A recent Apple KnowledgeBase article reveals an extremely useful and previously unmentioned feature of the SD card slot: users can boot the Mac from an SD card with Mac OS X installed on it."

Mac Rumors shows some New Snow Leopard Screenshots. "The AirPort Menu Item now shows signal strengths for all networks within range without having to join the networks, aiding in network selection in locations with many possible choices."

As for the new iPhones (and the new OS 3.0 that ships this week for older devices) iPhone Central writes What's new in iPhone 3.0 The most interesting one, "Find My iPhone allows you to locate your handset should you misplace it. You access the service via MobileMe’s Web interface, at which point you have several options." If it's in range of GPS signals you can find out where it is from a web page, or if not you can make it ring (hoping you're in range of hearing it) or if you think it's really gone you can remotely wipe it's memory clean. The last part is interesting, you can restore it from from backups if you find it but I'm curious as to how secure they'll make it. If you can remotely wipe your phone, how easy is it for someone else to do it to you?

Hope for the Next Bond Film

The Next James Bond Gets A Serious Scribe "MGM has just announced that screenwriter Peter Morgan, who penned The Queen, The Last King of Scotland and Frost/Nixon, is joining up with past Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade for the 23rd film in this franchise."

Friday, June 12, 2009

My First Commuter Rail Adventure

I live in Newton, just outside Boston. I normally drive into town and can be anywhere in about 20 minutes. In the evenings or on weekends you can sometimes luck out and find a meter to park at or many parking lots have reduced rates to about $10. During the day though, parking is going to run about $25 or more. So if I meet someone in town for lunch i usually drive to a T stop in Newton (that's the subway, even though it's above ground here), walk a few blocks to the station and take the train in. I used to live in walking distance of a T station which was really nice but now I can only walk to a bus stop or commuter rail station.

I wanted to do some shopping in town and decided to try the commuter rail for the first time in 21 years of living here. Conveniently it's just one stop to Back Bay station. That costs $4.25 one way or $8.50 round trip; such a deal. But it's just a 15 minute ride vs. the T which would be closer to 30 and involve more walking. The big difference is the T runs every 15 minutes or so, the commuter rail really just runs during commuting times. It's useless if I want to go into town for an evening (there are no weekday inbound trains at my stop after 2:45pm).

IMG_0112 1.jpgSo today I checked the schedules and walked down to the station. Station is perhaps too nice a word though it was...adequate. It's right next to the Mass Pike and is a long walk down some very old wooden stairs to a long platform on just one side of the tracks. Way down the platform is some dilapidated covered seating. Separating the station from the pike is a wood fence, a chain link fence, and some wood slats tied to the chain link fence. The picture on the right shows that the wood is, in fact, rusting. Nothing about this station or the train is handicapped accessible.

There's no place to buy a ticket, but you can pay cash on the train. Many T stations now have machines to let you buy a ticket or refill your Charlie Card (a stored value card for the T), but you can't use a Charlie Card on the commuter rail. Back bay station will sell you a ticket and print it a (confusingly named) charlie ticket; there's a $1 (off-peak) or $2 (peak) fee for buying on the train when you get on at a station that sells tickets.

I got downtown and did the shopping I wanted to do. I also wandered around the Copley Square Farmers Market. I thought it would be bigger than the ones we have in Newton but it wasn't. Nice enough though.

I had lunch at Douzo. I had the sushi lunch special, 4 pieces nigiri (shrimp, salmon, yellow tail, tuna) and one roll (I choose sweet potato) for just under $10. It was delicious. With drink it came to $13.92. I paid with a $20 bill and got six $1 bills in change. I would have left the 8¢ anyway but I think it's rude not to give it to me. I was also never asked if I wanted a drink refill. So yummy food and weak service (I sat at the bar).

The Back Bay station gets trains from the T (subway), Commuter Rail and Amtrak. The T has it's own tracks but it looks like the Commuter Rail and Amtrak share tracks. There are electric signs above the tracks showing what looked like the next three trains but I didn't see my train listed. I had gotten there 15 mins early so maybe it wasn't posted yet. I asked one of the attendants and he told me track 1 or 3 which was the same platform. I went down there and first thought there was a fire. It was smoky and smelled, though it was probably just diesel fumes. They were just hanging in the air even though I could see outside. Way down the platform was one scrolling electric sign. It was describing a train on track 1 but there was no train on track 1.

After about 10 minutes an announcement came on that said my train on was track 7. So I walked up and over and down the stairs to track 7. I checked, the electric sign still didn't list my train, at least by any terms that I recognized as my train. This platform was more outside and the air was much clearer, even though it was next to a tunnel on the Mass Pick, separated by only a chain link fence. Outside also means all the benches were covered in bird shit. I stood and my train came and went right by me. Apparently there was much more to the platform and I had walked down to the far end. I had to walk far into the station to get on the train. I still saw no signs explaining what train it was.

As I got on a sign on the car said it was WiFi equipped. I didn't check if it worked but my iPhone seemed to have 3G coverage the whole trip. There were a few people using laptops but that doesn't mean much. The man I sat next to was reading a photocopy of a magazine article. Very old school.

All in all, not bad for $8.50. The T would have been $3.40 but would have taken more than twice as long. I can take a bus to a T stop which I might try, the bus is another 85¢ but I think I can get a free transfer for using the Charlie Card, maybe only on the way back.

Their website has the most confusing explanations for the various passes. To get to the city I want to go from Zone 1 to Zone 1A but apparently I don't want an "interzone pass" but just a regular "pass". I probably should have figured this out since the regular pass is more than twice as expensive as the interzone pass. I could instead get a 12 ride ticket for a savings of 25¢ a ride. I loved this notice: "We apologize for any confusion this section may have caused. As is the case throughout this e-commerce portion of the new website, these 12-ride Commuter Rail Tickets are for the period beginning January 1, 2007." It might be time to take that down, or if not, then they definitely want to reword it.

Snow Leopards Now at Central Park Zoo

25469396-C957-41BE-A5D5-4670ADAAE6E5.jpgCentral Park Zoo visitors go wild for new snow leopards."Two snow leopards made their debut at the Central Park Zoo Thursday - and visitors are already going wild for them...The endangered spotted cats are in the zoo's first new exhibit in more than 20years."

Do you think Apple had anything to do with this?

Avoid Seafood to Save Oceans

Mark Bittman points to this: Marine scientist calls for abstaining from seafood to save oceans "In April marine scientist Jennifer Jacquet made the case on her blog Guilty Planet that people should abstain from eating seafood to help save life in the ocean. With fish populations collapsing worldwide and scientists sounding warnings that ocean ecosystems—as edible resources—have only decades left, it is perhaps surprising that Jacquet’s call to abstain from consuming seafood is a lone voice in the wilderness, but thus far few have called for seafood lovers to abstain. "

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Futurama Will Return

26 new Futurama episodes in 2010. "Futurama becomes only the second series in the history of the medium to go back into production based on the strength of its DVD sales and repeat airings on cable."

Friday, June 05, 2009

BCA v Singh The Story So Far 3 June 2009

Simon Singh wrote BCA v Singh The Story So Far 3 June 2009 "I have remained fairly silent over the last year, ever since I received a letter from the British Chiropractic Association threatening legal action. This essay is an attempt to explain what has been happening over the last twelve months, why I have decided to apply to the Court of Appeal and what might happen in the future. I hope that bits of it are interesting, but in general this is my straightforward attempt to clarify a few points."

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Banks Keeping Toxic Assets

Ezra Klein writes in the Washington Post Geithner's Plan Is Dead. Apparently banks are not willing to sell off their toxic assets under the government PPIP plan.

"There are two ways of understanding what happened here. The first is that banks couldn't sell their assets at current prices because doing so would have rendered them effectively insolvent. In this scenario, PPIP fails to fulfill its intended function: Saving the banks. The toxic assets survive and the banking system remains hollow and unhealthy.

The second is that banks no longer need to rush their troubled assets off their books because they're increasingly able to raise private capital, operate in a restored financial market, and wait out the last vestiges of the storm. They can, in this world, let the value of the assets rise naturally, and sell them off later. In this scenario, PPIP is no longer necessary."

Kim Stanley Robinson's Favorite Mars Novels

IEEE Spectrum got sci-fi writer Kim Stanley Robinson to write My 10 Favorite Mars Novels. I've only even heard of a couple of them.

Movie Review: Up

I knew nothing about Up except what I saw in the very brief trailer. Old man, house, balloons, boy scout; and of course that it was made by Pixar. This isn't a new favorite Pixar film for me but it was fun.

Wall-E wasn't an aberration. Pixar has remastered the art of telling stories visually, as well as Chaplin or Keaton or Lloyd. Wall-E sustained it for much longer and managed to describe an unfamiliar world and star. Up describes a lifetime of joy and tragedy in the ten opening minutes. It was poignant, but it also felt quite familiar. Then the film gets underway with a curmudgeonly Carl Fredricksen living alone in a house that is the last holdout surrounded by urban development. I've seen that plot point in an episode of Las Vegas. Then is just a matter of time before we see the elements of the trailer. I haven't seen a pack of balloons lift a house before, but lifting a man in a lawn chair was already done on Mythbusters (confirmed).

I won't give away where the film goes from there but it gets a lot more fun. Russell, the young boy scout is much more entertaining than I expected. Some new characters are introduced in the middle who I found completely unexpected and very very funny. It also gets to some pure adventure scenes that bring some life to it.

The execution is as perfect as usual. Beautiful visuals, well designed and rendered characters, and great voice work. These aren't celebrity voices hired for their names, these are voices perfect for the characters. I didn't see it in 3D though I might. All the reviews I've read say the same thing, the 3D is nice but not overdone and it might detract from the vibrancy of the colors. They all seem to use the word "might".

The message in this film is more heavy handed than in other Pixar films and I think it's more useful for adults than children; though it's packaged in a way kids won't mind. I still like Wall-E, The Incredibles and Nemo more. They brought you into new worlds and this was a little too grounded in reality. Though the balloons are the obvious metaphor for taking off, they didn't do as much for me as the new characters introduced in the middle.

I had forgotten about the opening shorts and was thrilled to see one. More films should start with a short so that more people see them. This was Partly Cloudy which addresses two questions: where do the storks get the babies from and does it work the same way for animals? It's pretty cute but not their best.

The President’s Speech in Cairo

The White House has posted The President’s Speech in Cairo: A New Beginning. Both a transcript and video.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

How Do You Remake The Prisoner?

AMC is remaking Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner?!?! Check out the First Promo for AMC’s Remake of The Prisoner, coming in November.

IMDb has some info. Ian McKellen as Number Two is pretty inspired, but I'm not so sure of the rest. Is it a coincidence that McGoohan died in January?

Government Accidently Posts Sensitive Nuclear Documents

Government Accidently Posts Sensitive Nuclear Documents Online.

"The 267-page document, a draft of 'The List of Sites, Locations, Facilities, and Activities Declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency,' contains addresses and descriptions of civilian nuclear sites around the country, such as a Westinghouse site in Pittsburgh used for the enrichment of nuclear material and details on some programs at places like Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It also contains maps of some of the more sprawling nuclear locations, and the square footage of many. Though it is unclassified and doesn't detail weapons programs, the document contains information the IAEA labels 'Highly Confidential Safeguards Sensitive,' words that show up on every page -- except maps -- of the disclosure document itself"

Newsweek vs Oprah

Bad Astronomy wrote about this week's Newsweek vs Oprah story.

"As you may know, Oprah recently stepped from the realm of pseudoscience firmly into the realm of dangerous antiscience when she decided to support antivax advocate Jenny McCarthy. The blogosphere went, well, nuts, condemning her for this. That includes me; I’m pretty ticked Oprah would put so many children in danger by giving McCarthy a platform from which to spew her nonsense."

"As has now been conclusively shown, vaccines have nothing to do with autism. Moreover, we are now seeing a scary rise in diseases preventable with a simple vaccine shot, and we are also seeing people — infants — dying from nonsense like McCarthy’s."

He also links to Stephen Colbert's comments.

I'm curious how Oprah will respond.

Project Natal

I had missed Microsoft's Project Natalannouncement, but Johnny Chung Lee (who did the fun WiiMote projects) is working on it. Here's a video of what they want to do (or maybe claim to do), controller-free gaming and entertainment:

100 Best Movie Lines in 200 Seconds

I don't agree with all of them, but there are a lot of good ones here and yeah I've seen almost all of these films.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Krugman: Reagan Did It

Sunday, Paul Krugman wrote a New York Times Op-Ed, Reagan Did It.

"'This bill is the most important legislation for financial institutions in the last 50 years. It provides a long-term solution for troubled thrift institutions. ... All in all, I think we hit the jackpot.' So declared Ronald Reagan in 1982, as he signed the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act.

He was, as it happened, wrong about solving the problems of the thrifts. On the contrary, the bill turned the modest-sized troubles of savings-and-loan institutions into an utter catastrophe. But he was right about the legislation’s significance. And as for that jackpot — well, it finally came more than 25 years later, in the form of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

For the more one looks into the origins of the current disaster, the clearer it becomes that the key wrong turn — the turn that made crisis inevitable — took place in the early 1980s, during the Reagan years."

SCOTUS to Hear Patent Case

Ars Technica writes SCOTUS to hear Bilski case, may be huge for software patents. "The Supreme Court is preparing to evaluate the patentability of business methods. The court has revealed that it will hear the Bilski case, a dispute over the validity of a patent that covers commodity trading methods. The decision could have broad implications for software patents."

Virtuality: June 26 on Fox

Virtuality to air June 26, 2009 on Fox. This is a 2 hour sci-fi movie produced by Ronald D. Moore of Battlestar Galactica fame and directed by Peter Berg of (the series) Friday Night Lights. If it does well a series might come of it.

"Nikolaj [Coster-Waldau] plays Commander Frank Pike, head of a space crew embarking on a 10-year journey through outer space in order to save an unsustainable Earth...all before the eyes of a worldwide audience. But when the crew’s cutting-edge virtual reality technology, meant to maintain their sanity on the long voyage, starts to go horribly wrong, the Commander must make a crucial decision."

Mac Security and Responsibility

Rich Mogull writes in Macworld about The truth about Apple, Mac security, and responsibility. A week ago I posted about a Mac OS X Java Security Hole, there's been more postulating since. This article I thought was going to be reasonable but then I found it contradictory. I think these two paragraphs sum it up:

"Yes, Macs are plagued with as many (and sometimes more) vulnerabilities as other operating systems. These are the doors attackers use to exploit our systems, and Macs are far from invulnerable. But the truth is that in the real world, Macs suffer from far fewer compromises. This is the difference between security and safety. A highly secure home in a bad neighborhood is still more likely to be robbed than a less secure home in a safer area. Mac market share is probably an important reason here, as is the history of the platform, the focus of the bad guys, and a host of other factors."

"The real failure of this, and many other, calls for Mac security is that they fail to accurately identify those who are really responsible for Apple’s current security situation. It isn’t security researchers, malicious attackers, or even Apple itself, but Apple’s customers. Apple is an incredibly successful company because it produces products that people purchase. We still buy MacBooks despite the lack of a matte screen, for example. And until we tell Apple that security will affect our buying decisions, there’s little motivation for the company to change direction. "

So which is it? Is mac safe because it's a niche product that hackers don't care about or is it selling so well Apple has no incentive to fix things? I suppose it could be both, but if Mac has say about 9% marketshare, wouldn't Apple think there's a lot of room for improvement? Though by that logic, security certainly isn't driving factor for marketshare dominance. Sigh. Still it seems odd to blame consumers for buy macs for their security shortcomings; more consumers are buying windows machines and they get (some) security holes fixed faster.