Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Now We're Running Out of Helium?

Scientific American writes The Coming Shortage of Helium.

"Quick: What do MRI machines, rockets, fiberoptics, LCDs, food production and welding have in common? They all require the inert, or noble, gas helium for their use or at some stage of their production. And that helium essentially could be gone in less than three decades, Robert C. Richardson, winner, along with Douglas Osheroff and David Lee, of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physics, said at the 60th annual Nobel Laureate Lectures at Lindau today. ‘Once it is released into the atmosphere, say, in the form of party balloons, it is lost to the Earth forever—it is lost to the Earth forever ,’ he added."

It's only the second most common element in the universe!

NASA Needs You: 6 Ways to Help an Astronomer

Wired lists 6 Ways to Help an Astronomer "Astronomy is one of the few scientific fields where amateur scientists can, and frequently do, make significant contributions. But now space scientists are increasingly also looking to people with little or no training for help with their research. Sometimes they are looking for free labor for tasks that humans can still do better than computers, like identifying different types of galaxies. Other times it’s numbers of eyes on the sky or feet on the ground they’re after. But more and more, they are finding ways to get regular citizens involved.

Here are some astronomy projects you can take part in right now."


CFC will be pretty quiet for a while. I'm leaving tomorrow for an annual party over the 4th. This week I've been watching the Kagan hearings and while I find them vaguely interesting (she's smart and funny) I haven't found anything to write about.

I've also been playing with the new iPhone I got yesterday. Here's a tip if you're thinking of buying one in CA, MA or RI. The phone costs $600 but with a 2 year contract it's just $200; but... If you buy from Apple in one of those states you still pay tax on the $600, if you buy from AT&T you pay tax on only the discounted price. Aren't laws fun? So far it's a much faster device and the camera is much better and the compass is great with the star chart app I use (Starmap). I've always had weak AT&T reception in my home and this might be a little worse (I've had 3 of 4 calls dropped but one after 30 mins). A friend has had no problems, so I think this is probably right, in places with good reception, the "death grip" isn't an issue, but in places with bad reception it's worse.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rendering unto Krugman

Rendering unto Krugman is a nice little rant against austerity folks. (via Rich).

Kagan Hearings

I'm watching the Kagan hearings. They're scheduled for 9 hours today and I'll be in and out so I set the TiVo to record C-SPAN3 for 9 hours. For the first time it warned me: "You have selected a very long recording, are you sure you want to do this?"

Ranking Member Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is asking her if she's a "legal progressive" because progressivism is having a resurgence. Unfortunately she's responding with "I honestly don't know what that term means" and "I think people should be allowed to label themselves". Progressive is now a bad word. What's wrong with saying yes (if she is one) and there's nothing wrong with that.

She did manage to say that she's served in Democratic administrations and there should be nothing wrong with that and Sessions agreed. Well at least that.

But why not say that yes I'm a progressive leaning centrist which as best as I can tell she is. Let's be honest she's not the true progressive that Obama could have nominated. He conceded that possibility already by not nominating Diane Wood.

The secret phrase seems to be "within the mainstream of America" and it's about time that someone says that Scalia and Thomas are not the mainstream (which I take to mean the center), they are as far right as there is. In the last 40 years, 12 justices were appointed by Republicans and (now) 4 by Democrats. I'd like to see a court of 3 on the right, 3 on the left and 3 centrists. Steven, was the far left of a very conservative court. He was a self described conservative and appointed by a Republican. A Democrat should be able to replace him with someone at least left leaning. I'm being consistent here. I was fine with Bush appointing Roberts, a little less so with Alito.

Sessions at the end of his first round got (I think) rude. He said "I'm just a little taken aback by the tone of your remarks because it's unconnected to reality." This was regarding the military recruiting issue at Harvard.

What Is Goldman Sachs Thinking?

Simon Johnson writes What Is Goldman Sachs Thinking? "The next financial boom seems likely to be centered on lending to emerging markets.  Sam Finkelstein, head of emerging markets debt at Goldman Sachs Asset Management, summed up the prevailing market view – and no doubt talked up his own positions – with a prominent quote in Monday’s Financial Times (p.13, front of the Companies and Markets section):

‘Debt-to-GDP ratios in the developed world are about double those in emerging markets and they’re growing.  This makes emerging markets interesting because you’re pick up incremental spread [higher interest rates compared with developed world rates], and in return you’re actually taking less macroeconomic risk.’

This is a dangerous view for three reasons."

"Goldman Sachs knows all this, of course. But, as they will tell you correctly, reforming incentives or even discouraging this kind of cycle is definitely not their job. Their role is to make money, pure and pretty simple given their market share. It’s the responsibility of government to make the world financial system less dangerous. "

Matt Taibbi: Lara Logan, You Suck

Matt Taibbi writes Lara Logan, You Suck.

"I thought I'd seen everything when I read David Brooks saying out loud in a New York Times column that reporters should sit on damaging comments to save their sources from their own idiocy. But now we get CBS News Chief Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan slamming our own Michael Hastings on CNN's 'Reliable Sources' program, agreeing that the Rolling Stone reporter violated an 'unspoken agreement' that journalists are not supposed to 'embarrass [the troops] by reporting insults and banter.'

Anyone who wants to know why network television news hasn't mattered since the seventies just needs to check out this appearance by Logan. Here's CBS's chief foreign correspondent saying out loud on TV that when the man running a war that's killing thousands of young men and women every year steps on his own dick in front of a journalist, that journalist is supposed to eat the story so as not to embarrass the flag. And the part that really gets me is Logan bitching about how Hastings was dishonest to use human warmth and charm to build up enough of a rapport with his sources that they felt comfortable running their mouths off in front of him. According to Logan, that's sneaky — and journalists aren't supposed to be sneaky:"

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Real $3,500 Robot Lifeguard

Popular Science writes Robo-Baywatch: Autonomously Patrolling Robot Lifeguard Swims at 28 MPH. "This summer, EMILY (for EMergency Integrated Lifesaving lanYard) began patrolling Malibu’s dangerous Zuma Beach and will watch over about 25 more by December. Although lifeguards operate this version by remote control, next year’s model will autonomously save potential drowning victims as reliably as a human. Once a lifeguard tosses EMILY into the surf, its sonar device will scan for the underwater movements associated with swimmers in distress. Its electric, Jet Ski–like impeller drives it at 28 mph through even the roughest chop, getting a flotation device—itself—to victims six times as fast as a lifeguard would. The ’bot’s camera and speakers will let an onshore lifeguard calm the person and instruct him to wait for human help or to hold on as EMILY ferries him back."

Endless war, a recipe for four-star arrogance

Andrew Bacevich wrote an interesting op-ed in the Washington Post, Endless war, a recipe for four-star arrogance. "Long wars are antithetical to democracy. Protracted conflict introduces toxins that inexorably corrode the values of popular government. Not least among those values is a code of military conduct that honors the principle of civilian control while keeping the officer corps free from the taint of politics. Events of the past week -- notably the Rolling Stone profile that led to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's dismissal -- hint at the toll that nearly a decade of continuous conflict has exacted on the U.S. armed forces. The fate of any one general qualifies as small beer: Wearing four stars does not signify indispensability. But indications that the military's professional ethic is eroding, evident in the disrespect for senior civilians expressed by McChrystal and his inner circle, should set off alarms."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Good ISS Viewing the Next Few Days

Universe Today writes ISS Will Be in Constant Sunlight the Next Few Days "For the next few days, the International Space Station (ISS) will be orbiting Earth in constant sunlight, as its orbit lines up with Earth's day-night terminator. Therefore, the ISS will be putting on an incredible show the next few nights, since it will be constantly illuminated, and will be visible in the night sky every single time it passes overhead. Some observers will be able to see the space station 3, 4 — or like me — even 5 times a night. Check on Heaven's Above, or NASA's NASA has a Skywatch page where you can find your specific city to look for satellite sighting info."

Buzz Aldrin Is Not All That Impressed With Walking on the Moon

Vanity Fair has an interview with Buzz Aldrin. He's 80 and wants to send people to Mars and leave them there.

Strangest Story I've Read in a Long TIme writes Woman in sumo wrestler suit assaulted her ex-girlfriend in gay pub "Sandra Talbot (32) assaulted her ex-partner with a bottle she had hidden under her costume in a fit of rage at the George pub, after more than a year of acrimony following their break-up.

A court heard she lashed out at victim Adrienne Martin in a row that started over a novelty sumo wrestler's suit that Talbot was wearing. The row developed as the victim tried to wave at a man dressed as a Snickers bar, the court heard."

Friday, June 25, 2010

Obama Finally Has Success with TSA Appointment

After 17 months, Obama finally has success with TSA appointment. "The Senate Friday confirmed John Pistole, the former deputy FBI director, to head the TSA. The vote was unanimous."

Inventing a Nation of Deficit Hawks

FAIR writes Inventing a Nation of Deficit Hawks.

"Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress like to argue that public concern over federal budget deficits makes it impossible to pass a new round of job-creating stimulus spending. And corporate media like to echo these sentiments, despite there being little evidence that citizens are as concerned about these issues as inside-the-Beltway deficit hawks."

"But most recent polls show far more public concern over unemployment than deficit spending or the federal debt. As FAIR noted (FAIR Blog, 5/19/10), recent surveys from CBS/New York Times and NBC/Wall Street Journal asked voters to rank problems facing the country. Unemployment was more important by a spread of 49 percent to 5 percent in the CBS/NYT poll, 35 percent to 20 percent in the NBC/WSJ survey, and 47 percent to 15 percent from a recent Fox poll. Blogger Ben Somberg raised similar questions (6/19/10) in response to the Post story."

If only we had a president who was gifted at explaining things to people and believed Paul Krugman.

Tuna’s End

Paul Greenberg wrote in the NY Times about Tuna’s End. "What was in the water that day was a congregation of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a fish that when prepared as sushi is one of the most valuable forms of seafood in the world. It’s also a fish that regularly journeys between America and Europe and whose two populations, or ‘stocks,’ have both been catastrophically overexploited. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one of only two known Atlantic bluefin spawning grounds, has only intensified the crisis. By some estimates, there may be only 9,000 of the most ecologically vital megabreeders left in the fish’s North American stock, enough for the entire population of New York to have a final bite (or two) of high-grade otoro sushi. The Mediterranean stock of bluefin, historically a larger population than the North American one, has declined drastically as well."

My favorite paragraph is this one: "Yes, bluefin tuna are warmblooded."

Java 4-ever Trailer

This seems a few years too late.

Still Analysing Hanny's Voorwerp

The question is still, what the hell is this?

Universe Today wrote Radio Observations Provide New Explanation for Hanny's Voorwerp. "Is Hanny's Voorwerp the result of a 'light echo' of a violent event that happened long ago or perhaps is this mystifying blob of glowing gas being fueled by an ongoing, and current phenomenon? A just-released paper about the Voorwerp offers a new explanation for this perplexing, seemingly one-of-a-kind object in the constellation of Leo Minor. If you haven't heard the remarkable story, the object was discovered in 2007 by Dutch school teacher Hanny Van Arkel while she was classifying galaxies for the Galaxy Zoo online citizen science project. Until now, the working hypothesis for the explanation of this unusual object was that we might be seeing the 'light echo' of a quasar outburst event that occurred millions of years ago. But new radio observations reveal that instead, a black hole in that same nearby galaxy might be producing a radio jet, shooting a thin beam directly at this cloud of gas, causing it to light up."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Starmap HD

If you have an iPad, by Starmap for $1. I have it for the iPhone and now I really want an iPad.

When Kids Meet Scientists

I think this is a really nice story and a clever class project. How a visit to Fermilab changed kids' perceptions of what a scientist is, and who can be one. "Never underestimate the power of the field trip. Turns out, visiting real scientists doing real science had a big impact on what one group of seventh graders thought scientists looked and acted like."

Jesse's before and after description is fantastic. Maybe we need to get global warming deniers, anti-vaccinationists, and creationists to visit real scientists.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Three Sandwiches in One

Slashfood reports Friendly's New Burger Takes On The Double Down. "KFC's Double Down sandwich couldn't hold the spotlight forever...we knew it was only a matter of time before someone pushed the envelope even further. And here it is: the Grilled Cheese BurgerMelt from Friendly's.


The name 'Grilled Cheese BurgerMelt' hardly does justice to this psycho-brilliant monstrosity, which amounts to three sandwiches morphed into one: First, there's a Friendly's Big Beef burger, but instead of a bun, there are two (count 'em, two!) grilled cheese sandwiches. "

And apparently they liked it, all 1500 calories, 97g of fat, and 2090mg of sodium of it. I won't be trying it.

Whooping Cough Now an Epidemic in California

Whooping cough now an epidemic in California.

"According to a statement just released by the California Department of Public Health, pertussis — whooping cough — is now officially an epidemic in California. That’s right: an almost completely preventable disease is coming back with a roar in California. There have been well over 900 cases of pertussis in that state this year, over four times as many as this time last year (and 600 more suspected cases are being investigated). If this keeps up, California may see more cases in 2010 than it has in 50 years."

"Infants aren’t fully protected against pertussis until they have completed the first schedule of vaccinations, when they reach 6 months. Before then, they are vulnerable to the disease. The most likely reservoir for the bacterium? Unvaccinated people, including other children. If too many people go unvaccinated, the disease can find a host and survive long enough to infect others. If enough people are vaccinated, that chance drops. This effect is called herd immunity, and it’s the only thing that can keep this highly contagious and potentially fatal disease away from infants."


Sorry, not a lot of postings. Yesterday I upgraded my iPhone 3G to iOS 4. I started at 10:30 and it took a while, over three hours. I wouldn't have minded so much if the progress bar under the label "Backing up iPhone" had moved at all past that first "a" in a hour. I thought it was hung, but let it go and it eventually made progress, including three reboots that said "Restoring..." something different each time. I went out for lunch while it was finishing and only wanted my phone 3 times in the hour. If I had it, I would have gotten a picture of that groundhog I saw.

Anyway, it's nice. On the 3G I don't get multi-tasking or wallpapers or bluetooth keyboard support. I'd only use the first one of those anyway. I did get folders and updates to Mail, Calendar, and lots of other things. The folders is very welcome and I spent an inordinate amount of time yesterday arranging the 9 or so screens I had into folders. I've only had two apps give me trouble. One was Apple's new Apple Store app which wouldn't start. I deleted it and reinstalled it and it worked fine. The other Pandorabox which I've used at time to find apps on sale in the App Store. It's dead now but they claim they're working on a fix to make it run on iOS 4.

I also found the face dialer I liked, Dial 9, is no longer in the App Store at all. It still works but it's always been slow. It's a nice little app that instead of using a scrolling list of names like in Contacts, lets you pick 9 people per page and shows their pictures (if you have pictures in the Address Book, which of course you do). You click on them and then are given a choice to dial one of their phones numbers, or send a text or email to one of their addresses. I liked it because it's prettier than the Phone Favorites or Contacts and remembers a preferred number for people. Anyway, I found Faces! instead which has a free lite version that supports only two pages but 12 people per page (the paid version supports 14 pages).

Otherwise it doesn't seem much different. I do like being able to show several calendars at once instead of all of them or just one. Threading in email is pretty nice.

Still I look forward to upgrading to an iPhone 4 in a few weeks, after any problems shake out. I want the better screen, camera, faster processor, compass (for star charts), multitasking, and hopefully better phone reception in my house.

Oscars Moving to January?

"Deadline reports that the Academy Board of Governors is meeting to decide whether the 83rd Academy Awards should air sometime in January instead of the previously staked out date of Feb. 27, 2011."

Movieline discusses What Are the Pros and Cons of Moving the Oscars to January?

Personally, I don't know how I'd see all the nominated films. Some don't show in Boston until February or later. Morons.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Stunning Oil Spill Photos

The Big Picture of has amazing photos in Oil in the Gulf, two months later.

Kids, Computers, Books

Nicholas Carr writes in Kids, computers, books about a recent large study circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

"The analysis reveals that home computers have "modest but statistically significant negative impacts" on academic performance as measured by math and reading test scores. In addition: "The introduction of high-speed internet service is similarly associated with significantly lower math and reading test scores in the middle grades." Worse yet, "the introduction of broadband internet is associated with widening racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps." Attempts to close the "digital divide" by, for example, subsidizing PC purchases may actually end up widening the divide between rich and poor in academic performance."

There are a bunch of caveats about the study described in the article, one being: "Vigdor and Hamm note that the negative consequences of computer use could be tempered if students began to use computers more for homework and less for goofing off. Unfortunately, there's no evidence that that's happening."

I liked this point too: "The other study, to be published later this year, also indicates a strong connection between having books at home and performing well in school, particularly for low-income students. As Salon's Laura Miller reported, the study "found that simply giving low-income children 12 books (of their own choosing) on the first day of summer vacation 'may be as effective as summer school' in preventing 'summer slide' - the degree to which lower-income students slip behind their more affluent peers academically every year.""

State of Financial Reform

I remember hearing an interview with Elizabeth Warren on NPR a couple of weeks about about the financial reform bill. The House and Senate versions are being reconciled and she said each has good points and bad points and it all comes down to which things make it into the bill. It could still be very worthwhile or it could be worthless.

Today, Simon Johnson announces, Dead On Arrival: Financial Reform Fails. "The House-Senate reconciliation process is still underway and some details will still change. But the broad contours of ‘financial reform’ are already completely clear; there are no last minute miracles at this level of politics.  The new consumer protection agency for financial products is a good idea and worth supporting – assuming someone sensible is appointed by the president to run it.  Yet, at the end of the day, essentially nothing in the entire legislation will reduce the potential for massive system risk as we head into the next credit cycle."

Southern Lights

This photo of the Aurora Australis was taken from the International Space Station.

ISS023-E-58455 1.JPG

"Among the views of Earth afforded astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS), surely one of the most spectacular is of the aurora. These ever-shifting displays of colored ribbons, curtains, rays, and spots are most visible near the North (aurora borealis) and South (aurora australis) Poles as charged particles streaming from the Sun (the solar wind) interact with Earth’s magnetic field, resulting in collisions with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen in the upper atmosphere. The atoms are excited by these collisions, and typically emit photons as a means of returning to their original energy state. The photons form the aurora that we see. The most commonly observed color of aurora is green, caused by photons (light) emitted by excited oxygen atoms at wavelengths centered at 0.558 micrometers, or millionths of a meter. Visible light is reflected from healthy (green) plant leaves at approximately the same wavelength. Red aurora are generated by light emitted at a longer wavelength (0.630 micrometers), and other colors such as blue and purple are also sometimes observed.

While aurora are generally only visible close to the poles, severe magnetic storms impacting the Earth’s magnetic field can shift them towards the equator. This striking aurora image was taken during a geomagnetic storm that was most likely caused by a coronal mass ejection from the Sun on May 24, 2010. The ISS was located over the Southern Indian Ocean at an altitude of 350 km, with the astronaut observer most likely looking towards Antarctica (not visible) and the South Pole. The aurora has a sinuous ribbon shape that separates into discrete spots near the lower right corner of the image. While the dominant coloration of the aurora is green, there are faint suggestions of red photon emission as well (light fuscia tones at image center left). Dense cloud cover is dimly visible below the aurora. The curvature of the Earth’s horizon, or limb, is clearly visible as is the faint blue line of the upper atmosphere directly above at image top center. Several stars appear as bright pinpoints against the blackness of space at image top right."

Ocean Therapy Solutions

Here's some more info on Kevin Costner's company Ocean Therapy Solutions. Watch the short video.

This article says "BP signed a letter of intent to use the machines within hours of his first conversation with Costner on May 18 and completed the first test within days." and also "Energy giant BP PLC has ordered 32 of the centrifuges from Ocean Therapy Solutions, a company co-founded by the actor. Costner joined officials of the energy company for an inspection Friday of a barge that was to take three of the devices into the Gulf starting over the weekend."

I'm not sure why it took a month to deploy any of them, but I hope it works. It sounds like they'll be trying 3 of the V20 models. Achieving 99% purity sounds good to me.

Though remember, they can't just pump all the spilled oil through it, they have to pump all the contaminated gulf water into it, a much bigger number. But if they can get several near the site of the spill, perhaps they can get a lot of the oil out before it disperses too much.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

That ’30s Feeling

Paul Krugman was in Germany and continues beating the drum with That ’30s Feeling "Suddenly, creating jobs is out, inflicting pain is in. Condemning deficits and refusing to help a still-struggling economy has become the new fashion everywhere, including the United States, where 52 senators voted against extending aid to the unemployed despite the highest rate of long-term joblessness since the 1930s.

Many economists, myself included, regard this turn to austerity as a huge mistake. It raises memories of 1937, when F.D.R.’s premature attempt to balance the budget helped plunge a recovering economy back into severe recession. And here in Germany, a few scholars see parallels to the policies of Heinrich Brüning, the chancellor from 1930 to 1932, whose devotion to financial orthodoxy ended up sealing the doom of the Weimar Republic."

Mark Thoma follows that up with How 'Protectionist' Became An Insult, posting commentary by Douglas Irwin reminding people about the 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariff.

Krugman then did some mythbusting with Fiscal Fantasies "So every one of these stories says that you can have fiscal contraction without depressing the economy IF the depressing effects are offset by huge moves into trade surplus and/or sharp declines in interest rates. Since the world as a whole can’t move into surplus, and since major economies already have very low interest rates, none of this is relevant to our current situation. Yet these cases are being cited as reasons not to worry as austerity becomes the rule. You know what? I’m worried."

Krugman, still on a roll, wrote The Facts Have A Well-Known Keynesian Bias about Alan Greenspan's op-ed. "You know, some people might take the fact that what’s actually happening is exactly what people like me were saying would happen — namely, that deficits in the face of a liquidity trap don’t drive up interest rates and don’t cause inflation — lends credence to the Keynesian view. But no: Greenspan KNOWS that deficits do these terrible things, and finds it “regrettable” that they aren’t actually happening. The triumph of prejudices over the evidence is a wondrous thing to behold. Unfortunately, millions of workers will pay the price for that triumph."

I think if I had the opportunity to ask Obama a question, it would be: "Why do you think Paul Krugman is wrong?"

Billy Wilder Films on TCM on Tue

On Tuesday, TCM is showing several Billy Wilder films starting at 7am with Five Graves to Cairo. Then Stalag 17, Some Like It Hot, One Two Three and The Fortune Cookie. All are worth seeing if you haven't.

Cassini to Swing Low Into Titan’s Atmosphere

NA writes Cassini to Swing Low Into Titan’s Atmosphere.

"This weekend, Cassini will embark on an exciting mission: trying to establish if Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, possesses a magnetic field of its own. This is important for understanding the moon’s interior and geochemical evolution.

For Titan scientists, this is one of the most anticipated flybys of the whole mission. We want to get as close to the surface with our magnetometer as possible for a one-of-a-kind scan of the moon.

Flying at this low altitude will mark the first time Cassini will be below the moon’s ionosphere, a shell of electrons and other charged particles that make up the upper part of the atmosphere. As a result, the spacecraft will find itself in a region almost entirely shielded from Saturn’s magnetic field and will be able to detect any magnetic signature originating from within Titan."

iOS 4 Walkthrough

TiPb does an iOS 4 walkthrough, a "Complete feature guide to Apple’s latest iOS 4", and they do me complete.

The oil spill: Your solutions

The BBC wrote The oil spill: Your solutions "A selection of the hundreds we received has been assessed by Prof Iraj Ershaghi, director of petroleum engineering at the University of Southern California."

South Station 1904: Soot

The Shorpy Historic Photo Archive posted Sootyscape: 1904 "Boston, Massachusetts, circa 1904. Yard and tracks, South Terminal Station.":

4a11368a 1.jpg

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Really? Kevin Costner Will Save Gulf?

The Intersection writes The Red Carpet Treatment for the Gulf Oil Spill. "Kevin Costner, actor and apparent tech-aficionado, has a technology that is designed to quickly and effectively separate oil and water in order to minimize environmental damage from oil spills. Last Friday, the LA Times presented a lovely graphic (shown here) that illustrates and describes how this technology works in just six steps."


Friday, June 18, 2010

Toy Story 3 Easter Eggs

I haven't seen it yet, but here are Toy Story 3 Easter Eggs courtesy of /Film.

101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less

Mark Bittman writes Summer Express - 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less. "So here are 101 substantial main courses, all of which get you in and out of the kitchen in 10 minutes or less. (I’m not counting the time it takes to bring water to a boil, but you can stay out of the kitchen for that.) These suggestions are not formal recipes; rather, they provide a general outline. With a little imagination and some swift moves — and maybe a salad and a loaf of bread — you can turn any dish on this list into a meal that not only will be better than takeout, but won’t heat you out of the house."

MWRA Finds Piece of Coupling That Caused Water Main Break

The Boston Globe wrote MWRA finds piece of coupling that caused water main break "After more than a month of futile searching, a small piece of the failed coupling that caused the water main break on May 1 has been discovered in Weston. The piece, an 11-by-12-inch sealing plate, was found Wednesday during grading work between the Charles River and the mammoth pipe that supplies water to much of Greater Boston."

Senator Franken’s Small Victory on the Bond Rating Agencies

I'm really wondering if Al Franken might be the most effective freshman Senator ever. TPM writes, Senator Franken’s Small Victory on the Bond Rating Agencies. Based on this story I'm pretty unhappy with Barney Frank's involvement (he's my Rep), makes me curious for the details.

How Joe Barton Helped Rescue Obama And The Democrats

NPR writes How Joe Barton Helped Rescue Obama And The Democrats.

Identification of an Unknown Fossil Hominid Through DNA Sequencing

Amanda Nottke wrote in The Intersection, Identification of an Unknown Fossil Hominid Through DNA Sequencing.

"These sequencing experiments have contributed much to our understanding of recent evolution, but until now they have been used as a support to the overwhelming fossil evidence, as opposed to a primary determinant of species identification. However, a discovery reported recently in the journal Nature is the first (to my knowledge) suggestion of a previously unknown species based only on their DNA. Even more fascinating, this species was a hominin, meaning part of the human family tree"

The 7 Dumbest Things BP Has Said About The Spill -- So Far

TPM collected The 7 Dumbest Things BP Has Said About The Spill -- So Far.

The Huffington Post compared Tony Hayward's opening remarks to Congress yesterday with his commercial.

20 Ridiculous Complaints Made by Holidaymakers

The Telegraph lists 20 ridiculous complaints made by holidaymakers "We present 20 of the most ridiculous complaints made by holidaymakers to their travel agent, taken from research by Thomas Cook and ABTA." For some reason they present it as a picture gallery making you click through them one by one. Here they all are:

A tourist at a top African game lodge overlooking a waterhole, who spotted a visibly aroused elephant, complained that the sight of this rampant beast ruined his honeymoon by making him feel "inadequate".

A woman threatened to call police after claiming that she’d been locked in by staff. When in fact, she had mistaken the “do not disturb” sign on the back of the door as a warning to remain in the room.

"The beach was too sandy."

A guest at a Novotel in Australia complained his soup was too thick and strong. He was inadvertently slurping the gravy at the time.

"Topless sunbathing on the beach should be banned. The holiday was ruined as my husband spent all day looking at other women."

"We bought 'Ray-Ban' sunglasses for five euros (£3.50) from a street trader, only to find out they were fake."

"No-one told us there would be fish in the sea. The children were startled."

"It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England it only took the Americans three hours to get home."

"My fiancé and I booked a twin-bedded room but we were placed in a double-bedded room. We now hold you responsible for the fact that I find myself pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked."

"I compared the size of our one-bedroom apartment to our friends' three-bedroom apartment and ours was significantly smaller."

"The brochure stated: 'No hairdressers at the accommodation'. We're trainee hairdressers - will we be OK staying here?"

"There are too many Spanish people. The receptionist speaks Spanish. The food is Spanish. Too many foreigners."

"We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as yellow but it was white."

"We had to queue outside with no air conditioning."

"It is your duty as a tour operator to advise us of noisy or unruly guests before we travel."

"I was bitten by a mosquito - no-one said they could bite."

"I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts."

"It's lazy of the local shopkeepers to close in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during 'siesta' time - this should be banned."

"On my holiday to Goa in India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don't like spicy food at all."

"We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us we had to bring our swimming costumes and towels."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fact Checking Giuliani

I mentioned, "I watched part of Morning Joe today. Guiliani was on and complaining that Obama has done nothing right regarding the oil spill. " Media Matters fact checks many of his claims Another double standard: Giuliani bashes Obama over "vacations"

Toy Wire

What happens if you cross Toy Story with The Wire...

Hayward Hearing

I'm watching a bit of the House hearings with the BP CEO Tony Hayward. Rep Joe Barton (R-TX) actually apologized to him for what happened at the White House the other day, referring to the $20 billion put in escrow. Barton called this shakedown because politics shouldn't get in the way of crimes or some such thing. Digby has more including the video: Shakedown.

Digby also dug up an article, "Rep. Joe Barton has earned nearly $100,000 from an interest in natural gas wells that he purchased from a longtime campaign donor who also advised the congressman on energy policy, according to interviews and records."

And 538 found that a Top Corporate Donor to Barton Is Partner of BP on Deepwater Horizon. "Since 1989, [his top donor] has been the company Anadarko Petroleum, from which he's received $56,500 in PAC donations and another $90,000 in individual contributions. Anadarko has been making a lot of news lately, and none of it is good: they're a 25 percent partner in the Macondo Prospect, which was the site of the Deepwater Horizon explosion that is causing oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico."

So far not much has happened. Hayward has said all the stuff he said in his TV commercial. Investigations are still underway and he apparently has or is unwilling to talk much about any preliminary findings. He knew nothing about the well before the accident, or about any of the decisions made there so he keeps saying he doesn't know. And Congressmen keep asking him the same questions to show the Brit what US political theater looks like. Though it does seem like in the last 56 days, the Congressmen have learned more about the situation than Hayward has.

The NY Times has more.

BP Oil Spill Picture of the Day

The Guardian published this image by photographer Dave Martin:
Delicate-patterns-in-the--002 1.jpg
"Delicate patterns in the sea breaking on Orange Beach, Alabama, more than 90 miles from the BP oil spill, cannot distract from the mess four to six inches deep on parts of the shore."

Attacking Obama for Blaming Bush

I watched part of Morning Joe today. Guiliani was on and complaining that Obama has done nothing right regarding the oil spill. Apparently he should have contacted other industry experts to get their opinions, those that are better than BP at this stuff. Of the course the fact that top kills have never been tried 1 mile down, by anyone, seems lost on him (and the rest of the Morning Joe crew). I've read about a number of other spills in the world and it seems the top kill approaches mostly fail and it takes until a relief well is drilled for the problem to be solved. And often it takes more than one attempt at a relief well. This one is no different (and Obama forced BP to drill not one but two wells, in case the first one fails). Rudy also whined that Obama should stop blaming Bush since its 18 months into his presidency.

I've heard this a lot lately and I don't get it. I don't hear Obama blaming Bush too much. It is clear that Bush was against regulation of any industry. The Bush administration was also a gift to all forms of mining. And while we don't know what Cheney said in his secret meetings with oil executives we do know that oil companies did very well in the last decade. It's clear that MMS was crappy under Bush so I think Obama's comments on Tuesday were fair:

"One place we’ve already begun to take action is at the agency in charge of regulating drilling and issuing permits, known as the Minerals Management Service. Over the last decade, this agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility -- a philosophy that says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves. At this agency, industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight. Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favors, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations. When Ken Salazar became my Secretary of the Interior, one of his very first acts was to clean up the worst of the corruption at this agency. But it’s now clear that the problem there ran much deeper, and the pace of reform was just too slow."

But if people (ok, Republicans) are saying Obama is wrong to blame Bush at all for things that happened under his term, what were they saying when Bush was blaming Clinton? As I recall Bush was always blaming Clinton or liberals or anyone for his mistakes. I've seen a bunch of comments online that seem to forget this, so I've collected some:

In July 2004, just before the 9/11 Commission Report came out, the G.O.P. Blames Clinton For Intelligence Failures. "After their briefing, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and other House Republican leaders held a news conference at which they suggested that the report, which is scheduled to be made public on Thursday, would show that intelligence and law enforcement failures before the Sept. 11 attacks were more the responsibility of the Clinton administration than of the Bush administration." Of course that's not really what the report concluded.

As I recall a common theme was that Republicans blamed Clinton for not immediately retaliating on al Qaeda for the Oct 12, 2000 attack on the USS Cole. But the facts are we didn't have evidence that al Qaeda was responsible for the attack until Bush was in office and Bush choose to do nothing.

Here's a NY Times article from Sept 2004 (during the reelection campaign), Cheney's Praise of Bush Takes a Dig at Clinton (and Reagan). "He blamed the Clinton and Reagan administrations for teaching terrorists that 'they could strike us with relative impunity' and that 'if they hit us hard enough, they could change our policy.'" Also, "On the economy, Mr. Cheney said Mr. Clinton left office with the country on the road to a recession. Then, he said, the Sept. 11 attacks dealt another serious blow to the economy, but he cited recent gains as signs that the president's policies, including tax cuts, were working." Yup they were working great.

A year later in Aug 2005, in speech Bush gave commemorating the 60th anniversary of World War II victory in the Pacific, he brought this up again. "They looked at our response after the hostage crisis in Iran, the bombings of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the first World Trade Center attack, the killing of American soldiers in Somalia, the destruction of two U.S. embassies in Africa, and the attack on the USS Cole. They concluded that free societies lack the courage and character to defend themselves against a determined enemy." A week later, Bush asked Clinton to help raise money for Katrina relief.

In October 2006 North Korea tested a nuclear bomb. Here's a Washington Post article (Oct 12, 2006) Bush Faults Clinton Policy, But the Debate is Complex with Bush (well Condolessa Rice) blaming Clinton for it.

Here's a CNN article From July 28, 2008 White House projects record deficit for 2009. This chart of theirs shows the history of budget surpluses and deficits. Remember Bush was the first president to cut taxes during a war, "But a senior administration official says the budgetary problems stem from what he called inadequate defense, intelligence and homeland security resources that were handed down from Clinton." And Bush never included the cost of the war in his budgets and kept it as emergency funding or some such thing.

In Feb 2009 Michael Steele was also blaming Clinton for the economy. And this wasn't new. In August 2002, Bush says he inherited recession.

And of course it wasn't just the administration blaming Clinton, Fox News did it constantly.

I don't have the patience for the hypocrisy. And I don't have the need to watch news programs that let one side or the other come on spew it without being challenged. Why is it that only The Daily Show seems to put some of these things in context. Last night, Stewart had a great segment on how "The last eight presidents have gone on television and promised to move America towards an energy-independent future."

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
An Energy-Independent Future
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Drilling the Relief Wells

CNN writes about Drilling the relief wells.

Screen shot 2010-06-16 at 10.39.28 PM 1.png

Your Office Chair Is Killing You

Business Week writes Your Office Chair Is Killing You "New research in the diverse fields of epidemiology, molecular biology, biomechanics, and physiology is converging toward a startling conclusion: Sitting is a public-health risk. And exercising doesn't offset it. 'People need to understand that the qualitative mechanisms of sitting are completely different from walking or exercising,' says University of Missouri microbiologist Marc Hamilton. 'Sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little. They do completely different things to the body.'"

The Evolving Estimates Of BP's Oil Leak

TPM wrote The Picture Of Inaccuracy: The Evolving Estimates Of BP's Oil Leak with this graphic:

oil-leakage-chart 1.jpg

I don't think Tufte would be happy with the chart done as "circle areas relative to oil volume". Area is two dimensional and while volume is three, in this case it's a scalar. Here's my version using their data:

Screen shot 2010-06-16 at 9.43.16 PM.png

US Aging

The New York Times writes Supporting Older Americans "That chart, taken from this Census report, shows the age distribution of American men and women over the next 40 years. The darkest green bars refer to the country’s population this year. The big lump in the middle of these dark green bars shows the baby boomer generation, which is now aged 46 to 60."


The Chemical Weapons of Onions and Garlic

The Curious Cook in the New York wrote The Chemical Weapons of Onions and Garlic. It's basically a review of Dr. Eric Block's book Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and the Science. It talks a bit about their history and chemistry. Here's a bit from the end of the review.

"This basic chemistry leads to some general guidelines for cooking.

If you’re using onions or garlic or chives raw, in a dressing or salsa, either chop them just before serving or rinse the chopped pieces thoroughly. Water removes the harsh aging sulfur compounds from the cut surfaces, so you’ll taste only the fresh ones.

If you’re heating garlic or onions or their relatives, then cooking whole or coarsely chopped bulbs will moderate their flavor. Crushing or grating will intensify it.

Crushing can also diversify the flavors that alliums contribute to cooked dishes. They’re valuable ingredients in part because their sulfur chemistry suggests and reinforces savory meat flavors. Last year a German study of meat stews found that by far the strongest contributor to the overall ‘gravy’ aroma was an unusual sulfur compound that came not from the meat, but from the onions and leeks. And that compound appears only after these vegetables have been cut up.

So if you’re counting on alliums to give depth to stews or braises or stocks, then chop them finely or crush or purée them. Heat will eliminate the bite and develop the aroma."

Why the Main Street Economy Isn't Getting Any Better

From a week ago, Robert Reich on Why the Main Street Economy Isn't Getting Any Better.

"The reason so many Americans went into such deep debt was because their wages didn’t keep up. The median wage (adjusted for inflation) dropped between 2001 and 2007, the last so-called economic expansion. So the only way typical Americans could keep spending at the rate necessary to keep themselves — and the economy — going was to borrow, especially against the value of their homes. But that borrowing ended when the housing bubble burst.

So now Americans have no choice but to pare back their debt. That’s bad news because consumer spending is 70 percent of the economy. It helps explain why we so few jobs are being created, and why we can’t escape the gravitational pull of the Great Recession without far more government spending.

It’s also a bad omen for the future. The cheerleaders are saying that for too long American consumers lived beyond their means, so the retrenchment in consumer spending is good for the long-term health of the economy. Wrong again. The problem wasn’t that consumers lived beyond their means. It was that their means didn’t keep up with what the growing economy was capable of producing at or near full-employment. A larger and larger share of total income went to people at the top."

A Visual History of the American Presidency

A Visual History of the American Presidency "This large-scale print is like nothing else available on the history of the American presidency. It places each president in historical context, visualizing a remarkable range of political, social, and economic measures to succinctly tell the story of the presidency. Narratives are displayed within the larger context of American political history by aggregating and annotating hard data on population, presidential elections, Congress, the Supreme Court, the Cabinet, the U.S. economy, and the federal budget and debt. The Timeplot provides a new lens into American political history; it is not intended to be absorbed at a glance, but rather to be visited and revisited over time."


Respect My Authoritah

Jon Stewart was in great form last night. Here's his opening segment on Obama and

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Respect My Authoritah
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

The othere two segments were also good.

Lego World Cup

Here's a short video of a lego recreation of the World Cup 2010: Brick-by-brick fussball - England 1-1 USA

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Climate Change - Building a Green Economy

A couple of months ago Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times, Climate Change - Building a Green Economy. He covers the case for climate change, Pigovian taxes, and other economic factors. Good stuff if you missed it.

Some Spill Articles

TPM writes U.S. significantly increases flow estimate of BP spill "The team said the 'most likely flow rate of oil today' ranges from 35,000 to 60,000 barrels per day."

Fast Company writes Read This Before You Volunteer to Clean Up the BP Oil Disaster "Merle Savage has a wheezy, guttural smoker's cough. But the 71-year-old former Alaska resident and author of Silence in the Sound never smoked a day in her life. She did, however, spend four months as a general foreman during the Exxon Valdez oil spill recovery project in 1989. And she has a message for anyone working at the BP oil disaster sites: 'You've got to use your common sense. Breathing crude oil is toxic.'"

Good writes What BP Should Have Said "Here’s the press release they should have written: "

Worms and News

Last month's Atlantic had a good (and long) article, The Enemy Within about the Conficker worm.

"When the Conficker computer ‘worm’ was unleashed on the world in November 2008, cyber-security experts didn’t know what to make of it. It infiltrated millions of computers around the globe. It constantly checks in with its unknown creators. It uses an encryption code so sophisticated that only a very few people could have deployed it. For the first time ever, the cyber-security elites of the world have joined forces in a high-tech game of cops and robbers, trying to find Conficker’s creators and defeat them. The cops are failing. And now the worm lies there, waiting …"

It also had an article about Google News, How to Save the News. "Plummeting newspaper circulation, disappearing classified ads, “unbundling” of content—the list of what’s killing journalism is long. But high on that list, many would say, is Google, the biggest unbundler of them all. Now, having helped break the news business, the company wants to fix it—for commercial as well as civic reasons: if news organizations stop producing great journalism, says one Google executive, the search engine will no longer have interesting content to link to. So some of the smartest minds at the company are thinking about this, and working with publishers, and peering ahead to see what the future of journalism looks like. Guess what? It’s bright."

Just How British Is BP?

Just How British Is BP?. Turns out it no longer stands for British Petroleum, it's just "BP". The article also discusses the biggest shareholders.

And here are new satellite photos of the spill.

The Story of Siri

Xconomy writes The Story of Siri, from Birth at SRI to Acquisition by Apple—Virtual Personal Assistants Go Mobile.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Spring Was Warm

Remember all those global warming deniers who in the winter come out and say how can there be global warming when it's so cold out? Where are they now?

Spring was Illinois' 4th warmest.

Wacky spring weather is warmest on record in CanadaSpring wraps up as second warmest on record in Washington DC.

Mass. sets warmth record for spring

Alfred Hitchcock Tells a Dirty Joke

Here's a sound test for 1929's Blackmail, the first british talkie. And who knew there was an Alfred Hitchcock Wiki? Blackmail (1929) - Sound Test

Justice Souter Speech at Harvard

I had missed this, but retired Justice Souter gave the commencement address at Harvard a couple of weeks ago. Dahlia Lithwick called it "remarkable"
and Linda Greenhouse said it served up "some rich fare". Even religious scholar, Stephen Prothero at CNN called it "a tour de force".

Here's the Text of Justice David Souter’s speech and it really is worth a read. I'm not sure I would have loved it as a graduate in the audience, but I really like it now. Without saying so explicitly he attacks originalism (and therefore Scalia) and much of the rhetoric used in discussing Supreme Court nominations; interpreting the law and not making the law, calling balls and strikes, and hearing the facts and applying the law.

Instead he explains that most cases that come before the court are difficult because involve conflicting passages of the constitution or involving subtle meaning of terms. He uses two example cases, that of the Pentagon Papers (freedom of the press vs the security of the nation) and Brown v. Board of Ed which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson (can separate be equal?). Here are some passages on the first example:

"The Constitution has a good share of deliberately open-ended guarantees, like rights to due process of law, equal protection of the law, and freedom from unreasonable searches. These provisions cannot be applied like the requirement for 30-year-old senators; they call for more elaborate reasoning to show why very general language applies in some specific cases but not in others, and over time the various examples turn into rules that the Constitution does not mention.

But this explanation hardly scratches the surface. The reasons that constitutional judging is not a mere combination of fair reading and simple facts extend way beyond the recognition that constitutions have to have a lot of general language in order to be useful over long stretches of time. Another reason is that the Constitution contains values that may well exist in tension with each other, not in harmony. Yet another reason is that the facts that determine whether a constitutional provision applies may be very different from facts like a person’s age or the amount of the grocery bill; constitutional facts may require judges to understand the meaning that the facts may bear before the judges can figure out what to make of them."

"A choice may have to be made, not because language is vague but because the Constitution embodies the desire of the American people, like most people, to have things both ways. We want order and security, and we want liberty. And we want not only liberty but equality as well. These paired desires of ours can clash, and when they do a court is forced to choose between them, between one constitutional good and another one. The court has to decide which of our approved desires has the better claim, right here, right now, and a court has to do more than read fairly when it makes this kind of choice."

And here's what he says about Brown, "As I’ve said elsewhere, the members of the Court in Plessy remembered the day when human slavery was the law in much of the land. To that generation, the formal equality of an identical railroad car meant progress. But the generation in power in 1954 looked at enforced separation without the revolting background of slavery to make it look unexceptional by contrast. As a consequence, the judges of 1954 found a meaning in segregating the races by law that the majority of their predecessors in 1896 did not see. That meaning is not captured by descriptions of physically identical schools or physically identical railroad cars. The meaning of facts arises elsewhere, and its judicial perception turns on the experience of the judges, and on their ability to think from a point of view different from their own. Meaning comes from the capacity to see what is not in some simple, objective sense there on the printed page. And when the judges in 1954 read the record of enforced segregation it carried only one possible meaning: It expressed a judgment of inherent inferiority on the part of the minority race."

And here's his attack on originalism and the notion that justices should merely interpret law and not make it. "The fair reading model misses that, but it has even more to answer for. Remember that the tensions that are the stuff of judging in so many hard constitutional cases are, after all, the creatures of our aspirations: to value liberty, as well as order, and fairness and equality, as well as liberty. And the very opportunity for conflict between one high value and another reflects our confidence that a way may be found to resolve it when a conflict arises. That is why the simplistic view of the Constitution devalues our aspirations, and attacks that our confidence, and diminishes us. It is a view of judging that means to discourage our tenacity (our sometimes reluctant tenacity) to keep the constitutional promises the nation has made."

Now if only this view (which isn't Souter's alone) had a catchy name like "Originalism" does.

Also a few weeks ago, Denise Lavoie for the AP wrote Justice Souter may be retired, but he still works. "At the age of 70, he is unwilling to hang up his robe and is hearing cases one or two days a month for the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, which handles federal appeals for Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico...But Mark Tushnet, a Harvard Law School professor who has written extensively about the Supreme Court, said Souter is working more often than most retired justices. He said Souter may enjoy the difference in the appellate work compared with the Supreme Court...He also has been working on a New Hampshire task force formed to improve civics education in public schools."

Futurama is Back?

Discover Magazing says Sneek Peek at Futurama! Plus, Our Conversation With Billy West. "The interstellar travels of the Planet Express crew—canceled by Fox in 2003 but kept alive by syndication, straight-to-DVD movies, and the unstoppable force of geek fandom—return with 26 fresh episodes on Comedy Central, starting with a full hour on June 24 at 10PM eastern."

The show that wouldn't die. Or rather the show that died and came back and died and came back and...

Movie Reviews

I haven't done reviews in a while mostly because I haven't seen anything that interesting. Some quick updates:

It Might Get Loud was quite a good documentary about how rock guitar has evolved over the years. It's a meeting of Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White with background individual interviews and lots of guitar playing. Page produced it. There are a few of stand out moments but the two I most remember were Jack White playing his favorite song, Son House's "Grinnin' In Your Face", and the Edge playing a riff with and without amplification and effects. This film convinced a friend to learn guitar.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is another documentary, this one about street art, or about a street art documentary. Thierry Guetta is an eccentric character who obsessively films his whole life. He gets interested in graffiti art and follows and films some of the better known ones, including Invader and Shepard Fairey and begins a quest to find the elusive Banksy. Since most of this art is illegal they're a little concerned to let Guetta film, but he decides to make a documentary about them and builds some street cred. At some point the film falls apart and Banksy takes over and edits the film from Guetta's footage (Banksy is listed as the director). It then takes a few more twists. I thought it was a little long, particularly since Guetta is so annoying, but much like The Sixth Sense, the ending made up for a lot.

The Secret in Their Eyes won last years Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It's an Argentinian crime noir with a romance thrown in. It opens in 2000 and we meet Benjamin, a retired criminal investigator and Irene, a judge. There was clearly something between them. Benjamin is writing about an unsolved rape-murder case they were both involved with 25 years ago. The film flashes back and forth telling the past story and his current investigation. There are some interesting supporting characters, a great chase in a stadium, some ruminations on memory and love and some funny moments. it's also a little slow at points and a bit unbelievable at others. Still it's the best movie I've seen in a few months.

Please Give is a small film set in New York City. Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), a mammography technician who's genuinely nice and spends her life taking care of her 90 year-old grand-mother Andra (Lois Smith) who's genuinely not nice. Her self-obsessed sister Mary (Amanda Peet) works in a salon and lives with Rebecca and isn't helpful in taking care of Andra who raised them. Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) live next door to Andra and have arranged to buy her apartment after she dies so they can expand theirs. Maybe this seems a little less odd as they are antique dealers who regularly deal with estates. They buy low from grieving family members who don't know what the pieces are worth and then sell high in their shop. Kate is a little bothered by this and is always giving five and twenty dollar bills to homeless people she passes in the street, much to the annoyance of her acne-stricken teenage daughter Abby (Sarah Steele). The characters are all a bit quirky which probably stems from depression in a way that makes their one-dimensionality seem multi-dimensional.

I have fond memories of watching Land of the Lost as a kid on Saturday mornings. I'm sure it wasn't very good even if there were episodes written by Larry Niven,Theodore Sturgeon, and Ben Bova. I'm also surprised to learn they did a remake series in the early 90s. Last summer Will Ferrell turned it into a typical Will Ferrell movie. It was certainly ripe for parody but Ferrell just plays Rick Marshall as the same character he always does (so no, this isn't for kids) and the script isn't particularly funny.

Holy Rollers had potential. It's based on a true story of young Hasidic Jews who smuggled drugs into the US from Europe. The dealers used them because custom agents didn't suspect them and didn't search their bags. Jesse Eisenberg plays Sam Gold who's first tricked into it thinking he's bringing "medicine for rich people" and is lured in by the money. This should have been interesting but you're never made to care about the characters. Sam is 22 but acts like a whiny 14 year-old. Which is perhaps understandable as it seems he's never even touched a woman and he's just waiting for his parents to arrange a marriage to the pretty girl in the neighborhood. He has no coping skills other than to get angry or stop talking to someone; which is understandable because that's all we're shown his family and friend as being able to do.

Avoid The Spirit at all costs. A friend said it was the worst movie of 2008 and it came on cable and I had vague interest in seeing it because of fond memories of writer/director Frank Miller's comic book work in the 80s. That was a mistake. Miller hasn't had an original idea in 20 years and corrupts his idol Will Eisner's character. The film has the same look as Sin City (and to a lessor extent 300) but makes no sense, has no life and is tedious as all hell. Seriously, just avoid it (as you were probably going to), it's not so bad it's good, it's just bad.

Splice got some good reviews as an intelligent sci-fi horror film. Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are biochemists who create a new species which can be used to create pharmaceuticals. To be really useful they need to splice in some human DNA but oddly the company is a afraid the public isn't prepared for the ethical implications. But Elsa doesn't care, she convinces Clive to go ahead with it in some secret corners of their soon to be shutdown lab (how Eve-like). Clive and Elsa are married and he wasn't kids but she doesn't. But now they are raising Dren, an almost girl experiencing rapid aging. They get to go through all the stages of parenthood in a couple of months. Well maybe a few more than the normal stages, this is after all a horror film. It's not particularly gory and this is far from a slasher flick but I never got too engaged with it. It might have been because of the heckler in the audience who wouldn't shut up or it might have been but the constantly dumb things these scientists did that he had to heckle about it. Then there's a big dumb action that I just couldn't get past and it becomes a monster movie in the woods film. Friends I saw it with like it, I think for campy genre fun, so if you're into that kind of thing, maybe you'll like it. Still compared to The Spirit, this movie is Psycho.

I had never seen the infamous Myra Breckinridge and caught it on cable. It's an incoherent mess that isn't worth seeing.

Valkyrie was a reasonable attempt at making a thriller out of an actual failed plot to assassinate Hitler. It just never quite came to life.

An Atomic Bomb will stop the Gulf Oil Leak, LOOK!

I remember early on there were suggestions from Russia to use a nuke to stop the oil spill which sounded a little bizarre but what did I know about oil spills. Here's an instructive video for which I'll let you use your own judgement (via jwz).

I guess they'd still need to drill another hole near the well. And I wonder if we'd get a tsunami in the Gulf of Mexico from a (small) nuke 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

Large-Scale Autism Study Reveals Disorder's Genetic Complexity

Scientific American reports Large-Scale Autism Study Reveals Disorder's Genetic Complexity.

"The vast array of behaviors that are seen in autism spectrum disorder seems to cover an even deeper range of genetic complexity just below the surface. And the largest genetic study of autistic children and their parents to date has located a host of new variations in autistic individuals.

By studying rare 'copy number variations,' which are individual errant insertions or deletions of DNA segments (each of which occur in less than one percent of the population), researchers discovered a new cluster of genes that are affected in some autistic individuals as well as a number of mutations that were present in autistic children but not their parents."

"Results from the analysis confirmed previous findings of some copy number variants already associated with autism, but they also found a host of other genes (SHANK2, SYNGAP1, DLGAP2 and the X chromosome–linked DDX53-PTCHD1 locus) in which mutations seem to be linked to autism. The group also discovered that 5.7 percent of autistic children's variations were not present in either of their parents' DNA, suggesting that these copy errors stemmed from mutations in the egg and/or sperm."

Alvin Greene?

Rachel Maddow had a clip of this ridiculous interview Keith Olbermann did with Alvin Greene. Mr. Greene won the SC Democratic Primary for the US Senate seat held by Republican Jim DeMint.

I guess DeMint will keep his seat in November but then again I'd never guess this guy would win with 60% of the vote. His wikipedia page seems to have more background on him and his campaign.

The Washington Post reports S.C. lawmaker calls for investigations of Democratic primary, 2 other races. "House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) called for federal and state investigations into alleged campaign irregularities in South Carolina after an unemployed Army veteran who lives with his parents won a Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate there. Alvin M. Greene, who has an outstanding felony obscenity charge pending, "was someone's plant," Clyburn said Thursday"

BP Spills Coffee

The Upright Citizens Brigade spoofs BP's response to the oil spill...

Infographic: Tallest Mountain to Deepest Ocean Trench

Infographic: Tallest Mountain to Deepest Ocean Trench puts the Deepwater Horizon well in context.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Classics in Lego

Classics in Lego is a Flickr set that reconstructs iconic photos in Lego. Awesome.


Daniel Ellsberg on Obama

Speigel Online inerviews Left-Wing Icon Daniel Ellsberg "Daniel Ellsberg, legendary leaker of the 'Pentagon Papers' in 1971, still has a bone to pick with the White House. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, the 79-year-old peace activist accuses President Obama of betraying his election promises -- in Iraq, in Afghanistan and on civil liberties."

And if you haven't seen it, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers is very good.

Safari 5

I've been using Safari 5 for a couple of days and it's nice. I can't say I've noticed a speed increase (I think the web and DNS have been slow for me lately) or the HTML5 compatibility but there are two things I like.

Reader mode is quite nice. I was using Readability occasionally to format a web page with minimal distractions (just the text context, no adds or sidebars). I also had the bookmark third in the bookmark bar so command-3 would activate it. Reader mode is a little nicer in that it deals with page breaks better. It will automatically download the next page when you scroll down (and it might try to get the whole thing at once if it can figure it out). I also like the button in the address bar though it does overwrite the RSS feed button. If you click and hold the button a drop down appears with the RSS feed button if available.

I was also curious about the new extensions but hadn't tried any. Here's "a handy list of available Safari extensions to tide you over until Apple opens their gallery." Still nothing particularly interested me enough to try them before Apple opened their curated gallery until I saw this tweet

"Here's a Safari extension to stop iTunes from auto-opening. FINALLY! • /via @Digeratii #untested".

The link will download the .safariextz file which I learned is in xar format. I opened it up and found two short javascript files and a css file and they looked fine. I then followed these instructions to Enable & use Safari extensions menu. It's nice that there's a preference tab to manage the extensions including updating and removing them.

I tried it out and it works well.

Update: One thing with Reader doesn't work as well as in Readability. I often highlight text on a page and use a keystroke to activate a bookmarklet to blog a story in MarsEdit. The highlighted text is quoted in the post. In Reader I can highlight text but it doesn't make it into MarsEdit. I assume copy/paste works but I assume there's something about the Reader page not be active or something.

Map of the Top 250 Best Movies of All Time

Ebert tweeted a link to a graphic posted last June, David Honnorat made The top 250 best movies of all time Map. "This is a map I made listing all of the 250 best movies, as voted by users on the 19th of june 2009. Hope you’ll have fun travelling around this cinematographic subway plan !"

bestmoviesmap_HQ 1.jpg

It's interesting but I don't think particularly useful. I tried to go through to find films I haven't seen. Of course it's from IMDb so the data is skewed to more recent films and US films. It's nice that you can follow a line of similar films in a genre, but it was confusing to find each line and make sure I covered them all.

Of the main line of "universally acclaimed masterpieces" I've seen them all except 8 1/2 which I'm partially through on the TiVo. I also saw The Night of the Hunter only recently (it's dated but you can see the influence). Of everything else, I've seen them all but La battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers) which I have out from Netflix.

Steve Jobs Onstage at D8

"The full-length interview of Apple CEO Steve Jobs at the D8 conference with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher." It's an hour an half long but it's a great conversation. He covers a lot of ground and gives interesting answers. Really worth watching the whole thing (well the second to last audience question about social gaming is weak, but the rest is great).

Obama DOJ Arguments In Warrantless Wiretapping - Bad

The EFF reports In Warrantless Wiretapping Case, Obama DOJ's New Arguments Are Worse Than Bush's.

"Friday evening, in a motion to dismiss Jewel v. NSA, EFF's litigation against the National Security Agency for the warrantless wiretapping of countless Americans, the Obama Administration made two deeply troubling arguments.

First, they argued, exactly as the Bush Administration did on countless occasions, that the state secrets privilege requires the court to dismiss the issue out of hand. They argue that simply allowing the case to continue 'would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security.' As in the past, this is a blatant ploy to dismiss the litigation without allowing the courts to consider the evidence.

Sad as that is, it's the Department Of Justice's second argument that is the most pernicious. The DOJ claims that the U.S. Government is completely immune from litigation for illegal spying — that the Government can never be sued for surveillance that violates federal privacy statutes."

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Monday, June 07, 2010

Guided by Parasites: Toxoplasma Modified Humans

Tobias Tenny writes Guided by Parasites: Toxoplasma Modified Humans. He gives some background (exerted below) but points to an interview with Dr. Robert Sopalsky. The 20 minute video is below and transcript is here.

"Toxoplasma (Toxoplasma gondii) [Toxo] was first observed in 1908. You may have heard of it as the crazy parasite that makes rats attracted to cats. This, in its own right, is astonishing, interesting, & bizarre. It has also been widely known that pregnant women should stay clear of cat scat & other sources for Toxo as it can adversely affect the development of the fetus. Dr. Robert Sopalsky at Stanford has taken this link to humans further & has been studying, in detail, how it is affecting humans with some startling observation."

"The quick summary is that Toxo can only sexually reproduce in the gut of a cat. The cat then excretes Toxo in its feces which is then consumed by the intermediate hosts (e.g., a rat). Once in the rat Toxo’s goal is to then be eaten by a cat so it can be fruitful and multiply, but as I mentioned, this can only take place in the cat’s gut. Toxo’s goal is to get the rat eaten by a cat.

Toxo could get the desired effect through a whole sort of seemingly obvious ways; e.g., Make the rat hard to run so it is easier for a cat to catch it.  Instead it takes a far more interesting approach:

Toxo generates cysts in the brain of the rat. These cysts take over the fear center of the brain, but specifically the fear of predators. Common fear sources for rodents (e.g., bright lights, open spaces, etc.) still operate perfectly well in an infected rat, but now they are no longer afraid of cat piss.

That alone would be cool enough, but Toxo takes it one step further. When Toxo is going about futzing with the fear center of the brain it also goes into the sexual excitement part of the brain. It hijacks the incoming Fear of Cat Piss™ and instead diverts the signal to the Barry White™ center of the brain."

Then he goes on to describe the effects in humans.

This video is from Edge Video which looks to have tons of interesting stuff.