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August 2006
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October 2006

Happy Birthday to Me

I know a lot of people dread their birthdays as they cruise into their 50s. I just celebrated my 54th, and didn't think it was so bad. In fact, the exact circumstances of the celebration were quite fun, really. I got a lot of funny birthday cards all week (including one from my college friend Barb), and one serious handwritten card from Rae I will cherish my whole life. Mom sent me a couple of books I wanted. Marlow and Rae usually buy me something off my Amazon wish list (I have enough ties to last me a lifetime). This year my daughters got me a gift certificate for an herbal wrap at the Claremont resort, something I've been meaning to do again for years and will actually experience Saturday night.

I am pretty sure I have mentioned it before, but Vicki and I now like to do a 90 minute bike ride before dinner out in Walnut Creek or Danville, on the Iron Horse or Contra Costa Canal bike trails. This week we did it with Marlow, then went to Va da Vie, sort of a tapas joint with small plates of American food, where we ate outdoors at sunset on a warm evening.

I don't want to show hubris or tempt fate by dwelling on how wonderful this celebration was (last week I commented on how long it had been since I lost my keys--and promptly lost my keys). Let's just say a good time was had by all.

I also received a small pamphlet from another college friend on the "Seven Most Important Aspects of God." Makes interesting reading. I'll tell you more about it when I'm done.

Having Fun, Hopefully Teaching

It's been a fantastic year in terms of student behavior--five weeks into the school year, and not a single student so disruptive that I had to remove him/her from the class. Is it them, me, my new classroom furniture or some combination of all three? Probably the last. This is, as you'll recall, my fourth year teaching. They said it would get easier every year. Maybe, for a change, they were right.

I had an especially pleasant experience on Friday. We're learning the French and Indian War and the run up to the American Revolution. I started doing a little schtick in fifth period (You're Britain and you went broke defending the colonists. Who should pay that debt, you or them? You own a rum factory. Sugar is taxed. How does that affect you? Your customers? Where are you going to buy sugar? Why). I also pointed out that everything Britain did for 13 years leading up to the revolution made the colonists angry--even when they lowered taxes. Those colonists were a cranky bunch. I got a big kick out of it--I think my students did too. Gosh, it would be so nice to think that their learning and my fun were simultaneous.

New Demo Talent in Mass.

Richard Dalton checks in with word of some new Democratic talent:

I am very proud of my adopted state of Massachusetts today. Deval Patrick became the first African-American nominated for governor by a major party, defeating two politically-connected opponents, one of whom spent $10 million of his own fortune on TV ads, the other the current attorney general.

I have met Deval (everyone I know who has met him refers to him as Deval) three times and I told him recently that he is the first candidate I can unreservedly support since George McGovern. He has more poise (not smoothness) and willingness to listen than any candidate in recent memory.

Deval faces Kerry Healy in November. She is the current lieutenant governor under Mitt Romney, a republican who has been courting conservative votes for a 2008 presidential run while neglecting his gubernatorial duties. Healy has already launched attack ads against a candidate Deval beat handily, so it could be a messy seven weeks.

Should Deval emerge from the expected mud bath with a victory, he should be watched as a future possibility for national office. Barack Obama, another high profile African-American, spoke at an early fund--raiser for Deval and will probably appear again before the final election.

Old farts will remember Sen. Edward W. Brooke (b.1919), the first black US senator since Reconstruction, who served Massachusetts for 12 years in the 60s and 70s.

Dalton also pointed out yet another impending outrage from the Repulican'ts:

This week, the Senate is planning to quietly hold a vote that would pardon President Bush for breaking the law by illegally wiretapping innocent Americans.

The bill would let the administration off the hook for breaking the law and make it legal to wiretap Americans, in secret, without any oversight whenever they want to.

Democrats and some Republicans are holding strong against it, and if enough of us speak up we can stop it. Can you sign the petition opposing the Republican move to pardon President Bush for breaking the law? 



  • Spy Agencies Outsourcing to Fill Key Jobs: Contractors, many of them former employees, are doing sensitive work, such as handling agents. A review of the practice has been ordered.
  • Help get rid of the "donut hole" in President Bush's Part D prescription drug disaster, and help prevent nearly 7 million seniors from getting stuck with prescription bills many just can't afford.
  • Ever wonder what would happen if the CEO of Halliburton came clean?  Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films did…and they created this clip.


by Craig Reynolds

Here comes the Googlemobile! There has been recent press attention on, the for-profit charity funded by 1% of Google's stock and profits. Apparently one of the projects they are looking at is a 100-mpg E85-powered hybrid automobile. Katie Hafner in NYT: Philanthropy Google’s Way: Not the Usual and Lincoln Caplan in Slate: Premium Blend: Is the future of philanthropy?

Eco tech: plentiful, safe and commonly used, a new source of hydrogen power: Iowa company turns to ammonia for fuel. Also: GM bacteria churn out 'microdiesel' fuel and Biofuels: Green energy or grim reaper? Again it happens: EU chases GMO-tainted rice strain in four countries. The Independent claims: Bush 'prepares emissions U-turn', or was it just this lame-o policy: Bush Administration Announces Half-Baked Climate Change Plan. From Time: Mercury Rising: "The toxic metal isn't just in seafood. It's showing up everywhere--and it's more dangerous than you think."

Photonic forbearer: in a big step toward silicon photonic computers by researchers at Intel and UC Santa Barbara built hybrid devices with Indium Phosphide laser bonded to silicon based chips which provided the waveguide "wire" to carry the laser light. See: A Chip That Can Transfer Data Using Laser Light, Intel Builds New Laser Based Processor and the Intel Press Release.

e-lections woes: Princeton Prof. Edward Felten finds E-Voting Machine an Easy Hack (see this video demonstration). RFK Jr. asks Will The Next Election Be Hacked? USA today warns Election glitches 'could get ugly'. Maryland Governor Wants To Scrap E-Voting Machines; Go All Paper For The Election (see also If Paper Ballots Restore Trust In Elections, Let's Switch). Avi Rubin, a Maryland elections judge and professor, cites security woes: Q&A: Go back to paper ballots, says e-voting expert.

Pedia v. pedia: first there was Wikipedia, then there was Scholarpedia (intended to establish clear authorship of academic articles) and now Citizendium to be edited by "experts." See Wikipedia Founder plans Competing Project (via Co-Founder Forks Wikipedia), Wikipedia vs. Citizendium: How Do You Define an Expert? and Guerrilla Wikipedians rate rival's chances. A critique of the basic assumptions: Techies hot on concept of 'wisdom of crowds,' but it has some pitfalls.

Wii v. PS3: Nintendo could beat Sony in console race, experts say. Sony reduced the price it will charge in Japan for the low end (20GB) PS3 when it goes on sale November 11. The new price roughly corresponds to the price of an Xbox 360 plus the planned external HD-DVD drive (PS3 will include an internal Blue-Ray drive): Sony cuts PS3 Japan price by 20 pct to spur growth and Sony cuts price of PlayStation 3. They also announced that the 20GB model will have support for modern digital TVs: Sony's 20GB PS3 to feature HDMI port. Reports from the Tokyo Game Show: First Impressions of Sony's PlayStation 3 and Hands on with the PlayStation 3.

Movie, music downloads: Some follow-up to the Apple news from last week: Analysis: Can Apple's iTV dominate the living room? and iTV: What you need to know. A contrarian view of movie downloads: Apple, Amazon online movie distribution service not ready for prime time. There was similar nay-saying when Apple began selling music online, but that business has done pretty well. While not disputing that, a recent study show that many iPod owners do not buy their music from the iTunes Store: Online music business model questioned. Basically this says that the iPod is more popular than the iTunes Store. There are many non-Apple sources of music, only one of which is piracy.  About 10% of the music in my iTunes library was bought through Apple's online store, the other 90% is from CDs I bought before it existed.

Music recommenders: one hope for online music is that, beyond corporate advertising, new decentralized online methods will be used to find new under appreciated music. This topic was touched on here back in February. Now Matthew Shaer writes in Slate on "the attempt to build a music recommender that doesn't suck": Actually, I Hate That Song which features interesting new work by Sun's Paul Lamere on SITM ("Search Inside the Music").

Technobits: Triple-standard DVD and Inventors try single disc for both new DVD formats --- AI prize award for British firm --- Girl gamers want respect in virtual man's world --- more pigments on parade: Ancient Greeks invented 'quantum dot' dye  --- OSDL Patent Project Under Attack --- bluegills against terrorism: When a fish becomes a canary, Fish enlisted in US terror fight --- "Walking" Sharks Among 50 New Species Found in Indonesia Reefs --- very cool mashup of super high speed video with a moving point of view: Concave Surround Optics for Rapid Multiview Imaging (see video 34MB, DivX in AVI).

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

3.5 stars

Let me begin by saying this is a first-rate documentary. Alas, it is about a second-rate subject. If director Kirby Dick had tackled a subject of importance, like Farenheit 911 or Supersize me, my praise would be unstinting. Clearly this is a man with control of his art and technique, and while his target--the ratings system of the Motion Picture Association of America is worthy of skewering, even skewering at the length to which he skewers it, there is a flaw in his central premise. The unspoken assumption of this film is that, despite what the MPAA says, the system amounts to censorship, because films with an NC-17 rating can't be advertised or distributed in most parts of the country (with the exception, thankfully, of Berkeley). It censors sex, but not violence. In particular, it censors gay sex more than straight sex, and female pleasure more than male pleasure.

He unmasks the secret members of the ratings board and the appeal board. At first, this seems pointless; who cares who these people are? But in doing so, he exposes the hypocrisy of the MPAA which claims to have term limits and a board of raters who are parents. Both of these statements are false, and the appeals board consists entirely of distributors and studio reps. Go see the film if you want their names.

In the end, the film falls down because you can make an NC-17 film and you can get it distributed, probably to nearly every place in the country that would go to see a film like that anyway. How many people out in the Red States are dying for more gay sex in their mainline films anyway? They get enough of that from the Internet.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated doesn't make your blood boil, it just heats it up a little.

Lasusa Links, GHD-Type Show Coming, Dan Grobstein File

Tom Lasusa hopes you noticed Talk Like A Pirate Day. And he, his wife Kim and their friends surf the net so you don't have to: South Park's Drug Free Treatment for Attention Deficit DisorderHow physics killed Spiderman's girlfriend ( every sense of the word)… 10 Scientific Frauds that Rocked the World... Diaries of kamikaze pilotsLooking to get rid of a couple spare brain cells? Watch this Lord of the Rings 'video'The Emperor Searches for a New Job After Return of the JediIn New York City, Bush welcomes Abbas... to 'Washington, D.C.'Heinz Microwave Soup -- ready in two minutes, or as soon as he's done.I've heard of the porcelin throne, but solid gold?

In November, look for Day Break, a TV show that uses the Groundhog Day meme (fairly common in science fiction) of repeating the same day over and over. It may be great, or it may demonstrate that the idea is not enough to achieve greatness without the addition of great writing (thank you Danny Rubin).

Dan Grobstein File

Brainiac By Ken Jennings Villard, 251 pages, $24.95
Prisoner of Trebekistan By Bob Harris Crown, 339 pages, $23.95

I've read both of these books and they're sort of like reading Groucho's memoirs and "Harpo Speaks" one after the other. They have the same basic starting point -- being a contestant on Jeopardy! and what they went through to get there. Bob Harris (not unlike Groucho) gets a lot of funny bits into the narrative and Ken Jennings (like Harpo) is more serious. But I'd say that Harris, like Harpo has a lot more humanity in his book.

Jennings also talks about the history of trivia which I found pretty fascinating. Who knew? Harris talks a lot more about his interesting life and gives us a hint of how interesting his life has become since Jeopardy! (He's become quite a world traveler in addition to political commentary on his blog and his professional writing).

I've been reading Bob Harris' blog since he started posting on Tom Tomorrow's blog so I immediately preordered the book from Amazon when it was announced. (And Jennings' book when I heard about it).

  • No One Dares to Help
    The wounded die alone on Baghdad's streets. An offer of aid could be your own death sentence, an Iraqi reporter writes.

  • | September 17, 2006
    Fortune’s Fools: Why the Rich Go Broke
    The trajectory of George Foreman’s finances once had him headed into a gilded pantheon of big buckaroos who have squandered often-unimaginable sums of money.

Telling Fact from Fiction

As I have for the last three years, I showed my students the Charlie Brown version of the Mayflower voyage. These days, of course, when you show students a video, it's not just a break for the teacher, or even a chance for the members of the AV club to show off; you need to make sure they're "engaged with the material." Sometimes, you prepare a series of questions for them. Sometimes, you ask them to take notes and check their notes. You always show a film for less than a period, so you can discuss it.

Last year, I started adding something to the notes and discussion for this cartoon. "Which events in the video happened and which didn't. How can you tell?" It would have been a teachable moment, if more than six of my 90 students had heard a whisper of the controversy over the 9/11 Mini-series at ABC--you know, the $30 million in-kind contribution by the Disney Co. to the Republican't party?

Anyway, one of my several points was: it is difficult to tell the difference. Several of the most amazing things in the cartoon are true. I pointed out the obvious things that are false; the personal moments with the cartoon characters, the pratfalls, the exact dialog. But the Pilgrims really did meet an Indian who spoke great English. Can you beat that? Later, they'll find that Lewis and Clark really did run into Sacajawea's brother (as show in the Simpsons' Sacajawea). History is full of implausabilities; my main point was that they should remember docudramas (and, for that matter, cartoons) don't necessarily help you sort them out. I told them of conflation, and composite or wholly invented characters, and mentioned that writers usually do enough research to get specific dates right. Conversations and motives are almost never correct.

Then, that night I saw Hollywoodland. What a coincidence! As I say below, I just hope the Wikipedia article on George Reeves wasn't written by the producers of the film, because it sure reads like it was.

Does OBL Hate Freedom? Bush Oozing Fear

A friend writes (I am in school when Forum is on and so don't often hear it):

I was listening to the 9/11 edition of KQED's Forum this morning and a caller mentioned a bin Laden quote that I had missed or forgotten: "[regarding] Bush's claim that we hate freedom. Let him tell us why we did not strike Sweden, for example." Another called said she felt "terrorized" by the policies of the Bush administration. That suggested to me a great poll question: "what scares you more, being harmed by terrorists, or the policies of the Bush administration?" Personally I much more concerned about erosion of our liberties and economic justice than I am about being blown up by al-Qaeda. See also: Dick Cheney's 'facts'


Time to stop the whining. The next time Shrub shockingly actually "politicizes" something, stop whining, you're not in Rick's place. Instead try this:

In delivering a speech commemorating the 6,000 deaths caused by his failures (3,000 on 9/11 after he ignored a clear warning and stayed on vacation and 3,000 in Iraq) , George Bush oozed fear from every pore that he and the Republican Party would be held accountable for his failures:

  • The 9/11 disaster from which he cowardly fled in our plane,
  • the failure to catch Osama Bin Laden,
  • the failure in Iraq,
  • the failure to negotiate with North Korea,
  • the failure to negotiate with Iran,
  • the abject failure of abandoning our fellow citizens to drown in the waters of Katrina in New Orleans while he flew serenely above the disaster in our plane

All these bring closer the day this November when the American people can hold George Bush and every Republican U.S. Representative (and a few Republican Senators) accountable.




by Craig Reynolds

Apple's new toys: before the It's Showtime event last Tuesday it was widely assumed that there would be announcements of new iPods and movies being sold at iTunes. There was even some speculation that Jobs would announce a video version of AirPort Express, a device that would stream video from your computer into your home entertainment system. Prognoticators of the second sort get an extra point for insight, but lose half a point because Apple took the rare (for them) step of announcing a product before it was available for sale. The new device, called iTV for now, provides an end-to-end solution for delivery of video content from the online store to your digital TV. To me this seems huge. Both Blockbuster and Netflix ought to be worried about this: forget schlepping around plastic disks, just download your DVD quality movies over your broadband connection. But wait, since you can buy TV shows at iTunes too, do you really need that TiVo? Heck, do you really nead that cable TV feed? There may be a time soon when all the movies and TV shows you want to watch can be bought or rented at iTunes. The money that you now pay to Netflix, TiVo and the cable company could be used to buy individual shows at iTunes. Now thats convergence! See also: Apple 'It's Showtime!' event and New UI Showdown: Apple vs. TiVo. This guy had it almost right in 2005: Apple, Tivo, and the iConcert.

Orbital Be-Bop: Astronomers name 'world of chaos' the KBO that dethroned Pluto: "the object has been called Eris, after the Greek goddess of discord. Eris is larger than Pluto, which put scientists in the fix of having to call them both planets - or neither. Both bodies have now been put in the new classification of 'dwarf planets'" Elsewhere in the cosmos this week: Huge ethane cloud discovered on Titan and Puffy planet poses pretty puzzle. It could be the end of the world as we know it, and CERN feels fine: Concern Over Creating Black Holes. (And yes, if you are keeping score at home, those were references to Q-Feel and REM.)

Pigments on parade: OK, this is two-thirds rehash, but what is it lately with new applications for old dyes? First it was cobalt green for room temperature spintronics, then it was woad blue as a source of the potent cancer fighter glucobrassicin, and now its phthalocyanine. the blue dye in blue jeans being inserted directly inside cancer cells using tiny gold balls as Trojan horses.

Technobits: AG threatens criminal charges as HP reshuffles its board --- Wikipedia defies China's censors --- Helping Big Brother Go High Tech (via) --- Top 25 Censored Stories of 2007 (via Project Censored, endorsed by Walter Cronkite, via my non-techno sister) --- EU software patents: How an avid computer geek bested Microsoft --- U-HDTV --- worried about being stuck at Web 1.0?: I'm ready to move to the Web's next level --- bicycle pump viral marketing (via) --- South Carolina Pushes Hydrogen Economy --- clean French coal, good news or bad? --- Making India a hub of venture capital --- Stemming Spam: better data leads to better filters --- Why men at war will pull together --- One small step for robots -- jumping (via) --- fly eye exposure equalization (via , via) --- anti-antibiotic: Wait-and-See Approach Works for Children's Ear Infections --- New Bird Discovered in India --- Beetle spawns new material: a super-efficient biomimetic vapor collector --- yikes!: Sex Baiting Prank on Craigslist Affects Hundreds and The Jason Fortuny Affair: Social Software and Griefers --- don't let anyone tell you electric cars have lame acceleration: Wrightspeed X1.