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by Craig Reynolds

Wii v. PS3: more (see previous items) on the upcoming launch of these two next gen game consoles: Battleground for Consoles Moves Online, Hot holiday video games could spur player sales, Top 5 Wii Games at Launch and New Controller To Offer ‘Wii Emulation’ For PS3, 360, PC. Some PS3 announcements: Sony Readies Its PlayStation 3 for Battle, Sony unveils net service for PS3 and Sony's Online Free-for-All.

Second Life, more like the first: increasingly real world activities, like university classes and political campaigns, are moving into the persistent multiuser virtual world known as Second Life. Now Reuters opens virtual news bureau in Second Life. On the commercial aspects: A Virtual World but Real Money.

Global warming: Antarctic ice collapse linked to greenhouse gases, Gravity satellites see ice loss (but: Not So Fast: Greenland Ice Melting, But Slower Than Thought) and Seabed microbes munch methane, curb warming: study.

Microsoft: at long last, a new version of "the browser for people who don't know how to download Firefox": Microsoft hopes 7 is lucky number for IE. Locking third parties out of the Vista security market: McAfee: Microsoft completely unrealistic on Vista and The Netscaping of Symantec and McAfee. Those companies came into being because previous Windows security was so bad, so now the public is suppose to trust that Microsoft finally got it right? Yet another reason to use Macs: Some Video iPods shipped with Windows virus. NYT asks Ballmer: Is Windows Near End of Its Run?

Mars and Antennae: NASA Orbiter Reveals New Details of Mars, Young and Old and 'Another New Mars': NASA Orbiter Ready for Red Planet Science. Great new images from Hubble data of the Antennae galaxies: look at this gorgeous close up of that chaotic central region. Here is a comparison with older imagery (via).

Invisibility, no really: no longer just the province of myth or science fiction: Working invisibility cloak created at last. OK, this prototype works in the microwave, not the visible, portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, but still! It is based on the same sort of metamaterial previously used to create optical components with negative index of refraction.  See this image of the device and Duke's press release with video.

Domain kiting fixed?: abuse of the domain registration practice known as domain kiting or "domain tasting" was mentioned here back in August, and now maybe some relief: ICANN votes on domain tasting solution.

Technobits: Computerized Voter Registration Databases Need a Major Overhaul (via, see also ACM's page) --- study quantifies gender stereotype's impact on women: Negative images sap math test score --- Picking out digital image forgeries ("researcher shows how digital image forgeries can be spotted") --- Cyberface: New Technology That Captures the Soul: NYT raves about facial performance capture and remapping from Image Metrics (recall also the Mova Contour system mentioned here recently) --- autopilot for quiet, fuel-efficient airliner descent: As jetliners descend, so will their volume --- Sun’s data center in a box --- Why Old Media and Tom Cruise Should Worry About Cheaper Technology --- how "beauty" is manufactured: Dove Evolution.

Lasusa Links, Dern remembers, MIT's Core, Dan Grobstein File

Tom Lasusa surfs the net so you don't have to: 30 Second Bunny Theatre presents "Fight Club"Agatha Christie's temporary disappearance solved?Hmm, Maybe the Stingrays ARE trying to take us down.Psychology of rumorsNot It! Mass. Elementary School Bans TagData-center built into a shipping containerNo-Fly lists even dumber than suspected… (Currently listed as a threat: Francois Genoud, Nazi
sympathizer and financier of Arab terrorism. Dead for ten years)… Forget Shrimp on the Barbie -- try Shrimp on a TreadmillWhatever happened to the TV Show Theme Song?


Apropos of my annual anniversary column, Daniel Dern noted that I wrote… "I don't believe anyone who reads this column except Peter Peckarsky would remember the original P.S. A Column On Things..." Dern replied:

Now that you jog my memory, I b'lieve I do. If I can remember Ken Skier's column in Thursday, esp. when I was his editor, I should be able to remember your col.

I stand corrected, and will try to remember to write it correctly next year. Dern also found Death of a Pumpkin, from the guys who brought you "Chad Vader."

Another fellow alum notes that MIT is probably going to make some big changes to the core curriculum.

Dan Grobstein File

To say Daniel enjoyed the New Yorker festival this year would be an understatement:

I've been meaning to tell you about the fun I had at the New Yorker Festival this year. I set a personal record in the number of talks that I attended. Coincidentally I saw three of the five events for which the New Yorker has just posted videos on their website.

I saw the Islam and the West (Omar Ahmad, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Mahmood Mamdani, Azar Nafisi, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, and Lawrence Wright. George Packer, moderator) panel discussion on Friday night. The Justice Breyer on Saturday and the Malcolm Gladwell on Sunday. I tried to get tickets for the Steve Martin/Roz Chast talk but couldn't even get to the page in Ticketmaster. I tried for this and the Jon Stewart talk first by using two computers at work on the T1 line but had no luck.

I started out Saturday with a panel discussion about Global Warming with James Hansen, Martin Hoffert, Robert Socolow, and Timothy E. Wirth moderated by Elizabeth Kolbert.

I then went off to the TV, Movies, and the Mob discussion with Lorraine Bracco, Paul Haggis, Harold Ramis, Gerald Shargel and Frank Vincent, moderated by Jeffrey Goldberg.

Then Liev Schreiber interviewed by John Lahr.

Jeffrey Toobin interviewed Stephen Breyer, though Justice Breyer really took over the interview. He used to be a professor and it shows.

My last show was Randy Newman's conversation with music with Susan Morrison.

It was a long day. The first talk was 10 a.m. and the last one was 10 p.m.

On Sunday I saw Malcolm Gladwell who didn't actually talk about the case for secrets. He told the story that was in last week's New Yorker about software that tries to predict hits. He said that they asked him for the topic months ago.

Earlier in the week I went to the Harper's Magazine forum "Should the US Get Out of Iraq" with George McGovern, John Murtha, William Polk, James Jay Carafano and Salameh Nematt, moderated by Brian Lehrer of WNYC radio.

And on Sunday night my son and I went to the Comedy Central broadcast of the Autism benefit at the Beacon Theatre hosted by Jon Stewart with lots of comedians. Some very funny stuff though they did some stuff on the tv screen interacting with Jon Stewart and not in person. Jerry Seinfeld showed up unannounced. We were in the upper balcony. I'm glad that I brought my binoculars. Interestingly, they wanded us all as we came in.

All in all a very good week. The New Yorker weekend was sensory overload but I really enjoyed it.

This Week's Lineup

What a great lineup we have this week: a cogent political analysis from Richard Dalton, Craig Reynolds, clever as always with Technobriefs, three reviews from Neal Vitale, Tom Lasusa's Links and the Dan Grobstein File, as well as some other brief comments from regulars and a new contributor alike. And from me, a recycled self-promotion reprinted for the 8th time. Has it really been eight years? Yes. Does it seem like more? Often to me, and sometimes to you, I am sure. Am I asking myself questions, the way Donald Rumsfeld does? Yes. Icck.

Eight Years Later

(A reprint of my annual anniversary item, with small adjustments).

As of Oct. 16, it's been eight years since fury at the Clinton impeachment drove me to write this weekly blog--an impeachment, we now discover, that even Republicans didn't want. It was forced on the nation by Dick "The Hammer" Armey--with whom karma caught up. There is, sometimes, justice in the universe.

[As a U.S. history teacher, I am forced to note that Andrew Johnson's impeachment was a rabid partisan witch hunt, as was Clinton's. Only Nixon's was bipartisan--and only Nixon resigned.]

Anyway, I either had to start a column or check into a mental institution. PSACOT gave me a forum in which to express, to an audience (no matter how small) my feelings about that political circus. It has since evolved into a combination of diary for my family and me and bulletin board for my clever friends--in short, a personal column. Like, but not as good as, former San Francisco Chronicle columnist Adair Lara or ongoing columnist Jon Carroll. Or, to take a national example, former New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen, considered the mother of the personal column concept (even though Stanton Delaplane and Charles McCabe of the San Francisco Chronicle actually beat her to it--but of course, if it hasn't happened in New York, it hasn't happened).

PSACOT is also a revival of sorts. I don't believe anyone who reads this column except Peter Peckarsky would remember the original P.S. A Column On Things, which ran in ERGO, MIT's objectivist newspaper from September 1970 to March 1971, and The Tech, MIT's semi-official student newspaper, from March 1971 to May 1971. Those were among my happiest days as a journalist. If I had truly understood the fulfillment a personal column gave me, perhaps I would have fought harder to keep it when Bob Fourer killed it, or revived it when I became editor-in-chief two years later, or tried to practice the craft (and become the father of the personal column).

Ironically, this column, born in a political circus, celebrates its eighth anniversary during another political circus. I am as passionate about this one as I was the impeachment.

Bush's dubious 2004 re-elevation (he didn't win the first time either) and disastrous second term (to date) stand as a monument. Not to courage, or "staying the course," but to the right-wing Republican conspiracy to overturn elections they cannot win fair and square, or to change the rules in the middle of the game. That conspiracy now includes:

  • the 1996 presidential election (impeachment)
  • the 2000 election (fraud and illicit Supreme Court chicanery--federalism HAH!)
  • redistricting in Texas and Colorado without a new census (not the way the game has been played for 230 or so years)
  • the 2002 California Gubernatorial election
  • the 2004 election, with its accurate exit polls and inaccurate vote counts (viz. Ohio)

The list just gets longer. Don't expect things to change in 2006.

Still, I expect you'll read as much or more about Marlow and Rae and their doings, and my classroom, as you will about politics in this forum this year. It is increasingly apparent I am mellowing with age.

Welcome to Our World, America

This interpretation of the 10/9 CBS News/New York Times poll from Richard Dalton:

The public’s view of Iraq is as dark as it has been since the war began in 2003, with two-thirds saying it is going somewhat or very badly, while only 3 percent are saying the war is going very well. Two-thirds said they disapproved of how Mr. Bush was handling Iraq.

Mr. Bush’s job approval rating has slipped to 34 percent, from 37 percent in September. That is one of the lowest levels of his presidency and poses a complication for the White House as it seeks to send him out on the road to rally base voters. Mr. Bush’s job approval rating has even slipped with his base: 75 percent of conservative Republicans approve of the way he has handled his job, compared with 96 percent in November 2004.

The president clearly faces constraints as he seeks to address the public concerns about Iraq that have shrouded this midterm election: 83 percent of respondents thought that Mr. Bush was either hiding something or mostly lying when he discussed how the war in Iraq was going. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said Mr. Bush was personally aware of intelligence reports before Sept. 11 that warned of possible domestic terrorist attacks using airplanes. When the same question was asked in May 2002, 41 percent said they believed Mr. Bush was aware.

The poll found that 47 percent of respondents believed that Democrats came closer to sharing their moral values, compared with 38 percent who said Republicans did. The Democratic standing in this area included some unlikely groups: 26 percent of conservatives and 43 percent of people who live in the South named Democrats as the party that came closer to sharing their values.


by Craig Reynolds

GoogleYouTube: a couple of weeks back Mark Cuban famously remarked that only a moron would buy YouTube (that's his story and he is sticking with it, see more on this). Yet its worth noting that the $1.65 billion price is about 2% of Google's stock market value, so this is sort of a small deal from that perspective. Also relevant to the moron issue: "In a move that appears to pre-empt the threat of legal action against YouTube, Universal Music Group and Sony BMG said earlier on Monday they signed distribution deals with YouTube, following a similar agreement with Warner Music Group last month." See also: YouTube buy lends more weight to media deals, Google swallows YouTube for $1.65bn and GooTube, YouGoog, Tugle. In Stop The Press: Entertainment Industry Exec Acknowledges That Piracy Is Competition the YouTube deal is seen as positive mindset shift on part of media companies.

Allergy vaccines: news about a "hay fever" treatment: Vaccine May Ease Ragweed Allergies and High Hopes for Ragweed Vaccine. This idea surfaced in 2004: Allergy vaccine hopes get boost and Hopes over food allergy vaccine.

Planetary press: Jupiter tiny spot goes from white to red and Probe peers into Venusian secrets. Cosmic rays could power icy moon's plumes: in a continuing series on the wonders of ammonia, turns out it may be key to the power source behind Enceladus's geysers (video). Meanwhile, back on Earth: Planet enters 'ecological debt'. Big mountains: destroyer of life or its source?

DRM doings from last week: LimeWire take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing (hopes to) end them: A File Sharer Fights Back, while In A Twist, Now DVD Jon Wants To Give You More DRM.

Technobits: Fox uses Treo to break N.Y. plane crash news --- free (mostly classical) music downloads from Wikipedia (via) --- explaining the apparent rise in autism rates? When Engineers' Genes Collide "Could modern patterns of marriage be concentrating the genes that predispose people to autism?" --- I ended last week's post with two interactive animated toys, both based on simulated physics (this and this) but forgot to include this very cool "live whiteboard": MIT sketching (via Lisa) --- finally, from YouTube: 9 months of gestation in 20 seconds (also via Lisa).

Neal Vitale Reviews: The Departed, The Illusionist, Man of the Year

The Departed
4.5 stars

Martin Scorsese returns to his roots of intense ethnic urban violence (Mean Streets, Goodfellas) with a vivid and dynamic The Departed. This two-and-a-half hour story of mob informants within the Boston police, undercover cops wrestling with personal demons, and an assortment of other deceptions and canards, is riveting from the opening credits (set to vintage Rolling Stones, of course) to the surprise ending. A terrific cast - Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Jack Nicholson - is splendid and appropriately foul-mouthed throughout. Even when the twisting plot strains credulity a bit, the strength of the dialogue and acting bulldoze through. The Departed is Scorsese's finest work in decades.

--Neal Vitale

[Editor's note: After reading this review, I rushed out to see it the same night (it had been lower on my list, which is stupid considering it was Scorsese and even bad Scorsese is pretty good). I teetered on the brink of 5 stars (such an epic!) but decided it lacked complexity, and that 4.5 stars is about right. Good film, won't stand up to multiple viewings, I don't think. Anyway, his review says it all and gives nothing away]

The Illusionist
4 stars

Neil Burger's second film is a beautifully-photographed, well-written, and nicely-acted bit of historical fiction, set in the streets and royal courts of turn-of-the-century Vienna. Edward Norton (Fight Club) is a magician whose love of a beautiful duchess (Jessica Biel, from TV's "7th Heaven," and Elizabethtown) puts him at odds with evil Crown Prince Leopold (the stiff Rufus Sewell, who finally finds a role appropriate to his abilities) and his minions, led by the politically-ambitious police inspector (Paul Giamatti). While one could argue that the "surprise" ending is telegraphed throughout the film, The Illusionist is far better than much of this year's cinema, and a most engaging 110 minutes.

--Neal Vitale

[Editor's Note: Check out my review of The Illusionist and you'll see Neal and I agree, right down to the number of stars.]

Man of the Year
0 stars

This flaccid, preachy film is an utter waste of time. Ostensibly the story of the election of a TV talk show host/comedian (Robin Williams) as President due to a secret voting system glitch, Man of the Year is really just a series of constrained bits of Williams stand-up connected by moralistic speeches and silly potboiler shenanigans. All of the esteemed talent associated with this effort - Williams, Laura Linney, Christopher Walken, "The Daily Show"'s Lewis Black, Jeff Goldblum, and especially writer/director Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam, Diner) - should be embarrassed.

--Neal Vitale

The Queen

4 stars

Not profound, but profoundly entertaining. As the British would say, this film is never wrong-footed. If you're the least bit interested in the British monarchy, Tony Blair or even Britain in general, this is a must-see. It is the story of the week Pricess Diana died, told from the perspective of the Royal Family, particularly Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren). James Cromwell is, by every account I ever read, letter perfect as Prince Phillip, and they have the good sense to show Diana only in film clips. I've seen Prince Charles, and even in 1977 his hair didn't look as good as Alex Jennings does (and the bald spot in the back is nowhere near big enough). Sylvia Sims is an astounding queen mother, and Michael Sheen is a spot-on Tony Blair. But reviewing the quality of the imitations would be like reviewing an SNL skit on the same basis, and in both cases, it's a little beside the point. The point is that director Stephen Frears and writer Peter Morgan make it possible to imagine what the hell caused the Royal Family to stay at Balmoral for almost a week before returning to London to lead the hysterical national mourning for a woman they (Charles excepted) despised. Charles has the best line on that: "The people will never know the Diana we knew. They are mourning the Diana they knew." The film does rather make it look like the front-page editors of tabloid newspaper run Britain, although I am sure they would say they say they simply accurately reflect public opinion.

Three great scenes. In one, Tony Blair stands in his library and talks to the Queen in her library. The contrast between the libraries is a loving piece of set decoration. In the other pair of scenes, we see the Queen try to save a 14-point buck from death, and then view the body after its head has been chopped off for trophy purposes. The stag clearly represents both death and innocence--that is, Diana--and the Queen displays classic transference when she cries, for the only time in the film, at the thought of its death.

As always, you wish there were footnotes (well, at least I wish there were footnotes) so you cold tell which parts are true and which are made up. As an interested observer of the British monarchy, I recognized numerous well-researched moments and even more plausible moments (they really did use the funeral plan they had for the Queen Mother), along with what were, I am sure, flights of pure fancy. In short, the usual docu-drama mix. I can't imagine HRH EII is going to care much for the film, but I say she should like it--it humanizes the Royal Family and explains a bit of their weirdness.

Oscars are in order for everyone in sight.

Bing, Lasusa Links, Dalton on the Housing Bubble, Peterman on Films, Amazon Author Rankings, Dan Grobstein File

Reader Rich Pearson wrote:

Groundhog Day is definitely in my top 5 movies which is why I started surfing the net looking for other fans who might be interested in a Ned Ryerson inspired "Bing" contest at My 9 year old and I played the scene back 5 times before we were happy with our "bing".

Tom Lasusa and friends surf the net so you don't have to… A Toke a day keeps the forgetfuls at bayCure hiccups with a finger up the assAstronomers see that Milky Way is packed with earth-like orbsSouth Park: Make Love Not Warcrafthidden rooms on the rise… Someone get these MuthaF'n zombies off my MuthaF'n...well, you get the rest of it… 'Flintstones' Artist Ed Benedict DiesMouse finds plant. Mouse climbs inside plant. Plant eats mouse.Who Lives in a Pineapple Under the Sea? David Bowie!Christopher Walken stars in "Balls of Fury" (No, I'm not kidding)… What's irking Extremist Muslim now? How about Apple's NYC 5th Avenue Store?… Ray Villafane's marvelous carved pumpkins What would happen if all humans disappeared from the Earth?

Richard Dalton wrote to me last week about the San Francisco Bay Area housing follies:

Palo Alto-based friends, who live in a very pleasant but not lavish neighborhood, are visiting and told us that their next-door neighbor just sold their home for $6.7 million and, yes, it's a tear-down.

Why do we live on Cape Cod? You can get an impressive home here with panoramic ocean views for about $1-$1.5 million. You can even find quite comfortable places in the $350,000-$450,000 range--and you don't have to live in Des Moines to get that kind of pricing.

This is what they say in the seven counties that form the SF bay area:

"This of the kind of home you could buy with that money in Kansas"
"Yeah, but every day when you wake up, you're in Kansas."

The line lacks something when compared to Cape Cod, I'd say. And in fact, an MIT friend of mine from the South lived in Kansas for a few years, and he didn't mind it much.

Regular correspondent Kent Peterman checks in with a web site full of movie scripts (Copyright violation much?) and a great deal of fun at, the opposite of that Jeopardy category "Actors and Their Roles." In this case, it's actors who were considered for parts they didn't get. Checked out my personal favorite movie, and I am sure you will agree with me that Tom Hanks would not have been as good as Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. The film might still be a classic, but wouldn't be as good as it is with Murray.

I find Amazon rankings frustrating. I know there is a publicly available API to massage the information, but as I am not a programmer and my interest is casual, I have no motivation to write my own queries or even query tool. But if you'd like to quickly pluck out rankings by author or title, check out

Dan Grobstein File

  • Q. Why don't republicans use bookmarks?
    A. Because they bend over pages.
  • has a lot of interesting speculation about the North Korean test. This particular post closes with this:
    "I close this discourse about operational confidence by noting that the United States has built a missile defense that does not work, to defend against a North Korean missile that does not work, that would carry a nuclear warhead that does not work. This is all very postmodern."