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Cold Turkey: Entertaining Self, Daughter, Nephew

This is Marlow's first Thanksgiving at home in years, and she wanted to spend it with a small family group, which is why it was just me, her and my nephew (her cousin, my brother's son) Paul (known around here as little Paul, to distinguish him from me and my dad, although he isn't really so little anymoer), who came down from Davis for the occasion.

We bought a Thanksgiving dinner from a caterer and scrupulously followed instructions, except that after two hours when we took the aluminum foil off the turkey it was stone cold. Somehow, the oven had not heated up. So, we took another two hours to cook it. That mean we didn't get to see Borat at theRheem Theater, but we had a great time sitting around and talking at watching the Story of the Weeping Camel, a cross between fiction and nature documentary that is incredibly entertaining and well worth watching. Maybe we can rent Borat when its out on DVD.

On Wednesday, Marlow and I saw four movies in SF (reviewed below). We often do these movie marathons when Vicki is out of town; she was with our younger daughter, Rae, in Manhattan. They had a hotel buffet for Thanksgiving. On Saturday, we saw four movies in Berkeley.

Friday, I had planned to see Little Children, since it is so likely to spawn Oscar nominations for its stars. My first plan was to see it at 3, but Paul mentioned he hadn't had Dim Sum since the last time Marlow and I took him out for it, so we went to Tin's Tea House in Walnut Creek. Unusally inauthentic atmosphere and locale, but great Dim Sum. By the time I got home and cleared off my desk, it was too late because…

I was committed to playing for 90 minutes in Danville to entertain people strolling down the main street after the annual Christmas Tree Lighting. It was a fun gig--I love playing Christmas carols in a small group in public from simple arrangements--but it was cold and I was tired afterwards, so I didn't go see the 9:50 show either. Little Children may have to collect its Oscar nominations while escaping my critical gaze. We'll see how next week goes. It's likely to be a blur; amazing, there are only three school weeks between Thanksgiving and the start of Winter break.

Just Briefs

PSACOT Technobriefs

by Craig Reynolds

Fusion profusion: an agreement was reached by 30 nations to build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Cadarache, France: Deal on international nuclear fusion plant signed. See also: What is the ITER Project?, Q&A: Nuclear fusion reactor and Kaname Ikeda's viewpoint Nuclear fusion: A necessary investment. But then, who needs 12 billion dollar multi-national project with an army of scientist and engineers?: Teen builds nuclear fusion reactor in basement (from the Freep, follow up).

Carbon offsets: PRI's The World did a segment on the idea of carbon offsets, payments made to fund carbon-reducing activities to cancel out the carbon we put into the atmosphere by our fossil-fuel burning transportation and industry. Similar to a carbon tax, carbon offsets are voluntary payments to allow "guilt-free" burning of carbon by removing it somewhere else. In the ultimate case this can mean carbon sequestration (actually extracting carbon from the atmosphere and putting back underground where nature in her wisdom had originally put it) it can also mean funding carbon-less energy production, etc. This idea has it heart in the right place, but without regulation and standards, does anyone know if the money is actually going where it should? For more on the nuts and bolts: Carbon Emissions Offset Directory.

Cell apps: using augmented reality overlays on images from camera phones as a web gateway: Hyperlinking Reality via Phones. Position tracking for cell phones has many applications, and just as many security concerns: Cellphone as Tracker: X Marks Your Doubts. The U.S. Copyright office recently modestly curtailed the vast anti-consumer overreaching that is the DMCA: Cell Phone Reuse Among New Rights Issued and Statement of the Librarian of Congress on the Anticircumvention Rulemaking.

Old apps: the risk of losing historically significant data due to obsolescent storage media (u-Matic anyone?) is clear to most of us, but there is a more subtle form of bit rot, when new versions of reader/player applications do not interpret old files in exactly the same way. Old content can become inaccessible or just change subtly but significantly: Will Digital Archiving Difficulties Wipe Out Important Elements Of Our History? and in more depth: The Digital Ice Age. On a related topic, a surprising amount of "mission critical" code has never been translated from prehistoric programming languages like COBOL: Programs written in old code pose business problem.

Virtual Vista: so is it that "Microsoft removes user choice in the name of security" or did they do it to force users to buy more expensive versions of Windows? Given the history of the corporation, which seems like the more likely explanation? Virtualization not 'mature' for consumers, via: Virtualization Disallowed For Vista Home (and see these comments: 1, 2).

Digital camera notes: a practical demonstration of the value of high-end camera resolution. For full frame prints, in most cases, a 13 megapixel image is not perceptibly better than a 5MP image: The Truth About Digital Cameras (see comments for many caveats, via). Cool plots of camera use by flickr members over time. Shows which cameras are most popular, which are on the rise and which are falling off. It also lets you pick out photos shot by a given camera: e.g. Nikon D50.

Water filters from rubber tires: this clever concept is both a way to recycle rubber tires, and a novel design for a water filter that avoids gradient disruption by backflushing. But note the caveats at the end of the New Scientist article: Recycled rubber tyres could clean water, Scrap tires can be used to filter wastewater and Method uses crumb rubber from scrap tires to filter wastewater.

Technobits: individualized treatments based on cancer genetics: DNA clues mean old cancer drugs can work as well as new --- Banks face growing threat of inside identity theft --- Backseat virtual reality entertains passengers --- CNET's Top Ten Girl Geeks Is A Disgrace --- Place your bets on the iPhone --- Sarasota ballot problems fuel calls for change: Electronic voting trend may be short-circuiting --- CBS Is The Latest To Recognize That Downloading TV Shows Leads To More TV Watching --- consumer level motion sensing: Tiny springs keep Wii, PS3 under control --- Dead Plagiarists Society: Will Google Book Search uncover long-buried literary crimes?

Top Ten New Dummies* Books

*"for Dummies" is a registered trademark of Wiley Publishing, Inc.

10. "Chanuka, Chanukah, Chanukkah, Hanukah, Hannukah, Hanuka, Hanaka, Haneka, Khanukkah for Dummies"

9. "Gelt Management for Dummies"

8. "Flipping 'Hayzer' (houses) for Dummies"

7. "B-A-R-K Mitzvahs for Dummies"

6. "Creating a 'vebzaytl' (website) for Dummies"

5. "Yentl Ben for Dummies"

4. "Bar Mitzvah Bouncers for Dummies"

3. "Chicken Soup and Bobbemycin for Dummies"

2. "Yarmulke-Wearing and Male-Pattern Baldness for Dummies"

1. "Gehakteh English for Dummies"

Contributed by Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe, author, "Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction:Yiddish Trivia."


2.5 stars

Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It is not that this indie film is bad, it is just that it isn't good. Which is amazing, considering the talent: James Caviezel, Greg Kinnear, Bridget Moynahan, Joe Pantoliano, Barry Pepper, Jeremy Sisto. Director Simon Brand and screenwriter Matthew Waynee are inexperienced, and it shows. The San Francisco Chronicle complained that the film didn't play fair, that its peel-the-onion style of storytelling cheated the viewer. This may explain why I was the only person to attend the final showing, at 9:30 pm on a Tuesday night. A newspaper review can't do anything for a blockbuster, but it sure makes all the difference in the world to an art film. In addition, however, the distribution pattern of this film is odd; it was playing in three theaters in the entire country on Tuesday, and two theaters for the rest of the week (meaning if you're at all interested, you'll almost certainly have to wait for the DVD--not that that's a bad thing). I went because of the capsule description: five men wake up in a warehouse. None of them can remember who they are or what they are doing there. We watch a study in human nature as they gradually remember what came before. Yes, it is a ripoff of Memento, and a poorly executed one at that. Someday, someone will make a good movie based on this premise. In the meantime, Brand, Waynee and their actors have made a modestly interesting one.

Happy Feet

3 stars

I wanted to see it in Imax because I had seen a Three-D preview and assumed the entire cartoon was in 3-D. As it turned out, none of it was, but it was still quite an experience to see the cartoon on a huge screen with giant speakers, since Happy Feet is 99% about singing and dancing and 1% about plot. The characters were cute and occasionally amusing, the voice talent was professional and the animation was state-of-the-art CGI. OK, raise your hands--does anyone else remember when water was hard to render in CGI? I did not notice, but Marlow found the Hispanic stereotyping of a group of secondary characters offensive, and wondered why Robin Williams got to voice the main Hispanic penguin. And why were the whales Australian? Cute, but not by any means irresistible. In short, it was no Flushed Away, but neither was it a total waste of money

For Your Consideration

3 stars

If Marlow had a vote, this film would have been rated 2.5 stars, which is to say just slightly sub-par. She just thought everyone was a little too smug, and mugged a little too much for the camera. I found it hysterical, but then I would pay to watch Harry Shearer read the telephone book--and his role in this film is certainly better than that. It's simple. If you liked Might Wind or Best In Show, you'll love For Your Consideration, which is not, technically a mockumentary but a movie with a "story." I use quotation marks because the story is episodic at best, exploring the reactions of the cast and crew to Internet speculation that there might be Oscars in the offing for… well, the cast and crew. I won't give away the plot, but it isn't all that important anyway. And I am pretty sure there are no Oscars in the offing for this sweet trifle.


3 stars

I own a little book which contains a brief history of the "F" word, followed by dozens of pages of usage information. My, but it is versatile (the word, not the book). The First and Second World Wars spread the word from the slums and back alleys into polite society. While most soldiers and sailors were able to deftly remove their favorite word from their vocabulary on their return, just enough of them kept using it that even my mother has been known to utter it now and then (although rarely my wife). History, etymology and usage from Miss Manners, Pat Boone, Drew Carey, George Carlin and Richard Pryor, among others, make this a more than usually interesting documentary. It just cruised right by, which was pretty f*ing amazing.

Deja Vu

3.5 stars

Hardly profound, this time-twisting murder mystery, set in New Orleans, plows some of the same ground as ABC's Day Break, or, for that matter, my favorite film, Groundhog Day. Denzel Washington is the smart, funny, clever and appealing ATF officer who is trying to save the lives of more than 500 people who die in a ferry explosion. One mistake by the moviemakers: there's a scene where they try to explain how time travel and past viewing is done. Don't complain, don't explain. Danny Rubin agrees that Howard Ramis was wise to remove all time-travel exposition from Groundhog Day, a lesson other movies could learn. Me? I just wonder why you have to time-travel naked, or nearly so. New Orleans, by the way, is the costar of the movie, which bravely moves briefly out to the 9th Ward, but spends most of its time in the virtually undamaged French Quarter. Those wily French; they not only knew how to live, but where. A good film, with clever writing and well-honed performances, it's entertaining without being intelligent, deep or thought-provoking.

Cave of the Yellow Dog

3.5 stars

If you loved the semi-documentary "Story of the Weeping Camel" a few years back, and felt you were growing closer to Mongolia, then see this film, which features the same director, but moves the action from the camel-based desert south to the horse-based grassy north of the country. As with the first film, it features a very simple plot and a sociology-class type look at the culture and mores of this largely unknown culture, along with hints about its forthcoming demise, as the nomads gradually move to the city. It is a touching film, well photographed, featuring astounding performances by amateurs in all the featured roles. Subtitled. If you're interested Mongolia but have never been there, see this film.