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February 2007
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by Craig Reynolds

Apple, good/evil:based on sales per square foot, not to mention excellent design and customer service, Fortune magazine picks Apple: America's best retailer ("The high-tech wundercompany has landed - not only on our street corners and in our malls, but also for the first time, on the top 10 of Fortune's Most Admired Companies.") While in Europe Apple continues to be cast as the miscreant for the locked down anti-interoperability DRM that creates the iTunes walled garden monopoly: EU takes aim at Apple over iTunes. ("Do you think it's fine that a CD plays in all CD players but that an iTunes song only plays in an iPod? I don't. Something has to change" -- EU Consumer Protection Commissioner Kuneva.)

Innovative games: in games, as in other creative industries, innovation and predictable profits often lie in different directions. Big commercial games, like big commercial films, need to turn big profits to offset their big production costs. Remaking past winners is the safest bet. While low budget indie games, like films at Sundance, can be more experimental and quirky, going for a smaller audience niche.  Like a stand-out indie film getting a big time Hollywood distribution deal, the game flOw (from Jenova Chen et al. at USC, now at thatgamecompany) has gotten a lot of attention recently because it is being distributed through the Sony PS3 online store. See also this article Calling all rebels! Video game market opens wide and this recent GDC session Classroom to Console: The Autobiography of flOw. You can play flOw in this Flash-based in-browser version. In all digital media, the low costs of online distribution allow a lot of specialized content to be sold to a lot of narrow audiences, which add up to a huge market in total. This is known as the long tail. Another title from academia, The Restaurant Game is part of a project to develop better game AI by observing human players. Its the PhD work of Jeff Orkin who I've know for several years. Please download the game and play to contribute to Jeff's research. And speaking of games in support of academic research, last week Sony officially rolled out its Folding@Home client for PS3 as a free download, use your idle PS3 to help research on protein folding: Know when to fold 'em. In the Chronicle's PlayStation 3 taking a role in Alzheimer's fight, the son of an Alzheimer's victim considers buying a PS3 in honor of his mother: his grandkids can use it to play games if they run Folding@Home when it is idle. Two other game items: More video games, fewer books at schools? and Memory workouts beat other computer games in study.

Astronomy news: the NASA spacecraft STEREO-B caught this fantastic images of a solar eclipse (at this range it is called a lunar transit of the sun) be sure to view the movie on that page. Saturn's moon Titan was once thought to be covered by a layer of liquid ethane and methane. Then the Huygens probe landed and found a solid surface. Turns out the surface is neither uniformly wet nor dry, but a much more interesting mixture of land and sea: Cassini Reveals “Seas” of Methane and Ethane on Titan and Probe reveals seas on Saturn moon. Speaking of the Saturnian system, more information about the source of Enceladus' geysers: Saturn's Icy Moon May Have Been Hot Enough for Life, Study Finds. Meanwhile, on Mars: there is an ocean's worth of frozen water on the south pole: Polar water 'would blanket Mars'. Other Martian news: 'Cave entrances' spotted on Mars, Movies provide new view of Mars and (ok not news) Plant life of Mars (1957 Disney animation)

Technobits: Web 2.0 meets the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Open Call From the Patent Office --- Big Brother State -- GENIUS animation about surveillance society --- Google Will Start Removing Identifying Data From Search Logs --- Forbes on Vista: "at best, mildly annoying" --- Should Microsoft start paying for vulnerabilities? --- Bright, White Future for "Green" LEDs, Scientist Says --- From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype about "An Inconvenient Truth" ---Salamander robot uses 'spinal cord' to move --- Cool Robot, new icebreaker to gather polar data --- One Number That Will Ring All Your Phones GrandCentral: "One number for life" --- Uncrewed space plane passes first key test --- Full-colour glow-in-the-dark materials unveiled --- twirl a squirrel a new twist on keeping squirrels out of your bird feeder, this item ignited a flood of squirrelly videos in the blogosphere, of which I will only pass along Drunk Squirrel.

Amazing Grace

3 stars out of 5

This British biopic is a serious examination of the end of slavery in the British empire, with especial attention paid to the former slave boat captain who wrote the song. As is so often the case with Biopics, I ran home to check the facts. The movie is highly accurate in its portrayal of William Wilberforce (the excellent Ioan Gruffudd), and of Capt. John Newton (Albert Finney in an extended cameo). The timeline does seem to be deliberately fuzzy, and some liberties have apparently been taken with the career of Pitt the Younger (Benedict Cumberbatch), although the central fact--his rise to office at age 24--is correct. Michael Gambon's brief cameo as Lord Charles Fox is priceless.

The film is written by Steven Knight who has done a bunch of obscure British stuff, as well as Dirt Pretty Things. It was directed by Michael Apted, who did 28 Up, and all the films before and after; he is the spiritual godfather of the series of interviews we’ve done with our daughters at the ages of 5, 10, 15 and 20.

I was gripped by every minute of it, but then I teach 8th grade US History, and slavery looms large in the narrative of American between 1776 and 1914, the era we cover. I told my students they should see it, and to a person they came back with glazed eyes.

Adults should enjoy this story of redemption; teenagers will prefer The 300.


3.5 stars out of 5

Regular readers will know that I am a sucker for a film in English and Hindi with subtitles. The previews made this one look particularly interesting.

Around my house, Mira Nair, who did Vanity Fair and a half-dozen other art house movies, would be a hero solely based on her direction of Monsoon Wedding. But she has come close to that level with this Bengali in America coming of age story. Immigrant longings and interracial romance, joy and sadness added up to a riveting movie. I always had a feeling that Kal Penn (Harold and Kumar go to the White Castle, Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj) might be a good actor. Turns out he is. And Zuleikha Robinson, who plays his blooming flower Bengali girlfriend… well, there isn't a sexier woman in movies today. Period.

Rated PG-13 for some mild sex and nudity that the film could easily have done without. I was charmed and entertained, and taken to places I've never been. Good film.

Lasusa Links, Dalton on Adelman's Charity, Do your own Vigil, Peterman's "Not on the Test," Snopes Alert, Nilsson/MIT on Biofuel, Dan Grobstein File

Tom Lasusa surfs the web so you don't have to: Viacom Sues Youtube for...One Billion DollarsThomas Kinkade Homes Come to IdahoWhat If Helm's Deep Had Been Defended by the Simpsons? (One of the funniest things they've done yet)… The Barnyard Roller CoasterMonster Renfair Rally Verily I say tis SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY!!!!!…The 30 Strangest Deaths in HistorySculptor Tom Kuebler's life-size macabre figuresTwirl A Squirell. It's cruelty is juxstaposed with my laughter… Carol Burnett Sues the Griffith Family

Richard Dalton notes that Comdex founder Shelley Adelman is now America's third richest man, and is giving it away as fast as he can: Hub's Good Fortune.

Also, here's what he and his wife Linda are up to:

Want to organize a vigil to protest the continuation of the Iraq War? Linda and I set one up for Falmouth in about an hour and a half, Maybe we can keep another 3,000 US military and100,000 Iraqi civilians from dying, maybe save another $400 billion.

Dozens in GOP Turn Against Bush's Prized 'No Child' Act

Kent Peterman found Not On The Test by John Forster & Tom Chapinm (Harry Chapin's brother).

To Heck with Work, Play Golf, which I received a copy of this week, is an urban legend that is at least 59 years old. I'm going to do my part to stamp it out before it celebrates its 60th birthday.

Bob Nilsson writes:

Sometime back you asked about cars running on other types of oil. MIT has been working in that area lately, although more on the fuel side than the engine side.

Dan Grobstein File

Dan reports:

Just back from NYC where I saw Bob Woodruff & his wife Lee talking
about their new book about his injury from an I.E.D. in Iraq and
remarkable recovery. They were at the Barnes & Noble near Lincoln
Center. I saw this
kind of related story earlier in the week (below). Pictures. Donation.

  • Digsbysblog: "I've been following this story about "300" in the entertainment press with some interest. It has to be the most breathless, overwrought wingnut attempt to find relevance in popular culture yet. Here's Newsweek."

What We Need In A President, A Few Libby Thoughts

Richard Dalton wrote this, but he and I are pretty much of one mind about what we need:

I apologize for this being so long-winded. I guess my disgust with our current national priorities fueled a diatribe that's been burbling around inside me, probably since George McGovern's candidacy. It is ironic that McGovern was soundly defeated by a man who represented so much of what is wrong with the morality of this country.

We have about 150,000 armed forces in Iraq carrying the latest weaponry and body armor, backed by helicopter gunships, fighter planes, tanks, armed personnel carriers, heavy artillery, and smart bombs; all backed with intensive logistical support so the forces eat regularly, talk by phone with loved ones, and have the finest battlefield medical care ever provided. This has cost us something north of $400 billion.

Arrayed against this might are a few thousand militants with limited support and improvised weaponry (that's why they call them improvised explosive devices). If they were playing chess, the militants would have started the game without a queen, both rooks, a bishop and a couple of pawns and would still have forced a stalemate. Anyone want to guess how many orders of magnitude less the insurgency has spent, compared to US outlays?

Now follow this logic: We can't even effectively contain the Iraqi militant forces, much less defeat them--and we've been trying for FOUR YEARS! Since the likelihood is that future wars will be waged using similar guerilla tactics, the obvious answer, according to our new Defense Secretary, is to plan a 92,000 person increase in the size of our conventional forces for a piddling $100 billion plus another &15 billion per year to maintain them.

Even before you add the cost up super-sizing the US military, we are expecting a $400 billion deficit in 2007, which will be added to the $8.5 trillion we (our kids, our grandkids, etc.) already owe. This figure is about six times the amount of US currency in circulation. On an individual basis, each head of household owes a share of about $60,000.

In the 2008 elections, I'm looking for a candidate who has a radical economic platform. One that will take our world-leading medical expenditures and pour that money instead into a single-payer medical system that won't leave 44 million Americans without any medical coverage. This candidate will also heavily tax petroleum companies and public utilities and plow the additional revenue back into development and implementation of effective alternative power resources.

He or she will radically curtail military spending, starting with an immediate and rapid wind-down of the Iraq war. Research will be undertaken with the savings to develop effective anti-guerilla tactics and diplomatic skills. A major University of Muslim Studies will be built and it will become renowned for its ability to train Arabic-speaking envoys.

The rest of the military savings can be used for the public good in areas like education, infrastructure reduilding, cooperative public housing ventures and at least as much support for the fight against disease in developing countries as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett currently provide.

If that candidate appears, I will pour every bit of energy and other resources I have into his or her election.


I stayed away from day-to-day coverage of the Libby trial, but I do have some thoughts that were raised by his trial, the conviction, and the aftermath:

Questions least likely to be asked of Tony Snow at a press briefing:

  • Why does Karl Rove still have a security clearance?
  • Why does Dick Cheney still have a security clearance?
  • What restrictions, if any, has George W. Bush proposed for the type of classified information being provided to Dick Cheney and Karl Rove?
  • If no such restrictions have been proposed, why not?
  • Other than causing grave and exceptional damage to the national security of the United States and increasing the physical risk to every American by destroying Valerie Plame’s intelligence network, what other actions has George W. Bush taken to give aid and comfort to America’s enemies at what George views, erroneously, as a time of war?
  • What personal threat did George W. Bush perceive that caused him to risk the life, safety, and welfare of every American (and urbanites everywhere) by instructing Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Scooter Libby to publicize Valerie Plame’s covert connection with the CIA and thereby destroy her efforts to control the spread of WMD? Was George worried about the 2004 election? Was George worried that his (his father’s or the Carlyle Group’s) financial dealings with WMD traffickers (or Osama Bin Laden and his family) would be revealed? Was George worried that his connection to documentary forgeries he authorized purporting to establish a sale of unenriched raw uranium ore from Niger to Iraq would be uncovered? Did George actually suggest in about July 2003 a partial declassification of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate for the purpose of leaking a misleading part of the NIE to Judith Miller, then allegedly a reporter for The New York Times?

What Scooter Libby did was a George W. Bush/Karl Rove operation all the way. George and Karl were merely acting as Richard Nixon, Charlie Colson, and Donald Segretti taught them. The difference is that Nixon at least had some vestigial, minimal, and wholly insufficient notion and understanding of national security. As previously reported and established by PSACOT, Bush, Dick Cheney, Rove, and Libby have close to no such understanding. What a jury found Libby did, what Libby admitted he did in his grand jury testimony, and what the trial evidence indicates is that there was active participation by George, Dick, and Karl in the Plame affair. They caused grave and exceptional damage to the national security of the United States and to the life, health, safety, welfare, and physical security of all Americans and urban dwellers everywhere.

A picture may be worth a thousand words but the pictures of Mrs. Libby on the front pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post on Wednesday, March 7, 2007, spoke volumes. It was one thing for George H. W. Bush to save himself a long prison term by pardoning Caspar Weinberger and others after the November, 1992, election. His son George W. Bush, will be placed in a far more difficult position (with his approval rating already at 29% and dropping in one respected national poll) if, in early June, 2007. At that time, United States District Judge Reggie Walton may sentence Scooter Libby to several years of a possible 25 years and then refuses to allow Scooter to remain on bail while appeals proceed until well into 2009. The pictures along with a report from the courtroom by the best source of news and analysis of the Libby trial (the blog indicate Scooter may talk. That is, he may start to atone for the grave and exceptional damage he has done to the national security by having an honest discussion with prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. About? About the actual involvement of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove in said damage. Whether Scooter actually will talk remains to be seen.

And, for the record, no one has ever explained to me what grave and exceptional damage to the national security of the United States resulted from Clinton's lies about sex. It was not the same thing, folks, no matter how you stretch and twist. Don't tell me Valerie Plame wasn't a clandestine agent; she was. Her cover was blown, her network was endangered, so that George, Dick and Karl could smear Wilson. That's an impeachable offense in my book. That's treason, Ann. Treason is not a belief in healthy debate and political disagreement about the means towards our common goal of a free democracy at home and a safe world abroad. Treason is not even lying about a sexual favor from a White House intern. When the full power of the government can be used covertly to attempt the destruction of an individual citizen's right to tell the truth, using classified information, that's treason and the terrorists have won.

In other Rove news, White House in retreat on flap over US attorneys.

Breaking and Entering

3 stars out of 5

It was one of those least common denominator situations. Vicki simply won't go to see Venus, and we'd seen just about everything else that was around, but she had no clients Tuesday night and we wanted to go out. We're both interested in Namesake, but it opened on March 10 in SF, and won't hit the suburbs until March 17.

You'd think a movie with Jude Law and Robin Wright Penn would open wide, but it was playing at a mere 24 theaters last week, grossing $444,000 and flying under most people's radar. Which is a shame, because it is actually an entertaining and thought-provoking film. When I say entertaining, by the way, I do not mean funny and amusing; it is neither of those. But it is well-written, well-plotted and well-paced, thought provoking and not leaden in the way issue movies sometimes are. Plus it features multiple scenes of Parkour, freestyle urban jumping from building to building--the primary supporting actor uses his Parkour skills to commit burglaries. It is a psychological drama, stretched in a few places, but (thank heavens) moderately discreet in the sex scenes. Good, not great. Not a bad compromise if you can't find anything else you want to see at this dreadful movie-going time of year.

Lasusa Links, Oscar Note, Dan Grobstein File

Tom Lasusa surfs the web so you don't have to: Dylan Hears a WhoMini Documentary on the Creationist Dinosaur Theme Park (somebody's been watching way too much Land of the Lost)… Internet dating in IraqGrandma-rajuana?Beer-launching fridge: Never leave the couch again... Missing words on new $1 coins mystify U.S. Mint (there go the right-wing conspiracists)… So...will the burgers taste like chicken?Wanted -- new roomate. Must be quiet and not use much oxygen..

If you read last week's column before Monday afternoon, you may want to go back and reread the Oscar item, as Neal Vitale had some late emendations.

Dan Grobstein File

[Dan gets around: here's what he's hearing:]

I saw Wesley Clark last week. He says that supporting the troops means (besides supplying them correctly) is to use the full power of the US diplomatically, economically and any other way to get them out of harm's way as soon as possible. He says that going to war should be the absolutely last step when you are tryng to solve a problem and that this administration is not supporting the troops.

I saw Robert Fisk Sunday night. He says that when he started covering the Middle East 30 years ago the activists were all nationalists. Now they're Islamists. The administration doesn't understand the situation and they act based on what they don't understand. He also says that the story there cannot be written as 50% one side and 50% the other. If you were writing about slavery in the 1850s you wouldn't give a slave ship captain 50% of your story. I don't believe that he's anti-Israel. Most of the audience at Town Hall was probably Jewish. He does say that in the US you can't criticize Israel without being charged with anti-Semitism and that has to change because you can't have a Middle East policy based only on what is good for Israel. He says there are too many cliches like "quagmire" and "road map" that control the discussion too narrowly. He was definitely preaching to the converted at this event.