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March 2007
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May 2007

Prospective News Of Late Filing

I already know it is likely that next week's column will be late. Here's why. As I wrote (Sunday April 29), Vicki and I are preparing to ride 50 miles in training for next Sunday's 50-mile ride in the Napa Valley to raise money to fight diabetes. What with travel to and from the valley, and exhaustion, and having to teach the next day, I feel pretty certain I won't get the column filed on time--unless I file most of it Friday afternoon. The hardest part of a long bike ride, by the way, if you didn't already know, is that it is hard on your sitting area.


by Craig Reynolds

Late breaking news: Jose and Clara have chicks! My kids and I have been watching the San Jose (CA) City Hall peregrine falcons on their nest. When we tuned in today, the eggs had hatched and we got to see one of the parents feeding the chicks.

User generated content: YouTube’s Favorite Clips ("On YouTube, copyrighted video clips of movies and TV shows are far less popular compared with noncopyrighted material than previously thought, according to a new study..." via YouTube biggest hits may not be infringers). This was essentially what I said a month ago regarding the planned NBC/News Corp "YouTube killer" website for TV shows: "few think this will cut deeply into YouTube's popularity which is based on its Web 2.0 nature: user-created content, and collective filtering of user-selected TV clips." Anyway, everything should be be OK now that Viacom Promises To Be More Mindful Of Fair Use On YouTube. Even media executives, seemingly among the last to recognize such obvious trends, are starting to understand the value of user-generated content: User Content Provides Opportunities (via Media Bigwigs Pick for User Content Impact: Video Shorts).

3D printers: Tom Lasusa, who surfs the web so you don't have to, recently linked to a product video calling it The Great Great Great Grandfather of the Star Trek Replicator. This process, known as stereolithography or just "3d printers" has been around in some form since the 1980s and continues to improve its capabilities.  Current systems are still rather crude and are aimed at creating 3D shapes but not functional devices. It is assumed that eventually nanotech versions will allow atom by atom construction of objects from arbitrary materials. So not just plastic but metal bearings and wires, ceramic elements, semiconductors, etc.). 3D printer technology would enable many novel types of devices, and bring profound changes to the manufacturing industry. The effects on society of unbiqutious 3d functional printers are a central theme in Neal Stephenson's novel The Diamond Age: Or a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, which I really enjoyed (and mentioned here previously: see this and that). For a darker view of this see Cory Doctorow's Printcrime. I was pleased to hear about RepRap, an open source 3D printer, via this interesting video: RepRap wasn't built in a day "Adrian built a RepRap and filmed a time lapse video of the construction".

Bee gone: I have been really freaking out about the whole disappearing honey bee mystery dubbed "Colony Collapse Disorder" (previously mentioned here and here). I assumed it had something to do with aliens, somewhere between So long and thanks for all the fish and that whole X-Files bee/alien connection. Of course some people think its all about electrical fields: Cellphones Wiping Out Bees? Perhaps there is now an answer to the mystery, via the military's Integrated Virus Detection System: Scientists Identify Pathogens That May Be Causing Global Honey-Bee Deaths.

Sony news: Ken Kutaragi, who created the PlayStation concept and lead Sony Computer Entertainment ever since, is stepping down. He will be replace by Kaz Hirai, who ran the American part of the company for many years: Sony says sayonara to father of PlayStation. New video camera for PS3: Sony Launches PlayStation Eye; Call It EyeToy 2? and Think 'Star Wars' Chess Is Cool? PS3 Has A Game For You ... This time its over-reaching for DVD copy protection: Sony's Latest DRM Backfire.

Wet exoplanet: it is certainly is cool that an "Earth-like" exoplanet was found with a mass and temperature similar to Earth: New Planet Could Be Earthlike, Scientists Say and Potentially habitable planet found. Gliese 518c is a mere 20 light-years (120 trillion miles) away, so a robot probe could be sent to check it out, although such a mission would take at least 40 years to return data. However, allow me to rant about the idea that water, let alone liquid water, is a prerequisite for life. Certainly water is crucial for Earth-life, but with only one example how could we even begin to say whether that is fundamental or coincidental? Simulation studies of artificial life, autocatalytic sets and other abstract models suggest that the potential for self-organization is strong in any sufficiently complex media. I feel quite confident that life can arise in the absence of water. Other earth and space news: why are plants green?  Early Earth Was Purple, Study Suggests, fossils in a coal mine: Earth's First Rainforest Unearthed, huge composite image of the Carina Nebula: NASA nebula image captures violent birth of stars, and great images from STEREO: Spacecraft return 3D Sun pictures and NASA Releases Stunning New 3-D Views of the Sun.

Genetic news: there seemed to be a slew of news this week about genome studies: 'Junk' DNA Now Looks Like Powerful Regulator, Scientists Find, Scientists identify new genes linked to diabetes, Researchers pinpoint gene linked to obesity risk, Daily pill to beat genetic diseases about PTC124,  Studies line up on Parkinson's and pesticides link (from paraquat to alpha-synuclein to same brain damage as with Parkinson's) and finally Good Behavior, Religiousness May Be Genetic (the key point here is that "good behavior" seems to come from the genes, NOT from "religiousness".  In fact a predisposition toward "religiousness" may be caused by the same genes.)

Technobits: Ohio Audit Says Diebold Vote Database May Have Been Corrupted (via) --- Security experts not surprised the Mac was hacked --- Royal Society 2007 Prize for Science Books --- Map of maps, timeline of timelines --- Slate's special issue on the brain --- Research opens way for bionic eye --- Digital Camera Vs. Camera Phone --- U.S. schools may join inexpensive laptop project --- Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait --- as soon as I saw this I thought of the scene in Wrong Trousers, then noticed that he refers to that scene in his description: LEGO self tracker.

The Plaint Of The Office Worker

[not exactly humor, but certainly light verse!]

by Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe

I counsel the excessed,
the returnee, and the "recycled,"
the 'silent 80 percent" who
type our letters and file papers.

I counsel the women office workers,
the Nine to Fivers,
who believe that
"a secretary's pad is to write in,
not spend the night in."

I counsel the amanuensis
who copies what another dictated:
gobbledygook, officialese, federalize,
and pentagonese.

I empathize with the movement
from Honey to Money
I empathize with the
"cute little chicks"
and the white collar worker:
a desk jockey.

I counsel the happy office people, too:
the Joy Pol! loi,
the G/G Friday--the Person Friday,
and the secretary drowning in the
typing pool.

I empathize with the recipient of
secretarial jokes:
"Today is Administrative Professionals Day,
Take yours to lunch--take mine, too.

I counsel those being replaced
by office robots (Robot Redford and Beeping Tom),
and devoted employees who say, in Latin,
"Id in machinam schidarum scindendarum
incedit" (It fell into the shredder).
I've seen the future...and it glows.

I counsel those who, when asked to get a
broker on the phone, say, "stock" or "pawn"?

I counsel the "Administrative Assistants"
in their office landscaped, partitioned,
non-windowed offices,
climbing the ladder s o s l o w l y.

Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of a
book titled, "Are Yentas, Kibizers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?
Yiddish Trivia."

After the Wedding

4 stars out of 5

This movie is scheduled for DVD release on July 10, but you can still find it in a few theaters. It is in Danish, English and Hindi with English subtitles, and it was the Danes' entry in Oscar's Best Foreign Film category. My general experience is that by the time the special committee of judges narrows this category down to five finalists, they are generally pretty damn good films. This year was no exception; I thought the winner, Lives of Others, from Germany, deserved the Oscar it got. My wife Vicki believes this film is even better. It is the story of a man doing charity work in India, who must return to Denmark in order to obtain major funding from a quirky billionaire. He is surprised to find the billionaire married to a former lover, and the surprises just keep on coming after that. This is not a detective story; after the first few surprises the story arc is clear; even the big surprise is foreshadowed if you're paying close attention. My point is that, as with so many European films, this is a character study, and the enjoyment is in the journey, not the destination. There is plenty of plot, but it is not plot-driven in the American style. Not a barrel of laughs, but definitely art.

The Hoax

3.5 stars out of 5

[Note: Neal Vitale gave Hoax 4 stars out of 5 when he reviewed it]

This is the way I like my historical fiction: recent enough to remember, and accurate enough to make me feel good about it. I was a student at MIT when Clifford Irving was snowing McGraw-Hill with his piped (fake) story about being an intermediary for Howard Hughes. And I still remember when I heard that his wife, pretending to be Helga R. Hughes, had cashed a check made out to H.R. Hughes. The whole thing was amazing at the time and it is amazing now.

Lasse Hallström directed from a William Wheeler screenplay based on Clifford Irving's book (although Irving says he has disowned the film--but is he lying?).

Richard Gere--complete with a fake nose I never realized he was wearing--does an outstanding job playing Irving, as does Alfred Molina , as his assistant David Susskind, and Marcia Gay Harden as Irving's wife.

As is often the case with historical films, the big stuff is letter perfect--names and dates, the mistress who destory's Irving's claim of having visited the Bahamas on a specific date, the weird stuff with McGraw-Hill, Time-Life and the Hughes organization. Of course, the filmmakers play with the small stuff; Noah Deitrich did not give them his manuscript (although it gives Eli Wallach a nice cameo), Irving didn't live on Long Island, he lived in Ibizia Spain at the time of his fraud… and so forth. In a lesser film, this could have been irritating. But for an entire generation of people born after 1972, it’s a swell story worth retelling.

Dern on Kaye, Lasusa Links, Dan Grobstein File

Daniel Dern wants you to know you can listen to the short-lived Danny Kaye Radio Show from 1945-46.

Tom Lasusa surfs the web so you don't have to: Imagine if Ed Wood directed Batman (y'know what's scarier? They made a sequel)… Now THAT's Fresh seafoodBeautiful Russian cake-sculpturesIt's Steven Hawking IN SPACE!!!!!!… Home Improvements Gone Horribly Horribly wrong gallery 1, gallery 2, gallery 3Do You Have Potty Blog?

Dan Grobstein File

Dinner with Neal, Apology for Late Posting

Ate with Neal and a fellow MIT grad we both knew in SF on Tuesday night. We chose to dine at Terzo at the corner of Union and Steiner--one terrific restaurant. I should also add that it is a pleasure to dine with people you share some history with. In fact, I was made an honorary Burton Five Smoker and invited to a reunion next September. If only Dave Green or David "the carpets, when wet, smelled dankly of old beer" Searls would come. Or, if I could just become an honorary PBE or CP…

Anyway, speaking of shared experience, we ended up dining with a beautiful and fascinating restaurant owner who, like Neal, is a Harvard B School graduate (albeit a few years behind us).

I am sorry for the late posting this week; both my cat and I had to go to the doctor's office on Monday

Gonzales: Content Not Style

The problem is not that Atty. Gen. Gonzales communicates poorly. The problem is the content he is communicating. With the possible exception of John Mitchell, he is clearly the worst AG in American history, and this country will be immeasurably improved when we see the last of him.


by Craig Reynolds

When software fails: several spectacular software screw-ups made the news this week. Millions of crackberry users went into withdrawal as the result of a poorly tested patch: R.I.M. Offers a Reason for BlackBerry Failure and RIM offers explanation for massive outage. Similarly, insufficient software testing procedures for a Mars Global Surveyor patch have been identified as the cause of the craft's demise: Software 'fix' responsible for loss of Mars probe. And it apparently never occurred to the makers of TurboTax that a lot of their customers might procrastinate until the deadline: Intuit overwhelmed by last-minute tax filers. I bet if the IRS fined Intuit for each such delayed return they might invest in more robust servers.

Tiny tech: dusty distributed systems: 'Smart dust' to explore planets, Shape-shifting 'smart dust' may explore alien worlds and Scots scientists unveil 'spray-on' computer. A passive nano-tech: Plastic sheets perform auto-origami. This device is more of a surgical ROV than a robot, but still very cool technology: Caterpillar robot 'treats hearts'. Advances in insect inspired flying machines: Float like a robot butterfly.

History of the future: the future isn't what it used to be, as seen in AT&T's vision for the Internet in 1993 and from Paleo-Future, Disney's 1937 "Modern Inventions" (via Donald Duck's 1937 vision of the future).

Modern love: is this the golden age of dating for smart geeks and wonks?: In the New Dating Scene, the Attraction Is a Beautiful Mind. Instant background checks for potential dates: Google First … Date Later.

Technobits: Researchers explore scrapping Internet ('It's sort of a miracle that it continues to work well today') --- Google backs character-recognition research --- Feds: Accuracy of Face Recognition Software Skyrockets --- Can open source techniques be used to design a car? --- Patently at Odds ("Drug and Tech Sectors Battle With Reform High on Agenda") and Congress takes new stab at patent system overhaul --- Mathematician suggests extra dimensions are time-like --- The iPod and the Vacuum Tube Sing a Warm Duet --- Color barcode system to hit DVDs --- automatic transmissions for bicycles --- Birdwatching goes hi-tech with online video camera game like the Google image labeling game, another scheme for recruiting volunteer help by casting it as game play --- Scientists fear flight of Britain's bumblebees (anything to do with the disappearance of North American honeybees previously mentioned here?) --- Elephant dung helps scientists develop new biofuel --- Flu Vaccine Made From Caterpillars --- 'Pipe organ' plays above the Sun --- My Dog is a Jedi low-rent rotoscope test --- Steampunk R2-D2 a live-steam retro-tech implementation.