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Convention Week News


  • Interesting to learn that McSame has the very best interests of the Democratic Party at heart. What votes to they expect to win with this ad?
  • As U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said: When McCain agreed with GWBush 90% of the time (over the last 7 years) that's not a maverick; that's a sidekick.
  • Michael Dukakis on CBS News, after describing George Bush's tenure as the worst administration in his lifetime:

    "Look, I owe the American people an apology. If I had beaten the old man you'd of never heard of the kid and you wouldn't be in this mess. So it's all my fault and I feel that very, very strongly. So this is an important election for us. Let me tell 'ya."


by Craig Reynolds

iPhinger pointing: first the conventional wisdom said the trouble with iPhone 3G was in the network. Then attention turned to a flawed chip in the phone, for which Apple provided a software fix. Now blame seems to have shifted back to the wireless network providers: Study points to network weakness as source of iPhone 3G woes, Blame iPhone 3G Reception Problems On Carriers, Not Handset, Carriers Artificially Throttling iPhone 3G Speeds? and Orange admits to capping 3G speeds in France.

Security, privacy and copyright: Revealed: The Internet's Biggest Security Hole, Be safer than NASA: Disable autorun, Internet Explorer 8 To Include 'Stealth' Privacy Mode and RIAA nears win (by default) in Atlantic vs. Howell.

Technobits: New Probe's First Gamma Ray Sky Map Unveiled --- 'Complexity' of Neanderthal tools --- Cows have magnetic sense, Google Earth images indicate --- Even modest Internet users may hit usage caps --- Intel sees future with shape-shifting robots, wireless power --- Vernor Vinge's View of the Future - Is Technology That Outthinks Us a Partner or a Master? --- How To Get an Unbelievable, Amazing, Fantastic, Thrilling Deal on New Glasses: buy them online, Let there be life: Games go organic: developers are nursing creative gameplay out of Mother Nature’s mulch.

Bottle Shock

4 stars out of 5

Like a good wine, this movie may not travel well. But here in Northern California, it is a must-see, since it memorializes a true story that changed the fate of the region.

Now, San Francisco has been the place to be in America since 1849, and it is not for nothing that its newspaper once referred to it as "The City," and many local residents agree with the TV station slogan, "The Best Place On Earth." But among the many wonderful things that have happened to the region in the intervening century and half, few were as important as the victory of the Napa Valley wines in the 1976 blind tasting known as the "Judgment of Paris." Chateau Montelena was the best white, Stag's Leap the best red.

For its story arc, the movie followed Steve Spurrier (played by that always delightful Alan Rickman), who organized the tasting, and Bill "Mr. President" Pullman, who plays the owner of Montelena, a lawyer dabbling in wine. For a work of fiction, it checks out pretty well factually. More importantly, it is well-paced and entertaining. A competitive film, "The Judgment of Paris" is being written, and is rumored to cover the same ground but with greater adhesion to history. Slated for the Spurrier/Rickman role as the organizer of the tasting: Tom Hanks. We shall see. Move over Sideways, there is one newer wine movie in the theaters and another on the way.

Paul's New Gig, 100 Impressions in Five Minutes, Dalton finds 8 E-mail hoaxes, Blurred Out At Google, Marjorie Wolfe's Political Humor, Dan Grobstein File

Joe Saltzman, head of the Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture (IJPC), has asked me to review movies featuring journalists. He's already posted my first review (which you read here), of Quid Pro Quo. Thanks Joe!

Rae found this: 100 impressions in under 5 minutes. More proof that some people have too much time on their hands.

Richard Dalton forwarded Eight E-Mail Hoaxes That Have Duped Millions

Blurred Out: 51 Things You Aren't Allowed to See on Google Maps. Also Blurred Out At Government Request

Political Humor by Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe, a regular contributor to this column.



Dan Grobstein File

  • quote:
    Leno Turns Down McCain's VP Offer, Mocks His Houses

    LENO: As much as I'd like the job, I could make more doing a week in
    Vegas, but thanks. It's just a lousy job for the money.

    MCCAIN: The house is nice.

    LENO: Hey, but you've got enough of need a White one too?
  • McCain Replaced
    When you think about it, Obama actually has more experience than McCain. Sure, a guy named "John McCain" has been in the Senate since 1987, but he's not the Republican nominee.
    There was a guy by that name who supported Roe v. Wade, but the new John McCain replaced him two years ago.
    [snipped 5 examples for brevity]
    There was a guy by that name who supported affirmative action, but the new John McCain replaced him in July.
    The new John McCain running for president has only really existed for a couple years, max. Parts of his brain have been replaced as recently as this summer. Really, the list of his reversals is staggering. We're going to hear a lot next week about his huge advantage on experience, but they're really not going to be talking about the same person they nominated. What happened to that guy? Where did the world's oldest freshman come from and how did he get keys to all of John McCain's houses?

Teaching Redux

I student taught at Miramonte H.S. and "J" during the 2002-2003 school year. In May of 2003, I completed my teaching credential courses at Chapman University in Concord, Calif., and applied for my credential. That summer, I taught Social Studies in the summer school at Las Lomas High (I have a dual credential by examination in English and Social Studies), and was chatting with the long-time and incredibly cool principal, Pat Lickiss, about maybe coming to work there in the fall. I had also applied for a few jobs I didn't get.

Meanwhile, a teacher at J made a decision, a week before school, that she could not teach because of a serious health problem. Into the breach stepped I, and if you think a week is enough time to get ready to teach a subject you've never taught by yourself before, you've clearly never taught. That first year was scary and difficult. It was also full time. Since then, I have taught three classes instead of the full-time load of six, and been quite happy about it.

Thus it is that, on Tuesday, I begin my 6th year of teaching, after 30 years in journalism. I was sure I would miss my old career, but I haven't really looked back since I was laid off in October 2001, and, in fact, have not written a word for pay since then. I do still hope to write another book some day (my first was Aspirin Therapy: Reducing Your Risk of Heart Disease, Walker and Co., New York, 1979), but that will have to wait, for a subject, time, inspiration and an agent.

I had a very relaxing summer, which means, by my definition, that I haven't spent more than two consecutive minutes thinking about school since last June 13. But we're all headed for the starting line, and I need to repeat my mantra; this is a marathon, not a sprint. As mentioned here last week, I didn't accomplish everything I had hoped this summer, but where there is life there is hope, and I expect there to be life within me for some time to come.

Kent Peterman on Biden, Dogwhistle Ads

Kent Peterman on Biden

Kent wrote this letter to the editor of the Chronicle; I reproduce it here in case the newspaper doesn't. I am not sure I agree with him about Biden, but it is a heartfelt and thoughtful cry.

I am depressed by Obama's choice for Veep. It should have been someone who embodies the youthful ideals and message of the candidate. It should have been someone else "out of the beltway". I expected better from a candidate of change and hope. I am sickened by the business as usual aspect of the choice.
The bastards just handed the presidency to McCain. Another four years of Bush Redux. Lest you think I'm ageist I am not. Nor am I young. I am a retired person who until today believed that we finally had a candidate in whom we could believe. I felt the same way about Kennedy in 1960 and as a high schooler worked hard for his election. Hope is now still just a town in Arkansas.
Kent Peterman

Dogwhistle Ads

What a great phrase! When you put out an ad that is intended to seem innocuous to the general public, while delivering a message to the target audience that might scare soccer moms and other independents, it's called a dogwhistle ad. Thank you Robert Malchman, who sent in this:

Interesting post about the racist McCain ads that don't look so to the non-racist viewer. I've heard this kind of thing called a "dogwhistle ad" because only the people it's keyed to realize what it means. Well, here's another McCain abomination and more commentary on it here: (thanks to for these links). The part I love the most is that McCain's fear-mongers may be tone deaf themselves -- Evangelicals may want the Beast to come so as to usher in the Rapture sooner rather than later!



by Craig Reynolds

Is Google Making Us Stupid? Despite its provocative title, the theme of Nicholas Carr's Is Google Making Us Stupid? is that the Web is changing the way we think (cf Vannevar Bush's 1945 As We May Think, also published in The Atlantic). Symptoms include shorter attention span, and difficulty reading long-form prose. My first reaction was defensive ("Of course not, I still read books, I still read scientific papers.") but the article is very well written and well argued. Like me, you too may feel compelled to read the article completely and carefully just to disprove to yourself its central thesis. The author notes that traditionalists have often decried new intellectual technologies (like writing: "In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing", printed books: "The Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico worried that the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness," and mechanical clocks: "In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock") which in retrospect seem indispensable. Talking about the article on NPR, Kevin Kelly said he thinks he reads as many books as he used to. Its just that now he also reads a lot of short items on the web, so the ratio of long-form reading to all reading has gone down.  He also suggests that the web isn't generally taking people away from reading books or deep thinking, more often it is pulling them away from TV. Its hard for me to see that as a problem.

Molecular dynamics in the fast lane: David E. Shaw started in academia, made a huge fortune in quantitative trading, and returned to academic research by funding his own research lab. He and his team have been working for several years on algorithms and hardware design to create a high performance machine for performing simulations of molecular dynamics. Such a machine would be a boon to biomedical research and drug discovery. Shaw's team has begun to describe their system as mentioned in this article: D.E. Shaw's Supercomputer. You can see their recent ACM paper here: Anton, a special-purpose machine for molecular dynamics simulation.

What's the deal with that? aw geez, poor Jerry. First the Bee Movie, now he is trying to polish the image of Vista: Microsoft enlists Seinfeld for ad campaign, 'Eternal Sunshine' director said to be behind Microsoft Seinfeld commercial. I'm with the PC Magazine columnist who says: Jerry Seinfeld Can't Help Vista.

eVote: the smart money is on paper: Planning to E-Vote? Read This First and Record number of US voters may cast paper ballots.

SIGGRAPH: this column was missing last week while I attended SIGGRAPH 2008. This combination of scientific conference, film festival, art show, trade show is the highlight of the graphics geek's year. A few items that might interest the non-geek: the beautiful work on Simulating knitted cloth at the yarn level was impressive, however I enjoyed the apparently unexpected laughter from the audience when the speaker showed a slide comparing simulation results with "samples we knitted in the lab". Lots of recent work in image processing and "computational photography" finds its way into consumer digital cameras, so in a few years, expect your camera to have a "beautify" button to tweak up your portraits: Data-Driven Enhancement of Facial Attractiveness. There was a paper on the technology behind Spore, the much anticipated videogame: Real-time Motion Retargeting to Highly Varied User-Created Morphologies. Some very cool work on new illustration techniques: Diffusion Curves and Gradient-Domain Painting. A technique for making virtual movies from existing tourist photos on the web: Finding Paths through the World's Photos. Some work from the commercial side: Lifelike animation heralds new era for computer games. I am proud to say that my long time friend Ken Perlin was awarded the Computer Graphics Achievement Award. See his acceptance speech (and as a bonus this funny True story from his blog).

iPhone: a survey of recent complaints about the rocky launch of iPhone 3G: Copy and paste for the iPhone now available, not from Apple, Why Community-Created iPhone Copy And Paste Won't Work, Turn-by-Turn GPS Navigation Ready, but Blocked by Apple’s SDK Terms, Apple posts iPhone 2.0.2 update; users say 3G problems remain, iPhone 3G Connectivity Failure: Roundup, Infineon chip causing problems on iPhone, CNET readers share their iPhone 3G stories | One More Thing and Congratulations Apple, you made the iPhone less stable than Windows Mobile.

MIT v. MTA: MIT students ungagged: Judge vacates gag order, Federal Judge Throws Out Gag Order Against Boston Students in Subway Case, Boston Court's Meddling With 'Full Disclosure' Is Unwelcome and Legal flap over Defcon talk exposes divide on disclosing security flaws ("Companies won't make [their systems] better by themselves," Schneier said. MBTA officials, he claimed, "are counting on the legal system to protect their shoddy work" on IT security.)

Webapps: two more single-purpose free utilities: Online image editor pixlr and HitMeLater "A Snooze Button For Your Email".

Technobits: Moisturizers Up Skin Cancer in Mice --- 10 Polar Bears Are Seen Swimming in Open Water --- Federal court hands open-source licenses a significant victory --- T-Mobile to Offer First Phone With Google Software --- The new face of R&D: What's cooking at IBM, HP and Microsoft --- Intel Moves to Free Gadgets of Their Recharging Cords --- American launches in-flight Internet on 3 routes --- Jackson Browne sues McCain, RNC over song in ad --- Top 10 Usability Highs Of Mac OS --- 3 Controversial Maps --- 5 Really Weird Things About Water --- 15 Images You Won't Believe Aren't Photoshopped.

Clone Wars

2.5 stars out of 5

Clone Wars reminds me of the Italian verison of Groundhog Day. Now, we know what a great movie would look and sound like in the hands of less competent film makers. Start with the music. Every time you hear one of those iconic John Williams themes, your heart swells. Everytime you hear the anemic original hack work created for this animated film, your heart sinks. Apparently, George Lucas loved the look of the marionette show of the 60s, Thunderbirds, and adopted it as the visual style for this film (and the followup television cartoon series). I hated the Thunderbirds, and I am not impressed with an imitation of them in CGI. It is a classic case of dumbing down a technology to achieve an ancient look. Just like digitally recorded films have to be reduced from 30 frames to 24 and "softened" so they look like film, because otherwise viewers will mistake them for television shows. I hate the necessity of doing that too. This is a non-stop fight fest, virtually unencumbered by plot. Yes, there are a handful of amusing moments, but for the most part tedium barely begins to describe it. As sometimes happens in George Lucas productions, the technology is there, but the heart is missing.

Quid Pro Quo (released on DVD August 2008)

2 stars out of 5

The protagonist of Quid Pro Quo is a person with disabilities (PWD) who is a reporter for New York Public Radio (NYPR), a stand-in for National Public Radio. He tells stories on the radio. As a regular NPR listener, I would characterize him as a cross between John Hockenberry (a PWD) and Ira Glass (who tells stories on This American Life), or perhaps, to reach farther back in radio history, to Jean Shepherd on WOR in New York in the 60s and 70s.

This film seems as if it is a two-person play opened up. The vast majority of the scenes feature only Isaac Knot, played by Nick Stahl and Fiona, played by Vera Farmiga (aka Ancient Chinese Lady). Most of the time, they are talking, with occasional interludes of soft-core sex. That's OK for an art film, when the conversation is thought-provoking. I like art films and watch them regularly. But this was not, for me, a thought-provoking film, it was a stomach-churning film. And as far from a mainstream film as it is possible to get.

Isaac receives an e-mail tip that a doctor was offered a quarter-million dollars to cut off someone's perfectly healthy leg. At first, it appears to be a hoax, then it appears it really happened. Ancient Chinese Lady sends him another tip, which leads him to a meeting of wannabees, able-bodied (AB) people who want to be wheelchair bound. You think that is what the film is going to be about. It's a McGuffin. The film is really about Isaac and Fiona. The writer/director, Carlos Brooks, says wannabees really exist. It seems unlikely, but he certainly does not offer any sustained or interesting insight into their psychology. He depicts them, and that's about it.

Isaac actually makes use of the tools of the trade of a radio reporter, for about five minutes. Interestingly, they are not the tools of a radio story teller, which are a studio microphone and a computer on which to write. The script does not suggest he is a radio news reporter, but he uses the tools of such a reporter, a directional microphone with a windscreen and a digital mini recorder. (Real professional digital minirecorders do not have built-in speakers, but I quibble). We also see him sitting in studio wearing headphones (in the trade, we call them cans). The NYPR office is small, spartan office and contains relatively few people crowded together. Based on my experience, this is the reality of most public radio.

The other 77 minutes of the film is two people talking, interspersed with wannabees who want to be paralyzed and in wheelchairs, and about 30 seconds of actual radio work. This is not enough for me to characterize it as a journalism movie, but it does have a journalist protagonist. One whom, I might add, gets involved with a source in a highly unethical way. Real professional journalists should not sleep with their sources and seldom do.

I will give this movie credit for thinking outside the box. The vast majority of American movies in the last 20 years have depicted life at the top. If you think back to the films of the 30s through the 50s, they frequently featured "real" people, and made some effort to depict actual working-class and middle-class life. Those classes have disappeared into a haze of architects, doctors, lawyers, bankers and college-educated upper-middle class journalists, not to mention the legions of movie protagonists with no visible means of support who, apparently, never go to work. So, it was refreshing to see working class life depicted. And I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of films I have seen that show a person on a chair, a PWD. The indignities of such a life are limned with precision. So, at least Quid Pro Quo is a breath of fresh air.

This is an art-film character study, in which the profession of the protagonist is an afterthought, a ruse that allows him to roll around and ask questions.