The Emotional Pumpkin


Thursday, September 30, 2004

My initial take on the debates

Overall, I think both candidates did a relatively good job in this debate:
  • Kerry
    • The good: Senator Kerry was a polished and fluid debater. When it comes to good form, I think he won out over the President. He also did a better job of staying objective while Bush was talking; apart from the occasional supercilious smile, I think he did an admirable job of listening to what his opponent was saying and not indulging in facial theatrics. His best performance of the evening came when he said that we can't preach to the world about nuclear nonproliferation and then go and develop new nuclear weapons, as Bush is trying to do. I think he really scored some points there.
    • The bad: Once again, Kerry indulged in some serious handwaving and gave no specifics on how he'd do "a better job" prosecuting the war in Iraq. All he said was that he'd "rapidly train" Iraqi troops so that we can bring our own troops home faster, while leaving a "minimal" force there to "maintain the peace". This "plan" offers nothing different than what Bush is doing today; Kerry was completely unconvincing on this point. While Kerry did a good job of reminding his base about what they feel is wrong with Bush's Iraq policy, he offered no clear alternatives, and that will not reach the swing voters he really needs to impress.
  • Bush
    • The good: National security is Bush's greatest strength in this election. He did a great job of staying on message; portraying himself as a bold leader who dealt with and is dealing with the increased danger of today's world in a decisive manner. This will energize his base, and reach out to those "security moms". It also reminds those one issue voters why they're voting for Bush. He also did a good job of hitting Kerry where he lives, namely his penchant for changing his position based on the political atmosphere. He could, though, have done a bit more with this. Finally, I think he did a good job, especially for the swing voters, of answering questions about his policy towards Iran and North Korea. Emphasizing his multilateral approach to the North Korea nonproliferation talks will put him in good stead with them.
    • The bad: The President was not as polished as his opponent. He visibly hesitated several times, and seemed to lose his train of thought in the middle of some of his responses. He also was much less disciplined than Sen. Kerry with the facial theatrics I mentioned above, although, it has to be said, much better than either his father against Clinton in '92 or Gore against him in 2000. He didn't go after Kerry as much as he could have on the flip-flopping, either; he tended to repeat some of his arguments, instead of making new points. His worst point in this debate was, I think, his emotiveness. He needed to strike a fine balance here between coming off as genuine, which he is very good at, and sounding professional and competent. At some points, I think he got a little too emotional and sounded somewhat childish.
All that said, I think this debate was a draw, which means it was a loss for Kerry. He really needed to KO the President on national security issues to reach swing voters, and he just didn't have a good enough story. As I said before, national security is the President's greatest strength in this election, and Kerry could have realistically expected to do the worst in this first debate. Bush's positions on domestic policy, on the other hand, are considerably weaker (they are among the many reasons I cannot in good conscience vote for him) and should be good opportunities for Kerry to go on the attack. However, that will not mean good things for Kerry unless he's got substantive alternatives to present to voters, which, as we know, is his greatest weakness.

I'm really looking forward to next week's vice-presidential debate; it will be interesting to see what the "attack dogs" do.

Dilbert's Ultimate House

Dilbert's Ultimate House (DUH) is the product of thousands of Dilbert readers who put their minds together and designed a house. Geek heaven. Every room (except the closets, I think) has a flat screen TV in it. Neato mosquito! (Via Slashdot)

The Mount St. Helens

volcano advisory has been raised to alert level 2 as of yesterday morning at 10:40 AM PDT, due to near-constant seismic activity (3-4 events per minute). You can view the live VolcanoCam here. (Via Slashdot)

Securing pricelessness

In light of the recent theft of Edvard Munch's The Scream, CSO online has published an interesting piece on museum security, wherein they asked a security expert how he would design a museum security system if money were no object. (Via Slashdot)

Netflix update

Gone in 60 Seconds: 3 stars.

This was the rare instance of a Bruckheimer movie that was actually better than its trailer made it out to be. Which again goes to show that most of Hollywood must hire baboons to make movie trailers.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

In case you haven't seen this before,

Mystery Pollster is a new blog about the science and art of polling. It brings some much-needed input from an expert into today's tense political climate, and aims to "foster greater communication between the architects, plumbers and consumers of survey research". This is information no political junkie can do without. (Via InstaPundit)

Speaking of polling, I just got called to participate in a political survey, and was pretty ashamed that although I claimed to be following the story of the upcoming elections (which I interpreted to mean the presidential election) very closely, I couldn't say anything substantive about the various initiatives up on the California ballot this November. In my defense, though, I have to say that since California is basically governed by initiative (which I find to be both inefficient and ineffective), there are always at least 4 or 5 propositions up for referendum at any given election. It's a bit tiring to try and keep up with all of them, and this far away from the actual elections, I think I can be forgiven a bit of laxity in staying informed about the local issues.

Why Google doesn't make any money off Google News

Adam Penenberg writes about why Google News is still in beta, 3 years after its launch.

I keep hearing

the same episode of City Arts and Lectures on NPR lately, the one where former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins reads a bunch of his poems. After a quick search, I found his website, which contains a compendium of all the places online you can find his poems. You can also find a cybercast of Collins' final reading as poet laureate here.

UPDATE: I guess I was wrong. This is actually Billy Collins' website, of a newer and much better design than the other; it seems, oddly, to use a blog-type web design, although that's not at all what its purpose is. It's also got some poems posted that he read in the City Arts and Lectures broadcast. Here's one that I particularly like; it's called The Lanyard.

You would think they'd learn is reporting (site may be down; mirror here) that CBS News used fake documents in a newscast. Again. (Via InstaPundit and Power Line)

Why outsourcing is not such a big deal

Daniel Drezner, who has previously written several essays intended to dispel the outsoursing-is-evil myth, has written an op-ed on the subject in the NY Times today. The article focuses particularly on the information in last week's GAO report on offshoring. Footnotes to the article can be found here. More information on the subject can be found here and here. (Via InstaPundit)

What the tech bubble got right

Paul Graham has written an interesting essay on what the tech bubble of the late 90s got right, something not many have focused on very much:
Now anything that became fashionable during the Bubble is ipso facto unfashionable. But that's a mistake-- an even bigger mistake than believing what everyone was saying in 1999. Over the long term, what the Bubble got right will be more important than what it got wrong.

(Via Slashdot)

Tuesday, September 28, 2004


Canon has just announced the new EOS 1Ds Mark II, a new 16.7 MP dSLR. It is compatible with all of the EOS lenses, and also, perhaps more importantly, with a wireless transmitter accessory that gives the camera 802.11b/g capability; as the Slashdot post says,
I can see photographers shooting sporting events with a 12" Powerbook in a backpack receiving images to its 80GB drive and automatically uploading them to SI. And with its full 35mm CMOS it is the first camera to effectively reproduce the image quality of 35mm film.

An early review of the camera can be found here.

This morning, I experienced

my first earthquake since moving to the Bay Area a year ago. Since I am currently about 140-150 miles north of the epicenter, the effects here were pretty minor. The building felt like it was all of a sudden floating on the ocean, and at first I thought it was just my imagination, since nothing was rattling or falling off shelves. I figured it out soon enough, though. Since no one got hurt and nothing got damaged, I can say this without feeling guilty: neat-o!

UPDATE: It appears that there was some damage near the epicenter (Parkfield), but it was pretty minor.

Kerry tanks in the polls

According to this Washington Post poll, Kerry's numbers are pretty dismal. A summary of the interesting bits can be found here.

Speaking of tanking ratings, Dan Rather isn't doing so well, either. (Via InstaPundit)

Making Tracks on Mars

Astrobiology Magazine reports:
In a remarkable series of orbital pictures, the Mars Global Surveyor's cameras have imaged the tracks of the Spirit rover on the surface. Individual debris pieces including the backshell and lander are visible with remarkable clarity using an innovative roll of the satellite.

(Via Slashdot)


Engineering God In a Petri Dish:
SAN FRANCISCO -- On a steep, narrow street above Chinatown works Jonathon Keats, a tweed-suited, bow-tied 32-year-old who, with assistance from a phalanx of scientists, is genetically engineering God in his apartment.
That says it all, I think.

I neglected posting on this before,

but in order to more quickly sift through the various blogs I read, I recently started (about a month ago) using RSS clients. The following are the clients I use for my Mac and my PC:
  • NewsFire: This is the Mac client. Although it's still in beta and has a few minor bugs, it is very stable and has a superior UI. Much better than NetNewsWire, IMO. (Thanks to Matt for the link)
  • Pluck: This is the PC client. Again, I like the UI quite a bit, but it is also a little bit buggy.
Does anybody have any apps they recommend?

UPDATE: Maybe individual clients are not the answer; is this the future of RSS? (Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Monday, September 27, 2004

The next big thing

Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web, talks with MIT's Technology Review about his next big idea: the Semantic Web. Fascinating stuff!

News on

Jeanne's aftermath.

Uh oh

The Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network has posted a Notice of Volcanic Unrest for Mount St. Helens. They believe that "there is an increased likelihood of a hazardous event" soon. (Via InstaPundit)

Another post mortem

It's been a good few weeks for freelance journalists, thanks to Dan Rather and CBS. I have read so many opinion pieces* and autopsies on Rathergate in the past few weeks that I could count myself a historical expert on the sequence of events.

(Disclaimer: I really have no expertise in this field, but I'm going to continue talking about it anyway) Being a freelance journalist has got to be pretty tough. Even if you're good enough with words and current events to do it for a living, I can't imagine that it's steady enough to employ a lot of people permanently, certainly not as many people as probably do try to do it for a living. And now, with the advent of blogs, it seems like more and more people who are smart and good with words are becoming known. In fact, as natural selection works its way through the weblog ecosystem, some of them are (only more frequently, in some cases) being asked to write pieces of their own for big media outlets. It seems like we're in for a supply glut, and that's going to mean hard times for those who are lower on the food chain. (Via InstaPundit)

* I would have linked the William Safire op-ed on this, but it's too old and now you'd have to pay the NY Times to read it, so you'll have to make do with the NY Post one.

Finally, someone is

working on making a standard raw format for digital photos:
Adobe Systems Inc. plans to introduce a new format for digital photos on Monday in an attempt to create an industry public standard to make the archiving and editing process compatible across all types of cameras and photo software.

It's about time someone did something like this.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

You know why I

think blogging is so cool? Probably the same reason as everyone else who has more opinions than sense. Because it gives me an excuse to spout off said opinions into the ether, and only those who want to know those opinions (or who, to be fair, are really bored) will receive them. And that way the people who don't want to hear it in real life will think I'm marvelously restrained and know when to keep my mouth shut. See? Something for everyone.

Here's another interesting

NY Times story (full body cavity search required), on the Kerry rebranding effort. This article shows again why, as EJ Dionne says, the Democrats are losing an ideological war against the Republicans in the public eye.

The very cynicism with which these advertising execs (and Russell Simmons!) talk about improving Kerry's branding really brings home the point that the Democrats are missing. The way you win voters' hearts and minds isn't by looking like you have the right idea. It's by having the right idea. The American public is pretty deft at spotting fakes, especially in this day and age of instant, persistent media coverage (one might even, if one were cynical, say "despite" instead of "especially in"), and it's pretty obvious that John Kerry is a big fat phony. His ideological opaqueness (and that's really being very diplomatic) is not only hurting him, it's helping Bush. By his constant striving to be everything to everyone, he's lost, I dare say, the faith of everyone but the "Anyone but Bush" crowd. In contrast, to their base, the Republicans have the right idea and look like they do. Their political machine is trim, agile and puts their Democratic counterpart to shame.

There's not much besides paranoia keeping me from calling time-of-death on this thing right now. (Via InstaPundit)

The NY Times magazine is

carrying a very interesting piece on left-wing bloggers. It reads like a celebrity profile piece; you know, where the author is trying to get beyond the bloggers' on-screen personas to the real people behind them. Not surprisingly, they are shown as smart but fallible people <insert tired man-behind-the-curtain reference here>. Also not surprisingly, some of the bloggers in question didn't like the piece, calling it a "hatchet job against left-wing bloggers", and saying the article showed "a contrasting and mysterious silence about right-wing excesses". Like InstaPundit, whose site by the way is where I found the article in the first place, I agree that it's not that the article is imbalanced, but that it was just focusing on the left-wing bloggers; the right-of-center folks have already "had [their] time in the media spotlight". For what it's worth, I quite liked the article. It's devoid of the condescension (or, increasingly lately, grudging admiration) that's usually present when the media talk about bloggers and is, all in all, admirably objective.

Todd Zywicki of

The Volokh Conspiracy notes a bit of the pot calling the kettle black at the Washington Post (DNA test required) today.

Tabloid beats the Feds

According to this CNN story, police in the UK arrested 4 people suspected of trying to buy materials to make a dirty bomb, after receiving a tip from a tabloid newspaper, News of the World. (Via The Volokh Conspiracy)

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Arguably the coolest zero-emission vehicle

designed thus far has been unveiled by BMW at the Paris auto show:
German luxury carmaker BMW unveiled the world's fastest hydrogen-powered car, dubbed the H2R, at the Paris auto show on September 22, 2004. The car is capable of exceeding 185 miles per hour. Unlike most hydrogen-powered vehicles, the H2R doesn't operate on a fuel cell but rather uses a modified 6-liter, 12-cylinder combustion engine for its propulsion that essentially emits nothing but steam.

Now if only someone could come up with a zero-emission way to produce hydrogen, we would be in business. (Via Slashdot)

I didn't think I was

(permit me a bit of arrogance here) a slouch at CSS before, but all this messing around with Blogger templates has really improved and deepened my understanding of the standard as well as helped me learn how to use it to do some very cool formatting. Since I have a pretty short attention span and will most likely be switching themes frequently, I am toying with the idea of making all the templates I come up with publicly available. It ought to be an interesting experiment; look out for it in the future.

This is interesting stuff

Researchers in France have discovered a liquid that goes, counterintuitively, into solid state when heated, and when cooled, "melts" and goes back into liquid form again. More details can be found here. (Via Slashdot)

This has gone on long enough

After months of journalistic (paid subscribers only) and just about every other type of outcry from those not in power to do much, the UN issued a decree threatening to contemplate, but not anytime soon, economic sanctions against Sudan if the genocide in Darfur goes on any longer. Now David Brooks has written an utterly scathing account of the international community's "pathetic inaction" regarding this and every other humanitarian crisis in recent history. (Via InstaPundit)

Scientists have

found what are believed to be the oldest galaxies yet discovered, 13 billion light years (approx. 95% of the age of the universe) away from Earth. The find suggests that the earliest galaxies formed more slowly than originally thought.

While I'm in tree-hugging mode,

here's an article about how Antarctic glaciers are ever more quickly sliding into the sea and melting.

Biodiesel on the way

Wired News is reporting that car manufacturers have become interested in biodiesel, a low-emission fuel made from plants. The fuel, previously only championed by environmentalists, could as a result become more readily available in the US.

Jay Rosen has

some thoughts about the politics of news and CBS' future. (Via InstaPundit)

From the "weird, odd and quirky stories" section of

the Scotsman:
RATS are being trained to sniff out the buried victims of earthquakes and bomb blasts and could be sent to search for survivors in the same way as dogs.

The project, funded by Pentagon research arm DARPA, uses rats trained "to find human smells irresistible". These rats, wearing special radio backpacks linked directly to their brains, would transmit their brain patterns and whereabouts to searchers on the surface. Pretty neat. (Via Slashdot)

Public records and aerial photography

In the Greenwich Time:
[Connecticut]'s highest court will now decide a landmark public records case involving access to aerial reconnaissance photographs and maps of Greenwich.

The town maintains the images in a tightly kept database known as a geographic information system, which a judge declared to be public records last December.

The Connecticut Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear the town's appeal of that ruling, expediting the case by leap-frogging the state Appellate Court.

The move virtually coincides with the third anniversary of the initial complaint in the case, which Greenwich resident and computer consultant Stephen Whitaker filed with the state Freedom Information Commission after the town denied his request for an electronic copy of the entire database for security and privacy reasons.

Needless to say (but I'm saying it anyway), the outcome of this case should set an important precedent. (Via Slashdot)

NASA releases world viewer

NASA has released world viewer software that "allows any user to zoom from satellite altitude into any place on Earth, leveraging high resolution LandSat imagery and SRTM elevation data to experience Earth in visually rich 3D, just as if they were really there." This is cool. (Via Slashdot)

Withdrawal from the internet?

The Register is reporting that Yahoo! and an advertising outfit called OMD ran an "Internet Deprivation Study", where volunteer test subjects went cold turkey on the internet for 14 days:
If you've ever seen a smack-head handcuffed to a bed gibbering uncontrollably because he can't get a fix, then be afraid, because that's what you'll look like after two weeks of internet-free cold turkey.

The article, tongue firmly in cheek, examines the results of the study and the "sobering proof of how a temporary lack of an internet connection could reduce one's life to ruins in days". (Via Slashdot)

Friday, September 24, 2004

If I lived in Florida,

I'd seriously be contemplating the merits of a land-locked state right about now. Hurricane Jeanne (yes, it's been upgraded from a tropical storm) looks to be heading straight for the Bahamas and then Florida. This will be the 4th hurricane in about 6 weeks to have hit that region, and will hopefully not add much to the billions of dollars of damage and numerous fatalities that have already been caused; that is, if another hurricane is not on its way.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

John Kerry is criticizing

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi following his speech to Congress today, saying that Allawi was sent before congress to put the "best face" on Bush's Iraq policy. It's one thing to criticize the incumbent he's running against, but it might not be such a great idea for Kerry to make statements against someone whom he would have to work with pretty closely if he got elected.

UPDATE: The gloves are off; Joe Lockhart has taken the game to another level (retinal scan required):
Democrats moved quickly to fuel skepticism, denouncing Allawi's message in unusually pointed terms.

While Kerry was relatively restrained in disputing Allawi's upbeat portrayal, some of his aides suggested that the Iraqi leader was simply doing the bidding of the Bush administration, which helped arrange his appointment in June.

"The last thing you want to be seen as is a puppet of the United States, and you can almost see the hand underneath the shirt today moving the lips," said Joe Lockhart, a senior Kerry adviser.

Again, I have to say that it really doesn't seem to be a good idea to anger (as this statement surely will) allies of the US, with whom, moreover, Kerry would have to work very closely if he got elected. Some are saying, however, that this is sort of a "Hail Mary" play by the Kerry campaign. (Via InstaPundit)

ANOTHER UPDATE: An editorial note: is PM Allawi's first name spelled Ayad or Iyad? I have done a Google search on "allawi", and it seems that both spellings are used, but Iyad occurs with more frequency. Moreover, Iyad is the spelling in the Wikipedia entry, so I'm going to stick with that.

John Kerry, in a shocking turn of events,

has changed his position on the war in Iraq. Apparently, according to the Chicago Tribune, he was for the war before he was against it:
After his 2002 Senate vote to authorize the war, Kerry often characterized disarming Hussein as "the right decision." In May 2003, Kerry said on ABC that while he "would have preferred" more diplomacy before going to war, "I think it was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein. And when the president made the decision, I supported him, and I support the fact that we did disarm him."

As recently as last month, Kerry was sticking by that principle, stating that even if he had known the U.S. wouldn't find unconventional weapons in Iraq or prove close ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda, he still would have voted to authorize the war. But succeeding weeks have confronted Kerry with two harsh realities: His presidential candidacy has ebbed in public opinion polls, and Iraq has grown bloodier.

So it was bizarre, although not exactly shocking, to hear Kerry veer left during a speech on Monday: "We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure ..." he said. "Invading Iraq has created a crisis of historic proportions, and if we do not change course, there is a prospect of a war with no end in sight."

Kerry, who knows a few things about changing course, evidently believes he and his Senate colleagues were right to give President Bush the authority to wage war, but that Bush was wrong to use the authority.

Like I said before, if he hadn't already lost my vote...(Via InstaPundit)

From the archives of

The Flying Space Monkey Chronicles (which, I have decided, is the best blog name EVER): Why the blogosphere* is like Voltron.

* For the record, I don't like this term (almost as much as I dislike "bloggy", "bloggerrific", "blogiversary", and a host of others), but everyone uses it (ad nauseam, I might add), so I will grudgingly have to conform in order to get my point across. Also because that's the actual title of the post, and I can hardly, in the name of journalistic (yeah, right) integrity, change it. (Via InstaPundit)

The NY Times reports

that things are not as bad as you think in Afghanistan. (Via InstaPundit)

Endogenous morphine

Researchers in Germany have confirmed their hypothesis that morphine occurs naturally in the brain. This discovery promises to set off waves of new research into the treatment of pain, addiction, and other health issues.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Oh, snap

It might be a good idea to go out and stock up on Twinkies. (Via Dave Barry)

Claudia Rosett writes

a brutal opinion-piece for the WSJ on the UN Oil-for-Food scandal. (Via InstaPundit)

Anne Applebaum has a

very interesting piece in the Washington Post on the impending demise of network news.

UPDATE: It appears that the fallout from Rathergate* is already being felt, according to a recent Gallup poll.

*What is with this tradition of affixing "-gate" to the name of any political scandal? It doesn't really make much sense; it's not like Watergate was about water. It was just the name of a hotel.

To be fair, though, it's got a certain undeniable cachet. Those 4 letters convey quite a bit of information efficiently; someone, usually in a position of power, did something bad and then made a stupid mistake in thinking that it wouldn't get out. You can't beat that efficiency--"Rathergate" is certainly more succinct than "the CBS memo forgery controversy".

What's more, in honor of Enron, people are already starting to do the same kind of thing with "-ron". Rathergate/memogate has also been referred to as "Danron". Clever.

(Via InstaPundit)

Wesley Crusher has a blog

I know what you're thinking: no way! Way. Wesley Crusher (AKA Wil "With One 'L'" Wheaton) has his very own weblog. The cool thing about it is that he apparently did all the coding for the site.

I know what you're thinking now, too: how the Helen of Troy did you find Wil Wheaton's blog? Actually, this all came out of an InstaPundit post talking about how Jonathan Klein's pajama remark is all over the internet. He noted that if you Google 'pajamas', the post linked above ('pajama remark') comes up as number 2. A post from Wesley's blog comes up fifth.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


I was looking for a convenient Japanese-English dictionary to use on my PDA (trying to flip through a printed dictionary during class, with unknown words coming up every few minutes, is just too slow), and I found a great one here. It includes lookup by hiragana, katakana, and best of all, by kanji, which you can write in yourself and have the handwriting recognition algorithm do all the legwork. Looking up a word using the kanji without first having to look up the pronunciation of each symbol will cut my dictionary time in half!

UPDATE: Maybe not in half. You have to know the exact stroke count and order of each kanji for the recognition system to work right. This is fine most of the time, as you can guess with pretty good accuracy if you have learned the basics of writing kanji, but you have to write the characters carefully, and take care to lift the stylus between strokes so that the algorithm works properly. It's still a great resource, as you can get stroke count, stroke order, pronunciation and definition information on each symbol you look up.

This is unbelievable

Now Bill "Cry Wolf" Burkett, after admitting that he lied at least twice to the media, is claiming that he got the memos from someone named Lucy Ramirez, proof of whose existence has so far eluded USA Today and CBS, among others. And it appears he's thinking about suing CBS for defamation of character and libel.

In related news:
(Via Jeff Jarvis, Power Line and Mossback)

Monday, September 20, 2004

I think I have made peace

with being a conscientious objector this November. I suffered a long period of mental anguish after I realized that I could not in good conscience vote for either of the major parties' presidential candidates, but could not in good conscience abstain from my civic duty, either. After Kerry named Edwards as his running mate, he got my grudging endorsement, on the thin premise that I'd be more likely to agree with his policies than Bush's. This was before Kerry made a concerted and still ongoing effort to avoid saying anything substantive about his policies whatsoever. This was also before the Queen of the Space Unicorns threw his credibility to the four winds and became a shill for the Kerry campaign. So the long and short of it is that I feel I'm still fulfilling my civic duty by not voting in this year's presidential election. If no party is going to produce a candidate that is worth voting for, then no one gets my vote.

One more nail in the coffin

If Kerry hadn't already lost my vote (more on this later), this would give me serious doubts about my November intentions. Lambert field, indeed; more than being a big political phony, Kerry may not even be a real guy.

Too little, too late

On tonight's broadcast of CBS Evening News (which I did not, for the record, watch), Dan Rather and CBS finally admitted that they could not verify the authenticity of the Killian memos used in the Sept 8 broadcast of 60 Minutes Wednesday, and apologized. The segment included an interview with retired Texas ANG Lt Col Bill Burkett, who admitted that he intentionally misled CBS producer Mary Mapes into believing that the memos were authentic, "giving her a false account of the documents’ origins to protect a promise of confidentiality to the actual source."

From the official CBS statement:
CBS News and CBS management are commissioning an independent review of the process by which the report was prepared and broadcast to help determine what actions need to be taken. The names of the people conducting the review will be announced shortly, and their findings will be made public.

CBS should have done this a week ago, and this late, grudging admission does not answer a number of important remaining questions. For one, who was the "actual source"? Does this source, as has been suggested before, have ties to the DNC and the Kerry campaign? And while we're advancing conspiracy theories, does anyone really believe that CBS "was misled"? This seems like a thinly veiled attempt at passing the buck; the reality in my opinion is that CBS was so set on breaking an "explosive" story that they ignored all reasonable objections raised by their own experts and went to press with the story anyway.

If a whole bunch of people at CBS do not resign or are not fired over this (Dan Rather, Andrew Heyward, Josh Howard and Mary Mapes, just to name a few), I'll be disappointed, although not, to tell the truth, surprised.

The best Vegas trip ever

And here are just a few of the reasons:
  1. The Bears beat the Packers.
  2. 21-10.
  3. At Lambeau.
Life is good.

UPDATE: OK, maybe life isn't so good:
The Bears' joy over winning their first game against Green Bay since 2000 was tempered by a season-ending injury to Brown, who ruptured his right Achilles' tendon late in the game. The fifth-year safety will undergo surgery this week and faces 6-7 months of rehabilitation.

It's a huge loss; Mike Brown is IMO one of the Bears' biggest playmakers and an integral part of what promises, thanks to Lovie Smith, to be a very strong defense.

Friday, September 17, 2004

You know what drives me nuts?

Well, to be fair, that list is quite long. However, what is immediately annoying to me are people who send their e-mail in HTML format when they're just writing text. Unless you're someone who constructs elaborate web-page-like e-mails with lots of graphics, fancy formatting and the like, you've no right IMO to be writing HTML mail. It makes it more difficult for those of us who use webmail (which is, like, everyone) or have a shell account (how I miss that!) to see the original text when trying to reply or forward; in the case of webmail, since HTML-formatted content can't be displayed easily in the text input element without manipulation (stripping tags, etc.), most webmail services just punt displaying the original message in replies and forwards and add the original e-mail as an attachment instead. Which makes my life that much harder.

Arrrgggh. I don't care what font you use. I'm not going to glean some obscure meaning from knowing you used Garamond instead of Arial. Why can't people just use plain text?

Netflix update

Miracle: 3 stars.

Again, it almost got 4 (I'm a sucker for sports movies). My big problem with it? The score. The script and the direction really did a good job of eliminating the cheese you normally are doused in from sports movies and just telling the story as it happened, but the score brought the cheese right back. And then some. I have to say that the unimaginative and melodramatic score is one of my biggest pet peeves about movies. I don't need the music swelling to let me know when there is a dramatic moment in the film. I can figure it out myself, thank you very much.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

OK, I know you're probably sick of this by now,

but I am just letting you know that I have now heard enough to say without a doubt that the memos were forged. In addition to the already compelling typographical analysis I posted on earlier, the two following sites establish definitively that of the three typewriters capable of proportional spacing and/or changeable type elements in 1972-3, neither the IBM Selectric nor the Executive, nor yet the fancy Selectric Composer--whose expense would have been prohibitive when it came to supplying administrative military offices anyway, but which I include for argument's sake--could have been used to type the memos.

I cannot imagine why CBS is still defending this story; if pressed, I guess I would agree with most other assessments that they are for some reason trying to protect their source, whoever it is; if they admit that the memos are forgeries, they have no reason to protect their source, and indeed a compelling reason to reveal his/her identity. It just seems obvious to me that they ought to cut their losses and come clean if they are at all interested in getting back any shred of the public trust. (Via The Volokh Conspiracy)

Non-partisan political information

In this era of political mudslinging and backhanded allegations (e.g. Hastert on Soros' sources of funding), it's nice to know there are at least a couple of outfits devoted to showing the truth of what goes on inside Washington's political machine: and The first provides information on the truth of political rumors and attack ad claims, and the second traces the paths of money in politics.

More on hurricanes

Lots of good stuff on Slashdot today. CNN is carrying a story about how meteorological researchers and the NOAA are using supercomputers to predict storm paths and get information to the critical areas early enough to prevent as much damage and loss of life as possible.

UPDATE: I was waiting for this. Some experts are linking the recent spate of hurricane activity to global warming. Also, check out this really cool shot of Ivan from the international space station. Other images from the space station can be found here.

Again with the math

Google, in a bid to recruit really smart people to work for them, has started a billboard campaign that is a series of puzzles. Here's how it works. The first billboard says {First 10-digit prime in consecutive digits of e}.com. You find this number, go to the website, and it shows you another puzzle and gives you a URL where you can enter your answer. And so on. If you solve all the puzzles, you eventually get to the Google website and are asked to submit a resume. Pretty cool, huh? (Via Slashdot)

On another note, it is weird how, ever since I started reading this Reimann hypothesis book, I am hearing about it (and analytic number theory) everywhere.

Bush v. Kerry on science issues

Yeah. You read right. Issues. Remember them? Ancient politians are thought to have talked about issues in elections during the first ice age. Historians and paleontologists are trying to piece together the few clues they have from ancient human history to figure out how and when that changed.

The science journal Nature posed a series of questions about modern science issues to the two presidential candidates, ranging from toxic waste disposal to stem cell research. Read their responses here. (Via Slashdot)

The comic (heh. get it?) side of this fiasco

Bloom County on Dan Rather/CBS. It's like they knew it was going to happen. (Via InstaPundit)

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Beer is good for you!

Researchers at the University of Western Ontario have found that beer has the same positive health effects as wine. I predict a spike in casual drinking tonight. (Via Slashdot)

OK, I will be the first to admit

that I know absolutely nothing about this stuff, but does it seem odd to anyone else that there will have been, within a few days, four (Charley, Frances, Ivan and now Jeanne) hurricanes/tropical storms that have hit the Caribbean and the Gulf coast of the US? Does anyone know whether this is unusual, historically speaking?

OK. I've done a (very) small amount of research, and according to the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration):
The period 1995-2003 has been the most active for Atlantic hurricanes in the historical record. Since 1995 seven of nine seasons have been above-normal (the exceptions being the El Niño years of 1997 and 2002). “We are concerned that this increased activity will continue in the coming years,” said Jim Laver, director of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Moreover, it predicts another above-normal season in 2004.

Of course, saying that all the mentioned seasons are above average doesn't really answer the question. To do that, I'd have to go do some more research after this year's Atlantic hurricane season is over (sometime in November) and check, say, the number of storms this season compared to storms in past seasons (both above-normal and normal), and then compare the frequency and severity of said storms to previous ones.

Format notes

You might have noticed that since the initial template change, I've been changing little things here and there in the template to make your blog-reading experience that little bit smoother. One thing that's changed is the addition of links to other websites (mostly blogs) that I find to be of interest and that I read with somewhat regular frequency. One site that I've just added to that list, and which I don't read nearly enough, is PressThink, a blog by a member of the mainstream media on the mainstream media. I know there are lots of other blogs that purport to do this very same thing, but I think this one is more (sometimes painfully) honest and critical than most others.


Adam Penenberg's latest Media Hack column has possibly the best headline ever: Don't Mess With Librarians.

The blood is in the water,

and most of it (if not all) is CBS'. You might think that the story has already been flogged to death, but the sharks have just started circling. Witnesses are coming out of the woodwork, and some are even suggesting that Dan Rather and CBS, rather than having been duped, knew about the forgeries and went ahead with the report anyway. What I don't understand is why CBS is so doggedly defending its story, faced with so much evidence to the contrary. One would think that if they want to rebuild their reputation for journalistic integrity (now just about universally acknowledged to be in tatters), they'd honestly admit to their error and deal with the consequences.

And while we're on the topic, I don't understand why we're still talking about who did or did not do what during a war that happened 30-odd years ago. Maybe, and I'm no expert, we should be talking about the war that's going on now?

(However, some say that none of this stuff ever happened, so I guess we're free to talk about whatever we want.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Triple whammy

Within the last couple of days, Mozilla has released new versions of Firefox (v1.0PR), Thunderbird (v0.8) and Mozilla suite (v1.7.3). There seem to be some significant new features in all of them (including a built-in RSS-reader in Thunderbird), so upgrading definitely has some appeal.

Map of Springfield

A couple of people with a lot of time on their hands have put together a frighteningly detailed map of the Simpsons' Springfield, complete with guide. It's really very impressive. (Via Slashdot)

More on Rathergate:

First: Rathergate. Ha! Clever.

Second: Since my last post on this, it's become the conventional wisdom that the CBS Killian memos are very likely to be forgeries, and there has been a veritable old media (who couldn't resist getting in on the act) feeding frenzy, with everything from op-eds in the NY Times, Washington Times and NY Post to investigative articles in the Washington Post appearing within the last couple of days. (registration required for the majority of these sites) It's Darwin's law in action; although CBS is steadily (some might say desperately) defending its story, they've taken a pretty significant credibility hit, and I believe we're watching the beginning of the end here. They'll be making movies about this in a few years. (Via InstaPundit)

Monday, September 13, 2004

Tabasco as a pesticide?

Yep, you read right. I don't like Tabasco either, and I can handle a lot more spice than a bunny. At least, I'd like to think so. (Via Dave Barry)

Attn: Fans of...ah, interesting music

The World Famous (But Not For A Good Reason) Rock Bottom Remainders are going on a tour of America's Heartland:
"The band is very excited about the WannaPalooza Tour. We are going to rock the nation's Heartland so hard that there could be bruising as far away as the nation's Spleenland, and possibly even the nation's Kidneyland."

-Dave Barry, lead guitar

If you live in the general vicinity of the Heartland, be sure to (get your protective gear on and) head out to the party.

Investigative journalism by the masses

Here is a timeline of events in the CBS memo forgery story. The spin machines of both the left and the right are madly spitting imprecations and producing experts at each other, but the bottom line is that it is still unclear whether the documents cited in last Wednesday's airing of 60 Minutes II are forgeries or not. I think the thing to take away from this is that a media organization (especially a big one) shouldn't be eager to go to air (or print) with documents whose authenticity can reasonably be questioned. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this.

Other links: the LA Times story (registration required) about the role of the "new media" in the breaking of the story, and a detailed typographical analysis (leaning in the "they're forged" direction) of the memos.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Template updated!

As you may have noticed, the template for this page has been updated. This is a home-grown template, and it is the reason why there has been a posting hiatus for the past few days.

It was definitely a challenge; I had to relearn some CSS (or retool what I knew already), and learn all about Blogger's template tags, etc. It was relatively straightforward, but there was some significant debugging involved. Take a look around and let me know what you think.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Netflix + TiVo = Hype?

CBS Marketwatch has a commentary that says that the hoopla about the Netflix/TiVo partnership may be only that; due to electronic content distribution rights (or lack thereof), this deal may be grounded before it gets the chance to fly. (Via Slashdot)

On Blogger templates

I am not sure how long I am going to keep this template. I rather like it as it is, but as I am always looking for an excuse to play with Photoshop/HTML/CSS, I might eventually change it. It'll be a bit challenging, though, because I'll have to incorporate all of Blogger's content tags and mess around a bit with the layout; Blogger does most of their templates using CSS positioning rather than tables with eety-beety chopped-up images. It ought to be an interesting challenge.

Toxin-eating bacteria

Some Irish researchers have successfully isolated a strain of bacteria that eats styrene, a toxic byproduct of the polystyrene (think fast food containers) industry, and turns it into a biodegradable plastic. Considering that styrene accounts for 55 million pounds of hazardous waste per year in the US alone, this could be very important.

More bad news for NASA

Read about the aftermath to the Genesis capsule's crash yesterday.

Pretty pictures

According to Matt: Best. Photoblog. Ever. I'm inclined to agree with him.


Give your iPod some attitude. (Thanks to Jieun)

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Jorgen Mortensen!

Netflix update - Italian for Beginners: 3 stars.

This one almost got 4 stars, but I'm not sure I bought one of the storylines. But I must say that I have liked every Danish film I've seen (one 3, two 4s and a 5) thus far, which is pretty impressive.

Gmail rocks my world

Gmail, Google's new free webmail service, is in my opinion the greatest thing since sliced bread. I managed to get my hands on an account this past weekend, and I am so far very happy with the service. The gmail interface is intuitive and streamlined; it lacks the clunkiness that I find in every other webmail service I've ever used. Some of the cool things about gmail:
  • If you send e-mail to or receive e-mail from any person who is not in your contact list, he/she is automatically added to your contact list.
  • E-mail conversations are organized by thread, so that you have instant access to every piece of correspondence regarding a given subject.
  • Gmail lets you set up filters (!) for incoming mail.
  • You can mark messages with labels, which obviates the need to create a complicated folder structure and then file individual messages.
  • E-mail search that really works.
  • No distracting banner ads!
  • Every message view page contains an empty text box displayed beneath the message; if you click in the text box, a reply/forward form is automatically displayed, making the reply/forward process even more efficient.
Overall, this is the first webmail service I've seen that can really do a good job of replacing e-mail clients installed on individual computers.

While we're talking about math:

A Russian mathematician claims to have solved the Poincare Conjecture, one of the Clay Mathematics Insitute's seven "Millennium Problems" (which also include the Reimann Hypothesis and the P vs. NP problem), but does not appear to be interested in the $1M prize offered. (Via Slashdot)

What I'm reading now:

Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics, by John Derbyshire. I know--gasp!--two mind-improving books in a row? Perish the thought. I'm only part way through it, but it's exceedingly interesting and very well written; this says a lot, considering that the book is about a relatively dry subject. Let me share one amusing passage:
Published mathematical papers often have irritating assertions of the type: "It now follows that...," or: "It is now obvious that...," when it doesn't follow, and isn't obvious at all, unless you put in the six hours the author did to supply the missing steps and checking them.

This doesn't really have anything to do with Riemann or his hypothesis, but I spent so many hours in college trying to fill in these very missing steps from similar irritating lectures that I found the acknowledgement above pretty funny. Anyway, I highly recommend the book.

Netflix + TiVo = Couch potato heaven

MSNBC is carrying a story that Netflix and TiVo may have a deal in the works to provide movies on demand from Netflix to TiVo boxes over broadband internet connections. This has the potential, IMO, to be really cool, but I've got a couple of concerns:
  1. TiVo boxes need to offer optical audio and component video outputs, to ensure a viewing experience of comparable quality to having a DVD in a home-theater setup.
  2. With data requirements for movies becoming ever larger, download times can get pretty slow. Ideally, there would eventually be some national infrastructure upgrade that offers larger available bandwidth to each household than is currently available. The highest downlink bandwidth currently available from Comcast, 3 Mbps, used to download a 5 GB movie would take quite a long time; ~13 hours, assuming that the 3 Mbps rate can be maintained for the entire download.
I guess we'll see what happens.

Simulating the universe

A group of scientists from Canada, Germany, the UK and the US are using a 4.2 teraflop supercomputer to simulate the entire universe. Current theories about the development of the universe will be used as parameters and equations in the simulations. If the theories are correct or near correct, the output of the simulation should resemble the universe as we know it today. The group plans to make its output data available to researchers around the world in public repositories late this year. (Via Slashdot)

Friday, September 03, 2004

Cold fusion: resurrected?

According to this report, the Department of Energy has commissioned a report on the feasibility of cold fusion from a panel of experts. The report should be given later this month; it ought to be very interesting to hear the results of this research. (Via Slashdot)

More on the North Ossetian hostage crisis

Sept. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Russian troops stormed a school in the country's south, after hostages started fleeing the building where armed terrorists had been holding as many as 1,500 people captive for two days in Beslan, North Ossetia.

More than 200 wounded were taken to hospitals, Interfax said, citing Lev Dzugayev, spokesman for North Ossetia's government. Russian broadcasters NTV and Rossiya showed children escaping and gunfire and explosions could be heard during the broadcasts.

It's not clear how many were able to make it out alive in this situation, but it seems to be better than 2002's Moscow theater incident. On another note, I'm not sure why there's a discrepancy in the number of hostages between this article and yesterday's Scotsman article, which said there were around 400 hostages. (Via Instapundit)

Update: More on the outcome of the raid, although this article, too, cites a different number of hostages than the others:
AT LEAST five people are dead and more than 300 people, including children have been injured after commandos stormed a school in southern Russia where up to a thousand hostages were being held, news agencies have reported.

The 10 victims, children and adults, have been taken out dead on stretchers, an AFP correspondent reported.

At least six children, all very badly wounded and some with their limbs ripped off and their backs torn open, were also evacuated by civilians and members of the Russian emergency ministry.

Troops were pursuing the hostage-takers, and gunfire continued to ring out in Beslan, Russian news agencies said.

Five militants were killed but 13 others escaped, the ITAR-Tass news agency said, and were holed up in a local residence surrounded by troops, the Interfax news agency said.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

All your base are belong to us!

I was just reminded of the "All your base" internet phenomenon, and I thought I'd post information on it, for old times' sake.
  • The official AYB website: you can find a history of the meme/phenomenon/global obsession here, along with the flash video that made the craze even crazier.
  • The Wired News article about AYB.
  • The official Wikipedia entry on AYB. It contains, among other things, the original Japanese text from the Zero Wing cut-scene, and a loose translation of what it should have been, had it been well translated.

Ultrawideband vs. WiFi: test your might

Interesting piece on the battle of Ultrawideband (UWB), or IEEE 802.15.3a, with the next generation of WiFi, or IEEE 802.11n. Round One...FIGHT.

Terror attacks in Russia

The Economist says that Russia's terrorist problem has less to do with al Qaeda than with Vladimir Putin's endorsement and encouragement of abuses by Russian forces in Chechnya and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Scotsman reports some bad news about the North Ossetian hostage crisis.

Fuel of the future

Researchers from Australia, the UK and the US last week announced that they have made great strides in more cheaply producing hydrogen for use as a green fuel:
Last week, Sorrel and colleagues promised advanced materials developed in their lab would lead to a commercial solar panel in seven years that would produce cheap hydrogen from water, a production method known as solar hydrogen.

It certainly sounds promising.

Democratizing the media

Adam Penenberg's latest Media Hack column for Wired News talks about the new media (blogs) and how the old media views it. I like his articles because he uses words like "zeitgeist" and "cybercognoscenti". Also "intelligentsia".

DB strikes again

Read Dave Barry's Day 3 RNC coverage.

Google Code Jam '04

Google has opened registration for Google Code Jam '04. Use your superior programming skills to compete for a share of $50,000 in cash prizes! Solutions can be submitted in Java, C++, VB or C#. (Via Slashdot)

What I'm reading:

Stand Up Fight Back: Republican Toughs, Democratic Wimps, and the Politics of Revenge by E.J. Dionne, Jr., of Washington Post and NPR fame. Much like many other liberal outraged-at-Bush books that have come out this year, this book offers a pretty harsh critique of the Bush presidency. Dionne, usually a moderate liberal, is harsher than is his wont in this book, but he does something here that most of the other outraged-at-Bush books don't do (or don't do well, at least). He questions the Democratic party and its methods. He outlines why the Democrats have been, for the past 4 or so years, losing an ideological war against the Republicans, and what the Democrats can do to once more unite and inspire America's left.

Overall, while I find the Bush critique to beg the question in some spots (i.e. using corroborative evidence and quotes from sources whose credibility was questioned later--e.g. Richard Clarke and Joe Wilson--and his almost total discounting of media bias), the real value of the book in my mind is in his critique of the Democrats and his suggestions for how to fix the party's ideology problem.

UPDATE: I finished the book, and my assessment of it hasn't changed. Allow me to add, however, that I find Dionne's suggestions for what the Democratic party needs to start talking about very compelling.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

More on crypto

Here's an interesting article on cryptographic hashes (registration required), specifically the MD5 algorithm, which was recently shown to have flaws at the annual Crypto conference in Santa Barbara, CA.

P vs. NP

This article (registration required) explains why solving one of the Clay Mathematics Institute's seven "Millennium Problems", specifically the P vs. NP problem, could be the end of cryptography as we know it. It also contains an excellent layperson's explanation of P and NP. (Via Slashdot)

Speaking of free wifi...

This website has a pretty comprehensive state-by-state listing of places with free wireless internet access.


This is a really cool idea. Hopefully they do it, and other cities follow suit. (Via Slashdot)

Dave Barry at the RNC

Read Dave Barry's in-depth coverage (free registration required) of the before-party for the Republican National Convention here.

Also be sure to check out Day 1 and Day 2 coverage.