December 24, 2007


Our tree decorated with my niece Sarah's ornament:

xmas-2007.tree xmas-2007.presents-tree-cards
posted by sstrader at 1:24 PM in Personal | permalink


Two great energy stories from the world of nano: first, the much-touted production of cheap solar panels. Such advances were suggested earlier in the year when nano structures that are almost completely non-reflective were created. People need to shut up about biofuels and start treating wind and solar with the respect they deserve. Second, nanowires have been created that can be used in li-ion batteries to increase their operating time tenfold.

posted by sstrader at 12:40 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

December 22, 2007


Valet ticket:

posted by sstrader at 11:45 AM in Personal | permalink

December 21, 2007


Just heard on the current Talk of the Nation/Science Friday: out of body experience can be induced and directed into a virtual reality avatar. This is discussed in the new book The Body Has a Mind of Its Own. Neat.

posted by sstrader at 3:21 PM in Science & Technology | permalink


Went to A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant at Dad's Garage last night. It was around an hour of complete hilarity with the right balance of good child actors (a second surprise after the great child actor in The Golden Compass), silly songs, and an absurdly straight-faced telling of the Scientology story. It felt much like the South Park telling of what the Scientologists and what the Mormons believe: just give it straight and these wack-o religions skewer themselves (of course, you could do that with any religion and expose the silly underbelly). Best actor of the evening was the girl who played the Scientology auditor. Not to take away from the wonderful kid playing L. Ron, but she had the perfect mix of cute and creepy that is the heart of the show. Sure, they were preaching to the choir, but it was a good sermon.

We had gone to Santaland Diaries several years in a row; I think this show has superseded it as the go-to Christmas event.

posted by sstrader at 12:41 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 19, 2007

Podcast music, 2

Another set finally pieced together with the ideas I had left over from the first suite. This has the same format of five short tracks at around 6-1/2 minutes total. You can stream the MP3 playlist here:

  1. "Lossless" (1:15) - brass and strings
  2. "Resin" (1:23) - piano and strings
  3. "Desultory" (1:07) - violin, cello, guitar
  4. "Spiral" (1:17) - brass and guitar
  5. "Herald" (1:46) - brass, woodwinds, and cello
posted by sstrader at 1:53 PM in Music | permalink

December 16, 2007

Last Christmas

Lisa and I spent last Christmas in NYC and I never posted about it. I found tickets, the only artefacts of the trip, as I was cleaning up my desk:

nyc-2006.moma nyc-2006.avenue-q

And, the plane tickets! There:

And back:
posted by sstrader at 1:46 PM in Where was I? | tagged nyc | permalink

December 15, 2007

I Am Legend (4/5)

This was a more subtle piece than I'd expected from Will Smith [ IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes ]. The whole of the movie--scenes with screaming, 28-days-later, speed-freak mutants aside--has the same quiet bleakness of No Country for Old Men. The soundtrack invades infrequently. There is no greatness to the story as a whole, but small points, left unspoken but paralleled across disparate scenes, were far above what cheaper post-apocalyptic flicks might offer (think Resident Evil, et al.).

The film advances on two fronts, with interspersed scenes: post-infection with Will Smith possibly the only uninfected person on Earth and searching for a cure; and pre-infection revealing the cause and the crisis. The first act is lonely but somewhat lighthearted with Smith's dog stealing many scenes. The second act moves into more serious territory and more action: Smith's lonliness is almost to the point of insanity just as he encounters other survivors. The resolution is uninteresting and yet the details and the storytelling of the whole are what resonate.

Of minor social interest: Omega Man came out (along with several similar films) at a time of environmental crisis. In it, humankind's altering of self via medicine threatens their destruction. In Soylent Green, the threat comes from the altering of their environment via overpoplulation. In Planet of the Apes, from inappropriate dominion over the animal kingdom. Each was in response to actual problems and took those to an absurd conclusion. These exaggerated conclusions help us define, through art, our anguish from real-world stresses. I had commented previously how predictive art is more warning--drawing a straight line instead of a curve--than prediction. I'm not sure if movies like I Am Legend and Children of Men fit that for today.

posted by sstrader at 1:02 PM in Cinema | permalink

December 14, 2007

Dev fun

Got my home development environment cleaned up to allow me to do more remote work:

  • Made sure MySQL is locked down and exposed it through my web server (beware of default users!),
  • Upgraded from Eclipse 3.1 to 3.3 (minor niceties),
  • Moved from SourceSafe to Subversion and exposed access to Subversion through Apache (invaluable information here and in the comments),

I'm still running an hilariously old version of MySQL (because of an equally old version of MovableType), but that upgrade can wait. Now, I believe Fresh to Order across the street has some free wifi and a bottle of wine with my name on it...

posted by sstrader at 3:33 PM in Programming | permalink

Ho Ho Hubbard

We just purchased tickets to the December 20th performance of A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant at Dad's Garage (AJC's B- review here). Ahhh ... now I'm finally feeling the Christmas spirit!

posted by sstrader at 1:06 PM in Culture & Society | permalink

December 13, 2007

The vast wasteland

The New Yorker article "Life Lessons" (only partial content online) from the 5 June 2006 issue examines how soap operas are used in South American and Asian societies to introduce egalitarian and health concepts to the broad viewership. My only experience with telenovelas is with the wonderful-yet-Americanized Ugly Betty and clips of that evil Bruno from La Madrastra (copious examples of ridiculousness have been uploaded) that Joel McHale would show on The Soup. These may contain some social conscience, but it's lost to me through the scumbling of melodrama or meta-melodrama (camp) that can be both lovable and laughable.

What Ms. Rosin pointed out was that in places where local custom makes advances difficult, the telenovela acts as an entertaining PSA (as long is it doesn't get too preachy). An example: the day after an adult literacy campaign was included in a storyline on the Mexican telenovela "Ven Conmigo," more than twelve thousand people caused a traffic jam in front of the country's literacy headquarters, lasting past midnight. Another: in the year that "Accompaname" aired, with stories containing many conflicts that were resolved through family-planning, over-the-counter contraceptive sales went up 23%. Hard science it's not but with the fanatical following of these shows in all-countries-but-the-US it's not unlikely. This is the put[ting] the people's airwaves to the service of the people and the cause of freedom concept that Newton Minow spoke of.

posted by sstrader at 9:30 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

December 11, 2007

Survival of the fittest does not mean what you think it means

People will often throw out the non-Darwin phrase survival of the fittest in order to indict modern social tolerance. The logic goes: we accommodate the disabled both great and small, they are free to reproduce, therefore their flawed traits are spread through the gene pool when they should be removed.

The "should be removed" part is where the greatest flaw lies. Darwin's idea of natural selection was not purposeful or directed to an end point. Whatever traits are best for the current environment will be the the ones selected. Humans have survived and currently survive through varying environments, each different one requires different and possibly discrete characteristics. Discussions in a recent /. article--stating that mutations, and therefore diversity, have increased in the last 10,000 years--reemphasize this point. A poster early on posits the fumbling we-coddle-the-weak-so-we've-killed-evolution argument and quickly gets smacked down. There's hope.

posted by sstrader at 10:23 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

The sad birth of Pleo

Ugabe promised this at $200:


They delivered this at $350:



posted by sstrader at 9:56 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

December 10, 2007

No Country for Old Men (5/5)

A perfect Coen brothers' film [ IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes ]. The acting excelled for all involved; the dialog--couplets of quips--was incisive and comic; the characters were iconic without becoming flat. Even after seeing what was done in Fargo I had expected a nihilistic dreariness, but ended up being more engaged than oppressed throughout the fleet 2-hour running time. The dialog's the thing, and although I would otherwise have characterized it as classic Coen dialog, Lisa informed me that, having read The Road, it was classic Cormack McCarthy.

Some have bristled at the oddities of the ending, so prepare to be on one side or the other of that debate. Even if certain style quirks distract you, expect to be engrossed in this bleak yet sharp modern western.

posted by sstrader at 7:06 PM in Cinema | permalink

4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (1/5)

Somewhat painful crap [ IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes ]. Hoping for a minor distraction, this flick ended up being little more than a made-for-TV or even straight-to-video affair. We watched it on a lazy weekend afternoon, IIRC, and it was just barely up to the task. Who knows, maybe I needed to see the first one to appreciate it.

posted by sstrader at 2:15 PM in Cinema | permalink

December 9, 2007

The Golden Compass (4/5)

Went Friday night at Atlantic Station and thoroughly enjoyed it [ IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes ]. Good turnout too; it's fun to see a movie on opening night in a packed room (as long as I get a good seat) and with an appreciative crowd.

I had only heard of the books over the last year reading random comments on geek sites. Apparently, it's what the younger geek grows up with (for me, it was the Dune trilogy). Their love of the books made me curious. The only other bits I had heard were from an email that a co-worker at this hypothetical company received. It was from a manager in a different group, addressed to their subordinates, and accidentally cced to my co-worker. In it was what I'm sure was boiler-plate fire and brimstone from some Catholic League rep. Inappropriateness in the workplace aside, it was somewhat funny.

At around 30 minutes into the movie, when Lyra escapes from Marisa Coulter, I was completely invested in the characters. The young actress who plays Lyra, Dakota Blue Richards, was outstanding as a precocious child that was not "acty" or annoying. There was little of Daniel Craig, but his role will continue in (hopefully) subsequent movies. Nicole Kidman was Eee-Vil. The other standout was Lyra's CGI daemon, Pantalaimon. CGI has come a long way from Lucas' horrific He Who Shall Not Be Named, and Pan was absolutely wonderful. Finally, I was impressed with the look of the film. The cinematography had a glossy brightness to it that could be contrasted (not unfavorably) to LotR's more earthy tones.

The Christian outrage with the film comes from author Pullman's notorious my books are about killing god quote. Boycotts were called on primarily by Dobson's evangelical Focus on the Family and the Donahue's Catholic League. Other religious groups have specifically supported the movie. And, to emphasize a point from the author, his books are about organized religion as a whole and not any specific religion.

From this set up, I went into the movie looking for metaphor. After a few distractions I decided that movie-as-puzzle is not as enjoyable as movie-as-story. The metaphors would wait till the end, and that allowed me space to enjoy the characters and story. The story is as much about the abuses of organized religion as it is about the abuses of any fascist government. Children are taught to limit their beliefs and ignore reality by being indoctrinated early on with religious/nationalist dogma (think Soviet media control or American nationalism). The poor and disaffected are targeted with the most aggressive tactics because they are the people the least likely to be defended (think European Jews or any of the African genocides). A good metaphor can attack multiple targets.

How can I dismiss Christian outrage with this film but accept my own criticism of The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto, and 300? Granted, 300 is the only one I've seen, but I don't go in for the you-have-to-see-it-to-understand argument. If a movie presents itself as historically accurate and botches facts, those are easily debatable without attending a screening. All three of those movies were criticized by historians familiar with the times in question, in an attempt to address the directors' posturing of accuracy, and were shown to contain not insubstantial errors. That was my primary complaint. My secondary complaint was that these errors were introduced to produce cheap effect. Finally, at least for 300, after seeing the film I was baffled why a shallow spectacle was being praised as one of the most meaningful films people have seen (this from comments people had made to me). How to explain what was nothing more than a visually stunning Jason and the Argonauts being instead taken as the apotheosis of socio-political philosophy? And of two people I know who saw 300, the first sentence of praise from them, emphasizing its importance in their appreciation of the film, contained the statement "and it's a true story." In that there was a battle, yes. But when the details are so infelicitously manhandled, the story's historical bragging rights should be considerably diminished. The creators boasted of historic fidelity, failed on major points, and then fans declared that such criticism was nitpicking. "It's just a movie" was the most common retort, I believe. You can't have it both ways.

posted by sstrader at 4:42 PM in Cinema | permalink

December 7, 2007


Over the past 10 years, a strong majority of the world's most accomplished scientists have said that global warming is occurring, that man is most likely the cause, and that the changes are likely to be destructive. Make that "highly likely." The argument against has moved from "it's not happening" to "it is happening, but it's part of the natural cycle" to "it's not part of the natural cycle but it's not caused by humans" to "it's caused by humans but it may be beneficial." A small contingent just doesn't give a shit what happens.

Science has always had a strongly skeptical opinion on the value of prayer to heal (or do anything else for that matter). The argument in support of prayer has moved from "prayer works" to "prayer works only if you believe" to "prayer works only if you believe and are not 'testing' god" to "prayer works only if you believe and are not 'testing' god, but it is only meant to give peace of mind." In effect: we'll act like it's testable, but it's not.

See also the mushroom cloud from Iraq and subsequent repositionings of the intent.

These examples could be compared with the similar state-of-mind (to paint with a wiiide brush) of those who say that science is religion (i.e. people follow its many mistakes blindly and unquestioningly). Ignoring the oddity of a religious person slighting religion in order to attack science, this position ignores the fact that most of everyday life is deferring intimate understanding to the credentialed experts. I can't rebuild an engine, but I also don't declare as mindless sycophants those that believe it can be done because a mechanic told them it could. And what of the religion of grammar? Those who blindly believe that English verbs must have tense are simply kowtowing to a cabal of lit-fascists who Think They Know Everything.

My favorite example is when we listen to legal reporters (no, not talk show blowhards) dissect court decisions. Though these people are decidedly not credentialed, they take the time to read the briefs, understand their rarefied language, and interview legal scholars on historical relevance. My faith in their summation is not blind, but neither does it need to be.

We trust the process of science to self-correct. Self-correction includes accepting and refuting your previous statements, not redefining your previous statements to make them look like they were never wrong.

posted by sstrader at 8:32 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

December 5, 2007

Watching the debates

So much is misstated (or lied about) during the debates that it is almost more worthless to watch them than not. NPR provides a dissection of the facts behind statements made in last night's NPR debates. Indeed, the analysis is usually more enlightening than the candidates' answers.

posted by sstrader at 8:32 AM in Politics | permalink

December 1, 2007


OK, I am officially a 12-year-old girl. I teared up at the end of GitS:2ndGIG. I have a soft spot for AIs.

posted by sstrader at 8:48 PM in Personal | permalink

Quote from GitS:2ndGIG

When the masses come across information they agree with, the immediately internalize it.
posted by sstrader at 7:45 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

Pope Benedict is a cock

Take this gem from his recent encylical:

It is no accident that [atheism] has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice...

The ignorant will fall and have fallen for that crap argument; there is no simple death for such deceit. Should we point out the greater multitudes of cruelty that religion has brought on society? No, because that's a crap argument too. "Good" and "bad" can come from anything. Religion's biggest problems are its unfounded and harmful assertions (such as curing through prayer), its rewriting of history (such as ignoring its own acts of torture and killing), and its moving target doctrine where any sect at any point in time may pick-and-choose which statements to follow and which to ignore.

And the best he's got is a grade school rebuttal to atheism? This is what passes for Catholic theology today?

posted by sstrader at 10:59 AM in Culture & Society | permalink