Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Send in the Clouds

I read another article about the police seizing Gizmodo writer Jason Chen's computers. It's a badly edited and improperly formatted article, but this part struck me.
Shield law aside, the seizure was too broad, says Freedom to Tinker's Paul Ohm. The seized equipment likely contained terabytes of data, covering years of Gizmodo journalism completely unrelated to the iPhone prototype.

The police likely have thousands of email messages revealing confidential sources, detailing meetings, and trading comments with editors, and thousands of other documents bearing notes from interviews, drafts of articles, and other sensitive information. Because of Chen's beat, some of these documents probably reveal secrets of great economic and business value in the Silicon Valley.
It made me start singing to myself, "I love the clouds." Police could seize my computer all day and they wouldn't get my email or blogs. I write it all online. It lives on Google's server. I started wondering what song I was singing and thought maybe it was this Stephen Sondheim one. It isn't. It's a U2 song and the real line is, "I love the crowds." But once I googled this up I realized how appropriate the lines are to this situation. What if Jason Chen was an early adopter of cloud computing? He could be singing this sarcastically to the people who seized his computers while he's accessing of all his data on web based servers.

Isn't it rich?
Are we a pair?
I wrote my blog on the ground,
Yet in mid-air.
Send in the clouds.

Isn't it bliss?
Don't you approve?
Cops who keep tearing around,
You who can't move.
Where are the clouds?
Send in the clouds.

Just when I'd stopped opening doors,
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours,
Making my entrance again with my usual flair,
Sure of my lines,
No one is there.

Don't you love farce?
My fault I fear.
I thought that you'd want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clouds?
Quick, send in the clouds.
Don't bother, they're here.

Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer,
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clouds?
There ought to be clouds.
Well, maybe next year.

I wonder what's easier, to get a warrant to force Google to turn over your Gmail or to just take your computer? What if Jason Chen was a big user of Mobile Me and had all his email and iDisk backups on Apple's own servers? Would the Apple people have any right to look at his information themselves or would they have to leave it to the police?

I guess I'm having a hard time identifying with the crisis in this story because when I think of a policeman going through my hard drive trying to find something incriminating or even remotely interesting I come up with nothing. It would be a crap assignment for whoever took my iMac.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The ugliest thing I've seen in a long time

I saw two tom turkeys trot through my yard this afternoon and I started wondering about shooting them with something besides my camera. I have no income and I need to start exploring living off the fat of the land. I figured I better see what the rules are. So I found the hunting regulations for Georgia, clearly produced for print complete with full page ads. It even makes a page turn noise when you go forward. I got to page 35 and liked to tipped my chair over backwards I recoiled so violently. I had to take a screen shot so you all can be horrified too. As if the clock itself isn't godawful enough they had to put a cherry on top with the Papyrus font headline glowing from behind. (Cursing after the image.)

Now this is me so law abiding that I will look up the rules for shooting wild game on my own property but then I screenshot art out of a public document on the internet for my blog. Well I hate that, but I feel it is a moral imperative to mock this abomination and vent my rant because it is just violently offensive to me. Goddam it that is an ugly fucking clock. I can't believe sighted artists have to hand paint these sculpted artist's resin adornments. Those poor sons of bitches. I'm not entirely sure what it is that makes me so mean -- the old world style oak leaves that look like something I cut out with a knife to decorate a pie crust or the stacked chicken poop trees that are sized to jab those poor deer in the testicles if they back up too fast.

Your satisfaction is guaranteed! Satisfaction? What would be satisfying about a $150 clock with a brass COLORED pendulum? Launching it with a trebuchet then shooting it with a double barrel shotgun? Which I don't have, and therefore can't kill any turkeys, because alas, the rules say shotguns only for them.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Gizmodo, big no-no. Bury it, don't skin it.

So the Gizmodo iPhone debacle is raging. I've been reading the discussion on Phil Plait's Facebook comments. Somebody posted this link which explains the legal issue pretty well. Basically it says the trade secrets thing is kinda void since Apple let the thing out for real world testing. But the finder clearly broke the law by selling it and the buyer for buying it.

Which brings me to the only personal experience I have similar to this. I was working with Dr. Bruce Means on his natural history of the eastern diamondback rattlesnake. He sent out an email to me and similar people (scientists who live in the woods) asking for a few more specimens to dissect. If we saw any dead on the road that weren't killed all over and were pretty fresh he wanted them. So I was driving down the road about 70 mph and I saw something big and scaley so I turned around and went back for it. It wasn't a giant rattlesnake like I hoped, but just the underside of a small alligator instead. It was lightly killed and still floppy, so I scooped it up in a plastic bag I had in the car since I'd already stopped. I wasn't really sure what  to do with it so I called my cousin to see if there were any boy scout merit badges for skinning or dissecting stuff -- would his sons like to study the anatomy of an alligator? He said he wasn't sure that was legal. Oh yeah! I hadn't even thought of that! You have to have a special permit to kill an alligator. Maybe there are rules for ones you find dead on the road too. So when I got home I got the alligator out of the car and hung the bag up in a tree while I came inside and looked up Georgia and Florida statutes on alligators. I was actually pretty nervous that I carried it across the state line.

Sure enough, what I found out is that in Georgia you aren't allowed to possess the skin of an alligator unless you have the permit to kill one. Pretty sensible. And Florida law for roadkill or otherwise dead alligators is that there is no agency responsible for disposing of them. You are supposed to just leave them alone, or if it's bothering you then you can bury it. So I got the post hole diggers and buried the alligator behind the shed.

Now this is just me with some stupid roadkill and one phone call to my cousin and I had the sense to look into the relevant law. How in the hell did somebody with $5000 to pay for a bricked prototype iPhone not think it was worthwhile to look up the law on the internet first, or maybe even consult an attorney before skinning the thing?

This is not the dead alligator in question. This is a slightly larger perfectly healthy one that I saw last year walking down one of our fire lanes, far from the 70 mph highway of death.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


I put a new design in the Teephage online store today. I did it all by myself. It's the Squoze logo on the front and on the back it says

This quote is an adaptation from LA Story. After Sara McDowel and Harris K. Telemacher have a big fight she decides to go back to England he tries to talk her out of it. He follows her around while she's packing and says, "Let's assume that whatever that thing is, that whatever it is that would make you stay has occurred, that it has happened, and that my hand has already gone down your throat and grabbed your heart and squoze it. {Door slam} Owww!" This is the only time I've heard somebody say squoze outside my family. Of course there's no such word. It should be squeezed. But if I can say drive and drove why can't I say squeeze and squoze? Anyway, I like the idea of pretending the product is fresh squeezed. It's squoze.

After Sara slams the door on Harris out he keeps talking to her through a window. "Let me read you from this book of poems. 'Oh pointy bird, oh pointy pointy'" and she closes the window on him. This same poem is used in The Man With Two Brains. Here's the whole thing:

Oh pointy bird, oh pointy pointy
Anoint my head, annointy nointy.

                              -- Steve Martin

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sausage gravy dispenser

Fast food goes too far with this convenience store machine (from Gizmodo.)

I've been in Atlanta since Saturday helping my college roommate fix her house so she can sell it. So I've been eating out A LOT. (She's buying.) With all the choices for food outside the home I just don't see why anybody would eat a microwaved biscuit with gravy out of a dispenser. I think this won't translate outside the south. It makes me think of something I saw on a friend's blog -- the first biscuit of spring, seen in South Carolina. We can make fun of biscuits here, but what about the Brits, who think biscuits are cookies? And can't possibly know what is in sausage gravy. It's rendered sausage, flour, and milk. Basically a bechamel sauce made with sausage grease instead of butter. I think I'd rather not have it on my biscuit though.

I'm having issues with the wifi at my friend's house and my old laptop is bringing me down. Sorry my blog is slacking.

Friday, April 16, 2010


The Archer
 by Ronnie Hinton

I photographed this sculpture while I was in Jacksonville for the Neil DeGrasse Tyson lecture. It is a life-size (about 6 feet tall) archer made of motorcycle parts and other assorted scrap material. I want to buy it. I would have him aiming up my driveway in a menacing fashion in an attempt to ward off the Jehovah's Witnesses. I need to raise about $2500 for this purchase. If I could sell ten photos for $250 each, or 500 t-shirts or have 2,500,000 people click ads on my blog.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Obama speaks at NASA

I'm watching the news conference online with 1192 other viewers. There's a little counter that shows how many viewers there are. It's up to 1217 now. Never got beyond about 3000.

President Obama is coming out now. He's going to talk about the next chapter in the story started by the inspirational time of the '60s where we were racing against an adversary. Now space exploration is more of an international collaboration. Well considering India had a bit of a disaster today, I think we need to analyze if this will bring the average accomplishment up or down. What if it turns out like mainstreaming gifted children?

Obama mentions the deeper worry of people involved in the space program that stems from the sense that Washington doesn't get it. The last administration didn't provide clear objectives or the budget to achieve it. All that has to change.

His plan calls for increased earth based observation to protect our environment for future generations. And he talked about crewed flights (I thought he said crude flights, but that can't be right) -- more of them in the next decade than previously planned.

And he wants to use the ISS for its intended purpose, testing to reduce the cost of future missions to space. There was applause when he mentioned using the private sector to get us to space cheaper. He thinks it will accelerate innovation. The question, according to Norm Augustine, the speaker following Obama, is do we have more faith in our aerospace industry or the Russian aerospace industry to get us into space?

Obama promises $3 billion for development of the new heavy lift rocket. New designs, new materials, looking at not just where we can go but what we can do when we get there. 2015 is the end of design and the start of construction. He mentioned landing on asteroids and moons of Mars.

Obama thinks going back to the moon is silly. We've been there before. We should work on harder targets. This sounds about like what Dr. Tyson said on Tuesday. We don't want to just extend humanity's reach in space, but improve technology here on earth.

For pennies on the dollar the space program has provided innovation. The origins of NASA was an endeavor that pushed our capacity as human beings to solve problems. President Obama asked the audience to continue. "I know you will, with ingenuity and intensity because that's what you've always done."

President Obama talked about jobs....

Obama's plan adds 2500 more jobs ABOVE the plan of the previous administration. I'm still not sure how much that really balances the losses though. I read somewhere 7000 will lose their job from the shuttle shut down. He promises 10,000 jobs nationwide in the next few years. "It's true there are Floridians who will see their jobs disappear as the shuttle program winds down," he said. Obama has commissioned a $40 million initiative to develop a plan by August 15th for how to prepare an already skilled workforce for the next step.

He made a very clear promise that he would help in the transition for people who are going through a tough time. He mentioned the people who would lose their jobs over the shuttle shutdown worrying about not only their own livelihood, but the collapse of a program that was their life's work. This is the important issue to me. I'm bummed out about my own career at this point, but I'm really freaking pissed off about the bigger picture. Maybe this extends to other people in the business of technology. I'm upset by the loss of momentum of innovation. Those of us who understand physics appreciate the efficiency in keeping objects in motion moving. Once you let them stop it is much harder to get them going again. Static friction versus kinetic friction. It's like turning the wheels on your car with it sitting still. It is WAY easier if you roll forward while you crank on the steering wheel.

I took a screen shot off the live feed when Obama shook hands with Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson because I thought it was interesting that they were both so much taller than everybody else around. I missed the perfect instant when Obama clapped Tyson on the shoulder.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Prefers Death by Spaghettification

I think it's not morbid at all to fancy methods of dying that are as unlikely as having all your atoms line up and go like a train into a singularity. The part where those atoms later evaporate out again keeps up the human propinquity for memorializing the body. In his lecture last night in Jacksonville titled Beyond Global: Death by Black Hole & Other Cosmic Quandaries (All the ways the Universe wants to kill us) Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson discussed 12 doomsday scenarios. He picked number 7 as his favorite way to die -- by black hole. As tidal forces pull your body into pieces, first around your waist, then maybe at the base of your neck, you would be able to see it since your eyes are still connected to your brain through several severing steps. (Medieval experiments involving humans tied to horses determined by actual test which points are structurally weak.)

Dr. Tyson mused that the expression "off with his head!" should be "off with his body!" since the head is the source of consciousness. This sort of logical analysis and rigorous semantic approach is very comforting to me. This is science. Emotion was abundant in this lecture, but not misplaced. Dr. Tyson spent an hour illustrating for the audience how scientists can be enthusiastic about understanding how things work and solving problems, yet they are not hung up on their own well-being. Thought experiments about dying are not all confused with irrelevant notions like fear or a false sense of superiority.

He did speak briefly in the question and answer about how America is about to realize they are not leading the world in science and technology, thanks to the Large Hadron Collider. There was spontaneous applause. As one of the people that impulsively started clapping when he said it, I wonder if there were a lot of people like me in the audience -- bitter, out-of-work scientists. Because it is sort of a strange thing to applaud. We suck! Yeah! I suppose it was just nice to hear somebody say it out loud. Part of that whole scientific process. Once you define the problem you are on the way to solving it.

All the ways the universe wants to kill us.
  1. Frail Biology
  2. Earthquake
  3. Tsunami
  4. **Not** 2012
  5. Global Warming (death by hydrogen sulfide)
  6. Asteroid Impact
  7. Black Hole
  8. Supernova
  9. Gamma Ray Bursts
  10. Red Giant
  11. Colliding Galaxies
  12. End of the Universe
This list is for the students who were supposed to go to the lecture and write down the bullet points for extra credit (I know that's what they were doing because they got up and left the minute he said "this is the last slide.") Now to redeem yourselves click an ad on a scientist's blog today, you juvenile deliquents.

(all pictures taken by me from waaay up in this icebox of a balcony. With megaoverzoom, high speed night mode, and photoshop this was the best I could do.)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Elements iPad App

Theodore Gray apparently had the same idea for an interactive book that I did (like a Harry Potter newspaper), only his inspiration required the trigger of the iPad introduction. Unlike me he had the material from his paper book The Elements to create the moving images. Reading his article about the making of the app shows how much work it was and how it took a team of people to accomplish it. I could never do that by myself. Especially since I haven't used Mathematica since 1989.

I love it when somebody else has the same idea as me and does all the work to make it happen. It happens so often I don't even bother to follow through on most of my ideas anymore. I trust somebody else with more resources and motivation will come up with it too and I can just relax and wait for it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Meteorologist vs. Climatologist on Colbert Report

I went to the Comedy Central website today to look at the Stephen Colbert bit between a weatherman and a climatologist from the Union of Concerned Scientists. I got an email from UCS about it yesterday. It was actually pretty difficult to watch. It makes fun of meteorologists and then brings one on who is just the punch line of the joke. The climatologist never gets a chance to make her point at all. But it isn't necessary since the meteorologist just acts like an imbecile. He seems to think no temperature records from before satellite monitoring count. That's just idiotic. Climatologists are using CO2 and temperature data from geologic and ice records to determine climate trends back to the dawn of man. The global temperature since the '70s is not climate. Since the climatologist didn't get a chance to explain that the whole bit was just a waste of time unfortunately.

Instead of embedding the video here I got the other bit about Scrabble and put it on yesterday's post.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


There's a bit of a hubbub today about a BBC story announcing new Scrabble rules. Apparently some people are up in arms that proper nouns will be allowed. I'm not really sure I get it. It's still the board game they're talking about. The rules are whatever you and your competitors say they are. When I play with youngsters I always change the rules. I allow any word they know or even want to make up as long as they can pronounce and define it. Fake pharmaceuticals make excellent Scrabble words, and compound words are great fun. HOTELWALRUS and PENICAL keep play amusing. Especially when you can keep going indefinitely and end up with PENICALTUSSINCORT and SPAHOTELWALRUS. I've also played with kids where you just divide all the tiles up at the beginning and you can make a word as long as you want.

Anyway, this new Scrabble turns out to be a new game called Scrabble Trickster. I still say it's silly. If you want to allow proper names, allow them. If you want to use the tiles to build little towers and knock them down you can. Once you buy it you can do whatever you want.

Where you run up against strict rules is with online games. I like to play iGoogle widget Scrabble with my friend Steve Leacock. We find the dictionary in the online version has some weird words -- they aren't even in my Apple New Oxford American Dictionary. ONO is in there. As in Yoko Ono. That seems to be a proper noun, but there it is. But perfectly good words like DOOK, not in there, yet TIPTOP is allowed. They let you try stuff in the dictionary first.

The first time I played Scrabble with Steve (at his house on an actual Scrabble board) he beat me so bad I cried in the car on the way home. So the first time I came close to beating him I was so surprised I actually gloated a little bit in the IM. He pointed out that when he wins he doesn't gloat. Sure enough my gloating jinxed me. It was just a lucky start for me, getting BIVOUAC for the first word for some 86 points. I was ahead until he got GRINDER (and EM and ROD) worth 88. It went downhill from there. I made a mistake at the end and made ATRIA instead of QAT and got stuck with the Q. But it was so close I made a screen shot of it as a lesson.
After this game we played a few more times. I finally won a game by about 5 points. Then he challenged me to a game he named NEVER AGAIN! 

That game was close, but this past Sunday we played a game where I didn't really pay attention to the score and never gloated once. When there were about 10 tiles left Steve IMed some expletives and accused me of being a pain in his ass. Well what do you know! I'm winning! That's the key I suppose, don't pay attention to your lead. Steve questioned me on HEROINISM, but the game dictionary said it was a word. My Apple dictionary says heroism is a word but doesn't specify a feminine version. Apparently the Scrabble dictionary is more liberal.

So the word usage is already questionable in the Scrabble dictionary. MI is a word for crying out loud. That song from The Sound of Music is one of the most useful Scrabble mnemonics to know. DO RE MI FA SO LA TI, all two letter words. EL, as in the elevated train, that's a word. Scrabble is not exactly a bastion of poetic virtue is all I'm saying. It may delay the onset of alzheimer's though, so let's keep playing it.

*Update: Steve sent me a link to a Stefan Fatsis article about the highest scoring Scrabble game of all time. Studying all those words does not sound fun to me. I do not want to be a Scrabble expert. I am appalled that anybody would question the word flatfish though. Of course that's a word. Every child knows about flounder and sole. Don't they? I guess it's another case of me not understanding the wealth of information not available to children in the midwest. I remember the time I was incredulous that my friend from Lincoln, Nebraska didn't know a pine tree from an oak tree. He said the only plant he knew on sight was corn. He knows a lot more about antennas than me though, so he's got that going for him.

** Update again:
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Scrabble Allows Proper Names
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care Reform

Monday, April 5, 2010

Will It Blend?

He took the aluminum panel off the back of the iPad before he did this video. Other than that blatant cheat I'm going to say the iPad blends.