Monday, December 31, 2007

Chinese Dog Ownership

I took pictures of people walking dogs in Shanghai, because I knew that in my grandfather's day, pets were unthinkable. People were starving, so giving food to an animal that didn't work was wasteful.

Now I find out that there are still rules. You can't have a dog taller than 14 inches, and only one dog per family.

Since I don't like dogs, I'm totally ok with those rules. But I can see why people would want freedom. And I can see why the nation with a population problem would restrict dog population, too.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Publicly funded research made public

The president just signed a law that requires that all NIH funded research be made publicly available on a website. I think this is good news. I'd like to be able to read about the latest in science without having to pay enormous fees to a journal.

I can see that journals need to cover the cost of existing, and the cost of peer review. And so universities and scholars pay enormous fees to have access to the journals. It just seems like those fees could go down, especially as online access reduces many of the costs of running a journal.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I think the public domain has withered far too much, and I'm glad to see it expand in any direction.
Maybe publicly funded TV shows will be next to enter the public domain...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Pretty TV ads

Yes, these are ads for TVs. But they're really PRETTY ads.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Precious Moments Crucifixion

It took me too long to find this picture. It's of a cartoon crucifixion, of the cutest dead Jesus ever.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


I'm not the first person to think of this, but if President W. Bush is going to refer to the "Democrat" party, I'd like to start talking about the Republican't party. They can't protect us from disease, poisoned toys or hurricanes. They can't stop terrorists without listening to our phone calls and reading our mail.

I contemplated "Reprivatean", but it's not necessarily an attack. They'd like the sound of it. That's why it only has 1 hit on Google, vs the 42,000 for Republican't.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Modern Discrimination

In reading various defenses of Senator Clinton's campaign for president, I have become aware of some particularly disgusting attacks on her, suggesting she should be barefoot and pregnant, etc.

It occurs to me that today it is more acceptable to be sexist than racist. Any hint of a suggestion that a black person should go play basketball instead of be a senator would be shouted down from all corners. Liberals and conservatives across the spectrum would agree that the color of your skin should not determine your destiny.

But it is still a mainstream, politically tenable position to believe that women should be mothers and not leaders, homebound and nurturing, not workers who change the world. You can claim with a straight face that the topology of your genitals affects your talents.

Others have pointed out that there may BE more racism than sexism, even while racism is less acceptable. And this may be true. The racism today may be covert, hiding beneath other stories, while the sexism is explicit.

It's fascinating that the idea that women are human beings is still controversial. I think there are differences between men and women; I think they learn differently, are motivated differently, and there are real medical differences. But those facts, to me, support integration not segregation. That most women aren't interested in computers means we need women designing computers so that they are useful to women.

In related news, should you call Senator Clinton "Hillary", or Mrs. Clinton, or what?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Immigrant Children

Mike Huckabee recently suggested we shouldn't criminalize the children of illegal immigrants, saying "We're a better country than to punish children for what their parents did."

I think he has an excellent point. It seems unfair to penalize a child for being carried on their father's back into a new country. Denying them the same opportunities other children who grow up here and make good choices is unjust to the children.

And yet, I can see that giving subsidized college tuition, healthcare and schooling to all the kids involved is very expensive to the states burdened with that. And it would be foolish to create an incentive for more people to smuggle their children into the country.

The only solution I can see is to somehow create vast prosperity in Mexico. Which isn't exactly our responsibility.

I also believe that if we're going to crack down on immigration, we should be penalizing employers who violate the law by hiring people, more than we punish the people who come here to work. If we eliminate the demand for immigrants who work for sub-minimum wage and without benefits, the supply of people crossing the border should abate.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Bourne Ultimatum

This movie is awesome. So well done. Tightly directed and edited, well acted, subtly written. Better written than the book, which would have made a good movie, but didn't resonate with all our issues in politics today.

The act 5 car chase is terrifying, with cars shedding shards of red reflectors like people shed blood.

I wonder how long this movie will last, and how much greater Matt Damon will become.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Twelve Days of Christmas

I enjoy the first 2 minutes of this more than the ending, but that's style preference, not skill or talent.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Harry Potter and Spiderman

I really enjoyed this year's sequels really quite a bit. I thought I would appreciate Harry Potter, and I was right. Each book got better, and the movies seem to continually improve as well.

I was pleasantly surprised with Spiderman 3. The acting and directing were really quite excellent. I thought Thomas Haden Church did an excellent job making his villain morally ambiguous and helping us empathize with him. I thought the writing was a bit shallow, and elements were ocassionally forced, but I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

Monday, December 10, 2007


The critics were right that Sicko is Michael Moore's best movie. There are very few unfair stunts, and lots of first person stories that tell the larger story about how bad our medical system is compared to other nations.

He does go to Cuba, and you wonder how accurate the picture painted is, given how likely the Cuban government is to have created a rosy scenario that isn't typical for cuban citizens.

But the main thought I have coming out of the movie is that it makes no sense to make medicine for profit. That leads to money being more important than people in life or death situations. Which leads to people dying so share prices can go up.

I support a single-payer system. I realize there are flaws in Canada and the UK. I understand that France's generous social benefits have drawbacks. But when Medicare's overhead is 2% and Blue Cross's is 13%, it seems that eliminating the profit motive is good. I really like the UK's incentives, where doctors get paid more if their patients have lower cholesterol, or quit smoking. Bonuses for healthy patients. Profit seeking hospitals give bonuses to doctors who don't treat patients. That's wack.

The only alternative I can imagine to government run health care is non-profit healthcare. If Blue cross or Kaiser or any other system were privately run, but not-for-profit, they could be ethical. By taking the financial incentive away, so you don't get paid for killing, you could create a medical system that would be significantly more ethical.

I'm not a tax lawyer, so there may be reasons that doesn't work. Maybe the government lets for-profit hospitals reject patients with pre-existing conditions, while non-profits have to take everyone. This too is wack. We've got to get everyone in the same financial pool, so the lucky can pay for the unlucky. So if you end up unlucky, you don't have to go bankrupt for medical bills.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The boundary between religion and law

A recent blog post at the New York Times talks about when it's acceptable to ban a religious practice. Whether it's polygamy, animal sacrifice, or lighting candles.

Turns out my homeboy John Locke pretty well sorted this out back in the day. If you're not banning something BECAUSE it's religious, the ban is ok. Otherwise, people should be free to worship as they desire. If the ban on killing goats is because of a goat plague, then no goats may be killed, no matter what your religion. If the only goats involved are religious, and there's no reason to ban it except I hate dirty satanist goat-sacrificers, we should allow it.

What I wonder about it cases where it's not clear. Does anyone use peyote for non-religious purposes? How can you prove the government's banning it just because they don't like drugs, not because it stops native religious practices?

I can't think of a religious practice of mine that could be banned, but I would rather make sure it doesn't get close to that.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Chimps smarter?

This is pretty cool. Some chimpanzee does better on a memory test than people. Although it's a pretty abstract test. But it reveals a place in our evolution where our two species went in different directions.

Although apparently human children may do better than adults at this skill. Young chimps are better than older chimps.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Lake Mead

The Times has an amazing story about Lake Mead. There's a major drought, and the sides of the lake are ringed with calcium that's dried up on the lakeside. There's an amazing picture or three.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


I loved the movie. Great characters, a wonderful plot. Driven by a simple, elegant, strong conflict. A rat who wants to be a chef. All the humans think that's gross, all the rats think it's stupid.

And animation lets the camera do a rocking job of showing perspective. We see the kitchen of a great French restaurant, both from the perspective of the human cooks, and from the point of view of the rat. It was a great amplification and follow up of the kitchen explosion sequence in Fight Club, which I recently discovered was created using Pixar's software. As was 41 of the last movies to get a visual effects Oscar nomination. Steve Jobs is the man. And so is Andrew Lasseter.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Chuck Norris

Mike Huckabee's tv ad from Iowa is funny. And interesting.

My latest favorite "Chuck Norris Fact"?

"Chuck Norris does not love Raymond."

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Jerk is awesome

I just saw The Jerk. It's a great movie. A worthy ancestor of Bubble Boy.

Nothing like strong characters and commited actors to make comedy work. Add in a story that's an absurdist version of The Odyssey, and you get a great movie.

Steve Martin is a great writer and actor.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Last King of Scotland

I recently saw The Last King of Scotland. It's an excellent movie, bringing awareness to the horrible regime of Idi Amin, and with great acting bringing life to that evil.

It's also a work of fiction. It's all about this doctor who becomes an insider in the Amin government, witnessing and abetting the evil. This man never existed. Which is ironic, because just about everything else in the movie is true. But it hangs its horrible narrative around a fictional narrator, to make a Story. Because humans understand things through Stories, and we'll remember the facts better if they connect to each other in a Story.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I fixed my plumbing!

Plumbing sucks. It's dirty and messy, and when your sinks don't work, you can't clean up afterwards. I much prefer doing electrical work.

A few days ago, I lost all water service at my house. When it came back on, most of my sinks stopped working. But today all is well, because (at the advice of a plumber) I cleaned the faucet aerators!

Sam, I'm sorry I didn't know about this technique before. As my roommate, you had to suffer with lame water pressure in the kitchen unnecessarily, and I didn't even know.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Colleges as Copyright Cops?

Good story in the New York Times about the bill before Congress on requiring universities to hunt down and turn in their students. Universities don't want stolen stuff slowing down their networks, but they don't want to be police, either. Unsurprisingly, corporations love the idea.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

No Water for Anders

I had no water at my home last night. Apparently, a water main broke 6 blocks away, so none of my neighbors had water either.

I was relieved to find out my house was ok. But annoyed to not be able to wash... anything. At least toilets work when there's no water pressure. Once.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Wakko's World

Ah, the classics. I had tried to find Nighty-Night Toon, but it ain't on youtube.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I love this web site. It explores various familiar story telling devices, and cites examples of TV shows that use them.

My personal favorite is a list of different TV shows that have copied the plot of Rashomon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

TMBG video

And, "The Shadow Government", from They Might Be Giants.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sea Gulls, Sea Lions and Sea Chocolate

Well, just good chocolate.

San Francisco is much prettier than Los Angeles. I got to spend a week in each recently, and in addition to the gulls and sea lions, I got to visit Ghirardelli Square, the tourist mall that lives in what used to be a chocolate factory. So awesome, and very pretty at night.

The Exploratorium is a classic science museum, with a particular phenomenological style, but it works very well for them. OMSI should have more of their classic exhibits on display, because our visitors haven't seen them in decades, if at all. Two in particular: Light Play is a simple optical bench focusing activity we should copy in the laser lab, and Watch Thief is the editing video activity that we must expand into an entire exhibit.

Among their awesome exhibits was a music experience where tunes are played out of octave. So the first three notes of Row Your Boat are in 3 different octaves, and each following note, while in tune, jumps another octave. A very awesome, challenging experience. There were amazing films about how different people use sound in their life, and an exhibit where you get to be a car mechanic listening for different problems in an engine.

They also had an example of the Stroop Effect in 3 languages. I found the same difficulty reading the colors in Chinese, where I knew only one of the words, as I had in English.

There was also a spectrograph that showed me the different tonalities of different voices, and the different lilts in different phrases – an image of a whole story. It's a tool I've experienced before, but I was in the right playful frame of mind to discover new things with it. (In looking for a good link that explains spectrographs, I was reminded of people who have created sounds that make very distinct pictures on them.)

In a different video section, there was a bunch of cursing that was bleeped out. The kids in the theatre reacted identically to the bleeps as they would have to actual cursing, giggling and murmuring to each other about the exciting inappropriateness of what had just been uttered. I found that amusing and fascinating.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Record companies are angry and bitter

Record companies, and some rock stars, are bitter that their old business model is dead. They hate the internet for taking their money. Apparently, Gene Simmons, known for his civil discourse and genteel personality, has joined Madonna and other fan haters in blaming the audience for the decline of the music industry.

Meanwhile, in a new law, Congress is going to withhold financial aid money to colleges and universities that don't punish students for copying music, and don't hand over student names to the music and movie industry.

In understand people wanting the law enforced. But like the CEO of Warner Music admitted recently, the music industry went to war with their consumers. And that's not going to create success. Even if it's illegal for people to steal your product, you have to be reasonable about it. It'd be like if Wal-Mart broke down people's doors and foreclosed on their house for stealing tube socks.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Copyright Story

This story is a perfect metaphor for why Congress should stop extending old copyrights, and even cut existing ones a little shorter.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Copyright Reform

Recently, a speech was given by Gigi Sohn, brilliantly outlining how to fix copyright. Copyright today is broken, with giant corporations having too much power. Because George Bernard Shaw has only been dead for 57 years, and not 70, his work is still copyrighted. If Shakespeare were still copyrighted, there would be no "Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead". We need to be allowed to make derivative works of old stuff, even movies.

Can you imagine a world where anything older than 28 years was public domain? All movies, TV shows, from before 1979 would be free to be modified. Star Wars. I Love Lucy. All of it.

The end of the speech nails it:
For the past 35 years, the trend has been nearly unmitigated expansion of the scope and duration of copyright, resulting in a clear mismatch between the technology and the law. Over the past decade copyright reformers like Public Knowledge have stopped the pendulum from swinging even farther away from digital reality. Now it is time to move the pendulum towards the future and away from the past.

You can read the whole speech here.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

With The Dark

I'm a big They Might Be Giants fan. Here's another video. Very cute stop motion puppets. Poppet puppets.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Life is a Marathon

Recently, I was reading about an organization that works to end official torture around the world. I was struck by the group's president, and her call to her task. She is compelled to spend her life on this work. It's important work, but while I'm briefly tempted to quit my job and help, I quickly become overwhelmed by all the many good causes that deserve my support. There are lots of different things to be done to make the world better. I get sad when I think about them all, because I can't do it all.

There's not enough time in the day, or years in my life. And I realize, while I decide what to do, that life is a marathon. I could spend 18 hours a day working to make the world better, and I'd burn out, get sick and die. To make the most amount of good change in the world, I need to pace myself. Over my entire life. I need to breathe and relax and pray from time to time, so I can get up in the morning tomorrow and keep working.

I'm reminded of The Monkeysphere, the idea that our social brains can't keep track of more than a certain number of people. My brain can't function and keep working to produce work of quality, if I get sucked into all the badness and misery in life. I only have so much attention to devote, and if I want to run the race I have to stay focused.

I should stop from time to time and make sure I'm running in the right direction on the right road. But I can't do that every day, and I shouldn't.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

I'm Impressed

I'm impressed with the video for the They Might Be Giants song, "I'm Impressed". It's stop motion animation of a paper cut-out tyrant. His victims of the coliseum are shredded, in a weirdly realistic scene of paper puppet violence. Watch for the "swords" that the characters use.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

TMBG Video

I'm a fan of They Might Be Giants. One of the reasons is that when I listen to their songs, I reinforce my knowledge of stuff I want to know, like who Gilgamesh and Hammurabi were.

And this video helped me learn the name Ashurbanipal.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Net Neutrality News

Slashdot has a great summary of the latest net neutrality happenings. Some in Congress are taking action, after public stories of companies acting badly.

Once upon a time, there was honest disagreement over whether libertarian ideas about the internet and free markets or whether government regulation would produce the most vibrant, productive, online communities.

Now that we know that Comcast and others in a free market will stifle creativity and personal communication, possibly by breaking laws, it seems clearer that government protection of individual rights against the threats of huge powerful companies is necessary. So, ironically, thanks Comcast! You may be an evil corporate citizen, but by staying on the leading edge of evil technology, you gave the Congress motivation to act!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Porn is free speech

A federal court recently struck down a law that keeps children from looking at or being in porn.

It's a lengthy, legal document, and I'm not a lawyer. But it looks like a strong free speech argument, that Congress, once again, overstepped the Constitution in trying to restrict pornography online.

And yet. Sexual imagery is harmful for young children. Child pornography is evil. And predators are constantly developing new technology to evade law enforcement. How can we make sure the rights of innocent people are protected, while also protecting "the children"? I wish I had the answer.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Pushing Daisies continues to be awesome

Whenever I hear or read Shakespeare, it infects my mind. I find that his rhythm is so strong, so individual, such a clear voice, that I pick it up and speak in a slightly Shakespearean voice.

Pushing Daisies has its own voice. It's a very quick, fast paced, voice. And it's a very absurd voice. Every time I watch this most excellent TV show, my brain comes alive with speed and energy.

And the pie shop where the main characters live and work is called The Pie Hole. In this week's episode, the competition to find the best horse racer in the world was The Jock-Off 2000.

The show seems to be well suited to slick sonorance. Alliteration always makes awful into awesome. Well, the show's better written than my blog. But they do brilliantly satire the manufactured cuteness of corporate entertainment.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

NASA/Prisoner crossover

NASA uses bouncing white balloons to study polar weather. Just like on the Prisoner, only not evil.

NASA even calls their probe "rover".

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hammer Juggler

Juggling hammers is tricky as it is. They're balanced very badly for such a trick.

Doing this would be harder, maybe even impossible:

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dreamgirls is awesome

I recently saw the movie Dreamgirls. It is a masterpiece. The camera whirls about the world, filling the screen with emotion to fit each scene. The sets, costumes and lighting are amazing, creating a spectacular sense of time and place.

And the acting is fantastic, most of all during the songs. The actors talk, and as emotions heat up, they start singing. What they have to say can't be expressed with mere speech, it has to be musical. It's a very operatic, technological piece, but a master work, showing total control and facility with the technology. It's the sort of piece Wagner would create today, if he weren't dead, and wasn't racist.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Awesome skateboarding

This video makes me want to take up skateboarding. With balloons. You MUST watch this video with the sound on.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Evil gets fined

Verizon's "unlimited" calling plan actually had limits. Now they have to pay a $1 million fine.

If you read the article, the Verizon response is classic Bush administration Newspeak. Total lies, pretending nothing bad happened.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Families and China

My parents, my Mom's cousin and me on the Great Wall.

A plaque we thought my Grandma would like. "Hall for Listening to Orioles", an opera concert hall at the Summer Palace.

My great parents' summer home. After the white people were kicked out, at one point Ho Chi Minh lived at "our" house for several years.

In Shanghai, before we leave, 3 former students of the Kuling American School and family.

Art and Nature of China

Flowers, bugs, and architecture of China.

Pictures from Wuhan:

Birds of China

My relatives are avid birders. Here are some of the birds we saw in China. The first several were at the Beijing Zoo.

And also, some birds in Shanghai:

And birds from my great-grandfather's summer home, Guling on Lushan.

Some birds from Wuhan, birthplace of my grandfather,

And some bird related art: