Thursday, April 30, 2009


Not only is there great footage of a great magician on Dick Cavett's blog, but he tells stories about magicians of yore. Stories I thought were fiction, but turn out to be seeds of truth in works of fiction.

Magicians have always fascinated me. On one hand, they use psychology to create amazing illusions, and I rarely get tired of seeing their work. On the other hand, many of them are huge jerks. There's something about the relationship between magician and audience that's adversarial, and which leads to giant egos.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


There's some astonishing flip-flopping going on over at Fox News and in Texas. Not that Nancy Pelosi hasn't done some impressive flipping in recent days, but to go from "Why do you hate America" to celebrating dissent and even fomenting secessionist rhetoric in the space of 3 months is impressive. You'd think they'd pull a muscle doing that.

I think Jon Stewart expresses my surprise the best.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Flu prediction

With all the flu panic going on, it's amazing to learn that Google can see the future.

At least, they can use what we're searching for to figure out where flu season is hitting about 2 weeks faster than CDC can get their data.

So awesome.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


I've known about Garfield Minus Garfield for a while, but it continues to be awesome. It's a webpage where they erase Garfield from his comic, leaving the human Jon to be wandering alone and sad in his house, existentially tortured.

New to me is the Garfield randomizer, which serves up a randomly generated garfield strip that is surreal, but occasionally about the same as the usual offerings.

These two sites just blew my mind. Which is apparently easy to do right after lunch.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

ISP Monopoly

I hope the Congressman who wants to regulate internet service as a utility gets it done. Canada does it, so it can't be horrible. And it's become such a need to have to participate in society, along with the natural monopolies that have emerged. Especially given Time-Warner's intent to raise rates at a time when their costs are dropping, I think government is the perfect solution to push back against the corporations exploiting their monopoly for insane profits.

Yes, they invested in infrastructure prudently, and should be allowed to profit from that investment. But tripling your prices because you have no competition and when people need to connect to the internet to find jobs and need to check work email all hours of the day? That's monopoly abuse.

I wonder how long it took before water and electricity were regulated as utilities instead of being allowed to be privately run. I have no idea whether regulating internet as a utility is going faster or slower than it did in those historic cases. Either way, it's time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Colbert anti-anti-gay ad gets a thank you note

The anti-gay folks who put together an ad against gay marriage sent a letter of thanks to Stephen Colbert for playing their ad on TV.

I see their point of view: any airtime is good. No such thing as bad publicity. Although I feel like the Colbert response ad is pretty harsh. In an awesome, awesome way. But in a way that wouldn't get ME sending a thank you note.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Disney rips off Disney

Turns out that Disney is so crazy about copyright because they only ever had one original idea. All their later movies rip off Snow White.

Extremely rip off. Like shot-for-shot, remake. I couldn't do a better job ripping off Disney than Disney did. (Although I'd do it with Legos.) Wow.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Train safety

Don't drive across railroad crossings without proper reflective vests.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Texas Secession?

I'm not sure how I feel about the current talk about secession by Texas' governor. My first reflex was, "Fine, why don't you? Your ideology has been holding our country back for years." I did definitely contemplate what it would take to make me leave here for Canada a couple times.

But Texas is a big part of our nation. A lot of people live there, and there are a lot of connections between there and the rest of the country. It would be a wound to our nation to rip that part of it out. Which would be equally true of any state, whether it was Florida, Vermont or North Dakota.

Texas was its own nation once, and it has a Oklahoma sized chip on its shoulder because of it. If they successfully seceded, it would shift the balance of power in this country to the left a notch. But as liberal socialist as I am, I do believe hippies like me need insane cowboys to point out our mistakes and hold us back from overreaching with our own liberal ideas. Even if the time has come for lots of liberal government solutions to the disatrous mistakes of the last 8 years. Losing Texas would weaken our nation, because we'd lose smart people telling liberals about the errors of their ways.

Friday, April 17, 2009


A student at Tisch had a brilliant idea: send adorable wee robots into The City, with instructions on where they're supposed to be. See how many get helped on their way.

Turns out, New Yorkers are remarkably nice to adorable machines. Note to our future overlords: Be more like Hello Kitty than Arnold Schwarzenegger, and we'll help you conquer us.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Playmobil Bible copyright suit

I'm glad Lego hasn't done this. Playmobil is suing a priest who created scenes from the Bible out of toys.

How dare they say he can't play with their toys any way he wants? I want to dig out my old Playmobil toys and dress them up as characters from the Bhagavad Gita now. Or maybe as all the main characters in Firefly. Whichever will piss them off more.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stop reading my email, Mr. President

It's terribly disappointing that President Obama's justice department not only supports continuing the warrantless wiretapping program, but makes broad legal arguments that are worse than Bush. Unless this is a Bizarro world attempt to get the courts to overreact by making ridiculous arguments, it's just wrong.

Criminals should be spied on, if a court approves a warrant. But the government must not have the authority to just spy on anyone. It's a bad, bad idea. Shame on you, Mr. President.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

National Broadband

You know what? Socialism isn't all that bad. Other countries get much cheaper internet access than we do, because the government built up the infrastructure.

We should do the same. Just like the highway system of the 1950's, whose infrastructure had a government purpose but also spurred vast economic growth in all sorts of areas, a national high-speed internet system would provide a foundation for all manner of cool stuff that would actually create jobs and wealth.

Too bad Congress is held hostage by the people making piles of money off the current system. I can see why Lawrence Lessig left copyright law for campaign finance reform. Nothing good will happen until we clean up the money in politics.

Monday, April 13, 2009

No Network Neutrality on your phone

It's interesting that while we expect our internet to be open on a computer, we're content to have limited internet on a phone. The thing is, that could keep phone-based services limited to being a toy, rather than enabling the next big thing to sweep the world. It lets Apple and the phone companies cripple new technology, rather than creating an ecosystem where it can thrive.

Of course, new things like Skype threaten to disrupt traditional services - like phones. But unless the phone companies adapt to the new environment, they could easily end up like newspapers and record companies. Destroyed by new technology.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Encarta is Dead! Long Live Encarta!

You almost missed it, but Wikipedia killed Encarta. Yes, Microsoft's crappy online encyclopedia has given up. Seems that there's only room online for one encyclopedia with mediocre content, and free is a very good price. (Of creation. Encarta was free to read. Also difficult to sustain, that.)

Although Encarta was the second most popular online encyclopedia at the time of its demise. With 1.3 percent of searches. Dang.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Multitouch copyright smackdown brewing

It's ironic that on the anniversary of the first Request for Comments, that a copyright war is about to begin over multitouch standards, and the the first shots have been fired. Software companies (and Apple) realize that multitouch interfaces are the next big thing, possibly supplanting the mouse. And rather than work to create a standard set of intuitive gestures across all systems so computers can be easy to use and make sense, they'd rather come up with difficult, complicated techniques that they can patent and sue each other for copying, so they can make more money off it than anyone else.

I guess it's not surprising that companies with shareholders are seeking to maximize profit rather than their customer's experience. But I wish that at some point we'd stop buying crappy products.

Friday, April 10, 2009

WB acquires Pirate Bay - April Fools

At first I completely fell for the story that WB and The Pirate Bay are merging. It's only when I went to post this remarkable, surprising story that I looked at the dateline. And realize that it was unbelievable because I shouldn't be believing it.

Although apparently the idea of a major movie studio purchasing one of the world's leading copyright infringement organizations is plausible to me. (It is what happened to Napster, after all...)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Super nerd star trek lego replica

Some guy made a shot-for-shot recreation of the Star Trek pilot out of Legos.

It's very impressive. I'm jealous. Of someone who: has that many legos, has that much time, and has that much knowledge of Star Trek. Well, maybe not jealous of the last one. But I definitely think he's a cool guy. And by cool, I mean a super dork.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


This article about puns is for my dad.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Jenga Gun

With this tool, no one can defeat you at Jenga.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Google Books Settlement

Unbeknownst to me, Google made a settlement with a bunch of authors and publishers concerning Google Books Search. Lawyers have picked over the settlement, and they have concerns.

It's complicated. I'm not sure what I think. On one hand, it allows Google to make public all manner of books, including ones where the copyright owner can't be found. Books that until now were just locked away in copyright limbo, no one making money but no one able to use the information in them, waiting until they aged into the public domain (which won't actually happen because of Disney). So that's good.

But now Google has a monopoly on electronic books that have been abandoned. And they get to sell those books online, and put the money that would have gone to the authors into a special trust.

Not to mention Google knowing what we read. I hope there isn't a down side to this whole thing. But this court settlement could be a very big deal. We just won't know for years.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Life as a Game

Two interesting talks a cousin turned me on to, on the theme of games. They both talk about games as examples of excellent user interface design. How when you play a computer game it teaches you how to play, and the challenge level increases as you learn it better.

You have clear goals, clear indicators of success or failure, and you are motivated to make progress. Microsoft Word needs to be more like Mario.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Science "Jokes"

I read an interesting article about practical jokes by scientists. I don't know if the Sokal paper qualifies as a joke, though, because it's so mean.

And in general, I wonder if scientists need to be taken down a peg. To be made not high priests who control the world, but servants. Like a smith who forges swords for his lord, scientists should have to answer to society for their choices.