Friday, February 27, 2009

Nate Silver on Republicans

Nate Silver, the boy with the big brain at, has a thoughtful piece titled Why Does a Person Become a Republican?

The genesis of the article was an experience Nate had on the Metro train as he was enroute to the CPAC convention, home to bipartisan presentations like "Al Franken and ACORN: How Liberals are Destroying the American Election System" and buffoons like Joe the Plumber positing that if he was in Congress, he would be slapping people that weren't in the process of being shot for their lack of support for our troops.

I won't bore you with the details of Nate's experience - you can go read it yourself - but suffice it to say it's an example of mindless bureaucracy, the kind we experience on a daily basis, which is the main point of Silver's lament:

Still, I walked away today, having just been in a sea of conservatives who left me speechless, and thought: this is one tiny example of a major reason people become Republicans. Disgust, anger, annoyance with government interaction (ever wait in line at the DMV?) is distorted within an emotional prism, and suddenly someone is receptive to an anti-government message. What just happened becomes explainable by a larger narrative, and now you have somewhere to channel that disgust. People don't like to have loose disgust. It has to be funneled into a rational and ready explanation, a larger story. It helps a person feel they're regaining control over their environment.

When CPAC attendees gather to glory in their hatred of government, the thing Grover Norquist wants to drown in a bathtub, they are insisting that government is the problem. That it cannot be efficient, and that the side effect is to steal from you (who are good and have earned it) to redistribute to others (who haven't).

Nate's proposition makes a lot of sense, and certainly explains some of the rabid, vitriolic dialogue coming out of the CPAC gathering, which is eerily similar to collections of footage from John McCain's failed 2008 presidential campaign.

What remains to be seen is whether more sane elements of the conservative moment, if there are any left, can retake the messaging machine, or if Republicans will continue their very public contraction into being a regional party based in the deep south.

Chicken Fingers

My daughter loved chicken fingers when she was younger. Now she knows the truth. From GraphJam.

Brains in Milk Gravy vs. Crestor

As I get older and continue to lose my battle against cholesterol and trigylcerides, statin medication has joined my daily regimen to help me accomplish what watching my diet (and lack of exercise) cannot.

I've become somewhat fanatical about tracking what I eat, logging the nutritional value of everything that passes through my pie hole in a handy iPhone application. In all seriousness, this obsessive behavior has led me to make better food choices in the month or so I've been using it.

So I was shocked, and suddenly nauseated, to see this floating around on the internets - pork brains in milk gravy. Who attended the meeting where it was decided to market this offal?

1,170% of your USDA recommended daily allowance of cholesterol. That's all I have to say about that.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Response to the Republican Response

As I sat and watched the not-state-of-the-union speech earlier this week, part of me was mentally preparing for Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal's scheduled response and for the week-long GOP regurgitation of worn talking points and "cut taxes" liturgy.

As Jindal walked to the microphone, arms stiff at his side in a manner reminiscent of Jack Webb in the original Dragnet series, I pondered his reported brilliance and hoped for some of the wonkery for which he's acclaimed. What I heard was a sing-song recitation of stale, discredited concepts delivered as if Jindal was speaking to 4th graders as part of their annual "Take Your Governor to School" Day.

Jindal's "Americans can do anything!" rallying cry came across as desperate as it was false. We can't do anything - there are plenty of things we haven't been able to do throughout history. That's a pretty lofty benchmark, and there's nothing better than unrealistic goals.

Using hurricane Katrina as an example of when Louisiana rejected help from the government and pulled themselves up by their own soggy bootstraps was simply ludicrous. I seem to recall a couple of billion dollars flew into the bayou region in the months (years?) after Katrina blew through, but the Republican version of reality hasn't been in sync with the rest of the world for as long as I can remember.

Our financial firms are in shambles. The auto industry is in tatters, and it's difficult to hear over the death rattles coming from newspapers and magazines. Credit availability has dried up faster than Madonna's bajingo, unemployment continues to rise, and the housing market is in the dumper.

Yet Jindal had the temerity to suggest that government isn't the answer to the current crisis. Well, Mr. Jindal, who is? We're running out of options here.

After Obama's narrative, various outlets reported upwards of 80% of Americans approved of his approach and priorities. Citizens understand that the challenge is great, and a tough road awaits. The party that was in power the previous eight years contributed mightily to the current situation, and everyone knows it. There's only so much a party can accomplish when it's built on cliches, buzzwords, and fallacy.

The problem, Mr. Jindal, isn't government. It's Republican government. And we don't have one of those anymore.

Earth Invaders

Check out the excellent Space Invaders homage that starts midway through this music video.

Happy Up Here from Röyksopp on Vimeo.

Sea Otter Boogers

What a tasty treat.

These Japanese snacks, made from candied black beans, are actually called Sea Otter Boogers. Yum.

I wonder if Amazon has them? (The answer is no, btw)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bluetooth Meets Rotary Phone

Back to the future.

This little gem resembles the old, thick black rotary dial phone that my mom had that I'm pretty sure was the last of its type in central Pennsylvania. When she died in 1997, she still had two rotary phones in the house.

Anyway, hidden inside this old-school device is modern Bluetooth technology that allows you to connect with an array of modern cellular phones. If you don't have a cell (really?), you can get one of these beauties that IS a cell phone.

At $250, it's not cheap, but then neither was the stainless steel DeLorean. Some things you just can't put a price on.

Cancer Sniffing Dog

Here's another reason to love dogs more than cats.

A 10-year old mixed breed Collie in England started pestering owner Maureen Burns, sniffing her breath and rubbing against her right breast.

Ms. Burns found a small lump in her breast that wasn't detected by mammogram.
She convinced her doctor to perform a biopsy, and sure enough, the lump came back malignant.

After surgery and radiation treatment, Ms. Burns is doing fine, and her prognosis is good.

This makes me wonder what our dog is really after when he sniffs my crotch.

Adobe Flash Update

Time to update your Adobe Flash player installation again.

The latest updates fixes at least five vulnerabilities, several of them considered to be critical. You could become compromised by simply visiting a website that's hosting a malicious Flash movie.

Depending on which browser(s) you use, it might take a couple of visits to the Adobe site to update appropriately - make the visit in your Internet Explorer browser, then Firefox, Opera, etc. if you're not using a product like Secunia PSI.

Do it soon - the bad people are waiting to get you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Formula That Killed Wall Street

Wired has an enlightening piece about a little-known but much relied-upon credit risk formula that contributed, in no small part, to the collapse of the financial markets and served as the aggregator of the pain we're all feeling.

Recipe for Disaster: The Formula That Killed Wall Street lays out the theory behind the Gaussian copula function, a chunk of technology that permitted exceedingly complex risks to be analyzed and articulated in ways previously unavailable to those in the financial community.

Problem was, there were a couple of gaps in the formula that its creator, David X. Li, failed to identify, and these shortcomings became starkly clear, especially in the bond market, which is heavily driven by algorithms of probability.

Since the formula was the darling of investors in the bond market, in addition to banks, credit rating agencies, and even financial regulators, and there was plenty of money being made by everyone involved (sound familiar?), problems in the copula function were essentially ignored until it was too late.

Read the entire article without shaking your head in disgust, if you can. I could not, because I've seen this silly show before - the same cast of characters engaged in the folly of greed above all else. This is the same group of people with their hands out now, complaining that we need to save them or we'll all be doomed to a middle-class lifestyle.

Information is the Best Defense

HD Moore has an excellent piece in the Metasploit blog about how full disclosure of software vulnerabilities can actually be defensible, regardless of the whining that results from software vendors.

In this particular case, Moore uses the recent Adobe Acrobat vulnerability as his case study. Depending on which online account you happen to read, it appears that rumors of this unpatched flaw were circulating as far back as December 2008, and it wasn't until the bright light of disclosure was brought to bear did Adobe finally get in gear to address the issue.

As Moore states so eloquently, If the vendor involved was Microsoft, the press would be tearing them apart right now. What part of "your customers are being exploited" do they not understand?

Best Headline Ever

Tearful Atlanta Cops Express Remorse for Shooting 92-Year-Old Kathryn Johnston, Leaving Her To Bleed to Death in Her Own Home While They Planted Drugs in Her Basement, Then Threatening an Informant So He Would Lie To Cover It All Up.

Click the link for details.

Dog Equation

From GraphJam

Microsoft Excel Vulnerability - Trojan Mdropper.AC

Updated March 10 - Microsoft Tuesday has come and gone, and alas, no patch for this particular CVE. Last reports are that attacks are still limited and targeted. Microsoft advises folks to use MOICE (the Microsoft Office Isolated Conversion Environment) when opening files from unknown or untrusted sources, or using the Microsoft Office File Block policy to block the opening of Office 2003 and earlier documents from unknown or untrusted senders.


Microsoft, in their never-ending quest to publicly admit vulnerabilities exist once at least fifty media outlets report them, has released Security Advisory 968272, Vulnerability in Microsoft Excel Could Allow Remote Code Execution. Fabulous.

As always, Microsoft states that they are working on the problem, and that attacks are both limited and targeted, which is small consolation if you happen to be in the cross-hairs.

Symantec has identified malicious Excel files in the wild in Japan and has released updated antivirus definitions for detection purposes, naming the variant Trojan Mdropper.AC.

Security researchers report that the vulnerability exists in the older .xls file format, and not the newer .xlsx format used by the latest version of Excel that has yet to see widespread use, much to the dismay of Microsoft's revenue stream.

Microsoft has yet to release a patch for the vulnerability, and the firm typically does not release out-of-band fixes unless attacks become more widespread. In the meantime, the same rules apply - update your AV files and don't open spreadsheet files (or any other kinds of files) from anyone, even someone you know, unless you've asked for them or are aware of their scheduled delivery to your inbox.

Rush Remains a Big Fat Idiot

No one has stood out as a more bloviated sheep bleating disproved conservative dogma than Rush Limbaugh. I'm not sure why people continue to be surprised by this after all of these years - you buy your ticket, you take your ride, y'know?

Putting aside the fact that he has been vocal in his hope that both President Obama and the financial stimulus initiative fail, Rush has everything to gain by continuing to fan the anti-tax faction of die-hard political conservatives, both in maintaining his core audience and holding on to a large portion of his amassed wealth.

Rush doesn't really want a cerebral discussion of the actual tax policies, because he (and his ilk) come out on the losing side of the equation, as the fiscal policies of the previous eight years has demonstrated.
When you don't have any good (or actual) ideas, it seems, pull out the Rove playbook - tell a lie, and repeat it over and over until people believe it's true. That's the approach Limbaugh has taken with Obama's plan to allow the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire.

Media Matters reports that on his February 23 radio show, Rush falsely claimed that taxes on most small businesses would increase if the Bush tax cuts went away. Conversely, the Tax Policy Center has opined that in 2007, only 2% of tax returns that reported small business income were in the top two income brackets.

This is a familiar refrain, heard recently expoused by Mitch McConnell, conservative wingnut from Kentucky, but it was also part of the failed McCain campaign that was refuted by then-candidate Obama.

I'd like to see Limbaugh's raw data that he's using to derive his talking points. Transparency is a good thing, so Rush, show us how your sausage is made, because your view doesn't seem to be substantiated by, you know, the truth.

Gaping Hole Costume

What do you get when you mix technology, a fascination with Wile E. Coyote, and Halloween? The gaping hole costume.

Using readily available gizmos like a small digital camera and portable LCD video player, those of you who really commit to realistic fright night garb can saunter around looking like you took a bazooka blast to the solar plexus.

It's only a matter of time until someone upgrades this thing to a wide-screen high definition plasma display - mark my words.

Four Bear Markets

This should give you a good idea of how terrible the current market is in relation to others. Click the image to make it larger for easy viewing.

See Through Fish Head

Fish heads, fish heads, roly-poly fish heads...

Not sure if you remember that song or not, but it seemed like an appropriate intro for this topic - a fish that can look around easily because it has a clear head!

Since the eyes can rotate up, down, and all around, the "barreleyes" fish can be alert for both predators and dinner without needing to move its body, which comes in handy if it happens that you're not particularly agile and have few other defense mechanisms.

That said, this is one freaky-looking fish.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Obama's Approval Rating

Gallup has a new poll out that shows that since his inauguration, President Obama's job approval rating has been on the rise among every political persuasion except for conservative Republicans.

I guess we can file this under "things he must be doing right".

The Origin of Republicans

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Religious Truths

Fool me once...

For an interesting analogy of a kid named Rob trashing the Wii his parents bought, check out the post Fool me once...shame on me from the synthesis blog.

If you're a parent, it's a no-brainer.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Nerd Merit Badge

In my younger days, I was a Cub Scout, and later, a Boy Scout. I will pause here to absorb the ridicule that is being hurled in my direction.

Feel better now?

Anyway, there's a whole clever site, Nerd Merit Badges, that's filling the demand for these tokens of honor brought forth into geekdom. And they have a brand new offering - InBox Zero. For those of us who have known the fleeting pleasure that comes with having no unread messages waiting in your mail folder.

Imagine the looks on co-workers faces when you stroll into the office (lab, datacenter, pod, unemployment office) wearing a dandy sash filled with circular stitched recognition. Priceless.

Some days you eat the bear...

...and some days the bear eats you.

Stephen Colbert must be gobsmacked by this item - a sleeping bag that looks every bit like the number one threat to America - bears!

The Sleeping Bear was made for exhibition, sadly, and is not available for the hardy campers among you. Pity. I'll bet no snake on earth would attempt to snuggle inside this critter with you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Beard Head!

This would seem to be the kind of apparel that Sarah Palin would embrace. Too bad it's probably not going to be available at Barney's New York.

How often have you been out hunting elk while snot freezes on your upper lip, while your chin quivers like Rush Limbaugh's when he's out of Oxycontin and Viagra? The Beard Head would cure what ails ya.
Having an optional interchangeable mustache is simply a bonus.

I can see myself in one of those, looking a bit like Yukon Cornelius from the claymation "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" from 1964.

Monday, February 16, 2009

How Do I Love Thee?

Stimulus: What Would Dilbert Do?

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, weighs in on the current approach to getting us all to spend money again.

This is yet another situation where smart people are ironically incompetent if left to their own devices. If the world were populated only with the smart and well-informed, we'd all sit around waiting for someone else to spend money first, so they can take the highest risk. Eventually society would crumble and all of us geniuses would be eaten by rats. But if you throw a bunch of clueless bastards into the mix, suddenly the economy is supercharged. Money is flying everywhere, confidence becomes warranted, and the economy flourishes.