January 2010


I’m not saying it’s rank won’t increase, but here’s an interesting point from The Live Feed:

Boxoffice is arguably more straightforward to report than TV ratings. You have this weekly Top 10 list of returns, you compare each movie to the other movies. TV ratings are a murky swamp where one network’s hit is another network’s flop and context is not just a factor, but often the entire story.

Han fucking soloYet one respect in which boxoffice reporting is pretty odd — emphasizing ticket grosses yet rarely mentioning ticket sales. That would be like always reporting how many ad dollars sold off Lost and not mentioning the number of viewers that actually watched the show. With everybody reporting how Avatar is The Biggest Movie of All Time based on grosses ($1.859 billion and counting), it’s important to remember how rising ticket prices skew the returns.

Here’s the Top 10 movies of all time … by number of tickets sold:

1. “Gone With the Wind” (1939) 202,044,600
2. “Star Wars” (1977) 178,119,600
3. “The Sound of Music” (1965) 142,415,400
4. “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982) 141,854,300
5. “The Ten Commandments” (1956) 131,000,000
6. “Titanic” (1997) 128,345,900
7. “Jaws” (1975) 128,078,800
8. “Doctor Zhivago” (1965) 124,135,500
9. “The Exorcist” (1973) 110,568,700
10. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) 109,000,000


Surfdaddy Orca writes in h+ magazine:

Ever wonder how exactly the U.S. military would fight a cyber war? In August 2009, the U.S. Air Force activated its new cyberspace combat unit, the 24th Air Force, to “provide combat-ready forces trained and equipped to conduct sustained cyber operations.”

It’s commanded by former Minuteman missile and satellite-jamming specialist Major General Richard Webber. (And under his command are two wings, the 688th Information Operations Wing and the 67th Network Warfare Wing, plus a combat communications units.)

Meanwhile, to counter the threat of cyber warfare, DARPA is still deploying the National Cyber Range, a test bed of networked computers to test countermeasures against “cyberwar”. (According to one report, it provides “a virtual network world . to be populated by mirror computers and inhabited by myriad software sim-people ‘replicants,’ and used as a firing range in which to develop the art of cyber warfare.”)

And the Obama administration has even added a military cybersecurity coordinator to the National Security team.



What an incredible lifetime of work. Reports the AP via the NY Times:
Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn, an author, teacher and political activist whose book A People’s History of the United States became a million-selling leftist alternative to mainstream texts, died Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 87 and lived in Auburndale, Mass. The cause was a heart attack, his daughter Myla Kabat-Zinn said.

Published in 1980 with little promotion and a first printing of 5,000, A People’s History was, fittingly, a people’s best-seller, attracting a wide audience through word of mouth and reaching 1 million sales in 2003. Although Professor Zinn was writing for a general readership, his book was taught in high schools and colleges throughout the country, and numerous companion editions were published, including Voices of a People’s History, a volume for young people and a graphic novel.

A People’s History told an openly left-wing story. Professor Zinn accused Christopher Columbus and other explorers of committing genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters.


Enter the Panopticlick (courtesy of the Electronic Frontier Foundation): What fingerprints does your browser leave behind as you surf the web? Traditionally, people assume they can prevent a website from identifying them…


President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address this evening and you can watch it here on disinformation®, courtesy of Hulu:

Right before the nation prepares to watch the President’s State of the Union Address, however, Brave New Foundation, CREDO Mobile, and True Majority will be launching its first online live stream action. Brave New Foundation will live stream “The Cost of War,” a segment of the critically acclaimed documentary Rethink Afghanistan, giving concerned citizens a chance to measure the President’s proposals against military spending in Afghanistan. Brave New Foundation Director Robert Greenwald and Political Associate Derrick Crowe will accompany the stream by live blogging the event.

Video streaming by Ustream



Humankind will never forget! David Kravets writes in Wired (there’s a uncanny coincidence in the article): January 25, 1979: A 25-year-old Ford Motor assembly line worker is killed on the job in…


nodandd

Nerds behind bars.The Volokh Conspiracy illuminates this tragic first-world problem.

In a decision issued today, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a Wisconsin prison’s rule forbidding inmates to play Dungeons & Dragons or possess D&D publications and materials [HT: Josh Blackman].

The prison’s rationale for the ban is that playing D&D might stimulate “gang activity” by inmates. But the government conceded that there is no evidence that Dungeons and Dragons actually had stimulated gang activity in the past, either in this prison or elsewhere. The only evidence for the supposedly harmful effects of Dungeons and Dragons were a few cases from other states where playing the game supposedly led inmates to indulge in “escapism” and become divorced from reality, one case where two non-inmates committed a crime in which they “acted out” a D&D story-line, and one where a longtime D&D player (not an inmate) committed suicide. Obviously, almost any hobby or reading material might lead people to become divorced from reality, or in rare cases commit suicide. And disturbed individuals could potentially “act out” a crime based on a scenario in almost any film or literary work. Should prisons ban The Count of Monte Cristo on the grounds that it might encourage escape attempts? Moreover, the “escapism” rationale conflicts with the gang argument. People who become engrossed in escapism and retreat from society are presumably less likely to become active gang members.


Frank Carnevale writes on news.au.com:

A student used the Drake Equation, used to calculate chances of alien life, to prove why he was single. Peter Backus, a native of Seattle and PhD candidate in the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick, near London, took on his own dating woes in “Why I don’t have a girlfriend: An application of the Drake Equation to love in the UK.”

In describing the paper online, he wrote “the results are not encouraging”, MyFox reports. “The probability of finding love in the UK is only about 100 times better than the probability of finding intelligent life in our galaxy.”

Mr Backus, 30, found that of the 30 million women in the UK, only 26 would be suitable girlfriends for him, according to Click Liverpool.



From The Apple Blog: Looking dapper in jeans and a black mock turtle-neck, Steve Jobs took the stage today and officially introduced his iPad to the world. As we’ve been seeing and…



BOB HERBERT writes in the NY Times: Who is Barack Obama? Americans are still looking for the answer, and if they don’t get it soon — or if they don’t like the…


A man named “Thomas Crapper” invented the toilet you say? I heard this on one of those “morning zoo” shows today, they claimed it was the anniversary of his birth, but Wikipedia says it’s his death. So turns out this is a real guy, but this just seemed too much of a coincidence to me (unless there’s a secret society of plumbers that has controlled the destiny of toilet technology that I am unaware of). So I checked out the great urban legend debunking site Snopes.com:

ThomasCrapperThomas Crapper is an elusive figure: Most people familiar with his name know him as acelebrated figure in Victorian England, an ingenious plumber who invented the modern flush toilet; others believe him to be nothing more than a hoax, the whimsical creation of a satirical writer. The truth lies somewhere in between.

Much of the confusion stems from a 1969 book by Wallace Reyburn, Flushed with Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper. Reyburn’s “biography” of Crapper has often been dismissed as a complete fabrication, as some of his other works (most notably Bust-Up: The Uplifting Tale of Otto Titzling and the Development of the Bra) are obvious satirical fiction. Although Flushed with Pride is, like Bust-Up, a tongue-in-cheek work full of puns, jokes, and exaggerations, Reyburn did not invent the person of Thomas Crapper as he did Otto Titzling. In Flushed with Pride, Reyburn’s satire rests on the framework of a real man’s life. Thomas Crapper was not, as Reyburn wrote, the inventor of the flush toilet, a master plumber by appointment to the royals who was knighted by Queen Victoria, or an important figure whose achievements were written up in the Encyclopedia Britannica



via nola.com:

Alleging a plot to tamper with phones in Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in the Hale Boggs Federal Building in downtown New Orleans, the FBI arrested four people Monday, including James O’Keefe, 25, a conservative filmmaker whose undercover videos at ACORN field offices severely damaged the advocacy group’s credibility.

Landrieu said: “This is a very unusual situation and somewhat unsettling for me and my staff. The individuals responsible have been charged with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purposes of committing a felony. I am as interested as everyone else about their motives and purpose, which I hope will become clear as the investigation moves forward.”

Landrieu’s Republican counterpart, Sen. David Vitter, called for a racketeering investigation against New Orleans-founded ACORN last year in the wake of O’Keefe’s videos.






Artificial Intelligence researcher Jurgen Schmidhuber says his main scientific ambition “is to build an optimal scientist, then retire!”

The Cognitive Robotics professor has worked on problems including artificial ants and even robots that are taught how to tie shoelaces using reinforcement learning, but he believes algorithms can be written that allow the programming of curiosity itself. And he offers a fascinating metaphor for life after the development of AI.”It’s a bit like asking an ant of 10 million years ago: If humans were created tomorrow, what sort of implications do you think that would have for all the ant colonies?

Jürgen Schmidhuber at Singularity Summit 2009 – Compression Progress: The Algorithmic Principle Behind Curiosity and Creativity from Michael Anissimov on Vimeo.

“In hindsight we know that many ant colonies are still doing fine, but some of them (for example, those in my house) have goal conflicts with humans, and live dangerously.”

He’s also created art using algorithmic information theory, and describes the simple algorithmic principle that underlies subjective beauty and creativity…



AreciboMessageStephen Battersby writes in New Scientist:

The cosmos is quiet. Eerily quiet. After decades of straining our radio ears for a whisper of civilisations beyond Earth, we have heard nothing. No reassuring message of universal peace. No helpful recipe for building faster-than-light spacecraft or for averting global catastrophes. Not even a stray interstellar advertisement.

Perhaps there’s nobody out there after all. Or perhaps it’s just early days in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), and we’re listening to the wrong star systems or at the wrong wavelengths.

There is another possibility, says Douglas Vakoch, head of the Interstellar Message Composition programme at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, which ponders the question of how we should communicate with aliens. “Maybe everyone’s listening but no one is transmitting. Maybe it takes an audacious young civilisation like ours to do that.”

So should we start sending messages into the void? And if so, how can we make ourselves understood to beings we know nothing about?