Archive for the ‘Sarcasm’ Category

Short notes on film: October 30, 2016.

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

Since we’re talking about movies anyway, I’d like to make another recommendation. And this one won’t cost you anything.

Last Saturday, it was just Lawrence and I for movie night, and we didn’t want to burn “John Carpenter’s The Thing” with just the two of us there. We had trouble settling on something to watch. We tried “The Architects of Fear” episode of “The Outer Limits”, but neither of us could really get into the episode: it seemed too talky and too relationship oriented, and we turned it off after about 10 minutes. (Also, man, they, like, totally ripped that plot off from “Watchmen”, right?)

We tried watching David Cronenberg’s first movie, “Stereo” (which is on the Criterion disc of “Scanners”) and that was one hot pretentious mess. I think we also made it about 10 minutes into that as well.

We ended up watching, for our feature presentation, a movie I’ve been wanting to see, but which may not technically qualify for Halloween viewing. It is kind of creepy, and falls into the category of “film noir”, so if you’re willing to extend Halloween creepy to noir…(says the guy who has gone in costume as Sam Spade, complete with Maltese Falcon).

The movie in question is 1948’s “He Walked By Night” directed by some guy named Alfred L. Werker (who was supposedly either “assisted by” or “fired from the film and had it taken over by” Anthony “fired from ‘Spartacus'” Mann).

Richard Basehart – excuse me – “Richard Basehart!” – is a burglar specializing in thefts of electronics. At the start of the movie, he shoots and ends up killing a police officer, triggering a massive manhunt by the LAPD. The police lure him into a trap at one point, but he shoots his way out (leaving another police officer paralyzed). The LAPD continues to pursue him, but things are complicated by the fact that he has no criminal record, changes his methods to throw off the police, and almost seems to be one step ahead of them…like he was a former police officer or something.

(Possible spoilers ahead.)

This is often cited as a hugely influential noir film. It is a little stagey (but it was also 1948) and there’s a lot of stuff in it that feels today like clichés. (“I’m taking you off the case because you’re too close to it!”) The thing is, those weren’t clichés in 1948: this is one of the origin points for a lot of what you see in later noir films and procedurals well into today.

A very young (and very thin) Jack Webb plays a police lab technician:

(“You will believe a man can use a slide projector!”) There’s an interesting story behind that: while he was working on this movie, Webb became friends with LAPD Detective Sergeant Marty Wynn, who was working as a technical advisor on the film. One thing led to another, and, well…Webb and Wynn’s friendship and discussions ultimately led to the creation of “Dragnet” (which shares a lot of DNA with this movie.)

Even with all the staginess and talking, this is, in my opinion, a remarkably compelling movie. It is short (one hour nineteen minutes) but something is going on in almost every frame to advance the plot. And there’s also a feeling of some real stakes at play here: any of the good guys (or an innocent bystander) could get killed at any minute. As Ivan G Shreve Jr. notes in his writeup at “Thrilling Days of Yesteryear”:

The unwritten law of the men in blue is there is nothing more dangerous than a cop killer; after all, if someone is crazy enough to shoot a cop, he’s liable to inflict even more grievous injury on an innocent member of the public.

There’s also a lot of really good cinematography: the use of underlighting and shadows to convey a sense of danger and dread is top-notch. And the crime is broken somewhat by lab work (Jack Webb’s role isn’t trivial), but more so by dogged, unrelenting police footwork.

The movie is actually based on a real incident, the Erwin “Machine Gun” Walker case, and it is surprising how closely it sticks to the facts. Walker, like Basehart’s protagonist, was an electronics expert who stole to finance his experimentation. He carried around homemade nitroglycerin that he’d carefully desensitized (to make it safer to transport) had a pretty extensive arsenal (mostly stolen from military armories), experimented with making his own fake driver’s licenses and license plates, and he had worked before WWII as a police dispatcher/radio operator.

There are a few small deviations from historical fact, and one omission: Walker shot and wounded the two LAPD detectives first, the police officer he killed was a highway patrolman (not an LAPD officer), and Walker wasn’t gunned down in an LA sewer. Walker was actually captured alive and sentenced to death, though that sentence was never carried out. One thing the movie doesn’t touch on – perhaps it was too early – was that Walker was emotionally disturbed by his wartime experiences: part of the motivation for his crimes was that he wanted to build a radio-based device that would turn metal to powder, use that device to force the governments of the world to raise military pay, and thus make war “too expensive” to be fought.

You can watch “He Walked By Night” on Amazon Video, and there are several DVD editions of it. Interestingly, though, the film is in the public domain in the United States: you can also download it for free from the Internet Archive.

If you like noir films, or Jack Webb, or Richard Basehart, I recommend you do so. I think you will find this movie amply repays your investment of time and bandwidth.

You know what Travis County needs?

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

Strict dog control.

A pack of dogs killed a 36-year-old woman in North Travis County, the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release Thursday.


Animal Protection officers impounded six dogs that were on the property, most of which appeared to be Labrador/Great Pyrenees mixes, the release said. They also found 14 puppies. Fraga said city records show no prior animal complaints at the property.

I come from a family of dog owners. My mother currently owns a Corgi, and my sister owns a German Short-haired Pointer. But nobody except maybe the police and military needs these large deadly high capacity assault dogs that are capable of maiming or killing dozens of people with one bite of their jaws. No private citizen needs 20 dogs.

And do you realize that just anyone can walk into a pet store and purchase one of these deadly assault dogs with no background check?

Sensible dog control now!

Random notes: July 16, 2015.

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

The Birdman of Altiplano.

“There is already a significant problem every single weekend with widespread, out-of-control peeing,” Mr. Johnson, who represents much of Manhattan’s West Side, said.

(I love the “Citations for public urination” graphic that goes along with this article.)

I’m a little surprised this one hasn’t made FARK yet: local police find an unresponsive man in a car. He had bite marks on his wrist, and there was a non-venomous snake (and other animals) in the car. Man dies.

And it seems like his venomous cobra snake may be on the loose. (Hattip: Lawrence.)

(Huh. I didn’t realize that Frederick Forsyth won an Edgar for “There Are No Snakes in Ireland”. That’s not a bad story, but I like “The Emperor” from the same collection a little better.)

Edited to add:

Austin Animal Services is not actively searching for a missing monocle cobra that may have killed an 18-year-old Temple man on Tuesday.

You know what this means, folks. If Animal Services isn’t actively searching for it, it’s up to the rest of us to be on the lookout. Get that Taurus Judge out of the gun safe and load it up with snake shot! Fun for the whole family! At least, until someone gets bitten…

The monocled cobra causes the highest fatality due to snake venom poisoning in Thailand. Envenomation usually presents predominantly with extensive local necrosis and systemic manifestations to a lesser degree. Drowsiness, neurological and neuromuscular symptoms will usually manifest earliest; hypotension, flushing of the face, warm skin, and pain around bite site typically manifest within one to four hours following the bite; paralysis, ventilatory failure or death could ensue rapidly, possibly as early as 60 minutes in very severe cases of envenomation. However, the presence of fang marks does not always imply that envenomation actually occurred.

Edited to add 2:

Oh, thank God. They’re going to start an organized search. I was afraid they’d be engaging in a disorganized search.

(Hattp: the Austin Cobra Twitter. Hattip on the Austin Cobra Twitter to the great and good Joe D. in the comments.)

News of the world.

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

The female editor of a major daily newspaper has been forced out of her position.

Also, the NYT let their executive editor go.

Big dismal science.

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Dean Karlan lives in New Haven, Connecticut. He gets a lot of trick-or-treaters in his neighborhood: “Residents say the area’s popularity is because the houses are so close together, minimizing the door-to-door travel time for trick-or-treaters.”

Dr. Karlan is also a behavioral economist. So why not combine the two and do science experiments on children?

Last year’s study found that 38% of kids 9 and older who saw a poster of First Lady Michelle Obama chose fruit instead of candy — twice as many as those who made that choice after seeing Ann Romney, wife of 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The study indicated that the first lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign, promoting healthy living for children, appeared to be reaching its target audience.

In other experiments, Karlan has found that the more generic the costume is, the more likely it is that the child will choose a see-through bag with candy in it over a non-transparent bag. Karlan has also found that…

…older children would change their stated political party loyalty if it meant getting a little more candy. Younger children, however, could not be bribed, and remained steadfast.

I’d like to see a follow-up to this experiment where children get equal amounts of candy, but those who identify as Democrats have more of their candy confiscated by the researchers.

This year, the study aims to test whether some children are inherently planners — whether they planned their costume ahead of time or procrastinated until the last minute, and whether they have a plan for how they will eat their candy. They’ll weigh their answers against whether kids choose fruit or give into the easy temptation of candy.

One more thing I’d like to know: why isn’t Dubner interviewing Karlan, instead of doing a re-run this week? With all due respect, guys, it seems like you’ve been doing a lot of re-runs recently, and that doesn’t really motivate me to give you money.

(This also reminds me that my youngest niece has gotten to the age where I can start doing science experiments on with her. She’s still a little young for the economics based ones, though.)

That ’70s post.

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Ah, the 1970’s. What a time.

Remember Alexander Calder, the noted sculptor? Died in 1976? Well, he had a dealer, Klaus Perls, that he worked with exclusively. It was, by all accounts, a close and very friendly relationship.


In a recently amended complaint filed in New York State Supreme Court, the Calder estate says the Perlses surreptitiously held on to hundreds of Calder’s works and swindled the artist’s estate out of tens of millions of dollars. Perhaps most surprising, it says that Perls, a dealer with a sterling reputation who campaigned to rid his industry of forgeries, sold dozens of fake Calders. The suit depicts Perls as a tax cheat who stashed millions of dollars in a Swiss bank account, a secret his daughter said she maintained by paying off a former gallery employee with $5 million. She added that Calder had his own hidden Swiss account.

It looks like the Perls family stipulates at least part of these claims, specifically the parts about the Swiss bank accounts. But they also claim that part of the reason Perls had a Swiss bank account is so he could transfer profits to Calder’s Swiss bank account.

In court papers, Mr. Wolfe, the Perls lawyer, said, “Alexander Calder and Klaus Perls were kindred spirits in that they both had an aversion to paying taxes.”

I knew there was a reason I liked Alexander Calder’s work.

The 1970’s were also a time when it was much easier to get your hands on explosives. Especially if you were 17 years old. And if you were peeved at the California Department of Water and Power.

The blast ripped apart a 4-foot-wide steel gate that regulates the flow of water to the aqueduct. Windows were blown out of the gatehouse atop the spill gates and its concrete floor buckled.
About 100 million gallons of water meant for Los Angeles were instead flushed into Owens Lake, which had been dry since the Department of Water and Power opened the aqueduct in 1913.

Nobody was injured. Mark Berry, one of the two men responsible, spent 30 days in juvenile detention. And he now works for the DWP.

(I love this telling detail: “The air was filled with the banana-like smell of nitroglycerin.”)

(And this one: “Berry said his father, as yet unaware that his son was one of the culprits, boasted to a neighbor, ‘If I ever find out who bombed the gates I’ll buy him a steak dinner.'” Gardner Dozois and Edward Abbey, please call your offices.)

(Since I made a “That ’70s Show” reference, I believe I have to link to this Penny Arcade. Especially since I am all about fish out of water prison dramas.)

TMQ Watch: September 24, 2013.

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

Before we jump into this week’s TMQ, how about a little musical interlude?

After the jump…


“Any one who considers arithmetical methods of producing random digits is, of course, in a state of sin.”

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

There’s an interesting post over at the Cryptographic Engineering blog about Duel-EC.

For those not following the story, Dual-EC is a pseudorandom number generator proposed by NIST for international use back in 2006. Just a few months later, Shumow and Ferguson made cryptographic history by pointing out that there might be an NSA backdoor in the algorithm. This possibility — fairly remarkable for an algorithm of this type — looked bad and smelled worse. If true, it spelled almost certain doom for anyone relying on Dual-EC to keep their system safe from spying eyes.

The post itself is pretty wonky, but a couple of scattershot points:

Flaw #1: Dual-EC has no security proof.
Let me spell this out as clearly as I can. In the course of proposing this complex and slow new PRG where the only damn reason you’d ever use the thing is for its security reduction, NIST forgot to provide one. This is like selling someone a Mercedes and forgetting to attach the hood ornament.

Flaw #3: You can guess the original EC point from looking at the output bits.

Flaw #4: If you know a certain property about the Dual_EC parameters, and can recover an output point, you can predict all subsequent outputs of the generator.

This is a huge deal in the case of SSL/TLS, for example. If I use the Dual-EC PRG to generate the “Client Random” nonce transmitted in the beginning of an SSL connection, then the NSA will be able to predict the “Pre-Master” secret that I’m going to generate during the RSA handshake. Given this information the connection is now a cleartext read. This is not good.

Flaw #5: Nobody knows where the recommended parameters came from.

So does all of this amount to a backdoor? Quoth Matthew Green,

including some kind of hypothetical backdoor would be a horrible, horrific idea — one that would almost certainly blow back at us.
You’d think people with common sense would realize this. Unfortunately we can’t count on that anymore.

(Subject line hattip.)

(You know, I’m halfway tempted to start a Kickstarter for a truly random random number generator. Something based off atomic decay, perhaps. What’s stopping me is:

  1. I have no electronics design skills or ability. Of course, I could hire someone, but…
  2. I’d be surprised if someone hasn’t already done this.)

(Edited to add: You could just get your random numbers from here, of course, while you’re waiting for the revolution. Nothing wrong with that plan, is there?)

(Speaking of Big John von Neumann, I just finished Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe, about the early history of computing, with a strong concentration on the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study and von Neumann’s work. It’s an interesting book – I think it serves as a good introductory biography of von Neumann. Dyson wanders a bit into the mystic towards the end, a little bit more than I would have liked, which prevents me from fully endorsing it. But if you liked Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship, you should enjoy this book as well.)


Monday, July 22nd, 2013

I haven’t gone crazy since I got the new job. I did purchase a few things: I bought a couple of DVDs during the Criterion 50% off sale. And I bought myself a snazzy new lunchbox, because I really needed one to take my lunch to work in. (I can’t use one of those plastic grocery bags, after all.)

I haven’t bought any guns, yet. (One of our local gunshops had a really nice US property marked Mossberg 44, at a reasonable price. But first I had to leave town, and then I dithered some when I got back, and when I went back Saturday they’d already sold it.)

There are a few other things I have on my agenda, but those may wait either until I get paid or until I empty the change bank. (I don’t really need the money in the change bank that badly, but it has actually gotten so full that the coins in it are interfering with the mechanism and keeping me from adding more coins.)

There’s one thing that I was glad to be able to do before time ran out: donate to the Evict Lyme FUNdraiser.

I don’t know Bonnie of Squeaky Wheel Seeks Grease. I’ve never met her in person, and if I did, I suspect she’d want to punch me in the nose. But she has a problem of the kind that requires expensive and extensive surgery, and she needs help paying for it.

I don’t know Jennifer, of In Jennifer’s Head, either. I’ve never met her in person, and if I did, I suspect she’d want to punch me in the nose. (If you think you’ve detected a theme here, you’re right. I pretty much assume everyone wants to punch me in the nose until proven otherwise.) But I feel pretty confident in saying that Jennifer is a good and decent person. Why? Because she’s running a raffle to help Bonnie out.

Not a charity, a raffle. With some pretty nice prizes. I like that leather range bag from Brownell’s (and I like the fact that Brownell’s donated it; it makes me feel all squishy inside when I think about them. Or that may be the enchilada burger making me feel that way. I can’t tell.) And that’s a swell looking holster from Dragon Leatherworks. (If I don’t win that one in the raffle, I’m planning to order a holster from Dragon soon-ish.)

There’s other nifty prizes as well. Would you like a shot at a pen and a bottle opener made from spent 50 BMG brass? A nice rifle sling? Wind chimes?

Go over and check out Jennifer’s post for rules, instructions, and a full list of prizes.

As I’ve said before, I don’t like using this blog to beg folks for money, so I try to keep the number of charitable solicitations down. I also don’t like asking you to give to a cause I haven’t given to myself, which is why I waited until I had a job and could chip in before posting here. In a way, I kind of feel that being employed now is sort of like being touched by grace, and giving money for Bonnie is kind of a thank-you prayer, or a way of paying that grace forward.

(Yeah, my theology is probably a little messed up. But this is the theology I have, and which is mine.)

“Firing” watch

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

P.J. Carlesimo out as coach of the Brooklyn Nets.

I put “firing” in quotes because Carlesimo was acting as an interim coach: as you may recall, the team fired Avery Johnson in December. (Wasn’t he great in “Spenser: For Hire” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”?)

Carlesimo went 35-19 as interim coach, and the Nets did go to the playoffs. But apparently that wasn’t good enough, and the team is looking for a change.

When I take over and declare martial law…

Friday, April 19th, 2013

…the radio stations will be all theremin, all the time. Except when I want to provide the people with important updates on the progress of our flying monkeys.

Random notes: April 19, 2013.

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Holy crap!

Heard on the CBS coverage: “How do you lock down an entire city?” (Nobody had a really good answer to that question.)

Ten officers were being evaluated at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton early this morning, according to a source, who said the officers said they were hurt from grenades being thrown from the window of a car during a car chase.


“It was more than gunshot wounds,’’ Wolfe told reporters about 5:30 a.m. today. “It was a combination of injuries. We believe a combination of of blasts, multiple gunshot wounds.”
Wolfe said it looked like the man had been hurt by an “explosive device’’ and that the man was struck by “shrapnel.’’ The man was pronounced dead at 1:35 a.m. The hospital officials said they did not know his name.

(CBS, or the local CBS affiliate – I’m not sure which – just ran a commercial featuring an exploding air conditioner. Bad timing, guys.)

I may come back to this later. I want to do some research and possibly talk to Lawrence. In other news:

As a result of last week’s settlement in the legal battle over Broadway’s “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” Ms. Taymor’s directing credit on the musical has been enhanced – and it is now listed above the credit for Philip Wm. McKinley, who replaced Ms. Taymor after its producers fired her in March 2011.

Jimmy Haslam recently bought the Cleveland Browns. Haslam made a pile of money off of the Pilot Flying J chain of truck stops and “travel centers”. Yesterday, the FBI raided the Pilot Flying J headquarters:

A 120-page affidavit for a search warrant filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, Tenn., says Pilot Flying J sales employees withheld fuel price rebates and discounts from certain companies to boost the profitability of the company and increase their sales commissions. The affidavit says FBI and IRS agents are investigating charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud.


The document says “the rebate fraud has occurred with the knowledge of Pilot’s current President Mark Hazelwood and Pilot’s Chief Executive Officer James A. “Jimmy” Haslam III, due to the fact that the rebate fraud-related activities have been discussed during sales meetings in Knoxville, Tenn., in which Hazelwood and Haslam have been present.”

The Browns just can’t catch a break, can they? It will be interesting to see how this plays out as we get closer to the NFL season.

(Heard on CBS: “I was going into this thinking there was some connection to somewhere.” No s–t, Sherlock.)

Edited to add: Since folks are distracted by Boston at the moment, let me note here: the confirmed death toll in West stands at 12.

The State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association said Friday morning that it believes 11 firefighters died in the explosion, including four who were emergency medical service personnel.

According to the association, one of those firefighters was from Dallas: all of the others were volunteer firefighters with the West Fire Department.