More and more iPhones for us all

Verizon to push Apple’s iPhone with major ‘marketing muscle’ – report
[Via AppleInsider]

Following this week’s announcement that the iPhone is finally coming to Verizon, a new report claims that the largest wireless provider in the U.S. plans to advertise Apple’s handset heavily over competing Android phones.

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I hope that we are not inundated with so many iPhone ads as to make us sick of them. I wonder if Apple has any say in the tone of the ads?

Science does its job with regard to XMRV

wrong way by Johnny Jet

Searching for the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome: XMRV turns out to be another blind alley
[Via Field of Science Combined Feed]

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) causes severe fatigue that can last for months at a time. CFS is difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to treat, and its cause has long been a mystery. In 2009, in an apparent breakthrough, scientists reported that a virus found in mice, called XMRV, might be the long-sought cause of chronic fatigue. Their results were reported, with great fanfare, by Judy Mikovits and colleagues in the journal Science (Lombardi et al., Science 2009;326:585), with reports in respected outlets such as the New York Times making it seem that the answer had been found.

Now it turns out that, like many initially exciting reports, this one has a much more mundane explanation: contamination.
As happens all too often when a “surprising” discovery is announced, the result turns out to be an experimental error. Contamination is a common type of error in modern molecular genetics, because nothing is actually visible to the naked eye, and we have to rely on very sensitive methods (such as PCR) to detect what is present. In this case, the experimenters had a common mouse cell line in their lab (not unusual), and it turns out these mouse cells were contaminated with a virus called MLV, which looks a lot like XMRV.
The new study by Hue et al. from University College London (Retrovirology 2010, 7:111) is titled “Disease-associated XMRV sequences are consistent with laboratory contamination.” The title pretty much tells the story, but here’s a brief synopsis.
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The first report that a retrovirus might be the cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome came out about a year and a half ago. But very quickly came conflicting reports that the retrovirus was not involved.

Now comes what appears to be the definitive answer – the supposedly specific tags used to identify the retrovirus actually cross reacted with another similar virus. And this other virus was found to contaminate cells in the labs doing the work.

The original paper presented some data that they interpreted as signifying that XMRV could be a cause of disease. Others then went out to verify this and showed that the original interpretation was wrong.

This is how science works. The thing that Feynman talked about was that scientists need to be aware of how easily they can be fooled and to strive to make sure that all controls have been done.

Here, we have a case of a lab that did not seem to fully perform this self-examination. They should have been the ones to find the contamination, rather than have others do it.

But whether done by the original scientists or by others, science works towards finding out what is really happening.

Now if only the media would realize the tentative nature of most science.

Got the OS X updates done

And I am clicking the Mac App Store Icon Now.

Wow, opened quite fast. And I saw that Delicious Library 2 was on the store so I clicked it. And am told it is already installed. Cool.

And I am downloading Pixelmator now. My evening is shot.

Problems in higher science education

photosynthesis by epSos.de

College upperclassmen still fail at scientific reasoning
[Via Ars Technica]

Most of us develop a sort of intuitive logic about how the natural world works. Unfortunately, a lot of that informal reasoning turns out to be wrong, which complicates scientific education. But as students make their way through the science education pipeline, they should gradually start moving beyond the informal reasoning of their earlier years. Or at least that’s what we’d like to think; instead, a new survey of college students, some in advanced biology classes, indicates that most end up with a confused mix of formal and informal reasoning.

The clearest example of the chasm between a typical intuition and scientific reasoning comes from the world of physics. Imagine a marble rolling around a curved track that comes to a sudden end. Physics tells us that, as soon as the marble is off the track, it’ll continue moving in a straight line until it runs into something else. But many people use informal reasoning and conclude that the marble will continue to follow a circular path even after it escapes the track. In other contexts, it involves an interventionist view of the world. As the people behind the survey put it, “When using informal reasoning, students look for ‘actors’ that drive ‘events’ and are aided by ‘enablers.’”

Scientific education, then, needs to convince people to move past their intuitions (at least if they want a more accurate picture of how the world operates).

[More]

The article is not out yet apparently (January BioScience is not there yet. Only December.) The write ups seem to indicate even students quizzed in their specialties have ‘intuitive’ answers that are wrong.

This follows up on some of their previous work that indicated that incoming students had serious problems with what they ‘knew’ versus what was real.

I think science education requires a different approach to pedagogy than other fields. In other areas, our intuitive, heuristic approaches to things serve us well. But in science, even educated people can become fooled, especially when not thinking logically, rationally and deeply.

A fun example can be found in the comments regarding one of the questions:

Maple Mass

A mature maple tree can have a mass of 1 ton or more (dry biomass, after removing the water), yet it starts from a seed that weighs less than 1 gram. Which of the following processes contributes the most to this huge increase in biomass? Circle the correct answer.
A) absorption of mineral substances from the soil via the roots
B) absorption of organic substances from the soil via the roots
C) incorporation of CO2 gas from the atmosphere into molecules by green leaves
D) incorporation of H2O from the soil into molecules by green leaves
E) absorption of solar radiation into the leaf

Now, these questions are given to people who have had classes in botany or biology and so are well versed in the principles involved, if they have learned to think scientifically.

There was a discussion about the ambiguity of answers C and E. Several commenters though E would be a right answer, since without photosynthesis, there could be no growth. But E does not mention photosynthesis. It simply mentions absorption of solar radiation. There are many processes of absorption, such as thermal, that have nothing to do with photosynthesis. And even photosynthesis uses just a small amount of the total radiation.

E only ‘seems’ like a right answer if you take it to mean photosynthesis. But that ‘intuitive’ answer requires a leap to conclusions. Photosynthesis is not explicitly mentioned. Trying to use it for an answer is a leap not based on real data. Those that answer this question were guilty of making a leap to a conclusion that is not supported by the data provided– a very common error in non-scientific thinking.

Then there was a discussion about C and D. Someone found that photosynthesis performs the following reaction:

Hmm, unless the Wikipedia article on photosynthesis is wrong (6CO2 + 6H2O -> photosynthesis -> C6H12O6 + 6O2), it seems to me that the students are right to suggest that most of a tree’s mass is brought up from the soil (in the form of water). Six atoms of oxygen plus twelve of hydrogen definitely out-mass six atoms of carbon.

Or am I missing something?

There ensued some discussion about the atomic weights of carbon dioxide and water in order to determine whether the water from the soil is more responsible for the biomass or the carbon dioxide from the air. This is a much more productive and scientific discussion, one that actually really occurred in the scientific examination of photosynthesis and biomass.

Looking at the mass equation – which is greatly simplified but useful for discussion – one sees that oxygen is released at the end. Where does the oxygen come from – the carbon dioxide or the water? Even Wikipedia tells us – the released oxygen comes from the water. The only mass water contributes is its hydrogens.

This is one of the key discoveries regarding the process of photosynthesis. Anyone learning about this should remember that bit of data. I remembered this and the last class I took on photosynthesis was 30 years ago.

Biology students should remember this. Water is simply used as an electron donor. Other molecules can substitute for water in photochemical reactions using carbon dioxide.

And the experiments that were designed to show this is true – work that any student should have been taught – demonstrate wonderfully how the scientific method works and the underlying principles for discovery. How do we determine where the oxygen comes from? We use radioactively labeled oxygen in the carbon dioxide or in the water. When the radioactive oxygen is in the carbon dioxide, radioactivity stays in the plant. When the radioactive oxygen is in the water, radioactivity is released into the surround air.

So, to anyone who is taking science courses in biology and who is learning to think in a ‘scientific’ way should have been able to answer the question properly. The largest portion of the biomass comes from the incorporation of both carbon and oxygen from carbon dioxide.

Unfortunately, very few students were able to think these questions through in a way that brought their scientific reasoning to bear. They simply answered with what seemed like the best answer – the ‘obvious’ one, the ‘intuitive’ one – without engaging the parts of the brains most important for scientific thinking. They made a leap to the conclusion without fully analyzing the data provided.

Or they did look at the data provided but forgot the data they had learned and were unable to combine them in a way to discern whether C or D was most correct.

Thus the need to do better with scientific education. Scientific thinking require a rigor and attention to the systems details that is very different from the sorts of thinking we do to live our daily lives. Now we need to do a better job achieving that.

Eventually the truth catches up with denialists

barnum by FontShop

: BMJ calls Andrew Wakefield a fraud

[Via Bad Astronomy]

This is HUGE: The BMJ, an online medical journal, has accused Andrew Wakefield — the hero of the modern antivaccination movement — of being “a fraud”.

The skeptic and medical community have been hammering Wakefield for years; his study linking vaccines and autism was shaky from the start, and he suffered a series of humiliating defeats last year: the Lancet medical journal withdrew his paper, he was struck off the UK General Medical Council’s register, and was found to have acted unethically.

Of course, the word “fraud” implies intent; when writing about Wakefield I had my suspicions, but always wrote as if he were just wrong, and not deliberately lying to vulnerable parents.

But deliberate fraud is what he’s now accused of. Brian Deer, an investigative journalist, has written a multi-part series on the BMJ site which slams Wakefield. Fiona Godlee, BMJ’s editor-in-chief, also writes about this… and just to be clear, she uses the word “fraud” nine times in her editorial. Not surprisingly, it’s been picked up by several news outlets like CNN, MSNBC, and ABC.

Deer has been on Wakefield’s case a long time, and has been critical in exposing Wakefield’s shenanigans. Wakefield and the antivaxxers have attacked Deer many times, but their accusations are as hollow as the claims of links of autism to vaccinations. And let’s be clear: vaccines don’t cause autism.

[More]

The anti-vaccine movement gained a lot of momentum from Wakefield work, now described as fraudulent. How much money was wasted on work trying to debunk his unethical work? He received over $600,000 by lawyers for producing these results.

But I expect him to still make quite a bit of money off of the anti-vaccine movement. I guess Barnum was correct.


Tablets, phones and computers live in a complex ecosystem now

CES: Analysts grow skeptical of iPad competitors due to iTunes
[Via AppleInsider]

Two analysts monitoring the tablet extravaganza at CES have issued reports indicating that euphoria about new tablets outside of Apple’s iPad may fall short of expectations because those products lack the iPad’s extensive App Store software library and access to the wide range of media in the “digital ecosystem” of iTunes.



[More]

Apple has created a single ecosystem that can support devices from phones to tablets to laptops to desktops. There are app stores for each, with developers able to write to each. No other tablet manufacturer has anything similar. Nor a phone maker. Nor a PC maker.

This is the added bonus to what Apple has created. If some great new app is developed for an iPhone, it can easily be moved to every other type of mobile device as well as laptops with minimal effort. We cab play Angry Birds on iPods, iPhones, iPads and Macs.

No other ‘environment’ can accomplish this.

Someone else discusses Microsoft’s difficulties

steve ballmer by Microsoft Sweden

Microsoft’s tablet could take years, stirring doubts about Windows tablets beating out Apple’s iPad
[Via MacDailyNews]

“Instead of unveiling an elegant response to the iPad, Microsoft came to the tech industry’s premier gadget show with a collection of exposed computer guts,” Jessica Mintz reports for The Associated Press.

[More]

And they weren’t very nice about it either. As I mentioned earlier, MS is doing great in the gaming world. Not so well elsewhere. This analyst does not seem impressed by the virtual demo of a tablet which may still be years away. Their phone strategy is a mess and the duopoly of Wintel may be at an end.

But here is why a lot of analysts are pretty stinging int heir criticisms:

Mintz continues, “It’s hard for anyone to applaud Microsoft without noting the threats posed by the growing popularity of Apple Inc.’s iPad. It’s also hard to see Windows as a tablet contender amid an onslaught of new tablets running Google Inc.’s Android software… Those concerns have been weighing on Microsoft stock, which has hovered around the $20 to $30 range for the past decade. Apple, on the other hand, has seen its share price more than triple since the first iPhone was announced in early 2007. Last year, Apple’s market capitalization surpassed Microsoft’s, making Apple the second-largest U.S. public company after Exxon Mobil Corp.”

It always comes down to stock price. Since 2007, MS is down almost 3% and Apple is up 255%. Since Ballmer took over in 2000, MS stock has lost half its value while Apple’s has gone up 10-fold.

I wonder who they will get to replace him, as if that would really make any difference.

I imagine some Mac App Store developers are very happy also

mac app store by Rob Boudon

Apple Mac App Store downloads top 1 million in 1st day; Steve Jobs ‘amazed at incredible response’
[Via MacDailyNews]

Apple today announced that over one million apps have been downloaded from the Mac App Store…

[More]

Considering everyone had to also download a new update to OS X in order to even access the Mac App Store, this is pretty amazing. I expect I will overcome my normal hesitancy about new OS updates and download 10.6.6 later today.

And 1 million downloads with only 1000 apps available. What happens when the app environment really takes off and there are 100,000 apps.

But as one of the commenters mentioned, even people who have been buying software for the Mac since the 80s are now easily finding apps they had not heard about. I think some of the social networking aspects of this (yop 10 lists, etc.) will drve a lot of sales.

That plus the impulse pricing.

The PC era ends with MS as a gaming company?

This:

Microsoft Sold 8 Million Kinects in 60 Days
[Via Daring Fireball]

Very impressive. Seems like Xbox has taken a decided lead over PS3. But announcing this makes it all the more glaring that they still haven’t released any sales numbers for Windows Phone 7.

[More]

Coupled with this:

Microsoft’s Tablet Strategy

[Via Daring Fireball]

Matt Rosoff:

Earlier today, computer maker Asus kicked off the Consumer Electronics Show a day early by announcing four upcoming tablet computers. Three of them run Google’s Android operating system. One runs Windows 7. See if you can guess which one is the outlier:

  • Eee Pad MeMO: starts at $499
  • Eee Pad Slider: starts at $499
  • Eee Pad Transformer: starts at $399
  • Eee Slate: starts at $999

I get the feeling Microsoft knows they have a big problem here. They need to shut up, get to work, and build a real tablet OS — and they know it. The problem is they can’t completely shut up. The iPad is too big a sensation, and is attracting a bunch of competitors, almost none of which are using a Microsoft OS. But they were way more blustery about “slates” at last year’s CES than they were at this year’s.

[More]

Leads to this:

Horace Dediu on the Real News From CES
[Via Daring Fireball]

Horace Dediu:

At this year’s CES two unthinkable things happened:

  1. The abandonment of Windows exclusivity by practically all of Microsoft’s OEM customers.
  2. The abandonment of Intel exclusivity by Microsoft for the next generation of Windows.

Many of Microsoft’s customers chose to use an OS product from Microsoft’s arch enemy. Some chose to roll their own. Microsoft, in turn, chose to port its OS to an architecture from Intel’s arch enemy.

These actions confirm the end of the PC era.

[More]

They are doing great in the video game hardware/software side of things but no word on how their phone is doing. Their tablet strategy is not competitive. The exclusivity of the PC era – which provided them much of their profits – is at an end.

What happens when the new environment and innovation that will come from the various app stores destroys their Office dominance?

Seems like the only thing they have that people want are Xboxes, kinect and ancillary software. But about 90% of Microsoft’s revenues come from other areas.

I wonder what Ballmer is going to do about it?

Apple – free as in speech; Google – free as in beer

beer by DeusXFlorida

Google’s Android is not about creating a great mobile platform or devices
[Via MacDailyNews]

“Google is building Android not so they can make great mobile devices and sell them to consumers,” Kyle Baxter writes for TightWind. “Rather, they are making them for these two simple reasons: (1) to disrupt Apple’s growing dominance of mobile devices, both so Google doesn’t have to rely on Apple for access to their users and to eliminate their paid-for application model; and (2) so Google can control the mobile industry and thus secure advertising from it.”

[More]

More on the report I discussed earlier. Google wants everything to be free and only supported by ads. That is how it makes its money. So it will create environments where ads are the ONLY way for developers to make money. They have little or no say over the worth of their product – Google gets to set the rates and determine what the apps are ‘worth.’ To recoup development costs, software engineers will be totally beholden to Google’s rates for ads.

That is where Google’s ‘free’ approach is moving towards.

Google’s approach neither services their users nor developers in ways that provide much freedom for either. Users get software for free but have to put up with ads. The developers then have no choice but to use ads to support their work but not in a way that really allows them to use a free market to determine price. They are stuck with whatever Google decides to pay for ad-cicks. They will not be able to lower prices to increase sales. The only way to increase revenue is to get Google to raise ad rates.

Google maintains complete control over all transactions that are allowed to occur.

On the iOS store, the developers are free to determine price and the user is free to decide how much they want to pay. There are free, light versions of software that may be ad-driven. There are also versions that cost money but have added benefits, such as no ads. The developers are free to have sales, where they lower prices and are able to judge where to set the price. They can increase sales by lowering the price.

The market place eventually finds the proper place based on interactions between the seller and the buyer. It is a true bazaar where Apple only takes a cut of the transaction but really does not care how the transaction is made. It acts simply as a broker, not as an integral part of the course of the transactions.

In Google’s world, they want to control all of the transactions, driving them all through its ads filter so it can make money. Direct interaction between seller and buyer is increasingly discouraged.

This explains why Google is fine with getting in bed with big media to cripple net neutrality. It really does not care about open access. It cares about eyeballs and if Verizon or Comcast can deliver more eyeballs, that is the direction it will try and head. It needs controlled access through its ad-prism in order to survive. As long as it controls the eyeballs, it makes money.

There is irony in the fact that the walled community Apple has created may be a more open market that better services both developer and customer than Google’s community built on more open standards. It demonstrates that Open Software does require that the resulting marketplaces are free – free as in freedom, not beer. Libre vs. Gratis.

Google gives us free software (gratis) but with restrictions that both users and developers have little control over. Apple gives us software that we are free (libre) to buy or not, without outside restrictions on the transactions.

The world is more complex than many people want it to be. I would rather live in a world where the market place is free (libre) hosted by a broker who simply gets paid based upon the transactions that freely occur than where the market place is free (gratis) but controlled by an organization with its own, divergent needs.

Android phones text the wrong person without you knowing it

texting by kamshots

Android still has horrible text messaging bugs that’ll get you fired, busted, or otherwise embarrassed
[Via Engadget]

Pardon us if the headline is a little sensational, but this is one that we’ve personally experienced — and it’s not pretty. For at least the last couple versions, Android has been plagued with a couple extremely serious bugs in its text messaging subsystem that can ultimately end up causing you to text the wrong contact — even contacts that you’ve never texted before. There appear to be a few failure modes; the one we definitely experience on the Gingerbread-powered Nexus S involves being routed to the wrong thread when you tap it either in the Notifications list or the master thread list in the Messaging application, so if you don’t notice, you’ll end up firing a message to the wrong person.


More seriously, though, there’s also an open issue in Android’s bug tracking system — inexplicably marked “medium” priority — where sent text messages can appear to be in the correct thread and still end up being sent to another contact altogether. In other words, unless you pull up the Message Details screen after the fact, you might not even know the grievous act you’ve committed until your boss, significant other, or best friend — make that former best friend — texts you back. There seem to have been some attempts on Google’s part over the year to fix it; we can’t confirm that it still happens in 2.3, but for what it’s worth, the issue hasn’t been marked resolved in Google Code… and it was opened some six months ago.

[More]

Well, if this is something that happens at all, it raises real concerns. Texting stuff to the wrong person really reduces the entire benefit of an Android phone. The fact that they have not fixed it yet is also of concern.

This just plays into the meme that everything Google does is really Beta at best.

This also makes Antennagate look quite tame.

A trillion dollar company and no leaks

Why Apple will be the first company to achieve a trillion dollar market cap
[Via MacDailyNews]

Apple is the dream company we always wished for when we were children…

[More]

The first trillion dollar company and yet it also has been able to strictly control leaks. HOw does such a large, well capitalized company maintain such innovation while preventing that innovation from being leaked?

Wikileaks and Assange do not think that should be possible. I’d love to know how Apple has organized itself to be innovative, accurately predict how many units it will sell and actually get the millions of devices made without leaks and without the iron domination usually needed to prevent them.

True Grit – best movie of the year or best movie of all time?

cowboys by anyjazz65

The Virtue of “True Grit”
[Via Big Think]

Let me recommend to you this fine review of this season’s best movie. Once again, I think the Coen brothers more than flirt with nihilism. The murderous violence of the film is, deep down, senseless, and the girl’s’ quest for justice defined as vengeance most misguided. Still, two bounty hunters …

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Also read this great analysis at the NYT. I’m not a professional at this but I think True Grit s one of the best movies made in the last decade. Avatar was a great movie, not because of the characters it created, which were pretty stereotypical, but because of the amazing landscape it placed them in. True Grit is great because it it puts amazing characters into a stereotypical landscape, one that helps inform us about ourselves in surprising ways.

While seemingly very simple, it provides such a complex examination of both our past and present, with characters who are simultaneously human and inhumane, that we have to watch it more than once to catch the nuances. And, in a way not often seen in Coen Brothers movies, it taps into our soft emotions and needs in ways that are seldom done as gracefully. I have laughed at Coen Brothers’ movies before and I have gotten teary eyes once or twice. But I was having to hold back body wrenching sobs in this one so that I would not embarrass my wife and son.

This is the first Coen Brothers movie I would call touching.

True Grit, as presented by the Coen Bothers and by the original book, is a classic bildungsroman, a story that examines a child’s journey into adulthood. We see the world through Mattie’s eyes as she goes on the journey that will define the rest of her life. The twist is that generally the journey ends by the protagonist becoming acclimated to society’s wants, no longer rebelling against them. Here, it is society and its people who change, essentially becoming the people Mattie wants them to be.

This movie is the first ruthlessly straightforward great Western of the last decade, if not longer. It reminded me in many way of the purity of The Outlaw Josey Wales, occupying a similar time period after the Civil War, when what was right and what was moral were still in flux. This movie presents some things that are much more deeply engrained in America than the very fun trifle that was the John Wayne version.

We see Mattie Ross enter into the American Frontier, the western edge of Arkansa. Young, like America, yet she has a firmness of view that will, in the end, get her what she wants. The world around her is in chaos, with good men being killed for no good reason, bad men going off scot-free and society not giving a whit.

She effectively takes Rooster and LaBoeuf, a drunkard and a braggart respectively and turns them into heroic icons by the end. While they do what they do for their own reasons, Mattie has crafted those reasons to fit her own. Better than she could have known, as her own survival becomes dependent on that very craftwork. (The true genius of the Coen Brothers and their cinematographer, Roger Deakins, was never more apparent than in the heroism of Rooster at the end. I still tear up thinking about it. It is the single most emotionally charged scene they have ever done.)

Her point of view not only transformed the two men into better shadows of themselves, at least for an instant, but also was ultimately responsible for the effective establishment of what we would call American morality.

In a twist on the normal narrative, Mattie is really no different at the end of the movie than at the beginning, although she pays a strong physical price for that. But the world is different. She is still unbending in her view of right, of who has true grit. We can see it in her encounter at the end with Cole Younger and Frank James – one she treats respectfully and the other she despises. But her viewpoint changed the world.

And, as with all great Westerns, her journey is a journey of the United States.

The Coen Brothers demonstrate here just how important Westerns are to understanding America. The great ones resonate with us in ways no other genre can. Stagecoach, Red River, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven – all tell us about our country and why we want it to be what it is.

So does this version of True Grit, because it does more than simply show us the West. It helps us understand why we are the way we are. Mainly because Mattie’s view of true grit won the day.

The craftsmanship of the Coen Brothers has never been on better display. They are operating at the peak of their abilities, providing us with a narrative that never seems unlikely or artificial. While I adore many of their earlier movies, that was one telltale aspect of their work – its obvious artifice. I always knew I was watching characters on a screen. In other Coen Brother movies, I often felt that the characters were doing what the Bothers had decided for them to do. That was the artifice. It was genius and wonderfully done by always had a slightly oddly artificial quality to them.

Not this movie. The surprise of True Grit is that I never thought that at all. The characters seemed so real and such a real part of the environment. The characters did what THEY had to do, not what the Brothers decided for them to do. It is almost as if they are now so confident in their craft that they no longer have to put ‘their’ imprint on the movie, creating a seamless masterpiece that is wholly their creation, yet not.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon both show that in an earlier time, they could have owned the Western genre. We love them so much that one of the hardest things the movie does is not let us say goodbye to them. They both float offstage without a final bow. Noone but us and Mattie know of their heroism.

Bridges was wonderful in Crazy Heart last year, revealing that a career that started with Academy Award nominations will also end with them. Jeff Bridges is one of 6 men who won an Academy Award after the age of 60 and the only one who arguably won it for his acting in that movie, rather than rewarding a career. John Wayne won an Oscar for True Grit at the age of 62. It would be wonderful if Jeff Bridges won his second post-60 Oscar for the same role. He does deserve it because I think he was better in this role than in Crazy Heart.

And Hailee Steinfeld may be burdened with this standout role her whole career. She so wholly occupied the persona of Mattie that we may easily see her as anything else. Her performance is what makes the entire movie possible. The casting by Jo Edna Boldin, Ellen Chenoweth and Rachel Tenner should also win some awards.

I really do not see how the Coen Brothers can top this but if they can, we are in for some incredible work ahead, even if they only come close.

Roland Emmerich never mentioned this in the film 2012

201012281725.jpg by John E. Lester

Giant spaceships to attack December 2012?
[Via Bad Astronomy]

Are there three giant spaceships on their way to Earth, dooming us to extinction when they arrive in — gasp! — December 2012?

Duh. No.

But you might think otherwise reading an article about this on The Examiner’s website. It documents the three spaceships, shows images, and even has quotes from a SETI astrophysicist!

SETI Astrophysicist Craig Kasnov (not to be confused with Craig Kasnoff ) has announced the approach to the Earth of 3 very large, very fast moving objects. The length of the “flying saucers” is in the range of tens of kilometers. Landing, according to calculations of scientists, should be in mid-December 2012. Date coincides with the end of the Mayan calendar.

There are some teeny, tiny, problems with this story, though. Like, the “spaceships” are actually image defects and aren’t real, there’s no way to figure out how big they from the picture, and the “astrophysicist” quoted in the article doesn’t even exist.

But gee, other than that…

[More]

Man, sometimes the beatdown from a scientist who knows his stuff just makes the internets so worthwhile! The Examiner article describes a spaceship that can only be seen using a blue filter – it is not present using a red filter, whose size indicates it is much closer to us than the moon, has been there since the 90s and is described by a SETI scientist no one knows about.

This one is so easily debunked that I expect it to become viral any day now amongst a certain type of denier who takes facts presented by scientists as proof of a conspiracy. Particularly when dealing with 2012.

But wouldn’t it make a kickass sequel? Someone should do a mashup of 2012 and independence Day.

Wikileaks and Apple – why does Apple not leak anymore?

[Crossposted at SpreadingScience]

steve jobs by Collin Allen

Wikileaks: traditional liberalism with balls?
[Via Boing Boing]

The mainstream media likes to suggest, with a nudge and a wink and abuse of the word “cyber,” that Wikileaks represents a radical ideological position. But if there’s a moral crusade to be found, maybe it’s rooted in a tradition closer to home: classical Western liberal-democratic principles.

In The New Republic, Noam Scheiber takes for granted that Wikileaks is here to stay, with relentless pressure on big business and big government that permanently hampers their ability to prevent leaks. This will result in smaller, more humane organizations.

I have no idea what size organization is optimal for preventing leaks, but, presumably, it should be small enough to avoid wide-scale alienation, which clearly excludes big bureaucracies. Ideally, you’d want to stay small enough to preserve a sense of community, so that people’s ties to one another and the leadership act as a powerful check against leaking.

To make this point, Scheiber reminds us that Wikileaks’ stated aim–making organizations operate more ethically–is a mainstream one: “It’s easier for honest CEOs to run an honest business, if the dishonest businesses are more affected negatively by leaks than honest businesses,” he quotes Julian Assange.

Scheiber’s argument seems to be that Wikileaks’ disclosures could have more subtle and far-reaching effects on organizations than it expects.

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Apple demonstrates today the sort of company Scheiber discusses. Maybe it is because Jobs hates leaks.

Scheiber’s article is one that should be read by everyone. It is a very important one in its implications. Wikileaks, and the ideas behind it, may alter how businesses work and adapt. It touches on some of the ideas of David Brin in The Transparent Society – the same technologies that permit the powerful to spy on us can, and should, be used to spy on the powerful.

Scheiber postulates, and I agree, that the inability of large companies to stem leaks may result in the greater proliferation of corporate ‘cells – it is easier to control the flow in smaller groups without stemming the tide totally. Inefficiencies in small groups can be overcome when needed. In larger groups, it can be deadly.

Luckily, we also have the ability today for smaller organizations to leverage the abilities of others to succeed. The small biotech company I was VP, Research at had perhaps 3 of us who were working in the lab. But we did not need more because we could have other companies do the sequencing for us – no need for a core facility with tens of people. We could have other companies synthesize DNA for us – no need for a core facility with tens of people. We were able to accomplish great work with a company with 10-20 fold fewer people than it would have taken just 10 years earlier.

So, there will be business pressures to become smaller and more adaptive as well as information pressures.

That is why I think Apple is the first of its kind – a truly large company that has somehow maintained the abilty for small company adaptability. It acts small, has research abilities that are far beyond the modest number of people it has doing R&D. It is able to run rings consistently around other companies. It is one of the largest companies by capital value on the planet yet it acts like a startup.

I don’t know all the details of why but we all know that Jobs is the reason. But I think part of the way this new sort of company came about was because of Jobs’ reaction to leaks.

Apple used to leak like a sieve with whole websites devoted to writing about them. Jobs pretty much stopped that, so much so that a lost iPhone became a cause celebré.

One would have expected this sort of iron control on information leaks would have harmed Apple. Most organizations respond to by clamping down on information flow but, and this is especially true of large ones, this is like giving themselves a lobotomy. Information flow slows, making it very hard to make good decisions and adapt properly to changing conditions.

That is what Assange claims he wants to do with Wikileaks – cause the old dinosaurs to react in ways that result in their own downfall.

Well, Apple shut down leaks and actually became a better and stronger company. I’d love to know the details but I expect that Jobs actually implemented some of what Scheiber discusses. Break the groups down into more manageable units and use pressures to make leaking a violation of social mores.

Of course, this is a two way street and these same social mores can push back on the company to be more ethical, etc. Even the smallest group is open to leaks when some feel the company is acting unethically. It all becomes a system of controls and feedbacks that does not harm the information flow needed to adapt.

I believe that when it is all said and done, we will discover that the same things that ended most of Apple’s leaks also led to a large amount of their success. That somehow Jobs’ response actually did not stifle creativity but enhanced it.

If we can replicate this elsewhere, then things like Wikileaks would not need to be feared by most organizations. In fact, Wikileaks would become irrelevant for the vast majority of us.

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