Monday, September 13, 2004

technical issues in the news

boy howdy, the major media just acts ignorant when it comes to technical issues. Two recent issues have made this clear to me. First, the allegations, started at Little Green footballs and other right wing blogs, that the Killian memos must have been faked. As is typical with this kind of allegation, the basis of the allegation is a combination of lies, innuendo, and flawed reasoning.

All of the arguments are based on the supposition that the memos could have been forged by MS Word. This is a patently false supposition. It took me about five memos of typing to reach this conclusion.

An example:

"The probability that any technology in existence in 1972 would be capable of producing a document that is nearly pixel-compatible with Microsoft’s Times New Roman font and the formatting of Microsoft Word, and that such technology was in casual use at the Texas Air National Guard, is so vanishingly small as to be indistinguishable from zero."

Problem: the CBS memos are not pixel-compatible. They are close, but they do not match.

At this point I would ask anybody who really cares to consider the difference between the
following two letters:

l and l.

The letter on the left is what is produced by MS Word using the Times New Roman font. The CBS memos were printed in some font that is very similar to Times New Roman. Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, the 'l' in the CBS memos looks like the letter on the right, which is from Courier.

The thing to notice here is the serif in each letter. "Serif" is the technical word for the top bar of a letter like 'l'.
In Times New Roman, the serif is diagonal. In the memo, the serif is horizontal.

That's the end of the argument. I'm tired of hearing crap about how the two memos are virtually identical. They are not. What I've shown is one example of the difference - others exist also. The CBS memos, for example, do not have character homogeneity. A number of different characters look differently within the document itself!! It is virtually impossible to achieve this kind of behavior with a word processor, but would happen naturally with a typewriter.

Now I run into the usual problem dealing with truculent wingers - they refuse to let go of a hypothesis.

Consider the main source of my irritation, the Washington Post, which, incredibly, decided to make this a front-page story based on an Internet rumor.

After leading with the exciting blurb "Documents unearthed by CBS News that raise doubts about whether President Bush fulfilled his obligations to the Texas Air National Guard include several features suggesting that they were generated by a computer or word processor rather than a Vietnam War-era typewriter, experts said yesterday. "

Then they have about eight paragraphs of filler that doesn't say much interesting about why anybody would think it would be a forgery. Then we have
"An examination of the documents by The Post shows that they are formatted differently from other Texas Air National Guard documents whose authenticity is not questioned. "

That's like saying Yankees are baseball players. Yankees wear pinstripes. Strangely, Manny Ramirez does not wear pinstripes. *suspicious expression*

Well, duh, so what.

  • "William Flynn, a forensic document specialist with 35 years of experience in police crime labs and private practice, said the CBS documents raise suspicions because of their use of proportional spacing techniques. Documents generated by the kind of typewriters that were widely used in 1972 space letters evenly across the page, so that an "i" uses as much space as an "m." In the CBS documents, by contrast, each letter uses a different amount of space. "

This is a poorly worded sentences. "Documents generated by the kind of typewriters that were widely used in 1972..." at this point the phrase "kind of typewriters" is undefined, but it is suggested that proportional fonts are somehow uncommon. Well, so what? The Gutenberg Bible has an unusual font; that fact alone does not mean that it's a forgery.

  • "While IBM had introduced an electric typewriter that used proportional spacing by the early 1970s, it was not widely used in government. "
It doesn't matter if it is widely used or not. We have a document. We know it exists. Unless you can prove that it is impossible for it to have been created in the 1970s, a likelihood argument is useless here. Unlikely things happen all the time. Grrr...innumeracy rears its ugly head again.

  • "In addition, Flynn said, the CBS documents appear to use proportional spacing both across and down the page, a relatively recent innovation."
I would disagree about whether proportional spacing is used down the page.

  • "Other anomalies in the documents include the use of the superscripted letters "th" in phrases such as 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Bush's unit. "
As has been amptly demonstrated by now, the "th" superscript is seen in other documents. No, the other "th" doesn't look the same. So what?

When I read an argument like this, I have to wonder if I'm the only person who remembers the 1970s. Back in the 1970s, they had these magical devices known as electric typewriters, and electric typewriters used a ball to type, and often on such a ball, there would be special characters for commonly used symbols, like "th".

And this is on the front page of the Washington Post!

  • "It would be nearly impossible for all this technology to have existed at that time," said Flynn, who runs a document-authentication company in Phoenix.
What the hell does this mean? Either the technology existed at the time, or it didn't! This isn't a likelihood question. If Mr. Flynn were really providing expert analysis, he would not use a phrase like "it would be nearly impossible for all this technology to have existed at that time." The phrasing here means "I have no fucking idea what I'm talking about." If he knows that the technology didn't exist, then he would simply say "The technology didn't exist at the time." This "nearly impossible" caveat is chickenshit. Had the Post cared about the veracity of this story, they could have simply done 5 minutes of research checking the website of IBM. They would have found out that the technology did exist at the time - IBM Selectric Composers and IBM Executives could both have printed this document.

  • "Other experts largely concurred. Phil Bouffard, a forensic document examiner from Cleveland, said the font used in the CBS documents appeared to be Times Roman, which is widely used by word-processing programs but was not common on typewriters. "

Who cares if it was common or not? You would think one media source insinuating that another major source is presenting a forgery would give a little credit to the second media source. But no..somebody at the Post (*cough* Howard Kurtz) has a hunch that the documents "look forged" and then decides that this must be front-page news.

The second issue is the latest Time poll, that has 52% Bush voters and 40% Gore voters. Why did nobody at Time check the poll for bias?

Friday, June 25, 2004


Idea is: boldface for movies seen in theatre, italics for movies seen on video.

I think I've seen most of these.

1. Titanic (1997) $600,779,824 - I still think there should be a sequel.
2. Star Wars (1977) $460,935,665 Lucas's glory days.
3. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) $434,949,459 Found it unbearably sweet at the time - I was 14!
4. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) $431,065,444 Die, Jar Jar, Die!
5. Spider-Man (2002) $403,706,375 Not bad - I like the whole idea of Spiderman as wimpy teenager.
6. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The (2003) $377,019,252 - About 20 minutes too long at the end, but otherwise terrific.
7. Passion of the Christ, The (2004) $370,025,697 - no intent on seeing this anytime in the foreseeable future
8. Jurassic Park (1993) $356,784,000 Sam Jackson sent off to check the circuit breaker in the electrical hut?
9. Shrek 2 (2004) $356,211,000 - approaches, but doesn't cross, the border to "unbearably sweet".
10. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The (2002) $340,478,898 - Ents! But why have Legolas use a shield as a surfboard? Grrr..
11. Finding Nemo (2003) $339,714,367 - still haven't seen whole thing.
Like Ellen DeGeneres's fish.
12. Forrest Gump (1994) $329,691,196 - WAY overrated. Glorifying stupidity? Bad idea! (See 1600 Pa. Ave.)
13. Lion King, The (1994) $328,423,001 - never seen. '94 was a transitional year.
14. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) $317,557,891 - Enjoyed. Good start to the series
15. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The (2001) $313,837,577. Great to see LotR on the big screen!
16. Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002) $310,675,583 - CGI Yoda? This reviewer says "No!" And a second actor fails at playing Annakin Skywalker.
17. Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983) $309,125,409 - Die, Ewoks! Die! The first sign that Lucas cared more about marketing than moviemaking.
18. Independence Day (1996) $306,124,059 - Good thing the aliens didn't use Linux, eh?
19. Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) $305,411,224 Lotsa fun.
20. Sixth Sense, The (1999) $293,501,675 Sadly, somebody had half-given away the secret before I saw this.
21. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980) $290,158,751 Best Star Wars movie.
22. Home Alone (1990) $285,761,243 More evidence of a godless universe.
23. Matrix Reloaded, The (2003) $281,492,479 - I thought this meant that the third movie was going to be great. I was wrong. Loved the albino vampires.
24. Shrek (2001) $267,652,016 - Enjoyed a lot.
25. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) $261,970,615
The flying car chase sequence was silly. Good thing new director was brought in for Harry III.
26. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) $260,031,035 Animated version is much, much better.
27. Jaws (1975) $260,000,000 Kids today don't know just how scary this movie was.
28. Monsters, Inc. (2001) $255,870,172 - didn't inspire me.
29. Batman (1989) $251,188,924 Nicholson stole the movie - a bad sign for the sequels considering that the Joker died at the end.
30. Men in Black (1997) $250,147,615 Fun. Whatever happened to Linda Fiorentino??
31. Toy Story 2 (1999) $245,823,397 - probably will see this someday.
32. Bruce Almighty (2003) $242,589,580 A good movie for Jim Carrey.
33. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) $242,374,454. Everybody together, "They're digging in the wrong place!"
34. Twister (1996) $241,700,000 Helen Hunt's best movie.
(Is that jib at 'As Good as it Gets' too subtle?)
35. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) $241,437,427 - boycott!
36. Ghost Busters (1984) $238,600,000 - In 1984, this was da bomb. Hasn't aged well.
37. Beverly Hills Cop (1984) $234,760,500 What ever happened to Eddie Murphy? It's like he stopped doing comedy at his 30th birthday.
38. Cast Away (2000) $233,630,478 Another overrated Tom Hanks movie
39. Lost World: Jurassic Park, The (1997) $229,074,524. Well, at least it wasn't as bad as the second sequel.
40. Signs (2002) $227,965,690 Lame!
41. Rush Hour 2 (2001) $226,138,454 - disappointing. Expected more from Chan and Tucker.
42. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) $219,200,000 - cross-dressing isn't that funny. Don't you think you'd recognize your spouse of many years, even if he was in drag?
43. Ghost (1990) $217,631,306 - refusal to see this led to fight with then-girlfriend. In retrospect, I was right.
44. Aladdin (1992) $217,350,219 - back when the new Disney animation was exciting! Didn't last that long.
45. Saving Private Ryan (1998) $216,119,491. Should have ended movie after the storming of Normandy. The rest of the film was crap.
46. Mission: Impossible II (2000) $215,397,307 - do you think the IM team ever noticed that the only villains they had to face were rogue agents?
47. X2 (2003) $214,948,780 Halle Berry? Underutilized.
48. Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002) $213,079,163 - OK for TV watching.
49. Back to the Future (1985) $210,609,762 - who can forget the flying DeLorean?
50. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) $205,399,422 -
Fat Bastard really didn't strike me as funny.
51. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) $204,843,350. Buff Linda Hamilton!
52. Exorcist, The (1973) $204,565,000 - Saw it on Georgetown campus in 1986. - I'm counting this as 'in theatre'. I enjoy this a lot, though it has moved to 'camp'.
53. Mummy Returns, The (2001) $202,007,640 The Mummy didn't need to return.
54. Armageddon (1998) $201,573,391 - My first viewing was in German w/o subtitles. Later, I saw it in English. The German version was better. Understanding the dialogue only made me realize how silly this film was.
55. Gone with the Wind (1939) $198,655,278 Watched on TV back in the 70s. Scarlett is real annoying.
56. Pearl Harbor (2001) $198,539,855 - how could I pass up an opportunity to skip an Affleck film?
57. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
58. Toy Story (1995) $191,800,000 - Enjoyed this one.
59. Men in Black II (2002) $190,418,803 Again - what happened to Linda Fiorentino?
60. Gladiator (2000) $187,670,866 Wait - this won the Oscar for best film? No way. You're kidding, right? OK as a popcorn movie, but then something went horribly wrong.
61. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) $184,925,485
62. Dances with Wolves (1990) $184,208,848 - What ever happened to Kevin Costner?
63. Batman Forever (1995) $184,031,112 - Series started going downhill when they decided they needed to keep adding more and more costars.
64. Fugitive, The (1993) $183,875,760 Fun movie.
65. Ocean's Eleven (2001) $183,405,771 I think I watched this three times on a flight back from Europe. Fun, silly.
66. What Women Want (2000) $182,805,123 I want those two hours back.
67. Perfect Storm, The (2000) $182,618,434 - Saw this one in Interlaken, Switzerland. Laughed out loud when Gloucesterites were described as stubborn.
68. Liar Liar (1997) $181,395,380
69. Grease (1978) $181,360,000 Why, after the success of Grease, have there been so few musicals? This one hit the jackpot.
70. Jurassic Park III (2001) $181,166,115 I'm with WH Macy - this movie never happened. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
71. Mission: Impossible (1996) $180,965,237 OK, everybody enjoyed it when they killed off Emilio Estevez. But did they have to kill off Kristin Scott Thomas? And why keep that freaky girl with the big lips around?
72. Planet of the Apes (2001) $180,011,740 - Like many, I was suckered. Still, H B-C is sexy even as a chimp.
73. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) $179,870,271 - The movie that created the PG-13 rating.
74. Pretty Woman (1990) $178,406,268 - At the top of the list of "Movies glorifying prostitutes". So shameless in its silliness that no other movie has since dared the genre.
75. Tootsie (1982) $177,200,000 - see Mrs. Doubtfire comments for my feelings about movies with "guys in drag".
76. Top Gun (1986) $176,781,728 - Mad Max, Top Gun. Lesson learned? Not a good idea to take the nickname "Goose". Homoerotic volleyball game is adored by the chicks.
77. There's Something About Mary (1998) $176,483,808 Funny!
78. Ice Age (2002) $176,387,405 Can we end Ray Romano's career yet?
79. Crocodile Dundee (1986) $174,635,000 Charming.
80. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) $173,585,516 Nope.
81. Elf (2003) $173,381,405 - this is really this high? Let's hear it for inflation!
82. Air Force One (1997) $172,888,056. A touch implausible. Really bad CGI at the end.
83. Rain Man (1988) $172,825,435 Who invited Tom Cruise?
84. Apollo 13 (1995) $172,071,312 Another overrated Tom Hanks movie.
85. Matrix, The (1999) $171,383,253 Where is my Trinity?
86. Beauty and the Beast (1991) $171,301,428
87. Tarzan (1999) $171,085,177
88. Beautiful Mind, A (2001) $170,708,996 and the top-grossing film about a mathematician!
89. Chicago (2002) $170,684,505 Lot's of casting mistakes here, starting with Zellwegger.
90. Three Men and a Baby (1987) $167,780,960
91. Meet the Parents (2000) $166,225,040 Waiting for the sequel, Meet the Fokkers. Been waiting for a while.
92. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)$165,500,000 - The first of many bad accents by Kevin Costner.
93. Hannibal (2001) $165,091,464 Brain is tasty! I couldn't get used to Julianne Moore as Clarice Starling.
94. Catch Me If You Can (2002) $164,435,221 Why do I keep going to these Tom Hanks movies?
95. Big Daddy (1999) $163,479,795 - saw on a plane, it wasn't bad.
96. Sound of Music, The (1965) $163,214,286 defines kitsch.
97. Batman Returns (1992) $162,831,698 Danny DeVito as the Penguin? Just saying he's no Burgess Meredith.
98. Bug's Life, A (1998) $162,792,677
99. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) $161,963,000
Much better than Harry II. Series is back on track.
100. Waterboy, The (1998) $161,487,252 -

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


A newborn blog enters the world. Doctor smacks its butt.

It's alive! Alive!

As with many things, purpose and direction to be determined later.