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Latest Flicks / PhD Comics Hits the Big Screen
« on: September 20, 2011, 05:16:30 am »
from Scientific American:

Movie makes stars out of real-life scientists

By Zoë Corbyn and Nature magazine  | September 19, 2011 | 1

The creator of the popular online comic strip "Piled Higher and Deeper" has turned it into a feature film. The PhD Movie, which opened this week at a handful of US universities, will be screened at campuses worldwide in the coming months. Nature caught up with former robotics researcher turned cartoonist Jorge Cham to find out about his film.

Why turn the comic strip into a movie?
The spark was a spoof of a Lady Gaga video put together by some scientists in Texas. It looked like so much fun. But a lot of things were pointing in that direction—for a long time people had been asking me when I would do it, and independent productions are now easier to make and distribute. I just thought it would be a great opportunity. [Click here for a selection of PhD Comics]

What is the film about?
It is a light comedy with a little bit of romance. The plot focuses mainly on two PhD students: a newbie struggling to prove himself to his professor, and another who is trying to finish her PhD and is struggling with what will happen next. As in the comic strip, you never quite find out what they are studying and you never learn the new student's name—which is meant to be a kind of metaphor for being the nameless graduate student.

How did your background help in writing it?
I got my PhD in robotics from Stanford University (in Palo Alto, California), and then I worked in a neuroscience lab at Caltech (California Institute of Technology in Pasadena). I think it helps being someone who has lived through it. I try to be as truthful as possible with the comics and the movie.

You wrote the script, but it was produced, directed and acted by actual Caltech PhD students, professors and scientists. Why not use professionals?

One of our favourite examples of Jorge Cham's work. Click for larger image.  Jorge Cham

Part of the theme of the movie is that scientists and academics are multidimensional. They aren't the awkward, geeky, nerdy caricatures that we see in popular-culture stereotypes. They have different passions and talents. I thought it would be cool artistically if the production of the movie also carried that theme. They could also relate to the material and knew how to keep it truthful. Often, people who make movies and television shows about scientists have no sense of what the reality of their lives is like.

How did you find the actors and crew?
Because I worked at Caltech for a couple of years, I knew they had a theatre department, so I approached them to see if they wanted to collaborate and they said yes. A call went out and people who were interested in all kinds of different aspects of production showed up. It was all filmed on the Caltech campus. Hardly anybody involved in this movie had ever made one before, including me.

How are you distributing the film?
The first roll-out is to hold screenings at universities. They started this week and we have lots scheduled internationally (see the list here). But it is not too late—campus groups can still contact us to arrange one. There is a screening fee for the movie that depends on institution size.

Will people find the film as funny as they find the comics?
It is a difficult leap, but I hope they will. A lot of the jokes come from the comics, but there is a little bit more heart and humanity in the movie because it has live actors.

Does the film have a message for PhD students?
Graduate school and academic institutions in general can be very isolating. People feel alone and then get depressed or drop out. The message of the movie and the comic strip is you are not alone.

Technology / Set Up a Basic Website Super Fast
« on: September 17, 2011, 04:44:52 pm »
with OnePager

If your startup is ready to throw together a simple landing page to announce yourself to the world while still in alpha or private beta – and cash is tight- check out the 3 month old, NYC-based startup Onepager.

Onepager is a super easy and simple way to create and maintain a visually appealing website.  I took it for a spin today, and it really was quick and easy to use.  You enter your company name, logo, tagline, content about who you are and what you do, and you’re good to go.  You can also add photos, a newsletter sign up, hours, contact info, and social media buttons.  This took me all of 10 minutes to do, and only because I ended up manually typing in my elevator speech and list of capabilities.

There are a bunch of options to customize the page a bit – you can choose themes, none of which I really liked, to be honest, style, and layout.  According to the founders, they plan to develop additional tools, like an analytics dashboard, email newsletter tool, and an improved on-boarding process that leverages the content you already have online.

Now, while they say the service is free on their home page, it isn’t – which is fine – free is not a sustainable business model.  The free part is temporary, but it’s only $10/month for a month-to-month subscription or $8/month if you sign up for a whole year.  Not bad, especially since you get hosting and unlimited bandwidth.

Education / Why Education Without Creativity Isn't Enough
« on: September 17, 2011, 04:40:49 pm »
By: anya kamenetz  Fast Company

Science and math won't improve U.S. job prospects. But creativity will.

Last April, when sharing a stage at Facebook with CEO Mark Zuckerberg, President Obama summed up the conventional wisdom on what's needed to shape American minds for the global marketplace. "We've got to do such a better job when it comes to STEM education," he said. "That's how we're going to stay competitive for the future." If we could just tighten standards and lean harder on the STEM disciplines--science, technology, engineering, mathematics--we'd better our rigorous rivals in India and China, and get our economy firing on all cylinders. As with much conventional wisdom, this is conventional in the worst sense of that word.

If you want the truth, talk to the competition. Phaneesh Murthy is CEO of iGate Patni, a top-10 Indian outsourcing company. Murthy oversees 26,000 employees--not the ones snapping SIM chips into cell phones or nagging you about your unpaid AmEx bill, but the ones writing iPhone apps, processing mortgage applications, and redesigning supply chains--in jobs that would be handled in the U.S. by highly paid, college-educated workers. In other words, you. Yet Murthy, a regular bogeyman of outsourcing, believes American education is by far the best in the world. "The U.S. education system is much more geared to innovation and practical application," says Murthy. "It's really good from high school onward." To compete long term, we need more brainstorming, not memorization; more individuality, not standardization.
"In India, it takes engineers two to three years to recover from the damage of the education system."

Murthy will tell you that the outsourcing industry is not some unstoppable force: It's hitting real limits. Indian engineers are not nearly as cheap or plentiful as they used to be. "Labor costs were so cheap you could always throw more people at a problem," he says. "But wages are up 14% to 15% each year for the last 20 years." A software engineer who would have earned $700 a year in the late '80s now gets roughly $12,000 a year--still a huge discount compared to the U.S., but not peanuts. Despite the lure of these higher wages, India's schools can't keep up with demand. In the late '80s, Indian software companies hired about 100 graduates a year; 25 years later, they need about 200,000 every spring, an astronomical increase in demand. And yet the supply of engineering grads has merely doubled, making it harder than ever for Murthy to compete for talent.

As a short-term solution, iGate Patni is hiring grads who majored in other disciplines, including math and physics. The company is also spending more on training, which is both a necessity and a virtue. "We've developed much stronger training programs in-house," Murthy says. "Four months of training in engineering fundamentals, and then for eight months the new hires are paired with a senior person for mentoring." This commitment to ongoing education is something U.S. companies would be smart to adopt, says Vivek Wadhwa, an entrepreneur and tech-industry scholar with appointments at the University of California, Berkeley; Duke; and Harvard Law School. "These companies have perfected the art of workforce development. At Infosys, it's four months of intensive training and an additional week of training each year. At IBM in the U.S., new hires get a day and a half of orientation and they're lucky to get a week of vacation." Wadhwa argues that such training justifies India's enormous annual wage leaps, in that workers are becoming more valuable and productive each year.

Yet this kind of corporate training can only move the needle so far. A few times during our interview, Murthy repeats, "Overall, in iGate Patni, we want to re-create the McDonald's model." This means, he explains, that the company will set forth standard routines for as much of its business as possible, to provide "a consistent level of service." This McDonald's-ization of the company would allow it to spend less on training; as creative achievements are translated into checklists and routines, the high-quality, high-pay jobs of today become the high-turnover, low-wage jobs of the future. Pity the Indian software engineer!

Education / Learn Spanish on Facebook
« on: September 17, 2011, 04:27:12 pm »
Learning a new language may have just gotten a little more social.  Washington, DC-based startup PlaySay just launched its social foreign language learning application on Facebook.

The PlaySay Facebook app uses pictures (leveraged from Flickr’s creative commons images) that can be dragged and dropped across the interface to construct and learn words and phrases. Once you complete matching an image, the word is recited to you (so have your volume on at a reasonable level). It’s currently available in Spanish only.

Technology / Add a Soundtrack to Your Reading Experience
« on: September 17, 2011, 04:22:06 pm »
        with Booktrack

Your favorite movies have their own unique soundtracks, and now your favorite books can, too. Founded by Paul Cameron, Booktrack is a startup that is changing reading – and the publishing industry – forever.

Booktrack creates synchronized soundtracks for ebooks to enhance the reader’s imagination and engagement. Combining music, sound effects and ambient sound, Booktrack’s technology automatically paces itself to an individual’s reading speed.

“It’s difficult to imagine a movie with no soundtrack; yet, until today, the technology did not exist to synchronize music and sound within an ebook,” said Paul Cameron. ”Consider the reality of tens of millions of commuters around the world listening to a playlist that’s disconnected from what they’re reading – perhaps a sad song with an upbeat story. Instead, they can now instantly replicate a movie-like sound experience with Booktrack that fundamentally transforms their reading experience.”

Booktrack has a stellar list of supporters and fans. Investors include Peter Thiel, co-founder and former CEO of PayPal, and a member of Facebook’s board of directors. Major publishing houses, such as HarperCollins, as well as the music industry giant, Sony/ATV, have partnered with Booktrack, too.

Booktrack represents an entirely new direction for the publishing industry. Composers, authors, musicians, and publishing houses are working together to create a new experience in media consumption. A new business model is emerging, too, as these formerly separate industries work together to create new products and share profits.

“It’s always exciting to witness the creation of a new form of media,” said Peter Thiel. “Booktrack’s technology promises to captivate readers in a way that will seem intuitive in hindsight, and compelling ever after.”

One of my first thoughts while reading about Booktrack was how much fun it would be to read a story to a child using this technology. My three-year-old nephew loves it when I make sound effects while reading his favorite books to him; Booktracks could really make the book come alive for him in a way that my admittedly inferior sound effects never could.

Upcoming Booktrack releases include “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Three Musketeers,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Jane Eyre,” “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and more. You can download Booktracks in the Apple App store for your iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Education / First Black Ivy League President To Step Down
« on: September 15, 2011, 02:31:07 pm »
from Uptown Magazine:

Ruth Simmons, the first black president of an Ivy League school, announced Thursday that she would be resigning at the end of the school year. She served at Brown University for 11 years.

While she was a first in Ivy League circles, she was also Brown’s first female president and the first black female president to take the top spot at a major college or university (Smith College).

In the university-wide email she states:

“I write to you in all humility to tell you of my plans to step down from the Brown presidency at the end of the current academic year and to thank you in advance for what will have been eleven deeply satisfying years at the helm of this wonderful institution. [...] I recently decided that this is the ideal time both for Brown and for me personally to begin the process of transitioning to new leadership.”

Simmons affirms that she will remain at Brown as a professor of comparative literature and Africana studies.

Sports Talk / The NCAA and the so-called student athlete
« on: September 14, 2011, 02:58:20 pm »

In The News / Every where I look...........
« on: September 14, 2011, 02:49:46 pm »

In The News / CIA cover-up
« on: September 14, 2011, 09:01:43 am »
Frontline, NYT, Maddow, 60 Min. all report CIA cover-up on 9/11 terrorists

by Valtin

For some reason, most of the progressive blogs are deep-sixing the important news surrounding the publication of former FBI Special Agent Ali Soufan's new book, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda. There are two crucial reasons to pay attention to this media event.

One: Soufan makes clear that his interrogations of Al Qaeda-suspected terrorists was interrupted multiple times by the CIA or Pentagon higher-ups in order to implement torture techniques as part of the interrogation, something that ultimately drove the FBI away from the interrogation scene at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

Two: Soufan makes clear that the CIA on multiple occasions blocked information on reaching him and other FBI agents relating to foreknowledge of Al Qaeda-suspected terrorists, including one involved in the USS Cole attack, entering the United States. Even more, they lied about informing the FBI about this, and they lied to the FBI about their even having knowledge of a major terrorist summit in Malyasia in 2000, where the 9/11 plot was presumably discussed.

Now, some of the latter material was discussed for the first time by author Lawrence Wright, and he got the Pulitzer Prize for it. (See The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.) The story is of two AQ terrorists, Khalid Al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who both died on the plane that rammed into the Pentagon. The CIA was tipped off by the NSA that Al-Mihdhar was going from the terrorist summit in Malyasia (about which CIA was giving then-National Security Advisor Sandy Berger daily briefings) to the United States.

An FBI agent, Doug Miller, working with the CIA's Alec Station, i.e., the CIA's Bin Laden station, saw a cable to this effect. But when he asked to forward the information to his superiors back at FBI headquarters, he was told not to by Alec Station's deputy chief, Tom Wilshire. Another FBI agent at Alec Station, Mark Rossini, also inquired, and was told the info was not the FBI's jurisdiction.

According to Kevin Fenton's new book, Disconnecting the Dots, Rossini felt bad about letting the whole thing go, back in early 2000, "telling PBS' NOVA in January 2009, 'I can't come up with a rational reason why I didn't break the rules, pick up the phone, and tell that the jijackers, or really bad guys, are in the U.S. And I don't know if I'll ever be able to come to terms with that. I don't know. I really don't know."

And so began a months long series of events wherein the CIA, and later certain FBI officials, blocked key FBI investigators, including Ali Soufan, as he relates in his new book, from tracking down the terrorists who would conduct the 9/11 terror actions.

Soufan, who was lead investigator on the USS Cole bombing, asked the CIA on three separate occasions about the Malaysia meeting, but each time they told him they didn't know anything about it.

Here's how Scott Shane at the New York Times described the moment when Soufan realized he’d been had. For some strange reason, the NYT refrains from actually giving al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi’s names in the article.

       [Soufan] recounts a scene at the American Embassy in Yemen, where, a few hours after the attacks on New York and Washington, a C.I.A. official finally turned over the material the bureau requested months earlier [from the CIA], including photographs of two of the hijackers.

        “For about a minute I stared at the pictures and the report, not quite believing what I had in my hands,” Mr. Soufan writes. Then he ran to a bathroom and vomited. “My whole body was shaking,” he writes. He believed the material, documenting a Qaeda meeting in Malaysia in January 2000, combined with information from the Cole investigation, might have helped unravel the airliner plot.

The CIA revelations must be put into the context of other documented instances of investigations into AQ terror plots pre-9/11, and not only by the CIA. There were the FBI field investigations in Phoenix and Minneapolis that were ignored. There was the Army's Able Danger data mining operation, shut down in early 2001, after identifying key terrorists.

And finally, there was my own investigation into the shutdown of the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command's special intel unit, the Asymmetrical Threats Division (ATD), which had been tracking Bin Laden in 1999-early 2001, and identified the Pentagon and World Trade Center as primary targets. The latter was the subject of a Pentagon Inspector General report, which I critique in this article, based heavily on documents provided to me by the former Deputy Chief of the ATD himself.

The mainstream media has really picked up on this story (at last, some would say), but the liberal bloggers are dragging behind, for the most part.

A list of recent stories reporting on the above include Frontline, whose show airs tonight, but already has a videoonline: “Chapter 1: Could 9/11 Have Been Prevented? Former FBI Agent Ali Soufan says the CIA did not share critical intelligence about Al Qaeda with the FBI before 9/11.″

There's also the New York Times story noted above, two segments on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show last night (which can also be viewed online), and a 60 Minutes interview with Ali Soufan (also can be viewed online).

The story is also the subject of a far-ranging documentary that was due out on 9/11, but has been held up because of CIA legal threats. A portion of that documentary, with an interview with Richard Clarke is available here.

Regarding the importance of all this to those who read liberal or progressive blogs, I wrote this at Firedoglake's blog The Dissenter yesterday:

    Whether it was a deliberate attempt to let terrorists operate in this country (as Kevin Fenton maintains), or a terrible combination of over-caution, inertia, lack of imagination, bad judgement, institutional hubris, and bad luck, as others would suggest, remains to be seen. What is clear is that we need a new investigation of the activities of the intelligence groups and the military leading up to 9/11, the earlier investigations being hog-tied by lies, information coerced from tortured detainees, and repeated efforts (mostly successful) to hide or withhold crucial information from investigators.

    Only our silence will guarantee that we will never know the truth. Given that 9/11 and the threat of terrorism is used to justify trillions spent on wars, a major crackdown on civil liberties, and the use of torture and other abuses upon detainees, I don’t see silence as an option.

Hard Choices / Laptop or Tablet
« on: September 14, 2011, 03:12:45 am »
What's your preference?

Vox Populi / Willful Ignorance
« on: September 13, 2011, 03:53:12 pm »

Education / Make Teaching SEXY!
« on: September 13, 2011, 03:31:39 pm »
Teachers should be rock stars

Vox Populi / The George Carlin Thread
« on: September 10, 2011, 08:33:21 pm »
George Carlin was an awesome "comedian".  He spoke so many TRUTHS.
Post up your favorites here!

It's hard for me to select a favorite, but I will start out with this one.

Hard Choices / Bill MAHER or Jon STEWART?
« on: September 08, 2011, 04:36:42 pm »
Bill Maher

Jon Stewart

Vox Populi / This is unique
« on: September 08, 2011, 11:10:39 am »
A web ad for Herman Cain

Out the box?

Off the chain?

What say you?

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