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Monthly Archives: January 2013

She’s a Beauty

January 31st, 2013 - 5:12 pm

Last summer we got teased by word of Nikon’s 800mm f/5.6. Well, here she is for real.

And a steal at just $17,896.95.

Right on the heels of Israel destroying that Hezbollah convoy comes a sinister message from the mullahs:

Iran has told the United Nations nuclear supervisory body that it plans to install more sophisticated equipment at its principal nuclear enrichment plant, a diplomat said on Thursday, enabling it to greatly accelerate processing of uranium in a move likely to worry the United States, Israel and the West.

It’s been a years-long Mexican standoff, but the end — one way or the other — has got to be fast approaching. I don’t think anyone really wants to see another Middle East war any time soon, even one somewhat restricted “just” to airstrikes and terror attacks.

But other than Iran backing down or Israel learning to live with the Iranian bomb, is there a third way out?

Spending Your Way to Spending Cuts

January 31st, 2013 - 2:34 pm

See the new austerity:

The nation’s long-term fiscal outlook hasn’t significantly improved following the recent agreement between Congress and the White House over tax and spending issues, according to a new analysis.

The “fiscal cliff” deal, combined with the debt-limit agreement of August 2011, only slightly delays the United States reaching debt-to-gross domestic product levels that would damage the economy and risk another fiscal crisis, according to a report from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation released on Tuesday.

Huh. Looks an awful lot like the old profligacy.

BlackBerry Z10 Reviews Are In: Meh

January 31st, 2013 - 1:50 pm

Walt Mossberg:

Overall, it worked fine in my tests, but I found it a work in progress. I liked some things a lot, including the way BlackBerry has designed its new virtual keyboard and camera, and the way it gathers all your messages into a single Hub. But it will launch with just a fraction of the apps available from its competitors, and is missing some very popular titles. It also lacks its own cloud-based ecosystem for storing and sharing files, like Apple’s iCloud or Google Drive. And there are other missing or lagging features.

Zach Epstein:

Why isn’t there a visual notification with a message preview when a new email or BBM message arrives?

Why do the volume buttons still work when the phone is locked?

Why can’t I schedule profiles so my phone isn’t buzzing and chiming with alerts on my bedside table throughout the night? My RAZR HD is smart enough to know when to shut up. My iPhone is smart enough. My Galaxy S III is smart enough. Why isn’t my Z10, with a brand new operating system, smart enough?

Why can’t I see what time it is when I’m in an app?

Why can’t I find a decent app?

Why do photos captured with the Z10′s camera look like they were taken with a flip phone from 2006 unless the subject is in optimal lighting?

Why does a swipe up on the BlackBerry Hub screen cause a panel to enter the UI from the right?

Why doesn’t it sync to the server instantly when I read an email as with other smartphone platforms, so other devices know to mark opened messages as read?

Why isn’t a BBM chat scrolled down to the most recent message when I get an alert and access the appropriate chat in BlackBerry Hub?

Why?

Andrew Cunningham:

Our biggest concern with the BlackBerry Z10′s performance isn’t that it’s bad, but that it’s being sold against better-specced phones at roughly the same price point.

Jessica Dolcourt:

The Z10′s unintuitive gesture paradigm creates a learning curve, and a long list of OS inefficiencies and omissions sour the experience. The bare-bones maps app and a deficit of camera features are two examples.

Joshua Topolsky:

The problem with the Z10 is that it doesn’t necessarily do anything better than any of its competition. Sure, there are arguments that could be made about how it handles messages or the particulars of its camera, but no one could argue that there’s a “killer app” here. Something that makes you want or need this phone because it can do what no other phone can do. That’s not the case — in fact if anything is the case, it’s that the Z10 can’t yet do some things that other devices can. Or at least, can’t do them quite as well.

The stock market:

Shares of BlackBerry, RIM’s new corporate name, fell almost 10 percent early on Thursday, after a 12 percent decline the previous day, as some tech analysts questioned whether the new BB10 devices the company launched on Wednesday were the sure-fire hit that BlackBerry needs to get back into the game.

To stand out, BlackBerry (née RIM) needed to produce a phone nearly as revolutionary as the iPhone was back in 2007. Instead they produced a nice phone which competes neither on price or features.

Say g’night, Gracie.

Bill Gates Unloads Shocker on Stephen Colbert

January 31st, 2013 - 12:47 pm

Wow. Just wow:

Colbert: You’re out there saving the world, and yet, you don’t have the cool factor. No offense, not the same cool factor like turtle-neck cool factor…does it ever bug you that you’e out there saving the world, and yet he’s, he’s, the memories of a cool guy? Did you ever want to be the cool guy?

Gates: Ah, he was always cooler than me.

Colbert: Yeah?

Gates: Yeah.

While we’re all admitting deep, dark truths, I’m willing to tell the world that I am indeed shorter than Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

A True Sportsman

January 31st, 2013 - 11:21 am
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BREAKING: President Obama, seen here, also enjoys spending his Camp David downtime doing darts.

Denial on the Nile

January 31st, 2013 - 10:03 am

I’m not exactly sure what to make of this report on Egypt from StrategyPage:

What worries Egyptians the most is that the Mubarak supporters might get back in power. The most direct way is via a military coup. No one has dared to clean out all the corrupt generals or threaten the wealth of the active duty and retired generals. Meanwhile, the new officials in the new government are being offered cash for cooperation. The cycle of corruption continues and the message is that if you want more food for the poor, you’d better play along. Morsi is under pressure to reorganize his government, allowing in more democrats and Islamic radicals. That will most likely paralyze the government even more, provide the corruptors with more opportunities and make a new dictatorship look palatable. Morsi has restored some semblance of order by calling off the security forces and shortening the curfews. But people are still angry and want some fundamental changes.

Judging by the violence and protests against President Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood, Mubarak supporters aren’t exactly Egyptians’ biggest worry. Or at least not the biggest worry of Egypt’s most vocal protestors. I suppose the case could be that Egypt’s (currently) silent majority is just fine with creeping Sharia, and that the same angry youth who took over Tahrir two years ago are the same ones out there again today.

This is what’s so worrisome. There is a portion — a small portion — of Egyptians opposed to any kind of oppression, whether it comes from the Army or the Brotherhood. But most Egyptians are apparently just fine with Morsi’s thugs, since they wear turbans instead of army caps. But at least Mubarak and his clique could make the trains run on time, as they say. Morsi is leading his people to starvation, isolation, and possibly war.

But if that’s the government the silent majority wants, it looks like they’ll get it — good and hard.

The Rationally Bad Decision

January 31st, 2013 - 6:48 am

Trifecta: Meet Great Britain’s happiest welfare queens.

Microsoft Surface RT Tanks

January 31st, 2013 - 5:19 am

As I’ve been shouting to the world since the middle of last June, the Surface just isn’t a very good tablet. Now Digitimes claims that fewer than two million RT tablets shipped last quarter, and less than half of those were actually sold. Original expectations were for sales of more than four million of the confused halflings. The report continues:

The far below originally expected sales performance for Windows RT tablets is mainly because a large number of applications are not compatible with Windows RT and sales prices are relatively high, the sources said. Since Microsoft will ship the Windows 8-based Surface Pro soon, prices for Surface RT are likely to be lowered to clear inventories, the sources noted.

The Surface Pro works even worse as a tablet than the RT, and is priced to match high-end Ultrabook laptops.

Steve Ballmer has got to go before he destroys Microsoft.

Breaking: France is Broke

January 30th, 2013 - 3:03 pm

This story ought to invoke howling schadenfreude, but no:

FRANCOIS Hollande was left picking up the pieces after France was sent into a state of shock as his labour minister described the nation as “totally bankrutpt.
Michel Sapin was left red-faced after revealing the potential state of the French economy and leaving the French public to question Mr Hollande’s policy.

We’re in such a state that I can’t make fun of the French anymore.

RIM is now BlackBerry

January 30th, 2013 - 1:40 pm

The once-dominant smartphone maker has changed its name to coincide with the release of its new phone and its new OS:

There is a new smartphone coming to market, running on a new operating system. It’s an all-touch device—with no physical navigation controls and no physical keyboard—and serves as a platform for third-party apps. It’s meant to compete in a world defined by Apple’s AAPL +0.11% iPhone and Google’s GOOG +0.38% Android phones. It’s a BlackBerry, reinvented from the ground up.

This model, called the Z10, and its operating system, called BB10, are bet-the-company moves by BlackBerry maker Research In Motion RIMM -6.07% . RIM has seen its once-dominant position in the market shrivel away, especially in the U.S., since the iPhone appeared in 2007.

I appreciate an all-in move like the one RIM — er, BlackBerry — is making here. But even Microsoft, with its deep pockets, has been unable to buy itself more than a small sliver of the smartphone market. After four years of being perpetually behind the market, BlackBerry doesn’t have many resources left, other than its plucky new me-too phone and its plucky new me-too OS.

With the new name, I can’t keep using my “Fill it to the RIM — With Fail” headline. But I’m pretty sure that’s still going to be the final result.

News You Can Use

January 30th, 2013 - 12:22 pm

The Consumerist: There’s no such thing as a free breast pump.

Hot for Teacher

January 30th, 2013 - 11:05 am

Let’s get right to the juicy meat of the story:

Carly McKinney was fired from her job as a high school math teacher after the 23-year-old wrote posts on her Twitter about students being “jail bait” and posting half naked photos of herself.

According to 9 News, Carly McKinney was fired from her job as a high school math teacher at Overland High School in Aurora, Colorado for posting half-naked photos of herself on her Twitter while also writing postings about using drugs at school and calling students jail bait. While the Twitter page has been taken down, the damage has been done as the 23-year-old as placed on paid administrative leave on Tuesday for her explicit Twitter posts.

So apparently even if I had ever had a hottie 23-year-old stoner math teacher, I wouldn’t have been allowed to sleep with her. And as a middle-aged married man with kids, I’m still not allowed to sleep with her. My actual seventh-grade math teacher looked something like a boiled whole potato.

Life is so unfair.

According to Bing Image Search, this is also McKinney. Not that I spent the morning on Bing Image Search.

Required Viewing

January 30th, 2013 - 9:51 am
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Sweet.

That Ain’t Right

January 30th, 2013 - 7:44 am

Trifecta: If you want to see the best defense of American liberty, you’ve got to go to… Oxford?

A Happy Customer

January 30th, 2013 - 5:07 am

When Apple TV became capable of showing 1080p movies in all their 2,000,000-pixel glory, I decided to re-rip my favorite Blu-Rays in all their 2,000,000-pixel glory. I mean, 720p is more than good enough for watching Bored French People Talking About Smoking, but you really want to see every single detail of Laser Cowboy and His Buxom Leggy Princess of Death.

But there was a little problem. What rips as a 4- or 5-gigabyte video file at 720p, can be considerably bigger at 1080p. And I do mean considerably.

Here’s the quick version of the math. 720p displays a little less than 800,000 pixels. 1080p displays a little more than the aforementioned 2,000,000. Theoretically then, a 1080p rip of Bruce Willis Kills Everything should be almost exactly 2.5 times bigger than the 720p rip.

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. And the no is really, truly no.

I ripped Aliens and the resulting file was 30 gigabytes. I ripped Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with similar results. So I tried some different settings on Handbrake, but the results weren’t much smaller. But I did learn a few things about compression.

• When you down-sample a 1080p Blu-Ray to 720p, a lot of detail is lost. That gives your ripping software a lot of leeway in making a smaller file. So it’s pretty easy (and fast) to take a 40-gig Blu-Ray movie and make a 5-gig M4V file which still looks great. When you’re ripping a BD disc one-to-one, the software seems to lose a lot of that discretion.

• That loss of discretion gets ugly in two types of movies. In the first kind, if there’s a lot of camera movement,or a lot of action, or a lot of both, the movie becomes very difficult to compress one-to-one. That much is pretty obvious to anyone who knows anything about compression.

• The second kind of movie took me by surprise. One-to-one, compression software reads high-grain film as high-detail imagery. The same goes for fog or mist or moving water. If you set Handbrake to preserve detail in faces or laser blasts or whatever, it will also try to preserve the “detail” of a rolling fog or an ocean spray.

So, crap… I could jack down the fineness settings and totally lose the point of ripping at full 1080p, or deal with some movie files that were barely any smaller than the high-density physical media I was trying to compact them from.

In the Age of Drobo, big files aren’t a big problem. But big-ass files are a big problem when you’re trying to stream them wirelessly from the basement to the living room. Nothing quite ruins the mood of Hot People Shooting Bad People While Dangling from Skyscrapers than having the movie pause… and pause… and pause… in the middle of a big action scene while the WiFi tries to keep up with the big-ass file.

But for years now, Glenn Reynolds has been raving about powerline network bridges, so I figured I’d give it a try. You plug one dongle into your WiFi router, then into a wall outlet. You plug its mate into another wall outlet, and then into your Apple TV or Roku or whatever. They have gigabit speed, theoretically, and relieve your WiFi of a massive bandwidth problem when you’re trying to stream 26 gigabytes of Sigourney Weaver being all sweaty and wielding a grenade launcher.

So I ordered the ZyXEL PLA4205kit HomePlug from Amazon over the weekend, and it arrived Tuesday afternoon. I plugged in one unit downstairs next to the router, then hooked them together with the included ethernet cable. One of the three lights turned green to indicate it was plugged into the wall, then another one turned green to tell me it was making nice with the router. Then I plugged its mate in behind the living room TV, and hooked it into the Apple TV with the other included cable. It lit up the same two green lights as before, plus the third one to let me know it had found its mate.

And that was it. That was the whole setup. It just worked. The setup software is Windows only, but who cares — you’ll probably never need it.

Apple TV noticed it had an ethernet connection to iTunes, and automatically set itself up to use that instead of WiFi. I tried loading up Aliens, and after the briefest of pauses it began to play without a hitch.

So does ZyXEL deliver the promised 500 Mbps? Hell if I know. But it sure can stream a big-ass video file without choking, and that’s all I need it to do — and there aren’t many people with streaming demands like mine.

Not sure I can remember the last time I was this happy about a consumer electronics item right out of the box, but I do wish I’d taken Glenn’s advice to heart ages ago.

Where Rahm is King

January 29th, 2013 - 5:28 pm

Trifecta: A Chicago mother has now lost all four of her children to gun violence.

Your Tuesday Afternoon Dose of Doom and Gloom

January 29th, 2013 - 2:22 pm
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You don’t want to watch, but you know you will.

Required Reading

January 29th, 2013 - 9:53 am

Charlie Martin had a brilliant insight at the Tatler this morning: “Obama doesn’t really want to pass legislation. He wants to propose legislation that fails.”

Read the whole thing.

Gun-Free President

January 29th, 2013 - 6:20 am

Sign here, if you like.

Iran Cracking Down Before Election

January 29th, 2013 - 5:01 am

We talked about this in passing yesterday at The Tatler, but here’s more on Iran’s pre-election crackdown:

Iranian authorities have arrested more than a dozen journalists in the past two days over their links to “anti-revolutionary” media, Iranian media reported, in what appeared to be a coordinated crackdown on the press.

With a presidential election five months away, Iran’s clerical leadership appears to be tightening its grip on the media to avoid a repeat of the widespread protests that erupted after the disputed election in 2009.

The Mullahs would prefer the real battle this election be between the hardliners who want to kill all the Jews, and the reformers who want to loosen economic controls and reduce corruption before killing all the Jews.

How Close are China and Japan to War?

January 28th, 2013 - 4:54 pm

Not a question you expect to see, in an age when major powers don’t fight one another directly anymore. Bad form, or some such. And surely the last time we all did that, the going was pretty grim. And yet that’s the question asked today by NRO’s Michael Auslin. Here’s the rub:

Especially raising tensions in the region is a passel of territorial disputes over islets that has pitted China against countries in southeast and northeast Asia and put Japan at odds with all its major neighbors. But the one key disagreement is between Japan and China in the East China Sea. There, an archipelago called the Senkaku Islands is claimed by Japan, Taiwan, and China. The islands sit near rich undersea oil and gas deposits, but, being situated just northeast of Taiwan, they also are in a crucial strategic location. They form the southernmost link in a chain of islands (including Okinawa and others) held by Japan that separate the East China Sea from the Pacific. The chain that ends with the Senkakus thus acts as a defensive barrier that conceivably could be used to prevent Chinese naval vessels from entering the wider Pacific.

Thus, Japan’s control of the islands presents a problem for Beijing. The history is murky, but Japanese control really didn’t start until the late 19th century. In 1945, the U.S. took over the Senkakus, and it returned them (along with Okinawa) to Tokyo’s administrative control in 1972. In recent years, however, basically since oil and gas were discovered nearby, China has reasserted a historical claim to the islands. Since the possibility of extractable energy reserves was discovered a decade ago, both Japan and China have tussled over whose islands (and resources) they really are.

One thing this Administration has gotten right is refocusing our force structure away from the Atlantic and into the Pacific. One thing Obama hasn’t gotten wrong, is allowing the smaller PacRim powers to flock towards us as China flexes its growing muscles. (To be fair, it would take a clusterfudge of colossal proportions to get that one wrong, as it mostly involves letting diplomatic nature take its course. We’re the outside power without territorial ambitions, and China is the scary-looking neighbor peeing on all the fences.)

Here’s another case where doing very little, other than reaffirming our historical and legal commitments to Japan, should be quite enough.

Pay it Forward

January 28th, 2013 - 3:05 pm

Trifecta: Meet the couple who helped make Steve Harvey the success he is today.

Go Galt, young man! What follows is a guest essay by Bill Reader.

Outwitting the Inevitable

I’ve seen some rumblings in various places… most recently on the comments in Steve Green’s post “The Letter of the Law”… from conservatives who are uncomfortable with collaborating with plans aimed specifically at making the economic situation worse. There are two complaints that I see. One is that people feel it’s a betrayal of our principles. The other is that people note that Obama is destroying the economy, and the country in general, very well on his own. I’ll deal with the latter, more specific issue first, and then tie it to former objection later.

If it seems to you that Obama can destroy the country just fine by himself, well, you’re right. A collapse will eventually come whether we help it along or not, and in the most general sense, our actions ultimately lead to the same conclusion. The question we should be concerned with right now is not whether the collapse will come, but how quickly. Leaving things as they are, and supposing we continued in a business-as-usual manner and worked constantly to support the ever-weakening economy, we could squeeze maybe a couple more decades out of the current state of affairs. But understand this… we might hold up the decline, and perhaps have one or two minor victories as we do, but for that entire time, the consequences of socialization and liberalism will always be somewhere in the distant future and overruled in people’s minds by the immediate government bribes. This has two direct implications. One is that the next 20 years or so would be experientially a lot like the last four, only starting from a worse and worse point all the time. To put it another way, you can look forward to a very long period of awful culminating in a collapse. The second is that by the time the consequences arrive (in the form of the aforementioned collapse), today’s college students will be middle-aged and their kids may well form a 2nd wave of brain-washed liberals, born and raised to love Uncle Sugar (this is, admittedly, a pessimistic outlook, but so far the generation seems to be trending more after the mostly-liberal Boomers than the mostly-conservative Generation Screwed). Everyone with a grain of common sense will be an old timer, and the principles we hold dear all but totally lost. I list this social attrition first because, while it is admittedly the more unpredictable factor, it is also potentially the most important. That’s because the social stakes are much higher. Everything truly essential to the spirit of America is in her culture and people. As a thought experiment, consider this: if half of America were to disappear tomorrow, but the half that was left had a solid understanding of objective reality and human nature… the overriding ideals of conservatism… the chances of reconstruction would be very good. If they did not, it’s very easy to predict there would be serious trouble. In the same way, though it’s hard to know how society will move in 20 years, it’s a cinch that the outcome will powerfully effect America’s ability to weather the collapse. And frankly, the current long-term indicators are bleak… we shouldn’t candy-coat it.

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If It’s Broke, Don’t Fix It

January 28th, 2013 - 12:18 pm

I’ll be honest and tell you I didn’t get past the headline on this column:

Bill Gates: My Plan to Fix The World’s Biggest Problems

But I bet millions of people were wishing it had included “bringing the Start menu back to Windows 8.”

Immigration Reform Plan Very Plan-y

January 28th, 2013 - 11:00 am

But how reform-y is it? Here’s the four-point graphic courtesy of USA Today.

Points One and Two are the necessities here, and have been for a long time. Point One, however, is contingent on making border security work. If this is just another Democrat Lucy to GOP Charlie Brown, then Senators McCain, Graham, Rubio, and Flake are just setting their party up for another fail.

Point Two is, well, pointless, unless we also reduce the tax and regulatory burden Obama and the Democrats have put on America’s entrepreneurs, whether natural- or foreign-born. To give you an idea of how bad things are, net migration from Mexico is now zero or maybe even negative. Think about that: We’re losing people to Mexico, where they’ve lost 25,000 people in the Drugs Wars. It doesn’t matter if we make things easier for the best people to come here, if we don’t give them reason to come.

Points Three and Four look like museum-grade bureaucratic nightmares, and won’t do anything to help alleviate the problems discussed in the paragraph above. The GOP has got to make itself appealing to Hispanic voters, and this plan might just do that — but only on the surface.

Superficial wins elections however, as we painfully re-discovered last November.

Here’s what Milwaukee County (WI) Sheriff David Clarke is saying in a new radio ad:

“There are certain situations — and I think most people get that — where 911 is going to be of no use. For instance, once the wolf is at the door, once the intruder is inside your home, once you’re on the street and someone sticks a gun in your face to take your car or your wallet, you don’t have the option of calling 911,” Clarke said.

He continued: “In those situations, there are certain things you can do to protect yourself. It’s a public safety message, and I’m just here to let the people know, give them the information as to what’s going on, and to give them options, if you will, as to how to defend themselves in those situations.”

The ad ends with Clarke asking, “You have a duty to protect yourself and your family. We’re partners now. Can I count on you?”

I could almost leave my beloved Rocky Mountains just to go vote for him.

Sign “O” the Times

January 28th, 2013 - 7:14 am

Toyota reclaims top automaker spot, and by nearly half a million vehicles:

Earlier this month, General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) announced global sales of 9.29 million vehicles for the year. In late December, Toyota Motor (TM) said it expected that global sales for 2012 hit 9.7 million vehicles, and it confirmed that Monday when it reported global sales of 9.75 million.

And VW is less than a quarter million behind GM:

Volkswagen Group (VLKAY), which includes the VW, Audi and Porsche brands, came in at No. 3 with 9.09 million vehicles, the first time the company has topped 9 million.

Really though, GMs problem isn’t that it sells too few cars. It’s that it still has too many brands, is still too reliant on fleet sales and steep discounts, is still channel-stuffing its inventory, and is still forced to deal with a hostile and oversized labor force using Byzantine work rules.

An honest bankruptcy would have forced GM to undergo more fundamental restructuring. As it is, the new GM isn’t much different from the old GM.

I Can Name That Administration in One Word…

January 28th, 2013 - 6:29 am

Trifecta: Our predictions for President Obama’s second term.

North Korean Nukes DoubleplusUngood

January 28th, 2013 - 5:03 am

King Charles II — excuse me; Kim Jong-un — is getting testy again:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un convened top security and foreign affairs officials and ordered them to take “substantial and high-profile important state measures,” state media said Sunday, fueling speculation that he plans to push forward with a threat to explode a nuclear device in defiance of the United Nations.

The meeting of top officials led by Kim underscores Pyongyang’s defiant stance in protest of UN Security Council punishment for a December rocket launch. The dispatch in the official Korean Central News Agency did not say when the meeting took place.

Last week, the Security Council condemned North Korea’s Dec. 12 launch of a long-range rocket as a violation of a ban against nuclear and missile activity. The council, including North Korea ally China, punished Pyongyang with more sanctions and ordered the regime to refrain from a nuclear test – or face “significant action.”

At some point, the Chinese are going to have to man up and take responsibility for their psychotic client state. It’s a geopolitical tragedy that there’s really no better outcome for North Korea.