Archive for February, 2009

An Offer You Can't Refuse

The Godfather Wars

A story about the making of The Godfather.

[A] number of priceless ad-libs by actors that turned what was supposed to have been a low-budget movie into a masterpiece.

Examples: “Leave the gun,” Richard Castellano, as Clemenza, orders his henchman after they take out the traitorous Paulie Gatto in a parked car. “Take the cannoli,” he then adds in an inspired ad-lib. “Twenty, thirty grand! In small bills cash, in that little silk purse. Madon’, if this was somebody else’s wedding, sfortunato!,” Paulie Gatto, played by Johnny Martino, adds unscripted in his fluent Italian, about the opportunity for stealing at Connie Corleone’s wedding. When Al Martino, as the whimpering Johnny Fontane, cries over the role the big-shot producer won’t give him, and Brando barks “You can act like a man!” and slaps him, the slap was Brando’s spontaneous attempt to bring some expression into Al Martino’s face, according to Johnny Martino, who had rehearsed with Al (no relation) the weekend before. “Martino didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” says James Caan.

Also, all the back-and-forth about casting and arriving at Coppola as director.

Tripe from Tierney

I ran across Tierney’s latest post in the NY Times, Politics in the Guise of Pure Science and, as it too often does, it left a bad taste.

Why, since President Obama promised to “restore science to its rightful place” in Washington, do some things feel not quite right?

First there was Steven Chu, the physicist and new energy secretary, warning The Los Angeles Times that climate change could make water so scarce by century’s end that “there’s no more agriculture in California” and no way to keep the state’s cities going, either.

I couldn’t help but notice that Tierny doesn’t actually rebut the claim, or give any context at all for it. Just simple appeal to ridicule, with fragmentary quoting, which always raises the question of whether the remarks are being quoted out of context. Not to mention that I think Tierney is missing the point. There is science, and there is policy. Policy will encompass more than science, but it’s critical that policy be based on science, rather than basing policy on ideology and rewriting or suppressing contradictory science.

Via The Inverse Square Blog I see that my spidey-senses were spot-on. Siegel at Daily Kos provides more complete quotes and context to Chu’s comments, and makes it clear that Chu was describing a range of possibilities, with the loss of agriculture and severe reduction in water for the cities at the extreme end of the spectrum of outcomes.

Update: Carbon Nation takes a swipe, too.

Modern Urawaza

Low-Tech Fixes for High-Tech Problems

“In postwar Japan, the economy wasn’t doing so great, so you couldn’t get everyday-use items like household cleaners,” says Lisa Katayama, author of “Urawaza,” a book named after the Japanese term for clever lifestyle tips and tricks. “So people looked for ways to do with what they had.”

Popular urawaza include picking up broken glass from the kitchen floor with a slice of bread, or placing houseplants on a water-soaked diaper to keep them watered during a vacation trip.

Today, Americans are finding their own tips and tricks for fixing misbehaving gadgets with supplies as simple as paper and adhesive tape.

Not Quite Ready for Westminster

Not as cute, nor as well behaved.

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All Work and No Play Make Barack a Dull Boy

Sasha Obama Keeps Seeing Creepy Bush Twins While Riding Tricycle Through White House

According to White House security documents, Sasha told Secret Service agents that the ghostly twins spoke to her in unison and repeatedly beckoned her by chanting the phrases “come play with us,” “come play with us, forever,” and “Daddy’s making fajitas.”

White House officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, also detailed a disturbing vision experienced by Sasha, who at several points during her encounter suddenly saw the twin girls lying motionless in a pool of spilled strawberry margaritas.

Why is Science Important?

Why is Science Important?

I’ve started this film and blog project in which I want to ask the question “why is science important?” to people who feel the importance of science so deeply that they have dedicated their lives to it — working scientists, science writers and, of course, science teachers. I’m making a documentary, funded by The Wellcome Trust, and running this “collective blog” as I work on the film. Bits from the blog will appear in the film and bits of the film will appear on the blog. The idea is that the two will inform and enrich each other.

I’m hoping that this project will help me arrive at an answer to this question; an answer that speaks to readers of this blog, as well as my students, and convinces them that science is important. Furthermore, I want this project to reach people who don’t think science is important and convince them otherwise. I want it to demonstrate that science is absolutely crucial to the future wellbeing of our world, that its contribution to culture is as significant as that of music, art or literature and, most important of all, that a sound appreciation of science is vital to realising your potential as a human being. I want this project to make it far, far easier for any science teacher to be able to answer that inevitable question, ‘what’s the point of all this?”


Science Laws

Science Found Wanting in Nation’s Crime Labs

The report says such analyses are often handled by poorly trained technicians who then exaggerate the accuracy of their methods in court. It concludes that Congress should create a federal agency to guarantee the independence of the field, which has been dominated by law enforcement agencies, say forensic professionals, scholars and scientists who have seen review copies of the study. Early reviewers said the report was still subject to change.

The result of a two-year review, the report follows a series of widely publicized crime laboratory failures, including the case of Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer from Portland, Ore., and Muslim convert who was wrongly arrested in the 2004 terrorist train bombing in Madrid that killed 191 people and wounded 2,000.

And there’s some commentary, How to Bring Real Science Into the Courtroom

Law enforcement organizations have tried to derail the report nearly every step of the way, and with good reason. Police and prosecutors have been relying on bad science to get convictions for decades. It’s only recently, as the onset of DNA testing has begun uncovering a disturbing spate of wrongful convictions, that some of the criminal justice system’s cottage industry pseudo-sciences like “bite mark analysis” have been exposed for the quackery they are.

I agree with the skepticism that more government bureaucracy will fix the problem. I think it’s more that the standard of legal evidence is not the same as the standard of scientific evidence. In science, you need to take steps to rule out alternate explanations of a phenomenon, which we sometimes explain as “correlation does not prove causality.” If you watched the videos of why you should never talk to the police, you’d see that the legal system is not interested in ruling out alternate explanations — they leave that to the defense. But the prosecution and the science labs are part same system, so it’s a matter of whether they are asking all the questions, or if they stop when they get an answer they want.

Call Him Neo


Hi, I’m Rob Gallagher and I’m a MagnetNerd.


Neodymium Magnets are just plain cool. It’s totally amazing how something so small can have such strong magnetic forces. I enjoy showing others the amazing things that can be done with Neodymium Magnets. So far I have created 53 Videos of my experiments and designs on YouTube and have incorporated most of them into this website.

More magnet-relates stuff than you can shake a magnetic stick at.

Adaptive Optics

$20 Self Adjustable Pump-Action Glasses

The lenses comprise flexible membranes containing silicone oil. Using syringes (seen in the picture), the amount of oil can be adjusted and the refractive index of the lenses changed. The syringes are detachable.

This is big, because it means a single, uniform product can be mass produced and then tweaked at its destination without specialized equipment.

The goal is to distribute these in countries where ground glass (or plastic) lenses are too expensive and doctors are in short supply.

From The Telegraph,

His aim is to eventually reach 100 million people a year, with a target of one billion in total by 2020

Also see the writeup in the Washington Post

I'm Having an Old Friend for Dinner

Movie Trivia: The Silence of the Lambs

Gene Hackman originally wanted to direct and write the screenplay for the movie based on the novel. He was also going to play Dr. Lecter himself. But time passed and he lost interest; Jonathan Demme picked it up and wanted Michelle Pfeiffer to play Clarice Starling. She, however, thought it was too dark. Of course, all three roles that were replaced – director, actor and actress – won Academy Awards.

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