1 August 2006
Gimme back my keys

A writer for the Seattle Weekly, as an experiment, gives up his car:

[T]he economics of my decision made sense: Gasoline was roaring toward $3 a gallon, the useless monorail tax was still in place, and I only drove maybe 150 miles a month. When you factored in insurance (a rip-off even with my clean driving record), gasoline, and such, I was paying almost $1 a mile to have a car that was essentially used to run errands outside the city's main core and to visit friends who lived in Lake City and Bellevue and elsewhere away from my usual Capitol Hill haunts. And if I went out and bought a decent used car, I'd be looking at maybe $100 to $200 a month in car payments.

So I decided to rely on a mix of Metro buses and cabs and walking. I wanted to see how my work and social life would hold up. Besides, the Seattle liberal paradigm is that we should all be like Bus Chick — a really cute former Microsoftie who takes Metro everywhere and saves the Earth and honors the Kyoto Accords and tells President Bush and Chevron to stuff it.

I am here to tell you at the liberal paradigm is, in this respect, an abysmal failure. Or at least it was for me.

Bicycle, you say? Out of the question:

I have many years of bicycling (commuting by bike, even) under my belt and after all those years, plus years of running three miles day (plus years of hockey and weight-lifting), my knees are toast. Nothing will get you off a bike faster that hearing your knees click and pop while you are riding and having them lock up on you from time to time.

Disclosure: I got to that point without running three miles a day.

But why was this experiment such a tremendous flop?

My social life went down the tubes. If a friend of mine lived outside of Capitol Hill, downtown, Belltown, the ID, or Pioneer Square, I was screwed. I have a lot of friends who don't live in those places, and suddenly I wasn't being invited to pop over to a friend's house for impromptu barbeques and parties. That sucked. And if I needed to run an errand to, say, Best Buy at Northgate, it would take an hour-plus in each direction to get there — and with Metro's schedules, don't try that in the evening. Besides, you cannot carry more than a couple of shopping bags on Metro.

Not having a car got in the way of work, as well. I am the kind of reporter who prefers to meet people in person, if possible, and I suddenly had to resort to doing a lot of phone interviews unless I did a lot of planning for taking transit — and giving up half an afternoon for a half-hour interview. There were also public meetings I wasn't able to attend, either, all of a sudden — unless they happened to be downtown or somewhere close by.

Cabs weren't much of a solution. Anytime you pop into a cab in this city, it seems to cost about $15 by the time you tip the driver — and that's just around the central core of the city. That didn't make much economic sense.

And so he's back behind the wheel:

After two weeks of being back in the driver's seat, I am happy to report that I am visiting friends I haven't seen in ages, getting shopping done that I'd put off, and popping around the outer reaches of Seattle to do interviews in person. Even better: I can shoot down to White Center and the Rainier Valley to get really good Mexican food anytime the mood strikes. I can swing down to the ID to get great Chinese food without having to make an entire evening out of the trip. My social life is no longer restricted to near-Capitol Hill environs. That's great — and likely also an improvement for Capitol Hill's social whirl as well.

I point all this out because, like it or not, I am tied to cars. The Ron Sims/Greg Nickels/urban planning wonk wet dream of getting Seattleites out of their cars and onto the buses is unworkable, in my opinion. At least in 2006.

You'd probably stand a better chance of getting Seattleites onto a train, if not necessarily the monorail. It might cost more than, say, a basketball team, but it might actually get some public support. And soon-to-be-former Oklahoma Congressman Ernest Istook, who might be looking for work as a transportation consultant in '07, is a big fan of rail — as long as it's not in Oklahoma.

(Via Sound Politics.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:15 AM to Driver's Seat )
Paying through the nose

Jerry Reed, in "Lord, Mr. Ford" (1973):

Well, I figured it up and over a period of time
This four thousand dollar car of mine
Costs fourteen thousand dollars and ninety-nine cents.

In the previous article, a Seattle Weekly writer quoted the cost of driving around town at "almost $1 per mile." This got me thinking about how much I've been paying. Of course, the driver isn't the only person who incurs costs when a motor vehicle is operated, but since he didn't quantify those, neither will I.

So here are the numbers, as best as I can determine them, from my previous car, since its books are effectively closed at this time:

Selling price including destination charge: $20,100
Trade-in less amount upside down: ($2,600)
Rebate: ($2,000)
Gap insurance and similar things: $1,000
Finance charge (60 months): $6,800
Total purchase price: $23,300
Less salvage value: ($6,100)
Net cost of vehicle itself: $17,200

Taxes and licenses (six years): $1,100
Insurance: $7,400
Gasoline (@ 24 mpg, average 2.00/gal): $4,700
Repairs and maintenance: $2,300
Miscellaneous expenses (parking, etc.): $200
Total: $15,700

Total expenditures: $32,900
Number of miles driven: 55,700
Expense per mile: 59 cents

The painful part, of course, was remembering that gas was cheap enough five or six years ago to keep the overall average for the period right around two bucks despite today's $3-ish numbers. Had I paid three dollars a gallon for the entire period, it would have added a little more than four cents per mile to the total.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:16 AM to Driver's Seat )
Wishful thinking, maybe

The automated voice over the National Weather Service's VHF radio this morning reported 0.35 inches of rain yesterday, which so far as I can tell is either a glitch, a fluke, or a complete and utter flub.

As it happens, July was a little wetter than average, at least at the airport, but we're still way below normal for the year.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:23 AM to Weather or Not )
Insistence of vision

Last year, the Hornets were all but invisible on national TV. This year, there will be five games televised nationally: one on ABC, two on ESPN, two on TNT.

The home opener will be in New Orleans on 5 November, against the Rockets; the first game at the Ford will be on the 7th, against the Warriors. Current plans call for 35 games in Oklahoma City, six in the Big Easy, before the Bees' expected move back to New Orleans full-time next year.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 1:16 PM to Net Proceeds )
Vengeful little paperweight

"Why do you name your cars?" people occasionally ask me. And typically they give me the classic Spockian eyebrow raise when I explain, "I don't name them. I live with them for a while, and eventually they tell me."

A common response to this boils down to "You shouldn't anthropomorphize mere machinery," to which I reply, "If they object, they'll say so."

If this seems like imputing some form of intelligence to mere hardware, listen up.

About twelve years ago, we took delivery of a nice console printer, which was assigned number 2. It did far spiffier graphics than the machine it replaced, at somewhere between two and three times the speed. And it performed valiantly — until the moment when a newer model was moved in beside it at the number-1 spot.

Number 2 was furious. First its powered stack mechanism began acting up, shredding parts as though there were no tomorrow. It got so bad that one year while I was on a World Tour the sysadmin summoned tech support and bade them rip that frigging stacker out of the box and throw it away.

Which they did. Meanwhile, the machine was beginning to suffer memory problems, as in "Oh, I just lost all my 183 different configuration settings." These could be keyed back in, albeit tediously, but eventually Number 2 figured out that this was extending its useful life, and began burning up system boards, which meant that not only did you have to rekey all the configs, but you had to reload the microcode — from a floppy disk read by a notebook computer connected to the machine's otherwise-unused parallel port.

To make sure its appetite for boards was addressed, Number 2 devised a system whereby on every third power-up it would stick halfway through the process. I don't know how many boards for this model actually exist on earth, but I doubt seriously there's one we never used; at one point we were going through one or two a week.

Eventually tech support figured out that for their three grand a year, they'd put roughly $150,000 worth of parts into a $15,000 printer, and they threw up their hands and begged, "Please, no more."

A new printer was ordered, and old Number 2 was powered off and left there to collect dust and random paper boxes. Scheduled date for the new box: 1 August 2006.

This morning I started powering up Number 1 when a message came across the console: "Failure, Printer 2."

"How in the hell can it be failing? It's not even varied on!"

Despite a lack of life signs, somehow something got across its section of the controller, and onto Number 1, which — wait for it — had lost all of its configuration settings. It took the better part of half a day to get it back to normal.

I swear, the miserable little washing machine was laughing at us.

And no, the new box didn't arrive today.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:07 PM to PEBKAC )
2 August 2006
Golden brownouts

DreamHost, which has hosted this very site since the waning hours of 2001, goes public with a list of Everything That Went Wrong last month, and it's a long list.

Meanwhile, a commenter asks:

Kind of off-topic, but: Why do internet companies constantly choose to locate in LA, which has chronic power problems in the summer? Why not Dallas, Atlanta, or Richmond? There are tons of other cities with great infrastructure, cheap land, adequate power/no brownouts, and a skilled labor force. But for some reason, LA is chosen despite its lack of adequate power during the summer. I don’t really understand that.

These are surfer dudes, dude. They're not gonna go to Dallas, fercrissake.

Disclosure: Your humble narrator once sought fame and/or fortune in 90254.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:21 AM to PEBKAC )
The Ministry of Roommates will contact you

Because, after all, you have no right to live alone:

People living on their own consume more energy and create more waste than individuals sharing a home which could cause an environmental crisis in the near future, according to a report published in the journal "Environment, development and sustainability".

The report said the fastest growing segment of the single household is among those aged 25-44 and in particular, single never-married men aged 35 to 44.

It said one-person householders are the biggest consumers of energy, land and household goods. They consume 38% more products, 42% more packaging, 55% more electricity and 61% more gas per person than an individual in a four-person household.

Besides, you really didn't want to live by yourself anyway:

"As part of the planned housing programme for England and Wales, there is a real opportunity to house this group in ecological new builds, that are prestigious, well-designed, state-of-the-art and environmentally sound," said Dr [Jo] Williams, who works at UCL's Barlett School of Planning.

Dr Williams added that a significant proportion of those living on their own were often single people who might enjoy living in a community which would give greater opportunity for greater sociability.

"Regretful loners who are forced into living alone by circumstances create demand for more collaborative lifestyles, such as more widespread co-housing schemes, where you have private space such as a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen but share some living and storage areas," she said.

The Planners will not be content until we're all crowded into proletarian concrete bunkers and they have to stack us against the walls like rolls of unused linoleum.

(Via McGehee.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:26 AM to Dyssynergy )
Feedback loopy

I got my 136 feedback points on eBay the old-fashioned way: I won auctions (from a few cents to $900), I paid up promptly, and I was acknowledged to have done same by a variety of sellers. (I've never sold anything on eBay.)

Apparently this practice isn't quite fast enough for some people:

Scammers have turned to automated bots to create eBay accounts with a positive feedback record, reports security vendor Fortinet.

Online criminals use the automated scripts or bots to create vast collections of user accounts with positive feedback records. Those accounts can then be used to attract buyers by offering high value items that are never delivered after the bot-master criminals have received payments.

I can just imagine some wanker banging his nonexistent chest and proclaiming "I AM THE BOT MASTER!"

The bogus accounts typically sell virtual items such as wallpapers and e-books through a "buy it now" auction for one cent and no shipping costs. Those items are then bought by another fraudulent eBay account, all in an automated fashion.

Further indicating a level of automation, each buyer is leaving identical comments for each transaction.

Says security vendor Fortinet:

"Most [of the sellers'] user names are made of six to eight random letters and bear around 15 evaluations. Having a look at these profiles reveals that they’ve bought roughly the same items — all for one cent."

After two hundred or so auctions and no problems at all, I'm not going to abandon eBay. But I suppose I need to turn the Alert Level up past Bert.

(Via The Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:01 AM to Dyssynergy )
Heyla, heyla, the burn ban's back

Governor Henry today imposed a new statewide ban on outdoor burning for "as long as conditions merit."

Given the weather patterns of late, this sounds like at least a couple of months.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:35 PM to Soonerland )
Juan de Fuca says hello

The Tropical Café in Edmond (Kelly south of 2nd), per their ad in this week's Gazette, is "Proudly Serving Seattle's Best."

This has, of course, nothing to do with the Sonics.

I think.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:14 PM to City Scene )
202

Almost every trip back East, I find myself on US Highway 202 at some point; I think my favorite section of it is west of Concord, New Hampshire, probably because some of it is considered highly unsafe.

Less of a threat is Carnival of the Vanities #202, hosted by Eteraz, who reminds you that Vanity is Venerable.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:41 PM to Blogorrhea )
3 August 2006
A plate from the Word Salad bar

Out of this month's Premiere, a couple of noteworthy items.

First, from the inimitable Libby Gelman-Waxner:

The Da Vinci Code suggests that Jesus was actually married to Mary Magdalene, and that they were very happy and had a child. It's the Pretty Woman take on the New Testament, with a powerful guy falling for a hooker. This theory of course made me violently jealous of Mary Magdalene, because she could go to cocktail parties or cookouts and just casually say things like "Well, when Jesus and I were in Aruba . . ." or "Can you believe it? I had the baby two weeks ago, and I'm already back in a bikini. It's like a miracle!"

Let's face it, Jesus would have been the best husband of all time. He was gorgeous, he was incredibly compassionate, and he was a carpenter, so none of your cabinets would ever stick.

I bet they get letters about that one.

Elsewhere, Tom Roston notes:

I have to give props to [John] Heffernan for coming up with [the title of Snakes on a Plane]. When I prod him on what sort of creative thinking it took to think up that title, he reminds me of the quotation that says perfection is achieved when there's nothing left that can be taken away. "And that pretty much defines Snakes on a Plane," he says. "It's like, you know, McMuffin or Ziploc."

With that in mind, here's a nearly-perfect headline: State Court Rules Miller Genuine Draft Is Actually Beer.

Which is at least as debatable as, say, The Da Vinci Code.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:19 AM to Almost Yogurt )
From C to shining C

Winston remembers this sample of George Carlin's brain gases:

Why are there no B batteries? There aren’t even any A batteries.

Being the old electronics person I am — and "old," I suppose, could modify either "electronics" or "person" — allow me to tell you where the A and B batteries were.

Back in the Pleistocene era, we had vacuum tubes, and it took two batteries to power them: the A battery, usually a "wet" cell, to provide juice to the filament, and the B battery, usually a "dry" cell, to provide plate voltage. (Here's an excerpt from a Crosley radio manual from the middle 1920s, showing both of them.)

Carlin, I note, is older than I am. Then again, he presumably never sat through a circuit-theory course.

You call this heat?

Why, this is nothing:

We’ve become so lame. It’s global warming, everyone is sure. After all, it’s "never been this hot before".

On July 11th, 1936, it hit 101 degrees on the north side of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba. Take a look at that list — "One Hundred Teens" were very common. 120 in North Dakota. Strangely enough, the Oklahoma 120 degree temps are not on that list, but they are on another Weather Underground page.

120 at Alva, OK on July 18, 1936
120 at Altus, OK on July 19 and August 12, 1936
120 at Poteau, OK on August 12, 1936
120 at Tipton, OK on June 27, 1994

And in ‘36, they didn’t have air conditioning.

Willis Haviland Carrier built his first A/C rig in 1902, but it was an industrial product: production of home units didn't begin until around 1928, and the Depression put them out of reach of most people anyway.

(The Oklahoma City record is 113, set on 11 August 1936.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:22 AM to Weather or Not )
The coming of the pod people

Apple, says Autoblog, has contracted with GM, Ford, and Ford's Japanese affiliate Mazda to provide iPod access to OEM audio systems beginning in 2007.

The new services will allow use of the OEM head unit to control volume and such, and will permit charging the iPod's battery in the car.

GM will offer the iPod jack (or whatever it turns out to be) in all its US models; Mazda will implement it worldwide; Ford's plans are still up in the air.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:18 PM to Driver's Seat , PEBKAC )
Report to the Toastmaster General

Yours truly, fall 2004:

Am I the only person in this city who ever buys Kellogg's Pop-Tarts in the unfrosted-blueberry variety? Their status as one of the original flavors hasn't done anything to insure their presence on the grocer's shelf; they seem to show up in the stores about twice a year if I'm lucky. Meanwhile, the sickeningly-sweet frosted versions get more shelf space than ketchup, despite their lack of palatability and their incompatibility with my old-style, uncomplicated toaster. (Something in the frosting seems to melt down into a nasty brown slag; for all I know, there could be plutonium in there.)

In the twenty-odd months since that manifesto, I have determined that buying from one of the few stores that does stock them accomplishes more than complaining to one of the many stores that prefer to stock stuff like this.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:03 PM to Worth a Fork )
4 August 2006
Tripping the joy buzzer

"How do you know," someone once asked, "if you're really leading the life you wanted to lead?"

Hard to say, but I think one irreducible component is being able to get away with crap like this:

I'm sitting at my desk when, out of the blue, it hits me: I need a burger. Not just any burger, mind you, an In-N-Out burger. The West Coast chain is the purveyor of cheap, fresh, immensely amazing burgers. No problem, right? Get up, go out the door, go to lunch.

Sure. Except for the fact that [our] editorial office is in Michigan, and the West Coast is, well, way out west. I check the Internet: the closest In-N-Out is in Prescott, Arizona.

Yep, tasty burger. I stare at In-N-Out's Web site. My eyes lose focus for a second.

I call my friend Jeff Diehl. Jeff lives in Chicago; Chicago is on the way. That's good, because I can't drive 1965 miles nonstop by myself. I ask Jeff to come with me, simultaneously glancing over at the car sign-out board. The keys to a 505-hp Chevrolet Corvette Z06 dangle from one of its hooks. I mention this to Jeff; he gets silent for a moment. Then he asks when we're leaving.

I grab the keys from the board and tell the rest of the staff I'm going out for lunch.

That's Sam Smith of Automobile Magazine, and the whole sordid story — thirty-three hours worth — is in the September issue.

Oh, and then they had to drive back home.

Sonic boosters

A report from the first meeting of Seattle's Save Our Sonics movement:

[The Regional Council] had 4 guest speakers talking about the economic impact of all 3 major sports teams in the region ... A consulting firm estimated the direct economic impact (including inter related jobs and additional sales) of the Sonics and Storm in 2004 was $160 mil and about $234 mil statewide compared to $177.4 and $270 mil respectively for the Mariners and $147.7 and $218 mil for the Seahawks. That's a pretty far cry from Nick Licata's estimate to Sports Illustrated earlier in the year.

Licata, president of the Seattle City Council, figured it as "zero cultural value," though he later backpedaled somewhat.

I mention this because I believe that, contrary to conventional wisdom, it is possible to make a case for the Sonics (and the Storm) staying in Seattle, and because I don't think The Move is necessarily a done deal until the moving vans actually show up. And anything can happen: down Oregon way, Paul Allen has decided that he doesn't want to sell the TrailBlazers after all. Does this mean he's contemplating a theoretical vacancy in Seattle? Maybe, maybe not.

And I suspect the NBA might be slightly uneasy about these matters, because the Sonics won't be playing in Oklahoma City this season until April, in game 75. (They'll come to New Orleans in February; the Hornets will visit KeyArena twice during December.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:35 AM to Net Proceeds )
The path of least resistance

In these parlous times, there's no good reason to incur any unnecessary expenses:

I entered the "non smoking" room at a Motel 6 in Sacramento, California, only to find an ashtray. So I called the front desk to complain and was told, "Oh, just turn it over, now it's a non-smoking room!"

Oh, and that light they'll leave on for you? Dimmer switch. Just watch.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:50 AM to Dyssynergy )
Everybody's a critic

Including, apparently, me.

(Original is here.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 12:46 PM to Almost Yogurt )
Those damned deer

They're bad enough on country roads when you're zipping along at 65 mph, but when they show up on a racetrack:

Champ Car driver Cristiano da Matta was seriously injured yesterday when he collided with a deer that had wandered onto the track during a practice session at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI. The unconscious da Matta suffered head injuries and was medevaced to Theda Clark Medical Center.

A CT scan showed that he had a subdural hematoma, and emergency surgery was performed to remove it.

Champ Cars top out over 200 mph, which means that da Matta took probably ten times the hit I took from Bambi earlier this summer. Poor fellow.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:29 PM to Driver's Seat )
Bushrock

An intriguing question from Steve G:

[S]ince artists always seem to lean to the left — or to be at the very least completely anti-war — does having a "right-wing" [scare quotes because he’s center-right at best on most things] or pro-war President make for better music? Or to put it a different way, do bands that are angry with the state of the country or world make better music?

Need examples? Pearl Jam fans are thrilled with their latest, which is pretty heavily political and anti-Bush. Same with Green Day. Within my range of music, Machine Head, Disturbed, Avenged Sevenfold, and now Stone Sour are all making good music while angry on some level with the President. And in the 80s, Metallica, Slayer, and countless pop musicians put together some great music while they were angry at ... well, the world, but particularly policies of the west embodied by Reagan and Thatcher.

And he has some ideas about how this particular dynamic might work:

  1. It's the sense of purpose — legitimate or not — generated by being anti-war in a time of war.

  2. It's a focus thing: instead of rambling on about various feelings in a vaguely angsty way (see: lots of 1990s music), there's a clear "enemy" to write about.

  3. It's easier to write lyrics about external problems rather than internal ones, leaving the musicians time and bandwidth to work on the music itself.

  4. You have to be a little nuts to write good music, and BDS is driving musicians just far enough in that direction to generate some good music.

I'm inclined to give the premise as a whole a qualified thumbs up, at least in the rock realm, for the simple reason that rather a lot of rock is predicated on the notion of rebellion — against authority, against conformity, against [fill in name of unbearable cultural imperative] — and GWB seems to arouse levels of outrage more than sufficient to support this sort of thing. And some of us, I think, simply produce more interesting work when we're pissed off. (Note that this specification says nothing about whether we're justified in being pissed off; ultimately, this requires a longer historical perspective than the immediacy of popular music can reasonably allow.)

The only fly in this particular ointment is the fact that the same qualities that can inspire superior tunage can also give rise to spectacularly horrid crap. I'm not paying a whole lot of attention to contemporary antiwar songs, but then I'm not paying a whole lot of attention to much of anything that gets released today; as current as I get is an occasional pass through Jack FM, which has been known to throw in an occasional 1990s track. But Vietnam was still going on when it became obvious that for every forthrightly-angry "Ohio" there was a passive-aggressive "Military Madness," and I would be surprised to hear that the divine-to-dreck ratio has changed much over the years.

The best anti-Vietnam song, for my money, wasn't a hit at all: Bob Seger's "2 + 2 = ?" was way too corrosive to get any airplay. (The worst, by coincidence, was also a Michigan product: Grand Funk's "People Let's Stop the War." It got played to death.)

The trick, of course, is to avoid thinking that something's good simply because you agree with it. I'm as much of a flag-waving jingoist as the next guy, but that damn Lee Greenwood song makes me want to hurl.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:51 PM to Tongue and Groove )
5 August 2006
Sapling update

This being August, and early August at that, it's imperative to get the yard work done early in the morning before the sun gets high enough in the sky to bake you to a crackly crunch and the temperature forces enough liquid out of you to qualify as basting.

The upside, of course, is that the lawn grows more slowly, if at all, and once the mower was put away for the day, I decided to check on the Sprouting Sweetgum, which has now reached a height of twenty-eight inches, a four-inch gain for the month despite only two good rains.

Its more mature neighbors seem to be in need of some trimming, though that will have to wait a day or a week.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:58 AM to Surlywood )
Quote of the week

Reporting for Got Detroit?, it's Princess E.M.:

We as Americans do not like our politicians particularly independent, clear thinking, principled, thought provoking, or even smart. We prefer them a lot like we prefer, say, our remote controls, television sets, toasters and computers — dumber than we are, and easily controlled.

This perhaps explains my ongoing antipathy for Ernest Istook, who isn't notably controllable.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:19 AM to QOTW )
The animal shelter evolves

I didn't pay much attention to this when it showed up on craigslist earlier this summer:

Are you passionate about animal welfare? Does your heart ache for all the abandoned and homeless animals? Please help us make a difference by volunteering with the Oklahoma City Animal Welfare Division.

The Animal Welfare Division is responsible for public safety, animal care and protection. We partner with rescue groups, foster homes, volunteers and no-kill shelters to minimize unnecessary euthanasia and to promote the humane ethic. We are building a city in which pet ownership is a pleasure to the owners without becoming a burden to the community; in which owners, non-owners and animals alike are treated with respect; and in which animals are treated with kindness and compassion.

Our goal is to be "no kill" for placeable animals by 2010.

The business about "without becoming a burder to the community" made it to the city's Web site, but they aren't at all promoting the no-kill goal.

Yet. A friend of mine told me last night that Georgie Rasco of the Neighborhood Alliance asked her to become a member of their committee to push for no-kill. And it seems to me that if the Alliance is working on this, there's a better chance the city will get off the dime and start moving towards its stated goal.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:57 AM to City Scene )
Waiting 'round the Benz

Julie Bisbee reports in the Oklahoman:

As Oklahoma's per capita income grows, consumer's tastes are getting a little richer. Luxury car dealers in the metro area are seeing an increase in interest in their cars, and dealerships are adding more lines to appeal to consumers who are willing to plunk down more than $20,000 for a car.

I, of course, roared at this. Last time I went shopping for a new car, I bought a distinctly non-luxe make in the lowest trim level offered, and the sticker was just over twenty grand, and that was six years ago. The average price for a new car varies with who's doing the figuring: Edmunds.com guesses about $27,800, while Car and Driver will not give a "10Best" award to any vehicle costing more than 2.5 times the average, and their cutoff for 2006 was $71,000, which implies an average of $28,400. But even allowing for the fact that most cars (Saturns excepted) are sold at a smidgen below sticker, you'd have to get quite a bit over $20k to get into anything legitimately describable as a "luxury" car.

Inasmuch as I drive an Infiniti these days, I looked at the very bottom of their product line, and I find the G35 sedan with a six-speed stick sells for $31,200; with a five-speed automatic, $31,450. With the cheaper of the two Premium Packages, the wheel/suspension upgrade, and a trunk mat, the price tag rises to $36,280. (This is not that excruciating a price, I suppose; Gwendolyn's sticker, with fewer options, was over $30k, and she's six years old.)

Since one of Ms Bisbee's points was the acquisition of the local Saab franchise by Bob Moore, I went looking for Saab prices, and the 9-2X wagon starts out at a mere $22,990, though most of them, I suspect, are sold with automatic transmissions, which pushes the price to $24,240. And I suspect rather a lot are trimmed to Aero levels, which is four grand higher, knocking on the $30k door.

There remains, of course, the question of what makes a given model, other than mere branding, a "luxury" car in the first place. My own definition calls for higher-than-average performance and greater-than-average creature comforts, though I'd hate to have to quantify the average for either characteristic. For some people, anything other than the barest Point A-to-Point B device might be over the luxury threshold. Consumer Reports, perhaps not wishing to get involved in discussions of this sort, has adopted the term "upscale" for these vehicles.

And a thought experiment comes to mind. Right now, Toyota's "halo" car is the hybrid Prius, which is in sufficient demand to sell at sticker or above. If you ordered everything possible on a Prius, you'd get the sticker up to $30k or thereabouts. Could the Lexus folks jazz these up enough to justify a $35-40k price tag? I'm thinking they could, if only because Lexus customer service is widely considered to be an order of magnitude better than what you'd get from a Toyota store, and maybe that's a "luxury" in itself.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:24 PM to Driver's Seat )
I'm more of a C-minus, myself

Exactly as I saw it:

OkCupid is hiring. We're looking for both senior and junior C++ developers; pay to scale upward with experience. Applying is a highly competitive process — there's even a test you have to take — so only the best should apply.

if ((iq > 120) && (experience != 0)) {

sendResume (job7@okcupid.com);

} else {

getLost();

}

Now, where was I?

Permalink to this item ( posted at 4:35 PM to PEBKAC )
Saturday spottings (accelerated)

Old habits die hard. My previous motor vehicle (rust-preventative be upon her) had a superior chassis and not much of a motor; the proper way to deal with this sort of thing, of course, was to drive the living whee out of the car and enjoy flinging it about. I can't do that with Gwendolyn. Well, actually, I can do that, but she's so much faster — I've routinely shaved two to three minutes off what used to be a twenty-minute commute through moderate congestion — that it's an invitation to the gentlemen in blue with the rotating lights. More than once I caught myself doing somewhere in the low 60s in a 40 zone. Better that I should catch myself, though, than that they should catch me.

Speaking of catching, I was northbound on the Lake Hefner Parkway, a smidgen north of 63rd, when I caught sight of one of the weirder manifestations of Oklahoma's placement at the conjunction of every wind pattern on earth: an airborne plastic bag, wafting across the lanes at a height of, oh, three, maybe four feet.

And I caught it. Literally. On the passenger-side mirror. It wrapped itself around the structure and held on doggedly for two miles, shaking loose only after I'd turned eastbound (on Britton) and slowed to a comparative crawl.

Also: off to Midwest City today, partly to gauge the condition of Heritage Park Mall, which is no worse than it was last time, in the sense that I didn't notice anything else had closed. There's still the nagging question of how long you can sustain a mall built for 3.5 anchor tenants with one, and that one a Sears store, but I suppose that will be answered soon enough. Meanwhile, the newest dead corner is Reno and Midwest Boulevard, where both Target and Wal-Mart have abandoned smaller stores in favor of bigger ones elsewhere. The Target, I am told, will be converted to medical offices, which makes sense given its proximity to Midwest Regional Hospital, but no word on the fate of Wally World. Still remaining: Albertson's, a gas station with a McDonald's, a Carl's Jr., and a Walgreen's.

Just south of there is 250 S. Midwest Blvd., which has been about a dozen different eateries, none of which lasted very long. The Oklahoman noted this morning that it's been leased again, and this time it will be a chicken place. I think the only time I ever ate there was when it was a Dairy Queen.

On the other side of town, I got an answer to one of the dumber questions that had been tormenting me of late. The northern boundary of Mustang is SW 59th Street; Mustang, while it fits into the Oklahoma City street grid, doesn't use the city's numbers, instead using Oklahoma 152 (SW 74th) and Mustang Road as its axes. And as I headed west on 59th, I noted with some weird glee that the section of 59th east of Mustang Road was indeed posted "E. SW 59th St." And to think we have problems finding things on Grand Boulevard.

Also on Mustang Road, I discovered that the Force is strong:

For Sale sign

(Taken around the 2100 block South.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:18 PM to City Scene )
6 August 2006
He set the scene

I once tried to explain away Arthur Lee as "America's Syd Barrett," but that was likely fair neither to Barrett, who died earlier this year, nor to Lee, who died Thursday.

Love, Lee's ever-changing band, could fairly be described, at least at first, as garage folk; nonetheless, Love's 1967 LP Forever Changes is justly regarded as a high-water mark in the sea of psychedelia, quite an accomplishment for a group whose first chart record was a robotic version of Burt Bacharach's "My Little Red Book."

In memory of Arthur Lee, here are two recollections by people who knew him. First, rock writer Ellen Sander, in her liner notes for a sort-of-greatest-hits LP called Revisited:

Love, more than any other group, was rock and roll L.A. Hung-up, strung-out, three sets a night in clubs with wall to wall freaks dancing and mobbing the stage. Ain't nothing in the world like California good-time music but there just wouldn't be California good-time music without California bad times, those inglorious L.A. blues and exhortations, where the whole dazzling universe is spinning the wrong way and there's nothing to do but hang out and look for folks worse off than you. That's the seamy side of pop L.A. where the losers are king and the emperors are dressed to the teeth. What the hell, the whole place is going to fall into the goddamn sea any spring now so who's got time for anything but living?

Lest this strike you as something of an aberration, here's Herb Cohen, L.A. pop-biz fixture, one-time manager to the Mothers of Invention, and, for a while anyway, the intermediary between Lee and Elektra Records' Jac Holzman:

They're all living in one hotel room, starving, and Arthur says, "I want a $5,000 advance to sign the contract — cash." Jac says, "OK, meet me at the bank." Jac cashes a check. Arthur says to the band, "Go back to the hotel. I have to pick up something." And about four or five hours later Arthur shows up with a gold Mercedes 300 gull-wing that he paid $4,500 for. "Well," he says, "we need some transportation for the band, so we can get around to the gigs."

The Mercedes-Benz 300SL of this era seated two, making it remarkably inappropriate for transportation of a five-piece band, but what the hell: this was Arthur Lee, and in 1966, he was all of twenty years old.

Incidentally, Burt Bacharach hated what Love had done to his song. The fact that no one else got it even halfway up the charts didn't seem to matter.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 12:21 AM to Tongue and Groove )
Next: Disney buys Guantanamo

What's better than a Soviet prison camp? A Soviet prison camp catering to the tourist trade:

The Mayor of what used to be one of the most infamous outposts of Josef Stalin's Gulag wants to charge masochistic foreign tourists £80 [about $150] a day to "holiday" in an elaborate mock-up of a Soviet prison camp.

Igor Shpektor, the Mayor of Vorkuta, 100 miles above the Arctic Circle and 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow, says he is looking for an investor to turn an abandoned prison complex into a "reality" holiday camp for novelty-seeking tourists keen to understand what life was like for Soviet political prisoners at first hand.

Residents are perhaps not so keen:

Camp survivors, some of whom still live in Vorkuta, have condemned his idea. They call it a "sacrilege" and a tasteless insult to the memory of those prisoners who died in the area. Historians say 200,000 prisoners, known as zeks, died in the camps surrounding Vorkuta, out of more than two million deported there between 1932 and 1954.

But it's not like Vorkuta has a whole lot to offer otherwise:

In winter, the temperature plunges to minus 50C, while in summer the population of mosquitoes explodes. At the Gulag's peak 132 camps existed in and around Vorkuta. Now the city desperately needs new funds to pour into its dying economy. Eight of its 13 coal mines have shut in the past 15 years and the city's population has almost halved, from 217,000 to 120,000.

Life in Vorkuta is so bleak and subsidy-dependent that the government and the World Bank are offering residents money to move so the authorities can, literally, turn out the lights.

I'm not sure that this is such a bad idea, though really, if they're going to recreate one of Stalin's major projects, they should do it in a location where Stalin is still staggeringly popular — say, Berkeley.

(Via Pratie Place.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:15 AM to Dyssynergy )
How I hate those mirrors

It's a boy, Mrs. Walker, it's a boy:

Good-looking parents are 36 percent more likely to give birth to a girl than less-attractive couples — which also explains why women are, on average, better looking than men, argues [Satoshi] Kanazawa, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, in a forthcoming article in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

Kanazawa based his conclusion on data collected during in-home interviews with 2,972 randomly selected young adults in 2001 and 2002. All were parents 18 to 28 years old, and they participated in the ongoing National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. As part of the study, the interviewer rated the respondent's physical attractiveness on a five-point scale that ranged from "very unattractive" to "very attractive."

Kanazawa compared the percentage of boys and girls born to study participants who were very attractive with the sex ratio of babies born to everyone else. He found that 56 percent of babies born to beautiful parents were girls. For parents in each of the other categories, fewer than half of the babies — 48 percent — were girls.

But ... is there a reason for this?

[W]hy are beautiful people more likely to have girls? Kanazawa says scientists studying humans and other species have found that parents who possess any heritable trait that increases male reproductive success at a greater rate than female reproductive success will have more males than female babies, and vice versa.

Because men value physical attractiveness more than women do when looking for a mate, good looks increase the reproductive success of daughters much more than that of sons. So attractive people should have more daughters — which is exactly what Kanazawa found.

I note in passing that I have two children: a daughter and a son.

(Via Exploding Aardvark, with the following caveat: "A previous study by the same researcher [who incidentally used to teach here at the U of I] found that tall people are more likely to have sons. What happens with a tall, beautiful couple?")

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:00 AM to Dyssynergy )
The women of 2008

Riverwind513 doesn't expect a Clinton-Rice battle for the Presidency, but she does give some thought to the second half of the ticket:

I imagine too that the choice of VP would be critical in this race. It wouldn’t be enough just to find a moderate and quiet person no one really has a problem with. In other words, Lieberman isn’t going to cut it this time. Both sides would need a charismatic and popular party figure to offset the unusual candidate. Hillary would want someone like Barack Obama, who is incredibly popular, could make sure the minority vote had a tougher decision to make before jumping the fence, and could help deliver the younger votes too. Meanwhile, Condi would want to go with someone like Orrin Hatch, who is about as dyed in the wool Southern Republican as you can get, and proud of it. Well, maybe not Orrin Hatch, but certainly someone very much like him. Someone who has been around forever, and who is so Republican you just couldn’t stand it.

I demur: apparently a lot of people, way off the left edge, have a problem with Lieberman. And is Orrin Hatch really all that charismatic?

Whom do you see as a plausible running mate for Senator Clinton or for Secretary Rice?

Safe for work at last

WorkFriendly is a proxy that strips out graphics and reformats Web pages as innocuous Microsoft Word documents, which might be useful if you're staring at trying to read Fleshbot in between phone calls.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:25 PM to PEBKAC )
Making the pitch

I've mentioned before that I was hanging around a bit on OkCupid, which is a dating service based upon screwy TheSpark-like tests — which isn't surprising, since the same guys were responsible for TheSpark.

And I'm not at all thinking I'm actually, you know, going to meet anyone as a result of this, but I get a major kick out of reading the user profiles, and the following is a selection of stuff I read today.

I am not one of those glass-half-full people but I am also not one of those glass-half-empty people either. My freaking glass has holes in it and the water is dribbling out down the front of my shirt.

I spend a lot of time doing homework, and even more time doing nothing. I'm also learning to throw pottery. You know, on a wheel, not across the room. I learned how to do THAT ages ago.

I enjoy just about any food as long as it doesn't contain flaked coconut.

I have a pretty strong sense of humor, though it can dip to the dark/dry side where not even I quite get my own jokes.

Someone pointed out to me the other day intimidate and intimate are only 2 letters different. Thought that was interesting.

I shave my legs pretty infrequently, partially because they're a little sensitive in spots, but mostly because I'm lazy and it's a real chore.

I am one of the most independent people I know, but according to whatever this site uses to measure independence, I show up as borderline basket case. I wholeheartedly disagree. As they point out though, it's only a website.

Hey, it beats reading me all the time.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:00 PM to Table for One )
7 August 2006
Strange search-engine queries (27)

I thought at first I might get away with this three times, but now, three times three times three times, it's become almost a tradition. (Cue Tevye and the guy with the fiddle.)

pier 1 fragrance spray:  Do you really want this place to smell like Pier 1?

longer "second toe" more sex study british men 70 percent:  I have no idea what this means, but it sounds kinda kicky.

Adult Nude Recreation Complex redmond washington:  Insert "Microsoft" joke here.

what's pamela anderson's breast size?  You mean this week?

where to put your purse in an envoy xuv:  The thing's the size of a freaking house; you should be able to put it almost anywhere.

what brand of pantyhose does meredith vieira wear?  I have no idea, but I suspect you can get more than 15 pair for $1 million.

shoehorn the kind with teeth:  You know there's no such thing.

how to give dirty looks:  Is there anyone over the age of four who does not know this?

mascots related to oxygen:  Well, there's the Congressional Airhead.

i'm so lonesome i could cry in mono:  Of course. If you could cry in stereo you wouldn't be lonesome.

baltimore crossdress "second tuesday":  The rest of the month you need a permit. (Not applicable in Cockeysville.)

how to make thousands and millions of dollars without effort:  What bothers me is that this query came from Ghana, which presumably has enough Ghaniffs already.

is aeon flux a subtle discourse on the ideology of the new right?  Not as much as it is an excuse to look at Charlize Theron in the tightest costumes ever designed.

a japanese suv that doesn't look lame nor is butch but has enough room to fit camping gear and people while looking:  And I thought I was picky. (Toyota Land Cruiser. Be prepared to write a check for $60k.)

"middle aged women" lingerie:  Just drop it on the floor, you can retrieve it in the morning.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:20 AM to You Asked For It )
Serious service

Alldata offers a subscription service to the vehicle manufacturer's actual service information, including part prices, official labor times, and updated Technical Service Bulletins; I have subscribed to it for my last three cars, and have been known to browse the TSBs for information which may (or may not) subsequently become useful. (Honda/Acura and BMW do not permit this sort of thing, but most other makes do.)

I was reading a TSB for transmission slippage on I30s of Gwendolyn's vintage, and it calls for replacement of a particular solenoid valve. But the first item in the service procedure is this:

1.  Record the radio presets.

Because, of course, you'll lose them when the battery is disconnected, as it must be to change out electrical components.

And the last step is to reprogram those presets. (I guess this is why these luxury brands command such high loyalty.)

Incidentally, Gwendolyn is not showing signs of transmission slippage: I just happened to be going through that part of the TSB list.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:32 AM to Driver's Seat )
It followed me home, can I keep it?

Civilian contractors, recently returned from Iraq, are kicking back with a couple of cold ones, and Tamara is there:

Yeah, a lot of firefighters and cops over there are civilian contractors. These people need a lot of help just setting up basic... I mean, think about it: They've never been able to just pick up a phone and dial 911 to get help before, so they just don't know what to make of it. And when they do call, they've got real problems. There's not much rescuing kittens, it's... I mean, like, "Hello? Hello? Yes, my child has bring into the house an anti-tank mine. It is sitting on the living room floor. I live in the four story apartment, on the third story. Can you help me, please? What do I do?"... and I'm thinking An anti-tank mine? Buddy you don't need the fire department, you need the army!

Have one on me, guys.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:25 AM to Dyssynergy )
Presumably cut from Episode III

"Hey, if the Dark Lord of the Sith wants to indulge his fantasies of being a Japanese schoolgirl, who am I to stand in his way?"

(Courtesy of Dr B.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:29 AM to Bogus History )
Little Joe never once gave it away

The manufacturers of inkjet printers are constantly looking for ways to make sure you pay and pay, no matter how much it depletes your wallet; in fact, they're even resorting to setting time bombs in the cartridges to make sure you have to buy new ones.

You might not think that such a scheme would be possible with an impact (read "dot-matrix") printer that runs off old-style spools of ribbon.

As we discovered today at 42nd and Treadmill, you would be wrong.

IBM's 6500-series printer is an impressive workhorse, but don't try to fool it with a generic ribbon: the spindle is just slightly too small, and there's a gizmo inside the head assembly that:

  • tells you how much life the ribbon has left, based on some algorithm which you're not told;

  • checks the spool for the presence of a barcode, and refuses to accept an off-brand ribbon no matter how clever your jury-rigging may be (and mine's close to legendary).

There is one way out — unroll all 200 feet or so and thread the contents of a generic ribbon onto IBM's spool — but this is messy and time-consuming. (Do not ask why I know this sort of thing.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:25 PM to PEBKAC )
Adventures in iTunes (5)

Since the podcasts I'm already getting take up all my time, one more can't possibly make any difference, right?

The first edition of Ready Steady A Go Go: From Merseybeat to Mod, a half-hour-ish program devoted to the British Invasion bands, compiled and hosted by Michael Lynch, has found its way to my listening station, and it's massive fun, especially since Lynch doesn't feel compelled to confine the playlist to the tried and true. (The very first track he played was an Arthur Alexander remake — by Gerry and the Pacemakers! What's next, Helen Shapiro covering Ruth Brown?) The sound is just lo-fi enough to be evocative, and the proffered biographical detail is impressive. Besides, it's good for me to be exposed to people who know more about this stuff than I do.

You can subscribe via iTunes or listen through the site's own player. (And a tip of the old Beatle wig to Rich Appel, who passed this link to me.)

8 August 2006
I only have eyes for you

Never underestimate the power of a little temporary joy:

BLIND Andrew Hall stunned his bride when he SAW her walk up the aisle and stand with him at the altar thanks to special vision-enhancing drugs.

Andrew had not seen girlfriend Carolyn, 25, properly for years — but thanks to the medication, he achieved the seemingly impossible.

However the drug is so strong it can only be taken for a short time because of side effects — and the sight benefits do not last.

Andrew has just six per cent sight thanks to Retinitis Pigmentosa.

Some things, of course, are worth mere side effects.

And Lachlan asks the question:

[I]f you were [to] lose your sight, but could have it restored, what was one thing you would want to be able to see again?

Someone other than me in the hallway mirror, I think. Beyond that, I'm not really sure.

Made for each other

It says here that Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson got married because — well, it wasn't a shared interest in 18th-century French literature:

Kid Rock married Pamela Anderson because she’s amazing in bed.

The rocker and the former Baywatch star tied the knot on a yacht in St Tropez on Saturday.

After the unconventional ceremony, Rock lifted the lid on the reason he was marrying the blonde actress.

He reportedly said: “I just married the most beautiful girl in the world. She f***s me and scratches my back!”

Pammie, 39, has also hinted the great sex she has with Rock was one of the main reasons she wanted to become his wife. She previously said: “I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t make a difference. I know women say size doesn’t matter. But it does, at least for me. Put it this way, I can’t see any down side to a man being well hung.”

And I suppose he can put it this way, should he be so inclined.

Given these imperatives, my own list of desiderata (sweet smile, killer legs, gets a minimum of two-thirds of my jokes) seems even more pathetic than usual.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:36 AM to Table for One )
A linguistic Venturi effect, as it were

Sister Mary Discipline gave me the Evil Eye once for saying that something or other sucks. Forty years after the fact, Seth Stevenson jumps to my defense:

Sucks is the most concise, emphatic way we have to say something is no good. As a one-syllable intransitive verb, it offers superb economy. Granted, some things require more involved assessments (like, say, James Joyce: I find his early work unparalleled in its style and its evocation of emotion, while his later writing became willfully opaque in a manner that leaves me cold). But other things don't require this sort of elaboration (like, say, John Grisham: He sucks).

Besides, "sucks" fits in well with a vernacular that also allows for things that "blow" and "bite," though Bart Simpson, a reliable cultural observer over the past couple of decades, would be amazed were you to come up with something that simultaneously sucks and blows.

(Via In Theory.)

Open forum (maybe)

Press release from Sustainable OKC:

OKLAHOMA CITY— On Tuesday, August 8, 2006, at 7:30 p.m., Sustainable OKC and the Vivian Wimberly Center for Ethics and Servant Leadership at OCU will host the third event in their Smart Growth series: "City on the Move: Transportation in Central Oklahoma," a panel discussion on mass transit.

The panel will be held in Watson Lounge on the lower level of the Angie Smith chapel at Oklahoma City University. This event is free and open to the public. Doors open at 7:00 p.m., and the presentation begins at 7:30 p.m.

This panel discussion will explore factors that have influenced transportation in central Oklahoma, market and environmental forces that are affecting transportation choices today, and solutions to make Oklahoma City less dependent on the automobile.

The event, moderated by OETA's Dick Pryor, will include the following panelists:

  • John Dugan, Director, Oklahoma City Planning Department
  • Rick Cain, Director, Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority
  • Willa Johnson, Ward Seven, Oklahoma City Council
  • Dean Schirf, Vice President of Government Relations, Greater OKC Chamber of Commerce
  • Zach Taylor, Executive Director, Association of Central Oklahoma Governments

This presentation is the third in a series on smart growth organized by Sustainable OKC.
Date: Tuesday, August 8, 2006
Time: 7:30 pm-10:00 pm

Tom Elmore, who forwarded me this, notes:

Perhaps oddly, the panel is a rogues' gallery of some of those most responsible for fighting rational transit development over the years. These have also helped cover up reality and quash the truth about the need to save OKC Union Station's rail yard.

With the announcement this morning of the "little problem with Alaska oil production" and with it, likely higher gasoline prices, I'd say that those who'd like to talk to some of those most responsible for Central Oklahoma's lack of alternative transportation (and that the air conditioning in 25% of OKC's existing transit buses doesn't work[!]) will have a marvelous opportunity to do so Tuesday night.

So be it.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:28 AM to City Scene )
Fourth gear, hang on tight

Japanese transmission manufacturer Jatco predicts that the four-speed automatic will be gone within a decade, replaced by newer technologies.

The continuously-variable transmission, which has theoretically infinite gears, will probably take over at the low end of the market; I'm thinking that performance vehicles will have automatically-shifted manuals similar to the VW Group's DSG.

Still, the four-cog slushbox lasted quite a while in the marketplace: my last three cars have had four-speed automatics. (Gwendolyn's is from Jatco.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 2:44 PM to Driver's Seat )
The Gas Game (August)

Oklahoma Natural Gas's Voluntary Fixed Price program, begun last fall, would contract you to purchase gas for 12 months at a flat rate of $8.393 per dekatherm plus the usual fees and charges. I declined, on the semi-honorable basis that I didn't quite believe it would go that high; since then, I've been charting the cost of this decision.

As of now:

  • November: 2.4 used at $11.044; total price $26.51; VFP price $20.14; loss of $6.37.

  • December: 4.4 used at $11.550; total price $50.82; VFP price $36.93; loss of $13.89.

  • January: 9.7 used at $12.012; total price $116.52; VFP price $81.41; loss of $35.11.

  • February: 6.4 used at $9.589; total price $61.37; VFP price $53.72; loss of $7.65.

  • March: 7.6 used at $8.455; total price $64.26; VFP price $63.79; loss of $0.47.

  • April: 4.6 used at $8.660; total price $39.83; VFP price $38.61; loss of $1.22.

  • May: 2.0 used at $8.781; total price $17.56; VFP price $16.79; loss of $0.77.

  • June: 1.2 used at $8.486; total price $10.19; VFP price $10.07; loss of $0.12.

  • July: 1.1 used at $7.520; total price $8.55; VFP price $9.53; gain of $0.98.

  • August: 1.0 used at $7.566; total price $7.82; VFP price $8.67; gain of $0.85.

  • Cumulative: 40.4 used at $9.986; total price $403.43; VFP price $339.07; loss of $64.36.

(Rounding errors are being ignored.) The new VFP will be announced, they say, next month.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:17 PM to Family Joules )
9 August 2006
We few, we plumbers

Actually, I'm not a plumber, but I felt like one when I read this bit by Lori Leibovich in Salon.

In the fourth article in its fascinating series "The New Gender Divide," the New York Times looks at why marriage rates among men without higher education are declining at a significant clip.

The reasons for the decline vary and include greater economic independence for women, and the increase in the number of couples who live together without getting married. The Times interviewed men who are afraid to commit, men who fear divorce, and one 41-year-old who says he'd love to have a family but he just hasn't met the right woman.

But the single most significant reason these men remain unattached is "because the pool of women in their social circles — those without college degrees — has shrunk," according to the Times. "And the dwindling pool of women in this category often look for a mate with more education and hence better financial prospects." As Shenia Rudolph, 42, from the Bronx said succinctly, "Men don't marry because women like myself don't need to rely on them."

I don't know about the rest of you guys, but I'd rather be rejected because I'm dumb as a post than because I never bothered to compose a thesis.

(Crossposted to OkCupid.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:16 AM to Table for One )
Paying up

Blogathon '06 is history, so it's time to write the checks.

This year's checks go to:

Note: "The Daily Bitch" is the name of a blog, dammit.

Slouching toward Joeblivion

Empty suit Ned Lamont defeated generic liberal Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary in Connecticut, and that's enough for Brendan Loy:

[T]he hard reality is that the voters have spoken, and their message was loud and clear: there’s no longer room for Joe Lieberman in the Democratic Party. And alas, tonight’s result will reverberate through the November elections and into the 2008 presidential campaign. It’s really much more than just a single primary in a single state; it’s a shot across the bow of moderate Democrats everywhere. And so, whatever further ramifications this result might have, there’s one thing it definitely means, one result that is officially cast in stone, as of today:

I am no longer a Democrat.

Those who have been waiting for me to make such an announcement will have to wait a while longer. While I agree with Loy that "the Democrats have jumped off the cliff, and are in free fall," I'm not at all horrified by the prospect: if they right themselves before they hit bottom, that's good, and if the party's current crop of Super Geniuses wind up flat on their faces like Wile E. Coyote, well, I wield a pretty mean spatula.

This is what I wrote the day of the 2004 Oklahoma primary:

[T]he candidates on my ballot strike me as something less than inspired. And while the differences among their domestic policies are largely trivial — will we spend too much, or way too much, on health care? — exactly one candidate seems to grasp the notion that there are more immediate threats to the Republic than a percentage point or two of taxation, which is why when I'm through with my dental appointment today, I will grit my semi-sparkling teeth and pull the lever for Joe Lieberman. Yes, he spends money like a 21st-century Republican; yes, he's a common scold, occasionally rising to the level of uncommon scold. But in 2004, the desired characteristic, in true Firesign Theatre tradition, is Not Insane, and rather than opt for the bumbler, the banshee or the Botoxed, I'm going with Joe.

Sanity eventually will return to the Democrats, even if Brendan Loy doesn't. I can wait.

Update: Loy cites Tammy Bruce and me as "a couple of Democrats who aren’t quite ready to jump ship yet," but adds: "If there was a viable third-party alternative, I bet they’d both be on board." As if Oklahoma would actually allow third-party alternatives.

Plus tax where required

We've all seen that phrase or variations thereof; How to be Websmart is now listing the tax policies of the top 50 online storefronts.

For instance, Overstock.com adds sales tax only for shipment to Utah or Indiana; Target.com adds sales tax in 47 states (the exceptions being Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont). This information is always subject to change, though, so if you stumble upon this in 2009 and Target charged you tax in Brattleboro, it's not my fault or HtbW's.

(Via The Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:33 AM to Common Cents )
Nice pair, as it were

The late Shel Silverstein wrote a poem, eventually a song, called "Stacy Brown Got Two", and, well, it goes like this:

Do you know the reason for his success? (No we don't, so tell us)
They say that he is double blessed (Not like you fellas)
They say that Stacy Brown was born
Just a little bit deformed
But still his girlfriends wake up smilin' every morn.

(Singing) Everybody got one (Everybody got one)
Everybody got one (Everybody got one)
Everybody got one (Everybody got one)
But Stacy Brown got two.

Esquire seems to have found him a date.

Long-distance browsing

From the front page of the Web site of Peakirk Books:

We Welcome those who are able, and would like to visit our shop in Peakirk, a small village just outside Peterborough, England. (An advance phone call would ensure we were here to greet and assist you)

I have the feeling I'd like to see this place some day. I've actually done business with Peakirk Books, albeit the newfangled electronic way: they had some obscure Hutchinson juvenile by the tersely-named M. Frow that I'd gotten an urge to read, and Random House, which owns the Hutchinson imprint these days, isn't much help. And one of Peakirk's strong suits is books for children:

We Specialise primarily in secondhand Childrens Books for both Collectors and those trying to find those books they once read.

I wouldn't hazard a guess as to which of the two groups might be larger.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:12 PM to Almost Yogurt )
10 August 2006
File under "WTF?"

I have defended Zillow.com's Zestimates in the past, but I'm thinking maybe they've finally gone off the deep end after all. My semi-regular once-every-three-weeks search on my own house produced this implausible statistic:

1 week change: + $20,329

In one week? Does this look like the freaking San Francisco Bay Area?

I was sufficiently alarmed to pull up the County Assessor's listings. They haven't changed. The only thing I can conclude is that some poor souls overpaid for housing stock in this neck of the woods and all the comps were dragged up commensurately.

We'll see how long this number lasts: $117,695. I give it a week.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:02 AM to Surlywood )
Lock mess

A couple in the next cubicle warren have acquired a 2006 Toyota Avalon in bank-vault grey, and she was mumbling something this morning about the keyless start routine: apparently you have to wiggle your body in the general direction of the sensor, that it may detect the presence of the fob somewhere on your person. Finally, pushing a button brings the mighty V6 to life.

I know something about this — Gwendolyn has a remote starter and an acceptably-mighty V6 — but I'm enough of a traditionalist to prefer actual keys. Maybe it's a guy thing, as Lileks might say:

I remember looking at my dad's key ring, and marveling at the locks to which he had access. Men had keys. There was a limit; men with thirty keys seemed like living versions of Marley's ghost, shackled to duty. But guys like having enough keys. There's a reason they don't remove the powerboat key at the end of the season. You're not defined by your locks, but by the locks you can open.

Women, at least according to stereotype, can't even find their keys. This is, of course, the stuff of comedy, and therefore subject to revision; I expect to hear some day on the news that the presence of all these metal devices hard against a man's thigh causes some sort of contusion which all by itself accounts for the seven-year difference in life expectancy. We would live longer, we guys, if we got proper bags.

But maybe aesthetics outweigh longevity; certainly nobody wants to witness the spectacle of me, having to wiggle my body in the general direction of a sensor, that it may detect the presence of a fob somewhere on my person.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:45 AM to Almost Yogurt )
203

After World War II, the French automotive industry was slow to recover. One of the first new models to be produced was Peugeot's 203, built in Sochaux beginning in 1948. For the first five years, this was the only Peugeot being made; the larger 403 appeared midway through the 1950s, though production of the 203 continued through 1960.

Meanwhile, the 203rd edition of Carnival of the Vanities is being hosted at Humantide, and it's subtitled "Froth Edition," which refers to coffee. I think.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 2:03 PM to Blogorrhea )
Just like real people

Pennsylvania Democrats are charging that petitions on behalf of Green Party Senate candidate Carl Romanelli contain lots of fake names, including Mickey Mouse, Mona Lisa, Woody Allen, Robert Redford, George Bush, Gerald Ford and Lee H. Oswald.

Now I was under the impression that Mouse was registered in Ohio, but I could be wrong.

Not that the Democrats are blaming the Greens, exactly:

Democratic officials said that some GOP donors had contributed funds to help Mr. Romanelli's campaign and hurt [Democratic candidate Bob] Casey. Some money went to hire a Florida firm, JSM Inc., to circulate Romanelli petitions. There have been complaints about the integrity of JSM petitions circulated in other states, including Ohio in 2004, Democrats said.

Still, what's most galling is not that they're fakes, but that they're obvious fakes. You'd think even Republicans could have figured this out by now.

File under "But of course"

Harley-Davidson common stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "HDI."

Until next Tuesday, that is, when the company will be changing to the symbol "HOG."

A few other sort-of-appropriate symbols:

  • BID: Sotheby's
  • BUD: Anheuser-Busch
  • DNA: Genentech
  • EAT: Brinker International (owner of Chili's and On the Border restaurants)
  • FUN: Cedar Fair (theme-park operator)
  • LUV: Southwest Airlines (based at Love Field, Dallas)
  • ROCK: Gibraltar Industries
  • SAM: Boston Beer Co.

(Thanks to Interested-Participant.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:41 PM to Common Cents )
11 August 2006
I'll take Unreal Estate for $1000, Alex

A Rocket Jones observation:

Ever notice how when a new housing development is going up, if it's Something Estates then it's ritzy and pricey, and if it's Whatever Heights then it's always "affordable" housing. If I had the money, I'd do a development called Estates Heights just to see what would happen.

I wonder what he'd make of the Flats in Cleveland.

Actually, I live in Whatever Heights, and it's more or less "affordable" (despite what you may have heard), but it's not especially high, and you'd think one of the irreducible characteristics of something called "Heights" would be, well, height. Similar liberties are taken elsewhere in the city: "Bricktown" now apparently means "anywhere within a couple of miles of downtown," Flower Garden Park has been short on flora in recent years, and don't even think that the Northwest Expressway has anything "express" about it. (Well, there's Express Personnel, I suppose.) And I've grumbled before about Basswood Canyon Road, inasmuch as we have neither canyons nor basswood. What's more, someone had the temerity to name a moderate-to-high-zoot development "Rivendell", and I'm pretty sure it wasn't Elrond.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:16 AM to City Scene )
The ghost in the Shell station

Brian J. Noggle explains what just happened:

George W. Bush has ginned up the fake "air terror" alert to make it inconvenient for you to fly. So you'll have to drive to your destinations and will have to buy gas at Big Oil's gouge — nay, plunge router! — prices.

On the upside, I can get a heck of a lot of fizzy drinks into the car; why, there are even designated locations for their placement.

Quote of the week

The road to Splitsville? Tam considers the possibilties:

P.J. O'Rourke once wittily remarked that Tito had a brilliant strategy to keep Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims, and all the other constituents of his polyglot ersatz nation from killing each other. His plan was a brilliantly simple one: he did it for them. After he was gone it didn't take long for the denizens of the synthetic republic of Yugoslavia to start rummaging through sock drawers and digging behind loose bricks in their fireplaces to drag out long-dormant grudges and start beating each other over the noggin with them. The country went to pieces so fast that nations as far away as the USA were hit with the shrapnel.

The situation in post-Saddam Iraq is starting to look depressingly similar. Now that Saddam is no longer available to kill them wholesale, his liberated subjects (liberally goaded by outside agents provocateurs from various Muj factions) are happily back to slaying each other on a more retail scale. This of course raises the troubling question as to which is the proper approach for us: Do we keep applying splints and bandages and hope the country knits itself together stably over the long term? Or do we accept the centripetal forces at work and try to manage the fragmentation, letting the country split itself into the three chunks it's so desperately trying to fragment into, and thereby focus our attention on the breakaway republics that need it most? Either way is a gamble, and the potential payoff for each path has its upsides and downsides.

Iraq's borders are just as synthetic as Yugoslavia's were. It may be that partition might work: certainly the Czechs and the Slovaks aren't shooting at one another, but then they weren't shooting at each other to any great extent during the brief existence of Czechoslovakia. If the Bush administration is wise — a lot to hope for, I suppose, but work with me here — they're already thinking about the possibilities.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:01 AM to QOTW )
Braniff grounded

Back in the spring of ought-five, I suggested that someone rework the old Braniff building at 324 N. Robinson, and before the year was out, Kerr-McGee signed on to a deal to turn the place into upscale condos.

But Kerr-McGee is gone — the Anadarko Petroleum takeover was approved by shareholders this week — and now the Braniff project has run into a snag:

"We expected to close today," said Anthony McDermid, one of the project's lead developers. "It didn't happen. It was a surprise to us. We spent a significant amount of time and resources on this."

A lawsuit filed Thursday in Oklahoma County District Court by McDermid and his partners allege they will suffer more than $8 million in damages if Kerr-McGee does not honor its part of the redevelopment.

But, says KMG/Anadarko, it's the fault of McDermid's Corporate Redevelopment Group:

"We have an existing contract with Corporate Redevelopment Group to build a parking garage that would be suitable to Kerr-McGee," [KMG spokesman John] Christiansen said. "After completion of that garage, Kerr-McGee has agreed to deliver to Corporate Redevelopment Group the certain properties identified for redevelopment. We are willing to perform under that contract."

Christiansen said Corporate Redevelopment Group requested changes in the contract conditions — changes he wouldn't disclose — that were not acceptable to Kerr-McGee.

Outgoing KMG chair Luke Corbett seemed enthusiastic about the project, but Corbett's no longer running the show.

Clearly something's happened here that we're not being told — yet.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:27 PM to City Scene )
12 August 2006
Picture this

Retouched photos from the Middle East!

No, not fake news. We're talking digital face beautification, and here's a snippet of the abstract:

[G]iven a frontal photograph of a face (a portrait), our method automatically increases the predicted attractiveness rating of the face. The main challenge is to achieve this goal while introducing only minute, subtle modifications to the original image, such that the resulting "beautified" face maintains a strong, unmistakable similarity to the original.

What for, you ask?

Professional photographers have been retouching and deblemishing their subjects ever since the invention of photography. It may be safely assumed that any model that we encounter on a magazine cover today has been digitally manipulated by a skilled, talented retouching artist. Since the human face is arguably the most frequently photographed object on earth, a tool such as ours would be a useful and welcome addition to the ever-growing arsenal of image enhancement and retouching tools available in today’s digital image editing packages. The potential of such a tool for motion picture special effects and advertising is also quite obvious.

I'd be content if they'd just require it for driver's-license photos.

(Via Popgadget.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:20 AM to Almost Yogurt )
Things I learned today (7)

It's an ongoing process, after all.