Archive for October 2006

Report from the front

The 5th Annual Blogger Boobie-Thon raised $9260, about twenty bucks more than last year — in two fewer days.

For some inscrutable reason, there was some backlash this year, mostly from people who (1) manifestly didn’t understand the concept and/or (2) thought it was unseemly to look at someone’s rack. Robyn dealt with this sort of thing with dispatch:

We have now worked countless hours and raised over $30,000 in five years. What exactly have you done … other than type out a few snarky English phrases on a keyboard?

Cue the crickets.

See you next year.

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Up ‘n Atom

Dynamo Dave explains how to use a feed reader, complete with Bloglines screenshots. If you’ve been wondering about this yourself, this is a good, nontechnical primer.

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Fox detox

I think the last year I followed the pop charts to any great extent was 1986, after which I decided that I really didn’t care anymore. And I don’t think it was my age, which was thirty-three, so much as the sheer boredom that oozed out of pop radio back then. The ooze has since been supplemented by waste, sometimes toxic, which hasn’t exactly encouraged me to come back to the dial; I haven’t had a real Favorite Single of the Year since Alanis’ “You Oughta Know”, which wasn’t even released as a single at first.

I still haven’t gone back to the radio, but them thar Intarwebs have made finding music a lot more interesting, and I’ve even got a possible Favorite Single for this year, and it hasn’t even been released yet: “Rehab,” a glorious Sixties-soul tune by Amy Winehouse, who wasn’t even thought of in the 1960s. (She’s only twenty-three.) For now, presumably until someone finds out it’s there, you can see and hear it on YouTube. I give this one an easy 90; as reworked Sixties soul goes, this might be the best I’ve heard since Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” which came out in (yes!) 1986.

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Strange search-engine queries (36)

Three dozen times I’ve gone to the well, and the bucket keeps coming back up, filled with stuff like this:

dick no dickless:  For Dick’s sake, make up your mind.

socially inept men:  At least I’ve dropped out of the top 50 for this search.

Beyerstein could probably teach at FSU:  And give up Majikthise? I hope not.

10 inch penis posibility:  It’s a stretch, but not unheard-of.

anakin skywalker sewing patterns:  “Luke, I am your seamstress.”

homemade porn in bucks pennsylvania:  I know only a handful of people in Bucks, and they have better things to do at home.

vickie mcgehee:  No, I won’t believe it for a moment. I won’t.

low man on the totem pole mean:  I’m pretty low down. Mean, too.

100 ways to look stupid:  And we have 100 Senators. Coincidence?

mermaid copy protection:  I haven’t figured out how they reproduce in the first place.

what happened to ponds vanishing creme:  It disappeared.

why dont women like pantyhose:  Try putting some on someday.

fake fur hydrocarbons:  Well, they gotta make it out of something.

when is my mazda 6 clutch worn:  Never after Labor Day, or on formal occasions.

autofellatio is considered a divine act:  If someone sees it, expect to hear “Oh, my God!”

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Let’s put this baby to the test

You do not want to watch me during a test drive. I don’t think I’m particularly hard on a car, but it’s going to have to be able to do some pretty weird-looking things to get me to sign the check, and this means scary roll angles, braking at odd times, and 30-mph curves at 55 or so. While I consider these things essential to determining the vehicle’s suitability, I don’t think the general public benefits by having to see them take place on local surface streets, and other drivers may well be put into a state of shock, which doesn’t enhance anybody’s safety.

The city of Naperville, Illinois now takes a step forward with its new municipal test track, intended for customers of the dozen or so local dealerships. Here’s what it offers:

  • A 100-foot-long cobblestone surface to simulate driving on a brick road.
  • A 10 percent hill climb incline intended to replicate driving on a dirt road.
  • High-bank testing area with a 10 percent cross slope.
  • Rough-road testing on concrete pavement with embedded boulders.
  • Suburban driveway and curb comprised of standard concrete driveway.
  • Skid pad area consisting of asphalt pavement, irrigated so that it is constantly wet for wet braking tests.
  • Three security/Web cameras used to show activity on the track and allowing for live feeds to participating car dealers.
  • A simulated railroad crossing.

Except for maybe a high-speed straightaway, this is just about everything I’d want. Right now, the only thing locally that comes close is the franchise-mandated test course for Land Rovers behind Bob Moore’s Autoplex. (I came this close to climbing it one day, mistaking one of its paths for the entrance to the Infiniti service department next door, which demonstrates further the value of getting me off the road.) I’m not saying that Oklahoma City, or its car dealers, should pony up the bucks for a replica of the Nürburgring, but there has to be something better than just flying down the Broadway Extension.

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It’s my party and I’ll buy if I want to

“Some businesses, things and people,” says Miriam, “just seem to naturally belong to one political party or the other.” A few of her examples:

Target, Democratic; Wal-Mart, Republican. Sears, Democratic; Macy’s, Republican. Margarine, Democratic; butter, Republican. The miniskirt, Democratic; the little black dress with pearls, Republican. Tattoos, Democratic; Botox, Republican. Hot dogs, Democratic; knackwurst, Republican. Kraft cheddar cheese, Democratic; havarti cheese, Republican. Mustard, Democratic; mayonnaise, Republican.

Obviously none of this is graven in stone, and I expect protests on some of them — since when is mayonnaise Republican? — but there is some sense to it, perhaps.

My own thinking:

Democratic: Volvo, Panera Bread, TJ Maxx, Lifetime.

Republican: Buick, Burger King, JCPenney, ESPN.

Green: Segway, Whole Foods, Goodwill, C-SPAN.

Libertarians, of course, buy what they damn well please.

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Pi on the head

Not the same as pie in the face. Pay attention here.

Step 1:  Select a color of yarn for each digit.

Step 2:  Ascertain the digits of pi, keeping in mind that you’ll run out of yarn but you’ll never run out of digits.

Step 3:  Knit.

Step 3.14159….:  Apply directly to the forehead.

Chance that I would recognize this pattern, were I to see it on the street: next to nil, since I’m not at all proficient at counting rows.

But you gotta love it: a hat with a secret message.

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While the world worries

The Top Ten Good Things about the North Korean nuclear test:

  1. Keeps the DPRK from being demoted to the Axis of Feeble
  2. Japan contemplating new, improved Godzilla
  3. Pyongyang, as a member of the Nuclear Club, is now liable for back dues
  4. Opportunity to recalibrate Richter scale
  5. South Korean arms trade profitable again
  6. It will take 10 years to save up enough aluminum cans for a second test
  7. Test site may actually be warm this winter, unlike rest of country
  8. President Ahmadinejad of Iran no longer a lock for Dork of the Year
  9. Beijing now wondering why they actually backed these loons
  10. Finally got that idiot Mark Foley off the goddamn front page

(Disclosure: I have not quit my day job.)

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Diffraction effects

I admit to being a sucker for off-kilter love stories — even off-kilter teenage love stories, if they’re done with some degree of finesse. Laura Whitcomb’s A Certain Slant of Light has so much finesse it nearly slipped away from me, but I was able to maintain some semblance of a grip right up until the only possible ending that made any sense.

“Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you’re dead.” And so she was, her own life having run out a century before, bound to a succession of “hosts” who are never aware of her existence, final disposition of her case evidently still pending. While looking after “her” English teacher, she’s somehow seen by one of his students, and she must find out more.

He, like her, is Light, assigned to this in-between world. Yet he somehow has a body:

“How did you take Mr. Blake’s body?”

“He vacated it,” said James. “He left it, mind and soul, like an empty house with the door open.” He seemed excited to tell me his strange adventure.

“When his spirit left his body, why didn’t he die?” I wanted to know.

“His body didn’t die,” he said, still fascinated by his own luck. “His spirit chose to leave. It’s difficult to explain. Instead of the ship going down taking the crew with it, the crew abandoned the ship, but the ship was still seaworthy.” Now he looked embarrassed. Something in my expression had shamed him.

“It seems wrong,” I said. “Like stealing.”

“Better that I have him rather than —” An untold and eerie story flashed by behind his autumn eyes.

“Than what?”

“Well, left adrift, something evil might pirate him away.”

This seemed more plausible to me than I thought it would. And eventually the want overwhelms the rules, and she finds an “empty” body of her own:

Jenny’s eyes closed and her hands folded. I decided I couldn’t wait forever. I stepped over the sleeping child and sat where Jenny was sitting. The ringing sound of crystal vibrating was all around me. I felt like I had pressed myself into cold marble. I stayed in her, and in a moment I started shaking. It was frightening, but I wouldn’t let myself run. I tried to see James in my mind’s eye, smiling at me. The ringing stopped with a popping sound. I felt like an ice sculpture starting to crack into pieces. Then it happened. I felt the shape of her, the shape of myself, inside the fingers and shoulders and knees of her. I even felt the snug shoes and the difference between her warm arms inside her sweater and her cool legs exposed to the breeze. I could feel the tickle of Jenny’s hair brushing my cheek. My hand went to my mouth when I heard myself cry out in amazement. I opened my eyes to see every face in the circle turned to me, and then the ground flew up and I was in the dark.

Two people, both long dead, now pretending to be the teenagers whose bodies they inhabit. It’s not hard to see where this is going, but it’s difficult not to feel something for them, so long deprived — or for the departed youngsters who had no idea what they were giving up. It’s a fascinating story, more than a little bit creepy in spots, and, I’d say, worth the extra effort it demands of the “young-adult” audience to whom it’s pitched. How did I wind up with this book? I wish I knew.

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Google arithmetic

Some things at Google just don’t add up. For one thing, they’re willing to pay $1.65 billion for YouTube. And this past weekend, CEO Eric Schmidt came up with this curious statistic:

We have 35 million blogs, doubling every six months. The average blog has exactly one reader: the blogger.

Based on this assertion, and given the inexplicable yet verifiable fact that I have more than one reader, I have to assume that there are some blogs out there that aren’t even being read by the people who write them.

For example:

I don’t read my own blog. I don’t think many people who have a blog read their own. I mean — you made the posts. The comments get emailed to you. Why do you need to read it? It’s not logical.

A Google search for “i don’t read my own blog” garners 39 hits. I think I might have about 39 regular readers.

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Let them pay for their greed

Boy, do I know what this is like:

Today, I discovered that we had a credit card company unexpectedly and unannounced (although they claim to have sent some notification months ago) raise our APR from 11.99% to 29.99%. Thirty [CENSORED] percent!!!

That is Congressionally enabled highway robbery! Period!

The outrageously higher rate wasn’t because we had missed any payments or that we had gone over our limit. It wasn’t because we had a sudden change in our credit score, which has been about the same (give or take a couple of points) for the last two years. They claimed it was a decision based on an overall credit analysis. In other words, in corporate speak, they did it because they could.

Been there, done that. The bank in question used to make an easy thousand dollars a year from my card accounts. No more.

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Classic peg/hole mismatch

Ethnic diversity, we are told, is a Good Thing, and to some extent, I have to agree: I have no desire to live among a bunch of people who are exactly like me, assuming that there exists a bunch of people who are exactly like me, which is something I don’t really want to assume.

But there’s always been a serious downside to it, and now it’s being quantified:

A bleak picture of the corrosive effects of ethnic diversity has been revealed in research by Harvard University’s Robert Putnam, one of the world’s most influential political scientists.

His research shows that the more diverse a community is, the less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone — from their next-door neighbour to the mayor.

This is a contentious finding in the current climate of concern about the benefits of immigration. Professor Putnam told the Financial Times he had delayed publishing his research until he could develop proposals to compensate for the negative effects of diversity, saying it “would have been irresponsible to publish without that”.

The core message of the research was that, “in the presence of diversity, we hunker down”, he said. “We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it’s not just that we don’t trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don’t trust people who do look like us.”

My vestigial leftist reflex immediately came back with “Yeah, so there are xenophobes out there. We’re not like that.” Which suggests further research — say, busing churchgoing NASCAR fans into Berkeley.

And Putnam isn’t by any means calling for re-isolation:

Prof Putnam stressed, however, that immigration materially benefited both the “importing” and “exporting” societies, and that trends “have been socially constructed, and can be socially reconstructed”.

In an oblique criticism of Jack Straw, leader of the House of Commons, who revealed last week he prefers Muslim women not to wear a full veil, Prof Putnam said: “What we shouldn’t do is to say that they [immigrants] should be more like us. We should construct a new us.”

This strikes me as fatuous. “Us” is already under construction, and always has been; these things happen on their own, and efforts to direct the process are not guaranteed to produce the desired results, as Putnam’s own research presumably shows.

Or, as Rachel says:

[I]sn’t forcing majorities to cope with the whims, desires and customs of minorities also a source of friction?

Think of it as the Law of Unintended Consequences in action. Or you can just snicker at this:

Another frequently asked question is about polygamy. “We have a simple answer to this question: Islam allows its male followers to marry more than once to help maintain gender balance in society,” he said.

There are, for instance, 7.8 million more women than men in the US today. “This means that if every male US citizen picks a wife, 7.8 million women will be left without marriage. These women will either have the option of getting married to an already married person or become promiscuous,” said Ghazanfar.

Some choice. “Ghazanfar” is evidently Arabic for “Morton”. And while we’re on the subject, veils suck.

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Bored to the max

Motor Trend reports (via Autoblog) that Porsche’s ageless boxer six is now pushing the limits of development:

A key issue with the next 911 is the iconic flat-six engine apparently can’t be stretched beyond 4.0 liters, which limits the potential output, even with technologies such as direct injection. This means the car will almost certainly feature extensive use of aluminum and fast-shifting DSG transmissions to save weight and boost performance.

And the purists (some of whom work in Stuttgart) wouldn’t dream of trying to squeeze the Panamera’s V8 under the 911’s tail.

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Chatty spam

Some of the comments caught in the crap-filtration system around here lately are attempting to be cordial in the process of leeching linkage. Examples:

What a cute site you have here. I can tell that you have put a lot of time and work into it. Great job!

I feel like a complete blank. That’s how it is. I can’t be bothered with anything recently.

I really find this site very interesting, and it gives people a pleasure time! I really appreciate the creators of this website!

My life’s been basically dull these days. I haven’t gotten much done these days. Today was a complete loss.

Since obviously the scum who wrote this originally can be considered a complete loss, I’m taking some pleasure time to empty out the trash.

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I even remember how to get there

A Louisiana Googler wanted to know if there was really such a street as “Memory Lane.”

As a matter of fact, it’s just down the road from me, off the 3900 block of NW 50th. (Google map here.)

If you’re looking for the Heartbreak Hotel, though, it’s at the end of Lonely Street, which doesn’t intersect 50th at all.

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Not necessarily a sign of anything

After all, it’s a preseason game, and the first preseason game at that.

Still: Hornets 84, Mavericks 81, and as we all know, the Bees never beat Dallas.

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The F-word

And here it is:

Forecast graphic

I’m just as thrilled as you think I am. Maybe even less.

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Continuing tweakage

Inasmuch as Technorati is giving me the Claude Rains treatment of late, I’ve replaced their search box with one of Google’s — it’s in the “Usage notes” area on the frontpage sidebar — which should produce marginally more reliable results.

Actually, I’m happy with anything that produces results at all these days; just about every day, there’s a half-hour (more or less) period when this site is all but inaccessible. If it happened at the same time every day, it might be a bit more understandable, but no. I assume that it’s related to lingering Dreamhost issues that are being gradually addressed. On the upside, response time has improved markedly in the past sixty days, though at least some of that is due to reducing the size of my database by 95 percent, an idea for which I claim no credit.

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Beware of the Blob

Remember when there was always room for this stuff?

A small pile of leftover jelly discarded beside the road after a wedding party caused a large-scale security alert in Germany with biochemical experts, firemen and police called in to investigate.

“Passers-by called police after finding a pool of a flabby red, orange and green substance on the roadside,” a police spokesman in the eastern town of Halle told Reuters on Monday.

He said the newly wed groom, who was pulled out of bed at noon following a tipoff, confirmed that the jelly, known as Jell-O in the United States, was a party leftover — and agreed to clean it up.

As biohazards go, this is inarguably small-scale. Had this been spinach salad with mayonnaise, there’d be Chernobyl-level anguish.

(Via The Consumerist.)

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For all those heat-seeking misses

A chap from Edmond is, says Cosmopolitan, one of the “hottest guys in the U.S.”, and he’d like your vote in their Bachelor Blowout, as it were.

Josh Walters, 23, who teaches at Summit Middle School in Edmond, represents Oklahoma in the magazine’s list of 50 studmuffins, and he looks, well, like this.

And he admits to one bit of puzzlement about women:

I know women have different hormones than guys do, but their mood swings leave me puzzled. I really don’t follow how they can change from happy to furious so quickly and for no obvious reason at all!

This, sir, is why you’re teaching geography. Mountains and streams don’t do things like that.

(Those of you who may be seeking the very antithesis of hot — oh, wait, you’re already reading me.)

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212

Or, in Celsius, 100.

Why Gabriel Fahrenheit set the boiling point of water to 212 degrees is not known for certain. I’ve always believed that one summer day in the 1720s he went outside for a moment, then dashed back inside and sputtered: “Gott in Himmel! It must be a hundred degrees out there!” Six months later it was colder than Prussian beer; he decided that this was zero, and from those two points he constructed the entire scale.

The 212th Carnival of the Vanities is decidedly less bogus than this story, and packed full of bloggy goodness besides.

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Can we borrow your tones, Mr. Stentor?

Lileks explains one way to make your campaign ad more effective:

Use the same narrator who’s appeared in every other campaign ad since 1978. You know, that guy. The one with the voice? Him. We all know he’s the true ruler of the country, and if he gives his tacit stamp of approval, I know the candidate has the backing of the Hidden Cabal that runs the government from a mountain in Colorado. They weren’t behind 9/11, but they were behind 5/30. Oh, you didn’t hear about 5/30? That’s how secret they are.

Of course, There Is No Cabal.

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Quote of the week

Terry Michael, on the question of whether House Speaker Dennis Hastert should step down:

Call me an old-fashioned little-“d” democrat, but I’m willing to leave moral and ethical judgments about an official’s personal conduct to the wisdom of crowds — the electorate, in this case.

Through their democratically selected Republican representatives, let the citizenry decide whether Hastert should stay or go. In fact, I wish Mr. Foley had chosen to be judged by the people of his district in Florida, rather than hide behind a smarmy, lawyerly “I was drunk and molested” defense.

A Democrat involved in a page-related sex scandal a few decades ago, gay Congressman Gerry Studds, stood before his voters and was repeatedly returned to Congress. His straight Republican colleague, Dan Crane, who had sex with a female page, was fired immediately by those who had sent him to Washington. Gay Democratic Congressman Barney Frank and gay Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe both won approval of their constituents after they were outed while in office.

In all those cases, a crowd casting ballots probably showed more wisdom than some House “ethics” committee or “independent” counsel could ever muster.

And who’s to blame for all this foofaraw, anyway?

The problem Mr. Hastert is facing is not ABC News or liberal Democrats. It’s a significant number of [his] party’s base voters, who appear to despise gays and lesbians, and who demand that the party accept their bias as a legitimate “religious” belief. And it’s also many — I think a majority — of those pesky voters in the center, who conclude Republicans are more than a little bit intolerant and are being a tad bit hypocritical.

As a Democrat, albeit a libertarian Democrat (there are about six of us), I side with the view that men are indeed canines, but it’s a lot more important for congressmen to decide whether to send 18-year-olds to their deaths in the desert than it is to monitor whether dirty old men are sending “what are you wearing” instant messages to 16-year-olds at the beginning of the sex-sophisticated 21st Century.

I’d dispute that “sex-sophistication” business — I submit that we’re no closer to understanding all of its ramifications now than we were when Delilah gave Samson a buzz cut — but otherwise, I bark in general assent.

And speaking of Mr Foley, Nolan Clay of the Oklahoman said this with a straight (I think) face:

Foley, a Florida Republican, quit after ABC News confronted him about lurid messages sent over the Internet to teenage, former male pages.

“Former” male pages? What, are they female now? Or somewhere in between? If that’s the case, “lurid” doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface, as it were. (Daily Pundit’s Bill Quick caught this.)

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Riding the LMTFA

I should point out that a friend of mine sent me this; despite a certain resemblance, personality-wise, I did not write it.

Question: I have a personality that irritates people. I like to keep to myself on the job, without constant interruptions. I have a strong work ethic and have held many jobs but hate playing office footsie with people I would rather not be bothered with. I have about a decade left of work life and would like a meaningful position before it’s too late.

Answer: Ms. Mentor is not much given to sighing for what is not, but she wishes you had been born in the 18th century, when you might have gotten on as an ornamental hermit.

Every English grotto back then had to have one: a robed, bearded figure who now and then emerged from his hutch to amaze guests with his visionary mumblings. Of course, ornamental hermits in effect had tenure: health care, room and board, free robes. They merely had to have theatrical sense and impeccable wisdom — which, as Ms. Mentor knows, was as rare then as it is now. But if you had it, you could make a career of flaunting it.

This goes on for quite a ways, inasmuch as it deals with life in the Groves of Academe, which is similar to The Industry only in that it goes out of its way to accommodate people who in the real world would be asking you if you wanted fries with that. This is, incidentally, another way you can tell I didn’t submit that question: the idea that I’d be looking for something “meaningful” for my last decade is wholly foreign to me. Not being one of the nine people on earth who have their actual Dream Jobs, what I look for is something I can put out of my mind the moment I walk out the door.

Or, better yet, the moment I walk in the door.

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Duh-worthy

I missed the first half of the announcement, but someone was droning on the radio this morning (right after Morning Edition; I don’t think it was a national NPR spot) about how “everything we do is either health-creating —”

[pregnant pause]

“— or not.

Yeah, that ought to narrow it down.

Addendum, 13 October, 6 pm: I’ve identified the program; the description on screen is a little bit less terse.

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The new GOP front-runner

As you all know, the lesser of two evils would still be lesser.

(Darth Rove snickers in the Eighth Circle.)

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Meanwhile, I have a circle to square

Were you to make a list of Things That Just Don’t Happen, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if you included “insurance premium decreased,” though in my three years at the palatial Surlywood estate, this actually did happen once.

Make that twice. Despite a four-percent increase in coverage (an inflation rider of some sort), insuring the little box on the curve will cost $100 less this coming year.

This being a mere eight bucks and change per month, I am going to use that sum to bump up the coverage another fourteen percent, splitting the difference between what the assessor thought the place was worth last year and what Zillow.com thought the place was worth last week (which is now a smidgen under $100k).

Taxes? I figure they’ll go up $30 or so.

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God hates blogs

Especially blogs by teenagers. Here’s why, from the Restored Church of God:

Here is the definition of a blog from a highly popular blog provider: “A blog is a personal diary. A daily pulpit. A collaborative space. A political soapbox. A breaking-news outlet. A collection of links. Your own private thoughts. Memos to the world. Your blog is whatever you want it to be. There are millions of them, in all shapes and sizes, and there are no real rules … blogs have … enabled millions of people to have a voice” (emphasis ours).

Ask yourself, “Do I have a tendency to want to have a voice?”

This has grown so out of control it is routine for a person to start a daily blog entry with a single word that details his or her mood. A blog entry will start: “Current mood: ____” The level of shallowness and emotional immaturity this represents is astonishing! In the grand scheme of things, why would the world at large care?

People naturally want to make a mark in this world; they want to make a difference, and many believe blogs will allow them to do this. However, most blogs, especially by teenagers, serve as nothing more than public diaries. (Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with a personal diary, as long as it is kept private.) Although certain professional weblogs can make a positive difference within some elements of society, teen blogging does not.

Current mood: chortling.

And how dare those little…those little…non-adults have a “tendency to want to have a voice”! Who do they think they are? Us?

Oh, wait, we’re not allowed either:

Should teenagers and others in the Church express themselves to the world through blogs? Because of the obvious dangers; the clear biblical principles that apply; the fact that it gives one a voice; that it is almost always idle words; that teens often do not think before they do; that it is acting out of boredom; and it is filled with appearances of evil — blogging is simply not to be done in the Church. It should be clear that it is unnecessary and in fact dangerous on many levels.

Let me emphasize that NO ONE — including adults — should have a blog or personal website (unless it is for legitimate business purposes).

My luck, that asshole Moloch will be late with the frigging checks again.

(Link and title swiped from Cruel.com.)

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Sole survival

Miriam is on the road, and I have to assume she’s packed plenty of shoes:

[A] woman can’t go anywhere without at least four pairs of shoes. Not even overnight. For a ten-day trip, you can imagine how many shoes are needed. It is a question of bringing the shoes juste for every outfit. Every outfit has its own shoe karma — the difference between dressing for success and looking like a slob is having the exactly right pair of shoes. Then you have to bring sneakers, because God forbid you actually have to walk somewhere, they are the only shoes you can actually wear without bringing tears to your eyes. And involuntary but deeply felt groans from your lips.

This caught my eye because for the World Tours I pack, yes, four pairs of shoes. These are, however, sixteen-day trips, which leads to the next question: in the unlikely event that I ever acquire a real live traveling companion of the female persuasion, will I have to get a larger vehicle just to accommodate her wardrobe needs? (I currently drive an Infiniti I30, which is considered more-or-less mid-sized.)

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I wonder if you still remember

Someone, I forget the name, once said that the essence of rock and roll was “happy songs about sad things,” and I filed that away with “jumbo shrimp” and all the other oxymoronic things I’d heard — until the day I realized that those premises weren’t contradictory at all.

Exhibit A: The Moody Blues, “Your Wildest Dreams,” 1986. Full of bright synth bits, decidedly upbeat, and a major downer:

It’s possible that “Your Wildest Dreams” isn’t really the saddest song ever written, but man. The entire song is based on him remembering, “once upon a time, once when you were mine,” and he never really fills in specifics. Just that he is currently wondering where she is and wondering if she thinks about him. It’s very vague and that makes it worse because that makes it universal. You can fill in the blanks any way you like. You don’t know why he is wistful and wondering but when his voice cracks on the second line of the song you know you are in for a song that presses down on you.

That second line, of course, is “once when you were mine.”

The answer to this, oddly, had come out seven years earlier: the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes,” arguably the best thing either Michael McDonald or Kenny Loggins ever had anything to do with. And bouncy and upbeat as it is, the answer is no, she never gives him a second thought:

He came from somewhere back in her long ago
The sentimental fool don’t see
Tryin’ hard to recreate what had yet to be created
Once in her life
She musters a smile
For his nostalgic tale
Never coming near what he wanted to say
Only to realize it never really was

Still makes me think twice, even today.

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An actual peacemonger

The Nobel Prize for Peace, in a stunning disregard of recent tradition, was awarded to deserving recipients: Grameen Bank and its founder Muhammad Yunus, pioneers in the field of micro-credit.

The Grameen (“Rural”) Bank was founded in Bangladesh in 1976 with seed money of $27. Today the bank has over six million borrowers. It works like this:

The Grameen Bank is based on the voluntary formation of small groups of five people to provide mutual, morally binding group guarantees in lieu of the collateral required by conventional banks. At first only two members of a group are allowed to apply for a loan. Depending on their performance in repayment the next two borrowers can then apply and, subsequently, the fifth member as well.

The assumption is that if individual borrowers are given access to credit, they will be able to identify and engage in viable income-generating activities — simple processing such as paddy husking, lime-making, manufacturing such as pottery, weaving, and garment sewing, storage and marketing and transport services. Women were initially given equal access to the schemes, and proved not only reliable borrowers but astute enterpreneurs. As a result, they have raised their status, lessened their dependency on their husbands and improved their homes and the nutritional standards of their children. Today over 90 percent of borrowers are women.

Says Mr Yunus:

Grameen believes that the poverty is not created by the poor, it is created by the institutions and policies which surround them. In order to eliminate poverty all we need to do is to make appropriate changes in the institutions and policies, and/or create new ones. Grameen believes that charity is not an answer to poverty. It only helps poverty to continue. It creates dependency and takes away individual’s initiative to break through the wall of poverty. Unleashing of energy and creativity in each human being is the answer to poverty.

Grameen brought credit to the poor, women, the illiterate, the people who pleaded that they did not know how to invest money and earn an income. Grameen created a methodology and an institution around the financial needs of the poor, and created access to credit on reasonable term enabling the poor to build on their existing skill to earn a better income in each cycle of loans.

(Previous discussion here.)

I normally don’t call attention to Nobel laureates — they always get plenty of press — but in an era when you’re expecting the Peace prize to go jointly to, say, Madeleine Albright and Spalding, it’s a pleasure to report that the awards committee didn’t screw up this time.

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A brand name is born, or something

Last month, you may have read this here:

When Ford bought Land Rover from BMW in 2000, the Germans retained the rights to the unlanded “Rover” name, though Ford was offered first place in line when and if BMW decided to let it go. And BMW didn’t let it go, even though the Chinese automaker SAIC subsequently bought up the remnants of Rover’s actual product line.

Now Ford has exercised its option and taken over rights to the Rover badge, reportedly for a payment of £6 million.

Which leaves the Chinese with — what, exactly?

The Roewe 750E will be the SAIC version of the Rover 75, to be introduced at the Beijing Auto Show next month. “Roewe” might be a contraction of “Rong Wei,” which means “glorious power” and is not, despite some snickering, a Chinese variation on “Wrong Way.”

I was kind of hoping for “Lovel.” (Don’t ask.) And don’t expect the Roewe to be sold in the States.

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Thirty percent off!

And I want to order these:

  • 0.7 Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Slaughterhouse-3.5
  • The 4.9 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • Catch-15.4
  • The Crying of Lot 34.3
  • Around the World in 56 Days
  • 58.8 Charing Cross Road
  • Fahrenheit 315.7
  • 1400.7: A Space Odyssey
  • 14,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  • Seven Hundred Thousand Little Pieces

(Via Gawker.)

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Doing the fast fade

At one point in the third quarter, the Hornets and the Magic were tied, 66-all.

The fact that Orlando won it 100-85 should tell you what happened after that.

Yes, I know: still preseason. Six more of them to come.

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Besides, they don’t respond to “Hey, you”

All my cars have had names, and I don’t always find out right away what those names are; it took about nine miles to get some ID from Gwendolyn after I signed the papers. (Where it came from is here, next-to-last paragraph.)

Ford-fan forum Blue Oval News attempts to explain why some of us do this sort of thing:

Why is it that you might name your car, but you would never give a name to your TV set, refrigerator or your sofa?

The experts have some theories: Cars move making them animate objects. People think cars are alive. We personalize our cars with our stuff. Cars are a thing of pride.

“Cars are certainly more personal objects than refrigerators are, and a source of more personal pride,” said Cleveland Kent Evans, Associate Professor of Psychology, Bellevue University. “Vehicles of any kind are probably also more likely to be named simply because they move in the course of their normal use, and so are more easily to think of like they were animate objects instead of inanimate ones.”

True. But lawnmowers and vacuum cleaners move, and it’s not generally acceptable to say, “I need to vacuum, will you get ‘Sucky’ out of the closet for me?”

Truth be told, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that someone had named a car “Sucky.” God knows plenty of them qualify for it.

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The case for spelling

There were a couple of grumbles (offsite) this week from commenters who thought they were being thrown back into the moderation queue, vaguely reminiscent of “What happened to my access?” complaints during the BBS era. As always, the answer is simple: when you’re set up in the auto-approval gizmo, it looks for your email address thereafter, and if it recognizes you, you’re in. (Email addresses are not actually posted with the comment.) If you’ve dyslexicated a couple of characters, or if you’ve moved your “nospam” insert, or if you’ve used some other email address altogether, the machine doesn’t know you from kimthenukegod@dprk.org, and the comment goes into the box for moderation.

Possibly apropos of this, Lynn reported that someone had come to her site via a search for a video on “your tub”. “So much more clever than that more famous video site,” she said, and just for the heck of it, I went out to yourtub.com and found, of all things, a splog with a handful of video links. These guys are hoping to make money from people’s inability to spell and/or type — all the more reason to take a little extra care and make sure they don’t get it.

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Fonted, dead or alive

Windows XP reports that my desktop box contains 706 fonts, a figure which is somewhat misleading, inasmuch as there are six variations on, say, Goudy Old Style, plus a Goudy Stout, so-called presumably because “Goudy Absurdly Extra Freaking Bold” would have taken up too much valuable screen area in Control Panel, and that counts for seven right there.

However many fonts I may actually have, I must admit here that I have all of the seven worst fonts known to man. I need not tell you which is the worst — everybody already knows — but some of the snarky commentary is worth quoting:

Kristen ITC fans are usually elementary school teachers, childcare professionals, and other people with kid-centric jobs. These people love to employ quotes like, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old — we grow old because we stop playing,” and they really like to use a font that serves as a constant reminder that THEY HAVE NOT STOPPED PLAYING, DAMMIT! DON’T YOU SEE HOW PLAYFUL THESE LETTERS LOOK? YOU ARE TALKING TO SOMEONE WHO IS YOUNG INSIDE!

Don’t ask me why, but Viner Hand seems to have become the go-to font for angsty pre-teens and would-be goths. Well, I hate to be the one to break it to the Linkin Park fan contingent, but calligraphy is to angst what scones are to rave parties.

For those who asked: the logo font around here is in no danger of becoming criminally overused, since at small sizes it’s darn near unreadable and at large sizes it eats up all your screen space.

(Via Swirlspice.)

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Die another day

Batteries of one sort or another bedevil me, as I suspect they do all of us. (Aside to any Amish readers: No, I didn’t mean to include you, and how are you reading this, anyway?) Often as not, they’re not even included, which means, often as not, a second trip to the store. Before I took delivery of my car this summer, I requested (well, actually, demanded, since I had it added to the contract) that a new battery be installed, as I had no faith in the one already there.

But lesser batteries can cause grief of their own. At the suggestion of my dental hygienist a few years back, I bought a Sonicare turbocharged toothbrush, which has generally served me well, even though I couldn’t figure out how the charger gizmo worked, inasmuch as it has no metal connections of any kind other than in the wall plug. (Eventually I learned that it was some form of transformer: primary winding in the base, secondary in the handle, and magnetism does the rest.) A good thing, I suppose, since you’re likely to plunk it down in the base while it’s dripping wet. Originally, a full charge would last a couple of weeks; now it’s down to a couple of days. This is fairly typical nickel-cadmium behavior, but there’s no way to replace the cells, which means that shortly this thing will become a small, irregular rolling pin. Maybe the recyclers will take it as is, so I don’t have to throw it away. (Cadmium is nasty stuff.)

Replaceable cells aren’t always an improvement, especially if the device has a prodigious hunger for them. I have a speakerphone on my desk. The phone line powers the speaker, but the Caller ID subsystem takes three AA cells, and it takes them about every two months. (If you fail to feed it, the machine responds by killing the contrast on the LCD screen until you can only read it while hanging from the chandelier, a problem inasmuch as I don’t have a chandelier.) Perhaps newer models have lower battery drain; I have an 18-month-old Olympus digital voice recorder that’s still on its original set of AAAs.

Of course, if all this stuff ran directly off the grid, God knows what would happen to my electric bill.

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The Curtis Mathes syndrome

Dave Dial, a former Oklahoman transplanted to Los Angeles forty-odd years ago, explained this to me, and it rang truer than I’d prefer to admit:

When a consumer buys a contraption that combines two or more functions, if one of them breaks down and is too expensive or inconvenient to repair, the consumer will typically continue to use the parts that still work. So we see combination telephone-answering machines where the answering machine has crapped out but the phone still works and is still in use. We see those cute little combination TV-VCRs where the VCR’s mechanism has eaten one tape too many but the TV still works, to give two examples.

I based the syndrome on observing back in the 1960s that many homes had what was called a “home entertainment center”: a huge, living-room-space-consuming combination television-radio-phonograph with the TV dead but the radio and phonograph still working. Besides, it was a good-looking piece of furniture. Too bad there was no money to fix the TV but enough to buy a much cheaper table model set that might even be placed directly on top of the partially-defunct home entertainment center.

Besides, a lot of those humongous consoles had old B&W sets in them; if not necessarily more cost-effective, it was a lot more appealing to buy a color set and park it on top, and if you were lucky enough to have one of the high-end consoles with a picture tube that hid behind sliding doors or louvers, no one need ever know your dark, deep secret.

Actual Curtis Mathes consoles probably suffered less from this syndrome than some other, better-known brands: the tiny Texas-based manufacturer’s long-running slogan was “The most expensive television in America, and darn well worth it,” and they meant it. But by the 1960s, parts were relatively cheap, and labor relatively expensive; if you were unwilling to mess around with the high-voltage innards of a television, you either wrote a large check or bought a new set. (This reality was ultimately reflected in the Curtis Mathes warranty: one year on labor, ten years on parts, still in effect when I bought one of their sets in 1981. I wrote about the experience here. That set, incidentally, was still working when I donated it to Goodwill in 2002, though the picture was a little greener than spec.)

I know the syndrome well, though. I had replaced the original factory radio in my old Toyota Celica with a radio/cassette unit. Eventually, the tape mechanism quit working, in a truly fascinating fashion: the transport had somehow locked itself into a position where it thought there was a tape already in there, which meant (1) you couldn’t insert an actual tape and (2) it automatically cut off the radio. Faced with the possibility of having to crawl back under the dash and replace the factory unit, or buy a whole new stereo, I shoved a plastic dowel (actually part of an old Bic pen barrel) just far enough into the tape transport to defeat the radio-off switch, which left me with a dead tape unit but a working radio. This ad hoc fix lasted six years, two years longer than the duct-tape job on the exhaust manifold. (Don’t ask.)

Conversely, I once had a fairly crummy $200 shelf-unit stereo whose turntable failed, which I replaced with a real live Dual 1215 hi-fi unit, thereby guaranteeing myself high-quality reproduction right up to the point where the signal entered the amplifier. In automotive terms, this is dropping a 351 Cleveland into a Kia Sephia.

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Tell me, who are you?

For four years I’ve had the same Toshiba notebook: Satellite series, 1100-MHz Celeron, 256 MB RAM (upgraded to 512 this year), 20 GB drive, CD burner/DVD player. (Some of you may actually have seen it.) There’s a software gizmo inside it which automatically downloads driver updates and such from Toshiba’s US branch, separate from the Windows Update function that comes with Microsoft’s infamous OS.

And last night it downloaded a new registration system to replace the old one. The dialog box didn’t ask for any new information, except for “where purchased,” but it did take me by surprise, especially since the machine is long out of warranty. Best guess: Toshiba is cleaning up its user database, and anyone who doesn’t fill out the new form doesn’t get any more free updates. Second-best guess: Toshiba finally got around to reading the serial number of this machine, discovered that they’d foisted it off on a reseller as a factory second — there’s a tiny dent in the case and the floppy door sticks — and was shocked to find it still in service. (I paid $889 for it in 2002; list price for this model was $1295. Machines with more muscle routinely sell for half that these days.)

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