Archive for August 2009

Chips ahoy!

Anders Sandberg summarizes a Zogby survey:

John Zogby’s firm polled people about whether they would want implanted chips for various purposes. 13% wanted chips for Internet access, 25% wanted a chip that gave immunity to disease, 23% wanted a chip giving access to knowledge and just 6% wanted entertainment chips. Males were as expected more open to enhancement than women, younger people are more open to the idea of entertainment, internet or knowledge chips while everybody were about equally interested in immunity chips. According to Zogby, Democrats were more likely to want chips than Republicans, likely because of a co-correlation with religious adherence: non-churchgoers were more likely to want chips than churchgoers.

I decline, not so much because of Mark of the Beast considerations, but for this reason:

If you are net connected then you will be hacked. Not if, when.

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Proposed stock symbol: WTF

I suspect that this is not going to be the next Google:

The General Motors Company, the new automaker majority-owned by the United States Treasury, said Friday that it intended to make an initial public offering of stock by July 10, 2010, the one-year anniversary of its exit from bankruptcy. The target date range for an offering was disclosed Friday in a federal regulatory filing that the company said summarized its activities in the four weeks since it left court protection.

I’m trying to decide whether to question the timing. There’s no reason to think the General will be in much better shape this time next summer; on the other hand, if nothing goes wrong(er) and the stars line up correctly, we’re looking at about four months before the hotly-hyped 2011 Chevrolet Volt is supposed to go on sale. If the Volt proves to be the game-changer GM swears it will be, the folks who bought in for a pittance in July will turn a tidy profit in December or January.

Meanwhile, No Longer Second Deputy Under-Assistant Car Czar Ron Bloom says Chrysler won’t be doing likewise for a while:

“I don’t think Chrysler’s I.P.O. is a 2010 event,” Mr. Bloom told reporters at an automotive conference in northern Michigan. “I think it’s a little further off. But again, that will be the board’s judgment.”

Mr. Bloom referred to Mr. Obama’s directive that the government sell its stakes in the carmakers “as soon as is practicable.” He stressed, though, that unloading the 61 percent share of G.M. and 8 percent share of Chrysler would take time so as not to destroy their value.

On the other hand, an IPO would be a pretty good indication of whether those shares have any value in the first place.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

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Shades of the past

Former Teen Dream Deborah (don’t call her “Debbie” anymore) Gibson turns 40 next year, which fact prompted me to seek out more recent photos, although the one on her Twitter account is kinda cute. (Yes, I follow. Heck, I bought almost all of her records, fercryingoutloud.)

From this past June at a Pride event in Denver:

Deborah Gibson at 2009 Gay Pride Soiree, Denver

(Further such shots here.)

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P. L. T. (Pretty Large Thing)

It’s Live Forever: The Michael Jackson Monument Competition, and here’s the pitch:

While the music and images Michael left us will seal his cultural immortality, we are still obliged to commemorate him. What is the nature of a monument to Michael Jackson? What single place do we choose to remember a person who touched the globe and had aspirations for the moon?

What is the appropriate scale to remember a man who operated on everything possible — from the studied renovation of his own human form to the creation of an architectural-scale Wunderkammer at Neverland Ranch? What design proposal can top his own unrealized plans to construct a 50-foot robotic replica of himself that roams the Las Vegas desert shooting laser beams out of its eyes?

Live Forever challenges you to design a monument to the epic that was Michael Jackson. There are no limits to this open competition. Your monument may be located anywhere you choose and be any scale that you deem appropriate.

Well, there are some limits: you have to be able to fit it into a 72-dpi PNG at 3000 x 2000 pixels, and you have to submit it by the 22nd of August.

Aside: Good word, “epic.” It would make a heck of a name for a record label, in fact.

(Tweeted by Virginia Postrel.)

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I don’t get it (part deux)

Some things are apparently beyond my comprehension.

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Bing, bang, bung

Microsoft’s desire to get you to use their search facility instead of Google’s has apparently led them to some dubious sponsorship decisions:

89.7% of the bing.com Internet pharmacy ads that we reviewed are acting unlawfully in some way.

We successfully purchased prescription drugs without a prescription from bing.com Internet pharmacy advertisers.

We submitted some of the drugs for testing, and the drugs tested positive as counterfeit.

We identified serious security gaps in Microsoft’s online advertising program, allowing a rogue Internet pharmacy like store.k2med.com to advertise under the name of a domestic, US-licensed pharmacy but redirect traffic to the no-prescription-required, fake website. This happened in several cases, which is bad news for bing.com’s advertisers.

Many of the rogue Internet pharmacy advertisers are members of criminal networks responsible for much of the world’s spam, counterfeit drugs, and cybercrime, like GlavMed.

Some of the dubious drug providers are listed here.

I hasten to point out that some of these same vendors clutter up Google search results, so it’s not like Microsoft is actively courting vendors rejected by Google. (I tried a “buy viagra” search at Google, and got one of the rogues at the very top, though they evidently weren’t paying for a placement.) On the other hand, Microsoft is clearly making money off these guys.

(Full report in PDF format.)

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Late for my wake-up call

There are few things quite as surprising to me as browsing a favorite blog and finding a paragraph that sounds very much like me.

Although what perplexes me is that I didn’t realize it until the second sentence, by which time I’d already caught sight of the link back to me.

Realistically, I can’t be expected to remember everything I’ve written here: we’re looking at somewhere in the vicinity of 15,000 pages over the past thirteen years. But you’d think I’d remember something I finished up last night, fercrissake.

(Oh, and thanks, Gerard. By the way: Growl: farging brilliant.)

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From the Fritz Lang collection

Oh, sorry. These are from Nicolas Ghesquière’s spring 2009 designs for Balenciaga, and they’re called “Constellation”:

Constellation by Nicolas Ghesquière for Balenciaga

The Style Scientist reports:

These shoes remind me of spaceship design. I propose that NASA mandate their female astronauts to wear these shoes. It’s time for NASA to be fashion forward, don’t you agree?

I dunno. They seem a tad impractical for, say, the space shuttle, especially if you have to go outside and make repairs. I suppose I should ask a woman who works on a starship, though.

That said, they’re not entirely impractical:

Surprisingly, these shoes fit well and fully support the arches. I’m not turning into a robot yet, but when the completely restored version of Metropolis is released in 2010, I might be. I hope to wear these shoes to the theater if the movie premieres in my city!

And you know, for Nicolas Ghesquière, these are actually kind of conservative.

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Strange search-engine queries (184)

Surely somebody this week asked for something bizarre. Let’s have a look:

edsel grill vulva:  For the next model year, they trimmed the labia.

whamo sex with a girl:  Me, I want a Hula Hooper.

what you give women multiplies:  Except perhaps for the time of day.

why do corn flakes turn soggy in milk:  Imagine what they’d do in WD-40.

mystery poisoning young man debbie gibson:  What, did he guzzle a bottle of Electric Youth fragrance?

glazeth:  For lo, the time to make the donuts is at hand.

6teen an unfaithfulness of majorness part 1:  I’m guessing this is not the sequel to Nabokov’s Lolita.

diphenhydramine persecution dreams:  “Okay, pal, hand over the Benadryl, and nobody gets hurt.”

girls talking about bondage:  If they’re allowed to talk about it, it’s not really bondage, is it?

blue screen invisible woman:  I wondered who kept crashing my computer all the time.

don’t use since to start a sentence:  Since when?

samuel l jackson +phish:  “I have had it with these martyrfaking emails from that martyrfaking bank!”

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Crossovers and other anomalies

Sport-utility vehicles used to be trucks with a few extra creature comforts, including room for more creatures. Now we have these not-quite-SUVs called “crossovers,” based on car platforms instead, squeaking out one or two extra miles per gallon. I’ve not quite figured out the appeal, but somebody has:

[M]ost popular “SUVs” are pretty much just tarted up minivans. Great profits are made off of convincing people they aren’t buying a minivan. The whole point of automotive design over the past 30 years might be described as looking for the best way to convince people who are buying minivans that they aren’t actually buying a minivan.

Which explains why Ford and GM dumped their obvious minivans and embraced crossover culture. Ford, in fact, might have overdone it: for a while, they were selling the Edge, the Flex, and the Taurus X, slightly different shapes built over basically the same platform with the same 3.5-liter V6. They had enough sense to kill the Taurus X; they have yet to kill the Edge-y Lincoln MKX. (And if you ask me, they need to spade over the entire Lincoln “MK” thing: nobody, not even your local L-M dealer, can tell MKS from MKT from MKX from MKZ without looking them up. This is no way to make automobiles memorable, as Acura, which used to vend Integras and Legends and now sells alphabet soup, will testify if you push them.)

Chrysler, which generally gets credit for the contemporary minivan, has remained true to the cause, perhaps out of loyalty to the market it created, perhaps because no one is buying their crossovers. (The lovely, if overweight, Pacifica died after a single generation.) But neither Caravan nor Town and Country registers on the all-important Badass Scale without serious pimpage.

The only thing lower in prestige than a minivan, perhaps, is a five-door hatchback, a good-enough reason to welcome the ungainly Porsche Panamera, which is, despite its billing as a four-door sedan, a $90,000 (or more) five-door hatchback. I hope they sell by the zillions.

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towel.thrown.in

It’s curtains for URL shortener tr.im:

Regretfully, we here at Nambu have decided to shutdown tr.im, the first step in shutting down all of our products and services within that brand.

tr.im did well for what it was, but, alas, it was not enough. We simply cannot find a way to justify continuing to work on it, or pay its network costs, which are not inconsequential.

Nor is all that data going to help:

And, the data that tr.im generates — the hottest links that people are sharing right now — is all well and good, but everyone has this data. tr.im gets hit by countless bots every day farming this data to create and operate websites such as tweetmeme.com. So, everyone has this data, meaning it is basically worthless by itself to base a business on (as bit.ly and others are attempting to do) at least in our humble opinions.

Nambu’s Eric Woodward, who pulled the plug, blames Twitter:

He laid most of the blame for tr.im’s demise on Twitter, which made bit.ly its default shortening service last May. “They’re the default, and even if we’re better, it won’t matter, so what’s the point?” he said. “As soon as bit.ly was made the default, the game was over.”

Nambu faced the same uphill battle with its Twitter client. “They give Tweetdeck and Tweetie and others priceless free and targeted advertising,” Woodward said. “We’re not going to invest the same ad dollars to get that market share, because those [who get the favored positioning] have larger margins. So there’s no point in proceeding in that business either.”

All existing tr.im links will continue to be redirected through the end of the year.

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No animated reptiles, though

You don’t see the government offering to/threatening to [choose one] take over the auto-insurance business, which prompts David Fleck to speculate: “What if health insurance were really like auto insurance?”

First off, I think we’d have to assume that it would be mandatory, the way that car insurance is; everybody would have to have some kind of basic coverage. There would be competing companies of varying sizes and quality competing for our health insurance business. Presumably, the mandatory minimum coverage would be relatively inexpensive, and not cover a whole lot.

A lot of things wouldn’t ever be covered; routine exams, prescription drugs, etc. You’d be on your own for that stuff.

You could buy more expensive plans to cover more and more dire illnesses and mishaps. However, the more often you made claims, the greater the probability that your premiums would go up, and eventually your insurance company could boot you out; if you couldn’t find insurance anywhere else, I suppose then (idle speculation here: no correspondence with real world) you’d have to go onto some sort of government run last-ditch program for the incorrigibly unhealthy.

We are assured that the cost of treating the uninsured increases the premiums for those who are insured, though the quantity of said increase is not known for certain. However, I do know how much uninsured motorists cost me: $337 a year, the single largest component of my auto-insurance premium. (Yes, even more than collision, and I drive an overpriced sedan with a lowish $500 deductible.)

And eventually, we’ll all be totaled out:

I’m sorry, Mr. Fleck, but we’ve run the numbers on this last set of medical bills you’ve submitted for processing, and we have determined that the total cost of this health care exceeds your blue book value, which for someone of your age, sex, condition, and socioeconomic status, is approximately 1600 dollars, plus about 85 dollars salvage value for your raw materials. The check will be in the mail shortly. We’ve appreciated having you as a customer, and have a nice day!

[Insert “Progressive” “joke” here]

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FAIL: a success story

And to think it was once just a verb:

In July 2003, a contributor to Urbandictionary.com noted that fail could be used as an interjection “when one disapproves of something,” giving the example: “You actually bought that? FAIL.” This punchy stand-alone fail most likely originated as a shortened form of “You fail” or, more fully, “You fail it,” the taunting “game over” message in the late-90s Japanese video game Blazing Star, notorious for its fractured English.

In a few years’ time, the use of fail as an interjection caught on to such an extent that particularly egregious objects of ridicule required an even stronger barb: major fail, überfail, massive fail or, most popular of all, epic fail. The intensifying adjectives hinted that fail was becoming a new kind of noun: not simply a synonym for failure but, rather, a derisive label to slap on a miscue that is eminently mockable in its stupidity or wrongheadedness. Online cynics deploy fail as a countable noun (“That’s such a fail!”) and also as a mass noun that treats failure as an abstract quality: the offending party is often said to be full of fail or made of fail.

One person who has seen success with fail is Ben Huh, whose Pet Holdings empire (I Can Has Cheezburger) operates the FAIL Blog. He’ll tell you just when fail reached the tipping point:

FAIL at the Fed
“It really started to take off when the financial industry decided to — ahem — fail,” Huh said. “Talk about the perfect storm.” The fail meme met the financial crisis head on at a Senate hearing in September, when a demonstrator held up a sign reading “FAIL” behind Henry Paulson Jr., the former Treasury secretary, and Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve.

The opposite of fail, in this sense, seems to be win. Huh has that covered, too.

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Fark blurb of the week

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Aria ready?

The twelve-bar blues? Forget it. Now we have the 140-character opera:

The Royal Opera House is to stage an opera created through social networking site Twitter. Members of the public have been invited to submit their “tweets” online — messages of up to 140 characters — which will form the new libretto.

The first scene of the as-yet-untitled work has already been completed and features a man who has been kidnapped by a group of birds.

Excerpts will be performed at the Royal Opera House in September. The opera will be set to original music by composer Helen Porter along with some more familiar opera tunes.

Olivier Messiaen was not available for comment.

And remember: it ain’t over ’til @thefatlady tweets.

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Cyrano, line one, please

Megan McArdle points to this dodgy question: “Is it “cheating” to get help with your online dating profile?”

[Y]ou’d never send out a resume without having someone proof it, right? And many people have their resumes written entirely by professional services. A dating profile is essentially a personal resume, so why wouldn’t you get help, especially if writing and marketing are outside your expertise?

I come down on the negative side of this argument, even though writing (maybe) and marketing (definitely) are outside my expertise, on the grounds that no one is going to be as familiar with the subject — me — as I am. If I can’t sell the product, nobody else is going to be able to do it for me without some serious stretching of the truth, and if I have to pay someone to lie on my behalf, it’s going to be a tax preparer.

This despite McArdle’s assurance:

But I know a lot of great people who can’t write at all, people who are worth dating. (And a few of them, I have.)

On the other hand, the one to whom she’s betrothed writes just fine.

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Cutlassed again

What’s next, LaSalle? Oldsmobile dealers are feeling the squeeze:

In all, GM paid dealers more than $1 billion when it eliminated the 103-year-old brand [in 2000] because of dwindling sales. Some of the 2,800 Oldsmobile dealers took lump-sum payouts, which were based mainly on sales volume. Others agreed to annual cash payments for as long as 10 years.

Several dealers just learned they won’t be receiving the rest of their money because the automaker is leaving those payments in bankruptcy court with the “old GM,” according to a recent bankruptcy court filing. They’ll likely get pennies on the dollar for their claims, which vary, but ranged from $50,000 to $4 million.

The last Oldsmobile was built in April 2004.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

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Someone knows me too well

Main page (after login) logo at Skinbook this week:

Skinbook logo

It’s not exactly belt and suspenders, but hey…

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Why the government should run everything

There’s no problem integrating new functions, as the AP explains:

Tulsa police and Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers say a meth lab has been found in a stairwell of the State Services Building in downtown Tulsa. OHP Lt. George Brown calls it the most brazen location he’s ever seen a meth lab.

The lab was found about 10 am Monday by groundskeepers and investigators believe it was built after the building closed Friday. It was found at the bottom of the stairwell in an area hidden from easy view.

And in the unlikely event that an activity is ever discontinued, that presents no difficulty either:

Authorities say a police HAZMAT team was able to remove the lab without disrupting business at any of the state offices.

As Parker Lewis used to say, “Not a problem.”

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More pie, please

“Preventive screening,” says Steve Verdon, “can save lives,” and that’s precisely the problem:

I can see how eating a sensible diet, exercising, and such could lead to health care savings overall, but these are all things that don’t really need to involve medical care… I say “could” because if it leads to increased life spans and that most health care expenditures come from those over 65, then having more people live past 65 could have the overall effect of increasing health care expenditures. If a person were to suddenly drop over dead at 49 of a heart attack, chances are he’s saving us far, far more money than the guy who runs 5 miles every day, eats right, and goes to his annual check up.

I’d like to think I’m doing my part.

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towel.re.trieved

The reports of tr.im’s death (such as this one) were greatly exaggerated:

We have restored tr.im, and re-opened its website. We have been absolutely overwhelmed by the popular response, and the countless public and private appeals I have received to keep tr.im alive.

We have answered those pleas. Nambu will keep tr.im operating going forward, indefinitely, while we continue to consider our options in regards to tr.im’s future.

This is not to say that things have changed, exactly: Twitter still swears by bit.ly.

And, just for the record:

This was not a public-relations stunt. At all.

Never thought so, myself.

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And a pink crustacean

Jared Gall, describing one aspect of the interior of the Buick LaCrosse in Car and Driver (September ’09):

Even the door pulls are things of beauty, looking like lobster claws lovingly wrapped in leather (we’re not sure who’d lovingly wrap a lobster claw in leather, but you know it’s happening somewhere on the Internet).

Yet another example of Rule 34.

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An emptier nest

New Urbanists and their friends are constantly bringing up density, and since the ones I know aren’t generally all that dense, I have to assume they’re referring to population distribution. In which case, they might be interested in this:

University of California researchers David Brownstone and Thomas Golob have looked at the relationship between residential density and driving habits, and concluded that: “Comparing two California households that are similar in all respects except residential density, a lower density of 1,000 housing units per square mile … implies an increase of 1,200 miles driven per year … and 65 more gallons of fuel used per household.

Which further implies that they’re getting less than 18.5 mpg on those miles, but let that pass for the moment.

The numbers get worse as you get out into McMansionland:

[G]oing from a neighborhood designed on the post-war, upper middle class ideal — your own home on 2 private acres — to the reality in many of the Northwest’s more compact urban areas — a mixture of single family homes with small yards, together with some multifamily housing, with an average of around 10 housing units per acre — you increase density by just over 6,000 housing units per acre.

Now I know from acres: I live on a quarter of one. (0.26, actually.) No way are you going to get 1500 housing units in my yard. There being 640 acres to the square mile, I’m going to assume he meant “just over 6,000 housing units per square mile,” which is plausible.

Doesn’t change his point, though:

And, according to the numbers that these authors have crunched, living in a compact neighborhood rather than a sprawling exurb would lead to a decline in gasoline consumption of … wait for it … 395 gallons of gasoline per household per year!

That’s a lot of gas. By comparison, the average resident of the Northwest states consumes about 390 gallons per year; so living in a denser neighborhood does as much to reduce your driving as having one fewer person in your household.

If I had one fewer person in my household, it would be down to zero, which would indeed reduce driving.

My own neighborhood is postwar, if not exactly upper-middle-class; it’s maybe a tick or two above average for this particular ZIP code. Curious, I ran the numbers, and there are 23,209 housing units in 73112, an area which covers 7.7 square miles. We’re running, therefore, about 3000 units per square mile, about five per acre.

In the summer of 2001, the Sierra Club made some noise about a level of density called “Efficient Urban,” which called for 500 units per acre, or about 125 in my yard. People who could actually count noted that this exceeded the density of Kolkata — you may remember it as “Calcutta” — by a factor of seven. They have since, and by “since” I mean “within 48 hours of the original outburst,” recanted.

And 395 gallons of gas, now that I think about it, would propel Gwendolyn about 8700 miles, which is two World Tours or about 14 months’ worth around town. Better than the 18.5 mpg those Californians are presumably getting.

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Travel for nothing and your volts for free

The Coyote isn’t buying GM’s 230-mpg figure for the Chevy Volt:

Apparently, MPG while running on batteries is treated as infinite! In other words, electricity is treated as “free” and not costing anthing in terms of fuel. Check out how the math is done:

“When gasoline is providing the power, the Volt might get as much as 50 mpg. But that mpg figure would not take into account that the car has already gone 40 miles with no gas at all. So let’s say the car is driven 50 miles in a day. For the first 40 miles, no gas is used and during the last 10 miles, 0.2 gallons are used. That’s the equivalent of 250 miles per gallon. But, if the driver continues on to 80 miles, total fuel economy would drop to about 100 mpg. And if the driver goes 300 miles, the fuel economy would be just 62.5 mpg.”

It should be noted here that EPA’s original city-mileage test was calculated on an 11-mile run, and the highway test on 10.3. The Volt can do both without ever dipping into the fuel tank. The new 2008 EPA test regime covers 43.9 miles. (All these miles are actually rolled up on a dyno: see, for instance, the September Car and Driver for a detailed description short on governmental jargon.)

Still, the problem is that electricity apparently comes out of the sky, and not in the lightning sense either:

This is entirely consistent with the bizarre way electric cars have always been treated by environmentalists and politicians, as if the electricity is free and they have no hydrocarbon use or CO2 production. Which is weird, since we get harangued for our incandescent light bulbs destroying the world when we plug them in but plugging in a whole car does not?

It would be interesting to see what would happen if GM, or somebody, built a big ol’ sport-utility electric vehicle. (Too late, I suspect, for Hummer: they have the perfect name already.)

Meanwhile, the EPA is distancing itself from that number:

EPA has not tested a Chevy Volt and therefore cannot confirm the fuel economy values claimed by GM. EPA does applaud GM’s commitment to designing and building the car of the future — an American-made car that will save families money, significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create good-paying American jobs. We’re proud to see American companies and American workers leading the world in the clean energy innovations that will shape the 21st century economy.

Heck, even 99 mpg sounds good.

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A rate less flat

Usually you’d answer this “Yes” and be done with it:

Is there a guideline in government agencies that they should never make things easy when a more complicated process is available?

But it gets, um, complicated:

My case in point. Today I wanted to mail something via the U.S. Postal Service’s Express Mail service. At work, we had the proper labels, and I could run it on the postage meter, but we didn’t have Express Mail envelopes. At least not plain, run of the mill Express Mail envelopes. We had only Flat Rate Express Mail envelopes — the ones that you can cram as much paper into as possible and then send for the same rate. In this case, that would have been $17.50, versus $13.05 for regular old Express Mail.

Easy enough: obliterate the “Flat Rate” logo and press ahead, four bucks and change to the good.

But no:

The carrier picked up the package and a couple of hours later I got a phone call from the post office. They were holding the package there because it was in the wrong envelope. I could either run down and switch the packaging or they’d send it out “postage due”. I had until 1:30 to haul it to the post office in town.

Which she did, and then:

In the midst of switching envelopes and filling out a new label, the clerk told me that since it was past 1:30, the best they could guarantee was second day afternoon delivery.

Uhhh. The package was going on the same truck as the other ones that had come in before 1:30, so why couldn’t they still guarantee next day delivery? What, my package was going to be too far in the back of the truck or something?

[Insert gratuitous government health-care reference here]

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Seen and not heard

Even today, I still don’t have a podcast or a YouTube channel:

As late as this morning, I was contemplating the idea of adding audio clips to this site as an Additional Gee-Whiz Feature, because, after all, I am a guy and I take Gee-Whiz (well, Whiz anyway) very, very seriously.

Bad idea, Andrea Harris had said back then:

[P]rint is a faster and more efficient way of getting a message across than voice or video. Think about how long it takes to sit and listen to or watch a monologue, and then go read a passage of text containing about the same amount of words. Which was faster?

And it’s worse if you’re looking for the single money quote in a long clip, says Bill Quick:

Does anybody but me find it irritating to be forced to watch two, or three, or ten minutes worth of video in order to get two or three sentences worth of information?

Instapundit links to a Bill Whittle video that is almost ten minutes long. Now, I do usually enjoy Whittle’s thoughts, but I’d much rather read them than watch him spout them. First, I can read them faster, and understand them better. Second, the video itself is distracting from the content.

Imagine how much worse it would be if you had to deal with someone whose delivery was nowhere close to being as polished as Whittle’s — mine, for instance.

The Webcam stays in the box.

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Somebody needs to beat a path

I turned onto Shartel and headed south. She was running in the bicycle lane, and I passed her at about 38th. In an effort to make sure I didn’t do anything so crass as, for instance, to gawk, I deflected my concentration: I hit the AMB button on the A/C, which reported back 91° F. Way better than the 100s we were getting in July.

I pulled in at the Gazette office and got the next-to-last copy out of the rack. (Oh, and congratulations, Ogles.) A right on 36th, and there she was again. But this time, she was up and down, up and down, stretches of grass interrupted by high curbs and short driveways, and somewhere inside my head, So beautiful, this one was displaced by Why the hell isn’t there a sidewalk on this section of 36th?

Yeah, I know: way back when, 36th was the edge of town, and the ‘burbs just don’t do sidewalks. It’s time they did.

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They keep saying that word

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We locate, you deride

Iraq and a hard place

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Oh, and you need these

One of Microsoft’s less-endearing habits is to ship you a whole batch of updates and patches and not tell you what they are, or even that you have them: you don’t find out until you shut down your Windows box and there’s this annoying little announcement about installing updates. You can bypass the install for the moment, but they’re still not about to tell you what it is that they’re sneaking onto your machine.

This is the kind of service that helps keep Apple viable. And maybe that’s the whole idea: if Redmond drives enough people to Macs, they won’t ever again have to face the wrath of the government’s antitrust people. Reminds me of the days of old when GM was allegedly trying to keep its market share below 50 percent.

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As though Dean Wormer lived in a shack

The Boston Globe: still not dead.

But they’re trying awfully hard, it seems:

The homes, many provided by universities as part of their presidents’ compensation, are the ultimate perk in this college-rich region, but one that increasingly appears to represent a bygone era.

Now the opulence risks standing out amid frozen faculty salaries, widespread layoffs, and slashed programs. While the houses often serve an important ceremonial role and it is questionable how much money could be saved by their elimination, the very mention of them has elicited low-level grumbling on campuses and anxiety among university officials over the Globe’s request to tour them.

Although this is the bit that caught me short:

“It seems terribly unfair that people who are being laid off can’t even afford to make their modest mortgage payments, while people at the top are living in luxury,” said Desiree Goodwin, a Harvard library assistant who has seen dozens of workers lose their jobs across campus. “They’re not really being open about the kind of lifestyle they’re trying to maintain while making these cuts.”

Goodwin acknowledges she’s never had the occasion to set foot in Elmwood, the 1767 home of Harvard president Drew Faust.

I suspect she’d never be allowed in the place, not so much for her comparatively-lowly position as a library assistant, but for the fact that she once sued the university, and lost.

The Globe should have caught that, says Richard Bradley: “Could the paper really not have known?”

A more egregious failure:

The presidents’ mansions are there for the duration, and I’m not sure what universities are supposed to do about that — move students into the presidents’ houses?

The reporter would have had a much better story if she focused on the compensation paid to university presidents, which doesn’t appear to be taking a hit even as their campuses are experiencing widespread layoffs.

Perhaps the Globe is trying to protect its friends in academia: were it to get out that some of them make over $250k a year, why, they might get their taxes increased.

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Change your oil, dammit

Infiniti continues to look for ways to lure people into its dealerships for service. Last time out, it was a straight cash bribe of $50. Now it’s a drawing for:

  • Thirty-nine months with a G37 convertible, including all maintenance, and a lackey to wheel the machine to and from the dealership for you.
  • Two-year Elite Maintenance Service Plans (200 of them).
  • $50 Service Reward Cards (500 of them).

There’s also a coupon for a 5-percent discount on any service, though the fine print notes ominously, “Offer may not apply to vehicles requiring adhesive wheel weights.”

Elite Maintenance, at least if you get the G37, is defined thusly:

Infiniti Elite Schedule 1 maintenance plan consists of seven (7) types of maintenance services and seventeen (17) types of maintenance inspections including thirteen (13) oil changes and seven (7) four (4) wheel tire rotations (excluding G35 and G37 models) for thirty-nine (39) months or 45,000 miles, whichever occurs first; maintenance offered once every (3) months during covered thirty-nine (39) month period or every 3,750 miles whichever occurs first. Major 30,000 mile service schedule and Tire Road Hazard Protection also included.

It’s just a damn shame they couldn’t get themselves to spell out “forty-five thousand.” And anyway, this schedule is mostly consistent with their recommendations over the years. They’re not going to rotate the G’s tires, though: must be those wicked adhesive wheel weights.

I can’t see owning, or leasing, a G37 droptop, though. The retractable hard top has to go somewhere, and in the process of going there takes up almost all the available cargo room: you could stash a candy bar back there, maybe, if it were, say, 2.3 Musketeers. For the World Tours, this is decidedly suboptimal.

It has been 2550 miles since Gwendolyn’s last spa day; I don’t think I’m going to hit 1200 miles between now and the end of September, when registration for the drawing ends.

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344

“Back to reality,” says Andrew Ian Dodge as he presents the 344th edition of Carnival of the Vanities.

Funny thing about reality: it seems to mean different things to different people. I have no doubt that to some people, it means stuff like this at Shop344.com.

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The man with a multitrack mind

When Dave Marsh put together The Book of Rock Lists, it wasn’t entirely for his lists: he hit up people in the music biz for their own ideas, and they made up maybe a quarter of the book.

In the chapter “Production,” we find: “Les Paul Lists the Most Important Technological Innovations in Recorded Music,” which are:

  1. Solid-body electric guitar
  2. Echo
  3. Flanging
  4. Phase-shifting
  5. Electromagnetic pickup
  6. Reverb
  7. Time delay
  8. Sound-on-sound

As if you hadn’t figured it out by about #3, Marsh gives it away:

Les Paul is, of course, either the inventor or one of the most important figures in innovating all of these devices.

In 1974, I acquired a four-track open-reel recorder (from Onkyo’s Dokorder line) that would actually record all four tracks at once, in addition to the usual two-out-and-two-back pattern. It was intended as a vehicle for quadraphonic sound, which was all the rage back then, but while I had the equipment to do quad, I was more interested in screwing around with those four tracks, which I could mix down to stereo should I so desire. And this little tape deck had one feature I’d seen only on the Big Boys: it could temporarily switch a section of a record head into playback mode, so you could lay down tracks, one after another, in perfect synchronization. At the time, I didn’t know that Les Paul had come up with this idea first, twenty years before; in fact, he’d asked Ampex to build him an eight- track machine for just this sort of thing.

Which basically illustrates Marsh’s point: both guitar heroes and guitar zeroes — this latter group includes me — owe a lot to Les Paul, whose final chord rang out today.

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Try this with your precious LCD screen

There is news, and, for the time being anyway, there are newspapers:

I love reading a paper. I love sitting down with one, unfolding it, scanning headlines, digging into a story, taking some time to process it along with a sip of beverage, flipping the pages and wrestling with them to fold right again, setting it aside knowing I can pick it up later any time I want, learning stuff I didn’t know about places or people I’d never heard of, comics, the rattling sound paper makes when you move it or turn pages, the way I learned when I was young to use one finger as a fulcrum to fold it in half and tuck under my arm, the image I get of Al Bundy doing exactly that with a smile on his face as he heads upstairs to reclaim his bathroom…

And I love how they provide a depth of information and context that TV can’t match (and which anchor personalities Chip Cappedteeth and Brenda Botox most likely wouldn’t understand anyway). Time has changed, the calendar pages have turned and some of those things I love about newspapers are probably going to become part of the past. [Dan] Rather’s right that this situation can be seen as a crisis. There are important dimensions of news we won’t get if newspapers leave. But he’s also wrong, because they’re far too important to leave up to a panel of experts picked by the same kind of people who run the Post Office or Department of Motor Vehicles.

Is this where I admit to actually reading the bridge column?

I do have some games I play with the paper, especially on Friday, when I try to guess which of the debuting films will be reviewed by George Lang and which will be farmed out to a wire-service scribe. And I never did figure out who “Mr. Monday” was: my best guess was that both Tramel and Carlson wrote versions of it, which were printed out one sentence at a time, and then sentences were randomly selected (pulled out of a hat?) until the space was filled.

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One might almost call it a monologue

The McCain Institute for Advanced Vaginology announces: Know Your Vajayjay: An Expert Guide to What’s Up Down There.

All it lacks is an endorsement from Maureen Dowd, and clearly that’s just a matter of time.

I demur, though, on the V-word itself. “Vajayjay” is as uneuphonious a word as exists today; I’d almost rather hear one of the four-letter terms — no, not that one — instead.

Then again, my none-too-extensive experience with owners of same suggests that the preferred term is simply “there” (cf. The Tubes, “Don’t Touch Me There”).

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Seeing through the scheme

A lesson I learned once upon a time:

I do a lot of back road and highway driving, so windshield repair and replacement are things I deal with fairly frequently. I’ve generally always just paid for these repairs out of pocket. It is a field where if one shops around, there are a lot of good deals. However, for a while I lived in a state that had a law that said all auto insurance must have windshield replacement coverage.

The effect on my behavior was dramatic. When living there, I didn’t even think about shopping around for a windshield repair. I just had the dealer do it (surely the high cost supplier) when I had the car in for regular service. I didn’t care what the cost was, it was covered in my policy. (Ironically, it turns out in retrospect that I should have shopped around — because no one else in the state cared about cost, all the windshield suppliers jacked up their prices and then competed by offering kickbacks in various forms to consumers, basically competing on how much of the insurance money they would share with the car owner. Truly dysfunctional.)

I shudder to think how much the Infiniti store would charge me for new glass for Gwendolyn. The only reference I have at hand is contained in a TSB which governs whether a windshield issue is covered by the factory warranty: it calls for 2.3 hours of labor on Nissan’s Official Form. The only windshield I ever replaced, though, was Sandy’s; I took her (a Mazda 626) to an independent glass shop, never mentioned the insurance, and paid well under $200. My policy in fact would cover glass replacement without regard to my deductible, but I reasoned that the less they knew, the less likely they would be to jack up my premia.

Does this sort of thing work for health care? Maybe, maybe not:

I have always wondered why insurance companies didn’t create some incentive for shopping. If I were running such a company, I would be tempted to tell customers — “our reimbursement rate for CT scans in your area is X. If you get it done for less than X, we will split the savings with you 50/50.” Though I suppose the danger is that this could morph into a variation of the windshield kickback system.

Maybe they’re not allowed to? There are an awful lot of state laws governing the actions of insurance companies, and, as the President himself has noted, we have rather a lot of states.

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Reassurance B Us

A young lady was frantic at what she discovered with a tape measure, and took her troubles to Yahoo! Answers: “My legs are 100cm long, is that normal?”

That’s a whole meter, which is fairly lengthy, but far from freak-of-nature status. I pointed out to her that German supermodel Nadja Auermann reportedly checks in at 112 cm, some sort of record on the catwalk, though probably not for the population as a whole.

And then it occurred to me that this thread was worthless without pictures, so:

Nadja Auermann

Notice how much eye makeup it takes to offset that formidable expanse of leggage.

Disclosure: I have no idea how any of these measurements were obtained, or from what points.

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With a chance of flurries

Doc Searls, with an assist from the Incredible String Band, comes up with a metaphor I must deal with:

For a long time I harbored a fantasy about writing a history of radio, titled “Snow on the Water.” Now I’m thinking that metaphor applies to social media as well. Rather than geology, it’s an ocean over which tweets fly and fall like flakes.

Blogging is geology. Its posts may be current and timely, but they accumulate like soil deposits. You can dig down through layers of time and find them. Each post has a “permalink”. What are links to tweets? Temp-o-links?

Especially in view of this startling revelation:

I’m still haunted by hearing that users get a maximum number Twitter postings (tweets) before the old ones scroll off. If true, it means Twitter is a whiteboard, made to be erased after awhile. The fact that few know what the deal is, exactly, also makes my point. Not many people expect anybody, including themselves, to revisit old tweets.

I have no idea what that number might be, either. Last night I went back through about 800 of my own tweets before realizing that geez, I just went back through 800 tweets. And I’m somewhat flummoxed by the fact that in seven weeks I have put up over a thousand examples of semi-effervescent evanescence, though I console myself with the thought that probably 30 percent of those were generated by WordTwit, which sends up a tweet (and a nice, short URL off this very domain) for every blog post.

Still, all the blog posts, the 6100-odd here in the WordPress database, the 7000 produced before that in Movable Type, and whatever was going on here before that, remain readable in the general sense. (Whether they’re readable in an aesthetic sense is yet to be determined.) And I suppose I could archive the Twitter stuff, were I so inclined, but I can’t think of any good reason to do so. Yet.

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Just a dusting (4)

I do somewhere around 35-40 posts a week, which is enough to keep the readership from defecting to Crappy Taxidermy, but not enough to cover everything that’s happened recently. Consider this a perfunctory effort to get caught up.

NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles sign Michael Vick:
Dear Mr. Fitzgerald: About that “there are no second acts in American life” bit? Forget it.

Netscape founder Marc Andreessen thinks we need a new browser:
Well, maybe Microsoft does.

Thousands of acres burned in Santa Cruz County, California:
This is horrible by anybody’s reckoning, and I hope they get a handle on controlling the blaze soon.

The Associated Press’s new “tracking beacon”:
Be it noted that I tried tucking a tracking script into my own RSS feed, but dropped it for lack of tangible results after less than 72 hours.

Devon Energy trims its new skyscraper to 908 feet:
The sky was evidently complaining about the scraping.

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