Archive for June 2012

Bucking proud

PBS’ Idea Channel floated this semi-defense of the brony community, suggesting that they may be “changing the definition of masculinity,” or something like that:

While I don’t take issue with any of their conclusions — and the brief image of Anaïs Nin riding Rainbow Dash put all sorts of notions in my head — I must point out that there is, in the current MLP television series, one classically (and of course stereotypically) masculine attribute, possessed to at least some extent by all of the Mane Six: they’re prepared to kick ass and take names.

Consider, if you will, the situation just after the midpoint of “A Canterlot Wedding.” The false Princess has been exposed, Celestia is temporarily disabled, the entirety of Equestria is about to be overrun with changelings, and the Elements of Harmony are pretty much inaccessible. Can half a dozen mares save the world as they know it? As it turned out, no; but that didn’t stop them from going full-tilt at the invaders. “A mare’s gotta do what a mare’s gotta do,” I said while watching the battle. There’s a lot to be said for simone-pure guts, even when they’re wrapped up in a pastel-colored package.

(Seen at DerpyHoovesNews.)

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I blame Erasmus B. Dragon

Click and Clack will go out with a clunk:

TOM: And with Car Talk celebrating its 25th anniversary on NPR this fall (35th year overall, including our local years at WBUR)…

RAY: …and my brother turning over the birthday odometer to 75, we’ve decided that it’s time to stop and smell the cappuccino.

TOM: So as of October, we’re not going to be recording any more new shows. That’s right, we’re retiring.

RAY: So, we can finally answer the question, if my brother retired, how would he know?

There are enough old shows, of course, to keep the thing going for another 25 years, and to remind you not to drive like either of them.

(Dragon, you may recall, is the head of their Working Mothers Support Group.)

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Greatest commencement speech ever

Okay, maybe not ever, but surely this is one for the ages. David McCullough Jr. addresses the Class of 2012 at Wellesley High in Massachusetts:

[C]ommencement is life’s great ceremonial beginning, with its own attendant and highly appropriate symbolism. Fitting, for example, for this auspicious rite of passage, is where we find ourselves this afternoon, the venue. Normally, I avoid clichés like the plague, wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole, but here we are on a literal level playing field. That matters. That says something. And your ceremonial costume… shapeless, uniform, one-size-fits-all. Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic X-Box assassin, each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma… but for your name, exactly the same.

All of this is as it should be, because none of you is special.

You are not special. You are not exceptional.

Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.

Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet. Why, maybe you’ve even had your picture in the Townsman! And now you’ve conquered high school… and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, the pride and joy of this fine community, the first to emerge from that magnificent new building…

But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.

It gets better — one might even say Incredible — after that:

“But, Dave,” you cry, “Walt Whitman tells me I’m my own version of perfection! Epictetus tells me I have the spark of Zeus!” And I don’t disagree. So that makes 6.8 billion examples of perfection, 6.8 billion sparks of Zeus. You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another — which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality — we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it… Now it’s “So what does this get me?”

You know a kid who needs this speech. (You probably know an adult who needs this speech.)

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Sitar hero

Today is the thirty-first birthday of sitarist Anoushka Shankar, daughter of Ravi Shankar (and half-sister to Norah Jones). Most of the pictures out there fall into two categories — either Hard At Work or Overly Glammed Up — so I looked for something to split the difference:

Anoushka Shankar

Both Anoushka and Norah were nominated for Grammy Awards in 2003; Jones won five, including Best New Artist, while Shankar’s Live at Carnegie Hall album was beaten out in World Music by Rubén Blades. Curiously, the 2002 World Music Grammy had gone to Ravi Shankar, for an album recorded live at Carnegie Hall. Go figure.

And for those of you who haven’t heard a sitar since George Harrison, here’s Anoushka playing one of her father’s compositions at the 2003 Concert for George, in memory of Harrison, who had died the year before.

This qualifies as Hard At Work.

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One hundred years of platitude

The courts of Moscow have decreed a ban on gay-pride parades through the year 2112, by which time one may safely assume that all the members of said courts will have vacated their seats.

The Bayou Renaissance Man finds this, to put it mildly, risible:

WTF??? You don’t like the cause for which protesters are on the streets, so you ban the protests for the next century??? I can’t think of anything more calculated to make the banners look ridiculous — and justify the protesters in the eyes of any sane person!

I suppose it’s too much to hope that the ban will end with the overthrow of the Priests of the Temple of Syrinx.

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Saturday spottings (much weathered)

The Big(gish) Storms on the 30th of May left their mark over much of the town; at least one house on every block, it seems, is sporting a sign advertising a local roofing company. And there’s still a lot of ex-tree debris piled up on various curbsides, which the city has vowed to remove as part of the monthly Big Junk pickup. Mine was picked up on Wednesday; they left only a couple of small sticks behind, which is better than I had any right to expect, given the essentially random way it was stacked up.

There are also a fair number of cars sliding around town with duct-taped plastic sheeting in lieu of actual window glass. I was caught this afternoon behind some poor old Mopar econobox that had lost both a rear window and the trunk-lid latch: the lid flew open under acceleration, then eventually dropped back down and bounced with the road irregularities. The road in question being May Avenue north of 30th, there were lots of irregularities.

In somewhat better shape was a Nissan I saw at a supermarket parking lot: a very old Altima — old enough to have received a Stanza badge, which means twenty years at least — with the series name spelled out in letters several inches apart: A L T M I A. Wait, what? This must have been one of the first models built in Amercia.

In somewhat poorer shape, I must assume, was the guy who pulled his ancient Mitsubishi into what he thought was a handicap space up front. Turned out to be the ramp to the entrance, and he came within a yard or two of actually driving into the store. Near as I can tell, he’d just been there, had left a bag of something behind and wanted to retrieve it, and this way store staff would have less distance to carry it. Managers were mobilized, and he was gone long before I finished filling up my cart.

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Outpatience

To borrow a premise from Augustine: “Lord, give me delayed gratification — one of these days.”

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How it’s done in der Vaterland

Admirers of European semi-socialism — sometimes without the prefix — look upon the high tax rates in the Eurozone as a feature rather than a bug, and they tend to be scornful of those nasty American companies who work so diligently to avoid taxes.

Then there’s the curious case of Volkswagen and Porsche. Former Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking had masterminded an ongoing attempt to buy out the much larger Volkswagen group; it failed, Wiedeking was set free via golden parachute, and after the dust settled, the resulting corporate structure had the Porsche holding company, owned by the Porsche and Piëch families — the government of Qatar has a 10-percent stake — owning 50.7 percent of VW Group, which in turn owned 49.9 percent of Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG, the Porsche unit that actually makes and sells cars. (The Porsche holding company owned the other 50.1 percent.)

This has stuck in Volkswagen’s craw for some time now, and earlier this year VW Group decided to buy out the rest of Porsche AG. The trick was finding a way to do so without incurring a ginormous tax bill, and apparently they’ve succeeded:

The way has been found, says Wirtschaftswoche. The out has its price: €118, or $148. That’s the price of one share of Volkswagen stock.

Under the new deal, Porsche SE [the holding company] receives €4.5 billion, and one Volkswagen share. If a share changes hands, then it’s not a sale, but a tax-free restructuring.

Now that’s ingenious. [whistles admiringly] These are apparently the rules in the Eurozone, and Porsche SE is organized under European Community regulations — hence “SE,” short for “Societas Europaea,” the official designation for such an operation. (Before you ask: “Dr. Ing. h.c.” was Ferdinand Porsche’s title, “Doktor Ingenieur [honoris causa],” reflecting the fact that his engineering degree from the Vienna University of Technology was honorary.) Volkswagen will own all of Porsche’s carmaking assets, and will save almost two billion euros in taxes. Warren Buffett, darling of the American left, couldn’t have played it any better.

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Eight digits and counting

Robert Stacy McCain and his faithful sidekick Smitty have now recorded ten million hits, a circumstance which calls for some recognition. And they got them the old-fashioned way, too: they busted their [insert euphemism here] to get the word out.

What? Envious? Me? Not in the least. I have neither the time nor the inclination to work that hard. However, I note semi-ruefully that McCain once had a post that garnered 438 comments, which exceeds any thread here by a factor of ten. Then again, if I wanted to read feedback all day and into the night, I’d try to wangle a job at Equestria Daily.

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No longer the hot topic

Tatyana has decided that she’s had it up to here with political discussions:

Only 6 months ago I was totally in the game, reading at least 10 political blogs and getting into online (and sometimes off-) debates on the hot topics.

But that was then. Now:

Maybe it is exactly my — at some time — close familiarity with people supposedly on the same side of political divide that disillusioned me, but my general attitude now run something like “plague on both your houses”.

It occurs to me that if the alleged leaders of those houses thought they could retain their power and perks, they’d gladly, even gleefully, welcome that plague.

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Dirty birds

Well, maybe not so much. But in 1915, when Dr George Levick wrote up his findings on the sexual habits of the Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) on Cape Adare in Antarctica, he couldn’t help but filter those findings through the mores of the time:

He was so shocked by what he saw he even wrote in Greek to disguise the information. ‘There seems to be no crime too low for these penguins,’ he wrote.

Levick described ‘little knots of hooligans’, penguins that hung around the outskirts of the colony, terrorising any chicks that went astray. He wrote, ‘The crimes which they commit are such as to find no place in this book, but it is interesting indeed to note that, when nature intends them to find employment, these birds, like men, degenerate in idleness.’

He observed and commented on the frequency of Adélie penguin sexual activity, autoerotic behaviour, the behaviour of young unpaired males and females including necrophilia, sexual coercion, the sexual and physical abuse of chicks, non-procreative sex and homosexual behaviour.

Or, as it’s called in 2012, “Saturday night.” Except maybe for the necrophilia, and eventually we found out that technically that’s really not what it was: they’re not actually into dead chicks, but apparently they don’t check for life signs before approaching. Bird motivations and human motivations don’t necessarily coincide.

Dr Levick’s report was not published with other studies from the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition, though more generic observations made it to his book Antarctic Penguins: a study of their social habits (New York: McBride Nast & Co., 1914). The report has now been published in the journal Polar Record at Cambridge, and it will cost you to read it.

(Via this syaffolee tweet.)

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Beneath the streets of Toronto

This story is called “Die Another Day,” and justifiably so:

A woman, crouched down, is at the very edge of the platform. Her toes are over the edge and she has her head buried in her hands. I’m afraid that calling out to her will startle her and she might fall, so I stand just beyond armslength away and desperately hope that she’ll look up at some point before I hear the sound of a train. She glances to the side just long enough that I’m able to make eye contact with her. I ask if she’s okay. She doesn’t respond, just shakes her head. “If you’re not feeling well, it’s dangerous to be that close to the edge,” I say. She shakes her head again. Her face is red — so red — like she’s burning up. I ask if she’s sick; she says she has a fever. When I offer her an Advil, she looks right at me and says “It’s not that kind of fever.”

I just know in my heart, immediately, that she has AIDS. I glance up at the clock. Due to the flood the trains are running less frequently and there isn’t one due for 4 minutes. I ask her “Is it okay if I touch you? Can I help you move back?” “No,” she says. I crouch down beside her, although not as close to the edge and still just beyond armslength away as I can’t gauge her mental state. “Why are you here?” I ask. She says it doesn’t matter. She has a fever all the time and it doesn’t matter. Over and over again, it doesn’t matter it doesn’t matter. I tell her that’s not true. That’s not true at all. “It matters to me. You matter to me.” She looks a bit spaced out and I’m scared she’s going to fall forward. I want to take her hand but I know that if that spaced-out look is her experiencing psychosis, I could be putting myself in danger of being pulled onto the tracks if she jumps. I look at the clock — 3 minutes.

In the late 1980s, when I was wrestling with the question of whether it wouldn’t be easier just to Get It Over With rather than continue to drag on in a state of severe emotional damage, I said that over and over again: “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.” Seeing it again here serves as a double shock to the system, reminding me of where I once was, and of the fact that others are finding it just as tough going through those same suburbs of Hell.

Disclosure: The author and I go back about fifteen years, to when she was a budding musician and I was a babbling idiot on Usenet.

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Strange search-engine queries (332)

This is the weekly exercise that involves a quick run through the week’s logs, and then a slower, more exacting pass in which possible jokes are derived from available search strings. It’s a complicated system, but after several years, it’s doing fine.

how to find the transmission cable on a 2001 626:  It’s across from the muffler bearings. (Rule 1 of DIY auto repair: before you go looking for a part, make sure the part actually exists.)

random weather statistic:  This past winter, it was impossible to find snow shovels for sale in Anchorage, Alaska.

how will hail damage effect ford escape availability:  They’ll ship them all to Anchorage in the winter, and nobody will notice.

canada should annex:  Vermont. The climate’s about the same as in southern Québec, and Bernie Sanders would probably be happier.

sweetgum trees grow like weeds:  Except that most weeds don’t leave little spiky balls for you to step on.

what is that thing on a boot:  It’s a spur. Drop by San Antonio sometime to see one.

fortunately, the oklahoma city did not get blake griffin:  Yeah, that’s what they said in San Antonio.

slimmer dinosaurs:  The Bloombergosaurus, of course, claimed full credit.

sexy young girls you have on your list an older sexy young schoolgirls you have all of them a while lot annie little school girl of 11 years old and 10 years old and that order sexy young girls:  With all that typing, when do you find time to wank? (It’s pretty obvious that those are the only two things you ever do.)

brian wilson hearing the voice of phil spector:  Well, you know, it’s better than hearing the voice of Charles Manson.

invisible art by warhol and yoko, where else has it been shown?  Everywhere, but no one ever noticed it.

how are my little pony friendship is magic names stripper names?  Somehow I can’t imagine Twilight Sparkle taking it all off in Valley Brook.

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The lure of the well-turned ankle

About three years ago, Gerard Van der Leun, a man with unquestioned taste and discretion, posted an advertisement from the old “Gentlemen prefer Hanes” series. I responded with one from my own stash, perhaps hoping to stir up some competition, but none was forthcoming.

Now here I sit with dozens of scans of this sort, and no place to put them. So I may as well post some of them here. This one dates to 1954, a time when apparently Tex Avery was still a household word:

Advertisement for Ballet Hosiery from October 1954

The fellow in the corner really needs to learn some discretion, wouldn’t you say?

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Such a deal, they SHOUT

A question that deserves some pondering:

[W]hy do scammers always print their names in ALL CAPS? Whether they claim to be Nigerian oil ministers or Chinese missionary real-estate moguls like MR QIAN HUA PAN & YAI CHOW WONG PAN (that’s a direct cut-and-paste from the email), you can always tell a scammer by his all-caps name.

The only exception to this seems to be the Brazilian spam, of which I get an abundance, perhaps due to having a dormant account at Orkut, which has relocated its headquarters from California to Belo Horizonte because, well, that’s where the users are.

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The pose, struck, strikes back

The Stepsister SchemeJim C. Hines has written several fantasy novels, including a four-book “Princess Series,” based on the premise that “happily ever after” is both unnecessarily dismissive and ultimately untrue. As is de rigueur in genres of this sort, the cover art will include a female character posed in an improbable position. Jim was okay with that, until he got the idea of trying to duplicate positions like that himself. Empathy for the characters, doncha know.

His conclusion:

My sense is that most of these covers are supposed to convey strong, sexy heroines, but these are not poses that suggest strength. You can’t fight from these stances. I could barely even walk.

Which just goes to show you — something, I suppose.

(This was brought up during the 26th annual MisCon, in a panel on urban fantasy.)

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Block bleach

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s executive VP Michael J. Petrilli, a booster of neighborhood gentrification — it has a salubrious effect on neighborhood schools, he argues — went looking for the ZIP codes showing the greatest indication of same, using as a rough criterion the increase in non-Hispanic white population. Ninth on his list was 73104 in Oklahoma City, which went from 11 percent white to 39 percent between 2000 and 2010.

This is not surprising to anyone familiar with the area, which sits just east of downtown: there has been substantial residential development north and east of Bricktown, and much of it has been pricey. City-Data.com, which tracks real estate and income numbers, reports that a median-priced home sold in 73104 in the last quarter of 2006 would have gone for about $50,000; five years later it was $390,000. None of this has yet to spill over into 73117, the next ZIP code to the east, but give it time.

Thirteenth on the list is Charleston, South Carolina 29492, which strikes me as something of an outlier. The post office was assigned to the area known as Wando, north of Mount Pleasant but part of Berkeley County. Part of its delivery area was the largely undeveloped Daniel Island, sitting in the Cooper River, which didn’t take off until Interstate 526 (the Mark Clark Expressway) was built across the area and the Daniel Island Company acquired basically the entire island, both in the middle 1990s. The high school I attended, in downtown Charleston for its first eighty-odd years, relocated to Daniel Island in 1998. I visited the school and the area in 2001, and while the developed areas looked fabulous, you didn’t have far to go to reach the boonies. The population has more than doubled since then, though.

Number 5 on the list, Austin, Texas 78702, east of Interstate 35 north of Lady Bird Lake, probably got its numbers by dint of the fact that it’s too expensive to live west of Interstate 35 north of Lady Bird Lake.

And interestingly, of the top 25, four of them are in Brooklyn, New York: 11205, 06, 37 and 38.

(Via the Atlantic Cities section.)

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Order now for next season

Because they’re custom-made and can’t possibly be done in time for the Finals:

Oklahoma City Thunder heels

Here’s the pitch:

Utterly captivating, Limited Edition, authentic HERSTAR™ Custom Crystal Pumps representing the Oklahoma City Thunder. Encrusted, dazzling, and intensely mesmerizing with every step, these elite pumps command a presence of their own. Fully hand strassed in luxurious, hand selected Middle Eastern crystals, then offset by a sky-high 6″ heel and 3″ internal platform; these glittering heels glisten on the court and off. They are simply magical to behold. Step into these shimmering, sparkling pumps and be ready to light up the games.

There’s an upgrade to real Swarovski crystals available, at a much higher price. If you can live with the more mundane crystals, these will cost you $295. And yes, the NBA is actually licensing these.

(Plucked, of course, from the tweetstream.)

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Julius would not be pleased

If you were thinking that orange was such a happy color — which, of course, it is — you have to allow for the possibility that not everyone has a high tolerance for it:

Went to a wedding reception last night where orange was a prominent color. The bride’s older sister was wearing a bright orange skirt, the bride’s father was wearing a bright orange tie, my wife was wearing a flowered blouse thing with several orange flowers, and the tables were decorated with large sheets of paper, the topmost of which was orange. I credit my noticing all this orangeness to Dustbury’s continued posting of pictures of people wearing orange stuff, and what do I see when I open his blog this morning?

Scootaloo in a non-mellow moodWhat he saw was this. And well, yeah, there’s a lot of orange stuff here. I am always willing to do, redo, and eventually overdo a premise, much to the apparent dismay of little Scootaloo here. (Yes, a My Little Pony reference; see previous sentence.)

Speaking of Scootaloo, McDonald’s in Germany held a contest a few months back, asking customers to create and name a new sandwich. One of the winning entries was in fact named for this young pegasus filly; amusingly, it’s a chicken sandwich.

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Driving off with the goal posts

Or at least they’ve been moved a whole heck of a lot in a decade and a third:

Currently, the {Mercedes-Benz] C300 4Matic is powered by a sluggish 3.0-liter V6, only putting out 228 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. That, combined with a 3,737-pound curb weight, is why the current model takes 7.1 seconds to get to 60 miles per hour and only returns fuel economy ratings of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg highway.

And then I look out in my garage, where I see a 3.0-liter V6 putting out 227 horsepower and 217 pound-feet of torque. It was the most powerful machine in its class back in the day, and now apparently it’s down there among the “sluggish.” (Current EPA rating is 17/25.) It might be able to do 0-60 in 7.1, though. And yes, I’ve griped about this before.

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And reasonably so

The Chicagoist story on the local version of the World Naked Bike Ride is titled “Profiles in Chafing,” which implies that someone on staff is aware of the, um, physical conditions.

Although the URL suggests that the title on first publication was actually “Profiles in Sweaty Flesh,” which presumably also works.

(Either way, consider this Not Safe For Most Places.)

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Don’t get cocky, kids

The Heat were supposed to walk away with the first one. The Thunder had zero experience in the Finals, and LeBron James has been playing on a supernatural level of late. King James, you may be sure, lived up to his billing — he finished with 30 points, nine rebounds — and Oklahoma City slogged through the mud through the first two quarters and most of the third.

And then. If there’s any two-word phrase that characterizes OKC’s playoff run, it’s “And then”: somehow, when time grows short, the Thunder manage to stand tall. Down seven at the half, they were up one after three, and every minute or so after that, they stretched that lead one more point. With 29 seconds left, LeBron quietly retreated to the bench; Mike Miller got a bucket in his place, but it didn’t matter anymore. Oklahoma City 105, Miami 94, and the Finals are off to a roaring start.

If you were wondering if anyone other than Miami’s Big Three could score, be assured that they could: Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 29 points, and Shane Battier (who started at the four instead of Bosh) and Mario Chalmers added 29 more. The Heat shot decently, at 46 percent, knocking down eight of 21 long balls — Battier had four of them, seemingly on demand — and missed only four free throws all night. And Udonis Haslem had more rebounds than anybody, reeling in 11.

What does it take to beat that? Thirty-six points from Kevin Durant, 27 from Russell Westbrook (a double-double with 11 assists), 52 percent shooting, +8 on the boards — the ever-tenacious Nick Collison had ten rebounds — and Thabo Sefolosha putting the suffocation moves on LeBron in the fourth quarter, holding King James to six points.

This wasn’t a night for blocking shots: the Thunder swatted away only three, the Heat just one. Nor was it a night for turnovers: both teams threw it away ten times. It was, however, a night for drawing a line in the sand, and there’s a lot of sand downtown, half the roads being torn up these days. It will be Thursday before we see if Miami will step over it.

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Twice the Bing, none of the Bada

In this week’s Rule 5 Sunday roundup, trusty compiler Wombat-socho noted, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that yours truly “finds the names nobody else looks for!” Which is, of course, true to a certain extent: you may have noticed that I posted about Anoushka Shankar on Natalie Portman’s birthday.

With that in mind, we give you Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, 30, hawking hosiery:

Fan Bingbing for Shirou

About her I knew essentially nothing, until I stumbled upon a quarter-page in this month’s Vanity Fair, which told me this:

When Fan was a little girl, her mother owned a boutique, and she grew up devouring fashion magazines. “I fell in love with dressing myself up,” she says.

Fan Bingbing’s first inspiration was Greta Garbo, but today her aesthetic is a seamless fusion of Dita Von Teese’s high-gloss pimp doll and Lady Gaga’s demented artiste. Yet her look is wholly her own, that of a kooky sophisticate whose favorite designer remains Alexander McQueen.

There was no way I was going to read that and not hit the search button.

Incidentally, this picture was swiped from Asian Celebrity. (And Kristen Stewart is on the cover of that issue of V. F., but surely someone will serve up some K. Stew for next weekend.)

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Can’t afford Nunavut

Nunavut is a Canadian territory north of all the provinces and south of — well, the North Pole. It’s perhaps not a place you’d want to become a locavore, since not a heck of a lot grows there; the standard argument is that it costs a lot to ship food that far, and therefore prices will be high, although twenty-eight loonies for a single head of cabbage seems to dance past “high” on the way to “absurd.” In fact:

According to one comment on the Facebook group, it’s often more cost-effective to fly to Edmonton, Alberta, do your shopping there, and fly home. (That alone is a pretty good indication that shipping costs are not exclusively to blame.)

Wonder how much they allow for carry-on baggage?

Anyway, the ill-fed are now fed up:

People in the area have begun protesting outside stores and have started a petition on Change.org asking the Canadian government to enact “concrete, effective change that will address poverty and food insecurity in our communities.”

As you might expect, the population numbers are fairly stable: the birth rate is high, but so is the rate of outmigration.

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The art of misdirection

A one-page letter received from the gas company yesterday begins this way:

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is scheduled to begin hearings on an Oklahoma Natural Gas rate increase request on June 28, 2012, at 10:30 am in Courtoom B, 1st Floor of the Jim Thorpe Office Building, 2101 N. Lincoln Boulevard, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 73105. Interested persons may appear at the hearing and make public comment if they so desire.

If you’ve been here long enough, you know that the utility is routinely expected to estimate the impact on the customers’ bills somewhere inside the announcement. And this version of the standard estimate seems particularly artful:

The proposed increase would raise an average residential customer’s monthly service charge by approximately $1.71. However, with the recent elimination of riders and consideration of natural gas costs, it is estimated that the average residential customer will pay $105.42 less in 2012 than in 2010.

Similar paragraphs are provided for commercial and industrial customers. If you’re not paying close attention — I wasn’t when I first skimmed the letter — you might think that the $105.42 you’re supposed to save this year is a direct result of the new rates being requested. Oppose a deal like that? Not a chance.

In fact, in 2010 spot prices on the commodity exchanges were in the $5 range; in the spring of 2012 they dropped below $2, though they’ve since risen to near $2.40. Over that same period, ONG’s price for previously banked gas supplies, which tends to lag the exchange price by a couple of years, has fallen from $7ish to around $4.50. No wonder bills are going down.

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Wrench dressing

Do not approach Francis W. Porretto with your newfangled computer language:

If these “researchers” were to ask me why I haven’t troubled to learn C#, or Ruby, or Python, or whatever the hot language fad is just now, I could tell them in a single sentence: They’re irrelevant to my problem domain.

My group’s problem domain is real-time simulation. For that domain, nothing has come along that bests C++ and the available supports for it. There are other domains, some of which are more efficiently addressed with other languages and support systems. (I wouldn’t dream of addressing a database problem or an artificial-intelligence project with C++.) A good engineer strives always to use the right tool for the job before him.

Inasmuch as our particular domain is database manipulation on IBM i, we’re an RPG shop, although RPG IV bears little resemblance to the Report Program Generator Big Blue came up with in 1959. I write hardly any source code, though I’m pretty handy with the control language and several of the system utilities, and that’s what they pay me for. (I write a lot more HTML, mostly because I have to toss stuff up on the corporate Web site now and then.) The oldest routines on site have been rewritten or replaced, but we still have a ton of legacy stuff to support.

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Prepare the bass cannon

Vinyl Scratch display at Licensing ExpoI tell you, this turned my Smile Reflex up to 11: DJ Pon-3, Ponyville’s leading disk jockey — for all I know, she might be Ponyville’s only disk jockey, but no matter — on display at the Hasbro booth at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas, with a theme unabashedly swiped from Spinal Tap. Under her “real” name, yet. EqD’s Sethisto noted that “they don’t appear to be going for the typical little girl’s TV that you would expect from a My Little Pony show!” Indeed.

Hard-nosed cynicism requires me to mention that the guys in their 20s who make up the bulk of bronydom likely buy way more merch than the grade-school girls at whom the show is officially aimed. Personally, I really don’t give a flying feather about Hasbro’s motivations, so long as they keep dishing up the Good Stuff. (Picture taken by The Angry Otaku; if you missed the last appearance of the bass cannon — strictly unofficial, of course — catch up here.)

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Very high hybrid

In much of the world, Toyota’s Prius, despite its modest price, is something of a halo car: it is far and away the most successful of the hybrids, and the Big T seldom has to resort to incentives to move the metal.

This is not, however, the case in India:

For the first four months of 2012, Toyota sold zero units of the Prius in the Indian market. Last month, they managed (don’t ask how) to sell one unit.

One reason, apparently, is India’s tariff on imported motor vehicles. If you’re not going to build them here, New Delhi reasons, the least you can do is send us CKD kits so we can assemble them ourselves. The Prius, with its complicated powertrain, is sent only as a completed vehicle, and is therefore hit with a tariff of over 100 percent, pushing the price tag to the equivalent of $60,000.

With projected annual sales of somewhere between two and three, it’s a wonder Toyota bothers at all. Then again, they didn’t get to be the behemoth of the Japanese auto industry by turning down customers.

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Not that I could have stockpiled any

An observation from February:

I wander into Braum’s a couple of times a month for various things from their side-of-the-store market: for instance, I am fond of their 9-Grain Bread, and I prefer their pickle slices for my own sandwiches.

The pickles, at least, can still be had, but the 9-Grain Bread apparently is history, replaced by none of these, if you ask me, and the so-called “artisan” stuff commands, or at least requests, a price 50 percent higher.

I am not, of course, above paying $6 for a loaf of specialty bread — but for making a week’s worth of PB&Js? I don’t think so.

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“Town” is a four-letter word

Speaking of four-letter words, you probably don’t want to utter any in Middleborough, Massachusetts:

At a town meeting Monday night, residents voted 183-50 to approve a proposal from the police chief to impose a $20 fine on public profanity.

“I’m really happy about it,” Mimi Duphily, a store owner and former town selectwoman, said after the vote. “I’m sure there’s going to be some fallout, but I think what we did was necessary.”

Bill Quick, a big fan of free speech, understandably demurs:

Yeah, you wadded up the First Amendment, took a crap on it, and then set it on fire.

An actual resident of Middleborough is, if possible, even less impressed:

[L]et me tell you that the first person who suggests that I should have been at the meeting if I disapprove so much is going to hear some very loud and public profanity, because you know what? I was at work, supporting my fucking family. I could always quit and go on the dole instead so I’d have time for this petty bullshit, but I’ve got more pride than that.

At the last Census, Middleborough had about 23,000 people. If even half of them had shown up at town hall, instead of the 1 percent (!) who did, I suspect the board of selectmen would have done something much more unsanitary than merely swearing.

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Added to the current rotation

Operation VR, hailed here for their single “Remorse,” has returned with a new track called “Regrets of the Past,” which is just as experimental but perhaps a little more conventional: “a little more classical roots, taking note to appreciate modern music,” they say. It’s on their Bandcamp page. Among their officially unpurchasable but YouTube-able music: the two-part “Vinyl’s Visions,” divided into “Fear” and “Pride”.

Utterly unlike OpVR is VivaceCapriccioso, whom I happened upon while — well, never mind where I found her. Perhaps her best-known piece so far is “Octavia’s Waltz,” which isn’t technically a waltz, but no matter. She plays all the parts in the string ensemble: “I was planning to play each part on either violin or cello, and mix each track together, but my cello needs repairs.” Five tracks are currently available on her YouTube channel.

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Check your lab coat, ma’am?

STEMinist, subtitled “Women in Science, Tech, Engineering and Math,” has proclaimed the following goals:

  • Increase the visibility of women in STEM
  • Promote and elevate the perspective of women in these traditionally underrepresented fields
  • Encourage younger women and girls to pursue careers in STEM
  • Capture a social media snapshot of what’s trending for women in STEM

The site’s been up for two years, though I admit to not knowing about it until they ran a profile of a friend of mine this week.

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Running out of minutes

As expected, Erik Spoelstra made some adjustments for Game 2: a couple of different sets, matchups timed slightly differently, and perhaps most important, the return of Chris Bosh to the starting lineup. (Udonis Haslem was barely visible most of the night.) Bosh responded by delivering a double-double before halftime, and Miami had things under control well into the fourth quarter. The Thunder mounted a rally, as they always do, and finally got within two at 98-96 on a Kevin Durant trey. But LeBron James put it out of reach with two free throws — his eleventh and twelfth in a row — with seven seconds left. So the Heat head home with a 100-96 win and a 1-1 tie in the series.

Lots of factors here, although Durant’s early fifth foul didn’t seem to be one of them, inasmuch as he rattled down 16 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter. The radio crew seemed to think it was due to a pair of non-calls on the last Thunder possession. But go back to the first half, when they got behind by 17 points several times. (Seventeen points, incidentally, is exactly what Shane Battier dropped in from the corner, shooting 6-8, 5-7 from beyond the arc.) The deeper the hole, the harder it is to climb out of it. It didn’t help that OKC missed seven of 26 free throws, while the Heat missed three of 25, leaving a differential of, um, four points.

And there’s LeBron, who, they say, can play any of the five positions, and who tonight seemed to be in two or three of them at any given moment. He finished with 32; Dwyane Wade contributed 24 more. The Miami bench wasn’t a factor, but they didn’t have to be.

James Harden, after a fairly terrible Game 1, was in better form, hitting for 21. And after a fairly terrible first quarter, Russell Westbrook came to life, coming up with 27. (For those who keep track: seven assists against two turnovers.) One might argue that taking a third of your shots (26 of 79) from the three-point line is probably not the best approach, especially if you’re going to miss 17 of them, but points in the paint were few and far between.

Next three games will be in Miami. The Thunder will have to get at least one or it’s over. And they can do that, if they can avoid things like falling behind 18-2 in the first quarter, which is definitely sub-optimal.

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Protecting that last mile

OpenDNS, which provides alternative DNS services for those of us who occasionally can’t persuade the ISP to serve up a page, came up with a Mac product last year called DNSCrypt, for reasons like this:

That critical path between you and your DNS servers is often referred to as the “last mile.” It’s in this “last mile” that bad things are most likely to happen — snooping, tampering, or even hijacking traffic. Anyone who knows what they’re doing can eavesdrop on your Internet activity and see exactly which domains you are resolving, and in many cases, what websites you’re visiting. Worse, sophisticated attackers can modify responses and redirect you to malicious sites. We have always used various techniques to thwart this, but none as iron-clad as simply encrypting all the communication between you and OpenDNS.

This strikes me as a boon for the traveler with a notebook, especially now that they’ve turned loose a Windows version for those of us who haven’t crossed the aisle yet.

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Birdies affected

An earthquake of magnitude 2.5 — trivial, right? — struck shortly after 3 pm yesterday. The epicenter apparently was below the 15th hole of the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club (par 3, maximum 148 yards).

For those keeping score, the palatial estate at Surlywood is about a mile and a half away. I didn’t feel a thing, but then I wasn’t there when it happened.

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Looking around

Horizontal stripes, as we all know, make us look, um, more horizontal than vertical, right? Maybe not:

A square composed of horizontal lines appears taller and narrower than an identical square made up of vertical lines. Reporting this illusion, Hermann von Helmholtz noted that such illusions, in which filled space seems to be larger than unfilled space, were common in everyday life, adding the observation that ladies’ frocks with horizontal stripes make the figure look taller. As this assertion runs counter to modern popular belief, we have investigated whether vertical or horizontal stripes on clothing should make the wearer appear taller or fatter. We find that a rectangle of vertical stripes needs to be extended by 7.1% vertically to match the height of a square of horizontal stripes and that a rectangle of horizontal stripes must be made 4.5% wider than a square of vertical stripes to match its perceived width.

(Full text of the abstract here.)

However, Lynn takes issue with this conclusion:

First of all, very few of us are shaped anything like the lovely little figure used in this research. Then there’s the psychological factor. Maybe stripes really don’t make a difference but if we look at a, shall we say, rather wide person wearing stripes and we think the stripes make her look fatter does it really matter whether or not we can prove scientifically that they do or do not make her look fatter? Also, the color, contrast, and width of the stripes probably make a difference.

Fashion is all about optical illusion, and eyes are easily fooled. (My eyes are really easily fooled.) I’ve never questioned the conventional wisdom in this matter. Perhaps I should.

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I just don’t know what went right

But apparently Tallahassee, after a two-month wait, has finally smiled on someone’s, um, pony car:

Florida license plate reading DERPY

Well, at least we know it’s not a mail truck.

(Via EqD. Yes, it does look a little shaky.)

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Down on Friday

Last Friday, you might recall, I mumbled something about Rebecca Black’s apparent abandonment of her weekly “Ask Rebecca” video series. This Friday, it’s back; she explained that she’d been “super, super busy.” Which is probably true, since apparently she’s back in the studio, which implies a new recording on the way. Certainly I’m not about to claim any credit for her return.

And maybe she’s tired:

why is it that we can be so exhausted during the day, but then have the energy of a thousand suns we try to fall asleep?

I’ve been trying to figure that one out myself.

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When mere tickets aren’t enough

From The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson (1997): “Dear motorist, your vehicle is illegally parked in the borough of Manhattan. If you do not remedy this malparkage within 72 hours, your car will be thrown into the East River at your expense.”

With all due respect to New York’s Finest, they’ve got nothing on the Brits:

Nima Hosseini Razi, a tourist hoping to enjoy some sightseeing in London, was having some car trouble. His vehicle had broken down near Parliament Square, not far from the House of Commons and Westminster Abbey, so he parked it — illegally — and decided to go for a walk while he waiting for help to arrive. He even left a note that told authorities the car was broken and for them to please not issue him a ticket.

However, when Mr. Razi returned to his vehicle, he found that it had been totally destroyed. Apparently, anti-terror police don’t take lightly to locked cars that are abandoned near government facilities and landmarks.

And yes, he did get a ticket.

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With the new HaltGrinder app

Day before yesterday, two other sites I run had bogged down to slower than a crawl, while this one, which gets roughly 100 times the traffic of the other two combined, was whizzing along as usual. I assumed this was a cache issue, inasmuch as this site is cached and the others aren’t, so I duly installed a cache plugin, and, while I was at it, moved up to WordPress 3.4. The gain in speed was microscopic, and after sweating it for entirely too long, I turned in a trouble ticket to the host.

The response was quick, and somewhat unexpected. The nature of WordPress is somewhat bifurcated: you have your Web server, but most of what it’s serving is coming from a separate database machine. I had guessed that communication between the two boxes had been severed, or at least impaired, and when a couple of tracert runs timed out, I was sure of it. Well, no: the requests weren’t getting to the database because procwatch was killing them. It goes like this:

The problem is not necessarily with either of the domains you listed, but with any domain or combination of domains hosted under [user name]. If domain-A is using 99% of the allotted memory and domain-B uses the other 1%, it will be domain-B’s scripts that get killed, even though domain-A is the one using all the memory. (For this reason, it may be sufficient to simply split up some of your domains among multiple users.)

See “100 times the traffic,” supra. And, of course, being lazy, I’d set them up over the years under the same user name, failing to anticipate that for convenience in administration they might eventually put them all on the same shared server. (I don’t have the traffic to justify anything more than that.)

So new users were created, and behavior returned to normal in a matter of minutes. And I’ve installed a little gizmo that calls out the memory usage at any given moment, along the bottom of the admin screen. (Which, of course, uses some memory, but TANSTAAFL applies, as it always must.)

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