Archive for September 2014

Why we hate buying cars

A field report from Bayou Renaissance Man:

As part of my search for solutions to my truck’s electrical problems, I visited a few used car dealers (and used car departments of new car dealers) to price alternative transport. I went well armed with information, having researched possible cars and trucks on Edmunds.com and made lists of what Edmunds terms the “true market value” of relevant ones for several model years. I always found that the cars’ sticker prices were several thousand dollars above those listed by Edmunds, and I always asked the salesmen to justify that. They uniformly tried to persuade me that Edmunds.com didn’t know what it was talking about. When I produced corroborating values from NADA and the Kelley Blue Book, they’d fall back on the old “Well, we use a different book” excuse. When I refused to buckle, and insisted on answers, about half of them hemmed and hawed and waffled; the other half simply refused to talk any further.

It was always thus. When I retired Deirdre, my ’84 Mercury Cougar, I was offered something like $1400 above KBB for her in trade. This made no sense to me, but I was ready to deal. The new(ish) car was a ’93 Mazda 626, for which they were asking $9995. In plum condition, and this one was close to it, it was worth a KBB-estimated $8600. By any definition of the term, this was a wash.

(The next Mazda was bought new. Sticker was just over $20,000. But that’s another story.)

There is, however, a silver lining:

Only one dealer was honest enough to tell me that they charged the price they believed the market would bear. If their price was higher than Edmunds’ recommendation, it was because that make and model were in demand in this area, or they’d had to invest extra money in getting the vehicle ready for sale (which they backed up with invoices showing the work that had been done). They made no excuses and didn’t try to waffle.

That sort of forthright statement deserves some sort of signal boost.

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Coolen on the side

Nancy Anna Francina Coolen wound up with a shortened name (“Nance”), a career in Eurodance music, and a second career as a TV host, all before turning 40. (She’s 41 tomorrow.) There is, of course, the usual array of slightly exciting pictures:

Nance Coolen

Nance Coolen

Nance was discovered by Ruud van Rijen, who created the dance act Twenty 4 Seven in 1989. She remained with van Rijen through 1996; he continues the group today.

This video, set to Nance’s 2003 solo single “If You Wanna Dance,” contains a brief history of her career:

Last I looked, she was doing Showniews for the Dutch channel SBS 6.

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You may work with someone like this

Or one very much like him, because there are a heck of a lot of guys like this:

30 years ago, I was in my boss’ office talking shop with him. The door was open, and it was the day annual reviews were implemented and raises first showed up on paychecks.

One young lower-level manager, upset with the size of his increase, stormed into the office, ignoring me, slapped his paycheck down on the boss’ desk, and exclaimed, “This is an insult! When are you going to pay me what I’m worth?”

Without batting an eye, the boss slid his check back over towards the young chap and said, “I’d love to, son, but there is the minimum wage law to consider.”

In fact, I’ve seen some people who should have been billed for the work they did.

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For the long term

The October Motor Trend has an interview, not with the usual grand high muckety-muck of the automotive industry, but with a 70-year-old corporate accountant, unaffiliated with the industry, who’s been on their subscription rolls ever since 1960, at which time he was sixteen and the magazine was eleven.

I did like this interchange:

Have we ever steered you wrong?

No, absolutely not. Never was sorry on anything I ever bought, really.

So you never bought a Vega, huh?

The Vega was MT’s 1971 Car of the Year; they’re still living that one down.

I did some counting, and my current longest subscription run is with MT rival Car and Driver, which I started in 1978. I’m sure someone — possibly Tam — can beat that.

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At the sign of the catty

We open with a quote from TLC regarding “scrubs”:

A scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me
Hanging out the passenger side
Of his best friend’s ride
Trying to holler at me

The hollering here is also dubbed “catcalling,” which was news to me: I grew up with the notion that “catcalling” was what Philadelphia sports fans did to the visiting team — or, sometimes, to the home team. Then again, doing the wolf-whistle thing was so far out of my comfort zone back then that actually doing it was unthinkable. Women, I suspect, aren’t keen on it anyway:

I’m still always shocked and confused when a person says “I don’t know what you’re so mad about! They’re just trying to COMPLIMENT you for God’s sake!”

I guess my confusion stems from my definition of a compliment: “a polite expression of praise or admiration,” because to me, yelling at a woman from a moving vehicle doesn’t feel as polite as I guess it was intended. Because the way I was taught, polite would be allowing me the chance to respond which, since you’re driving at 50 MPH straight past me doesn’t really seem like an option. Although I suppose it is always an option for me to write down your license plate number and track you down through the DMV or local police station. Or maybe I could just run after your car until you stop, and we’re finally united in true love.

But all of that aside, I was always of the opinion that a compliment is intended to make the recipient feel good, not the complimenter. And if that were the case, there wouldn’t be women confronting you about it, or men going on the defensive when they do.

I’m not staking any claim to the moral high ground here: had I been persuaded that this particular practice might actually work, I might well have given it a try — nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? But there is no set of circumstances under which I could believe that she’d dressed herself up and planted herself in that particular location just to catch my eye: in my experience, this simply does not happen, and I can think of no reason why it should.

And yes, I suppose, once in a while it might pay off for someone; if it never did, it would never occur to anyone else to try it.

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Wheelbase measured in inches

Enough of this “overcompensation” stuff, says Bark M.:

These guys hate me with a passion. Not only does my car have over four hundred horsepower, it’s yellow. To this particular group of internet commenters, I may as well have a target placed on my size 38 chest. According to them, my dong is actually so small that it’s inverted.

I would suggest that, in this day and age, that line of thought is outdated as the stereotype that only women of a certain persuasion drive Subarus. The only thing my car is an extension of is of my personality. In fact, I’d suggest that perhaps the opposite might be true — that men who drive underpowered cars do so because they think it supplements their identities as hipsters or intellectuals. Also, your girl just drooled over that Viper that drove by.

That Subaru stereotype, incidentally, once got a TTAC editor lambasted and then sacked.

I’m not buying the tweedy-hipster routine, though. In any given automotive class, the car with the least horsepower is likely to be the Mazda; this particular automaker values lightness and litheness more than pony count. If J. Random Wuss persistently chose the smallest horsepower number available, Mazda would be selling a million cars a year in the States instead of a mere 300,000.

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Acts to grind

If you’ve ever told yourself “I just can’t get into opera,” here’s a handy guide to make it easier for you:

Anatomy of Operas

(Via the Facebook page of San Francisco classical station KDFC.)

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Hands across the nation

Unlikely friendships may be the best kind: you’ve already overcome the presumed obstacles, probably without even thinking about them. Lisa knows how this goes:

I don’t think it was the Internet that opened up the doors to friendships between people who otherwise would never meet in real life. Ham radio operators used to have whole communities of “friends” out on the airwaves. Even before that, people had foreign pen pals with whom they shared years of correspondence without any expectation that they would ever shake hands in real life. Sometimes it was better that way. I remember a professor telling me a story about Henry James that may or may not be apocryphal. Among the many woman, James corresponded with regularly was one he had never met even through years of letters where they found themselves to be soul mates in matters of literature and philosophy. Finally, returning to America after a long stay in Europe, James decided to visit this woman in New York or Boston or wherever it was that she lived. According to the story, just before James walked up the drive to this woman’s home, a housemaid, distracted by something, dropped a basket of soiled linen on the front stoop. Henry, who we all know was a bit of a prig, saw this basket of unmentionables where no respectable home should allow it to be. He was so horrified at the indelicacy that he turned around and never wrote to the woman again. Who knows if the story’s true? But it might tell us that some friendships work best on other planes of existence.

Cue the voice of somebody’s mother, with just the slightest hint of condescension: “Are you talking to your little Internet friends again?”

Well, yes, we are. And some of them, we treasure as though we’d grown up beside them. Lisa knows about that sort of thing, which is why, after a season full of whirlwind activity, she’s taken keyboard in hand to pay tribute to a friend of hers, and mine, and likely one of yours too.

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Spyder, man

I hesitate to call a singer an Unsung (!) Hero, but David Dwight “Spyder” Turner, born in Beckley, West Virginia but raised in Detroit, seems to be largely forgotten except by collectors of old R&B singles and Northern Soul buffs. His big hit came up on the shuffle today, and I figured it was time he got a shout-out from this corner.

A lot of people have covered Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” over the years, but none of them quite like Spyder Turner, who sang every verse in the voice of some other soul singer, the sort of tribute you don’t dare try unless you’re utterly devoted to what you’re doing and you have a voice that can pull it off. Turner did. MGM cut his 5:40 original in half to fit it on a single in late 1966; it made #12 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and #3 on the R&B chart. On the LP, Turner sounded like everyone from Jackie Wilson to Smokey Robinson to three different Temptations.

And judging by the concert footage here, Turner, then 64, can still do it. It continues to amaze me that he had only one subsequent chart record: a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “I Can’t Make It Anymore,” the sort of lost track that reminds you that if you go straight south from Detroit, you end up in Canada.

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Your seventy years are up?

For a dead car brand, Saab certainly gets a lot of notice. The Economic Times of India buried this near the bottom of a column, but still:

Recent international reports indicate that one of Saab’s potential saviours could be Mahindra.

National Electric Vehicle Sweden, a Chinese-run company seeking to revive Saab, recently lost the right to use the brand’s name as it negotiates with potential investors on a revival plan.

The Indian company was keen on acquiring Saab in 2012, only to be beaten by the current owner. Saab didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

“Saab was a highly respected brand in both Europe and the US, and had a small, but strong following,” said [French auto analyst Gautam] Sen. “So, picking up Saab and using the brand could be a good way for Mahindra to make some headway into these markets. Even Ssangyong has had problems getting anywhere in Europe as many consumers believe that it is a Chinese brand. So re-branding (and redesigning) Ssangyong and Mahindra products into Saabs may work, if quality and design can come up to the expectations of the typically discerning Saab enthusiast,” he said. “Having said that, relaunching a brand as specific as Saab would not be that easy either.”

Mahindra took a 70-percent share of Ssangyong, the fourth-largest Korean automaker (behind Hyundai, Kia and GM Daewoo), after the Double Dragon fell into receivership in 2009.

Weirdly, both Mahindra and Saab Automobile were formed the same year: 1945.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

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No need for speed

Sure, we’d love to sell you a really high-speed, really high-priced Internet service, but only we can judge what is truly fast:

AT&T and Verizon have asked the Federal Communications Commission not to change its definition of broadband from 4Mbps to 10Mbps, saying many Internet users get by just fine at the lower speeds.

“Given the pace at which the industry is investing in advanced capabilities, there is no present need to redefine ‘advanced’ capabilities,” AT&T wrote in a filing made public Friday after the FCC’s comment deadline (see FCC proceeding 14-126). “Consumer behavior strongly reinforces the conclusion that a 10Mbps service exceeds what many Americans need today to enable basic, high-quality transmissions,” AT&T wrote later in its filing. Verizon made similar arguments.

Since American broadband is very much like American health care — pretty damned expensive for what you get — it’s no surprise that the guys who collect the tolls would like to keep their sweet little racket going.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler even suggested in a speech last week that 10Mbps is too low. “A 25Mbps connection is fast becoming ‘table stakes’ in 21st century communications,” he said. At 25Mbps, three-quarters of Americans have, at best, one choice of providers. At 10Mbps, 8.4 percent of Americans have no access, and another 30.3 percent have access from only one provider.

If the definition is kept at 4Mbps, statistics on broadband deployment and competition look a lot better, putting less pressure on telcos to upgrade infrastructure. AT&T and Verizon prefer to keep it that way.

Then again, even Nancy Pelosi, who did as much as anyone in history to fark up American healthcare, is at least coming around on broadband, insisting on the broadest possible definition of net neutrality:

Pelosi wrote in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission Monday that Internet service providers should be reclassified under Title II of the Communications Act — a step toward stronger regulations that would allow the FCC to more easily prohibit attempts by ISPs to charge other businesses for smoother, faster access to consumers.

“I oppose special Internet fast lanes,” wrote Pelosi. “I believe the FCC should follow the court’s guidance and reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II.”

Hang on to your routers, folks. This could get nasty.

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A bargain nearly Faustian

Lauren Faust, among my personal heroines — it’s that whole My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic thing — tells the story of how she got from shy-ish kid to animator at Sony Pictures, and while her CV is packed with all sorts of stuff, pony-related and otherwise, this is perhaps the most pertinent quote:

I started developing cartoons and series for girls. I would pitch shows to executives at different studios, and people would really like the stories and really like the characters, but then tell me, “We don’t want shows for girls.” They were attributing the poor performance of these shows to the gender of the target audience instead of to the quality of the shows. It was like banging my head against the wall; I just couldn’t get through.

Faust says she basically aimed MLP:FiM at her inner eight-year-old girl, which may explain why it was so well received by yours truly, inhabited by an inner nine-year-old girl. Her current project at Sony is the retelling of the tale of Medusa.

(Via Cartoon Brew.)

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The coldest place you can go

McMurdo Station? Baffin Bay? Nothing so remote. You want chills like you’ve literally never had before, your destination is on La Cienega Boulevard in L.A.:

There, a business called Cryohealthcare promises visitors a cure for inflammatory problems — everything from rheumatoid arthritis to musculoskeletal injuries and autoimmune disorders. The process, overseen by the handsome Germany-born Dr. Jonas Kuehne, costs $65 a treatment and involves stripping to one’s underwear (or naked if you’re a woman); donning a robe, knee-length socks, gloves and a surgical mask; and entering a chamber that resembles a time machine. Aptly so as you are hurled back to the Ice Age, your body engulfed in a terrifying cloud of vapor and the temperature plummeting to -220°F. (The lowest natural temperature ever recorded has been -128.5°F in Antarctica.) Kuehne says such low temperatures stimulate cells to produce proteins called cytokines that fight inflammation. When I emerged 90 seconds later, did I feel great? Maybe at first, but that might have been euphoria about still being alive. I then was invited to do it again, which I agreed to for some inexplicable reason. A few hours later I began to not feel well at all, and for several days the skin on my legs felt a little freezer-burned.

You want colder than that, you’ll have to leave California. Oh, and you’d better be already dead:

[T]he body of famed computer coder Hal Finney was flown to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Ariz., shortly after he died Aug. 28 of ALS. That night, his fluids were replaced with a proprietary chemical solution called M-22. His body then was chilled to -320°F and placed in an aluminum pod suspended within a 450-liter tank filled with liquid nitrogen. There, Finney will remain in suspended animation, or biostasis, until he can be revived. (Full-body cryopreservation costs $200,000, but one can preserve one’s brain for a mere $80,000.) Exactly how or when that might be achieved is unclear, but according to the Alcor website, the key lies in nanotechnology, by which molecule-sized devices could “recover any preserved person in which the basic brain structures encoding memory and personality remain intact.”

I’m not sure whether I should scoff at any of this or not.

(Via Commonsense & Wonder.)

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A ray of light in Sacramento

There exists an asinine little bit of legal smugfuckery known as the Non- Disparagement Clause, usually sneaked into the smallest available type way down the page(s) in the contract you don’t have time to read in the first place. Examples thereof:

First there was the lawsuit of KlearGear.com’s non-disparagement clause, which tried to slap customers with $3,500 penalties if they complain about a purchase in a public forum. The clause was buried two pages deep on the site’s Terms of Sale, where no reasonable person would be expected to find it. A customer sued the site after being hit with the fee and the retailer was ordered to pay $306,000 in damages.

More recently, a customer of a very sketchy site called Accessory Outlet sued because its Terms of Sale … include a non-disparagement clause that charges customers $250 for even threatening to complain online or to issue a credit card chargeback.

This sort of crap is now illegal in the Golden State:

California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed off on a piece of legislation that will make it illegal to try to enforce one of these silly clauses against a California consumer starting in 2015.

Violating the California law will result in penalties of up to $2,500 for the first instance, and up to $5,000 for each subsequent violation. If a customer can prove that it is [a] “willful, intentional, or reckless violation” they can be awarded a civil penalty not to exceed $10,000.

The other 56 states should do likewise at their earliest convenience.

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One tiny tan line

“Who will buy our watches?” asks Apple. A bunch of naked people in the UK, perhaps:

A leading British naturist, speaking on behalf of millions of unclad Britons, has welcomed the announcement of the Apple Watch and claimed the nude folk of Albion will soon be happily strapping it on.

Andrew Welch, spokesman for British Naturism (BN) and Young British Naturism (YBN), said his birthday-suited compatriots would happily don wearable technology, even if they weren’t wearing anything else.

Of course, I approve of this sort of wardrobe. But I admit I didn’t think of this angle:

[T]he primary attraction is not — as some have theorised — the fact that nudists have nowhere to carry their phones or other internet devices, but rather the fact that i- or e-Watches in general do not have built-in cameras.

Although there remains a catch:

[T]he iWatch offers the ability to control an iPhone camera remotely, meaning that nudists’ naked bits could still be targeted by pervy Apple users.

(Via Nudiarist2.)

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That terrible day

A lot of 9/11-related stuff came out today, much of it saying the same things that have been said a dozen times before.

Which is why the item to which I point you is this one:

The biggest thing I personally remember, in my individual reaction, was how so many things I was doing suddenly felt futile. I was trying to write a Biostatistics exam when my then-chair came around and told us they were closing down the university for the day and we all needed to go home.

(To this day, I don’t know if that was done out of respect for the loss of life, or out of concern there might be more things going to happen.)

And I found myself wondering: In the world that is coming, will we need Biostatistics? What is the point of learning about probability when something that seemed impossible just happened? Shouldn’t I rather be teaching my students what basic first aid I know, and what plants are medicinal, and how to grow and find and hunt your own food? That was actually where my mind went: “Could we be witnessing the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it?”

I honestly don’t know. But if at the time it seemed the end was near, nothing that’s happened in the thirteen years since can make me think the end is any farther away.

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Quote of the week

There has been much wailing and gnashing of lipstick-stained teeth over the continuing presence of those horrid little micro- (and sometimes macro-) aggressions known as gender roles; what’s more, a not-quite-insignificant percentage of one-half the species has sworn eternal enmity toward the entirety of the other half. James Lileks sums up (some of) the kerfuffle:

Modern-day sororal self-segregation is more of the same, and if they wish to form their own mutual-assistance societies of whatever form, go right ahead. No man will sue to join. To paraphrase Groucho, they wouldn’t want to join a club that wouldn’t want him for his member.

As for the male-free Internet thing, I can sympathize. Most of the vicious, idiotic, miserable, weevil-souled trolls are men, or rather largish boys who grew up on the internet and have not quite grasped the idea that there are true, actual human beings on the other side of the screen. Comments and tweets are just another form of electronic play; you shoot a hooker in the head in Grand Theft Auto, call a strange woman nasty names because she criticizes, say, the fact that you can shoot a hooker in the head in Grand Theft Auto. It’s just a game you **** and someone should do it to you. And so on.

It’s odd. You know most of these boy-men were brought up in solid homes with religious grounding, taught to respect women in the old chivalric sense of courtesy and respect, right? My heavens, what went wrong? You could say it’s confusion over how they’re supposed to behave: if you hold the door open for a woman, you’re a sexist, unless she likes you, in which case it’s romantic, although if you don’t hold the door open and it slams in her face you’re a jerk. But these roles were in flux when I was in my twenties, and we didn’t react by sending obscene postcards to strangers. It has to be something else. The internet, in general, has not created more idiots, fools, miscreants, pedants, and fiends; it has simply revealed their numberless hordes, and given them a limitless plain on which to play.

I’ve said this repeatedly at concentrations of douchery like, say, Yahoo! Answers: The asshats have always been with us. It’s just that they’ve made themselves marginally harder to ignore.

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The adventures of Sophie

Once upon a time, there was a British band called “theaudience,” which was given to songs with fab titles like “A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed” and “If You Can’t Do It When You’re Young, When Can You Do It?”

Theaudience managed only the one album, back in 1998, before breaking up; lead singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor, then nineteen, went on to a solo career, and has now released five albums, the most recent being Wanderlust, from which we extract the current single, “The Deer and the Wolf.”

Definitely a departure from her dance-pop days. And this came out day before yesterday:

I sort of explained Pretty Polly last summer.

This is the cover art from Wanderlust:

Cover art from Wanderlust by Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Why the lapses into Cyrillic? Ellis-Bextor has said that the album is like “a soundtrack to an Eastern European film from the 1970s,” and indeed one track features a Bulgarian choir, recorded at the Bulgarian Embassy in London:

It’s not often I’ve stuffed a post into four different categories.

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The bogeyman from Fort Meade

The Z Man suggests that NSA’s espionage prowess might be the stuff of fantasy and nothing more:

The government buys all of its technology from the private sector. There are things done for the government by private contractors that are not for anyone else, but the government does not have special magic. Further, the government is not getting the best and brightest. There’s way too much money to be made in the private sector for the government to get the best and brightest. The Snowden affair shows you how sloppy this stuff is, even at the highest level.

More important, the volume of data involved is so large there’s simply no way to sort through it in a meaningful way. There are 150 billion e-mails sent every day. That’s 55 trillion e-mails a year. Searching that volume of records for useful data is simply impractical. Throw in the 100 trillion or so phone calls and probably the same number of texts and the volume of data is well beyond what could be useful. That’s why they don’t try, but they’re fine letting people think it. The Feds are relying on the CSI effect to convince the world they can read your mind.

What is this CSI effect?

The CSI effect … is any of several ways in which the exaggerated portrayal of forensic science on crime television shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation influences public perception. The term most often refers to the belief that jurors have come to demand more forensic evidence in criminal trials, thereby raising the effective standard of proof for prosecutors. While this belief is widely held among American legal professionals, some studies have suggested that crime shows are unlikely to cause such an effect, although frequent CSI viewers may place a lower value on circumstantial evidence. As technology improves and becomes more prevalent throughout society, people may also develop higher expectations for the capabilities of forensic technology.

Ever try to defuzz a fuzzy picture the way they do on TV? Not happening, folks. And even if it were, you wouldn’t get a 1000-pixel-wide pastel-colored box on screen that says “Completed.”

Then again, NSA could just be stockpiling all this crap in anticipation of the time when they can do something useful with it.

And, per the dreamiest security person on earth:

Obviously, the most immediate need is for more realistic TV procedurals.

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The future’s looking Tim

After the announcement of the fusion of Tim Hortons and Burger King last month, I expected some polite disapproval of the idea from north of the border. (Canadians are polite, right?) What I did not expect was this:

Tim Hortons is not a defining national institution. Rather, it is a chain of thousands of doughnut shops, several of which have working toilets.

Tim Hortons is not an indispensable part of the Canadian experience. Rather, it is a place that sells a breakfast sandwich that tastes like a dishcloth soaked in egg yolk and left out overnight on top of a radiator.

Tim Hortons is not an anti-Starbucks choice that makes you a more relatable politician or a more authentic Canadian. Rather, it is a great place to buy a muffin if you’ve always wondered what it would be like to eat blueberry air.

So if you were planning to boycott both BK and Tim’s for tax reasons, you may be assured that you’re not missing out on a whole lot.

(Via Kathy Shaidle.)

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Give ’til it hurts

Okay, maybe you’ve overdone it a little:

If nothing else, this proves that there is no substitute for hands-on experience.

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Crewe cuts

Bob Crewe made great records in the Fifties, the Sixties, and into the Seventies and Eighties. When word came down that he’d died in a Maine nursing home Thursday — complications from a fall, which is something you don’t want to have at eighty-three — I slapped a bunch of them on the stereo, and finally declared two personal favorites, both by the 4 Seasons, both produced by Crewe, both co-written by Crewe with 4 Seasons stalwart Bob Gaudio, released within ten weeks of one another in that magical year of 1964. Fifty years later, these tracks still make me smile, and sometimes a great deal more than that.

“Rag Doll” (Philips 40211) hit #1; “Save It For Me” (Philips 40225) made #10. And the triple threat — the unshakable romanticism, the pristine Crewe production, and the “sound” of Frankie Valli (so declared on the 45 label) — make these two tracks stand out in a year the historians have inexplicably ceded to Beatlemania.

Also worth tracking down: the Motor-Cycle LP (1969) by Lotti Golden, then a New York City teenager, as forceful as Janis Ian and as lyrical as Laura Nyro. The seven-minute epic “The Space Queens (Silky Is Sad),” leading off side two, is sliced into four movements, just like “MacArthur Park”; for the second, Crewe fashions a Wall of Sound worthy of Phil Spector — and apparently without any overdubs, either.

And just to top it off: “What Now My Love,” the French standard “Et Maintenant” with English lyrics by Carl Sigman, previously charted by Sonny & Cher and by Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, cast by Crewe as a psychedelic torch song (!) starring Mitch Ryder, so far over the top you can barely see it from the ground, which managed #30 in Billboard for Crewe’s DynoVoice label, then just starting a distribution deal with Dot.

(Extreme trivia: During the days when we had both mono and stereo records to pick from the racks, there were different catalog numbers for each variety, sometimes changing just a prefix, sometimes adding a digit — usually 7 — to the front, sometimes doing, well, whatever the hell it was CBS was doing in those days. DynoVoice of this era was the only label I ever heard of that added a 3, a bit of weirdness for which I am grateful to Bob Crewe.)

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Definitely fishy

The local supermarkets seem to sell a ton of tilapia, probably because it’s relatively cheap. Fillyjonk, for one, won’t touch the stuff:

Actually, some of the Healthists claim that Tilapia really isn’t all that great for you after all — something to do with the balance of Omega 6 and Omega 3 acids. (The fact that it eats excrement apparently isn’t even a blip on the radar)

Me? I hate most fish and won’t eat it. I make an exception for freshly-caught panfish and the occasional wildcaught salmon.

This particular claim by “Healthists” (I gotta steal that term) drew this open letter from a consortium of scientific types:

US Department of Agriculture statistics indicate that farmed tilapia and catfish contain somewhat more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3. Most health experts (including organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association) agree that omega-6 fatty acids are, like omega-3s, heart-healthy nutrients which should be a part of everyone’s diet. Omega-6 fatty acids are found primarily in vegetable oils (corn, soybean, safflower, etc) but also in salad dressings, nuts, whole-wheat bread, and chicken.

Replacing tilapia or catfish with “bacon, hamburgers or doughnuts” is absolutely not recommended.

And that would seem to be that — except for this:

While working in Mexico I found that some Beltrán-Leyva Cartel types were feeding people they killed to farmed tilapia in the Puerto Vallarta area to hide the bodies. Other disturbing reports indicated that the Arellano-Felix Cartel people were doing it in Northern Mexico as well to get rid of their rivals. Apparently tilapia enjoy the meal and grow even more rapidly with the steady supply of protein.

Most of these fish find their way to tables in Mexico and to tourist destinations along the Mexican Riviera, so buying and eating them in the US is likely cartel-influence free. Personally I’ve been put off on eating them.

Beltrán-Leyva has supposedly been inactive for several years, but yes, that sort of thing is off-putting: you generally don’t see this issue with bacon, hamburgers or doughnuts.

(That cartel link via Bayou Renaissance Man.)

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Too much legacy

@SwiftOnSecurity posted a screencap of this last night, then took it down within minutes for reasons unknown, but not before I’d gotten a screencap of my own, and I eventually turned up the source on reddit:

I tried to take care of a customer that has manufacturing equipment that required MSDOS on a 386. There’s no way it will run on anything newer because it was built with timing loops that expect a (33?)Mhz processor and the cards require an ISA bus.

It won’t run on a VM or on anything newer and I was unable to find hardware to run it and finally gave up and recommended they contact the original engineer for specs (custom built controllers, steppers, etc) and get ready for a rebuild and rewrite.

They never called back and I assume they’ll just run it until it dies, then close the doors.

I can’t help but think there’s someone out there with a twenty-year-old Packard Bell clunker who thinks he’ll get $100 for it in a yard sale.

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Where have all gozintas gone?

An interesting theory being put forth here: “Education reforms are driven mostly by what is fun for schoolteachers to teach.” Example:

After all, what is the standard rap against “traditional” math? The main complaint is that it’s “just” teaching “rote” memorization. But what’s wrong with rote memorization? Speaking as someone who got pretty far in math, I’d say that when it comes to the basic arithmetic kids are trying to absorb at the grade-school level, rote memorization is just fine. Arithmetic is one of those things that’s utterly boring once you know it, and once you absorb the patterns. But until that happens, “rotely memorizing” it is just as fine a method as any other. “Rote memorization” isn’t a bad way to teach, it’s just a dreary way to teach. So teachers refuse to do it, and will work up whatever education theories they need in order to not have to. Even if it works.

A lot of the pressure towards New, Fun Stuff originated with the fact that not everyone learns at the most effective rate in exactly the same way, but things just got out of hand after that:

It’s true that when it comes to a typical arithmetic problem, there are multiple ways to attack it, none of them “wrong.” If you get the right answer, using right logic, the method cannot have been “wrong.”

The problem is that this sort of observation — like the buzzword “STEM” — is dangerous. Once it trickles down into mainstream educational usage it becomes an elementary schoolteacher telling her class that this or that math problem “has no right answer.” Which is totally wrong! Of course there’s a right answer! There are even right and wrong (false logic/incorrectly-reasoned) methods! In the great game of telephone that is apparently schoolteacher theory, the (correct enough) view that “there’s no single correct algorithm, algorithms that use correct logic are all equivalent and must necessarily lead to the same right answer, so one should use whichever algorithm works for them” has gotten all garbled and reinterpreted to mean something like “all algorithms are equally ok and there’s no single right answer.”

Cue Professor Tom Lehrer: “But in the new approach, as you know, the important thing is to understand what you’re doing, rather than to get the right answer.”

Back in the Old Silurian times, we were told that 9 X 7 was 63 because if we had seven groups of nine items, or nine groups of seven items, we would perforce have 63 items, and we could test this on anything we had at least 63 of. Since counting items took up lots of time, it became easier just to memorize the tables up to 12 or so.

(You remember gozintas, right?)

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A two-octave range

I have always wondered — since the early 1970s or thereabouts, anyway — just how it was that Bernie Taupin could churn out the words first, and only then would Elton John come up with a melody to fit them.

I need no longer wonder:

(Via Maureen Johnson.)

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Flagging interest

The national flag should embody the values of the nation, or so I was told back in secondary school, before Mozambique gained independence from Portugal and adopted this nifty little banner:

Flag of Mozambique adopted 1983

Why, yes, that is an AK-47. Says Wikipedia:

Green stands for the riches of the land, the white fimbriations signify peace, black represents the African continent, yellow symbolizes the country’s minerals, and red represents the struggle for independence. The rifle stands for defence and vigilance, the open book symbolizes the importance of education, the hoe represents the country’s agriculture, and the star symbolizes Marxism and internationalism.

Yellow minerals? Well, yes, they do mine gold there, but the volume items seem to be aluminum and natural gas.

A 2005 proposal to remove the rifle from the flag was defeated on a party-line vote.

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The new automotive priorities

The big thing at General Motors this fall, apparently, is in-car Wi-Fi. A two-page Buick ad in the new InStyle (October) contains this image:

In the back seat of a Buick Regal

The young lady, resplendent in orange, is obviously making best use of her time in the back seat. (Of course it’s the back seat: you don’t want drivers doing this, the curve of the roofline gives it away, and anyway this is the view from outside the car.) Apart from telling you that you can get a mobile hotspot, though, this ad tucks in a couple of additional messages that aren’t spelled out:

  • The average age of Buick buyers has actually been declining, from recently deceased to somewhere in the fifties, but there’s really no percentage to marketing to us old codgers, set in our ways, so let’s show someone about half that age.
  • Fear of cramped back seats haunts us all, or at least those of us who occasionally might find occasion to carry someone in the back seat, so the fact that Miss Tablet can actually cross her legs back there is reassuring, though I’m not sure how close her head is to the ceiling.

This latter point is seldom made by automakers; I can remember only once in recent years when it was blatant, and even then it was only a tweet.

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Ferric oxide never sleeps

My car’s otherwise pristine flanks are marred by none-too-faint traces of the tinworm along the rear wheel wells, the right worse than the left. (There’s another outcropping along the radiator support, less visible but more worrisome.) I tend to think of it as a reminder that unto dust we shall return, and that goes for our toys as well. And at least it was a good paint job at one time, unlike some we’ve heard about:

I finally got around to putting a bunch of Zaino not-quite-wax on the thing last week and I noticed that Honda’s inability to paint cars properly in the United States has yet to be completely addressed. After 12,000 miles, the Accord has more rock chip damage and wear on the front than any of my Volkswagens, BMWs, or Porsches had after three times that much distance. No orange in history has ever had as much orange peel as this Honda and where the paint has chipped off you can see just how thin it is. Oh well. My 1986 Jaguar Vanden Plas had brilliant and flawless lacquer that was approximately as thick as a trauma-plated bulletproof vest but it also failed to make it to 75,000 miles without requiring the replacement of every rubber part in the suspension and body. Choose your battles.

Indeed. (Gwendolyn has a shade under 153,000 miles at this writing.)

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Old chum

This has nothing to do with Cabaret, or for that matter with cabaret — unless you were hoping someone would invite you.

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Hardly seems fair

Jennifer McClintock saw this being vended at the State Fair of Oklahoma this week, and decided “Pretty sure I’m going to pass on this one”:

Scorpion Pizza at State Fair of Oklahoma

Apparently it was a big hit in Calgary back in July:

The owner of the Pizza on a Stick stand says she’s the sole scorpion pizza vendor at Stampede, and confirmed slices are expected to return this week.

“I’m hoping Thursday, but definitely by Friday,” Percsilla Larue told the Herald. Her stand ran out of $10 scorpion pizza slices Monday after demand was higher than expected.

“People love it. I had one guy come back twice for more slices,” said Larue, who describes it as “crunchy.” She said staff were surprised by how many people came asking on last Thursday’s Sneak-a-Peek.

I dunno. You tell me that a pizza with scorpions on it is sixty bucks, and the first thing I’m going to ask is “How much is it without scorpions?”

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Several last things

The other day I got Twitterspammed — if that isn’t a word, it should be — by someone whose main interest in life, judging by that day’s tweet production, was promoting this song:

“Good theme that swings”? Okay, I’ll look.

This was the song, and I liked it enough to snag it from iTunes:

I know from nothing here, except that Aldrey is from Venezuela, and that this video was shot largely at a pediatric hospital in Maracaibo — which makes its bucket-list lyrics just a hair more poignant.

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Strange search-engine queries (450)

The number 450 hasn’t a great deal of applicability in real life: for me, it’s the temperature to which I should have preheated the oven instead of 400, but I didn’t notice until I’d already shoved in a full baking sheet. In Canada, it’s the score for a perfect game (twelve consecutive strikes) in five-pin bowling. Anyway, here are this week’s search strings:

“baby duck syndrome” asperger:  This perhaps explains more about the grown-up Donald than Disney had intended.

blurbese:  The language of marketing. Any similarity to English is coincidental and not intended.

scdo 07 latex corset ballet boots:  As seen on People of Wal-Mart.

the wonderful webers:  Not referring to grilles, either.

slightly skewed skateboards of oklahoma:  You know, we wouldn’t have this issue if we had some real sidewalks.

626 capella glx fuel consamptoin:  It’s like “consumption,” only faster.

celia ebert one buckhead loop condo association:  Never met Ms Ebert, but I’ve seen plenty of buckheads thrown for a loop.

the boston rag:  That would be the Globe. (The rival Herald is more of a dustcloth.)

elyse moore diaryland xanga:  Um, did you try Geocities?

martha lasley “clean language”:  Um, did you try Geocities?

cold calculating thinking:  Less common than it used to be, but so are other varieties of thinking.

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Conference room A, one hour

The organization doesn’t exist that never holds meetings. But there is such a thing as overdoing it:

When I worked in the high-corp world, especially when I was the executive assistant to the vice-CEO of a NASA corporation, I learned the value of regularly held meetings. But my boss held back-to-back meetings all damned day, thus eating up my time with creating Excel spreadsheets, running upstairs to rip them off of the huge Calcomp printer, then running back downstairs to mount them on the wall of his conference room. Hour. After. Hour. Taking care of 12 departmental checkbooks, requisitioning tools and parts, and performing secretarial tasks for his departmental heads had to be sandwiched in between my jogs up and down stairs. It’s no wonder that I won an unofficial poll as “Best Legs in the Company” and that I brought home huge paychecks that included three or four hours of overtime every day. Those checks helped me pay for that penthouse with the view of the Pacific, which I seldom saw because I never came home until well after dark. That job taught me the frustration of redundancy and meeting overkill. I used to joke with my boss that he and his heads must be Baptists, who are famous for holding meetings to schedule meetings.

Grateful am I that I work on one floor and one floor only — though that floor has a single step that I must traverse dozens of times a day, playing hell with my knees. And none of my paychecks are huge enough to afford a penthouse, which may be just as well since the damned thing would perforce be upstairs.

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Off to reform school with you

You may have heard the term “special snowflake” before. Here’s a particularly flaky example:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Parents won't buy me a nice car?

Speaking for the defense:

First, I am “spoiled” but if you’re going to comment that I am you’re wasting your time because believe me, I know I am.

Okay so I drive a 15 year old POS that doesn’t even start all the time. It’s a crappy Nissan SUV that’s in an ugly girly color. The inside is crappy and I feel embarrassed driving my gf or even my friends in there because it is so filthy. It’s almost disrespectful to my passengers and I try to clean it but you can’t get out decade old stains and smells. At my HS, kids drive NEW BMW 4 series coupes, Mercedes Benz, even Porsches I know 4 girls who drive 911s. Like everyone in my town, including my family, is very wealthy. We live in the wealthiest county in Florida. Kids get dropped off at school in Teslas, limos, and their nanny’s range rovers. And I don’t get why my parents can’t just buy me a 15k BMW!? Like my wrist watch is probably worth more than my car. It is so frustrating. My best friend drives a new Mercedes c250 and my other friend has a 2012 5 series. It is just annoying af and I feel self conscious because they have plenty of money to buy me a used car. That would be like your parents saying they don’t have $2 for a vending machine water when they obviously do. I have a job, but it’s an internship at a real estate office and there’s no way in hell I can afford a car making minimum wage. What should I do

This is how your parents got rich: not buying you crap.

Only one question left: does he run for Congress in ’26, or wait until ’28?

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Fark blurb of the week

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It’s just a print

Given Emily Deschanel’s longstanding commitment to animal welfare and vegetarianism and such, it’s not at all surprising that she’d make an appearance for Mercy For Animals, but I have to admit, I wouldn’t have expected this dress:

Emily Deschanel for Mercy For Animals 9-12-14

I mean, yeah, great dress, but it seems like it might suggest something contrary to the mission. (The organization’s annual gala was held Friday night at The London West Hollywood.)

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Somewhat lacking in dash

Attack with Numbers has a subtle little piece called “The laws of shitty dashboards,” the second of which is “If it’s called ‘Dashboard,’ it’s probably shitty.”

Of course, they’re talking software dashboards, but the principle could be extended further:

Take car dashboards for example. They use vast amount of real estate to display information that is useless 99% of the time. How often do you need to know the RPM on an automatic car? Can’t you just take that stupid dial out and put something useful instead?

Then again, if you don’t have that information in the remaining 1% of the time, you’re hosed. And I look at the RPM all the time, if only to see what sort of shift points I’m using. And there’s this, for instance: the car is fully warmed up when, and only when, 70 rpm can be had below 2500 rpm, useful information of the sort you can’t count on from today’s typically wonky temperature gauges.

On the other hand, I’m definitely down with this:

They also employ UX techniques that dates from a time where the only UI component you can use was a light bulb. If that red thing is critical, can’t you tell me right away what it means?

One wants to know, after all, what the engine is doing, not what it just quit doing.

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BT or not BT?

BT Group plc, the communications company once known as British Telecom, is branded as BT.

Brian Transeau has been making music as BT for many years now.

This created no problem for anyone until BT Group decided to field a Twitter response team: should a customer have a problem, she need only tweet at @BTCare. Which is fine. But what if she tweets to @BT instead? Then we have this:

Interestingly, BT the musician has 700,000 Twitter followers; BT the corporation has 63,000.

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Totally umbrageous

Perpetual outrage? It’s a frickin’ industry, says Amanda Kerri:

We have turned righteous indignation into a marketable skill, and a way to make money. Fox News is a company that thrives off of anger, rage, misinformation, and disgusting behavior. I honestly cannot remember any time in my life, people who called themselves journalists working for a news organization, thinking it’s okay to call the First Lady fat. The only reason Rush Limbaugh even exists is because he figured out how to make money off of being offensive and angry. Don’t think liberals are any more enlightened. People have launched entire public media careers based off of spewing half understood academic terms they got from an Anthropology 101 class, to make money on youtube, blogs, speaking tours, etc., being outraged at every last slight. They look for things to be outraged about. If you aren’t the right kind of activist you’re worse than any member of the hetero-cisgendered-white-right handed-pull over instead of button up-dog loving but cat disliking-colonialist-patriarchy that might or might not be oppressing you. You have committed the sin of being of a different approach or opinion on the matter. And the horrible thing about these people, is that they are just so goddamned loud! They drown out those that have nuanced, educated, balanced opinions that are more interested in building bridges between camps instead of trying to figure out ways to burn down those camps. Those people get driven out of movement and shouted down because they’re more interested in talking instead of shouting (for a $5000 speakers fee mind you).

This is what we’ve become.

The key to that is in the middle: “They look for things to be outraged about.” Life’s rich pageant offers them no obvious balm for their twisted souls, so they look for incidents to reinforce their pet prejudices, and they think that’s enough — especially if somehow they can get paid for it. I have reduced my news consumption to one newspaper (local), one magazine (The Week, which reads all the other magazines so I don’t have to), and blogdom, the latter assisted by Twitter. (There are things I read which don’t specialize in news, but occasionally actually have stories worth reading: for example, Vanity Fair, whose fawning interest in rich people often produces really good financial-industry coverage.) I’m not saying I’m any more nuanced or educated or balanced than the next guy, but I don’t enter echo chambers willingly if I can possibly help it.

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