Archive for March 2016

The disappearing woodpile

Shortly after the official ice-storm debris had been hauled away by the city, I got the bright idea of having the backyard wood, which consisted of two and a half full (albeit dead) trees plus a stack of limbs slightly shorter than I am, rendered into almost-handy-sized remnants and parked on the curb just in time for the second debris pass. Unfortunately, I got this idea about 24 hours after the second pass was completed, although I didn’t actually read the schedule until two days later. (So much for semper paratus.)

Not to worry, said everyone. The city will pick it up as part of Big Junk, the monthly collection of non-hazardous materials that won’t fit in the official blue bins. Four cubic yards goes free; after that, it’s about $10 per cubic yard. Not a bad deal, all things considered. And then I looked at the expanse of dead-tree stuff, three or four feet high and seemingly 30 feet long, and wondered just how much of this crap they’d be willing to take, and how much it would cost me if they did.

Short version: They took all they could load into the truck, though inevitably some of it dropped out of the giant claw. And the pertinent bill was $20.42, the regular monthly charge for once-a-week trash service; apparently it all fit into four cubic yards.

Or maybe not, said a resident who’s been here longer than I have: “Sometimes,” she said, “they don’t even bother to record these things because it’s more trouble than it’s worth.”

Then again, this is the first month with the New and Improved Water Bill, so I’ll watch for one more month before I declare this matter closed.

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Hack this, pal

Who knows what might be lurking in the firmware?

It seems Tesla is set to bump the battery capacity of its Model S sedan up to a hefty 100kWh some time in the near future. We know this thanks to the work of a white-hat hacker and Tesla P85D owner named Jason Hughes. Hughes — who previously turned the battery pack from a wrecked Tesla into a storage array for his solar panels — was poking around in the latest firmware of his Model S (version 2.13.77) and discovered an image of the new car’s badge, the P100D.

In not exactly a humblebrag, Hughes tweeted what he’d found — as an encrypted hash. Said hash was quickly decrypted. Tesla’s response was quick: they rolled Hughes’ firmware back to an earlier version. (“We get sauce too?” asked the gander, plaintively.)

Hughes complained; Elon Musk himself said that he hadn’t asked for the rollback. And Hughes wasn’t particularly put out, since — you knew this was coming, right? — he’d already backed up that newest incremental upgrade.

Damn, but cars are getting complicated.

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Magic dirt

Why are some places better to live than others? Maybe it’s something in the soil. Or maybe not.

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The tinnest of tin ears

In the best of times, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is not exactly overflowing with clues, and we’re a hell of a long way from the best of times. Yesterday, though, they stepped in it big time:

You’d think someone would have known this: Duckworth lost both of her legs in Iraq.

NRSC pulled the tweet after a few minutes, but the damage was done; screenshots, like so much of the Internet, are forever.

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The ‘roll goes ever on

Somebody has been handing out fake parking tickets in beautiful downtown Asheville, North Carolina:

Asheville’s Transportation Director says somebody downtown has been giving people fake parking tickets… The fake tickets were for $100, while the city’s normal fine is only $10. The city wants to stop whoever is behind it. The police say they can only charge the person with littering. If a person pays the fine, then the charges get more serious.

And this somebody did a fairly decent job of fakery:

“When someone first glances at the citation it does look official, but there are some key things when you start looking at it,” said [Transportation Director] Putnam.

The ticket is physically larger. It was dated Friday, March 5th when it was the 4th. It had a fake officer ID and made up violation code. The ticket also had a QR code for smart phones to scan. The city’s tickets do not have QR codes.

So what happens if you scan that QR code? This happens.

It’s nice to know that some things never change.

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Hung up on minor details

Cover of Deliciously Decandent by Fiona MoodleyThe wondrous world of seemingly random retweeting, which of course it isn’t — nothing on Twitter is truly random — landed a promo for this book in my stream, and while I admit to partaking of the occasional romance novel, by which is meant it’s probably no more than a third of what I read, give or take a percentage point here or there, I think this one might be just a hair beyond my specifications. The story goes like this:

He is every woman’s fantasy. He can have any woman but her. He will do anything just to have her in his bed were she belongs.

She is a widow and has a little girl. She cannot afford to be promiscuous but she is drawn to him like a moth to a flame.

When they come together it is explosive. Sparks don’t just fly it dominates. Can he keep her in his bed or will she run away?

Points for noting that promiscuity has its price, if not necessarily in an obvious currency. But how do we know if it’s truly “decandent,” whatever the heck that means?

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Fast-breaking id

After three quarters, the Thunder were up by ten, and the general air seemed to be “Don’t get cocky, kids”; last time these two teams met, less than a week ago, the Thunder were up by seventeen after three quarters, and somehow lost by five. At the time, it seemed like they’d forgotten how to finish a game. Tonight, it looked like they’d learned something: halfway through the fourth, OKC had run that ten-point lead up to 19. This was about the point that the Clippers remembered that earlier in the game they were actually making three-point shots, and decided to go back to them. J. J. Redick promptly snapped off a pair of them, cutting the lead to 13; a minute later, he nailed one more. But the boys from L.A. would make no further progress, and at 2:25 Doc Rivers threw in the towel. The Thunder go up 2-1 in the season series, 120-108, a game in which they never trailed, but a game in which there were a whole lot of ties; the last tie was 75-75, in the middle of the third.

The usual Clipper offensive weapons were deployed competently, for the most part, but starting with that last tie, they started to miss shots, something they hadn’t done for most of the game. The most consistent shooter, in fact, was Jeff Green; Uncle Jeff knocked down 10-13 for a team-high 23. And while J. J. Redick (22 points) was 5-8 on treys, so was Kevin Durant (30 points/12 rebounds). One thing I always wonder about in Clippers/Thunder games is whether Russell Westbrook is consciously trying to show up Chris Paul. In this game, at any rate, CP3, good as he is, was seriously outclassed; Westbrook’s triple-double, 25-11-2019, included a new career high for dimes. The Telltale Statistic, though, doesn’t show on the box score. Oklahoma City had 15 second-chance points. The Clips? Zip.

The Timberwolves will be here Friday night, after which everyone must clamber onto the plane and head for San Antonio. The Spurs haven’t lost at home all season, like another team whose name we won’t mention, lest we jinx the whole scheme.

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Free to fade away

No visuals here, just the cover art. This is track two from Jimmy Webb’s El Mirage album, turned loose on the world in 1977. Just in case someone asks “What’s your favorite George Martin production, other than Beatles material?” — and someone will — this is it. (It’s also his arrangement.)

George Martin in the studio meme: did more with 4 tracks than most do with Pro Tools

(Meme swiped from Tape Op Magazine.)

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Random penguin

In 1950, Bugs Bunny, out of the kindness of his rabbit heart, escorted an abandoned penguin all the way to Antarctica, only to discover that the bird actually hailed from Hoboken, New Jersey. As tales go, it was pretty tall, but it’s nothing compared to this real-life caper:

Retired bricklayer and part time fisherman João Pereira de Souza, 71, who lives in an island village just outside Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, found [a] tiny penguin, covered in oil and close to death, lying on rocks on his local beach in 2011.

João cleaned the oil off the penguin’s feathers and fed him a daily diet of fish to build his strength. He named him Dindim.

After a week, he tried to release the penguin back into the sea. But, the bird wouldn’t leave. “He stayed with me for 11 months and then, just after he changed his coat with new feathers, he disappeared,” João recalls.

And, just a few months later, Dindim was back. He spotted the fisherman on the beach one day and followed him home.

“Ooh, I’m dyin’!” says João. Maybe.

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You don’t know Jack, yet

Perhaps the world was waiting for an instant-messaging app that’s not all that instant:

[W]ith the ability to instantly send, there’s come an expectation to instantly reply and sometimes the vibration of our phones can feel like an annoying and persistent knock on the door rather than a communicative joy. The idea of patiently waiting for a response to something in a world where we’re all connected has understandably started to fade as slower methods of communication are phased out.

That’s why messaging app Jack is trying to do something a little different by taking the instant out of instant messaging. Jack works by allowing you to send someone a message, image, video clip, or audio clip that they’ll receive instantly but gives you the ability to decide when the recipient can open it, whether it’s one hour, one day, or one year in the future. The recipient can see the time counting down to when they can open their message and the developers hope that this will bring “the pleasure of anticipation” back into communication.

I am pleased to note that behind Jack there really is a Jack.

One thing I’m wondering: can you adjust the time once the message has been sent?

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Those youthful newsrooms

The problem with online versions of newspapers, we are told, is that they can’t bring in the kind of revenue to support the traditional newsrooms. This situation, however, leads to another one, possibly worse: when the buyouts come, the experienced hands are the first hands on the door, and the new kids aren’t quite tuned in to the basic functions:

Even if some kind of online journalism develops that spends time on things like state legislature budget meetings — and no clickbait headline is ever going to make one of those appealing — will there be anyone around who knows how to bulldog the selfless public servants spending our money into saying how it’s being spent? Journalism may be the only profession that’s predicated on being a pain in the ass … to everybody. What happens when the only people who write just know how to do long form first-person celebrity profiles? Or can diagnose fifteen different kinds of patriarchy in a budget press release but can’t ask a coherent question about where the money goes?

This is why the Wall Street Journal has no reason to fear Buzzfeed. Yet.

If Donald Trump had actually run for president in the mid-90s, for example, newsrooms across the country would have salivated over the idea of telling people about his bankruptcies, ridiculous spending habits, whacko political positions, lack of serious thought to his policies and so on. Sam Donaldson would have taken a truckload of No-Doze in order to have been at every Trump public appearance possible and shout question at him until security dragged him outside. Some journalists would have done this because they disliked Trump, of course. But many more would have done it because it was their job to be a pain in the ass and there are fewer asses larger than Donald Trump.

We don’t have that today. We have Hitler comparisons and twenty paragraphs on Trump’s coded racism and dutiful snickering over his implications about the functionality of his genitalia. It’s not that today’s news folk like Trump — although when CBS chair Les Moonves chortles about how good Trump is for his ratings, you may wonder — it’s just that they really don’t know how to go after him on anything of real substance. Years of Bush/McCain/Romney/Palin/Insert Name Here are eeeeevilstoopid! work, combined with supine worship of President Obama’s pants crease, March Madness bracket and supergeniuscoolestever-ness, mean that news outlets that want to seriously investigate the emperor’s wardrobe can’t find the people to do it.

What isn’t being said here, of course, is Glenn Reynolds’ common dismissal: “They’re not journalists. They’re Democratic operatives with bylines.” Not all of them match that description, of course. But inevitably, institutions tend to move leftward, unfortunate consequences of the Gramscian Long March crossed with the Peter Principle.

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Canned coins

The classic Tootsie Roll bank can still be had, though the most recent version is only four inches tall, exemplifying what Consumerist calls the Grocery Shrink Ray. My own version, once possessed by a sibling, is around forty years old and stands a full seven inches tall. As an experiment, I’ve been feeding it nothing but pennies for the last few years, and at some point last week, it would accept no more.

There once was a time when I’d wrap all those coins. This is no longer that time. Saturday morning I hauled the little tube off to the bank, eliciting a grin from the teller, who apparently was familiar with the breed. We dumped the contents into a proper bank bag, I tagged it with one of my deposit slips, and I was advised that it would be a day or two before the cash vault downtown was able to credit it. Not a problem, said I; it’s not like I’m utterly dependent on this, oh, five-fifty or so.

Apparently the cash vault got to it late on Tuesday; Wednesday I observed that a credit was posted to the tune of $5.87. Not a bad guess, if I say so myself. I duly moved it to passbook savings, along with fifty bucks I’d somehow managed not to spend in February.

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This is his jam

Hero or zero? The Chicago police say the latter:

Chicago Transit Authority commuters have been complaining for months that their mobile devices were suddenly losing connectivity while riding Chicago’s subway and elevated train lines. Pictures of the alleged culprit had been circulating on social media and even on Reddit. An undercover operation, police said, led to the man’s arrest on a felony charge of signal jamming, which carries a maximum penalty of a year in prison.

About the suspect:

Dennis Nicholl was arrested after he was identified as the man utilizing a signal jamming device on the CTA Redline. CTA Authorities have been investigating complaints by passengers about cell phone reception. With the help of an anonymous 911 call, the Chicago Police Department and CTA Authorities were able to identify the suspect. Nicholl was observed utilizing the jamming device on the Redline by covert officers in a joint operation with CPD, CTA and the FCC. Nicholl entered the CTA Redline at the Loyola stop on the morning of March 8th, 2016 and utilized the interference device between the Loyola and Granville stops. He was arrested without incident on the Granville CTA Platform.

Counsel, of course, sees him differently:

The lawyer for the financial analyst at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System said his client just wanted peace and quiet on his commute. “He’s disturbed by people talking around him,” Chicago attorney Charles Lauer said of defendant Dennis Nicholl. “He might have been selfish in thinking about himself, but he didn’t have any malicious intent.”

I might give that statement a little more credence, were it not for this minor detail:

The Chicago Tribune said the defendant pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of jamming mobile phones in 2009. His equipment was confiscated, and he was sentenced to a year of probation, the paper reported.

Is there an app for recidivism?

(Via @SwiftOnSecurity, also on the “zero” side.)

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The new Democratic base

Well, there are the Sanders fans, of course, but it’s hard to imagine them as a majority of the party, let alone of the electorate. Then again, who else is there?

The rest are divided between disaffected Dems drawn to vote for Trump because their notion of an ideal president is Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, and Hillary supporters who are certain that (1) Hillary is the nominee, finally, this time, and that (2) if the Republicans actually nominate a Republican for president this year, Hillary will be in cuffs before her concession speech ends.

I suppose they have to tell themselves that kind of thing if they insist on supporting someone who, were she less, um, connected, would already be wearing orange jumpsuits on a regular basis.

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Sartorial notes

Last week’s Rebecca Black video got down to the quotidian details of her existence, and I caught this frame during breakfast-making:

Rebecca Black wears a shirt: With a shirt like this who needs pants?

At no time do we see if she actually is wearing pants, but at this point I prefer to assume that she was.

Addendum: I am informed by the lady herself that it was five years ago today that “Friday” went viral. I did not ask her about pants.

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Clearly not out of the woods

And now, a report from this sick beat:

A Nashville man is behind bars for burglary after trying to force his way into a man’s home because he was there to “save Taylor Swift.”

Oh, right. Like Taylor Swift is going to be in Nashville these days.

According to the police affidavit, 26-year-old Paul Herrin knocked on the door of a man who happens to be a landlord. Thinking it was someone dropping off a rent check, the homeowner opened the door and found Herrin, who shoved the door open and placed his left foot inside to keep the man from closing the door on him.

The homeowner instructed Herrin to leave, but Herrin continued to try and shove the door open, telling the homeowner he was there to “save Taylor Swift, his wife, and that he had every right to search the residence.”

I’m guessing Morgan Fairchild was not available for comment.

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To kill a golden goose

One thing about the estate of the late Harper Lee: they move quickly, if occasionally incomprehensibly:

The New Republic has obtained an email from Hachette Book Group, sent on Friday, March 4 to booksellers across the country, revealing that Lee’s estate will no longer allow publication of the mass-market paperback edition of To Kill a Mockingbird.

According to the email, which a number of booksellers in multiple states have confirmed that they received a variation of, no other publisher will be able to produce the edition either, meaning there will no longer be a mass-market version of To Kill a Mockingbird available in the United States.

One immediately assumes this decision is dollar-driven, and perhaps it is:

While Hachette only published the mass-market paperback of To Kill a Mockingbird, HarperCollins publishes the trade paperback, hardcover, and special editions of To Kill a Mockingbird, and also published Go Set a Watchman last year. Asked for comment, a spokesperson for HarperCollins, which publishes the trade paperback edition of To Kill a Mockingbird said that the company “will continue to publish the editions that we have.” HarperCollins’s editions of To Kill a Mockingbird ranges in price between $14.99 and $35.

Why does this matter? Mass-market books are significantly cheaper than their trade paperback counterparts. Hachette’s mass-market paperback of TKAM retails for $8.99, while the trade paperbacks published by Hachette’s rival HarperCollins go for $14.99 and $16.99. Unsurprisingly, the more accessible mass-market paperback sells significantly more copies than the trade paperback: According to Nielsen BookScan, the mass-market paperback edition of To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 55,376 copies since January 1, 2016, while HarperCollins’s trade paperback editions have sold 22,554 copies over the same period.

John Scalzi speculates that this action will “make sure this book is no longer taught,” what with the additional cost of six dollars per student. Truth be told, I wasn’t aware that mass-market paperbacks were being used in classrooms; back in the last century when I was actually reading things for class, we always got the trade paperbacks. (Hardcover, of course, was out of the question.)

I am sorely tempted to order one of Hachette’s last remaining books from Amazon, which is offering it to Prime members for $5.89. (It’s $10.99 on the Kindle.)

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Hungry like the Wolves

The scary part of that first quarter was not that Minnesota had jumped out to a 21-8 lead — the Thunder would make up most of that deficit before the quarter ended — but the sensation that OKC was focusing, not on the opponent at hand, but on the opponent to come. That way lies, if not necessarily madness, certainly a lot of lead changes, and 47 minutes into the game things were still decidedly undecided: in that last minute Karl-Anthony Towns bagged back-to-back buckets to put the Wolves up 96-94. Then with 10.8 seconds left, weirdness struck: Towns looked like he goaltended a Kevin Durant floater, but it was ruled that he didn’t, and Steven Adams got credit for a stickback to tie it up. But Ricky Rubio drained a trey 0.2 before the horn, and that was that: Minnesota 99, Oklahoma City 96, the Wolves’ first win in four tries against the Thunder this year and their first win in OKC in seven years.

It did not help that Andre Roberson tweaked his ankle in the second quarter and did not return. And it definitely did not help that Serge Ibaka played 20 minutes, scored absolutely nothing, and fouled out. For the most part, the Thunder were efficient at clearing the boards, 54-37 on rebounds, but they were otherwise outworked by the Wolves, and there’s always the question of how you survive after 24 turnovers. (Only once have the Thunder done worse than that this season, against the Rockets, and they lost that one too.) At least Enes Kanter was around to collect a double-double (17 points/14 rebounds), and the Durant/Westbrook Axis of Amazing managed 54 points, but gave up the ball 11 times. Meanwhile, while all the talk in Minnesota is about Towns or Andrew Wiggins, the solid rock this evening was Gorgui Dieng, 7-12 from the floor and 11-11 from the stripe for 25 points. (Wiggins finished with 20, Towns with 17.)

Oh, and that opponent to come? The Spurs. In San Antonio. Tomorrow night. When was the last time the Spurs lost a game at home? Hint: it wasn’t this season.

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The shape of rooms to come

I have yet to see one of these in a hotel room, but I figure they’re bound to spread, at least at some of the price points I can handle:

This would almost, though not quite, make up for the absence of a desk.

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He was

Now that I think about it, it was definitely scary for Greg Lake to come up with these lines:

A bullet had found him
His blood ran as he cried
No money could save him
So he lay down and he died

Especially, you know, when he was twelve.

I doff my hat to Keith Emerson, unfortunately not saved at the tender age of seventy-one.

Addendum: Emerson’s death has been ruled a suicide.

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Selfie unesteemed

In fact, Malaysian officials think the selfie could be downright dangerous:

According to Harian Metro, CyberSecurity Malaysia communications officer Jazannul Azriq Aripin said there were reported cases of “bomoh” or local shamans purportedly using pictures on social media site such as Facebook to supposedly hex their victims.

“Do not be surprised if the ‘bomoh’ themselves are getting smarter and they may have installed wireless broadband to launch their black magic,” he told the local Malay daily.

“So, avoid uploading pictures of yourself to avoid the threat of black magic.”

He did not elaborate on what occurred in the cases he cited or how “black magic” worked online.

Then again, just being on Facebook might be bad juju of a sort.

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Hello, Marilu

Most of us, I suspect, remember Marilu Henner from her role as Elaine Nardo on Taxi, which ran for five years in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

Marilu Henner as Elaine Nardo

Louie DePalma (Danny DeVito) had it bad for Elaine, and generally we found this to be perfectly understandable.

She’s now doing a radio show, and at 63, she still cleans up nicely:

Marilu Henner in January 2016

Marilu Henner at the 2010 TV Land Awards

In her early days as a presumably struggling actress, Marilu did a local TV spot in which she did not technically appear: in the final version, you see only a bit of lingerie floating across the screen, through the wondrous power of the traveling matte. Or something. I’m not exactly sure how it was done circa 1970. One of these days I should probably ask her about that, since it’s a virtual certainty that she’ll remember every last detail:

By contrast, I couldn’t tell you what I had for dinner a week ago Tuesday.

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Death wears black and grey

Royce Young, contemplating this game in San Antonio: “What’s so amazing about the Spurs is they have like six guys that look so washed and they’re still 55-10.” And those ten losses came on the road: on the home court they’ve been literally unbeatable so far. The Thunder made some noises about ending that 31-0 streak, and actually had a four-point lead going into the fourth quarter, later increasing it to six. The Spurs tied it up, and then followed it up with a pair of treys, just to make sure OKC got the message. They needn’t have bothered; the Thunder’s by-now signature fourth-quarter collapse made it easy for the Spurs to claim that 32nd home win, 93-85, evening the season series at 1-1.

One of those washed-looking fellows, Tony Parker, got his first point in the game with 33 seconds left, finishing with four. And Manu Ginobili, in the same draft class as Methuselah, scored two. But none of that mattered: Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge worked extremely well together, David West led a spirited Spurs bench, and the Thunder managed only 36 points in the second half, with no points other than free throws in the final four minutes. About the only good news for Oklahoma City was that Andre Roberson, who fritzed up his ankle against the Timberwolves last night, didn’t seem particularly affected by it tonight.

Other than that, nothing much is going on. The hapless Lakers — who, unlike the Thunder, have managed to beat the Warriors once this year — and the unaffected-by-hap Sixers have been unceremoniously escorted out of the playoff race. And the Spurs’ next three opponents are all at home: the Clippers, the Trail Blazers, and the Warriors. We wish them well in the task of disposing of those guys, since apparently it’s not going to get done otherwise.

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When nobody has your back

For what it’s worth, this is not just one person’s existential dread:

I had a dream the other night — this is another one of those things-breaking dreams — where I was driving down the interstate and a dashboard light I had NEVER SEEN BEFORE came on, and I didn’t know what it was for, and I figured it was bad, so I pulled off to the side and cars kept whipping by me and no one stopped to see if I was okay and I couldn’t find my cell phone and I thought that I’d be trapped there forever with no help. One of my fundamental fears is needing help — REALLY needing it, not stupid little things like wanting someone to come and hold a ladder so I can scrape the leaves off my roof that can just as well stay there — and not being able to get it. That’s the worst part of being single and living alone: that fear that sometime you may really need assistance and it will not be forthcoming, either because you have made yourself a low enough priority in everyone else’s life that they don’t have the time to help, or that you are unable to ask for help.

I have had exactly one instance of the appearance of a dashboard light I had never seen before. It was my great good fortune to have a co-pilot that day. Approximate dialogue:

Me: What in the pluperfect hell is that?

Trini: What is what?

Me: This [points to warning light].

Trini: You’re out of washer fluid.

Me: No, I’m not. [spritzes the windshield] See?

Trini: But it thinks you are.

The light went off about three miles later. There were several recurrences of the light over the next few months, and then it quit, so I’m assuming it was some particular combination of road speed, fluid level and sudden change in sensor height when traveling over some of our more heinous pavement.

Still, that spill I took in the bathtub earlier this year set me on a scarier mental course: suppose the impact of the fall had left me unable to extract myself from the situation? What then? Do I wait for someone to come looking for me, several days later?

And I’m inclined to think that successfully extricating myself from such a predicament provides little consolation in the long run, because how often do you face the same disaster twice? Surviving A does not necessarily prepare you for B.

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Thieves, honor, and so forth

Incoming comment spam, in the WordPress system, always has an email address attached, and almost always carries the URL of some alleged site. WordPress, if it’s not otherwise occupied, will actually attempt to display that alleged site in a frame if you hover over it. Often as not, the “site” comes up 404, and most of the time that it doesn’t, it’s not worth looking at.

Last night, though, was a first: a site that scolded me for having an ad blocker turned on.

Understand this. A spammer scolded me for blocking his ads. On the Gall Spectrum, this places right around Purely Unmitigated.

Rather than drop an email into the proffered address, which is probably bogus anyway, I have decided simply to block the miscreant’s IP address. And no, I’m not giving him a link either.

(Oh, you wanted to know the offending IP? Well, it is subject to change. However, I’m pretty sure you’ll never, ever get anything useful from 95.105.127.113.)

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Old man, don’t look at my life

I’m not sure which perplexed my children more: the fact that I’ve written some My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfiction, or the fact that some sections of it skirt the boundary between PG-13 and R. As a rule, kids are appalled by anything remotely sexual connected to the parental units, and this had the potential to become Exhibit A:

When, at a family gathering, I was gleefully ushered into the study and asked if I’d mind reading some draft pages of a novel he’d been writing, I had no idea of the horror awaiting me. To the contrary, I was genuinely excited. It was only a few days later, as I was perusing the pages, that I discovered he had written full-blown dad-erotica.

Please tell me that’s not an established genre.

Belinda Blinked, a racy novel about the sexual exploits of pots and pans sales director Belinda Blumenthal, is a departure for my dad. A millennial before his time, he’s donned many guises and worn many hats, from salesman to builder, teacher to geologist. But this was his first outing as a writer, and as such he was forced to go down the self-publishing route. I mean, who would ever publish such dreck? Making it available on iTunes and Kindle for a couple of quid seemed innocuous enough. The risk of anyone I knew reading it was slim to zero, especially given the creative pen name he’d adopted: Rocky Flintstone.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that no one should be subjected to the sexual fantasies of their 60-year-old father.

Then again, the book did contain redeeming social value:

Not Steinbeck genius, but my goodness it’s better than E.L. James. For one thing, there’s never a dull moment. For all the points Dad misses on his mission to arouse, Belinda Blinked makes up for in downright hilarity. It’s that naive kind of funny, that magical brand of humour that can only be born from a complete lack of awareness. The sex is random and misguided, with choice quotes including “her breasts hung like pomegranates” and “he grabbed her cervix.” If my three sisters and I didn’t exist, I’d genuinely question whether my dad had ever had sex.

Just to prove I’m not quoting these things to make my own stuff look better, here we have Twilight Sparkle complaining about her coltfriend to Rarity:

Twilight shook her head. “Maybe I did read too many of those silly stories.”

“Then answer me this: What do those fictional stallions have that Brush doesn’t?”

“It’s not what they have,” said Twilight. “It’s what they do, and when they do it. They take the initiative. They nod in your direction, they say Now, and you can’t help but follow.”

“And he doesn’t do that?”

Twilight sighed. “I’ll be working late on something, and I’ll be bored out of my mind, and he’ll come up behind me. But he won’t really approach. And if I turn around, he’ll look away and then leave the room. Just once I’d like him to tell me to put down that bucking book and come to bed already.”

Rarity’s face lit up. “Oh, you do have the proper instincts after all!”

“I do?”

“Of course you do. You shouldn’t have to do all the work. If he wants you, he should have to put some effort into getting you.”

Twilight frowned. “Last night, I thought he was really going to. He climbed up to the observatory. He never climbs up to the observatory. We talked, he was very sweet, and then suddenly he was gone.”

“Did you give him any indication that you were in the mood?”

“Dammit, I was in heat!” Twilight yelled. “How much indication does he need?”

“Oh, my,” said Rarity. “Then again, you are his first pony. He may not have learned all the subtle signals of estrus.”

“Believe me,” Twilight snickered, “they’re not all that subtle. Mine aren’t, anyway.”

Maybe I need to read Belinda Blinked. For reference, of course.

(Via Bayou Renaissance Man.)

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Make mine Madison

The very first time I heard the name “Madison Beer,” I assumed it was some cheesehead lager, rented only by people who thought Pabst Blue Ribbon was too exotic. This is, of course, right up there with the story of Ariana Grande being the name of a font.

Anyway, Madison Beer is a singer, seventeen years old as of this month; she has a career because for several years she was singing cover versions on YouTube, and apparently Justin Bieber, always on the lookout for younger women, was sufficiently fond of her take on Etta James’ “At Last.” This eventually got her a record deal and a few singles, though no Hot 100 hits as yet.

Weirdly, my own introduction to her contains none of her singing at all. Apparently she’s released the instrumental track from her upcoming single “Out Loud,” designated as “Official Audio.” It’s frightfully catchy. Then again, I come from a time when the instrumental track could just as easily have been the single itself; Barbara Acklin’s limpid vocal was scrubbed off the master for “Am I the Same Girl,” and the remainder, billed as “Soulful Strut” by Young-Holt Unlimited, soared into the Top Ten in 1968. Brunswick, Acklin’s label, eventually got around to releasing the vocal version, which didn’t do so well; most people who remember “Am I the Same Girl” are remembering the 1992 cover by Swing Out Sister.

So I don’t yet know what Madison Beer sounds like on the “Out Loud” single. (There exists a version on which she sings, backed up by piano, which we’re not supposed to know exists.) If instrumentals could chart in this day and age — well, I’d certainly contribute my dollar twenty-nine to the cause for this tune:

And heck, if she’s covered Etta James, I have to figure that she’s okay with, or at least familiar with the concept of, being Barbara Acklin-ed off her record, at least at first.

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Venetians less blind

This is, I suppose, one of those things you don’t think about, that turns out to be important to someone else:

With its many arched bridges, Venice cannot claim to be among the world’s most wheelchair-friendly cities. But a pair of gondoliers is challenging that image.

A new private-public project, dubbed gondolas4all, on Friday unveiled the first access point for wheelchair users to board one of Venice’s storied black-lacquered gondolas.

It will take about six weeks to complete the logistics and train gondoliers in the use of the wheelchair lift. The patrons, I’m thinking, will happily wait a little longer:

Gondolier Alessandro Dalla Pieta said that over 20 years he had seen “people in wheelchairs dozens of times looking at us as if we were the last Coca-Cola in the desert. It tugged at my heart.”

As my own mobility declines, I can more easily see what they’ve been missing, and appreciate their plight.

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Strange search-engine queries (528)

Please note: due to destructive and inexplicable government policy, an hour of time that could have been spent on this project was totally wiped out. I expect things to improve in a week or so.

“feminist airplanes” “feminist engineers”:  Due to the wisdom of the latter, the former now have better rest rooms — don’t they?

beyonce strom:  I doubt they ever met, though Strom lived long enough to have been able to hear some early Destiny’s Child.

the planned extermination of an entire race of people is known as:  Politics as usual.

conservative search engine:  In vain will you search for any conservatism in this election year.

jane says her cousin is big boned:  Which is perfect for this election year, in which we are all pretty much boned.

wevenues:  Paid by Wome to Pontius Pilate upon the welease of Woger.

how much does berkelium cost:  There being maybe one gram of the stuff produced nationwide in the last half-century, I’d say it’s probably more expensive than Hewlett-Packard printer ink.

ill pay you to get naked:  And I thought I was hard up.

us bank won’t reverse overdraft:  They got their $39 fee, therefore all is right with the world.

in jeff savage’s book on the 2005 number one pick for the nhl draft, what is the title of the second chapter beginning on page 10?  You didn’t buy the book? What the hell is wrong with you?

this evening on britain’s got talent we get to witness this lovely lady sing with her anus and she finishes her skit beautifully by inserting the mic deep in her singing hole:  Come to think of it, what the hell is wrong with you?

three methods for getting your name on the primary ballot of a party include: lobbying declaration of candidacy declaration of candidacy plus paying a fee purchasing the right from the precinct captain petition:  Not to mention claiming to be rich as Croesus.

mark never stops ranting about the dangers of:  People being turned loose on search engines without supervision.

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Built to last, and then some

We bewail fragility in our luxuries, to the extent that we overlook the sturdiness of the everyday:

The cable was going to come out of the pipe, and it was going to bring things out with it. You don’t visit Beelzebub’s Disneyland without exiting through the gift shop. Over one hundred years of other people’s foolishness could appear from that pipe. I jerked my thumb to indicate REVERSE, held on to the whipping cable to avoid a proper drenching, and prepared to be surprised.

Out they came. The feminine pennants snapped in the breeze from the yardarm stay of my drain augur cable. Dracula’s teabags. The things no man is supposed to buy at the Rite Aid. Tampons emerged like an army on the march.

Now, it’s not up to me to decide exactly how tough a tampon should be. Smarter men than I have determined that feminine hygiene products should be able to withstand a shotgun blast and an acid bath at the same time. It’s a given that they should be more durable than space shuttle tiles. Fall protection harnesses and parachute cord should be made from the little strings, if you want them to last. Kevlar? Pfffffftt. That’s OK for stopping a high powered round and all, but if you need real protection, head to Walgreens and sew a vest out of these babies.

I first thought “automotive air bags,” but it occurred to me that this change in materials might not be desirable; the deployment of a passive restraint is probably not the ideal time for an almost-certain concussion.

(Via American Digest.)

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You might call him disgruntled

Then again, “disgusting” works at least as well:

A criminal investigation is now on its way regarding the video that shows a man urinating in a Kellogg’s factory. Kellogg company spokesperson, Kris Charles, has confirmed that an investigation showed that the video was recorded at their Memphis, Tennessee facility in 2014.

“Kellogg takes this situation very seriously and we were shocked and deeply disappointed by this video that we just learned of today,” he stated in an email to this news outlet. “We immediately alerted law enforcement authorities and regulators. A criminal investigation is underway as well as a thorough internal investigation,” Charles stated.

It’s not likely you’re going to encounter any of the tainted products:

The products affected were Rice Krispies Treats, Rice Krispies Treats cereal and puffed rice cake products. They would all be past their expiration date if produced at the date that the video was recorded.

Color me surprised that I wasn’t aware Kellogg’s had officially released a Rice Krispies Treats cereal. Then again, these days the Treats are the standard product and the actual Krispies a mere marketing variation.

This is the video. It’s not very good. Perhaps that’s just as well.

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Kabong!

A latter-day guitar hero, and he didn’t have to play a note:

Yishay Montgomery, a 26-year-old street performer, was playing for money on Jaffa’s beachfront promenade when he came face to face with a terrorist on a stabbing spree. Without thinking twice, the young musician grabbed the first thing he had, his own acoustic guitar, and engaged the stabber.

“I just grabbed the neck of my guitar and rammed it into the guy’s face. It disoriented him a little, and he started to run away. I felt I had to end this incident and started chasing him down, hitting him with my guitar and yelling ‘terrorist, terrorist’ until security forces showed up,” Montgomery told Tazpit Press Service.

The incident occurred on Tuesday night, March 8, when a 22-year-old Israeli Arab from Qalqilya went on a lethal stabbing spree that claimed the life of a 29-year-old American tourist and ended with 11 wounded.

You may be absolutely certain I am not the only one who immediately thought of this:

Said Kevin Walsh: “Quick Draw [McGraw] spent more on guitars than Pete Townshend.”

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Vaporware slow to condense

The oft-delayed Elio Motors three-wheeler will be put off a hair longer: the first 100 vehicles will be delivered to fleet buyers in the last quarter of 2016, but folks on the waiting list will be stuck until 2017.

Those first hundred were considered pre-production models, but no more:

Elio originally told the Securities and Exchange Commission that the automaker would use these pre-production vehicles for internal purposes, but it now decided to sell them. By getting the trikes on the road, the company claims there’s a better opportunity to evaluate how they perform in real conditions. This also offers a chance to improve the three-wheelers before the full launch.

The company admits that selling the trikes also generates increased revenue, which the business needs. Elio’s announcement doesn’t disclose the exact price of these pre-production examples, but the final version is supposed to start at just $6,800.

Not much increased revenue, either: at sixty-eight hundred per, we’re talking not quite $700,000 here.

The Elio trike is powered by a 0.9-liter inline-three, and they’re hoping to get 84 mpg out of production models.

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Oxygen removal

The Blazers came out breathing fire, and the Thunder were being burned badly. And suddenly the wind, or something, changed: OKC finished the first quarter on a 15-0 run, and the Portland offense went asthmatic. It was 66-42 at the half, 102-72 after three, and fifteen seconds into the fourth, something happened to one of the nets. (No, not one of the Nets; I’m talking an actual physical net.) If nothing else, it gave the fans a chance to, um, catch their breath. Garbage time ensued quickly thereafter, and after a terrible post-All-Star start, it was something of a relief to see a team, and a potential playoff team at that, pounded into tapioca. Oklahoma City 128, Portland 94, going up 2-1 in the season series. (In each of those games, the home team won; the fourth game will be at Portland on the 6th of April.)

The Damian Lillard/C. J. McCollum combine, so explosive so often, were pretty well snuffed out tonight: they managed 36 points between them, but it took them 33 shots, and only one other Blazer — Al-Farouq Aminu — scored in double figures. While Portland was adept at the foul line, making 25 of 27, they shot only 34 percent from the floor, and for a team that regularly nails the trey, 7-27 is — well, the Thunder has had worse games than that. Not tonight, though. Russell Westbrook, with yet another triple-double (17-10-16), retired early, Kevin Durant (20 points) even earlier, and Enes Kanter, given more or less free rein, turned in a 26-point outing, a new season high. Even Nazr Mohammed, who was not expected to do anything more than provide locker-room inspiration in these final days, hit a bucket.

Next three games are on the road: at Boston (Wednesday), Philadelphia (Friday), and Indiana (Saturday). Both the Celtics and the Pacers appear headed for the post-season. However, the Sixers, who aren’t going anywhere, are looking for that tenth win, which would guarantee them a better finish than the ’72-’73 Sixers, who hold the NBA record for futility at 9-73. After that Thunder loss to the Timberwolves, I think I’d be very wary of Philadelphia.

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For best results, follow directions carefully

Now $59.95 might seem high for a fan, but it’s not just a fan you’re getting:

What? No, Linux doesn’t do this. I think.

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Yuge crapper

Behold the Trump Toilet:

Toilet by Shenzhen Trump Industries

Where does this come from? China, of course:

Shenzhen Trump Industries — no apparent relationship to U.S. businessman and presidential candidate Donald Trump — was founded in 2002. It makes high-end “smart” commodes for use in spas, hotels, beauty centers, and hospitals. The company’s Chinese name, Chuang Pu, means “innovate everywhere” and sounds almost the same as the nickname Chinese netizens often use to refer to the presidential candidate, “Chuan Pu.” (The Chinese pronunciation of both names is similar to Trump.)

The company seems to have adopted a bit of the Republican Party frontrunner’s characteristic swagger. On its website, Shenzhen Trump claimed that it was “the first company in the world” to use retractable toilet seat protectors to “solve the problem of toilet hygiene on a global scale,” and that its products have one billion “users” each year.

The toilet maker’s English-language slogan is “Triple Care, Double Enjoyment.” And kids just love ’em — the homepage features a photo of a smiling blonde toddler in a pink dress hugging one of the porcelain thrones.

Chinese interpretation of trademark law is, shall we say, unique. There also exists, for instance, a Trump Electronics firm, which makes, um, air purifiers.

(Via Kathleen McKinley.)

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Plastic victorious

Cash is king, and regicide is on some people’s minds:

My kids don’t carry cash, they use debit cards for everything. I use cash for most small stuff, stuff that is going to get consumed. Does the government / big business really need to know about the box of donuts I bought this morning? Also, I don’t want to have to keep track of all my purchases, you know, save the receipts, mark them off against the monthly statement, which is what you are supposed to do, or at least that used to be what you were supposed to do.

But does it do any good? After years of struggling to keep track of my expenses I find it is more likely that I would lose a receipt than the bank would post a bogus charge against my account. And how would you know if they did? You aren’t going to have a receipt for a charge you didn’t make, and if it’s something ordinary, like gasoline or a cheeseburger, how sure are you going to be that you didn’t make that charge?

So maybe cards are the way to go. Cash is kind of a nuisance, especially change. I stopped in a 7-11 the other day and the penny tray by the cash register was overflowing. Admittedly it was a small tray so there was only about 25 cents in there, but still. Pennies are absolutely more trouble than they are worth. We could probably dispense with coins entirely. Okay, maybe we’d want to hang onto quarters. Four of those can still get you a cup of coffee. Some places. I think.

About six hundred pennies pile up here in half a decade.

As a general rule, if it’s under $20 — used to be $15 — I pay cash. My usual supermarket requires, for some arcane reason, that hot foods purchased in the deli section must be paid for in the deli section; most weeks I spend about $10 there, and swipe the card for the rest of the cart. And efforts at hair control are cash only: my barber charges $18, I pay him $22.

And I do save receipts for four or five weeks, because I’m just that way.

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Now look here, Missy

Missy Peregrym was actually christened “Melissa,” but given her reportedly tomboyish childhood, perhaps she thought her given name was a trifle too girly. (As though “Missy” isn’t.) Born in Montréal in 1982, she’s done a few films and a whole lot of television. Her first starring role was Reaper on the CW from 2007 to 2009.

Missy Peregrym in her Reaper days

From there, she went to Rookie Blue, which aired for six years on Canada’s Global network and on ABC in the States.

Missy Peregrym at the Canadian Screen Awards

Her most recent film was Backcountry (2014), a scarefest set in the Canadian woods. And if she needs a ride, all she has to do is call.

Missy Peregrym out of the car

For those who must have video, here’s a 2014 interview from George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight.

Well played, George. I think.

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A smoke-free smoke-filled room

But what if … what if … no candidate has secured a majority of delegates before the convention?

Big freaking deal, says Bill Quick:

[T]oday’s panty-wetters act as if a brokered convention is both unique and horrible. In 1968 I worked on the RFK campaign. I was in San Diego when he was killed in LA. He’d just won California, but had not clinched the nomination. The battle cry of his victory speech was “On to Chicago!” Where there would be a contested, “brokered” convention. Nobody, myself included, thought this was strange at all.

It was just part of the process.

Go back further, to 1924. Had television been in its infancy in that year, the Democratic convention might have constituted crib death: John W. Davis, never one of the front-runners during the campaign, was finally selected on the 103rd ballot. (The GOP had no such issues; Calvin Coolidge, who became President upon the death of Warren G. Harding the year before, didn’t even bother to campaign, perhaps another reason why he’s so highly regarded today.) Davis wound up carrying only 12 states, all in the South; a third-party candidacy that year managed to win one state, Wisconsin, home of Progressive Robert M. La Follette, who’d bolted from the Democratic ranks rather than support some terrible person like Davis.

Aside: Coolidge’s Vice President, Charles Gates Dawes, wrote (in 1911) a hit record (in 1951):

This is not, incidentally, what earned Dawes a share of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925. Then again, the standards were higher back then.

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A Teutonic for the troops

Germans, at least, seem to respect their adversaries:

(Via Martin Spencer.)

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