1 December 2007
This stuff is exhausting

It's a fair distance from Gwendolyn's exhaust manifold to her two-stage muffler, and along the way are no fewer than three catalytic converters. Somewhere on the far side of 90,000 miles, I had to replace the front tube, where the pre-cat lives, followed shortly thereafter by the center cat, and after handing over my Visa for that second replacement, I ruefully asked the service manager when I could expect the rear unit to fail. He said he'd never seen one of those go bad.

I suppose, though, it's probably a lot like this:

[T]he item to be "fixed" was exhaust (all three catalytic converters) — and they could fix it in a couple days, and for the cost of the parts. (plus, I got the good muffler and the OEM parts) So I get someone else to do the labor, and I still get the good parts. Not a spot of rust on the "old" stuff, by the way. I mean, surface rust, but not one thing rusted through.

However, one amortizes this in the expected fashion:

Guess I can't expect that cat to run for 300,000 miles. I expect to drive this for at least another 150,000 miles and at 1500 bucks, that's about a penny a mile.

I'm shooting for 200,000. Maybe I'm insufficiently ambitious. Then again, I drive only about 11,000 miles a year, which means I have a bit less than nine years to go. (And really, I just want to beat the mileage on my old Celica, retired at 194,500 miles.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:53 AM to Driver's Seat )
The one-way hourglass

The demands of those who would manage our energy are occasionally absurd. For instance: for years, manual-transmission Corvettes have incorporated something called Computer Aided Gear Selection, which is a gizmo that, once you've started off in first gear, twiddles the shift gate so that your first upshift is to fourth. This was done for one reason only: to buy an extra point or two on the EPA fuel-economy test, city portion, and thereby escape the dreaded Gas Guzzler tax. (The Vette scores well in highway fuel consumption, owing to tall and taller overdrives.) Actual Corvette buyers hate it, of course, but ultimately it's a tradeoff: save the thousand bucks or so in tax, and use $20 of the savings to buy a kit to bypass the gizmo altogether.

But what if there's no tradeoff? What if one factor cannot be offset in any way, shape, size or form? And yes, there is such a factor, as Mark Alger explains:

The office where I work — the Patch Factory — uses devices (HP Color Laser Jet printers) which were produced under the Carly Fiorina regime and bear the Energy Star label. That is, they are engineered to serve the agenda of the EPA and not to meet the needs of the human beings who paid for the machine with bits of their lives. The machines thus, in myriad subtle ways, steal more bits of their users' lives in service to the aforementioned agenda.

For example, they are programmed to enter a sleep cycle after a set period of time. The period can be adjusted, but it is limited to a maximum of 8 hours. Thus, the machine is frequently in sleep mode when it is needed. And the user must therefore wait for the machine to wake up, warm up, calibrate and adjust — in short, all of the functions it should perform in downtime so as to be ready to serve human needs.

And, because the machine is starved for power, it must stop work periodically to re-adjust its condition, rather than performing diagnostics and corrections on the fly.

This is a waste of time.

I have a LaserJet in my office. Its behind-the-scenes machinations don't bother me, particularly, but then there's only the one, and it's called upon to do relatively little work: most days, it's asked for a hundred pages or fewer. Were it expected to produce thousands, I might start yelling at the grey box to get on with it already, fercrissake.

But that's the point: there is no substitute for time, and any device or regimen that wastes it has its priorities seriously screwed up. In a just universe, all those years in which we had to endure a 55-mph speed limit would be subtracted from our terms in purgatory.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:00 AM to Dyssynergy )
Wild as the West Texas wind

Sing it, Marty:

Out in the West Texas town of El Paso
I fell in love with a Mexican girl.
Night-time would find me in Rosa's cantina;
Music would play and Felina would whirl.

This song dates from 1959, when they were still saying "country and western," and while Marty Robbins never mentioned a timeframe in "El Paso," the very sound of it, Spanish guitar and all, recalls the Wlld West of legend, where five mounted cowboys might indeed be standing guard. This has been one of my favorite songs since ever, and I have to admit that not once in the intervening years has it ever occurred to me that Rosa's cantina might actually have existed.

In 1959, it had existed for two whole years, a few steps north of the Rio Grande: cross the railroad tracks and the river, and you'll find yourself in — well, New Mexico, actually, since this is west of Juárez, where the Mexican border straightens up and turns into a line across the land. That much, at least, I comprehended:

South El Paso touches the Mexican state of Chihuahua, and west El Paso adjoins the American state of New Mexico. El Paso also borders a bygone time. There is no edge of El Paso that doesn't touch something very different from El Paso, a diagnosis that might account for either maddening schizophrenia or a certain charm. Whatever El Paso is, in its heart, it is also Mexico, New Mexico, and Texas, with a dose of old western thrown in.

So at least Marty Robbins knew what he was doing when he set his song in El Paso and not in any of the other fabled cities of the old West; you can't imagine Felina whirling in Dodge City. Whether he ever went to Rosa's himself, or just saw the sign and liked the name, we'll never know for sure, since Robbins died in 1982. Son Robby, though, says that the family often stopped in at Mexican restaurants on the road: "We didn't have anything like that in Nashville."

I've never been to the West Texas town of El Paso; it was the last place my sister Brenda had lived, but it never occurred to any of us that it would be the last place. Perhaps it's time I dropped by. I haven't sketched out World Tour '08 yet, though an all-Texas version has been kicking around in the back of my mind, and this would fit in nicely. The Mexican girls, of course, will pay me no heed.

Not even the buffet

As Johnny Carson used to say, I did not know this:

In reading the packet I got in the mail about a month ago from Dr. O, one instruction besides the normal when to eat, when not to eat surgical instructions stood out.

"No Chinese food for three days before surgery."

This instruction puzzled me and Anh. Must be the MSG. Nah, maybe it's the fried food. Noodles? Can't be the noodles, it's just flour and water. What about Vietnamese food? Hmm....

Dr. O cleared this up right away. Turns out that a little varmint called "Black Tree Mushroom" can be a strong anti-coagulant — causing uncontrolled bleeding if you eat it before surgery. Using the Internet for fun and profit, I searched trying to find this — nothing on Wikipedia, and search engines didn't come up with much.... I did find one restaurant in SF that served said evil bleeding-causing mushroom, but nothing much else except for the list of Chinese exporters that would bring it in.

Dr. O says that the mushroom is a common ingredient in Chinese food, one that's often undisclosed. So, just say no to Chinese food if you are about to have surgery!

I did find this reference, which doesn't address the health issues but which does give alternate nomenclature:

Wood ear (tree ear, black tree fungus): This is another mushroom for which many health claims have been made. They are usually sold dried but are now becoming available fresh. They are very crunchy and work well in stir fries, casseroles and stews.

Of course, calling it "black tree fungus" cuts down on its perceived desirability, at least to me. Still, I will keep this in mind, since I'm at an age where I can't dodge surgeons indefinitely.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:00 PM to Worth a Fork )
On being seen

Last month I brought up the 2006 Bollywood feature I See You, noting that it was an adaptation of Marc Levy's novel If Only It Were True, albeit without actually crediting Levy. This was in fact the third time I'd mentioned this film, once on this site and twice elsewhere, so at the very least, I reasoned, I ought to see the darn thing.

The story starts with Raj Jaiswal (Arjun Rampal), your basic Charming Rogue who has a TV talk show in London with the cheeky title British Raj. He's done well for himself, with a lovely high-rise and a Porsche Cayenne, and he thinks himself prepared for anything, with the exception of the arrival of a young woman on his balcony who explains that it's really her balcony.

Dr Shivani Dutt (Vipasha Agarwal), the lady in question, is having an extended out-of-body experience, while her flesh-and-blood body is being kept on a ventilator in a West London hospital after an auto accident — except that it wasn't actually an accident: she discovered staffers engaged in a grisly organ-harvesting scheme, and as far as they're concerned, a comatose witness is the best kind. And while normally Raj would greatly enjoy the prospect of a beautiful female visitor, Shivani upsets all his plans. It doesn't help that apparently he's the only person who can see or hear her.

If you saw 2005's Just Like Heaven, with Reese Witherspoon, you've pretty much seen this story already, except that this being a Bollywood film, there are semi-spectacular production numbers at regular intervals. Despite their inclusion, I See You runs a mere two hours, fairly short by Bollywood standards. This being a romantic comedy, you expect a certain number of punchlines, and I See You does not disappoint. Agarwal is almost scarily beautiful in her screen debut — Rampal said in an interview on the DVD that they were looking specifically for a newcomer — and the supporting cast seems to be having a good time, especially Michael Maloney as Inspector John Smith, who's properly suspicious throughout and never once says "What's all this then?"

Is I See You as good as Just Like Heaven? I think so. But I have to dock it points for concealing its origins.

(Review copy acquired by me at retail.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:59 PM to Almost Yogurt )
2 December 2007
Municipal plugs

The City Manager has prepared a report to Council on resource-saving measures [link goes to PDF file] undertaken by city government, including biofuels conversion of city vehicles and wastewater reuse for golf-course maintenance, and I spotted this little surprise near the end:

Mayor Cornett received an inquiry about electric cars and the availability of charging stations in the downtown area and at malls in Oklahoma City. We are working with Downtown OKC [Inc.] and COTPA to determine whether OG&E would have an interest in providing these stations.

My guess: they would, if the city would pony up the startup costs for the first few. The number of actual electric cars around town can likely be counted on the fingers of one hand, but as Ron Gremban, believed to be the first person to convert a privately-owned Toyota Prius to plug-in operation, once said:

The use would be marginal, but the attitude that it would promote would be much more valuable. Basically, the town is saying that electric propulsion is a good thing.

How much it would cost to recharge a vehicle remains to be seen; however, I suspect it's going to be rather a lot less than a tank of unleaded, even allowing for the difference in ranges. I spent $36 just the other day for enough gas to go about 270 miles; an electric with a 30-mile range will come in ahead of the game if it can be recharged for less than $4. It also remains to be seen whether that electric can be juiced up in anywhere near the five or six minutes it takes me to fill up Gwendolyn's tank.

Trac record

In previous World Tours, I had noticed some distressing gaps in cell-phone coverage, and eventually I was able to trace some of them to the fact that while most GSM networks in the States run on 1900 MHz, some of them run on 850 MHz, and my very old phone (acquired before World Tour '01) didn't support the 850-MHz band. I made a note to do something about this after World Tour '07, and in the interim, acquired a TracFone from a Wal-Mart store for eighteen dollars and change, plus one airtime card.

I had to put the TracFone to work in the Carolinas, where I couldn't reach even what was represented to me as a 1900-MHz area. Taking advantage of current promotions, I was able to leverage a 90-minute, three-month airtime card into two hours and five months.

When I got home, the old phone was acting up, and I scrapped it in favor of one of those new four-band jobs with a camera of sorts, which theoretically would have made the TracFone obsolete. But after thinking it over, and noting that I can get actual reception in my office with the TracFone but not on the new phone, I decided to keep it and give it a reload, a ridiculously easy process except for one gap in the tracfone.com user interface: when you log in, it gives you the serial number of the phone on your account page, but if you subsequently jump to Buy/Add Airtime, it doesn't carry the number forward. Of course, this is why God invented cut and paste. Taking advantage of current promotions, I was able to leverage a 60-minute, three-month airtime card into an hour and a half and five months.

And besides, it's consistent with one other inconsistency in my life. The TracFone, since it was activated in North Carolina, has a 919 area code, rather far from my digs here in 405, but then my fax number — I subscribe to one of those fax services that emails you the stuff — is in 509, in far-off Spokane.

What with party season coming up

Diva by Emilio Luca XThis simple but appealing heel is Diva by "Emilio Luca X," which seems to be a store brand of Brantano, a Belgian firm operating stores in the suburbs throughout the United Kingdom. They call this "purple," which might be pushing it a bit, but they also have a pink which is closer to fuchsia. I like the purple better, though: it seems to have greater potential for drama. "You can do anything, but don't step on my non-blue shoes." (Disclosure: I have turned up the brightness slightly on this picture so you can more clearly see the ribbon-y thing across the front.)

This is, incidentally, the very first time I've seen a shoe pitch with the heel height specified in metric: 85 mm, about 3.3 inches. The price from Brantano is £38, about $78 these days.

(Via Shoewawa.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:46 PM to Rag Trade )
It costs less to build them better

Ford, acutely aware that "Fix Or Repair Daily" was becoming more than just a catchphrase, has been beavering away at quality issues for several years now, and Consumer Reports has already noticed the improvement.

Now, so has Dearborn's bottom line:

Ford Motor Co. may save as much as $300 million on warranty costs next year because of improved design standards and manufacturing technology, the company's top quality executive said Friday.

That will be in addition to $900 million in expenses Ford trimmed this year because of fewer dealer repairs after cars and trucks leave the factory, Vice President Bennie Fowler said in an interview.

To see how this was working out among actual buyers, Ford ordered up a survey, and the numbers looked promising:

The survey of 60,611 new Ford car or truck owners from September 2006 through February 2007 found 1,427 reports of "things gone wrong" per 1,000 vehicles, 159 fewer than last year, Ford said in June.

The survey, by RDA Group in Bloomfield Hills, found Toyota owners reported 1,362 problems per 1,000 vehicles.

Another RDA tabulation puts Honda at the top, with 1,313 problems per 1,000 vehicles.

If you're looking for a grain of salt to take this with, here you go:

[I]f automakers were truly interested in determining the quality of their products, they'd survey owners long after the new-car honeymoon had ended. They'd ask for feedback on reliability, fit and finish, repairs, out-of-pocket expenses, performance and how well the vehicle held up overall. If the buyer no longer owned the vehicle, they'd find out why their customer got rid of it.

Which means, generally, that it's going to take more than a year or two to erase a reputation for slapdash construction. But I submit that nothing is quite so convincing to automotive management as actual cash in the till, and that's what Ford has here.

(Via Autoblog.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:22 PM to Driver's Seat )
3 December 2007
Strange search-engine queries (96)

Yes, buoys and gulls, it's time for yet another installment of the blog feature that gives you Actual Search Strings leading to this very site. Buckle up, and be sure to keep both hands inside the browser.

libertarian right to die:  Absolutely. Just don't expect the county to bury you.

where's the oil pressure gauge in kia sedona:  At the parts place, waiting for you to buy it and have it installed.

tuck the wei lu:  Oh, damn, it's showing again.

would you turn down a seven inch dick:  At the very least, it ought to be tucked.

emotions related to the new beetle:  "Remember when these used to be economy cars?"

florida toyota dealer willing to export:  Curiously, this came from Canada.

do I have 4 or 3 speed transmission:  At least it's not a 2.

indecent exposure and location of genitalia male versus female:  Technically, it's not the location that creates the indecency.

ask jeeves auto erotic death:  This doesn't strike me as the sort of thing Jeeves would do.

dip scrotum in yogurt:  This doesn't strike me as the sort of thing Jeeves would do.

apologize when someone sees you naked:  I think they should, if only because they shouldn't be peering over my fence.

why is milk put in cereal:  Because putting it in chili makes people want to hurl.

Pics of Women with massive glutes:  You don't do much shopping on weekends, do you?

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:54 AM to You Asked For It )
Note to Dante: more circles

Michele will even draw you a map:

I have what I refer to as mallergy. I am allergic to malls, large departments stores and the crowds and traffic that come with them. I do about 90% of my holiday shopping online, but sometimes you have to get in your car and go out. If I just want to go food shopping, I have to deal with the fact that my grocery store is in the same lot as Wal-Mart. Ever been in a Wal-Mart parking lot at Christmas time? Imagine a place where everything that is bad in the world converges in one giant sea of evil, and it's all vying for that one last parking space. It's like Death Race 2000 meets some level of hell Dante never imagined. Horns blaring and people cursing as some man who is so old he's damn near zombified takes twelve minutes to pull into a parking spot that could fit a truck, while a crazed soccer mom in her ginormous Expedition hell-bent on getting the sale price on the Bratz "How To Make Your 12 Year Old Daughter Look Like a Two Dollar Whore" doll for her special snowflake barrels through the lot as if she were the only person on the planet and all these fat, lazy fuckers are idling in the middle of the damn lanes, stalking shoppers whose cars are parked within 20 feet of the store, even though there are 50 empty spaces at the end of the lot available but no one wants those spaces because, my god, the extra little walk may make you miss the blue light special on the cheese and cracker spectacular you're buying for your dad — for the eighth year in a row, even though he's on cholesterol medicine. Why don't you wrap up a carton of Lucky Strikes and a 40 of malt liquor while you're at it?

This is the time of year when I use the cutesy term "brick-and-mortar," normally used to describe actual (as distinguished from virtual) storefronts, to acknowledge a vague, inchoate desire to point artillery at the structure. Should I have to go to one on the 24th, it will be decidedly less vague.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:02 AM to Dyssynergy )
So sound the tone you know can't fail

I knew when I bought the 6133 that T-Mobile, avaricious to the last, had directed Nokia to rig the phone to play MP3s, but not to allow their use for ringtones unless they came from T-Mo itself. Being an old hand at screwing around with filetypes, and having noticed that WMAs actually will work, I am trying to locate a suitable conversion tool. Alternatively, I could do a CD full of potential tones, and then rip them with Windows Media Player.

I mention this now, in early December, inasmuch as I'm currently wrestling with the idea that the B. C. Clark jingle might make one heck of a ringtone.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:33 AM to Fileophile )
And it's wireless by a knockout

AT&T is giving up on pay phones:

AT&T Inc. announced today plans to exit the shrinking pay phone business by the end of 2008. Existing contracts and customer service commitments will continue to be honored during the period that the business is being phased out.

The company plans to phase out both public pay phones and phones provided under contracts at government correctional facilities through the end of next year. All customers will receive advance notification of specific plans as well as information on other potential providers and product options.

The move affects AT&T pay phones in the company's traditional 13-state service area only. BellSouth Corp., which was acquired by AT&T Inc. in late 2006, had previously exited the pay phone business in its nine-state service area. AT&T's wholesale pay phone services are not affected.

Clark Kent was not available for comment.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 1:19 PM to Dyssynergy )
Eine kleine Digitalmusik

The fabled Deutsche Grammophon label has opened the DG Web Shop, which sells downloadable tracks from DG's vast catalog of classical music. This is very much in line with Universal Music Group's desire to get out from under Apple's thumb, and there are some distinct advantages to dealing directly with DG:

  • Bit rate of 320. Constant, yet.
  • No DRM.

I priced a DG reissue: piano works by Debussy, including both books of Images, the Children's Corner, and seven of the Préludes, played by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. (I bought this stuff years ago on vinyl.) Individual tracks are a buck twenty-nine; however, the entire set — nineteen tracks — is only $10.99. And though this isn't one of them, a number of albums are offered with liner notes of a sort, in PDF format.

Best of all, this isn't limited to items in print: according to DG, some 600 out-of-print albums are available for download.

(From Create Digital Music via Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:50 PM to Fileophile )
4 December 2007
An ill-starred venture

The Federal Reserve, says Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), should get into the business of rating credit-card offers on a 1-to-5-star scale. For some reason, this hasn't made it to his Web site yet, but the Minnesota Daily published this overview of the proposal:

The Credit Card Safety Star Act of 2007 would allow the Federal Reserve System to rate credit cards on a scale of one to five stars, with five being the safest for customers.

Credit card companies that raise interest rates without informing customers might receive a one-star rating — more stars means less risk for consumers.

In a press release about the proposal, Wyden said he believes confusing credit card agreements can disguise requirements that result in higher payments and fees.

John Hall of the American Bankers Association is doubtful:

"We feel this proposal may be premature because the Fed Reserve is undergoing a two-year project to improve the regulations that banks must obey regarding disclosure of credit card terms and fees and rates," he said.

Credit card disclosures are typically full of legal jargon, Hall said, because banks' lawyers recommend they follow the regulations set by the Federal Reserve "to the letter" so they aren't legally responsible for any problems. He said if the Federal Reserve changes the regulations, disclosures might become less confusing.

And I wonder how long it will take before Crappy Bank and Trust Company (Member FDIC) starts looking for a way to sue the Fed after getting a star and a half — ten, twenty minutes?

Back in May, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) came up with an industrial-strength rewrite of the credit-card regulations, which I mentioned briefly here; last I looked, Levin's bill had never made it out of committee. Quelle surprise.

(Suggested by Fark.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:56 AM to Common Cents )
Beaver needs a Wii

Yes, it's true: the Cleavers can't make it on Ward's salary anymore. What can be done about this dreadful situation?

Answer: not a farging thing.

[T]his is not to say people don't spend too much money on things they don't need. It's just not my place to request the state to keep them from doing so. In any case, I suspect that the impulse to bring all these untidy unhelpful examples of flagrant individualism under the steady hand of the Ministry of Rational Allocation has something to do with that fretful busybody insistence that people are simply not living right. If we had Star Trek replicators in every house that would conjure goods and meals out of boundless energy produced by antimatter teased from a three-micron fissure that opened into a universe populated entirely by unicorns who crapped antimatter in such abundance they were happy we used it up, and used their shiny pointy horns to poke more of it through the aperture into our dimension, columnists would bemoan the disconnect between labor and goods, and the soul-corrupting influence of endless ersatz vegetables. You can't win. Because you shouldn't.

This makes a great case for Omaha Steaks as the ultimate Christmas gift: it will piss off the maximum number of the Perpetually Outraged. (Especially if you order the Spiral Sliced Ham.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:13 AM to Dyssynergy )
Not responsible for burns

Tim does some coupon scanning:

Vintage Coffee coupon

Well, it is December, after all.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:38 AM to Birthday Suitable )
Cutting out the chase

I have to admit, this looks a lot less hazardous than the classic PIT maneuver:

Eureka Aerospace, a company from Pasadena, Calif., [has] developed a device that shoots a microwave beam at a speeding car, frying its electrical system and stopping the car dead in its tracks.

To disable cars, the device generates energy that is amplified by a generator, and then converted to microwave radiation. The radiation is then focused with a special antenna into a narrow beam.


A pulse lasting just 50 nanoseconds is enough to overload wires or damage the car's central microprocessor. At a high power of 300 megahertz (compared to 2.45 gigahertz in a microwave), the radiation energy is above common radio frequencies, and isn't harmful to humans.

Um, hertz, mega or otherwise, has next to nothing to do with power.

Will we start seeing old Sixties relics pressed into service as getaway cars? They don't have microprocessors.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 4:21 PM to Driver's Seat )
That foreign-transaction business

Copied from my mid-February post:

Subject to final Court approval, a settlement has been reached in In re Foreign Currency Conversion Fee Antitrust Litigation (MDL 1409). This web site supplies information about the litigation and the settlement, and provides links to relevant documents for Members of the Settlement Classes and others interested in the settlement.

The lawsuit is about the price cardholders of Visa-, MasterCard-, or Diners Club-branded payment cards were charged to make transactions in a foreign currency, or with a foreign merchant, between February 1, 1996 and November 8, 2006. Plaintiffs challenge how the prices of credit and debit/ATM card foreign transactions were set and disclosed, including claims that Visa, MasterCard, their member banks, and Diners Club conspired to set and conceal fees, typically of 1-3% of foreign transactions, and that Visa and MasterCard inflated their base exchange rates before applying these fees. The Defendants include Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club, Bank of America, Bank One/First USA, Chase, Citibank, MBNA, HSBC/Household, and Washington Mutual/Providian.

I did turn in a claim form at the time: the Administrator has now sent out a letter explaining three options for receiving payments from the settlement fund, and I took the one requiring the least paperwork.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:27 PM to Common Cents )
5 December 2007
The candidates are coming

With one day to go in the filing period, five Democrats and eight Republicans have entered the Oklahoma Presidential primary, which is scheduled for the 5th of February and which will not move no matter what Iowa and New Hampshire do. Signed up for the Democrats so far: Clinton, Edwards, Kucinich, Obama and Richardson. GOP entrants include: Curry (who?), Giuliani, Hunter, Keyes, McCain, Paul, Romney and Tancredo.

I suppose we'll hear from Huckabee and Biden later today. The official list at the Oklahoma State Election Board will be here [link goes to PDF file] and will be updated as necessary, with the complete list available at the close of business this afternoon.

This is not, incidentally, a bid for linkage from Wonkosphere, which has been picking up my feed all along.

Addendum: If you're looking for Fred Thompson, BatesLine reports that the paperwork has been filed but corrections of some sort are being made.

Update, 5 December, 5:25 pm: No Biden. Thompson is in place, as is Huckabee. We have seven Democrats and eleven Republicans. And Jim Rogers, about whom more later, is back.

It's all academic

Nina has requested the following:

Devise a list of 5-10 courses you would take to improve your life. It's more fun to be in classes with friends, so include one class from the person who tagged you that you'd also like to take.

Actually, having time to take 5 to 10 courses would in and of itself improve my life, but there are obvious areas where I need to brush up my skills — or, in some cases, find enough skills for the brush to reach. The next couple of semesters should look something like this:

  • Business 812: Knowing What To Shred, And When
    A check from the insurance company should not be on this list.

  • Nutrition 1tsp: How To Persuade Someone Else's Girlfriend That You Can Actually Cook
    Requires lab: Not Every Meal Should Incorporate Cream Of Mushroom Soup.

  • Nutrition 82/2: Passing Up The Second Plate Of Spaghetti
    To hear the doctor tell it, I should pass up the first plate instead.

  • Plumbing 5/8: Repairing Things More Complicated Than Toilet Flapper Valves
    This is not to say that I would like to be able to, oh, replace a water heater, but I'd just as soon not feel as though I'm at the mercy of the guy (or girl) with the big wrench.

  • Psychology 4Q2: Anger Management for Management
    No, wait, I should be teaching this one.

  • Psychology I2I: How To Disengage Yourself From Unproductive Bullshit
    Also on Nina's list. I suspect this will take more than a single semester.

  • Botany 500: Predicting Which Plants Will Die Before Spring
    Requires 421: Not Killing Them In The First Place.

  • Media 559: How To Vent Less In Your Blog
    Also on Nina's list. I do it here instead.

  • Auto Mechanics 427: Knowing At Least As Much As The Service Manager
    Which is important if you'd prefer not to write large checks on a regular basis.

  • Women's Studies 101: Introduction
    Because obviously I don't know a damn thing about that half of the human race.

I suspect I'll get five people to do this even if I don't call them out by name.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:14 AM to Screaming Memes )
One handheld per child

The One Laptop per Child initiative is doing okay, I suppose, but it's not exactly setting the world on fire, and just getting production started has proven to be somewhat problematic.

Josh Jones suggests a different approach altogether: one Nintendo DS per child. And he actually makes a reasonable case, noting that the DS is inexpensive but built well, that loads of educational software can be had already, and that the machines are easily networked for classroom use.

Now if only I could be sure that he was serious.

Disclosure: I pay Josh Jones' employer, which does not necessarily endorse the proposal, for this Web space.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:57 AM to PEBKAC )
No stars falling, either

For the second time, Alabama State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) has introduced a bill to repeal the Heart of Dixie's nine-year-old ban on sex toys:

"A shower head could be considered a sex toy," [Rogers] said. "It's just bringing the state into the 20th century."

I guess the 21st might be a bit much to hope for, and here's one reason why:

Dan Ireland, executive director of the Alabama Citizens' Action Program, a Baptist group, said it would oppose any effort to overturn the law.

"Laws are made to protect the public," he said. "Sometimes you have to protect the public against themselves."

Sometimes you have to protect the public against Citizens' Action Programs, too.

In the meantime, I will continue to make sure that when I drive through Alabama, which I do rather a lot since I'm rather fond of the place, I will take my cell phone off Vibrate. Just in case.

(Via Bitter Bitch.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 1:21 PM to Dyssynergy )
Who is Jim Rogers?

We know one thing: he ponied up the filing fee to run in the 2008 Presidential primary as a Democrat.

Two years ago, he ran for Lieutenant Governor, and sent this biography to KFOR-TV. Background stuff:

I was born in Atoka County, OK and graduated from Atoka High School. I earned a Bachelors of Arts Degree at Oklahoma Baptist University and I earned Master of Science Degree at Wyoming University. I have an Educational Specialist Degree from Wyoming University and was an Honors Graduate there.

I have had further graduate studies at OSU, UT, KSU and NOSU.

I operated a small cattle heard in Atoka County when in high school and college. I was a teaching assistant part time at OSU. I taught at Connors College, Eastern Oklahoma State College, Western Wyoming College, Seminole State College and part time at Oklahoma Baptist University.

I ran for U.S. Senate for Oklahoma in 2002 and 2004. I think I came in third place for the democrats, but you might check with the election board records.

I am unmarried and currently living in Midwest City. It is a great city to live in, by the way, as is all the metro plex, Tulsa, and all of Oklahoma City and rural areas.

I did, of course, check with the election board records, and he did place third in both those primaries. His better showing was in 2002, when he got almost ten percent of the vote. In the '06 race for Lite Guv, he ran fourth with about 13 percent.

No campaign Web site yet.

Tales of the empirical

The USB Plasma Ball doesn't care if you give it a crummy old USB 1.1 connection; it works just the same.

(Source of crummy old USB 1.1 connection: Toshi, my faithful Road Warrior notebook, age six, which apparently is not upgradable to 2.0.)

6 December 2007
Picking you can't ignore

Presenting the B. C. Clark jingle, arranged for guitar. (And why not?)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:55 AM to City Scene )
A Scotsman on the Sonics

Mark Woods blogs for NBA.com from the United Kingdom. The following is excerpted from his 3 December post (no permalinks that I could find, alas):

I cannot believe, deep down, that [NBA Commissioner David] Stern wants to facilitate moving the Sonics to what is, in American terms, the back of beyond. From a large-ish media market which represents all that is exciting about Uncle Sam's 21st century aspirations to a small-ish city which has always been a college rather than a pro town. A team which, like the Hornets of Charlotte before it, was woven into the fabric before a renegade owner began to unpluck the stitches.

It would, in truth, provide the worst example of the cold corporatism of sport if the Commish did not intervene, somehow, to halt this trade. The NBA is, and always shall remain, a business. With owners, shareholders and a mighty bottom line. Any business, though, is only viable if it has customers who trust in the product. And in sport, there is another range of factors: affection, identification and passion. Forget that, and a team becomes as much a commodity as a tin of baked beans.

And if that is sport in the modern era, it will not last. The links will be broken. The kinship will decay. Who wants to place their trust and loyalty in a friend who is here today but maybe gone tomorrow? If the Sonics decamp, the sanctity of the game will be chipped away once more, another blow in an age where the ties that bind are being yanked to breaking point by players who are ever more distant from those who cheer them on. It is a tremor which will not only be felt in Seattle but elsewhere too. And when that call comes, and the news breaks, the cries will be loud as faith turns to disbelief.

I like it here in the "back of beyond," myself, and I don't believe that it will always remain such, but let me repeat that line:

Who wants to place their trust and loyalty in a friend who is here today but maybe gone tomorrow?

Do Seattle fans still trust the Sonics ownership? As far as they could throw them, maybe. Then again, the Sonics are still selling a lot more tickets than the New Orleans Hornets are.

Pass the beans.

(Via TrueHoop.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:51 AM to Net Proceeds )
A rhyme that is quite unsingable

Right about now, they're bringing down Tulsa's Camelot Hotel.

The Camelot's Arthurian pretensions included a drawbridge over the moat and a pool shaped like a spearhead. Heady stuff for the 1960s; dead weight in the 1980s, and deteriorated "beyond repair" in subsequent years. It will be replaced with, among other things, a QuikTrip, should Guinevere need a pack of smokes late at night.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:37 AM to Soonerland )
Serpent chasing tail

The title of the paper: Diversity and Educational Benefits: Moving Beyond Self-Reported Questionnaire Data. Here's the abstract:

Effects of ethnic/racial diversity among students and faculty on cognitive growth of undergraduate students are estimated via a series of hierarchical linear and multinomial logistic regression models. Using objective measures of compositional, curricular, and interactional diversity based on actuarial course enrollment records of over 6,000 students at a public research university, the study finds no patterns of positive correlation with objective measures of cumulative academic achievement (i.e., final graduating GPA, GRE/GMAT test scores, graduate school enrollment) net of academic preparation at college entry and socio-demographic background, and with or without accounting for academic major, college curricular experience, and financial aid. Results are consistent with student self-assessed level of critical thinking skills after graduation, but not with self-assessed level of understanding of racial and cultural issues, both affective outcomes showing a positive correlation with curricular diversity. As the findings contradict most of the higher education literature on survey-based cognitive benefits of ethnic/racial diversity, the study calls for use of objective measures to advance the research in this area.

John Rosenberg translates:

If I’m not mistaken, this says that "diversity" does nothing to improve what students learn, as measured by objective criteria, except for their self-assessed "understanding of racial and cultural issues."

In other words, "diversity" helps students understand ... "diversity."

Now there's nothing wrong with "understanding of racial and cultural issues," so long as it's an actual understanding rather than the rote regurgitation of the talking points demanded by the Perpetually Aggrieved, but let's not pretend that its effect is extensible beyond its own little sphere: no amount of cultural sensitivity will make someone a better engineer.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:21 PM to Almost Yogurt )
My sacks runneth over

Should you enter "wamprat fruitcake" into Google's search box, you wind up back here, and that's as it should be, since I'm one of the few people fortunate enough to receive baked goods from her this time of year. (She's also diversified into fudge in recent years.) While it plays hell with my waistline, it's good stuff; I really think she could make a living at this stuff were she so inclined. (Which, I am quite certain, she is not.)

In addition to various other goodies, she also presented me with an upgrade to the infamous Big Ball O' Lights that's been hanging by the garage door the last week or so; the new version offers a multitude of colors instead of just Classic White.

I note in passing that at the moment the aforementioned Google search coughs up eight Sponsored Links on the subject of fruitcake. I think the one I get is better than any of the ones being offered.

7 December 2007
Quote of the week

Arthur St. Antoine remembers an old friend:

André Idzikowski, road-test editor at Car and Driver, passed away on October 11 after a decades-long battle with leukemia. He was 47.

André was a colleague and a good friend. I'd known him since 1984, when I filled in as C/D's "road warrior" while André underwent the first of several radical treatments that prolonged his life for another quarter century. We were close ever since. If attending the same press trip, André and I always shared a car — most memorably, the 2005 launch of the Ferrari Superamerica in France. We drove like thieves through the hills above Venice, then celebrated in the Casino de Monte Carlo, where we spent the evening smoking Montecristos, drinking whisky, and admiring the bejeweled ladies at the baccarat tables. Not once did André mention his worsening illness ("why me?" wasn't his style). Instead, he savored the view and his cigar and shared his many plans.

What I liked about this is not so much the Eurostory, but the fact that this appeared, not in Car and Driver at all, but in rival Motor Trend, St. Antoine's home base — he is Editor At Large — for the last few years. (One of the reasons I started reading MT again was to catch up with the guy.) I always try to appreciate gentle, unexpected gestures.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:58 AM to QOTW )
Avoiding the T word

The committee charged with drumming up support for the Oklahoma City bond issue, which will be voted on next Tuesday (mark your calendars), has already sent me two flyers; what's more, I got a phone call suggesting that since the weather is expected to be ghastly next week I might consider filling out a ballot early under the absentee procedures. Each of these reminders, you may be sure, mentioned that there is no tax increase involved, which is more or less true: the existing millage will be continued for eight years or so, but it won't go up.

On the other hand, when there is a tax increase involved, you might not hear about the election at all:

Northeast Tech Center (you may know this better as NE Vo-Tech) has a 400% tax increase on the ballot in Rogers County, but they don’t want anyone to know about it.

Thanks to the watchful eyes of the Oologah Lake Leader, we do know about it.

From the Leader's story:

The NTC board voted on Oct. 1 to call the election but issued no public notice until Nov. 28, school spokesman Gary Fox confirmed Tuesday.

The only announcement made last week was a legal notice in the Pryor Daily Times — the smaller of the two legal newspaper in Mayes county. Neither it nor its larger weekly competitor, The Paper, makes any claim to be a regional newspaper (such as the Tulsa World or The Oklahoman).

By law, NTC is required to publish a notice in a newspaper "of general circulation in Northeast Technology Center School District No. 11."

And why did they keep this quiet?

Monday — just eight days before the election and after the deadline for some newspapers in the district — the school issued a press release to some news organizations.

That statement did not disclose the amount of money the tax increase would generate, $4.4 million, or that the largest payment — $1.8 million — would come from Rogers County. The figures were provided to the Leader Tuesday following a written request.

The statement also did not disclose that the increase represented a 400 percent increase in the building levy, from 1 mill to 5 mills. That means that the tax from this one levy on a $200,000 house would jump from about $20 to $100 a year.

I am normally a serious supporter of vocational education, but I have to hope that this measure — the election is Tuesday — goes down in flames, and that it takes some of the NTC higher-ups with it.

(Via BatesLine.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:46 AM to Soonerland )
Friends don't let friends buy ringtones

This is one of Trini's current catchphrases, and inasmuch as I seem to have developed a knack, or knacklet, for producing the things, I figured it probably wouldn't be a bad time to hone my technique.

Or techniques, more precisely, since what works on my phone won't necessarily work on hers. My little Nokia (which, a T-Mobile rep informed me night before last, is a very "manly" phone, whatever the hell that means) likes WMAs and doesn't much care how long they are; hers (which is bigger, if that means anything) prefers MP3s and demands they be kept short.

I'm not at the point where I can knock them out in a couple of minutes. Yet. But it's still better than forking over coin of the realm, particularly for recordings she or I already paid for in one form or another.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:54 AM to PEBKAC )
Chairman Bill has plans for you

News Item: Microsoft has asked the designers of a low-cost Linux laptop intended for children in developing nations to redesign the system so it can accommodate its Windows XP operating system.

Also on Microsoft's agenda for the coming year:

  • Release of a suspiciously Apple-esque application called "mZune"

  • Require buyers of new PCs who request XP instead of Vista to pay for licenses for both

  • Redesign of Windows Update to erase Firefox when detected

  • MSN butterfly replaced by velociraptor

  • New video service called "WeTube"

  • Diversification into the lucrative field of baby gear

Meanwhile, Chrysler chairman Bob Nardelli has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to require Toyota to retrofit the popular Prius with the rear axle and leaf springs of a Dodge Ram truck, on the basis that the battery pack is heavy and could fall through the lightweight sedan's body structure, causing a toxic spill. When it was pointed out that the extra 300 lb of weight would seriously impair fuel-economy figures on the Prius, Nardelli simply smiled.

The new '08 Cocoon

My current ride has a quartet of air bags (two front, two side), antilock brakes, a dashboard with no pointy protrusions, and bumpers that theoretically will shrug off a 2.5-mph impact.

Like many of you of a Certain Age, I spent most of my driving life in cars that lacked most or all of those attributes. (I learned to drive, in fact, in a VW Microbus, which lacked some other things: a radiator, air conditioning, and anything resembling acceleration.) Which leads to a question: does having all these safety gewgaws — newer cars than mine have a lot more of them — give me a false sense of security, making my driving less careful than it could be?

Don Norman, author of The Future Design of Things, thinks it can:

One major problem with the design of cars today is that you can be driving at 100 mph — which is quite dangerous — and the experience is comfy, smooth, and accompanied by nice music on the stereo system. Of course it's impractical to design a car so that driving it feels dangerous and shaky. But why not put passengers in the warm, smooth, comfy situation but have natural signals that give cues to the driver in terms of being alert?

Wait a minute. A hundred is dangerous?

I don't see these technical advances as being anywhere near as much of a problem as ill-trained, incompetent drivers are. Consider, for a moment, a cruise control, such as the Mercedes-Benz Distronic, that slows you down if it thinks you're getting too close to the car in front of you. If the road is that crowded, using cruise control at all brands you as a complete and utter idiot, and the only "natural signal" you should be getting is digital: the upraised middle finger.

As for the passengers, I seldom have any, but in general, passengers' interests must be kept subordinate to the driver's. (Finally, an advantage to the three-row SUV: back-seat drivers can be pushed back even farther.)

That said, I've mostly gotten over my distrust of airbags, mostly because I've never had one explode into the middle of my torso like Alien in reverse. Come to think of it, I've never had one deploy even when I expected it to. Hmmm....

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:16 PM to Driver's Seat )
Hideosity credits

Fifty percent of the population is below-average in appearance, which suggests that there might be support for tax breaks for the unattractive.

The movement, such as it is, begins in Argentina, with author Gonzalo Otalora:

He planted himself in front of the presidential palace, the Casa Rosada or Pink House, to harangue [then-]President Nestor Kirchner to change the law.

It's not fair, he said. The beautiful people get all the breaks. Beauty is a natural advantage and he wants the good-lookers to be taxed to finance compensation for the ugly people.

Otalora's book ¡Feo! (Ugly!) explains the premise further. Me, I'm wondering if the folks who show up here could qualify for some sort of rebate.

(Via Jezebel.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:29 PM to Dyssynergy )
8 December 2007
At least it wasn't spam

Basil gets email from his Chevrolet:

[T]he OnStar thing is all set up and all. And one of their features is they'll send a monthly maintenance report on the car. Well, the first monthly maintenance report came ... Tuesday, 2½ days after we got the car.

So what did Vlad the Impala have to say?

[I]t told me the tire pressure in the left front tire was a little low. It's supposed to be 30 PSI. It was 26.

So, the car emailed me and told me about it.

Geez. And I passed up a tire-pressure monitoring system on Woot yesterday.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:43 AM to Driver's Seat )
They're dead, Jim

February 2007: CompUSA closes approximately half its stores.

February (approximately) 2008: CompUSA closes the rest of its stores.

An orderly liquidation is sought by the new owners, Boston-based Gordon Brothers Group, who acquired the company from Grupo Carso, the holding company of Mexican telecom billionaire Carlos Slim Hélu. Slim has gotten rather a lot of my money over the years; apart from CompUSA, at one time he owned Prodigy, the one-time online service turned ISP that was eventually folded into SBC, and he still controls América Móvil, which operates the TracFone wireless service in the US. And I have to figure Slim didn't become one of the richest men on the planet by holding onto properties that lose money.

The fate of other CompUSA properties — the Web storefront and the tech-support division — remains to be seen.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:15 AM to PEBKAC )
An accident, they said

Carver County, Minnesota, is facing a budget crisis, and they're blaming it on a typo:

[T]he trouble began in August when a clerk went into [Eric] Mattson's file to change the designation of the property ... from homestead to non-homestead to reflect its change in status after its sale.

The clerk filled in the $18,900 proposed valuation, but then mistakenly hit the key to exit the program. The computer added four zeros to fill out the nine numerical spaces required by the software, thus indicating the value was $189,000,000.

Not a problem in and of itself, except that:

[N]o one is laughing at the assessor's office, where the problem started. Neither is anyone at the Carver County Board, the city of Waconia or the Waconia School District.

Those three entities — which were counting on the $2.5 million in increased property tax collections — now face the daunting task of raising taxes or cutting budgets to make up for the shortfall.

And you just know they were gleeful at the prospect of spending that money. Now they're going to have to rely on that expatriate Nigerian minister-without-portfolio whose financial adviser has promised them a cut of his Swiss bank account.

(Via buzz.mn.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:35 AM to Say What? )
To friends of Megan Wallent

If you've come looking for the "Not even the buffet" post, it's here. It's scheduled to scroll off the front page today, and this is easier than just bumping it back up.

(Ms Wallent mentions the item in a Rant.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:52 AM to Blogorrhea )

Looks like I'm not going anywhere for the next 42 hours or so.

Gwendolyn started today with what sounded like the crack of a whip, slowed down by a factor of three, and when shortly thereafter both Battery and Brake lights clicked on, the sound was identified: broken drive belt. Unfortunately, I was at 39th and Meridian when the lights appeared; I was able to get back home without incident, but obviously I'm not going to be doing any driving.

I was going to restock the pantry today. Not gonna happen. I'm not out of food, technically, but meal planning will be essentially random for the duration.

Current plan: have her towed in Monday morning. If it's just the belt, and I suspect that it is, the fix is simple. This particular belt has only about 14,000 miles on it; however, the A/C compressor has been changed in the interim, and I have to wonder if maybe retensioning the belt at that time was hazardous to its health.

Update: I just clambered into the Forbidden Zone under the hood, and the belt looks to be more or less intact — which means that the alternator itself has probably seized up. Still a simple fix, though not so cheap.

Generosity beyond the call of duty

GreenCanary offers assistance to an unnamed county in Maryland:

A representative from one of the area counties was discussing the effects of the projected population growth over the next ten years, focusing on infrastructure and the horrendous traffic that is the State of Maryland.

The speaker said that the amount of money the county pays PER COMMUTER per year, based on a 22.5 mile commute, was $185,000. This money goes toward road maintenance, construction, etc. I have a 110 mile commute, so that means that the county pays more than $904,000 a year just to maintain the roads upon which I, the maniac driving Canary, travel.

That being said, here is my Brilliant Idea: the county can PAY ME the $904,000 a year and I will STAY HOME. I won't travel their precious roads. What’s more, I'd be willing to cut them a break and take, say, only $600K. It's a win-win situation, y'all! They save money, traffic is reduced, there's less wear-and-tear on highways, one more very bad driver is off of the road (thus making the world a safer place) and, best of all, I GET TO STAY HOME. But not only that, I'd make MORE money than I make now! A whole lotta more-a! Everyone's happy!

I've driven through Maryland a few times in recent years, and the traffic is certainly as dreadful as she says, but I'm wondering just what county this is, that she can travel 55 miles and not leave it; counties in Maryland aren't especially huge. Other than that minor quibble, I think this is a swell idea.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:55 PM to Dyssynergy )
Going back to the source

At Hershey, Pennsylvania in October, RM Auctions offered for sale a 1911 Selden Model 40R Varsity roadster. Expected to bring somewhere above $75,000, the Selden ultimately was sold for $220,000. I can't help but think that at least part of this startling price premium was due to George Selden's status as Inventor of the Automobile.

Yes, really. Or at least, so says US Patent No. 549,160 [link to PDF file], which was issued to Selden in 1895. He had in fact built a prototype as early as 1877, but hadn't gone into actual production. In 1899 his plans became clearer: he teamed up with William C. Whitney, who was going to be building electric cars, with the intention of licensing automakers under that patent and collecting a five-percent royalty. In 1902 a group called the Manufacturers Mutual Association was formed to fight Selden, who had already filed several lawsuits against rivals; they negotiated with Selden, and eventually, as the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers, the group became his enforcement arm. As part of the deal, Selden cut the royalty to 1.25 percent, effectively making it cheaper to pay up rather than to fight it in court.

The one major holdout was Henry Ford, and he wasn't intending to be a holdout: he duly applied to ALAM for a license, and was turned down, ostensibly because of his previous business failures. (Wikipedia says that the opposition came mostly from ALAM board member Frederic Smith of Olds Motor Works, who didn't want Ford's products competing with Lansing-built Oldsmobiles in the Detroit market.) Ford went into production anyway, and was promptly sued by ALAM; the suit dragged on for six years before a court upheld the Selden patent. Ford promptly appealed. The New York Times reported on 13 February 1910:

The veteran Detroit manufacturer considers the decision of a lower court upholding the validity of the Selden patent as far from final or conclusive, and he expects to carry on the contest to the highest tribunal in the nation.

"There will be no let-up in the legal fight, and I expect that ultimately the Supreme Court of the United States will hold that the Selden patent is not valid."

The case never got to the Supremes; Ford was able to persuade an appellate court in 1911 that the patent as granted covered only vehicles with engines using the Brayton cycle, while Ford and other manufacturers were using the Otto cycle. ALAM chose to let the matter drop, perhaps because the Selden patent was due to expire in 1912 anyway.

Selden himself never produced any cars until he acquired a manufacturer in Buffalo in 1906. The first Selden cars, advertised as "Made by the Father of Them All," appeared in 1907; about eight thousand were built before the company shifted its focus to trucks in 1914. The Varsity roadster had a 40-hp engine — some lesser Seldens had 30 hp — and sold for around $2000. (Ford's Model T ran $850, dropping to $440 by 1915.) Only six of Selden's cars still exist today; questionable patents, however, are all over the place.

Incidentally, in that same auction in Hershey, a 1911 Oldsmobile Limited 7-Passenger Touring Car, utterly unrestored — the original tires were literally crumbling — brought $1.65 million. The price included a set of new(er) tires.

9 December 2007
And just ice for all

No snow, no sleet: just ice. We've had fog for two and a half days, and eventually it started to freeze; at about the same time, the thunderboomers rolled in. So we're in the uncomfortable position of getting a fair amount of rain, most of which will freeze before it reaches the ground, and it's going to continue for much of today and most of tomorrow. Roads are reportedly not too horrid — yet.

Folks less bitter than I think of this sort of thing as God's version of the 59th Street Bridge Song: "Slow down, you move too fast." Whatever I feel, you may be certain it's not groovy.

Update: So as to mock my presumption, the Weather Gods have gone ahead and dropped some sleet on us. Better for driving, anyway.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:37 AM to Weather or Not )
A long and torturous path

As a public service, Rammer shows the way from Virginville to Intercourse.

Watch out for the Blue Ball signs as you approach US 322.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 12:55 PM to Dyssynergy )
Judge for yourself

Coming soon: Brawndo, the Thirst Mutilator. And yes, it's got electrolytes.

No word on whether it will be available at Costco or Carl's Jr.

(Via SpoutBlog.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 1:47 PM to Worth a Fork )
I think my oil just changed

Motor Trend's Arthur St. Antoine on the new Aston Martin DBS:

Imagine, if you will, a La Perla negligee that goes 191 mph.

I can't even imagine the test drive.

(St. Antoine is also responsible for this Quote of the Week.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:25 PM to Driver's Seat )
O blessed booze

Megan McArdle unpacks her copy of Douglas Adams' The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and finds this forgotten inscription by her college boyfriend:

Remember, every time you do something stupid, it will leave a memory with which you will have to live for fifty years. This is the great advantage of drinking to excess: memory loss.

Followed by this instruction:

[reword to snappy epigram]

For some reason, this reminded me of an interchange in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:

Joel [Jim Carrey]: Is there any risk of brain damage?

Dr Mierzwiak [Tom Wilkinson]: Well, technically speaking, the operation is brain damage, but it's on a par with a night of heavy drinking. Nothing you'll miss.

Which, I think, makes a pretty snappy epigram all by itself.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:50 PM to Almost Yogurt )
10 December 2007
Strange search-engine queries (97)

This feature appears once a week, largely because in seven days I can usually accumulate about a dozen search strings worth mentioning here without too much difficulty. Let's dip into the log and see what we can find....

Avoidance Avoidance complex:  I used to live in a complex like that. The rent was too high for the value received.

walt whitman song of myself subjectivity:  The subjectivity would intoxicate you so, but I shall not let it.

What sort of attitudes will attract boys:  I have no idea; I've never attracted any boys.

did woman in the 1600's wear underwear:  She did if she wanted to attract boys.

kosher men's penises:  I suppose this depends on how the men are killed.

what percent of lottery winners are usually back at their sucky life?  Probably close to 100 percent, since the vast majority of winners get tiny prizes like $5 or $10.

Burton Genuine Tongue Funeral:  Because who wants a counterfeit? And anyway, it's "Tong."

clinton lewinsky something-gate:  "Genuine Tongue" for some reason comes to mind.

how much can I download with 17,000 megabytes:  A lot more than you could without it.

what was the first year the bulldogs won the champing ships:  I honestly had no idea you could get ships to champ.

erotic big breasted ugly crone gallery:  The very definition of "different strokes for different folks."

that weird woman who has a list of strange things people have typed into search engines:  You wouldn't happen to have her phone number, would you?

do vegans give blowjobs:  Far as I know, they don't allow meat in their mouths.

boyfriend's penis tastes like latex:  Um, you're doing it wrong.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:33 AM to You Asked For It )
Time purchased

So I went out into the back yard to survey the damage, and there was a big chunk of elm tree sitting on the shed. No big deal, until I looked up and discovered the broken end of the branch actually leaning on the power line, which meant basically I had to move this section of frozen tree up and away to keep it from eventually snapping the line off.

There are maybe ten, twelve other places where the line still could give way, but I'm just glad I caught this one before anything could happen.

Going to work? Not even. Power's completely off at 42nd and Treadmill.

We're not running out of ice

Not by any means. Here's a look at what's happening:

Tree damage

Normally, those two trees are about eighteen feet apart. Below, a tree across the street is seriously fragged.

Tree damage

I am not getting out to take more pictures if I can possibly help it.

Addendum: Vphotorob has a set of storm photos up on Flickr.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:06 AM to Surlywood )
Serious pest control

Why I'm glad my children are grown:

Teens across the area are constantly getting themselves into trouble. They are mischievous by nature, and fall down chimneys, get stuck in woodstoves and squeeze their way into places they shouldn't be. We have removed teens from just about every part of the house at one point in time.

"It sounded like a party in my attic!"

"We were unknowingly running a bed and breakfast for teens!"

If you've made comments like these, you're not alone. These are actual testimonials from people who've had their sanity restored after using our teen removal service.

While many people think teens are adorable, clever little creatures, homeowners know them to be destructive, dangerous, loud and annoyingly persistent pests. Teens can cause significant damage now and leave your home vulnerable to hazards later on.

Oh, wait. Did he say "teens"?

Scratch that:

I wrote [this] column by taking a squirrel removal service's advertisement and replacing the word "squirrel" with the word "teen." As the father of two teens, I can tell you it works surprisingly well.

Come to think of it, no child of mine has ever managed to get stuck in a woodstove.

(Via Bitter Bitch.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 12:37 PM to Dyssynergy )
Worst. Outage. Ever.

OG&E says so:

Throughout the day Monday the number of customers left without power by the ice storm continued to rise to the point where it is now the worst disaster in the company's history in terms of the number of customers affected — more than 235,000.

The company has about 755,000 customers at retail, which means that 31 percent of their customers are freezing in the dark.

Their current estimate for full restoration is "between 7 and 10 days," which, considering the sheer massiveness of the storm, is possibly a shade optimistic, even with a thousand people working in the field. I've pretty much decided that if mine goes out, I'm going to think seriously about leaving town for a week. I'm not expecting it to, though: next door has about half a foot of tree-induced deflection in their line, and they've still got the lights on.

Update, 6:55 pm: Public Service Company of Oklahoma, says the Oklahoman, has about 200,000 customers with no power, mostly around Tulsa. PSO has 514,000 customers in the state.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:23 PM to Soonerland )
Theme with wild variations

Tomorrow night marks the premiere of Playwrights Horizons' production of Doris to Darlene, a Cautionary Valentine, a new play by Jordan Harrison, directed by Les Waters. The premise:

Doris to Darlene, a Cautionary Valentine begins in the candy-colored 1960s, when a biracial schoolgirl named Doris (de'Adre Aziza) is molded into pop star Darlene by a whiz-kid record producer (Michael Crane) who culls a top-ten hit out of Richard Wagner's Liebestod. Rewind to the candy-colored 1860s, where Wagner (David Chandler) is writing the melody that will become Darlene's hit song. Fast-forward to the not-so-candy-colored present, where a teenager (Tobias Segal) obsesses over Darlene's music — and his music teacher (Tom Nelis). Three dissonant decades merge into an unlikely harmony in this time-jumping pop fairy tale about the dreams and disasters behind one transcendent song.

Pictures and background here, though if you're anything like me, what you want to know is what sort of pop tune can be coaxed out of Tristan und Isolde. Herewith the answer, though I will not be responsible for any reactions by Mad King Ludwig.

11 December 2007
Legalarity ensues

Anybody who's read Fark for any length of time more than a handful of nanoseconds has seen the occasional link marked NSFW, which of course means "Not Safe for Work." In fact, rather a lot of sites use some variation of this tag, which makes me wonder why it is that Head Farker Drew Curtis is attempting to trademark those four words in that sequence.

I assume by default that this is a gag, and Curtis will neither confirm nor deny:

1) Yes, we applied for it.

2) Can't comment on the prank angle other than "stay tuned."

3) Muhahaha.

On a whim, I checked the government's trademark database, and apparently no one has yet registered "Duke sucks."

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:49 AM to Say What? )
Morning report

Where things stand right about now:

  • Power is still on at Surlywood, though rather a lot of areas I passed through this morning are still dark. The rain is coming down fairly heavily, which is preferable to light freezing drizzle any day. Temperatures across most of the state are above freezing; there are still a few really warm areas down in the southeast, beyond the point where the cold front stalled.

  • Gwendolyn is up and running again; the alternator tested somewhere between Bad and Are You Kidding Me?

  • Still no electricity at 42nd and Treadmill, as of last I'd heard (about three hours ago).

  • I spent much of the early morning (before 7:30) trying to move tree limbs out of the street. I got my own breakage pulled back, and most of next door's; however, the really massive branches are going to require industrial-strength assistance.

  • The entrance to the polling place was a solid sheet of ice. I spent about two and a half minutes trying to negotiate my way up the walk while grabbing the ice-covered bike rack; eventually a pollwatcher noticed my lack of progress and came outside with a rubber mat. I deposited ballot #35 at 10:50. As I was leaving, someone from building maintenance emerged with a bag of the Usual Sidewalk Substances.

Still to come: grocery shopping, damage assessment. I'm pretty sure one of the two chaste trees is done for; the baby sweetgum doesn't look well but isn't broken; the big elm out front is about 20 percent thinner. (The slightly-less-big elm next door broke off in the middle and should be scored as a kill.)

Update, 1:30 pm: Power problems at the supermarket: cash only, no plastic — not a problem — and no perishables, the display cases being nonfunctional, which could have been a problem. From 23rd to 122nd on May, about half the traffic lights are working. And OG&E briefly hit 300,000 on the Out-O-Meter before dropping back.

Seattle SuperCynics

The Chicago Tribune's Sam Smith is manifestly unimpressed:

The Bulls get to see the league's brightest new prospect in Kevin Durant and the NBA's most cynical organization, the Oklahoma City/Seattle SuperSonics, when they visit the United Center on Tuesday night. This is truly the one team in the NBA whose mission appears to be to lose games to further alienate its community and make relocating easier.

And that's not all:

The joke around the NBA is Minnesota general manager Kevin McHale and Seattle GM Sam Presti are battling for executive of the year for building the Celtics and Magic.

That's going to leave a couple of marks. Furthermore, says Smith, the Sonics' crappy record is exactly what the front office wants:

Sources say [Rashard] Lewis even agreed before last season to a short-term extension of $25 million over two years, but it was not offered because the new ownership didn't want to spend the money. After opting out of his contract and becoming a free agent, Lewis then said he was prepared to accept an offer from Presti, the new GM, but none came. Instead, [Ray] Allen was traded to the Celtics for spare parts and Lewis was let go for more detritus, all apparently in a not-so-transparent attempt to begin building a team for the next city.

The bottom line:

The sad part for the sake of competition is Seattle had the pieces in place and a reasonable payroll to have a terrific team this season. Instead, it chose a callous plan of surrender.

"Patience is a virtue in this league, to let a team mature," Allen said. "But they wanted to have their own team and their own guys."

And, we presume, their own, different city.

Color me disgruntled.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 1:20 PM to Net Proceeds )
America's hottest bureaucrat

Nicole NasonThis is Nicole Nason, thirty-seven, the Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the past year and a half. A photo of her — not this one — appears in the Car and Driver 10Best issue (January) with the questionable caption RILF ALERT. The R is for "regulator," I presume. And despite releases like this, which argues that fragile old people are more likely to be injured in accidents than the young and hearty, somehow she's a lot less controversial than, oh, let's say, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino.

I realize that this is something less than Breaking News, but the alternative item in the can was a bit about those ghastly Manolo Blahniks for Men, and I wasn't about to look at them every day for the next week while they slowly move down the front page. Contrary to popular belief, even I have standards.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:21 PM to Say What? )
Bonds, approved bonds

With about a sixth of the precincts in, all eleven of Oklahoma City's bond propositions look like easy winners: the least popular, #11, which calls for the establishment of a fund for economic and community development, is drawing 76.4 percent approval, and some others are up in the 80s.

You might conclude from this that city government is actually considered credible these days, and believe me, if you were around here during the days when it wasn't, you'd see this as a major improvement.

I thumbed through the 2007-08 budget book, which you probably don't want to read because it's a huge PDF (if you do, it's here), and debt service comes to $54 million, about 7 percent of city expenditures. Briefly noted therein:

The Debt Service Fund is supported by property taxes. The tax rate or mill levy is based on the projected debt service requirements for the City and anticipated judgments. By State law, municipalities may only use property tax for debt service and operations. There is no limit on the level of debt service since all debt must be approved by the voters. The City Council has adopted an informal policy that the City will attempt to keep the mill levy for property tax at 16 mills. Although the mill levy has varied over the years based on the timing of new bond issues and growth in assessed values, the City has not exceeded the 16 mill rate in many years.

Current millage is in fact 15.95; the last time it was over 16 was 1993.

Turnout, owing to the weather, was even lighter than usual: maybe 5 percent, instead of the usual 8-12.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:24 PM to City Scene )
12 December 2007
Colored lights can hypnotize

Does this sound like anyone you know?

An informal poll of my US female friends revealed that they spend roughly $700 (£350) a month on what they consider standard obligatory beauty maintenance. That covers haircut, highlights, manicure, pedicure, waxing, tanning, make-up, facials, teeth whitening etc. They will spend a further $1,000 (£500) a month on physical conditioning such as military fitness, spinning sessions, vikram yoga, Pilates, deep-tissue sports massage, personal training etc. On top of that, add the occasional spa day, a week-long "bikini boot camp" in Mexico at the start of every summer and seasonal splurges on personal shoppers and clothing. I'm not sure any of my British female friends spends £700 during an entire year on her appearance. American women see these costs as a simple and sensible investment in their future.

I should point out here that this writer also writes screenplays, which means that (1) he's likely hanging around Hollywood and (2) he thinks Hollywood is somehow representative of the rest of the world.

On the downside:

I don't want you to think, though, that I believe American women have nothing to learn from British women. The irony is that, as obsessed as American women are with their looks, they totally ignore their social skills. Within 10 minutes of meeting an American woman, I guarantee you will know her salary and most recent medical/dental procedure. They all but turn up with their CV printed out. In return, they will immediately want to know "all" about you, ie, how much you earn, how much you have earned in the past, what your future earning potential is, whether you own property, whether you have an investment portfolio, where you shop, where you "vacation", what you drive and how large your parents' house is. I once got to the end of a date in New York, pulled out my credit card to pay and the girl solemnly remarked: "A green American Express card? I didn't know they still made them in that colour."

Then again, maybe he should have stayed in Hollywood. And my American Express card, by the way, is translucent.

(Via Dollymix, where editor Cate Sevilla "doesn't spend $700 on her face a month. I guess that makes her frumpy.")

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:14 AM to Table for One )
Speaking of elections

While Oklahoma City voters were approving a massive bond issue, that questionable tax vote for Northeast Tech Center, says Tyson Wynn, was put into the deep freeze:

I have it on good authority from John Wylie at the Oologah Lake Leader (which is also without power) that Mayes County Election Board was notified by NE Tech Center Board today that they have canceled the sneaky tax election scheduled for ... Dec. 11. No new date has been set. Recent ice storms have left many counties with no or few polling places with power. Terri Thomas, Mayes County Election Board, said there were no polling places operational in Oologah, Owasso, or Inola and few in Claremore. Additionally, some precinct voters remain unable to leave their homes due to downed branches and/or power lines. Further, several election boards — including the State Election Board — had advised NE Tech Centers that the vote, if it had passed, would likely face legal challenges and be invalidated due to the lack of proper public notice.

And that would seem to be the end of that, for now. Meanwhile, the Edmond and Norman school districts saw their bond issues approved, and there will be a runoff in Oklahoma City's Ward 7, where Skip Kelly got 49.9 percent of the vote. (It takes 50 to win outright.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:39 AM to Soonerland )
Across town

OG&E is making some headway on the eastside, and now there is power at 42nd and Treadmill. There is also approximately one third of a tree occupying my parking space, but the chainsaw kittens have already been dispatched to address this matter.

There's a bit of snow this morning, not enough to stick, but enough to elicit curses.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:13 AM to Weather or Not )
Should we bury power lines?

Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Jeff Cloud says they will study the possibility of requiring underground electrical lines in the state:

We have had two storms of the century already this calendar year. Everybody is busy by doing what they need to do, and they are doing a great job in extremely difficult conditions.

But we cannot be the only state with above-ground lines that faces ice storms, so we are going to get together and start comparing notes about how other states do this.

I'm not sure what I think about this yet. Burying the lines will almost certainly reduce the incidence of outages, albeit at a steep price — and when there are outages, they might be harder to fix.

Bold indeed

Nobody's going to accuse Mike Huckabee of a lack of vision, by Gawd:

I think we ought to be out there talking about ways to reduce energy consumption and waste. And we ought to declare that we will be free of energy consumption in this country within a decade, bold as that is.

Beat that, you quivering lumps of Kyotoplasm. "Free of energy consumption." Zero. I defy anyone to come up with a bolder plan than this.

Tweaking the over/under

Ryan Welton caught this at a press conference:

At a news conference on Tuesday, OG&E spokesman Brian Alford said it would cost $1M a mile to bury power lines underground. Well, considering the bevy of line-damaging possibilities in the Sooner State, I say it's money well spent. A solid infrastructure is what attracts business and draws talented people.

Alford said it just didn't add up when the electric company does its cost-benefit analyses. I think he'd be surprised what Oklahomans would pay for in the name of real progress, although I think it would have to come with punitive damages against utilities for outages.

Right now I suspect the utilities are trying to figure out a way to recover the costs of restoration.

In the meantime, the Big Question remains unanswered. I was picking up a Gazette when a woman eastbound on 36th hailed me and asked "Do you have power?" And I drew a Google search today for "when the hell is oge going to get the power on".

The guy next door had brought out the chainsaw and was hacking up the residue of his elm tree, which, on sober second thought, looks like it might survive after all. I helped him haul some stuff up over the curb; he came over and sliced up the two major limbs that had fallen off my elm, and we reasoned, with a bow to Arlo Guthrie, that one big pile was better than two little piles. We had to knock off for lack of light, but we got quite a bit done — he more than I, you may be sure — and now the only major debris in the street is down on the corner at the apartment complex.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:14 PM to Soonerland )
13 December 2007
Nice and rough

Inasmuch as everything else you're going to read about the late Ike Turner focuses on his seriously-dysfunctional relationship with Tina, I'm going to spend some time on the musical stuff, which starts in his late teens in the Mississippi delta with the founding of the Kings of Rhythm, who cut one of the contenders for First Rock and Roll Record in late 1950: "Rocket 88," credited to Kings vocalist/sax player Jackie Brenston and his, um, "Delta Cats," written by Turner, who played that amazingly-distorted guitar. Chess picked it up for national distribution and watched it become a jukebox staple. For the next several years the Kings toured and Ike played, in addition to guitar, the role of roving A&R man, looking for good tracks he could place with major R&B labels. Around 1958 the Kings took on a teenaged background vocalist from Tennessee named Annie Mae Bullock; in 1960, the scheduled singer having failed to show for the recording session, Annie did the lead on a new Ike tune called "A Fool in Love," which was credited to "Ike and Tina Turner," though the two didn't actually wed until 1962, and the traveling troupe became the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.

Ike and Tina were major R&B stars into the 1970s. (Their backup singers, the Ikettes, made some good records of their own in the mid-Sixties.) After they split, her career eclipsed his, at least partly because he had some serious brushes with the law; the pair were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, but Ike, in jail on drug charges, did not attend the ceremony. (Tina, graciously, accepted for him.)

By 1993, Ike had cleaned up his act and gone back to what he'd always done best: playing those bluesy licks. And he kept on doing that right up until the end.

Flaunting it, as it were

I actually felt a twinge before I read this:

I'm most angry at our neighbors across the street. Apparently, it's just our side of the street that lost power — the other side is still warm and toasty and turning on their outdoor Christmas lights. I was furious at them for flaunting the fact that they have power while we're skulking around our dark, cold house with flashlights, clad in black thermal underwear. I felt like a damn burglar, and wondered if ole Blinky Lights across the street might call 911 to report an intruder in our house. I dare them.

When I got home yesterday, it was about 5:25, and I pondered, briefly, if maybe it might be a trifle unseemly to crank up the lights for the night. The rationalization for doing so boiled down to "Well, everyone on this block has power, so it's not like I'm showing off or anything." Still, there but for the grace of God, yadda yadda yadda. Maybe I'll start pulling the plug early or something.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:51 AM to Dyssynergy )
Jack bests Bill

Those of you who owned Commodore 64s will remember its BASIC implementation, which was provided by, um, Microsoft.

At the C64's 25th Anniversary celebration, Commodore commander Jack Tramiel recalled his dealings with Bill Gates:

Doing business with Gates was decent, Tramiel said. "He came to see me, tried to sell me Basic and told me that I didn't have to give him any money; all I had to give him was $3 per unit. I told him I was already married," Tramiel said.

Tramiel instead told Gates he'd pay a flat fee of $25,000, rejecting the idea of paying $3 for each Commodore 64 sold. "In about six weeks, [Gates] came and took that $25,000. Since then, he did not speak to me," Tramiel said.

Ultimately, the C64 moved about 30 million units, saving Jack Tramiel $89,975,000, most of which was apparently used to make the 1541 disk drive noisier.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:49 AM to PEBKAC )
A prickly situation

The Nordic Battlegroup's coat of arms shows a lion wielding a sword and an olive branch. Originally, it was obviously a male lion, but that would never do:

The armed forces agreed to emasculate the lion after a group of women from the rapid reaction force lodged a complaint to the European Court of Justice, Göteborgs-Posten reports.

This action, says the emblem's designer, demonstrates a lack of historical perspective:

"The army lacks knowledge about heraldry. Once upon a time coats of arms containing lions without genitalia were given to those who betrayed the Crown," said [Vladimir A.] Sagerlund.

I blame this cat. [Warning: Possibly-disturbing graphic.]

(Via Stanley Kurtz.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 2:13 PM to Say What? )
A heckuva record

I'm starting to think they should relocate FEMA permanently in Oklahoma, and this reinforces my belief:

This week's winter storm has allowed Oklahoma to set an apparent, if dubious, national record — that for presidential disaster declarations for one state in a calendar year.

That's right, folks: eight of 'em, with two and a half weeks left to go in 2007. Duh-worthy observation:

"Most states don't usually have to endure that many disasters," FEMA spokesman Earl Armstrong said.

Like I always say, the most perverse weather this side of Baffin Bay.

Yeah, we gripe about it. And then we clean up the mess and go back to work.

The wheat/rye guy

A regular commenter around here for quite some time, and a blogger in his own right — and, sad to say, he may be leaving us:

During Drinking Right last night we got a call from Triticale's wife.

She told us he is not doing very well. His Doctors only give him a few more days.

We offer our respect, best wishes and prayers.

No more can I add, except to do the same.

14 December 2007
You can't watch this here

I have, as I see them, two options if I want to get DVDs of the Australian TV series Round the Twist:

  1. Order the Australian box set and find myself a DVD player that either (a) can handle Region 4 or (b) ignores region codes altogether;

  2. Order the British box set (about the same price) from amazon.co.uk, which is not region-coded but which reportedly has poorer visuals than the box from Oz.

The obvious choice would seem to be #1, since I have been known to seek out features from India; on the other hand, I've had no particular problem finding region-free DVDs of Bollywood fare. The DVD player in the PC will permit region changes, but only a few: the fifth one, you're stuck with. (Which suggests a third alternative: are there DVD drives without region coding?)

Suggestions from the field are welcomed.

Deck the floors with sounds of folly

The Roomba Family goes caroling, and you get to watch.

(A five-golden-rings link from Miss Cellania.)

I can't keep up

What I remember most about the old muscle-car era wasn't the muscle, exactly. I mean, I had a Chevy Nova, but it wasn't an SS. Hell, it wasn't even an S. But it had a certain charm, based on the fact that you could pop the hood and identify just about every single part without trying hard; this was the era, as some auto scribe (possibly Patrick Bedard) once said, "when tires had been made fat enough to work, but before Star Wars ate the carburetor."

I was reading a Nissan-oriented message board last night when I came across a phrase I'd never seen before: "electronically-controlled engine mount." Say what? And does Gwendolyn have these things? I poked around a bit, and yes, she does:

The electronically controlled engine mounts take the advantage of fluid technology a step further than normal liquid-filled engine mounts. A 2-chamber mount works in conjunction with the engine's Engine Control Module (ECM) to vary the volume of fluid in the mount, based on engine rpm. It does this by opening or closing a valve between two chambers inside the engine mount. At low rpm, the volume of fluid is increased to provide maximum damping. At higher rpm the volume is decreased, providing the firmness needed for optimum feedback to the driver.

Now when I was a kid, an engine mount was made out of solid rubber, with just enough steel to bolt it down. It never occurred to me that they'd fill them with liquid, let alone control that liquid with computer-controlled, electrically-powered valves. Geez, it was just last year I figured out what a dual-runner intake manifold was. (I have one of those too.)

This is not to say that I'd like to go back to those halcyon days of yesteryear, exactly; I'm not at all unhappy with having 200-plus horsepower and 20-plus miles per gallon, and brakes work a lot better now than they used to. But I've had to resign myself to the fact that I can't fix much of anything on this darn car.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:45 AM to Driver's Seat )
To warm the cockles of your heart

Because who wants cold cockles?

Trini came back from lunch with some odd-looking cylinders, which proved to be Hillside's Self-Heating Hot Cocoa. I didn't ask why, if it was hot, it needed self-heating.

I did, however, examine the system. The can is very large, considering it holds only 9 ounces of product, but there's something going on under the surface. The base of the can contains water and green dye; when you push the button on the base, the water is released, and it reacts with calcium oxide powder hidden in the can walls. You end up with calcium hydroxide and, this being an exothermic reaction, a whole lot of heat, which gets applied (at a safe distance) to the drinkable contents. (There are coffee and tea variants.)

After five to eight minutes, the stuff is supposed to be 70 degrees warmer than its environment, so I'm presuming I drank it at 140. Actually, I took a sip and said "Jeebus, this is hot!" Wait a moment, sip again, and hey, this stuff isn't half bad. And it's only two bucks a can at Wally World.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 2:00 PM to Worth a Fork )
An 80 percent chance of panic

Snow's in the forecast, and suddenly Lawn Guyland doesn't seem so far away:

You would think they'd never seen snow before the way they react when there's a storm coming in. It's a weird phenomenon that strikes whenever more than five inches of snow is predicted around here. People start acting as if they had lived in pure sunshine and heat the whole time. OMG! White stuff falling from the sky! We're all gonna DIE! Please. You all drive Lincoln Navigators and Hummers with twelve-wheel drive. The town will clear the roads within 24 hours and your kids will be pelting the toddler across the street with snowballs within two.

I don't know what everyone gets uptight about. And I certainly don't know why they all feel the need to run to the grocery store as soon as Sam Champion says the word snow. It's just a gut reaction in Long Islanders, I guess. HOLY SHIT! It's going to SNOW! Gather the children! Man your posts! DEFCON ONE! And, like a sea of panicky lemmings, they drive en masse to their local delis and supermarkets and Dairy Barns, stocking up on milk and bread. Yes, milk and bread. It's an interesting phenomenon and I'm not sure if it's indigenous to Long Island, but it's been around for as long as I can remember. There must be some forgotten urban legend that wove its way around the Island decades ago. A suburban family wakes one morning to find that it has snowed. The mom goes into the kitchen only to find that there is only a half quart of milk and two slices of bread left! The horror! The family screams, the kids cry, the mother frantically tries to pump milk out of her breasts even though she weaned the youngest eight years ago. And oh, irony of ironies, the deli just two blocks away has one gallon of fresh, whole milk left and one loaf of white bread on the shelf. If only there were some way to get two blocks away with having to trudge through the monster snow storm that dumped two inches of the white stuff all over town!

Hmmm. I'm just about out of Pop-Tarts.

And speaking of possible breakfast items, this sort of thing is bread and butter to the (M)ass Media:

Why is it earth shattering news that it's freaking freezing outside? Is this something new? Are you touting some kind of bizarro world global unwarming theory?

IT'S WINTER. Say it with me. WIN-TER. You know, WINTER. That time of year in New York when temperatures plummet and white stuff falls from the sky and your car battery dies and the homeless are rounded up and thrown into shelters and the snot running out of some kid's nose freezes to his face.

So I don't get why you need to lead every damn news hour with the revelation that it is COLD and possibly snowing outside. As if this were some strange, new feeling for us. As if we never saw ice on our windshields or snow on the ground. You grab your camera crew and stand outside schools and offices and Home Depots and marvel at the people wearing hats and scarves and mittens because hey, we've never done that in New York before. No, we wear bikinis and speedos all year long. Jesus Harry Christ, people. Is this really breaking news? Do you realize that for the last ten winters in row, maybe more, you have started your nightly newscasts with stories about how to keep warm? Does this seem just a bit unnecessary to you? Granted, it's not like we are living in the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field here, but we are kind of used to 15 degree days. It happens. It's WINTER. We really don't need some "expert" staring at us from the tv telling us to wear layers and eat a good breakfast and warm our cars up.

I think what bugs me most is that I know we're a resilient bunch — you don't spend any time out here on the Temporarily Non-Electric Range without developing something of a survival instinct — and yet television feels compelled to treat us like scared second-graders. Maybe it's just because of the handful of alleged grownups who actually act like scared second-graders under these circumstances, and the unfortunate fact that in 21st-century America, wherever there is a stupid person, there will eventually be a smart lawyer trying to make money off him. The rest of us understand that we are the first line of defense against, well, anything, and we will act accordingly; we delegate that responsibility only when it's clearly beyond our physical capacities or our technical skills. (I can't rewire an electrical connection to save my life; but I can go out and snip low-hanging branches in the middle of the storm to reduce the weight on those tree limbs and make them less likely to come crashing to the ground.) If I'd spent those hours watching television, I'd probably be cowering in the corner somewhere, waiting for someone to save me. Jerry Mander called this one right:

If you decide to watch television, then there's no choice but to accept the stream of electronic images as it comes. Since there is no way to stop the images, one merely gives over to them. More than this, one has to clear all channels of reception to allow them in more cleanly. Thinking only gets in the way.

And can we lose the "Storm of the Century" stuff? The life expectancy in this land is somewhere around 75 years: the odds are pretty damned good that you're going to see at least one of them.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 4:25 PM to Weather or Not )
Where are all the Wiis?

Still unmade, apparently, and it's going to cost Nintendo dearly:

The unsated demand is costing Nintendo more than face. Estimates from industry analysts and retailers indicate that the company, which is based in Kyoto, Japan, is giving up $1 billion or more in sales in the ever-important holiday retail season, not including sales of games for those unbuilt consoles.

"It’s staggering," said James Lin, senior analyst at the MDB Capital Group in Santa Monica, Calif., who estimates that Nintendo is leaving $1.3 billion on the table. "They could easily sell double what they’re selling."

Nintendo professes to see no problem:

When it comes to its planning, Nintendo says it has not done anything wrong.

"We don't feel like we've made any mistakes," said George Harrison, senior vice president for marketing at Nintendo of America.

All things must pass, George: you need to be on this bandwagon while it's still accelerating. And it is accelerating:

Nintendo sold 981,000 Wiis in the United States in November, its best month yet, while Microsoft sold 770,000 Xbox 360s, and Sony sold 466,000 PlayStation 3 consoles, the market research firm NPD Group said Thursday.

And availability in Britain is so spotty that Nintendo pulled all its UK advertising for the Wii.

I'm a firm believer in not flooding the market with hot products, lest you be caught with entire pallets full of returns, but demand for the Wii isn't even coming close to slackening.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:33 PM to PEBKAC )
15 December 2007
It used to be a tree

Now it's just "storm debris," and Oklahoma City eventually will be removing it from the premises:

City residents can begin putting tree branches and limbs within 10 feet of their curb. Crews could begin picking up storm debris as early as December 19 — at no charge to citizens.

The City is hiring contractors to collect storm debris from residential curbsides. Crews will begin cleanup in the City's core and work their way to the outlying areas. Each neighborhood will have two opportunities for pickup.

"If you don't get your debris to the curb in time or it's not all collected in the first round, please be patient," City Manager Jim Couch said. "Crews will make another round."

City officials estimate it may take several months to clean up all debris left by the ice storm.

Storm debris will not be collected with monthly bulk waste collection. Residents should keep their bulk waste separated from their storm debris.

"After the debris contractors have completed two rounds, bulk waste collection crews will pick up storm debris on the monthly collection days," Solid Waste Manager Jim Linn said.

The city's Public Information Office has posted this collection of winter-related material, from which the above was excerpted.

About 85 percent of my debris is stacked and ready.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:22 AM to City Scene )
We're number three!

This has potential: Chrysler, the perennial third-place American automaker, and Nissan, Japan's number three, may be putting their heads together for new vehicles, though there's no indication that any equity will be exchanged. Nissan presumably will be wanting to tap Chrysler's Dodge division for truck ideas, while Chrysler is in desperate need of competitive small cars, where Nissan has always been a player, if seldom the market leader.

One suggestion from this corner: the Nissan Teana, the J31 midsize sedan sold as a Maxima in some non-US markets, might make a nice-looking Dodge. The Teana has a suitably blunt front, a grille adaptable to Dodge's crossbars, and it doesn't look anything like Chrysler's Sebring (or all that much like the American Maxima). Nissan fits this with either a 2.3-liter inline-4 or the ubiquitous VQ-series V-6.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:33 AM to Driver's Seat )
Ohio is so screwed

Doppler 10

(From FrostfireZoo via Rachel Lucas.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:32 AM to Say What? )
Back issues of time

If I could save time in a bottle ... I'd need at least a Jeroboam, I think. The following was swiped from Writer Chick:

1. If you could pause your aging process, at what age would you choose do to it? (Meaning you would not live forever, but live for 90 or so years at whatever age you chose).

Having gone through protracted periods of foolishness, ignorance and general iron-rod-up-one's-assedness over the years, I think I'd like to freeze the clock at the week after I turned 50, a time when I felt that I'd turned over several new leaves and that I'd reached a point where I could shelve most of my ongoing fears.

2. At what age did you (or will you) consider yourself to be an adult?

I still wonder sometimes. But I'm thinking thirty-four, if only because that year contained the largest number of iterations of "Grow up, you jerk," and I did manage to survive it.

3. What do you think will be your most annoying trait when you’re a senior?

I have no intention of being annoying as a senior. Now get the hell off my lawn.

4. How does your current life compare with where you thought you’d be at this point when you were young?

It really doesn't at all, for the simple reason that roughly from ages 15 through 45 I figured I had maybe five years left, tops, and therefore projecting any sort of future seemed a futile, even delusional act. I can say that this isn't quite the life I might have chosen for myself, but it's not all that bad.

5. When would you like to retire? What do you see yourself doing with your life after retirement?

In the absence of a huge Powerball check, I can't see any circumstances under which I'd get to retire; had I the option, I think I'd basically carry on the way I do now, except for more World Tours. Few things re-energize body and mind quite as effectively as hitting the road. (And few things tire out body and mind quite so thoroughly after a couple of weeks, which proves that there is balance in nature.)

Pick this up if you'd like.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 12:34 PM to Screaming Memes )
Step 'n kvetch it

Meryl Yourish is sick of hearing us complain about the winter weather:

Just think how much it would suck to be in Iceland right now.

Says here that in Reykjavik, the largest city in Iceland, the December averages are: high 36, low 30, 3.1 inches of precipitation.

Almost exactly what we've had in Oklahoma City the last week, in fact. (Since the 9th: high 38, low 25, 3.19 inches of precipitation.)

Right about now, the 110,000 residents of the Oklahoma City metro who still don't have power — about the same population as Reykjavik, as it happens — might consider Iceland an improvement.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:35 PM to Weather or Not )
Docking maneuvers

Apparently the missionary position is not feasible in a zero-gravity environment.

[Insert "Venus observa" joke here]

16 December 2007
Speaking of space

So you don't have to agonize over this yourself: in order to reach Ragnar in three days from its original location in the pilot episode, Galactica must maintain acceleration of 27g.

That's our g, not Ragnar's.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:09 AM to Bogus History )
As actual sunlight returns

As the lights slowly come back on, Michael Bates proposes a study:

For all the talk about trees, I am wondering how much of the ice storm damage is simply due to the effect of a ½ inch or more of ice on above-ground power lines. The main transmission lines are too high to be affected by trees; did we lose any of them? If no amount of tree trimming will spare us from this kind of situation, we need to weigh the cost of burying the lines against the costs — loss of productivity, loss of perishable food, deaths and injuries. I would love to see an analysis showing how many customers were without power due to various causes — downed line from ice, downed line from tree, blown transformer.

Do the utilities even keep track of these things, or do they just record each incident as a generalized outage? The Corp Comm's Jeff Cloud has already made noises about a feasibility study for burying the lines: the first step, I think, should be collection of this data, and expansion of its scope if necessary.

In the meantime, I tend to agree with Lynne, who commented on a previous post here:

I think all new construction should have lines installed underground, and a plan made to eventually hide existing lines. Time consuming and expensive, but worth it I think.

Clearly there will not be enough funding available to rewire the whole state at once, and if there were, you couldn't possibly get it done before the next ice storm. This is going to be a long, drawn-out process, and inevitably Neighborhood B is going to want to know how come Neighborhood A is getting it first. I see a whole lot of political infighting on the horizon.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:10 AM to Soonerland )
Emergency roominess

The vacant Lynn Hickey Dodge lot at 39th and May has been pressed into temporary service: this morning I saw seven or eight out-of-state utility trucks parked there, and someone appeared to be handing out assignments. (I hope that said someone is also handing out maps, since this isn't the easiest street grid to navigate.) I'm guessing that similar ad hoc meeting places have been established throughout the metro area.

OG&E statewide outages are now down to the 100,000 mark, half of them in Oklahoma City proper. With the arrival of Non-Horrible Weather, things may start to move a little more quickly.

On the blogospherical front, I still haven't heard from Mike McCarville. I don't know how things are at Matt Deatherage's place, though he did put up a Thursday post, which should be considered a good sign. Also still silent: Dr Jan and Aka Monty; Lynn S. has taken refuge at her son's house. (If you have status reports, feel free to drop them in Comments.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:53 AM to City Scene )
Hell comes to life, sort of

Fire has destroyed a warehouse, and not just any warehouse, either:

Hell came to FANGORIA last Wednesday [5 December] when a massive fire that swept through a warehouse in Oregon, IL destroyed our supply of back issues used to fulfill mail and on-line orders. Also consumed by the flames were copies of STARLOG, STAR TREK and our dozens of past movie tie-in magazines. As a result, we are unfortunately no longer able to process back-issue orders for any of our past titles — so collectors, hold onto the ones you’ve got!

The cause of the fire was distressingly mundane:

The blaze was set off when a forklift driver in the warehouse punctured a gas line close to a space heater, and required over 100 firefighters from 20 different departments to bring it under control. Hampering their efforts was the fact that the building's sprinkler system has been turned off — which fire marshals are currently investigating. Total damages are estimated at $8 million; Fango thanks and salutes the firefighters and other responders who worked to put out the flames.

(From Dread Central via Fark.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 2:39 PM to Dyssynergy )
Joy in Mudville

There was actual sun today, so I ventured into the back yard, a place I'd been avoiding due to my longstanding aversion to mud, to see if anything could be salvaged from the westernmost chaste tree, which looked dreadfully bent over where it wasn't actually broken.

A closer inspection, though, revealed that I'd misread the entire scene: yes, there was bending and such, but no actual breakage. There was something broken, yes, but it was something else entirely: a limb from a tree on the far side of the fence, a tree that belonged to someone on the next street over.

So I got to play treedragger instead of treehugger, which is a lot of work considering the distance between there and the curb.

Payback is a Biatch Dept.: Along the west fence, there's a cottonwood which a mulberry has been attempting to assimilate, Borg-like, by surrounding it with a multitude of trunks. Not being a big fan of either flavor of tree, I decided last year to let the drama play out and see what happens. The cottonwood shrugged off the ice barrage; the mulberry took a major hit, losing roughly a third of its trunkage. "That'll teach you," I said as I dragged yet another mass of ex-tree debris across the lot.

There are still branches here and there to pick up, but they're on the small side, which means that for all intents and purposes, major cleanup here is done — except for getting an inch and a half of red mud off my shoes.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:00 PM to Surlywood )
The ultimate in discouragement

It appears that there's no point in donating to Wendy Shorty-Muhammad's Presidential campaign.

17 December 2007
Strange search-engine queries (98)

About once a week, we drop everything, pick up the referrer logs, invert them, shake two or three times, and anything funny that falls out ends up here.

fudge cannon:  I demand that you shoot me now.

what's going to happen in 2060 weather:  Partly cloudy, high 62, low 39, winds northerly at 5 to 10 mph.

celica temperature gauge rising when your heart is blowing cold:  I had an overheating issue the same week my divorce papers came through. Coincidence? I think not.

dreck industries bergdorf:  No longer an exclusive; you can find dreck at many stores.

ugly women in bikinis photos:  More common than you'd think, or perhaps want.

How can I upgrade my card to the bank of america hello kitty card:  This is your idea of an upgrade?

how to recognize love:  How is it that I'm #2 for this?

Nicole Nason Nude:  Oh, come on now. This is the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fercryingoutloud. You know she's gonna be wearing at least a seatbelt.


i hate my job at jp morgan chase springfield missouri:  If they read this, you may not have it much longer.

why is cereal so expensive:  They're making motor fuel instead of corn flakes. Go figure.

down side of ethanol fuel:  Breakfast costs twice as much.

inventor of the fucking u-boat:  Hey, the Germans are on our side these days. I think.

fish give blowjobs:  I suppose this is taught in the schools.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:04 AM to You Asked For It )
At the heart of it all

Now that we love
Now that the lonely nights are over
How do we make love stay?

Now that we know
The fire can burn bright or merely smolder
How do we keep it from dying away?

Elusive as dreams
Barely remembered in the morning
Love like a phantom flies

But held in the heart
It pales like the empty smile adorning
A statue with sightless eyes

Moments fleet taste sweet within the rapture
When precious flesh is greedily consumed
But mystery's a thing not easily captured
And once deceased not easily exhumed

Now that we love
Now that the lonely nights are over
How do we make love stay?

   —Dan Fogelberg (1951-2007), a master of the language of love. Godspeed, old friend.

Obsolescence, here I come

I went to a well-known office-supply chain (no names mentioned) yesterday in search of the following items:

  • A ribbon for my Brother electric typewriter.

  • A box of #10 envelopes.

  • A box of #6¾ envelopes.

They managed to have none of these once-staple (oops) items. Envelopes approaching #10 in size could be had, but only as part of stationery sets, at prices that would make your nose bleed.

I should have asked the guy for some daguerreotype plates and a box of IBM punch cards while I was at it.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:02 AM to Dyssynergy )
Playing favorites

Ford's SYNC in-car entertainment system, appearing in several 2008 blue-oval vehicles, was developed with Microsoft, and you might think that for this reason alone, it would work fairly well with Microsoft's Zune music player, perhaps less well with Apple's iPod.

Or at least I might think that, and I would be wrong:

Zune: You connect it, it says "Connected" on the screen just as if you hooked it up to a computer. However, it seems when you play a track, it will read it over the USB and play it through the Sync system itself. If you try to fast forward a track through the Sync system, it goes achingly slow. By achingly, I mean seconds at a time. So if you have a long track, it's going to take you a long time just to fast forward a few minutes. I thought this was the norm for the Sync system. Then I bought the iPod and used that.

iPod: You connect it, and the screen actually changes. It shows the Ford logo on the screen of the iPod itself, not just a basic generic message. Then I noticed something else too. It actually will load up your current on-the-go playlist if you left one on the iPod before connecting it. The Zune doesn't support that. Then I tried to fast forward. It was the same exact one as the iPod itself. Fast and you could hear the music in the background. This means unlike the Zune, the Microsoft Sync system actually uses the iPod to play the track, and then just pumps the audio signal through USB. That means it looks like the fast forward command goes straight to the iPod and plays the track on the iPod, unlike the Zune which seems to just go through the Sync system itself.

Costa Tsiokos is also surprised, but not too surprised to offer an explanation of this phenomenon:

Seriously, I'm surprised MS didn't try to leverage this placement to at least make iPod interfacing buggy, in contrast to a smoother experience with a Zune or other media players. I'm guessing Ford pretty much insisted on no funny business, recognizing the iPod's ubiquity with the public, including prospective car-buyers.

For some reason, this reminds me of the time (circa 1988) when Sony built a VHS machine to sell alongside its fading Beta boxes.

Taking another look

As I type, a couple of guys from PNM in Albuquerque are parked out front and are walking the street looking for stray outages and uncleared trees that might contribute to same. (They've brought the big truck, just in case.) The total number of folks in the dark hasn't declined as quickly as we'd like, perhaps, but there's a lot to be said for the knowledge that someone is looking after us.

Last I heard, OG&E was down below the 70,000 mark, meaning that three-quarters of the outages have been restored. Unfortunately, it also means that a quarter of them haven't. At least the weather is less sucky.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:22 PM to City Scene )
Topologically speaking

Tam posts a mental note:

You know the little trick where you take your bra off without taking off your tee shirt? Don't do that again when you're wearing a long-sleeve tee over a short-sleeve tee or you'll wind up in a tangled mess of Escher-esque non-Euclidean geometry.

Just trying to do the calculations should keep me busy for hours on end.

(I should point out that this particular phenomenon, even when unhampered by that extra layer of tee, utterly mystifies me; I'd have better luck trying to unscramble Rubik's infamous cube. Blindfolded. With one hand. In the middle of a blizzard. While being nibbled to death by ducks.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:46 PM to Almost Yogurt )
18 December 2007
What, you worry?

The Fundalini Pages section of Mad (January) offers a number of tips to avoid identity theft, including this one we know well at 42nd and Treadmill:

Always update your Windows operating system with the latest security and firewall fixes from Microsoft. Once installed, they will more than likely prevent you from ever again being able to log on to the internet, where most identity theft occurs.

We're also thinking of trying this upgrade on any Vista machines that come in.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:58 AM to PEBKAC )
Fair to middling

La Shawn Barber throws out the question:

Are you now or have you ever gone through a so-called mid-life crisis?

I have my doubts about the very existence of such things, if only because I question the timing.

And maybe so does La Shawn:

Or: Do you think "mid-life crisis" is a bunch of bunk, simply an excuse to justify doing crazy/wild/weird/immoral things?

Wait a minute. These things need justification?

People do things like that, yes. And sometimes they do things like that at the approximate mid-point of their lives, based on how long they (or we) expect those lives to be. But I think that the idea that there's a syndrome of sorts, something that compels us to act on things we might not have acted on otherwise, simply because we've reached X/2 number of years, is a bit dubious: it's a convenient shorthand, nothing more.

Or look at it this way: if you're too young to be having a mid-life crisis, you're just sowing some wild oats; if you're too old, you're doing the second-childhood thing. Same actions, different label.

And this being La Shawn, after all, it's not like she's doing something wicked: she's merely wondering if her sudden interest in music is a sign of the Dreaded Crisis. "Doesn’t this typically happen to people in their 20s?" she asks. Well, what if it does? Life isn't Logan's Run; there's nothing that says "Okay, you've passed 29, you must put the following things behind you." (Well, there's Paul in 1st Corinthians, but an interest in music doesn't, or at least shouldn't, qualify as childish.)

Besides, I keep a copy of Hanson's "MMMbop" on iTunes up here, just to perplex people half my age. Because, you know, I can.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:02 AM to Almost Yogurt )
By jingo, this might work

Carlos Iconic Patent Pump by Carlos SantanaThe Manolo has recognized Rachel's talent and has bestowed upon her one hundred of the American dollars to spend at heels.com on, one may safely assume, heels. But which heels? I have no idea what strikes her particular fancy, and after looking over the available selections, I decided I'd just pick something I liked, and I'll take the heat for them should she find them unacceptable.

Which explains why you're looking at the Carlos Iconic Patent Pump by Carlos Santana (yes, that Carlos Santana), with an interesting faux-crocodile grain, a squared-off toe with vamp to match, and a towering 4¼-inch heel. This color is called "Azul Purple," and, well, we all know what I think of sort-of-purple shoes; you can also get this shoe in black or silver.

Disclosure: I originally went looking for something a bit more open and strappy, but decided that it would be better if I resisted the temptation to title this "Sandals Pa Ti."

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:19 AM to Rag Trade )
Under the influences

I'm not a music critic, nor do I play one on TV, and it's been months since I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express, but I can't argue with Michele's point here:

Don't give me some standard pretentious claptrap as to why the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street ranks right up there with the discovery of penicillin. Be honest. You love the album because it's what was playing on the stereo when you finally got that goofy looking chick from the record store to make out with you. I can get behind that. That's important. Setting industry standards and enlightening legions of 12 year olds with guitars takes a back seat to flashbacks of banging Mary Anne Brady every time you hear "Tumbling Dice."

Truth be told, I've always been leery of chicks from record stores, even before I saw this. And were I to pick favorite records based purely on teenage quasi-sexual activity, well, my list would be as empty now as my dance card was then.

On the other hand, I don't think you should have to make up some pretentious nonsense about how some song exemplifies contemporary use of the Dorian mode (as does, for example, the Association's "Along Comes Mary"), or how some song, owing to its stirringly-vague lyrics, can evoke two different meanings simultaneously (as does, for example, the Association's "Along Comes Mary"). Some music reaches your head; some music reaches your heart; some music reaches, um, somewhere else entirely.

Besides, Linda Ronstadt pretty much ruined "Tumbling Dice" for me.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 12:53 PM to Tongue and Groove )
She thinks your traction's sexy

It's hard to stifle a giggle at this bit of froth from Her Majesty's Chief Scientific Adviser:

"I was asked at a lecture by a young woman about what she could do and I told her to stop admiring young men in Ferraris," he said.

Sir David [King], who persuaded the Government to start using the Toyota Prius, a hybrid car that claims to have lower emissions than most conventional cars, added: "Government has so many levers that it can pull — when it comes to the business sector it is quite effective.

"As soon as you come to the individual, however, they will buy a Ferrari, not because it is cheap to run or has low carbon dioxide emissions, but because young women think it is sexy to see men driving Ferraris. That is the area where a culture change is needed."

Absolutely. Women should get their own Ferraris. Why should their automotive desires be subjugated to men's?

(Via AutoblogGreen.)

Seat of tranquility

There's no way I can not link to something titled "My ass can be seen from space".

Especially when it's true.


The 261st edition of Carnival of the Vanities has been dubbed "ISP-less" by Andrew Ian Dodge, which explains much about why it was a week later than anticipated. I'd hate to try to come up with anything under those circumstances; I'd sooner try to unfold a tesseract, and we all know how complicated the fourth dimension (or a fourth dimension, anyway) can be.

(Incidentally, a tesseract unfolds into eight cubes, and there are 261 different possibilities.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:17 PM to Blogorrhea )
19 December 2007
Think fast

It should surprise no one that I still remember this scary little incident:

In 1985, a petroleum tanker making a left turn around a narrow corner didn't see me and attempted, quite involuntarily, to prove the law of physics that says that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time; not only did I survive, but I was able to drive away from the carnage with less than a deductible's worth of damage.

Not the easiest thing in the world to forget. Obviously this didn't happen in slow motion; just the same, I remember it unfolding slowly, deliberately, as I perceived the threat, estimated the time of arrival, and planned my response, which, I decided, would not be to throw up my hands in despair and prepare myself for a world with less traffic.

Instead, I tried to point the car, to the extent possible, at the tanker's spare-tire carrier, midway along its underside, with the ridiculous idea that if I hit the big rubber tire, I'd be bounced back just enough to save my miserable hide. Of course, if I sheared off the tire carrier and ripped open the belly of the beast, I wouldn't have to spend any time wondering how I'd failed; I'd be roasted to a crackly crunch.

Now I didn't tell you this to try to impress you with my resourcefulness. For one thing, I don't have as much of it as I'd like. What's more important, at least for the purpose of this narrative, is that while all this happened in a split second, it didn't seem to happen in a split second: time, at least from my point of view, seemed to slow down.

Which supports this premise here, I suppose:

U.S. scientists leapt off a 150-foot (45-meter) high platform in a hair-raising bid to test if time really does slow down in a crisis as film-makers like to show.

The experiment was divided into two parts. First the researchers asked volunteers to show on a stopwatch how long someone else's fall had taken, then how long their own fall took. All the participants believed their own fall had taken some 36 percent longer.

The phenomenon is explained this way:

Researchers believe that during terrifying events a part of the brain called amygdala becomes more active, adding extra memories that accompany those normally dealt with by other parts of the brain.

"In this way, frightening events are associated with richer and denser memories. And the more memory you have of an event, the longer you believe it took. It can seem as though an event has taken an unusually long time, but it doesn't mean your immediate experience of time actually expands. It simply means that when you look back on it you believe it to have taken longer."

Which adds a certain resonance to the way I read Donald Sensing's harrowing story of spinning out on a rainy Tennessee highway. As he says:

Samuel Johnson, one of the leading literary figures of 18th-century England, wrote, "When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

So does spinning out at high speed in the rain on the interstate. It gives your mind a certain focus.

And his report, like mine, ends with a word of thanks pointed toward the heavens, and the knowledge that we would be forever changed by what had happened. The difference is this: he realized it a lot faster than I did.

Partridge, schmartridge

On the first day of Christmas
My true love sent to me
A widget in a sidebar.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:15 AM to Blogorrhea )
Beat the system

And if it's an operating system, the one to beat seems to be Windows XP, used by 70 percent of visitors to this site, if you believe SiteMeter. I usually prefer Analog's stats, but the current version predates Vista, and I wanted to see if anyone was actually using Vista to get here.

And yes, some folks are: 6 percent. This is second among Windows variants, which go all the way back to W95 (0.2 percent). About ten percent use Macs, and the vast majority of them have OS X; various Unices come to a shade under 4 percent.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer is the browser used by 58 percent of visitors, IE 7 slightly more often than 6. Thirty-one percent use Firefox; various other Mozilla flavors add three percent more. Safari has just under six percent; Opera and Konqueror divide up most of what's left. I am somewhat shaken to see IE 5 and Netscape 4 users still showing up, years after I gave up trying to code for them; there's even a couple of holdouts identified as IE 4 somewhere, which I think are mobiles on Windows CE.

(Suggested by Coyote Blog.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:27 AM to PEBKAC )
Can't get much closer than this

Skip Kelly, according to the first count, got 49.9 percent of the vote for Ward 7 Council, which meant a February runoff against second-place John Pettis.

Not gonna happen. Kelly requested a recount, which, inasmuch as the city was still reeling from the ice storm, is probably even more understandable than usual, and around forty uncounted ballots were found around town, mostly in precincts that had no electric power.

After a manual count, Kelly wound up with 1167 of the 2333 votes. (It takes 50 percent — 1166.5 — to avoid a runoff.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:51 AM to City Scene )
IP in your general direction

We're looking for one good nose:

REQUESTED BY: Pablo at Computer Assistant
REPLY TO: XXXX@computerassistant.com
JOB LOCATION: Austin, TX 78741

Client needs a tech onsite to sniff some pockets. Service is needed today before 3 pm.

Keep those hands where we can see them, mister.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 1:09 PM to PEBKAC , Say What? )
A man named Smith

We begin, inexplicably enough, with a recipe for chili:

Get three pounds of chuck, coarse ground. Brown it in an iron kettle. (If you don't have an iron kettle you are not civilized: go out and get one.) Chop two or three medium-sized onions and one bell pepper and add to the browned meat. Crush or mince one or two cloves of garlic and throw into the pot, then add about half a teaspoon of oregano and a quarter teaspoon of cumin seed. (You can get cumin seed in the supermarket nowadays.) Now add two small cans tomato paste; if you prefer canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes, put them through a colander. Add about a quart of water. Salt liberally and grind in some black pepper and, for a starter, two or three tablespoons of chili powder. (Some of us use chile pods, but chili powder is just as good.) Simmer for an hour and a half or longer, then add your beans. Pinto beans are best, but if not available, canned kidney beans will do — two 15-17 oz. cans will be adequate. Simmer another half hour. Throughout the cooking, do some testing from time to time and, as the Gourmet Cookbook puts it, "correct seasoning." When you've got it right, let it set for several hours. Later you may heat it up as much as you want and put the remainder in the refrigerator. It will taste better the second day, still better the third, and absolutely superb the fourth. You can't even begin to imagine the delights in store for you one week later.

From the August 1967 issue of Holiday, this recipe is the cornerstone of a modest article called "Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do," which caused such consternation among Texans that its author was subsequently challenged to the first-ever Chili Cookoff, taking on Austin's famed Wick Fowler and his 2-Alarm Chili, in the heart of the Big Bend country.

This was not my introduction to H. Allen Smith, journalist, humorist and chili expert, who was born 100 years ago today; I'd been reading Smith for a couple of years already. The downtown library in Charleston, as it happens, had just about all of Smith's books, all the way back to Low Man on a Totem Pole, which came out in 1941, and inasmuch as I was going to school downtown and had already discovered the wonders of Mr Dewey's 817 classification, it wasn't long before I happened upon this highly-unusual man with the highly-usual name. And if my sense of comic timing, such as it is, was borrowed from Jack Benny, my early writing style — which, owing to lack of development, eventually became my late writing style — consisted of trying to sound like H. Allen Smith.

I didn't, however, start with Totem Pole. My actual first taste of Smith was the 1961 epic How to Write Without Knowing Nothing, subtitled "A book largely concerned with the use and misuse of language at home and abroad." A few of the items therein referred back to previous Smith lore, and being the sort of person who gets hopelessly bogged down following cross-references — in other words, I was a blogger before blogging was invented — I eventually embraced almost the entirety of Smith's oeuvre, though I'm still looking for his biography of Robert Gair, inventor of the corrugated cardboard box, and Mr. Klein's Kampf, a novel about Hitler's body double, both of which had appeared in 1939.

By this time, of course, Smith had run the gamut of the newspaper game; he'd been the editor of a tiny Florida paper, a staffer at the Tulsa Tribune — he took girlfriend Nelle Mae Simpson to Tulsa with him, and they were married in 1927 — and a rewrite man for United Press. Eventually he drifted into freelance work, doing feature columns and occasional radio bits, while his books paid the bills.

Smith also introduced me to other American humorists I might have missed, by way of 1945's Desert Island Decameron, a title which scared the faculty at my Catholic high school until they discovered that it had nothing whatever to do with Boccaccio. Smith's Decameron was simply a collection of uniquely-American short stories, some by writers I knew (Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker), and some by writers I would get to know (Ben Hecht, Thorne Smith).

Four things you need to know about that chili business:

  • That first cookoff was a draw;
  • Smith got a book out of it (The Great Chili Confrontation, 1969);
  • In said book, he describes going out into the countryside near Alpine, Texas and saying out loud, "I'm gonna build a house right here";
  • Which he did, and that's where he and Nelle lived for the rest of their days together.

H. Allen Smith died in 1976 during a visit to San Francisco. His autobiography, To Hell in a Handbasket, was written in 1962 and therefore misses the later stuff. Fortunately for me, I didn't.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:07 PM to Almost Yogurt )
20 December 2007
In the sub-McMuffin zone

Been there, eaten that:

All the hotel chains now offer a "continental breakfast". I've seen a few, very few, that are actually worth having. Most feature your choice of raisin bran or fruit loops, a basket of brown fruit, envelopes of oatmeal in the flavors that nobody likes, stacks of bread and thawed waffles next to a toaster, and a selection of stale mini-muffins and even more stale mini-danish. All washed down with coffee-colored hot water and watered-down orange or apple juice.

You certainly wouldn't get that sort of thing on the Continent. On World Tour '07 I usually went for a banana and either a slice of toast or a cruller, on the basis that these are hard to screw up. The only really memorable breakfasts I had involved meeting people far away from the hotel grounds: Andrea Harris in Florida, Bigwig in North Carolina, Tamara K. in Tennessee. (I met some other wonderful folks, but not for breakfast.)

The one exception was at my hotel in Shreveport, perhaps because it's illegal to serve boring food in Louisiana unless you're within three miles of an Interstate.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:57 AM to Worth a Fork )
How foreign a transaction?

MasterCard calls them "multilateral interchange fees," and the European Union has ordered the credit-card giant to scrap them.

The fees, generated by cross-border transactions, bring in an estimated €10 billion a year, and, says the EU, customers wind up paying the tab:

The European competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said that consumers effectively ended-up footing the bill, "as they risk paying twice for payment cards: once through annual fees to their bank and a second time through inflated retail prices paid not only by card users but also by customers paying cash".

MasterCard will appeal the ruling, which may next be extended to archrival VISA Europe. This is not, so far as I can tell, related to the class-action suit against VISA, MasterCard and their issuing banks in the States over foreign-transaction fees.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:01 AM to Common Cents )
What's more, it's Big

A Kansas firm called Big Industrial LLC has bought the old Dayton Tire plant on Council Road and will turn it into the Will Rogers Industrial Park.

Bridgestone/Firestone closed the plant last year, citing declining interest in its low-end tire lines. About 1800 jobs were lost.

The facility covers 2.5 million square feet on 310 acres. One possible selling point is the presence of an onsite gas-powered cogeneration plant, which may reduce utility costs for the new tenants, and "tenants" is plural: in recognition of market realities — turning the whole place over to a single firm is unlikely — Big Industrial is prepared to subdivide as needed. The demand is presumably there, though: the local vacancy rate, despite this and other plant closings, is still only about 10 percent. (A group led by Terryl Zerby bought out the old Western Electric/Lucent plant; speculation is rife that Tinker Air Force Base will absorb the former GM Assembly facility.) Proposed lease price is $2.50 per square foot; if fully leased, the new park will earn $6 million a year.

The name change for the plant presumably will not affect the Bridgestone/Firestone grade school being built in the Western Heights school district.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:41 AM to City Scene )
Chillingly non-inclusive

While various folks get their BVDs knotted over the presence of Christmas trees and other malign contrivances of the season, we're overlooking the real villains here: the people who write the damn songs you can't escape.

Herewith, Exhibit A.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 12:32 PM to Dyssynergy )
Fee, fi, faux, f---!

According to the Humane Society of the United States, some of the fake fur you might find at retail isn't fake at all:

Certain jackets ... with the brand names Burberry, Andrew Marc, Marc New York, Preston & York, Aqua, Ramosport and Adam+Eve were found to be falsely advertised or mislabeled as faux fur or "ecological" fur when in fact they are trimmed with real animal fur.

These brands generally are beyond my budget — usually my choices are between a real poncho and a Sears poncho — but I'm pretty sure that anything fuzzy I own is proudly synthetic. Now leather, that's another matter.

(Via the Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 1:38 PM to Rag Trade )
We'll have none o' those things

The Tire Rack has been after me to write a review of the last set of tires I bought from them, and last weekend I did so. Now normally I'm not one to complain about a spate of editing, even when it's inflicted on me, but when it's purely mechanical, it grates a bit.

Here's the entire suite of reviews for this tire, and there's not an apostrophe to be seen in the bunch: evidently the Web form they use strips this character somewhere in the import process. I realize that this character can introduce problems, but this seems like excessively-strict sanitation to me, especially since the double-quote character seems to work correctly.

I did like the tires, though.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 4:14 PM to PEBKAC )
Rejoicing at the 41st hour

About three years ago, the Bush administration adopted changes in the rules governing overtime pay, changes that were reviled by Democrats and which turned out to affect me not in the slightest. [Link goes to PDF file.]

This proposal, however, would actually put a few bucks in my pocket:

Congresswoman Mary Fallin [R-OK] has introduced legislation that would exclude overtime pay from gross income, making it exempt from the federal income tax. The bill immediately attracted several cosponsors and has been endorsed by Americans for Tax Reform.

The ATR endorsement says [link goes to PDF file]:

Taxes in general discourage economic activity. Taxing overtime wages sends a signal to hardworking Americans that no matter the extra hours they put in, the government will continue taking a share of their earnings.

In a time of uncertain economic conditions, encouraging productivity is a positive step for Congress to take.

Actually, had I my druthers, I'd just as soon the government taxed the overtime and let me off the hook for the regular hours, but that seems even less likely to become reality than Fallin's bill does. The opposition, I presume, will have to fall back on the "loss of revenue" argument, inasmuch as those Horrible Rich Folks who are always getting tax breaks wouldn't be getting anything out of this one.

21 December 2007
Quote of the week

Jesse Walker reports from the campaign trail for Reason:

Tom Tancredo has dropped out of the presidential race. He will be replaced by Montezuma Aztlán Calderón, an undocumented worker from Oaxaca who will denounce the Brown Peril for just $3 an hour plus room and board.

Yeah, but how is he on punching hippies?

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:57 AM to QOTW )
The voice of experience is heard

My Usenet reader of choice for over ten years has been Forté Agent. One of its less-enthralling options is to pop you over to the What's New page every so often, to let you know if there's a new build out there, or if there are other changes in the works.

This month they have a new item in the FAQ, and it goes like this:

Only runs once when installed in Vista
This is probably caused by running Agent from the installer when you installed Agent. This is not your fault, the option is there. However, Vista is stupid. It assumes that any and all actions taken from the installer is part of the installation process, which is a protected process, and will not allow those same actions to be taken from a non-administrator account later. Since Agent was initially launched from the installer, Vista is assuming that action is part of the installation process. By uninstalling Agent and re-installing without that option set, the installer finishes before you run Agent and it's therefore not seen as an installation process, but a regular process.

I suspect that this advice could apply to almost anything being installed under Vista: when the installer finishes with "Start [name of software product] now?" you should probably tell it No on general principle.

(Mac guys: What's a good Usenet client for OS X? I may need to know this some day.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:18 AM to PEBKAC )
OG&E says they're done

They projected "7 to 10 days," and it took 10:

"We will not stop until every last customer's lights are on," said OG&E spokesman Brian Alford. "It was 10 days ago when we said we expected a seven- to 10-day restoration. This storm affected 300,000 customers, the largest outage in OG&E's 105-year history. We congratulate everyone who has worked so hard to restore the OG&E electric system. They did it safely, with zero accidents. We also thank our customers for their patience and understanding."

SystemWatch is reporting just under 3000 outages, presumably those individuals whose electrical hardware was damaged by the storm and who must repair it before service can be reconnected. Most of them are on Oklahoma City's south side; the city has set up a hotline to report damaged meter bases which will be open through today and which will arrange for repairs largely on FEMA's tab. (The $500 repair will be paid for, $350 by FEMA, the rest split between the city and the state; OG&E will furnish hardware.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:44 AM to Soonerland )
I like odd songs and I cannot lie

The iTunes installation on my work box contains 2,388 songs. There exists, of course, the question of how truly "random" a random shuffle really is, especially since the iTunes application contains a slider to change the perceived randomness. ("Random" is set at the midpoint; at the ends, "hearing sequential songs by the same artist or from the same album" are "more likely" or "less likely.") I have the slider set to one-quarter above "less likely."

None of this prepared me for this juxtaposition today: Richard Cheese's lounge-lizard take on "Baby Got Back," followed immediately by the Showmen's "39-21-46." I have to assume it's not exactly a 2387-to-1 shot — for one thing, there are two other versions of "Baby Got Back" on the premises, Sir Mix-A-Lot's original and a Jonathan Coulter cover — but still, this seems odd. Then again, earlier today the box played "Past, Present and Future" followed by "Dead Man's Curve."

Permalink to this item ( posted at 1:55 PM to Fileophile )
Thou shalt not stint on speed rating

This is apparently what happens when you do:

[A] brief inspection at the foreign car joint down the road ... revealed that the right rear Conti had developed a huge blister on the inner sidewall. The mechanic suggested that the local NTB near Northgate Mall (Store #662, 5327 Hwy. 153) would be the nearest tire joint likely to have a 245/40-17 in stock. So we limped the Zed Three over there, I walked up to the counter, inquired as to the availability of said size of tire and immediately got the "Just A Girl" treatment.

"I have Michelin Pilot Sports and these Falken run-flats..."

"Um, that's all you have in stock? I see more than that on your screen... You've got Michelin Pilot Sport A/S's, I liked tho..."

"Ma'am, I can't put those on your car on account of the speed rating."

"You what? Listen, I..."

I was ready to work myself into a fairly spectacular rage. This thimble-headed gherkin was going to try and feed me some song and dance about how he had some imaginary law or store policy that would force him to sell the little lady the more expensive tire, and if he thought I was going to stand for it....

I suspect most of the stores have exactly this policy enforced by their gherkins, and given the litigious nature of both of John Edwards' Americas, I can't say I'm surprised.

On the other hand, I may have created a problem for myself. Gwendolyn eased out of Oppama with H-rated rubber, nominally good for 130 mph, which makes sense for a car which can't exceed 130 mph unless you push it off the frigging Sears Tower. This year, seeing an opportunity, I bought her some V-rated tires, which are supposed to hold up to around 149 mph, not because I expect to be doing any extensive high-speed trials, but because they might have just a little extra margin of heat resistance during my summer road trips.

But suppose I have some massive tire failure on the road somewhere. Is some lugnut jockey going to go unbalanced on me because my spare is an H, or because all they have are V- or (gasp) Z-rated tires? It's not entirely theoretical a question: on a run from here to Los Angeles about twenty years ago, I lost both Dymphna's right rear tire and spare, 150 miles apart, in deepest New Mexico, and had to be towed into Albuquerque to find 185-70R13s with an H rating, which were a lot more common then than 215-55R16s of any specification are now.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:18 PM to Driver's Seat )
Approved by Jumpin' Jack Flash

Gas Neutralizers by Subtle Butt:

Order here. And please hurry.

22 December 2007
Darkness looms

Chickasha's Festival of Lights draws lots of visitors — 300,000 a year — but there's a chance that this year could be the last:

"[The festival] is in a very delicate state right now and could easily be lost next year due to the adversity we have faced this year," said spokesperson Kristi Davis: "The embezzlement, the losses and added expenses due to the flood, and now the loss of approximately 500,000 to 1 million lights."

The defalcation was engineered by former Festival treasurer Angie Jeffries, who apparently had diverted about $18,000; she entered a guilty plea in September.

Most of Oklahoma got too much rain this year, and Chickasha was no exception: extensive flooding damaged equipment used for the Festival, and a lot of what was left was finished off by the recent ice storm.

Kristi Davis says that they'll try to raise money from the community, and that they'd prefer to do that than to take on corporate sponsors:

"If we aren't able to get ample funding through that method, we'll go to a corporate sponsor," Davis said, "although we want to keep it Chickasha's Festival of Light rather than 'Big Corporation's' Festival of Light in Chickasha."

Meanwhile in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the Lights of the Ozarks could be in jeopardy. Says the Northwest Arkansas Times:

Fayetteville's budget crunch has once again raised the question of whether the Lights of the Ozarks will continue.

This is not the first time that city officials have talked of ending the program, but it is the first time the proposed budget hasn't included funding for the program, which started in the early 1990s. The $29,000 line item has been eliminated from the city's Capital Improvement Program for 2008 as a means of balancing the budget.

I admit to not attending either of these displays this year. Perhaps I should have — especially if it won't be an option in the future.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:31 AM to Soonerland )
Heads together

In this Wired interchange between David Byrne (Talking Heads) and Thom Yorke (Radiohead), the two Heads agreed on one thing: actually selling CDs isn't what keeps them going. Ben Worthen writes for wsj.com:

One takeaway with broader implications for any business: Yorke and Byrne say that with the rise of the Internet and digital distribution of their products — i.e. the music they make — aren't what make them money, anymore. Instead they use the music as a marketing tool and make money through licensing deals, concerts and the like.

Incidentally, Yorke addresses the issue of the name-your-own price release head on: "In terms of digital income, we've made more money out of this record than out of all the other Radiohead albums put together, forever — in terms of anything on the Net," he says.

Jeff Brokaw draws the conclusion that's obvious to anyone not running a record company:

So the record companies spent how much money, and prosecuted how many people, trying to protect content best used as a marketing tool?



Lord of the trucks

Big Diesel God

This Chevyesque face belongs to a Chinese pickup truck: Da Chai Shen, manufactured by Dandong Shuguang, a subsidiary of the Liaoning SG Automotive Group. Its name means something like "Big Diesel God," and it should come Stateside for that reason alone.

Actually, the diesel is not so big: the base engine is Toyota's 2.2-liter AD-series inline four, and the alternative is a gas-powered 3.2-liter mill from China's First Automobile Works, based on a Mitsubishi design. Nor is the option list very big: you get a 5-speed stick and rear-wheel drive, period. In the States, it wouldn't be priced anywhere near the $8100 it sells for in China — there's that whole exchange-rate business, plus the long-standing 25-percent tariff on imported trucks, plus whatever tweaks have to be made to meet US regulations — but with the four-cylinder pickup now an endangered species in this country, I suspect that a case can be made for importing the Big Diesel God, especially if they keep the name. Expect a few Rams to be sacrificed if they do.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:41 AM to Driver's Seat )
Well, it's seasonal, anyway

As requested by Bareheaded in Biloxi:

  1. Wrapping or gift bags?
    No preference, really, although I have noticed that the people who do wrap for me do a bang-up job of it, preserving this presumably-lost art.

  2. Real or artificial tree?
    My current tree is a genuine fake, but it looks vaguely real if you don't look too closely.

  3. When do you put up the tree?
    First weekend in December.

  4. When do you take the tree down?
    26th of December at 12:01 am.

  5. Do you like eggnog?
    Not particularly.

  6. Favorite gift received as a child?
    Hard to say. There weren't that many, but pretty much everything I got, even a pair of socks, was appreciated — because there were times when we were lucky to get that.

  7. Do you have a nativity scene?
    No. I think I was ruined on these by the parental units scolding me for not closing the door properly: "Jesus! Were you born in a barn or something?"

  8. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
    Not applicable. See #6.

  9. Mail or e-mail Christmas cards?
    No preference: it's the thought that counts, not whether you spent 41 cents on postage. (Although I did appreciate the photo of Jay and Deb's brood.)

  10. Favorite Christmas movie?
    Miracle on 34th Street.

  11. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
    About three minutes after the tree goes up (see #3).

  12. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
    I'm okay with just about anything, actually. Regular reader and old friend wamprat sends over the World's Finest Fruitcake this time of year: that's not a slogan, that's an assessment of quality.

  13. Clear lights or colored on the tree?
    This year it's clear; last year it was colored. Next year, who knows?

  14. Favorite Christmas song?
    I'm going with "Silent Night," simply because I like the idea of peacefulness, especially given the nasty, frenetic winters we've had here. (It's snowing as I type.)

  15. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
    I'm at an age now where I'd just as soon stay home, and should anyone come to visit, well, that's just dandy.

  16. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?
    Including Bruce and Marvin, too.

  17. Angel on the tree top or a star?
    Having once precipitated a crisis with an angel and a mischievous elf on a corporate tree, I stick to stars.

  18. Open the presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning?
    I wait until the morning.

  19. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
    "This time of year" now begins around the 26th of October.

  20. Do you decorate your tree in any specific theme or color?
    No specific theme; it's whatever I can find from last year plus any new stuff.

  21. What do you leave for Santa?
    Coca-Cola and polar-bear repellent.

  22. Least favorite holiday song?
    José Feliciano's "Felix Navidad," not because of any intrinsic faults but because it's so horribly overplayed.

  23. Favorite ornament?
    The one I get next year.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have to go hang up a pair of these and see if Santa will fill them up with something suitable.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 2:00 PM to Screaming Memes )

Right before Christmas, logically enough, we have a Pre-Noel Edition of Carnival of the Vanities, and I'd best get up a link for it before Christmas actually gets here. Contrary to what certain animated rodents might claim, Christmas comes up rather quickly, in the manner of the old Messerschmidt Schwalbe, aka Me 262.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:13 PM to Blogorrhea )
These days totally rule

Or do they? Herewith, the legend of Ruling Days:

The core idea behind Ruling Days is that certain days are predictors for weather for the upcoming year. More specifically, those days coincide with what others would call Kingdomtide or The Twelve Days of Christmas.

According to the legend of Ruling Days, the weather on December 25th will be the predominant weather for the upcoming January. The weather on December 26th will indicate what kind of weather you will have in February. December 27th will forecast the weather for March. And, on it goes, until you get to the forecaster of the next December, which falls on Epiphany, aka January 6.

This legend holds some sway in Appalachia, not so much here, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to check its papers down here on the Plains.

25 December 2006: high 45, low 30, stiff north wind.
>> January 2007: temperatures near normal, windier than usual.

26 December 2006: high 51, low 23, light west wind.
>> February 2007: temperatures near normal, not much rain, a bit of snow.

27 December 2006: high 62, low 31, light south wind.
>> March 2007: warmer than normal, rainy.

28 December 2006: high 60, low 47, cloudy with sprinkles.
>> April 2007: cooler and drier than normal.

29 December 2006: high 60, low 55, overcast, rainy.
>> May 2007: on the warm side, lots and lots of rain.

30 December 2006: high 58, low 38, cloudy, more rain.
>> June 2007: not quite so warm, even more rain.

31 December 2006: high 43, low 33, overcast, rain mixed with snow.
>> July 2007: temperatures closer to normal, still a lot of rain.

1 January 2007: high 49, low 28, clearing, light winds.
>> August 2007: warmer, drier.

Winter proved to be a mixed bag, but late spring and early summer, they called perfectly.

Based on the current forecast, I conclude that February is going to be fairly crummy. And worse, there's more of it than usual.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:33 PM to Weather or Not )
23 December 2007
The Braniff may be grounded

Back in 2005, Kerr-McGee was prepared to sell off three buildings adjacent to its Robert S. Kerr Avenue headquarters to developers, one of which was the old Braniff Building at 324 North Robinson. At the time, I issued plaudits for the plan.

But Kerr-McGee is gone — absorbed into Anadarko Petroleum, which, despite its name, is headquartered in Houston — and SandRidge Energy, which now owns the real estate, may have different ideas:

The buildings could end up being torn down. Tom Ward, chief executive officer of SandRidge, also says he is keeping an open mind on whether the properties can be redeveloped and promises to meet with civic leaders and preservationists before making any final decision.

But Ward is clear on one matter: he's not interested in seeing half of the downtown block looking dark and abandoned as it has the past 20 years.

The Braniff is probably the easiest of the three to redo: it's ten stories, but not especially huge, and Anthony McDermid, who put forth the original plan for restoring the Braniff, still thinks it can be done:

There is no question that the two buildings on Robinson are structurally sound and eminently restorable ... there are creative ways to address the issues.

The other building on Robinson is technically 135 Robert S. Kerr, which is about the same height as the Braniff, almost the same age, but twice as large.

The third structure presents more issues. The former India Temple at 101 Robert S. Kerr, built in 1902, would almost certainly be worth saving for its historical value — after the Shrine relocated, the renamed Wright Building would serve as temporary home of the state legislature until the Capitol was completed — but there's an entire façade to remove, and if McDermid shies away from the place, there must be some serious problems indeed.

My current thinking: McDermid will indeed get a crack at the Braniff; the India Temple will sit for a while longer; 135 will be sold off and/or torn down.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:59 AM to City Scene )
They've come for your bulbs

Compact fluorescent bulbBrian J. Noggle, noting recent regulatory history pitched as environmental concern — nothing new about that, right? — makes this point over at Tam's place:

Toilet tanks and shower heads are the plumber's problems.
A/C is the HVAC guy's problem.
Catalytic converters are the mechanic's problem.

Now, suddenly, the government is impeding a task that the common man can do, and something that the normal citizen pays for regularly. Now, in essence, they have come for the me.

Does this presage rebellion? I don't know. But given the typical shape of a compact fluorescent, I think it's a safe bet that we're going to see some "Take This Bulb And Shove It" shirts between now and the End of the Filament.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:30 AM to Family Joules )
Overthrown in Mayfair

They finally got around to scraping away the old Mayfair Market at 50th and May, which closed in the spring; it will be replaced by a new CVS store. As is de rigueur these days, the new store will be opposite a Walgreen's; CVS apparently felt it couldn't compete at its old location, a whole two hundred yards away.

Still unanswered is my original question: "Is it too much to hope that the CVS store being shoehorned onto this lot actually ends up looking like it belongs there?"

Permalink to this item ( posted at 2:40 PM to City Scene )
All of their thoughts are misgiven

Because nothing is more important to high-school students than their parents' icons: a "Stairway to Heaven" prom theme.

Sheesh. Call me when they get around to "Smells Like Teen Spirit." At this rate, it should be about 2028.

(Via Pop Culture Junk Mail.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:13 PM to Say What? )
Stuck on stupid

Yeah, this ought to work just fine:

Before making his ruling Tuesday, [US Magistrate Judge James] Marschewski granted requests by all three defendants to dismiss their attorneys and to allow them to represent themselves. The three attorneys had filed requests to withdraw because either their clients did not want representation or because they would not cooperate in the preparation of their defense.

Note to defendants: when your own counsel wants out, you're in deep kimchi.

And it gets deeper:

[Timothy Shawn] Donavan, representing himself, told Marschewski that he and the U. S. government were an artificial entity and that the magistrate had no authority over Donavan because he was not an artificial entity.

"You have no power over me," Donavan told Marschewski. "I am a living, breathing, free man of the Earth."

"Go away before someone drops a house on you!"

[Sharon Jeannette] Henningsen told Marschewski on Tuesday that he and the government owed the three defendants $5 billion for defaulting on a promissory note they signed last month and which they claimed satisfied their bail bond and the criminal case against them. "The law recognizes promissory notes and greenbacks as legal tender," she said.

The note, included in a batch of papers filed with Marschewski, said the government had three days from receipt of the note to drop the case against them or be liable for the value of the note.

I am not a lawyer, but I believe this to be the procedural equivalent of "A sphincter says what?"

And it just keeps on getting better:

Another document, entitled "Schedule D: Default confessions, stipulations and admissions," said the United States was a corporate body politic without geographic borders.

That paper also said the defendants were foreign to the United States and that any legal action against them by the government was the equivalent of enslaving them.

Which suggests a solution: how about parachuting the three of them into the middle of the Gaza Strip? If finances are tight, they could skip the parachutes.

Rita says this proves her rule:

Reading a lawbook does not qualify one to be a lawyer any more than reading the Bible qualifies one to be the Pope.

Someone want to tell this guy?

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:52 PM to Wastes of Oxygen )
24 December 2007
Strange search-engine queries (99)

'Twas the day before Christmas, and all through the log
Were these weird-ass requests through which I had to slog.

palindrome hyundai logo:  Yep, a backwards H still looks like an H.

democrats are doomed:  Hardly. Some of them are damned, though.

naked women sunbathing pantsless and bikini:  It seems to me that if they're naked, they're pantsless by definition. (Also bikiniless, I think we can assume.)

FICO scoring system a sham:  Got turned down for that MasterCard, did you?

"amelia earhart luggage":  It's a real brand, but you'll spend a lot of time looking for them.

jello biafra huckabee subliminal:  "I've heard the Dead Kennedys. And you, Governor Huckabee, are no Dead Kennedy."

replaced radiator now transmission won't work:  Forget to connect the transmission-cooler lines, did you?

"BELVEDERE VODKA" Providing slutty Italian girls:  If you can afford that much for vodka, you can afford to get your own slutty girls.

how big is dan aykroyd's penis?  Monstrously huge. (I'm taking the liberty of bullshitting you.)

what can you put on a dick to make it taste better:  New Shimmer. It's a floor wax and a dessert topping.

How much salt to put on the driveway?  That depends. How does it taste?

weird things to do when you're in a bored state of mind:  You're soaking in it.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:35 AM to You Asked For It )
The ghost is clear

After seeing the poster at Guanabee, I chased down the trailer for Over Her Dead Body (you can see it here), and I swear, it's a thinly-disguised rewrite of Blithe Spirit, with Eva Longoria filling the Elvira Condomine slot.

I suppose highly-diluted Noel Coward is better than no Noel Coward at all, but there's something a tad disquieting about this whole project. Maybe I'll wait a while and watch the DVD on one of those newfangled Ectoplasma TVs they're always talking about these days.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:12 AM to Almost Yogurt )
A tale of two trees

Two trees

My old elm tree, I think, will come out of this just fine, despite having about twenty percent of its volume reduced by the storm — or perhaps because of it, since the weaker limbs, as you might expect, were the first to fall. The tree behind it is something less of a success story, though it looks better now than it did two weeks ago, now that all (or anyway, most of) the dead stuff has been cleared away; I figure a one-in-three chance of coming back in the spring. The big stack of stuff in between contains wood from both. (Substantial embiggening can be observed here.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:25 AM to Surlywood )
The sounds of silence

Gwendolyn's manual devotes more than eleven pages to something called the "Infiniti Communicator," which appears to be a response to General Motors' famed OnStar service. The system, which I don't actually have, combines GPS, a cell phone, and a "response center." And apparently it was a colossal flop [link goes to Microsoft Word document]:

Partnering with Motorola, AT&T Wireless and ATX Technologies, Infiniti Communicator was offered in 1999 and 2000 on certain U.S. models. The system offered wireless communication, 24-hour emergency service, airbag deployment detection in case of an accident and remote unlocking capabilities. Because of the similarity in features offered, it was touted as the only real competition to OnStar.

The system looked great on paper, but actually was ill conceived based on a business model that did not justify itself. The agreement to have nationwide roaming analog airtime was not only a huge task to undertake but also was extremely expensive. The plan concentrated on the revenue generation and not the long-term effects. Essentially, the companies felt that as more consumers signed up for the service, the more revenue the companies will earn. Beyond that, nothing else was considered. But what all failed to realize was that as more customers signed on, more infrastructure and support for the customers were needed.

Secondly, there was no planning or support at the dealer level. When questioned about the service most dealers were ill informed and in some cases didn’t know the service was offered. This in turn led potential customers to feel that if the dealer body couldn’t give the specifics about the service, they would not get service when an emergency occurred. This caused the public to question the dealer body, asking why should they purchase a system and service that offers the same basic services as their cell phones. Another point was that the dealer body did not know how to market the service. Nor could the dealer service the product, which in turn hindered the selling of the product. Another instance is in the cost of the service, which initially was $1000 for the hardware only. It was later cut in half to $500. Due to the ill informed dealer network and cost, only approximately 5% of buyers of 1999 and 2000 model Q45 and I30 purchased the system.

The complete package, including four years of service (matching the factory four-year warranty), was offered at $1599. And it was apparently well-integrated into the vehicle: the implementation included a hands-free microphone mounted on the ceiling, a "Mayday" emergency call button, and send/end and volume controls mounted on the steering wheel.

When I read about it in the manual last year, I contemplated for about thirty seconds the possibility of retrofitting the hardware, but decided against it. And it's probably just as well, since the cell-phone aspect of it will be dead shortly anyway:

The network that launched the U.S. wireless industry with brick-sized — and brick-heavy — cell phones 24 years ago will switch off in most of the country next year, leaving a surprising number of users in the lurch.

Older OnStar systems for cars, home alarms and up to a million cell phones will lose service starting in February under a 2002 federal decision that allows carriers to switch the spectrum over from analog to digital technologies, which would use it more efficiently.

Oh, well. I just put this out there in case there's someone with a turn-of-the-century Infiniti with an inexplicable NO SERVICE warning light on the dash.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 1:22 PM to Driver's Seat )
Paparazzi in the crazzi

Actually, I don't care one way or another about what happened here, but I do love this title: Britney Spears and Photographer Suspected of Making Quick F-Stop At Beverly Hills Hotel.


Permalink to this item ( posted at 4:03 PM to Blogorrhea )
Casting one's bread upon the waters

It's traditional to come up with something heartwarming for the holidays, and, well, you know how well that works around here, racked with cynicism as this place generally is.

Not this time, folks:

Occasionally churches get it right — they do something so significant that it makes you stand back in awe and amazement. And as a critic of the way most churches operate — as self-serving institutions, the event that occurred at my church did just that.

"Give Back Sunday" could have been a cheesy superficial marketing tool — allowing the congregation to take a little money out of the offering plate instead of giving money to the church. Whoopee. I get to take a buck and buy someone a cup of coffee — but oh wait, I can't even do that with a dollar. I can get someone a stick of gum ... maybe. What can I get someone for a dollar?

Anyway, everyone was invited to participate in taking an unmarked envelope out of the offering plate. There was a sense of palpable skepticism, as well as anticipation, in the congregation before we opened the envelopes. When we finally peeked inside, a stunned silence filled the pews. Wow. $20, $50 and $100 bills were in the envelopes — a total of over $13,500, with the instruction that we could not spend it on ourselves. We were told to bless someone this week because you have been richly blessed.

Here are some of the blessings that were spread around.

The cynic might say, "Must be nice, if the church has thirteen grand to spread around like that with no guarantees." But faith never has any guarantees, at least of the sort covered by Federal legislation. Nor is faith a slot machine, where you hope to get the right combination for a payoff.

This church easily could have committed these funds to Yet Another Outreach Program. Instead, they chose to trust the congregation to pay it forward, and so they did. Now that's faith. In action, even.

25 December 2007
A crappy little Christmas

Bag O'Crap

I'm having one. Ain't life grand?

(Should this prove unduly mystifying, an explanation awaits. I will point out only that 4,500 of these were sold in seventy-five seconds.)

Sixty-minute man

Rosemary asks "Who Would You Do?"

If you could have dirty, guilt-free sex with anyone (real or fictional)? No morality police, please. You get 1 hour with anyone your heart desires, no diseases, no pregnancy, fictional characters are real and for that 1 hour it's not cheating on your spouse (if married).

It is a measure of something, I suppose, that my first reaction to this was "Oh, great, another forty-five minutes to kill."

As for "anyone my heart desires," well, I consider the heart to be the second least-trustworthy organ.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:28 AM to Table for One )
Another wall to break down

I did enough time at the phone company to know the litany: business services are priced high so as to subsidize residential services and keep those prices low. This might have even made sense in, oh, 1980 or so. Not anymore:

It's critical to get rid of prices that discriminate against businesses. Far as I know, all phone and cable companies in the U.S. still charge through the nose for "business" service that is hardly any different than home service. For example, Verizon's FiOS (fiber) for Business prices are far higher than for their ordinary consumer service. To the company's credit, it's beginning to offer symmetrical service for both consumers and businesses. But the consumer/business distinction needs to go away. The sum of production coming out of homes will make the "consumer" label an archaic misnomer.

Be it noted that I have a lot more bandwidth at Surlywood than at 42nd and Treadmill — downstream, anyway. (My uploads are capped at 600 kb, and I mean 599.9; the T1 line at work is 1.5 mb in either direction.)

Eventually, I suppose, you're going to have to deal with both a line company and a bandwidth company: transport and traffic will be two separate services. But I don't expect the dinosaurs to become extinct overnight.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 12:11 PM to Common Cents )
Oh, that Leif Erickson

You think the idea of the Oklahoma City Sonics would be an assault on all that is sacred in sports? Try on the Los Angeles Vikings for size:

Our tipster heard from a source in Sacramento that [Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum] Commission President Bernard Parks was at a Holiday Party and was overheard bragging that he and his colleagues have been talking to an NFL developer — not the league or any owners directly — about trying to lure the Minnesota Vikings to the L.A. Coliseum. These talks have been going on for at least three months, including meetings since USC's threat to move to the Rose Bowl went public, and that the entire Commission, not just Parks, had been involved to some degree with the talks.

Normally I'd pay no attention to this sort of thing, except that:

[I]n Minnesota ... the Vikings were recently told by State Officials not to expect any action on getting a new stadium in the next year.

The Vikings are supposed to play in the Metrodome through 2011.

This wouldn't be the first time a team moved from the Twin Cities to the Big Orange. (You didn't think L.A. was known for its lakes, did you? No, not Toluca Lake. Sheesh.) And it cannot be overemphasized that no one is planning such a move at this time, or at least admits to be planning such a move at this time.

Still, you have to wonder.

(Via Boi from Troy.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:18 PM to Dyssynergy )
Exposition sous forme de blog

New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art evidently knows me better than I thought:

More than any other art form, fashion is an immediate expression of our Zeitgeist. While painting and sculpture can seem removed from our understanding, fashion is so familiar, so ubiquitous to our experience, that it is tangible, accessible, and open to a wide range of interpretations. Individuals who might avoid publicly commenting on a canvas by Picasso or a bronze by Brancusi readily disclose their thoughts about a gown by Galliano or a mule by Blahnik. Unlike its haughty siblings, fashion — even in its most extreme and avant-garde expression — does not estrange us from the belief in the essential aptness of our judgment.

This is the opening of the first entry to blog.mode: addressing fashion, an online exhibition by the Museum of fashions contemporary and otherwise, actively soliciting reader comments. (The site is set up as a WordPress blog.) One piece will be featured each day. My favorite so far (there are thumbnails of the items to come, but no text as yet) is this silk crepe dress, resplendently red, by Yohji Yamamoto, with a pair of curious curlicues above the bodice, a structure which, says the blog author, "recalls sea anemones in retraction or coral formations." As abstractions go, they're almost, I dare say, Brancusi-like.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:02 PM to Blogorrhea , Rag Trade )
26 December 2007
Woot hog or die

This thread showed up on Woot:

Is there an easy way to figure out what I've spent in woots?

I think it would be an interesting number for me. Any idea who has spent the most? If you can't divulge that info, how about what the most spent has been?

I am quite certain I am not the one who has spent the most, inasmuch as I have purchased only 41 woots (albeit some in quantities up to three); a couple of years ago, Woot reported that someone had bought 338 items and someone else had spent $16,286.

Just the same, I sat down with a spreadsheet, and eventually came to the truth of the matter: in one year, and not including shipping (41 x 5 = $205), I've managed to spend $1,289.59. Six dollars of that went for Bags O' Crap.

Damn, but that's a lot of wootage. I should point out here that at least $250 of this was spent on stuff for other people, for which I was subsequently reimbursed.

Addendum: I bought one of their damn calendars, so add another 87 cents.

Approved by Phil Fonebone

Mr Claus undoubtedly is complaining of hernia today, and this delightful little stocking-stuffer (if you borrow your socks from the Incredible Hulk) probably added to his misery. It's simply every cartoon Don Martin drew for Mad magazine for thirty years, twelve hundred pages hardbound. Just picking this thing up to unwrap it caused me to give out with a SHPLIPLE DROOT GLORT.

(I am indeed blessed.)

Splogs illustrated

In recent weeks, as much as half of the linkage accorded to me on Technorati has come from scraper sites, a subset of spam blogs ("splogs") which are explained thusly:

The purpose of a splog can be to increase the PageRank or backlink portfolio of affiliate websites, to artificially inflate paid ad impressions from visitors, and/or use the blog as a link outlet to get new sites indexed. Spam blogs are usually a type of scraper site, where content is often either Inauthentic Text or merely stolen (see blog scraping) from other websites. These blogs usually contain a high number of links to sites associated with the splog creator which are often disreputable or otherwise useless websites.

One which perplexed me greatly was Treadmill Reviews and Information, a subdomain under, of all things, a John from Cincinnati message board. The operator basically scrapes everything that mentions the word "treadmill" — including this recent post of mine, which uses the usual "42nd and Treadmill" shorthand to describe my workplace. Obviously it has nothing whatever to do with treadmills, but the splog is just jam-packed with the Google AdSense links you might expect.

Of course, I'm putting this up to see if it gets scraped — which is why I put all the derogatory definitional stuff in the first couple of paragraphs.

Please present Y chromosome for estimate

I've already linked to this post of Tam's, but this time, instead of purely tire-oriented material (such as this), I'm going to bring up what she calls the "Just a Girl" treatment.

If you're female and you drive, you already know about this; us guys, maybe not so much. There isn't much research on the topic, and what there is [link goes to PDF file] isn't exactly conclusive, and yes, it is true, several anecdotes do not necessarily constitute data, but there seem to exist at least some situations in which, all else being equal, the mechanic is going to assume that a female customer isn't going to know any better and will start padding the tab and/or bringing on the verbal condescension.

Og's mom might have gotten some of this:

[A]gainst my better wishes, she took it to a dealer for an estimate.

The estimate involved a new oil pan (it was totally destroyed, according to the written) and gasket ($1400, parts and labor) and a new pair of upper and lower ball joints (desperately needed, please do not drive the vehicle under any circumstances).

First note: this is a Ford Taurus. Struts up front. No upper ball joints. Og looks at the lowers, and they look fine.

So about that oil pan:

The gasket has just worked its way out. So I loosen the pan bolts, let it sag a bit, push the gasket back into place, and re-tighten the bolts.

Total time spent: fifteen minutes, including the de rigueur oil change. (Easier to work on the oil pan if it isn't full.) Total expense: $19.

And finally:

I'm sending a copy of the estimate and the pictures to Ford Corporate to let them know how their shops are treating old women.

I have no idea if the younger ones are being treated any better, but I have no real reason to think so.

(Disclosure: During my last few months as a Mazda guy, I got to deal with a female service manager. While she always played straight with me, I have no idea how she might have treated other customers, male or female, though I have no reason to suspect she might have been up to something shabby.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:13 PM to Driver's Seat )
Gary England banished!

Way back in the spring, I made some noise about OPUBCO buying out KWTV's share of NewsOK.com, and said something to the effect that the new News 9 site would be launched "next year" — that is, in 2008.

Well, 2008 is only a week away, and while kwtv.com still forwards to NewsOK, NewsOK has replaced the weather section, which was a KWTV production, with stuff from AccuWeather. There's a nicely-disingenuous video to explain the changes without, you know, really explaining them.

There is still a fair amount of KWTV material on site, but I expect it to disappear pretty quickly once the station ramps up its own Web site. They could do worse than ripping off their sister station in Tulsa; kotv.com, as TV-station sites go, is relatively low on the irritation meter.

Addendum: There's a placeholder at news9.com; a quick Whois reveals that it's owned by Griffin Communications, which operates KWTV.

Update, 29 December: It's up. I am not impressed, though I note with some amusement that there's a subheading under Sports called SuperSonics. Now that's presumption.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:24 PM to City Scene )
27 December 2007
We got us a trifecta

Three grandchildren, one floor, possibly one photo session:

Three in a row

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm hanging stuff like this out at Flickr these days; you may see rebigulated versions there.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:57 AM to Next Generation )

Right after Christmas, logically enough, we have a Post-Noel Edition of Carnival of the Vanities, and since most of the 263-related material I could find on short notice is in languages of the Pacific Rim I couldn't speak if my life depended on it, I'll simply point you to something I did comprehend, sort of: 263 common English mistakes by people whose primary language is German. (Then again, you should see the common English mistakes by people whose primary language is English. And if you read these pages regularly, you'll see a lot of them.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:53 AM to Blogorrhea )
Fark blurb of the week

We're extending Quote of the Week to include particularly nifty Fark submissions, which may or may not show up on a regular schedule, but what the hell.

Besides, this one (with SCARY tag) is prime:

"Worms infect more Americans than thought." Submitter can confirm that very few people seem to be infected with thought

Yea, verily.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:38 AM to QOTW )
Try ordering a Shirley Temple

Carol Smaglinski reports in the Gazette:

Dr Irene Lam, manager of the historic Gold Dome on NW 23rd Street, has announced the name of the restaurant in the Gold Dome that should be open for business in February.

It will be called the Prohibition Room Restaurant and Lounge.

Apparently the Dome is historic enough to merit a Wikipedia page. (Disclosure: I performed some exceedingly minor edits on that page; you know they're minor because it doesn't sound anything like me.)

Still: the Prohibition Room? Then again, construction on the Dome was begun in 1958; Oklahoma was still dry, and would remain so another year.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 12:27 PM to City Scene , Worth a Fork )
Caution: may not work with ferrets

ISO scru thredz: I haz them.

Cat Carrier

I'm sure you'd never do this to your own pet, but how about that miserable howling [insert species] two doors down?

(Via Cream of the Crock.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 1:55 PM to Say What? )
Taking the high road

I'll be the first to tell you that I haven't the faintest clue what's going to happen next in popular music, though I think it's probably a fairly safe bet that big bands aren't coming back. (Of course, to the real fans, they never went away, but how many real fans are there left?)

I've always suspected that the reason for the decline of the big band was purely financial: it's an expensive sort of operation. And for a while I entertained the notion that video indeed had killed all those radio stars; but after looking over a sheaf of Soundies, three-minute films from the Forties that played on a jukebox-like contraption called the Panoram, I don't for a moment believe that the big band can't work on the small screen.

To support this premise, here is the implausibly-lovely Martha Tilton, backed up by Ben Pollack's orchestra, in the classic "Loch Lomond," a mixture of wistful nostalgia and blatant cheesecake, a potent combination in 1941 and no less effective sixty-odd years later.

28 December 2007
Return of the Hi-Lux?

Well, not exactly. But the sort of tiny pickup truck that Toyota and Nissan ( Datsun) and friends used to vend over here has long since been superseded by the expedient of supersizing: today's "compact" trucks are as big as full-sized trucks of old.

However, Toyota does seem to remember those days, and at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, they'll be showing something called the A-BAT, with a Prius-like hybrid powertrain and an idea last seen at GM: a "midgate" that allows you to haul something longer than the actual truck bed. Which is a good thing, since the A-BAT is small by today's standards: the bed is a mere four feet long. (Fold down the midgate and drop the tailgate, and you can wedge 4x8 plywood in there.) At 181.4 inches long, the A-BAT is nine inches shorter than Toyota's standard-bed Tacoma, but rides on a three-inch-longer wheelbase.

I see two possible downsides: you almost certainly won't be able to use this as a serious tow vehicle — even a base Tacoma can tow 3500 lb — and it looks even more whimsical (or just goofy) than Honda's Ridgeline, which currently owns the Trucks For People Who Hate Trucks market segment. One close-enough approach to $4 gas, though, and someone will almost certainly build something like this.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:03 AM to Driver's Seat )
Quote of the week

"Those who torment us for our own good," said C. S. Lewis, "will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." And lest you think such folks will be easy to recognize right off the bat, Tam reminds us that Evil won't necessarily be wearing a nametag:

[W]e are raised believing in self-identified Evil. From the bad guy in every movie and fantasy novel to the opponent in every video game, there is this persistent belief that Evil will be easily identifiable because it will wear a black outifit, cackle maniacally, and announce itself as such.

The world don't work that way. As [Will] Smith attempted to point out, not even the most despicable characters in this planet's history thought of themselves as Evil. Nero never said "MWA-HA-HA!" when barbecueing dangerous subversives from Near-East mystery cults. Hitler never woke up and rubbed his hands together and thought "I think I'll be Eeeevil today!" The most heinous crimes perpetrated throughout the millennia have been perpetrated by people with clear consciences because they were doing what they were doing For The Common Good.

Watch out for that. When evil comes, it won't be easily identifiable, with a hunched back and a crazed glint in its eye; it will be nicely dressed, sound reasonable, and have a great team of policy wonks and spin doctors to explain exactly why you need to climb into the cattle car, please.

If your immediate thought is "Well, at least it said 'please'," you get to go first.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:43 AM to QOTW )
It's five o'clock somewhere

Does anybody really know what time it is? GreenCanary does:

During the day, I listen to a London radio station because it calms me to know that somewhere in the world the workday is almost over.

Hmmm. This is Friday. Can anyone recommend a radio stream from Australia or New Zealand or someplace where it's already the weekend?

Not for burqa fans

Kim du Toit has turned up a photo of Benazir Bhutto as a Harvard undergraduate (class of 1973).

Maybe I should have tried harder to get into one of the Ivies.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 2:20 PM to Almost Yogurt )
The big sleep for the Big N

Netscape Navigator, age 13, will die in 2008:

While internal groups within AOL have invested a great deal of time and energy in attempting to revive Netscape Navigator, these efforts have not been successful in gaining market share from Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Recently, support for the Netscape browser has been limited to a handful of engineers tasked with creating a skinned version of Firefox with a few extensions.

AOL's focus on transitioning to an ad-supported web business leaves little room for the size of investment needed to get the Netscape browser to a point many of its fans expect it to be. Given AOL's current business focus and the success the Mozilla Foundation has had in developing critically-acclaimed products, we feel it's the right time to end development of Netscape branded browsers, hand the reigns fully to Mozilla and encourage Netscape users to adopt Firefox.

If you're a diehard Netscape fan, you perhaps might want to adopt this Netscape theme for Firefox. But you're probably not; last I looked, Netscape users made up 0.7 percent of dustbury.com visitors.

(Via TechCrunch.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:36 PM to PEBKAC )
The end of the beginning of the end

Reuters is reporting that Macy's will close nine "underperforming" stores in six states, including Oklahoma.

It's almost certainly curtains (or drapes, if you'd rather) for the Crossroads Mall store. How much longer can this mall survive?

(Seen at Consumerist.)

Update, 5:15 pm: AP confirms the Macy's Crossroads closing.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 4:18 PM to City Scene )
Adventures in iTunes (6)

The gizmo that grabs the album-cover graphic is not infallible.

The Pogues?

See what I mean?

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:16 PM to Fileophile )
29 December 2007
It's a zoo out there

So says a fellow from Mountain View, in a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle:

It's time to close down the San Francisco Animal Detention Center, euphemistically known as "the Zoo." The most unfortunate and tragic tiger attack reminds us that Siberian tigers belong in ... Siberia.

Since their abduction, detained animals have no legal recourse and suffer privations of limited space and insufficient species company. From a city whose majority opposes our government's conduct at Guantanamo, I expect nothing less than dismantling and repatriation.

Remind me to drop a note to Yorkshire to see if they want any of these damn terriers.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:44 AM to Dyssynergy )
Get into the bunker and shut up

To add some fearful symmetry to that tiger business, here's another letter to the Chronicle (at the very same link) which sounds the requisite notes of doom and/or gloom:

So we're going to save our planet by "going green." Unfortunately, it's only going to prolong the problem.

Even if we survive — or halt — global warming. Even if we survive the end of fossil fuels, the demands our huge human population is making on the biosphere will be our undoing.

With increasing numbers of people wanting to enjoy living the consumer economy — wanting to live how, when and where they want; wanting to recreate where, when and how they want — their demands are increasingly destroying the worldwide environment.

Forests and rain forests are being cleared; oceans are being overfished and polluted; other species, denied their habitats, are being brought to extinction.

This trend, of course, can be reversed, but the cost of doing so is prohibitive. And for each year we don't try, the cost rises considerably.

So if you're one of those people with the insane idea of "wanting to live how, when and where they want," you can expect your Gaian apostasy to result in your being dispatched to some place like Siberia — where, I understand, they have tigers.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:00 AM to Dyssynergy )
CAFE press

Automakers are not thrilled with the task of bringing up their Corporate Average Fuel Economy numbers to the 35 mpg demanded by new legislation, but I have decided not to worry about it, for the following reasons:

  • The new rules don't demand that everyone have 35 mpg, only that the overall average be 35 mpg;
  • The numbers juggled for CAFE compliance aren't necessarily the same numbers you see on Monroney stickers;
  • The current numbers — 27.5 for passenger vehicles, 22.2 for trucks — are mostly being exceeded already, though not by much, especially for trucks.

The figures for the 2007 model year are out [link goes to PDF file], and here's how Detroit did:

General Motors: Domestic cars 29.6; imported cars 32.0; trucks 22.5.

Ford: Domestic cars 28.8; imported cars 29.9; trucks 22.2.

DaimlerChrysler: Domestic cars 28.6; imported cars 24.7; trucks 22.8.

Of course, DaimlerChrysler are now two separate companies again, and the bulk of DCX's imports came from Mercedes-Benz, never the most frugal of automakers. Chrysler, on its own, should look better in 2008. (For 2006, DaimlerChrysler got hit with the highest CAFE fine ever: $30.2 million.)

If you're curious, Ferrari has the worst CAFE: 16.2 mpg. The best overall showing was made by Honda: 33.7 on domestics, 39.9 on imports, 24.8 on trucks.

I remain persuaded that this is an ineffectual regulatory mechanism — you want people to use less fuel, you tax it — but Congress loves this sort of folderol, because it looks like it's accomplishing something while not actually inconveniencing those pesky voters.

There is one good thing, or at least one less bad thing, about the new rules: they apply across the board to both cars and trucks, which should result in fewer tortured interpretations of the definitions thereof. (Vans and minivans are considered trucks, generally; most infamously, the Chrysler PT Cruiser was designed to meet the definition of a truck despite its low level of truckitude.) And the numbers above tell me that cars don't need anywhere near as much fuel-economy work as trucks do, which means that I, as a person who tends to buy cars, will not have to fear much in the way of change as the automakers scramble for those last few miles per gallon.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 1:24 PM to Family Joules )
Repelling the Ronulan Empire

It looks like they'll be busy in Azeroth for a while:

Republican presidential candidate Pon Farr's [not his real name] internet regiment has come to World of Warcraft — a group of his supporters are planning to form a guild on Whisperwind and do a march from IF to Stormwind ... on New Year's Day at 8:30pm EST.

To E. M. Zanotti, this explains much:

World of Warcraft, if we aren’t mistaken, is centered around a lot of killing, and this is an ample opportunity to take out certain feelings of frustration with Paultards [her word, not mine] through wholly legal mutilation.

And there's this possible vulnerability:

Also, we can rest easy knowing that a key requirement to be a Pon Farr [still not his real name] supporter is not having a girlfriend, which explains why they have so much time to spam stuff and so much apparently disposable income.

I should point out that this doesn't work in reverse: there's no evidence to support "unlucky in love, lucky in delegate selection," which is just as well, because if there were I'd have done at least one keynote speech at a convention by now.

Or maybe "Big Bang Bilderberger Bar"

Actually, I think "International Jew Banker" is a splendid name for a blog.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:36 PM to Blogorrhea )
30 December 2007
Not just another ethanol article

Who'da thunk it? Prohibition is bad for the environment:

An effort to return alcohol sales to Sharp County [Arkansas], which has been dry for more than 60 years, has come up with a novel appeal.

Allowing sales of alcoholic beverages in the county would help the environment, according to members of a group called Save Energy Reap Taxes that is circulating petitions seeking a wet-dry vote.

"The people who live in Cave City have to travel 70 miles round-trip. That's a long trip just to get alcohol — and that's a lot of greenhouse gases," says Ruth Reynolds, a member of the organization.

The other angle, of course, is that those Cave City folks might end up buying their libations in Missouri, meaning that Arkansas would be missing out on some tax revenue. Certainly Sharp County isn't getting any of it.

Here's a copy of the petition in PDF format. I kinda hope this actually passes, if only for the delightful precedents it will set.

(Via Res Ipsa Loquitur.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:15 AM to Say What? )
Can't argue with that

The editors of Gaywheels.com have picked their Best of 2007, and I really can't argue with their choices: these guys know their cars (and trucks where appropriate). Still, I admit to an occasional giggle, mostly because of remarks like this:

Best Family Car: Buick Enclave
Gorgeous, refined and really easy access to the rear — who doesn't like that?

I would dearly love to see GM work this into an ad. Just because.

(Via Autoblog.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:47 AM to Driver's Seat )
Hire standards

I tend to pay attention when Venomous Kate speaks on the question of blogging for bucks, since (1) she makes decent bucks at it and (2) she understands the dynamics of blogdom as well as anyone I read regularly.

So when VK says that your paid reviews suck, she's got a reason for it:

Stop writing reviews that sound like Marketing 101 blurbs. Stop trying to act as salesmen and -women trying to pawn off various products to your readers. Stop it, stop it, STOP IT.

Your first duty is to your readers. Entertain them. Inform them, yes, but entertain them in the process.

Luckily, if you let go of your delusions that your job is to actually review stuff, you can do both in the process.

Remember: advertisers want their stuff to come up in relevant search queries. You can make that happen and entertain your readers at the same time.

I must admit here that I do actually review stuff from time to time, though I have the grim satisfaction of knowing that I'm not going to get paid for it.

But her point seems clear enough: yes, you can write "A is great" and get a check from A, but everyone, A included, is better served if you explain that A is great because it exceeds the standards previously set by B and because it enables you to escape the consequences when C comes along. Or something like that.

In other words: you don't get to slack off on your writing just because there's a price tag involved. Entrance to paid-blogging nirvana comes when the following dialogue is relevant to your post:

"But she got paid for that!"

"Yeah, so?"

(Disclosure: I just turned down an ad buy on the front page. Obviously I'm still seriously diffident about the whole concept.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 12:55 PM to Blogorrhea )
No scheduling conflict here

Atheist Talk will debut on KTNF, Air America Minnesota, at 9 am Central on the thirteenth of January.

Which is, by sheerest coincidence, a Sunday.

(Via Saint Paul.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:06 PM to Overmodulation )
Toys to show boys

"Does your car say 'check me out'?" says the British automotive site evecars.com, in the process of suggesting to its female readership "ten sexy cars to turn men's heads."

The list, I need hardly point out, is fairly arguable, though I will admit that I'm likely to notice someone in a Mercedes Gullwing or in a a Caterham Seven, both of which were mentioned. (Then there was this incident, about which the less said the better.)

This question, though, remains unanswered:

Is driving a "male" car is a way of saying "we're just as good as men, and look — we can even drive!"?

I think it's more a way of saying "We drive what we damn well please," which is the only attitude that makes sense anyway.

(Seen at AutoblogGreen.)

31 December 2007
Strange search-engine queries (100)

If you're looking at this and thinking "Haven't I seen this bit of shtick before?" — well, there's a reason for that triple-digit number up there.

zombie tattoo flash:  Hardly anyone ever flashes me a tattoo, and I'd just as soon it wasn't a zombie.

instructions for beer tab necklace:  1. Have a beer. 2. Have another beer. (See the pattern?)

don't start sentence with but:  But it's so handy!

hard freeze definition:  If you have to ask, you're probably not having one.

six foot tall babes in micro skirts:  Listen, if you find any, let me know, wouldja please?

castration to end the suffering of involuntary celibacy:  And I thought throwing out the baby with the bath water was extreme.

"involuntary celibacy" asshats:  They're the ones who recommend castration.

roettger wielding in stillwater minnesota:  I hear they wield a pretty mean roettger up there.

sony walkman authorization crap:  Aren't you glad they're closing their online music store?

minnesota bridge collapse explanation "like a bra":  No, no. 35W was the name of the highway, not the size.

nude beach women give me boners:  Sorry, you'll have to get your own boners.

My bounced check is posted on the door of a store:  Great. Now everyone will see what a deadbeat you are.

wy are europeans more likely to be nudists:  They have the Gulf Stream. We have ice storms.

Maureen Dowd playboy pictures:  In your dreams, pal.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:15 AM to You Asked For It )
The decimating game

Not to minimize the damage from this month's ice storm, which was considerable, and yes, various parts of the state were declared disaster areas — but that's a legal term. The fact is, in terms of actual devastation, this was pretty big, but not so much as a patch on, say, New Orleans 2005.

This statement is nicely quantified by a peevish Tulsa World reader identified as "Not a survivor," with proofreading by Michael Bates, as follows:

Your city is not suffering a disaster if:
  1. The strip clubs are all open for regular business hours.

  2. You can go to Wal-Mart and buy the supplies you need instead of having to break into Wal-Mart and steal the supplies you need.

  3. You don't have to swim to work.

  4. The biggest portion of your insurance claim is that refrigerated goods spoilage check they sent you.

  5. You spent the week crapping in your own bathroom and not in a porta-potty provided by the Red Cross.

  6. You slept in your own bed and not in a cot at a shelter.

  7. Your job is still here.

  8. You could eat out at a restaurant every single day of the so called disaster.

  9. You still had a car to get around in.

  10. You could find an ATM machine that would process your request for funds.

  11. You could still make and receive calls on your cell phones.

If you couldn't do any of the above then congratulations you are a victim. For the rest of you well, you are just a bunch of whiners who need to get a little reality check.

Can I wait until I get my insurance check?

Actually, this sort of thing is to be expected in a culture which equates victims and saints, and since most of us have little if any claim to sainthood, we go for the next-best thing. Some people even feign victimhood in the hopes of personal gain, the surest sign that things have gotten totally out of hand.

Into each life a little rain must fall, and sometimes it's freezing rain. There's plenty of time to curse the darkness once you get the candles lit.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:13 AM to Soonerland )
Refi your Ford, sir?

I spent most of my life not having car payments, and I miss that. When World Tour '06 ended in a pile of sheetmetal and coolant (and a separate pile of venison), I'd chalked up a little over a year and a half in that happy state, and the worst thing about shopping for replacement wheels was the certain knowledge that I'd be back on the treadmill again for another five years.

Okay, four years. Two and a half to go. Admittedly, it's a smaller squeeze each month, inasmuch as I put almost all the insurance settlement into the down payment, but a squeeze it is, just the same, and I'm not anxious to prolong it. It's not an uncommon reaction:

When I needed to own a car, I remember that you looked forward to finally paying the car off, so that you had at least a year or two car-payment free before getting on the new-car carousel again. Looks like that's out the window these days. Instead, we're left with a perpetual payment model that carries a timebomb of macro-economic proportions.

And it's the same sort of bubblicious nonsense that's contributed so much to the national housing market, but with a nastier twist:

In the housing game, the assumption was that the piece of property bought would rise in value — not an unreasonable assumption, given real estate's traditional security as an asset. But that notion is laughable when it comes to cars, because common knowledge holds that a vehicle depreciates the second it rolls off the dealership lot. So the constant trade-ins and roll-overs had nothing at all to do [with] even the illusion of building equity — it's pure consumerism, disguised as upgrades in reliability.

Which explains much about why I bought a used pre-owned experienced vehicle this time around: someone else had already eaten most of the depreciation. (I paid 40 percent of the original sticker price.) Still, I'm not even thinking about trading in this none-too-wee beastie any time in the next thirty months, so long as it's running well, which at the moment it is despite 104,000 miles on the clock.

Dust Bowl East

It's been raining in Atlanta, and lately, that qualifies as news:

After a fourth consecutive day of rain Sunday, 2007 barely missed becoming Atlanta's driest year on record. That dubious honor goes to 1954, when only 31.80 inches of rain fell.

Atlanta is at the center of a historic drought that has engulfed more than one-third of the Southeast. The affected region includes most of Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, as well as parts of Kentucky and Virginia.

In yet another example of Life Is Not Fair, this is the rainiest year ever recorded in Oklahoma City, and by rather a large margin at that. State reservoirs are nicely full these days. However, the aquifers haven't gotten much of a recharge out of all this, suggesting that we would be wise not to act like all our water problems have been solved.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:26 PM to Weather or Not )
A multiple-choice question

EXTRA CREDIT (10 points): You discover that you know absolutely nothing about multivitamins. Commendably, you seek to remedy this situation. Which of the following scenarios presents you with the best opportunity to do so?

  1. While the second-to-last lifeboat is filling up
  2. During a Senate filibuster
  3. In the middle of a pit stop at Darlington
  4. Halfway through a CT scan
  5. In the drive-through lane at the pharmacy at 5 pm on the day before a holiday

Caution: This may or may not be a trick question.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:50 PM to Wastes of Oxygen )
The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

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