8 September 2006
Fake but actionable

James Frey, the Milli Vanilli of memoirists, and publisher Random House will settle various class-action lawsuits filed against them by aggrieved readers of Frey's A Million Little Pieces, which was billed as "nonfiction."

How readers will be compensated:

To receive refunds — $23.95 for the hardcover, $14.95 for paperback — consumers will have to submit a receipt or some other proof of purchase: for the hardcover, page 163; for the paperback, the front cover. They will also need to sign a sworn statement that they bought the book because they believed it was a memoir.

A word to librarians: lock up this title now, before the patrons start ripping up your circulating copies.

(Via The Consumerist.)

Update, 10 am, 9 September: Chase at Taste the World thinks this is a good enough idea to extend to other forms of deception.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:11 PM)
It's a small song after all

This can't be good:

The Walt Disney Company is experimenting with ways to communicate with its visitors by non-visual means in order to enhance visitors' experiences and protect the visual landscape. We have successfully created a technology for pavement "grooves and ridges" which cause tires literally to hum a tune as a vehicle passes over them! In the future, this non-visual "cue" to guests could let them know they are approaching a Disney property and bring smiles to their faces.

The House of Mouse is late again: we've had this sort of "technology" in Oklahoma City for years. If you take NW 36th westbound from Kelley to Lincoln at exactly 47 mph (which is a tad in excess of the speed limit, so don't do that), you get a pretty fair transcription of Ron Bushy's drum solo in Iron Butterfly's "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida".

John Owen Butler finds one saving grace in this scheme:

Maybe corporate sponsorship of stretches of highway might just get them fixed.

Think we could interest the makers of Accutane® in sponsoring the pockmarked surface of NW 50th between Pennsylvania and May?

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:33 PM)
9 September 2006
Pick a number

Say, from 1 to 100.

(Suggested by Venomous Kate.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:37 AM)
10 September 2006
Career progression

This is a ride worthy of an X Games event:

I started out as a high school teacher long ago. Then, I was a junior high assistant principal then middle school principal then executive director of curriculum and instruction then middle school principal (again) then high school principal then school superintendent then college professor then high school principal (again) and now elementary principal. My brother Chipper said that if I continue at my current rate of descent that I should be a bus driver by the time my career ends.

Yeah, but just imagine the sheer volume of her CV.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:10 PM)
12 September 2006
No Times left for you

The New York Times Company will sell its nine television stations and refocus on its print and Internet properties.

The official company statement:

"These are well-managed and profitable stations that generate substantial cash flows and are located in attractive markets," Janet L. Robinson, the company’s president and chief executive, said in a statement.

But, she added, "We believe a divestiture would allow us to sharpen our focus on developing our newspaper and rapidly growing digital businesses, and the synergies between them, thereby increasing the value of our company for our shareholders."

And they've been expressing concerns to investors:

Our network-affiliated broadcast stations face significant competition. Several developments could cause further fragmentation of the television viewing audience and therefore increase competition, including:
  • system upgrades and technological advances resulting in increased channel capacities on cable and direct broadcast satellite systems,
  • the entry of telephone companies into the video distribution market,
  • the emergence of new portable video distribution platforms, and
  • the availability of network programming on the Internet and through video-on-demand services.

This fragmentation may adversely affect our television stations' ability to sell advertising.

Even allowing for the fact that all such statements to investors are primarily intended as CYA devices, it's no particular secret that NYT Class A stock has been tanking for almost a year, and the divestiture would put some cash in the company coffers while investors are staying away.

NYT operates television stations in eight mostly middle-sized markets, all of them solo operations except in Oklahoma City, where the company owns KFOR-TV (an affiliate of NBC) and KAUT (an affiliate of MyNetworkTV). There is no indication so far as to whether the stations will be dealt as a group or sold off to individual buyers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:07 PM)
15 September 2006
Smoke 'em if you got 'em

And if you're in China, you've probably got 'em:

Cigarettes, according to China's tobacco authorities, are an excellent way to prevent ulcers. They also reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease, relieve schizophrenia, boost your brain cells, speed up your thinking, improve your reactions and increase your working efficiency.

Pay no attention to those lung cancer warnings — they’re nonsense. You’re more likely to get cancer from cooking smoke! Those are the words of wisdom from China's state-owned tobacco monopoly, the world’s most successful cigarette-marketing agency. With annual sales of 1.8 trillion cigarettes, the Chinese are responsible for nearly 1/3 of all cigarettes smoked on the whole planet.

The official website of the tobacco monopoly claims cigarettes are a kind of miracle drug: solving your health problems, helping your lifestyle, strengthening the equality of women, and even eliminating loneliness and depression. "Smoking removes your troubles and worries," says a 37-year-old female magazine editor, quoted approvingly on the website. "Holding a cigarette is like having a walking stick in your hand, giving you support." "Quitting smoking would bring you misery, shortening your life."

And to think we complained because our ads said they tasted good, like they should.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:14 AM)
18 September 2006
By comparison, Windows is ironclad

If you didn't trust Diebold voting machines before — I didn'tthis won't make you feel any better about them:

The access panel door on a Diebold AccuVote-TS voting machine — the door that protects the memory card that stores the votes, and is the main barrier to the injection of a virus — can be opened with a standard key that is widely available on the Internet.

Yes, really:

Chris Tengi, a technical staff member, asked to look at the key that came with the voting machine. He noticed an alphanumeric code printed on the key, and remarked that he had a key at home with the same code on it. The next day he brought in his key and sure enough it opened the voting machine.

This seemed like a freakish coincidence — until we learned how common these keys are.

Chris’s key was left over from a previous job, maybe fifteen years ago. He said the key had opened either a file cabinet or the access panel on an old VAX computer. A little research revealed that the exact same key is used widely in office furniture, electronic equipment, jukeboxes, and hotel minibars. It’s a standard part, and like most standard parts it’s easily purchased on the Internet. We bought several keys from an office furniture key shop — they open the voting machine too. We ordered another key on eBay from a jukebox supply shop. The keys can be purchased from many online merchants.

This isn't quite as stupid as setting the default password to PASSWORD, but it's close.

These machines, and the people who tried to pass them off as secure, should be locked away — and the keys should be thrown away.

(Via E. M. Zanotti.)

Update, 19 September: Tim Blair sees an upside: "Presumably Diebold voting machine keys can open minibars. That was probably the plan all along."

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:51 PM)
21 September 2006
When I think about you I retouch myself

Conventional wisdom says that the camera adds ten pounds. (Which, of course, makes me ask: "How do I get these nine or ten cameras off me?")

The standard solution, as Katie Couric knows, is good ol' Photoshop. But Photoshop is expensive — even Photoshop Elements, the stripped-down version with about four-fifths the functionality, isn't exactly cheap — and the learning curve for either is steep.

Hewlett-Packard has a workaround: cameras that can adjust the ratio between width and height to create a "slimming" effect which might, under certain conditions, be somewhat convincing.

Remember when photographs used to be good enough for evidence? Fuggeddaboudit.

(Via Salon.com's Broadsheet.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:15 PM)
Exercising the editorial license

A fairly typical Ann Coulter paragraph, as such things go, found at Townhall.com:

[Sen. John] McCain, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. John Warner — or, as the Times now calls him, the "courtly Virginian" ("fag-hag by proxy to Elizabeth Taylor" being beneath his dignity these days) — want terrorists treated like Americans accused of crimes, with full access to classified information against them and a list of the undercover agents involved in their capture. Liberals' interest in protecting classified information started and ended with Valerie Plame.

Human Events Online ran the same Coulter column, with one notable excision. Here's the same paragraph:

McCain, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. John Warner — or, as the Times now calls him, the "courtly Virginian" — want terrorists treated like Americans accused of crimes, with full access to classified information against them and a list of the undercover agents involved in their capture. Liberals' interest in protecting classified information started and ended with Valerie Plame.

Coulter's copy at her own site reads like the Townhall.com version, so it's probably safe to assume that Human Events Online excised the "fag-hag" reference. Not that the deletion bothers me particularly — I suspect most people who know John Warner know about Liz and don't really give a flip — but it is an indication that, to some editorial eyes anyway, some cheap shots might be too cheap after all.

A commenter named "carlitos" reported this discrepancy in a thread at Patterico's this morning.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 PM)
25 September 2006
Champaign and sham commentary

The University of Illinois student newspaper, the Daily Illini, is dropping its editorial commentary:

The newspaper editorial is a sacred institution. It is supposed to offer insight on issues, events and problems relevant to the community and serve as a watchdog against institutions of power.

Unfortunately, several of our editorials, including one published Wednesday on Midnight Madness, have been based on faulty facts, providing nothing but misinformation and misrepresentation. This is unacceptable, considering that the purpose of our opinions page is to facilitate meaningful dialogue among the members of the campus community and beyond.

Yesterday's apology is something that we, as the editorial board of The Daily Illini, should have never had to do, but it is a position that we have put ourselves in numerous times throughout the last couple of semesters. For this reason, The Daily Illini Editorial Board has decided to stop publishing editorials until further notice.

Now if only [fill in name of paper] would take this advice and follow suit.

(Via Hit & Run.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:38 AM)
27 September 2006
It's stolen, what more do you need to know?

You know, sometimes bait actually works:

Dallas police are investigating a glitch that resulted in the loss of one of their "bait" cars.

Sometime between Friday and Monday, a car outfitted with cameras, tracking capabilities and a remote engine-kill system designed to catch auto thieves was stolen somewhere in Dallas — police would not say where. They also would not identify the make and model of the car, so that if it is recovered, it can remain part of the undercover fleet.

(Via Autoblog.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
The paper you don't cancel

I frankly do not understand the appeal of embossed toilet paper: it's not all that attractive, generally; I doubt seriously that the addition of textural elements substantially improves the surface area (and therefore the useful area) of an individual sheet; and inevitably, it makes the roll stick out farther from its cardboard tube.

Which latter explains this:

Consumers told us that they preferred our new embossed sheet. To add this feature, we need to choose to either reduce the number of sheets in the roll or decrease the size of each sheet to maintain the overall roll diameter. Consumers favored the smaller sheet to the count reduction.

Scott's sheet has shrunk from 4 inches to 3.7 inches; on a thousand-sheet roll, this is a reduction of 25 feet.

There are two ways to look at this. If you count off X number of sheets for the task, this won't affect you much, and indeed you're performing an exceedingly-tiny kindness on behalf of the environment, since you're using (and flushing) 7.5 percent less paper. If you grab a specific length, though, this is going to cost you, and you'll probably think the guys who run Scott Paper are a bunch of, um, asswipes.

(Via The Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:23 AM)
28 September 2006
Quantity is McJob 1

Now I know why I prefer the drive-thru:


Think about it. You always hear people say, "I would never work in fast food," and yet McDonald's seems to have no problem in staffing their stores with these nondescript adult employees. There's no real egg in an Egg McMuffin, and they've always been dodgy about what kind of meat is in a Chicken McNugget. They have no doubt been serving synthesized and processed foods for years, and now, I suspect, they've begun creating synthesized and processed employees. There is absolutely no recognizable trait about these people — no jewelry, earrings, anything that might connect them to a specific group of people. They are completely generic, unoffensive, and artificial.

It makes sense to think about Mayor McCheese less like a mascot and more like a DNA crossbreeding experiment gone horribly wrong. It also explains the playgrounds, which must not be there for the children's enjoyment, but rather as a place where McScientists can study human interaction.

This is, I presume, a relatively recent development, as I worked for Mickey D's in the early 1970s, and I was just as far out on the weirdness asymptote then as I am now. (Aside: A Google search for weirdness asymptote puts me at #2. Also #3.) But there's definitely some sort of artificial-cheese-spread atmosphere in back of the counter these days: if they rendered this bunch at the processing facility, they'd wind up with Soylent Grey.

And when you get right down to it, I don't think I really want to know what goes into a McNugget.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:48 PM)
30 September 2006
It takes two

As Marvin and Kim (or a host of others) could tell you, sometimes it just takes two.

There was a time, for instance, when it took two hands to handle a Whopper.

And speaking of beef, it's probably going to take two of you to tip a cow.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:31 AM)
Keep running that play 'til you get it right

The Oklahoman arrives on my driveway (too close to the curb, but that's another issue) with its special sections wrapped around the outside, protecting the tender, fragile news in the middle. And given this packaging technique, I tend to glance at the wraparounds before I dig seriously into the news.

Today's Real Estate section had a profile of Kanela Huff, whose name appears on rather a lot of yard signs around town: she's the owner of Kanela & Co., a major player in the local real-estate market. (I remember her vaguely as Kanela Voegeli, when she was working for the old Zedlitz company, and, well, how many Kanelas can there be?) I thought this might be worth a browse, so I started out on the front page, duly turned to page 24 for the continuation — and there were the opening paragraphs again.

Sections of this sort tend to go to press a few days before the actual distribution date, so I'm guessing that the Real Estate tab got printed, and only then somebody noticed that the cover story was rather badly botched. So the entire story was picked up again, correctly this time, for the back page of the Business section, with the following Editor's Note:

Production problems caused irreparable errors and repetitions in the text of the cover story in today's Real Estate Magazine, distributed in some editions of The Oklahoman. The correct version is here.

Two items of interest, one of which is mentioned in the article:

  1. The company is relocating Pearl's from its 63rd Street location (which will be swallowed up by the Chesapeake Energy Acquisitions Blob) to a new development north of Belle Isle Station on Classen.

  2. "Kanela" is Greek for "cinnamon."

Still: "irreparable errors"? Naw. They theoretically could have fixed them, though it almost certainly would have cost far more money than it was worth. I just wonder what got scraped off page 6B to make room for the reprint.

(Link to an online version.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:28 AM)
But she's accurate

Caterina Fake is one of the co-founders of Flickr, which ought to have made her famous.

Instead, she can't even sign up for Facebook, and, she says, Northwest Airlines automatically deletes her ticket purchases.

What to do? Ordinarily I'd suggest the Hyacinth Bucket technique, but stretching "Fake" into "fah-KAY" seems a bit counterproductive, and it wouldn't fix her Facebook issue either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:08 PM)
1 October 2006
Is this a stalemate?

Whoever said this was a boring game?

The world chess championship came to a halt [Friday] when a player who had been locked out of his private bathroom after insinuations that he was cheating refused to play and forfeited the fifth game of the match.

A day after a written protest by the team of Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria about the frequent bathroom breaks of Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, the World Chess Federation, which is organizing the match, locked the private bathrooms for both players and said they must use the same bathroom for the rest of the match.

The bathrooms had been the only part of the players' private rest areas behind the stage where they are playing that was not subject to video surveillance by the match referees.

In filing the protest, Mr. Topalov implied that Mr. Kramnik might somehow be cheating when he was in the toilet. Before the protest, Mr. Kramnik led the match 3-1, with 6.5 points needed to win. The match is being played in Elista, the capital of Kalmykia, a Russian republic on the Caspian Sea.

I've heard of guys bashing the bishop in the bathroom, but they weren't playing chess.

Deadspin comments:

In summary, the most exciting thing to ever happen in chess revolves around a grown man sitting on the floor outside of his bathroom and pouting.

Geez. And I thought the most exciting thing to ever happen in chess was Alexandra Kosteniuk.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:34 AM)
3 October 2006
It's right there in the penal code

The Supreme Court has declined to hear Acosta v. Texas, in which Mr Acosta sought to have overturned a Lone Star ban on the manufacture, sale and advertising of "obscene devices," otherwise known as sex toys. Counsel for Acosta had pointed out that similar laws in other states had already been declared unconstitutional.

A Texas appellate court had previously ruled that actual use of the items was not forbidden, prompting this remark from Matt Rosenberg:

[I]f making, disseminating and marketing them are illegal in Texas, what are you supposed to do? Smuggle one in across state lines in your Jimmy's glove compartment? Or maybe, men — just keep a lot of squid and sardines around.

I think I speak for rather a lot of us guys when I say "Ewwwww."

Incidentally, if you're going to smuggle these contraptions into Texas, you might want to stop at six: possession of more than half a dozen is construed as intent to promote, which is a misdemeanor.

The single largest collection of dildos in Texas, of course, is in Austin, at 11th and Congress.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:47 AM)
7 October 2006
Coming soon: Donner Party Trays

The government of Mongolia wants to trademark the name and image of Genghis Khan:

The parliament in Ulan Bator is debating a law that would allow the Mongolian government to license the use of his name and image.

Genghis Khan established a vast empire 700 years ago, but today his face is found on vodka bottles and the capital city has a brewery named after him.

In fact, the Ulan Bator airport is being renamed for him (as noted here during the summer). But the Mongolians (I guess we don't call them "Mongols" anymore) don't want outsiders appropriating Genghis:

"Foreigners are attempting to use the Genghis Khan name", one parliamentarian said, claiming that businesses in Russia, China and Kazakhstan were all portraying him as a native of their countries.

The law would allow the government to set fees for the use of Genghis Khan's name. It would also permit the Mongolian President to select one official portrait from the 10 in use and define which bodies could use this image.

It won't stop there, says Lemuel:

I am more interested, who and when will first try to register swastikas? Hindu, Chinese or Germans? And with Stalin Vodka already on the stands in some countries I heartily await the legal battles over who gets the protection and sole rights over the brand name and the image of Adolf Hitler. It would be an interesting reversal to see him actually being contested by both Austria and Germany.

In the best of all possible worlds, this would be the result:

"Adolf Hitler," "Nazi" and "National Socialist," or any combinations including same, are registered trademarks of Mike Godwin. All rights reserved. Use without prior permission strictly forbidden.

But I suspect Godwin probably doesn't want anything to do with this sort of thing.

Which leaves me only one question: which Third World hellhole — Iran, Cuba, or the Gaza Strip — will be the first to name a landmark for Jimmy Carter?

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:48 PM)
10 October 2006
Classic peg/hole mismatch

Ethnic diversity, we are told, is a Good Thing, and to some extent, I have to agree: I have no desire to live among a bunch of people who are exactly like me, assuming that there exists a bunch of people who are exactly like me, which is something I don't really want to assume.

But there's always been a serious downside to it, and now it's being quantified:

A bleak picture of the corrosive effects of ethnic diversity has been revealed in research by Harvard University's Robert Putnam, one of the world's most influential political scientists.

His research shows that the more diverse a community is, the less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone — from their next-door neighbour to the mayor.

This is a contentious finding in the current climate of concern about the benefits of immigration. Professor Putnam told the Financial Times he had delayed publishing his research until he could develop proposals to compensate for the negative effects of diversity, saying it "would have been irresponsible to publish without that".

The core message of the research was that, "in the presence of diversity, we hunker down", he said. "We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it's not just that we don't trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don't trust people who do look like us."

My vestigial leftist reflex immediately came back with "Yeah, so there are xenophobes out there. We're not like that." Which suggests further research — say, busing churchgoing NASCAR fans into Berkeley.

And Putnam isn't by any means calling for re-isolation:

Prof Putnam stressed, however, that immigration materially benefited both the "importing" and "exporting" societies, and that trends "have been socially constructed, and can be socially reconstructed".

In an oblique criticism of Jack Straw, leader of the House of Commons, who revealed last week he prefers Muslim women not to wear a full veil, Prof Putnam said: "What we shouldn't do is to say that they [immigrants] should be more like us. We should construct a new us."

This strikes me as fatuous. "Us" is already under construction, and always has been; these things happen on their own, and efforts to direct the process are not guaranteed to produce the desired results, as Putnam's own research presumably shows.

Or, as Rachel says:

[I]sn't forcing majorities to cope with the whims, desires and customs of minorities also a source of friction?

Think of it as the Law of Unintended Consequences in action. Or you can just snicker at this:

Another frequently asked question is about polygamy. "We have a simple answer to this question: Islam allows its male followers to marry more than once to help maintain gender balance in society," he said.

There are, for instance, 7.8 million more women than men in the US today. "This means that if every male US citizen picks a wife, 7.8 million women will be left without marriage. These women will either have the option of getting married to an already married person or become promiscuous," said Ghazanfar.

Some choice. "Ghazanfar" is evidently Arabic for "Morton". And while we're on the subject, veils suck.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:24 AM)
11 October 2006
Beware of the Blob

Remember when there was always room for this stuff?

A small pile of leftover jelly discarded beside the road after a wedding party caused a large-scale security alert in Germany with biochemical experts, firemen and police called in to investigate.

"Passers-by called police after finding a pool of a flabby red, orange and green substance on the roadside," a police spokesman in the eastern town of Halle told Reuters on Monday.

He said the newly wed groom, who was pulled out of bed at noon following a tipoff, confirmed that the jelly, known as Jell-O in the United States, was a party leftover — and agreed to clean it up.

As biohazards go, this is inarguably small-scale. Had this been spinach salad with mayonnaise, there'd be Chernobyl-level anguish.

(Via The Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 AM)
12 October 2006
Riding the LMTFA

I should point out that a friend of mine sent me this; despite a certain resemblance, personality-wise, I did not write it.

Question: I have a personality that irritates people. I like to keep to myself on the job, without constant interruptions. I have a strong work ethic and have held many jobs but hate playing office footsie with people I would rather not be bothered with. I have about a decade left of work life and would like a meaningful position before it's too late.

Answer: Ms. Mentor is not much given to sighing for what is not, but she wishes you had been born in the 18th century, when you might have gotten on as an ornamental hermit.

Every English grotto back then had to have one: a robed, bearded figure who now and then emerged from his hutch to amaze guests with his visionary mumblings. Of course, ornamental hermits in effect had tenure: health care, room and board, free robes. They merely had to have theatrical sense and impeccable wisdom — which, as Ms. Mentor knows, was as rare then as it is now. But if you had it, you could make a career of flaunting it.

This goes on for quite a ways, inasmuch as it deals with life in the Groves of Academe, which is similar to The Industry only in that it goes out of its way to accommodate people who in the real world would be asking you if you wanted fries with that. This is, incidentally, another way you can tell I didn't submit that question: the idea that I'd be looking for something "meaningful" for my last decade is wholly foreign to me. Not being one of the nine people on earth who have their actual Dream Jobs, what I look for is something I can put out of my mind the moment I walk out the door.

Or, better yet, the moment I walk in the door.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:33 AM)
13 October 2006
Sole survival

Miriam is on the road, and I have to assume she's packed plenty of shoes:

[A] woman can't go anywhere without at least four pairs of shoes. Not even overnight. For a ten-day trip, you can imagine how many shoes are needed. It is a question of bringing the shoes juste for every outfit. Every outfit has its own shoe karma — the difference between dressing for success and looking like a slob is having the exactly right pair of shoes. Then you have to bring sneakers, because God forbid you actually have to walk somewhere, they are the only shoes you can actually wear without bringing tears to your eyes. And involuntary but deeply felt groans from your lips.

This caught my eye because for the World Tours I pack, yes, four pairs of shoes. These are, however, sixteen-day trips, which leads to the next question: in the unlikely event that I ever acquire a real live traveling companion of the female persuasion, will I have to get a larger vehicle just to accommodate her wardrobe needs? (I currently drive an Infiniti I30, which is considered more-or-less mid-sized.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
14 October 2006
The Curtis Mathes syndrome

Dave Dial, a former Oklahoman transplanted to Los Angeles forty-odd years ago, explained this to me, and it rang truer than I'd prefer to admit:

When a consumer buys a contraption that combines two or more functions, if one of them breaks down and is too expensive or inconvenient to repair, the consumer will typically continue to use the parts that still work. So we see combination telephone-answering machines where the answering machine has crapped out but the phone still works and is still in use. We see those cute little combination TV-VCRs where the VCR's mechanism has eaten one tape too many but the TV still works, to give two examples.

I based the syndrome on observing back in the 1960s that many homes had what was called a "home entertainment center": a huge, living-room-space-consuming combination television-radio-phonograph with the TV dead but the radio and phonograph still working. Besides, it was a good-looking piece of furniture. Too bad there was no money to fix the TV but enough to buy a much cheaper table model set that might even be placed directly on top of the partially-defunct home entertainment center.

Besides, a lot of those humongous consoles had old B&W sets in them; if not necessarily more cost-effective, it was a lot more appealing to buy a color set and park it on top, and if you were lucky enough to have one of the high-end consoles with a picture tube that hid behind sliding doors or louvers, no one need ever know your dark, deep secret.

Actual Curtis Mathes consoles probably suffered less from this syndrome than some other, better-known brands: the tiny Texas-based manufacturer's long-running slogan was "The most expensive television in America, and darn well worth it," and they meant it. But by the 1960s, parts were relatively cheap, and labor relatively expensive; if you were unwilling to mess around with the high-voltage innards of a television, you either wrote a large check or bought a new set. (This reality was ultimately reflected in the Curtis Mathes warranty: one year on labor, ten years on parts, still in effect when I bought one of their sets in 1981. I wrote about the experience here. That set, incidentally, was still working when I donated it to Goodwill in 2002, though the picture was a little greener than spec.)

I know the syndrome well, though. I had replaced the original factory radio in my old Toyota Celica with a radio/cassette unit. Eventually, the tape mechanism quit working, in a truly fascinating fashion: the transport had somehow locked itself into a position where it thought there was a tape already in there, which meant (1) you couldn't insert an actual tape and (2) it automatically cut off the radio. Faced with the possibility of having to crawl back under the dash and replace the factory unit, or buy a whole new stereo, I shoved a plastic dowel (actually part of an old Bic pen barrel) just far enough into the tape transport to defeat the radio-off switch, which left me with a dead tape unit but a working radio. This ad hoc fix lasted six years, two years longer than the duct-tape job on the exhaust manifold. (Don't ask.)

Conversely, I once had a fairly crummy $200 shelf-unit stereo whose turntable failed, which I replaced with a real live Dual 1215 hi-fi unit, thereby guaranteeing myself high-quality reproduction right up to the point where the signal entered the amplifier. In automotive terms, this is dropping a 351 Cleveland into a Kia Sephia.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 PM)
15 October 2006
Somewhere Orson Welles is guffawing

Is there an inverse correlation between BMI and IQ?

A five-year study of more than 2,000 middle-aged people in France has found a possible link between weight and brain function.

Research published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that people with a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) scored lower on average in cognitive tests within a sample.

The research led by Dr Maxime Cournot, of Toulouse University Hospital in France, used 2,223 healthy people aged 32 to 62 who sat four cognitive tests including word learning in 1996 and again in 2001.

Results from a word memory test showed that people with a BMI of 20 — considered to be a healthy level — remembered an average of nine out of 16 words. Meanwhile, people with a BMI of 30 — inside the obese range — remembered an average of just seven out of 16 words.

In other news, Nicole Richie will be receiving her doctorate this spring.

This phenomenon has been called by some the "Homer Simpson Effect," to which R. Alex Whitlock replies, "Homer Simpson effect? They're getting a crayon lodged in their brain?!"

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:42 PM)
16 October 2006
Some seriously dubious joints

Not the kind you go to for a spot of ale, either. Tam explains:

[I]t's only 40 degrees outside by the thermometer, and as I wander upstairs for another Sierra (I'd have a Snake Dog, but Kroger closed tonight at 10PM; I guess when they say "Open 24 Hours", they don't mean "...in a row,") my right shin, held together with a steel rod, screws, and (for all I know) duct tape, twinges painfully in the cold. As I reach for the doorknob, my right thumb, broken once in a sportbike wreck and battered by decades of recoil, stiffens and then lets go with an audible *pop!* My left ankle, buttressed by screws of its own, grinds in sympathy. If I'd known I was going to live this long....

Now I know why folks complain about the changing of the seasons, and why our primitive ancestors would give a person's age, not in years, but as "She's survived X winters." Anybody can survive a summer.

The rain started here Saturday night, and might let up by tomorrow; I have the general feeling that I'm going to dissolve right onto the sidewalk and they're going to have to bring a 55-gallon drum of Dawn for Dishes to scrape me away. I certainly won't be able to walk my way out of it — not with these knees.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:28 AM)
17 October 2006

Two weeks ago I had an unscheduled trip to the dentist, the result of not looking too closely at what might be lurking in the bottom of that bowl of trail mix. (Whatever it was, it was petrified, and for all I know might have come from the Oregon Trail.) There was much discussion when I arrived, mostly over whether my insurance would cover the repairs. I pointed out that this would not be an issue, inasmuch as I didn't have any.

"Now here's a man who knows how to count," said the dentist.

And I suppose I do. I get three cleanings and one set of X-rays a year, at a cost of somewhere around $350. Dental insurance worthy of the name would cost me rather more than thirty bucks a month, and it wouldn't cover all of that stuff in full. Admittedly, I don't have teenagers in need of orthodontia, and the damage repaired that day didn't require crowns and such, but in the absence of some major catastrophe — and now you know why I'm getting three cleanings and one set of X-rays a year — I don't really see the need for buying dental insurance, unless I can find something that covers only major treatments, which presumably wouldn't cost so much.

I thought about that while reading this piece by Arnold Kling:

I think that the most important point about health insurance in the United States is that it is not really insurance. [Mark] Thoma says [in this article], "In general, insurance gives us financial protection from unexpected events — a tree falls on our house, we have a car accident, we become unemployed, we become sick and need health care, and so on."

But what we call health insurance covers things like new eyeglasses, which is not a rare, catastrophic event. It seems to me that the big market failure in health insurance is that it exists to protect health care suppliers from having to bill patients directly rather than to protect consumers from catastrophic loss. That is, the failure is not in the way risks are managed by insurance companies, but in the very structure of what we call health insurance.

Before we leap to having single-payer health insurance, we ought to change health insurance to something that looks like insurance, not like a scheme to insulate individual consumers from all health expenses.

James Joyner took on this premise and drew some interesting comments:

Just Me:
[Health] insurance has taken on what is the equivalent of auto insurance covering oil changes, tire rotations and spark plug changes. All of those services are relatively cheap compared to fixing a fixing the body from an accident, but everyone needs oil changes, tire rotations and new spark plugs — not everyone has an accident. I haven’t had a car accident in almost 20 years, my auto insurance likes me, but I have 2-3 oil changes and tire rotations a year.

Steve Verdon:
Mark Thoma’s example using a tree falling on one’s house is an excellent example. It is a rare event and it is generally expensive. Hence, it is possible to come up with an insurance policy that people might find reasonable. But having a homeowners policy that covers light bulb changing, broken windows, and a clogged sink is another matter altogether.

For the record, my scheduled medical expenses each year (unscheduled ones are, not surprisingly, harder to forecast) run about $2200 a year; actual copayments are around $600. I couldn't tell you how much my actual health coverage costs, though I suspect it's around $3500 a year; I can't help but wonder how much it would be if I were to pick up that $1600 (the difference between the copays and the actual price of the services and prescriptions) myself.

I don't see, though, any great demand to switch to health care that covers only the hyperexpensive stuff, no matter how little it might cost in comparison, and until there's a demand, I have no reason to expect there to be much of a supply.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 AM)
22 October 2006
Forget sticks and stones

Only words matter today, apparently:

Friday night, Steve Lyons makes an ill-advised joke in good fun with his broadcast partner, and gets fired. Saturday, Miami players use their cleats and helmets as weapons, and get only a one-game suspension.

Call me kooky, but shouldn’t we have a little more tolerance for words and ideas and jokes, and little less for assault and battery with a deadly weapon?

Not on your life. Flesh wounds eventually heal. But cruel words cut straight to the heart, where they fester for all eternity.

At least, that's what we're told to believe, usually by the same people who quote Matthew 7:1 and manage to miss the rest of the chapter.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:56 AM)
Does not affect the ozone layer

Or so I assume. In Japan, you can buy spray cans of oxygen, in case you can't find any of the stuff in the actual air. This might have been a big hit in Los Angeles in the Fifties, when the air had this vaguely meringue-like texture; I'm not sure how well it would go over today, though if you turned it loose at 42nd and Treadmill, they'd use it to blow cookie crumbs out of their keyboards.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:19 PM)
26 October 2006
Properly centered

The way to get America's attention, says Tam, is to invoke the sacred Middle Class:

The reason for this is because in America, we're all middle class. Really. Don't believe me? Go ask any American whether he'd consider himself "Poor" or "Rich" or what, and I guarantee you that unless he's currently sitting in a cardboard box over a sidewalk grate or on the deck of a 125' yacht anchored off Cabo San Lucas, he'll say "Neither, really. I reckon I'm just middle class." This is maybe the only nation on the planet where the guy in the $500,000 house with a new Benz in the driveway and the single mom making $8/hr at the Food Lion and living in a single wide will both sigh and turn up the volume to listen in when the TV announcer says "A new threat to the Middle Class!", thinking he's talking to them.

I suppose I should look for where I stand. The Bureau of the Census has Median Household Income tables only up to 2003; I'm above the state level for '03, but below the national. (I'm waiting for the Democrats to announce a platform plank which calls for all 50 states to be above the national median. The GOP, for its part, will simply tell me that it's my own damn fault I'm not rich.)

So who is the true middle class? Tam says:

... those folks schlepping their way through the 40-hour grind in cubicleville to keep up with payments on their '02 Camry.

My car is older, and my grind longer, but otherwise that pretty much sounds like me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:51 PM)
30 October 2006
What a lovely neighborhood

And Her Majesty's Government plans to make bloody sure it costs you:

Families who live in desirable areas face massive increases in their council tax bills under plans being drawn up by Labour, it was revealed. Homeowners in affluent neighbourhoods with good schools, low crime rates and clean streets could be charged thousands of pounds extra than those in more run down places.

And how will they do this? By computer, of course:

The software, which will be used in the forthcoming revaluation of all 21 million homes in England, contains astonishingly detailed data on the number of households, even those who have pets, wear contact lenses or are vegetarian.

It allows inspectors to put a precise value on each home, based not only by its size and features, but its location.

The move is a further blow to homeowners who are facing the prospect of being fined for refusing to let council tax inspectors come into their homes to photograph any improvements.

Campaigners have warned that bills could rise by as much as four times in areas which are deemed 'desirable' — sending some bills spiralling from £1,000 to £4,000.

Under the current tax system, which dates back to 1993, the council tax, as it's called, has eight brackets or "bands": the highest band, H, is for structures valued (in 1991, the standardized base) at more than £320,000. Each governing council levies at its own rate, but the bands are consistent throughout England; Wales and Scotland have slightly different bands.

It should be noted that in 1991, when the bands were set, the average English home sold for £73,000; it's now over £180,000.

And there's this:

Sir Sandy Bruce Lockhart, the chairman of the Local Government Association, said [last year] that wholesale reform was needed of how local government was funded. Council tax was flawed and revaluation would only add to the problem, he said. "It cannot be sensible to base a property tax on house prices in 1991 but we do not believe that people should be penalised because their homes have increased in value during the past decade."

A few local notes:

  • Leonard Sullivan, assessor for Oklahoma County, says that by the end of this year every single piece of real property in the county will have been visually inspected by his office. So far as I can tell, they were here in 2003, slightly before I moved in; state law requires a reinspection every four years.

  • Taxes on the palatial Surlywood estate for this year come to $824 (£443).

  • Online records go back only to 1993, at which time the tax was $253 (£133).

  • During those years, assessed value (11 percent of market value) increased from $3702 to $8508, subject to a cap law in some of those years.

Much as I feel for the Brits, or indeed any overtaxed folks, they're apparently not getting hit with anything we haven't seen Stateside.

But now this is interesting:

The Tories warned that if it was introduced in England, average bills would soar by £436 a year, with middle-class households in the South and South East worst hit.

Several councils would see average annual bills rise by more than £1,000. In many Labour heartlands, by contrast, average bills would fall, because house price rises have been less dramatic since the last national revaluation.

Make of that what you will.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 AM)
Too smart a dog

They told me when I was younger I might be "too smart for my own damn good." Being unable to extrapolate from my own experience — I'm hardly an unbiased observer — I've never been quite able to explain what that means.

Until perhaps now. Buddy is a Border Collie, as dogs go incredibly bright, but there's a downside:

Buddy is 6 years old, and sadly, thinks he has Alzheimer's. Yes, I realize that the last half of that sentence is totally insane, so let me try and explain.

Buddy's previous owner actually had Alzheimer's. And since her house was the only reality he ever had, his example of behavior was to be completely surprised and amazed at every event. Since he is a Border Collie (the smartest of the dog breeds) Buddy started to believe that this reaction was the way everyone reacted to everything. And so Buddy began to "learn" Alzheimer's.

Buddy's behavior is to be constantly surprised by every single event. Every time you take him out of a crate — fear and amazement. Every time he goes outside — fear and amazement. Every time he steps on his own leash — absolute fear and amazement. And he does all of these things several times a day. And he is still terrified and surprised when they happen — every single time.

Dogs, of course, don't actually get Alzheimer's. But if we've learned anything about incredible simulations, they can be just as scary as the real thing. Maybe more so.

The latter half of my life has been spent unlearning fears, one at a time. I still have entirely too many of them to go.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:03 AM)
31 October 2006
005, maybe

Dame Judi Dench assures us that Daniel Craig, the new James Bond, is ... oh, hell, just read it:

The British actress caught a glimpse of the hunky actor's impressive appendage as he was getting dressed in his trailer which was situated opposite her own.

Dench, who plays secret service boss M in the new movie [Casino Royale], told Britain's Daily Star newspaper: "It's an absolute monster! Maybe I shouldn't have said that. How uncouth of me!"

This seems rather unlike Dench, whose couth is unquestioned; according to Defamer, it's also rather unlike Craig.

For my part, I remain neither shaken nor stirred.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:03 AM)
Mr Otis regrets

Donna proposes the following minor change for elevators:

Elevators should be equipped with a carpet that is emblazoned with circles showing where riders should stand. The circles can even have numbers in the middle of them showing where the first person should stand and the second, third, and so forth. This will make it easier for everyone because there will be no question as to where riders should stand AND it will stop all the Japanese people from crowding into the elevator even after it has been sufficiently filled to capacity.

It might be more comprehensible than "Maximum capacity X lbs.", where you just know that guy over in the corner all by himself weighs X-50.

Baby strollers and such, though, will complicate matters.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:00 PM)
1 November 2006
The new Hostage Incentive Plan

News Item: Iran has said it would offer cash incentives to travel agencies to encourage Western tourists to visit the country, giving a premium for Americans, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Tuesday. The proposal is Iran's latest bid to reach out to ordinary Americans in an attempt by the Islamic Republic's political leadership to show that its quarrel is with the U.S. administration — not U.S. citizens.

The old American Embassy will hold 66 persons, more or less indefinitely.

(Via Francis W. Porretto.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 AM)
6 November 2006
Display error

The idea seemed sane enough: if we (by which I mean "they," since this didn't happen to me) actually had a car here, we could sell more car stereos, since shoppers would be able to hear the equipment in its proper environment.

A deal was struck with an automaker, and as the new store began to take shape, the contractor was called in to remove one of the pillars near the entrance so that the car could be moved into the store.

He declined, and of course store staff wanted to know why:

"You don't have a car."

Patiently the staff explained the deal with the automaker and how everything was supposed to go.

"But you don't have a car."

"It will be here soon."

"Uh, no, it won't. It's on the bottom of the ocean."

Last I heard, salvage operations were continuing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:06 AM)
9 November 2006
Maybe they can sell them as "Plus Iron"

Perrigo Company, which makes store-brand equivalents of name-brand over-the-counter drugs, some of which I use, is recalling 11 million bottles of 500-mg acetaminophen caplets after discovering metal fragments in about 200 individual pills.

The company blames premature wear of its pill-stamping equipment. No injuries have so far been reported, and no severe injuries are expected.

Acetaminophen is the generic form of the drug sold as Tylenol®. No Tylenol-branded products are affected by the recall. The affected batches are listed here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:58 PM)
10 November 2006
A pox upon them

I am normally not one to wish ill will upon an energy company — I live in the shadow of the oil patch, after all, and anything collected in Oklahoma Gross Production Tax is a sum the state won't ask me to pay — but after twenty-seven spams touting the over-the-counter stock of Cana Petroleum (symbol: CNPM), I can only hope that these people end up with dry holes, and not in a good way, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:45 AM)
12 November 2006
Sanitized for your protection

"Women must not show their femininity in their social interactions."
       — Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah, as quoted here

To further this goal, Snoopy the Goon unveils (so to speak) a true Pan-Islamic Gown. It provides the proper protections against that which is seductive, yet it is remarkably inexpensive.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:22 AM)
You know the drill

Best definition I've ever heard:

HACKSAW:  One of a family of cutting tools built on the Ouija board principle. It transforms human energy into a crooked, unpredictable motion and the more you attempt to influence its course, the more dismal your future becomes.

I can also vouch for this one:

VISE-GRIPS:  Next generation Pliers. Also used to round off bolt heads. If nothing else is available, they can also be used to transfer intense welding heat to the palm of your hand.

A whole boxful of tools here.

(Via Tam.)

Update, 4 pm: pdb traces this list to the nonpareil Peter Egan.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
14 November 2006
Steerage in the stratosphere

Me, about two years ago:

It's not that I'm suffering from Fear of Flying, which is more precisely described as Fear of Crashing; I've logged tens of thousands of miles over the years. (There was a brief period in my early twenties when I'd flown more miles than I had driven.) But I seldom bother these days. One reason is simple efficiency: except for the World Tours in the summertime, most of my destinations are fairly close by, and while flying is quicker, there's still the annoyance of lining up ground transportation at the destination point. Unless the fare is incredibly cheap — there once was a time when Southwest offered an occasional OKC-MCI (Kansas City) one-way fare for $19 plus tax — it's less of a hassle to drive.

And there's one other issue, which may be summed up as "Flying's just no fun anymore." Justin Bond (yes, this Justin Bond) may enjoy the Shortbus, but he draws the line at the Airbus:

These days you arrive in London, the south of France, or Shanghai feeling and looking like a dried-up piece of old toast. Not chic. Crabby flight attendants, screaming children, stinky diapers, and a lack of water make airplanes the modern-day equivalent of dodo birds circling the earth at 30,000 feet. I don't want to get on anything called an airbus! I'm not flying so I can take the bus. Give me a supple leather Hermès overnight bag, filled with unguents and potions, gently tucked into an overhead compartment. I want to be served by a lovely young man or woman gaily skipping down a spiral staircase in a cute little outfit designed by one of Halston's successors. Let them bring me a glass of champagne with a twinkle in their eyes. Where's my application for the mile-high club? I want to "fly the friendly skies" again.

This isn't exactly my vision of a successful flight, but it's a hell of a lot closer than any of us are likely to see any time soon; God forbid the TSA should find anyone bearing unguents. Where's Braniff when you need them?

(Found in The Out Traveler, Winter 2006.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:17 AM)
15 November 2006
Next: the Mulching Shaver

McGehee tests the Hydra of razors, the five-blade Gillette Fusion, and does the cost-benefit analysis:

The question, then, will be whether throwing away a couple of disposables a week costs me as much as the supply of quintuple-blade cartridges I would go through if I adopted this gizmo as The Official Thatch-Scratcher of Yippee-Ki-Yay! World Headquarters.

On the face of it (no pun intended, but graciously accepted), the answer should be "no" — but the reason the disposables die off so quickly is that the tiny space between the blades fills up with stubble and can’t be cleared. The blades themselves are rather wide, compared to the almost wire-like cutting surfaces of the Fusion. I can imagine the stubble problem virtually disappearing with this new thing. So I’ll have to give it a try.

Just not right now.

Which explains my ongoing loyalty to the Schick Super Twin, a disposable with a meager two edges — a Hyundai among the Benzes and Beemers of razordom — but with a little white tab which, when pushed, forces the accumulated stubbly bits out of their hiding place, giving this razor unmatched rinsability and, by extrapolation, substantial extra life. A bag of ten ($8 or so) will last me all year. (Your mileage, of course, may vary, especially if you have a beard like Fidel's or legs like [pick a name, I'm trying to concentrate here].)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:40 AM)
17 November 2006
The cost of meth

In Europe, at least, you can see it with your own two eyes:

Users of the drug crystal methamphetamine may be causing euro banknotes to disintegrate, German police have told Der Spiegel magazine.

Sulphates used in the production of the drug could form sulphuric acid when mixed with human sweat, they say, causing banknotes to corrode.

Drug users sniff powdered crystals through rolled up banknotes.

About 1,500 banknotes have crumbled after being withdrawn from cash machines, German banking officials say.

Advantage: cocaine, which sticks to your currency without dissolving it.

(Via Lemuel Kolkava.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
Puff the magic Camel

Were I five instead of fiftysomething, if I were to mention today that both my parents smoked, I'd expect to see representatives of the State at the door within minutes, their jackboots temporarily replaced by "sensible" shoes, their court orders demanding my removal to a foster home angrily brandished, their Utter Horror undiluted and obvious.

So I tend to yawn at things like the Great American Smokeout. And I yawn further when I reflect on the tendency of present-day media to pretend that tobacco doesn't exist as an actual plant, only as an Evil Cartel, and to attempt to expunge any and all references to it that might possibly come into the field of vision of someone not yet old enough to vote.

A yawn, though, doesn't count for much, which is perhaps why artist Sean Gleeson is presenting a gallery of Great American Smokers. He explains the motivation thusly:

In our opinion, these American statesmen, scientists, artists, and heroes tower above the whiny quitters whom the [American Cancer Society] would have you take for role models.

Besides, it's cold outside, and as Al Gore reminds us, lighting up contributes to global warming.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
19 November 2006
Zillow: approaching plausibility?

The palatial Surlywood estate now carries a Zestimate of $93,730, which might even be reasonable. (I've been saying that somewhere in the middle 90s was plausible, more or less ever since they came up with the startling sum of $117,695 back in the summer, a figure which, I felt, couldn't possibly be justified.)

Not that I'm particularly upset; it's just a number, and I'm not planning to sell anyway. Others might take umbrage, and some actually have: the National Community Reinvestment Coalition has filed a complaint about Zillow.com with the Federal Trade Commission. Says NCRC:

Washington, DC — October 26, 2006 — Today, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) filed a consumer protection complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleging Internet financial services and real estate provider Zillow.com is misleading consumers, real estate professionals and financial service providers in on-line home valuations.

According to NCRC, Zillow.com — who represents to offer unbiased valuations to over 67 million homes across the country — knowingly uses an automated valuation model (AVM) that is highly inaccurate and misleading.

"Zillow is placing the American dream of homeownership at risk for countless working families," says John Taylor, NCRC President and CEO. "For a company that represents to consumers that they are the 'Kelley Blue Book of Homes,' this is a very dangerous situation. We call upon the FTC to intervene and ensure that Americans receive accurate appraisals and valuation information to protect the single most important investment of their lives: their home."

Curbed.com's San Francisco blog finds this a trifle amusing:

It's an interesting dilemma. Zillow exists to bring real estate information to the consumer. It's also an entertainment site (baby, are you still zillowing? Come to bed...) Are dishonest appraisers ... using the notoriously (hilariously, even) unreliable Zestimates to cheat black, immigrant and unsophisticated homeowners?

I dunno. I've never met any dishonest appraisers, but obviously this doesn't mean that they don't exist. I suspect, though, that more people are using Zillow as a get-a-load-of-this site than as an actual valuation oracle. Certainly I've done my part to encourage this sort of thing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:52 AM)
Thought while opening a $6.99 DVD

When did "full" become the opposite of "wide"?

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:17 PM)
25 November 2006
Wet ones of ass production

Expiring European patent: "A device for collecting flatus gas from a human or animal subject, the device comprising a gas-tight collecting tube ... for insertion into the rectum of the subject and retaining means comprising a pair of O rings ... locatable in the subject's inter-sphincter groove...."

I don't know about the rest of you, but this is not this old fart's idea of "in the groove." Maybe you can sell it to Jumpin' Jack Flash.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:40 PM)
27 November 2006
Batteries included

David Hermance, Toyota's head of Advanced Technology Vehicles — the Prius is essentially his baby — was killed over the weekend when his private plane crashed off the California coast.

I fear Tam may be right:

Fifty rounds of .22LR ammunition to the first person to spot a thread on Moonbat HQ Democratic Underground pinning the blame on BushCo/Big Oil.

(Offer made by Tamara K., Knoxville, TN. Not valid in places where ownership of ammunition is prohibited, but if you live in such a place, for God's sake move!)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:24 AM)
3 December 2006
Parasites? The Flood in Halo

Mrs. Bluebird tries to connect with her class by bringing in a subject they know, with dismaying results:

Knowing that my kids are pretty much obsessed with video games I told them that endocytosis, where a cell engulfs a large particle and brings it into the cell, is a lot like Pacman.

This leads to a conversation about how exocytosis (where the cell expells a large particle) is a lot like another character from another video game, one which I wasn't familiar with. I start asking them about this when one of my kids asks, "Don't you know anything about video games?"

The teacher admits that no, she doesn't own any of the gaming systems. The students gape open-mouthed: they'd never dreamed it was possible that anyone over the age of 10 didn't have at least a PS2.

One of my kids, Pig Pen, who is very messy but very, very bright, says, "You know, it's a good thing you and Mr. Bluebird don't have any kids, because it would be really mean to have them grow up without a video game system."

Wait until she tells them that there were times in the distant past, when dinosaurs still walked the earth, when nobody had video game systems.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:16 AM)
4 December 2006
To say nothing of "cameltoe"

Isaac Schrödinger suggests that one benchmark for liberty in Islamic countries will be pornography:

Understand: when I say pornography, I'm including everything from Playboy to the most hardcore, um, stuff. Westerners might think that this definition is too broad but for many Muslims any woman without a burqa is hardcore.

Currently in almost all the Islamic lands, women have few, if any, rights. Men always come first and women come second (or sometimes not at all). Women should have the right to make their sexual or sensual choices. Pornography will thus be the ultimate expression of women's freedom in Dar al-Islam.

Of course, this doesn't mean that Muslims have to approve the whole enterprise. They also don't have to encourage their children to go into the adult entertainment industry. What it does mean is that they don't harm those who make that choice. That is the logic of liberty.

Another beneficial aspect: sexual tension among the sexes will be diminished. This will lead to a lessening of Jihad recruits. Of course, their numbers won't be fully eliminated since one can find numerous Jihadists among the sex-saturated West. But it'll certainly make an impact on those who piously dig Allah for the (imaginary) chicks.

I'm not sure I buy that last paragraph — we're awash in smut here in the Civilized World, and I fail to see any substantial lessening of sexual tension — but it's got to be awfully hard to hide the average explosive belt under a tight tank top.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:55 AM)
I've got to be somebody

Jacqueline Passey has disappeared from Wikipedia, and she's not exactly upset about it:

As much as I like links and free publicity and all, even I don't think that C-list internet "celebrities" are notable enough to be included in an encyclopedia.

D-listers like myself aren't likely to be included either. But after reading this, I did sit down and ponder the question: "Do I know anyone who might rate a page in Wikipedia?"

Specifying as a condition of "know" actual physical existence in the same room at the same time, I decided that there might be two.

And I was right, sort of.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:16 PM)
10 December 2006
Browning the Grey Lady

Venezuela is raising customs taxes by 15 percent on a number of imports, including Scots whisky, razor blades, sailboats — and toilet paper.

Fausta suggests a plan which will benefit both suffering Venezuelan consumers and an ailing US newspaper:

[The New York Times] should give a small grant to the people of Venezuela so they can subscribe to the "All News That's Fit To Fabricate Print" dead-tree rag, on the condition that the money is used only to pay for the subscription. The NYT will up its paid subscriber numbers — after all, there are 26 million people in Venezuela — and the Venezuelans will save money.

And just how, precisely, will they save money?

[T]he stone-cold sober Venezuelans will let the stubble grow, sit in the dark when the power goes out, and reach for the New York Times "in the loo" when the non-essential tp runs out.

The downside? The Times, so far as I know, is not known for its absorbency.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:41 AM)
Bring your stud finder

Burbed.com has a listing for a condo on Male Terrace in Fremont, California. That's a condo, not a condom.

Then again, I could be wrong:

Shows Well * Great Location within Complex * Near Shop School and Pubic Transit *

For someone's sake, I hope said transit isn't, um, rapid.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 PM)
12 December 2006
Snitches of the future

Fayetteville, Arkansas is enlisting children to look for city code violations:

An educational program to teach kids how to spot building and property code violations — complete with colorful characters such as "Willie Weeds" and "Trashy Tina" — will be in the hot little hands of local children soon, thanks to Fayetteville city officials. The program is funded by a federal Community Development Block Grant and corporate sponsors.

The centerpiece of the idea is an activity book listing "Fayetteville's Dirty Dozen." Don't expect Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson to make an appearance, though. Instead, officials expect kids to take their cues from characters like "Willie Weeds," a peace-sign-flashing, Birkenstock-wearing collector of crabgrass and other filthy foliage.

Yolanda Fields, community resources director for the city, said the activity book is intended to educate future homeowners before they develop bad habits. The other benefit, she added, is children can inform their parents.

Or, inevitably, inform on their parents.

They deny it, of course:

The books, aimed at fourth- and fifth-graders, are part of a larger effort. No, Fields said, it's not to get kids to rat out their parents for yard violations.

"It's a full-blown interactive education program," she said.

The operative term here is "blown."

Remember, children: your first duty is to the government. You are pwned from the day you are born.

Then again, this is a town that doles out specific quantities of trash bags per year, and should you need more than that, it will cost you.

(Via Hit & Run.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:23 AM)
Because you still haven't found a PS3

Try the Easy-Bake Meth Lab.

(Via Pop Culture Junk Mail.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:13 PM)
An ounce of image, etc.

Belhoste found this on craigslist:

Phone chat operators wanted. Work from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Fantasy phone line. Female sounding voices wanted for primarily male clients.

Which implies, at least to some extent, that they don't have to be actual female voices, so long as they sound female.

Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 PM)
13 December 2006
Next: hybrid hedge trimmers

The Environmental Protection Agency will propose a new national emissions standard for lawn and garden equipment, following approval of new California standards.

This has actually been in the works for some time, but Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) has been trying to block the move. Briggs & Stratton, the largest manufacturer of small engines for lawn equipment, has two plants in Missouri, and has said that major engine redesigns could result in the closing of those plants.

Bond finally signed off on a measure which would prohibit other states from copying the California standard, as usually permitted by the Clean Air Act, but which required the EPA to introduce a national standard, which might be weaker than California's.

The Autoextremist reports that California-bound mowers will have catalytic converters — an EPA study, demanded by Bond, determined that the smog gear introduced no additional safety risk — and that the California Air Resources Board expects the price of a push mower to rise between $37 and $52.

And, California being California, I assume they will come up with some way to appear to mitigate these costs on behalf of the undocumented workers who actually cut the grass.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 PM)
14 December 2006
Barking up the wrong tree

Some of this might be plausible, but I have reasons to be suspicious:

The color of a dog's fur may seem to be just a whim of nature and genetics that reveals little about the dog. But a new study claims that coat color for at least one breed, the English cocker spaniel, reflects a pooch's personality.

Prior research has suggested that fur color is also linked to behavior in labrador retrievers, while the type of fur — in this case, wiry or long — may indicate temperament in miniature dachshunds. Wiry-haired mini dachshunds are often more feisty than their mellower, long-haired cousins.

Well, duh. Anybody who knows anything about dachshunds, which these guys manifestly don't, will patiently explain that the original dachshund was the classic smooth-coated wiener dog. The wirehaired variety was developed by careful crossbreeding with terriers, particularly the Dandie Dinmont, which has the same low-slung carriage. And terriers, while they didn't invent canine attitude, act like they own the trademark. Longhaired dachs come from ancient dachshund/spaniel mixes; it's the spaniel contribution, not the coat itself, that produces their relative mellowness.

What's more, Labs don't necessarily breed true to color; it's not all that unusual to have a puppy a different color from its parents, unless both of them are yellow.

But let us continue:

The latest study, recently published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, determined that golden/red English cocker spaniels exhibit the most dominant and aggressive behavior. Black dogs in this breed were found to be the second most aggressive, while particolor (white with patches of color) were discovered to be more mild-mannered.

And all the other variations fall somewhere in between?

Helpful hint, guys: You want to perform a service to all of dogkind? Figure out a way to keep a Dalmatian from sulking.

(Via Scribal Terror.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 AM)
What the fjuck?

The townsfolk of Fjuckby, Sweden are tired of being the butt of jokes and have petitioned the country's National Heritage Board to change the town's name, preferably back to "Fjukeby," which was the usual spelling up until the 1930s or so.

Fjuckby apparently has the worst of two worlds: not only does it contain the English F-word, but it also contains the Swedish equivalent thereof.

Possible candidates for future name changes in Sweden: Anusviken, Arslet and Dicken.

(Via Fark.com.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:16 AM)
16 December 2006
We want ... a shrubbery!

Steve Patterson analyzes on-street parking in St. Louis:

On-street parking does a number of things beneficial to the pedestrian — namely helping to slow traffic in the travel lanes as well as providing a big buffer between sidewalk and moving vehicles. Using the curb bump outs and other techniques it is possible to acheive a good balance in this mix.

"But how would eliminating parking kill the street," you ask? Simple, we do not have the density required to keep the sidewalks busy at all times. Sure, we have a number of pedestrians now that make the street look lively but take away the cars and those same number of pedestrians now looks pathetic. We'd need considerably more pedestrians on the sidewalks to make up for the loss of perceived activity contributed by the parked cars. You might argue that removing parked cars from the street would increase pedestrian traffic but such a cause-effect is only wishful thinking. Density is what increases pedestrian traffic, not the absense of parked cars. Without parked cars the street would look vacant and as it looked vacant you'd have less and less pedestrians because they would not feel as safe on the street. Eventually we’d see less stores as a result.

This made a certain amount of sense to me here in Oklahoma City, and also to Michael Bates in Tulsa. But encouraging those hateful car owners will never fly in Seattle:

To wean people from their cars, encourage new small businesses and add greenery, the Seattle City Council told businesses and developers Monday they no longer need to provide parking in some areas but must plant more shrubs.

The new rules, to take effect in January, could make parking tougher across the city.

And if shoppers decide to vote with their steering wheels and spend money in the suburbs? "Ni!"

(Via Sound Politics.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
Ill-fitting suits

"Weird Al" Yankovic's Straight Outta Lynwood contains a track called "I'll Sue Ya," which contains lines like this:

I sued Verizon ... 'cause I get all depressed every time my cell phone is roaming
I sued Colorado ... 'cause, you know, I think it looks a little too much like Wyoming

A regular litigatin' fool, this guy. And as always, Weird Al was prescient; while the CD was still playing, I dialed over to Fark.com and found this:

Pro se litigant George Allen Ward is suing Arm & Hammer and its corporate parent, Church & Dwight, for $425 million. His theory of liability: failure to warn. The company failed to warn him that if he cooked up THEIR PRODUCT, baking soda, with cocaine, he might end up serving a 200-month prison sentence on crack cocaine charges.

Once again, Yankovic demonstrates his sure grasp of the fine points of American culture. (And you thought he was just white and nerdy.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:21 PM)
20 December 2006
File under "Don't do that"

This goes for both the guy in the Chevy who was driving up the wrong side of the remains of the Classen Circle at a quarter to seven this morning — he didn't hit anything, far as I can tell — and the person who left the typo in the Climatological Data for Bethany/Wiley Post Airport this month, indicating we had 999 inches of snow back on the first.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:10 AM)
23 December 2006
606 and all that

While laughing my way through another screenful of Iowahawk satire, I found myself pondering this Tale of True-ish History, not least because I was born not so far away from Chicago, geographically and chronologically. And being the geek I am, I naturally zeroed in on the least-compelling aspect of it:

[T]he best back story of all belongs to the 606 Club at 606 S. Wabash. By all accounts this discreet gentleman's club — which started as a Prohibition-era speakeasy — was the swankiest joint in town, with the prettiest girls, and catered to a clientele of the rich and powerful. Among them was a young Chicago magazine publisher named Hugh Hefner, who used the 606 as a model for the new "Playboy Club" he would open on the Northside in 1960.

The 606 was also a nexus for Chicago's powerful political machine. Its owner, Louis W. Nathan, was Democratic precinct captain for the city's First Ward and was a ninja in the ancient Chicago art of vote manufacturing. In fact, he was convicted of election fraud in 1956 for his part in a 1954 vote-rigging scheme. The conviction cost him his job as precinct captain, but not his liquor license; and the 606 continued to be a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. According to legend, the 606 Club is the site where Nathan, Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, and a Massachusetts senator named Jack Kennedy first worked out a plan to deliver enough Chicago "votes" for Kennedy to take the 1960 presidential election.

The kicker: according to the same legend, when the first US postal zip codes were being assigned in the early days of the Kennedy administration, both Kennedy and Daley insisted on the strangely out-of-sequence "606" prefix for all Chicago zip codes, as an eternal tribute and inside joke.

Snopes hasn't addressed this, so I decided to look at the map, which looks something like this:

USA Zip Code regions

A quick glance indicates that this distribution isn't quite as weird as it sounds: if heading west from 4 to 6 is offputting, clearly heading west from 3 to 7 should be more so, and no one seems concerned about that. If the 3000 potential Illinois Zips were reassigned to the 5 range, you'd have to pull 3000 out of the rest of the region somehow, and the only way to do that and still maintain the appearance of continuity is to reassign Montana and the Dakotas to the 6 range. (Of course, Montana looks like it should be an 8 no matter what, but that's another issue.)

As for 606 in Chicago specifically, the numbers there follow a standard USPS pattern: lower numbers in the 'burbs, the higher ones in the city. (Atlanta, for instance, is 303xx; it's surrounded by 300 through 302.) 600 and 601 are to the north; 604 and 605 are to the south. (602 and 603 are Aurora and Oak Park respectively.) New York and Los Angeles don't follow this rule, but this is because their specific post offices cover only a small part of their cities; mail from the San Fernando Valley is postmarked Van Nuys. If they really did rig this setup, they certainly made it look ordinary.

A really rigged deal: In Canada, Santa Claus has his own postal code — H0H 0H0.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:05 PM)
26 December 2006
Things I can only imagine

Do you know what would be incredibly freaking cool? A sink stopper for a garbage disposer with a grab handle on either side, so that it could be easily retrieved in circumstances like, oh, being knocked into position upside down as the water starts flowing into the sink and simultaneously the telephone rings.

Okay, so I'm easily pleased. Deal with it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 AM)
28 December 2006
Taking it on the chin

One of these days, I'm going to have to figure out which came first: the five-bladed Gillette Fusion razor, or the three-bladed (or so it appears, judging by the grille) Ford Fusion sedan.

Last month, McGehee reported getting one of these in the mail. The Gillette, I mean, not the Ford. At the time, I proclaimed my loyalty to a lower-tech scraping device, which probably has nothing to do with the arrival of a Fusion at my door today. The Gillette, I mean, not the Ford.

At first glance, I don't see the appeal: this thing looks like something you'd use to disassemble constant-velocity joints, and industrial-strength auto-service tools are generally something I'd like to keep at a safe distance from my face. They did throw in a bribe — $4 in store coupons — but of course, as McGehee has already noted, "Gillette is giving this shaver away because they hope to make the real money selling ... the blades." I thought of offering this to a woman with gorgeous legs, but it occurred to me that she might think that I thought that she needed it, which would be counterproductive in the extreme.

But then there's the question of washability, in which case the Fusion rules. The Ford, I mean, not the Gillette.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:32 PM)
29 December 2006
Yeah, but how did it taste?

The first clue came when the birthday cake proved unusually hard to cut:

"No — look for yourself," said Jim Kavalaris, motioning for his mother to come closer and see what he meant. "It's not REAL."


What it was, was Styrofoam:

Beneath the edible icing, the cake, bought at Sam's Club at Eastwood Towne Center [Lansing, MI], was pure Styrofoam.

Sam's Club manager Jeff Hartsaw theorized that an employee must have mistakenly picked up a Styrofoam display cake coated with white frosting, thought it was real and added the finishing touches ordered by Kavalaris' mother.

And Sam's made good: they made up a new cake, a real one this time, refunded the price of the foam cake, and gave the Kavalaris family a $100 gift card.

(Via The Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:45 AM)
30 December 2006
As I take a swig of drain cleaner

Trini and I were talking allergies the other day, and she's got a bunch of them: peanuts, some soaps, inadequate operating-system documentation. To my knowledge, I'm not allergic to anything at all, and I attributed this bit of good fortune, mostly tongue-in-cheek, to an unscheduled visit to the middle of a Texas cesspool in the early 1960s. "If that didn't kill me," I quipped, "what can?"

Maybe I wasn't kidding:

It was a much more savage and lawless time on the playground in those days, and one wonders if our modern predilection for defeating Darwin won't have repercussions on the vitality of the race down the road. In these depressing times I've seen people want to go to emergency rooms for "injuries" that wouldn't have rated a Time Out from a pine cone war when I was a kid. I remember one neighborhood kid who stopped a BB during a territorial dispute back in the day ... and Bobby cowboyed up and drove on, and the BB gun war was forgotten, and we spent the rest of the afternoon on the same team, clearing the swamp of Orcs (or Germans or Indians or Klingons or whatever was infesting it that week). For all I know, Bobby's still carrying that BB around in his arm.

Not today, though; today we sap and impurify kids' precious bodily fluids by swaddling them in bubble wrap from their first breath 'til the age of majority, when we then expect them to vote responsibly and make wise financial decisions. We need to stop. We need to weed out the slow and the stupid again. We need to let Darwin back into the home. Take the covers off your outlets. Store your dangerous household chemicals in the middle of the living room floor. Keep a pet Bengal tiger.

I don't know if I'd go that far — surely the Murphy's Oil Soap can't be good for the tiger — but as P. J. O'Rourke noted, pain is the body's way of showing us we're boneheads, and if you don't learn that early, you will surely learn it late, when it hurts a heck of a lot more.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:16 AM)
Who the **** are you?

The new AT&T, like the old AT&T, is woefully behind the times. After the seventh call in twenty-four hours from 866-801-8623 (whoever you are, go perform an unnatural act with a diseased goat, and don't call me back to tell me you've completed the task), I went looking for blocking services, and this is what they came up with:

Call Blocker is a service that prevents up to ten pre-selected local numbers from ringing through to your phone.

Hello? "Local numbers" aren't the issue here. I want a blocking service that can reject any number I can see in Caller ID, plus all "Out Of Area" numbers, and I'm willing to pay more than the $3 a month they're asking for their existing service. (The Privacy Manager service, which costs $4, will take care of the numbers with no Caller ID tags, but does nothing to callers who have a number listed, even if it's bogus.)

I suppose what I want is a passworded phone: you dial in, you're asked for a PIN or something, and if I've assigned you one, you get through; otherwise, you get dead air. But I'll happily accept a dumber system that simply blocks 8XX toll-free numbers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:00 PM)
Dispatch from the Disinformation Highway

Kissing cousin to "fake but accurate" is "correct but meaningless," and here's a splendid example of the latter, courtesy of CNN:

A giant ice shelf the size of 11,000 football fields has snapped free from Canada's Arctic, scientists said.

The mass of ice broke clear 16 months ago from the coast of Ellesmere Island, about 800 kilometers (497 miles) south of the North Pole, but no one was present to see it in Canada's remote north.

The problem with this is that the comparison gives you no useful information:

Since when did football fields become a unit of measure like feet or yards? Usually when you talk about something being as big as a football field, you do it so the reader can visualize the size comparison. But who can really visualize 11,000 football fields, as opposed to 5,000 football fields. Would they say 20,000 football fields for an ice sheet twice the size of this one? And are the football fields end-to-end or just clumped together?

And are they American football fields, or, since this happened in Canadian waters, Canadian football fields?

Farther down in the CNN article we find this:

The Ayles Ice Shelf, roughly 66 square kilometers (41 square miles) in area, was one of six major ice shelves remaining in Canada's Arctic.

Now we're getting somewhere. How about "a giant ice shelf roughly the size of Evansville, Indiana"?

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:04 PM)
1 January 2007
Gaming the game systems

It is no particular secret that rather a lot of people who lined up at the stores to grab the first PS3s and Wiis (somehow "Wiis" just looks funny, and throwing an apostrophe in there would make it look worse, quite apart from being wrong) did so with the express intention of immediately selling them at a profit.

But with over 90,000 auctions posted, how do you draw attention to your own? Exactly: throw in a little sex.

(Safety for work questionable; improvement in sales figures even more so.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:52 PM)
2 January 2007
Drive-offs? What drive-offs?

A couple of decades ago, 7-Eleven stores took it upon themselves, with a nudge from nudnik Donald Wildmon, to stop selling Playboy and its ilk. Playboy responded with a "Women of 7-Eleven" feature; I responded by taking my business elsewhere. And I am legendary for the sheer persistence of my grudges, so I wouldn't have noticed what Dave Munger noticed:

I bought a little gas at 7-11 last night. I had to go inside and pay first, which I didn't have to do there before. The lady who worked there said that it was because they were in the process of switching from Citgo gas. She'd mentioned before that they'd been having a lot of trouble with people stealing gas, but now she tells me that Citgo (a Red Venezuelan outfit) used to EAT the cost of stolen gasoline! So basically, 7-11 hadn't been bothering to stop people from stealing it.

I don't know if this extends to Oklahoma 7-Eleven stores, which are not actually owned by Southland Corporation or its Japanese parent company, but around here, just about everyone has been insistent that you pay first ever since the first glimpses of $3 gas.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:58 AM)
If it's not risky, it's not business

Last week, with the able assistance of Tamara K., I made some snide remarks about how we're approaching mandatory bubbles for boys (and, for that matter, for girls), lest they get an owie somewhere.

Andrea Harris points out that the grownups apparently yearn for bubbles of their own:

[T]he two sets of Star Trek series, the original and the new, show how our society's attitudes towards risk, and people who seek risk, have changed, and not for the better. I guess the most obvious explanation for the change is the fact that the generation currently in charge of the arts, the news media, and the educational system — hint, it was born after a certain war and the initials of its nickname are "BB" — is growing old and sickly, so everyone has to live through their increasing fears of falling over and not being able to get up just like we had to live through everything else they felt and did. This can't be good, because after growing old there is only one experience left — the one you don't live through. Then again, at least the grave is silent.

As a card-carrying member of the Vainest Generation, I have to concur. Fortunately, I didn't get much coddling early on, so it's not like me to expect any today, although my capacity for whining is at least average for my demographic cohort.

With this in mind, I'd like to borrow a hat, and then tip it to the Ethiopian army, which, in the traditional American spirit and with the assistance of some traditional Americans, fought a passel of Islamic nutjobs on a truly level playing field: if you got onto the field, you got leveled. Truly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:49 AM)
3 January 2007

There are still places that will sell you an 800 or other toll-free number, and I have to believe that the proprietors are desperate to move these things, since the entire long-distance market is about to become obsolete, thanks to cell phones and VoIP. Besides, any time I see such a number on Caller ID, I know it's a waste of time even to pick up the phone.

So when the new industrial-strength blocking device comes in, rather than force everyone to get an ID to call me, I'm simply going to block every single toll-free number in North America, be it 800, 888, 877 or 866. The machine can handle 175 database entries; this procedure will use up only four, leaving me plenty for future use.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:47 PM)
4 January 2007
A poultry excuse

Jeff Jarvis thinks he got ripped off by Burger King:

We go to Burger King because the kids eat their chicken nuggets. The dollar menu sells them four pieces for $1. At most stores, an eight-piece order used to cost more than double that, so my wife got me in the habit of ordering two four-pieces instead of one eight-piece. Finally, most of the stores saw how silly this was repriced their eight-piece nuggets to $1.99, a one-cent saving over the dollar menu. Fine. Thanks. So today, we went to another Burger King and I just ordered two eight-pieces without looking. Turns out, they don't post the price of the eight-piece and they charge $2.29 for them. So I got two eight-pieces and got 16 pieces of fried chickenesque things for $4.58. If I had ordered four four-pieces, I would have gotten the same 16 fried chickenesque things for $4.

Which, if nothing else, lends credence to the following:

  • You should never assume that prices will be consistent at franchised fast-food joints;
  • There is no incident so trivial that someone won't blog about it;
  • There is no blog post so trivial that someone won't link to it.

Oh, and Jeff? Wendy's nuggets are better.

(Seen by Rachel.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 AM)
At least it isn't TAKS evasion

Diane's son brings home a note from class, and it's a tad disquieting:

This semester the final exam will be particularly difficult. Unlike the previous final, I will not allow any notes, as it is your responsibility to keep up with your work, notes, and assignments. Nor will I allow any exemptions from my final exams, regardless of TAKS scores and final grades. You read it here first, folks, so do not ask! I believe that, as freshmen, it is good practice for all of you to understand the necessity of these tests, as they prepare you for the next three years of high school, and your collegiate career.

Not so awful, although that last sentence doesn't scan. (TAKS is the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.) But then this appears:

However, being that I am entertained by competition, I am offering two classes a free 100 on the exam, one Regular class and one Pre-AP class. Here are the rules to the contest:
  1. The class with the best overall semester grade score wins. This means the better you and your classmates do these six weeks, the better chance your class has of winning.

  2. The class must have a sufficient passing score on the TAKS test. If your class has the highest grade average, but posts a less than stellar cumulative score on the TAKS test, you will not be allowed to win the contest.

  3. Your class must have exceptional behavior. Some of my classes have decided that paying attention to the lessons is something unnecessary. The more of your classmates that are quiet and paying attention to the expectations, rules, and lessons, the better chance you have of winning in case of a tie.

As I write this, the Pistons are beating the Hornets; it's 58-32 at the half. But you know, the Hornets looked really good at this morning's shootaround, and that's what counts, right?

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:15 PM)
14 January 2007
I'm being followed by a Jeff Bezos

You have to sing it like Steven Georgiou Cat Stevens Yusuf Islam in "Moonshadow":

Oh, I'm being followed by a Jeff Bezos,
Jeff Bezos, Jeff Bezos.

Paranoia? Nope. Just this: I added an item to my not-quite-bulging amazon.com shopping cart this morning, and now I find items I looked at during this shopping binge in the affiliates advertising on an otherwise-unrelated Web site. I don't think I've ever seen quite that precise a hit before. None of this presents any particular problem, unless Bezos goes berserk and sets up a separate Stalking Division at amazon.com, but still, it's just a little bit creepy.

Mental note: Toss cookies faster.

Update, 20 January: It's not just me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:27 PM)
15 January 2007
Off-putting research

According to Professor Piers Steel (no connection to this), procrastination is quantifiable:

[T]he act of dillydallying can be boiled down to three human traits: the person's confidence, values and impulsiveness (how susceptible he or she is to immediate delight). Like an economist might, Steel combined those elements to develop a mathematical theory that can define procrastination. His work was published this month in the journal of the American Psychological Association.

"The heart of procrastination is an adaptive natural tendency to value today much more than tomorrow," said Steel, an associate professor of industrial psychology at the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business.

Steel's formula is called the Temporal Motivation Theory, and it works like this:

It factors the person's expectancy for succeeding at a given task (E) or self-confidence; the value of completing the task (V); its immediacy or availability (Gamma); and the person's sensitivity to delay (D) to come up with the desirability of the task (Utility).

The equation reads: Utility = E x V / (Gamma) x D.

No matter how I juggle these, I can't work up any enthusiasm for going to work tomorrow.

(Note: I wrote this up days ago and only just now got around to posting it.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:45 AM)
16 January 2007
A bit of Luhnacy

Apparently each Nintendo Wii has a sixteen-digit address, which identifies it in the sub-net, or whatever it is, through which all the Wiis (that still looks funny) are interconnected.

Kevin D. at Dean's World posted his, which was this:

4911 0300 3657 3790

I took one look at that, and said "Great Caesar's Chase, that looks like a freaking Visa card."

Well, it's not. That particular string doesn't pass the Luhn test, so it's not a valid Visa number.

Now, of course, I'm wondering if there is something non-random about these numbers. I looked around for a few minutes and eventually found a Wii number that theoretically could be a credit-card number. (MapWii.com has a bunch of people wanting to communicate.) Curiosity — as distinguished from, say, cholesterol — will be the death of me yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:28 AM)
Dead man hawking

In a world where people still see Elvis, I suppose it's inevitable that Orville Redenbacher would be doing commercials from beyond the grave, especially this year, which marks the 100th anniversary of his birth; but it's still kinda creepy, and "kinda creepy" doesn't do a thing for my appetite, you know? As Lileks says, "It's a desiccated undead zombie-mummy in a bowtie, and it will steal your soul."

At least they didn't pose him in a hot tub.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 AM)
20 January 2007
Bring on the filters

You know, if I were going to retouch a photo of myself, I probably wouldn't spend much time on my chin.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:50 AM)
Two pounds of sandyburger

Beating out analgesics, baby formula and razor blades, the item most shoplifted from American supermarkets is: meat.

And, most especially, high-priced meat:

Loss-prevention specialists note that a large number of meatlifting incidents, if not the majority, involve the pilfering of meats associated with luxury dining: rib-eyes, filet mignons, or lamb chops, among other treats. Stores have had particular problems with cuts bearing the Certified Angus Beef brand, which are often displayed near ostensibly less succulent offerings. With only enough money to purchase an ordinary chuck-eye roast, many otherwise ethical shoppers make a snap decision to lift the Angus instead. Store detectives speculate that these meatlifters feel entitled to have steak instead of hamburger on occasion, as a reward for their hard work; swiping an expensive bottle of dish soap doesn't provide the same sense of satisfaction.

Of course not. Dish soap doesn't go for ten dollars a pound.

I note that where I shop, the Angus products are not prepackaged, but are kept behind the butcher's counter; if you really don't want to pay ten bucks for the Angus T-bone, you're welcome to try to find a putatively-lesser steak on the shelf. (And it will probably cost you $9.49.) Which explains this:

Though the behind-the-counter approach for Angus beef would certainly reduce meatlifting, it would also cut down on impulse purchases. And the happy reality is that for every shopper who decides to risk jail for a rib-eye, several more simply decide to splurge and shell out the extra few bucks for a choicer steak.

The last filet mignon I bought (a little over a year ago) was an impulse purchase, and frankly, I think I can do without that particular impulse.

I wonder if this phenomenon diminishes in the summer as relative volumes of clothing diminish. In January, you're layered: you have lots of places into which you can tuck things. No such luck in July: you'll have to shove that London broil into your shorts. Of course, if you're good at it, the intelligence community (now transitioning to oxymoron status) would like to hear from you.

(Via In Theory.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:12 PM)
23 January 2007
Stop, look, but don't listen

Apparently I'm going to be dragged into New(er) Technology whether I like it or not.

My last VHS machine (Panasonic, 2000) has now decided that it's too good to bother with mere sound, which made last night's episode of Heroes even less comprehensible than usual.

Then again, I could always hook up one of the Betamaxes, although it would cost me rather a lot of channels they can't tune, ancient as they are.


Permalink to this item (posted at 8:05 AM)
A woofer in tweeter's clothing

Lileks remembers a time before 5.1 surround:

[O]nce upon a time a man was judged by the sheer bulk of his speakers — you'd walk into a single guy's apartment and find these giant wood-and-fabric monoliths. Tombstones by Dior. The guys who had these fancy systems usually had exquisitely hip tastes (Steely Dan! Weather Report!), but sometimes they were just headbangers who wanted brute force. These were also known as the guys who lived upstairs. The ones who'd start the REO Speedwagon the moment they got up — which, thankfully, was usually around one PM. I'm sure lots of people still have speakers the size of Sub Zero industrial refrigerators, but I'd prefer to trade size for that incremental fraction of audio fidelity.

This is, of course, why God, or Henry Kloss, or somebody around that level invented subwoofers. Unfortunately, you're advised to put them on the floor, and that advice also applies to the guys who lived upstairs with the REO Speedwagon box set. (Yes, I know, I don't have any upstairs anymore. However, I will keep on hating them.)

I still have a brace of wood-and-fabric monoliths (stereolith?), but they're more the size of a microwave oven rotated 90 degrees. They are, however, in your face, if only because they're mounted at eye level, unless you're an NBA player other than Earl Boykins.

(Title swiped from this.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:57 AM)
25 January 2007
Although it looks like a phish

It's called StolenIDSearch, and all you have to do is give them your Social Security number.

Head Consumerist Ben Popken gave them a number, with the following result:

For cheap kicks, we entered our SSN. TrustedID [the site operator] said it hadn't been stolen ... yet. They were then happy to offer for sale their services in monitoring our identity for possible theft.

No points for style. Were I going to steal SSNs, I'd put up the form with "Is your Social Security number stolen?" Then, on receipt of input: "It is now!"

I'm not, however, inclined to give stuff away even to legit operators. Says Popken:

The only way to protect yourself from identity theft is to not give it out to people who don't need or whom you don't trust ... like internet startups.

Alternatively, you can give them Richard Milhous Nixon's.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
27 January 2007
It doesn't Hoyt your Schermerhorn

The City of New York is issuing an official condom:

Available soon from City Hall: an official New York condom in a jazzy wrapper, perhaps one printed with a colorful subway map or some other city theme.

New York City hands out 1.5 million free condoms a month in ordinary wrappers, and health officials figure people would be more likely to actually use them if the packaging were more distinctive.

"Brands work, and people use branded items more than they use non-branded items, whether it's a cola or a medicine, even," Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said.

I do believe Dr Frieden is on to something here, although I'm having difficulty coming up with suitable design elements.

Maybe H. Allen Smith's birthday lei, which was quite possibly unique:

First, one of them went to a drugstore and got two dozen articles which are normally bought only by men — white articles, each with a sort of blossomy sheen. This commodity was then taken to Auntie Sophia, who operated one of the flower stands along Kalakaua near the Royal. My friends approached her and told her they were a special kind of flower grown only in the mainland and she told them to shuddup dirty face she know whaddem is. They offered her handsome sums of money if she would create a lei alternating frangipani blossoms with the commodities.

And, of course, that's it. They're the new New York City flower. They could call them, oh, how about Bloombergs?

(Via I See Invisible People.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:25 AM)
29 January 2007
Couched in tradition

Last time I bought furniture, I took my daughter with me, which is not quite the same dynamic as you would expect from a pair of spousal units, but this still sounds familiar:

Ed and I realized that before we could argue about whether we could afford the sofa, we needed to spend some time arguing about how big it should be and where it was going to go. Ed wanted to line the sofa up alongside an armchair against one wall. This is a distinctly male school of thought as regards living room décor: All large seating items are to be placed against a wall, facing the television. This way, if the lights go out while you are returning from the refrigerator, you need only place one hand upon a wall and begin walking. Eventually you'll hit a place to sit down and nap until the power is back on and the TV is working again.

I suppose I missed about half of the training: the chair against the wall does not face the television, and the sofa (actually it's an overgrown loveseat, and isn't that ironic? "No" — ed.) does face the television but is not against the wall.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
30 January 2007
A tricorder, it isn't

These folks dropped a brochure at my door this evening, and I admit, were I trying to quit smoking — which I'm not, since I didn't ever start — I would never have thought of using a laser, unless it was to hand it to a friend and say "Here, zap me every time you see me light up."

Apparently that's not how they do it:

The light energy of the laser is absorbed by skin and cells by stimulation of acupuncture points. It stimulates your nerve endings to produce endorphins. Endorphins are produced normally by your body and are nature’s own mood lifter and anesthetic. The protocol is currently studying the production of endorphins to help alleviate the physical cravings & withdrawal symptoms normally associated with quitting smoking.

In other words, this is still "investigational." The obvious disadvantage: it's not covered by insurance, so you'll have to pay up front. The obvious advantage: it's not covered by insurance, so if it actually works, the price may start dropping. (You'll remember that this is what happened with laser eye surgery.)

So: does it actually work? I have no idea. I have no experience with the more traditional form of acupuncture, which involves a lot of sharp, pointy objects. There are, to be sure, skeptics. Meanwhile, the Laserians (to give them a name) are, they say, conducting a clinical trial to see if this also works for weight loss, which ought to be interesting.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:06 PM)
31 January 2007
A blow to the unreality-based community

The word from eBay is that auctions for World of Warcraft virtual items will no longer be permitted, although similarly-intangible Second Life creations will continue to be welcomed. Spokesperson Hani Durzy explains:

Right now, Second Life is not considered a game so we are not applying the restriction to it.

"I see," said the blind avatar.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:59 PM)
2 February 2007

One Gersh Kuntzman (like there'd be two Gersh Kuntzmans, or Kuntzmen, or whatever) complains in the Brooklyn Paper that Miss America always seems to come from some place like, well, Oklahoma:

Look, I'm not going to pick a fight with my friends in Oklahoma. It's not Miss Oklahoma's fault that she's the latest in a long line of airy blondes with middle-aged-lady hairstyles, a talent for baton-twirling and vaguely Southern accents who have hijacked the notion of American beauty.

This year, it was supposed to be different. By sending the raven-haired, tap-dancing, no-nonsense [Bethlene] Pancoast to the contest, New York was saying "no" to the beauty queen-industrial complex that drives this, our nation's most illustrious pageant.

Unfortunately, the pageant said "no" right back.

Pancoast, of course, is far too gracious to accept my premise that the Miss America Organization is not only biased against beauty, but also against the northeast (which hasn't won since 1984).

Let the record show that Bethlene Pancoast is indeed hot. (Actually, every woman from Brooklyn I've ever met has been hot, but this is too small a sample to be considered Useful Data.)

And I wouldn't for a moment suggest that there's any connection between the following isolated factoids:

  • The Pageant is carried on Country Music Television.

  • Ms Pancoast lives in Brooklyn, one of five boroughs of the City of New York, which has no country-music radio station.

Nor does she herself suspect a fix:

I really don't think there's a bias against us. The thing is, pageants are a much bigger deal in the South. They train for them. A lot of girls down there do it from a young age.

I admit here that (1) I haven't watched one of these things in thirty years or so, inasmuch as they always seem a tad creepy to me, and (2) Kuntzman may well be right about the notion of American beauty having been "hijacked" — certainly the last time I was in Los Angeles, where beauty is a primary currency, all the Major Babes looked more or less alike.

Still: nyah.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:23 PM)
4 February 2007
Replies hazy, try again

What are the odds on a favorable outcome? If you believe the Magic 8-Ball®, about even.

(Via Vincent Ferrari.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:08 AM)
6 February 2007
Proving e-commerce still has life

endless.com adA car dealer around these parts used to bray about all the free stuff they threw in with the deal, with the tagline "What could be better than free?" I'd like to think this would have shut him up. (Endless.com is an Amazon.com offshoot that deals in shoes and handbags, but not even Amazon Prime is offering a shipping deal this remarkable. It expires on the 28th of February. I have been so far unable to identify this specific shoe; I spotted this ad on Go Fug Yourself.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:51 AM)
13 February 2007
The Brits rack up a win

The Sun reports that 57 percent of British women wear a D-cup, making them, according to bra manufacturer Triumph, the bustiest in Europe.

I tend to question this survey for two reasons:

  1. The Italians came in last, which seems utterly implausible;
  2. This is England, after all, the world's leading consumer of spotted dick.

I wonder if anyone's done research on Kleenex sales in the E.U.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:51 PM)
17 February 2007
Just back away slowly

Oh, that horrible iPod:

iPods invariably separate humanity and limit human interaction. And this is part of a common trend, for as we hide behind computer screens or cell phones in the guise of text messages, we are constraining ourselves to this wretched path. The course that the damnable iPod leads us on is one of isolation and loneliness. It is far too easy to walk around plugged into one of these devices and be free of any social necessity to greet a friend or wave back. It is far too simple to go about your own life without regard for the people around you and be freed from the burden of social interaction. iPods cause us to isolate ourselves in a music-induced cocoon and this restrains social interaction and personal relationships.

Not that there's anything wrong with that:

Why are people so obsessed with the "interactions" that we aren't having with each other? Frankly, before I had an iPod, I still didn't "interact" with other people on the subway. In fact, the last thing I want to do with anyone on the subway is chat, talk, or hear their opinion on global warming or the war in Iraq. Seriously. People make it sound like before iPods and other portable electronic devices were introduced, everyone loved each other and gathered 'round a campfire on a subway platform singing Kumbaya. People, get real.

Me, I don't own an iPod. I have, somewhere in a drawer, an old Walkman-type device, which seldom gets used. But if you believe I owe you social interaction because you're a carbon-based life form, you're delusional.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:39 AM)
18 February 2007
Ho-hum, more DMCA absurdity

Apparently even copyright notices are copyrighted. You know this verbiage by now:

This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or of any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL's consent, is prohibited.

Wendy Seltzer posted that to YouTube:

I snipped the copyright warning out of the ... Super Bowl broadcast as an example for my copyright class of how far copyright claimants exaggerate their rights. Let's see whether the video, clear fair use, gets flagged by a copyright bot.

It took less than a week.

(Via Doc Searls.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:42 AM)
New frontiers in digital medicine

You know how sometimes they say "the cure is worse than the disease"?

I think it's true.

(Seen at Scribal Terror.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:25 PM)
21 February 2007
I knew you when

I've never quite gone through this, and frankly I don't know what, if anything, I'd do:

I recently ran across a friend's MySpace page. When I noticed that she was using a MySpace Name/URL that didn't match the online identity that I was familiar with, I decided to find out where that identity might lead. A quick search led me to discover that she has a presence on a number of sexually oriented "matchmaking" sites. I soon discovered that my old friend is a bi-sexual BDSM submissive who is seeking a female sex partner. I was initially surprised that she would leave such a blatantly obvious trail to her "secret" life; I then realized that she probably didn't care.

Me, I've gotten blander as I've gotten older, or so it seems; then again, it's not like anyone from my past has been trying to find me, on MySpace or otherwise.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:32 AM)
24 February 2007
Never let them see your grandchildren sweat

Now this is what I call staying power:

I was getting dressed (yup at 1 in the afternoon) and looked down at my deodorant and saw the expiration date — Dec 8 2201. That's some dang powerful stuff in there if it will keep almost 200 years!!!

And to think I used to marvel at 5-Day Deodorant Pads.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:35 AM)
25 February 2007
Gentle discouragement

I mentioned last month that I had bought one of these industrial-strength telephone-screening devices, with the hope of finally enjoying some serenity around the house.

It has worked well, and I commend it to others. Then again, you might not want to spend three digits on silencing your phone, in which case this appears to be an effective countermeasure:


I pick up the phone and say nothing but I can hear someone breathing. Finally the lady on the other line says, "Hello, I'd like to speak with [my first and last name]."

Me: Is Lakisha there?

Lady: Erum.... eh... I'd like to speak with [my first and last name].

Me: Is Lakisha there?

Lady: Uh..um...well, I'm trying to...I mean, no ma'am there is no Lakisha here....um…

Me: Oh sorry! I must have the wrong number!

Lady: Um....

Me: Bye!

They haven't called back since.

This is right up there with "You keep out of this! He doesn't have to shoot you now!"

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:18 PM)
27 February 2007
Been there, read that

Lileks finds something in his mail:

Hello, it's a subscription renewal notice from "Stuff." I have never subscribed to "Stuff." Not even its highbrow predecessor, "Detritus." But they send it anyway. I don't want it. Maybe if I give them money they will stop sending it to me.

Doesn't work. I've tried.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
28 February 2007
Remote-controlled pigeons

Live ones, yet:

Scientists in eastern China say they have succeeded in controlling the flight of pigeons with micro electrodes planted in their brains, state media reported on Tuesday.

Scientists at the Robot Engineering Technology Research Centre at Shandong University of Science and Technology said the electrodes could command them to fly right or left or up or down, Xinhua news agency said: "The implants stimulate different areas of the pigeon's brain according to signals sent by the scientists via computer, and force the bird to comply with their commands."

No practical applications have yet been identified, though I think there'd be a great demand for a small hand-held device which sends the following message: "Hey! Not on my car, you airborne rodent!"

(Via Engadget.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:37 AM)
Agent 99, your phone is ready

Maxwell Smart, of course, had his shoe phone, but today's wireless world demands something sleeker, especially if you're working the distaff side of the Agency.* Enter ... the CPC Strap.

CPC Strap

For just $19.95 for a limited time, you can fasten your very own cell phone to your ankle, which will have two salutary effects:

  • People will no longer apologize for looking at your legs;

  • If someone dorky asks you to dance, you can always tell him that you're sorry, but you have to take this call.

Hey, it could happen. (Couldn't it?)

* There is no "Agency." We just put that in to throw people off.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:01 PM)
6 March 2007
The Hachette man cometh

News Item: Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. pulled the plug on Premiere magazine today, announcing that the April issue will be its last.

The truly sad part, of course, is that this puts Libby Gelman-Waxner out of a job.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:38 PM)
8 March 2007
Contenders for Number One

Way too many years ago, I suffered a severe brain fart during a Spanish-language vocabulary test: the word "baño" had evidently escaped me entirely, which is not something to be desired when you have to label the rooms in the house. Desperate for another word for "bathroom," I finally grat my teeth and penciled in "Juan." I need hardly point out that Sister Alfonso Bedoya was not amused.

You'd think that after a debacle of this magnitude, I'd find myself in the business of naming portable-toilet vendors. No such luck. Besides, I'd be hard-pressed to surpass these.

(Via adfreak.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:51 PM)
12 March 2007
Let's not get snippy here

File this under "Who knew?"

Arriving in Arkansas on I-40, one sees many billboards offering vasectomies. After Hope, Arkansas, home of Bill Clinton, the billboards turn to vasectomy reversals. Hmmm ....

Feel free to write your own joke.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:30 PM)
14 March 2007
Besides, who needs all those trees?

The telephone-directory market around here has generally consisted of two players: AT&T SBC AT&T and Feist/Yellow Book. Today a third party landed a book somewhere near my porch, and I duly gave it the once-over.

The User-Friendly Phone Book, and that is its name, is not too dissimilar from competing products, but it does offer a smidgen larger print — useful for those of us with questionable vision — and the pages are cut to allow for seven tabs: business listings, "Easy Info," community stuff, maps, menus, coupons, and finally Yellow Pages, which in turn have painted (not cut) tabs for each letter of the alphabet.

This is User-Friendly's ninth year; they already have directories in Bartlesville and Tulsa. Some of their directories — Beaumont, Texas; Shreveport, Louisiana; and various areas in Northeast Ohio — are readable on the Web, and I hope they port over the Oklahoma City book eventually. (After all, Firefox already has tabs and resizable text.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:28 PM)
17 March 2007
Squirrel porn

That's right, squirrel porn.

At least there's no indication that they're on crack. Where are the Beastly Boys when you need them?

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:20 PM)
22 March 2007
NFL drops ball, as it were

When last we heard from Wendy Seltzer, she had snipped a copy of the NFL's copyright notice and posted it to YouTube, claiming fair use. The NFL was not amused, and sent the usual nastygram to YouTube.

It gets better:

Seltzer, law professor by day, is also staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) by night and founder of Chilling Effects, a web site dedicated to educating the public about online rights. Very well aware of her own rights under DMCA, she promptly sent a counter-notification to YouTube (generated by the Chilling Effects counter-notice generator, no less), citing Section 512 of the DMCA saying that YouTube must replace the material if they receive a counter-notification asserting "good faith belief" that the material removal was a mistake.

The clip was reinstated; the NFL came back with another complaint.

This is where the saga starts to get messy. Seltzer's counter-notification — which was forwarded to the NFL from YouTube — clearly described her use of the clip as fair use: "an educational excerpt featuring the NFL's overreaching copyright warning aired during the Super Bowl." As Seltzer outlines in her blog post, the NFL's only option in response to her counter-claim would be to force her to remove the clip via court proceedings. This obviously did not happen, and instead, the NFL chose to ignore her claims completely. After receiving her counter-notification claiming fair use, sending another takedown notice over the same content is considered a knowing misrepresentation that the clip is infringing, according to DMCA section 512(f)(1). Under the DMCA, the NFL would be liable for all legal fees incurred by the alleged infringer, along with damages.

Essentially, the NFL is now in violation of the same law that it is using to try to protect its own content. And, instead of following the proper procedures outlined in the DMCA, the NFL appears to be choosing to beat her over the head with takedown requests.

You can read the complete story from Seltzer's blog at this link. The question of whether "proper procedures" and "DMCA" can be used in the same sentence — well, that's another story entirely.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:44 AM)
Doing the financial shang-a-lang

The Bay City Rollers are suing Sony BMG, proprietors of the dormant Arista label, for an unspecified amount of unpaid back royalties.

According to the suit, the band has received a total of $254,000 in the last twenty-five years; the Rollers' last US chart single ("The Way I Feel Tonight," Arista 0272) was released at the end of 1977, but Rollers tracks have been repeatedly repackaged since then, and yes, there are Rollers fans still. Besides, they're Scottish, and if it's not Scottish, it's crap.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:32 PM)
25 March 2007
Going against the flow

One particular flavor of dementia may be linked to vasectomy:

A recent study by Northwestern University researchers revealed that men with a rare kind of dementia are more likely to have had a vasectomy than those who do not have cognitive problems. Called Primary Progressive Aphasia, or PPA, this dementia affects an individual's ability to express himself, impairing word recall and ability to understand words. The research was published in Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology.

Current theory:

A blood-testes barrier exists, just like a blood-brain barrier exists. Post-vasectomy, that protective blood-testes barrier is broken, and semen enters the blood. "Sixty to 70 percent of men will develop antibodies which try to kill the sperm," [Dr Sandra] Weintraub explained, as the immune system views the sperm as foreign agents. "The question is whether these antibodies are somehow interacting with the brain, too," thus creating damage resulting in PPA.

I suppose what I really want to know is how long it takes for all this to happen, inasmuch as I had my snip job twenty-six years ago and I am way saner now than I was then.

Come to think of it, I've had a few dates who viewed sperm as invasive, but that's another issue.

(Via Jay from Blogblivion.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:40 AM)
Dead-girl chic

This is entirely too creepy:

America's Next Top Model is doing dead girls.

No, really:

You can see the full gallery at Zap2It.

Not that you'd want to, necessarily:

The lithe lot of 'em are arrayed in awkward, broken poses, splayed out in cold concrete corridors, lifeless limbs positioned bloodily, just so, at the bottom of staircases, bathtubs and back alleys, mimicking their demise via stabbing, shooting, electrocution, drowning, poisoning, strangulation, decapitation and organ theft (!), to judges' comments of "Gorgeous!" "Fantastic!" "Amazing!" "Absolutely beautiful!" and, of my favorite, "Death becomes you, young lady!"

I suppose this could be listed as a skill on one's C.V., especially if one hopes to work for Quentin Tarantino some day, but there's something fundamentally askew about simulating brutal violence against women (they'd never do this to men) to show you how "beautiful" it is. It is not.

Aside: About twenty years ago, I played a Dead Guy. Sort of. We had been doing an online soap opera in text form, and somebody got the idea of putting some of the scenes on video. So we shot a "murder" one night in Kerr Park, drawing some unscripted attention from the OCPD — which, of course, made the tape that much more entertaining. (The police, for their part, seemed mostly relieved that it wasn't a real killing they'd have to investigate, though they did mention something about permits.) You can be sure that no one remarked on how lovely I looked as a victim.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:34 AM)
26 March 2007
Space considerations

The garage (one-car) at the palatial Surlywood estate measures, according to the authorities, 290 square feet.

I mention that in case you felt like looking at this.

Admittedly, my garage does not look particularly comfy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 PM)
28 March 2007
Geniuses at work

News Item: Circuit City Stores Inc. unveiled further details of its restructuring plan on Wednesday, including cutting about 3,400 store associate jobs. The cuts, which are occurring today, focused on associates whom Circuit City said "were paid well above the market-based salary range for their role." New associates will be hired for these positions and compensated at the current market range for the job, the company said.

Now that's brilliant: sack all the experienced people and replace them with newbies. The only possible explanation is that Circuit City CEO Philip Schoonover, after just over a year on the job, is bucking for a position in what remains of the Bush administration.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:34 PM)
4 April 2007
Up against the Wal

I suppose, if I were absolutely, positively determined to pay the least amount of money for stuff, or at least to persuade myself that I was paying the least amount of money for stuff, I could drag myself into a Wal-Mart.

But then I might run into someone like this:

True story: Checkout lines were very long and slow, and I'm standing behind some guy and his wife. Among the items in their cart was a package of some sort of Easter candy, you know, six or eight individually wrapped chocolate whatevers. After a while, he opens the package, unwraps a candy and eats it. Several minutes later he eats another, and then another. They finally get to the checkout, and he was disappointed that the scanner charged him full price for the half-empty package of candy.

His wife proudly crowed, "See? Told'ja!"

This is one of the few times I've ever felt any empathy with Mark Morford.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:01 AM)
10 April 2007
Dress rehearsal

Dr. Weevil asks:

I haven't read all the coverage of the Iranian kidnapping of 15 British sailors and marines — no one could — but what I have read does not mention one interesting question: what happened to their uniforms? We know that they were sent home in ugly Iranian suits. Unless I'm missing something, it appears that their uniforms remain in Iranian hands. Or perhaps not. In January, Iraqi "insurgents" — in fact, war criminals — wearing American uniforms killed five American soldiers in Karbala (good summary here). Have the British uniforms stolen by Iran already been shipped to al Sadr's men in Basra so they can try the same thing there? Why is no one asking what happened to them?

I have no idea, but it sounds like a reasonable question to me, and maybe a wider airing will elicit an answer somewhere.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:57 AM)
11 April 2007
And if not, Salon is hiring

Venomous Kate contemplates a career change:

I've decided that I want the weatherman's job: it's the only one I know of — besides, perhaps, being a federal judge — where one can remain gainfully employed despite getting things wrong day after day after day.

God forbid that the judicial system should have anything to say about weather.

Oh, wait....

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:20 AM)
12 April 2007
I do not think it means what you think it means

And neither did she, apparently:

Bike for sale

(Spotted at Boondoggled.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:22 AM)
13 April 2007
Beijing loves those controllers

If you're in China, you're under 18, and you spend more than three hours at a time gaming online, the Chinese government is about to screw with you:

Chinese gaming firms such as NetEase and Shanda Interactive Entertainment have until 15 July to install software which will halve the number of points gamers can score if they play for more than three hours. Determined gamers who play for more than five hours will get no points at all and face an on-screen warning that they are entering "unhealthy game time".

In order to verify their age, gamers will be required to register for games using their real names and identity card number.

Reportedly, 13 percent of Chinese youth under 18 are considered "addicted" to online games.

Next: Beijing tries to fix the exchange rate between the yuan and the Linden dollar.

(Via Hit & Run.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:00 PM)
15 April 2007
Zillow fight

Arizona is trying to ban Zillow.com:

The Arizona Board of Appraisal issued two cease-and-desist letters to the company that operates the popular real estate Web site Zillow, saying it needs an appraiser license to offer its "zestimates" in Arizona.

"It is the board's feeling that (Zillow) is providing an appraisal," Deborah Pearson, the board's executive director, said Friday.

Zillow issued a statement Saturday saying it disagreed with the board's view, and pointed to an opinion issued by a national appraisers standards group that said online estimates aren't formal appraisals.

"We strongly believe that providing Zestimates in Arizona is completely legal and in fact an important public service, given that Zestimates are the result of our 'automated valuation model' and are not a formal appraisal," co-founder and company President Lloyd Frink said in the statement.

"Because a computerized algorithm could never be more accurate than a high-school dropout housewife in a gold blazer," says a Fark submitter.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:16 PM)
17 April 2007
And still there are the same two

Sometimes the other shoe drops slowly.

In September 2003, I wrote about yet another wrinkle in the weirdly-unfolding history of joint operation between the Seattle Times and the rival Seattle Post-Intelligencer: at that time, a judge blocked an attempt by the Times to in effect force foreclosure on the P-I.

Under an agreement reached Monday, the Times has agreed to refrain from invoking the Joint Operating Agreement's escape clause until at least 2016 and will pay Hearst, owner of the P-I, $24 million. In return, Hearst gives up the right to a cut of the Times' profits should the P-I go under, and gets some concessions to boost P-I circulation. The core of the JOA, in which the Times handles the business and circulation operations for both papers and gets a 60-percent cut of the post-production revenues, remains unchanged.

Currently the Times sells about 212,000 copies daily, the P-I 126,000.

(Via Sound Politics.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:55 AM)
18 April 2007
The case for anticrastination

Who didn't see this coming?

A flood of last-minute income tax returns is swamping the computer servers of a California software company. Taxpayers filing electronically have had to wait hours for confirmation that their forms have made it to the IRS.

A spokesman for Intuit, the company that makes the popular TurboTax and ProSeries tax preparation software, says delays started early Tuesday and got worse as the midnight filing deadline approached.

Oh, and the punchline?

The company is urging users of its software to be patient and to try to get their returns done earlier next year.

As if.

(Disclosure: Your humble narrator filed in February.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
The new Living Room Missile

It's really four chairs and a table.

(Via Lynn, who seems unimpressed.)

Addendum: Emalyse likes the idea a bit more.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:35 PM)
20 April 2007
Not so clear on the concept

McGehee gets a promo for a magazine called Bloggers and Podcasters.

No, I said a magazine. Paper. Dead trees. You know the type. Which means that any links it contains — and if it doesn't contain any links, what the hell good is it? — will have to be typed into the browser. (I think it's a safe bet they won't be using one of these contraptions.)

Six months, maybe?

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:51 PM)
28 April 2007
Brought to you by Posting Module BFD-2

Steph Waller asks:

Why do most small appliances, electric shavers for instance, get tagged with names like Titan-ZX5 or Zicron-Z14? Why the X and Z? Why not Titan-CF2 or Zicron-HD7? Do the letters at the end of the alphabet denote more power or quality?

Were I a marketroid, I would reason (and I use the term loosely) something like this:

"Let's see. Vowels are weaker than consonants, especially U and I. Wait a minute, that didn't sound right. Anyway, no vowels. F is out for obvious reasons. Now look at Preparation H. Knowing it exists, would you willingly try Preparations A through G? I don't think so. You want the latest and the greatest, and that means Z, or at least X."

And marketroids get good money to come up with this stuff, and also to come up with its polar opposite. Infiniti paid a consultant 75 large for this advice:

"We wanted to express the idea that [Infiniti] was a philosophically different kind of car," [Ira] Bachrach [of NameLab] explains. Proclaiming E, S, Z or X to be yesterday's news, Bachrach recommended that the company adopt different letters for its model identifiers. "I told them to use letters that weren't conventional," he says, "that were, in fact, aggressively unconventional."

Bachrach decided he was sweet on "q" and "j." "Utterly unused letters," he says. "Aggressively novel letters which didn't necessarily parse to luxury and performance. These were marketing guys with courage."

One model became the Infiniti J30, another the Q45. "I know it doesn't sound like much," Bachrach admits. "But I'm prouder of that than anything I've ever done in the model business. It was a marvelously condensed way to convey something that would have taken millions of dollars in advertising to convey."

The Q45, which was finally dropped last year, was always referred to fondly as "the Q"; Infiniti still has tendencies to refer to "the G" and "the M," which latter caused them some legal grief.

And "J" actually has some history of its own: it denoted Duesenberg's top model, which was also available with a supercharger as the SJ.

Aside: Why is it that your ostensible "premium" automobiles (like my Infiniti I30, which even has a vowel fercrissake) always go for alphanumerics, while the brands sold to regular folk who might wear tennis shoes have real live names? For a while, Acura was bucking this trend, with Legend and Integra, but subsequent models went back to alphabet soup, with one exception. ("Vigor"? Please.) Not that the names were always swell, of course. General Motors, for the longest time, issued vehicles named for places where you would never, ever actually see those vehicles: Seville, Monte Carlo, Malibu. (Gimme a Hyundai Tucson any day.)

Still, at least as far as Infiniti goes, Steph's question — "Do the letters at the end of the alphabet denote more power or quality?" — is answered with a Yes. The car hierarchy, bottom to top, is G, I, J, M, Q. (Only G and M are currently in production.) The FX and QX SUVs will shortly be joined by an EX at the low(ish) end.

And just to make things interesting, Lexus' new high-performance variants will bear the letter F.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:10 PM)
29 April 2007
Looking at Us

The dreaded first issue of Us has arrived, and it's just as breezily content-free as you can possibly imagine.

Possible redeeming features:

  • Evidence that Jennifer Lopez looks better now than she did ten years (and three half a dozen versions of Photoshop) ago;

  • Attempt (in a Tom 'n' Katie article) to explain the theology, such as it is, of Scientology;

  • This Fashion Police comment about a weirdly-dotted outfit worn by Kelly Osbourne: "Cruella De Vil: The Sock Hop Years."

Not much fun otherwise, but it's not like I was expecting much.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:22 PM)
30 April 2007
Texas is not to be messed with

The fewer terrorists, the better, I always say:

A 27-year-old Austin man was arrested on Friday and charged with placing an unexploded bomb containing some 2,000 nails outside an abortion clinic in the state's capital.

The explosive device also included a propane tank and a mechanism "akin to a rocket," Austin Police Commander David Carter said. The device was discovered on Wednesday in the parking lot of the Austin Women's Health Center, police said.

The Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force — made up of federal, state and local law enforcement authorities — arrested Paul Ross Evans, who authorities said was on parole for an unspecified crime. Evans was charged with violating federal laws banning the manufacture of explosives and interfering with access to an abortion clinic. He appeared before a federal magistrate, and was being held without bail. No further arrests were anticipated in the case. "The threat is over," Carter said.

Well, this threat, anyway.

(Via Lindsay Beyerstein.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:09 AM)
1 May 2007
The latest poop

Last fall I posted something about TerraCycle, which produces an organic fertilizer from, um, worm droppings. (Do they really drop? I mean, we're talking worms here.)

Scotts, now the manufacturer of the Miracle-Gro line of fertilizer products — they acquired it in 1995, subject to an FTC decree that they get rid of their old line — is now suing TerraCycle on two grounds. One of them seems a bit preposterous to me: the product packages, Scotts' claim to the contrary, look nothing alike, and TerraCycle's containers are almost infinitely variable anyway, inasmuch as they're actually used beverage bottles. The other may be more serious: TerraCycle is claiming results equal to or better than synthetics like, well, Miracle-Gro, and Scotts won't stand for that. (Complete complaint here: PDF, 177 pages.)

TerraCycle has set up SuedByScotts.com to tell its side of the story, and sent out PR announcements to various newsies — including the Oklahoman's Steve Lackmeyer, who put his copy out on the paper's blog, to be found by the likes of me.

(Disclosure: Earlier this year I actually bought a different Scotts product. I was not particularly impressed.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:56 AM)
2 May 2007
Because you can never suffer enough

At least, I think that's the idea here:

Let's see. We've got a high maintenance dog, parental health issues, one career that demands continual 10-11 hour days and another that's just barely scraping by, plus four years of college tuition glaring from the horizon like the Eye of Mordor. I wonder what we could do to ratchet up the stress level? Hmmm. . . .

I know! What if we build a big honkin' new house and try to sell the old one, tapping into the funds that might otherwise ensure that we have a long and secure retirement? Yeah, that's the ticket!

Might as well trade in the car, while we're at it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:53 PM)
4 May 2007
Snooze on the march

The Hilton Garden Inn hotels are pushing something called the Garden Sleep System, a sort of superbed, billed as an order of magnitude better than what one usually finds in a hotel room.

Hilton put out a press release to trumpet the results of a sleep survey they'd ordered; Christopher Elliott reads between the lines, and finds:

The Hilton data suggests guests are indifferent to hotel bedding. When picking a hotel, 41 percent said they took bedding into consideration, "but it isn't a dealbreaker." One-third of the respondents said bedding wasn’t part of their decision at all. Only 24 percent described it as an "important" part of the selection.

To be honest, I never give it much thought at all, except for the choice between Queen and King. (I stay at about a dozen different hotels each year during the World Tours.) And anyway, there are other factors besides mere bedding:

Asked about the most important part of sleep experience at a hotel, few said it had anything to do with the bed. One-third said it was having a quiet room. Another third of the respondents said it was the room temperature. Bringing up the rear were the pillows (17 percent) the sheets (9 percent) and the covers (6 percent).

Hilton also mentioned that about 20 percent of men (they give no figures for women) sleep in the buff at their facilities, which may or may not explain the concern over sheets.

(Via Upgrade: Travel Better.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:30 AM)
7 May 2007
No box lunch on this flight

The Transportation Security Agency apparently has no respect for the Mile-High Club:

A California man may pay with prison time for a public display of affection on a plane. Carl Persing was convicted Thursday of interfering with flight attendants and crew members after he and his girlfriend, Dawn Sewell, were seen "embracing, kissing and acting in a manner that made other passengers uncomfortable," according to a criminal complaint.

According to an FBI indictment, Persing's face was pressed to Sewell's vaginal area during the September Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Raleigh, N.C. When a flight attendant gave them a second warning, Persing reacted angrily and the couple, both in their early 40s, were arrested when the plane reached its destination. At the time, the couple's lawyer claimed that Persing had his head in Sewell's lap because he wasn't feeling well and that the flight attendant had humiliated and harassed them.

So much for "You are now free to move about the cabin." Although I have to admit the "he wasn't feeling well" excuse adds considerably to the sheer risibility of the case. (How was she feeling?)

"As a potential act of terrorism, it's being a little oversensitive," Charles Slepian, an aviation security expert at the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center, said about Persing's case. "After all, the mile-high club has been around for at least 50 years. But flight crews are sensitive that some passengers get upset when others get cozy, and that could erupt into an altercation."

Yet another reason to drive, I'd say.

(Via The Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:07 AM)
Minnesota lice

I'd be willing to bet the Star Tribune would never have bumped Lileks off his column had he been, oh, let's say, a transsexual sportswriter.

I console myself with the thought of, say, Norm Coleman dispatched to Zimbabwe to cover Robert Mugabe — in the Strib tradition, with two coats of whitewash.

Bonus quote from Bill Peschel:

This is like taking a Kentucky Derby winner and having it pull a cart.

Incidentally, the old Star-Journal and Tribune ad Lileks is using for Bleat art this week boasts daily circulation of 400,000. Currently, the Strib claims 361,172. Somehow I don't think this is going to help.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:02 PM)
9 May 2007
By Dr. Leonardo of Rodeo Drive

So Mona Lisa goes to L.A., and — well, see for yourself.

(Via Lynn S.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
10 May 2007
Please complete our survey

It will only take a few moments of your time. Your information will be used only to improve the quality of our online offerings, and —

Oh, wait a minute. Never mind. We don't really want to know about you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:34 PM)
11 May 2007
Cruel twists of fate

Do compact fluorescent bulbs present an unreasonable hazard? Maybe, maybe not. (I lean more toward "not," myself, but that's just me.) Still, it's not like we otherwise never have any dealings with dangerous stuff:

[B]enzene — the primary component of gasoline — is a CDC class A carcinogen, yet we are not required to wear a haz-mat suit or use a respirator when we pump gasoline into our cars. Despite its dangers, we have lived with gasoline in our everyday lives for a century. The public outcry against excessive requirements for the handling of gasoline would be enormous, so much so that such requirements would probably be pointless.

Maybe the same thing will happen with all those mercury-containing CFL's.

Actually, I wouldn't call it a "primary" component: it makes up maybe one percent of your average tankful, and the EPA proposes to reduce this by 45 percent starting in 2011. Still, gasoline is nasty stuff, quite apart from that highly-flammable vapor, and we've learned to deal with it. I have no doubt we can learn to deal with CFLs. If nothing else, they remind us that ultimately everything is a trade-off.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:12 AM)
21 May 2007
All the comforts of gnome

The business plan looks like this:

  1. Produce underpants that protect against cell-phone radiation.
  2. ????
  3. Profit!

It seems hardly sporting to point out that:

  1. Weren't cell phones supposed to cause brain damage?
  2. These are being marketed only to men.

(Via Engadget.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:12 AM)
24 May 2007
Charybdis, meet Scylla

So which mysterious monolithic corporation will be first to own you: Google or Microsoft?

Or should we wait for a third shoe to drop?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
30 May 2007
The pot says the kettle is contaminated

News Item: Groupe Danone said Wednesday that Chinese officials had seized about 118 tons of its Evian mineral water on the ground that it breached local safety rules. The water, which arrived in China in February, failed quality inspections by Shanghai customs officials for having excessive amounts of bacteria.

Suggestion to Danone: Re-label it as dog food and see what happens.

(Via Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:03 AM)
2 June 2007
Incomplete package

I probably don't watch enough DVDs to justify a subscription to Netflix, and given the dilatory nature of my viewings — well, this is the sort of thing I mean:

[T]he film did not play here in the hinterlands at all, and when the DVD was released in December, I ignored it for two months, contrived somehow to have it back-ordered for two months, and when it finally arrived this week, I stared at it for two days, almost afraid to pop the seal, lest all the connections I've made to the book all these years might be disrupted somehow by the visuals.

(Should you be curious, this is the film in question.)

But my idiosyncrasies aside, I can still understand Blythe's perspective:

I love Netflix as much as the next two million people that use it, but there was a special something about actually going to Blockbuster last night and that something was a Diet Coke and Twizzlers. Netflix can't deliver that to your door. Unless I've forgotten so sign up for some new service. Which reminds me of the doomed Kozmo.com that I experienced my summer living in NY. Man, that was great. I could order a movie, Ben and Jerry's, and Elle and it would arrive in maybe 36 minutes. Sweet.

Sweet indeed. Maybe someone will come up with good downloadable popcorn, as distinguished from that horrid toxic-waste-dump one pops into the microwave oven. (I can always pick up Twizzlers at the grocery, although my movie nosh of choice remains Raisinets.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:37 PM)
7 June 2007
Clearly the clearest clearcutting

You have to hope that these guys have done the math:

The Humane Society International is horrified by threats made by farmers in three [Australian] states to fell trees every day as a protest against climate change programs.

On Tuesday this week, World Environment Day, farmers from New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria threatened to cut down one tree on July 1, two on July 2 and so on, to protest what they call a government conspiracy.

Does this mean that on the third, they'll cut down three trees, in simple arithmetical progression — or that they will double the cutting, thereby doing four? If the latter, they'll cut down eight trees on the 4th, 16 on the 5th, and they'll have wiped out every tree in the Southern Hemisphere before Boxing Day.

(Via Tim Blair.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:07 AM)
10 June 2007
The customer is always ...

How you complete that sentence probably depends on whether you've worked any substantial time in retail. I haven't, so I tend to think in terms of "... drunk" or " ... retarded," based on the last few phone calls that the irritated customer-service people (our customer-service people are always irritated, and having worked the phones myself a few months, I don't blame them) told me about. Others with more experience tend to be a bit less kind in their descriptions:

I can’t even count the number of times that I have had a customer come in with the misconception that they are right about everything, even though they have never received either the formal education to back up their claim, or any information regarding their claim.

We have some of that too, though we usually don't have someone else to blame:

Just because you think that software created by Microsoft is an issue caused by the retail store, does not mean that we are responsible. If you were to read the fine print, you would understand, and therefore be educated to the fact, that in this instance Microsoft would be the one you need to contact for resolution, not the retail store.

I went looking through my own desktop box, and under Control Panel / System / General I found a Support Information box, which tells me exactly whom to call and when they're open. Perhaps other manufacturers — this box was a custom job from PC Club — aren't quite as forthcoming about their support options. On the other hand, people, I suspect, will bring stuff back to the store for any reason whatsoever, no matter whose fault it is. Your dog peed on your keyboard? Demand a replacement. (It occurs to me that someone is now going to sue a hardware manufacturer for selling components that are not urine-resistant and failing to warn in BIG RED LETTERS that one should not whiz on one's computer. My apologies to the defendant.)

It's things like this that make me appreciate Woot:

If you buy something you don't end up liking or you have what marketing people call "buyer's remorse," sell it on eBay. It's likely you'll make money doing this and save everyone a hassle. If the item doesn't work, find out what you're doing wrong. Yes, we know you think the item is bad, but it's probably your fault.

They'll take it back if it's really, truly defective, but if you're just a bonehead — well, you've given me another way to complete that sentence.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:01 PM)
13 June 2007
Personalized wring

There's a Do Not Call Registry, but you drop off after five years, and anyone with Caller ID (and rather a lot of people without it) can tell you that the Registry is more honored in the breach.

Which means a permanent solution is something like this:

First executive order to leave my desk when I become President will be specifying the death penalty without trial or appeal for telemarketing, and I'll insist on attending every execution in person so that I may get the full pleasure from listening to them screaming in pain and unholy terror as they're systematically dismembered with a rusty folding knife.

I've got a whole database to upload come Inauguration Day.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:57 AM)
15 June 2007
They don't wear sweaters, either

With apologies to both Art and Artie Barnes:

Snake heads, snake heads,
Neatly-severed snake heads,
Snake heads, snake heads,
Eat them up, yum.


Permalink to this item (posted at 10:29 AM)
17 June 2007
Super Geniuses at work

Iran's Foreign Minister has complained about the British government's conferring of knighthood on Salman Rushdie, author of the novel The Satanic Verses and several lesser-known works, two or three of which I've actually tried to read.

Said Mohammad Ali Hosseini:

Giving a medal to someone who is among the most detested figures in the Islamic community is ... a blatant example of the anti-Islamism of senior British officials. The measure that has taken place for paying tribute to this apostate and detested figure will definitely put British statesmen and officials at odds with Islamic societies, the emotions and sentiments of which have again been provoked.

In other news, Wile E. Coyote has filed yet another complaint with the state of New Mexico, objecting to the naming of the Roadrunner as the state bird in 1949.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:38 AM)
18 June 2007
Worst Wii games ever

http://view.break.com/312539 - Watch more free videos

Some of these are downright repwiihensible.

(Via Josh Q. Public.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:04 AM)
20 June 2007
Based on performance

This time last year, there was some noise being made about a possible GM-Nissan tie-up, although the prospect was viewed skeptically, and nothing ever came of it.

If you'd argued that Nissan, a corporate sister to Renault of France, and General Motors were fundamentally incompatible with one another, you'd probably have won on this point:

Nissan has said its senior management will not be paid bonuses this year after the carmaker suffered its first fall in profits in seven years.

Chief executive Carlos Ghosn told shareholders at a meeting in Tokyo that senior executives "took responsibility" for its disappointing performance.

Nissan has trailed rivals Toyota and Honda, and shareholders expressed concerns about future product quality.

But Mr Ghosn said that this year would see improvements in the business. "We are taking our responsibility seriously," he said of the management's decision to forego their bonuses.

This sort of talk is almost unheard of in Detroit.

(Disclosure: I drive a Nissan-built vehicle.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:08 AM)
I'm always Jason, rainbows

Hello Kitty as Jason Voorhees

(Seen at Hello Kitty Hell.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:35 AM)
21 June 2007
Fraud before you even answer

About damn time, too:

Using fake caller IDs to defraud or cause harm to people would be illegal under a bill the House passed by voice vote Tuesday.

The measure is aimed at the practice of "spoofing," where scammers falsify the name and phone number appearing on caller ID. A scammer, for example, might trick a person into thinking he is getting a call from a bank with the intention of obtaining personal information such as Social Security or credit card numbers.

"This is another example of technology being misused by the unscrupulous to scam the unsuspecting," said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., sponsor of the measure.

Thank you, Congressman Engel. And to you bastards calling from the obviously-fraudulent "407-019-6400," a number which cannot legitimately exist: FOAD.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
24 June 2007
Oh, by the way, I take these drugs

I've previously mentioned the Albertson's selloff; I hadn't mentioned that I've had my prescriptions filled at their Sav-on Pharmacy for the past three or four years. Now comes this disturbing possibilty:

I remember when the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) passed in 2003. My pharmacist gave me a written copy of the pharmacy's privacy policy, and the store put a tape line 10 feet back from the cash register so that those behind me in the queue couldn't listen in on my discussions while I picked up my meds. The changes lulled me into thinking my pharmacy records were private. I was wrong. A loophole in the federal law allows my pharmacy to treat my records as a business asset and sell them, including my drug history, insurance information, address, phone number, and social security number, without my knowledge or consent.

It's happened before:

Randee Lonergan filled prescriptions at the same pharmacy for years. But a month ago, she was shocked to find the pharmacy closed — and all her family's medical records sold to a nearby Target store in Levittown [New York].

Shockingly, her information was sold legally, due to a loophole in medical privacy law that allows pharmacies to "auction off" years of customer records — including prescriptions, information about medical conditions, social security numbers and insurance records — "to the highest bidder," Senator Charles Schumer said Monday.

"I'm outraged," said Lonergan, 34. "I felt that my right to privacy and my right to choose had been taken away from me." Not only were her records sold, so were her husband's and 8-year-old daughter's.

What's Senator Schumer doing about it?

The senator is calling on the federal Health and Human Services secretary, Michael Leavitt, to immediately change the law to require pharmacies to notify patients before selling or transferring their records and allowing patients to opt out.

This might carry some more weight if Schumer were to introduce a bill to modify HIPAA to require this change, but at least someone is aware of the situation.

Update, 27 June: Francis W. Porretto demurs:

Traditionally, the rule has been that, with certain exceptions made for "peeping Toms," what you learn is yours to do with as you please, provided you've violated no confidentiality agreement and no one's property rights in doing so. There's no question that this rule allows businesses to amass large databases of personal information about private citizens, simply by keeping records of their purchases. There's no question that this permits those businesses to trade and merge their databases to mutual commercial advantage, often to the discomfort of the persons whose data is in them. There's no question that, owing to the all-but-complete transition of our society to an information economy, in which money itself has become a stream of bits flowing across the ubiquitous wires, the hazards attending uncontrolled proliferation of personal data are greater than ever. But is the law, in any shape, the proper instrument with which to address these concerns?

There are those who say privacy no longer exists, and in some sense they are correct. Then again, presenting me with a fait accompli of this sort is no way to gain my support.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:12 AM)
27 June 2007
I blame socialized medicine

In Britain, the Tooth Fairy has to fork over twenty million pounds a year:

Research by savings experts at The Children's Mutual show tooth fairy inflation has leapt 500 per cent in 25 years, while the cost of living has gone up just 150 per cent over the same period.

The average lost tooth is worth £1.05 to kids today, compared to 17p when their parents were young.

The American Dental Figure of Arguable Gender, by comparison, has to shell out only $1.71 per tooth, a mere 86p.

(Via Dollymix.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 AM)
28 June 2007
Okay, maybe you're not an addict

The AMA reserves the right to decide if maybe that's a lie, though:

The American Medical Association on Wednesday backed off calling excessive video-game playing a formal psychiatric addiction, saying instead that more research is needed.

A report prepared for the AMA's annual policy meeting had sought to strongly encourage that video-game addiction be included in a widely used diagnostic manual of psychiatric illnesses.

AMA delegates instead adopted a watered-down measure declaring that while overuse of video games and online games can be a problem for children and adults, calling it a formal addiction would be premature.

Nintendo is reportedly working on a new Wiimote that simulates backpedaling.

And what of the "victims"?

Despite a lack of scientific proof, Jacob Schulist, 14, of Hales Corners, Wis., says he's certain he was addicted to video games — and that the AMA's vote was misguided. Until about two months ago, when he discovered a support group called On-Line Gamers Anonymous, Jacob said he played online fantasy video games for 10 hours straight some days. He said his habit got so severe that he quit spending time with family and friends.

And who better to judge an addiction than a 14-year-old?

Says Lileks:

News flash! Teen boy avoids family for computer games! While we're glad the kid found help, you have to be amused by the name of the organization: On-Line Gamers Anonymous. Not to dismiss their good works and good intentions, but which online gamer isn't anonymous? Unless your given name actually is DragonKilr0492 Ninth Level Wizard of Mordor Peterson.

"My friends call me Deek," says Peterson.

I expect at least one person will be amused by all this posturing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 AM)
30 June 2007
Jobs action

Brian buys an iPhone, and encounters more than just fellow shoppers:

Because of traffic, the original AT&T store I planned to visit got bumped for a less obscure one. I got there right about 4:30 and had the fortune to get in line next to two very sweet women: one a college-aged fashionista who was moving to Mexico, the other a middle-aged, gadget-obsessed mother of three children and two large and two small dogs. About 50 people were in line at the time the store opened. They started letting folks in promptly at 6:00 PM. First a group of about ten, then a new person for each one that exited the store. Several television stations were there covering the event, as well as some "leafletting" Communications Workers of America representatives.

He didn't say what the CWA action was about, but I poked around for a minute or so and eventually happened upon this story from Middletown, Connecticut:

As they waited in line on Main Street Friday afternoon, hopeful buyers of the new iPhone were left to ponder the presence of a 15-foot-high inflatable rat. And not just any 15-foot-high inflatable rat, but one occupying its own parking space.

The rat symbolizes corporate greed, according to more than half-a-dozen officials and members of the Communications Workers of America. The CWA members were mounting an informational picket line outside the AT&T store at Court and Main streets.

The unionists are members of Local 1298 of the CWA, which represents AT&T store employees. William Horobin, a vice-president of the local, said their complaint was indirectly tied to the introduction of the new phone. "We have nothing against the phone" or against Apple, its manufacturer, Horobin explained. "Our argument is the way AT&T is treating its employees," Horobin said. "AT&T is 'The Rat'."

Meet the new monolith, same as the old monolith.

The issue involves what the union says is a policy change introduced just before the turn of the year that reduces employees' commissions. "What they did was to cut the amount of the commission, so that you have to sell more to make the same amount of money," Horobin explained. "Our thing is to let people know that AT&T is not a friendly employer," he said. "The new AT&T is not the old AT&T."

"There is no new thing under the sun." — Ecclesiastes 1:9

Similar picketing, said the CWA official, took place "across the country."

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:51 PM)
2 July 2007
Old phones never die

Well, okay, they do, but mine hasn't, and, well, I refuse to play Mr Hardware Early Adopter Guy for Apple, especially if it involves getting involved with AT&T.


The iPhone is the trophy wife of the cellular world. It's gorgeous to look at, interesting and amusing at parties, but at the end of the day it's going to fark your gardener, take your money, and leave you unfulfilled.

None of these features is worth the expense to me, and I speak as someone who just ordered a lawn mower off Amazon.com, fercrissake.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:35 AM)
3 July 2007
When you're young and in uniform

Been there, been subjected to something like that:

I had some fleeting and absurd (patently so to me even at the time) visions of one of the NCOs looking cock-eyed at my Berkeley t-shirt and cargo shorts and saying, "Well, well, well, looks like we already got ourselves a troublemaker," or some such. Instead, they found me someone with an extra set of clothes I could borrow.

Then, another NCO pulled me aside and told me my hair was too long, and I should get it cut as soon as possible. Another strike, also insignificantly minor in any reasonable scheme of things, but consider: I'd now been there a whole 15 minutes or so and my sole interaction with the Army thus far consisted of being told what I needed to fix. At the time, I was glad they weren't handing out guns yet or else I'd probably have blown my own foot off.

It turns out that there were multiple people who needed haircuts. And they apparently hadn't been distressed by the fact that the barber shop was closed. There were also some who showed up the next morning in the wrong PT uniform. But I didn't see any of that that afternoon, I saw only well-prepared people who made me look like a slacker or an incompetent, and I thought to myself that it would be a real shame if they figured that out about me so soon. I'd been hoping to space out revealing those facets of myself over at least a few months.

Of course, I went through this in 1972, arguably a nastier time to be joining the Service. But it's perversely gratifying, I suppose, to see that the same sort of effort to rip the new arrivals out of their comfort zones is still being made today.

And best of all, this chap is heading for the Judge Advocate General's Corps. An officer, natch. We lowlifes in the bottom enlisted ranks always assumed that butterbars and such were getting an easier time of it: sometimes it was quite a while before we learned otherwise.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:11 AM)
5 July 2007
Finally, something to like about Sprint

It is said that 20 percent of the customers cause 80 percent of the work, and where I work it's more like 13/87. There is, of course, nothing that can be done about it.

Or is there?

Our records indicate that over the past year, we have received frequent calls from you regarding your billing or other general account information. While we have worked to resolve your issues and questions to the best of our ability, the number of inquiries you have made to us during this time has led us to determine that we are unable to meet your current wireless needs.

Therefore, after careful consideration, the decision has been made to terminate your wireless service agreement effective July 30, 2007. This will allow you to pursue and engage with another wireless carrier.

There's a simulated buckpass here, in the form of the passive voice — "the decision has been made" rather than "we have decided" — but otherwise this is the sort of thing I would love to do to certain of our stragglers: "You are causing us more trouble than you are worth. Go away."

I expect Sprint will be reviled for this action, if only because it's shown up on Consumerist, where denouncing Evil Corporations is a way of life, but in my capacity as a person who (1) doesn't make incessant demands of the firms from whom I buy service and (2) has to put up with an amazing number of people who do, I'm giving them somewhere around 2.25 cheers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:31 PM)
10 July 2007
Where quality is a slogan

Remember this? Alvy Singer has to see the entire film from the beginning:

Alvy: Because ... because I'm anal.
Annie: That's a polite word for what you are.

Over the years, I've been described in terms of comparable politeness. Case in point: over the weekend, it suddenly occurred to me that I might have Done Something Wrong on my last day in the salt mine. I emailed the two people who would have to straighten out this mess, explained my inexplicable lapse, and recommended the appropriate fix. I was subsequently informed that I had done it correctly in the first place.

Which ultimately means only one thing: I will probably not be featured on Brian J. Noggle's QA Hates You blog, which exists to demonstrate that there are people far sloppier than I am. "Those who can, do; those who can't, QA."

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:06 PM)
22 July 2007
At least he wasn't using Mapquest

In the Swiss town of Sempach, a German truck driver, convinced that his GPS couldn't possibly be misleading him, pointed his vehicle down an obvious pedestrian path, and after finally realizing the error of its ways, backed up into a cherry tree.

The municipal government freed the driver from the tree, then fined him $540.

(Via Engadget.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:12 AM)
24 July 2007
A phrase you maybe don't want to hear

"Actually, this is not a bad job of packaging a snake."

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:05 PM)
25 July 2007
A thousand belligerent bees

And one undergoes this willingly, apparently:

Last night I got most of the stuff I needed to accomplished. I epilated my legs — like a thousand bees descended onto my legs in a mad fury of activity. I do it because I find when I shave, the hair grows back almost instantaneously. When I epilate, I get a good hour of depilation.

I've heard of this phenomenon before: a woman once told me something to the effect that she needed to shave again within seconds of leaving the bathroom after the first shave.

The closest male equivalent, I suppose, was the six-thirty stubble (five o'clock was obviously too early) sported by Richard Milhous Nixon. And my daughter claimed this past weekend that I seemed unusually clean-shaven, which I was unable to explain satisfactorily.

(This is the second post about women's legs in less than twenty-four hours. Draw your own conclusions.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:39 PM)
29 July 2007
Let's get digital

While there was television to be watched before that, TV as we know it arrived in 1941, with the adoption of the technological standards proposed by the National Television Standards Committee.

And it departs in February 2009, superseded by purely-digital transmissions, motivated largely by the desire to free up spectrum space. So the frequencies occupied by channels 2 through 6 and 52 through 69 (70 to 83 disappeared years ago) will end up doing something else. This will likely accommodate more stations, which seems odd until you consider that it's possible to put digital stations in the same area on adjacent channels, something you could never do in the old analog system. (Before you write in: there's a 4-MHz hole between 4 and 5; 6 and 7 are on totally separate bands; likewise 13 and 14.)

The impact of all this on cable subscribers will likely be relatively minor, but if you get your signals off the air as God and General Sarnoff intended, your world grinds to a screeching halt:

I have an antenna on the top of my house and I get the broadcast channels, thank you very much. And really I don't want anymore than that because I actually have to get something done — with 227 channels my ass is glued to the barcalounger and only moves for snacks. What about us? Well, we get a $40 coupon from the government (or so they say) with which to buy the converter box which will likely retail for $60. Though something tells me, that if you're not low income or can't prove you're needy you'll end up paying the full $60 out of your own pocket. Just a feeling I have so don't quote me.

Whoops. Sorry.

Apparently the "air" they now use to broadcast television signals the old-fashioned way will be auctioned off for other use. Now, don't you have to wonder who is going to bid on that air and what the heck are they going to do with it? It seems to me that every square inch of space doesn't have to be used. We could just let it be, couldn't we? Nope, it's going to be auctioned off and it wouldn't surprise me [if] Lil Kim of Korea or Imajihad of Iran or Chubby Chavez bought it all up and piped in subliminal messages to us yuglee Americans.

This seems unlikely, since it's unnecessary: bad actors on the world stage have an automatic audience in Washington and need only persuade them. This requires no spectrum space at all.

While this "transition" is ostensibly a done deal, not everyone is thus persuaded:

[T]here are way too many people who still own analog TVs. My dad is one of them. He's using a TV that I bought him back when I worked at LZ Premiums back in the 1980s. He'd like to get a new HD TV, but he comes from a generation that doesn't throw things away just because a better one comes along. Not to mention that his house isn't setup for a big screen. Oh, and older people vote, and vote more often than younger people. He also has a lot more resources than my generation does — resources that can go into getting heard. But, you try taking away analog TV from people like my dad and you watch the political uproar.

My own thinking:

  • I'm fine with the transition date. I have only two television sets, one of which is already set up to receive digital signals. (Okay, there are a couple of portables lying around, but neither of them gets any use as a television set: one of them is an emergency box with lights and radio and siren built in, and the other has been sitting in the garage as long as I've had a garage.)

  • The government is salivating at the thought of snagging $30 billion or so from auctioning off all this spectrum; at some point it will be pitched as a deficit-reduction measure.

  • Too many of the Usual Suspects will be bidding on this space; I think there should be a segment reserved — maybe 18 or 24 MHz, three or four channels' worth — open to the public for whatever uses may occur to it and not subject to endless FCC rulemaking.

About the only thing that is certain is that they're not going to turn the whole damn thing over to Google.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:03 AM)
30 July 2007
Trees indirectly saved by naturists

As The New York Times goes, so goes the nation, at least in terms of pulp volume. From The Bulletin, the monthly tabloid published by the American Association for Nude Recreation, this front-page announcement by James Banttari, who heads up commercial printing at The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida:

It was recently announced that The New York Times will be making the move that the majority of U.S. newspapers made in the early part of this decade — a reduction in the size of its newspaper. As The Ledger serves as a Times national edition print site that prints The Bulletin, we also will be making this change effective with the September issue.

We firmly believe the end result is worth the investment. The resulting product will have the ability to lower printing expenses and showcase a new look to readers. The decrease in weight may mean additional savings. This change will result in a more reader-friendly publication — a benefit to both members and advertisers.

Link added by me. Mr Banttari doesn't mention it, but The Ledger is more than just a remote print site for The New York Times: the paper is actually owned by the Times company. This isn't a problem, really, but perhaps he should have said so.

As for The Bulletin, my main concern, of course, is whether the present level of coverage will be changed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:18 AM)
1 August 2007
The Rupert is up 12 at this hour

The Oklahoman's Don Mecoy sees some unexpected fallout from the News Corp. acquisition of Dow Jones:

The historic Dow Jones Industrial Index, which tracks stocks of 30 of the nation's largest companies, is part of the sale. Mr. Murdoch now has the option of renaming the most important, most reported stock index. How do you like the sound [of] "Fox News Industrial Average" or "MySpace Industrial Average" or even "Rupert and Wendi's Stock Index?"

I'm holding out for "America's Most Shorted" or "Can You Invest Smarter Than a 5th-Grader?" myself.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 AM)
2 August 2007
Okay, now you can mind the bollocks

You ain't woman enough, says Faith Hill, to take my man's nutsack:

When a ballsy female concertgoer reached out and grabbed Tim McGraw's nether regions Saturday at the Cajundome in Lafayette, Louisiana, his missus told the errant fan in no uncertain terms that that sort of behavior is frowned upon in them there parts (no pun intended).

"Somebody needs to teach you some class, my friend," a finger-wagging Hill told the woman. "You don't go grabbin' somebody else's, somebody's husband's [privates], you understand me? That's very disrespectful!"

Take it easy, Faith. Sit a spell. Breathe.

(Via Hecklerspray.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 AM)
Corrode rage

Alan Sullivan says he wouldn't be surprised to see more Twin Cities bridges crumbling:

They use far too much road salt during the long Minnesota winters: it rots out the cars, and eventually even steel girders give way. It’s time for local authorities to cut back the chemicals and rely more on old-fashioned sand.

We don't have this problem in Oklahoma: we simply cheap out on the actual construction.

Meanwhile, I picked up this bulletin from a MySpace friend:

No one laugh at me any more about going over bridges and being afraid.

No giggles here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:18 AM)
3 August 2007
Not what you'd call a passing grade

One of the AP pieces on the I-35W collapse in Minneapolis notes that on a scale of 1 to 100 for structural stability, the failed bridge scored a 50.

The Oklahoman reports that Oklahoma City's Crosstown Expressway rates a 49, though the state does not consider it unsafe. (The bridge was closed once, in 1989, after a crack in a support beam was discovered.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:57 AM)
4 August 2007
Wrap session

Magazine publisher LPI Media is seeking to get rid of the stuff:

We are now offering our U.S. customers the option of having your Out and Advocate subscriptions mailed with or without plastic wrap.

Please help us reduce the negative environmental impact of the plastic wrap currently mailed, and divert more magazine resources from printing/delivery to news and content development.

I hope there's some follow-up on how many subscribers actually do decide to forgo the extra plastic. And I wonder what it would take for Condé Nast to give up on it: just about everything I get from them is given the Laura Palmer treatment.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:57 PM)
7 August 2007
Has bins

According to the Daily Mail, the Labour government seeks to reduce solid waste by giving you less space to stash it:

Families will be forced to squeeze their rubbish into new extra-small wheelie bins or risk a £1,000 fine under the latest Labour plans to crack down on household waste.

A Government report calls for the nationwide introduction of 'bonsai bins', a little more than half the size of the current 240-litre models, to encourage households to separate their rubbish for recycling.

And the new guidelines warn against letting larger families keep the old big bins because other households might suffer from 'bin envy'.

People who fail to cram all their non-recyclable waste into the 140-litre European-style wheelie bins will face criminal prosecution if they leave extra rubbish on the street in bags.

Emalyse sees this piece as an effort by the newspaper to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt:

Forget the arguments over the merits of recycling (The Mail piece isn't engaged in tackling the broader arguments or offering alternatives) and that the cause of household waste is overpackaging by the supermarkets, reliance of prepackaged microwave meals, the throwaway consumer culture we are all encouraged to be part of (not things that the Mail is likely to attack), this piece is a fine exercise in using FUD to whip up discontent in the readership and crowbar in a 'family under attack' subtext. It's a classic Daily Mail piece that panders to the usual fears and anxieties. The core readership must be foaming at the mouth after finishing their morning paper with sheer indignation and outrage.

FUD is, of course, a time-(dis)honored method of boosting one's commercial profile; Microsoft's Bill Gates is an acknowledged master. Still, this whole "bin envy" concept strikes me as serious projection: as Dr Freud never said, sometimes a bin is just a bin.

Meanwhile, here in the Land of the Free and/or Reasonably Inexpensive:

A second Big Blue is free. If you have more to throw away than even two Big Blues can hold, we offer extra cart service for $2.45 a cart per month.

I have two Big Blues, which hold about 240l each. In the last four years I think I've filled both in a single week twice; there have been several weeks when I didn't haul either of them out to the curb because they weren't sufficiently full to justify the effort. On the other hand, I'm not even considering calling the city and asking them to repossess one of them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:56 AM)
8 August 2007

56, 72, 24, 36, 66, 52.

Not a lottery pick, but page numbers in the Table of Contents in a widely-circulated magazine.

Surely there must be some reason for this other than sheer perversity.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:49 PM)
9 August 2007
The Brits recoil in horror

It's called Gunt, and allegedly it's a firearm for women, in three flavors: the hot-pink Classic Gunt revolver, the Charlotte Bronson semi-automatic, and the Golden Bassey. Posted prices in the UK range from £75 to twice that.

"Is this for real?" asks Dollymix:

We're not sure. Firstly, they claim to have found a "loophole" in which the guns will be available for women in the UK. Secondly, there's the matter of the name Gunt, and the fact that they have numerous quotes from celebrities. For example, Germaine Greer apparently said, "A Gunt is the most powerful weapon a girl has." And Britney Spears supposedly thinks that, "I always like the boys to know I'm packing my Gunt."

These guns aren't even available for men in the UK, according to the polite fictions imposed by the 1997 firearms bill that outlawed ownership of handguns altogether.

There is some doubt that the Gunt even exists, except as a viral. I have to concur: for one thing, I don't know any women who would be impressed by 9 millimeters. Besides, all that shiny stuff is counterproductive.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:20 AM)
Infidelity investments

Actual case filed in the Southern District of Texas, which requires no explanation:

Leroy Greer v. 1-800-Flowers.Com Inc.
H-07-2543 (Houston)

Breach of contract action in which the defendants agreed to keep the plaintiff's order of flowers for his girlfriend private, with no record of the transaction mailed to him at his home or office.

Months later, the defendants sent a thank you card to the plaintiff's home, and his wife called the defendants for proof of the purchase. The defendants faxed the plaintiff's wife proof of his order of flowers for his girlfriend, which resulted in a divorce being filed.

Note to Mr Cheatypants: Next time, you might try a different florist — and pay cash.

(Via Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:49 PM)
10 August 2007
A procedure that takes balls

Britain's National Health Service has about a two-year waiting list for sexual-reassignment surgery, leading one person to take matters into his own hands:

He found a website which gave a step-by-step guide to the eye-watering home surgery, then waited till [his] wife ... went out before setting to work with a kitchen knife in the loo.

With the job done, he wrapped his severed appendages in a cloth and dropped them in the bin. Then he drove five miles to his local GP, explained what he'd done, and was packed off for treatment at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital, near Aylesbury.

And how did it feel?

"It was very painful, but the moment I cut them off I felt all woman. I'm the sort of guy who, when I make up my mind to do something, wants it done there and then. I didn't want to be a man any more so I decided to do it myself."

Of course, the real pain is yet to come: when they cut his salary by thirty percent.

(Via Interested-Participant.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:39 AM)
12 August 2007
It's not like they're actually listening

It's no particular secret that the main reason a firm installs a voice-response system is to reduce the number of incoming phone calls. I've suggested that we try this at 42nd and Treadmill, preferably in some language which none of our customers comprehend, such as, oh, English.

Of course, if you really, truly need to talk to the company, which does occasionally happen, this particular gatekeeper is more hellish than helpful:

Like so many companies AT&T uses voice recognition software that can only handle speech as produced by speech synthesis software. This leaves human callers getting ever more frustrated, and means the hapless human who finally picks up the call gets some rather hostile verbiage. It need not be this way.

The solution is elegantly simple:

[I]nstead of trying to answer that voice's questions as clearly as we know how, what say we try singing? It's not going to understand a damn thing we say, so sing whatever little ditty you feel like. You'll end up talking with a person anyway, and singing one of your favorite songs will make you feel better.

And if your favorite song happens to be by, say, Nine Inch Nails, you'll be in the proper frame of mind for engaging with the customer-service representative.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:41 AM)
15 August 2007
Something beyond "vibrate"

Nokia is warning that about 46 million batteries used in their mobile devices may contain a defect which causes them to short-circuit in the charging phase, causing overheating or worse. The affected batteries are type BL-5C, manufactured by Matsushita (Panasonic) between December 2005 and August 2006.

There are many suppliers of BL-5C batteries, says Nokia, so you'll have to give them the serial number to be sure if it's one of the affected units. (I have a Nokia phone which does not use the BL-5C.) This sort of thing does not make me feel better about upcoming battery-operated cars like Chevy's Volt.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
17 August 2007
Message therapy

British workers, according to one study, are suffering "e-mail stress" due to the volume of messages.

I feel for them. I swear at the little voice that tells me there's mail. (It's her voice.) But I swear much more vividly when the frigging phone rings.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:08 PM)
18 August 2007
Speaking of oxidation

You know all that sabre-rattling the Russians have been doing? Rusty sabres at best, says Tam:

Military aviation nerds are probably chuckling by now, and we should let the rest of y'all in on the joke. The Tu-95 is a bomber that was state of the art at the time of its first flight, in 1952. An aircraft that makes the equally geriatric B-52 look sleek and modern by comparison, the Tu-95 Bear hasn't been a viable strategic threat since before JFK took office. The Tu-160 Blackjack, on the other hand, is state of the art circa 1970. Designed to fly really high and really fast, the "B-1ski" was a white elephant even before the end of the Cold War, since Surface-to-Air missiles fly higher and faster.

This does not, of course, guarantee that there won't be bigger and badder bombers to come, but it's not like Putin can put a fleet of modern planes on his Soviet Express card ("leaves home without you!") these days.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:12 AM)
28 August 2007
A home for Chopping Guy

Andrea Harris has given up on the Sunshine State and is actually considering moving to some place like, well, Oklahoma City.

Her criteria:

What I am looking for: cheap rent in decent neighborhoods (ie, a low homeboy/crackhead/hooker to normal working person ratio); a job market that isn't all retail/resort/hospital focused (like Florida's); a halfway decent public transportation system (though I plan to have a car by then, I'd still like to be able to count on alternatives); a few nice parks/walking areas. An area of cute shops and nice (cheap) cafés would be a plus, though I don't need it (and my finances certainly don't).

What I don't care about: nightlife — my clubbing days are over; "activities" — which usually mean theme parks and golf; weather — the climate of most of the continental US sucks most of the year, I am resigned to that — all the places with really nice weather are too expensive to live in; "diversity" — I live in Diversity Central, so I know what that's really like. Most urban centers are by their nature "diverse" anyway.

We do well on the "cheap rent" side of the equation, although our crackheads are supplemented by methheads, which represent no improvement. Our mass transit is somewhere between barely adequate and barely inadequate, perhaps a tad short of "decent," although she'll have her own wheels by the time she gets here. Good walking areas are, well, area-dependent: there are parts of town where this might be inadvisable, but this is true of most cities of any size.

Also on her shortlist: the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and Greater St. Louis.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:25 AM)
30 August 2007
Less is mower

I don't mind saying that the single biggest drawback to having an electric lawn mower is schlepping around a hundred feet of extension cord. (I have shorter cords, but they won't reach the farthest points no matter what clever geometry I invoke.) I have yet to run over the wire, which surprises me somewhat, but I figure there's an incident just waiting to happen the moment my attention flags, which it does rather a lot when mowing.

Still, for the same kind of money, I could have a a mostly-inadequate cordless substitute:

Operated by a single re-chargeable 12v battery, just one charge will enable it to cut a lawn area of up to 2000 square feet.

My front yard alone is bigger than 2000 square feet; my back yard is more than 5000.

Precision ground 30cm wide rotary-cut blade trims short or longer grass with ease(adjustable for height from 15-47mm).

Topping out at just below two inches isn't too bad, though the Yard Experts insist I cut to a 2.5-inch height, and once in a while I actually do.

And I suspect that were I to cut it as close as 15 mm, the poor little beast would be constantly bogging down. (My corded mower doesn't even like that height.)

On the plus side of the ledger, this thing weighs only 13 kg, the near side of 30 lb, about half what I push around these days, and about a third the bulk of my old gas-powered mower. I'm guessing that the limiting factor is the battery pack, and that increasing range will inevitably increase its size and weight.

I note that Amazon.com, where I bought my electric, offers a cordless model closer to my needs, but at a substantially higher price (albeit with free shipping for the moment). And it weighs in at upwards of 80 lb, more of a handful than I think I'd like.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:52 AM)
1 September 2007
Didn't finish the crossword, either

This showed up yesterday on Mediabistro:

A tipster tells us staffers at TV Guide have been told that there will be a mandatory 3pmET meeting today, where it will be announced that the print edition will be discontinued with the final issue being the Fall Preview. The tipster says TV Guide Channel and TVGuide.com will continue.

This makes three magazines to which I subscribe which have died this year. As always, the only question remaining is "What will they send me in its place?" Sometimes these selections are at least marginally astute: some years ago Brill's Content sold off its subscription list to Mother Jones, which I didn't mind particularly and which I still read. On the other hand, this past spring Premiere was replaced by Us Weekly, the equivalent of being forced to trade your Volvo sedan for a hat full of bus passes and a two-for-one coupon at the free clinic.

Update: Mediabistro recants, as noted in Comments.

Further update: Brian J. Noggle takes the lead in Abandoned Subscriptions.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:15 AM)
Slower than quicksand

But just as deadly: this is what faces New Orleans, and there's a certain amount of sense, I think, in simply relocating it to higher ground.

Except that "simply" isn't going to describe the process, so far as I can tell: just picking a site will be problematic at best. And then what?

Moving the bulk of the city would be more costly, at least at this stage before sinking increases and another disaster strikes. The costs of either decision will be enormous, but relocating makes more sense and will eventually be inevitable. Whether we cut our losses now and move or wait until a super-hurricane makes a direct hit and kills hundreds of thousands of people must be carefully considered.

There are a few psychoceramics out there who wouldn't mind the loss of life so much, but they can be safely ignored.

The most cost-effective solution, perhaps, is to shrink the city down to its core:

One option would be to begin building newer, higher, stronger seawalls around the business and historic parts of the city, and declare other parts a national monument, in tribute to those who lost their lives to Katrina. The process of moving could be gradual, relocating refugees, destroyed businesses, port facilities, and other infrastructure to a new New Orleans.

I don't expect this idea to sit well with the folks who think that they ought to (1) be able to live anywhere they want and (2) be subsidized for same. While I will happily grant them (1), I suspect (2) will be a tougher sell.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:18 PM)
4 September 2007
I note that there is no spoon

There is, however, a Diet Fork:

  • Shorter and dulled teeth inhibiting user from grasping larger pieces of food at any one time
  • Smaller triangular shaped surface area allowing dieter to hold less food than many other forks
  • Uncomfortable grip compelling user to put fork down between bites, slowing the user's eating speed

I need hardly point out that if your particular weakness is, say, nachos, this contraption will do you no good whatsoever.

"Pandering and exploiting your paranoia," says DollyMix. I have to wonder if maybe John Edwards has something to do with this: it certainly passes the Wacky Test.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
5 September 2007
Collar for today: blue

Last time we (or I, anyway) heard from Joel Kotkin, he was mocking San Francisco as being an "ephemeral city," as distinguished from one that exists in the Real World, and snickering at the ostensible "creative classes" who are supposed to be saving our cities and such.

Mr Kotkin is still unimpressed by the sort of gee-whiz stuff that goes on in the name of civic development. In this interview on Townhall.com, he hits home rather a lot:

We live in this dream world where we say, "Well, if we have a fancy stadium with sky boxes, that will keep businesses here." Well, what do you mean by businesses? Do you mean the gauleiters who represent multinational corporations, so they can hang out at a fancy football game? Or are we talking about somebody who's got 15 people working for him in a shop somewhere in the suburbs and would like to get to 30? What are his issues? Are they tax issues? Are they training issues? Are they regulatory issues? You’ve got to go ask! I don’t see anyone interested in that anymore. It’s all "What does some 23-year-old, footloose student want? Does he have enough jazz clubs to go to?" Or some footloose 50-year-old corporate henchman. "Does he have enough arts facilities?"

As a country, we're kind of delusional about our economies. I've found a few places in the country where they focus on this stuff, but I'm kind of becoming a persona non grata for raising these issues. I'm not raising them as a conservative, saying we shouldn't have taxes or shouldn't have regulations. I'm just saying, "How do you provide for a broad-based economic opportunity for your people? Isn't that what's it about?" Unfortunately, for most mayors in America, that's not what's it's about. What it's about is, "How do I keep the public employees happy? How do I keep the people at the very top of society happy? And how do I put on a good enough show so that everybody thinks I have a hip, cool city."

And contrary to popular belief, the manufacturing sector is not dead, though there are those who apparently wouldn't miss it:

This sort of gentry liberalism we have now, they don't really want any of these jobs because, you know what, there is going to be pollution from these industries.

I would argue that if something is going to be manufactured in the United States, it's going to have much less negative effect on the environment than if it's manufactured in China. It's almost like people want to shunt aside all the hard things and have the hard things done by somebody else so they can have their pristine environment. A, that has a sociological effect, since there is no upward mobility for a large portion of the population, and B, you have the stuff built in places that have much worse regulation. In California, they’ll put this regulation in and kick the guy out of California; so the guy goes to Texas, where he can pollute twice as much.

Or Mexico.

Michael Bates calls your attention to this paragraph:

I have to tell you, almost every place I go in this country, particularly where the economy is growing, if you ask business people what is it that would really help them, they say "skills." Machinists. Welders. It's not like there's a Ph. D. shortage, generally speaking. But there is a welder shortage, there's a plumber shortage, there's a machinist shortage. But nobody wants to talk about this. Cities that have lost their industrial base don't want to talk about it, and many cities that still have it are almost ashamed of it. In one of the great historical ironies, the places where they are not ashamed of manufacturing are places like Houston and Charleston and Charlotte. But the places with the great industrial traditions, it's almost as if they are ashamed of their lineage.

God knows Oklahoma is embarrassed by the Oil Patch days; I guess it upsets Prius owners or something. Fortunately for us, we have a really good technical-training infrastructure; unfortunately for us, we won't spend the money to support more students.

Still, at least we're showing some growth these days, which means we're doing something right. I worry, though, that civic development follows John Wanamaker's rule of advertising: half the money is wasted, and we can't tell which half.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 AM)
6 September 2007
Coming soon: the iViolin

It's incredibly small, and you can hear it playing while you read this letter to Steve Jobs:

When you released the iPhone I was one of those pathetic fanboys seen in pictures around the country depicting the spell you had cast over my generation. I paid $600 for the 8 GB iPhone without complaint, just as I had for every iPod you have put out since the first generation.

My complaint is simply that you have dropped the price on the iPhone without recourse to the Apple faithful. I'm not hurting for the two hundred dollar price drop at all, let me be clear. However I cannot help but feel ripped off that in an unprecedented move as far as I can remember, you have lowered the price of a product of yours within 90 days of introducing it.

Having once spent $109.95 for an early-generation pocket calculator, no better than the ones they sell at the dollar store these days, I can say only this: BOO FRICKIN HOO.

Update, 4:15 pm: Steve Jobs hears the cry.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:32 PM)
19 September 2007
Warming to the occasion

Jeff Shaw's environmental manifesto:

Am I Green? Well, I don't really like cars too much. The rest? Meh. (Meh is a new word I learned recently.) We've had global warming since the first day after the ice age ended.

I suspect it started a little earlier than that — say, halfway through the ice age. (Otherwise, you know, we might never have come out of it.)

Then again, as we all know, I like cars too much.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:09 AM)
20 September 2007
We put the "Box" in Home Box Office

No, you can't have HBO on analog cable. Not yours:

Tonight, [Cox Cable] began running a crawl saying that now it is Sept. 30 when they will exile HBO exclusively to their overpriced digital gated community. They even repeated their threats again about "avoiding" this by getting digital cable, though they managed to misspell avoid as "advoid" in the crawl. The situation remains the same for me and my family: I don't like cable boxes, our living room TV setup isn't convenient for a box and, most importantly, we like to have HBO in other rooms in the house (such as my bedroom), but of course that would require more boxes (and more costs).

So, Cox will be losing $16 a month from me starting next month. Here's hoping I'm not the only one who shows them what a money-losing proposition their decision is.

Well, don't count on me: I wasn't giving them the $16 to begin with, and this won't make it any more likely that I will.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 AM)
Get your sharia preview here

The E-Inn Hitech Star Hotel in Bangalore, India is approved for observant Muslim tourists:

[W]hat does this mean for the guest? no smoking, no drinking alcohol, vegetarian food only and wonderfully, in a semi-tropical country, no centralized air-conditioning, which apparently spreads dust, someone forgot to tell them it also stops you being stewed alive.

This trip to the burqa-clad lap of luxury will cost you only $125 a night, which strikes me as a tad high for the services offered. Not that I'm any kind of expert on hotels, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express this summer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:20 AM)
22 September 2007
Welcome to Stepford, Florida

It's a retirement village and an incorporated municipality:

Welcome to The Villages, FL, the perfect town. The buildings are perfect. Downtown has lots of shops and restaurants. The town square was decorated in red, white and blue bunting in honor of the presidential candidate visiting. A "weathered" building near the water added to the authentic atmosphere of a quaint, safe town.

Neighborhoods with gleaming sidewalks and manicured lawns and almost identical houses — each with a screened or columned porch — completed the picture of utopia. The surrounding retail and chain restaurants all perfectly fit in with the schemes of either a Spanish mission or a southern lake community.

And you never have to yell at those damn kids to get off your lawn, either:

[B]y law, since they've incorporated, the city has to allow at least 38 percent of its inhabitants to be 50 years and younger. We didn't see any of those people during our visit. Though, the high school was equally as manicured and perfect as the surrounding neighborhoods.

But something's churning beneath the surface:

STDs are rampant in Utopia. More alcohol is consumed in The Villages than most college campuses. It's no wonder that at 2 p.m. in the afternoon, a nice silver-haired granny was downing liquor shots at the bar of the restaurant where we ate a late lunch.

The "Bait Shacks" around the town square look quaint. On closer inspection, we found out they were actually bars. Four of them, each at the corner of the town square. I guess when you're 55+, you don't want to walk far for a drink.

You'll note that we haven't even discussed humidity yet.

Maybe I tend to romanticize urban grit, but I am deeply suspicious of any community that seeks actively to suppress it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:01 PM)
23 September 2007
Getting one's cover letter read

I hate to say so, but sometimes you need to embellish the truth just a little:

I am writing to let you know of my interest in the Performance Management Analyst position you have posted on Monster.com.

My background is diverse and includes all of the skills and qualities you have listed in the posting. I have a great deal of experience working with and analyzing data, am an expert level user of most MS Office products including Excel and Access, and am also omniscient which comes in extremely handy for long and short term projects that require multi-tasking.

Most recently I have been working as a Software Trainer and Management Consultant in the veterinary industry. My outgoing personality, solid knowledge of small businesses, computers, and relational databases and the fact that I have the ability to know everything and be everywhere at once have been the key to my success in this position. I have a knack for problem solving, excellent communications skills and a magic cape that enables me to not only fly but also become invisible at will.

Your advertisement piqued my interest as my ideal career path will incorporate my unique combination of analytical skills, people skills and dark magic. In fact I could easily be described as an "outgoing analytic". I hope, for your sake and for the sake of your children, when you read this along with my resume that you will be interested in talking to me in person about the opportunities you have available and how I can be an asset to your organization. Otherwise the angels will weep for you.

I admit I have a problem with that magic cape: as I understand them, they can provide flight or invisibility, but I've never seen one perform both functions. (Even cooler would be if you had access to both functions simultaneously, but I suspect this will not be possible until the general availability of Cape 3.0 functionality.)

The omniscience, however, is probably the greater asset, since she'll know to send this only to people who will hire her.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:36 PM)
4 October 2007
Putting the No in Nokia

Total number of minutes used on my brand-new cell phone, for which I just got a Bluetooth headset yesterday: zilch.

At first, I was going to attribute this to an approach/avoidance complex, but then I realized that the truth of the matter was more like this:

I think that the telephone is the invention of Stalin and the Devil. Therefore using the phone requires deep cleansing breaths, acupuncture and a little hypnosis so that I can actually pick up the receiver. Prior to most any phone call, I write down notes on a 3x5 index card to lessen the chance of an untimely heart attack due to being unprepared for a difficult question. The ones that usually catch me off guard are the toughies, like "Is this Heather?" or "How are you?" I figure that with it being 2007 and all and with the wifi and the ability to listen to music on your telephone while wikipedia-ing 'Squeaky Fromme' means that one should be able to simply email a question. The phone doesn't need to be used in every situation, in fact, I'm pretty sure that its use can be limited to dialing 911, ordering Chinese food, and possibly can be fashioned into some sort of weapon.

I admit that I would be caught off guard if someone were to call me and ask "Is this Heather?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:03 AM)
8 October 2007
Careful with that axe, Nancy

The Star Tribune is replacing its ombudsman with — well, nothing, actually:

I wish I could tell you that a fresh, new ombudsman waits in the wings, eager to advocate for you in the newsroom and fill this column space each Sunday with constructive criticism or explanations of the editors' decisions. That healthy openness has been this newspaper's hallmark of ethical self-policing for more than 35 years.

But that is not what is happening. The position as it has been known all those years is ending, a victim of staff downsizing. In announcing her decision, Editor Nancy Barnes used more delicate language, saying it was being left "open" and holding out the prospect that a part-time version might be considered in the future.

In a final act as your reader's representative, I feel compelled to say this is a lousy decision that does not serve readers or the quality of journalism in this newspaper. Even if a part-time version of this very full-time job is attempted, it would have to leave out some core functions that defined this job as an ombudsman rather than something else.

Shorter Star Tribune: Yakety yak, don't talk back.

I found this, of all places, at Pop Culture Junk Mail, where Gael notes:

Oh, come on! This is 10 times as necessary a role as another Burnsville reporter, especially in this era where our nation is so angrily split that half the Strib readers believe the paper is in thrall to the Democrats, and the other half believe the Republicans and big advertisers control the copy. Bad decision.

I don't expect him to issue a statement, but I'd love to hear Lileks' take on this. (Almost certainly he doesn't want the job.)

And the mere fact that I'm mentioning this here reflects the new reality of these here Intertubular things: were it not for the Net, the Strib would be just a little provincial paper with an overlay of Minnesota Nice and no one this side of Jim Romenesko would give a flying fish about their ombudsman being sacked.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:16 PM)
11 October 2007
Dead heat on the Diversity Train

The school where Ms. Cornelius teaches has been exhorted to improve the achievement of minority students, and this was the beginning of the exhortation:

First we listened to outside people read us really bad poetry. We listened to painfully clichéd free verse with no internal meter, imagery, or intellectual or emotional heft beyond bathos (which can be fun to those who are looking for it) about sad-eyed puppies left out in thunderstorms and birdies with broken wings and acrostics spelling out "I CAN" down the left-hand margin. And then there's that R. Kelly song — don't make me relive that. Those of us with a brain were then treated to these presenters then providing literary analysis of this treacle, too, since it was obviously so very deep that we just didn't get it on our own.

R. Kelly needs to be understood by educators the way Jeffrey Dahmer needs to be understood by pastry chefs.

But the worst was yet to come:

Now, we are told that we should stop trying to impose "white" middle class values upon our students — that's the problem, yeah.

Ah, now we see the racism inherent in the system, and as usual, it's on the part of the haranguers, not the haranguees. Minority students should never, ever be asked to sacrifice their cultural imperatives for the sake of such bourgeois notions as "getting good grades" or "learning to think for oneself"; that's just so injurious to their self-esteem.

You want to improve the achievement of minority students? Get them the hell away from people who think understanding R. Kelly is somehow important.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:19 PM)
19 October 2007
The mother of all fishing expeditions

The Phoenix New Times, a metropolitan alt-weekly, has occasionally been a thorn in the side of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and now the man with the badge has decided it's time for payback:

The seemingly picayune matter of Sheriff Arpaio's home address getting printed at the bottom of an opinion column on our Internet site — and the very real issue of commercial property investments the sheriff hid from public view — have now erupted into a courtroom donnybrook against a backdrop of illegal immigration disputes, Mexican drug cartels, the Minutemen, political ambition, and turf disputes between prosecutors and the judiciary.

Which led to the following:

In a grandiose insult to the Constitution, Arpaio, [Maricopa County Attorney Andrew] Thomas, and [special prosecutor Dennis] Wilenchik used the grand jury to subpoena the online profiles of anyone who viewed four specific articles on the sheriff.

And then they raised the ante:

Energized, perhaps, by this mugging of Constitutional safeguards, Arpaio, Thomas, and Wilenchik then shot the moon. The grand jury subpoena also demands Web site profiles of anyone and everyone who visited New Times online over the past two and a half years, not merely readers who viewed articles on the sheriff.

The subpoena demands: "Any and all documents containing a compilation of aggregate information about the Phoenix New Times Web site created or prepared from January 1, 2004 to the present, including but not limited to:

A) which pages visitors access or visit on the Phoenix New Times website;

B) the total number of visitors to the Phoenix New Times website;

C) information obtained from 'cookies,' including, but not limited to, authentication, tracking, and maintaining specific information about users (site preferences, contents of electronic shopping carts, etc.);

D) the Internet Protocol address of anyone that accesses the Phoenix New Times website from January 1, 2004 to the present;

E) the domain name of anyone that has accessed the Phoenix New Times website from January 1, 2004 to the present;

F) the website a user visited prior to coming to the Phoenix New Times website;

G) the date and time of a visit by a user to the Phoenix New Times website;

H) the type of browser used by each visitor (Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Netscape Navigator, Firefox, etc.) to the Phoenix New Times website; and

I) the type of operating system used by each visitor to the Phoenix New Times website.

Inasmuch as I read the New Times piece online, I assume they want my information, and if you followed the link, they presumably want yours too. "America's Toughest Sheriff" apparently has America's Thinnest Skin.

And to prove it:

Two top executives of Village Voice Media, the parent company of the Voice, were arrested Thursday night and released from jail early Friday morning for revealing information about a secret grand jury proceeding in a story in the Phoenix New Times.

(With thanks to Coyote Blog.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:54 AM)
20 October 2007
Expect ADA inspectors any minute now

They're renovating the office tower where Andy works, and they're doing it right:

As part of the construction work, all of the wall- and door-mounted signs were removed and replaced with paper versions until the mess is gone. So, plaques with company names, bathroom signs and stairway signs, etc, are now 8.5" x 11" dopplegangers of their former selves.

No detail was spared in this endeavor. Company names are provided in full, in clear fonts. Stairs are clearly marked for quick exits. And all of the Braille on each sign has been reproduced.

Um, how's that again?

All of the Braille.


In ink.

And then … photocopied.

I know that losing one sense can sharpen the others, but I doubt a blind person can feel the tracks of a photocopied Sharpie.

And if those EXIT signs don't glow in the dark, they'll probably hear from OSHA, too.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:34 AM)
22 October 2007
Is there a louse in the house?

Or, lacking that, the Senate?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:02 PM)
25 October 2007
A voice made for magazines

A request to inventors, from Coyote Blog:

I am working this afternoon to put a narration track on my climate movie. The problem is that I don't really want to hire a narrator, and I don't really have that strong of a narration voice. What we need is some kind of digital filter that I could apply to my narration mp3 file to make me sound better. Click on "bbc" and suddenly I would sound like I have a lovely British accent. Click on "darth" and I would have James Earl Jones' deep baritone. In fact, in anticipation of such technology in the future, I think James Earl Jones needs to spend several days in a sound booth reading the dictionary so that future generation will have access to his voice, at least digitally.

And I'd like to have the "bobcat goldthwait" setting for use when dealing with intransigent customer-service departments, on the off chance that it will cause actual pain in the headsets of the jerks who may be monitoring these calls for quality purposes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:24 AM)
26 October 2007
Electrical bananas

Lachlan and Bayou are buying a house (yay!), and like any reasonable homeowners-to-be, they were sweating the results of the inspection. As it turns out, those results were not too shabby:

No major deal-and-heart-breaking flaws. There were a couple interesting surprises, namely that only 2 outlets in the entire house are grounded. Two! WTFF, people? Stunningly stupid and sloppy, on an otherwise gorgeous remodel.

WTFF, indeed. Is this an endemic condition? From the inspection of Surlywood, four years ago:

Correct "open ground" and hot/neutral reversal on receptacles on the exterior and in the interior of the residence.

Have we been overrun this millennium with amateur electricians or something? (The outlets were duly fixed, at a cost of around $200.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:15 AM)
29 October 2007
Fall behind

On the general subject of Daylight Saving Time, I've always tended to agree with Robertson Davies, who, in his guise as Samuel Marchbanks, blamed the whole premise on "the bony, blue-fingered hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier, and get them up earlier, to make them healthy, wealthy and wise in spite of themselves." At least our computers can make the switch more or less transparently, though some patching was required this year, no thanks to Congress; I suspect that every last bit of energy that was supposed to have been "saved" was consumed in downloading those patches.

And some things evidently never did get patched. The phone system at 42nd and Treadmill has reverted to Standard Time, even though the server that administers it is a Wintel box that's still on DST for the next week. I am, of course, delighted that the demented souls who always pop into the customer-service queue at one second past 8 am will have to cool their heels until the time is adjusted.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
File under "How dare you"

Why, you can't even put this in your pipe and smoke it:

Some friends of mine produce "boutique" pipe tobacco of amazing quality. They decided to try the whole organic thing and at great expense arranged a bemused supplier of the leaf who converted an existing organic tomato field and grew up a season worth of red Virgina leaf. Then, to meet the intricate regulations, once the bulks of tobacco were ready, they had to shut down their entire production line, semi-disassemble the machinery, and swab everything down with the approved cleaners. They did the run, and sent the tins out to market. Less than a week later they got a "cease and desist" notice from the Organic Food Council. The gist of it was that they had never intended the "Organic(TM)" label to be applied to such an appalling product as smoking tobacco. The McClellands pointed out they had followed the regs to the letter from field to tin. Didn't matter. The regs were swiftly changed to specifically exclude tobacco, and they were then told to recall and destroy all unsold tins. Fortunately they ended up in front of a sympathetic judge who allowed them to sell off the remainder. Tins now sell in the $100 to $150 range to collectors.

I have informed my mechanic that I expect my motor oil to be pure dead dinosaur.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 PM)
31 October 2007
Feeding the hungry insects

That wasn't the plan, but that's what happened:

My shampoo is infused with melon and cucumber extract, my conditioner with apple extract. My shower soap is berry and my lotion is peach. It's no wonder when I walk outside I'm under attack — the bugs are lined up waiting for me, I smell like a friggin fruit stand.

I generally eschew conditioner — what have I to condition? — but otherwise, this fruit salad doesn't sound a whole lot different from my own. In fact, mine may be worse, since I have a tendency to buy the cheap stuff, which often lacks subtlety. (Mental note: See if Alberto sells a VO7 or 8.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:01 AM)
4 November 2007
Tiaraly wages

A statistic from Playboy's Raw Data (December):

Forty-eight percent of American employees say at least one of their co-workers is a "Workplace Princess" who has an excess sense of entitlement and expects special favors on the job.

Given the need for magazine lead time, I figured this had to have been out for a while, and sure enough, it has. The study was commissioned by author/career counselor Rachelle Carter (Make the Right Career Move), and here's what she found:

48% of American workers say there is a "Workplace Princess" on site.
48% of Workplace Princesses expect special favors from employers.
47% of Workplace Princesses believe they are being treated unfairly.
35% of Workplace Princesses make other people do work for them.

And just in case you were wondering:

16% of Workplace Princesses are men.

Based on my own experiences, I'd have expected a lot more than one out of six.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:00 PM)
5 November 2007
How odd

The current Consumer Reports tagline is this: "Expert · Independent · Nonprofit." They've registered it as a trademark, even.

They're still dependent on one ancient piece of marketing shtick, though: the 2008 Buying Guide, should you buy it in a store, will cost you $9.99. Not ten bucks, but one cent less than ten bucks. The usual explanation for this is that people read prices from left to right (duh), and somewhere in the back of the mind, the difference between $9.99 and $10.00 looks like a whole lot more than the meager penny it is.

Yeah, we know, everybody does it. (Well, my dentist doesn't; if he presents me with a bill for $200, it's for $200 and not for $199 and change.) For a publication which ostensibly seeks to create smarter shoppers, though, this is a discouraging lapse in standards.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:12 PM)
Nothing is real

Especially not real estate these days:

A berry patch near Loganville [GA] is under contract by a local developer who wants to turn the old strawberry field into retail and office buildings.

Crown Point Properties will go before the Municipal Gwinnett County Planning Commission at 7 p.m. Tuesday to request a zoning change to build the 94,200-square-foot complex outside the city of Loganville. The 10-acre parcel is part of some popular strawberry fields. Though the land is largely rural, the current zoning would allow mobile homes on the property.

Is this proposal greeted with unanimous enthusiasm? "Let me take you down," say some folks:

On the other hand, some neighbors say they would rather see strawberry plants rising from the ground than a building. Thousands of people come to the area to pick the fruit at Washington Farms.

McGehee notes:

I looked through the entire article and didn't see any sign that the owners of Washington Farms are being forced to allow the planned development to build on their strawberry fields. In fact it sounds more like the farm's neighbors want to force the owners of Washington Farms to keep growing strawberries on their strawberry fields.

Yeah, but they're just the owners: what rights do they have, anyway? Obviously this is nothing to get hung about.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:44 PM)
10 November 2007
Another coat of paint

The CrappiFlats™ in which I lived for entirely too long are being sold yet again, to yet another absentee owner. The 286-unit complex brought $4.76 million, or about $16,600 per unit, a decidedly smallish price, and here's why, according to the paper:

It was one of a three-property portfolio secured by 501(c)3 affordable-housing bonds that were foreclosed on last year. Occupancy at the time of sale was 60 percent.

Given the infrastructure over there, which is indifferent at best, and the tenant mix, which is, let us say, downscale, and not in a good way, I suggest that the community would be better served were the new owners to tear down the place and start over.

Disclosure: My use of the term "CrappiFlats™" does not take into account the fact that some of the units are not in fact flats.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:38 AM)
13 November 2007
Dr Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

To hear my mom tell it, the only reason you could buy Dr Pepper in the Carolina Lowcountry in 1962 was because she'd spent the last half of 1961 haranguing bottlers and grocers.

And what's more, they didn't have blogs back then, so she couldn't have done something like this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:54 AM)
Wii're all out

Lileks sends a note to Nintendo:

[E]ither make lots more Wiis or shut up about them. Please. My child wants one, and it looks like there's no chance on this planet, or any parallel versions of it I might access through some sort of quantum portal, that I will get one. I could order one from one of Amazon's Preferred Hoarders, but I will be switched and hoss-whipped down Lyndale Avenue before I pay someone 200 dollars over the sticker price. At least you could rename it. It's not the Wii. It's the Themm. Wii don't have one.

"Didn't we go through this last year?" I thought, and dialed up Lileks' semi-beloved Target, where they have five pages of Wii accessories but not one actual Wii.

Anyway, if you have an extra Wii lying around, feel free to send it to James Lileks, Star Tribune, 425 Portland Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55488.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
14 November 2007
Eating escrow

One unexpected beneficiary of the housing downturn: shrinks.


In the 37 years William Horstman has been practicing in San Francisco as a therapist, he's never seen patients spend more time worrying about their home values — and their personal sense of wealth — than they do today. That includes the years after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that devastated the housing market.

"The market has risen dramatically in the past 10 years and, in San Francisco, that remains true today. But people don't feel it," said Horstman, who estimates that 10 to 15 percent of his clients' therapy time is spent on the housing market.

What they do feel, evidently, is insecure:

Indeed, therapists and financial planners say what local homeowners are feeling is a financial insecurity that touches their work lives, their relationships and their sense of financial and personal worth.

"As your equity goes down, your psychological sense of worth can go down," said Jan Edl Stein, a marriage and family therapist who practices in San Francisco and Marin.

I assure you that I have no such feelings regarding the palatial estate at Surlywood, which is worth $89,356, up $229 from last month.

(Via Burbed.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:34 AM)
19 November 2007
Geniuses at work (2)

You may remember that this past spring, Circuit City sacked as many of its experienced employees as possible, in a desperate attempt to cut costs. It didn't work quite as well as they'd hoped, and so after an indecent interval, they're trying to lure some of them back.

I suspect this response is typical, if a tad more eloquent than usual:

As I recall, I was told that I was being excused from the company because RetailComputerStore [he's being slightly coy here, but we know who it is] could no longer afford to pay me. As you are again offering me employment, that problem has clearly been solved. Recent news from the company indicates that 65 new superstores have been opened across the country. As I know from personal experience that it requires a sum in excess of 10 million dollars to open a new location, the conclusion I draw is that RetailComputerStore is currently in possession of over 650 million dollars' worth of equity. Based upon that, here are the terms of my new employment:

1) My salary is to be $35/hour. (Note: This is 3x what I made before, and obscenely higher than their "maximum salary cap".)

2) My schedule is to be as follows: I will work on Saturdays only, in a shift that is not to exceed eight hours, including a 60-minute lunch. I am not available to work Sunday through Friday for any reason, including meetings, training sessions, in-services, or company-sponsored gatherings. (Note: This is a pure insult. Sunday is the biggest, busiest day for RCS because that's the day everyone gets their new ads in the Sunday Paper. Refusing to work that day is akin to not working Black Friday, which I've also conveniently accomplished.)

3) I am to be exempt from any corporate-decreed wastes of my time. This includes, but is not limited to: PCP, morning meetings, and visits from upper management. I alone will evaluate what does and does not apply. (Note: Yes, I want it official that I wouldn't be required to give a damn.)

PCP is not the drug, I assume, but some organizational bushwah intended to look like management has a clue.

Please note that none of the above terms is in any way negotiable, and I will be requiring written acceptance of them before my employment can be renewed. If you can find a manager of any RetailComputerStore superstore able to meet these terms, please have them give me a call. (Note: Their letter ended by telling me to take my invitation to any manager. I'm turning it back on them, and challenging them to find someone willing to come to me.)

And you have to admit, this is vastly more fun than a perfunctory "Bite me."

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:24 PM)
23 November 2007
Nor any drop to drink

We are much mocked (usually by Tulsans) for converting the glorified drainage ditch that was the North Canadian into some semblance of an actual river, but it makes a certain amount of sense, since (1) said ditch was a bitch to mow and (2) things actually happen there now.

It helps that we generally don't run horribly short of water in these parts: last year was unusually dry, but still we recorded about 26 inches of rainfall. (This year we've had more than twice that.) I mean, it's not like we're in the middle of a freaking desert or anything:

The city of Phoenix in Arizona sits in the middle of a desert that for the past 11 years has been suffering a punishing drought. Temperatures in the city rose above 43C (110F) for a record 30 days this year and water levels in the rivers that supply its 1.5 million people with drinking water are at near-record lows.

A perfect spot then to build what is described as a "year-round watersports paradise", in which visitors will be able to revel in whatever watery pastime takes their fancy.

The businessmen behind Waveyard say they plan to recreate the seascape of Indonesia or Hawaii in an area that has just eight inches of rainfall a year. They have earmarked a site about 15 miles outside Phoenix on 125 acres of land that normally supports nothing but saguaro cacti and creosote bushes and that is 200 miles from the nearest beach.

This seems ever-so-slightly insane, even in the face of bland reassurances:

Rita Maguire, a water expert who has advised Waveyard on water supplies for the development, told Associated Press that she had come round to the idea. "Initially, the reaction is: 'Oh my. Is this an appropriate use of water in a desert'? But recreation is a very important part of a community."

She added that the project would not use more water than a golf course, which sounds reassuring, until you learn that the Arizonan desert is already pockmarked with 402 golf courses.

In which case, a 403rd should hardly make a difference, you'd think. Still, I'm uneasy about this sort of thing, if only because the population of Maricopa County, now over three million, is expected to close in on five million by 2025 or shortly thereafter, and it's not like there's going to be a sudden upsurge in water availability between now and then. Then again, I could be wrong.

(Via Fred First.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 PM)
24 November 2007
Weirdness, thy name is CBS

It is now alleged that there exist "intimate" photographs of CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric, and that the person who has them wants to be paid off:

The latest issue of our favorite tabloid, the National Enquirer, has a story claiming that there are ... cringe-worthy photos possibly coming. 50 year-old gummy-grinning newscaster Katie Couric is being blackmailed for $1 million over photos that her 33 year-old boytoy, Brooks Perlin, left at a party. Katie's camp claims they’re just friendly vacation snaps, but why would someone try to extort a million bucks out of Katie for some tame personal pictures?

Two observations:

  1. Haven't we already seen more of Katie than we wanted to?

  2. We never had this kind of problem with Dan Rather. (Of course, if we had, the photos would presumably have been exposed as fakes.)

I just hope to God if there's anything at all, it's just still photos; I'm not even slightly prepared for video.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:27 PM)
25 November 2007
Management in heavy rotation

I am not what you'd call a fan of media consolidation, generally, but Matt Welch has a serious point here:

The amount of real news we get is increasing exponentially, in spite of (and not because of) the FCC and its unjustifiable ownership restrictions. Also, how in God's name does having the Tribune Co. own the L.A. Times and KTLA "limit" the amount of real net news? Seriously, how? Spell it out. Because I've lived with both companies my whole life, and worked for one for nearly two years, and if there was more than one drop of "synergy" between the two properties I sure as hell haven't seen it. Nor do I even understand how such a limitation would work in theory. What, so, the newspaper and the teevee station would have the same editorial line? The front page would look like the first three minutes of the News at Ten? Newspaper grunts would start wearing hair helmets, getting eye-tucks and pairing off in May-September female-male couplets?

The only thing that preventing newspaper companies from owning television stations does, is artificially limit the number of potential buyers of media companies. How this is supposed to increase the amount of "real news" we get is beyond me.

And this occurred to me: at various times in its existence, the channel 4 facility in Oklahoma City has been under the command of The Oklahoman, The Detroit News, and The New York Times. In fact, the Michiganders acquired the station because the FCC was in the mood to break up local newspaper/television combinations, and the federal stick was supplemented with a carrot: tax breaks to those who break up the set. So Opubco shipped the channel 4 license to Detroit in early 1976. It's since changed hands several times, most recently this year, when The New York Times Company decided to get out of the TV business. Can anyone — anyone too young to remember 3-D Danny, anyway — tell the difference among any of the station's incarnations?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:05 PM)
29 November 2007
De minimis non curat lex

Not a good defense for an exhibitionist:

A man convicted of being a serial flasher told a court he could not be guilty as his genitals were too small.

Michael Carney, 41, claimed he was too embarrassed about the size of his manhood to expose himself to women and showed the court photographs as proof. But the jury at Teesside Crown Court convicted the father-of-two, of Stockton, Teesside of seven counts of outraging public decency.

Mr Carney, says the article, is a "quality inspector for a plastics firm," which makes me wonder why he didn't cobble up a prosthesis in his spare time.

Sentencing will be next year: in the meantime, kindly neighbors will no doubt forward him spam offering herbal embiggeners and such.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:10 PM)
1 December 2007
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)
3 December 2007
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)
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)
4 December 2007
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)
5 December 2007
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)
7 December 2007
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)
8 December 2007
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)
9 December 2007
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)
10 December 2007
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)
13 December 2007
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)
16 December 2007
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)
17 December 2007
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)
20 December 2007
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)
25 December 2007
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)
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)
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)
2 January 2008
Flat tires pale in comparison

I truly hope this turns out to be fiction:

OnStar: Hello, OnStar.
Customer: Hi, I have a problem.
OnStar: How can I help, sir?
Customer: I'm…umm…27, and still a virgin.
OnStar: How old are you really, sir?
Customer: Twenty-nine?
OnStar: Sir?
Customer: Thirty-six.
OnStar: [partially off mike] Holy shit!
Customer: [muffled crying]

On the upside, it certainly speaks well of OnStar's remote diagnostics.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 PM)
3 January 2008
I want an old drug

CFI Care [not its real name], our insurance plan at 42nd and Treadmill, has been taken over by a new group of weasels, duly replacing the old group of weasels, and I am not exactly delighted to report that I will be expected to shell out a $60 copay for a drug that costs at retail — wait for it — $65.33.

Which makes me wonder how much the premiums would be if someone had had the temerity to say "Screw the drug plan, just cover the expensive stuff."

Four years from now, assuming I haven't been nickel-and-dimed to death, the drug goes off patent; an application to produce a generic formulation is already in hand at the FDA.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:22 AM)
5 January 2008
Beware of the Blob

By most standards, Aubrey McClendon's Chesapeake Energy expansion has been more boon than blight, but I have to wonder: where will it end? Wilshire Boulevard? The Broadway Extension? Penn Square? Saugatuck, Michigan?

A decision to possibly allow development on the Denison Dunes in Saugatuck Township has been delayed until the spring.

Oklahoma billionaire Aubrey McClendon bought the property with plans to develop it for high-end residential use. Environmentalists are battling him in an effort to preserve the land.

McClendon's development company is considering a lawsuit against the township over a zoning change that reduced the number of homes allowed on the site. The township board is considering an agreement with the developer. The settlement would, in effect, prevent a lawsuit from being filed.

Last summer, the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance wrote McClendon and asked him to reconsider his plans, even offering to buy him out. No sale.

The township board is now waiting for McClendon to lay out his development plan in detail; it's expected by June.

(Via Seattlest.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:18 AM)
7 January 2008
And now, the news for Italian plumbers

Lileks discovers news via Nintendo:

I felt a little ill upon noting the Wii News Channel. It's fast and succinct. There's no good reason to have a news feed in the Wii machine, but there's no good reason not to have one. It's a reminder that news is just a feature, not a destination or a place; it's part of the stuff that falls from the cloud.

If gaming machines have news, shouldn't newspaper websites have games? Seriously: papers run comics, so they're not above something "funny" and trivial. Why not provide addictive time-wasting flash games? They wouldn't have to be based on the news, although I suppose they could be — Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich have been buried under a ton of corn in an Iowa silo! Click the falling cobs to keep them from dying, and click on the fallen cobs to clear a path! Between levels, an ad, some headlines.

I like it, but it wouldn't fly: some nitwit would complain that his candidate is being mocked, and this will not stand.

On the other hand, Kucinich fans might find it amusing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:19 AM)
10 January 2008
Lots and lots of new stationery

Matsushita Electric Industrial Company, founded in 1918 by Konosuke Matsushita, is about to fade into history. The huge Japanese conglomerate is taking the name of its leading brand: Panasonic Corp.

The Japanese do not undertake such changes lightly:

Speaking to reporters at a news conference to present the change, President Fumio Ohtsubo said that he had ensured the company had the backing of members of the Matsushita family still represented within the company.

The change will take place in October. Buyers of Panasonic equipment might not even notice. On the other hand, this may improve the company's Web profile, in case your ISP or your workplace filters out words like "Matsushita."

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:42 AM)
11 January 2008

My original cell-phone contract didn't even mention text messages, and my old phone made the task of sending them unduly difficult, so I never got into the habit. I'd been off contract for a few years, and decided to re-up in order to snag a newer phone, and while I still have the same number of minutes and the same monthly rate, any text messages after the first fifty are billed at 15 cents each.

I didn't think much about this until I saw some Usenet item to the effect that this was the most expensive bandwidth in the solar system, and then, of course, I had to think about it.

SMS as implemented on GSM maxes out at 160 7-bit characters, the equivalent of 140 8-bit bytes, or 140/1024 = 0.1367 kilobytes. At fifteen cents a whack, this is $1.097 per K; multiply by 1048576 and you get the startling figure of $1.15 million per gigabyte. (By comparison, my Web host offers 5 terabytes for as low as six bucks a month.)

Trini would scoff. "Upgrade to a plan with unlimited texting," she'd say, reasonably enough, and this wouldn't cost a ton of money. But what I'm allowed is way more than I anticipate using; typically, I have four or five text messages a month. By contrast, she's using four or five an hour.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:55 AM)
13 January 2008

The only clock I bother to set on the living-room entertainment gear is on the VCR/DVD recorder combo, and it's kind enough not to blink 12:00 after power outages (1:00 after power outages during DST); instead, it picks up where it left off and moves along. The clock was already two minutes behind, so the half-hour it spent without juice knocked it to 32 minutes behind. I groaned, picked up the remote for the TV — this is one of those recorders where everything is done through on-screen menus — and got: nothing.

It's not like I'd never had a battery die in a remote before, so I swapped out a pair of AAs and started over. Nothing. "Jeebus, Sony, what is it this time?" I grumbled as I dug up the TV set manual. Okay, fine: use the front-panel buttons under the drop-down panel, which conveniently were already dropped down since that's where the LaserDisc plugs in. I had a picture on channel 61 (the Hitler History Channel), but the channel number in the corner was counting down as fast as it possibly could, and none of the front-panel buttons would work except the power switch. The remote was still deader than Mike Gravel's Presidential bid.

A search for "sony wega controls unresponsive" turned up this thread:

The only control on my TV that still works is the power button. On my remote the Power button is also the only button that is operational!! I can't change channels, switch video inputs, or control volume. Behind the control panel I can get the menu to display but the arrow keys don't work....not sure what happened...thought maybe unplugging TV overnight might reset something....no luck. Just wondering if anyone has ran into a similiar problem with this.

Apparently Sony has never heard of this issue either.

I'd taken the trouble to remove all the other remotes from the area, on the off-chance that they were being read by mistake, so the only conclusion I can reach is that something fooled the infrared sensor into thinking it was getting a crapload of instructions all at once, and eventually it quit doing that.

I note for comparison that every time I've had some weird response, or lack of response, from the Vizio in the bedroom, disconnecting it from the power supply for sixty seconds has reset it without screwing with my personal settings.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:18 PM)
17 January 2008
Now this is depressing

But not entirely unexpected, either:

Nearly a third of antidepressant drug studies are never published in the medical literature and nearly all happen to show that the drug being tested did not work, researchers reported on Wednesday.

Imagine that.

Of the 74 studies that started for the 12 antidepressants, 38 produced positive results for the drug. All but one of those studies were published. However, when it came to the 36 studies with negative or questionable results, as assessed by the FDA, only three were published and another 11 were turned around and written as if the drug had worked.

"Not only were positive results more likely to be published, but studies that were not positive, in our opinion, were often published in a way that conveyed a positive outcome," said the [research] team [led by Erick Turner of the Oregon Health & Science University].

Me, I'm looking for a time-released placebo.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:06 AM)
20 January 2008
Temporary cheesehead

"Take the Dow and the 2500 points," says the Oklahoman's Don Mecoy:

There is a strong correlation between the Super Bowl champion and the annual performance of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the oldest, most prestigious stock index. When a team that was an original member of the American Football League wins the big game, the Dow slumps. When a member of the original National Football League wins, the Dow surges. It works about 80 percent of the time, a success rate the envy of any stock picker. Most recently, it worked last year when the Indianapolis Colts, an original NFL franchise, took the championship and the Dow gained 6.4 percent.

A lot of which vanished in the last couple of months, but still:

So if you're not already swayed by the Patriots' cheating, slovenly, Machiavellian despot of a coach, their cheating (girlfriend, not football) quarterback or their cheating (drug policy violation) defensive back, then just vote your pocketbook. (And their uniforms are ugly.)

Back the Pack. Your portfolio will thank you.

I should point out that Mecoy posted this on Thursday, which means that he was expecting New England and Green Bay to win their respective conferences. So far, he's one for two: the Pats did win today. As of this writing, the Giants have pulled ahead of the Packers.

Update, 9:15 pm: And it's the Giants and the Pats in the Super Bowl. Last time these two met was the 29th of December; New England won it, 38-35. I'm still not calling a broker.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 PM)
22 January 2008
Cry wolf, and let slip the dogs of news

After all, it's always bad news:

While looking through some old papers I was reading about the recession fears of 1948. There were ads in the paper telling people not to turn the thermostat up in January because there wasn't enough heating oil. There was also a steel crisis, which worried analysts. Imagine anyone worrying about a steel crisis today. In any case, The Republic struggled through and came out the other side. Now? We're not even in a recession, but you'd think the morning sun was about to be blotted out by the rain of money managers hurling themselves out windows. Of course the news is bad. The news is always bad. Even the good news is bad, eventually. If they cured cancer tomorrow it would take a day before analysts worried about the impact on Medicare, what with people living so damned long and all.

This is the inevitable result of decades of "We gotta do something." If the government insists on a "stimulus" package, I recommend this: peel off several billion dollars and give it to the purveyors of news, on the condition that they go away for the next decade. The effect on the national psyche, and by extension on its wallet, will be remarkably beneficial — and without remarks, even.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:24 PM)

Sunday I complained that my online tax service wasn't going to be up until Monday.

And by "Monday," they apparently meant Wednesday. Once again: sheesh.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:14 PM)
23 January 2008
Not just tooth rot

Evidently you can't keep a good cartel down:

For decades American sugar producers have prospered from a government-guaranteed price. To keep this from bankrupting Uncle Sam, Washington has controlled supplies with import quotas and allotments to growers. This has kept U.S. prices two to three times higher than the world price and sent thousands of jobs overseas, while a political cartel of Senators from the South (cane) and Midwest (beet) has beaten back every attempt at reform.

However, as of this month sugar imports can now enter the U.S. from Mexico, and so the sugar lobby is once again calling on Congress to fix prices and gouge consumers. Both the House and Senate farm bills contain provisions that Mexican sugar imports be purchased by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and then sold to ethanol producers while taxpayers eat the difference.

And how much is that difference?

"We're going to be buying it at 21 cents [per pound] and probably selling it at six cents," acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner told Dow Jones Newswires last week. "And that will be a direct cost to taxpayers to subsidize this creation of ethanol all for the purpose of trying to ensure that we don't have competition in the sugar market in this country."

(Via Sophistpundit.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:13 AM)
24 January 2008
This used to be my playground

Well, not literally mine, but still: remember when the legs were the last things to go?

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)
26 January 2008
Is our children gradualating?

"Oh, my, yes," says Fayetteville, Arkansas:

Graduation requirements for seniors at Fayetteville High School are changing this year in an attempt, at least in part, to curb dropouts. Effective with the Class of 2008, seniors no longer have to have a 2.0 grade-point average to graduate.

The Fayetteville School Board unanimously approved the revision Thursday.

Some of the thinking behind the decision:

Principal Jim Price said 18 students did not graduate last May because of the requirement, which seems to affect students in alternative programs more than other students. Some students in the alternative programs are there for credit recovery, but even then may find it mathematically impossible to raise a low grade-point to a 2.0, Price said.

"Fayetteville is known for its academic standards, but [we] need to be conscious of the dropout rate. We concur this is a good move and should have been considered years ago," Superintendent Bobby New said in support of removing the grade-point average.

Let's see if I have this right: let the standards slide a bit, and voilà! the dropout numbers look better.

Of course, the school board has bigger fish to fry at the moment: they're mulling an offer for the high-school campus itself. I don't think the dropout rate will affect the selling price, but you never know these days.

(Spotted by The Local Malcontent.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:17 AM)
27 January 2008
Taking the Cure81

I'm not quite sure how to explain it when it happens, as inevitably it must happen to me eventually, to some bored intake person at the E.R.


"It's like passing a ham through my left ventricle."

Of course, if she comes back with "Not a canned ham, I hope," I'll probably laugh myself right into a myocardial infarction.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:57 AM)
29 January 2008

Eric Siegmund seems startled that some overwrought Brit paid the equivalent of $875,000 for a license plate, and notes that the plate cost substantially more than the car to which it is being affixed.

This might be impressive had not a chap in Abu Dhabi once peeled off $6.8 million for a plate, and besides, I can go down Treadmill Avenue any day of the week and find half a dozen cars whose value is less that that of their license plates, and for two or three of them most of that value is in the form of gasoline.

What's more, I've been to Delaware.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:34 AM)
30 January 2008
Heinous sins of suburbia

And the worst of these is — well, what would you call this? Contrary aesthetics?

I got a call from the Community Association yesterday at work. The man apologized for calling me at work but said it was an emergency. "You have a political lawn sign in your yard and that is a direct offense of our regulations… you must take it down — IMMEDIATELY!"

"That’s fine, I'll take it down; but tell me, who turned me in?"

"Numerous people called."

"How many?" I asked.


"Who were they, I want names."

"I cannot give you names."



"Pretty please! I just wanna know who I shouldn't bother baking cookies for this Christmas."



Somebody calls me at work with this sort of "emergency," he's gonna wish he'd passed a ham through his left ventricle.

(Yeah, I know, I've invoked this comparison before. Doesn't make it any less valid.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:56 AM)
1 February 2008
Oh, this will end well

The blind leading the bland:

Microsoft said Friday that it would offer $44.6 billion for Yahoo, the ailing search giant. The surprise offer of $31 a share represents a 62 percent premium to Thursday's closing share price. Yahoo shareholders could elect to receive either cash or stock.

The proposed acquisition, the largest ever by Microsoft, would give some relief to Yahoo's long-suffering shareholders, who have seen the company's stock slide nearly 32 percent this year. It would also create the most formidable competitor yet for Google, the search engine giant.

I can't wait to see what sort of horrid Dr. Moreauvian hybrid emerges from the fusion of Windows Live Mail (née Hotmail) and Yahoo! Mail.

And will that perennial #3 news channel rename itself MSYNBC? (Y not?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:14 AM)
8 February 2008
From Bimmer to bummer

Earlier this week I mentioned that very few people I knew were buying BMWs, which I attributed at least partly to the fact that they're not exactly rolling in dough.

Apparently some person I don't know found that condition intolerable:

Anthony Lofink now faces up to 20 years in prison on each of three felony charges: wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He also faces a fine of up to $2.4 million when [Chief District Judge Gregory] Sleet sentences him on May 8.

In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas McCann said that between May 2005 and October 2007, Lofink used the money to lease a BMW 330i, purchase a Porsche Cayman and get $3,800 worth of cosmetic surgery.

Oh, those irresistible BMW leases. They'll get you every time.

Of course, my immediate thought is something like this: "If I had a 3-series BMW and a Porsche Cayman, why would I need plastic surgery?"

(With thanks to Fritz Schranck.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:39 PM)
9 February 2008
Traveler's remorse

Megan Wallent calls the front desk:

"Hi, this is Janelle, can I help you?"

"Hi Janelle, this your favorite guest from room 723. I really hate to complain so much, but, um, I was just walking down the hall and noticed that all of the smoke and heat detectors in the hall are covered up by what appears to be shower caps and tape. I'm pretty sure this isn't ok."

"Uh huh."

"Did you happen to see the news last week, where the Monte Carlo hotel in Vegas caught on fire during renovation, and they had to evacuate it?"

"No, I didn't see that."

"Janelle, I really don't want to be served crispy."

The matter was addressed quickly enough, but there's just a hint of "What were they thinking?" that isn't going away any time soon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:02 PM)
10 February 2008
Parcels posted

An operation called Seneca Technologies wanted to put tax-assessment maps of West Virginia on the Web, interfaced through Seneca's own search schemes. They duly wrote to the state, citing the Freedom of Information Act, and were informed that if they wanted these maps, they would have to pay the same rate as anyone else: $8 per map. There were over twenty thousand maps.

Seneca filed a suit under FOIA, and won: the state, the judge ruled, could not collect the fee for a paper copy if the files requested were in digital format. Charleston duly copied all the TIF files to CDs and dispatched them to Seneca. Copying fee: twenty dollars.

Upon receipt, Seneca put the maps online and began designing the interface, whereupon Kanawha County Assessor Phyllis Gatson filed a suit asking that Seneca be forced to take down the maps.

The Public Citizen organization filed an amicus brief opposing the suit. [Link to PDF file]. The opposition is simply stated:

In this action, a government official seeks a prior restraint to enjoin defendant from exercising free speech on its web site by providing to the public truthful information obtained from public tax records, on the supposed ground that dissemination of such information violates a state regulation. However, the regulation does not support the requested injunction; if it did apply, it would be preempted by federal copyright law; and, if the Court reaches the First Amendment issue, the requested injunction would violate the First Amendment. Accordingly, the request for a preliminary injunction should be denied.

Gatson subsequently withdrew her request for a preliminary injunction against Seneca, but the suit remains active.

It could be that Gatson is simply trying to protect a source of income for the county, and it's not like she's about to be turned out of office or anything, but something about this doesn't quite pass the smell test. After reading the amicus brief, Steve F. wonders if maybe it's more than fees at issue here:

Do the politically connected have lower assessments? I'm sure the Kanawha County pooh-bahs, like all others, would like to keep this away from public scrutiny.

Which is a lot easier to do if a member of said public has to pay eight bucks for each and every map.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:32 PM)
Going to pieces over nothing

Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, there appears to be no impending epidemic of leprosy in northwest Arkansas; there are apparently nine known cases in Springdale, among transplanted Marshall Islanders, but these folks have evidently been under observation for some time.

The head of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce tries to be reassuring:

You may be aware of a media report that is suggesting there has been an outbreak of leprosy in Springdale. This is not true. The Chamber has been in touch this morning with Gov. Mike Beebe, Congressman John Boozman, the Center for Disease Control and the Washington County Health Department. Each of these entities are fully engaged and are reporting to us that there is no "outbreak" of leprosy in Springdale or Northwest Arkansas.

Just the same, it would not be wise to let one's guard down, and damage control is going to cost, you should pardon the expression, an arm and a leg.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:33 PM)
12 February 2008
Rancid transit

The wheels on the bus go round and round, but some folks just refuse to be mesmerized by the sight:

The signs on the sides of Madison Metro buses show people enjoying expensive warm-weather vacations, asking "What would you do with the $7k a year you could save by taking Madison Metro?" Even after therapy, I'd take that $7000 and make lease payments on a nice, roomy SUV so I won't have to park my backside in a too-narrow transit seat and travel to work in bodily contact with a stranger.

This, incidentally, is why people are clamoring for rail: for some reason it's believed to have a lower creeps and weirdos factor.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:03 PM)
16 February 2008
Blatant Schmappery

Schmap offers "dynamic travel guides," either on the Web or through a desktop application. (The latter is handy if you're on the road, away from Net access.) I installed the Oklahoma City package, which was about 4 MB, plus an extra package of photos. The guide has some seriously neat stuff in it: suggested tours, nightlife, submaps of specific areas of town, and breakdowns of restaurants by ethnicity. I can see getting some mileage out of this on future tours. The Web version is similar.

As you might expect, there are minor inconsistencies here and there, but this is probably unavoidable; however, I seem to have contributed to one of them. Under Souvenirs and Local Goods there is an entry for the Route 66 store in 50 Penn Place. The store is described well enough:

Looking for unusual gifts? You'll find them here. Everything from cards, clothing, jewelry, souvenirs and handmade items has to do with Route 66 (but not necessarily with the Route 66 insignia) in this little 50 Penn shop. Some consider Route 66 "the road of life." That attitude is prevalent throughout and no more so than in the recycled road-items such as the picture frames made from old radiators. This store's eclectic collection is definitely worth browsing.

It's also illustrated with a series of photos of Route 66 scenes, one of which is a big sign that says "Route 66 Park." As it happens, Route 66 Park is not actually on Route 66, nor does this sign actually point to the Route 66 store. Since I took the original picture — yes, they asked, and yes, I said they could use it — I feel a certain, albeit small, responsibility for any confusion which may ensue.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:31 PM)
17 February 2008
The drug is in the mail

Last month I complained that CFI Care (not its real initials) was pushing one of my maintenance medications into a higher tier, effectively doubling my out-of-pocket expense for it even as it approaches the end of its patent and the retail price drops. (When I started taking this stuff, it was $105 or so for a 30-day supply, of which I paid $30; now it's $65 and I pay $60.)

Their mail-order pharmacy charges $150 for three months' worth, a marginal but measurable improvement over $180, so I had the doctor write up a 90-day order, which I sent to their minions along with their downloadable order form, which contains the following instruction:

Your medication will be delivered to you within 7 to 11 days after you mail your order.

Eleven days after mailing would have been yesterday.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 PM)
20 February 2008
Hello, dummy

Proof positive that wealth and wisdom are only tangentially related:

Warren Buffett says he's addicted to bridge. To emphasize just how much, he told CBS News, "You know, if I'm playing bridge and a naked woman walks by, I don't ever see her."

I've played plenty of bridge in my day, and at no point in no hand, even the one where the only way to make the slam was for the singleton queen of trumps to be on my right, was this ever the case.

I am, however, amenable to taking part in a test. Be warned: I have been known to open one no trump with only 15 points.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:51 AM)
27 February 2008
Never mind the waterboard

I'll talk, I'll talk.

Just don't play these anymore.


Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
28 February 2008
Rhymes with "flake-o"

Because Tamara K. says it so much better:

On this date in 1993, the BATF raided the facilities of a fringe religious group outside of Waco, Texas on the suspicion that some of the 150 firearms on the premises might fire more than one round with a single action of the trigger without having first paid the appropriate $200/gun federal tax.

(As a PS: Only 150 guns and 8,000 rounds of ammo? I thought those folks were supposed to have an arsenal or something.)

Not what you'd call one of our finest hours, and worse, it reputedly provided motivation for malingerers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:26 AM)
Twisting in the wind

Denmark's Vestas Wind Systems is the world's largest manufacturer of wind turbines, and while competition is increasing, so is their business:

Despite the Feb. 27 [stock] slump, Vestas shares are up 90% over the past 12 months due to growing demand for wind energy that could drive 20% annual growth for the industry from now until 2020.

Which, one hopes, will bring them enough money to figure out what induced the brake failure that caused this 60-meter turbine in Aarhus to disintegrate. [Link includes video.]

(Hat tip: Mel.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:09 PM)
4 March 2008
Legal, but who cares?

Back in the Pleistocene era, McGehee was getting a lot of traffic from people who were hoping to find raunchy pictures of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who were then (1) underage and (2) pretty close to household words.

Now that the Dualstar Damsels are neither jailbait nor in demand, you'd think this sort of prurient interest would have died down. Hugh Marston Hefner (let's see if anyone complains about his middle name) begs to differ:

After understandably courting Lindsay Lohan to pose for Playboy following her NY Mag shoot ... the robed golden oldie has now set his sights on none other than the collective 100 pound twosome that are Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. Having previously begged the then-plumpish-sized twins on their 18th birthday, Hef is still under the impression that "the twins are every young man's fantasy," according to a source at Ace Showbiz. Call us crazy, but last time we checked, women with the bodies of 12 year-old boys who dress like grannies ready to hop the bus to Atlantic City don't exactly set men's pants ablaze.

I know from nothing about young men's fantasies, but there are people, Hef among them, who believe with all their flinty little hearts that there is nothing sexier than twins, even if said twins look like the Smith Brothers (Trade and Mark).

Unless, of course, it's triplets.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:22 AM)
5 March 2008
Four-legged Bratz

"You know, the trouble with My Little Pony is, well, she isn't slutty enough."


From Playmates, which also produces Disney Fairies under license — presumably from Disney, not from Oberon.)

(Via the incensed Princess Sparkle Pony.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:56 AM)
12 March 2008
Makes just as much sense to me

In case you hadn't noticed, I am not a fan of Daylight Saving Time, nor am I alone in my disdain for it.

Still, this seems to be the definitive word on the topic:

My wife's grandfather (an Illinois farmer) once wrote me a letter suggesting, if setting our clocks forward in the summer is a good idea, then a better idea would be to set our thermometers higher in the winter. That way we'd have fewer days of freezing temperatures.

Hey, we're already turning up the thermostats, so this wouldn't be much of a change, would it?

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:05 PM)
15 March 2008
Lonesome 7-7203

Unless you're Hawkshaw Hawkins, you probably don't want an LCD display in the rear backlight with your phone number on it, unless you're stuck in traffic and you're really desperate for attention.

Then again, if you are Hawkshaw Hawkins, you've been dead for forty-five years. (Hawkins, Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas, on the way back to Nashville from Kansas City, were killed in a plane crash near Camden, Tennessee in March 1963; Hawkins got his only #1 country hit — it just missed the bottom of the pop chart — with a song about that very telephone number, released shortly after his death.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:17 PM)
17 March 2008
The Colgatekeepers

The letter killeth, and the spirit doesn't help too damn much either:

A few weeks ago I was traveling and was at the airport really early. I had forgotten to remove the toothpaste from my stuff, and I was flagged for extra screening because they saw it on X-ray (I remember the good old days when they were X-raying for guns and stuff rather than toothpaste, but I digress).

The screener pulled it out and said — sorry, this is more than three ounces. So, as an engineer with no sense of self-preservation, I asked, "Weight or volume?" The screener asked what I meant. I said that an "ounce" is a unit of both weight and volume, which did he mean? (The TSA site is no help, it just says ounces). He said "volume." Still being stupid, I said "but the 3.5oz on that toothpaste is weight — you can tell by the 'net Wt.'' in front of it and the number in grams behind it. He looked at it for a minute, and then gives me an answer right out of Spinal Tap: "But it's over 3 ounces" [but this one goes to 11].


I am told by an airline exec that the policy was originally volume, but after many complaints, the government realized that an ounce was also a unit of weight and they have informally changed the policy to "3 ounces weight or volume" but they never really communicated this change fully because it's too, you know, embarrassing that they operated so long not knowing the difference.

Well, I certainly feel safer. Don't you?

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:05 AM)
18 March 2008
Raising a low bar

Last year, AT&T, as successor to Cingular, quietly abandoned its claim of "fewest dropped calls"and apparently with good reason:

This evening, I have had 7 calls fade out to nothing, 6 call failed errors when retrying the party I was talking to, 1 text message tell me the system is busy, try again later, and 6 disconnects when trying to talk to AT&T tech support. All of this, and I still had full signal on my phone, even 3G at times (which is difficult to maintain in my domicile). The calls that were successful all lasted under 10 minutes.

"More bars in more places," they say. Well, you can have bars out the wazoo, but what's the point if you can't do anything with them?

(Anyone attempting to suggest that "wazoo" is a simplification of "VZW" will be summarily ignored.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:48 AM)
20 March 2008
Fairly regular behavior

Let's see if I have this straight. They pulled a gun on you and forced you to pump overpriced gasoline into your cars?


Then what's the problem, exactly?

(Via Tamara K.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:36 PM)
27 March 2008
Down the tubes

Those who would bash Seattle for indifference to its soon-to-be-former NBA team, I submit, are missing the point: the Emerald City has other priorities.

Like, for instance, automated public toilets:

The large, self-cleaning lavatories went into service in 2004 — three years after the City Council used a rare show of force to authorize the program as an alternative to less attractive portable toilets.

Since then, the five stalls have cost taxpayers about $4.3 million. The money came from a tax on wastewater rates that cost the average single family household about $2.59 per year on an annual sewer bill of $465.

So how are these $800,000 thrones working out?

A recently completed report [by Seattle Public Utilities] found the unattended toilets have been well used — both as they were intended, and as a refuge for drug use and dealing, booze drinking and prostitution. Some homeless people now avoid the toilets because of the social problems they attract, the report found. Meanwhile, there's been a steady increase in how much human waste crews clean each day in downtown alleys and walkways.

Which, if nothing else, proves that just because someone might be homeless doesn't mean that he's a fool.

On Monday, Seattle Public Utilities recommended the city cancel its contract for the facilities early next year. In the meantime, officials hope to find other ways to help tourists, residents and the public find access to other safe, clean restroom facilities.

Good luck with that.

(Via Sound Politics.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:40 AM)
A plan in abeyance

News Item: The head of the top U.S. phone company AT&T Inc. said on Wednesday it was having trouble finding enough skilled workers to fill all the 5,000 customer service jobs it promised to return to the United States from India. "We're having trouble finding the numbers that we need with the skills that are required to do these jobs," AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson told a business group in San Antonio.

Memo to Mr Stephenson: I've been in an AT&T customer service job. You couldn't pay me enough to take another one; in fact, I took a pay cut to get out of the one I was in.

(Seen at the Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:00 PM)
30 March 2008
Somewhere a podiatrist is sobbing

The big problem with Venomous Kate's new walking shoes presents itself halfway through a walking session:

[B]y the time I'm midway through my walk, I can't feel the outside edges of my left foot aside from my pinkie toe which has felt, frankly, like someone was twisting it off. Slowly. And since I've been overcompensating for that pain, by the end of my walk my right ankle has felt like I've been on ice skates for hours.

I have a newfound respect for hockey players. Some of them, anyway. What was she to do?

This morning, I decided that foot pain or no foot pain, one of the best things I could do for my feet would be to reduce some of the poundage they have to carry around every day. So I got up, shrugged on my sweats and shoved my feet into shoes.

Or, rather, I tried to. Right about the time I was shoving my sore left foot into its shoe a Lego tumbled out.

And to think I have the temerity to complain about the occasional influx of gravel. Sheesh. I can only imagine the flow of invective that ensued.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:18 PM)
7 April 2008
No, you may not help me

Back in the Big Band era when I started reading the comic strip Cathy, I decided early on that the most irritating character, apart from boyfriend (now spouse) Irving, was that know-it-all salesperson at the department store whose advice always fell somewhere on the curve between questionable and downright lethal. I comforted myself, though, with the notion that this was the clever manipulation of a stereotype, and no such person truly existed.

Then someone did the same thing to Sya, and it wasn't even store staff:

One thing I hate about shopping in public is that there are people around. Like salespeople. But at least they leave you alone when you tell them, "No thanks." Then there are the other shoppers. Sure, there are the crazy people who get in your way, but they're nowhere near as annoying as those shoppers who think the store is a social free-for-all. Take, for instance, the lady who kept following me around, giving me unsolicited advice when all I wanted was to get a pair of jeans to replace the worn out ones that I do have.

I've been known to talk to shoppers, but I avoid giving advice unless it's empirically verifiable (e.g. $5 for 9 ounces is, in fact, $8.89 a pound). I do not, however, sink to these depths:

If an expert decides to tell me how to best run an experiment or some random person tells me how to eat some food without it getting on my shirt, that's terrific. But pants with elastic waistbands? Please. I might be the untrendiest twenty-something in the pacific northwest, but there is no way in hell I'm taking fashion advice from a middle-aged, frumpy hausfrau in a tracksuit.

Most of the untrendy twentysomethings I know look just fine in jeans — not that they'd want to hear that from me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:21 AM)
8 April 2008
Dry up

One hundred gallons per person, per day, that's it:

A small town in Central Florida is considering forcing a 100-gallon-per-person daily limit on water for its residents.

Some residents in Oakland, which is located south of Apopka, are outraged over the proposed limit on water and said the rapid growth in the area must stop until there is no longer a shortage.

How short are they?

Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty said that if the county does not have a 40 percent reduction in water use, the aquifer will not have enough water to sustain the county.

Similar to surrounding cities, water bills in Oakland order "no watering on any day between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. or face a $500 fine."

Local 6 reported that an average resident can use up to 90 gallons of water before leaving the house for the day.

Fits says one answer might be desalinization plants:

Florida, along with several other southern states hit hard by the recent droughts, are actually thinking of creating desalinization plants, something they KNOW will take power away from local governments because if they have one less fear to hold over peoples heads they become less powerful.

Of course desalinization should have been tried decades ago, but holding millions of people hostage was simply loads more fun. Towns continue to grow, local authorities rake in the cash from "impact fees" and pray that the newcomers are minorities so that they can then beg the Feds for more handouts.

Meanwhile, Orange County, California is running a Groundwater Replenishment System, which captures and purifies water from the county's sewage system, bringing it up to beyond drinking-water quality, and then injects it into the aquifer underneath. Jennifer Barone reports in Discover (May) that "desalinating seawater, another option that had been under consideration, would be considerably more expensive than recycling — from 50 percent to 400 percent more so." These numbers may vary in Florida, of course.

And I note from my own water bill, just arrived on Saturday, that in only four of the last twelve months did I use as much as 3,000 gallons a month — a hundred gallons a day.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 PM)
9 April 2008
This never seems to happen in Regina

If those damned vandals don't knock it off, we may have to change the name of the village altogether:

Residents living in a graffiti-plagued village in Merseyside are being asked to consider changing its name to tackle vandals who alter signs in the village.

Lunt, which dates back to Medieval times, has been repeatedly targeted by vandals who change the "L" to a "C".

Not everyone is pushing for the change, though:

David Roughley, whose family has farmed in Lunt since 1851, added: "At the end of the day we live in Lunt and we don't want to change because of a few yobs. It is the vandals who should change, not the village."

The proposed new name is "Launt," with no change in pronunciation.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:36 PM)
12 April 2008
Dropping like flies

There are times when I think that every airline in America except for the Big Dinosaur Carriers will be gone in 90 days.

But then I figure that there will always be a market for an airline with something special to offer.

Addendum: Jeff Jarvis says it's all over:

You simply can't treat people this way and survive. We all hate the airlines. We hate the experience on the plane and in the airport. We should fear for our safety, given American's shoddy (and, one wonders, fraudulent) maintenance work. (As the Times said this morning, at least the FAA is doing its job.) The airlines never see themselves as our advocates, friends, servers; no, they are our prison wardens and enemies as they fight down legislation that mandates they should give us the crudest amenities a prisoner would get: clean water, air, and a toilet. The economics of the industry as it is being run today are unsustainable. And apart from the all-business-class airlines I try to fly every time I can (Eos, Silverjet, and there are more coming), there is not one visible bit of innovation — not one attempt to get out of this mess — visible in the industry.

One saving grace in all this: if the airlines go, they take (most of) the Transportation Security Administration with them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:12 PM)
13 April 2008
Bottomed out

Burbed.com, a blog with a slightly-skewed perspective on San Francisco-area real estate, has turned up a really scary MLS listing, far from home and far from comforting: a three-bedroom house on Detroit's west side being offered at $100.

One hundred bucks.

It's small (690 square feet), it's in dismal condition (and is being sold "as is"), and if it doesn't sell, the seller may just donate it to a "charitable organization," assuming one could be found that would take it.

On the plus side, from the looks of things, you'd pretty much have the block to yourself.

Assuming 20 percent down and a 6-percent loan, the mortgage payment (principal and interest) would be 48 cents a month for thirty years.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:46 AM)

I regret to inform you that I am not making this up:

Japanese cell phones already do stuff like play crazy ring tones and double as wallets, but now they're also going to be giving off signature scents.

The new phones by NTT DoCoMo will be equipped with fragrance cartridges that are accessed by IR when you download a fragrance playlist onto your handset. The company hopes to partner with mobile content providers so that you can pair a scent with your horoscope, the weather report, your favorite web video, or some romantical music.

Where's John Waters when we need him?

(Via Popgadget.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:11 PM)
15 April 2008
Even works in the dark

Which, of course, is its undoing, as Fits explains:

flashlight plus shotgun

Press the CORRECT button, and the flashlight fires a .410 shotgun round from out the back.

Press the WRONG button when trying to simply illuminate something, and the flashlight fires a .410 shotgun round into you.

File under "What were they thinking?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:54 PM)
18 April 2008
What a load of crap

And literally so:

Indiana 55 has reopened after a truckload of human feces spilled onto the roadway in northwestern Indiana's Crown Point.

The driver told police he was hauling treated human feces from a water recycling plant in Portage when the load spilled about 10:30 a.m. Thursday. The Lake County hazardous materials response team came to clean up the mess, along with the Crown Point Fire Department and Indiana State Police.

The northbound and southbound lanes of the highway were closed during the cleanup.

Hey, it happens.

(Via Scribal Terror.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:14 PM)
24 April 2008
Squirrelly behavior

Not to be encouraged, says Eric Siegmund:

Don't buy that "cute and cuddly" image. Ground squirrels are mean, vicious, straight-razor-totin' creatures, and they'd as soon bite off your finger as look at you. Trust me on this; I still have the scar on my right hand from a too-close encounter with one when I was a mere youth in Fort Stockton. I was just sure the little guy wanted to be my friend. In reality, he wanted only to drink my blood. I did have the last laugh, however, as the rabies test invariably proves fatal to the subject.

I looked at this, hit the rewind button in my head, and wondered where I'd first heard this business about the razor. Before long, the words came forth:

Polk Salad Annie
Gator's got your granny
Everybody said it was a shame
'Cause her mama was a-workin' on the chain-gang
(a wretched, spiteful, straight-razor-totin' woman,
Lord have mercy. Pick a mess of it)

I don't think I'll ever see squirrels on a chain gang, though. For one thing, it's the antithesis of "cute and cuddly"; for another, they'd be expected to earn their keep.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:15 PM)
26 April 2008
Maybe coffee is enough after all

Starbucks is retrenching a bit:

In a statement, the chairman and chief executive, Howard Schultz, who has previously taken steps to bolster the chain's coffee offerings, said the company was "committed to examining all aspects of our business that are not directly related to our core."

As part of the changes, Starbucks said Ken Lombard, president of the entertainment unit since 2004, had departed. Chris Bruzzo, the chief technology officer, will take the reins of the division, which selects and markets music, books and other items sold in Starbucks coffee shops.

Starbucks also said it would turn over management control of Hear Music, its in-house record label, to its partner in that venture, the Concord Music Group.

Mr Schultz did not indicate whether this action would give him more time to concentrate on reacquiring a basketball team.

(Via Hitsville.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:50 PM)
30 April 2008
Sitting room only

"Efficiency" is a sad way to describe an apartment, says Fillyjonk:

At least "studio apartment" sounds kind of Bohemian and arty. "Efficiency" sounds like one step above "SRO," or "single-room occupancy," which an efficiency, strictly speaking, is — maybe without the connotations of SRO, but still kind of depressing. I figured it was called an "efficiency" because you got the cleaning and dishes done efficiently because it was too depressing to lie in bed and be able to see the dirty dinner dishes in the kitchen sink.

Unless I am in a position where I absolutely cannot afford anything else, I will never live in an efficiency again.

For a time, these units were also called "bachelor" apartments, until bachelors figured out it was more cost-effective to live in Mom's basement.

Some people can be perfectly happy in 500 square feet. I am not one of them. For me, it's perilously close to the threshold of claustrophobia. (Nor do I do elevators well; but out here on the Plains, we don't do 60-story buildings on a regular basis either.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:38 PM)
15 May 2008
The last claim

Apparently there exist policies which insure against the failure of the market system:

It would take a cataclysm — around a third of the leading investment-grade corporations in Europe or half those in North America going bankrupt and defaulting on their debt — for the insurance to be paid out.

I asked one investment banker what might cause half of North America’s top corporations to default. No ordinary economic recession or natural disaster short of an asteroid strike could do it: no hurricane, for example, and not even "the big one," a catastrophic earthquake devastating California. All he could think of was "a revolutionary Marxist government in Washington."

This would seem unlikely — even the leftiest of incoming Democrats are run-of-the-mill Marxists at best — but just the same, the premium has increased of late:

Normally one can buy $10 million of end-of-the-world insurance for between two and three thousand dollars a year. By early last November, the prices quoted were between twenty and thirty thousand, and even then it was difficult to buy in quantity — at least, said the banker, "not from anyone you trusted."

(Via Jesse Walker at Hit & Run.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:08 AM)
16 May 2008
Low riders

You want people to take public transit? Improve public transit, says Ezra Klein:

There's this tendency to ascribe Americans' low use of public transit to some sort of cultural preference, as if it's been a choice. But in many cases, it's simply been a case of shitty, or inadequate, public transit options. If Irvine had had a real system of subways or light rail, I would've much preferred taking that to the Spectrum than having my parents drop me off. But I didn't have the option. When I lived in LA, I would've done ANYTHING to avoid the freeways. People who move to DC or New York or Toronto don't start taking subways because they adopt a new culture on day two. It's because they suddenly have the option to take subways.

And it's because those subways go to places they want to go, at a more-or-less reasonable price. (Parking in DC or New York or Toronto is expensive enough to make the train look a whole lot better.)

Of course, as James Joyner notes, the options used to be better in a lot of places:

One of the tragedies of the history of mass transit isn't just the lack of support it's received throughout most of the country, but also the fact that many viable, working, well-used systems of mass transit were actually systematically dismantled in the middle of the 20th century. I don't buy into the GM conspiracy theory, but there were certainly opportunities for governments to step in and preserve the systems — heck, just allotting public right-of-way instead of forcing transit companies to own their own might have saved some of them.

The one time in my life when I rode public transit regularly was when I was a kid in Charleston. The bus line back then was owned by South Carolina Electric and Gas Company. The route, it appears, hasn't changed much from the 1960s. And fortunately for me, it was a single route: no changes or transfers, just a long ride followed by a long walk.

Today in Oklahoma City, there's no conceivable combination of transit options, the buses we have or the trains we're allegedly going to get, that will get me from home to work or back again without at least one transfer. On the plus side, the walking distance to the present bus route is not too daunting.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:16 PM)
17 May 2008
Panhandling by proxy

A curious San Francisco innovation:

Rather than tossing loose change into a panhandler's empty cup, San Francisco officials want you instead to slide your spare quarters and nickels into a homeless meter.

The city's latest attempt to deal with one of its most vexing problems will be announced in coming weeks in the form of 10 old parking meters installed in some of the most heavily panhandled areas.... Money deposited in the meters would go directly to charities that help the homeless. The goal, officials say, is to reduce panhandling and to educate tourists and residents about the problem of giving money directly to people on the streets.

It should surprise no one that the Homelessness Industry is not keen on this notion:

Paul Boden, director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project that deals with homelessness issues, recalled attempts under previous mayors to place jars by cash registers in businesses and sell coupons for services that could then be handed over to panhandlers. He said the meters idea was especially "asinine" and San Francisco's all-time second-worst idea to curb panhandling.

The worst, he said, was a failed proposal during Willie Brown's administration to equip homeless people with credit-card machines like those used for retail purchases. People could swipe their cards and choose how much to donate, with 80 percent going to homeless programs and 20 percent to the individual panhandlers.

I'll give Boden this much: that card-reader idea was indeed insane. Of course, in the unlikely event that this scheme actually helps, he's out of a job.

(Via e-Claire.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:45 AM)
21 May 2008
I blame HGTV

Sippican Cottage has a list of ten "standards" for contemporary homes that never should have been implemented. When I saw a link for this at American Digest, my first thought was Hey, my house is 60 years old, I'll bet I don't have any of these atrocities.

And I was right. What's more, I learned a term I hadn't heard before: "snout house." Not so desirable, it would seem:

Stop nailing your house onto the ass end of your garage. I'm not going to explain myself. I shouldn't have to. You are building a house for your car and living in a shack out back.

When I was a newlywed, we briefly considered such a place; the house we actually bought, a 1960s ranch, was kinda snubnosed, but not quite this hideous.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:44 AM)
22 May 2008
Is this discriminatory?

It certainly strikes me as questionable:

I recently went off of hormonal birth control and began charting my cycles using FAM (Fertility Awareness Method). One of the things recorded when using FAM is your waking temperature, which is taken by something called a basal thermometer.

So far, so good. Then comes time to replace the thermometer, and will you look at this:

As I reached for the $10 pink-topped Walgreens Brand "basal thermometer" that was just like the one I had left behind, my eyes diverted slightly to the right…to the $5 blue-topped Walgreens Brand "digital thermometer."

The only differences between the two were the names, the color, and the price.

She bought the five-buck version, and here's what she found:

[A]lthough the "basal thermometer" came with some tiny and most likely useless graphs for charting as well as an abbreviated (one page of tiny, tiny print) explanation of waking temperature and how it correlates to ovulation, the instructions were otherwise identical.

I'm a firm believer in added value, but I don't see how a perfunctory set of marginally-readable instructions is worth as much as the product itself.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:11 AM)
Lord, I can't go back there

If Indiana wants you, they might give some serious chase:

Being a cop just got a little more fun for state troopers in the state of Indiana. The police department just purchased 18 brand new black Ford Mustang GTs for traffic patrol, with one being sent to each district. The Mustangs look completely stock and only have a light bar inside the top of the windshield — not even antennas usually found on unmarked vehicles.

And just when I'd learned to spot Crown Victorias at 400 yards, too.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:04 PM)
24 May 2008
Highly demotivational

Maybe it's just me, but if I'm making a trip to the men's room, I don't wish to be distracted from the business at hand.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:22 PM)
28 May 2008
Sterns are frosted

What could be worse than a bad bed? A bed this bad:

[W]e discovered that our room was equipped with an Eject-A-Bed, which attempts through steady pressure to dump its occupants onto the floor while they sleep. No doubt this accounts for the nightmare I had about hanging from a cliff face by my fingernails.

Is it possible to circumvent the bed's intentions? No, it is not:

We discovered that the Eject-A-Bed cannot be fooled by huddling along its axis. Each of us woke up just before being dumped onto the floor.

And "dumped" is precisely the verb intended:

The Eject-A-Bed has won a round: I awoke on the floor at 12:15 AM. The C.S.O. was snoring contentedly, on my side of the bed and perilously close to falling on me.

You hear a lot about so-called "sleep-number" beds. This one evidently was assigned number x, where x2 = -1.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:01 AM)
3 June 2008
Canadian Calvinball

Andrew Coyne is liveblogging for Maclean's at their trial in Marsupial Court before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, and this item (1:36 pm Monday) seems to sum up the whole sordid affair:

The chair is reading their "ruling" on the admissibility of Prof. John Miller's testimony — though on what basis they propose to decide is a mystery, since THERE ARE NO RULES OF EVIDENCE. They more or less have to make it up as they go along.

Anyway, they are ruling it inadmissible, because it's irrelevant. Or is it irrelevant because it's inadmissible?

Pertinent observation by Ezra Levant: "[Al] Sharpton would make a killing up here."

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
We've got some angry renters

Here's one:

I don't mind lack of tax deductions for rent as much as I mind paying for other people (and the huge payouts to La Raza in this bill make me wonder about just who these people are...) to live large beyond their means while I live in a couple of shabby rooms in a newly crime-ridden neighborhood waiting for my credit score to improve.

If you know the government is going to pay your mortgage to keep you in your home, why bother to make a single payment? Why am I not posting this from a Colonial with a three-car garage in Cedarburg??

And another:

I guess it boils down to this — if a group, no matter how small a fraction of the population screams loud enough or makes a good enough victim, it seems our government is more than happy to pander to them. And this isn't a partisan issue either — it happens recklessly and frequently on all sides of the political spectrum and personally, I think it boils down to buying votes. Which in a word, sucks.

I think we may have a 14th Amendment issue here: obviously they're paying more for some votes than for others, which would seem to violate the equal-protection clause.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 PM)
4 June 2008
You killed Ted, you medieval dickweed!

United Airlines, in an effort to cut costs, will ground 70 aircraft and shut down the low-fare Ted mini-airline.

One consultant was never impressed by Ted in the first place:

"Ted was never anything other than a different paint job," consultant [Michael] Boyd said yesterday in an interview. The unit didn't have lower fares or costs, and "it has lost tens and tens of millions of dollars."

(Via Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:40 AM)
6 June 2008

It's Venomous Kate versus the Woodchucks, and as battles go, it's a real pisser:

I'd read that urine repels woodchucks: coyote, fox, even human (preferably male) urine. Well, since we've got a near endless supply of the latter, I figured it was cheaper to load [the Venomous Hubby] with beer and point him toward the front garden than bother with all those "humane traps" or some other animal's pee.

It worked, too. Or, at least it did until one Saturday when he and a buddy were throwing back a few beers on our deck and got it into their minds that two o'clock in the afternoon was a good time to pull "woodchuck duty". Thus ensued a bit of a row when I realized two grown, mostly inebriated men were urinating in my garden in plain sight of the neighbors. I handed them cans and encouraged them to be more discreet. They tried to comply. Really, they did. But apparently peeing into a large can and then carrying it without spilling is too big of a task for two drunken men. So, rather than shock all the neighbors, I abandoned that plan.

But resistance proved to be futile:

[Y]esterday morning I saw not one, not two or even three but four — four — baby woodchucks sitting on my front step. Unfortunately, the Big-Eyed Boy saw them, too, and decided they're adorable. So now, despite my repeated admonitions, he keeps sneaking outside to leave fruit and vegetables for them.

You have to admire her restraint, though: at no point did she suggest actually chucking some wood (quantity unspecified) at the varmints.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:44 AM)
7 June 2008
Nor are they organized

Oklahoma's ghost employees still set the standard, but these guys come close:

According to an official study, Egypt's six million government employees are estimated to spend an average of only 27 minutes per day actually working, reflecting a real problem with productivity.

Then again, there may be problems with the methodology of that study:

But … that was an official study. Was it performed by government workers? How much can we trust numbers coming from someone who works 27 minutes a day?

Disclosure: I spent 9 minutes on this post.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:04 PM)
13 June 2008
Your bandwidth has been restricted

Apparently this is nothing new:

The New Haven switchboard opened in January 1878, only two years after Alexander Graham Bell, in nearby Boston, spoke the immortal words "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you." It was the first commercial system that allowed many customers to connect with one another, for $22 a year, payable in advance.

Of course, there's Catch-$22:

Customers were limited to three minutes a call and no more than two calls an hour without permission from the central office.

It's enough to make someone run out and invent BitTorrent.

(Via Population Statistic.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:35 AM)
15 June 2008
Mower than you bargained for

Tam gets a flash of insight from the Gospel of Prius:

Our neighbor, who is as sweet and friendly as the day is long, is a fervent, politically-active Democrat. As a matter of fact, not being good with names, that's how she's known in my internal monologue or conversations with my roomie: "I was chatting with The Democrat today..." The acoustic mower just wasn't cutting it anymore, no pun intended, so I've transitioned to the electric for the remainder of monsoon season. A couple of weekends ago, it being the first time I'd ever used an electric mower, I was tying myself up in the mower's extension cord in the front yard. The Democrat saw this, and asked if I'd like to use her gas mower. I looked at her steadily and, doing my best to keep a tone of supercilious piety out of my voice, said "Thanks, but this one's so much greener." Ahhhh. So that's how Prius drivers feel...

Think of it this way: you're not putting $4 gas into a lowly lawn implement.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:22 PM)
Knowledge is good

Dean Wormer insists: "Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life."

She doesn't look fat.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:12 PM)
19 June 2008
We got your stimulus right here, pal

Tough times have reached the world's oldest profession:

In Nevada, legal brothels generate about $50 million in total revenue and have an economic impact of about $400 million on the state. But in the last 18 months the industry's cash flow has taken a dive. Why? Like other businesses around the country, bordellos throughout the state are feeling the pinch of rising gas prices and a weak economy. Several of the hardest hit are the houses of prostitution in Nevada's rural northern areas, which get roughly 60 percent of their business from truckers. "Some of these brothels are out in the middle of nowhere so fuel prices have an effect," says Dennis Hof, owner of the infamous Moonlite Bunny Ranch. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, diesel on the West Coast now costs $4.87 per gallon. That means truckers could easily spend $1,000 to fill up their tanks, leaving them with little extra cash and less likely to take a detour. For bordello owners, relocating to more central locations is impossible. Under Nevada law, brothels can only operate in counties with fewer than 400,000 residents.

It becomes, therefore, necessary to promote the business:

Hof's Bunny Ranch is going strong. While other brothels saw a slump in revenues, Hof experienced a 30 percent jump in May. But he's not resting on his laurels. Last week he began offering a recession special: The first 100 customers who show up with their tax rebate checks receive twice the "services" for the price of one. "We always give our customers the most bang for the buck," he says. "You bring your $600 check in, and we give you the $1,200 George Bush party — three girls and a bottle of champagne."

If there's a Harry Reid package, I don't want to know about it.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:43 PM)
20 June 2008
From the very heart of darkness

Full-fledged fulmination in this Examiner editorial:

Last Friday's power outage forced the White House to go to backup generators and left a 30-block section of downtown Washington darkened for nearly three hours. The blackout raises anew worries that the nation's capital still isn't prepared to respond to an unexpected crisis nearly seven years after 9/11. At the heart of the problem are sluggish responses from public officials and an alert system that can be all but paralyzed by indecision and inaction. This must be fixed now — before there's a real emergency.

Although there was a glimmering of redeeming social value:

Just one malfunctioning switch at Pepco's Chinatown substation was ultimately to blame for unplugging more than 18,000 customers — including Pepco's own headquarters. An unusual facet of the blackout was that Pepco executives experienced the real-world consequences of their seemingly ineffective backup planning.

As I've always said, the first step toward a solution is to make sure the right people are inconvenienced.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:18 AM)
26 June 2008
Dick Cheney thanks you

The folks at Credo Mobile, the wireless wing of Working Assets, have sent me a picture of Dick Cheney with the words "Thanks a million!" I have to admit, the pitch is amusing:

Sorry to say, but one of the two-time maximum contributors to the Bush/Cheney campaign was the political action committee of AT&T. So, go ahead, check out your mobile phone. And then check out the mobile phone alternative you can trust. It's called Credo Mobile, and it's mobile phone service that stands up for your values, brought to you by Working Assets.

On the other hand, if you're happy with your mobile service just the way it is, accept this photograph — suitable for framing — as your gift from a real, ahem, Richard.

I think Cheney himself would be amused, though God knows he's heard enough dick jokes over the years.

Credo, incidentally, owns no network; they operate on Sprint Nextel. I assume Working Assets isn't particularly concerned about Sprint's presumed involvement in NSA wiretapping.

Their terms, however, look pretty good, including an offer to "buy out your current contract." And anyway, I can think of lots of reasons to leave AT&T.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:47 AM)
27 June 2008
And the kangaroo jumps away

A press release by Maclean's:

Maclean's magazine is pleased that the Canadian Human Rights Commission has dismissed the complaint brought against it by the Canadian Islamic Congress. The decision is in keeping with our long-standing position that the article in question, "The Future Belongs to Islam," an excerpt from Mark Steyn's best-selling book America Alone, was a worthy piece of commentary on important geopolitical issues, entirely within the bounds of normal journalistic practice.

Though gratified by the decision, Maclean's continues to assert that no human rights commission, whether at the federal or provincial level, has the mandate or the expertise to monitor, inquire into, or assess the editorial decisions of the nation's media. And we continue to have grave concerns about a system of complaint and adjudication that allows a media outlet to be pursued in multiple jurisdictions on the same complaint, brought by the same complainants, subjecting it to costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars, to say nothing of the inconvenience. We enthusiastically support those parliamentarians who are calling for legislative review of the commissions with regard to speech issues.

"Far more polite than I would have been," quips Ezra Levant.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:20 PM)
The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

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