Archive for General Disinterest

The primates are revolting

Not that we’re such hot stuff ourselves, mind you:

Kansas City Zoo officials have confirmed with 41 Action News that there are chimpanzees on the loose.

Zoo Spokesperson Julie Neermeiyer says the chimps are in the zoo, in a behind-the-scenes area. It’s unclear at this time how many chimps are on the loose. They are working to determine how they may have escaped.

Zoo visitors have been taken indoors for protection. The zoo has closed for the evening.

Is it just me, or is there something amusing about the humans being locked up while the chimpanzees roam about?

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Drools of thumb

Prompted by Jess’ list of Useful Everyday Numbers, I am herewith providing a list of numbers that may not be quite so useful.

1: The number of gallons of gas it takes to go to work and back in my current car. (Total distance is 21.3 miles; average fuel economy is 21.3 mpg.)

1: The difference in size (US) between a woman’s shoe and a man’s shoe of the same length. (If I did serious drag, I’d be looking for a d’Orsay pump in 15 wide.)

355/113: A really good approximation for pi that I’ve only been able to use once in a lifetime.

7: Number of Very Small Ponies standing on the bookshelf. Five are plastic, two pewter.

16: Lowest house number, ever.

28: The number of seconds you get before my answering machine hangs up on you. Very useful for robocallers with 30-second spiels.

28: Capacity in gallons of my ostensible 30-gallon water heater.

143: Distance in feet from the back fence to the curb at Surlywood.

773: Number of gigabytes left on this 1-TB drive immediately after moving all my stuff off the old Windows XP box.

3799: Number of files in the backup copy of this site’s graphics directory.

4990: Total miles traversed in the longest World Tour (2003).

5548: Highest house number, ever.


Life continues to pound

This day, I knew, would not be good.

The Win7 migration continues apace. There is one hyper-complicated piece of software that we’re using to prepare mailings, and last time, it took a full day to install and test. On the new Win7 box, a full day proved to be not enough time to install and test — unless you don’t care whether the test is passed or not.

For reasons other than that, I’m a couple of hours behind. (Short version: this is the price one pays for catering to morons with more money than brains, and they’re not exactly bucks up either.) I couldn’t wait to get out of the shop.

And when I got out of the shop, I discovered a tire with maybe 16 psi pressure. I do carry a pump of sorts, but this was going to require professional attention, which I got on the way home. I pulled into the garage, and I heard water running — though there was no visible evidence of a leak. Turning off both faucets in back of the washing machine quieted the noise, so I figure one of them is shot. I’m not sure which nerve is the last one, but I’m definitely on it.


A stable population

This is from the Historical Population box on the Wikipedia page for Wichita Falls, Texas:

Population figures for Wichita Falls

Evidently somebody moved out between 2010 and 2012.

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Fright duly induced

The very last thing I wanted to see this week — other than an inch of ice over everything, of course — was a letter from CFI Care (not its real initials), because it could only be one of one thing: “Your insurance is canceled, sucker! Good luck on the exchange.”

Well, that’s not what it was — it was the usual privacy, or lack thereof, policy statement — but my hands would have been shaking were they not already frozen in the process of wrangling the trash bin to the curb. (Memo for record: Thicker gloves, maybe?)

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The usual semiannual scrutiny

If my car could talk, she might say, along with “You know, these seats of mine can only take so much,” something along the lines of “Yeah, I got insurance. You wanna make something of it?”

Okay, she’s got an attitude. That’s part of why she’s here. And the insurance bill has arrived, so it’s time to go over that stuff again.

Premium is up a not-quite-negligible $20.40 this time around, ten bucks of which goes straight to bodily-injury liability, with half of the rest going to property-damage liability. Uninsured motorist coverage remains unchanged; it also remains the single priciest item on the bill. We shall see if the new state law allowing troopers to confiscate the license plates of uninsured motorists — and, even more fun, providing temporary liability coverage to those motorists at a price yet undetermined to be added to their fines and fees — does anything to address that matter.

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Good deeds for a big need

This is reprinted more or less verbatim from Erin Palette’s place, because she’s in charge of the operation. Well, maybe not the operation exactly:

You know I’ve been spearheading the effort to secure enough funds for Squeaky Wheel’s surgery, and then post-surgical care/ medications/ bills/ unexpected crap that always happens, right?

Good news: Her surgery [took place on] October 18.

Bad news: She doesn’t have enough to pay for the deductible and needs at least $1800 more.

OCD news: This makes the needed total a nice round $6000, and $4200 of that has already been funded.

Shiny news: I’m going to be running a raffle filled with lots of really cool things designed to fill you with enough OMG WANT! that you’ll gladly empty your wallet for a chance to get them.

The actual raffle will take place on the third of November, so you need to get yourself moving.

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Targeting outflow

The 66th Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics features this symposium:

In response to harsh and repeated criticisms from our mothers and several failed relationships with women, we present the splash dynamics of a simulated human male urine stream impacting rigid and free surfaces. Our study aims to reduce undesired splashing that may result from lavatory usage. Experiments are performed at a pressure and flow rate that would be expected from healthy male subjects.

“Aims,” they say. As if.

(Via this Jennifer Ouellette tweet.)

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Can do

Most of you by now, even if you haven’t read Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love, have seen this quote therefrom, and I concede up front that one quotes Lazarus Long at one’s own risk:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

I can do some of those things, though certainly not all of them.

One of the fringe benefits of being out on the network is the occasional contact with people who can do, and have done, lots of things. A particularly inspiring example:

I have a degree in art and art history, have traveled my fair share around the world, from Europe to South America to Australia, and also around my own country. I’ve stayed in German hostels and taken the train across the western U.S. with just a backpack. I have been involved in humanitarian work in Central America for nearly a decade. I’ve been a newspaper reporter and photographer, a public school teacher, and freelance designer and writer. I’m a small business owner/entrepreneur, published writer, artist, private pilot, and even a former pastry chef. I grew up on a farm, a Centennial farm, which has been a productive part of this state for over a century. I’ve ridden horses in the badlands and competed with others in horse shows. I like to camp, I play five musical instruments, and have carved trees with a chainsaw. I spent a week learning to weld and use a plasma cutter. I have season tickets to the BMSO and my favorite composers are Dvorak, Chopin, and Rachmaninoff. I love ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin. I like trap shooting, but do not like to kill animals. I do not support the death penalty. I care about the environment a great deal. I have regular charities I support. My great-grandmother homesteaded out west for a time, on her own, and I come from a long line of hard-working adventurous brave women who went out and did what they were going to do and didn’t allow their life to be one of victimhood. I always take every opportunity to continue learning, am well-read, and continually reading.

“It’s people like that,” Tom Lehrer once observed, “that make you realize how little you’ve accomplished… When Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years.”

Which Lehrer presumably said in 1965, when I was, um, twelve.

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Love minus zero, plus something

Somewhere down the fanfiction road, I’m tempted to talk Twilight Sparkle into dividing by zero, just to see what happens. In the meantime, Mark Alger, no slouch of a storyteller himself, is playing with the concept, starting, sensibly enough, with Dolly telling him you can’t do that:

Well, properly speaking, you can, but the answer is out of the normal bounds of our concepts of numbers. And, of course, computers lose it when you try to make them calculate it. But, really, it makes logical sense. Zero zeroths is a whole zero, right? I mean, it’s nothing, but it’s ONE nothing. A slippery concept, I’ll admit, but not as weird as n dimensions.

And this also requires admitting that dividing zero by itself to get one is a special case. And what if that means that 0/0=1 is also 0/0=∞? Talk about your special cases. And what does that imply about the question raised in the linked article as to whether infinity actually exists in the real world, or is just a mental construct? See how that blows your dress up.

The reason we have mental constructs in the first place, I suspect, is as placeholders for things we actually haven’t found yet. (Think “Higgs boson”; it explains much, even in its “well, we think we saw one” status.) If you push me, I’d say that infinite anything probably violates at least one law of physics — and that a hundred years from now, those laws will have probably been updated somewhat.

That said, there are transfinite numbers, which I understand barely if at all, and hyperreal numbers, which are at least easy to explain:

The hyperreals, or nonstandard reals, *R, are an extension of the real numbers R that contains numbers greater than anything of the form

1 + 1 + … + 1.

Such a number is infinite, and its reciprocal is infinitesimal.

I never expect to see a number that is truly infinite, though its reciprocal I see every month on my bank statement: it’s the interest rate they pay me.

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Your state bird sucks

Nicholas Lund finds your lack of hawks disturbing:

I drove over a bridge from Maryland into Virginia today and on the big “Welcome to Virginia” sign was an image of the state bird, the northern cardinal — with a yellow bill. I should have scoffed, but it hardly registered. Everyone knows that state birds are a big joke. There are a million cardinals, a scattering of robins, and just a general lack of thought put into the whole thing.

Worst of the lot, perhaps, is Alaska’s:

Willow Ptarmigans are the dumbest-sounding birds on Earth, sorry. They sound like rejected Star Wars aliens, angrily standing outside the Mos Eisley Cantina because their IDs were rejected.

I dunno. To me, Willow Ptarmigan is the hippie chick who dropped (1) out of Swarthmore, or (2) a whole lot of acid.

Fortunately, Oklahoma’s own Tyrannus forficatus is more than sufficiently badass.

(Via Pop Culture Junk Mail.)

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Odometer check

This came down the stream last night, and at first I didn’t notice it:

It then hit me that I’m about five years older than Madonna.

As part of my ongoing effort to make myself feel better, here’s Rue McClanahan in the mid-Sixties as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Rue McClanahan in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

She said she was too young at the time.

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Another note from the Central Scrutinizer

I probably shouldn’t say so out loud, but for some inscrutable (at least, the Scrutinizer can’t figure it out) reason, the auto-insurance bill is unchanged this time around, meaning the only serious budget adjustments for the second half of 2013 will be due to food and energy costs, which, according to the Fed, don’t count toward the core inflation rate and therefore don’t matter to the sort of people who matter to the Fed.

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Darkness looms

About 7:20 yesterday evening, I was watching the cold front come in — one of the unalloyed joys of living in this neck of the woods is that you can actually see the fronts arrive, as the winds shift around and the tree limbs alter their trajectories — when the air was filled with the unmistakable sound of electrical equipment exploding, and electrical power on this side of the street was killed stone dead.

Now I’ve seen power outages here before, as recently as last week. But this one was different somehow, and not for any electrical reasons. I’m working on a story, and one of the characters has only just explained that he’s going briefly into seclusion, because he knows a panic attack is coming on, and he doesn’t want his lovely bride to witness him at his worst just yet.

Then all of a sudden I’m at my worst. I didn’t start that way, but when the first crew arrived and announced that they could handle part of the problem, but we’d have to wait for the boys from Dover for the heavy stuff, I became despondent. And when the second crew spent five minutes on the curb, then vanished into the darkness, I was just about ready to tear my hair out. From the inside.

I sent three tweets from my still-charged cell phone, each one a little more despairing. This was the last: “I suppose this is how I will die — alone in the dark and abandoned.”

Which, unfortunately, is very much in character, and not for that fictional character either.

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Figures to keep in mind

File this under Things You Need To Know:

There are, it must be conceded, incidents in which calling 911 should be your first priority: a handgun can’t do much for your sudden myocardial infarction.

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Baby got beak

Right now, parts of the Northeast are teeming with avian fiends:

In other nature news, the skies are suddenly full of carnivorous birds. You can hardly look up without spotting a red-tailed hawk. Driving along Rt 80 is like going to The Hawk Show. There was a very big fallen bird on the shoulder of the road when I was winding my way through the Delaware Water Gap last weekend and a band of about 8 red tails kept diving down to snatch off pieces of it despite the stream of cars right next to it. I even saw two turkey buzzards flapping up from the road side farther into NJ.

I have to admit, this is more entertaining than watching the adapted-to-the-burbs birds hanging around the A&W just waiting for you to drop a French fry.

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Get off my register

After I admitted to some ambivalence regarding those so-called senior discounts, Roger, never one to mince words, declared them just this side of unsustainable:

There are all these nifty benefits to getting older. The thresholds vary, but one can get lots of stuff at a savings, especially services, such as at restaurants and transportation. (But are they legal? Apparently, even though they are discriminatory against the younguns.)

Frankly, I think retailers are crazy to maintain these “senior” discounts. The boomer generation is HUGE in numbers in the United States and will likely live longer than their parents, to boot; this must be an economic drain on some businesses, and will continue to be so for quite a while.

As Herb Stein said, if something can’t go on forever, it won’t. Eventually somebody will decide that 75 is the new 55, and the threshold for nifty benefits will shift upwards a notch or three. By then AARP will be mass-mailing 27-year-olds.

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Live by the Golden Drool

Fingerprinting? Too much trouble. Retinal scan? Get that thing away from my face. Here’s the, or at least a, future of Positive ID:

We finally meet extraterrestrials and they’re friendly and want to do business with us. But they think our habit of signing everything is primitive and hilarious. They have devices that can instantly scan and identify DNA in saliva so they “sign” documents by spitting on them. Humans being the way we are, some people find this amusing, some people think it’s unsanitary, gross, and offensive, some people consider anything involving DNA a violation of their privacy, but about 80% of the people are just like, “Alright, whatever.”

Which is probably enough to get the other 20 percent in line, don’t you think?

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The high-maintenance Senate

From the Things I’d Rather Not Think About file:

The ah-gust body of the U.S. Senate voted against privatizing their in-house barbershop where they have gotten free haircuts, shaves and shoe shines for decades, all the while running a deficit of $350,000 per year for the last 15 years ($5.25 million). To repeat, in the past, the Senate members have voted AGAINST paying for their own grooming. Do female Senators get haircuts, facial waxes and perms (cause Dianne Feinstein is definitely permed)? Do they use the same facility as the men use? Yes, they do. Do they get waxes? I don’t know.

I admit to a certain level of squeamishness with regard to that last point, having found out more than I really wanted to know about a couple of TV hosts this weekend.

The House, incidentally, outsourced its grooming facility nearly two decades ago.

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Cashing in, ever so slightly

I am of two minds about the not-all-that-hefty Senior Discount being offered at some places. On one level, I’d just as soon not be reminded of how many years have gone by; on the other, I could probably use the few extra cents for something.

Patti, a couple years younger than I, has less of a dilemma:

I am over 55, after all, although only two measly years. Sandy’s only 56. Is it that obvious? Have all my anti-aging secrets, my skinny jeans, artfully highlighted hair, not managed to shave a couple of years off my appearance? Yes and no.

I reminded myself that the cashier was about 19 years old, and anyone who was older than his parents had to be over 55. He’s also been taught to offer the discount to anyone he thinks may qualify. And I do! I do! I don’t lie about my age. I lie (to myself) about being my age, and looking my age.

In some circles, I have begun admitting to sixty already, though the motivation is simply to blur the actual date of my birth; I decline to celebrate my birthday on general principle, and I’d just as soon those people didn’t mention it.

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Unwanted momentum

What’s the difference between turning 50 and turning 60? More than just 10 years, says Roger:

When I turned 50, I could think, “Maybe I still have another half a lifetime left.” After all, the number of centenarians in the United States has been growing… Now that I am 60, though, I have to acknowledge that I’m not going to live another 60 years, even if I move to Azerbaijan and start eating yogurt soup. (And if I’m wrong, which one of you is going to write to correct me?)

The trouble with the phrase “over the hill” is that it reminds you of the downward slope, which in turn, the laws of physics being what they are, implies picking up speed, precisely what you don’t want to do unless your life is as miserable as, oh, let’s say, mine when I was thirty-five. (It was not a very good year.) Still, in the event that someone doesn’t catch my last name, I will invariably say “As in ‘Over The’.” Dismayingly, it always works.

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It’s the end of the world, and we blow it

Mucking around with mystery particles might well be the first step toward The End®, they say:

[F]inding the Higgs [boson], if it’s truly been found, not only confirms the theory about how particles get mass, but it allows scientists to make new calculations that weren’t possible before the particle’s properties were known.

For example, the mass of the new particle is about 126 billion electron volts, or about 126 times the mass of the proton. If that particle really is the Higgs, its mass turns out to be just about what’s needed to make the universe fundamentally unstable, in a way that would cause it to end catastrophically in the far future.

That’s because the Higgs field is thought to be everywhere, so it affects the vacuum of empty space-time in the universe.

And we probably shouldn’t count on saving ourselves with the inevitable anti-Higgs particle. (“Boson’s mate?”) Instead, we should adopt a stance that will stress us less in the long-ish run:

[T]here’s really no reason to worry about this event either. Wherever it started — if it hasn’t already — it would come at you at the speed of light, meaning it would literally be over before we knew it.

Assuming it started nearby, anyway. If the Big Debang should start at the surface of the sun, though, we’d have eight whole minutes to panic.

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Lessons from life (one in a series)

Things are broken. Can you fix them? Maybe not. Should you agonize over that fact? Definitely not:

I suppose maybe I do sometimes need to get out of the one-inch picture frame of my own work some days — and when I’m frustrated with the “game” of academic publishing (which I swear is a rigged game) or when there’s some new bureaucratic thing that makes life harder — to remind myself of the times when I’ve been able to do stuff to keep the brokenness from spreading, and count that as success in life, even if I may not actually see the help they do. Or maybe to accept that it’s enough to, as I said, keep the brokenness from spreading even if nothing you does patches up any of it.

Life is a park. Improving it is a difficult task, given the limited time you have; but since it is a park, you don’t want to leave it in worse condition than it was when you entered. More than that, we cannot ask of you.

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Texas messes with you

Alaskan couple arrives in the Permian Basin — bless you, energy boom — and local rep notes that wildlife is a bit different just off I-20:

Her: You … have rattlesnakes?

Me (hoping to defuse the situation): Oh, but don’t worry about them. The scorpions generally kill them before there’s a problem.

Well, I feel better.

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Bricks passed

Everything you ever wanted to know about wombat dung:

Okay, maybe more than you wanted to know.

(Via Neatorama.)

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Person of the year

In this day and age, it’s hard to take Time seriously, especially their hotly hyped Person of the Year announcement, which hasn’t meant anything to me since 2006. This year’s selection, a chap named Barack Obama, is at least reasonable given Time’s avowed criterion: the person who, “for better or for worse … has done the most to influence the events of the year.” I would argue that Mr Obama deserves it more this year than he did in 2008, when he was pretending to be a blank slate.

Ralph GillesI get into this Person of the Year business myself somewhat reluctantly, but I have a criterion of my own to push: the individual who actually performed during the preceding months the act I think is most consonant with my own personal values, without benefiting me personally. [Note: This is decidedly at odds with the Time selection, which one always has to assume is done for the benefit of Time Warner, if not necessarily for its customers.] Based on that criterion, the most deserving individual for 2012, barring something miraculous happening in the next week, is Ralph V. Gilles, president and CEO of SRT Brand and Motorsports, and senior vice president of product design for Chrysler Group LLC.

This selection was perhaps foreshadowed by this piece I wrote in October:

Bloomberg News ran a piece a week ago that indicated Fiat, in its capacity as High Overlord of Chrysler, might be contemplating building Jeeps in China, and a phrase to the effect that they “may eventually make all their models in that country,” hinting at multiple lines, was apparently interpreted as meaning that Jeep was actually moving all its production to China. Which they aren’t, as Chrysler is taking pains to point out.

Which prompted the following exchange on Twitter:

Tweets by Donald Trump and Ralph Gilles

Few things in life are as satisfying on a gut level as telling Donald Trump that he’s full of shit. My congratulations to Mr Gilles, who in addition to this feat oversaw the revival of the Viper, SRT’s V-10 powered halo car, which adds further to his own personal halo.

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Road-trip notes

For about half a second, I considered labeling this little three-day excursion “World Tour ’12,” but that doesn’t work: too little of the world was actually seen, and the total was a modest 740 miles. Still, a few things come to mind other than the actual purpose of the trip:

  • One of my ex’s besties is sorta hawt. (And definitely taken, but c’est la vie.)
  • Kansas is often mocked for the post-Mad Max terrain beyond the city limits. I demur. There’s a lot to be said for not having fifty gazillion things to look at besides the road.
  • And that goes double for the Flint Hills, which for some reason create the impression that ancient ruminants graze there yet.
  • Even when El Dorado Lake is full, which it isn’t due to the drought, you can still see the lines of trees, growing from the very bottom of the lake. On a sunshiny day like today, it acquires a sort of creepy vibe.
  • I have no idea what the post-ceremony banquet (four courses!) at Cafe Verona might have cost, but it can’t be cheap. It certainly didn’t taste cheap.
  • Never look at a tire when it’s 20 degrees outside.

For those who care: 26.7 mpg, $12 in tolls, 68 emails (49 dismissable). And given the mood of the moment, I felt justified in punctuating the trip home with a stop at Mickey D’s to procure a McRib. For a limited time only, as they say.

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Another voice

The previous post (about the MechBass) wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t been reading 33 avenue Miquelon on a regular basis.

And now Cameron Miquelon has a dream, and I want to help:

I have no idea how GoFundMe compares with Kickstarter, the usual vector for this sort of thing: they seem more “social,” in the sense that they connect to the social networks. I am, however, a firm believer in crowdsourcing, and maybe I can bring in a crowd once in a while.

Cameron runs both 33 avenue Miquelon and a Tumblr edition, and contributes to

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A note from the Central Scrutinizer

This is normally the time of year when I break out the auto-insurance bill and see what’s gone up (and, occasionally, what’s gone down). And I was sweating it, because I had a minor-ish fender-bender at the beginning of last weekend, and guess when they prepare the renewal policy?

The worst, apparently, is yet to come. Premium increase this time around is a relatively trivial $13, distributed thusly:

  • Liability (injury): up $5.70.
  • Liability (property): up $10.30.
  • Uninsured motorists: up $5.40.
  • Comprehensive: down $4.50.
  • Collision: down $7.50.
  • Road service: no change.
  • Rental reimbursement: up $3.60.

Aggregate discounts were up by 40 cents. The new wrinkle is that I have now, I am told, qualified for “accident forgiveness,” which means, I suspect, that while I can expect to lose my 5-year good-driver discount next time around ($70ish), I won’t be slapped with some ginormous surcharge.

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Goblin report

I was late pulling out of 42nd and Treadmill today — there were idiots to denounce, and I wasn’t going to miss out on that — so I missed the bulk of the Neighborhood Event this time around, and decided I’d actually hand out the goodies myself this year. The sparkleball I have been employing as a substitute porch light, I’ve discovered, is genuinely creepy from the curb, and since getting to my front door is a genuine hassle — thirty feet up (quite a grade) the driveway and fifteen more down the walk, unless you cut through the hedgerow, in which case the rosebushes will get you — I figure anyone who makes it through deserves to be served.

I opened up at six-thirty. No takers until seven, and then the floodgates opened: twenty-one in ten minutes. Final count was 49, about half what it was in 2010, which I attribute to losing a lot of the smaller fry to said Neighborhood Event. Still: second-best year ever.

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