Archive for General Disinterest

A quarter to nine

It was vague, as most premonitions are, except in one distinct area: the time. At 8:45 on Monday, something dreadfully terrible would be happening. I shrugged it off — it’s not like I haven’t had such things before — and let it go.

It came back.

Several times last week, starting late Tuesday, the day I was most recently let out of the emergency room, this same premonition came to me. In my current easily-scared mode, I should not have been surprised to find myself dwelling on it.

Monday morning came: first a doctor’s appointment, then presumably back to work. It’s a long haul, so I pulled out early.

The noises began around I-44 eastbound and the Broadway Distention. Sounded like a wheel bearing on the fritz, though it could just as easily have been the riced-up Honda that was hugging the right lane.

They got louder. Finally, an explosion. The Honda had pulled away. I eased myself over to the shoulder and called 911.

It was a quarter to nine.

The right rear tire was pronounced by a gentleman from the Highway Patrol to be a total loss. Unbidden, he offered to swap the spare for it, and who am I to say no to the OHP?

Shortly thereafter, my boss arrived, and noted that the spare looked pretty low but was probably better than nothing. “There’s a compressor in the trunk,” I said, because of course there is. I am as defensive a person as you’ll find anywhere.

I then hied myself to my usual tire shop, on the basis that all these tires were about the same age — going on four years — and therefore I should probably replace the lot.

Which I did.

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As we Scrutinize once more

On hand: the latest auto-insurance bill, which has gone up $40.90 in the last six months. Here’s where:

  • Liability (injury): up $9.30.
  • Liability (property): up $8.30.
  • Uninsured motorists: up $5.30.
  • Comprehensive: up $3.80.
  • Collision: up $9.40.
  • Road service: no change.
  • Rental reimbursement: up $4.80.

In addition, total discounts were cut by $19.30.

For the first time in a while, uninsured-motorist coverage is not the most expensive item on the menu: liability (injury) is now 40 cents more.


Entropy takes it on the chin

“Lisa,” Homer said in his sternest voice, “in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics.”

But maybe Lisa was a little bit ahead of the game:

For more than a century and a half of physics, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that entropy always increases, has been as close to inviolable as any law we know. In this universe, chaos reigns supreme.

But researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory announced recently that they may have discovered a little loophole in this famous maxim.

Their research, published in Scientific Reports, lays out a possible avenue to a situation where the Second Law is violated on the microscopic level.

Still, the violation was actually anticipated, yes, a century and a half ago:

As far back as 1867, physicist James Clerk Maxwell described a hypothetical way to violate the Second Law: if a small theoretical being sat at the door between the hot and cold rooms and only let through particles traveling at a certain speed. This theoretical imp is called “Maxwell’s demon.”

And you can’t get much more impish than quantum effects, am I right?

Citation: Lesovik, G. B. et al. H-theorem in quantum physics. Sci. Rep. 6, 32815; doi: 10.1038/srep32815 (2016).

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Not a scorpion

Skunks, it appears, have a more robust moral code:

The human involved says he thinks the can had been reused to collect BBQ drippings, which better explains its critter appeal.

(Via Kim Komando.)

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Not that you wanted to know or anything

For absolutely no good reason I can tell, I’m taking questions from the field at Morbid curiosity, maybe.


As though there were any doubt

Um, no. I am not smart enough, not beautiful enough, not focused enough, and incidentally not female enough, to be Twilight Sparkle.

That said, she does mean a lot to me.


Saith W

And you know, he’s right:

Excellent call, sir.


Final insult to multiple injuries

I mean, seriously:

On December 31, 2016, a “leap second” will be added to the world’s clocks at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This corresponds to 6:59:59 pm Eastern Standard Time, when the extra second will be inserted at the U.S. Naval Observatory’s Master Clock Facility in Washington, DC.

In a better world, we’d already have abandoned the horrors of 2016. Who wanted this year to be even longer?

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Seemingly authoritative

This was waiting for me the last time I signed into Quora:

You are now a Most Viewed Writer in Bronies

This despite obviously not having been on Quora in a couple of weeks.


Realer than thou

Lyman Stone weighs 20 sets of numbers from the American Community Survey in an attempt to find Real America, or at least Non-Weird America. And guess who’s the least weird?

Oklahoma City is less than 1 standard deviation from the mean on every single variable. It is exactly the mean for the poverty rate, and almost exactly the mean for educational attainment. Its biggest oddity is housing costs compared to income, which are a bit high, and the percent of households with a car, which is also just a teentsy bit high. Other than that? If you’re looking for “Normal America” then look to Oklahoma City.

I might have guessed a bit higher on that “households with car” business. The housing-costs number might surprise some of you, until you remember that you’re already being paid less because you live here. Or, looking at it sideways, housing is going up a bit faster than income.

And the weirdest? Austin? Portland? Nope. But you do know the way there:

San Jose tops the list as the weirdest city in the nation. This is driven by a very high foreign-born share, high white collar and educated shares, high annual earnings, high workers-per-household, a very low white share, and a low rural population.

Followed by New York City, home of perhaps the least inadequate transit system in the country, which means a lot more households without a car.

(Via Don Mecoy.)

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Strayed away

And the owner, singer-songwriter SZA, was frantic:

My dog is my BEST friend in the WHOLE world. Please if anyone finds her PLEASE contact the Maplewood police dept.

Anyway, little Piglet was found within two hours:

Last I heard, Piglet was being fitted with a microchip for tracking purposes.


Worst. Color. Ever.

It goes with nothing:

Pantone 448 C

And yet it has a purpose:

Pantone 448 C, or “opaque couché,” is a greenish brown-gray that looks like it spent a few decades in a sewer. If you find it unpleasant, that’s the point.

The Australian government hired research agency GfK to redesign cigarette packaging in 2012, and they determined (with seven studies and 1,000 regular smokers) that this was the most deterring color to pair with the anti-smoking graphics.

Probably because they thought it looked like the inside of somebody’s lungs after three packs of Winfield every day for forty years.

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Fresh spring scrutiny

I am billed for auto insurance every six months, and every six months I go over the bill with a jaundiced eye. This time I had to look at it twice, because it was exactly the same as last time, and I mean no changes.

Now one could argue that the price has actually gone up, since the amount collision coverage will pay has diminished over the years: this little sled is worth maybe 20 or 25 percent what it was a decade ago. Then again, depreciation isn’t linear: it’s a lot slower now than it was then. (One could also argue that based on that observation, I shouldn’t even carry collision coverage at all; I figure it’s a relatively small percentage of the total premium, and I’d rather get a ridiculously small check after a crash than nothing at all.)

And I’m still unnerved by how much of said premium goes to cover costs inflicted by uninsured motorists, about a quarter of the state’s drivers. (Hint: It’s quite a bit more than collision.)

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How it works

One of the Tour stops this year was the Fitness Center at American Energy Partners, a startlingly modern-looking place which seemed, to us anyway, a cut above the usual gymnasium. I struggled to get a good shot of a wall hanging containing the corporate motto, but camera limitations foiled me: the sign’s in the entrance hall, which isn’t particularly wide, and I could zoom out only so far. Trini to the rescue:

Hard Work Works Here

This also works in video form:

Not the most popular sentiment these days, I grant you, but still valid after all these years.


The last unicorn?

Well, not as we know them. This isn’t an equine; if anything, the creature in this painting resembles a cross between a horse and a rhinoceros:

Elasmotherium sibiricum by Heinrich Harder

And it’s not as ancient as we thought, either:

For decades, scientists have estimated that the Siberian unicorn (Elasmotherium sibiricum) — a long-extinct species of mammal that looked more like a rhino than a horse — died out some 350,000 years ago, but a beautifully preserved skull found in Kazakhstan has completely overturned that assumption. Turns out, these incredible creatures were still around as recently as 29,000 years ago.

Not only were they incredible, they were incredibly big:

According to early descriptions, the Siberian unicorn stood at roughly 2 metres tall, was 4.5 metres long, and weighed about 4 tonnes. That’s closer to woolly mammoth-sized than horse-sized. Despite its very impressive stature, the unicorn probably was a grazer that ate mostly grass. So, if you want a correct image in your head, think of a fuzzy rhinoceros with one long, slender horn protruding from its face instead of a short, stubby one like today’s rhinos.

And if you saw something like this, you would not soon forget it — which may explain as well as anything else why stories of unicorns have persisted for so long.

(Via Finestkind Clinic and fish market.)

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And now, the news for spiders

This creature is not a spider. Once again, this creature is not a spider:

Scientists say a 305 million-year-old fossil is the closest relative to “true spiders” ever discovered — but is not itself a spider.

Easily pre-dating the dinosaurs, the 1.5cm creature lived alongside the oldest known ancestors of modern spiders but its lineage is now extinct.

The specimen was dug up decades ago in France but never identified, because its front half was encased in rock.

Now, researchers have made a detailed reconstruction using CT scans.

Their findings are reported in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“This fossil is the most closely related thing we have to a spider that isn’t a spider,” said first author Russell Garwood from the University of Manchester.

The non-spider, Idmonarachne brasieri, definitely has spider-like legs and jaws, but it is utterly lacking in spinnerets, so — no web.

Still, we’re talking very, very close:

“The earliest known spider is actually from the same fossil deposit — and it definitely has spinnerets. So what we’re actually looking at is an extinct lineage that split off the spider line some time before 305 million years ago, and those two have evolved in parallel.”

Except, you know, for that whole “dying out” thing.

(Via Fark.)


Rocking world explained

This was all over Facebook yesterday:

Pooh, what makes the world go round? asked Piglet. Fat bottomed girls, replied Pooh

Sorry for the earworm.

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I swear, this stuff is everywhere

There’s a Facebook page called Dihydrogen Monoxide Awareness, and this has something like 12,000 shares already, including one from me. I figured I’d drop a copy of it here, because why not?

Anti-DHMO poster based on pH

They noted helpfully that “Hydrochloric acid only has a pH of 2!”

Johannes Nicolaus Brønsted and Thomas Martin Lowry were not available for comment.

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Too many quarks for Muster Mark

You say you were reading one of those science-y web sites today? You say there was all this talk about protons and neutrons stuck together for dear life while electrons go whizzing around them at a zillion miles per hour? You say they told you that you were mostly empty space but you still feel like you swallowed an anvil? You say they told you all about strong and weak forces and you just know the weak force is gonna win and the electrons are all going to fall apart and crash into one another and knock your hat in the creek? Is that what’s troubling you, cousin?

Well, forget that:

Scientists at the Borexino detector in Italy experimented to see if they could detect electron decay and predict how long it would take for one to actually break down. Turns out a single electron would take 66,000 “yotta-years” to break down. This comes out to 660,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years, or five quintillion times the current age of the universe. In other words, we will probably never see even one electron break down anywhere in the universe for as long as beings exist to detect electrons and see if they are breaking down. So you may strike “death by unexpected subatomic decay” from your list of possible concerns, and Merry Christmas to you!

Phew. That’s a load off my mind.

(Particle Man was not available for comment. The opening paragraph, of course, was inspired by the late Eddie Lawrence; the title was adapted from a line in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.)

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Scrutinizing the inscrutable

Auto insurance for the next six months will be $7.90 pricier than auto insurance for the last six months, as follows:

  • Liability (injury): up $3.30.
  • Liability (property): up $3.00.
  • Uninsured motorists: no change.
  • Comprehensive: no change.
  • Collision: up $1.60.
  • Road service: no change.
  • Rental reimbursement: no change.

Discounts in aggregate are up a buck-forty. Being the defensive person I am, I carry a hell of a lot of insurance, except on myself.

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No more Hassel

The Hoff he has been, and The Hoff he shall remain forevermore:

Actor David Hasselhoff has “dropped the Hassel” from his life, officially changing his name to David Hoff.

The Baywatch and Knight Rider star, whose nickname is The Hoff, made the announcement in a video uploaded to YouTube.

And why the hell not? I mean, it’s less dramatic a change than, say, that undergone by Jack Roy.

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More news for parrots

Apparently the birds don’t trust us anymore, at least in some parts of New York state:

I blame all the ne’er-do-wells who stand there cooing at the cage: “Can you talk? Can you talk?” Just once, I want to hear the bird snap back: “Yes, I can talk. Can you fly?”

“Rotterdam,” incidentally, represents a first-of-November curse: “My sister stole all my Halloween candy, and I hope it’ll Rotterdam teeth out.”

(Via Steve Lackmeyer.)

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This is not a manifesto

Robert Stacy McCain has already indicated that he intends to advise his six kids that they should never, ever write a manifesto.

And nobody’s manifesto ever needs to be longer than this:

My parents didn’t raise me to believe I was helpless, and certainly I would never want my children to believe their lives are a random accident. Our lives have meaning and purpose. The choices we make — our actions as individuals — have consequences for our own lives and for the lives of others. Having lived quite carelessly in my youth, I consider my rather miraculous survival must have served a purpose, if only to equip me to warn young people against careless living.

And this, essentially, is the bottom line:

Winners find a way to win, whatever the challenges may be.

Enduring hardship, overcoming obstacles, the survivor survives, and every day of survival is a victory unto itself. Today I have survived 56 years, and have already lived to see two grandsons born. My children are miracles, not accidents, and today when my daughter Reagan was leaving for school I told her, “Be excellent all day long.”

Don’t just be good. Be excellent. Excellence is expected.

Today is a very happy birthday. Hit the freaking tip jar.

With 62 coming up (next month!) and six grandchildren already out and about, I nod in agreement.

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For all your lunar events

Lynn’s thoughts on the Humongous Moon Thing from earlier this week:

I did watch the lunar eclipse Sunday night. Not quite the whole event though. Eclipses are both exciting and boring at the same time. They’re very slow. Our modern entertainments have conditioned us to expect things to happen quickly. But eclipses are exciting because … well, it’s hard to explain. It’s like I’m more aware of the reality of the solar system. We’ve all seen the diagrams and the models and it’s not that I ever doubted the reality; I didn’t, but when one object in space casts a shadow on another it really feels real. You know what I mean?

Yep. Textbooks, for all their wondrous detail — assuming they have wondrous detail — can only allow you to experience so much. At six or at sixty, your reaction is much the same, even if it’s not phrased this way: “Holy crap, it’s actually doing it!”

This, though, I’m not so sure about:

I was watching it alone and you really need to watch eclipses with someone else. They should be shared. While I was standing in my driveway looking at the moon I could hear the neighbors in their back yard talking and I was a little envious. I thought about how my mother would have enjoyed watching the eclipse and wished she was there. I also thought that people should have eclipse parties. Not us. We don’t really have any close friends, and family are all too far away to come to an event that late at night. But eclipse parties should definitely be a thing.

But aren’t they “slow?”

I do like the idea of shared experiences, but I’m way short on available sharers at the moment. Maybe things will pick up for the solar eclipse in August 2017.

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The real Central Scrutinizer

In my semiannual review of my auto-insurance bill, I have occasionally evoked Frank Zappa’s Central Scrutinizer, ubiquitous yet inaccessible, a decent metaphor for the industry as I’ve seen it.

And, if I may say so myself, a predictive one:

Got a letter from State Farm Insurance yesterday offering me a discount. All I have to do is give up any thought of ever having any privacy. Like I have any privacy in my current digital lifestyle. They call it in-drive, it plugs into the diagnostic port on your car, the same port that DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) uses to see if your car is still spewing the recommended daily allowance of carcinogens. I think I’ll pass. I have enough entangling alliances as it is, I don’t need any more.

State Farm is hardly the only firm offering such a scheme. Still, it seems awfully Zappa-esque:

This is the CENTRAL SCRUTINIZER … it is my responsibility to enforce all the laws that haven’t been passed yet. It is also my responsibility to alert each and every one of you to the potential consequences of various ordinary everyday activities you might be performing which could eventually lead to The Death Penalty (or affect your parents’ credit rating). Our criminal institutions are full of little creeps like you who do wrong things.

We are so screwed.

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Porcine on the dotted line

Sy Montgomery writes in The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood:

I never met a pig I didn’t like. All pigs are intelligent, emotional, and sensitive souls. They all love company. They all crave contact and comfort. Pigs have a delightful sense of mischief; most of them seem to enjoy a good joke and appreciate music. And that is something you would certainly never suspect from your relationship with a pork chop.

And contrary to auto-journalist mythology, they do not understeer.

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Freshly scrutinized

The new auto-insurance policy has arrived, and it’s $24.20 pricier than the previous one, broken down as follows:

  • Liability (injury): up $3.10.
  • Liability (property): up $16.20.
  • Uninsured motorists: no change.
  • Comprehensive: up $3.30.
  • Collision: up $1.70.
  • Road service: up $0.90.
  • Rental reimbursement: no change.

Not quite offsetting this is an extra buck worth of discounts. As before, uninsured-motorist coverage is the single largest expense on the bill, though property liability, which took a big jump, is coming close.

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A slightly flatter planet

The earthquake in Nepal last month evidently realigned some of the bumpier spots on the globe:

New satellite topography of the Himalayas mountain range has revealed that they sank by three feet as tectonic plates reacted to pressure.

The European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1A radar satellite snapped before-and-after images of the terrain hit by the earthquake, which killed more than 8,000 people. The image … reveals how the Eurasian plate shifted, with the land falling in the places marked yellow, and rising in those coloured blue. In the Langtang range, it sank by as much as three feet, while Mount Everest, which was further away from the epicentre, is now one inch shorter.

One should not assume, however, that this realignment is at all permanent:

The Himalayas will eventually regain the height that they lost over a long period of time, as geological forces continue to influence them. The mountain range was formed as a result of the Indian and Eurasian plates pushing into each other, and the constant pressure at the fault line means the mountains are always growing.

Tim Wright, professor of satellite geodesy at the University of Leeds, explains further:

Between earthquake events, Nepal is being squashed and the part (including Kathmandu) nearest the big fault underneath it is being dragged down by the Indian plate, and [areas] further back are being lifted up as you imagine squashing something is going to push things up.

Now, during the earthquake itself what happens is the opposite. The part that was dragged down because it was stuck at the fault — that slips freely and rebounds up, and the part that was being squashed upwards drops down.

Similar events occur in other seismically active regions, such as California and, um, Oklahoma, though Soonerland has yet to experience a quake above magnitude six: the April quake in Nepal was estimated at 7.8, with an aftershock last week at 7.4.

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They grow even louder

There exists a band called Eels, which has cut some nifty tracks in its day — I remember the Beautiful Freak album, nearly 20 years ago — but I never really warmed to them because of their name, which is reminiscent of a creature I will never really warm to:

Personally, I can’t think of a sea creature more horrific than the eel. It has all the negative qualities of a fish (might touch you while swimming, incapable of feeling love), plus all the negative qualities of a snake (has no limbs at all yet somehow manages to move around) — plus, in some cases, all the negative qualities of a poorly-grounded home appliance. In fact, if I were choosing something to encounter in open water, I’d rank only one fish lower than an eel: an eel that’s been marinating in cocaine. Unfortunately for me, a team of Italian scientists has been exposing European eels to low doses of cocaine to monitor the effect of the drug.

I’m hearing shrieks, and not just from the eels, either:

As it turns out, giving cocaine to eels is a bad idea for reasons beyond my phobias. Aside from the coke-exposed eels appearing “hyperactive compared to the other groups,” cocaine exposure thickened the eels’ skin and intestinal linings, reduced the amount of mucus in their skin, and increased their production of hormones like prolactin and cortisol — chemicals important for eels’ endocrine functioning…

Messing with an eel’s skin is serious stuff. Cocaine’s effects could hamper the eel’s ability to protect itself against disease and injury, recognize sexual partners, or secrete alarm pheromones.

So: not at all novocaine for the soul. Still, where’s a non-self-respecting eel supposed to find cocaine?

A 2014 study, also by Italian researchers, found 13 nanograms of cocaine per liter of water in Italy’s Sarno River, meaning that almost 15 grams of cocaine flow through the river every day.

I think I’d better leave it at that.

(Via Eric Siegmund.)

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With bluebonnets on it

You may wish to grow Lupinus texensis, the Texas bluebonnet, yourself. You may even be in Texas. But you will probably not succeed:

You want a yard full of them? Good luck with that.

You see, bluebonnets prefer well-drained places that are untouched, unmowed, un-stepped-on, un-anything. Texans want to grow them in their yards, and they are consistently foiled in this endeavor. These rascally little plants want to bloom in places nobody messes with.

And I’ll just ‘fess up right here — my mother is the only human on this earth who has successfully gotten bluebonnets to grow in her yard — at least, the only human I know personally.

But it was only in flowerbeds that she LEFT ALONE.

Bluebonnets do not like to be messed with. EVER.

And you can’t get a whole lot more Texan than that, right?

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