Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb

And sometimes it takes 70 years to finish the job:

A bomb dropped by the US Air Force on Leipzig during World War II was blown up on Thursday morning. It was discovered on Wednesday night near the east German city’s main train station… The 75-kilo bomb was found during building work on Wednesday and it could not be defused so was blown up instead.

Then one of life’s little jokes kicked in:

Bomb disposal experts from Dresden blew up the explosive shortly before 10.30am.

Dresden? But of course.

(Via Fark.)

Comments (2)




Hemline news

It has long been a tenet in these parts that the legs are the last things to go, and further, that women are generally aware of this. To illustrate this premise, here is a 1988 appearance in Esquire by Meredith Vieira, who was then working on the CBS news show West 57th:

Meredith Vieira in Esquire magazine

At the time, she was thirty-four. Compare to this shot from March of this year, when she appeared on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson:

Meredith Vieira on The Late Late Show

This fall — she turns 61 in December — she’ll be hosting her own daytime talker, distributed by NBC Universal. And the keyword here is “daytime,” which pretty much guarantees that they won’t stick her behind a desk.

Comments (2)




Quote of the week

“If only” seems to bedevil all of us at one time or another. (If you’ve managed to avoid it thus far, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.) Sometimes it goes like this:

I wish I were one of those “successful” bloggers. You know. The kind who can paint a pretty picture of their lives — they have lovely kids, they are super-good at their work, their hobby projects always turn out lovely and just as they planned them, they never seem to struggle or agonize. All their pictures are nice and none of them turn out to have a bit of the laundry basket peeking out in the corner of the picture of something else. When they bake bread, it looks like a picture in a cooking magazine. But I don’t have enough perfection in my life to be able to do that — it seems like my whole life is a big hot mess, and so all I can do is show the slightly-more-successful parts of the hot mess here. Maybe if I had a spouse or family close by or lots of close in-person friends I could talk about the stuff that bothers me instead of posting it here, I could be one of those serene bloggers who seems to have a perfect life. I don’t know.

Truth be told, I think the warts-and-all approach is much more appropriate, at least at this level, where you’re not counting on the daily bloggage to pay for your daily bread. I often wonder how much I’d have to scour this place if I were trying to make a living from it, instead of writing off some insignificant sum each year. (By “insignificant,” I mean “somewhere in the high two or low three figures.”) Besides, we have the example of Adobe Photoshop to guide us. In the smallest possible doses, it can shed light on important details. Overused, it creates a monster.

On the term “hot mess” itself, I like this below-the-top paragraph from Urban Dictionary:

No one set of guidelines can perpetually determine what distinguishes a “hot mess” from an above-average train wreck. Regardless of the circumstances, you know it when you see it; because they are typically conspicuous, and obviously they are always awesome.

And you know, if you’re going for a train wreck, you might as well go for above average.

Comments (4)




At least it’s steady work

Back in February, the Knicks bought out the contract of Metta World Peace and put him on waivers. He’s still looking for a gig, but in the meantime you can call him “Coach.” An assistant coach, anyway:

Metta World Peace is an NBA free agent, but he has found a home for next season: The Palisades High girls basketball team.

The former Lakers forward will be an assistant coach for the Dolphins, Palisades coach Torino Johnson confirmed Thursday. Johnson has been friends with World Peace since coaching his daughter Sadie in the Palisades program four years ago.

Admittedly, this sounds like looking for a faculty advisor for your debate team and hiring Donald Rumsfeld. But who knows? This may be just what the Dolphins need:

“No one else that I know of in high school basketball has this opportunity, where they have a current NBA veteran on their coaching staff who can divulge that expertise,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of all hands on deck for us and we’re very fortunate and excited about him wanting to be a presence in our program.”

And this is hardly the first time The Artist Formerly Known As Artest did something odd. Before his rookie season at Chicago, he applied for a part-time job at Circuit City, allegedly hoping to get an employee discount. (As the #16 draft pick in 1999, his salary was $1,079,760.)

Comments off




A killa in manila

Friday the 13th started out about the way I thought it would: my weekly file-purge routine crashed, not once but twice. Eventually I figured out that the size of one particular array was set too low, and ran it twice more, each with half the batch. No one’s reported anything horrible to me yet, so I’m assuming this workaround actually worked.

Still, this was nothing compared to the horror that awaited me in my mailbox at home: a large, official-looking envelope from the bank that holds the note on my house. It didn’t precipitate a cardiac event, but it seemed to come awfully close. What in the world was this? Foreclosure? Not likely: I’m never actually late on a payment. Eventually I picked out one of the swirling thoughts that sounded plausible, and decided that they were selling me out to some uninterested (as distinguished from “disinterested”) third party.

It was, of course, none of the above. They’d sent me a copy of an appraisal they had ordered, stating no particular reason, though I figured that a two-year decline in property taxes might have spooked them about the value of the place, property values in this area having been stagnant for a while — or maybe it was just that I’d been here ten years. Worse, the cover letter was signed by someone from the Loss Mitigation Department, and contained the inscrutable phrase “one or more of the enclosed valuation(s) may or may not be used in determining the value of the property.”

The drive-by appraiser, though, figured it at about $8k above what the County Assessor had calculated earlier this year, and more than $25k over what I actually still owe on the place. (Status: Not underwater.) Still: never underestimate my ability to panic.

Comments (2)




Phriday photo

Rebecca Black put in an appearance at DigiFest NYC last weekend, and left behind a trace of her existence:

Rebecca Black at Digifest NYC 2014

That logo for Dormify made me think: “Surely Nancy Friedman has seen this name before.” (And she has.) Dormify, they say, “gives you fresh, chic apartment and dorm room decorating ideas,” which is a good thing, given the blanded-out cubicle that is Rebecca’s bedroom. (Assuming that the videos she made in her bedroom were in fact made in her bedroom.) And she’s their target market:

Nearly all of Dormify’s customers are young women and their mothers, although … it is launching a new line of “performance sheets” for men’s beds.

Dormify offers free consultation online and has an average sale of $125 per customer. Zuckerman said students can decorate a dorm room for about $500. A set of sheets, a duvet and pillows start around $150.

“Performance sheets”? Words fail me.

And what’s that blacked-out thing on the backdrop? Not having a copy of the miraculous software used by law enforcement on network-television procedurals, I cranked up various aspects of the picture to verify that it is a logo of some sort, but no way could I read the red-on-black printing, either here or on the other half a dozen I looked at.

Comments (4)




And lo, the meter shall run

Nissan has been calling it the Taxi of Tomorrow, and this is what it’s like:

2.0L 4-cylinder engine, a low-annoyance horn with exterior lights that indicate when the vehicle is honking, sliding doors with entry step and grab handles, transparent roof panel (with shade), independently controlled rear air conditioning with a grape phenol-coated air filter, breathable, antimicrobial, environmentally friendly and easy-to-clean seat fabric that simulates the look and feel of leather; overhead reading lights for passengers and floor lighting to help locate belongings, a mobile charging station for passengers that includes a 12V electrical outlet and two USB plugs, a six-way adjustable driver’s seat that features both recline and lumbar adjustments, even with a partition installed; standard driver’s navigation and telematics systems; front and rear-seat occupant curtain airbags, as well as seat-mounted airbags for the front row; standard traction control and Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), lights that alert other road users that taxi doors are opening.

Needless to say, this little darb is controversial. Consider, if you will, Greater New York Taxi Association v. New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, which apparently has now gone as far as it can:

New York’s plan for a new fleet of cabs from Nissan Motor Co. is legal, an appeals court ruled, overturning a judge who said the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission overstepped its authority by requiring owners to buy a specific vehicle.

The so-called Taxi of Tomorrow program is a “legally appropriate response to the agency’s statutory obligation to produce a 21st-century taxicab consistent with the broad interests and perspectives that the agency is charged with protecting,” Justice David B. Saxe wrote [this week] for the appeals court in Manhattan.

Nissan won a contract in 2011 valued at $1 billion over 10 years to supply more than 15,000 minivans with sliding doors, more luggage space and airbags in the back, for the city’s taxi fleet. The commission in September 2012 designated the Nissan NV200 as the official “Taxi of Tomorrow” and required owners of medallions, which confer the right to operate yellow cabs in New York, to buy the $29,700 vehicles.

What does Hizzoner think of this?

Mayor Bill De Blasio, who received more than $200,000 in taxi-industry donations during his campaign, said before taking office that he opposed the plan because not all cabs would be wheelchair-accessible. The proposal calls for about 2,000 of the taxis to be fitted for disabled riders.

But this, too, had apparently been settled:

U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels ruled in December 2011 that the commission subjects disabled people who use wheelchairs and scooters to discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York overturned Daniels’ ruling in June 2012 and found that the act doesn’t obligate the commission to require taxi owners to provide access for disabled people.

It seems to me that we could have avoided all this, or most of it anyway, by forcing Ford to keep building the Crown Victoria.

Comments (1)




Avoiding transparency

One thing Oklahoma County does well, says Tulsa blogger Michael Bates, is that full disclosure thing:

Oklahoma County’s total budget [pdf] for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 covers $180.7 million: $132,019,665 in revenues, $48,712,216 in beginning fund balance, $149,331,246 in expenditures, and $31,400,635. Tulsa County’s budget for the same year was $83.6 million. Why is Oklahoma County’s budget twice as big as Tulsa County’s budget? Because Oklahoma County budgets all funds, all sources of revenue, and all expenditures, even if they involve earmarked revenue sources. Tulsa County’s budget includes only the bare minimum required by law. Previous year surpluses in non-appropriated funds, some of them under the sole control of an elected official, can be kept off-budget and out of the budget book.

Population comparison: Oklahoma County 755,245; Tulsa County 622,409 (2013 Census estimates). And here’s the punchline:

I would link to the newly adopted budget, but I can’t find it online.

That figures.

Comments (1)




Oily in the morning

I think this individual is looking for the wrong emollients:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Many woman trust castrol oil for their natural treatment. What are benefits of castrol oil for woman?

Then again, it’s more than just oil: it’s liquid engineering.

[insert “Fram filter” joke here]

Comments (2)




It’s always on sale

And therefore it’s never on sale, right? If you see it that way, you’re on the side of the Attorney General of the State of New York:

When a store runs the same promotion for 52 consecutive weeks, it’s really not a sale. It’s actually a type of deceptive advertising and that’s something the New York Attorney General’s office just isn’t going to stand for.

Hobby Lobby agreed to change its advertising practices, donate school supplies and pay an $85,000 civil penalty to settle an investigation into its alleged deceptive advertising practices, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says in a press release.

Background, from the press release:

The investigation began in 2013, when Attorney General Schneiderman’s office began tracking marketing materials advertising 50 percent off and 30 percent off sales. Hobby Lobby advertised its custom framing, furniture, and home décor products as sale items for more than 52 consecutive weeks. The investigation determined that Hobby Lobby violated New York’s General Business Law (350-D) for False Advertising. Sales that are never-ending are in violation of the false advertising law.

It could have been worse, I suppose: Schneiderman might have ordered them to start stocking birth-control products.

Comments (1)




Nothing in between

We talked about thumbs up and thumbs down last week, and as a system, it has one thing going for it: simplicity. Consider this:

Interpreting reviews is an art form. Amazon is a great example of what I call the 1-5 phenomenon. You’ll see mostly one-star reviews and five-star reviews on most review systems. People seem unable to understand the foggy middle ground of 2–4. What is good? What is bad? What is really bad? Thumbs up and thumbs down, that simple pass-fail system, is much easier. Five stars review systems require work.

Reviews are subjective and if you’re a generally kind and generous person, if the item or experience was reasonably good, you’ll head towards five. The one star reviewer, however, has a finely honed sense of self-importance, both in what level they think their abilities of discernment are and in how they believe they deserve to be treated.

Out of curiosity, I looked at an Amazon product I’d reviewed. The overall score was 3.8, figured as follows:

    5 stars: 68
    4 stars: 17
    3 stars: 6
    2 stars: 6
    1 star: 24

Inasmuch as the product was an inkjet cartridge, you’d expect fives from those who got it to work, and ones from those who didn’t; twos, threes and fours are perhaps inexplicable. (I gave it a four, mostly because Amazon was selling it at very close to MSRP.)

I must admit, though, that I hadn’t delved into the psychology of it all quite this deeply:

So what is the mentality of a solid one-star reviewer?

Blackmail only. They have only one star to work with. Everything is judged on a negative scale.

Whether it’s Google Glass users trying to sabotage a restaurant that won’t allow them to wear the devices by leaving one-star reviews whether they ate there or not, the general tendency to be an ass and complainer and social media blackmailer, or using sockpuppet accounts to boost reviews, very little about the review and comment ability gives me much hope that the human race won’t be extinct in about three years.

I give this observation four stars out of a possible five. (I’d hate to give up entirely my tendency to be an ass and complainer.)

Comments (5)




I think I wear a 666

Neil Kramer sees a sign, and it changes his life:

List of Levi's jeans

What if I tried every single style Levi’s jean, making note of which jeans made my ass look the best, and then wrote about it in my first “fashion and lifestyle” post for middle-aged men, inspiring a whole generation to look to me as their sartorial guru? Who knows — by next year, I could be in a YouTube advertisement on the E-train, next to the fifteen year old YouTube stars?

And so he did, and at the link you can see him in every single one.

Comments off




Testing Turing’s test

Chatbots have been around forever, or at least since the birth of ELIZA back in the 1960s, and we all know how that worked out:

ELIZA’s key method of operation (copied by chatbot designers ever since) involves the recognition of cue words or phrases in the input, and the output of corresponding pre-prepared or pre-programmed responses that can move the conversation forward in an apparently meaningful way (e.g. by responding to any input that contains the word “MOTHER” with “TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY”). Thus an illusion of understanding is generated, even though the processing involved has been merely superficial. ELIZA showed that such an illusion is surprisingly easy to generate, because human judges are so ready to give the benefit of the doubt when conversational responses are capable of being interpreted as “intelligent”. Thus the key technique here — which characterises a program as a chatbot rather than as a serious natural language processing system — is the production of responses that are sufficiently vague and non-specific that they can be understood as “intelligent” in a wide range of conversational contexts. The emphasis is typically on vagueness and unclarity, rather than any conveying of genuine information.

There are, of course, examples that don’t actually involve software. For instance:

Think of the way the average politician responds to the average reporter’s question about a scandal in which he or she is involved. The responses are in the form of regular human speech, but they are pre-scripted and designed to carry the form of human speech without fulfilling its function, i.e., explain why campaign contributions got spent at a strip joint. They are instead designed to divert attention from the scandal in the same way that a chatbot is designed to fool people that it is a real live incredibly attractive member of the opposite sex who wants to interact with you and lives just a few miles away.

Some people disparage lower-level members of the current administration as “Obamabots.” This is, however, exactly those members’ designated function; operatives have had this function in administrations nearly as long as there have been administrations.

Comments (3)




Turned off by turnout

A friend from Canada weighs in on the desirability of a truly universal franchise:

There is one phrase you hear a LOT around election time which I can guarantee that my friends and acquaintances will never hear leave my lips. It’s “I don’t care/It doesn’t matter who you vote for, just be sure to vote!” Uh, no … not for me at least. The reason they’ll never hear it is simply because I care VERY much who people vote for and I can’t flippantly suggest otherwise. I also freely admit that while I am not at all a fan of voter apathy, if said apathy were to keep those who might be inclined to support the right-wing agenda from going to the polls, I’d be in no way broken up over their failure to exercise their civic duty. So yeah … that’s one phrase I never say.

I used to worry about voter apathy, but I don’t anymore.

And I’m just self-centered enough to figure that if fewer folks show up at the polls, my single solitary ballot is worth that much more.

Comments (1)




You can probably guess the menu

Bell Buckle, Tennessee, population 500, is known for two things: the Webb School, the oldest continuously-operating boarding school in the South, due for its sesquicentennial in 2020; and the twenty-year old RC Cola-Moon Pie Festival:

[O]n June 21st this quiet little town will become a bustle of excitement and activity when it celebrates the 20th Anniversary of its wildly popular RC-Moon Pie Festival. This year’s festival will spew forth the biggest Box Office news of the year — The return of your favorite Synchronized Wading Characters! After two decades of dry humor on a wet stage, the beloved characters will once again reunite. The stage will be a little different, the story may have changed, but your favorite characters are reuniting to celebrate in a way no one else could ever celebrate marshmellow and carbonation glory!

Known as the first “fast food” meal, these two Southern traditions, RC and a Moon Pie, are brought together for a grand celebration Bell Buckle style. The idea for the Festival first began in 1994 as a way to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Moon Pie and to bring tourists to Bell Buckle. Bell Buckle called the Chattanooga Bakery to see about throwing a Birthday Party for Moon Pie. Little could anyone have expected what a huge event this would become!

Wikipedia claims the Moon Pie actually was invented in 1917, and therefore would have been 77 years old that first year in Bell Buckle; Royal Crown Cola (home town: Columbus, Georgia) dates back to 1905.

Incidentally, the Webb School was actually founded in Culleoka, Tennessee, but William R. “Sawney” Webb, founder and headmaster, uprooted it:

[I]n 1886, the town of Culleoka incorporated, making the sale of liquor legal within the city limits. This was too much for Webb, an ardent prohibitionist. Sawney and his boys packed up and headed to Bell Buckle, a village thirty-five miles west on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. On six acres of beech forest, about one-third of a mile from the depot, Webb dug a well and built a bigger and better schoolhouse than that in Culleoka. Leading citizens of Bell Buckle supported the move by raising $12,000 for the new school.

Today, according to Google Maps, Bell Buckle is 50 miles east of Culleoka. Go figure.

Comments (1)




Fill those holes with money

A survey conducted by the American Automobile Association says that drivers would be willing to pay more in fuel tax:

Two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) believe the federal government should invest more than it does now on roads, bridges and mass transit systems, according to a new AAA omnibus survey of 2,013 adults. Only five percent of respondents believe the federal government should spend less on transportation. These results come as AAA urges members of Congress to increase the fuel tax, which will address significant transportation safety and congestion issues nationwide.

Survey Highlights:

  • About half of Americans (52 percent) are willing to pay higher fuel taxes per month on average for better roads, bridges and mass transit systems.
  • Nearly three times as many people (51 percent) are more likely to vote for a member of Congress who supports increased federal spending on transportation than would be less likely (19 percent).
  • Approximately two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) agree that taxes on gasoline and diesel consumption are appropriate for transportation funding.
  • More people believe that roads, bridges and transit systems have declined in quality over the previous three years (43 percent) than those who believe the quality has improved (32 percent).

Not mentioned here, but not hard to find, are those who believe that any increase in the fuel tax will go, not to improving the state of transportation, but into general governmental slush funds: they’d support the tax if they thought it would actually do some good.

I suggested a plan about three years ago:

[I]ncrease domestic production enough to cause a noticeable decrease in the price at the pump, increase the tax enough to take up the slack, lather, rinse, repeat as necessary. It would never fly, of course.

Certainly not. In Glenn Reynolds’ immortal phrase, “insufficient opportunity for graft.”

Comments (2)