And I’ll bet it was cold

A remarkable archaeological find:

What is believed to be the only wooden toilet seat to be found in the Roman Empire has been unearthed at Vindolanda on Hadrian’s Wall… There are many examples of stone and marble toilet seat benches from across the Roman Empire but this is believed to be the only surviving wooden seat, almost perfectly preserved in the anaerobic, oxygen free, conditions which exist at Vindolanda.

Ancient Roman toilet seat

Said Dr Andrew Birley, director of excavations at the Vindolanda site:

“Now we need to find the toilet that went with it as Roman loos are fascinating places to excavate as their drains often contain astonishing artefacts… Let’s face it, if you drop something down a Roman latrine you are unlikely to attempt to fish it out unless you are pretty brave or foolhardy.”

Discoveries at Vindolanda from latrines have included a baby boot, coins, a betrothal medallion, and a bronze lamp.

But one discovery has yet to be made:

Archaeologists now hope to find a spongia — the natural sponge on a stick which Romans used instead of toilet paper, and with over 100 years of archaeology remaining and the unique conditions for the preservation of such organic finds a discovery may be possible.

Judging by the photo, the seat was found in the Down position.

(Via TYWKIWDBI.)

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Pascal updated

Joe Sherlock’s version of the Wager:

An agnostic friend once asked me, “How can you be sure there’s an afterlife?” I replied, “I’m not sure. But, there’s no downside to being a Believer. I mean, if it turns out that I’m wrong and there’s Nothing — if everything just Fades to Black, it’s not like a ghostly Nelson Muntz is going to appear and mockingly guffaw, “Haw Haw.”

Not precisely the same thought, but with much the same spirit.

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They don’t care a fig for Newton

The argument that one culture’s just as good as another fails to take into account that practitioners of one are using their heads for target practice:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that what goes up, eventually comes down.

Except in the reichlet of Gaza, and in most of the Arab/Muslim world.

When Muslims celebrate the beginning of a war, they fire their AK 47s into the air. When they celebrate the end of a war, they fire their AKs into the air. They blast away at weddings. They blast away when a Jew is kidnapped or murdered. Basically, they pull triggers at every opportunity.

Invariably, someone gets dead because bullets — surprise! — fall to the ground.

If this seems counterproductive — well, things aren’t going to change any time soon. A recent such incident:

As the cease-fire began in Gaza, Tuesday evening — it was supposed to start at 7 PM but rockets and mortar shells continued to fall in Israeli territory as late as 7:15 PM — the V Day celebrations erupted in Gaza, after 50 days of clashes.

As is common on such occasions, thousands flocked in the streets, with many shooting randomly in the air, because that’s how folks have been expressing happiness in this region since the invention of gunpowder.

And then people started to drop in the streets. According to tweets from Gaza, as many as 2 locals were killed from those gunshots, and at least 25 were injured.

Life is cheap; but ammo is even cheaper.

(Via The Texas Scribbler.)

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Saturday spottings (closer to home)

Doing as little as possible this weekend sounded like a pretty good idea to me, which may explain why all of today’s Spottings took place within one mile, from NW 43rd to NW 56th along May Avenue.

Late last year, the city announced a major repaving project along May, at a price tag of just under $1 million per mile. The section closest to me is done. There was, however, some additional unscheduled repair: shortly after completion, a sinkhole, roughly 1.3 lanes wide and just under a third of a block long, opened up on the west side at 44th. It pretty much had to be the refurbed roadbed, as the curb didn’t go much of anywhere. Admittedly, it wasn’t as exciting as, say, the car-swallowing monster at the National Corvette Museum, but so far as I know, May has eaten no cars — or bars, or guitars — and the hole was patched this week.

On the other side of the street, there’s a narrow strip of parkland that marks the western edge of the Mayfair Heights neighborhood. In recent months, it’s been made narrower, thanks to the addition of an actual sidewalk, something unheard of in what used to be a deep-suburban zone. All the concrete is in place; there are still a few road cones south of 47th, but it’s essentially complete from 36th to 47th.

Finally, there was this real-estate transaction:

SDI-Enterprise Plaza LLC from 1999 Enterprise Plaza LP, 5600 N May Ave., $10,450,000.

You might suspect that this involves a parcel called Enterprise Plaza, and indeed it does. It’s a property that I hardly ever notice; it’s tucked away in a corner behind the Holiday Inn Express. (The map at the link is wrong; the property is northeast of the May/Northwest Distressway interchange.) And the price — $110/square foot for Class B, or maybe B-plus, office space — seems a little steep, but then the County Assessor values it at $9.5 million, including the four acres of land on which it sits, so maybe this is just my eyes bugging out for no good reason: I’m manifestly not used to the idea of something just up the street from me selling for $10 million. (Incidentally, the previous owners had bought it for $6.1 million from TIAA-CREF back in 1999.)

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As real as it may seem

Former teen dream Debbie Gibson turns 44 this Sunday, and since I’ve been paying attention all along, I’m in a position to toss you a few not-entirely-random factoids regarding the Debster:

Oh, and she still dresses up nicely:

Debbie Gibson at Madison Square Garden

Of course, the main event for the evening was Rockets vs. Knicks, but hey: it’s exposure, and it’s New York exposure.

And because I think highly of this song, here’s Deb’s last official Billboard Hot 100 chart item: “Losin’ Myself,” a seriously moody number written by DG with Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers (Rythm Syndicate), which peaked at #86 in early 1993.

Too much too soon, maybe?

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Underbanks of the Ohio

“Unbanked” now has its own entry in Wikipedia, with the following unfuzzed definition:

The unbanked are adults who do not have their own bank accounts. Along with the underbanked, they may rely on alternative financial services for their financial needs, where these are available.

I have had a tendency to conflate “unbanked” and “underbanked,” which I suppose I should quit doing. If you’re underbanked, this is what your life is like:

The underbanked are people or businesses that have poor access to mainstream financial services normally offered by retail banks. The underbanked can be characterized by a strong reliance on non-traditional forms of finance and micro-finance often associated with disadvantaged and the poor, such as cheque cashers, loan sharks and pawnbrokers.

I demur on one count: loan sharks are hardly “non-traditional.” (Neither are pawnbrokers, come to think of it.)

And one possible reason to remain unbanked, underbanked, debanked, or whatever, is the continuing increase in retail bank fees. Since the end of 2013:

  • The average monthly maintenance fee has risen by 15 cents, to $12.69. This means that it costs the average customer more than $150 a year just to keep a checking account.
  • There are fewer free checking accounts, defined as those with no monthly maintenance fees. The percentage of checking accounts with no such fees dropped by about 1.5 percentage points, to 28 percent. This is the lowest percentage of free checking accounts measured by the survey since it began in 2009.
  • The average minimum balance required to qualify for a waiver of the monthly maintenance fee rose by $724.69, to $5,440.

And then we wonder why people are dealing with the likes of Green Dot. Of course, we also look down our noses at these folks, mostly because their demand for services means that, holy Hannah, they’ve opened up a check-cashing place where the florist used to be.

My monthly maintenance fee, I am told — I had to look it up — is $15. (It’s waived for the foreseeable future.) If I had to deal with that kind of fee, I’d be sorely tempted to move everything to an unbank (underbank?) like American Express Serve. Then again, I do a little more (but not much more) research than J. Random Consumer; if I’d done much more, you’d probably have seen the words “credit union” in here somewhere.

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The Element of Pasta

The British have long feasted on things like stodge and spotted dick, so I figure Pinkie Pie is a step in the right direction:

You should probably keep cans of this stuff all over town, in case of food emergency.

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The latest dish

Nicole’s dishwasher has gone south, or some other dysfunctional direction, and the results have been twofold:

I’ve been doing dishes by hand for the last several nights. And because we have a tiny ant infestation that is not being eradicated by Terro, my normal ant scourge, I’ve been having to do them every night after dinner. First bad thing.

Second bad thing — doing the dishes every night means that I have it put in my face every night that we really don’t need more than 2 plates. Which is bad because my regular grocery store is next to Pier One.

Disclosures:

  • Last time I had a dishwasher was when I was living in the CrappiFlats™, eleven years ago.
  • At the time, I had four plates; I have since broken one.

Pier One is pretty close to my bank, but I try to avoid going to the bank.

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Still a person of interest

MTV actually put Rebecca Black to work at this year’s Video Music Awards, since arguably she does more in the way of music video than they do.

I did like this photo she tucked away on her Facebook page:

Rebecca Black on the red carpet

Still holding on to that exuberance, I see.

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From the baud old days

If thine broadband be broader than mine, then do say it:

But there are a lot of those old steam-powered modems still in service.

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More than just a weird trick

Actual subject line from yesterday’s mail: “This Simple Action Poisons Your Organs (On National TV)”.

Inevitably, there’s a questionable link, with this text: “Why Eating Salad Makes You Old.” I rather suspect that I’d be old even if I’d never had a salad in my life. (Last actual salad: last night.)

And the sender, it says, is “Reverse Disease.” Um, what about all that organ poisoning?

There are, say the experts, people who respond to these things. How? Surely they’re dead by now.

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Taking the full upright position

Otherwise known as “Hey, you’re lucky we even let you on the plane”:

Next time you buy an airplane ticket check the fine print. What you probably won’t find: language to the effect of “the purchase of this ticket fully and without restraint entitles the ticketholder to the recline function of his seat for the duration of the flight”. That doesn’t mean one can’t recline. (It also doesn’t say you can breathe while on the flight…) It does mean however that claims like “I paid for the right to recline!” are made-up. No, you paid for an airplane ticket. There are some things explicit (we’ll take you from point A to point B, at such-and-such time, we kinda-sorta promise) and many things implicit. It didn’t specify a “right” to recline just like it didn’t specify a “right’ to occupy such-and-such volumetric cylinder of space extending from the tip of your seat up to the ceiling, and along the bisecting midpoints of the armrests on either side of you.

Ultimately, this is a good argument for taking the train, assuming there’s a train to take.

And my lowly 1970s Toyota would allow me to recline almost 90 degrees, useless for driving but wonderful for grabbing a nap in the Scenic Turnout.

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Stay out of my inbox

Nothing makes you dread the New Mail notifier more than, well, new mail, especially if it’s wholly unnecessary, as most of it is, and I have to admit, I’m not as badly squeezed for time as, say, your friendly neighborhood college professor:

“For years, student emails have been an assault on professors, sometimes with inappropriate informality, sometimes just simply not understanding that professors should not have to respond immediately,” Spring-Serenity Duvall, assistant professor of communications at Salem College, wrote in a blog post last week. “In a fit of self-preservation, I decided: no more. This is where I make my stand!”

And that stand was elegantly simple:

Screen shot of Professor Duvall's email policy

Which, I concede, is much kinder than RTFS (the last word is “syllabus”), and you can’t argue with these results:

It’s difficult to convey just how wonderful it was for students to stop by office hours more often, to ask questions about assignments in the class periods leading up to due dates, and to have students rise to the expectation that they know the syllabus. Their papers were better, they were more prepared for class time than I’ve ever experienced.

It is also difficult to tally the time I saved by not answering hundreds of brief, inconsequential emails throughout the semester. I can say that the difference in my inbox traffic was noticeable and welcome.

(Via the Instant Man.)

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This was briefly a thing

One thousand followers

Of course, this could not be permitted to stand:

Within three hours, someone had obliged me — as I knew someone would.

Addendum: Someone new has been lured into the fold.

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How many more times?

I didn’t really warm to Led Zeppelin until their second album, the legendary Brown Bomber, so I must yield to Jack Baruth on the matter of the latest incarnation of the first:

The Super Deluxe Edition of the first Zep album is obviously the most commercialized, crass, regrettable, anti-rock, boomer-focused, rich-ass-yuppie piece of stupid bullshit to ever disgrace the name of the band that once bestrode the earth like a Colossus. Except it isn’t. To begin with, it comes with stuff you really want: rare photographs, perfect letterhead facsimiles of press releases, and additional historical information that will be familiar to those of us who have read all the Zep biographies but is presented in compelling fashion nonetheless.

The music itself — well, I had concerns. Page is an old man now and who knows how good his ears are when it comes to remastering and mixing forty-five-year-old tracks? No need to worry. He did a good job, at least by my standards.

And for your $118.98 (at this writing), Amazon semi-generously throws in an MP3 copy (regularly $13.49).

Not that I’m going to complain, having spent $60 or so for the four-disc Pet Sounds box set, and we know how Brian Wilson’s ears are, especially the right one.

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Semi-useful household advice

I’m not sure why this was stuck onto a My Little Pony-related post, but what the heck:

Watch for chewing, especially around items such as electric cords. Ferrets are also prone to certain illnesses — and injuries — and may also require emergency services. Don’t make any sudden movements as you don’t want your boa constrictor to bite you as boas are sensitive to humans and can easily feel threatened.

And sometimes they’re hungry.

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