Operation QR

The old, ordinary water bill came Saturday — two days early, which I blame on February — and with it came a preview of the new, extraordinary water bill, which shuffles the content a bit and adds one thing previously unseen: a QR code on the return page, making it theoretically possible to pay your bill by scanning it on a mobile device.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but the sample account displayed:

  • has a past-due balance, but no sign of a late charge;
  • contains in the Important Message block the phrase “These are generic topics only”;
  • belongs to a customer in Mississauga, Ontario.

The latter, at least, is sort of explainable: in the past, the city has been known to have outsourced some of its IT development to a Canadian firm, and apparently that relationship continues.

Addendum: Hmmm. The due date is two days early. I blame that, too, on February.

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The crumbum’s rush

Severian on The Catcher in the Rye:

Since it’s one of those books certain people can’t help bringing up, it’s great for helping me avoid human toothaches. If you liked Catcher, I hate you. If you consider yourself “the Holden Caulfield of ____,” I want to strangle you with your school tie. I thought Holden Caulfield was a pretentious little shit who needed nothing more in this world than a good beating, back when I myself was a pretentious little shit in desperate need of a good beating. Luckily, I got mine; the folks who like Catcher never did.

For all you Catcher-haters, I recommend the antidote: Frank Portman’s King Dork, in which you’ll be pleased to see that teenage protagonist Tom Henderson (also known as King Dork, Hender-fag, Chi-mo and Sheepie) is filled with loathing at the very thought of Catcher.

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Not featured in that football game

But it’s at least as ambitious, in its low-key way, as any of the car commercials that are:

And there’s a reason why he never hits 88 mph.

(From Road & Track, with a hat tip to the Instant Man.)

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Some things you are not meant to know

This is, I hope, the last chapter in the water-heater debacle. Cue Ed McMahon: “How … hot … IS IT?”

Well, it’s like this: today, it’s apparently considered bad form to put any kind of actual numbers on the control knob. There’s a dot, and there’s the word “VACATION” about 180 degrees away from it. Nowhere will you find 180 actual Fahrenheit-approved degrees, which is too hot anyway. In the US, everybody says 120. The Canadians beg to differ:

To reduce the risk of burns from hot tap water, the temperature setting on the water heater can be turned down. But if the temperature is set too low, bacteria may begin to grow in the tank. Even at 60°C — the setting on most electric water heaters — an estimated 25% of all water heaters are contaminated by legionella bacteria.

Legionella bacteria tend to grow in the lower temperatures at the bottom of water heater; such bacteria can cause a form of pneumonia. The organism is generally transmitted when people inhale contaminated water droplets from whirlpool baths, showers or building air conditioning systems. In Québec, about 100 people a year are hospitalized for pneumonia caused by contaminated residential water heaters.

In light of the statistics, it is not advisable to lower the water heater temperature to, say, 49°C. This would not only reduce the hot water supply by some 20%, it would also put your household at risk of contracting pneumonia.

Forty-nine degrees Celsius is — guess what? — 120°F.

So I feel much better with my estimated 140°F (60°C) setting. Admittedly, this would be considered a seat-of-the-pants estimate if pants were involved, which they are not. My criterion, using my current single-knob shower, is this: “With the knob turned all the way up, does it seem like it’s almost too hot?” If so, the setting is correct. It reminds me somehow of P. J. O’Rourke’s advice on steak in an iron skillet: “As soon as you think the steak should cook just a little longer, stop cooking it.” This, of course, assumes the steak is as thick as the heel of a Bass Weejun.

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The Thunder scored the first nine points of the evening, and I thought: Don’t do that. You’ll make them angry. You won’t like them when they’re angry. The Warriors did a slow burn, caught up before the end of the first quarter, rolled up 73 points in the first half, and ran to leads as big as twenty. Still, OKC hung in there, and with 3:36 left, finally tied it up at 104, only to see Golden State go on a 6-0 run, and the Thunder would be no threat thereafter. Final score: Warriors 116, Thunder 108, and I suspect it could have been much worse than that.

One problem with OKC tonight was getting points out of the bench. They played defense tolerably well, but they were positively immune to the lure of the net: in the first 34 minutes, the Thunder reserves had scored a total of four points, all from Enes Kanter. Cameron Payne hit a trey late in the third, but in the fourth, Kanter knocked down ten and the rest of the bench had zilch. The Warriors’ three-point prowess was probably at a pre-Super Bowl party; it certainly didn’t show up tonight (7-26, even worse than the Thunder’s 7-22). Fortunately, the Golden State system lets everybody score, and while Stephen Curry posted a modest 26 points and Klay Thompson an okay 18, there were plenty of others to take up whatever slack existed. (Harrison Barnes had 19, something he hadn’t had in the 49 previous games this year.)

The dismal showing by the bench meant that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had to crank up their scoring. KD turned in 40 on 12-25; Westbrook 27 on 8-22. At least they made all their free throws, 22 between them — though the rest of the team went 7-15 from the stripe. The Warriors weren’t any better, making only 13 of 20. Then again, this was a case where they didn’t have to be.

This brief road trip ends Monday at Phoenix, followed by a single home game against the Pelicans and then the All-Star break. If OKC takes both, they’ll be at 40-14, and will most likely still be third in the West, the Golden State and San Antonio juggernauts showing no sign of faltering.

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Royal Danish

There’s nothing like an American election to make me appreciate European royalty. (Make of that what you will.)

Formal-ish portrait of Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark

The lady in question is Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, forty-four, married to Crown Prince Frederik, the heir apparent to the Danish throne. She doesn’t look especially Scandinavian, which is probably due to the fact that she was born in Tasmania, off the Australian coast; His Royal Highness met her in a pub in Sydney during his visit to the 2000 Olympic Games, and they were wed four years later. (In 2003 she started taking Danish lessons, for perhaps obvious reasons.)

Highly informal portrait of Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark

The couple have four children, the youngest (just turned five) a pair of twins. I am, of course, delighted to see that Her Royal Highness can rock the LBD:

Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark attends some sort of fest

Okay, it’s not all that black. Big deal. Mary is the Patron of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, and if she says it’s black — which she hasn’t, actually — I shan’t dispute her.

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Starting something

Texarkana Baby by Eddy ArnoldEddy Arnold’s “Texarkana Baby” was not a big hit, appearing on neither pop nor country charts. It was issued on RCA Victor 20-2806 in 1948 on a black-label 78. But the following spring, RCA reissued it on green vinyl, assigning it the auspicious catalog number 48-0001. This was the very first 45-rpm record available to the public, and RCA was anxious to make them look nothing like the black shellac of the 78s, or the equally black “Lp” record put out by archrival Columbia. Hence green, for all the country issues: orange, for RCA’s occasional forays into rhythm and blues; yellow, for the kids.

The problem was that oversized hole in the middle. It worked perfectly well with RCA’s Victrola record player, which you could plug into the back of your RCA television set. (Before you ask: yes, they used RCA plugs and jacks.) And the Victrola, as designed, would not play any of those pesky Columbia Lps. But David Sarnoff, bless him, figured out that eventually they’d have to do a long-play disc of their own — classical music four minutes at a time on 45s was no less annoying than it had been on stacks of 78s — and further, that he might want to sell 45s to people with those tiny little spindles made by other manufacturers. And so General Sarnoff (he wore a single star in the Signal Corps) ordered one Thomas Hutchison to come up with a solution.

45 rpm adapterAnd Hutchison delivered, coming up with an inexpensive little plastic doohickey that would snap inside the enlarged 45 hole and fit neatly on the smaller spindle, making multi-speed turntables almost inevitable. The spider, as it was sometimes called, did not catch on in much of the rest of the world; instead, they pressed small-hole 45s from which the center section could be punched out if necessary.

Still, the 78 refused to go quietly: EMI was issuing Beatles 78s in India as late as 1968, and R. Crumb (yes, that R. Crumb) and his Cheap Suit Serenaders, while they recorded their LPs at 331/3 like everyone else, put out singles at 78 rpm into the 1980s.

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Trojan apparently slain by geek

Not even malware is hackproof, it appears:

Users tricked by spam messages to open malicious Word documents that distribute the Dridex online banking Trojan might have a surprise: they’ll get a free antivirus program instead.

That’s because an unknown person — possibly a white hat hacker — gained access to some of the servers that cybercriminals use to distribute the Dridex Trojan and replaced it with an installer for Avira Free Antivirus.

Good thing, right? But still against the law:

Although replacing known malware with an antivirus isn’t an activity most people would consider a hacking crime, it’s likely against the law in most countries. A whitehat hacker who figured out a way to penetrate Dridex servers and tamper with the malware distribution channel may have done so discreetly to prevent being detained or prosecuted by law enforcement authorities.

And of course there’s a worst-case scenario:

A competing theory is that Dridex operators intentionally included the AV installer, possibly to throw off the detection process of other AV engines.

Which might be plausible, since the installer does not actually autorun: the person receiving it has to run it manually.

(Via Fark, with the kind assistance of @SwiftOnSecurity.)

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Cortez the killer organist

I have yet to find out why David Clowney Cortez was billed as “Baby,” though I suspect it had something to do with a couple of doo-wop songs on which he actually sang; most of the time he was behind the keyboard. In 1958, he scored the first-ever instrumental #1 on Billboard’s new unified Hot 100 chart with “The Happy Organ,” so big that mighty RCA Victor put out a whole album of Cortez, licensing the single from tiny Clock Records. Several smaller hits followed, and then in 1962 another monster: “Rinky Dink,” which married the instrumental break from “Shop Around” to the guitar lick from “Love Is Strange.”

What was believed to be the last Cortez album came out in 1972. But a mere 39 years later, Dave resurfaced with Lonnie Youngblood and his Bloodhounds for an 11-track album on Norton Records. The lead track, “The Lemon Drop,” is definitely of a piece with Dave’s earlier work:

Cortez was 73 when this came out. He’s still out there.

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Obviously not too damn much

I suspect this incident will never make it into a future edition of How to Make Friends and Influence People:

Okay, maybe in the Appendix, under “Bad Examples.”

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Poor but dishonest

Every barrel, it seems, contains a few bad apples:

GRACE Marketplace thinks of itself as being the Walmart of homeless centers.

In one centralized location in Gainesville, Florida, it offers end to end services: substance abuse counseling, help with signing up for public benefits such as food stamps, showers, restrooms, meals, a place to store personal belongings, an adjacent tent village called Dignity Village, and more.

Unfortunately, it just lost one crucial service: namely, the free Wi-Fi that could have helped Dignity Village residents to find or apply for jobs.

And how did this happen? Pretty much the same way a lot of people with roofs over their heads lose their service:

“We would love to be able to provide Wi-Fi out here, but we don’t have any IT support,” said Jonathan DeCarmine, GRACE Marketplace operations director. “We were notified by our Internet service provider that there were people downloading things illegally, and if we didn’t put an end to that, they would turn off Internet to the entire property, which would keep us from being able to do business and provide services.”

Meanwhile, at the next level up:

Theresa Lowe, executive director of the North Central Florida Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, said she has no plans to turn the Wi-Fi back on. They had some security restrictions in place already, but people found ways around them. She said there can be hefty fees for illegal downloads, and that’s something the center can’t afford.

“We had a couple complaints from our provider and notified everyone, ‘please don’t do this, we’ll end up losing the service,” and it happened again, so our decision was to disable the Wi-Fi because we would be charged,” Lowe said.

Those whose business model depends on depicting the homeless as saintly and utterly without blame will be crying into their kale smoothies; as with any other community, any other demographic, “good” and “not so good” live cheek by jowl.

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She’s such a girl

Sometimes Rebecca Black shops, and she will show you what she bought:

I got curious about that neutral-colored shoe, the one her mom picked out for her, and went looking for it:

Flat oxford from Zara with rippled sole

In sand color, $89.90 from Zara. Not especially pricey, but perhaps tall for what is nominally a flat. And, as she says, “I already know some of you guys are going to hate these, but I really don’t care.”

(I was listening to this in the editing stage, which may explain the first line.)

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Ununiquely unstyled

New Title 1Unmage of Bridge by Daniel PenwellThe James Joyce-on-Quaaludes title of this new Daniel Penwell novel is almost enough to justify reading the damned thing. Repeat: almost. Bill Peschel, I assure you, is not recommending it:

While cruising Amazon looking for new thrillers, I came across a series of books by “Daniel Penwell” that suggest the coming robot overlords need to tweak their writing algorithm a tad.

Eight books were published by “Penwell” during the last week of January, with titles evocative (The Flame’s Runelord; The Mayfair Cavern) and odd (Annal of School; Abyss of File) which sounds like it came from the same list that gave us Quantum of Solace.

Amazon is asking $6.99 for its Kindleized version, and while it’s true that I’ve paid more for arguably less — I own a copy of the highly dubious Atlanta Nights by Travis Tea — I’m not sure I want to know more than what’s in the blurb:

Not so long ago, a regular high-school woman was handed a wood cat figurine by her deceased grandma just who really was into miracle. Whoops, she just dropped they, but oh we-why did a tremendously good looking and nearly nude man just emerge from that figurine? And just why do he meow?

I frankly am not that much into miracle.

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Quote of the week

The billion-dollar hole in the state budget has brought out the usual “No! No! Cut THEM!” calls from various state agencies and their clients. No shortage looms larger than the one presented to the state education system, but as the Friar notes, the solution is not exactly cut and dried:

The problems with salaries and school funding are real: Our teachers are not paid what they should be, nor are our schools funded at the level they should be.

The problems with the revenue stream are real: The tax cut was an iffy idea at best considering how hard it would be to go back to the higher rate when need arose. And it made no sense whatsoever to tie the triggers to projected future income instead of to past or current income or to an average of them over several years.

But the problems with a 19th century educational system are real too. It’s organized for an agrarian culture without the ability to artificially cool buildings during summer. Its funding and governing structures assume myriad small populations near to but mostly isolated from each other by slow travel. Its methods and instruction principles have as much to do with the Procrustean production of two-legged voting and tax-paying citizen widgets as they do with educating students for their own growth and flourishing as thinking human beings. That many teachers manage to bring about 21st century people testifies to their ability to work in spite of the system that employs them, not because of it.

Being hopeful, alas, is not part of the mix:

I also fear that if the state somehow manages to find a Peter with a wallet fat enough to let Paul boost teacher salaries and per-pupil expenditures from their rank in the high 40s to the low 40s or even high 30s, the people who can make that change happen will smile and wave and say they’ve handled things and la-la-la-la their way long enough that when the problem reappears they’ll be sipping retirement coffee and shaking their heads at what the world is coming to and why their barista can’t make change.

I am generally inclined to dismiss rankings: no two states have exactly the same circumstances, and the Wobegon Factor, which afflicts too many of us, demands that everyone be above average, because fairness. But at headline level, only one metric seems to matter.

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Not your father’s retail

Received in email, a letter from a mediocre CEO.

No, wait. Received in email, a letter from Mediocre CEO Matt Rutledge, on behalf of Mediocre Laboratories, which operates Meh.com. Money quote:

THE RULES: Sell one thing a day. Repeat.

Not terribly complex. But the Meh project is the heart of what we are building at Mediocre. As wholesalers by trade, we shun the traditional retailer role. Success for us here is to grow an intelligent, informed community that eschews superfluous services in favor of making shit cheaper. You could call it “anti-retail”: an experiment in selling without marketing hype or bias. But maybe the term “anti-retail” is itself marketing hype.

Which may even be true, given how many people today have antiheroes for their heroes.

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Proto-Superb Owl

The flap over the First AFL-NFL World Championship Game, later retconned into Super Bowl I, is simple enough: one guy in North Carolina has an almost-complete tape of the game, and the NFL declined to buy it from him. While looking around for supplemental materials, I happened upon this little contretemps:

Super Bowl I was the only Super Bowl in history that was not a sellout in terms of attendance, despite a TV blackout in the Los Angeles area (at the time, NFL games were required to be blacked out in the market of origin, even if it was a neutral site game and if it sold out). Of the 94,000-seat capacity in the Coliseum, 33,000 went unsold. Days before the game, local newspapers printed editorials about what they viewed as a then-exorbitant $12 price for tickets, and wrote stories about how viewers could pull in the game from stations in distant markets such as Bakersfield, Santa Barbara and San Diego.

The blackout is weird enough, as it always was; but focus, if you will, on that twelve-buck ticket price. At Super Bowl 50, $12 won’t even buy you a Bud Light.

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