Something to rail against

On the off-chance that you think our local transit mavens are just slightly deluded — well, imagine what it’s like in we-gotta-do-something Austin. Chris Bradford sends an open letter to City Council:

It is thus remarkable that Project Connect’s planners managed to choose the only sub-corridor — Highland — that lacks either a current or future Core Transit Corridor connection to downtown or UT. Airport Boulevard, of course, is a Core Transit Corridor. But it does not connect to downtown/UT, and there is no Core Transit Corridor connecting Airport to downtown/UT through the Highland “sub-corridor.” (Of course, Guadalupe-Lamar — the preferred alternative of many — connects UT and Airport quite nicely, but it appears to be off the table.) Choosing the Highland sub-corridor will require that our next high-capacity transit investment be made on Duval or Red River… Neither of these has been identified as even a future Core Transit Corridor.

Duval, if I remember correctly, has about 1.6 speed humps per block; the only advantage I can see to Red River is that you can occasionally see it from the upper deck of Interstate 35. Maybe they’re wanting to push 38½ Street as a connector.

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Desperation maneuvers

Seldom am I moved to read a page a spammer is trying to link here, but I took a look at one — no, he’s not getting a link, don’t be silly — and they’re “offering” this:

  • We create 1,500 up to PR8 Wiki article for only $1
  • Each article will have 3 backlinks for your website “recommended”
  • this will give you 4,500 backlinks for your URL and keywords
  • you can ask for more keywords per article if you want we just recommend only 3 backlinks per article.

And people wonder if the Wiki might not be trustworthy.

In point of fact, I get a small but steady flow of traffic from Wikipedia: there are at least half a dozen pages there that link to my, um, outside sources.

The same dillhole, eleven minutes later, offered to sell me 100 “social bookmarks,” whatever the hell that may be, for a buck.

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Cast into the wilderness

Once upon a time, the great digital god Google smote me with the back of its algorithmic hand; I had to mend my ways and atone for my wickedness before I would be readmitted to Google’s good graces, a process which ultimately required me to hire the services of a white-hat malware consultant, my own mad skillz being insufficient to the task.

But that’s Google: it knows the quality of mercy, even if it’s difficult to entreat them to extend it to someone. Lesser entities have their own methods of persuasion:

The McAfee Site Advisor website claims, about NaturalNews.com, “We tested it and found security risks. Beware.”

These claims by McAfee are utterly false and highly defamatory. By spreading this information through its downloadable browser tools, McAfee is severely harming the reputation and web traffic of Natural News while misleading potentially millions of users about a website that they find to be highly informative, reputable and completely free of security risks.

UPDATE: McAfee contacted us and explained that if we paid them $38,000, they would certify our website and “take care” of the red reputation rankings. In a second conversation, they told us that if we made the decision to go with them TODAY, they would reduce the fee to just $32,000. Feeling forced into having our website reputation destroyed if we did not pay, we paid McAfee $32,000, which we consider an “extortion fee.” Magically, within minutes, all the red flags on our website were lifted and Natural News is no longer being blocked by McAfee. This cost us $32,000!!!

“We tested it” seems arguable:

Site Advisor’s scores are derived from users who sign up to be “site reviewers.” The ratings from these “site reviewers” are then TRUSTED by McAfee to be accurate, regardless of whether they are accurate or not.

This faulty reputation structure allows gangs of online paid trolls (so-called “anti-P.R. companies”) to game the system and coordinate a campaign of submitting negative ratings for any targeted website (such as Natural News).

I need hardly point out that if there’s one thing trolls like better than trolling, it’s getting paid for trolling.

They haven’t sent Maggie a bill yet, but they’ve blacklisted her on the flimsiest of “evidence”:

[T]he warning on Site Advisor about Maggie’s Notebook points to Blogads as my problem, and to be clear, Blogads is not the problem, and because of McAfee, Blogads has not been on my site for months. BUT here’s the story: McAfee says they “haven’t tested it [Blogads] yet,” and by their own admission they “don’t have enough information,” but flagged me anyway. Many, many sites use Blogads as an advertising source. They are completely reputable.

If nothing else, this shows you how often they update their “information.”

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The velveteen robot

“But I am Real!” No, honey, you’re not:

This particular telemarketer for a company hawking health insurance has her own name and a tinkle of laughter to go along with her denial of actually being a robot.

Time’s Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer encountered the robo-woman when his cell phone rang and the voice on the other end wanted to know if he was looking for a good deal on health insurance (sassy!). Things didn’t sound quite right, so he asked point blank if she was a real person or a robot voice.

She laughs it off and says of course, she’s a “real person.” But she couldn’t answer other simple questions that weren’t part of her script, like “What vegetable is in tomato soup?” (although technically, a tomato is a fruit, but whatever) or “What day of the week was it yesterday?”

When she’s got nothing good to say or is accused of being artificially intelligent, she asks if you can hear her, and ponders whether the connection could be bad, as heard in recordings made by other Time staffers to the same number.

Just once, I want one of these quasi-creatures to call up James T. Kirk. Won’t last an hour.

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Kick that block

From this moment on, blocking someone on Twitter doesn’t actually, you know, block them:

If your account is public, blocking a user does not prevent that user from following you, interacting with your Tweets, or receiving your updates in their timeline. If your Tweets are protected, blocking the user will cause them to unfollow you.

Kashmir Hill (no relation) reports for Forbes:

It’s the “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to combating harassment. Twitter spokesperson Jim Prosser says Twitter made the change because it thinks it will cut down on the vitriol, anger, and resentful Jezebel articles that result from knowing you’ve been blocked.

“We saw antagonistic behavior where people would see they were blocked and be mad,” says Prosser. He also says “block” doesn’t really make sense when the content is still visible. “Twitter is public, we want to reinforce that content published in a public profile is viewable by the world.”

If you ask me, if your delicate sensitivities are upset because someone blocked you, you should hie yourself to Facebook and involve yourself with as many games as possible — and never again speak a freaking word online to anyone.

Update, 10 pm: Twitter caves after about a bazillion appearances of #RestoreTheBlock. The action is reversed.

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Shoes for European industry

While gathering material for the Rule 5 piece on Helle Thorning-Schmidt, I happened upon these shoes of hers:

Shoes worn by Helle Thorning-Schmidt to a EU convocation

Couldn’t find any identifying material on them except for this:

Great shoes from Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt as she arrives for an EU summit in Brussels. European Union leaders meet in Brussels ostensibly to agree on ways to find more jobs for the young, who’ve been disproportionately punished by years of crisis and recession. Photograph: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP

And I did find a shot of what she wore them with:

Outfit worn by Helle Thorning-Schmidt to a EU convocation

Well played, Madam Prime Minister. (This photo by Georges Gobet.)

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Not a mail-enhancement product

Wondering about the future of the US Postal Service? Take a look up north to what Canada Post is doing:

Canada Post’s abrupt announcement that it is ending door-to-door delivery in urban areas and charging $1 for an individual stamp has alarmed opposition MPs and postal workers who say the new plan is bad news for Canadians.

The plan — released the day after the House of Commons started its Christmas break — caught parliamentarians by surprise.

Which, if nothing else, proves that Canadians understand the news cycle at least as well as we do.

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt defends the moves:

“The Government of Canada supports Canada Post in its efforts to fulfil its mandate of operating on a self-sustaining financial basis in order to protect taxpayers, while modernizing its business and aligning postal services with the choices of Canadians.”

About those community boxes:

The move from door-to-door delivery to community mailboxes will be rolled out over the next five years, starting in the second half of 2014. About one-third of Canadian households will be affected. Mail delivery to rural households will not change.

And you may not have to pay a full loonie for a stamp:

The cost of a stamp will also jump from $0.63 to $0.85 for bulk purchase of stamps, or $1 for individual stamps. That change comes into effect March 31, 2014.

There will, of course, be job reductions, though Canada Post expects more than enough retirements in the next year to cover them.

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And no black interiors, either

Now this question, in and of itself, doesn’t necessarily imply anything racist:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Cadillac, BMW or Mercedes? (Asian brands do not count)

Until you read what comes next:

This question is only for traditional white people to answer. Not interested in the China-man’s Lexus or cheap wanna-be-Mercedes brands like Audi. The real question is — Cadillac or Mercedes? I think Cadillacs will last significantly longer than Mercedes — assuming it receives proper care and maintenence.

Not being a traditional white person, I gave him just the hint of a flame.

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Alias Smith and Jones

I had to read this [pdf] just for the title and the authors: “The Economic Payoff of Name Americanization” by Costanza Biavaschi, Corrado Giulietti and Zahra Siddique.

But this is what’s truly amazeballs (doncha just hate that word?) about it:

We examine the impact of the Americanization of names on the labor market outcomes of migrants. We construct a novel longitudinal data set of naturalization records in which we track a complete sample of migrants who naturalize by 1930.

We find that migrants who Americanized their names experienced larger occupational upgrading. Some, such as those who changed to very popular American names like John or William, obtained gains in occupation-based earnings of at least 14%.

We show that these estimates are causal effects by using an index of linguistic complexity based on Scrabble points as an instrumental variable that predicts name Americanization. We conclude that the tradeoff between individual identity and labor market success was present since the early making of modern America.

I dunno. “John” may be short, but it’s 14 points. (“William” is 12.) Still, putting the names on tiles is probably as valid as, and certainly less complicated than, writing down every single name and doing some overwrought extrapolation therefrom.

(Via the umlautless Chris Blattmann.)

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Care Bears just a tad indifferent

The Grizzlies were more or less forced into a nine-man rotation, by dint of having four injured players; the Thunder were missing Thabo Sefolosha still, but lost two during the game, Steven Adams taking a hard fall in the fourth quarter and spraining an ankle, and Kendrick Perkins disappearing into the locker room after fourteen minutes for reasons no one would disclose. (It’s a Hasheem Thabeet sighting!) Still, Memphis had Zach Randolph and Mike Conley, and as always they were worth their weight in [name of semi-precious metal]; it just wasn’t enough to overcome superior Thunder power, with Oklahoma City leading by double digits most of the second half and pocketing an unexpectedly easy 116-100 win.

Conley led the Griz with a respectably efficient 20 points on 13 shots, including two treys on five tries. Randolph was right behind with 17, though he inexplicably missed five of 12 free throws. Also with 17: backup big Jon Leuer, a formidable defensive force with two blocks, two steals and six rebounds. More double figures for Kosta Koufos, understudying Marc Gasol, and Jerryd Bayless, in the Tony Allen role.

But with almost all the numbers in their favor, the Thunder got only brief contributions from two starters in that fourth quarter: Andre Roberson, filling Thabo’s slot, who played 19 minutes and collected a career-high seven points, and Serge Ibaka, who came on briefly after Adams was felled. (Ibaka had the highest plus-minus of anyone: +29.) Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, in their abbreviated stints, collected 18 and 27 points. KD got those 18 while shooting 6-12; Jeremy Lamb got 18 for the first time ever by shooting 7-9. (No, not that Seven of Nine.) And the other Doublemint Twin, Reggie Jackson, tacked on 17 more points. (Fifty-two bench points for OKC. Remember when they struggled to get 20?)

The Lakers come to OKC on Friday. Kobe Bryant will play. Whether that will make any difference or not, we shall see.

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A private little mix

Rita Moreno is perhaps best known for playing Anita in the film version of West Side Story and dancing up a storm. (Her vocals on “America” were dubbed, but you’ll get over it.) This year, she’s been on a book tour to promote a memoir:

Rita Moreno and her book

Which may be the perfect picture: Then and Now in serious proximity, and that’s a nifty little orange dress. The photo source has a whole gallery from this March 2013 appearance in south Florida.

Oh, and she turns 82 today.

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Such cunning

First, we hear from Yeung Chi-kong, executive vice-president of the Toy Manufacturers’ Association in Hong Kong:

“We make toys to educate our kids to love people. We talk only about love but not hatred. It is definitely not the objective of toy manufacturers to make a toy for people to express their anger.”

Just the same, a plushie from IKEA is stirring up the pot:

The grinning wolf stuffed toy, Lufsig, selling at global furniture chain Ikea, has become an unlikely symbol of protest against the government of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who has long been characterised by opponents as a “wolf” for his perceived cunning and lack of integrity.

And it’s actually worse than that:

The translation of the toy’s name used in mainland stores is close to an obscene three-word phrase in Cantonese associated with female genitalia.

Fortunately, my knowledge of Cantonese obscenities is next to nil.

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Carcinogens to go

I opened the envelope, and the little box slid out; and stuck to its side was an adhesive warning label, about an inch and a half square, reading as follows:

Pursuant to California Health & Safety Code Section 25249.6, the Distributor of this Product Warns you That The Product May Contain Substances Known to the State of California to Cause Cancer and/or Reproductive Toxicity.

Three emblems are printed on the case: a triangle reading “ALL NEW MATERIAL,” a circle with a bar through it implying No Lead, and a certification by the EU regarding RoHS.

This is the deadly item purchased: a collection of miscellaneous screws for jeweler/optician use. Lead is out — says so on the box — so cadmium, maybe? Or perhaps the plastic box contains some heinous chemical. It’s made in India, if that means anything.

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Instant justification

“Whew! That was a close one!” we’re supposed to be saying as the Treasury disposes of the balance of its holdings in General Motors, although Treasury — and therefore taxpayers — lost ten and a half billion dollars on the deal:

Without the bailout, the country would have lost more than 1 million jobs, and the economy could have slipped from recession into a depression, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said on a conference call with reporters.

Which is what he’s required to say: everything the government does, from handing out cell phones to putting tariffs on Chinese tires is justified by “the alternative would have been worse.”

Not that we can actually prove any such assertion, of course:

Well, if Jacob Lew says the alternative was worse than losing $10.5 billion of taxpayer money, who are we to disagree? Because the effects of hypothesized alternative scenarios are always subject to speculation, officials can justify any policy by declaring that things would have been worse if we had done something different. (Let’s keep this principle of Liberal Logic™ in mind: Next time some hippie peacenik tells you that Bush’s Iraq policy was a failure, just remind him that an imaginary hypothetical alternative — e.g., Saddam Hussein’s army invading Connecticut — would have been much worse.)

Oh, and that blue floodlight out in the yard? It keeps tigers away.

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Having a bad day

I started using this plugin last year; it does a pretty good job of hosing out the database when used on a regular basis.

Until, of course, it doesn’t. Judging by the changelog, it’s been a rough few days for the poor guy:

2.7.3 [12/09/2013]

    BUG FIX: deleted some CR/LF’s from the end of the plugin sigh

2.7.2 [12/09/2013]

    BUG FIX: forgot to delete a debug item… oops! sorry!

2.7.1 [12/09/2013]

    BUG FIX: query and depreciated item (mysql_list_tables) fixed

2.7 [12/06/2013]

    NEW: deletion of expired transients (optional)

I’d deactivated it for a while, figuring he’d straighten it out eventually. Looks like maybe he did.

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Grainy night in Georgia

For a while, this was starting to look like a Bad Shooting Clinic: 48-39 at the half does not suggest a superior offensive display on either side. At one point, I found myself wondering, not so much whether the outcome would be favorable, but whether Kyle Korver would make a trey for the 3,000th, or whatever, game in a row. (He did.) The Thunder were up 14 at one point in the third; the Hawks shaved that to three early in the fourth, arousing the folks filling up two-thirds of the seats at the Philips. OKC promptly ran off a 10-0 string to show them who’s boss; Atlanta declined to obey, following Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and reserve guard Shelvin Mack back to within three just inside the two-minute mark. But that was it: the Thunder held firm and earned a 101-92 win.

And this was a night on which Millsap had a season high (23 points, 12 rebounds) and Mack had his best performance ever (17 points on 7-9 shooting in 20 minutes). But the Hawks tossed up too many clangers and airballs: 36 percent from the floor, 9/26 (34 percent) from distance. (The Thunder were not even that wonderful from beyond the arc, hitting a pitiable 4 of 18.) And Al Horford was basically put in a corner most of the second half, held to 7 points, though he did collect ten boards.

Russell Westbrook had an off night, if a night in which you come one board short of a triple-double counts as “off”: 14 points (scary 6-21) and 11 assists did the trick, though. For that matter, Kevin Durant was not shooting so well either (9-21), though he ended up with his more-or-less usual 30, with 10 boards. Also with ten boards: Serge Ibaka, who scored 19. Thabo Sefolosha, officially day to day with a knee sprain, drew a Not Today; Andre Roberson started, and while he only made one shot in 12 minutes, he reeled in five rebounds. (OKC led the battle of the boards, 54-45.) And the Doublemint Twins, Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb, earned double figures. Oh, there was a flagrant on Kendrick Perkins, which even radio guy Matt Pinto conceded early on.

The depleted Grizzlies — Ed Davis and Tony Allen are day-to-day, Marc Gasol is off for some unspecified period, and Quincy Pondexter is lost for the season — will be waiting in Memphis tomorrow night.

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