Offensive rebound

Firefox is about to send you ads:

Mozilla made itself the villain of the online ad business early last year by announcing that the latest version of Firefox would block third-party ad technologies by default, a move the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s top lobbyist called “a nuclear strike” on the industry.

A year later, the non-profit Mozilla is launching an ad business, at the IAB’s annual meeting in Palm Desert, Calif., no less.

The ads will appear within the tiles of Firefox’s new tabs page, which will also begin to suggest pre-packaged content for first time users. Mozilla is calling the new initiative “Directory Tiles.”

Not being a first-time user … oh, wait, what am I saying? They’ll get me soon enough.

And “tabs page”? I don’t quite like the sound of that at all.

(Via Consumerist.)

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You don’t mess around with Raj

Joe dials up customer service, and is not happy with what he hears:

The guy who answered was clearly Indian (subcontinent, not reservation). He told me his name was Jim. He had a very thick accent and I was instantly pissed off. Not because he was answering from India, but because he claimed his name was Jim. Had he told me to call him Ganesh, or Raj or Anoop, or even Dhruv, I would have been fine.

By my own highly unscientific estimate, about a third of our 20,000 or so local residents with Pacific Rim ancestry — we don’t really have a lot of Indian-type Indians — have sort-of-English-sounding first names, and nobody thinks anything about it. Then again, they’re here and not a couple of continents over.

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This is an ex-foliant

Way back in the before-there-were-multiple-versions-of-Clearasil era, my brother happened upon a product called something like MegaScrub, which contained nine parts standard face goo and one part plastic beads, the better to scour one’s jowls with. Not wishing to appear to have an interest in, God forbid, cosmetics, he referred to the stuff as “True Grit.”

As has often happened with plastics over the years, we gave no thought to what happened after we tossed them out:

Legislation … introduced by Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney of Suffolk County [NY] on behalf of Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman would prohibit the sale of cosmetic and beauty products that contain the beads, which are added to aid exfoliation and abrasion.

The beads appear in the tens of millions in the Great Lakes, according to scientists’ estimates, with high concentrations along the New York shores of Lake Erie. They become coated with toxins like PCBs and can be eaten by fish and other marine life. Scientists suggest that those toxins could be working their way back up the food chain to humans.

The beads and other bits of tiny “microplastic” debris slip through wastewater treatment plants and have also been found in the Los Angeles River and in the Pacific Ocean. Antipollution activists argue that limiting the use of cosmetics, which can have hundreds of thousands of beads in a bottle, can help limit the environmental risk.

I suppose it might be theoretically possible to make these little bits of polygravel decompose after some period of time, but this would almost certainly limit shelf life, and if there’s anything your local dollar store loves, it’s a five-year-old product they can sell for a few percent off list.

(Via Consumerist.)

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Work as a four-letter word

Work, it is commonly believed in some circles, is that thing you do to support things you’d rather do instead. This decidedly mercenary approach constitutes denigration, says Francis W. Porretto: work is being defined in terms of its economic significance. This notion is reinforced by endless streams of bogus employment statistics, inflicted on us by an organization — the government — which, despite claims to the contrary, cannot create so much as a single job without depleting the nation’s stores of wealth. (Reminder, not that you need it: government earns no actual money of its own, which is why so much effort is put into inflating the currency.)

There are, indeed, other reasons to work:

He who values money above all else will work at whatever he can do that offers the highest financial return. He who values certain conditions of life, such as the enjoyment he derives from his labors, higher than money will do otherwise. The modern Informational / Industrial Economy allows for both. We are not subsistence-level hunter-gatherers that must follow the bison herds sixteen hours per day, seven days per week, to keep life in our bodies. (To be fair, there might have been Neanderthals who enjoyed it, though I’d bet they kept that fact to themselves.)

In contrast, the denial of the privilege of working, even if cushioned with a comfortable degree of external financial support, is soul-crushing. One’s dependence upon others cannot be concealed, especially from oneself. Worse, one’s irrelevance to others’ well-being is all too plain.

Given the enthusiasm with which some elements of society reject that privilege, I think it’s safe to assume that some souls are so ragged and deformed that crushing them will have no significant effect. How they got that way is open to debate; however, it’s also safe to assume that the persons in whom those souls dwell hotly deny any responsibility for their care.

And what if Bill Quick’s right about the possibility of a “post-scarcity society”?

We’re not going to have magic wands, but there is at least a reasonable chance we will manage strong AI, full nanotechnology, and robust replication systems. The combination of the three just might be all we need… All of the hugger-mugger about how the human race will curl up and die without the goad of getting out of bed in the morning and dragging its ass down to the ditch or the office is, of course, hysterical hooey.

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t, but I can speak only for myself.

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Another nightmare for Portlandia

I need hardly point out that the officiating tonight was somewhere between terrible and really terrible. (The reason I don’t have to mention it is that radio guy Matt Pinto mentioned it several times.) Still, questionable calls don’t explain why neither Serge Ibaka nor Reggie Jackson made a single shot in the first half. The Thunder were down ten at the half; they tied it up after three, and it was still tied with 2:38 left. Then an arguable foul on Ibaka, his fifth, persuaded Serge to argue, and he drew a tech, the third for OKC. (Scott Brooks and Kevin Durant each got one in the first quarter.) It came down to 0:13, with OKC 96, Portland 95. Out of bounds, and a very long inspection of the tape; the ball was awarded to the Thunder. Less than a second later, an almost identical situation; the Trail Blazers got this one, though, and when OKC got a stop and two free throws at 0:06 and a Blazer trey at the horn never met the rim, the Thunder wound up with a 98-95 win, evening the season series at 2-2, which may be an issue come seeding time.

All five Blazer starters made it to double figures; for a change, LaMarcus Aldridge wasn’t the major thorn in the Thunder’s side, hitting 5-22 for 12 points, none of those field goals in the second half, and gathering 12 rebounds. Nicolas Batum had a team-high 18; Robin Lopez kicked in 17 points and pulled down 14 boards.

There was a time when Durant was the only OKC starter who’d made a shot, and that was halftime. Jackson took care of that, finishing with 17; Ibaka wound up with seven points and 11 rebounds; Jeremy Lamb, who deserves as much credit as anyone for pulling the team out of its first-quarter funk, shot 8-11 for 19 points. Nick Collison added nine. And oh, yes, there was that Durant guy, with 36 on a 15-28 night.

To L. A. to meet the Lakers, and then it’s All-Star Time.

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Vampire weakened

Can you tell the difference between an actual person and a fictional character with the same name? The court says you can:

The real-life Erin Bates says she was devastated when the character with her name became “shallow, materialistic, promiscuous and heartless” in the 10th book of a popular young adult series about fledgling vampires.

“It was very shocking,” said Bates, 27, who once was the personal assistant of Tulsa author P.C. Cast.

So, Bates sued. And, she lost.

Hidden, the tenth book in the House of Night series by Cast and her daughter Kristen, has been generally well received; some Amazon reviewers have been highly critical, but the series is averaging about 4.0 stars. Bates’ complaint:

“The first books — one through nine — the character was a fine character. There were no issues. Right before the 10th book came out, she and I had a falling out … She fired me without any cause … and, then, a couple of months later, the 10th book came out and Erin Bates was a completely different character,” Bates told The Oklahoman.

Cast says no, this was the 10th story in an arc of twelve, and everything was sketched out in advance.

Said the court:

“The Erin Bates character is a teenager while plaintiff is in her mid-20s. The locale of the book is entirely fictional,” Judge Larry Joplin wrote in the appeals court opinion. “The only similarity is the identity of the fictional character’s name and plaintiff’s name.

“Given the fictitious, ‘otherworldly’ setting of defendants’ book and its cast of wholly fictitious vampyres, no reasonable reader of the defendants’ book would conclude the fictional character, Erin Bates, depicts plaintiff acting in the way portrayed in the book.”

Final blow: Bates — the real one — was ordered to pay $5500 toward the Casts’ legal expenses.

We’ll see if Bill Peschel is available for comment.

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Maintaining the escape vehicle

You’ve heard of drama queens? Here’s a jack, or maybe the nine of clubs:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Is it possible to flee from a cop chasing you if you overfill your windshield washer fluid box?

No, he says he’s serious:

I do not have any coolant nor oil. All I have is windshield washer fluid. Will I be able to get away long before my vehicle stalls on me?

I only had a few dollars so I had to buy windshield washer fluid and fill it up before my engine overheats.

I did not have enough money to buy all 3 fluids, so I made sure that I bought windshield washer fluid because I had none because it was empty.

Would I be able to elude 200 miles off into the distance as long as my windshield washer fluid box if full?

And in case you missed it the first time:


Based on your reading of the above, how much Thorazine does this guy need?

  1. 10 mg.
  2. 20 mg.
  3. 40 mg.
  4. 80 mg.
  5. Enough to turn his brain pan into a wok.

Yeah, I know; that’s just the way they troll. I live in the hope that these people can get, if not the help they need, at least the hardware failures we’d appreciate.

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Too long, or not too long?

This is a question because:

Most edit boxes pass the string you enter into some sort of processing or database. Within the processing process or the database table, the code expects some sane limit on the amount of text entered.

Now “sane” is open to discussion, but I’m guessing you’re probably not planning for this many:

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, stripped of line breaks and punctuation, contains 135,014 of the most thought-provoking characters in the English language. This should exceed the limits of most individual controls unless you’re testing a word processor.

I ought to try that on some of our 40-character fields, just to watch the database stand and unfold itself.

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The preparations are in place

I am now in the proper mindset for Valentine’s Day:

Vintage Valentine card

What? Oh, they’re not so bad. Martin Luther endured an entire Diet of Worms.

(Via BuzzFeed.)

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The discreet elite

Jack Baruth explains why Woody Allen and Roman Polanski had to get away with it, and it’s not “male privilege” or “rape culture” or any of that yammer:

Had young men made the allegations, the reaction would have been the same.

No, the reason everyone winks at Roman Polanski anally raping a thirteen-year-old girl or Woody Allen forcing a seven-year-old child into a closet is simple: society, as a whole, has decided that the souls of the abusers are bigger, and more vibrant, and more important than those of the victims. After all, Polanski directed the admittedly brilliant Chinatown. What had that girl ever done for anyone? And Woody Allen made all sorts of films that, if they perhaps fell flat in flyover country, resonated deeply with our privileged coastal overlords. Measured next to those brilliant pictures, who cares about Dylan Farrow’s vagina and what’s been in it?

And as you may remember, Polanski’s defenders became quite irate at the cavalier treatment of Their Hero by mere governments, and the repeated references to his victim bit o’ fun:

What’s the big deal? She should be grateful; it could have been Michael Bay or someone without talent.

It has always been thus, with every elite ever established since the Neanderthals began to select on the basis of, well, anything: privilege has its perks, and if you complain about that, you just don’t understand how the world works.

This is, not incidentally, why the current Republican establishment is so utterly devoid of feck: they’re convinced that if they can spout the right platitudes, they too can drive women off bridges in the dead of night and be lionized for it.

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The J is for

Actually, I don’t know what it’s for, except to give her a last name of sorts: the Wikipedia article about Jessie J begins with “Not to be confused with Jessy J, Juicy J, or Jessie James.”

So there. Anyway, the Grammy-outfit roundup from neo-neocon brought this picture and a possibly dismissive caption. “Hot pants are back,” said neo. “The top half speaks for itself, or tries to:”

Jessie J at a post-Grammy party 2014

I tried to find out if this was typical of Jessie J’s garb, and stumbled upon this outfit, which she wore to the Royal Variety Performance last fall, attended by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. And if Chuck and Camilla were kind of formal, well, Jessie wasn’t:

Jessie J at the Royal Variety Performance 2013

In Jessie’s defense, she’s not exactly waving stuff in your face.

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A mere twelfth of a minute

You’ve already heard of the Five-Second Rule. What you may not have known is that there’s a related corollary:

When transferring laundry from the washer to the dryer, if you drop a clean but damp article of clothing to the floor, it will not pick up dirt from the floor if you pick it up within five seconds. If you do, you can just throw it in the dryer.

Been there, done rather a lot of that.

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Doing asbestos we can

Marie has gutted many old houses over the years, and she hasn’t always taken the precautions she should have:

Somehow I’m wary of lead paint, wearing full body-armour and a ventilator to strip wood, but oblivious to asbestos wearing only a t-shirt and shorts to put in a floor on top of the attic insulation.

And asbestos is genuinely nasty stuff, though that nastiness only recently persuaded the Canadian government to allow asbestos production to die in Quebec:

The future of asbestos mining in Quebec ground to a halt [in 2013] after the newly elected government of Pauline Marois announced it would not honour a commitment of the previous government to lend the Jeffery Mine $58 million to restart production…

As recently as 2010, Canada was producing 150,000 tonnes of asbestos annually, all of it in Quebec, and exporting 90 per cent — worth about $90 million — to developing countries.

More than 50 countries ban the mining and use of asbestos because it causes cancer, but Canada, traditionally a major exporter, has successfully lobbied in the past to keep it off a UN list of hazardous substances.

Residents of the area were of course delighted when the “White Gold” was discovered in 1879; the town of Asbestos was founded around the mine. They don’t mention it so much anymore, preferring to talk about “cultural, social and sporting organizations.”

And this is what gets to me. Between 2001 and 2011, the population of the town grew, from 6580 to 7096, and the median age of its residents went up by four and a half years: 48.4 for men, 53.5 for women. This does not sound promising.

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Strange search-engine queries (419)

It wasn’t so easy getting hold of the logs this week: they were buried under a quarter-inch of ice, two inches of snow, and wispy traces of the dreaded Freezing Fog. But we persevered somehow, and here’s what we found:

clankity meaning:  What you get when you look up a word in that newfangled steampunk dictionary.

why wont my 1990 4 cylinder 2.0 liter ford probe go into reverse:  It’s gone all clankity on you.

defordable:  Something Lincoln needs to be.

ferragamo patent braniff:  I don’t think they pay flight attendants enough to wear shoes like that anymore.

bektok gamas:  Is this a new line of shoes?

What is the meaning of b in automatic mirage glx in shifting lever:  Read the manual. If you don’t have the manual you are not fit to drive.

how does covalent bonds involve with mpemba effect:  We’re sorry, this is one of the answers that was previously frozen. We’ll try to thaw it out later.

Xxx daver dashie India com:  Well, it’s not my little Dashie.

outgoing mail weather issues baltimore md:  Your electric bill is still due Tuesday. Nice try.

will a nissan automatic transmission fit a mazda:  Probably not. If it’s the only slushbox you can afford, then definitely not.

your fifteen minutes is up:  Yes, they is.

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Oh, those lonely rivers

Cover art for Bear Family release I Hunger For Your TouchAlex North and Hy Zaret are no doubt beaming from whatever cloud they’ve been uploaded to; there have been perhaps a thousand different recordings of “Unchained Melody,” a throwaway song from a 1955 Warner Bros. prison film that caught on immediately with the general public, even those who wouldn’t be caught dead seeing a 1955 Warner Bros. prison film. Thirty-one of those recordings are collected on a new Bear Family set called Unchained Melody: I Hunger For Your Touch, which contains all the versions you know, along with rather a lot of the ones you don’t, or at least rather a lot of the ones I don’t.

After Hy Zaret’s death in 2007, I wrote this:

“Unchained Melody,” as it was called, hit the charts in four versions in ’55; Les Baxter (Capitol 3055) took it to Number One, but his version was more or less an instrumental (there’s a brief chorus), leaving the vocal prize to Al Hibbler (Decca 29441), who coaxed it to #3 and bestowed upon it pop-standard status. Lots of people recorded it over the next decade or so; Phil Spector tossed it into a 1965 Righteous Brothers session as the B-side to “Hung On You” (Philles 129), the intended follow-up to “Just Once in My Life.” But “Hung On You” never broke Top 40, and DJs turned the 45 over to find, not the usual Spector throwaway instrumental, but a lovingly-produced Bobby Hatfield solo performance in front of the Wall of Sound at its lushest. (This being a B-side, rumors persist to this day that the other Righteous fellow, Bill Medley, actually produced it; I have my doubts, though Medley’s production for the Brothers’ post-Spector discs for Verve demonstrates his mastery of the Wall.) “Unchained Melody” climbed to #4; its inclusion in the 1990 romantic fantasy Ghost led Verve to reissue the single, which reached #13. (A re-recording by the Brothers also charted, reaching #19.)

Zaret, of course, approved. He was reportedly not amused by a George Martin-produced version by the Goons, which Parlophone stuffed back into the Abbey Road vaults before it could see the light of day, prompting the Goons to move to Decca. The recording finally surfaced in 1990, and apparently not even Dr. Demento would play it.

The Bear Family set includes a version by Todd Duncan, who sang the song in Unchained; it did not chart, despite Duncan’s brand-name status — George Gershwin himself had tapped Duncan for the lead in Porgy and Bess — perhaps because Duncan’s operatic baritone seemed out of place on mid-Fifties pop radio, and perhaps because the record was saddled with the title “Lonely Rivers.” Judge for yourself after the jump:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Making a fuss over the bus

The name is “EMBARK,” and it’s the name I’ve seen painted on exactly one city bus so far. (Most of them, in fact, seem to have full-length exaltations of oil, courtesy of Harold Hamm and Continental Resources.) The city sent a bookmark with this month’s water bill, detailing the following changes:

Re-aligned for optimum connectivity and efficiency, the redesigned bus routes provide a solid foundation for future transit enhancements.

Pending further announcements, I assume this means “We get near the streetcar routes.”

Designed with performance in mind, buses will travel major arterial roadways to achieve 30-minute service, and create two high-performance 15-minute service corridors.

The current standard is — well, calling it a “standard” implies something is actually followed.

Driven by performance, all buses are equipped with cutting-edge technology including automatic vehicle location (AVL) devices, onboard cameras, audible stop annunciation system, and onboard public WiFi.

How to explain AVL? Let’s try this: “Where the hell is Number 108? It’s supposed to be on Route 5 at 122nd and Penn!”

Powered by innovation, customer-focused tools like text notifications, journey planning, and mobile tools (to name a few) will be available for customer convenience and accountability.

“Will be” means this summer, they say. And they probably need to combine as many of those tools as possible into a single phone app.

So far there’s not a lot of promotional material; there’s a web site, with a brief video clip and a place to sign up for spam. I’m not sure whether all this will make for a better bus experience, but it’s hard to imagine how it could be much worse than the way it’s been.

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