Parked outside the yurt

The descendants of the Mongol hordes, they do love their hybrids:

As we drove closer and closer to Ulaanbaatar, a totally new element came to light: the unbelievable frequency of the first two generations Toyota Prius as used right-hand drive Japanese imports. This is even more blatant in the capital, and I saw more first generation Prius in the first 20 minutes I spent in Ulaanbaatar than I did in my entire life before that! Sitting at a busy intersection for no more than 8 minutes, I counted 69 first generation Prius and 75 second generations, making Mongolia the country in the world with the highest penetration of Toyota Prius in its car landscape!

This is not, he hastens to add, because Genghis Khan believed in saving fuel or anything like that:

There’s a simple explanation to this madness: there is no import tax on used hybrid vehicles in Mongolia, and it’s forbidden to import a vehicle aged over 9 years. The equation is simple: the cheapest car to import into Mongolia today is a 2004, 2nd generation Toyota Prius which will see its share of the Mongolian car landscape increase further over the next few years to the detriment of the 1997-2003 first generation which is technically impossible to import anymore.

Ulaanbataar (we learned it back in the Jurassic period as “Ulan Bator”) has just under half of Mongolia’s population of 2.9 million, about as many people as Kansas but somehow squeezed into a space twice the size of Texas.

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Not even invited

Both “Cheryl” and “Amy,” each identifying herself as the Editorial Manager of specialistauthors.com, requested a guest-post slot here in almost identical words:

I hope you do not mind me mailing you but I would like to introduce myself.

My name is [name] and I am currently working hard to establish myself as a freelance writer. I have now written for several websites on varying topics and my articles have been well received.

The one real difference between the two is that Amy has an idea for a topic:

I am particularly interested in writing an article focusing on wild foul, and would love to discuss specifies with you. I am a keen hobbyist and can also suggest other topics if the first one doesn’t suit.

Not, however, a keen speller.

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The good, the bad, and the scarifying

Microsoft’s official Day of Death for Windows XP is the 8th of April; fain would I have run right up to that date, but my old XP box, pushing eight years old, was showing signs of imminent failure, so I decided to engage a local builder of my acquaintance, inasmuch as he assured me he could still get Windows 7.

He could. The new box is based on the AMD Athlon X4 750K, a modest little CPU running four cores at 3.40 GHz. It is, shall we say, decently quick. Unlike several AMDs of recent vintage, it does not contain its own integrated graphics, and neither does the motherboard, so a video card was thrown in. (The packaging for this card — a Radeon R5-230 — is hilarious, boasting of “what a real graphics card can do.” Generally, a real graphics card costs five to ten times as much. Still, I’m no gamer, so this is genuinely adequate.)

Microsoft’s Easy Transfer labored long into the night to move 130 GB of files from the XP box to Win7. It warns you up front that it doesn’t actually move programs, although this depends mostly on where you stored them on first install, and most of them will require a reinstall anyway. Of the three applications I was sweating most — Windows Live Mail, Firefox and Agent — Agent worked right out of the box, while WLM required a quick reinstall that found everything quickly, but Firefox demanded that its default profile be replaced, file by file, with the old ones.

Only one piece of genuinely bad news so far: the CD/DVD drive seems to be brain-dead, though it does have enough sense to open the drawer.

Update, 7 pm: CD/DVD drive fixed. Slightly twitchy connection to the mobo.

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Your previous Invisible Woman

Earlier this week, we got a look at Kate Mara, who plays Susan Storm in Fox’s reboot of Fantastic Four. It occurred to me that maybe I should see what her predecessor is up to these days, and it’s this:

Jessica Alba in Sin City

This is Jessica Alba, in a promo shot for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, described by an, um, enthusiast thusly:

[I]t’s the definition of shwingtastic. And drool-inducing. And drop dead sexy. And … well, anything else you can think of. Sigh …

How he manages a subtle “sigh” after all that unsubtle drool is beyond me.

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Quote of the week

Lisa Paul was outraged by that Arizona bill, and explains why:

Here’s why I’m so adamant about fighting any law or bill that would institutionalize discrimination — especially if it allows Conservative Christians to impose their religious mores on others. I’ve been down that road. When I first moved to California, I worked at a company that I later found out was run by an Evangelical Christian CEO. My boss was a devout Mormon. When I announced to my co-workers that I was engaged, my boss called me into his office and gave me what I later found out from other female employees (former) was “The Talk”. He asked me when I was getting married and said, “And, of course, your husband won’t want you working after that.” When I said, I certainly did plan to work after marriage. He began to question me about when I planned to have children and tell me that married women should be home. I really needed that job. It wasn’t just important to my career, we’d just bought our first house together and needed every cent for the mortgage. Remember, this was Liberal California — although thirty years ago it wasn’t as Liberal and Silicon Valley was very much more a Boys’ Club. Could I complain or sue? I didn’t think upper management would stand behind me given that the CEO didn’t seem like a truly Christ-like Christian. (He would lead us in prayer at the company party for a profitable quarter!) I certainly didn’t have the money for an attorney. Besides, if a boss wants you gone, even if you have great performance reviews, he can find a way to do it — especially if there is tacit approval at the top management levels for that sort of behavior.

There is always a way to fire someone. It may take legal guidance or worse, but there is always a way.

I went through some scary weeks wondering if I should pretend that I’d broken off the engagement, at least until I could get another job. I was sick to my stomach that we were going to lose our house. In a Deus Ex Machina development, that boss got another job a few weeks after that and so did I. But no one should have to reconfigure their lives or fear for their financial security or career longevity because someone else is trying to impose his religious views on you. (And by the way, THAT is religious discrimination, not laws that prevent you from oppressing others.) Now, in the scheme of things, I’m not in a group that encounters a lot of discrimination. I’m sure the LGBT community and African Americans are laughing at this — and it is just a fraction of the discrimination those groups face. But that one brush sure brought home the helplessness and fear that is unmitigated by any hope that the system might have your back. That’s why I believe we should fight against even the tiniest chipping away of any protections that stop such discrimination. If you’ve never been a victim of any kind of discrimination, you probably need to step back and listen more than you talk on this issue. Because you have NO idea. If I’d been working in an Arizona where SB 1062 was the law, it certainly would have allowed my firing on the grounds that the CEO and my boss’s religious beliefs stated that married women should not work outside the home!

Governor Brewer, for whatever reason — I assume by default that the “reasons” in such matters are at best dimly related to the real reasons — chose to veto that bill.

The doctrine in question, if I remember correctly, reads something like this: “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” There’s no intermediate step that requires you to get up in that sinner’s face.

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From the More Like This files

For a moment there, it looked like the Thunder would win this one in a walk — a rather fast walk, since the Grizzlies are fond of a slowish pace. They reckoned without Mike Miller, who knocked down all of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, nearly erasing the OKC lead; Serge Ibaka tossed in two free throws literally in the last second to seal the deal, 113-107, winning the season series three games to one.

Still, the Griz were scary in that final frame, hitting their first nine shots and ultimately scoring 36 points, all from the Memphis bench. (See Mike Miller, supra.) Memphis hit 51 percent for the night and knocked down 10 of 16 treys. (Miller had four of them.) Memphis had six players in double figures, led by, um, Mike Miller, evidently a valuable guy to have around when neither Zach Randolph (5-14, 13 points, 10 rebounds) or Mike Conley (1-10, six points, nine assists) is having a banner evening.

Defensive shuffles are the order of the day for OKC, with Kendrick Perkins out and Thabo Sefolosha lost early to a strain. This explains why Hasheem Thabeet played 17 minutes: he got four rebounds, three fouls and two points, but mostly he kept the Griz out of the paint. Kevin Durant played 43 minutes and garnered 37 points and 10 rebounds; Reggie Jackson played 34 minutes, mostly out of having to sub for Thabo, and picked up 14. The rehabilitation of Russell Westbrook seems to be complete: in just under half an hour he scored 21 points, delivered six assists, and turned the ball over only once. And despite the presence of Large Memphians, the Thunder outrebounded the Griz 39-33.

The Bobcats, who came this close to knocking off the Spurs tonight, will be in OKC on Sunday. Keep in mind that 27-31 is about a seventh seed in the East.

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A stable population

This is from the Historical Population box on the Wikipedia page for Wichita Falls, Texas:

Population figures for Wichita Falls

Evidently somebody moved out between 2010 and 2012.

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An unexpected chill factor

It’s taken me until the last day of February to find a satisfying justification for this miserable winter:

Be glad you’re not an Asian stinkbug, which are dying off in large numbers due to the cold, a new experiment shows. The invasive insect, commonly called the brown marmorated stinkbug, has been plaguing homes and devouring agricultural crops in 38 states for years.

Halyomorpha halys is believed to have hitched a ride from the Pacific Rim around the turn of the century. And they’re apparently not used to this sort of thing:

Thomas Kuhar, a professor of entomology at Virginia Tech, and his team have been gathering stinkbugs for the past three years near his campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, to use in lab experiments. The bugs spend the winter outside in insulated buckets that mimic the walls, shingles, and attics that they inhabit when the temperature drops.

That normally works out quite well for the bugs — but this year stinkbugs have been, well, dropping like flies.

“In the previous two years, natural mortality averaged about 20-25 percent,” he wrote in an email. In January 2014, however, Kuhar’s team discovered that the subfreezing temperatures had killed off 95 percent of the population.

So it’s not a total loss. Will a cold-resistant stinkbug emerge? Eventually, perhaps; but evolution generally takes its sweet time for varmints bigger than bacteria.

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Your basic blowhard

A bad idea with, possibly, a worse justification:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Where can I find an adapter to use a can of automotive R-134a refrigerant as a computer duster?

The argument, such as it is:

I know that R-134a sold for use in auto A/C systems is more expensive ounce-for-ounce, but it would be well worth the extra cost if it means I don’t have to get denatonium bitterant all over my hands when I dust stuff off. Those damn kids who decided to huff it ruined it for the rest of us, and now they put that crap in duster cans, making innocent users suffer as a result. I don’t care where the adapter comes from, as long as it works with the cans of R-134a you see at the auto parts stores.

This is the point where we run into the actual EPA regulations on R-134a, which say that it’s illegal to vent the stuff into the atmosphere “during any service, maintenance, repair or disposal of an appliance.” Is a computer an “appliance”? I rather suspect EPA is not above declaring a computer an “appliance” should they wish to get, um, huffy.

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Yeti won’t go away

February departs here quietly this year, apart from the wind, but March reverts to its old in-like-a-lion shtick this weekend, which brings to mind the words of James Lileks:

Outside there is no relief, no surcease. Six below this morning. A high of ZERO on Thursday, with a low of minus 18, but that doesn’t include the astonishing effect of the wind, which makes it about 30 below at times. The news today said the wind was picking up snow from the previous dumps and whipping it into blizzard-like conditions on the roads, which is like the old line about a second nuclear strike just making the rubble bounce. You have to understand that the snow is frozen solid into a hard mass, like extruded foam; if you slip and fall and smack your head into a snowdrift it does not yield. It is possible to get a concussion by coming in contact with precipitation.

Wife is walking around with haunted hollow eyes; daughter goes off in the morning like someone who’s been in the trenches of the Great War for four years and is being sent, once more, over the top. We are told that the temps will approach normal next week, but after that it’s back into the clutches of the Polar Vortex, which everyone now imagines as the Abominable Snowman’s bluish rectum.

Well, if they didn’t, they do now.

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Or they can picket to death

The failure of the United Auto Workers to organize the workers at Volkswagen Chattanooga is symptomatic of a larger problem, says the Urbanophile:

If you look at it, unions may be on the last institutions in America that haven’t rethought their business model for the 21st century. They still want to play hardball to organize, then insist on things like crazy work rule systems and puristic seniority pay structures, political advocacy, etc. What has that gotten them? The private sector is down to like 6% unionized, much of it in industries that are increasingly subject to foreign competition and thus whose management cannot give much away without sabotaging their business.

Then again, America’s hilariously outmoded labor laws don’t give them a whole lot of choice in the matter: the cozy relationship that exists between VW and its German unions is not only nonexistent here, it’s actually illegal.

Still, it’s not like the whole concept is dead just yet:

The one part of the union movement that still seems to be doing fairly well is the trade unions. Many of them have long operated on this model. You get into the union where the union trains you and are staffed on a project basis (e.g., constructing a bridge). The union delivers your benefits and pensions, based on payments from the employers… Trade unions and their hiring halls are basically contract consulting providers of the type that routinely provide technical employees to major corporations. Why can’t other unions, reconstituted as a type of worker’s collective, do the same thing? And unlike contracting firms, they wouldn’t have to take nearly as big a middleman’s cut.

This might not work particularly well in automotive: to make the model properly functional, you presumably need, not large volumes of work in a few places, but smaller volumes of work all over the place. But it’s a model that’s worked in many trades, and if there’s anything Big Labor needs right now, it’s a model that works.

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What does the fax say?

Rather than keep a fax machine on line, I outsource the task of handling incoming fax to eFax, which drops an image of the fax in my email. This has worked swimmingly for many years, until yesterday, when I got two faxes that weren’t for me.

And then I looked at them, and they weren’t faxes at all. Was someone trying to spoof eFax? The message headers looked plausible enough, and the one link that worked did in fact go to eFax, which said that the item in question did not exist.

Very, very strange.

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When dictionaries won’t do

There’s more here than meets the eye, but not much more:

A British woman attempted to sue her former lawyers for professional negligence, claiming that, alongside a number of other allegations, they failed to advise that finalising divorce proceedings would inevitably cause her marriage to end.

The curious case — made against two solicitor firms — had already been rejected by the court, but was revealed in the transcript of a later appeal by the claimant against the dismissal of other aspects of her case.

Jane Mulcahy had argued that the lawyers should have made it clear that a divorce would cause her marriage to be terminated — something which she apparently wanted to avoid.

The solicitors, I suspect, thought this was perfectly obvious. But this was her issue:

The allegation was revealed in a subsequent appeal court judgment last month, in which Lord Justice Briggs said: “The most striking of Mrs Mulcahy’s many allegations of negligence against her solicitors was that, having regard to her Roman Catholic faith, Mrs Boots had failed to give her the advice which was requisite in view of her firmly held belief in the sanctity of marriage … either in terms of the alternative of judicial separation, or about the impossibility of pursuing divorce proceedings to a clean break settlement, without thereby inevitably bringing about the final termination of her marriage, which she wished to avoid.”

Mrs Mulcahy evidently remains divorced.

(Via this Doug Mataconis tweet.)

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Small fry to be dismembered

Little fish, traditionally, are gobbled up by bigger fish, and eventually the little fish are no longer viable. Epinions, established in 1999 to collect user product reviews, was bought out in 2003 by DealTime, which in turn mutated to Shopping.com. Shopping.com was acquired in 2005 by eBay. What happened to the little swimmer? He’s being flushed:

Why is eBay discontinuing operations of the Epinions community?
Several obstacles, such as declining site participation, have deeply affected our business and forced us to make this difficult decision.

Will I be able to edit or delete my reviews?
As of February 25, 2014, you will not be able to edit your content.

How long will I be able to access my Epinions account?
As of March 25, 2014, you will no longer be able to login to your account.

No great loss to me; I never quite understood how their business model actually worked, but I did make a few bucks off it.

(Via this Dan Tobias tweet.)

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Accuracy in gazing

Fished out of yesterday’s spammage:

Good day, I realize that this would be gazed upon as spam, but …

At this point, tl;dr took over.

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Hey, deprecate this, pal

I admit to not meeting the first requirement, but otherwise:

Have you ever shoved a <blink> into a <marquee> tag? Pixar gets all the accolades today, but in the 90s this was a serious feat of computer animation. By combining these two tags, you were a trailblazer. A person capable of great innovation. A human being that all other human beings could aspire to.

You were a web developer in the 1990s.

With that status, you knew you were hot shit. And you brought with you a score of the most fearsome technological innovations, the likes of which we haven’t come close to replicating ever since.

One of which I still use every single week:

Are images too advanced for you? HTML For Dummies doesn’t cover the <IMG> tag until chapter four? Well, you’re in luck: the &nbsp; tag is here!

You may be saying to yourself, “Self, I know all about HTML entity encoding. What is this dastardly handsome man going on about?”

The answer, dear reasonably attractive reader, is an innovation that youth of today don’t respect nearly enough: the stacked &nbsp;. Much like the 1×1.gif trick, you can just arbitrarily scale &nbsp; for whatever needs you may face.

Two of them, for instance, keep apart the search string and the remark appended thereto, in every Monday’s list of strange search-engine queries. And the text file that serves the “It is written” proto-widget contains several, though they’re intended to keep pairs of initials — think “P. J.” or “G. K.” — from being split at the end of the line.

I realize that this will irritate people who can’t bear the thought of a page actually not passing validation. But hey, you take your little delights where you find them.

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Knightly news

The Cleveland Cavaliers occupy one of the lower rungs of the Eastern Conference, and have been there more or less ever since King James took his muscles to South Beach, but however lowly their position in the standings, they always manage to get themselves up for the Thunder. Seriously. The last three seasons, the Cavs were generally considered terrible, but they always managed a 1-1 split with OKC. And despite the absence of both C. J. Miles and Anderson Varejao, the Cavs summoned more than enough strength to score 42 in the fourth quarter and knock off the Thunder by ten, 114-104.

Kyrie Irving did the sort of closing job one expects from the likes of Kevin Durant: he was everywhere in those last 12 minutes, scoring 14 to finish the night with a game-high 31. The four other Cleveland starters also made double figures: the generally underrated Jarrett Jack knocked down 21, recent transplants Spencer Hawes and Luol Deng added 19 and 13, and Tristan Thompson kicked up a double-double on 11 points and 11 boards. The reserves weren’t asked to do much other than hold serve, and they did that well enough: all four of them went plus for the night, while the five Thunder benchers were minus.

Not that the starters were so hot. Durant and Serge Ibaka had double-doubles (KD, 28 points/10 boards, Serge 16 points/13 boards), and Russell Westbrook, allowed 30 minutes tonight, looked pretty good with 24 points and nine assists. But that was about it: Steven Adams will be a pretty good center some day, but this wasn’t that day, and Reggie Jackson was going through one of his periodic incidences of “Now where does this round thing go?” Oh, and there’s this: without Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder are 0-4 this year.

So much for Cleveland cream-puffiness. The Thunder are going to be seriously manhandled by the likes of Memphis, who, not incidentally, will show up here Friday night.

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Fingers faster than brain

Either that, or he meant to snub lesbians:

Tweet by Dan Patrick

Patrick, a Houston-area Republican who represents Texas Senate District 7 and who would like to be the next Lieutenant Governor, hurriedly pulled this tweet back and replaced it with one more to his liking.

Gaffe-tastic!

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Mid-year crisis

The dreaded Malfunction Indicator Light emerged from its deserved darkness a couple weeks ago. After a few seconds short of one week, it vanished, only to reappear a few minutes after the biweekly dose of Shell V-Power.

Yep, I said. Gotta be the gas cap. (Well, it doesn’t gotta be, but the diagnosis fits the behavior.) Before driving all the way up the Broadway Distention to the dealership, though, I had the presence of mind to call the parts guy first.

He wanted the VIN.

Turns out that Nissan made a running change during that model year, and there were two different gas caps. (This wasn’t the only thing they changed, either. The early dash had two dimmer switches, one for use when the lights are off; I don’t have that, but I do have side air bags, a late addition to the equipment list.) The one I take, of course, is (1) the more expensive one (2) that has to be trucked in from Nashville.

If nothing else, this explains why AlldataDIY, normally thorough in its coverage, has nothing for this gas cap other than a diagram and a test routine.

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@fmail

Remember your facebook.com email address? Well, forget it:

Facebook’s foray into email ended Monday, when the social media giant quietly retired the email service that many users didn’t even know existed. Users received a notice saying the @facebook.com email addresses they deployed are going away.

“We’re making this change because most people haven’t been using their Facebook email addresses, and we wanted to make it easier to view all your emails in one place,” the message read.

Yeah, sure. I’ll believe that when they delete the “Other” message folder.

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