Meanwhile in Anaheim

What's next for Rebecca Black?Rebecca Black is at VidCon this weekend, and she sat for an interview with People and Entertainment Weekly, wherein one question that had been pushed to the back burner for a while was brought forward again:

[W]hile the recent high school graduate says that she’s been working on her debut album (which she hopes to have out before the end of the year) since the “Friday” video hit the web, it wasn’t until recently that things really started to take shape.

“I found a producer that I could work with well and that really understood what I wanted,” Black said. “A lot of it beforehand was sort of like songs picked for me, and I wasn’t really cool with that. Once I started actually getting into the writing process and being a writer on every song and loving and really connecting with every song, I think we are creating something really magical.”

Since to my knowledge she had only one writing credit in her eight previous singles (“Person of Interest,” fall 2011), this suggests that the whole album is New Stuff, and so does this:

Black also revealed that the inspiration for her new sound (“indie-alternative,” she says) came from the music she likes to listen to and her own life experiences — after all, she wrote most of the record while she was still finishing up her senior year of high school.

And when it finally drops, you’ll hear about it here.

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In lieu of actual improvements

Flickr Pro, which was dead two years ago, is now somewhat less dead. Per an email received from their current overseers:

We’re re-launching Flickr Pro and making it available to all Flickr members.

The new Flickr Pro includes:

  • Stats and analytics on your photos and more detailed referral traffic
  • Ad-free browsing and sharing

Yearly subscriptions also receive:

  • FREE standard shipping on Flickr photo merchandise within the US, and 50% savings on international standard shipping ($25 minimum)
  • 20% off Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan for the first year

All this for only twice the price:

For new subscribers, Flickr Pro is $49.99 per year or $5.99 per month.

And here is where it gets good as a Loyal Flickr Pro Member: You get these additional Flickr Pro features and continue to receive unlimited space, with no change in price for the next 2 years.

“How much does it cost to go back to the old-style, uncluttered embed?” he asked, expecting no response.

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Quote of the week

Preston Lerner, in the September Automobile, on Nissan’s entry at 24 Hours of LeMans:

Some race cars inspire love. Others generate hate. Nissan’s GT-R LM NISMO does both. It couldn’t be more polarizing if it were a nuclear-powered, transgender cyborg engineered to perform Masses and abortions on alternating weekends.

I’m betting editor-in-chief Mike Floyd stared at that for several minutes before finally putting down his pencil.

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Worst Wi-Fi ever

Despite all her rage, she is still just a rat in a cage:

The shonky structure of London’s tube WiFi is actually a perfect mirror for a famous Psychology experiment: the Skinner Box (or Operant Conditioning Chamber if you’re feeling fancy). The experiment involved putting a rat in a box with a lever. If the lever dispensed a food pellet every time it was pressed, the rats would press it often … obviously. If it stopped dispensing food, they’d stop pressing it pretty quickly (rats are clever).

BUT, if the lever only dispensed food sometimes, and in a completely random pattern, the rats would basically go on pressing it forever, even when it had stopped giving out treats. They’d wear their paws down to nubbins pressing that hopeless, disconnected lever because the next press could be the lucky one, right guys? Right?!

Tube WiFi is exactly like this. Sometimes you can get connected as soon as you pull into the station, see something good on Twitter, click through, it loads and you get to read it. And sometimes you’re still trying to get a connection as the train sails back into the darkness, Twitter stubbornly refusing to update, and your phone tantalisingly telling you there are “open networks available.” Hrngh. It’s an internet Skinner Box, and I can’t stop pressing the lever.

So what’s the problem? The signal reaches the stations perfectly well, but doesn’t make it into the tunnels. (“There isn’t a whole lot of space inside the tunnels for repeater units,” she says.) If you’re expecting a long ride underneath London, you probably shouldn’t count on getting any work done.

And I do like that word “shonky,” apparently a Briticism that to me is somewhat more pejorative-sounding than merely “unreliable” or “untrustworthy.”

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All zoom, no doom

So you’ve just picked up your brand-new Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster from the dealership, and suddenly the Worst Possible Thing ensues:

Things started on Monday, when the Miata’s buyer and his wife went to pick up their new, unashamedly red (“Soul Red,” according to Mazda) Launch Edition Miata, which is one of a series of only 1000. Barely a mile or so away from the dealership, a Ford F-150, slammed into the rear of the Miata without even taking the courtesy to brake.

The force of the impact shoved the Miata into the car in front of it, basing in both ends and seemingly bending the unibody itself — which means the damage is likely much worse than it looks. Happily, neither the owner nor his wife were seriously injured. They weren’t entirely uninjured, as there was bruising and other sorts of injuries you’d expect from having an F-150 slam into your ass.

The car, of course, did not survive this intrusion by a hulking beast roughly two and a half times its weight. Post-wreck depression settled on the couple. The dealership went looking for another Launch Edition MX-5 for them, since they’re good customers.

But this was wholly unexpected. The buyer posted the following on an MX-5 forum:

Then, yesterday afternoon, I received 2 calls from [Mazda North American Operations] informing me that my name was on a replacement LE 6MT that is in transit and will dock in Jacksonville around August 15. On to Tom Bush [the dealership] soon after that.

Dejargoning: “6MT” indicates a six-speed manual transmission. Otherwise, does that sound like what I think it does? Yes, it does:

Yep, Mazda is stepping up and sending them a replacement, brand-new Miata. It’s worth noting that Mazda was really in no way obligated to do this — the whole mess was clearly the owner’s and insurance companies’ problem at this point — but that they did it anyway speaks volumes, and I suspect the good PR they get will easily be worth the value of the car.

MNAO will take possession of the remains, perhaps for research purposes: this is the first car of this design actually to be crashed, and much might be learned from it. And if they sell only a dozen additional cars to people who are impressed by this gesture, they’ve more than earned back the price of that single roadster.

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Go fan yourselves

The Europeans — the taller ones, anyway — tend to look down their noses at us because we spend money on air conditioning. The proper response to this is “Who the hell asked you?”

For Europeans reading this, I may actually be able to clear up this baffling issue: Americans use air conditioning more because America is a lot hotter than Europe is. For example, in Washington, where the weather is apparently “pretty similar” to Berlin, it is expected to be 87 degrees Fahrenheit (31 Celsius) tomorrow. In Berlin, informs me that temperatures are expected to be a torrid, sultry … 75 Fahrenheit (23 Celsius).

Of course, on any two random days, the weather might be unseasonably cold or unseasonably hot. You really need to look at monthly averages. And lo and behold, when we look, we discover that Washington has an average [high] temperature of 88 degrees in July, while Berlin has an average temperature of … 73 (yes, that is indeed 31 and 23 Celsius).

And we’re not talking about a place that’s really hot, like Dallas (average July [high] temperature is 96, or 36 Celsius) or Phoenix (106, or 41 Celsius). We’re just talking about a rather ordinary American city in roughly the middle of the country’s north-to-south span.

The District of Columbia, the home of our correspondent, would probably object to being called “rather ordinary,” but its weather is notable only because it inconveniences the government.

We do have some cities with more European temperatures, including San Francisco and Seattle, but they are not our largest population centers. The rest of the country, even places that are frozen wastelands in the winter, experiences summertime average highs above 80 degrees. That’s not a rogue heat wave, the kind that Northern Europeans complain about endlessly while futilely fiddling with their fans. That’s just what we Americans call “summer.” A heat wave is when it’s 100 degrees (38 Celsius) and your dog won’t go outside because the pavement burns his feet.

This latter example, incidentally, explains the practical superiority of the Fahrenheit scale: you go outside — without the dog, because he knows what awaits should he go — and when you return, you wail, “Jeebus, it must be a hundred degrees out there!” And you’d be right.

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Must have a death wish

Certainly for his site, and possibly for himself:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Is there an HTML/CSS code that prevents a user from navigating away from a web page until after 1 minute?

“Preferably no alerts,” he says.

On the upside, all his visitors will be unique and new: he’s never going to get a repeat visitor. (Well, okay, he might, in the specific context of “Hey, look what this asshole did!”)

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A loopy request

Nothing unusual about DMCA takedown requests. Universal Pictures France sent one to Google last week regarding several of the films it owns, and as always, it included the offending URLs. Not even mighty Google, alas, can take down this “site” allegedly infringing on Jurassic World:

Where, oh where, does one even begin?

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Don’t want to go on the cart

Sears would like you to know that they’re not dead yet:

For what it’s worth, Felicia Day says that picture of her is about eight years old.

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Fark blurb of the week

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Low-yield incendiary device

It was, in fact, a teensy wedge of potato that somehow had glued itself to the underside of the back burner, presumably last week since I hadn’t used that burner since then. I duly set a very large pan of water back there to boil for pasta, waited about 90 seconds, and the smell rapidly overtook me. No problem identifying the source: the flames around the bottom of the pan gave it away. I withdrew the pan, turned off the burner, poked around with a wooden implement until the offending tuber was out of range, then resumed.

The stench remained, of course. I shut down the air conditioner, popped open several windows, and cranked up the attic fan. Win: it cleared the scent in three minutes flat. Lose: humidity inside climbed from just under 50 percent to just over 70.

The punchline here is that I used the A/C downtime to change out the filter, there being few instances of downtime of this sort generally available in July, and I admit it: I was a lot more panicky about getting that damned filter into place than I was about flames shooting out from under a pan.

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Stalk radio

Eventually you learn that there’s a reason you can’t find a woman like that:

So there I was, sitting on my fat patoot and not really working while I thought about how hard it is to write satire anymore, what with the times getting too weird for any one person to keep up with, when I heard Rick Springfield singing “Jessie’s Girl” on a kid’s radio or phone or whatever it is kids use to listen to music these days. The song first came out, if I remember this correctly, when Ronald Reagan was getting out of the hospital after the assassination attempt back in 1981 and I am pretty sure that I haven’t heard it since then. Listening to it now, however, gave me the same sense of profound creepiness that hearing it in 1981 did. It didn’t occur to me in 1981 that there was such a musical genre as stalker rock — I was much younger then, of course, and so I didn’t know any better — and in those halcyon days we all knew less about the strange drives that motivated Australian obsessives to lust for the girl friends of their best buddies, even with the best efforts of Phil Donahue to keep us all up to date with the latest fashions in neuroticism. But stalker rock it is, along with that song about Jenny and her phone number and an entry from the 1960’s, the Vogues’ “Turn around, look at me,” and it does make me wonder if any of these guys ever got over getting not dumped by their not girl friends.

Springfield, I think we may safely assume, didn’t:

It’s 6 o’clock in your little town, baby
As you get ready to go out for the night
Some pretty stranger’s gonna take you down,
But I can’t make that feel alright
I was in love with the ghost in you
You were my apparition
It doesn’t matter if it goes the way you want it to
Cause life’s a suicide mission

Of course, the apotheosis of stalkery is “Every Breath You Take” by the Police, which some people still think is a love song.

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Which is where it bytes you

There might be more software in a new car than there is in a cheap commodity PC. (Brand-name makers tend to lard the machines up with crapware.) Given the slightest bit of connectivity, this was inevitable:

Though I hadn’t touched the dashboard, the vents in the Jeep Cherokee started blasting cold air at the maximum setting, chilling the sweat on my back through the in-seat climate control system. Next the radio switched to the local hip hop station and began blaring Skee-lo at full volume. I spun the control knob left and hit the power button, to no avail. Then the windshield wipers turned on, and wiper fluid blurred the glass.

And then things got worse:

As the two hackers remotely toyed with the air-conditioning, radio, and windshield wipers, I mentally congratulated myself on my courage under pressure. That’s when they cut the transmission.

Immediately my accelerator stopped working. As I frantically pressed the pedal and watched the RPMs climb, the Jeep lost half its speed, then slowed to a crawl. This occurred just as I reached a long overpass, with no shoulder to offer an escape. The experiment had ceased to be fun.

Yes, there were two. He knew this because he’d arranged this test with them, to look for vulnerabilities in Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect system. Used to be, someone had to tap a physical port in the car to hack it. Not anymore.

As it happens, Fiat Chrysler (1) is not amused and (2) has issued a patch:

Under no circumstances does FCA condone or believe it’s appropriate to disclose “how-to information” that would potentially encourage, or help enable hackers to gain unauthorized and unlawful access to vehicle systems.

FCA has a dedicated team from System Quality Engineering focused on identifying and implementing software best practices across FCA globally. The team’s responsibilities include development and implementation of cybersecurity standards for all vehicle content, including on-board and remote services.

As such, FCA released a software update that offers customers improved vehicle electronic security and communications system enhancements. The Company monitors and tests the information systems of all of its products to identify and eliminate vulnerabilities in the ordinary course of business.

Still, all software has holes. Just ask Microsoft.

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Followed by twenty years of groveling

News Item: The parent company of Ashley Madison, a matchmaking website for cheating spouses, says it was hacked and that the personal information of some of its users was posted online.


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Watch how you hug that tree

Tree Hugger from My Little Pony: Friendship is MagicAfter all these years, I retain a sort of sentimental fondness for hippie chicks, not because I had any physical or emotional connection to them — certainly none of them ever had any reason to look my way — but because I saw them as making a concerted effort to improve, to the extent possible, their immediate environments, in several senses of the word; and, by extension, maybe to make the world a slightly better place, without any of the blatant cynicism or neofascist tendencies exhibited by today’s cracktivists. Guys of the species, on the other hand, tended to invite my suspicion: I wondered just how many of them were feigning the lifestyle just to get next to the chicks.

That said, this bunch is really bumming me out:

Activists at the University of California at Berkeley got naked on Saturday to show their love for nearby trees that authorities are planning to cut own.

About 50 people showed up at a grove of eucalyptus trees on the campus of UC-Berkeley, stripped off their clothes, and began to intimately interact with the trees in the grove for the benefit of photographer Jack Gescheidt.

There’s a lot to be said for protecting trees, and I tend to mourn at their demise. But the epidermis on your average coddled college student is no match for tree bark, and a lot of these characters are going to end up with body art of the involuntary kind: scratches and scrapes and scars.

(Do not ask why I would know this.)

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Big Shot Becky

Becky Hammon’s #25 jersey is proudly displayed at Colorado State’s Moby Arena. Weirdly, she went undrafted by the WNBA, but managed to get signed by the New York Liberty, which installed her as the second-string point guard. Eventually she worked herself into the starting lineup, and in 2007 she was dealt to the San Antonio Stars.

Becky Hammon as a San Antonio Star

In 2013, she tore an ACL and spent a year in rehab; during that time she looked for a coaching gig, and found one in San Antonio — with the NBA’s Spurs, on Gregg Popovich’s staff of assistants. Said Pop at her hiring:

I very much look forward to the addition of Becky Hammon to our staff. Having observed her working with our team this past season, I’m confident her basketball IQ, work ethic, and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs.

Becky Hammon as a San Antonio Spurs coach

This past season’s Spurs finished 55-27 and took the Clippers to seven games in the playoffs before bowing out. This summer, Pop dispatched Hammon to coach the Spurs’ summer-league team in Salt Lake City. They finished 1-2, in a three-way tie for second. (The Jazz won all three of their games to claim the championship.) Undaunted, the Spurs proceeded to the Las Vegas summer-league extravaganza (24 teams!) and won that one.

Oh, and here’s Hammon subtly suggesting that one of the opposing players just might have taken one too many steps:

Okay, maybe not so subtly.

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