None of that microwave stuff

After hearing an actual popcorn machine, circa 1969, composer Gershon Kingsley put together a recording on Moog synthesizer, then titled “Pop Corn,” which became famous in electronic-music circles. In 1972, Kingsley associate Stan Free — they’d played together in the First Moog Quartet — cut an amped-up version that climbed to #9 in Billboard.

With all these electronics going on, the temptation to do “Popcorn” unplugged occurred to many; Herb Alpert’s version, which showed up on the 2005 Lost Treasures compilation, is a gem. But this sort-of-classical take by the composer himself is something else entirely:

This was recorded eight years ago, when Kingsley was a lad of 85. He’s still around today.

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You’ve got jail

Or at least you’re about to buy one, and you probably won’t like the financing options.

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A perfect night to dress up

Taylor Swift T.S. 1989 sweatshirtAbout five and a half billion people on this plain granite planet will recognize this sweatshirt as being part of Taylor Swift’s new clothing line, intended to promote her platinum / palladium / unobtainium album 1989, in stores now and not streaming very much. That leaves a billion and a half who might see something different in it:

The date — as well as being Swift’s year of birth — refers to her album and live tour of the same name, which she will perform in Shanghai in November.

But the date — and the initials TS — are particularly sensitive in China, as they signify the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, when hundreds of students were killed in pro-democracy protests.

Bad move? Maybe not. Chinese retailer JD.com, which will carry the Swift line, doesn’t seem to have any trouble selling the 1989 CD.

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

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World’s hottest politician

So said Maxim, once upon a time. Mara Carfagna, currently a member of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, started out as an actress and model; in 2004 she entered politics, and two years later won a seat as a member of the party Forza Italia. (Blatherskite Silvio Berlusconi, then in his second term as Prime Minister, quipped that Forza Italia, his own party, practiced the rule of droit du seigneur; this wouldn’t be the first time Berlusconi said something untoward about her.)

Mara Carfagna strikes a pose

For three years Carfagna served in Berlusconi’s cabinet as Minister of Equal Opportunity; when he resigned in 2011, she returned full-time to her seat in the Chamber of Deputies.

Mara Carfagna strikes a pose

And she also blogs. A recent post [Google translation, slightly tweaked]:

A run scored on behalf of all Italians. The OK by the Chamber’s Judiciary Committee to the proposals of Forza Italia who wanted tougher sentences for property crimes, such as robbery and burglary, is a small step forward to make citizens feel safer, or at least to make them feel more protected.

Mara Carfagna strikes a pose

Incidentally, that Maxim list showed up in 2008. (You’d never believe who came second. Or maybe you would. I think I would.)

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Fuzzy message

Haval is a Chinese automotive nameplate, an SUV-only line manufactured by Great Wall. (It does not include the teensy Great Wall Coolbear, which is strictly a city car, mentioned here solely because it’s called “Coolbear.”) In the opinion of Matt Gasnier, Haval did themselves proud at the Shanghai Auto Show, but one particular bit of news makes no sense:

Haval unveiled a new Red/Blue logo strategy at the Show. It’s a mystery to me that some Chinese manufacturers seem to often mess with something very clear and single-minded — this time brand positioning — by confusing the heck out of it. The creation, success and growth of the SUV-exclusive Haval brand in China in the past two years is potentially the most impressive strategic achievement of any Chinese carmaker, ever. Now to confuse it with two different philosophies and logos — labelled as “an impressive fission of Haval that will bring the brand to a new level” (cough) — this new strategy means Haval’s products will now be divided into two lines represented by a red or a blue logo. “Luxurious and classic Red Logo Haval targets mainstream families, and cool and trendy Blue Logo Haval targets young consumers” (Haval words). In the future, Haval’s sales network will be divided into the red network and the blue network, too. Say what?

Let’s see now. Who else had a Red and a Blue network?

On January 1, 1927, NBC formally divided its programming along two networks. The two NBC networks did not have distinct identities or “formats.” The NBC Red Network, with WEAF as its flagship station and a stronger line-up of affiliated stations, often carried the more popular, “big budget” sponsored programs. The Blue Network and WJZ carried with a somewhat smaller line-up of often lower powered stations sold program time to advertisers at a lower cost. It often carried newer, untried programs (which, if successful, often moved “up” to the Red Network), lower cost programs and un-sponsored or “sustaining” programs (which were often news, cultural and educational programs).

With the specter of antitrust action — remember antitrust action? — hanging over its head, NBC took its name off the Blue Network in 1942, then sold it the next year to a group that renamed it the American Broadcasting Company.

Still, that scheme lasted for a decade and a half. It shouldn’t take that long for Haval to figure out that this is a dumb idea.

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Confiscation nation

You can probably find someone Stateside who thinks this is a swell idea:

Venezuela’s embattled government has taken the drastic step of forcing food producers to sell their produce to the state, in a bid to counter the ever-worsening shortages.

Farmers and manufacturers who produce milk, pasta, oil, rice, sugar and flour have been told to supply between 30 per cent and 100 per cent of their products to the state stores. Shortages, rationing and queues outside supermarkets have become a way of life for Venezuelans, as their isolated country battles against rigid currency controls and a shortage of US dollars — making it difficult for Venezuelans to find imported goods.

The state stores, numbering 7245, are presumably hoping to get some coin of the realm back from people who prefer the 113,000 or so grocers in the private sector, represented by the Venezuelan Food Industry Chamber. You can guess what Pablo Baraybar, head of the Chamber, thinks of this whole scheme:

“Taking products from the supermarkets and shops to hand them over to the state network doesn’t help in any way,” he said. “And problems like speculating will only get worse, because the foods will be concentrated precisely in the areas where the resellers go.

“Consumers will be forced to spend more time in queues, given that the goods will be available in fewer stores.”

And you might think that Venezuelans have suffered enough already:

In March, Venezuelans were so worried about food shortages and diminishing stocks of basic goods, fingerprint scanners were installed in supermarkets in an attempt to crack down on hoarding.

Venezuela’s official rate of inflation hit 64 per cent last year — the highest in the world. The government hides the scale of shortages, but angry consumers regularly post photos of empty shelves on social media.

As with all socialist (and more than a few non-socialist) governments, “official” numbers are arguable at best.

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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, Weather.com 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:

http://127.0.0.1:4001/#/fr/

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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