Freezing in the dark

One of my wackier appliances is a weather gizmo that records the indoor temperature and humidity, and stores (at least until the batteries fail) the highest and lowest numbers received. During the end-of-November ice storm, in which the house had no power for 36 hours, the temperature at the device’s location — just inside the door to my bedroom — dropped to an indicated 52.6°F, about 20 degrees warmer than outside.

Residents of properties operated by the New York City Housing Authority are entitled to snicker at that:

NYCHA officials admit that for years, they wouldn’t turn on the heat in public housing until the temperature hit bone-chilling levels.

Only it wasn’t as bad as the 20-degree cutoff touted by one of their own… It was actually 25 degrees.

NYCHA is now, they say, on a 40-degree threshold, which still sounds cold to me. Then again, the furnace is following the instructions given by the thermostat, it’s 71.3° at the usual location, and I just paid the gas bill, which was less than $60.

(Via Fark.)

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Half nuts

Hitler, said the song, “has only got one ball,” and it was assumed that shrapnel — not Henry Shrapnel himself, of course, as he died in 1842 — was responsible for der Führer’s condition. Apparently not:

A German historian claims he has proof that Adolf Hitler had just one testicle, lending credence to a World War II-era song that mocked the maniacal leader’s manhood.

Professor Peter Fleischmann of Erlangen-Nuremberg University said medical records show the tyrant’s right testicle was undescended, according to The Telegraph.

The documents, from a prison exam taken in 1923, after Hitler’s failed attempt to seize power, surfaced during a 2010 auction, but were confiscated by the Bavarian government, and have only now been properly reviewed.

The prison’s physician, Dr. Josef Steiner Brin, noted that “Adolf Hitler, artist, recently writer” was “healthy and strong” but suffered from “right-side cryptorchidism,” a condition when a testicle fails to properly descend.

No confirmation is yet available for the song’s assertion that Hermann Göring “has two, but very small.”

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Draining exercise

Word came out before the game started that Lou Williams, mindful of all those stories about the Skirvin being haunted, stayed elsewhere last night. And maybe he was wise: Williams delivered a substantial percentage of the Lakers’ offense, such as it was. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant turned up with a sore shoulder, which probably had nothing to do with his having had dinner with Kevin Durant the night before. Which of these events had a greater impact on the game, I don’t know; perhaps nothing would have helped the woeful Lakers today, who earnestly lost their 23rd of 28 games to a Thunder squad that might have been thinking two nights ahead, toward a matchup with the, um, other Los Angeles team. Or maybe OKC just wanted to run up some numbers. Anyway, it was Thunder 118, Lakers 78.

And truth be told, I wondered why Larry Nance and Anthony Brown were starting for L.A. while Nick Young and Brandon Bass came off the bench. My best guess is that Byron Scott figured this effort was dead in the water, and decided to give the veterans a rest. Williams led with 20 points, fellow wingman Jordan Clarkson added 15, and Young headed the bench with 14. Still, the Lakers shot below 35 percent most of the night. (Which, I note in passing, is about Kobe’s current season average.) With the Thunder starters retiring early, seven of 12 OKC players hit double figures, with Durant picking up 22 in just under 30 minutes and Russell Westbrook 13 to go with 11 assists. This left bench honors to Enes Kanter, who had 19 points, 14 rebounds, and one inexplicable technical.

Next two outings are on the road, in the same building: against the Clippers on Monday night, and the Lakers again on Wednesday. The year finishes with a four-game home stand, every other day, starting with the Chicago Bulls on Christmas Day. The Bulls have had enough power this year to threaten the Thunder stockings with buckets full of coal, but you never really know what will happen in a Christmas game, especially one in the late afternoon.

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Normally Fey

What do you say about a 45-year-old woman who doesn’t for a moment think she’s glamorous? Based on these two shots, apparently you don’t say a word: you just point to the wardrobe and start the camera.

Tina Fay in Edit Magazine

Tina Fay in Edit Magazine

Tina Fey’s expression here says basically “This is as close as I get to sultry, so from this moment on, you’re on your own.” Then again, this is a woman who once said “I actually have a very low level of Flintstones knowledge for someone my age.”

She also admits to having been a prototype of the Mean Girl, as a coping mechanism: “In your mind it’s a way of leveling the playing field. Though of course it’s not.” Then again, comedy was a coping mechanism:

“For me it was about hitting age 13 and realizing, ‘OK, I’m not going to glide by on looks. I’m a normal-looking person, but that’s not going to be where my bread is buttered.'”

Which explains, perhaps, why she’s always working: she’s afraid to loaf.

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Screwy at both ends

The Sippican Cottage experience with the compact fluorescent light bulb:

We ran out of 60 watters, and I unwisely took a flyer on some CFLs, which I detest. There was one CFL in my house when I moved in. It was in my basement. In January, that light bulb doesn’t come on, period, so I find it amusing to picture it outside, where it is occasionally 20 below zero. Not coming on does save energy, one must admit.

So, as I was saying, we were finally out of 60s, and we bought curlicues this summer. The first CFL I tried, the very first, I dropped, it shattered, and I freebased mercury for five minutes. How eco. The second one we put in my older son’s table lamp, and the base of the bulb caught fire, real fire with flames and smoke and whatnot. He calmly unplugged the lamp, came down the stairs with the thing still smouldering, and we freebased burning plastic together for five minutes. How eco. We’re all done with CFLs now.

Anything proclaimed as being good for you that requires a hazmat team to clean up after is not, no matter what they say, good for you.

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To improve your mettle

Breakfast cereals occasionally claim to be fortified with stuff like iron, which you’re presumably not going to get from all the other horrible things you eat, and apparently this fortification, in the case of iron anyway, is done in the simplest way possible:

However, this may not be true in Denmark, as of 2004:

Danish health officials … banned the cereal company Kellogg’s from adding vitamins and minerals to its famous food brands, saying they could damage the health of children and pregnant women.

The company, which expressed incredulity at the decision, had hoped to enrich 18 breakfast foods and cereal bars with iron, calcium, vitamin B6 and folic acid, just as they already do in many countries including Britain.

But the Danes said the manufacturer of Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies and Special K wanted to include “toxic” doses which, if eaten regularly, could damage children’s livers and kidneys and harm foetuses in pregnant women.

I guess this means I can eat it, but I’ve already stocked up on sausage biscuits.

(Via Neatorama.)

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Quote of the week

Political theater in its purest form:

If you are trying to understand the bewildering state of American governance, it would help you to step back and try to see the whole forest, instead of focusing on the individual trees.

The answer is simple. What you are looking at is not a political struggle, it is entertainment. If you think of professional “wrestling”, or “rassling”, instead of a genuine sport, you are spot on the money. You have your “baby faces” and your “heels”, and a “baby face” can turn on a dime and become a “heel”, and a “heel” can see the light and become a “baby face” whenever the situation calls for it. You just have to understand the story arc.

After the match, the contestants retire to the same locker room, and ride on the same airliner to the next match, and eat at the same lunch counter at the same time, and, need I say it? … the paychecks are all signed by the same promoter. It is not a sport, it is entertainment.

Except for the minor detail that it’s long since ceased to be entertaining.

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Semi-indefatigable

Zombie Saab has yet another deal in the works:

National Electric Vehicle Sweden (Nevs) and the Chinese company Panda New Energy Co., Ltd. have signed a strategic collaboration agreement. According to the agreement, Nevs will provide Panda with 150,000 9-3 sedan electric vehicles until the end of 2020. In addition, the agreement also includes 100 000 other EV products and services from companies associated to Nevs and its owners. The total value of the agreement is 78 billion RMB.

Hey, it could happen. The first-generation 9-3 (1999-2003) moved 326,370 units. Then again, back then Saab had General Motors calling the shots.

This discussion ensued on Twitter:

That last bit, incidentally, is the sound made when you start up the old two-stroke three-cylinder Saab 93, which is not at all the same car as the 9-3.

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The ideal dinner companion

We’re always looking for — wait, what? Seriously? OMG, forget what we said:

A Salvadoran man, who survived more than a year at sea, is being sued for $1 million after being accused of eating his traveling companion during the ordeal.

In the fall of 2012, Salvador Alvarenga paid 22-year-old Ezequiel Cordoba to accompany him on a short fishing trip off the coast of Mexico, UPI Espanol reported.

The small boat the pair were traveling in was swept into the open sea during a storm, and the pair lost all communication equipment and supplies, according to Alvarenga.

According to Alvarenga, Cordoba perished after eating a presumably disagreeable bird; the body was committed to the sea. Alvarenga’s lawyer says the suit was filed by Cordoba’s family in the hope of getting some of the proceeds from a book about the, um, adventure.

Rupert Holmes was not available for comment.

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A single redeeming feature

The two major political parties in this nation may be somewhere between terrible and really terrible, but they have one thing going for them:

I may not be a fan of the two political parties we have, but I will say this for them: They have good names. There is nothing in the word Democrats or Republicans that nails them down to supporting a particular ideology. There will never be the oxymoronology of the free-marketeer Socialist. The coalitions have changed considerably over the years, but the names have never become as disjointed as with the conservative Liberal Party of Australia or Liberal Democrat Party of Japan, nor as awkward as the Labour Party’s transition to being the party of the university and the professional class that has to watch what it says about the working class? And unlike the Tories and the two major parties [in] Canada, it gives us room to talk about the conservative wing of the GOP versus the moderate, without having to constantly specify “lower case c” and “upper case C” and so on. Ditto for their Liberals (which have been using that name for considerably longer). Though, how long will the New Democrats be new?

Me, I’m waiting for a return of the Whigs, though I don’t expect a repeat of the incident that gave them their name.

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Soon: bladeless knives without handles

A proposed California law would require your self-driving car be occupied by your self:

In what is sure to be seen by some as government interference and general misunderstanding of technology, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has released a proposal [pdf] that would require drivers to be present in self-driving vehicles in the state.

Then again, it might be seen by others as simply “Forget it, Jake. It’s California.”

That limits any possibility for parents to send their kids off alone, any delivery services hoping to utilize autonomous vehicles without paying human workers and future designs Uber might have to deploy cars to pick up riders, sans “driver-partners” in California.

It’s also caused some disappointment at Google, which has been testing driverless cars for a couple of years in the state of California.

The measure might be defensible on technological grounds:

[W]e are sure to run into unforeseen scenarios without a unified and open-source driverless car codebase shared by all driverless car manufacturers — something we don’t presently have.

Consider this scenario: a human driven car starts heading the wrong way on the freeway and is barreling toward two autonomous vehicles. The lane is fairly narrow; if one of the cars slows and gets behind the other, they’ll both be fine. But without a shared, open codebase there are no rules to determine which one should slow down. If they both speed up, neither can pass the other. If both slow down, same problem.

There is time to deal with this, I think. Then again, the idea of killing an earlier regulation once it’s no longer needed is something Sacramento doesn’t quite comprehend.

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We must first acquaint ourselves with device

In recent years, 42nd and Treadmill has been working on minimizing the cost of the annual Christmas party while not actually discouraging people from coming. It’s been brought in-house, some decent caterers have been located, and they’ve been giving away stuff like a day off with pay (retail value $64 and up). But this year, they spent $300ish on door prizes, and I know because I got one of them: specifically, one of six bottom-of-the-line Amazon Fire tablets, currently selling for $49 each and out of stock until the Monday after Christmas.

Two things happened that I expected: first, the little gizmo wanted to download a crapload of updates, and then it took Windows 7 three tries to install a device driver for it. One thing I should have expected, but didn’t: it’s almost pointless to own one of these critters unless you’re also an Amazon Prime member. A thirty-day trial is underway, but I was considering going that way eventually.

Oddly, I was considering buying a Fire anyway; I’d gotten to the point of cross-shopping the various models, and had actually dropped the next one up into my cart, withdrawing it once I got hit with storm expenses. And the next one up is decidedly richer in function. But since I am the rankest of amateurs at this sort of thing, the smallest Fire will do for now. And to my delight, this here Web site looks pretty darn good on it. (Take that, you “responsive” theme-hawkers!)

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An Erie situation

The sports pundits, of which there is an overabundance, assure us that basketball is a game of runs. The second quarter tonight corroborates that assurance: it was 28-26 OKC after the first quarter, the Thunder started the quarter 12-2, the Cavaliers came back with 18 in a row, and the Thunder, apparently noticing that they were down six, scored the next seven to go up 47-46 at the half. OKC led throughout the third, but the Cavs jumped to a 10-point lead early in the fourth after, yes, a 16-2 run; halfway through that frame, the Thunder had scored only nine points. Inevitably, there was an OKC run, but with a minute left, they were down five; they pulled to within three, which is where they were with 6.5 seconds left. One missed trey later, LeBron James knocked down a free throw, and that’s where it ended: Cleveland 104, Oklahoma City 100.

The Cavs unlocked this achievement despite a total lack of guards; Kyrie Irving, Iman Shumpert and Mo Williams were all missing in action. Enter James as playmaker in addition to shooter: King James had 33 points and 11 assists. And Tristan Thompson did his damnedest to get second-chance points for Cleveland: he scored 12 and retrieved 15 boards, 11 from the offensive glass. The Cavs may have been short on bodies — they played Richard Jefferson, older than God, for 31 minutes — but they did the deed. (James also knocked down a spectator, but the less said about that, the better.) OKC had three players over 20 points — Russell Westbrook 27, Kevin Durant 25, Serge Ibaka 23 — but nobody else broke into double figures. Kyle Singler did get two assists, though, bringing his season total to two.

So, was this back-to-back second-night fatigue? Maybe. Radio guy Matt Pinto suggested that KD looked tired, and in forty minutes Durant was -2. (Singler, I must note, was an even zero. Or maybe an odd zero.) Next outing is Saturday afternoon, at the unheard-of time of 4 pm, against the Lakers. Let’s hope Kobe is good, but not too good.

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Fark blurb of the week

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Chrome for the holidays

During the power outage a few days back, when I fled to a hotel to avoid freezing my keister off, I hauled Toshi the Road Warrior, my ancient (turn of the century) laptop, along with me. It still works, but of necessity it’s slow: it’s a 1.1 GHz Celeron with a system-board maximum 512 MB of RAM. On Windows XP, of course. I mentioned this situation to the sysadmin; he offered to lend me a Chromebook to play with, which I picked up yesterday.

So I plugged in the little metal slab, from Samsung — this is it — and realized that I had no idea what my wireless password was. (Yes, it’s really been that long.) Fortunately, I did know how to get into the router, and I reset all the wireless parameters. (Which meant that I had to bring up the laptop and update it with the new wireless stuff, in case I have any ideas about using it again.) It’s a nice little machine, I suppose, but it’s going to take some getting used to. First order of business is to get a proper mouse. I can work the Chromebook’s touchpad — it’s not so different from the one on the laptop — but I don’t like it either.

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Do not turn off

Most of the time, Windows accumulates updates, and then when you’re ready to shut down — usually on a Tuesday night after a West Coast basketball game — it flashes the Evil Shield at you, letting you know that the machine’s going to be tied up for another 15 minutes (my home box) to two hours (my work box). But sometimes it insists on rebooting the moment the update has arrived:

Most updates no longer create an unusual machine state that requires a reboot to resolve. There are still a few that do. In an ordinary consumer environment, the remaining problem is small enough to be ignored (or at least small enough that there are lots of other things to concentrate on fixing first). But in an environment where The Machine Simply Must Work, it’s still an unacceptable risk. And so the best practice for these environments is still assuming that any update that requires a reboot to complete should have that reboot performed as soon as possible.

Second, even setting the “Does the update do the right thing before the reboot?” problem aside, CBS [Component-Based Servicing] itself creates another problem in this scenario. Since many Windows updates wind up getting their processing delayed until the reboot, that reboot itself can take longer (since all those pending operations then get performed). And in an environment where The Machine Simply Must Work, this means that the consequences of an accidental/unplanned reboot can be even worse. So again, in this environment, it’s important to ensure that Windows Update never initiates a reboot on its own. And since Windows Update will sometimes initiate reboots on its own when it’s set to install updates automatically, this means that the best practice for these environments is still the practice described in the blog: Set Automatic Updates to not install updates automatically, and use your own code to install updates and reboot at the correct times and with the proper user notification.

To reiterate earlier caveats, when I talk about situations where The Machine Simply Must Work, I naturally presume you’re not talking about life-critical medical applications, because Windows is not for life-critical applications, as the esteemed attorneys who hand-crafted the Windows EULA from artisanal Unicode characters will happily point out.

With regard to that latter, @SwiftOnSecurity quips: “Microsoft would like to remind you that WINDOWS SHOULD NOT BE INSTALLED ON PACEMAKERS.” I’ll, um, keep that in mind.

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