A classic ’84

That would be, of course, eighteen eighty-four.

De Dion-Bouton was arguably the most successful automaker in the world prior to 1900. In 1895, they’d built a single-cylinder engine with overhead valves that would spin happily at the unheard-of rate of 2000 rpm; in 1900, they opened up a factory in Brooklyn to serve the US market, and by 1910, they’d come up with the first in a series of V8 engines.

But before all that, there were steam-powered trikes, of which they made twenty, starting in 1884. Six are reported to survive in some form or other, but only one of them is still roadworthy after 127 years:

This car is evidently famous enough to rate its own Wikipedia page. And it’s up for auction, where it’s expected to bring somewhere on the far side of $2 million. It’s not as fast as current alternative-fuel vehicles — 37 mph is about all you can get — but it “charges” faster: a full head of steam can be attained in a bit more than half an hour. Try that with your precious Tesla Roadster.

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Gratuitous commentary

Diners in the San Francisco Bay area, says a survey by Zagat, are among the worst tippers in the nation:

Bay Area diners tip an average of 18.6 percent, which tied with Seattle for the lowest; the national average is 19.2 percent.

If it’s not the quality of service, and I can think of no good reason to assume that it is, what could it be? San Francisco Chronicle food editor Michael Bauer suggests a possibility:

My theory is that many people, in San Francisco at least, deduct part of the three or four percent that restaurants tack onto the bill for Healthy San Francisco. I’ve had more people tell me they either lower their tip by that amount or at least don’t include that percentage in tabulating the tip amount.

Waitpersons, as a rule, benefit from my laziness: I figure a flat 20 percent, unless they have somehow incurred my wrath. I have never, however, dined in San Francisco, though I’ve received enough recommendations over the years to justify the trip. Some day…

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dB or not dB

VU meter from Teac equipmentVent #226, which came out on Christmas Day 2000, opens this way:

The late musicologist and audiophile Edward Tatnall Canby used to say that the length of your perceived memories is a constant, that as you get older the years get closer and closer together, like the calibrations on a VU meter as the volume — as your volume — diminishes into inaudibility.

Since most Western societies read from left to right, this comparison might have made more sense had I posted a horizontally-flopped photo. Then again, I don’t really believe my voice is getting fainter. Yet.

More to the point, I’ve been keeping that voice going, which I suspect Francis W. Porretto would view as a public service:

One of the blessings of the Internet is that it allows us to store our memories before they can fade away, in places where younger others might stumble over them. Wikipedia is a good example; there are others.

Yes, our memories can deceive us. Time is a betrayer; it leaves many a man with memories of things that never happened, including things he would have liked to happen, in place of an accurate record. But where one can be misled by his own memory, many can pool their recollections, discard the chaff, and so recreate what was common to us. We can keep fresh the memory of a better time — better not merely for us, but for America as a whole.

My own memories might not be particularly significant in the grand scheme of things: a tiny fraction of a decibel, difficult to isolate from the massive barbaric yawp out there. But as the guy on late-night television used to say, I make it up in volume.

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The Fame Matron

Have you ever wondered what’s at the very back of Lady Gaga’s closet, never to be seen except under the most unlikely of circumstances?

Yep. It’s a proper Little Black Dress:

Lady Gaga at I Heart Radio

Doesn’t look half bad, either. Still, Jessica says it better:

Uh, I don’t know what character Lady Gaga is playing right now — rich society matron? — but I do know that whoever that character is. she looks … kinda great. Sure, she’s probably mean to the help and she may have forced her eldest child to go to fat camp and she’s not actually kidding when she says she’s waiting for her husband to die so she can get the money, but, you know … she’s rocking the LBD while she does it.

Besides which, Anna Wintour can’t sing.

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How to kill a church

Tony Woodlief has seen it done:

A few amateur scholars set up shop around the ramblings of minor, abstruse theologians, and a bevy of chattering hens surrounds them to cluck away at questioners, and so those who disagree, who feel their souls oppressed by the doctrines and the dynamics and the denuded aesthetics of the place, slink away in ones and twos and entire families, until the church isn’t what it once was.

Which, if you think about it, is much the way secular organizations die, except that when they tell you to go to hell, they’re speaking figuratively. Usually.

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To the 451st degree

They don’t burn books very much anymore, but rather a lot of books do get banned, which is a good way to get Kay’s attention:

In a twisted way, I like the would-be book burners because if I see that a book is being banned, it sends me out to the bookstore to buy a copy. I have to find out what all the shouting is about. As a result, I met some outstanding authors who I otherwise may have missed.

Now that’s the spirit.

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Have you got yourself an occupation?

The Occupy Wall Street movement, begun on the 17th, has lasted long enough to get its own Wikipedia page, though coverage in major media has been something less than wall-to-wall. The official Web site, to the extent that an officially-leaderless operation can have something “official,” is here.

There is enough sentiment outside New York to support several local offshoots, including Occupy OKC, which plans a gathering at the Capitol or some other pertinent location on the 15th of October.

I quipped on Facebook: “This is normally not my bag, but if it helps just one ‘too big to fail’ financial institution to fail, it will have more than justified itself.”

(Title stolen from Elvis Costello.)

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Inseams to me

How a cultural artifact becomes a tool of oppression, in not enough steps:

[T]here’s no truly compelling, necessary-for-survival reason behind the wearing of pants. This cultural preference — prejudice, if you will — for pants-wearing is just the habit of a lifetime. It’s taken for granted.

But what if it really is a prejudice? After all, pants-wearing is just a social construction, a habit passed down thoughtlessly from our pants-wearing forebears. Maybe we’d be happier without pants — since nobody has really thought about it, there might be a whole new world of experience out there waiting for the first intrepid soul to drop trou.

You’ve seen enough academic bushwah to know where this is going:

Take it one step further, and you realize that maybe pants are just an imposition by The Man, a creation of Madison Avenue at the behest of the denim-industrial complex. And it turns out that The Man is really the Man, women’s studies professors will convincingly argue, since industry is the most male-dominated and male-oriented of all modes of production…

Notice that this conclusion is far removed from that reached by regular folks who might wear tennis shoes or an occasional python boot:

[T]he untenured, when asked why our society insists on wearing pants, will reply that it’s obviously to keep your ass from sticking to the subway seat on a hot summer’s day.

Wisely, New York City’s Improv Everywhere schedules its No Pants Subway Ride for January.

Me, I’ve long since come to grips with the idea of dealing with The Man.

(Disclosure: Despite its middle-of-the-workday release time, no pants were involved in the writing of this piece.)

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OnStar in your Buick told a tale on you

Bet your bottom dollar, Al Franken isn’t happy about this. The Senator from Minnesota, with Chris Coons of Delaware, sent off a nastygram to GM’s electronic nanny service:

We are writing to express our serious concern with OnStar’s announcement earlier this week that it would continue to track the GPS locations of its customers’ vehicles even if those customers have affirmatively ended their contractual plans with OnStar. In this email announcement, OnStar informs its current and former subscribers that it reserves the right to track their locations “for any purpose, at any time.” It appears that the only way to stop this tracking is to actually call OnStar and request that the data connection between OnStar and the vehicle be terminated; this service is not available online. OnStar further reserves the right to share or sell location data with “credit card processors,” “data management companies,” OnStar’s “affiliates,” or “any third party” provided that OnStar is satisfied that the data cannot be traced back to individual customers.

Right about now, Mark Zuckerberg is probably thinking: “Damn! Why the hell didn’t I think of that?”

OnStar’s assurances that it will protect its customers by “anonymizing” precise GPS records of their location are undermined by a broad body of research showing that it is extraordinarily difficult to successfully anonymize highly personal data like location… If a data set shows the exact location where a car starts every morning, the roads that car travels on its morning commute, the office where it is parked during business hours, and the schools where it stops on its way home, it is unnecessary for that data set to include a name or license plate for it to be connected to an individual and his or her family.

I suspect the concerns of Franken and Coons will be forgotten just about the time the other 98 senators figure out that “Hey, we can use this to charge drivers for using Evil, Wicked Oil!”

Update, 27 September: The General backs down.

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Strange search-engine queries (295)

The results of the straw poll were predictable: 34 percent preferred straw, with sticks and bricks tied for second. Also predictable: the Monday-morning arrival of another batch of weird search strings from the logs of this very site.

gwyneth paltrow on not shaving her legs:  It was my understanding that she just slathered on some GOOP.

what does a slipping transmission act like:  You know how you can’t get anywhere when you’re stuck in the snow? It’s exactly like that, except there’s no snow.

Fayetteville arkansas snitches:  They got nothing on Springdale or Bentonville.

girl band you broke my heart:  So maybe you shouldn’t try to date the whole band at one time.

being a hick:  Don’t know nothin’ ’bout that, buddy.

ac-decent:  On a Highway to Shucks.

dill we meet again: Our previous meeting was only parsley completed.

fried stealing copper wiring:  From somewhere in the shadows, Charles Darwin smiles.

the opposite of joyride:  Almost anywhere on I-95 should do it.

I won’t change my atf fluid jatco:  Fine with me, pal. I’m not writing the check for a rebuild.

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Does this look tricky to you?

This is the final version of EPA’s E15 label, to be stuck on any and all gas pumps that vend the 15-percent ethanol blend:

Federal E15 label

Inasmuch as my car is a 2000 model, I know to avoid this stuff. (I don’t buy that much E10 anymore, now that Homeland is selling proper E0 at its next-to-the-grocery C-stores.)

Manufacturers of gear that barely tolerates E10, let alone E15, apparently think this label is insufficient:

The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), along with automakers and marine manufacturers, today announced a formal legal challenge to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Regulation to Mitigate Misfueling” rule which was meant to address concerns about 15 percent ethanol blends and non-road products and older model-year vehicles.

OPEI and partner groups maintain that EPA’s weak labeling effort is completely inadequate to protect consumers and avoid potential misfueling and damage to millions of legacy products not designed to run on any ethanol fuel higher than E10.

Then again, they may have a point:

As the EPA led the transition to unleaded fuels, the Agency reported a misfueling rate of nearly 15 percent almost ten years after the introduction of unleaded gasoline — even with a physical barrier at the pump.

“EPA even denied our petition to mandate the continued availability of E10, so consumers will still be able to purchase E10 at their local gasoline stations. Consumers are really on their own at this point, and we just think that is unfair and potentially harmful from both a safety and economic perspective,” said [OPEI president Kris] Kiser.

This is far more defense of E10 than I would have expected, given the conventional wisdom, which says that E10 will turn your expensive machine into an inert lump of slag.

My idea of a plan would be to get individual states to pass, say, a 30-cent-per-gallon tax on E10, rising to 45 cents on E15 and proportionately thereafter for anything else the Renewable Fuels Institute is able to bribe persuade Washington to do. As wiser men than those in government can tell you, to get less of something, you tax it.

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Squirrel 1, Developer 0

In this day and age, stories like this don’t really surprise anyone anymore:

Alan Niven has been warned that his proposal to build 15 homes at Lathockar near St Andrews in Fife could be rejected because an endangered species lives there.

Changes in the law mean that it is now illegal to destroy the home of a red squirrel without a licence — and it is understood Scottish Natural Heritage could block the project if it is seen to put the creature at risk.

How many of those poor little squirrels live in Mr Niven’s proposed development? So far as anyone has yet been able to determine, one:

When carrying out a survey commissioned by Mr Niven, experts spotted the solitary squirrel in the woodland on which the businessman hopes to build the homes. But local campaigners have insisted the seemingly solitary animal could be part of a larger group of animals that weren’t seen during the inspection.

I suspect the local campaigners may have the better of this argument: as anyone who’s ever trapped a pest in the house knows, there’s bound to be another one along shortly.

(Via Fark.)

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In other news, Ted Kennedy is dead

Screen shot from the OklahomanWhich is what’s wrong with the heading on this otherwise mostly-innocuous blurb in the Sunday Oklahoman: how the hell is this still “Ted Kennedy’s seat” when Ted Kennedy has been dead for more than two years? And it’s not like Scott Brown, the actual incumbent, is nothing more than a placeholder; that would be Paul G. Kirk, who was appointed by Governor Deval Patrick to complete Kennedy’s term until such time that a special election could be held. (The circumstances, you may be sure, had their bizarre aspects.) Brown won that election in his own right, and even though he’s technically, as prescribed by law, adhering to the original election schedule — Kennedy, had he lived, would have served at least through 2012 — this seat is no more Ted Kennedy’s than it is Henry Cabot Lodge’s. (Or, for that matter, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.’s. Or JFK’s.)

And who took that picture of Elizabeth Warren? This is about as unflattering a photo of her as I’ve ever seen — okay, this one might be worse — and it plays right into the hands of the “Conservative Women Are Hotter” crowd.

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No one can heal your screen

The Disposable Society gets an unwanted boost:

Vizio, America’s second best selling LCD TV brand, is now telling some owners of broken sets that their televisions cannot be repaired. If the set is past the 12-month factory warranty, Vizio advises owners to buy a replacement set from the company.

HD Guru came across Jeff Bartran’s letter to Vizio CEO and founder William Wang complaining that the company’s service department had deemed “unrepairable” his 13-and-a-half-month-old, high-end $1868 Vizio 55-inch [set]. Bertran says Wang never responded.

HD Guru can’t make up his mind how to spell Jeff’s last name, apparently. But he did figure out that what Vizio means by “unrepairable,” of course, is “costs too much to fix”:

Vizio’s Florida customer service center confirmed in a phone call that defective set owners are indeed told that their TVs are unrepairable when the failure turns out to be the backlight unit (BLU), the light source within all LED and LCD flat panels. Bertran told HD Guru that, according to Vizio, his set’s problem was indeed backlight failure. He also stated Vizio offered him a replacement at a discount. However, the discounted price was still higher than one he could get from online retailers offering the same Vizio model.

Then again, Vizio doesn’t actually design any of their own stuff: they buy it off some Chinese dock somewhere and paste their name on it. It might be that they just don’t have the tech suds to fix these contraptions. I have a monitor by the now-defunct Soyo company, which apparently followed similar standards of procurement; I couldn’t even get non-electrical replacement parts — read “plastic base” — from them.

On the other hand, one of my two TVs is a Vizio LCD, and it has been unfailingly reliable during its three and a half years in service: not so much as one dead pixel, let alone a bad backlight.

(Via Fark.)

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The bucks accumulate here

Some observations on this year’s Forbes 400:

  • Harold Hamm (Continental Resources, Enid and eventually Oklahoma City, #36) has more money than Rupert Murdoch (News Corp, #38).
  • Philip Anschutz (new owner of Opubco, #39) is right behind Murdoch.
  • The highest-ranking Rockefeller is David (tied for #159).
  • S. Truett Cathy (tied for #375) has made a billion dollars off Chick-fil-A.
  • “Half of Oklahoma’s billionaires,” tweeted Brandon Dutcher, “don’t have college degrees.” I pointed out that this was a small sample; I am not drawing any statistical conclusions therefrom.

Perhaps the funniest thing: this canned Clear Channel story proclaiming five Oklahoma billionaires (presumably 2½ of which lack college degrees), which misspells “billionaires” and which leaves off the man with the most money: Tulsa oilman/banker/Solyndrator George Kaiser (#31).

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A wrinkle in newsprint

Or perhaps in journalism itself:

Detroit Free Press front page

(Original photo here; this is the Freep article.)

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A wrinkle in time

The loveliness of youth is not quite as persistent as we’d like it to be:

[T]hose who were spectacularly beautiful when young don’t necessarily age in a way that keeps them a few steps ahead of people who started out looking much more ordinary. And cosmetic surgery doesn’t necessarily help; sometimes the formerly beautiful are more strongly motivated to have ever-escalating interventions that end up making them look not only like a caricature of their former selves, but like aliens from another planet.

See, for instance, almost any page of Awful Plastic Surgery.

Those of us who started out at the other end of the curve — well, I’m not claiming to be cute or anything, but I think I look better now than I did ten years ago, lumbering gait and vanishing hair notwithstanding. It helps that I’m a bit thinner these days, which has made my face look more like a face and less like a leftover Have a Nice Day button. Still, I don’t think I’ve aged quite as well as Yahoo Serious, a few months older than I.

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Worth a darn

Apparently socks aren’t worth it anymore:

I remember once we were all out at the mall, she was trying to find darning cotton — black darning cotton, so she could fix some of my dad’s socks — and nowhere had it. Not even Woolworth’s, which normally seemed to have such things. My dad quipped: “Twenty years ago, when you got a hole in socks, you said, ‘Darn these socks’ and put them in the mending basket. Now, I guess, when you get a hole in socks, you say ‘Damn these socks!’ and throw them away.”

The best I can hope for, usually, is for the bad ones to disappear from the laundry and re-emerge somewhere in the dreaded Hozone, though I must here admit that I haven’t had a sock develop a hole in several weeks. I blame neutrinos.

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Now with Blackguard™

There is black, and there is — um, blacker?

This morning, the supplier wanted to know if I wanted black, or black/black.

“What is the difference?” I asked.

“Well, there is black, but the black/black is darker than the black,” she explained.

“What could be darker than black?” I asked.

“Black/black is darker than black.”

“Black/black isn’t even a color,” I accused. “Black/black is someone just saying black twice.”

I dunno. There are times when I have to side with Zaphod Beeblebrox:

When you try and operate one of these weird black controls which are labelled in black on a black background a small black light lights up black to let you know you’ve done it. What is this? Some kind of intergalactic hyperhearse?

And there are times when I adopt the standards of Nigel Tufnel:

It’s like, how much more black could this be? and the answer is none. None more black.

But ultimately, black is black, dammit:

Arguably the biggest hit ever to come from a Spanish band with a German vocalist and a British producer.

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Whose asphalt is it?

Mark Alger points out that the people who are supposed to be making money off motor fuels aren’t:

Whenever the subject is the price of gasoline, some smart guy always points out that the gas station owner makes a penny a gallon, and the oil company ten cents, while the government grabs a buck-and-a-half. That grab is suppose to be going to highways — to pay both for new construction and for upkeep.

What did they do with that money? Hmm?

I have a brother who runs a C-store in the Texas Hill Country. Sometimes, he says, he makes as much as two cents a gallon. (I asked him if the markup was any higher on premium; he said it wasn’t.)

The government, however, has yet to grab $1.50 a gallon — so far. The American Petroleum Institute, which has no reason to minimize the numbers, puts out a report every quarter that breaks down both federal and state taxes on gas, and only in four states — I’m sure you can guess which ones — was the combined take in excess of 60 cents. (The Federal excise tax of 18.4 cents is applied nationwide.)

And truth be told, I wouldn’t object too much to a modest increase in the gas tax were there some sort of guarantee that it would be used for what it’s supposed to be used for — but what are the chances of that?

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