On the far side of Lake Wobegon

Over at Hot or Not, the sole attraction used to be a seemingly endless collection of pictures of various and sundry individuals, which you would presumably rate for hotness, or perhaps notness. This gets really old really fast, especially for some soft-headed bozo like me who’s reluctant to give anyone less than a 4 out of a possible 10, except, of course, himself; when asked to rate myself on this scale in the past, I have usually said somewhere between 2 and 3, though lately I’ve cut myself a little more slack — say, 3.5.

But maybe I was right the first time:

Scientific American reports that a new study finds that “most of us think that we are better than we actually are — not just physically, but in every way.”

Psychologists Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago and Erin Whitchurch of the University of Virginia put together a slightly less feel-good experiment than the idealized setup in the Dove commercial above.

Participants were shown a cluster of images of themselves. One was original. The rest were digitally doctored. Some made the participant less attractive, while others made them more attractive. When asked to select the unmodified original, subjects tended to gravitate to one of the computer-enhanced images that made them look better.

It didn’t stop there. A stranger who had met the participant a few weeks earlier was asked to select that person from the same set of portraits. Surprise: They tended to pick the unmodified, less-than-perfect original.

And it gets worse. Says SA:

Most people believe that they are above average, a statistical impossibility. The above average effects, as they are called, are common. For example, 93 percent of drivers rate themselves as better than the median driver. Of college professors, 94 percent say that they do above-average work. People are unrealistically optimistic about their own health risks compared with those of other people. For example, people think that they are less susceptible to the flu than others. Stock pickers think the stocks they buy are more likely to end up winners than those of the average investor. If you think that self-enhancement biases exist in other people and they do not apply to you, you are not alone.

Nor do I have this going for me:

A 1995 study concluded that “negative correlations between individuals’ overall self-enhancement of their personality” led to more favorability among their peers [pdf]. In other words, people who didn’t think the world of themselves were more motivated to present themselves to others in a more positive light. They were more likable, possibly because they weren’t insufferable narcissists.

I admittedly don’t think the world of myself, but I do try to avoid presenting myself in too positive a light.

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A fairly B9 artifact

Sam the Sham’s “Wooly Bully” came out shortly after my eleventh birthday, and having lived a relatively sheltered life up to that point, I had no idea what Sam meant by “Let’s not be L7.” Eventually, of course, I did figure it out — I’m not entirely dim — and in my later years I was delighted to see that there was an actual band called L7. Better yet, they’d put out a song called “Bite the Wax Tadpole,” which was alleged to be “Coca-Cola” in Chinese.

Eventually the band drifted from punk to grunge, and put out this anthem which every so often gets stuck in my head:

I am not in a position to explain that brief trou drop.

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Decor values

Another one of those Not Unreasonable Questions: How Far Can You Go in Decorating Your Cubicle?

Some employers have written guidelines about personalizing workspaces, while many others do not. What’s appropriate is sometimes difficult to define.

But a survey of marketing and advertising executives uncovered objects that would strike someone as surprising in most office settings — a live pig, punching bag, mermaid sculpture, a pair of men’s underwear, a rock collection, hair dryer, and a drawer full of clothes.

Not being any kind of executive, I figure no one should be surprised at my shrine to Twilight Sparkle.

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Meanwhile on the Amazon

I had five items on order from the World’s Largest Invisible Retailer, all of which arrived the same day — yesterday — and three of which required explanations.

Two of them (a book and a CD) had been preordered at some price X, which since had dropped to some lower price Y. The charges were adjusted accordingly, with X-Y equal to $1 on the book and $6.34 on the CD.

And then a credit for $2.79 showed up; evidently I’d qualified for Super Saver (free) Shipping, had checked the box accordingly, and yet didn’t notice that I’d been charged anyway.

None of this, however, compares to the corporate announcement that they’re acquiring licenses from intellectual-property owners to permit Kindle publication of fanfiction. Surely no one is going to pay for my pony stories; still, the idea goes beyond intriguing. (And besides, I said no one was going to read them, either, and that was 3,200 readers ago.)

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Finder’s keepers

This is apparently Rebecca Black’s desktop:

Screen shot from Rebecca Black's Mac

Two things (apart from Hello Kitty in the center) jumped out at me:

  • There’s a folder called “My Book.” Oh, really?
  • AIM? Seriously?

Addendum: It just dawned on me. AOL first put AIM online in May 1997. The service is therefore one month older than Rebecca Black.

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Quote of the week

Nicole Hill (no relation) on being from this little corner of the globe:

At some point, life punches you in the gut for the first time. You watch the hand of God come down, and an entire town disappears off the map.

You fall to your knees and you cry and you spit and you cuss the day and night. And then you get up.

You don’t waste your time asking the heavens why. There’s work to be done.

You see someone else shaking their fists at the sky, so you reach your hand down. And then they get up.

That’s what being an Oklahoman is. Being so goddamned resilient and perseverant that ain’t nothing or nobody can keep you down. I’ve been a lot of places, lived in a few of them, and met many great people. Without minimizing anyone else, Oklahomans are a different breed. When you’re a little guy used to getting kicked, you not only learn to pop back up but you become the first one to reach out to others.

If you were wondering about that #okstandard hashtag, now you know. Even if you weren’t born here, as I wasn’t.

And yes, I meant “corner of the globe.” A lot of us are deemed square pegs by various holes glorying in their roundness.

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Shrimp engine thrown on barbie

Ford is phasing out its manufacturing operations in Australia, following years of declining demand for its big-bruiser Falcon and Territory models:

“The company had hoped to stem the flow of customers out of Falcon with an EcoBoost engine, which was a highly advanced two-litre turbo four-cylinder as opposed to the traditional six-cylinder. Unfortunately, even though the EcoBoost Falcon is a fantastic vehicle out of Australia, the reality was that Falcon buyers don’t want a little four-pot, and buyers stayed away.”

The one genuine advantage of the EcoBoost — less weight over the front wheels — is realized in front-wheel drive vehicles, which these aren’t.

The last Oz-built Fords will appear in 2016.

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Sliding into the sunset

The last time we checked in with Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, the state was moving heaven and earth to prevent disclosure of the black-box data created when Murray crashed his state car on a cold night.

Now Murray’s returning to the private sector, and he swears it has nothing to do with this:

Murray said his plan to resign has nothing to do with an investigation into whether his campaign committee improperly accepted donations raised by former Chelsea Housing Authority Director Michael McLaughlin.

Although his new gig at the Worcester Chamber of Commerce apparently pays better than working for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We’ll see if the C of C actually gives him a car to drive.

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This might be literally accurate

Figuratively speaking, anyway:

Silly pie graph

(Clearly, via GraphJam.)

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Sort of an April/May romance

There being a pertinent case in play — one’s 18, one’s 14Robert Stacy McCain offers this quote from the authorities:

“The idea is to protect people in that vulnerable group from people who are older, 18 and above,” said Bruce Colton, state attorney for Florida’s 19th circuit, which includes Indian River County and other parts of the Treasure Coast. “The statute specifically says that consent is not a defense.”

Colton said … this case exemplifies the purpose of the current law and added he would not support any effort to make consensual relationships among peers legal.

“There’s a big maturity difference between them,” he said. “You’re talking the difference between a senior in high school and a freshman in high school. That’s what the law is designed to protect.”

While I appreciate Mr Colton’s concern, I must note for the historical record that when I was a senior in high school, I was no more mature than the frosh.

(Then again, nothing happened. Nothing that violates any laws of Florida or, um, of South Carolina, anyway.)

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To everything, churn, churn, churn

Nicole pondered this matter earlier in the week:

Maybe I should migrate to Tumblr… All I do lately is reblog and post pictures and links.

Meanwhile, Pejman Yousefzadeh, one of the few Tumblr users on Ye Olde Link List, has migrated to Squarespace.

What does all this mean? I haven’t a clue.

Also this week, Yahoo!, which recently bought Tumblr for no discernible reason, has shaken up Flickr:

Yahoo unveiled some big changes to Flickr on Monday, both in terms of features and overall design. One of those changes is that free users are no longer limited to a certain number of photos; instead, everyone gets 1TB of space for their full-resolution photos.

With that change comes an end to what used to be the biggest difference between free Flickr accounts and Flickr Pro. As it turns out, that’s by design. In addition to lifting the previous upload and storage limits, Flickr is quietly discontinuing its Flickr Pro accounts (existing Pro users can continue to use Flickr Pro) and shifting to a different type of upgrade model.

The different type of upgrade model, incidentally, costs twice as much — or twenty times as much if somehow you have 2 TB of photos.

I just might let my Pro account quietly expire, though I haven’t made up my mind yet, and anyway it’s paid for through the end of this year. (I have, I’m guessing, somewhere around 0.02 TB of photos.)

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Powdered heavily, and dieting

Tuesday, science writer Jennifer Ouellette tweeted thusly:

I sent up a response: “She was quite lovely — and downright brilliant. I pity those who believe someone can’t be both.”

The next day, this vision was visited upon us, or upon some of us anyway:

Laura Fernee

The story so far:

Meet Laura Fernee, a 33-year-old academic who claims she was hounded out of her work because of her beauty.

Fernee, who has a PhD and worked as a scientific researcher, has been unemployed for two years and now lives with her parents, who very kindly pay for her flat, shopping and expenses — to the tune of £2,000 a month.

The Daily Mail, always cattier than thou, notes that her research job paid only £30,000 a year, presumably taxable. And this quote seems a tad disingenuous:

She said men left “romantic gifts” on her desk and she was “constantly asked out”, which she found “sleazy”.

“Even when I was in a laboratory in scrubs with no make-up they still came on to me because of my natural attractiveness.”

You know, somebody ought to do some research into this sort of thing. Can’t be Hedy, because she’s dead; can’t be Laura, because she’s writing a book about how horrible it is to be gorgeous. What’s Samantha Brick doing these days?

(Via Interested-Participant.)

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X marks the box

Perhaps the most exasperating aspect of this week’s Xbox One reveal:

People are bitching about needing to be online to activate their games. How are they bitching? By going on the internet and typing up storms.


Irony has worn a mask since long before Alanis Morissette.

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Cellar, shmellar

Not an unreasonable question: “Why aren’t there more storm cellars in Oklahoma?” Megan Garber explains to Atlantic readers something I’ve explained before in less detail:

The ground in central Oklahoma tends to be soft and moist — right down to the bedrock that sits, generally, some 20 to 100 feet below the surface.

Here’s the problem with that when it comes to building basements and underground shelters: Clay is particularly fickle as a foundation for construction. When loamy soils absorb rainwater, they expand. And when the weather’s dry, they contract. This inevitable and yet largely unpredictable variability makes basement-building a particular challenge, since it makes it nearly impossible to establish firm foundations for underground construction.

And while above-ground homes can be built on these somewhat shaky foundations, adding the element of open space in the form of a basement is a nearly impossible feat of engineering. There is a chance your house, its basement surrounded by glorified mud, will eventually simply topple into itself.

One of the houses I looked at before buying this one was about to slide off a hill, possibly for exactly that reason. Same price as mine, for half again the space — for a while, anyway.

But why not…? This is why not:

To mitigate this, contractors have been experimenting with steel reinforcements for basements, bolstering underground walls with steel beams that are drilled directly into the bedrock below. The problem here, though, is that much of Oklahoma’s bedrock is composed of limestone, which, just like the soil above it, absorbs water. And which, when it’s sapped of moisture, becomes chalky.

About the only thing Garber gets wrong in the whole article, in fact, is her placement of Moore in Oklahoma County. It is, of course, in Cleveland County, as is the section of Oklahoma City that was hit before the storm reached Moore.

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Especially if you’re burning oil

No one is arguing that auto emissions are actually good for you, but this doesn’t sound promising at all:

The American Heart Association’s journal on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology has concluded that high levels of vehicle emissions can cause high cholesterol in mice, which could indicate that air pollution is a contributing factor in high cholesterol or vascular disease.

In the study, mice were exposed to diesel exhaust for two weeks “at a particulate mass concentration within the range of what mine workers usually are exposed to” (according to UCLA), which, not surprisingly, had a negative effect on the bloodstream. First, the air pollution altered the HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein, a.k.a. “good cholesterol”) to the point that the positive properties of the protein were reduced and could lead to high levels of LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein, “bad cholesterol”) and hardening of the arteries.

Now I wonder if the price of a California smog certificate can be covered by health insurance.

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Pick up your Q

Maggie Q, whose birthday this is — she’s thirty-four — was a model in Tokyo and Taipei, though not a particularly successful one; eventually she landed in Hong Kong, did some minor film work, and was noticed by Jackie Chan, who got her a small role in Rush Hour 2, which led to bigger things.

That sort of résumé might suggest to you that she pulled this stage name out of thin air, to replace some difficult-to-spell string of characters originating somewhere in the Pacific Rim. Um, no. Think “Margaret Denise Quigley.” Her father is of Irish and Polish extraction; her mother is Vietnamese.

Maggie Q enjoys a lovely beverage

In addition to her film and television work — she’s the lead in Nikita, currently running on the CW — she’s done promotional material for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

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