Disassembly required

Mark Alger on the development of skills:

I learn best and fastest by breaking something and then fixing it. The urgency of needing to get a system or object back into working order has some bearing on this, I’m sure, as does the “muscle memory” of having done something — even only once — as opposed to merely reading about it. And then I read how many really smart and inventive people got their start exploring the universe by taking things apart as a kid.

That first sentence hits home, because I would never have learned how to build PCs if I hadn’t broken a couple of them early on. Not that this is a particularly useful skill anymore, since the price on basic units has dropped so far that it’s no longer worth my time to assemble a working machine from a box of parts.

I did take apart a lot of things as a kid, though I seem to remember that I successfully reassembled relatively few of them.

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Smells like Gramps’ Old Spice

Roger Green plays the “old fogey” card, musically speaking:

I’m trying to figure out that moment when I stopped following current music.

In my case, it was somewhere in the middle 1980s, about the time Top 40 radio as we know it ceased to exist, replaced by a bewildering panoply of niche formats, each trying to squeeze out an Arbitron rating point or three. I managed to avoid it for almost twenty years, which no doubt explains why my 6700-track iTunes install on the work box has fewer recordings from the 1990s than from any other decade during which I was actually alive, excluding the current one, which has a few years to go yet. (Not that it matters, but the earliest track is from 1918.)

A few years back, I dialed back in. Radio obviously hadn’t improved in the interim, but my environment had changed: I had a coworker not quite half my age who was conversant with at least some of the current stuff, and she was happy to pass along suggestions, based on what sort of noises she’d heard me playing. And perhaps more to the point, the retail market had changed back to the way it was when I grew up: iTunes and other Internet music sources might officially be promoting albums, but they’d happily sell you the two or three tracks you wanted without making you take the seven or eight you didn’t.

Which is not to say that I quit buying albums. Mostly, though, they’re either from relatively recent acts or reissues of stuff I missed the first time around. (Examples of the latter: Rudy Van Gelder’s remastered editions of John Coltrane’s Blue Train and Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool.) I have mentioned my fondness for She & Him, the duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, and for Trent Reznor’s recent soundtrack work with Atticus Ross. And yes, I have all three Rebecca Black singles: she has yet to release an actual album.

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Wheels for the next generation

Brendan McAleer on how to buy your kid a car, sort of:

[F]irst my dad taught me to drive in our BMW 535i, which was fast and awesome. Then, he decreed that I would only be allowed to borrow our 1976 Land Rover, which was not those things. It had about twenty-four horsepower and all the horses had three legs and emphysema and rickets and were heavy smokers.

It also had no ABS, no airbags, and no skid control; it didn’t even have power steering. It did have a crumple-zone, and his name was Brendan McAleer and he survives to tell you about his experiences today. I never drove that car without being slightly terrified, even when parked, and it made me cautious and slow and safe.

Similarly, yours truly got his first taste of The Road in a VW Microbus. It was not even slightly red, and did not contain shovels and rakes and implements of destruction, except on an incidental basis, but it did teach me never to assume I could outrun anything. Even today, it takes me a few milliseconds to remember that I have about five times as many ponies at my disposal and actually can outrun a few things, not a useful delay when I’m coming up one of this state’s idiotically short onramps and finding an eighteen-wheeler suddenly emerging from the inevitable blind spot.

As for my kids, they got mucho experience with vehicles for which “beater” is a euphemism, the worst being Muff the Tragic Wagon, my daughter’s Ford Escort. Come to think of it, her brother has also owned an Escort, albeit the alleged sport-coupe version. And their mom’s last few cars have been largish Ford and/or Mercury sedans. Maybe I don’t have any influence at all.

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Quote of the week

Dwain Price, Dallas Mavericks beat writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, tweeted this last night after the Mavs dropped one to San Antonio:

When asked was he surpsied [sic] about having a Did Not Play-Coaches Decision tonight vs. the Spurs, #Mavs F Lamar Odom said: “I buried a child.”

No one takes a DNP-CD particularly well, exactly, but this seems unusually morose, even for Odom, until you remember that he has buried a child: in 2006, son Jayden, six months, died of SIDS. So this was Odom’s dismissal of the incident: nothing Rick Carlisle can do to him can possibly compare to what he’s already been through.

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Not a cola or a root beer

Will Truman’s Hierarchy of Soft Drinks:

Livewire is better than Supernova is better than Gamefuel Green is better than Voltage is better than Gamefuel Red is better than Whiteout and anything is better than Code Red.

Well, almost anything:

I dislike Code Red 99% of the time, but it alternates with Pitch Black as the go-to flavor if I want something that tastes putrid. But not V8 putrid. That stuff is nasty.

I’m not about to ask him how often he actually wants something that tastes putrid.

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Kate of Kate Hall

This particular piece had its origins in the spinning of an old 45, which got me wondering whatever happened to Verve’s Forecast label, on which it had been issued. To my surprise, I found that it had been revived a few years back, and was serving the same purpose it was in the 1960s: a place for Verve’s non-jazz acts. One-time American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee had cut an album for Verve Forecast, including this song she’d sung in an episode of CSI: NY:

And then I wondered: do I have a picture of this woman? I did:

Katharine McPhee

This shot dates from 2008, though I have no idea of the context. (Andrew Southam took it, and I thank him for so doing.) And McPhee turns twenty-eight tomorrow, which means I have no excuse for not posting it.

(Title from The Taming of the Shrew, Act II, Scene 1, in which Petruchio is seeming to overdo it just a little.)

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Wooden it be nice

Trees that reach the height of a ten-story building are not that uncommon. Ten-story buildings actually made out of trees — well, let’s see:

The proposed 10-storey Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George will become a test case for creating a value-added forest products industry around tall wood building construction methods that would differ radically from the way traditional mid-rise and even highrise buildings are constructed.

[Jobs Minister Pat] Bell told The Vancouver Sun that within 30 days, the province will seek qualified firms to design and construct the building out of engineered wood beam products instead of traditional concrete and steel beams. The province has already received 34 expressions of interest.

Vancouver architect Michael Green has done the math:

Green’s study says laminated wood beams and slabs — which can range up to 1.2 metres (four feet) wide, 18 centimetres (seven inches) thick and 19.5 metres (64 feet) long — have similar properties to concrete and steel and can be used to replace them in many cases. The resulting building would be lighter, comparable in cost and far more environmentally friendly than steel and concrete.

They would be more fire-resistant than wood-frame buildings, meeting the same requirements as concrete and steel buildings.

The current provincial building code limits wooden structures to six stories, so presumably an exception, or a permanent change, will be sought.

(Via OKC expat Sid Burgess.)

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One of those titanic defensive struggles

As Wayne and Garth would then interject: NOT! A hundred twenty-four points were scored in the first 24 minutes, and things hardly slowed down in the second half: with 28 seconds left, it was tied at 113-all. The Thunder worked almost every last bit of the shot clock before Kevin Durant sank a 26-footer to put OKC up by three; Kevin Love fired one from the corner over Russell Westbrook to tie it at 116 with one second left. Durant clanked one at the buzzer, and overtime ensued. With 36 seconds left, Rick Adelman’s new and improved Timberwolves had forged a five-point lead; Westbrook and then Durant erased that, a J. J. Barea long-ball fell short, and the second overtime ensued. There would not be a third. “An absolute epic,” said radio guy Matt Pinto, and Game 48 ends with a 149-140 (!) Thunder win. (Telltale statistic comes early: OKC got 22 points in the twelve-minute fourth quarter, and 20 points in the five-minute second overtime. This is called getting it done, finally.)

There was reason to think it might actually be impossible to stop Kevin Love. He singlehandedly kept the Wolves in the first overtime, and finished with 51 points: 16-27 from the floor, 7-11 from beyond the arc, 12-16 from the stripe, and, oh, fourteen rebounds. Calling this a double-double is almost an insult. And J. J. Barea had a triple-double: 25 points, 10 boards, 14 assists. Six Wolves finished in double figures. You have to wonder what might have happened had Ricky Rubio (out for the season), Nikola Peković and Michael Beasley (lesser injuries) been able to play.

Or maybe you don’t. The Thunder made 60 of 113 shots for 53 percent, missed only one of 20 free throws, and Westbrook, like his old college chum Love, hit a career high: 45 points on 17-28 shooting. Durant put up 40 points (15-26) and grabbed 17 rebounds, the latter one short of a career high. James Harden, as ever, led the bench with 25. Incredibly, Scott Brooks played only nine men tonight: evidently he didn’t see anyone worn out and/or didn’t want to mess with the flow.

And here’s a number to conjure with: 63. That’s the number of 3-pointers attempted tonight. The Wolves made 14 of 36 (39 percent); the Thunder, 10 of 27 (37 percent.) Any more than that and they’ll have to cover the seats, not with T-shirts, but with flak jackets.

The Heat had little trouble with the Pistons tonight, so when they get here Sunday they should be in something resembling top form. Will this game be on national television? I’d bet Newt Gingrich is having it beamed to the lunar colony.

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This could be yours if the price is right

Aside from all those millions you poured into it already, of course:

Solyndra HQ

If you need to look at it more closely, well, here you go.

(Via KSFO Radio in San Francisco.)

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Insufficiently Krafty

Nancy Friedman, who knows about such things, reminds us of this rule for naming:

If you need diacritical marks to clarify the pronunciation of your name, it isn’t clear enough on its own. A corollary: Print and online media won’t bother to use your fancy accent marks.

I might point out that even if I have occasion to use them at work, I really can’t: all the Big Iron that runs my end of the shop is IBM, hence EBCDIC, and it can’t deal with any accent marks except for the really easy ones like ñ and ç. The Mac half of the place would have no problem, of course, but they’re not going to be asked to produce the bulk stuff.

Not that I’m likely to be running any material for these guys:

Kraft Foods, which calls itself a “global snacks powerhouse” — it’s the parent company of Oreo, Cheez Whiz, Jell-O, and many other brands — is splitting into two companies, a North American grocery foods business and a global snack foods business. This week it announced that the snack business will be called Mondelez International.

Which, in the headline at the link but apparently nowhere else, is spelled “Mondelēz,” to remind you that the last syllable rhymes with “ease” (yay!) or “sleaze” (boo!).

Quipped Friedman: “Perhaps you, like I, had this initial response: ‘World of lesbians?'”

Um, no, though what I did think of was almost tweetworthy.

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Fridays to come

Malibu beachThe last Rebecca Black report of 2011 mentioned that she was planning a remake — a re-imaging, if you prefer — of “Friday,” the very song that made her semi-famous, and said that she wanted it “to sound we’re on the beach with friends, someone’s got a guitar, there’s drums.”

So when the above shot of Malibu showed up in her tweetstream with a reference to “filming the new video,” well, I can put two and Tuesday together. Maybe.

Outside of, um, work, she reports that she tried her hand at archery, and, “well, let’s just say Katniss would be disappointed.”

Along those lines, there exists a Hunger Games District 12 Bow, probably not suitable for actual archery, and bearing a California Prop 65 warning. Evidently it causes cancer or something.

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Absolute drivel

Most spam is at least relative drivel by definition. I had thought that the ancient technique of hiding lots of unreadable text in email, presumably making the Actual Spam Part proportionately less detectable, had fallen into well-deserved desuetude, but apparently there are traditionalists out there yet.

The come-on:

Check out this Great Video that reveals a completely legal “trick” that can slash your electric bill by 75% or more in less than a month.

This of course runs up against received-the-hard-way wisdom: things that really are “completely legal” generally don’t have to tell you so.

There’s a link under that, and below it several lines of white text on a white background. Then again, as a traditionalist in a different realm, I open all this stuff as plain text, and this garbage was my reward for so doing:

However, the commonly reported statement that the action scenes are continuous shots is not entirely true. Visual effects supervisor Frazer Churchill explains that the effects team had to “combine several takes to create impossibly long shots”, where their job was to “create the illusion of a continuous camera move.” Once the team was able to create a “seamless blend”, they would move on to the next shot. These techniques were important for three continuous shots: the coffee shop explosion in the opening shot, the car ambush, and the battlefield scene. The coffee shop scene was composed of “two different takes shot over two consecutive days”; the car ambush was shot in “six sections and at four different locations over one week and required five seamless digital transitions”; and the battlefield scene “was captured in five separate takes over two locations”. Churchill and the Double Negative team created over 160 of these types of effects for the film. In an interview with Variety, Cuarón acknowledged this nature of the “single-shot” action sequences: “Maybe I’m spilling a big secret, but sometimes it’s more than what it looks like. The important thing is how you blend everything and how you keep the perception of a fluid choreography through all of these different pieces.” Tim Webber of VFX house Framestore CFC was responsible for the three-and-a-half minute single take of Kee giving birth, helping to choreograph and create the CG effects of the childbirth. Cuarón had originally intended to use an animatronic baby as Kee’s child with the exception of the childbirth scene. In the end, two takes were shot, with the second take concealing Claire-Hope Ashitey’s legs, replacing them with prosthetic legs. Cuarón was pleased with the results of the effect, and returned to previous shots of the baby in animatronic form, replacing them with Framestore’s computer-generated baby. Sound See also: Children of Men (soundtracks) Cuarón uses sound and music to bring the fictional world of social unrest and infertility to life. A creative yet restrained combination of rock, pop, electronic music, hip-hop and classical music replaces the typical film score. The mundane sounds of traffic, barking dogs, and advertisements follow the character of Theo through London, East Sussex and Kent, producing what Los Angeles Times writer Kevin Crust calls an “urban audio rumble”. For Crust, the music comments indirectly on the barren world of Children of Men: Deep Purple’s version of “Hush” blaring from Jasper’s car radio becomes a “sly lullaby for a world without babies” while King Crimson’s “The Court of the Crimson King” make a similar allusion with their lyrics, “three lullabies in an ancient tongue”. Amongst a genre-spanning selection of electronic music, a remix of Aphex Twin’s “Omgyjya Switch 7″, which includes additional samples of screams not present on the original can be heard during thea suspicious guard with mania and is taken away.organization issued a retraction. President George H. W. Bush then repeated the incubator allegations on television.seemed unto him a heap; The days of my charge, my oath, when she gave men began to preserve you leave his servants, and cut off their sacks, that, when all the land of heaven were naked; and ashes: peradventure there hath triumphed gloriously: The end of great and all the land of Seir the land of Zeboiim, and all countries came to pass, that which turned every bird after he beget, and twenty rams, thirty and the daughter of the Levites according to us make.

Everything up to thea, which I italicized to make it easier to find, was lifted from this Wikipedia page.

And then there’s one last line, not obscured: “We live on a 500-acre ranch, beautiful ranch.” Wonder what their electric bills look like.

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Comment dehancement

I’d puzzled over one particular quandary for several days, and finally found an answer at Nicole’s:

I had no idea but apparently there is something happening with WordPress that makes commenting a difficult runaround for some folks. It seems it is largely being seen by folks who have Gravatars.

The workaround, of course, is unnecessarily complicated.

Oddly, the first place I ran into a problem with this was Equestria Daily, which runs on Blogger. But they’ve secretly replaced the regular Blogger commenting system with IntenseDebate, which, like Gravatar and WordPress, is another Automattic product.

No one’s reported a problem commenting here, perhaps because I’m not hosted at WordPress.com, or because I go to the trouble of suppressing Gravatars.

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Roboslop

Dave Schuler, having been on the receiving end of scores of automated phone calls of late — he lives in Illinois, which just had a primary — offers several reasons why the damnable things still exist:

  • They’re advertised heavily and enthusiastically by companies marketing products and services to enable campaigns to perform robocalls.
  • They’re cheaper than television or radio spots.
  • They don’t believe that direct mail works.
  • They don’t have the money or ability to organize grassroots campaigns.
  • Robocalls enable candidates to give the appearance of grassroots support without any.
  • They probably don’t know what else to do.

“If they have any power at all,” he says, “it’s to discourage me from voting for a candidate who uses them.” It would do the same for me if I knew which candidate was using them at any given moment; I have pretty much quit answering the phone except for the rare occasion when I recognize the Caller ID tag.

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Sertanly strange

Um, Celebrities Who Look Like Mattresses.

[Insert Sleep Number joke here.]

(Via this Syaffolee tweet.)

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Noah count

Marcel stumbles into the lower end of the lexicographical spectrum:

While I was gathering stuff to donate to the thrift shop, an odd little book turned up. It’s a vest-pocked-sized dictionary, at most thirty years old. It seems like it came with something else, like maybe a toilet kit or overnight bag, but I don’t really remember. “Webster Dictionary, self pronouncing,” it calls itself. The title page says it’s not published by the original publishers of Webster’s Dictionary or their successors. Who is it published by? The Publishers, apparently. That’s who signed the preface anyway. It doesn’t say when or where they published it, though it does say “Made in U.S.A.”

Variations of this disclaimer have existed for a hundred years. G. & C. Merriam Company (now Merriam-Webster), the actual successors to Noah Webster, attempted early in the 20th century to enforce the Webster’s trademark; they were not successful, but the courts held that those wanting to use the name must clearly differentiate their products from Merriam’s. (See, for instance, J. S. Ogilvie & Co., who published a non-Merriam Webster.)

While pondering this matter, Marcel came up with this idea:

Anyone can print up copies of The Aeneid and sell them to whoever will buy for whatever he’ll pay, except in California. This ties in with a scheme the Obama administration would love: Require all pharmacists to honor any coupon for birth control pills; then Congressmen could use their franking privileges to mail coupons to all their constituents. The pharmacist could distribute the pills with a copy of The Origin of Species. That’s in the public domain, right?

Presumably since 1901. The Copyright Act of 1834 extended the term of copyright to 28 years with one 14-year renewal; Darwin’s magnum opus came out in 1859.

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