Punch it

Microsoft says the controller for the new Xbox One will stand up to years of abuse by button-mashers:

[T]esting is still continuing, although the design has been finalised, and that the latest batch are withstanding over 3 million button presses — way over the target — and way beyond the 10-year projected lifespan of the new console.

Still undetermined: the life of your screen after you hurl this burly controller at it because the console just exhibited the New and Improved Red Ring of Death.

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It was their doody as artists

Or you might think it was just a load of crap:

Difficult territory is a cornerstone of the visual arts — so artist Mikala Dwyer knew it would be confronting [Friday] night when she invited Balletlab dancers to empty their bowels as part of a performance at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.

The two-hour act saw the six dancers, masked but naked beneath sheer garments, move around a room in the gallery before sitting on transparent stools and performing — only if they were moved to do so — what is usually one of our most private and rarely discussed daily acts.

Not rarely enough.

(Title of course inspired by Dawn Eden, who has since gone on to better things.)

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Rebate and switch

Last year, CFI Care (not its real initials) sent out a form letter to the effect that this wasn’t going to be an issue for them:

The Affordable Care Act requires health insurers in the individual and small group market to spend at least 80 percent of the premiums they receive on health care services and activities to improve health care quality (in the large group market, this amount is 85 percent). This is referred to at the Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) rule or the 80/20 rule. If a health insurer does not spend at least 80 percent of the premiums it receives on health care services and activities to improve health care quality, the insurer must rebate the difference.

This year? It’s an issue. Upon doing the actual calculations, they discovered that they had in fact forked out a hair under 78 percent, and therefore would have to issue rebate checks — or, alternatively, would have to credit the appropriate sum against this year’s premiums. I assume they did the latter, since I have received no such check and since there was relatively little wailing and/or gnashing of teeth in the front office this past January at renewal time.

Possible downside: should the carrier meet the 80-percent spec next time around, the expected premium increase might look even bigger than it really is.

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Chirpy cheap

Steve Sailer explains how “Made in China” turned into a warning label:

I have this hunch that Chinese manufacturers believe that Americans like the act of shopping, like going to the store and tossing stuff into their shopping carts. So, it’s okay with us if the stuff they make breaks. In fact, the faster stuff falls apart, the more Americans — deep down — like it because that just gives us another excuse to go to the store and toss more crap in our carts, which is what we really like.

Of course, we don’t say that; instead, we say that we’re “price-conscious.” What we mean is that there’s only one thing better than ten pounds of crap in a five-pound bag, and that’s twenty pounds of crap in a five-pound bag.

I suspect that the Chinese can produce pretty much any quality level you ask; but if you’re in the business of selling ten pounds of crap at the five-pound-bag price, you’re probably not going to get it from someone who’s gone to the trouble of getting ISO 9001 certification.

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To the voicemail with you

Apart from a glimpse of Jill Clayburgh in the shower, the most memorable thing about First Monday in October, a 1981 film about the first woman on the Supreme Court, was this grumble by Walter Matthau’s Associate Justice character: “The telephone has no Constitutional right to be answered.”

I thought of that line when Janie told this story about her phone merrily ringing away in her purse:

“Aren’t you worried something happened?”

“Well, 20 years ago we didn’t all have cellphones and if there was an emergency we just found out about it after the fact and we survived. Besides, even if there was an emergency what would I do about it? If someone died, knowing an hour earlier wouldn’t do me or them any more good than finding out an hour later, and if there had been an accident an ambulance would get my family to the hospital faster than I could, so, again, what good would it do to find out and be able to do nothing about it until it was too late?”

I generally turn my cell phone off at work, though this is at least partly motivated by the fact that my workplace is in a weird reception hole with Schrödinger’s signal: it might be there, or it might not. And if the phone is trying desperately to latch onto a signal, the battery drain increases markedly. Besides, it always looks better to not be on the phone at work.

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Not that I’d knock the need for speed, mind you:

And hey, it’s better than paying the Rolling Stones a zillion dollars.

(Via Bayou Renaissance Man.)

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And now, the good news

An interesting statistic from Dave Schuler:

In 1950 there were fewer than 100 sovereign countries in the world. Today there are well over 200 and I think that trend is more likely to continue than to reverse itself. I don’t see any prospects for world government in my lifetime.

Live long and prosper, Mr. Schuler. Please.

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Just short of impossible

Those of us with empty dance cards presumably should take heart from the story of Peter Backus:

In 2010, while a tutor at England’s University of Warwick, he wrote a research paper called “Why I Don’t Have A Girlfriend.” Its subtitle will, I know, make several of you swoon: “An application of the Drake Equation to love in the U.K.”

Frank Drake, of course, was looking, not for love, but for a way to jumpstart the discussion of possible extraterrestrial civilizations. Then again, if you’re sure there’s no one on this planet for you — but I’m getting ahead of myself:

As far as he was concerned, though, his chances of finding a loving partner were 1 in 285,000.

Which probability is, by definition, nonzero, but “infinitesimal” comes immediately to mind.

That said, you’ll want to know this:

Peter Backus is getting married. You will be wondering whether he has compromised his principles… “It was just a chance meeting, just a friend of a friend,” he told the Today Show.

So there you have it. As with so many things in life, thinking doesn’t help. Calculating will do nothing for you. The singularity will merely keep you single.

Still: 1/285,000? And to think I was complaining about 1/1238.

(Via this Danica McKellar tweet.)

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This is not about me

But some of it sounds like it could have been, almost:

At some point late in his childhood, he began to tell stories about things in the world he had heard about, and read about, and talked about, particularly the things he had talked with his father about. Current events, history, philosophy, and every sort of idea filled the thousands of stories that he told. Though he had never had a trouble writing essays for a grade, still he was quite bad at telling a good story to begin with. But he enjoyed it, and he kept at it. After more than a decade of such storytelling, he began to find that the number of stories he produced that he was proud of was beginning to exceed the ones he considered duds.

Yet the fact that he never spent any of that energy telling the kinds of stories that excited him as a boy ate at him. He thought, surely, as I have been telling stories all along, it would be a simple matter to switch over and start doing the other sort. But domain dependence turns out to be far narrower than he had thought; writing fiction was hard work, while writing nonfiction came as easily to him as breathing.

Within my tiny niche, I have a reputation that tilts slightly positive; the other day on EqD, one of my Actual Fans praised a story by a new writer by saying that his style reminded her of me, only younger. (As who isn’t?) Still, it’s hard damned work; for every chapter that might spill out of me in an hour or two, there’s a paragraph somewhere that took an entire day to polish up. (And the stuff I spent most of Monday on will be largely rewritten Saturday, because I keep thinking of stuff that should have been put in but wasn’t and/or stuff that shouldn’t have been put in but was.) Once I get five million words of fiction done — I am a little over one percent of the way — perhaps it will be at least as acceptable as the five million words of nonfiction I’ve done here over the past seventeen years.

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Troth unplightable

A decade or so ago, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead wrote a book called Why There Are No Good Men Left: The Romantic Plight of the New Single Woman, which prompted a discussion here. This topic, of course, is evergreen, and Jennifer’s expertise is at least as extensive as mine, if not more so:

I’ve been out of the dating scene for over 15 years. My insight comes from watching you people fumble through it.

Of course, a fumble inside the five-yard line is different from a fumble on a kickoff return, but the results are suboptimal either way.

Anyway, she has a very good discussion going, with comments ranging from quietly content to deeply bitter — and really, how could it be otherwise?

In lieu of a response from me, a purely fictional (of course) equine version, after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sort of bubbly

Singer Colbie Caillat turns 28 today. She wasn’t planning to get into the music business, despite family connections — father Ken is an A-list producer, best known for his work with the late-Seventies version (the one that sold all the records) of Fleetwood Mac — but at eleven decided she wanted to sing. She sold several zillion copies of “Bubbly,” a trifle more soulful than your average sunny California pop.

Colbie Caillat

In the last-aired episode of NBC’s short-lived The Playboy Club series, Colbie played Lesley Gore and sang “It’s My Party,” which strikes me as a trifle odd, if only because the series was set in 1961 and “Party” didn’t come out until 1963. (British singer Helen Shapiro cut the first version of the song in Nashville — with Grady Martin and the Jordanaires, yet! — and Phil Spector, having heard the original demo, was keen to cut a version with the Crystals, or with someone he could pass off as the Crystals, but we’re still talking ’63.) For a California girl, Colbie does a decent job replicating East Coast girl-group sounds.

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Wandering eyes

Cue Del Reeves and his song about the girl wearing nothing but a smile and a towel in the picture on the billboard in the field near the big ol’ highway:

That was 1965. This is 2013:

In many public schools, there are dress codes that prohibit students from wearing tank-tops, tube tops, and shorts that are deemed “too short,” as these could distract male students.

If men can be this easily distracted by women’s bodies, then this raises a variety of safety concerns.

Many busy highways have billboards that use sexually suggestive imagery of women’s bodies.

Women also often go about their everyday lives near roadways wearing tanktops and short shorts.

If straight men (and men of other sexual orientations who are attracted to women) can be distracted by the mere sight of a woman’s thigh, then it is a public safety hazard to allow them to operate vehicles that weigh thousands of pounds at up to 75mph past these inevitable distractions.

This has, at this writing, nearly 10,000 signatures at whitehouse.gov.

(Via Joanna Blackhart.)

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Really old tech

I mentioned last week that I still had a fax machine, which in no way prompted Yahoo!’s Rob Walker to ask tech writers what antediluvian tech might be hanging around their premises. A couple of them struck a chord with me:

Alexis Madrigal: “We have one of those magical devices that lets you play an iPod through the tape deck (how do those work?) — but it makes a horrible screeching noise when it gets hot.” That leaves the CD player and terrestrial radio: “We seem to rotate between the same three CDs we burned or borrowed some time ago, and the local NPR affiliate.”

I have one of those magical devices myself. I’ve never heard it make a horrible screeching noise. (Yet.)

Nicholas Carr: “The ‘device’ that feels most outdated to me is my blog,” says Carr. “When I started the thing, in 2005, the personal blog was the iconic expression of ‘new media’; having one put you in the oxymoronic category of journalist-hipster. But the action has moved away from blogs, to the more conversational social networks like Twitter and their bite-sized bulletins. To be a blogger today makes you feel a little like Norma Desmond after silent movies were replaced by talkies: ‘I’m still big; it’s the internet that got small!'”

Hmpf. I was new media before new media was new media.

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A kick in the aspirations

Various and sundry corporate finagling has resulted in the four major auto mags being owned by two publishers: Motor Trend and Automobile by Source Interlink, Car and Driver and Road & Track by Hearst. You don’t have to be Warren Buffett to see the merger and/or consolidation possibilities, and indeed an outfit called 24/7 Wall Street is predicting the imminent demise of R&T.

Thoughts by TTAC commenter CJinSD:

All of these magazines write their reviews to the benefit of their advertisers instead of their readers. The only other recurring theme is expensive cars as porn. Why do they have fresh specs for every engine offering and trim level of every $60K and up car and occasionally run a one page “drive” review of models that outsell them all? Do they think their readers are all looking for clues how to spend their $300 a month option budget on their new Porsche Boxsters? Is that the dream demographic they want to present to their advertisers? The classiest products advertized with any regularity are cargo liners for CUVs, discounted tires, and radar detectors. Chinese collectibles and male inadequacy products may appeal to German car buyers, but there aren’t enough of them to justify expensive ads.

The readers don’t want to know about cars they see three abreast on the freeway every day: they want to know about dream cars, cars they can buy if they win the lotto, cars that will serve as their delayed reward for having suffered all those years with a ’99 Corolla. It’s all about the Higher Level. It’s why Cosmo’s cover story is never “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with your sex life.” And Lamborghini doesn’t have to advertise in these mags because hey, they’re freaking Lamborghini, anything they do gets covered automatically as a matter of editorial judgment, based on the fact that the readers want to know about dream cars.

CAFE is poised to set us back to 1978. People are going to need auto journalism with a consumerist bent, much as we had from these dinosaurs thirty years ago. They were far from perfect then in their unwillingness to condemn technologies that bit buyers, but they were far better at reviewing mass market cars than they are now. Consumer Reports is probably better positioned to hire some people that can write than the buff books are to start writing about the realities of their advertisers’ products.

Then again, CR originally positioned itself as the oracle to the Automobile As Appliance submarket, and while we have since learned that not only do they not hate cars, they drive the living whee out of them, their target reader is still the person whose greatest fear is “Will this break down on me?” That person won’t care whether Sedan X garnered more points than Crossover Y in testing: he’s peering into long lines of red — or, yes, black — dots. Which is as reasonable a criterion for selecting a car as any other; but it’s not a place the buff books, which get extended experience with only a handful of cars, have any reason to be.

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Juice box

This is the sort of thing for which Glenn Reynolds would say “Faster, please”:

In my new book, I have a storyline involving one of those Edison-level geniuses who pops up every once in a while and remakes some major aspect of human life. In this case, the character invents a package that involves photovoltaic paint and a lightweight battery capable of storing up to 20 kiloamphours of power, a package that weighs less then 40 pounds including batteries and the PV paint. The notion is that you could spray your roof — or your entire house — with the stuff, hook up the battery storage system, and remove yourself from the electrical grid entirely.

That’s a heck of a charge. Assuming you need 100-amp electrical service, a battery this size could run things for a week or so without any input from the solar grid at all, assuming temperatures more like San Diego than Saskatchewan. (At least, this is how I remember the math: 20,000 Ah/100 A = 200 hours.)

This, of course, assumes they’d actually let you do that:

I hadn’t considered it for the book — the wrinkle doesn’t really fit into this part of the story, although it might figure into the sequel — but that sort of development would likely be violently opposed by the powers who control the grid in all its manifestations. It moves the command Let there be light from the hands of all the various collectives that make up the current lines of supply into the hands of the individual. As such, it would be a deadly threat to those who wield those reins of power and control today.

Faster, please.

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Even the scars have a soundtrack

First we’ll start the music:

This is the story. There are times when I believe that the only way to avoid making the same mistake twice is to avoid making it once. But that’s not going to happen, is it?

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