Oily in the morning

I think this individual is looking for the wrong emollients:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Many woman trust castrol oil for their natural treatment. What are benefits of castrol oil for woman?

Then again, it’s more than just oil: it’s liquid engineering.

[insert "Fram filter" joke here]

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It’s always on sale

And therefore it’s never on sale, right? If you see it that way, you’re on the side of the Attorney General of the State of New York:

When a store runs the same promotion for 52 consecutive weeks, it’s really not a sale. It’s actually a type of deceptive advertising and that’s something the New York Attorney General’s office just isn’t going to stand for.

Hobby Lobby agreed to change its advertising practices, donate school supplies and pay an $85,000 civil penalty to settle an investigation into its alleged deceptive advertising practices, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says in a press release.

Background, from the press release:

The investigation began in 2013, when Attorney General Schneiderman’s office began tracking marketing materials advertising 50 percent off and 30 percent off sales. Hobby Lobby advertised its custom framing, furniture, and home décor products as sale items for more than 52 consecutive weeks. The investigation determined that Hobby Lobby violated New York’s General Business Law (350-D) for False Advertising. Sales that are never-ending are in violation of the false advertising law.

It could have been worse, I suppose: Schneiderman might have ordered them to start stocking birth-control products.

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Nothing in between

We talked about thumbs up and thumbs down last week, and as a system, it has one thing going for it: simplicity. Consider this:

Interpreting reviews is an art form. Amazon is a great example of what I call the 1-5 phenomenon. You’ll see mostly one-star reviews and five-star reviews on most review systems. People seem unable to understand the foggy middle ground of 2–4. What is good? What is bad? What is really bad? Thumbs up and thumbs down, that simple pass-fail system, is much easier. Five stars review systems require work.

Reviews are subjective and if you’re a generally kind and generous person, if the item or experience was reasonably good, you’ll head towards five. The one star reviewer, however, has a finely honed sense of self-importance, both in what level they think their abilities of discernment are and in how they believe they deserve to be treated.

Out of curiosity, I looked at an Amazon product I’d reviewed. The overall score was 3.8, figured as follows:

    5 stars: 68
    4 stars: 17
    3 stars: 6
    2 stars: 6
    1 star: 24

Inasmuch as the product was an inkjet cartridge, you’d expect fives from those who got it to work, and ones from those who didn’t; twos, threes and fours are perhaps inexplicable. (I gave it a four, mostly because Amazon was selling it at very close to MSRP.)

I must admit, though, that I hadn’t delved into the psychology of it all quite this deeply:

So what is the mentality of a solid one-star reviewer?

Blackmail only. They have only one star to work with. Everything is judged on a negative scale.

Whether it’s Google Glass users trying to sabotage a restaurant that won’t allow them to wear the devices by leaving one-star reviews whether they ate there or not, the general tendency to be an ass and complainer and social media blackmailer, or using sockpuppet accounts to boost reviews, very little about the review and comment ability gives me much hope that the human race won’t be extinct in about three years.

I give this observation four stars out of a possible five. (I’d hate to give up entirely my tendency to be an ass and complainer.)

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I think I wear a 666

Neil Kramer sees a sign, and it changes his life:

List of Levi's jeans

What if I tried every single style Levi’s jean, making note of which jeans made my ass look the best, and then wrote about it in my first “fashion and lifestyle” post for middle-aged men, inspiring a whole generation to look to me as their sartorial guru? Who knows — by next year, I could be in a YouTube advertisement on the E-train, next to the fifteen year old YouTube stars?

And so he did, and at the link you can see him in every single one.

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Testing Turing’s test

Chatbots have been around forever, or at least since the birth of ELIZA back in the 1960s, and we all know how that worked out:

ELIZA’s key method of operation (copied by chatbot designers ever since) involves the recognition of cue words or phrases in the input, and the output of corresponding pre-prepared or pre-programmed responses that can move the conversation forward in an apparently meaningful way (e.g. by responding to any input that contains the word “MOTHER” with “TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY”). Thus an illusion of understanding is generated, even though the processing involved has been merely superficial. ELIZA showed that such an illusion is surprisingly easy to generate, because human judges are so ready to give the benefit of the doubt when conversational responses are capable of being interpreted as “intelligent”. Thus the key technique here — which characterises a program as a chatbot rather than as a serious natural language processing system — is the production of responses that are sufficiently vague and non-specific that they can be understood as “intelligent” in a wide range of conversational contexts. The emphasis is typically on vagueness and unclarity, rather than any conveying of genuine information.

There are, of course, examples that don’t actually involve software. For instance:

Think of the way the average politician responds to the average reporter’s question about a scandal in which he or she is involved. The responses are in the form of regular human speech, but they are pre-scripted and designed to carry the form of human speech without fulfilling its function, i.e., explain why campaign contributions got spent at a strip joint. They are instead designed to divert attention from the scandal in the same way that a chatbot is designed to fool people that it is a real live incredibly attractive member of the opposite sex who wants to interact with you and lives just a few miles away.

Some people disparage lower-level members of the current administration as “Obamabots.” This is, however, exactly those members’ designated function; operatives have had this function in administrations nearly as long as there have been administrations.

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Turned off by turnout

A friend from Canada weighs in on the desirability of a truly universal franchise:

There is one phrase you hear a LOT around election time which I can guarantee that my friends and acquaintances will never hear leave my lips. It’s “I don’t care/It doesn’t matter who you vote for, just be sure to vote!” Uh, no … not for me at least. The reason they’ll never hear it is simply because I care VERY much who people vote for and I can’t flippantly suggest otherwise. I also freely admit that while I am not at all a fan of voter apathy, if said apathy were to keep those who might be inclined to support the right-wing agenda from going to the polls, I’d be in no way broken up over their failure to exercise their civic duty. So yeah … that’s one phrase I never say.

I used to worry about voter apathy, but I don’t anymore.

And I’m just self-centered enough to figure that if fewer folks show up at the polls, my single solitary ballot is worth that much more.

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You can probably guess the menu

Bell Buckle, Tennessee, population 500, is known for two things: the Webb School, the oldest continuously-operating boarding school in the South, due for its sesquicentennial in 2020; and the twenty-year old RC Cola-Moon Pie Festival:

[O]n June 21st this quiet little town will become a bustle of excitement and activity when it celebrates the 20th Anniversary of its wildly popular RC-Moon Pie Festival. This year’s festival will spew forth the biggest Box Office news of the year — The return of your favorite Synchronized Wading Characters! After two decades of dry humor on a wet stage, the beloved characters will once again reunite. The stage will be a little different, the story may have changed, but your favorite characters are reuniting to celebrate in a way no one else could ever celebrate marshmellow and carbonation glory!

Known as the first “fast food” meal, these two Southern traditions, RC and a Moon Pie, are brought together for a grand celebration Bell Buckle style. The idea for the Festival first began in 1994 as a way to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Moon Pie and to bring tourists to Bell Buckle. Bell Buckle called the Chattanooga Bakery to see about throwing a Birthday Party for Moon Pie. Little could anyone have expected what a huge event this would become!

Wikipedia claims the Moon Pie actually was invented in 1917, and therefore would have been 77 years old that first year in Bell Buckle; Royal Crown Cola (home town: Columbus, Georgia) dates back to 1905.

Incidentally, the Webb School was actually founded in Culleoka, Tennessee, but William R. “Sawney” Webb, founder and headmaster, uprooted it:

[I]n 1886, the town of Culleoka incorporated, making the sale of liquor legal within the city limits. This was too much for Webb, an ardent prohibitionist. Sawney and his boys packed up and headed to Bell Buckle, a village thirty-five miles west on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. On six acres of beech forest, about one-third of a mile from the depot, Webb dug a well and built a bigger and better schoolhouse than that in Culleoka. Leading citizens of Bell Buckle supported the move by raising $12,000 for the new school.

Today, according to Google Maps, Bell Buckle is 50 miles east of Culleoka. Go figure.

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Fill those holes with money

A survey conducted by the American Automobile Association says that drivers would be willing to pay more in fuel tax:

Two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) believe the federal government should invest more than it does now on roads, bridges and mass transit systems, according to a new AAA omnibus survey of 2,013 adults. Only five percent of respondents believe the federal government should spend less on transportation. These results come as AAA urges members of Congress to increase the fuel tax, which will address significant transportation safety and congestion issues nationwide.

Survey Highlights:

  • About half of Americans (52 percent) are willing to pay higher fuel taxes per month on average for better roads, bridges and mass transit systems.
  • Nearly three times as many people (51 percent) are more likely to vote for a member of Congress who supports increased federal spending on transportation than would be less likely (19 percent).
  • Approximately two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) agree that taxes on gasoline and diesel consumption are appropriate for transportation funding.
  • More people believe that roads, bridges and transit systems have declined in quality over the previous three years (43 percent) than those who believe the quality has improved (32 percent).

Not mentioned here, but not hard to find, are those who believe that any increase in the fuel tax will go, not to improving the state of transportation, but into general governmental slush funds: they’d support the tax if they thought it would actually do some good.

I suggested a plan about three years ago:

[I]ncrease domestic production enough to cause a noticeable decrease in the price at the pump, increase the tax enough to take up the slack, lather, rinse, repeat as necessary. It would never fly, of course.

Certainly not. In Glenn Reynolds’ immortal phrase, “insufficient opportunity for graft.”

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This needs to happen

I suppose it’s redundant if your editor stores, or at least references, an actual date for each line, but if not, this is the way to go:

How about an editor that color codes the age of particular lines of source code? You have a piece of source that has been around for a while, either it’s under development or it needs some changes. Wouldn’t be nice if the older lines, lines of code that have proven themselves to be useful and correct were given a dark gray background, newer lines could be given a white background, and lines that have been changed umpteen zillion times a red background?

“Piece of source,” at least in some shops I could name, is usually shortened to “POS,” as in “Who the hell added that extra loop into this POS?”

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Circular dialog

Somebody somewhere understands this. Not me.

Wonder what happens if you just press the X?

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Dialed in to ponies

We have here a Mazda MX-5 with the Mane Six gauge package:

Custom My Little Pony gauges for Mazda Miata

With thanks to the fandom:

The MLP fandom is awesome. Artwork exists for just about anything you can imagine. Cutie marks for the main characters? How many different file formats would you like? Exact color codes for every aspect of anything ever in the show? Yup, those are plentiful too. The fans really made this custom gauge design come together quick.

Apart from “WANT,” all I can say is “You should see these at night.”

And no, I don’t know where you could work in an Applejack reference. The Malfunction Indicator Light, maybe? “Sugarcube, Ah don’t know just how to tell ya this, but yer emissions are worse than Big Mac after a bucket of broccoli.” Eeyup.

(Via this @LazyGrayBrony tweet.)

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Bunch of overactive snatches

Of course, it’s government’s doing:

The federal government has seized a record $360 million from household bank accounts that have been dormant for just three years, prompting outrage in some quarters amid complaints that pensioners and retirees have lost deposits.

Figures from the Australian Security and Investments Commission (ASIC) show almost $360 million was collected from 80,000 inactive accounts in the year to May under new rules introduced by Labor.

The new rules lowered the threshold at which the government is allowed to snatch funds from accounts that remain idle from seven years to three years.

The ultimate goal — the same-day snatch — is probably still weeks away.

(Via Fark.)

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Boroughing further

Retired Thunder point guard Derek Fisher, we learned this week, is the new head coach of the New York Knicks; not only does he get paid four times as much as he did as a veteran role player, but he gets to wear a natty suit. (I mean, seriously, can you imagine Fish dressing like, oh, let’s say, Men’s Wearhouse escapee Scott Brooks?)

The Knicks, as I may have mentioned before, are in New York; they play at Madison Square Garden in midtown Manhattan, which basically kills Jenni Carlson’s attempt to be funny here:

So, now that Fisher is taking his talents to Manhattan Beach, it’s safe to assume the Thunder is on the lookout for someone to take over that role.

Yes, there’s a Manhattan Beach up that way, but it’s in Brooklyn, which has its own NBA team, also coached by a former point guard (Jason Kidd). There’s also a Manhattan Beach in California, but maybe we shouldn’t bring up California in the presence of someone who works for Phil Jackson, as Fish now does.

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Some spring in your step

Are these “the most comfortable heels ever”?

Kinetic Traces by Silvia Fado Moreno

Here’s the pitch:

[T]here’s a new heel in the works that looks pretty spectacular, and promises to break many of the negative shoe stereotypes that I hold dear. They’re equipped with hydraulic springs and shock absorbing rubber balls, so that you literally feel like you’re walking on air.

The Kinetic Traces collection by London College of Fashion alum Silvia Fado Moreno offers intriguing looking shoes with all of the support that we need to walk healthier. Every step is cushioned by springy heel technology, designed to ease foot pain, and minimize the feeling of walking in heels. And did I mention how cool they look? Seriously. These are totally the shoes of the future. Judy Jetson would probably wear them daily.

Far be it from me to frown at Judy Jetson. (The style you see is not, I assure you, the only one under development.)

And this statement from the designer caught my eye: “The mechanism can be bespoke according to bodyweight.” Variable, um, load-carrying capacity? I’m impressed.

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Wetter up

The city hasn’t published the new water rates yet, though William Crum of the Oklahoman has been keeping tabs on them, and the new proposal as a whole sounds plausible to me:

Significant provisions include:

  • A pricing strategy that produces 5 percent more revenue each year, with an overall reduction of 4.3 percent in water use after five years.
  • A three-year plan to increase the charge to hook up a new home — known as the “impact fee” — from $100 to $1,000, in $300 increments.
  • A strategy to make sure surrounding communities pay equitable rates for water bought from Oklahoma City and that they share in system improvement costs.

Crum reported yesterday:

The average customer, who uses 7,000 gallons of water per month, will pay $19.11, up 55 cents; a customer using 15,000 gallons would pay $43.00, up $3.25.

This indicates the implementation of usage tiers: the more you use, the higher the price per thousand-gallon unit, which is consistent with the city’s ongoing water-saving program.

Most of the time, I’m billed for 3,000 gallons a month; sometimes it’s just 2,000. I figure I’m probably using 2,700 or so. I expect the new rates, which will undoubtedly include tweaking of service, sewer and refuse fees, will go into effect in October.

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A yearn for the terse

I’ve gotten some pretty long-winded spams stuck in the spam trap over the years. Seldom, though, do I see anything like this:

“Hello. And Bye”.

They should all be so short. I mean, think of the disk space it would save.

Addendum: I did finally think of the disk space it would save, and it’s not really that much: the entire system database is only 75 MB, of which 20 MB or so is comments, and actual comments have somehow outnumbered spam comments 4 to 3, so if I’d kept all the spam I’d have a 90-MB database. Considering the fact that the site takes up well over a gigabyte, this should be considered potatoes of insignificant dimension.

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