David says the slingshot isn’t enough

My current Not-So-Smartphone lists for something like $199.99, though Big Pink was happy to chop $130 off the price in exchange for a two-year contract extension. Were I in Massachusetts making this same deal, the store would have been obliged to charge me sales tax on the full two hundred simoleons:

State Rep. Jay Barrows (R-Mansfield) plans to file a bill next week to overturn a July 1 Department of Revenue directive ordering retailers to charge sales tax on a discounted cell phone’s wholesale value instead of its retail price.

The rule boosts taxes on products such as the Apple iPhone 4 that Verizon normally sells for $749.99, but marks down to $299.99 when customers sign two-year service contracts.

Lest you think this was a backdoor effort by the Commonwealth of Taxachusetts to sneak more money out of residents’ pockets, apparently this wasn’t their idea at all:

The DOR [had] changed its rules at the request of independent cell-phone shops, who considered the previous system unfair.

Independent sellers argued that their customers paid taxes on phones’ full prices while consumers at carrier-owned stores cut their tax bills by getting package deals.

“So if we can’t compete, we’ll petition the government to hamstring the competition.” The indie shops may be small, but they’ve learned to think like the big boys. Not a good sign.

There are instances where a tax can legitimately be charged on a price other than that actually paid: in Oklahoma, if you sell your $30,000 car to your brother-in-law for fifty bucks, he’s still going to have to pony up for the tax on something resembling the full amount. Then again, that’s an excise tax, not a sales tax. I’m guessing that the logic here was “Let’s call it a really big rebate.”

(Via Fark.)

Comments (4)




The Russians are coming

It may take fifteen years or more to build, but they say they’re definitely going to build it. Moscow has approved a tunnel under the Bering Strait:

It was first mooted as long ago 1905 by Tsar Nicholas II, but this [past] week the Kremlin finally gave the green light for a 65 mile (106 km) [railway] tunnel linking Asia and North America, taking the epic project a step nearer reality.

And the ramifications of such a project are huge:

Experts forecast that the completed service could carry 3% of the world’s freight and earn £7 billion per year. Engineers have said the project could reach break-even in seven years.

This particular scheme has been under development for four years, with a price tag somewhere around $65 billion.

One problem I assume will be taken care of is railroad gauge: the Russians use a 1.52-meter gauge, the Americans 1.435 meters.

No mention of any passenger trains on this route, so I’m assuming it’s strictly for freight.

Comments (9)




What is this, um, stuff?

Hapi Foods Group produces two breakfast cereals in British Columbia, which contain:

[Y]ummy super foods like Salvia Hispanica L. (Chia), hulled hemp hearts, organic buckwheat, organic cranberries, organic raisins, organic apple bits and organic cinnamon.

Says co-founder Corin Mullins: “The keys to success are the eye-catching and humorous product names which draw people in to taste our cereals.”

For instance, consider their signature product:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)




Of lab and love

Jane McAuliffe, president of Bryn Mawr College, on her school’s recognized success in turning out graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics:

Bryn Mawr College is in the top 10 among all colleges and universities in terms of the percentage of female graduates pursuing doctorates in the STEM fields. Our students are six times more likely to graduate with a degree in chemistry than college students nationwide and nine times more likely to do so in math. In fact, Bryn Mawr is second in the nation in the percentage of female students receiving degrees in math, beating out such science-oriented universities as the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has 18 times the national average of female students graduating in physics.

Which is impressive by any measure. But what’s their secret?

When we ask our STEM majors what it is about Bryn Mawr that encourages them to pursue these male-dominated fields we consistently hear two things — being exposed to role models among our faculty, alumnae, and their fellow students, and the positive effect of being in a classroom in which they aren’t the lone woman.

(Emphasis added.)

This makes sense to John Rosenberg:

President McAuliffe’s explanation of Bryn Mawr’s success sounds remarkably similar to the answer Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, gave to a House committee two years ago when asked about the underrepresentation of women in the STEM fields, except Biology. There are more women in Biology, Leshner explained, because there are more women in Biology: “In biological sciences, one reason that the majority of degrees are now granted to women is because the number of female role models in that field far outnumbers the other STEM fields.”

Of course, if you’re the lone woman in the class, you’re surrounded by men, and for some, that may be a distraction:

Researchers at the University of Buffalo have published a study finding that when women are “pursuing romantic goals” they tend to shy away from academic work in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In two experiments, subjects were exposed to images and conversations that primed them to think about dating, and then completed questionnaires regarding their interest in pursuing STEM versus other majors. Women who thought about dating and not intelligence or friendship reported less interest in STEM fields. A third component of the study asked women to keep track of their feelings of romance and their interest in math, and found that the two were at odds.

John Rosenberg follows up:

Whether or not it is true that girls more than boys are lured away from STEM classes by romance, the success of Bryn Mawr and other women’s colleges in producing women scientists does suggest women do better without men around to distract them.

Hard to pursue both PhD and “Mrs” degrees at the same time, I suppose.

And lastly, a comment from Rosenberg’s daughter Jessie (BS Bryn Mawr ’04, PhD Caltech ’10):

[I]f a little bit of recruiting effort can induce women to go into science who were initially interested but were turned off by the environment, then I consider that a net plus (for both the women, and for science). But not to the point of misleading women about what working in the sciences is like: it’s difficult work, takes long hours, and is often cutthroat. I don’t see a problem with undergraduate environments mimicking that at least a little bit, even if it does turn away the softhearted — male or female.

All this tells me that the underrepresentation of women in the STEM fields is temporary: eventually, the other disciplines will reach the same critical mass that the biological sciences did, although it is not likely to happen quickly enough to satisfy the people whose job it is to get upset by concepts like “underrepresentation.”

Comments (3)




Peace process delayed again

The Artest Soon To Be Formerly Known As Ron isn’t, just yet:

Ron Artest’s well-publicized plan to change his name ran into the legal equivalent of a red light Friday.

His petition to legally change his name from Ronald William Artest Jr. to Metta World Peace was delayed by a Los Angeles court commissioner because of some outstanding traffic warrants.

The Lakers forward wasn’t in court Friday. But Artest gets another opportunity to swap names at a Sept. 16 court date — provided he takes care of his tickets.

Would that the NBA lockout could be so easily solved.

Comments (2)




L’air du tailpipe

Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of two of the four major American automotive monthlies, has, as previously noted, miserable roads and a government which apparently likes them that way.

Here’s their latest goofy idea:

Matthew Naud, the city of Ann Arbor’s environmental coordinator, told council members Monday night [8/15] an ordinance banning “egregious idling” could improve the community’s health.

“Recently there’s been a lot of data about elevated levels of benzene and particulate matter, especially at elementary schools,” he said. “So you have parents waiting and idling to pick up their kids, buses idling right in front of the air intakes at these schools.”

Naud said that means “young lungs” are getting exposed to unnecessary vehicle emissions, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shares the same concerns.

Eric Scheie has the real-world perspective:

Imagine being a cop and having to enforce such idiocy. Especially in the winter when temperatures stay in the single digits for weeks at a time. Or in the summer when it’s 97 degrees in the blasted sun, and the only thing preventing drivers from fainting is the air conditioning in their cars. (For those who are not motor heads, car heaters and air conditioners do not run unless the engine is running.)

You’d almost think the city bureaucrats had nothing to do than cook up schemes to invade the lives of innocent citizens only trying to cope with day-to-day life.

This summer in Oklahoma, 97 degrees is what you reach an hour after sunset if you’re lucky. Of course, should you introduce a measure like that down here, the laughter will be ringing in your ears until the day you die. (Note to C-Span: You really need a laugh track.)

And inasmuch as the Precious Snowflakes are being used as justification, Fausta’s Law of course applies: “The moment anyone presents a ‘for the children’ argument, you know that a full and clear debate is exactly what they are trying to avoid.”

Besides, doesn’t everyone in Ann Arbor already have a Prius? They don’t idle at all: they shut off. And why don’t we have more cars that do that? Because automakers have discovered that stop-start systems don’t earn them any credit on the EPA’s fuel-economy test.

Ultimately, it’s a “green jobs” program: the moment the earth is deemed sufficiently green, all these people will lose their jobs. So it is imperative for them to keep ratcheting up the standards, and to deny that there’s any such thing as the point of diminishing returns.

Comments off




Through the courtesy of Fred’s two feet

Today’s cars are much like Fred Flintstone’s: usually two pedals. However, they carry actual engines (and/or the occasional electric motor), which produce far more speed than Fred could ever work up.

Which is not to say that people haven’t tried Flintstone-style braking:

I always considered the technique of dragging your feet on the ground to bring your vehicle to a stop a matter of artistic license. Until last week, when this video appeared. It provides us with an excellent real-world example where knowing a little physics might have prevented this Michigan driver with failed brakes from attempting a cross-town drive using “The Flintstone Technique”, and possibly putting himself in the running for this year’s Darwin Awards.

Actually, this is not the true Flintstone Technique — the angle at which braking force is applied is about 90 degrees off spec — but he’s still running afoul of the laws of physics:

[T]his guy is hanging his feet out the side of the truck, which is going to make it much more difficult to push into the asphalt. Let’s estimate he can push down with a force about a quarter of his weight. If he weighs 200 pounds, this would result in a force of 50 pounds.

Unfortunately, at 40 mph, it will take about 3200 pounds of force to stop two tons worth of truck. So bringing Barney Rubble along for the ride wouldn’t be enough: he’d have to have a dozen friends with him to slow down this not-really-a-juggernaut.

Comments off




Possibly blinding

My first exposure to Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine was purely aural: someone suggested a track on one of those listening-post type sites, and I dialed in. What I heard was quite interesting, sort of like what Kate Bush would sound like if you took the scorpion out of her underpants, and I sought out some more, which inevitably led me to some video stuff.

I can’t possibly describe her appearance, though, any better than Mandy Kay does here:

She owns the indie/glam/crazy/beautiful style like she created it. And, well, let’s face it, she did. Not only is her music FANTASTIC, she’s incredibly stylish to boot. On stage she sort of dresses like a figure skater on crack, with swimsuit-type outfits layered with flowing fabric, flowers and feathers.

In contrast, there was her appearance at the 2010 BRIT Awards — her album Lungs won the MasterCard British Album award — in which she demonstrated the possession of, among other things, lungs:

Florence Welch at the 2010 Brit Awards

(Photo source.)

“Blinding,” incidentally, is one of the few songs from Lungs that didn’t eventually come out as a single. Her current single, “What the Water Gave Me,” precedes her as-yet-unnamed second album by a couple of months. Too much old-hat video trickery here, but it’s here so you can listen — and because it’s her 25th birthday this weekend.

And if you happen to see a figure skater on crack, please get out of the way.

Comments (5)




It’s best if you just wait your turn

There are four-way stops at each end of my block, but in eight years here I’ve seen more than two cars at the intersection exactly once.

Which is probably a good thing, given the general behavior of state drivers encountering these mystifying creations:

[S]ome people around here do not understand the concept of a four-way stop. The first car arriving goes first. Than the next car. YOU TAKE TURNS. I’ve run into people who decide to be “generous” and wave others through (messing up the order) or, worse, who decide that four-way stop means, “The most impatient person goes first.”

If you’re not from around here and are puzzled by the concept — if you are from around here, we assume by default that you’re puzzled by the concept — here’s a brief tutorial on how it’s supposed to work.

Comments (3)




Neither steam nor punk

But still genuinely nifty:

Note that the gears actually work, indicating that this is not a governmental production.

The only real downside, apart from the possibility of catching your silk dressing-gown on a tooth: you (by which I mean “I”) can’t resize it. Fortunately, the manufacturer produces twelve sizes, from the Incredible Hulk down to Stone Cold Jane Austen.

(Ripped right out of the tweetstream: thank you, Mel.)

Comments (7)




Closing the floor

Statesman.com, the Web version of the Austin American-Statesman, is switching to a new content-management system, and during the switch, comments on stories will not be accepted. (Blogs at statesman.com or at sister austin360.com will not be affected.)

Questions are being accepted on that thread, though online managing editor Zack Ryall has anticipated the question:

Q: Are you really doing this because you’re sick of people violating your visitor’s agreement and posting offensive material?

A: No, there is no subplot to this and while we wish everyone would remain within bounds while they comment anonymously on our sites, we realize the world is not perfect.

This is not to say that they aren’t sick of it, only that it’s not the motivation. But if it were, I would totally understand; were I running a paper, I’d have a notice out no later than Day Two to the effect that comments and letters to the editor were functionally equivalent and would require similar authentication. Here are that paper’s requirements for the latter:

The Austin American-Statesman encourages letters from readers. Please include a name, address and daytime and evening phone numbers so that authorship can be confirmed if your letter is chosen for publication. We edit letters for brevity, grammar and clarity. Edited letters typically address a single idea and do not exceed 150 words. Photographs may be included for possible publication, but cannot be returned. Because of the volume received, we cannot return or acknowledge letters not used. Anonymous letters will not be published.

For entirely too many people, “I have a right to be heard” is the functional equivalent of “I have a right to go on your carpet”; on a newspaper site, those characters are right behind autostart videos in terms of annoyance potential. (Not that anyone from the Oklahoman ever reads anything here.)

I’m taking statesman.com at their word: this is a technical issue, nothing more. So be it. But should that new system allow them to crack down on wayward commenters without increasing the workload, I suspect there will be no complaints among the staff.

(Via Fark, which ain’t exactly the Algonquin Round Table either.)

Comments (2)




Pinko lemonade

Literally so, apparently: the commissar, while he’s in town, recommends Leninade® Simple Soviet Style Soda for all you comrades out there.

The worker-controlled factory is happy to include this one testimonial, attributed to a former Party official now selling used cars in Tampa:

“Leninade is a soda pop that truly captures the spirit of the Russian Revolution! It’s Red, it’s Bubbly, and it goes well with Vodka!”

You may want to avoid the capitalist running-dog Facebook page.

(Via yet another Nancy Friedman tweet.)

Comments off




Problem acknowledged

You probably don’t think of Norman Rockwell as incendiary, but his 1960 painting “The problem we all live with,” now on loan to the White House, which has hung it in the West Wing, was unsettling, and intentionally so. And that’s a good thing, remarks Pejman Yousefzadeh:

Yes, we have made tremendous strides when it comes to race relations, and yes, the election of an African-American President ought to be celebrated even by those who disagree with that President politically, given that that it shows us that America has come a long way since the days when a little girl could be called the n-word merely for wanting to be educated. But of course, racism still exists, and it needs to be confronted. Confronting it by hanging a painting in the White House whose image is designed to unsettle is a small act. But it is a positive and important one.

Besides, it’s not feasible to hang either the remaining white separatists or the professional race-baiters, in the West Wing or anywhere else.

Comments off




Doubly, maybe Tripoli, obsessed

One of the more chortle-worthy revelations of the Libyan uprising was Colonel Gaddafi’s crush on Condoleezza Rice, disclosed when rebels turned up a scrapbook filled with photos of the former Secretary of State.

In this regard, I’m inclined to agree with current State spokesperson Victoria Nuland, who responded to a question about the Colonel’s, um, collection this way:

“I think I don’t need to see the photos, but bizarre and creepy are good adjectives to describe much of Gadhafi’s behavior. It doesn’t surprise me. It’s deeply bizarre and deeply creepy, though, if it is as you described.”

Because blogdom is all about the one-up, here’s a shot the Colonel might not have had: a screenshot from her early-2009 appearance on ABC-TV’s gabfest The View.

Condoleezza Rice on The View January 2009

You do not want to know how many pictures are in my CONDI directory.

Comments (2)




Quote of the week

Bill Quick, on a much-despised — except by itself — demographic cohort:

Today my generation, the Baby Brats, the most pampered and immature generation in American history, has been in charge for going on three decades. Naturally the “Me Me Me” Generation regards government as mommy, daddy, nanny, and banker. But the generations coming after us don’t feel that way at all. And what we are seeing now in the political arena is just the beginning of the generational earthquake that will wipe away the influence of the Aging Brats almost entirely.

What can’t go on, won’t go on. America cannot go on under the Baby Brat notions of entitlement, so it won’t.

I’m sure there are some younger folk who are inclined to spend their lives purely on the receiving end, as it were, but I expect they’ll be purged alongside the Boomerdom that was far too willing to give them that option.

Comments (8)




I’m thinking R.B.

Last Friday, I mentioned that Rebecca Black had started a Tumblr blog, which apparently has changed URLs at least once due to the “unwelcome elements” to which I’d referred. A few gleanings therefrom:

  • She makes a mean chicken taco.
  • She claims to type like she talks. (If this sounds like anyone you know — um, never mind.)
  • Her self-description includes “that kid who makes everything awkward.” (If this sounds like anyone you know — um, never mind.)
  • She prefers bacon to Nutella, not that the two foodstuffs are actually competing or anything.

I left out the URL last week for some reason. And if you go there, be prepared for a song, specifically this one by a boy band from the British Isles. Perhaps not incidentally, the YouTube page contains the reference “As Seen On: Vote for the Worst.” Pariahs gotta stick together, right?

Meanwhile, Phil Bacharach tossed this idea into the tweetstream:

[I]sn’t it time Rebecca Black cover some ’60s garage rock? “Dirty Water,” maybe?

Well, she has the same connection to Boston that the Standells did, which is to say “none.”

Having thought it over, though, I’d like to suggest a remake, with alterations to the words as necessary, of the Syndicate of Sound’s “Little Girl.” It’s jam-packed with attitude, and it won’t require the least bit of Auto-Tune. (And hey, the Divinyls have shown the way.)

Comments (6)