Welcome to Matador City

It was hard to get a feel for this game before tipoff. Yeah, Derrick Rose is still hors de combat, but the Bulls are hardly a one-player show: they beat the Miami Heat without Rose, and they were the first team to 40 wins this season. I concluded that it would be fairly tight early on, but the Thunder would blow it open in the third, the same way they handled the Lakers.

And so it came to pass. The Thunder, up 49-39 at the half, blew out the Bulls in the third, 31-12; the Bulls finished with a late rally, powered mostly by reserve guard John Lucas III, but OKC still won it by fourteen, 92-78.

Your telltale statistic: Lucas, who hit five threes in 13 attempts and led Chicago with 19 points, shot a mere 7-20 — only slightly better than the rest of the team, which hit 33 percent from the floor irrespective of distance and only 67 percent of their free throws. The vaunted Bulls defense did outrebound the Thunder, 48-40, with Carlos Boozer roping in ten, but Chicago simply wasn’t making shots; forward Luol Deng, who’s always seemed like he ought to be an All-Star, got to demonstrate why he isn’t, hitting four of 13 and contributing neither a rebound nor an assist.

You want to see a line? Look at Russell Westbrook’s: 27 points, three rebounds, five assists, four steals, and no turnovers. Give him a +28 for the day, and then note that Kevin Durant had a +33 on 26 points and 10 boards. And at some point, you’ll notice that the Thunder are going for higher-percentage shots: they tossed up only nine treys instead of the usual 18 or 20. (Four connected, which is a plausible 44 percent.) So you shouldn’t be alarmed at the meager three offensive boards; if you get the ball through the net on the first try, you don’t have to worry about second chances on that possession.

And so OKC becomes the second team to 40 wins, and with 14 games left is still on pace for 50. There will, however, be obstacles, the first of which arrives in the city tomorrow: the ever-ferocious Memphis Grizzlies. After that, it’s off to Miami for a rematch with the Heat, who themselves were expecting to be at 40 wins by now.

Erratum: Jeff Brokaw reminds me that Luol Deng did make it to the All-Star roster this year (see pingback below).

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Next universe, please

“I don’t want to live on this planet anymore,” said Professor Farnsworth. Then again, he had a spaceship; we don’t. Yet.

(Warning: Heavy My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic content.)

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Oh, synapse!

Robert Krulwich, who reports on “science-y” things for NPR, announces the discovery of a Jennifer Aniston-specific brain cell:

A few years ago, a UCLA neurosurgeon named Itzhak Fried, while operating on patients who suffer from debilitating epileptic seizures, discovered what he now calls the “Jennifer Aniston Neuron.”

This obviously calls for a “Wait, what?”

Fried asked his patients if they wouldn’t mind doing a little exploratory science while on the operating table, and a bunch of them said yes.

So he showed them a set of photographs, and he noticed when they came to a picture of Jen, very often a particular neuron would begin to flash, multiple times. When he showed these same patients pictures of Julia Roberts or random (not famous) people, or animals, or places, the neuron was quiet. Back to Jen? Back came the flash. He found this Aniston-specific brain cell in a number of people, and he wondered, what is going on?

Then again, not everyone responds to Aniston, or refuses to respond to Roberts:

Since Fried reported his findings, other neurons have been found that flash only for Julia Roberts, or for Halle Berry, or for Kobe Bryant. It may be that certain very famous people literally occupy special places in our brains…

So when Fried showed his patients pictures of Jennifer, (or maybe if he just mentioned her name) that reference might have triggered not just one, but a cascade of neural firings. And this may be the brain’s way of storing a memory. Jennifer is not a single neuron, she’s a plural, or as MIT professor Sebastian Seung puts it, she’s “hierarchical organization.”

Perhaps I should rewrite the old Living Will to specify a desire to search for hitherto-undisclosed Deschanelization of the brain.

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Going three million NPH

One of the delights of being somewhat above the bare-subsistence level is being able to do wondrous things that don’t have any practical value at all.

The ever-genial Neil Patrick Harris wanted to do something nice for his three-millionth Twitter follower. He’d asked earlier in the week: “How would one quantify that? Is there some sort of log?”

Here’s how it was done:

First, we had to determine if the Twitter API would reliably return a list of NPH’s last 5,000 followers in reverse chronological order. We used three separate twitter accounts to follow @actuallynph at specific times, taking a screen grab of NPH’s follower counts at that time.

We then called the API multiple times over the course of an hour or so, to determine if the follower number remained constant for each test account, and that the distance in followers between the two also remained constant. They did.

Finally:

[W]e called the API for NPH’s last 5,000 followers, and counted backwards.

And number 3,000,000 is Sarah Bates (@sarahbeep). Harris hasn’t yet announced the prize, though he’s hinted at a “ducky tie,” which would certainly be in character.

If anyone cares, I was somewhere around the 900,000th, which is why I was paying attention to this. For comparison purposes: Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (@mittromney) has about 400,000 followers; singer Rebecca Black (@MsRebeccaBlack) has about 600,000. I have been known to mention this statistic whenever someone shows up in my stream with a Mitt-eating grin.

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Callowbration techniques

Presumably for search-engine optimization, some Web sites are given to convoluted article titles like “How ‘The Fifth Element’ Predicted Lady Gaga And Everything Else About Modern Life — Back in ’97”. I’d have called it something like “There’s a Mondoshawan on your lawn,” or perhaps thrown in a My Little Pony reference. (The ponies have six elements, y’know.)

Brian J. isn’t much concerned about the title, but he concludes from the actual article that “anyone writing for money on an Internet site is 25 years old or younger”:

[T]he piece has a certain cultural myopia that can’t see anything before the middle 1990s and comes off, at least to this old man, as annoying because of it.

But it does reflect an adolescent viewpoint that says, “All history began with my birth or self-awareness” that cripples our contemporary society and discourse.

As a comparably old man — older than Gary Oldman, in fact — I am persuaded that claiming to have self-awareness is one of the most reliable indicators of not having it. (Navel-gazing does not equal looking inside oneself.) And what’s been done to history in the name of awareness shouldn’t happen to a dog.

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Love at the center

I somehow missed National Cleavage Day, which turned out to be yesterday, coincidentally (I suppose) the day I found this promotional picture on the back cover of Entertainment Weekly:

Jennifer Love Hewitt in The Client List

Now the first time around, which would have been 2010, The Client List was a Lifetime Original Movie, based loosely on the story of a Texas housewife who turned a few tricks on the side to make ends meet; it went over well enough that they decided to turn it into a series, with J. Love once again starring, though this time her character is named Riley Parks rather than Samantha Horton. (Also from the original cast: Cybill Shepherd as Riley, or Samantha’s, mom.)

Interestingly, there’s an online petition opposing the series:

The Client List is a series that perpetuates the misconception that Massage Therapy includes inappropriate sexual contact. Massage Therapists are trained healthcare professionals and in most states are licensed and regulated by state medical boards. They adhere to a code of ethics and in some cases are under higher ethical standards than other healthcare professionals — because of these very same misconceptions. Many therapists are now working in doctor’s offices and hospitals and providing valuable therapeutic services. The Client List is a huge step backwards.

Ay, there’s the rub.

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Carbon dating tips

The old snarl “Act your age, not your shoe size” didn’t really hurt until I was rather a lot older than fourteen, for reasons which might be self-evident. I am, of course, a lot older than “a lot older than fourteen” these days; heck, this Web site is pushing sixteen now. And I occasionally get weirded out by the sheer span of those years: yesterday, in the midst of something else, it occurred to me that it had been forty years since I’d taken the Oath of Enlistment, which happened on the morning of 31 March 1972.

A coworker stared at me. “I thought you were, like, forty-eight or so.”

“Thank you,” said I. “I will turn sixty next year.”

Now if I ever wanted to go broke in a hurry, I’d become a carnie and set up a Guess Your Age booth: I am far from ept at this fine art. (Someone asked me once “How old do you think I look?” I came back with “Can I cut you open and count the rings?” No, I couldn’t. Go figure.) I have no idea what “sixty next year” is supposed to look like; I have the requisite amount of grey, sort of offset by the requisite amount of male pattern baldness, but perhaps I’m not as jowly as I think I am. Traces of ancient baby-facedness lingering, maybe.

This much I know: I am not likely to get carded, unless I’m doing something outside my everyday routine, like buying beer — or um, voting.

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Eyes off the thighs

Short skirts, the newly-appointed Porn Czar in Indonesia declares, must be banned:

In comments endorsed by the country’s leading Islamic advisory body, Suryadharma Ali said “one [criterion of pornography] will be when someone wears a skirt above the knee”.

Dr Suryadharma, leader of the United Development Party, was appointed earlier this month to run Indonesia’s anti-porn taskforce, announced and supported by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The UDP is perhaps not technically a major party — they hold 38 seats in the People’s Representative Council — but in the 2004 runoff for the Presidency, they defected from Megawati’s camp to become part of SBY’s coalition, and they’ve made the most of that positioning.

Then again, this is not technically a major issue in Indonesia:

The anti-pornography taskforce is widely seen as an attempt to distract the populace from issues such as corruption scandals around the Democratic Party of President Yudhoyono and the move this week to increase petrol prices.

Distracting the populace in the wake of scandals and fuel prices? Imagine that.

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Quote of the week

Ken at Popehat directs his ire toward the Joint Committee on Judiciary of the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut:

You’ve joined the moronic headlong rush towards “cyberbullying” legislation that tramples of our heritage of free expression in exchange for a few local news headlines. You’ve drafted a bill that is stupendously overbroad and chilling of all sorts of protected expression. Frankly, it is not even a credible gesture towards complying with the United States or Connecticut Constitutions. If your lawyers wrote it for you, you need to stop hiring lawyers from gas-station bathrooms and the alleys behind methadone clinics. If you had even a minimal grasp of the power you wield — or if you cared — you would recognize that this statute purports to criminalize all sorts of criticism, argument, and satire based not on any objectively threatening nature, but on the whiny subjective butthurt of the disagreed-with. I’m guessing you’d say you’re thinking of the children. But our children are not helped by teaching them to be bad citizens, by teaching them they should look to government for redress when people hurt their feelings, or by steadily weakening their Constitutional heritage in the name of fashionable concerns.

This is, in fact, one of the milder paragraphs in the piece.

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From the “Spoke Too Soon” files

Well, so much for my capacity for prediction. Last week in this space I speculated that the new Rebecca Black video, being shot that week in Malibu, was for the oft-rumored remake of “Friday.”

BZZZZZZZT! Wrong. I managed to overlook this tweet which identifies the new song as “Sing It.” The video has wrapped and will be up, she says, “pretty soon.” And while I don’t have the key to the Wikipedia lock, someone’s already updated her Wiki page with the new title.

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A centsless waste of effort

Canada chooses a literally penniless future:

During Thursday’s budget announcement, finance minister Jim Flaherty announced that the Canadian one cent coin was going to be phased out, saying “pennies take up too much space on our dressers at home.”

Which isn’t the only drawback of the coin:

They are worth almost nothing, they are cumbersome and they cost the government at least $130 million per year to keep in circulation. Most vending machines do not accept them and bartenders sneer at the sight of them — yet the Mint is still busy pumping out 25 pennies per Canadian per year — at a cost of 1.5 cents apiece.

It could be worse. The U. S. penny costs 2.4 cents to make.

The next step? New Zealand is already there: the smallest coin they mint is 10 cents.

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Eventually they’ll be $20 at Target

We open with the first line from the pertinent Wikipedia article:

In the fictional Star Trek universe, a tricorder is a multifunction handheld device used for sensor scanning, data analysis, and recording data.

Trek tricorders come in a number of varieties, but they all (more or less) hew to the above description.

And so does this:

How it was done, if you’re curious.

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Lakers drained

Any night Pau Gasol gets posterized has to be a good night, and when Kevin Durant does it — well, you can see where this is going. The Lakers had a twelve-point lead after one, but the Thunder slowly wore it away — and then speeded up. In the third, OKC got the lead, and in the fourth, they were up as many as 19. This doesn’t sit well in Los Angeles, of course, and the Lakers repeatedly came back to within seven, but that’s as close as they’d get, the Thunder ultimately prevailing 102-93.

Kobe Bryant and Thabo Sefolosha will never be BFFs, so Thabo spent most of his time keeping Kobe out of his comfort zone. The Thunder division of labor was interesting: Russell Westbrook did the slam-dunking, while KD reeled in the rebounds (and, per Marv Albert, served up one “facial”). And you just knew Lakers castoff Derek Fisher would be getting big minutes: he played 16 and scored 7. But nobody had bigger minutes than Westbrook, who played 18 minutes in the first half and the entire second half, finishing with 36 points. Durant, who couldn’t buy a bucket in the first quarter, reestablished commerce quickly enough, with a 21-point/11-rebound double-double. And what’s this? Kendrick Perkins with 12 points? Yea, verily: 5 of 9 from the floor.

Your telltale statistic: yes, Kobe got 23 points. But 8 were from the line; from the floor he went 7-25. Andrew Bynum was his solid self, knocking down 25, but the Lakers were otherwise hard up for offense, shooting under 42 percent. (Gasol had 13 points; the L. A. bench in aggregate had only 16.) Metta World Peace managed to get three of six treys to fall, two in the fourth quarter; the rest of the team went 1-5 from outside.

So it’s 2-0 against the Lakers, with one left to play, the last away game of the season. That, we can worry about later. For now, or for Sunday anyway, the Bulls must be fought.

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One down, entirely too many to go

The Consumerist reports on the busting of a telemarketer:

The FTC settlement announced [Wednesday] morning bans L.A.-area company SBN Peripherals, doing business as Asia Pacific Telecom Inc., from telemarketing and requires the company to hand over about $3 million in assets.

For those not familiar with the scam, here’s how it works. The company’s auto-dialing system calls you and a prerecorded message says there is urgent information you need to know about your vehicle’s warranty (they also ran a similar set-up regarding credit card interest rates). You would be prompted to press “1” for more information, at which point the call would be transferred to telemarketers who “used fraudulent practices to sell inferior extended auto service contracts or worthless debt-reduction services.”

SBN is reported to have made 2.6 billion robocalls of this sort, which means that they’re being penalized to the tune of 0.1 cent per offense. The FTC apparently didn’t once mention ritual disembowelment, which I suspect is the only way to stop this sort of thing.

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More variable optics

“[A]ny and (almost) all specifications are negotiable,” I had said a couple of days ago. If this seems unnecessarily cryptic, well, the Advice Goddess can explain it better:

If a guy thinks a girl’s hot, he’ll buy into whatever her trip is for as long as he can. My steak-loving boyfriend once dated a militant vegan. (He’d hit the Burger King drive-through on his way home.) Obviously, it’s a problem if you go out with some engineer dude, tell him you’re an “Occupy girl,” and he says, “Wow, my company designs the water cannons the police use to spray you people.”

Perhaps this does not bode well for a long-term relationship, but, as the phrase goes, weirder things have happened.

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Mistletoe expressed

News Item: The House adopted a measure Monday that would officially give the state a motto: “Oklahoma — In God We Trust!” HCR 1024, by Rep. Danny Morgan, D-Prague, now goes to the Senate.

Top Ten proposed state mottoes rejected before publication of the House Concurrent Resolution:

  1. “Are we in Texas yet?”
  2. “Try the lamb fries”
  3. “A part-time legislature — and it shows!”
  4. “Wind. Skirts. Do the math.”
  5. “Some of our roads are still free”
  6. “We had blogs before we had indoor plumbing”
  7. “Plains and fancies”
  8. “Even older than New Mexico”
  9. “Fines double in work zones”
  10. “Stay with News 9, we’ll keep you advised”

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