Warren piece

Steve Sailer dishes up something you might have known, but I didn’t:

The zillionaire investor Warren Buffett has been famous for a long time, and he’s always enjoyed superb press, even when he ought to be questioned more toughly — for example, he owns 20% of Moody’s, which was one of the ratings firms that failed so badly in the mortgage bubble.

Part of the reason for his loving press coverage was that he made so many correct investment decisions (Americans love a winner), partly because he’s an excellent prose stylist, and partly because he was sleeping with the owner of the Washington Post and Newsweek, Katherine Graham. I’d heard that mentioned in passing quite a few years ago, but Buffett confirmed it in 2008: He started having an affair with Graham, one of the most famous women in America, when he was 46 and she was 59. This apparently led to Buffett’s wife moving to San Francisco with her tennis pro.

Also in Sailer’s article: a reference to the affair between Steve Jobs and Joan Baez, when he was 27 and she 41.

If there’s a lesson here, I suppose it’s this: I should find a way to become filthy rich and then hunt up some lonely 70-year-old woman.

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Just add water and stand back

Summer was discouragingly hot and unusually dry — for several months the Drought Monitor has put this neck of the woods at either Extreme (which is bad) or Exceptional (which is worse). October, however, has had its wet moments, and apparently there were enough of them to coax a few more buds out of the rosebush closest to the driveway. I took this between downpours yesterday:

One lovely fall rose

Different sizes at Flickr, should you be interested.

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Yesterday was Thursday, wasn’t it?

For those of you who were wondering what Rebecca Black was up to this past week:

Saturday she dropped in at Variety’s Power of Youth event, presented by the Hub.

Sunday (which comes afterwards) she put out a call via the usual social media for extras to appear in the video for “Person of Interest,” presumably the single from the new album, due out Real Soon Now. The shoot started Monday and apparently finished Tuesday.

And at some point (13:19 in), Jack Black admitted to Diablo Cody that he’s never heard of Rebecca Black. (Then again, I’m reasonably certain I’d admit almost anything to Diablo Cody.)

Finally, if you’re contemplating trick-or-treating as Rebecca Black, here are some helpful hints. Be sure to have fun, fun, fun, fun.

Bonus: Fillyjonk turned up a My Little Pony setting of “Friday,” marked by a certain, um, Rarity Sweetie Belle.

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Spiritual lift only

A friend asks (probably rhetorically, and anyway she’s not asking me) if this is the perfect black leather flat:

Emmie by Lucky Brand

I don’t mention a lot of ballet flats around here, perhaps because they remind me of, well, ballet, and dancers have already cordoned off a section of my heart. But the search for perfection is always on topic — I almost said “on point” — and hey, somebody here might like it. It’s “Emmie,” from the makers of Lucky Brand jeans, which, says Endless.com, makes for “a classy fashionable pairing with flowing skirts or leggings.” A look favored by the aforementioned friend, I might add. Three other colors and a leopard print can be had, at around the same $59 price.

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Fix this, don’t fix that

Unless you have detailed maintenance records on a car, and chances are you don’t, it’s a pain to get caught up:

The car has 60,000 miles on it and I don’t think it has ever had any maintenance done besides oil and filter changes. Is there anything else that should be done? Well, it could use a new air filter and the coolant (anti-freeze) should be changed, but other than that, no, not really.

The timing belt does not need to be replaced till we reach 105,000 miles.

The Teeming Milieu that is Yahoo! Answers is, to the last boyjill among them, utterly terrified of timing belts: they’ll go out of their way to avoid buying cars that have them. I am really surprised that some enterprising automaker hasn’t started promoting chain-driven valve gear. Of course, when the chain goes, you’re spending about three or four timing belts’ worth to replace most of the upper half of the engine, but these folks will not be dissuaded.

The spark plugs need to changed occasionally, but how often depends on what kind of spark plugs you have. Are they regular, super (platinum tipped), or extra crispy (iridium! Shades of Toolmaker Koan)? How do you tell?

I will pass on Nissan’s advice on platinum plugs — every 105k miles — and tell you in the same breath to ignore it. Nothing routinely engaged in explosions needs to be sitting in your engine for a hundred thousand miles. (At 132k, Gwendolyn is on her third set.)

The intake valves on some engines need to be adjusted. Which engines?

Whichever ones don’t have hydraulic adjusters, though that’s not much help by itself. My old Toyota Celica needed the shims re-shimmied every 60k or so, as did the second Mazda 626 (but not the first, which had the hydraulics). Then again, Infiniti has a procedure for adjusting valve clearance, but it appears nowhere on the schedule, not even at the Severe Service level.

Then again, again:

I finish looking through the maintenance schedule and I realize I did not see anything about the automatic transmission. For all the cars I have ever dealt with before, checking the transmission fluid level was a regular deal, and changing it was something that needed doing ever few years. What’s going on? I look through the schedule again and there are all kinds of things you are supposed to check like hoses and belts and brakes and boots, but I can find nothing about the transmission. I finally find an entry, but it is in the severe service list, so it is not like I am blind.

In general, I don’t trust ATF after about 30,000 miles, even the sort-of-pricey synthetic I’m using now. (It has about 8k on it now.) Infiniti doesn’t even mention the stuff (except for “Inspect”) in the Normal Service table, which seems to be what all the cool kids are doing now. However, Severe calls for 30k intervals. And fortunately, the dipstick is not hard to find, though it’s long and unwieldy. (Same for the oil dipstick, for that matter.)

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Whose germicide are you on?

Whatever it was you touched last, it’s filthy:

Swab tests recently conducted of public surfaces in six major cities revealed that ATMs are among the worst carriers of illness-causing germs… ATMs were No. 4 on the list of most-contaminated public surfaces, behind gas pump handles, 71% of which carry disease-causing germs, mailbox handles (68%) and escalator rails (43%).

For the scientists in our midst, How They Did It:

About 350 samples were taken with swabs that were then tested for adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a naturally occurring chemical present in all animal, vegetable, bacteria, yeast and mold cells. Detection of ATP indicates the presence of contamination by any of these sources.

So if the postman brings you unboxed fruit, you should probably be suspicious. Or something.

Two layers of soapThe sponsor of the research, by some weird coincidence, manufactures antibacterial products. Me, if I want weird, I go straight to the source: “Weird Al” Yankovic, here not only on topic but channeling his inner Reznor.

At the office, they used to buy the usual drugstore-size standalone containers of antibacterial soap for the restrooms, until someone with a pencil and a few moments of spare time — obviously not me — figured out that it would be cheaper to make a one-time purchase of rather large containers, and then refill them as needed with bulk product from a big-box store. It appears that they’ve recently changed brands. As a non-scientist, I’m guessing that the different products have markedly different surface tension, and they’re not going to mix until the button’s been pushed a few more times. This shot is, you’ll note, fairly low resolution: I took it with my phone because I don’t generally schlep my camera to work, and it might be tricky explaining what I was doing with a camera in a restroom. For that matter, it might be tricky explaining what I was doing with a phone in a restroom.

(First link via Bill Quick, who contends that too much of this antibacterial stuff has played hell with our resistance. I suspect he may be right.)

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Happily unchewed

The fall termite inspection here at the palatial estate at Surlywood has been completed to everyone’s satisfaction, which is a boon if you live in what is essentially a wooden box on a slab, as I do. Another decade or so and I’ll have spent enough on these to pay for a new set of treatments — but hey, I’d rather dribble out a hundred at a time than write a four-digit check later. And yes, I know the little bastards swarm in the spring, but I bought the house in the fall, and I tend to stick to a schedule until it hurts.

Not that they asked for a plug or anything, but I use these guys.

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Best buds for rent

Another one of those “reputation watchers” has sprung up, and they were happy to spam me at an address I use mostly as a throwaway. Some of the highlowlights:

When you input your name or the name of your company into a search engine, do you see one or more web sites that speak negatively about you?

Which proves they haven’t read anything here; this site speaks negatively about me all the time. Sometimes it’s even amusing.

The Web is full of negative content from innocent factual errors to malicious personal attacks all potential threats to your reputation and livelihood.

Worse, there’s little recourse, since responding to attacks just attracts attention to them.

“Do not feed the trolls” shows up about Day Two in Blogging 101.

But this is what they propose to do about it:

  1. Removes negative content into obscurity
  2. Boosts ranking of ‘positive’ content
  3. Posting positive content
  4. Post hundreds of positive articles, blogs, journals and forum entries, news items, press releases and other pages, taking the top positions on the sites in which they appear.
  5. Create new, positive content
  6. Creating new, positive content on sites that we control, and then optimizing this content so that it rises quickly to the top search engine rankings. We own and manages hundreds of sites used for this purpose.

Obviously these guys have done a stint at the Department of Redundancy Department.

Seriously: you want me to pay you to say nice things about me? I’ve been out of high school for forty-two freaking years.

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None more cute

Celebrity profiles are generally pretty godawful, especially if you have no particular interest in the celebrity being profiled.

That said, Zooey Deschanel disclosed “25 Things You Don’t Know About Me” to somebody at Us, and one of them simply must be mentioned here: “I know This is Spinal Tap by heart.”

Not incidentally, this was number 11.

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Don’t I know it

Results of iPod Shuffle

(Via GraphJam. Disclosure: My actual music library under iControl is about 40 GB.)

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In the sweet buy and buy

A couple of Very Smart Brothas pose the following question:

“Since there are obvious long-term social, emotional, financial, and even physiological benefits to being attractive, would you pay to be more attractive?”

Basically, if you were somehow given the ability to pay money to be 25% cuter or four inches taller or four inches longer or to reshape the head you’ve always been self-conscious about or possess that hour glass frame you’ve always coveted, would you do it?

And, if so, how much would this service be worth to you?

What I need, of course, is to be 20 percent cooler.

The Brothas were wise, I think, to avoid mentioning anything that’s achievable with mere cosmetic surgery: you can get actual pricing for that with not too much effort. But I think they perhaps might be overestimating the value of physical attractiveness. While it seems pretty inarguable to me that beauty is a sort of currency, it is by no means the only acceptable medium of exchange, unless you happen to live in a beer commercial, in which case you have my sympathies (if female) / the damnedest luck (if male).

And they also assert up front that “attractive women lead the ‘easiest’ lives,” which prompts a counter from Andrea Harris:

[L]ook at it from a woman’s point of view. There are times when a pretty girl just wants to be left alone. There are even pretty girls who have other interests that don’t depend on men noticing how they look. To women such as these, male attention is an annoyance if not a positive hindrance to them getting through their day. It is assumed by our culture that pretty women are always outwardly focused — that they want and need attention from others, and that since they are pretty and will get it, this is better.

A staple of the lad mags is the pictorial-worthy young lady who, despite her near-supermodel appearance, can’t get any dates, because guys, assuming she’s booked up until the turn of the century, don’t even try. Of course, the very purpose of a lad mag, other than to sell you stuff — Maxim has a section called “Stuff” that briefly was spun off into an entire freaking magazine — is to encourage its presumably basement-dwelling readership to come out into the light and engage the babes, if not to the point of actual engagement of course, so these pieces do not necessarily resound with credibility.

But returning to the original question: even if I could spend enough money to become Brad Pitt, there’s no reason to assume that Shania will be much impressed. And I prefer to avoid purely speculative investments.

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I was so delighted, a week and a half into the existence of this site, to find myself actually listed in the colossal AltaVista database: they found me in a mere ten days? How did they do that?

Fifteen years and odd later, AltaVista is dead — Yahoo! bought it and put it out of its misery — and I put up this post, which had been sitting in the can for a day and a half, at 4:26 yesterday afternoon.

At 4:40 a Googler showed up in the log, looking for two of the three tags I’d set (“Peter Todd” and “bonk”). Which means that the mighty Googlebot had already spidered its way to that post in no more than fourteen minutes.

Now I thought this level of attention was reserved for, um, important sites. Shows you how much I know.

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Suits, them

Last year, I quoted Professor Charles Hill (no relation) of Yale on the contemporary depthlessness being inflicted on college students:

“[D]uring the upheavals of the sixties, when the curriculum was changed, things got smaller. So as American involvement in the world got larger, our education was shrinking.”

In recent years, a quarter of Yale graduates have gone on to consultancy or finance, which Professor Hill might say is a reflection of that shrinkage:

[He] sees the job world as split into two categories: primary functions and secondary functions; productive and unproductive. Unlike straight-up corporations, he doesn’t see … banks or consultant agencies as contributing to the world in a primary, meaningful way.

On consultants generally:

When the economy goes down, corporations cut back on the use of consultants — Hill argues that if their services were truly needed, the exact opposite would occur (i.e. the corporate use of consultants would increase).

And why are graduates flocking to these fields? It’s that leftover ideology from the Sixties:

“Students have these ideologies dropped down on them from the ’60s and ’70s about corporations being evil,” he said. “For some reason people will work for consultants and banks but not for PepsiCo or General Motors.” As for the non-profit world, Hill sees it as a waste of our talents. “It’s a question of grand strategy,” he said, insisting that our energy is better spent elsewhere.

The appeal of banks may drop by one percent or so this year, what with all the Occupy BFE going on, but I don’t see things really changing until the Ivies, and by extension the rest of higher education, start losing some of these I Wanna Change The World types.

(Via this Megan McArdle tweet.)

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They can’t be beet

Two years ago, Necco wafers were reformulated with natural colorings and flavorings like beet juice and turmeric, the better to appeal to customers who insist on that sort of thing.

Demand promptly landed in the dirt, and now we’re back to Necco Classic:

“There were stacks and stacks of letters and e-mails that said, ‘Why did you do this? You ruined it’,” recalled Steve Ornell, Necco’s vice president of sales… [T]wo years after going all natural, the Revere company has gone back to its original recipe in hopes of recouping lost sales and loyal fans of the 164-year-old candy.

Sales dropped 35 percent during the Unfortunate Experiment. The project’s one defender turns out to be chalk-eating buffoon Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who said:

“The unfortunate experience indicates the need for national action,” he said. “People’s perceptions would change if artificial coloring were removed from all foods.”

After issuing his statement, Jacobson slunk off to the broom closet, where he’s kept two McRibs on ice since last November.

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Running an open campaign

Perhaps “skeleton in the closet” is not the phrase we’re looking for here:

Frank Mezzapelle’s quest to be a city commissioner in Stuart has been complicated by a former girlfriend. The 58-year-old Mezzapelle wants to talk about city business, but a woman he met on an Internet dating site wants to talk about the candidate’s fondness for nude recreation.

“I had only known him about eight weeks when he started sending me this stuff,” said Ruth Schaeffer, 61, of Port St. Lucie. Mezzapelle, who runs in nude 5K races, sent his then-girlfriend a link to a “Euro Naturist” website.

So why is she bringing this up now?

Her former boyfriend’s leisure pursuits displayed “a flavor of narcissism, lack of maturity, values, morals, judgment, ethics, integrity and conduct,” she said.

And so she dumped him immediately, right? Um, no:

“We’ve both moved on. I’m dating someone else,” she said. “But it was just eating away at me that he would be somebody who might be representing other people.”

Anyway, here’s Frank’s Facebook page. I didn’t go digging through his photos. And he says if he’s elected, he will probably give up the Fun Runs and such.

(Via this nudiarist tweet.)

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Run the wheels off ‘em

This situation seems so familiar:

[M]y car is now 12 years old, a 1999 Audi A4 Quattro that is starting to feel its age, especially in the suspension. The rest of the car is great though, the interior still looks only a couple of years old, the body is perfect except for some side mouldings that are falling off (but who cares at this point), the motor runs great, still has the original (stainless steel) exhaust, even the climate control and electric window and power seat motors all still work fine (knock wood).

Bought it used in 2005 with just under 40k miles, and have only put another 45k on it over those six years. Best quality car I’ve ever owned, end of discussion. Which is probably why I still have it, and even today, would still pay to fix the suspension, if it wasn’t going to cost me at least half of what the car is worth at this point.

On my 11-year-old ride with 132k miles, I’ve already redone the suspension and most of the emissions stuff. The driver’s seat slides, the passenger’s doesn’t; it’s positioned well enough for Trini that it’s never occurred to me to have it fixed.

And then there are the electronically-controlled engine mounts, which I didn’t even know I had until I’d had the car for a year:

A 2-chamber mount works in conjunction with the engine’s Engine Control Module (ECM) to vary the volume of fluid in the mount, based on engine rpm. It does this by opening or closing a valve between two chambers inside the engine mount. At low rpm, the volume of fluid is increased to provide maximum damping. At higher rpm the volume is decreased, providing the firmness needed for optimum feedback to the driver.

Until, of course, it doesn’t do that anymore, necessitating the writing of a large check — or two large checks, in case the failure of the mount also just happened to take out the ECM.

What I find amusing about this is that these gizmos seem to be optional on the pricier Porsche 911s, and yet they were standard on a comparatively-ancient Japanese luxobarge. God knows what Stuttgart is asking for such things, though I’m sure the phrase “large check” somewhere applies.

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