Decant be serious

Former Microsoft wiseguy Nathan Myhrvold dabbles in Technological Oenophilia:

Wine lovers have known for centuries that decanting wine before serving it often improves its flavor. Whatever the dominant process, the traditional decanter is a rather pathetic tool to accomplish it. A few years ago, I found I could get much better results by using an ordinary kitchen blender. I just pour the wine in, frappé away at the highest power setting for 30 to 60 seconds, and then allow the froth to subside (which happens quickly) before serving. I call it “hyperdecanting.”

Myhrvold says it “almost invariably” improves red wines; white wines don’t generally accumulate much sediment, unless they’re allowed to get too cold.


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Where has all the equity gone?

The hardest thing for some of us to get our minds around has been that there exists no Law of Conservation of Equity: if it’s reduced at Point A, there is no Point B at which it must therefore increase. There’s still a lot of it out there — $6.2 trillion, said the Federal Reserve at the end of June — but six years ago there was over $13 trillion. That’s one hell of a vanishing act.

Still, not everybody is underwater yet:

Roughly one of every three homes is mortgage-free, according to federal and industry estimates.

Among owners who have mortgages, according to CoreLogic, 48.5 percent of them have at least 25 percent equity stakes in their properties. Roughly a quarter of owners with mortgages — 24.6 percent — have more than 50 percent equity.

At the other end of the spectrum, 22.5 percent of owners are in negative equity positions, burdened with houses worth less than their mortgage balances.

According to the county assessor, the value of the palatial estate at Surlywood dropped by a percentage point this year, but the amount due on the mortgage went down more than that, so technically my equity position has improved by a smidgen: about 27 percent, putting me pretty close to the 50th percentile. Property-tax rates won’t be released until later this month, but I anticipate about a 1-percent increase — which would leave my tax bill for this year at pretty much where it was last year. Then again, my mad prediction skillz have been fairly questionable of late.

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I find your lack of fuel injection disturbing

Put a sock in it, Vader. This isn’t just any ’77 Toyota Celica:

Star Wars Toyota Celica

In late 1977, this very car — passengers not included — was apparently given away in some national sweepstakes, and no one’s seen it since:

The Star Wars Celica was designed by Delphi Auto Design in Costa Mesa, California, and awarded sometime after the end of 1977, probably in January 1978. While the sweepstakes were a joint venture hosted by Toyota and Twentieth Century Fox, the awarding dealership remains a mystery, as does the identity of the winner and the vehicle’s VIN number.

There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of customization here: the paint job, of course, a modest body kit, spiffier-than-stock wheels and tires, and a nice hole in the roof for bulls-eyeing womp rats, but apparently it’s the same trusty old 20R four with a two-barrel, presumably bolted to Toyota’s five-speed stick. (Very few of these cars were fitted with the three-speed automatic; mine certainly wasn’t.) Autoblog suggests it met its end on the Kessel Run, but its fate, I fear, is likely more mundane: an attack by the dreaded tinworm, which in those days chewed through Japanese sheetmetal like teenagers through Doritos, followed by a trip to the garbage compactor.

(My own Celica history here.)

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Where the pink ribbons grow

I shouldn’t have to remind you of this by now, but it’s October again, and therefore it’s time for the Boobie-Thon. (They actually started late on the 30th of September, but surely no one has a problem with that.)

Boobie-Thon SupporterOn the other hand, if you’ve read this far and are thinking “WTF”?, here’s how it all came about and what it’s for, except that where it says “raised over $17,000,” you’ll want to read “raised over $74,000.” I’ve been promoting it on a regular basis for several years, and I’ve also kicked in some small fraction of the fundage, which explains the presence of the graphic. (And the current title seems a bit less unsubtle than the one I was planning to use: “Save the Racks!”)

(Previous announcements: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006.)

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Isthmus shopping

“No man is an island,” said John Donne, but there are entirely too many times when I feel like a clod washed away by the sea: at the very least, my connection to the mainland seems tenuous.

And a lot of the bridges seem to be one-way only:

It feels like all I have to offer is nice and helpful. If you need your taxes done, or need something from the store, or a deck built, or someone to listen to you tell all your tales of woe, or need a mural painted in your living room, I will do that for you at no charge. I’m happy to do it, excited for a connection, excited that I might have actually made a friend. But I hope you’ll like me in exchange for my efforts, because it sometimes feels like that’s all I’ve got.

“Nice and helpful” is nowhere nearly as common as we’d like it to be.

Still, it’s not unusual to fear solitude: as Donne said, “it is a torment that is not threatened in hell itself.” I flit back and forth between embracing it and cursing it. I settle into my various routines, and sometimes they’re enough, but sometimes the shore seems awfully far away.

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No editorializing, please

Software should do its job and keep its trap shut:

Photoshop screen shot

Who’s the allegedly empty-headed beauty? Her name is Elena Alexandra Apostoleanu, but fans of Romanian pop stars know her as “Inna.” She’s not quite twenty-five, and she looks something like this:


And for the curious, here’s her 2010 single “10 Minutes”.

(First photo found at Poorly Dressed; second photo by T. Spark.)

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Universal slush fund

One of the problems with the so-called Universal Service Fund is its very name: if it’s “universal,” it will accommodate almost anything. The FCC has pretty much admitted it:

“Congress did not envision that services supported by universal service would remain static,” said FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin [in 2007]. “Instead, it views universal service as an evolving level of communications services. A modern and high-quality communications infrastructure is essential to ensure that all Americans, including those residing in rural communities, have access to the economic, educational and healthcare opportunities available on the network.”

Martin has since left the FCC, but there’s no reason to think that the Commission has changed its tune — or that state and local officials will dance to another.

The following rumor — and for now, that’s all it is — came in early this morning:

Just heard the OK Corporations [sic] Commission is planning to levy a new $47 million tax on all cell phone and land line users this Tuesday. These are all elected Republicans trying to do this without any public scrutiny. They are going to double the taxes we pay to the universal service fund…a fund as I understand it created before cell phones were popular meant to support landlines. Republicans imposing $47 million in new taxes to support land lines!?

Of course, if the Universal Service Fund is “evolving” — well, you can see where this might be going. And Republicans aren’t exactly tax-averse when they’re holding the purse strings.

Interestingly, as of this writing, the OCC Web site has meetings and agendas posted through Monday, though nothing for Tuesday.

I am currently billed for both Federal and Oklahoma “universal service fees”, as follows:

  • Landline: federal, 76 cents, state, $1.30.
  • Wireless: federal, 73 cents, state, 54 cents.

We’ll see what happens. The original rumor came in as a comment, and was attached to this post after the fact. I note that the same email address shows up in several comments on this subject at other sites, and that in this case, it was using a Belgian IP.

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The wheels on the Microbus

One of the snarkmeisters who’s affected me greatly over the years is the mysterious “Ed.” who responds to letters in Car and Driver. (How many years? Thirty-three, if I’ve counted correctly.) This one from November ’11 sent me into a protracted giggle fit. First, the aggrieved reader:

Geez, [Eddie] Alterman. Do you have to use such big words [Editor's Letter, August 2011]? Most of us aren’t lexicographers.

Came back the reply:

After looking up “lexicographer,” I looked up “irony,” and there was a picture of me looking up “lexicographer” — Ed.

You can’t get a whole lot more meta than that.

(For some reason, this particular column of Alterman’s isn’t on the C/D Web site, though I will tell you that it contains such terms as “somatic” and “self-hagiography.”)

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An excuse to dip into the archives

Our favorite Dutiful Xer tagged me for a meme, and I haven’t done one in a while, so why the heck not? We reserve the right to stretch any definition to fit the available material (and to play hell with pronoun agreement), of course.

My Most Beautiful Post: You are —->here [2 January 2005].

[T]he past never goes away. We have a path, a timeline, from which we do not deviate, but so does everything else. What we see as the present is simply the intersection of all those timelines: our own, those of our friends and families, the homes in which we live, the forests that were supplanted by the cities that now contain most of those homes.

My Most Popular Post: No doubt you’ve noticed this yourself [11 May 2009]. (Instalanched to the tune of 13,000-plus that day.)

My Most Controversial Post: A penalty box for two [9 June 2009]. (38 comments!)

This suggests that we’re not going to find much more fuel economy in future vehicles, unless the Obamanauts find a reliable source of liquid unicorn scat or something, and that in a world with its priorities in order, Henry Waxman would be forced to give up his limo for the back seat of a ’75 Civic.

My Most Helpful Post: However implausible it may seem [29 November 2010].

So I slid the battery out of its slot and into a Ziploc bag, and set it in the freezer for fourteen hours. I gave it three hours to warm back up, shoved it back into the machine, and plugged it in; the trusty orange Charging light came on. When the orange light turned to green, I disconnected the power cord and booted up the machine. After four minutes, I checked the power meter: 97 percent.

A Post I Didn’t Think Got the Attention It Deserved: Domo arigato, mystery motto [23 September 2011]. (Not only did it call for the simplest possible responses, the title was one of my best. Or worst.)

The Post I’m Most Proud Of: At the very edge of civilization [13 July 2004].

I don’t believe for a moment that having a population of ten per square mile, as North Dakota does, is some sort of tragedy. (Oklahoma has around fifty; factor out the two largest metro areas and the figure drops into the twenties, with Lawton, about the same size as Fargo, as the largest remaining city.) Maybe it’s inevitable that a place called the Peace Garden State is going to be rather sparsely populated. But I figure that the people who live here are ingenious enough to keep themselves afloat; after all, they manage to get by without voter registration just fine, and this is the sort of independent streak that usually means a finely-tuned survival instinct.

A Post Whose Success Surprised Me: Semi-nice try [20 August 2011]. (A simple reprint of a piece of comment spam, it got 13 comments in less than five and a half hours.)

Feel free to swipe the concept if you’re so inclined.

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Farther beyond the stacks

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Beyond the stacks

Under normal circumstances, you couldn’t pay me to read a contemporary vampire novel. (Well, you could, I suppose: write for rates.) I’m not quite certain how I stumbled across Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches (New York: Viking, 2011); maybe it called to me from across the room.

Diana Bishop would know the feeling. While doing research on the ancient art of alchemy in the Bodleian Library, one of the manuscripts she requests seems to be trying to get her attention. Being a witch, and the last of a long line of witches at that, she recognized that there had been an enchantment attached to the document; being very much uncomfortable with being a witch in the first place, she returned it to the stacks after a cursory examination, and tried to forget about it. She had no idea that Oxford fellow Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist, also had an interest in the manuscript, although she did immediately read him as a vampire.

From this point, you can predict exactly one plot complication: the romance between Diana and Matthew. (O Twilight, where is thy sting?) In terms of being totally star-crossed, these lovers are right up there with those Veronese teenagers of old. (Vampires and witches are mortal enemies, after all, and they don’t get along that well with daemons either.) What makes Discovery work for me is the fact that with both of them trying to figure out the secrets of that old manuscript, there’s an enormous amount of historical background. (Dr Harkness, as it happens, is professor of history at USC, and knows this stuff cold.) There are a few exasperating moments, of course, mostly having to do with Clairmont’s utter gorgeousness: as is de rigueur in contemporary vampire tales, he’s a walking, talking Rolls-Royce Phantom, because it would never, ever do for our heroine to fall for some workaday Vlad the Impala. But this is forgivable: even the minor characters are carefully sketched out, and if some loose ends aren’t quite tied up at the end, well, there are two more novels to follow.

The author, sensing film potential here, is polling readers for possible leads. (For what it’s worth, I voted for Claire Danes and Alexander Skarsgård. Make of that what you will.) Would I see a film of A Discovery of Witches? Almost certainly, though I shudder when I contemplate what would have to be left out to make it fit into 130 minutes or so. Meanwhile, I’m keeping an eye out for Shadow of Night, the second volume, which is due next year.

(Before you ask: I borrowed the review copy from the library last weekend. I’ll buy my own soon enough.)

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Heading for the front seat

What can we learn from this? In her TV interview in Australia, Rebecca Black is the very picture of “we so excited.” (“I’m here in Australia! It’s so cool!”)

Closer to home, with her mom and her manager in tow, she’s not so excited:

It occurs to me that Black may just be sick of talking about “Friday” or her nascent-yet-possibly-over-maybe-never-was singing career. Sitting at this table, she’s making it perfectly clear that she’d rather not have her day consumed by the adults around her, the way any kid her age would feel. Or perhaps what Ark Music Factory and Black’s parents, publicist, and manager have unwittingly created is a much savvier player than they could have imagined. Black seems to have fully internalized, probably subconsciously, a reality that may elude other recording artists: This interview will have no impact on her career. She doesn’t need this, or any other traditional outlets, for that matter, to get people’s attention.

And maybe that’s the difference, more than being on another continent: she’d much rather speak for herself.

Which suggests to me that the date to watch for is 21 June 2015, which is her 18th birthday. (No, it’s not a Friday.) If she’s still on the radar, I’m betting she shakes up everything and heads off in a whole new direction.

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Why’s everybody always picking on us?

The Hyacinth Girl is visited by a time-traveling jerk:

I suppose, if I were a gigantic baby I could claim to have been “bullied” on Facebook as well. Running into an old nemesis from high school on that social networking site seemed like a great way to mend fences. We’re both adults, I thought, we’ve got kids and whatnot. It quickly became apparent that she wanted to pick up where we left off when we were 16. The hilarity continued as she mentioned talking to an old friend of mine, (now a crackhead in Bakersfield who called me almost 10 years ago out of the blue to literally cry about her woes with CPS). After wiping tears of laughter from my face, I promptly told her to eff off, banned her from my account and carried on.

As I once said:

[I]f you’re going to demonstrate your superiority to such, the only effective techniques are either (1) to ignore them altogether or (2) to go full Cee Lo Green on them.

You have just observed an instance of #2.

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Quote of the week

Glenn Reynolds on capital punishment:

The best argument against the death penalty, of course, is what Charles Black called “the inevitability of caprice and mistake.” But that argument, taken seriously, is an indictment of the entire criminal-justice system, not just the death penalty. It may be a valid indictment, but few are willing to go that far.

The worst argument against the death penalty, of course, is that it’s somehow awful for the state to kill people. Nation-states are all about killing people. They exist solely because they’re better at that, on a large scale, than any other form of human organization. Everything else is superstructure, and if they lose that edge it will fade away.

Note that this function is independent of, and perhaps irrelevant to, so-called “good intentions.”

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Smells like mid-life crisis

Mercedes-Benz, an auto brand with both male and female names, has decided to get into the fragrance business. Bertel Schmitt quotes from the press release:

“‘Mercedes Benz Perfume. The first fragrance for men’ has been created in partnership with the INCC Group and it will be available from selected specialist retailers from the first quarter of 2012, as an eau de toilette, after shave, deodorant and shower and body gel.”

Not that this ploy worked for Cadillac two years ago. Then again, Daimler has been here before:

“The world of fragrance is not new to Mercedes-Benz: the company already offers exclusively developed perfumes for the atomisers in its Maybach models and in the Mercedes-Benz S 600 Pullman.”

Sheesh. Pass the cabin air filter.

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No accounting for this sort of thing

Angie Dickinson turns 80 tomorrow, which gives me a reason to put up this curious 1961 artifact:

Angie Dickinson with Form 1040

If the IRS actually had forms like hers we wouldn’t hate them quite so badly. (Maybe.)

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