The Mayor of Cheap City

My ancient wireless plan dates literally to the turn of the century, and most months I peel off somewhere between $25 and $30, depending on how crazy I got with the texting. (I think I’ve emptied out my bucket of minutes once in those hundred-odd months.) Third phone now, but still the old plan, still under contract through next summer. Once in a very blue moon I wish I could do a little more with this little flipazoid device, but then I consider this and I vow to carry on:

I heard yesterday on the radio that 1 in 8 people spend $200 a month on smartphone service. That’s $2400 per year so that you can text and get the latest Facebook updates and make a few phone calls. Oh, and check in with FourSquare, which fills a previously-unknown and very mysterious need in some people to inform their 500 or 1000 “friends” on Facebook where they are at all times. Are you sure about that? You might want to revisit that one.

$2400 per year is more than some people’s car payments (and not much less than my own car payment). For a gadget that didn’t exist until five years ago, and is easy to lose, and interrupts our lives and destroys our ability to focus on anything for more than two minutes at a time.

Other than that, Mr. Brokaw, how did you like the phone?

I have no doubt that there are people who can justify these contraptions for business purposes — and who presumably can claim the expense as a tax deduction. I am not one of them.

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Now back to Security Theater

Jennifer Abel, noting that apparently we’re not bothering to arm properly those Marines assigned to embassy security, offers a money-saving proposal:

Here’s an idea to cut government spending: replace all embassy guards and TSAgents with life-size cardboard cutouts of embassy guards and TSAgents. They’ll provide the exact same level of protection, without any need for salaries or benefits or anything like that.

This will disappoint those few who fly only in the hope of being groped, but hey, you can’t have everything.

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And not a single puppy played poker

The Fark headline was snarky: How art tricks people into paying $3.6 million for an abstract painting. I followed up the link, and there was a perfectly reasonable story on the interaction between art and neuroscience, two subjects on which I am by no means an expert but which I can grasp, somewhat, on a sort-of-intuitive level.

Of particular interest was this section:

In the research of Margaret Livingstone, professor of neurobiology at Harvard University, she explored the painting “Impression, Sunrise” by Claude Monet, which features a shimmering sun over water. Although the orange sun appears bright, it objectively has the same luminance as the background, Livingstone found.

Impression Sunrise by Claude Monet

So why does it look so bright to the human eye? Livingstone explained in a 2009 lecture at the University of Michigan that there are two major processing streams for our visual system, which Livingstone calls the “what” and “where” streams. The “what” allows us to see in color and recognize faces and objects. The “where” is … faster and less detail-oriented but helps us navigate our environment [and] is insensitive to color.

When our brains recognize a color contrast but no light contrast, that’s called “equal luminance,” and it creates a sort of shimmering quality, Livingstone said. And that’s what’s going on in a Monet painting.

Which is something apparently we didn’t know back in 1970 when I was actually studying this sort of thing: we took it for granted that the phenomenon exists, and chalked it up to good old trompe l’oeil, despite the fact that Monet wasn’t trying to fool us in the least.

And somehow, this summons another question: Does it affect my appreciation of the painting, knowing how it was done? My answer is no: even if you taught me the technique and spotted me a whole palette full of colors and a copy of Photoshop, I couldn’t come up with anything that evocative.

Then again, Impression, Sunrise, while it isn’t photorealistic, certainly isn’t abstract. Fortunately, I know a painter of abstracts, and I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t mind if I tossed a link to one of her works. I’m not about to take luminance readings over the whole sixteen square feet, of course. And I’m not quite sure what it is I see in this particular square, though the reflection pattern to the left, decaying as it moves rightward, suggests to me several layers of energy at different speeds, which are actually probably moving leftward away from the original source. (So “Nova,” the title, perhaps says it straight.) And while the Cooper (why not?) draws a different flavor of emotional response than does the Monet, it is still a genuine emotional response, and not knowing exactly What It Is bothers me not in the least. (Indeed, I am most bothered by not being able to meet her asking price just now, though it’s well short of $3.6 million, and anyway she says she might keep it for herself.)

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Strange search-engine queries (346)

This weekly feature contains a number of search strings sent to this site over the past seven days. It is not intended to offend. However, if by chance you are offended by such material, please be advised that the management could not possibly care less.

bulb enema russian:  Finest quality made. Just Putin and squeeze.

joss whedon rueage:  Whedon isn’t yet at the age to rue what he has done.

ripped off cloth unexpectable sex:  That depends on which cloth was ripped off, does it not?

does the country community hate shania twain:  If they do, that don’t impress her much.

she’s got legs zooey deschanel:  Well, yeah. Were you perhaps expecting wheels?

upper class privilege assumed:  In a few more years, it will be mandatory.

over achievement award:  In a few more years, it will be routine.

“you’re running up a record level of debt”:  In a few more years, it will be mandatory.

setterade:  A new energy drink for dogs. (Not recommended for small, hyperactive breeds.)

the best plans are those unlaid quote:  I suspect that rather a lot of the unlaid are planning, even now, to get laid.

sheriff whetsel bitchin camaro:  Well, that explains the donuts on the lawn at the County Courthouse.

where to find an incendiary blog post:  Bite me, you greasy little troll.

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Slightly magical

There is a time in your life when you’ve put all that innocence and wonder behind you, when you’ve become, as the phrase goes, “serious as a heart attack.” If you survive, you get over it.

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Bill, George, anything but Sue

Getting a legal name change in this neck of the woods is convoluted but not complex: you fill in the forms [pdf], you arrange for a Legal Notice to be published, you appear before the judge, and once he signs off, you go to the Department of Public Safety for a new driver’s license. All this happens in a month or so.

The major exception to this rule is (1) if you’re transitioning M2F and (2) you are unfortunate enough to be assigned to the court of Judge Bill Graves, who will not approve name changes for trans women:

The judge in [a] 2011 order gave three specific reasons against allowing name changes in transgender cases.

He wrote it could result in someone unwittingly marrying a person “who appeared to be of the opposite sex but was actually of the same sex.”

He wrote it also could hinder crime investigations — causing police officers searching for a male based on DNA evidence to ignore a potential suspect the officers believed was female.

He wrote it also could let someone circumvent the state’s prohibitions against same-sex marriage.

Technically, this would also block F2M transitioners, but Graves has yet to encounter one; the two he’s refused so far were M2F.

The legal forms require the applicant to state that no fraudulent purposes is intended; Graves’ rulings have been based on his idea that sexual reassignment is by definition fraudulent. The first ruling is being appealed.

(Title, of course, by Shel Silverstein.)

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It’s a small brothel after all

A woman hands a book to the librarian. Only it’s not one of the library’s books:

She pulls out of her bag a beaten-up copy of Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho.

Lady: “You are a young girl. You are not an old fogey. Therefore I am not intimidated to tell you what the book is about.”

She leans over and whispers, “It’s … all … pornography.

[Librarian]: “Oh…my.”

Lady: “Do you know why men visit prostitutes?”

[Librarian]: “I don’t…I’m not really…”

Lady: “It’s not about sex. You’d be surprised.”

The librarian duly tweets about the experience.

Which tweet is promptly retweeted — by Paulo Coehlo.

Tipping her hat to this review — okay, I don’t know if she actually ever wears a hat, but work with me here — she announces that she’s going to read the book, once the library’s own copy is returned from loan.

Which got me thinking: do we, here in the Big Sanitary, have this book in our library? Yes, we do: two copies, one at the branch nearest to me, neither of them checked out at the moment.

Maybe I need to read this book, just to keep the momentum going. And no, it’s not pornography.

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The return of the Band of ’59

Way back in 1997, I brought up this curious bit of musical history:

It was August 1959, and the Los Angeles-based musical group known as Big Daddy had finally wangled a recording contract. Their manager, wanting to give the waxing as much of a push as possible, got the band booked on a USO tour of Southeast Asia, hoping for some positive publicity. Unfortunately, the United States had no military involvement in Southeast Asia in 1959, or so the official story said, and therefore the publicity value of the tour would have turned out to be nil — had the band come back at all, which it hadn’t.

Or something like that. Anyway, when the band was ostensibly released by the Chicoms in 1983, still owing one album on their contract, they sought out new material to cover; but, not having heard anything since the 1950s, they duly played it in exactly that style.

As legends go, this is marked by both moderate bogosity and high entertainment value: Big Daddy would go on to record several albums, including a complete (well, perhaps excluding the 20-kHz tone in the runout groove) reimagining of Sgt. Pepper’s, all done in their patented pre-British Invasion style. (An example is this Elvisoid R&B take on a too-familar Sting number.)

Inevitably, rock stars turn to show tunes, and Big Daddy has turned to Kickstarter to help finance a new album, to be called Smashing Songs of Stage and Screen. I, of course, could not resist plugging it here.

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Big Brother gets siblings

WaPo blogger Mike Rosenwald finds this just a little hard to believe:

This is 100 percent One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest crazy. But true. It has to be true: My brain is not sophisticated enough to create something so meta and surreal from scratch.

WTOP’s Ari Ashe is reporting that Prince George’s County [Maryland] is mounting cameras to monitor its traffic cameras. This comes following a half dozen incidents of vandalism and general meanness toward the cameras in the county.

A camera was actually shot with a gun. Another was set on fire. Those attacks mark a step up in looniness from a man who allegedly fired glass marbles at a Howard County traffic camera earlier this summer.

One camera monitoring a camera is already up. Ashe reports a dozen more are planned.

This surprises me less than you think it might: I hear lots of horror stories about PG County, and, well, not taking kindly to traffic regulation is hardly a Beltway phenomenon. On a World Tour a decade ago, I was climbing through northwest Tennessee to the Kentucky Bend, and noted that “the bullet-holes-to-traffic-sign ratio [was] about 12 to 1.”

Note: Working title for this piece was “3936256,” which of course is 1984 squared.

(Via Autoblog.)

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Girl with a Fender

The 16th of this month marks the 51st birthday of Bilinda Butcher of the alt-rock/shoegaze/whatever band My Bloody Valentine, seen here in a shot from Coachella ’09:

Bilinda Butcher

No mention of MBV would be complete without 1991’s “Only Shallow,” the closest they came to a hit in the States, with vocals and rhythm by Butcher and strange guitar noises by Kevin Shields. This song has only grown on me over the years.

(This is the single edit; the track on the Loveless album runs about half a minute longer.)

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At a thousand words apiece

I was scrolling down the front page last night, and thought to myself, Geez, this is a whole lot more graphic content than I used to have, isn’t it?

So I went back ten years, to September of 2002, the first full month of something resembling a content-management system on site — for the six years before that, everything here was coded by hand — and glanced at every single post that month. Number of photos, pictures and embedded whatevers in those thirty days: zero.

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In fact, just don’t leave home

Nice little fake payment confirmation in the inbox yesterday, pretending to be from American Express:

Bogus payment confirmation from American Express

I’m pretty sure I didn’t send Amex $4,564.29. I’m also pretty sure yesterday wasn’t Tuesday. All the links in this thing go to a domain in the Netherlands which is reported as “compromised.”

Addendum: Speaking of Amex, an expired card used (and signed) by Michael Jordan is going up for auction.

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The Gas Game resumes

After a one-year hiatus, Oklahoma Natural Gas has decided to reinstate the Voluntary Fixed-Price Plan, which freezes the Cost of Gas section of one’s bill for twelve months, this time at $4.257 per dekatherm. My long-time readers may recall that this program was first offered in the fall of 2005, with a price of $8.393; I spurned it, and wound up paying out over $60 for having done so, over half of it in one single horrible month.

Last posted price was $4.934, so I’m tempted, especially since we have no way of knowing when they contracted to buy this gas, though the spot price of late has been well below $3, which suggests to me that those contracts are probably two years old and the posted price likely won’t drop below $4.257 until next summer, when I really won’t give much of a damn because the Cost of Gas will make up maybe ten percent of the actual gas bill.

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Every single time a track comes up in iTunes, a little Ping button appears, suggesting that I share the existence of this track with the rest of the world. Not once did I ever do so, which of course explains why it’s dead:

Introduced at a September 2010 Apple event as “a social network for music,” Ping never really caught on with music-listeners. A kerfuffle with Facebook over sharing activity may have doomed Ping from the start: Facebook blocked access to Ping, which made it impossible to find Facebook friends who were also using Ping.

The Zuckerborg Collective will apparently not be resisted.

Ironically, Ping will be replaced with deep Facebook integration in iTunes 11. When that version of iTunes becomes available in October, you’ll be able to see whenever your Facebook friends “Like” an artist, song or album on iTunes.

Finally, a persuasive argument for Winamp.

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A lot of Fridays ago

One of the things I do in my not-exactly-copious free time is field Rebecca Black questions on Yahoo! Answers. For the first time in quite a while, my standard search criteria (opened in the last three days, unresolved) produced no results yesterday.

Not much going on, in other words, though she’s unearthed a couple of photographs from when she was very young and then Instagrammed them. (Is that even a word?) This shot is almost terminally cute.

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Isn’t it great?

A lesson in self-acceptance, inspired by the wiser-than-we-thought Derpy Hooves:

This is here mostly because I need it from time to time.

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