Not that I could have stockpiled any

An observation from February:

I wander into Braum’s a couple of times a month for various things from their side-of-the-store market: for instance, I am fond of their 9-Grain Bread, and I prefer their pickle slices for my own sandwiches.

The pickles, at least, can still be had, but the 9-Grain Bread apparently is history, replaced by none of these, if you ask me, and the so-called “artisan” stuff commands, or at least requests, a price 50 percent higher.

I am not, of course, above paying $6 for a loaf of specialty bread — but for making a week’s worth of PB&Js? I don’t think so.

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Very high hybrid

In much of the world, Toyota’s Prius, despite its modest price, is something of a halo car: it is far and away the most successful of the hybrids, and the Big T seldom has to resort to incentives to move the metal.

This is not, however, the case in India:

For the first four months of 2012, Toyota sold zero units of the Prius in the Indian market. Last month, they managed (don’t ask how) to sell one unit.

One reason, apparently, is India’s tariff on imported motor vehicles. If you’re not going to build them here, New Delhi reasons, the least you can do is send us CKD kits so we can assemble them ourselves. The Prius, with its complicated powertrain, is sent only as a completed vehicle, and is therefore hit with a tariff of over 100 percent, pushing the price tag to the equivalent of $60,000.

With projected annual sales of somewhere between two and three, it’s a wonder Toyota bothers at all. Then again, they didn’t get to be the behemoth of the Japanese auto industry by turning down customers.

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Prepare the bass cannon

Vinyl Scratch display at Licensing ExpoI tell you, this turned my Smile Reflex up to 11: DJ Pon-3, Ponyville’s leading disk jockey — for all I know, she might be Ponyville’s only disk jockey, but no matter — on display at the Hasbro booth at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas, with a theme unabashedly swiped from Spinal Tap. Under her “real” name, yet. EqD’s Sethisto noted that “they don’t appear to be going for the typical little girl’s TV that you would expect from a My Little Pony show!” Indeed.

Hard-nosed cynicism requires me to mention that the guys in their 20s who make up the bulk of bronydom likely buy way more merch than the grade-school girls at whom the show is officially aimed. Personally, I really don’t give a flying feather about Hasbro’s motivations, so long as they keep dishing up the Good Stuff. (Picture taken by The Angry Otaku; if you missed the last appearance of the bass cannon — strictly unofficial, of course — catch up here.)

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Wrench dressing

Do not approach Francis W. Porretto with your newfangled computer language:

If these “researchers” were to ask me why I haven’t troubled to learn C#, or Ruby, or Python, or whatever the hot language fad is just now, I could tell them in a single sentence: They’re irrelevant to my problem domain.

My group’s problem domain is real-time simulation. For that domain, nothing has come along that bests C++ and the available supports for it. There are other domains, some of which are more efficiently addressed with other languages and support systems. (I wouldn’t dream of addressing a database problem or an artificial-intelligence project with C++.) A good engineer strives always to use the right tool for the job before him.

Inasmuch as our particular domain is database manipulation on IBM i, we’re an RPG shop, although RPG IV bears little resemblance to the Report Program Generator Big Blue came up with in 1959. I write hardly any source code, though I’m pretty handy with the control language and several of the system utilities, and that’s what they pay me for. (I write a lot more HTML, mostly because I have to toss stuff up on the corporate Web site now and then.) The oldest routines on site have been rewritten or replaced, but we still have a ton of legacy stuff to support.

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The art of misdirection

A one-page letter received from the gas company yesterday begins this way:

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is scheduled to begin hearings on an Oklahoma Natural Gas rate increase request on June 28, 2012, at 10:30 am in Courtoom B, 1st Floor of the Jim Thorpe Office Building, 2101 N. Lincoln Boulevard, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 73105. Interested persons may appear at the hearing and make public comment if they so desire.

If you’ve been here long enough, you know that the utility is routinely expected to estimate the impact on the customers’ bills somewhere inside the announcement. And this version of the standard estimate seems particularly artful:

The proposed increase would raise an average residential customer’s monthly service charge by approximately $1.71. However, with the recent elimination of riders and consideration of natural gas costs, it is estimated that the average residential customer will pay $105.42 less in 2012 than in 2010.

Similar paragraphs are provided for commercial and industrial customers. If you’re not paying close attention — I wasn’t when I first skimmed the letter — you might think that the $105.42 you’re supposed to save this year is a direct result of the new rates being requested. Oppose a deal like that? Not a chance.

In fact, in 2010 spot prices on the commodity exchanges were in the $5 range; in the spring of 2012 they dropped below $2, though they’ve since risen to near $2.40. Over that same period, ONG’s price for previously banked gas supplies, which tends to lag the exchange price by a couple of years, has fallen from $7ish to around $4.50. No wonder bills are going down.

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Can’t afford Nunavut

Nunavut is a Canadian territory north of all the provinces and south of — well, the North Pole. It’s perhaps not a place you’d want to become a locavore, since not a heck of a lot grows there; the standard argument is that it costs a lot to ship food that far, and therefore prices will be high, although twenty-eight loonies for a single head of cabbage seems to dance past “high” on the way to “absurd.” In fact:

According to one comment on the Facebook group, it’s often more cost-effective to fly to Edmonton, Alberta, do your shopping there, and fly home. (That alone is a pretty good indication that shipping costs are not exclusively to blame.)

Wonder how much they allow for carry-on baggage?

Anyway, the ill-fed are now fed up:

People in the area have begun protesting outside stores and have started a petition on asking the Canadian government to enact “concrete, effective change that will address poverty and food insecurity in our communities.”

As you might expect, the population numbers are fairly stable: the birth rate is high, but so is the rate of outmigration.

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Twice the Bing, none of the Bada

In this week’s Rule 5 Sunday roundup, trusty compiler Wombat-socho noted, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that yours truly “finds the names nobody else looks for!” Which is, of course, true to a certain extent: you may have noticed that I posted about Anoushka Shankar on Natalie Portman’s birthday.

With that in mind, we give you Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, 30, hawking hosiery:

Fan Bingbing for Shirou

About her I knew essentially nothing, until I stumbled upon a quarter-page in this month’s Vanity Fair, which told me this:

When Fan was a little girl, her mother owned a boutique, and she grew up devouring fashion magazines. “I fell in love with dressing myself up,” she says.

Fan Bingbing’s first inspiration was Greta Garbo, but today her aesthetic is a seamless fusion of Dita Von Teese’s high-gloss pimp doll and Lady Gaga’s demented artiste. Yet her look is wholly her own, that of a kooky sophisticate whose favorite designer remains Alexander McQueen.

There was no way I was going to read that and not hit the search button.

Incidentally, this picture was swiped from Asian Celebrity. (And Kristen Stewart is on the cover of that issue of V. F., but surely someone will serve up some K. Stew for next weekend.)

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Don’t get cocky, kids

The Heat were supposed to walk away with the first one. The Thunder had zero experience in the Finals, and LeBron James has been playing on a supernatural level of late. King James, you may be sure, lived up to his billing — he finished with 30 points, nine rebounds — and Oklahoma City slogged through the mud through the first two quarters and most of the third.

And then. If there’s any two-word phrase that characterizes OKC’s playoff run, it’s “And then”: somehow, when time grows short, the Thunder manage to stand tall. Down seven at the half, they were up one after three, and every minute or so after that, they stretched that lead one more point. With 29 seconds left, LeBron quietly retreated to the bench; Mike Miller got a bucket in his place, but it didn’t matter anymore. Oklahoma City 105, Miami 94, and the Finals are off to a roaring start.

If you were wondering if anyone other than Miami’s Big Three could score, be assured that they could: Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 29 points, and Shane Battier (who started at the four instead of Bosh) and Mario Chalmers added 29 more. The Heat shot decently, at 46 percent, knocking down eight of 21 long balls — Battier had four of them, seemingly on demand — and missed only four free throws all night. And Udonis Haslem had more rebounds than anybody, reeling in 11.

What does it take to beat that? Thirty-six points from Kevin Durant, 27 from Russell Westbrook (a double-double with 11 assists), 52 percent shooting, +8 on the boards — the ever-tenacious Nick Collison had ten rebounds — and Thabo Sefolosha putting the suffocation moves on LeBron in the fourth quarter, holding King James to six points.

This wasn’t a night for blocking shots: the Thunder swatted away only three, the Heat just one. Nor was it a night for turnovers: both teams threw it away ten times. It was, however, a night for drawing a line in the sand, and there’s a lot of sand downtown, half the roads being torn up these days. It will be Thursday before we see if Miami will step over it.

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And reasonably so

The Chicagoist story on the local version of the World Naked Bike Ride is titled “Profiles in Chafing,” which implies that someone on staff is aware of the, um, physical conditions.

Although the URL suggests that the title on first publication was actually “Profiles in Sweaty Flesh,” which presumably also works.

(Either way, consider this Not Safe For Most Places.)

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Driving off with the goal posts

Or at least they’ve been moved a whole heck of a lot in a decade and a third:

Currently, the {Mercedes-Benz] C300 4Matic is powered by a sluggish 3.0-liter V6, only putting out 228 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. That, combined with a 3,737-pound curb weight, is why the current model takes 7.1 seconds to get to 60 miles per hour and only returns fuel economy ratings of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg highway.

And then I look out in my garage, where I see a 3.0-liter V6 putting out 227 horsepower and 217 pound-feet of torque. It was the most powerful machine in its class back in the day, and now apparently it’s down there among the “sluggish.” (Current EPA rating is 17/25.) It might be able to do 0-60 in 7.1, though. And yes, I’ve griped about this before.

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Julius would not be pleased

If you were thinking that orange was such a happy color — which, of course, it is — you have to allow for the possibility that not everyone has a high tolerance for it:

Went to a wedding reception last night where orange was a prominent color. The bride’s older sister was wearing a bright orange skirt, the bride’s father was wearing a bright orange tie, my wife was wearing a flowered blouse thing with several orange flowers, and the tables were decorated with large sheets of paper, the topmost of which was orange. I credit my noticing all this orangeness to Dustbury’s continued posting of pictures of people wearing orange stuff, and what do I see when I open his blog this morning?

Scootaloo in a non-mellow moodWhat he saw was this. And well, yeah, there’s a lot of orange stuff here. I am always willing to do, redo, and eventually overdo a premise, much to the apparent dismay of little Scootaloo here. (Yes, a My Little Pony reference; see previous sentence.)

Speaking of Scootaloo, McDonald’s in Germany held a contest a few months back, asking customers to create and name a new sandwich. One of the winning entries was in fact named for this young pegasus filly; amusingly, it’s a chicken sandwich.

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Order now for next season

Because they’re custom-made and can’t possibly be done in time for the Finals:

Oklahoma City Thunder heels

Here’s the pitch:

Utterly captivating, Limited Edition, authentic HERSTAR™ Custom Crystal Pumps representing the Oklahoma City Thunder. Encrusted, dazzling, and intensely mesmerizing with every step, these elite pumps command a presence of their own. Fully hand strassed in luxurious, hand selected Middle Eastern crystals, then offset by a sky-high 6″ heel and 3″ internal platform; these glittering heels glisten on the court and off. They are simply magical to behold. Step into these shimmering, sparkling pumps and be ready to light up the games.

There’s an upgrade to real Swarovski crystals available, at a much higher price. If you can live with the more mundane crystals, these will cost you $295. And yes, the NBA is actually licensing these.

(Plucked, of course, from the tweetstream.)

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Block bleach

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s executive VP Michael J. Petrilli, a booster of neighborhood gentrification — it has a salubrious effect on neighborhood schools, he argues — went looking for the ZIP codes showing the greatest indication of same, using as a rough criterion the increase in non-Hispanic white population. Ninth on his list was 73104 in Oklahoma City, which went from 11 percent white to 39 percent between 2000 and 2010.

This is not surprising to anyone familiar with the area, which sits just east of downtown: there has been substantial residential development north and east of Bricktown, and much of it has been pricey., which tracks real estate and income numbers, reports that a median-priced home sold in 73104 in the last quarter of 2006 would have gone for about $50,000; five years later it was $390,000. None of this has yet to spill over into 73117, the next ZIP code to the east, but give it time.

Thirteenth on the list is Charleston, South Carolina 29492, which strikes me as something of an outlier. The post office was assigned to the area known as Wando, north of Mount Pleasant but part of Berkeley County. Part of its delivery area was the largely undeveloped Daniel Island, sitting in the Cooper River, which didn’t take off until Interstate 526 (the Mark Clark Expressway) was built across the area and the Daniel Island Company acquired basically the entire island, both in the middle 1990s. The high school I attended, in downtown Charleston for its first eighty-odd years, relocated to Daniel Island in 1998. I visited the school and the area in 2001, and while the developed areas looked fabulous, you didn’t have far to go to reach the boonies. The population has more than doubled since then, though.

Number 5 on the list, Austin, Texas 78702, east of Interstate 35 north of Lady Bird Lake, probably got its numbers by dint of the fact that it’s too expensive to live west of Interstate 35 north of Lady Bird Lake.

And interestingly, of the top 25, four of them are in Brooklyn, New York: 11205, 06, 37 and 38.

(Via the Atlantic Cities section.)

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The pose, struck, strikes back

The Stepsister SchemeJim C. Hines has written several fantasy novels, including a four-book “Princess Series,” based on the premise that “happily ever after” is both unnecessarily dismissive and ultimately untrue. As is de rigueur in genres of this sort, the cover art will include a female character posed in an improbable position. Jim was okay with that, until he got the idea of trying to duplicate positions like that himself. Empathy for the characters, doncha know.

His conclusion:

My sense is that most of these covers are supposed to convey strong, sexy heroines, but these are not poses that suggest strength. You can’t fight from these stances. I could barely even walk.

Which just goes to show you — something, I suppose.

(This was brought up during the 26th annual MisCon, in a panel on urban fantasy.)

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Such a deal, they SHOUT

A question that deserves some pondering:

[W]hy do scammers always print their names in ALL CAPS? Whether they claim to be Nigerian oil ministers or Chinese missionary real-estate moguls like MR QIAN HUA PAN & YAI CHOW WONG PAN (that’s a direct cut-and-paste from the email), you can always tell a scammer by his all-caps name.

The only exception to this seems to be the Brazilian spam, of which I get an abundance, perhaps due to having a dormant account at Orkut, which has relocated its headquarters from California to Belo Horizonte because, well, that’s where the users are.

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The lure of the well-turned ankle

About three years ago, Gerard Van der Leun, a man with unquestioned taste and discretion, posted an advertisement from the old “Gentlemen prefer Hanes” series. I responded with one from my own stash, perhaps hoping to stir up some competition, but none was forthcoming.

Now here I sit with dozens of scans of this sort, and no place to put them. So I may as well post some of them here. This one dates to 1954, a time when apparently Tex Avery was still a household word:

Advertisement for Ballet Hosiery from October 1954

The fellow in the corner really needs to learn some discretion, wouldn’t you say?

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