Quote of the week

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, from his book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier (New York: W. W. Norton, 2012), describing a meeting with the Mass Media:

On July 1, 2004, the Cassini spacecraft pulled into orbit around Saturn. There was nothing scientific about it, just pulling into orbit. Yet the Today show figured that was news enough to put the story in the first hour — not in the second hour, along with the recipes, but in the first 20 minutes. So they called me in. When I get there, everybody says, “Congratulations! What does this mean?” I tell them that it’s great, that we’re going to study Saturn and its moons. Matt Lauer wants to be hard-hitting, though, so he says, “But Dr. Tyson, this is a $3.3 billion mission. Given all the problems we have in the world today, how can you justify that expenditure?” So I say, “First of all, it’s $3.3 billion divided by 12. It’s a 12-year mission. Now we have the real number: less than $300 million a year. Hmmm … $300 million. Americans spend more than that per year on lip balm.”

At that moment, the camera shook. You could hear the stage and lighting people giggle. Matt had no rebuttal; he just stuttered and said, “Over to you, Katie.” When I exited the building, up came a round of applause from a group of bystanders who’d been watching the show. And they all held up their ChapSticks, saying, “We want to go to Saturn!”

It is not known definitively whether any of the audience wanted Lauer dispatched to Uranus.

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Platform shoo

Blogger vs. WordPress shows up all the time on Yahoo! Answers, and I try to answer based on what I think the asker’s criteria might be. If what they want, above all else, is Spending No Money, I send them to Blogger, on the basis that I don’t want to have to explain why WordPress.com might cost them a few bucks now and then, and a self-hosted WordPress will cost them quite a few more.

On the other hand, if the choice is between Blogger and a self-hosted WordPress, I need only point them to this presentation by local designers CooperHouse, which considers ten criteria, six of which favor WP, three Blogger, and one that’s a wash. (Disclosure: CooperHouse’s own site runs on WordPress, though it’s a custom design rather than a standard theme.)

On the question of search-engine optimization, they give the nod to Blogger, on the following not-unreasonable basis: “Google indexes Blogger within 24 hours; Google indexes WordPress within 4 weeks.” Inasmuch as Google owns Blogger, the stuff’s presumably right there for them to grab. On the other hand, I’ve beaten that 4-week period for WordPress by three weeks, six days, twenty-three hours and forty-six minutes, though I’m in no position to say whether this is at all typical.

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Meanwhile near Gondor

That Boromir certainly gets around:

Moore Door Store LLC

Samwise and Frodo, however, took the left turn at Albuquerque and ended up here.

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Thundering heard

And so it came to pass in Such A Leak Arena on a dark and stormy night that the defending champions came to defend their championship. No matter what the Thunder did, the Mavericks had a response for it. Still, OKC persevered, going on a 7-0 run (in 64 seconds!) to tie it at 94-all with 1:27 left. Then Dallas displayed a rare phenomenon known as “fifth-chance points,” in which OKC made four attempts to retrieve the ball, but it ended with Ian Mahinmi sinking two free throws. Kevin Durant, who’d been having a rough (for Kevin Durant) night shooting, then set up Serge Ibaka for a dunk and an and-one. With 24 seconds left, it was 97-96 OKC. James Harden fouled Dirk Nowitzki, who of course didn’t find it convenient to miss either of his free throws. And a second and a half before the buzzer, Durant front-rimmed a jumper, which bounded off the backboard — and in. Oklahoma City 99, Dallas 98, and the playoffs begin on a positive note.

Still, it’s not like KD was playing slacker. He put in nearly 44 minutes on a night when no one else had 40. And he reeled in six boards, served up four dimes, and blocked four shots. It’s enough to make you forget 10-27 from the floor (1-6 for three) and 25 points. Besides, Russell Westbrook found his A game, good for 28 points (13-23), and those Ibaka freebies gave him 22 for the night. The bench didn’t score much. In fact, the bench didn’t score at all, except for Harden, who had a highly-efficient 19 on 4-7 and nine free throws. No one seemed to mind.

If Jason Terry is a feared sixth man, and he is, then Vince Carter should get props as a seventh: he tossed in 13 points to go with Terry’s 20. Dirk, being Dirk, had 25, almost half in the fourth quarter. Shawn Marion tacked on 17 more. The Mavs had a 42-36 advantage off the boards, but they turned the ball over even more than the Thunder — 15-14 — and while they nailed ten of 22 treys for 45 percent, they were no better than that on short-range shots. Still, I can’t help thinking that Dallas could have pulled this one off, were it not for the fact that Rick Carlisle’s momentum-control scheme had left them with no timeouts after Durant’s winning jumper.

So not a lot to gripe about, unless you’re a Thunder fan who also happens to be a cardiac patient. And if Game 2 (Monday night) is like this, more of them might be.

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Circulation issues

The last time we had anything to say about the library at Harvard, it was in connection with a lawsuit by a librarian charging discrimination. (And while Desiree Goodwin lost that suit, her name still appears regularly in the search logs, reason enough to mention her again.)

But this is a different matter entirely. It appears that subscriptions to academic journals are becoming entirely too pricey, even for a university with $30 billion or so in endowment:

Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive. This situation is exacerbated by efforts of certain publishers (called “providers”) to acquire, bundle, and increase the pricing on journals.

Harvard’s annual cost for journals from these providers now approaches $3.75M. In 2010, the comparable amount accounted for more than 20% of all periodical subscription costs and just under 10% of all collection costs for everything the Library acquires. Some journals cost as much as $40,000 per year, others in the tens of thousands. Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years, which far exceeds not only the consumer price index, but also the higher education and the library price indices. These journals therefore claim an ever-increasing share of our overall collection budget. Even though scholarly output continues to grow and publishing can be expensive, profit margins of 35% and more suggest that the prices we must pay do not solely result from an increasing supply of new articles.

What’s worse, some of these providers bundle journals and offer them only as a package: if Harvard wants, say, A and B, they will also have to take U, V and W. (Anyone who subscribes to cable TV knows how much fun that is.)

Of course, one could just point to that $30 billion:

At the current cost, their endowment could cover subscribing to those journals until the year 10,279. The annual tab is .0001 percent of the endowment, which means if it earns a lousy passbook-level 2% a year the interest on this year alone could pay for the subscriptions until 2177.

I wish I knew who’d pay me 2 percent on passbook savings these days. Then again, I don’t have thirty billion on deposit.

Addendum: Just received: The Week, with a full-page ad for BlackRock, containing this timely tag: “2% ISN’T A RETURN; IT’S A RETREAT.”

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Chips off the ol’ fashion plate

Every now and then, in circumstances best left undisclosed, I find myself wondering “What would Zooey Deschanel wear?” The Fug Girls remind us (via slideshow, so consider yourself warned) that some of her fashion choices over the years have been neither charmingly quirky nor quirkily charming.

(See also this video, which names no names but doesn’t really have to. Via Joan of Argghh!)

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28 MPG later

Truth be told, I would have expected something a bit burlier to be the motor vehicle of choice during the Zombie Apocalypse, but life, or unlife as the case may be, is full of surprises:

(Via Autoblog.)

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Mustn’t be so girly

Somehow I can’t see Agatha Christie going along with something like this:

Scottish crime writer Shona MacLean has been forced to change her name — to S G MacLean — to make her novels more appealing to men.

The change follows the publication of three successful historical crime books under her full name. The title of her latest novel has also been truncated in its paperback form, to make it more punchy and eye-catching. Crucible of Secrets now appears simply as Crucible.

MacLean, niece to Alistair MacLean, professes not to be disturbed by this:

“The thinking was that my name was too soft and feminine and men wouldn’t buy my books. Now they have decided they want to make the covers more masculine and my name less obviously feminine… Crime books are more traditionally male, and my books have a male protagonist.”

Who would have thought there’d still be gender stereotyping in popular culture in 2012?

(Via this @syaffolee tweet.)

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Is it Friday yet?

While you check on that, here’s this week’s Rebecca Black update.

A firm called Visual Measures has developed an algorithm for determining a video’s, um, virulence; “Friday,” they say, is the third most successful viral video ever, beaten out only by Susan Boyle’s appearance on Britain’s Got Talent and the “Kony 2012” promotion.

Seemingly tangential: In 1997, I put up the very first Web fan page for singer/songwriter Carolyne Mas, now retired and living in Arizona. She’s still communicating with the fanbase, though, and recently she turned up a box of tapes, which she’s busily sending up to her YouTube channel. Recently, she reported on a batch:

These are demos I did in 1987 with Charlton Pettus who is currently with Tears for Fears, and who went on to produce Reason Street in 1992, while he was playing with Sinead O’Connor. He was the acoustic guitar player who sat behind her when she was booed off the stage at MSG … remember that? He flew to Germany to meet me right after that.

Which gave me an excuse to dig out Reason Street myself. Like all her European recordings, it’s worth hunting down. Inexplicably, Pettus doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, though I will tell you here that he produced the “My Moment” and “Person of Interest” singles — he also cowrote “POI” — for Rebecca Black. The fellow’s tastes evidently run fairly close to my own.

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A Daimler’s worth of difference

Usually the fine print in automotive advertising is scarcely worth breaking out the magnifying glass. But then there’s this line, from the current ad for the Mercedes-Benz SL:

No system, regardless of how advanced, can overcome the laws of physics or correct careless driving.

A little clumsy, especially between the commas, but, you should pardon the expression, dead accurate. I’d like to see it spread to other automakers: “In this industry we obey the laws of physics.”

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What the DGTFX?

Recent email, verbatim:

Your e-mail account should be upgraded to our new DGTFX Secure Anti-Virus 2012 version for damages prevent your important files.

Click on your reply, provide the details below or your e-mail account will be terminated immediately to prevent spread of the virus into our webmail log.

Email Address:
Email Password:
Date of Birth:

1024-bit RSA keys for password security to prevent unauthorized users
Technical Support Team
C 1998-2012 Cox Communications, Inc

This is obviously a phishing attempt, and a lame one at that. Then again, it is very likely true that damages prevent your important files.

Incidentally, the ostensible sender of this tissue of organic fertilizer is named “Sueprdave.” And nearly as weirdly, the Reply-To address given is updatecox@qatar.io. .IO? .IO. (It’s off to work we go.)

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Rhymes with “clogger”

Roberta X, not happy with the new Blogger interface, pulled off a successful rollback — temporarily, anyway. She remains not happy:

I quite dislike the new UI. I’m no good at real HTML and formatting in the new near-WYSIWYG editor baffles me.

When Blogger pulls the rug out from under for good, I am not going to mess with it if it becomes too annoying.

Can we talk her into migrating to WordPress? I’ll call this a No:

I have a WordPress backup — which I kept updated until Google/Blogger, as is their right, decided to pull the plug on that — and I’m not happy with WP’s UI, either.

I’ve made my peace with WP, mostly by avoiding the clunk-o-matic Visual Editor whenever possible; I’m no HTML genius — it says “Bad Example” right over there in the sidebar — but I’ve been doing it long enough to have developed something vaguely resembling technique.

And speaking of Blogger, they sent me a nastygram yesterday to the effect that my old account, used only to maintain a profile, needed to be migrated into the Google hivemind post haste or else. I made two attempts at this. The first errored out; the second, in which I made a point of not checking the “I have read the Terms and Conditions” box, breezed through the system in milliseconds. Lesson learned.

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The hard sell

Now how can you resist a motor vehicle like this?

Seattle craigslist auto ad

If you’re champing at the bit to drive it yourself, here’s the complete pitch.

(Snarfed from Dodd Harris on Facebook.)

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Superior potassium

Kazakhstan, once so annoyed with Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” character that the film was actually banned, now expresses gratitude to the film from the U. S. and A.:

Kazakhstan’s foreign minister on Monday thanked Borat, the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy that the Central Asian nation once banned for lampooning its people, for massively boosting its tourism.

“With the release of this film, the number of visas issued by Kazakhstan grew tenfold,” local news agencies quoted Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov as telling a session of parliament. “I am grateful to Borat for helping attract tourists to Kazakhstan,” the foreign minister said.

This does not necessarily mean that Kazakhstan has forgotten that the fake national anthem from Borat was played at the Arab Shooting Championships in March.

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Get a room

Or at least get off the streets of New York:

Frisky clubgoers are treating a Midtown block like their own boudoir, having so much sex in the back seats of their cars that disgusted residents want the city to ban parking on weekend nights.

Neighbors around West 30th between Seventh and Eighth avenues — where stylish apartments rent for as much as $9,500 a month — say their block is littered with condoms and other paraphernalia after horny patrons of Rebel NYC and The Parlour Midtown leave the hot spots on weekend nights. They have now convinced Community Board 5 to support a rare request for a no-parking zone on those nights.

The Parlour (247 W 30th St) is in trouble already: their liquor license has apparently been suspended, though the bar remains open while the state reviews the list of violations. Yelpers give it a solid Meh.

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The bill is too damn high

See if you can figure out why Fark tagged this DUMBASS. Here’s the original story:

An Oklahoma City woman is facing a felony charge after being accused of threatening to blow up OG&E.

It all started with a look at the electric bill. Apparently, it was a bit too high for the customer. So, she picked up the phone, called OG&E and admits things got ugly.

“I remember flipping out, but I don’t really remember what was said,” OG&E customer Deidra Reed said.

Someone testifying for the prosecution might really remember what was said. And anyway, this whole talk of bombs is just totally out of the question:

“I’m struggling to pay $40 a month for rent. How the hell am I to buy some bomb equipment. I don’t even know how to make a bomb.”

Reed’s outlandish bill came to a whopping $14.

Quipped one Farker about the photo: “anybody want to bet that is her satellite dish in the background?”

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