To everything, churn, churn, churn

Nicole pondered this matter earlier in the week:

Maybe I should migrate to Tumblr… All I do lately is reblog and post pictures and links.

Meanwhile, Pejman Yousefzadeh, one of the few Tumblr users on Ye Olde Link List, has migrated to Squarespace.

What does all this mean? I haven’t a clue.

Also this week, Yahoo!, which recently bought Tumblr for no discernible reason, has shaken up Flickr:

Yahoo unveiled some big changes to Flickr on Monday, both in terms of features and overall design. One of those changes is that free users are no longer limited to a certain number of photos; instead, everyone gets 1TB of space for their full-resolution photos.

With that change comes an end to what used to be the biggest difference between free Flickr accounts and Flickr Pro. As it turns out, that’s by design. In addition to lifting the previous upload and storage limits, Flickr is quietly discontinuing its Flickr Pro accounts (existing Pro users can continue to use Flickr Pro) and shifting to a different type of upgrade model.

The different type of upgrade model, incidentally, costs twice as much — or twenty times as much if somehow you have 2 TB of photos.

I just might let my Pro account quietly expire, though I haven’t made up my mind yet, and anyway it’s paid for through the end of this year. (I have, I’m guessing, somewhere around 0.02 TB of photos.)

Comments (11)

Powdered heavily, and dieting

Tuesday, science writer Jennifer Ouellette tweeted thusly:

I sent up a response: “She was quite lovely — and downright brilliant. I pity those who believe someone can’t be both.”

The next day, this vision was visited upon us, or upon some of us anyway:

Laura Fernee

The story so far:

Meet Laura Fernee, a 33-year-old academic who claims she was hounded out of her work because of her beauty.

Fernee, who has a PhD and worked as a scientific researcher, has been unemployed for two years and now lives with her parents, who very kindly pay for her flat, shopping and expenses — to the tune of £2,000 a month.

The Daily Mail, always cattier than thou, notes that her research job paid only £30,000 a year, presumably taxable. And this quote seems a tad disingenuous:

She said men left “romantic gifts” on her desk and she was “constantly asked out”, which she found “sleazy”.

“Even when I was in a laboratory in scrubs with no make-up they still came on to me because of my natural attractiveness.”

You know, somebody ought to do some research into this sort of thing. Can’t be Hedy, because she’s dead; can’t be Laura, because she’s writing a book about how horrible it is to be gorgeous. What’s Samantha Brick doing these days?

(Via Interested-Participant.)

Comments (2)

X marks the box

Perhaps the most exasperating aspect of this week’s Xbox One reveal:

People are bitching about needing to be online to activate their games. How are they bitching? By going on the internet and typing up storms.


Irony has worn a mask since long before Alanis Morissette.

Comments (2)

Cellar, shmellar

Not an unreasonable question: “Why aren’t there more storm cellars in Oklahoma?” Megan Garber explains to Atlantic readers something I’ve explained before in less detail:

The ground in central Oklahoma tends to be soft and moist — right down to the bedrock that sits, generally, some 20 to 100 feet below the surface.

Here’s the problem with that when it comes to building basements and underground shelters: Clay is particularly fickle as a foundation for construction. When loamy soils absorb rainwater, they expand. And when the weather’s dry, they contract. This inevitable and yet largely unpredictable variability makes basement-building a particular challenge, since it makes it nearly impossible to establish firm foundations for underground construction.

And while above-ground homes can be built on these somewhat shaky foundations, adding the element of open space in the form of a basement is a nearly impossible feat of engineering. There is a chance your house, its basement surrounded by glorified mud, will eventually simply topple into itself.

One of the houses I looked at before buying this one was about to slide off a hill, possibly for exactly that reason. Same price as mine, for half again the space — for a while, anyway.

But why not…? This is why not:

To mitigate this, contractors have been experimenting with steel reinforcements for basements, bolstering underground walls with steel beams that are drilled directly into the bedrock below. The problem here, though, is that much of Oklahoma’s bedrock is composed of limestone, which, just like the soil above it, absorbs water. And which, when it’s sapped of moisture, becomes chalky.

About the only thing Garber gets wrong in the whole article, in fact, is her placement of Moore in Oklahoma County. It is, of course, in Cleveland County, as is the section of Oklahoma City that was hit before the storm reached Moore.

Comments (8)

Especially if you’re burning oil

No one is arguing that auto emissions are actually good for you, but this doesn’t sound promising at all:

The American Heart Association’s journal on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology has concluded that high levels of vehicle emissions can cause high cholesterol in mice, which could indicate that air pollution is a contributing factor in high cholesterol or vascular disease.

In the study, mice were exposed to diesel exhaust for two weeks “at a particulate mass concentration within the range of what mine workers usually are exposed to” (according to UCLA), which, not surprisingly, had a negative effect on the bloodstream. First, the air pollution altered the HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein, a.k.a. “good cholesterol”) to the point that the positive properties of the protein were reduced and could lead to high levels of LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein, “bad cholesterol”) and hardening of the arteries.

Now I wonder if the price of a California smog certificate can be covered by health insurance.

Comments (3)

Pick up your Q

Maggie Q, whose birthday this is — she’s thirty-four — was a model in Tokyo and Taipei, though not a particularly successful one; eventually she landed in Hong Kong, did some minor film work, and was noticed by Jackie Chan, who got her a small role in Rush Hour 2, which led to bigger things.

That sort of résumé might suggest to you that she pulled this stage name out of thin air, to replace some difficult-to-spell string of characters originating somewhere in the Pacific Rim. Um, no. Think “Margaret Denise Quigley.” Her father is of Irish and Polish extraction; her mother is Vietnamese.

Maggie Q enjoys a lovely beverage

In addition to her film and television work — she’s the lead in Nikita, currently running on the CW — she’s done promotional material for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Comments (2)

The unbearable being of lightness

Dr Angelo Mosso’s original manuscripts have been located, complete with a description of a very strange device indeed:

Mosso worked in the late 19th century, an era that was — in retrospect — right at the dawn of modern neuroscience. A major question at that time was the relationship between brain function and blood flow.

His early work included studies of the blood pressure in the brains of individuals with skull defects. His most ambitious project, however, was his [Human Circulation Balance] — or as he sometimes called it, according to his daughter, his “metal cradle” or “machine to weigh the soul”.

Then again, maybe it wasn’t so strange after all:

A volunteer lay on a table, their head on one side of the scale’s pivot and their feet on the other. It was carefully adjusted so that the two sides were perfectly balanced.

The theory was that if mental activity caused increased brain blood flow, it ought to increase the weight of the head relative to the rest of the body, so that side of the balance would fall.

The scientists reviewing Mosso’s papers aren’t saying one way or another, but later research suggested that the soul weighs about 21 grams.

Comments off

This is my four-leaf clover

The second single from Volume 3, the fourth album by She & Him, has been sort-of-enhanced with a video that She directed:

This sounds like it ought to be on one of Ace’s Early Girls compilations. Then again, so did “Never Wanted Your Love,” the first single.

I’ve already snagged my copy of Volume 3, and a review will be forthcoming when I get around to it.

Feel free to debate the significance of the title.

Comments off

Your state bird sucks

Nicholas Lund finds your lack of hawks disturbing:

I drove over a bridge from Maryland into Virginia today and on the big “Welcome to Virginia” sign was an image of the state bird, the northern cardinal — with a yellow bill. I should have scoffed, but it hardly registered. Everyone knows that state birds are a big joke. There are a million cardinals, a scattering of robins, and just a general lack of thought put into the whole thing.

Worst of the lot, perhaps, is Alaska’s:

Willow Ptarmigans are the dumbest-sounding birds on Earth, sorry. They sound like rejected Star Wars aliens, angrily standing outside the Mos Eisley Cantina because their IDs were rejected.

I dunno. To me, Willow Ptarmigan is the hippie chick who dropped (1) out of Swarthmore, or (2) a whole lot of acid.

Fortunately, Oklahoma’s own Tyrannus forficatus is more than sufficiently badass.

(Via Pop Culture Junk Mail.)

Comments (2)

Why I still have a fax machine

Yes, it’s as ancient as Betamax, but the lawyers insist:

There are legal precedents for faxed documents such as signed contracts to be legally binding in a court of law. The intrinsic nature of the T.30 fax protocol, accurately reproducing documents between two remote points, meets the legal requirements of custodianship — that no third party could reasonably intercept and/or make changes to the document between the sender and the receiver. Fax server software often includes support for digital signatures which further ensures the integrity of the fax data.

Eric Scheie will pass, thank you very much:

FWIW, I think fax technology is backwards and just plain sucks. I have a fax machine, but I don’t have a landline, and the fax machine is completely worthless without it. So, when I have to “send a fax,” I go through this stupid rigmarole of creating a signed document, then uploading the file to fax zero and sending it out as a “fax.”

Is that a faux fax?

How that is more secure or less likely to result in fraud, I don’t know. I suspect that part of the problem is that government agencies have robotic idiots working for them who lack basic computer skills and hence cannot be relied on to download, process, or read emailed documents.

Disclosure: I also still have a Betamax.

Comments (4)

A view to a krill

Automotive comparison tests, as a rule, are not amusing.

And then there’s Doug DeMuro’s attempt to make Lincoln’s baleen-whale-faced MK-something look better than the old Town Car, which is almost persuasive in a “Yeah, right” sort of way.

Just half a paragraph, to whet your appetite:

Let’s start with rear head room. The Town Car has just 37.6 inches, while the MKT boasts a whopping 39 inches. This is wonderful. The last time I was in a Town Car, all I could think was: I fit perfectly, but I cannot comfortably stand a USB stick on my head.

Disclosure: My current ride requires you to compress your vertical self into 37.4 inches. Then again, it’s half a size class down. Or something.

Comments (2)

And you thought your HOA was bad

See what a free-lance busybody can do to you:

A Bartow County man accused of burning down a neighbour’s house on Wednesday morning has been captured. Phillip Roger Bennett, 58, was taken into custody on Thursday by US Marshals in Murphy, North Carolina, He has since been returned to Georgia, and booked into the Bartow County jail. Cartersville Police Capt. Mark Camp said the suspect faces nearly a dozen charges, including arson, aggravated assault, criminal property damage, cruelty to children, second-degree burglary, reckless conduct, criminal trespass and terroristic threats.

So far, this sounds like an ordinary guy, burning down the house. But apparently he had Higher Motivations:

Police are also talking with the Bartow County District Attorney about whether Bennett can be charged with attempted murder. They insist Bennett knew Corbitt and his three year old daughter were inside the home when he allegedly set it on fire, frustrated the family had failed to mow their lawn. “He kicks my door, tells me I’ve got five seconds to come outside. I turn around and call 911. And while I’m on the phone he comes back with two gas cans in his hand. He walks up to my kitchen door again, takes a gas can, smashes it against the glass, breaks the first pane,” Corbitt said.

And then after that, he gets belligerent.

Then again, it’s not like he’s never done anything like this before:

Court and prison records show Bennett has had a history of violence. He served time for voluntary manslaughter, after killing someone in Cobb County.

While in prison, Bennett was convicted of aggravated assault for attacking an inmate with a shovel, ripping off the man’s nose.

“Looks the same to me,” said the leopard as he performed a spot check.

Comments (3)

Broken-hearted malady

All these years, we’ve been thinking that heartbreak is a metaphor. It’s not:

The despair of losing a loved one — the stress and the anxiety and the pumping adrenaline — can actually kill you. Writing for The Conversation, cardiologist Alexander Lyon tells the tale of the broken-hearted, those whose hearts simply shut down during times of stress.

Known to doctors as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, broken heart syndrome is a special type of heart attack. In a normal heart attack, a blocked artery chokes the flow of blood to the heart, cutting off the supply of oxygen and killing heart tissues. In a Takotsubo heart attack, there is no such blockage.

And who suffers from a broken heart? Dr Lyon reports:

Intriguingly, more than 90% of people who experience this condition are middle-aged or elderly women, all postmenopausal. It is not clear whether they are the survivors, and men drop dead suddenly with severe stress, or whether the postmenopausal female heart is more sensitive to adrenaline.

I’d hate to see a double-blind test for this.

Comments off

Odometer check

This came down the stream last night, and at first I didn’t notice it:

It then hit me that I’m about five years older than Madonna.

As part of my ongoing effort to make myself feel better, here’s Rue McClanahan in the mid-Sixties as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Rue McClanahan in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

She said she was too young at the time.

Comments off

The last rite of Spring

From a day in May, fourteen years ago:

This tornado’s remarkable wind speed (at the high extreme of the Fujita Scale’s F5) led to much speculation that the scale would be modified to include an F6 category, due to the winds possibly exceeding 318 mph (512 km/h). This speculation ignored the fact that the Fujita scale measures damage rather than windspeed, since the scale was developed prior to the introduction of Doppler weather radar. Windspeed estimates associated with the different categories represent the speeds scientists believe are required to produce that damage rather than the windspeed in that particular storm. The damage caused by an F5-designated tornado leaves very little room for a higher category.

The Fujita scale has since been enhanced, and there’s no EF6. Maybe there should be. What I said about that earlier storm:

[T]he worst managed to stay to my south and west, though not very far. At its peak, the funnel was nearly a mile wide, and its easternmost flank ventured to within half a mile of this desk.

I have since moved about fifteen miles west. And they’re saying that today’s Cone of Destruction at some point was so wide that you might not recognize it as a tornado, were it coming right at you.

And if that earlier storm really was packing “the highest winds ever recorded near the earth’s surface” — what the hell did we just see?

Welcome to Tornado Alley. Please have exact change. And you will be changed. Count on it.

Update: NWS compares the track of the two storms.

Comments (16)

To which, add 2

SAT-wise, I was always better on the mathematical side of things than on the verbal, and I think the reason for that was that the abstractions made more sense to me than the literature I was studying at the same time: screw Mr. Darcy, Fermat’s got a theorem to prove!

Over the years, the poles migrated, or something, and now I write all the time and fumble for the calculator, but I can still relate to numbers — or at least to some of them:

Prime numbers are those non-composite numbers that can only be divided by one or itself. On average, the gap that separates these numbers gets larger as their values increase. But a neat quirk about primes is that every once in awhile they also come in pairs, so-called twin primes. These numbers differ from another prime by two. Examples include 3 and 5, 17 and 19, 41 and 43, and even 2,003,663,613 × 2195,000−1 and 2,003,663,613 × 2195,000+1.

(Note: I did not check that last one.)

Ever since the time of Euclid, however, mathematicians have wondered if these twin primes keep on appearing for infinity. They have no doubt that primes themselves appear for infinity, but because mathematicians lack a useful formula to predict their occurrence, they have struggled to prove the twin prime conjecture — the idea that there are infinitely many primes p such that p+2 is also prime (i.e. the two number gap).

We are, however, just a little closer:

The new result, from Yitang Zhang of the University of New Hampshire in Durham, finds that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that are less than 70 million units apart without relying on unproven conjectures. Although 70 million seems like a very large number, the existence of any finite bound, no matter how large, means that that the gaps between consecutive numbers don’t keep growing forever. The jump from 2 to 70 million is nothing compared with the jump from 70 million to infinity.

I am reasonably certain that I couldn’t make head or tail of Zhang’s research, but I did know that the largest known prime, as of this past January, consisted of 17 million digits, against which 70 million (which has only eight digits) is barely a rounding error. (If you care, it’s 257885161−1.)

Note: There are two houses on my block which bear prime numbers. Not twins, though.

(Via the Crimson Reach.)

Comments off