Italian style

An offhand observation from the spring of 2010:

Presumably owing to business considerations, the picture of [Laura] Soave being circulated by Chrysler is carefully tuned for maximum blandness. In person, she’s much more striking.

In case you’d forgotten, Laura Soave, a former Volkswagen exec, was hired by Sergio Marchionne to head up the Fiat brand in the US. Somewhere in this photo is a Fiat 500:

Laura Soave with Fiat 500

Incidentally, the current Cinquecento is supposedly available in 14 colors, but every last one I’ve seen on the roads in this town has been this shade of Cinnamon Red Hot(s).

(Photo snitched from Autoblog.)

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Just keep on dreaming

The curious phrase PREPARE FOR LAUNCH showed up on Rebecca Black’s Facebook page, along with yesterday’s date. Since it wasn’t a Tuesday, I have to assume it wasn’t the release of the new EP, which, Team Rebecca insists, will come out this month. (Facelift for the Web site, apparently.)

Speaking of dates, she told Parade she’s allowed such things:

I’m allowed to. I mean, I’m sure if my dad was in the room he’d be like “Uh, no you’re not.” But I’m allowed to. It’s hard because I’m always in L.A. and I’m always busy. So I’m single, but I kind of like it.

Fourteen and single. Who would have known?

I spent part of last night reading her Tumblr page, which seems to have attracted a few unwelcome elements. No surprise there, I suppose. Still, she seems to be taking it all in stride, which is more than I could do at that age.

And then there was this on Yahoo! Answers:

Does anyone know where I can get the music to Friday by Rebecca Black for a marching band?

I need it for the basic marching band instruments, clarinets, flutes, saxophones, tubas, baritones, trumpets, horns, percussion, etc.

Let’s hope somebody YouTubes (TheyTubes?) the performance.

Addendum: Doonesbury weighs in. (Via Peter J. Rudy.)

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The receptionist at Skynet

Artificial intelligence is getting more intelligent; the trick, of course, is to somehow make it less artificial.

Denise from Guile3D StudioMeet Denise, an “advanced Virtual Assistant Software” from Guile3D Studio:

She comes with our real-time proprietary graphic engine, a high quality English Text to speech voice and a Voice Recognition (Command Mode) engine. Denise works with an adaptive Artificial Intelligence Brain, that can learn by itself and be customized by user. Her main function is to assist users in human-computer interaction, like searching the web, checking e-mail, scheduling appointments, getting latest news, run computer applications by voice and much more, all these using natural language, as the user was “talking to a real person.”

And apparently she’s going to be a disc jockey:

Wednesday August 24, 2011 from 1pm till 4pm CST KROV [San Antonio, Texas] will be making history by becoming the first radio station in existence to have an artificial intelligent radio personality. KROV is an HD-2 radio station. Which means an HD radio is required to listen to the station. However there are ways around such an obstacle for people who do not own an HD radio. KROV can be streamed on the station’s web page at www.krovfm.com and also with a smartphone application called “TuneIn”.

I know I should be appalled by this, but really, how is this substantively different from, say, the smartass promo inserts on Jack FM? Jack doesn’t talk back, but Denise does:

And even in version 1.0, she’s a lot less annoying than your average morning-show jerks.

(Via Fark.)

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Not to mention the pressure drop

Most of the time when Glenn Reynolds says “Faster, please,” I shrug and say “That’s nice.”

This one, however, hits me a little harder:

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have found a protein normally involved in blood pressure regulation in a surprising place: tucked within the little “power plants” of cells, the mitochondria. The quantity of this protein appears to decrease with age, but treating older mice with the blood pressure medication losartan can increase protein numbers to youthful levels, decreasing both blood pressure and cellular energy usage. The researchers say these findings, published online during the week of August 15, 2011, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may lead to new treatments for mitochondrial–specific, age-related diseases, such as diabetes, hearing loss, frailty and Parkinson’s disease.

Hmmmm. I’m not a mouse, old or otherwise, but as it happens, I switched my hypertension medicine to a losartan/hydrochlorothiazide combo a couple of years ago, shortly before it became available as a generic. Did this buy me any time? Who knows? But for once, I’m (slightly) ahead of the curve.

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Drone for a loop

We have always been at war with — um, who was that we were at war with?

Someone needs to tell the president about torpedoes. Upgrade the Mark 48 and sell it to whoever is in charge of the US drone war as the Mark I Sea Drone. Then we could gloss over headlines like “Drone Reportedly Kills Thirty Pirates” or “Drone Sinks Syrian Navy.”

Now I’m basically in favor of the drone strikes in Pakistan, or sinking the Syrian navy, for that matter; in for a penny, in for a pound. I mostly support the drone strikes because Pakistan says they hate them, and Pakistan is our enemy. Ergo, drones are good. On the other hand, reports say privately Pakistan supports the drones, so drones are bad, unless you believe Pakistan is our ally, then drones are good. That’s two goods to one bad, so I’m two-thirds okay with the drones.

A lot of my T-shirts, it seems, come from Pakistan, so mark me down as slightly below 66-point-something percent okay with the drones, assuming these are the drones we’re looking for.

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And theft is illegal, after all

Apparently this guy is sufficiently distraught to consider shuffling off this mortal coil entirely:

Well, I mean, I snort coke, right. I keep having to argue with my son because he goes down to the basement and steals my coke and uses it himself or sells it to his friends. I’m sick of him stealing my coke, and it’s making me just want to end it all. It’s so frustrating having to spend all my time finding coke and having to find new hiding places for it.

He’s ready to be shot into space, wouldn’t you say?

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My name is Larry

This title could be a more-or-less autobiographical song by the late Wild Man Fischer; or it could be a statement which might be made by Twitter’s little logo bird.

Yes, really. Twitter says so.

Now does this mean that Larry was named for, um, Larry Bird? It’s possible.

(Via Nancy Friedman.)

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They prefer “anchored”

But you know what they really mean, and if you don’t, well, Andrea Harris does:

[T]he evidence is all around you that we are turning into plants, or lazy, complacent apes, who would rather be entertained by fantasies about space exploration than actually doing it. Because exploration, going to new places, figuring out how to live in alien environments — all of that is hard work, and there are tv shows to catch up on, and good things to eat and fatten up on, and our fellow monkeys in the Earth cage to throw feces at when they get out of line.

Some of these orangutangerines will argue with a straight face that we have no right to do much of anything while J. Random Leech suffers from whatever it is he’s suffering from — can’t afford both HBO and Cinemax, would be my guess — in his Section 8 digs. I’d be in favor of shooting them and their Protected Ones into orbit around [not Uranus, that’s too easy a joke].

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With a little restraint

Typically, the city calls a bond election every seven years or so; the last one was in 2007, authorizing $835.5 million in General Obligation Bonds, a portion of which go on sale each year.

This year, they didn’t move a lot of bonds: the sale on the 8th of March brought in only $43.5 million, and the official reason for the crummy-looking number is that property values are more or less stuck in a rut. Since the city’s cut of the local property tax, the only legally-permitted source of funding for debt service of this sort, is not going up any time soon — city policy is to keep it at 16 mills or less — it is considered Bad Form to borrow more than we can reasonably expect to pay back. Besides, it might jeopardize the city’s AAA rating from S&P if we started to go crazy with debt instruments, and if it did, we wouldn’t have time to whine about it on the evening news.

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Not to get snippy or anything

Robert Stacy McCain (may his tribe increase, one generation forward) is, as always, appalled, but at least he’s consistently appalled:

Nearly 1 in 5 American women of childbearing age has undergone surgical sterilization. This ought to be genuinely shocking, the subject of sociological study. What does this incredible statistic say about a society so vehemently hostile to human procreation that it spends many millions of dollars each year to permanently extirpate the reproductive capacity of its women?

Yet the very fact that this practice is so widespread prevents anyone from daring to comment critically about it, for fear of seeming to be “intolerant” or “judgmental” toward the victims of this surgical war against human fertility.

It was thirty years ago today — okay, give or take a week or two — that I went under this particular knife. Better I than she, right? And besides, we’d generated our replacements: we had two children, who are now busy having children of their own. (Sixth grandchild is due in the spring.)

As for women to whom I am not married, which is, for the moment, all of them, I am loath (and unqualified) to provide surgical advice, even if you’re 83 and simply want greater rack projection.

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The common factor is death

Well, that was fun. I have exactly two songs of the “X Must Die” genre in the iTunes Shuffle: Mojo Nixon’s “Don Henley Must Die,” and “Morrissey Must Die” by the Meatmen.

Which, of course, came one right after another. Genius at work? (Number of songs in the box: 6,285.)

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With everyone in Concord

McGehee left this over at Rand Simberg’s, on the subject of what is familiarly known as the “Amazon tax,” and I thought it merited some additional exposure:

If online retailers have to collect sales tax at all it should be on the assumption that the point of sale is where the order is processed. After all, if I cross into Fayette County, GA to buy a TV, I don’t pay Coweta County sales tax. If I were to go to Alabama to buy the same TV I’d pay Alabama sales tax, not Georgia.

If it just so happens that as a result all the online retailers set up their order processing in New Hampshire, well, that can be a lesson to Massachusetts.

Not that the lesson will take hold, necessarily. Then again, the whole situation can be boiled down to two words on the opposite side of the country: “Columbia River.”

The Columbia defines much of the border between Washington and Oregon. Why it matters: Washington has a sales tax, but no income tax; Oregon has no sales tax, but has an income tax. Which explains much about why Clark County, Washington, across the river from Portland, Oregon, is growing so quickly: the population has nearly doubled since 1990. Not that anyone would shop in Portland (and have the car fueled up by an actual attendant) and then drive back home across the state line, right?

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Something terrestrial

Now, here’s Lynn for Earth® brand shoes:

I had already been thinking that when I need new ones I want to get Earth shoes because I am really loving the two pairs of Earth shoes that I have — one pair of sandals and one pair of casual leather t-straps — but the old ones are in such good shape I expected that it might be another year or two. Earth makes several athletic type shoes and after hours of looking and angst and indecision I finally settled on these in the “Desert” color. The others I considered were all either too expensive or they did not have the color I wanted in my size. I don’t exactly love this color but I don’t dislike it either. I think all athletic shoes are ugly anyway but looks aren’t the point at all.

As two-tones go, this is one of the more restrained combinations I’ve seen:

Earth Exer-Walk

I would, however, like some input from the field: Does it really matter what an athletic shoe looks like, assuming the basic necessities are met?

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In search of Wang

So I dialed over to Deutsche Grammophon’s site to see about recordings by Yuja Wang, and apparently there are three to be had. DG, of course, is a premium-priced label, and the CDs are priced in sterling, yet: £12.49 each, which is around twenty bucks before shipping. They will happily, however, sell 320-kbps MP3 versions for £7.99, which is a reasonable discount. (While that sounds high, it generally works out to a lot less than the $1.29-per-track rate they were charging early on.) And here’s the unexpected twist: they will also actually sell these albums in FLAC lossless at an intermediate price (£9.49). So: do I sacrifice the CD artwork and liner notes to save three quid? Or do I wait for Amazon to restock these same CDs at their $13-ish price? (Amazon also has MP3s, but usually at a lower bit rate than this, and the price isn’t that different from DG’s.)

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The unseen walk among us

That automated rest-room stuff apparently won’t detect the presence of neo-neocon at all:

I enter the stall, and the toilet greets my arrival with a preliminary flush to clear its already-clean palate. I approach the toilet, and it flushes again. But when I’m finished and step back, it refuses to flush; I may be finished, but it’s finished, too. Then I have to look around for a button or lever that can override its reluctance.

Next, the sink and the towel dispenser. Are my hands too small to activate them? Because quite often they stubbornly refuse to respond, and I’m forced to improvise special maneuvers that resemble Tai Chi: waving my hands slowly, and then increasingly frantically, in front of what I think is the sensor. Finally some random movement of mine triggers a response, or perhaps it’s just that the sink and/or dispenser has decided I’ve amused it enough and it’s time to end the game.

Meanwhile, Sean analyzes the problems with these systems:

Bathroom automation was designed to protect, not serve. Since building owners can tune the water delivery system to dispense a specific amount of water each time the sensor is triggered… in a perfect world, the water delivery system could be tuned to the soap dispenser to allow for the ‘perfect’ wash/rinse distribution, but it rarely is. Most times I have to wave my hands in front of the sensor to get additional water, and ultimately water runs for some time after I’m finished washing. In an ideal world, the paper towel dispenser would know how much paper towel I needed (based on my hand size, or the moisture reading it took when it noticed my hands were there) but it doesn’t. So I end up taking two runs with the paper towel dispenser and causing more waste than if I had a manual option. The other drawback is the power source… these things don’t work without power, and that leaves me with a shirt as the alternative for drying my hands when the batteries are dead.

An entirely sensible explanation, which is of course unsatisfying if you’re conjuring up weird semi-science-fiction notions about how some people carry a hitherto-unnoticed gene that makes them effectively invisible in the presence of all these ostensibly high-tech sensors. Not that I’d do such a thing.

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Just imagine the keys

Prestige auto brands being what they are these days, it’s probably faint praise at best to refer to the Steinway as the Mercedes of pianos. What I didn’t know — though Jack Baruth did — is that the Steinway folks once built the Mercedes of cars:

In October of 1888, Steinway became a Daimler licensee, empowered to produce Daimler internal combustion engines for marine and other uses. A factory in Hartford, CT built them, while the piano factory at Long Island had space to fit them to boats if required. It should be noted that this was not the only diversified entry on Steinway’s books; the company operated a motor launch and purchased considerable real estate holdings in the New York area, which increased in value considerably during the twentieth century.

When William Steinway died [in 1896], the family sold control of the [US] Daimler Motor Company to General Electric, although the facilities stayed the same. GE built small delivery trucks there as well, powered by Daimler engines. Meanwhile, the Daimler “Mercedes” 35-horsepower automobile was becoming famous throughout the world. To capitalize on that success, the Daimler Motor Company announced availability of an American-built “Mercedes” in 1905. The price was an astonishing $7500. Let’s put that in perspective; it was six times the cost of Steinway’s Model D concert grand, which today starts at $120K and goes up from there. In 1905, gold was $21 an ounce, so if you use that as a standard, the American Mercedes was worth a cool half-million or more in today’s quantitatively-eased currency.

Two years later, the Long Island production facility burned, putting an end to American-built Mercedes cars. And before you ask: the German Daimler company and Karl Benz’s operation merged in 1926, giving birth to the Mercedes-Benz marque. Steinway has changed hands twice, but the name over the door remains the same.

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