There is signal and there is noise

Often, the two are difficult to separate:

This story in The Times Higher Education outlines how a professor at Lehigh University saw that his students who brought laptops didn’t do as well on tests as students who took notes the old-fashioned way. The story also digs into some neurological research that says the same thing.

Essentially, our brains seem to work a little like our ears do in this respect. If you are supposed to listen to a sound, you can do it much more easily when fewer other sounds are made around you, especially if those other sounds are more pleasant or more interesting than the one you are supposed to listen to. I, for example, would pay attention to the air conditioner if you told me that’s what I was supposed to do. But if, say, Angie Harmon began talking in the background, I would pretty quickly abandon the air conditioner for a sound that is of far more interest to me.

Angie HarmonI can multitask, sort of, but not especially well. In fact, I have basically the same issue as does Microsoft Windows: if more than one task is running, one of them gets focus, and the others are shunted into the background until such time as I can manually intervene to bring them up. I tend not to listen to the A/C; in fact, given the nature of Oklahoma summers, I don’t notice it until it cycles off. There are times when this doesn’t happen for several hours, at which time I will be startled by the sudden reduction in background noise. I am reasonably certain, though, that if Angie Harmon were to happen onto my premises, she would have my undivided attention for the duration.

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Never thought of that

The host put out this bulletin yesterday:

We have some older mysql servers from older, already retired clusters, that are aging and must be offloaded to new mysql servers to avoid any hardware failures from aging hardware, and for customers to receive newer, faster mysql servers.

A list of the older servers follows, and then:

The new mysql servers are modern hardware, much more powerful and hold many more databases, which becomes a problem for moving customers who created databases before our more strict policy on database naming. Previously we allowed any name as long as it was not taken on that specific mysql server, but since a few years we have made it a requirement for names to be unique system-wide for new databases. Now these names may conflict on the new servers and require a rename to complete.

For the curious: my own databases (I have seven) had been on one of the affected machines, but were moved to a newer box two years ago. And my own naming conventions are probably sufficiently weird to avoid landing on someone else’s chosen name.

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The pyramid is toppled

Lindsay Beyerstein contemplates the implications — and suspects some of the origins — of MyPlate:

[T]he amino-acid intensive category is called “Protein” — not “Meat.” Historically, one of the main criticisms of the USDA guides has been their insinuation that meat and dairy products are an essential part of every healthy diet. That’s not surprising considering the lobbying might of American agribusiness. At the end of the day, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association is a lot more powerful than whoever represents our nation’s tofu producers in Washington. So, it’s nice to see the USDA taking an ecumenical stance when it comes to recommending “protein,” as opposed to “meat.”

However, when I saw the MyPlate icon, my first thought was: “The dairy industry won big, here.” Notice that in the top right corner, there’s a separate satellite orb labelled “Dairy,” in what looks like a glass next to the plate. The visual upshot is not only that dairy is a necessary part of every healthy diet, which is simply not true, but also that Americans should drink milk with every meal. Strictly speaking, the dairy orb could represent cheese, yogurt, or milk products, but it sure looks like a glass of milk with dinner.

In the back of my mind, I see a tofu-industry lobbyist, sneaking away from K Street at lunchtime in search of a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese. (See also this sad tale by Larry Groce.)

And I endorse this bit of informed cynicism:

[O]dds are, MyPlate is itself the product of heavy lobbying, just like its predecessors. So, caveat eater.

But I’m still not going to dunk my Oreo (or Hydrox, if available) in spring water.

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Holiday in Detroit

Bertel Schmitt reports from the front line, as it were:

“I’m tired of being ashamed of where I live,” declared Mark Reuss, President of General Motors North America, at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference. His colleagues are likewise frustrated. “With all the national bashing of the region,” an aversion to Michigan is ingrained in the minds of potential job prospects, said Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor. Detroit is the city of long lost sex-appeal. Echoing the dejected sentiments of a clockwatching professional with a clientele of reluctant customers, Bill Ford added: “We have to do an incredible sales job to get them to come.”

If you ask me, they need to do an incredible sales job on themselves first:

1,500 business and political leaders gathered on Mackinac Island on Friday to vent their frustration with where they live.

Mackinac Island? Of course. These are Titans of Industry. You’re not going to see them hanging around a town that gets bad press, like, say, Detroit.

Suggestion for the Detroit Regional Chamber: Next year, meet in Grand Rapids.

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Slightly-unmatched pair

Actresses Kathryn and Megan Prescott turn 20 today. I think Kathryn, six minutes older, is on the left, but I’m not entirely sure:

Kathryn and Megan Prescott

Perhaps we could ask Dave Hogan of Getty Images Europe, who took this shot at the UK premiere of The Hangover, not quite a week after their 18th birthday(s).

At least they don’t dress alike.

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Nice to see Murphy still has a job

I have this ancient steam-powered cable modem of seemingly questionable parentage — all I have to do is mention the brand name and tech types stare wide-eyed and wonder how it’s still functional after seven and a half years — and the cable company warns that they will no longer be supporting it at some point in the future.

So they boxed up an even cheesier-looking box and FedExed it to me, with a page full of extremely simple instructions. I duly disconnected the old clunker, wired the new one into place, and, as instructed, called the tech-support line. I have no idea why I’d need to call them — they have the serial number, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t have the MAC address, unless they’re completely brain-dead — but I did call them, and they shunted me off to the Robotic Voice, which complained for a good half an hour that it couldn’t detect that brand-new piece of [suitable pejorative].

Well, we are not having that sort of [similarly-suitable pejorative] at Surlywood. I undid everything I did, threw the new box back into its packing material, and shoved it into a closet. I am not trying again until fifteen minutes before they shut me down entirely. And you don’t want to be the person who reads the inevitable customer-service survey I’ll be sent.

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Act balmy

Nancy Friedman reveals a new development from Big Pharma:

Pfizer’s exclusive patent rights to Viagra begin to expire next year, and the pharmaceutical company is taking what you might call prophylactic measures. This month the company will introduce generic Viagra in New Zealand under the name “Avigra” — an anagram of “Viagra.”

I predict that this practice will catch on, and that these new generics will rocket to the Top Ten on the sales charts:

  1. AnVita
  2. Opalrex
  3. LateSun
  4. Saxfoam
  5. Sequel OR
  6. Dread-All
  7. SaneFlo
  8. DocAvert
  9. BeamIn
  10. Coorz

Or, you know, not.

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The Slightly Silly Party (US version)

“He’s got the hair, she’s got the shoes,” points out E. M. Zanotti in suggesting a Palin/Trump ticket:

The 2012 GOP field is full of people who we aren’t sure have met civilization yet. A number of them have names more typically found in Harry Potter books. Only one of them spent his high school years in a Dungeons & Dragons themed rock band where he played keyboards inside of a giant cocoon. The worst thing that could happen is that any of them would win the nomination. At this point, the GOP could nominate a tuna melt and it would have as good if not better chance of beating Barack Obama. So I say, why not nominate Sarah Palin and Donald Trump? At least the campaign would be entertaining.

Just think: crazy accents, giant hair (the blow drying bill for that ticket would be astounding), they’d be mostly self-funded, and together, they could drive even the most even-tempered person insane. It can’t really get better.

I’m guessing this isn’t the tuna melt in question.

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Washington gets the hell out of Dodge

And Chrysler and Jeep, too:

The Treasury Department said on Thursday it reached an agreement to sell its remaining 6 percent equity stake in Chrysler to Italy’s Fiat in a deal that will net Washington $560 million.

The proceeds of the deal include the sale of the government’s interest in a UAW retiree trust, Treasury said in a mid-evening statement.

Fiat agreed to pay Treasury $500 million for Treasury’s 98,461 shares of Chrysler. Treasury also had an option to buy shares held by the UAW retiree trust and Fiat agreed to buy that for $75 million — with Treasury to get $60 million and the government of Canada $15 million.

This gives Fiat what they wanted most: majority control of Chrysler Group. The 6 percent being retrieved from Treasury will push Fiat’s interest to 52 percent.

The government — and, by extension, taxpayers — took a short bath, or maybe a shower, on this deal:

The Obama administration invested $12.5 billion in Chrysler under the Troubled Asset Relief Program during the 2007-2009 financial crisis and said that, after the transaction, Chrysler will have returned more than $11.2 billion of that amount.

“Treasury is unlikely to fully recover the difference of $1.3 billion,” the statement said.

Of course, compared to the current Federal budget, or lack thereof, $1.3 billion is basically a rounding error.

And Fiat still has to contend with the second-largest shareholder, the VEBA fund of the United Auto Workers, upon which a substantial chunk of Chrysler — currently 45.7 percent — was bestowed by the bankruptcy court.

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It’s Friday, and we all know what that means

Rebecca Black in front of a sofa

This time, Rebecca Black doesn’t have to ask which seat she should take. (Thanks to BOP/Tiger Beat.)

And if you’re thinking tomorrow is Centaxday, and Taungsday comes afterwards, this is for you:

(When I start numbering these, there’s a problem.)

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Watch those watts

Not all of us on OG&E’s Smart Grid are on time-of-day pricing, so I didn’t notice the official declaration that there are 25 peak hours per week: Monday through Friday, 2-7 pm. I did guess that peak usage might cost three times as much as off-peak usage, and apparently I was wrong:

Looks like this week off peak prices are $0.05 per kWh and peak pricing is $0.25 per kWh. Typical average price outside of this was around $0.08…so watch your usage so you don’t get a shock on your bill.

The standard-price tariff, at the moment — this is the Summer Price Period — is $0.084/kWh for the first 1400 kWh, $0.0968 thereafter, plus a flat $13. I pay a little more than this because I’m subscribed to the wind program; I hit 1400 kWh only once last year. According to the published neighborhood statistics, my own consumption is about 10-15 percent below average. I have no idea how much effect time-of-day pricing would have on me; I’m at work for at least half that period every day. Then again, if I don’t crank up the A/C until I get home, it’s going to run until midnight.

The variable-price tariff, incidentally, allows for a higher tier during critical (read: “we’re damn near maxed out”) periods, which may approach $0.50/kWh for those presumably-limited times.

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Quote of the week

Things may get better, but it’s entirely possible that they’ll get worse first, in which case Roberta X was right all along:

Water runs downhill and the two big parties sweat over diverting it a few degrees to the left or right, both hotly denying it’ll ever reach bottom. They’re dreaming but the nightmare will be ours. No Congressman will miss a meal, no bureaucrat, nobody in the Executive or Judicial branches is gonna have to choose between the gas bill and the electric bill. I strongly suspect for the rest of us, if that’s as bad as it ever gets, that’ll be a good outcome.

Way back in Vent #63, in the summer of ’97, I opined about those same parties and how they managed to get control of the dialogue:

[F]arther down in the subtext is the notion that those two particular parties somehow manage to subsume the whole of American political belief; you got your Democrats, you got your Republicans, and what’s left isn’t worth a bucket of John Nance Garner’s bodily fluids.

Garner famously described the Vice Presidency as “not worth a bucket of warm spit,” only he didn’t say “spit.”

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Thank a lolcat today

We’ve all seen these little cards with the Dire Warning:

Vehicle Service Notification

Now my first reaction was the perfectly understandable “My car is eleven years old, dumbass, of course the warranty has expired.”

And then I looked again at the card, and sure enough, that’s the Impact font across the top, as seen on eleventy-bazillion lolcat pictures.

So it was a simple matter to bring it up to my own exacting standards:

Read the rest of this entry »

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This time around — it’s the 424th — Andrew Ian Dodge is “Greying” the Carnival of the Vanities.

I’d point out that if I did anything 424 times, I’d be grey too, but that would be obvious, so instead I’ll direct you to the proper use of MIT’s Graphic Identity Colors, which are red and gray, and the specific gray is Pantone 424.

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Vicarious away

Dave Schuler says we’re starving for experiences beyond our own little orbits:

The interest in artificial experiences of all sorts whether reality shows or video games suggests to me that there’s a real hunger out there. I, personally, have no interest in being a car thief, a rock star, or a professional athlete but, clearly, there are lot of people who do. My tastes run more to being a wandering rascal who lives by his wits and saves kingdoms from wicked sorcerers and beautiful maidens from dragons. Heck, I am a wandering rascal who lives by his wits. The surroundings may not be quite as romantic but I have saved some companies from going belly-up and kept a few reasonably attractive young people from losing their jobs.

We’re still up to our [name of pertinent body part, plural form] in wicked sorcerers, though, so clearly there is much to be done.

And I’m not so sure about this:

Recording crowded out first musicians, then actors. Movies, radio, and television crowded out live performers of all sorts. Today you can watch and listen to the greatest actors, singers, instrumentalists, and performers of the last century but the opportunities to act, sing, play an instrument, or juggle are growing ever more limited.

The current items in my Fiction to Read queue: An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin, and John Donnelly’s Gold by Brian J. Noggle. Martin, at this writing, is somewhat better-known, though there are no guarantees in life, as some of the greatest performers of the last century could tell you were they so inclined and/or still alive.

And “opportunities limited”? What, did YouTube suddenly suspend operations?

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Not on the best-seller list

Automakers have submitted their May sales reports, and once again, the worst-selling marque among those reporting is Daimler AG’s Maybach brand, which moved a total of four cars during those 31 days. Of course, at four hundred large per, that’s a fair chunk of change, at least to peasants at my level, but still: four. Presumed arch-rival Rolls-Royce, owned by actual Daimler arch-rival BMW, managed to sell 44. Then again, there hasn’t been a Roller dealer here since the Eighties oil bust, though Mercedes-Benz of Oklahoma City is high enough on the totem pole to rate as a Maybach “studio,” in case one of the local NBA types doesn’t want to be seen in Kevin Durant’s conversion van.

(Actually, the only Thunder player I think I’ve seen on the road is James Harden, in a Bentley with the window tint cranked up to “You’ll need the Hubble telescope.” Even then, the beard is to be feared.)

And apparently 1759 of the little Fiat Cinquecentos were loosed upon the American public in May, though I have yet to see one around town.

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