Surrounded by the best

Last month I tossed out what might have seemed to be a throwaway line about living “in a Neighborhood of the Year nominee.”

Well, now you can amend “nominee” to read “winner.”

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Everybody’s a critic

Now how am I going to resist a title like 7 Words I Never Want To See In Your Blog Posts?

Actually, this really isn’t a list of words: it’s a list of this one guy’s particular bêtes noires, and most of it seems pretty inarguable, except for this:

Putting Two Spaces After Periods — Argue with me all you want, but this is no longer necessary. If you want the long explanation, check out this article in Slate, but for our purposes, let’s just say it’s an antiquated rule based on type-faces available to printers at the time and has no bearing on our writing today. This habit took me a few weeks to break, but there is absolutely no reason why you should be putting two spaces after every period in your blog writing anymore. Stop it.

In fact, I do this routinely, and no one has ever said a word, and do you know why? Because browsers take out extraneous spaces: “[i]f you write 10 spaces in your text, the browser will remove 9 of them, before displaying the page.” So I’ll type the same way I’ve typed for the last forty-odd years, thank you very much.

Incidentally, if you look at the link, it says “8 Words I Never Want [To] See.” Which means he took one out. Anyone want to guess what it might have been, or declare what it should have been?

(Via this Prof KRG tweet.)

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We so insighted

Even fans of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” might grouse about the generally low production values and lack of polish in the original video. (What do you want for four grand, anyway?) Her third single, “Person of Interest,” due later this month, apparently will offer no such unpretentiousness:

Hey, at least it isn’t “O Fortuna.”

And this “Friday”-related item is too weird not to pass on:

Screenshot from Friday by Rebecca Black

The Facebook text affixed thereto:

This picture is from a music video. Do you see what’s circled? I bet you didn’t before I told you. The government went into deep investigation on this picture. That girl died in that house in 1887. This picture has been cursed. Now that you have seen that girl, she will visit you. Repost to save your life. Don’t take any chances.

At least fifteen thousand people did exactly that.

Says Rebecca in response:


And I’m pretty sure Anaheim Hills as we know it didn’t exist in 1887.

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Up on Cripple Creek

Having suffered from it myself, I recognized this syndrome at once:

I’m reading Dustbury this morning which leads to What do you do with a drunken sailor? which I haven’t heard in a zillion years, which leads me to the Roud Folk Song Index, which leads to my making a list of all the tunes I recognize from the list in Wikipedia. The full list has a zillion entries, but the Wikipedia page only lists about 750. Most of them I have never heard of, but then I see one I had forgotten about, which leads to looking at the next page, which leads to another tune I had forgotten about, and so I ended up reading all the way to the end.

To encourage further exploration, here are factoids regarding a few of the songs he mentions:

  • Olivia Newton-John recorded “Banks of the Ohio” back in 1971. It was a hit in Britain and Australia, but not in the States, even in Ohio. (On the other hand, her cover of Dylan’s “If Not For You” went over well Stateside.)
  • Johnny and the Hurricanes reworked “Blue-Tail Fly” into the rockin’ “Beatnik Fly.”
  • Speaking of the Blue-Tail Fly, Tom Lehrer used it to poke fun at “The Folk-Song Army,” who regard “innocuous” folk songs with scorn: “The folks who sing ’em have no social conscience / Why, they don’t even care if Jimmie crack corn.”
  • “There Was a Crooked Man,” retitled “Don’t Let the Rain Come Down,” was a 1964 hit for the Serendipity Singers.
  • Allan Sherman contributed this bit:

    On top of old Smokey
    All covered with hair
    Of course I’m referring
    To Smokey the Bear

    It’s in the same medley as this classic.

  • A record of “My Bonnie” was the first waxing involving the Beatles, though on that late-’61 disk they were serving as backup for singer Tony Sheridan. (The B-side: “The Saints,” as in “when The Saints go marching in.”) This wasn’t the first rock version, though: Duane Eddy twanged his way through something he called “Bonnie Came Back,” which charted in early 1960. That Sheridan/Beatles thing remained buried in the US until 1964, when suddenly anything the Beatles had had anything to do with became eminently salable.

Incidentally, the Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek” — “a drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one” — has no discernible connection to the old Appalachian folk number.

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Quote of the week

The lovely and talented Emily from Naked DC analyzes this whole Herman Cain kerfuffle:

This is all kinds of super lame. Unless there’s a sex toy or an intern or a cigar or, for that matter, like thirty women he’s been hanging around with privately on the campaign trail, this really isn’t going to matter. Plus, it’s not like anyone was under the impression Herman Cain was making it to the big leagues, anyway. It doesn’t really make sense to keep hammering at this story unless someone’s really trying to scrape the bottom of the barrel. Justin Bieber is having a better day in terms of sex scandals.

Incidentally, she’s not about to blame Democrats for this:

The lack of creativity and innovation in these accusations leads me to believe we’re definitely dealing with a GOP inside job. Liberals always get way better stuff, like that time you were trolling Chuck E. Cheese in a tiger costume holding a bottle of Maker’s Mark, not that time you got a little too close to your secretary and threatened to get all crazy.

Not to mention the fact that I’ve never had a secretary, but let’s not mention that fact.

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Army of dampness

A handy tip before the Apocalypse:

Bill's Marine

(Seen, obviously, at FAIL Blog’s WIN!)

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The one after 808

Urban (we’re talking Brooklyn here) librarian Screwy Decimal sends along an entry to a “Library of the Future” essay contest, an entry that didn’t make it into the finals, but which has a definite air of finality to it. I’ll lift just this one paragraph:

The poetry section will be the cruelest area in the library. In this section there exists no blood-hungry character, but an endless maze constructed of stone bricks. There is no roof. When one looks up there is an empty black sky without a moon that never changes, in other words it will always midnight. The atmosphere will bring upon different emotions that continuously shifts as well as endless thoughts about things such as the meaning of life and the values of nature etc. In the darkness of the maze, one would hear a young girl endlessly singing a lullaby until one who is in the maze reaches the point of madness and extreme boredom. What worst is that time will flow very quickly in this area because it is not parallel to the outside world. Before one knows it, one minute in the outside world will be one hundred years in the poetry section of the library. This area will bring upon despair.

I’m betting that twenty years from now, this poor soul will be hoisting a slightly-adulterated bottle of water in the Teachers’ Lounge and grumbling about how no one appreciates Matthew frickin’ Arnold anymore.

Note: Were old man Melvil here to read this, he’d point out that those poetry anthologies should probably be shelved at 808.81, and maybe I shouldn’t be making Beatles jokes in the twenty-first century. Lotta nerve for a guy who died 80 years ago.

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A comfort in these trying times

Occupy Oakland would like you to know that they “do not support the defecation of public property.”

So if you find something crappy in town, it’s not their fault.

(Original photo taken by Nancy Friedman.)

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Apparently it’s more advanced

The surfer dudes who host this site sent along this bit of news in their monthly (and, lately, on time, which is miraculous enough) newsletter:

For over a year now the “DreamHost 101” section of our newsletter has been highlighting little-known account features that many customers didn’t even know existed.

The problem is that the title “DreamHost 101” isn’t particularly descriptive. It could mean anything, really! The 101 could refer to California’s Hollywood Freeway, an animated movie about dogs, or to the number that comes after 100. You just don’t know. It’s confusing.

This month, to clear up all ambiguity, we’re rechristening DreamHost 101. It’s now “DreamHost WTF”. The WTF stands for “What’s That Feature?” Obviously. Now there will be no confusion whatsoever.

But of course.

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Pass the Listerine

Facebook has taken it upon itself to make Lists for me, presumably based on an examination of my profile, the patterns by which I read, the phases of the moon, and their need for advertising revenue, not necessarily in that order. I had a few Lists, but evidently they won’t rest until everyone on my friends list (about 150, which is pretty close to the max if you ask Dunbar) appears in some List.

Inasmuch as my most recent stint in school was some time in the last century, I’m not finding a whole lot of material in school-based Lists. Specialized interests make more sense, but they haven’t gotten to that point yet, and I’m rather hoping they don’t.

What I really dread, though, is that they’ll somehow come up with a List of “Women After Whom You Have Lusted Vainly From Time To Time,” and that it might be somewhat accurate.

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This car needs to be 20 percent cooler

A couple of years ago, we were debating the non-chromatic value of automotive colors, and this wisdom was proffered (not by me):

[I]t would be an interesting job for the Mythbusters to determine if white cars really do stay cooler than, say, red. (My gut feeling is “probably not, but the window tinting will help.”)

Well, there’s now actual research on the matter:

Researchers in Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division have published a new study that suggests cooler-colored cars could be up to 2 percent more fuel efficient than darker-colored ones. Their research shows that cooler colors like white and silver can reflect as much as 60 percent of the sun’s rays, while darker colors like black only reflect around 5 percent. This means that after sitting in the sun for an hour, a silver car’s roof is a full 45°F cooler than a black car’s roof, which, according to the researchers, would equate to a 9 to 11°F difference in cabin air temperature.

Nothing to sneer at. And here’s where they think they see the fuel savings:

If a cooler-colored car stays 9 to 11°F cooler inside on a hot, sunny day than a dark-colored car, it should require a smaller, more efficient air conditioning system to cool the cabin down to a comfortable temperature of 77°F within 30 minutes, which is an industry standard for vehicle air conditioning performance. The researchers then used a vehicle simulation tool to estimate the potential energy savings of using more reflective-colored paint to downsize air conditioners and found that switching from black to white or silver would increase fuel economy by 0.44 mpg, or 2.0 percent.

Then again, I have a white car with a “dark taupe” (something a bit darker than cheese mold) interior. I suspect that offsets some of the cool.

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Selling the symphony

I suppose that in the Best of All Possible Worlds, it wouldn’t be necessary to do any marketing for classical music: the audience would be there, and more important, it would be there, actually having paid for tickets.

This world being several dozen notches down from that, orchestras have to do their marketing research just like everyone else, which usually means “badly.” Hence this project:

A pro bono third-party study by Oliver Wyman (Audience Growth Initiative) found that on average, symphonies lost 55% of their customers each year; churn among first-time concert-goers was 91%! The study also confirmed that the solution to churn was to move beyond “averages” and to begin looking at the wide variations between starkly different customer groups.

The symphony audience was divided into a core audience, trialists (first-time concert-goers), non-committed (a few concerts a year), special occasion attendees, snackers (people who purchase small subscriptions for years), and high potentials (frequent attendees who haven’t bought a subscription). In Boston, for example, members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) core audience represented just 26% of the customer base but bought 56% of the tickets. Trialists composed 37% of the base, but bought only 11% of the tickets. In monetary terms, core audience members had a 5-year value close to $5,000; trialists, just $199. With that data, the orchestras’ new mission became more targeted. The goal wasn’t broadly to reduce churn but to convert trialists into steady customers.

So the orchestras decided to find out what would keep the trialists in the fold, and it turns out, quality of the musical offerings wasn’t that much of a factor. The novices were discouraged by more trivial matters:

The most powerful “driver of revisitation” was parking! As with other orchestras, veteran members of the core BSO audience had figured out where to park, but trialists identified it as a huge hassle — so they didn’t come back. Another driver was the ability to exchange tickets; trialists found the “no refunds, no exchanges” policy a deal breaker.

Of course, in Boston you can take the Green Line to Symphony Hall and avoid parking matters altogether.

Now I’m curious as to where folks are parking to attend events at Civic Center Music Hall — or where they’re going to park once they’ve finished reorganizing downtown again.


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Close enough for government wear

Neiman’s is selling this lovely little Diane von Furstenberg wrapsie from DvF’s Fall 2011 collection:

Savannah Stripe by Diane von Furstenberg

If your immediate thought is “Didn’t I just see this on the First Lady?” you’re thinking along the same lines as I am, but apparently we’re both wrong:

Not Savannah Stripe by Diane von Furstenberg

To be precise:

The dress that the First Lady is wearing isn’t actually an original Diane von Furstenberg at all. It’s this knock-off of this particular DvF dress made by internet retailer ASOS — the ASOS Midi Body-Conscious Dress in Metallic Stripe, priced at a budget-conscious $71.88 (though it’s currently sold out).

This is normally where my Cheap Bastard mechanism kicks in, and I point out that Mrs O saved four hundred American dollars by buying the fake. Which is true, but that’s not the point. This is:

It’s the fact that it’s a knockoff of DvF, a well-known and well-respected American designer, that’s really the problem. You see, Diane is the President of Council of Fashion Designers of America, and has used her position to champion design protection for designers who have been victims of copyright infringement, such as this ASOS knock-off of her own design. She has been instrumental in supporting legislation that would define fashion as a form of copyright-protected art and give recourse to designers whose work is stolen, copied and sold for cheap. She’s even written extensively on the subject for major American newspapers.

Then again, if you look at the back of the DvF original — see the Neiman’s link — it’s really hard to spot the stab marks.

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Just -1 of those things

I suppose there could be mirth in the juxtaposition of titles or of artists, but what’s funny here is the pairing of album titles at the far end:

Screenshot from iTunes

These were parked next to each other on my shuffle playlist this morning. They did not actually get played together, but now I’m thinking I should have forced the deal.

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Once they were driven

Nissan sales are booming — in the last decade they’ve boosted their US market share from about four percent to twice that — yet they get no press to speak of, and their product line ranges from ancient (Sentra) to anodyne (Altima) to alarming (Murano CrossCabrio). TTAC’s Edward Niedermeyer brought up the “ancient” issue with a Nissan official, and got this as a response:

Nissan’s VP for Communications David Reuter told us that this fact was what made him so optimistic about Nissan’s future. If sales are doing this well with product this old, he wondered aloud, what might happen if … say, models representing 75% of Nissan’s sales volume were replaced in a two-year span? He admitted that one of the brand’s biggest issues was breaking through the Honda-Toyota monopoly on media perceptions of Japanese automakers, and he suggested that a new product blitz was the only way to really accomplish that. I was reminded of the current darling of the mass-market brands, Hyundai, which grew sales steadily with aging and stolid but value-laden products, before replacing its entire lineup with eye-catching new models. Could a fresh batch of new designs do the same for Nissan?

Hard to say for sure. The funky little Cube isn’t selling all that well, but the far-funkier and no-less-little Juke is making bank. And the new Versa, unapologetically cheap, is scoring well with people who’d otherwise be buying a three-year-old Civic but live in constant fear of timing belts, a market far larger than I’d ever realized.

I think one thing holding the Hamburger back is its obsession with CVTs: even the Maxima, the ostensible “four-door sports car,” is saddled with one of these contraptions, and once you’ve seen the tach sitting at 4800 the entire time you’ve been climbing the onramp, you don’t particularly want to see it again. If they’re going to ask just-under-Infiniti money for this thing, they might as well bolt in Infiniti’s seven-speed auto and be done with it.

And I think the Frontier pickup, like every other pickup in the market, has been bloated beyond recognition. Were it not for that damned chicken tax, they could bring in a nice small truck, the kind that made their name in the States.

Except, of course, that their name at the time was “Datsun.”

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You gotta have hearts

I lifted this from Morgan Freeberg’s “Hello Kitty of Blogging” page:

So I guess you’re supposed to do a math-sign-three to put hearts in your text messages. I hadn’t been doing that because I’m a manly dude and I figure that’s for women, girls and punks. So some enlightened folks went to work on me and convinced me that’s a retrosexual way of looking at things and it’s okay for men to put hearts in things. I tried it and people didn’t know what I was doing … oops, I was doing greater-than-three instead of less-than-three. I think that’s boobs.

One can <3 >3s; in fact, so doing makes it (relatively) unnecessary to have to present your Dude Card™.

I took to <3 fairly easily myself, mostly because the first integer you come to heading downwards from 3 is 2, and I’m just weird enough to think that 2 is something to aspire to.

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