On the other hand, there’s no traffic

According to conventional wisdom, cars from South Korea range from not bad at all (most Hyundai and Kia models) to sort of meh (Daewoo) to way short of meh (SsangYong). But the worst of them is a farging Bentley, or at least a Buick, next to the transportation devices they build in North Korea:

[W]hen the South Koreans began designing and producing cars from scratch, the dictator Kim Il-sung ordered his minions to show that the North could build cars, too. Except they had no clue what they were doing. The North Korean automotive “engineers” imported several Mercedes 190Es and copied most of the parts with workmanship that made the Yugo look like a Rolls-Royce. The result was the Kaengsaeng 88. Allegedly, it had a four-cylinder engine, no heat, and no air conditioning, and the cabin was prone to fill with dust while driving.

That was, however, a Kim ago. The current official DPRK automaker, Pyeonghwa Motors, is actually partially owned by the Unification Church, from those uncharted lands south of the 38th parallel, and they produce two rebadged Fiats and assemble some Chinese trucks from kits.

One such Fiat is shown here, at a rather relaxed pace:

Not that actual associates of the Dear Leader would be caught dead in the Pyeonghwa Hwiparam:

So where do the corrupt officials of a small Third World dictatorship do their car shopping? With the official brand of rich dictators worldwide: Mercedes-Benz. Photos of Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, inevitably feature a ’70s or ’80s black S-class.

But of course.

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The sins of the (grand)fathers

Next year, California will award contracts for construction of the yellow brick road a high-speed rail system, and if you want a piece of the action, you better not have collaborated with the Nazis, Buster:

The French rail company Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF) is among the bidders.

SNCF provided trains, personnel and logistics that sent thousands of Jews, American soldiers and others to concentration camps.

The bill’s author, State Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, who represents the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, said that although SNCF was the impetus for his bill, the legislation would apply to any company that transported persons to concentration camps from 1942 to 1944.

I assume Blumenfield will eventually get around to excluding all the companies who did business with the Third Reich from doing business with the Golden State.

(Via Coyote Blog.)

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The Truth About Cars has another Curbside Classic, one with which I have some familiarity: a middle-Seventies Toyota Celica.

The TTAC find is a ’74 in ST trim; to match it up with mine, you jump to ’75 — which bumps you up to the 20R engine, a 2.2-liter SOHC four, awfully hard to kill — and add the GT bits. At the time, the Celica was derided as a Japanese attempt at Mustangery, but given the general lameness of the Mustang II, it’s always seemed to me, and TTAC seems to agree, that Toyota did a better job of shrinking the ‘Stang than Ford did:

The original Mustang, especially a six with a stick, was much closer akin to the Celica than its 1973 namesake. And Toyota’s timing with the Celica was perfect, even more so a year later when the energy crisis hit. The drastically-downsized Mustang II was Ford’s acknowledgment that the Celica had it right. But by that time, the Celica had won over a lot of loyal fans, especially with its 1975 refresh and the very Mustang-esque Liftback.

Toyota was careful not to push the Celica as some sort of sports car, but it had as much of the look as the bean counters would permit: semi-fancy (albeit still steel) wheels, some sort of simulated woodgrain on the dash, and a nice snickety-snick stick to stir the gears. It took me seventeen years to kill this car, and actually, it wasn’t quite dead: the steering gear (a Benzish recirculating ball) had fragged, but the person to whom I sold it (for $100) put a few dollars into it and kept it going for another year, until it was T-boned by a peripatetic drunkard.

The one thing I never could explain about the car was the name: Dymphna is the patron saint of those of us whose brain functions are a little, or a lot, off-plumb. I suppose, had I decided to go for the cheap laffs, I could have called her Connie.

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The 388th Carnival of the Vanities is billed as a “Beckapalooza,” which I’ll assume has nothing to do with my daughter Becky, whose birthday is this week. And there aren’t really any good ways to link her and that number, so I’ll just casually mention the Battle of the Save, fought in 388, an attempt by Magnus Maximus (now there’s a name) to seize control of the Roman Empire. He was not successful, and was subsequently executed by the Empire.

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Disserving suggestion

It never looks the same right out of the microwave as it does on the box. (Example here.)

Then again, “never” might be overstating the case. Does there exist a microwavable food product which actually resembles its package portait? The closest I’ve seen has been Van de Kamp’s Xtra Large Crunchy Fish Sticks, but then fish sticks are kind of hard to jazz up, and besides, VdK “does not recommend microwave preparation.”

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All your bass are belong to us

We got your woofer right here, pal:

Watching one of those YouTube videos of a record playing on a turntable, I realized that if your eye can pick up 30 frames per second, and your ears can hear down to 20 Hz, you should be able to listen to something vibrating at 20 Hz and see it move. Is the eye really faster than the ear? At what point does a tone start to sound like individual thumps?

My current crop of loudspeakers (KLH Thirty-Eights) won’t go all the way down to 20 Hz, but they do have measurable output at 40 Hz, and given suitable program material — and a device to pry off the grille — you can actually see the woofer cone deflect.

In days of old, one speaker manufacturer (I seem to recall it was Cerwin-Vega) ran a traveling demo in which they attached a lamp cord to the speaker terminals, and then plugged it into a wall socket, producing a very loud 60-Hz hum. You could see that cone moving from halfway across the room.

Those KLH speakers, I remind you, are nearly forty years old. Nowadays it’s easier to do this via psychoacoustics:

MaxxBass® has been shown to extend the perceived low frequency response by up to 1.5 octaves, but it does not force the speaker to deliver these frequencies. MaxxBass® also utilizes high pass filters to remove the bass frequencies below the physical limits of the loudspeaker. This reduces peak amplifier/speaker excursion requirements, protects the speaker from low frequency damage and removes undesirable intermodulation distortion.

The bass extension achieved with MaxxBass® is perceived as natural sounding and does not alter the frequency balance of the original content.

This works because the brain responds to harmonics: you give it 60, 90, 120 and 150 Hz, and it will assume the presence of 30 Hz, whether or not any 30-Hz content is actually present.

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Craptastic Four

Not a new Marvel comic parody, but a notion that seems to be at the heart of an upcoming Syfy series, which I somehow managed not to notice up until this announcement:

According to DigitalSpy.com, [James] Marsters, best known to Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans as evil vamp Spike, announced that he will play Troy, leader of a gang of superheroes with substandard powers, in Syfy’s new series Three Inches. The project was previously announced in March with the pick-up of a 90-minute pilot episode from Twin Peaks writer Harley Peyton.

The operative phrase here is “substandard powers”:

The show revolves around a man named Walter who gets struck by lightning and finds he can move objects with his mind — but he can only move them three inches. He is then recruited into a superhero gang full of people with similarly lackluster powers. Marsters’ character, Troy, is the gang leader. His power(s) have yet to be revealed.

Please allow me to point out that Ultra Short-Range Teleportation has been around for a while.

Personally, I’d like to see the return of Apathenia, Queen of Not Giving a Damn, first seen in BFD Comics way back in ’93.

(Via Oklahoma Lefty.)

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The heeding of the sacred tablets

My system is awash in drugs, or so it seems: there are five I take daily, three others on an as-needed basis, plus various and sundry other preparations for extraordinary circumstances. Given the sheer volume of pills involved, it strikes me as silly to hire a service to send me a text message every time I’m supposed to pop one.

And apparently it’s not all that effective a service, either:

Despite the good intentions of pilot programs that use text messages to remind people to take their meds, it seems that ladies on birth control can’t even be persuaded by technology to swallow The Pill. According to a study published this month in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 82 women enrolled in a randomized trial at a Boston Planned Parenthood clinic set up to test the effectiveness of text message reminders. However, participants in the SMS-encouraged group and in the control group forgot to take roughly five of the oral contraceptives, on average, during their monthly cycles.

I dare say, the consequences for them missing a day or two would be, um, more dramatic than if I missed a day or two of the tabs I take.

Judge Maxwell and his bailiff from What’s Up, Doc? explain it all:

Judge: You see this yellow pill?
Bailiff: Yes sir.
Judge: You know what it’s for?
Bailiff: What, Judge?
Judge: To remind me to take this blue pill!
Bailiff: What’s the blue one for, Judge?
Judge: I don’t know. They’re afraid to tell me.

Just in case you thought this was a problem only for women.

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Soak cycle

Bank of Oklahoma is being sued for some of the same practices used by Wells Fargo to maximize overdraft fees:

The action, filed last week in Tulsa County District Court, lists Susan Eaton as the lead plaintiff and seeks certification as a class action.

The complaint alleges that BOK reorders electronic debit transactions from the highest dollar amount to lowest dollar amount, which depletes customers’ available funds as quickly as possible and maximizes the number of overdraft fees. According to the lawsuit, the bank did not adequately disclose in its account agreement that it posts transactions from the highest to lowest dollar amount. The lawsuit further alleges that “BOK’s practices ensure that smaller charges will result in multiple overdraft fees.”

As an example, “transactions made by the plaintiff on or before April 17, 2010, were improperly reordered from high to low, causing two separate overdraft fees. BOK’s improper high-to-low reordering of those transactions doubled the total number of overdraft fees,” the suit states.

A BOk Financial spokesman sent this response to the Tulsa World:

“This is an opportunistic lawsuit. It was filed on the heels of a trial court judgment against a national bank in California under different circumstances, and it is not reflective of our policies which we are confident are entirely appropriate.”

Wells Fargo, upon losing said judgment, was ordered to pay $203 million to its California customers — which sounds more impressive than it is, since for the period in question (2005-07) WF rolled up $1.8 billion in overdraft fees.

Notes the Consumerist:

In their defense, Wells Fargo argued that their customers wanted and benefited from high to low transaction processing, saying that depositors would rather have multiple small transactions bounce than a single rent payment bounce. However, at trial they did not present any evidence beyond the hypothetical to support this notion.

And if they had, the snickering in the courtroom would likely have drowned out the presentation.

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Meanwhile amidst the grey matter

Those who might have wondered how (or if at all) my mind works might be interested in the events of this afternoon, starting at Braum’s at 39th and Penn.

5:11 pm: I open the passenger-side door so I can toss in my bag of goodies. I glance backwards for no good reason. Tires, generally, are black; the right rear one is showing a spot of shiny silver. Panic mode ensues.

5:12 pm: My tire shop of choice is not far — 10th and May — but they close at 5:30. “I’ll make it,” I decide, and head down Penn.

5:13 pm: It occurs to me that if I hang a right on 10th, I’ll have to make a left turn across traffic, which at this hour of the day sucks [your choice of vulgarity]. I decide to turn on 23rd instead and come down May. A thousand feet farther, trivial in the grand scheme of things.

5:15 pm: I actually turn on 23rd.

5:16 pm: I discover they’re repaving 23rd from just east of Villa all the way west to God knows where. Traffic, however, is not bad.

5:17 pm: Traffic has suddenly become bad. Three vehicles ahead is a city bus, which most certainly won’t be in a hurry.

5:18 pm: Red light, green light, red light, no progress. Choice Anglo-Saxonisms can be heard if you’re close enough.

5:20 pm: Green light, four vehicles get through. I am the fourth.

5:22 pm: I arrive at the tire place with a “Shoot me now, fercrissake” expression. They pull the offending screw, about ¾ inch wide — and ½ inch long, nestled neatly in the tread, never broke the surface. A splash of the usual soapy solution: no leak.

5:27 pm: I depart, and while waiting for an opening, I cast my eyes upward. “Um, thank You, I guess, but You could have saved the favor for someone who needed it more.” And then I shut up, fearing I’d said too much, and Journey came up on the stereo.

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The thousand-ear Reich

Headline: “Swastika the size of a tennis court is trampled into a German cornfield”.

And apparently it was well executed:

The swastika is so perfectly aligned that authorities believe they are dealing with hard-core neo-Nazis, rather than drunken yobs.

Given the EU’s biofuel goals, I suspect the perpetrators may argue that they had just done a small, orderly harvest to run their automobiles.

(Via Fark, as is the title.)

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Poetry on the sidelines

And the benching appears to be self-imposed:

Despite the panoply of awards and prizes and fellowships (including the Pulitzer), most people get along fine without poetry. This is probably due to the fact that poetry has sidelined itself. It has divorced itself from the fairy tale, to be sure: and despite a raft of indications that its language has devolved into Warholian childishness, it has eloped from childhood. It is full of fantasia and false, passion-toxified images: it is empty of fantasy.

The sidelining of poetry has been abetted by a rejection of work in language. I will list some concepts that have been renounced in most contemporary poetry: structure, decorum, tradition and myth, real symbol. Everything today is negotiable. There seems to be one axiom, and that is the hegemony of self-consciousness: everything else is arbitrary and absurd.

This is not to insist that every poem must consist of, say, fourteen lines of iambic pentameter with a rhyme scheme that never goes farther afield than E; but a fragment of prose with variable line length and seemingly-random capitalization doesn’t suddenly become a poem, no matter how much we may want it to.

Now we are bobbing up and down, as flotsam, in an age of fractured thought. Memories are not organized. Stories are not remembered. The experiences of a day are not threaded onto the skein of meaning.

This is distressing, because — I think — poetry is the threading of meaning, and thus a little bit of poetry is necessary to the work of belief. And if you think that there is no work to belief, then you will never be able to read a poem.

There are times that belief seems to be the hardest thing in the world. A poem which seeks to punch holes in that belief, seemingly for no other reason than that it can, ought not to be silenced: belief must be tested, must pass the test, or it is nothing more than wishful thinking. But that same poem is more likely than most to be hailed as the Harbinger of a Coming Age or some such tautological twaddle (“Contemporary standards are neither contemporary nor standards. Discuss.”), so I reserve the right to take it exactly as seriously as I think I should.

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While you’re at it, make them look green

A recent GAO report says that the Department of Energy spent $1.9 billion in stimulus funds to produce 10,018 full-time jobs, which works out to $194,213 per job.

Joe Sherlock says he can do better:

Dear President Obama,

Please hire me to run the Department of Energy. And please fire Steven Chu, the present Secretary of Energy and head of DOE. Yes, I know that he’s a fellow Nobel Prize winner and I’m not. (Although I have sometimes told people that I won one for plastic fabrication back in 1983. Still, that’s far less resume padding than has been done by some of your closest advisors.)

To say nothing of outright, um, fabrication.

At the heart of the Sherlock plan:

Those U.S. jobs which have gone to Asia and East Asia have done so because of cheap labor — $2 per hour versus $15/hour for light assembly work at a small to mid-size firm. So, with a $13 per hour government subsidy, I could “buy back” many of these jobs and bring them home to the good ol’ USA.

And if there’s one thing the DOE does consistently, it’s hand out subsidies. Ten thousand of these jobs would presumably run something like $260 million. Of course, we don’t have $260 million, but then we didn’t have that $1.9 billion either.

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Where was this when we were growing up?

Sarah Chalke for Hanes

The aspiring-to-be-wedgieless wonder here is actress Sarah Chalke, thirty-four on Friday the 27th, who appears this fall on the CBS-TV series Mad Love, perhaps not exactly in this position.

This Hanes campaign in question ran a couple of years ago, including some weird little TV spots like this.

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Many a winding turn

“Health,” I said, “is the slowest possible rate of dropping dead.”

My brother, who’s hospitalized with a mysterious dearth of platelets, managed to work up a grin, though guffaws are unfortunately out of the question right now.

Anyway, while I’m pretty sure he’ll pull through this — the man’s survived things that make me hurt just to contemplate them — I know I’d appreciate it if you’d think about him next time you’re on the line to $DEITY.

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Didn’t you hear me?

I have never had voice-recognition anything, so I can’t be sure that I’d really hate it as much as I think I would. But I find these observations fairly inarguable:

a) I feel like an idiot. If I’m going to have voice recognition, I want to start commands with “Computer —” and have Majel Barrett reply. Anything else is unacceptable.

b) I don’t want to have to turn down A State Of Trance to raise the temperature. I know voice recognition has improved, but I doubt it can recognize my command over 97db of Dutch club music.

This latter gives me an idea: how about a sound-level meter installed in the car’s audio system? Two digits, nothing more. You could crank it to 99 dB and see for yourself just how deaf you’re going to be; push the volume control one notch higher and it simply displays 11.

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