What is this crap?

Sour FlushWords — except for “Eww” — fail me. (Trini gave out with several iterations of “Eww,” each one higher-pitched than the last, and adamantly refused to look directly at the screen.) It would be difficult to imagine a nastier “food” product than this. I mean, come on, now:

I understand gross-out candy to a point, but this is just crossing a line.

Lollipop shaped like a toilet plunger. Pixie-stix like candy hidden WITHIN the toilet bowl. Plunge, eat. Plunge, eat. I would imagine that the constant introduction of moisture into the toilet dust would eventually cause it to form kitty litter-like clumps, as the specimen [above] appears to be doing.

I did say it would be difficult to imagine a nastier “food” product than this. I did not say it was impossible.

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These aren’t the operatives you’re looking for

The Assistant Village Idiot conducts an intelligence analysis:

R2-D2 is what you wish the CIA were like: all the hotshots get the glory, but when you look at it, R2 is what makes the whole thing work. Who projects the hologram of Leia? Who shuts off the crushing walls? Who finds where the teenie bomb is supposed to be dropped in the Death Star?

C-3PO is more like the State Department. Of course, our State Department wouldn’t be so twerpy and ridiculous. They are a serious, socially facile bunch.

On the other hand, C-3PO would have gotten the Russian translation for “Reset” correct.

Well, yeah. He’s a protocol droid. That’s his job.

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Not for use as a hair dryer

Apparently, though, you can roast coffee beans with it:

If you’re unfamiliar with heat guns, they are a blowdryer-like device that can output hot air anywhere from 200F-1400F in a concentrated stream. Commonly used for tasks like stripping paint and thawing pipes, you can usually find basic heat guns for around $20-30 at your local home improvement store. Starting with green beans and slowly applying heat from the heat gun, you can roast your beans with a high degree of control. It’s this fine degree of darkness choice that separates the heat gun method from popcorn popper-as-coffee roaster technique we’ve previously reviewed.

I have one of these contraptions, and I expect that if I ever have to buy another one, it will have a warning about roasting coffee pasted alongside the existing warning about not pointing at your noggin.

(Via Bill Peschel.)

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Chuck roasted

You might want to take the kids somewhere else this time:

Chuck E. Cheese mixes the world’s two main sources of trouble in one setting: booze and babies.

A cursory search of Chuck E. Cheese brings up one violent incident after another. A 2008 article about a Brookfield, Wisconsin, location describes the venue as the place where a kid can be a casualty:

“Officers have been called to break up 12 fights, some of them physical, at the child-oriented pizza parlor since January 2007… Law-enforcement officials say alcohol, loud noise, thick crowds and the high emotions of children’s birthday parties make the restaurants more prone to disputes than other family entertainment venues.”

How is this possible?

The environment brings out what security experts call the “mama-bear instinct.” A Chuck E. Cheese can “take on some of the dynamics of the animal kingdom, where beasts rush to protect their young when they sense a threat.” Apart from animal attacks, mascots are also a huge insurance risk, what with the regular assaults on poor Chucky.

What a friend we have in Cheese’s.

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Quote of the week

The oft-abused term “American Dream” was popularized by James Truslow Adams in The Epic of America [New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1931]. One of his definitions: “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.”

Anent which David Kamp notes in Vanity Fair (April):

James Truslow Adams’s words remind us that we’re still fortunate to live in a country that offers us such latitude in choosing how we go about our lives and work — even in this crapola economy. Still, we need to challenge some of the middle-class orthodoxies that have brought us to this point — not least the notion, widely promulgated throughout popular culture, that the middle class itself is a soul-suffocating dead end.

The middle class is a good place to be, and, optimally, where most Americans will spend their lives if they work hard and don’t overextend themselves financially. On American Idol, Simon Cowell has done a great many youngsters a great service by telling them that they’re not going to Hollywood and that they should find some other line of work. The American Dream is not fundamentally about stardom or extreme success; in recalibrating our expectations of it, we need to appreciate that it is not an all-or-nothing deal — that it is not, as in hip-hop narratives and in Donald Trump’s brain, a stark choice between the penthouse and the streets.

Admittedly, no one seems to have a solid definition of what the American middle class really is, but I suspect most of us in this land believe we’re part of it.

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Perhaps weary of these twisted writeups, Andrew Ian Dodge has titled the 325th Carnival of the Vanities “Part Whatever.”

I can’t say as I blame him. In the history of mankind are scores of recurring events that somebody thought went on for far too long. Constantine I, for example, moved to abolish gladiator games in 325, to not much discernible effect.

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Also, get off my porch

Breaking and entering? That’s a harder hand-slapping:

Lawmakers voted … to increase the penalties for home invasion by approval of House Bill 1030, by Rep. John Wright (R-Broken Arrow). The bill now moves to the Senate for action.

The bill makes “home invasion” a specific crime subject to Oklahoma’s “truth in sentencing” law requiring those convicted to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence.

House Bill 1030 defines “home invasion” as a crime involving “two or more” armed persons who enter a dwelling while the owners are present “with intent to commit some crime.” The bill defines a home invasion as a crime that involves “forcibly bursting or breaking the wall, or an outer door, window, or shutter” at a home.

Does this mean that if I take a shot at one of these yahoos, I have to make sure he’s at least 85 percent dead?

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A curriculum for the 21st century

The electives are perhaps debatable, but both of these belong in the core:

Reconciling a checkbook. I point that out because it’s such an easy exercise that there’s really no excuse for the school not walking the kids through this. You certainly can’t raise the time-honored question “aw c’mon, when am I ever gonna need to do that?”

It should be pointed out that even if you don’t write any checks — and I write about a sixth as many as I used to — you still need to run a balance once in a while. The penalties for not doing so are, um, well, you know what I mean, and my own memories are far too painful.

And, using a binary editor to hack a file. Because whether you grow up into the exciting field of software engineering or network engineering or computer forensics … or not … computer users, I maintain, really should understand what computer files are and how they’re put together. Just like, before you loan your keys to the teenager, they really should have gone through the exercise of pulling the jack out of the trunk and changing the tire, just to show they can do it and to demonstrate a working knowledge of how the parts fit together.

Back in my Commodore days, I wielded a pretty mean sector editor, but the crackish and/or warez (not pronounced as though it were “Juarez”) types could code rings around me. Probably still can. And they were pretty uniformly half my age, except for the ones who were a third my age. I suspect that today’s Windows-afflicted youth are missing out on this sort of experience.

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A good stamping

During post-Christmas cleanup, I turned up a sheet of 18 first-class stamps from (probably) 2006, which, unlike today’s spiffy Forever Stamps, are never going to be worth more than 39 cents.

The letter rate is scheduled to go from 42 to 44 cents in May, so I had basically two options: find some 5-cent stamps and use up the 39s then, or find some 3-cent stamps and use them up now.

The question was settled by the Postal Service itself, which actually had 3-cent stamps in their mail-order section: panes of 20 Silver Coffeepot stamps could be had for sixty cents. Plus a dollar shipping, I noted ruefully, and ordered two more books of Forever Stamps (20 each) for future consumption.

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Don’t even think of parking here

Sorbus admonitorThis tree, having been tested and inspected by a team of UK botanists, has now been declared to be a new species, “an example of ongoing evolution” according to project head Dr Tim Rich. In accordance with the tradition of naming new species for their discoverers or for the conditions under which they were discovered, this tree has been named No Parking Whitebeam, there having been a No Parking sign nailed to it for many years. (In Latin: Sorbus admonitor.)

At first, it was thought to be a variant of the Devon Whitebeam (Sorbus devoniensis), but S. admonitor proved to have decidedly different leaf structure, and there is apparently no indication that the two trees grow in close proximity.

Approximately 100 of these trees are known to exist.

(Via Fark.)

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There’ll always be an England

Or maybe not: the Royal Navy is now running nuclear submarines on Windows XP.

Why would they do such a thing? To save a few pounds, of course:

The move to use off-the-shelf PC hardware for the naval command systems, instead of custom-built components, is expected to reduce support costs by 25-percent, resulting in a savings of nearly $33M over the first ten years. Implementation of the new systems was also very quick, with the entire project finishing six months ahead of schedule and taking as little as 18 days to convert a single submarine. In total, seven Trafalgar-class submarines, four Vanguard-class submarines and one Swift-class submarine have been fitted with [the new systems], along with a number of systems ashore.

All right, who’s that in the back row snickering about the Blue Screen of Depth?

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Different, but not better

The last two meetings with the Nuggets ended the same way: Carmelo Anthony delivering a buzzer-beater to slap down a hopeful Oklahoma City squad in the last second or two. Not this time: the slapping was administered in the first quarter, after which Denver had a 31-19 lead, and the Thunder never quite caught up. The Nuggets, with seven of eight players in double figures, dispatched the visitors from Soonerland, 112-99.

Rebounds were even at 43, but the Thunder weren’t making shots — they wound up at 40.2 percent, versus 50 even for Denver — and the Nuggets passed around the ball seemingly with immunity, recording 33 assists. (Anthony Carter, the one Nugget who didn’t score in double figures, had 12 of those dimes.) ‘Melo led all scorers with 22, though Linus Kleiza might have caught up if there’d been enough time; he was on fire in the fourth quarter and finished with 20. And Renaldo Balkman, replacing Kenyon Martin for the moment, balanced 14 points and 14 rebounds.

Jeff Green finished at 19; Earl Watson had 18 off the bench, a season high. Thabo Sefolosha contributed 14 points and 9 boards. The seldom-seen Robert Swift scored 10, his season high; Malik Rose, now averaging over 20 minutes a game, scored 10. (Nick Collison, we’re told, is suffering a groin injury.) The Thunder shone at the charity stripe, making 30 of 32 free throws.

One more on this road trip, at Phoenix. There are three home games next week: San Antonio, Chicago and Utah.

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Walls unloved

It may be true that, as Robert Frost says, “good fences make good neighbors,” but they don’t do a whole lot for the Intrawebs: at least two of the sites on Ye Olde Blogroll have gone invitation-only, and I have a semi-firm policy against begging for access.

I’m sure the bloggers in question have perfectly good reasons for taking this action, but it is inevitable, I think, that efforts to keep out people you don’t like will also keep out people you do, or might, or used to, like.

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In search of a Tiffany lava lamp

An interesting hypothetical from Lisa:

It was clear that the market for Fabergé’s work was a tiny, tiny subset of the wealthiest 1% of the aristocracy of Europe. I couldn’t help feeling relieved that Tsarina Alexandra of Russia never woke up one day and said, “I’m just so OVER Fabergé.” All of Europe would have followed suit and then what would all those thousands of artisans on Fabergé’s payroll have done? They would have had to scramble for dollars, Rubles, Marks and Franks from the rising Nouveau Riche. That would have been a different clientele, probably demanding items with some sort of useful purpose. How would Fabergé have tackled making, say, a gem-encrusted fondue set?

I am suddenly, and horribly, seized by a vision of Chrysler’s TC by Maserati.

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Lessons from life (another in a series)

While there’s technically nothing wrong with carrying the Walkman and keeping your headset on while you make a bathroom run, you will find that there is a distinct disadvantage to having an extra-long cable for it.

(The above generally does not apply to women.)

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Why DRM was always doomed to fail

There were always ways to get around it. Go back a quarter-century or so:

I spent more time illegally copying cassette games to be played on a TRS-80. The method? Putting two old time cassette players next to each other and then pressing Play on one machine while pressing Record on the other. I then sat there quietly while the beeps, whistles and hisses emanated from one player. It didn’t always work, but it successfully duplicated games about 90% of the time.

Did I ever attempt to do this sort of thing with Commodore Datasettes?

Well, no, actually, since by the time the first program had finished loading from tape, I’d already been back to the store and bought a farging disk drive.

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Woe is we

If you’ve constructed any kind of online presence for yourself, you’ve no doubt noticed that there’s a certain amount of navel-gazing built into the process. Whether this is a good thing or not is open to debate, but clearly a lot of us are inclined to give anyone but ourselves the benefit of the doubt.

And what’s more, we seem to be in France:

VieDeMerde.fr (which translates as bad life), a website where the French are encouraged to wallow in self-pity, has become one of the top ten most visited sites in France since its launch in January 2008 by two young French entrepreneurs.

Well, not exactly “bad” life. Nor is this site unique:

A host of similar sites for “les serial losers” are doing a roaring trade, including RaterSaVie.com (FailYourLife), which has become a hot topic in France ever since Jacques Séguéla, an advertising guru and close friend of President Nicolas Sarkozy, claimed last month that those who did not have a Rolex watch by the age of 50 had “failed” their life. Mr Sarkozy has been criticised for his love of Rolexes.

Other spin-offs include Jaipasdechance.com (I’ve no luck) and jobdemerde.com (s***ty job).

Note that it’s not “bad” job.

And I must point out that it’s not like I’m exactly averse to whining.

(Via the relentlessly-optimistic Tim Blair.)

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It’s good to beat the Kings

Oklahoma City scored the first ten points at Arco Arena tonight, but everyone knew that lead wasn’t going to hold up. The Thunder led by one after the first quarter; the Kings had tied it up at the half. The Thunder led by eight after the third quarter; with ten seconds left, the Kings had pulled to within two. Then Sacramento flubbed it: Andres Nocioni put up an air ball, Bobby Jackson went for the rebound, and the ball bounced out of bounds. The Thunder got the ball back, and with 3.4 seconds left, Thabo Sefolosha sank two free throws, but not Sacramento’s hopes. The Kings, undaunted, used 2.2 seconds to land a trey; Russell Westbrook fumbled the inbound out of bounds, and the Kings got off one last futile shot in the last tenth of a second. Oklahoma City 99, Sacramento 98, the Thunder taking the series 2-1.

The return of Jeff Green was welcome: he rattled down 22 points, including 9 for 9 from the stripe. Westbrook also had 22. But between them, they had 14 turnovers, which explains much about how the Kings were never out of it until literally the very end. Nenad Krstić played Terminator tonight, grabbing 15 boards and blocking three shots to go with his nine points; Malik Rose had 11 points and six rebounds. The Thabster once again held his target (Kevin Martin) to half his point quota. And with Green back, Nick Collison inexplicably (at least, no one explained it to me) drew a DNP-CD.

The Kings had five in double figures, led by Spencer Hawes (20 points, 10 rebounds). As always, Francisco Garcia was sharp from off the bench; he hit 6 of 7 from the floor, four of them treys, for 18 points. Sacramento did foul a lot, though — both Hawes and Nocioni piled up five — and the Thunder responded by hitting 22 of 23 free throws.

Oklahoma City is now 18-46. The tour of the West continues tomorrow at Denver and winds up Saturday at Phoenix.

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On a Twin Spin weekend

From last summer:

The iTunes installation on the work box, set to shuffle through 3,236 tracks, managed to put these two together:

  • P. J. Proby’s “Niki Hoeky,” from 1967, cowritten by Pat and Lolly Vegas.
  • Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love,” from 1974, written and sung by Pat and Lolly Vegas.

As the phrase goes: “What are the chances?”

Doing the actual math is left as an exercise for the student. But clearly this phenomenon isn’t exactly unheard-of; almost daily iTunes surprises me with an unexpected but utterly spiffy juxtaposition of two, sometimes even three tunes.

And it’s not just me, either. From Rich Appel’s Hz So Good newsletter (3/09):

I’d be lying if I said I understood how “shuffle” works on the iPod. I’ve been using it for weeks, and I’m convinced there’s a miniature Lee Abrams in there. Why else would 50s and early ’60s cuts almost always play together (such as, the other day, The Volumes’ “I Love You” followed by Don & Juan’s “What’s Your Name”)? Why would Kelly Clarkson’s “If I Can’t Have You” come after Beyonce’s “Halo”? Or Tommy Roe’s “Sweet Pea” go into The Osmonds’ “Yo-Yo”? Sure, there’s the occasional train wreck — Sinead O’Connor’s “Mandinka” was paired with Steve Lawrence’s “Poor Little Rich Girl” the other morning, and just yesterday Beyonce’s “Video Phone” was followed by Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park” — but most of the time, with a 4,600-and-still-growing playlist, my ‘Pod sounds like nothing more than a very good oldies station (with the occasional “Future Gold”).

About 4240 here, but the same general results.

That’s one key point about [Portable Digital Music Players]: if yours doesn’t sound like the best oldies station you’ve ever heard — music-wise, that is — you’re either doing something wrong or you’ve programmed all new music (and if you’re doing that, I take off my hat to you: we need more folks like you). I might be hitting some musical extremes on mine — nowhere near what several of my friends have going on theirs, trust me — but for most users, I have to think that even a 500-song playlist on shuffle would sound like a ballsy AAA, Urban AC or Hot AC.

Get up to 1500 or so and you’re already ahead of Jack and Bob and all those other FMs with Christian names and snark from elsewhere.

Trini and I have been experimenting with the shuffle, or at least with trying to see if we can outguess it. As applied to my current automated playlist (the 320 tracks least often played, your mileage may vary), it has some predictable tendencies: it tends to jump to a track by an artist whose name begins with the same letter, or to a track with the same playcount — or, most remarkable of all, to a track with a combination of both characteristics. With this in mind, and Andy Kim’s remake of “Baby I Love You” (the Ronettes song) playing, we recorded our predictions for the next track to be shuffled in. I picked “Too Shy” by Kajagoogoo; she went for “Lips Like Morphine” by Kill Hannah. These tracks were exactly two apart, when the list is sorted by artist, and the one iTunes eventually served up was the one in between: Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long.”

This also precipitated a discussion of whether Kid Rock should be filed under Kid or under Rock. I pointed out that despite his name, Kid Rock is not a kid, nor does he rock, but this observation did not result in a re-sort.

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Range on the home

Indoor Comfort Meter by La CrosseI have one of these contraptions mounted beside my bedroom door, mostly so I can feel some sort of justification when I start kvetching about how frakking uncomfortable it’s gotten all of a sudden. And as it happens, so long as the batteries (a pair of AAAs) hold out, the gizmo retains the highest and lowest values it’s ever recorded; while thunderstorms were going on last night, I thought it might be interesting to pull up those extremes, if only for the sake of blogfodder.

Temperature range: 66.1° F to 82.1° F.

Humidity range: 19.4% to 79.4%. (Odd, that should come out to such an even interval.)

With the storm brewing and several windows open, I recorded a 67.6-percent humidity. (Five minutes after closing the windows, it dropped to 62.4.)

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