We will, we will, tax you

Mission, Kansas, a tiny sector of the massive Kansas City metro sprawl, has bad roads and not enough money to make them, um, less bad. The solution? A so-called “transportation utility fee,” which has been informally dubbed the “driveway tax”: the number of trips that begin or end on your little strip of concrete will be guesstimated, and you will write your check accordingly. It’s about as popular as you’d think it might be.

An unsigned editorial at KansasCity.com asks:

Should the fee be the same for big houses as well as small homes? And what of the wisdom of imposing a fee on trips, one that would rise with inflation. Would critics be right in branding it a freedom-of-movement tax?

Mission has been plotting this for about a year now. A pertinent passage from Council minutes:

Robert Hartman, Hartman Hardware, stated that he does not believe that a Transportation Utility Fee has been authorized in the State of Kansas. Mr. Scanlon [City Administrator] stated there is no legislation that currently prohibits the City from doing this so Home Rule may be exercised to establish the Transportation Utility.

Or, as suddenly-single Al Gore might say, there is no controlling legal authority. Once they invoke this sort of justification, you know they’re emotionally wedded to the concept, and if they don’t get what they want, there will be the local equivalent of threatening to shutter the Washington Monument.

Mr Hartman, from the hardware store, commented at the time that the city is “taxing him to death.” This is, after all, one of the things that governments do best.

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Sony says No

Scenario: I’m looking at the SonicStage “My Library” column, noting that it contains 770 songs, and that the actual folder from which I do the imports contains, um, 589 songs. Something is a trifle askew somewhere. No problem; I’ll clear the Library, dump the folder, copy all the files over from the Walkman, and everything will be nice and sync-y once more.

Or not. Actually, SonicStage refused to import even one track from the Walkman. I cranked open an Explorer window and headed for the dreaded OMGAUDIO folder, and somewhere under Sony’s crufty directory structure was a crapload of .oma files, which turn out to be unprotected ATRAC3 files. (Protected ATRAC3 files, which I’d have had I bought anything from Sony’s now-defunct online music store, apparently have the .omg extension, which if nothing else qualifies as keen editorial comment.) And SonicStage won’t import them from the player.

So: no backup, technically. I’m reasonably certain I have all these tracks stored elsewhere; for that matter, I think I’ve copied all of them to the iTunes install on the work box, which means they’re only a flash-drive session away, assuming I use the larger (8 GB) drive. (The Walkman holds only 4 GB.) Still, a company that goes to this much trouble to complicate my existence is going to get as few of my dollars as I can possibly manage.

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The smell of burning nut hair

I don’t dare quote any more of this; you must read the whole thing, preferably while no one else is around to hear your immediate response. And you will have an immediate response. Trust me.

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Top-rack sandals

Naples by OkabashiAfter the decidedly-mixed reviews on that $350 sandal last week, perhaps it’s time I went in the other direction. This is “Naples” from Okabashi, the leading casual-shoe manufacturer in all of Buford, Georgia, and it will run you $14.99 in any of three colors. What’s more, it’s dishwasher-safe:

Okabashi footwear is dishwasher-safe and machine washable. We recommend the dishwasher because it does a better job sanitizing. Just use a normal cycle, as the hi-temp settings could be a little too hot.

(Note: The following sentence may never be uttered again.) Even I might consider some of their shoes, if they had my size, and if I owned a dishwasher.

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When things get boysterous

The Booth Babe says she’s “often accused … of being completely self-involved, vain, shallow and full of myself,” and muses:

I have wondered more than once — pretty much every day, actually — if I would be accused of the same sins were I a male product specialist writing the exact same observations, replacing the male pervs with female.

I don’t think I would. In fact, I think the male readers who currently bemoan my attitude would be sending me internet high-fives.

I’m thinking this is a variation on the standard male dichotomy, though in this case the two incompatible characteristics are babeliciousness and brains: there are guys who are simply unprepared even to admit that the two can exist in the same space. Meanwhile, the very nature of the Babe’s job pretty much demands that they must coexist: she has to know her product material cold, including the stuff that isn’t in the brochure, and she has to meet a presumably-arbitrary standard for eye candy. Drop someone like that in front of those guys, and they’re compelled to shoot down one factor or the other. Perhaps both.

Which may explain some of this:

So I’m not sure where a lot of the vitriol comes from. Is it because I take the occasional shot that bruises the fragile male ego? Is it because a certain type of male can’t reconcile the idea of an attractive female who has no sexual interest in him actually being intelligent?

Some of them will never forgive her for describing herself as “attractive” and yet somehow managing to spurn them; if she’s actually hot, they “reason,” surely she must be hot to, um, trot.

And there’s that other atavistic crap: women drive girlmobiles and can’t possibly understand the finer points of direct injection or MacPherson struts. Having once observed a woman repairing an incapacitated Porsche, a task I couldn’t do if you spotted me three service manuals and a rack full of Snap-Ons, I know better than that.

Cynics might suggest that I’m jockeying for position in the hopes of winning the Babe’s favor. Not a chance. It’s extremely unlikely our paths will ever cross, and besides, I don’t do “hope” all that well.

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Now sit down and finish your letters

A proposal by Base for a new logo for NASA:

Proposed new NASA logo by Base

The logo for How To Destroy Angels, a musical project by Mr and Mrs Trent Reznor:

Logo for How To Destroy Angels

Is there a worldwide pixel shortage looming?

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It’s as easy as YYZ

Always Miller Time floats the idea of disaffected Raptors forward Hedo Türkoğlu in Oklahoma City:

Oklahoma City has some cap room and could get Hedo.

If Hedo Türkoğlu was smart, he would sign with the Thunder and play with Kevin Durant. Hedo would easily slide in at the power forward position.

Oklahoma City would have their own big 4. Hedo, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russell Westbrook would be hard to contain.

Of course, Jeff Green’s already playing at the four; unless it’s intended as the beginning of Uncle Jeff’s transition to Big-Time Sixth Man, I don’t see this happening. Türkoğlu, at 6-10, can certainly man the middle, but he’d cost more than Nenad Krstić and Serge Ibaka combined.

On the other hand, Toronto appears to be getting an Oklahoma City castoff:

P.J. Carlesimo has an agreement in principle to join the Toronto Raptors as an assistant coach under Jay Triano, according to league sources.

Carlesimo last served as a head coach with the Oklahoma City Thunder but was replaced by Scott Brooks midway through the 2008-09 season. Prior to that, Carlesimo served as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs under Gregg Popovich.

Carlesimo spent this season working for the Spurs as a color commentator on their radio broadcasts.

Nice to see the Peej getting back to the seats of power.

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Summer shorts

Not referring, in this case, to an article of clothing; rather, a collection of brief observations to fill up the space allotted.

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Climate change detected

Well, psychological climate, anyway:

First, there is certain alienation of individual bloggers accompanied by consolidation of various “party groups” and increased numbers of their commenters. Few years ago it was generally welcomed to use someone else’s blogroll as a walk into his inner circle, to put yourself into his shoes (or reading glasses) — not only to understand that person better, through his preferences, but as a means of widening your own perspectives without immediate commitment. Now this activity is tolerated, at best, and sometimes pointed out as impertinence or even considered suspicious. And when I go reading the “secondary” blogrolls (listed on the margins of the blogs on my own roll) I see changes, too: general-interest bloggers who in the past attracted lively discussions under almost every post, are now gathering, maybe, 1 or 3 responses — in a month. It’s not that their observations and interests became boring, it’s that life became more difficult for everyone, and there is not much point in endless chatting on topics one might live without. The general mood changed, too: we all are more pessimistic, gloomily focused on immediate tasks … teeth are clenched in perseverance while we put on a cheerful mask of camouflage de jour.

I’m willing to entertain the possibility that my own observations and interests became boring, but that implies a time when they weren’t.

I do see some of this activity, and some of the inactivity as well, though I’m not so sure it’s a result of some sort of cultural malaise. Certainly a lot of us don’t have as much time to devote to this sort of thing as we used to: I don’t, though I don’t seem to be turning out significantly less product. Yet. Shifting alliances and such, however, are a reality in blogdom. And if I’m part of anyone’s “inner circle,” I apologize for throwing off the center of gravity.

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Down at the heels

This is Frédérique Bel, thirty-five (well, if you say so), at the premiere of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Oliver Stone’s Gekko-flavored sequel, at Cannes earlier this month.

Frédérique Bel at Cannes

A slightly weird pattern, perhaps, but she pulls it off well, especially since she avoided the temptation to pair it up with big, clunky shoes.

Then again, I’m not so sure about the shoes she did wear. Here’s a close-up:

Frédérique Bel's shoes

Who is that mysterious figure on the heel? (Click to embiggen.)

(Photos from Getty Images Europe.)

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Doing like 140

I tweeted this last night and it got surprisingly wide distribution; I’m still seeing retweets. The text of it:

Tell a girl she’s beautiful and she’ll believe it for a moment. Tell a girl she’s worthless and she’ll believe it for the rest of her life.

This is where I found it.

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Tabjackers!

Running with several browser tabs open is a decided convenience: you can go back to any of them at any time and pick up where you left off, knowing that nothing’s changed.

Well, scratch that last part:

Most phishing attacks depend on an original deception. If you detect that you are at the wrong URL, or that something is amiss on a page, the chase is up. You’ve escaped the attackers. In fact, the time that wary people are most wary is exactly when they first navigate to a site.

What we don’t expect is that a page we’ve been looking at will change behind our backs, when we aren’t looking. That’ll catch us by surprise.

Here’s how it works. Open this page in a new tab. The following takes place in a matter of seconds:

  1. A user navigates to your normal looking site.
  2. You detect when the page has lost its focus and hasn’t been interacted with for a while.
  3. Replace the favicon with the Gmail favicon, the title with “Gmail: Email from Google”, and the page with a Gmail login look-a-like. This can all be done with just a little bit of Javascript that takes place instantly.
  4. As the user scans their many open tabs, the favicon and title act as a strong visual cue — memory is malleable and moldable and the user will most likely simply think they left a Gmail tab open. When they click back to the fake Gmail tab, they’ll see the standard Gmail login page, assume they’ve been logged out, and provide their credentials to log in. The attack preys on the perceived immutability of tabs.
  5. After the user has entered their login information and you’ve sent it back to your server, you redirect them to Gmail. Because they were never logged out in the first place, it will appear as if the login was successful.

Not everyone uses Gmail, of course, but it’s no trick to find something you do use and supply a fake login screen for it.

Which, if nothing else, proves that even the phish can evolve, and not in a good way.

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Preview of coming injections

Novo Nordisk, the leading supplier of insulin, is withdrawing its top-line pen-based injection system from Greece in response to the government’s demand for a 25-percent cut in all drug prices. The company says it cannot afford to provide the product at a loss, and that other countries may be likely to follow suit — and besides, Greece already owes them $36 million.

And there was, of course, wailing and gnashing of teeth; the Greek diabetes association complained about “brutal blackmail” and “a violation of corporate social responsibility.” Novo Nordisk offered to provide a lower-end product — same quality, but lacking nifty automated features — at no cost, which apparently didn’t mollify the critics.

Greece can expect more of this. LEO Pharma is pulling two drugs out of the Greek market, an anti-clotting agent and a psoriasis treatment, saying Greece owes them $300 million.

Money quote:

Stefanos Combinos, the director general of the economy ministry, told the BBC that Greece was one of the three most expensive countries in Europe for medicines.

He said pharmaceutical companies had enjoyed great profits out of Greece over the decades and had an obligation to accept price reductions.

Or, to quote a comparably-uninformed US official, “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.”

(Suggested by this description of the Novo Nordisk action at Daily Pundit.)

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Perhaps you should have put a ring on it

Robbins Diamonds billboard

(Via KA-CHING!)

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Strange search-engine queries (226)

To produce this weekly feature, we drill, baby, drill, into the very site logs that mark the passage of readers, and we hope we hit a gusher of snarkworthy search strings upon which we can cash in, or at least fill in the blank spaces while we wait for something resembling actual content to turn up.

teenager songs:  Pretty much the definition of “popular music” for the last sixty years or so.

shehulk jump roping nude:  You realize, of course, that if she saw you watching her, not only would you be pounded into a pulp, but you’d be sued.

yogurt girl teen kit sexy:  Watch it. One of those girls might grow up to be like the She-Hulk.

rule 34 dakota fanning:  I remind you that she’s still technically underage, though I don’t think she’s going to grow up to be like the She-Hulk.

bullying old teacher elderly horrible mean:  Must be the one who gave you a D-minus for your D-minus-quality work.

too much fudge:  How is that even possible?

why Sears or Wal-mart cannot effectively create a trendy counterculture image:  Because it’s all counterculture these days; tradition is viewed with suspicion, even hostility, and neither of these is good for sales.

“single use shoes”:  A hard sell to women, many of whom wouldn’t dream of throwing away shoes.

child ornery after surgery:  Hey, those stitches hurt.

sexual subtext brain-sucking phallic starship troopers:  Doesn’t sound like subtext to me.

dustbury ok:  Glad you approve. Now get off my lawn.

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One hundred years of fortitude

President Johnson’s Memorial Day proclamation in 1966, 100 years after the first:

Americans will be fighting and dying in Vietnam this Memorial Day, 1966, in fulfillment of our commitment to freedom. Their sacrifice is part of an ancient legacy that begins with man’s first act of transcendent courage, and that contains all that is noble and selfless in human character.

Our own liberty was won in struggle against tyranny. In two world wars and in Korea, brave Americans and their allies gave their lives that men might live and prosper in freedom.

We shall not forsake their sacrifice. We shall — because we must — persevere.

We are totally committed to defeat this aggression.

This nation has never left the field of battle in abject surrender of a cause for which it has fought.

We shall not do so now.

We shall see this through.

Yet as we protect freedom by courage in arms, we shall every day continue the search for an honorable peace.

It is tragic that young lives must be sacrificed, that great sums must be spent for the instruments of war, when the work of peace awaits man’s accomplishment in every land. America today — as in past years — is prepared to join in that work with any nation whose devotion is to peace with its neighbors, and a better life for its people. Let the guns of aggression be silent, we say, that the sounds of the builders, of the planters, of the teachers, may be heard.

(Also: One of my first essays on the subject, circa 2004.)

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