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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The obligatory turnout description

At 5:38 I cast ballot #482, which doesn’t mean much of anything, inasmuch as Republican voters had to deal with two separate ballots, what with the Lankford/Calvey runoff, and everyone else had just one: the Oklahoma Natural Gas franchise renewal. This precinct is about evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, but the GOP, I presume, had a bit more motivation to turn out. (Unless Democrats are really outraged at the gas company, and if they aren’t, I hadn’t heard about it.)

There were three staffers on hand, instead of the usual four or five, so I have to assume that they were expecting a light turnout at best, and that’s pretty much what they got.

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Somebody may have been Shanghaied

A story off the Reuters wire that demanded my attention:

The Great Typo Hunt describes a nationwide mission by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson, both 30, to rid America of signs that add an extra “n” to “dining”, or insist that “shipping” is spelled with one “p”.

Deck, a magazine editor, and Herson, a bookseller, drove across the country in the spring of 2008 armed with sharpies, pens and whiteout, correcting spelling, removing surplus apostrophes and untangling subject-verb disagreement on signs outside stores, gas stations, parks and public buildings.

Having completed their book, they’re presumably going to count coup on the Reuters staffers who failed to notice that Sharpie® is a registered trademark of Sanford — unless, of course, our intrepid syntactical troops had fallen for fakes:

Counterfeit Sharpies appear on the market. Products labeled “Shamark”, “Shankie”, “Shanghai”, “Shapley”, “Shoupie”, “Scarple”, “Staunion”, “Skerple”, “Sherple”, and “Shounion” in a font similar to that of the Sharpie, are sometimes sold at dollar stores and flea markets.

The question of “whiteout,” and whether it pertains to Sanford’s Liquid Paper, BIC’s Wite-Out, or something else entirely, is left as an exercise for the English student.

(Tip of the sunshade to Lisa Paul.)

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Wow, I coulda had a VO5

Are we putting more vegetables on our heads than we are on our plates?

Sometimes, when I read the contents of organic personal care products like shampoo and lotion, I find myself wondering if we shouldn’t be getting these fruits and vegetables to starving people instead of dumping them on our hair.

I suspect the actual quantity of edible vegetable matter in your average 15-ounce (waitaminnit, weren’t these 16 ounces last year?) bottle of shampoo, even the good stuff — as distinguished from the 99-cents-per-bottle stuff I buy — is probably pretty insignificant.

On the other hand, in the process of looking up potential sources of snark, I did manage to get an answer for a question I remember posing when I was a bratty schoolboy: “Is it V-letter O-5, or V-zero-5?”

It’s an O, which apparently stands for “oil”:

Under the harsh, hair-frying lights of Hollywood motion picture studios, word was spreading about a product named after the chemist who invented it: Alberto VO5 Conditioning Hairdressing. With a unique water-free, five-oil formula, VO5 had been developed at the request of studios and had proven successful at rescuing hair from dryness and damage.

Well, thank you, Alberto, wherever you are.

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Score one for Max

In 1926, physicist Max Born formulated a rule for quantum interactions. The tricky aspect of any quantum calculations, historically, has been that you can’t be exactly sure where the pesky little quanta actually are. Born postulated that the probability to find a quantum object at a certain place at a certain time equals the square of its wave function (as distinguished from its particle function). This axiom is at the very heart of quantum mechanics as we know it.

And now we know it to be true, within the limits of experimental error:

What’s neat about this, to me anyway, is that it’s not much more complicated than the traditional double-slit diffraction experiment: there’s a third slit, and much tighter controls on the photons. (It apparently took two years to get the error component reduced to an acceptable minimum.)

Max Born, for this particular insight, shared the 1954 Nobel Prize for physics. He’d surely have been happy to see that he was right.

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In lieu of actual inspiration

There used to be a Webzine called Inspire, which I don’t remember ever seeing; it was, apparently, celebrity culture for women 18-21. Anyway, they’ve abandoned the name, presumably for one or both of the following reasons:

  • The arrival in July of a print magazine called Inspire, which reportedly was published by Al-Qaeda;
  • Their own move into print, starting with the September issue.

The new magazine will be called, for reasons I cannot fathom, Zooey. It has, so far as I can tell, no connection to anyone actually named Zooey. Not that I’d be paying attention to something like that.

Still, I wish them well, because — well, how can I not?

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A few more years of evolution

The next shoe is no shoe at all:

Overstepping by Julie Rrap

I don’t see this catching on with the Sex and the City crowd.

Anyway, this originated as a print by Australian artist Julie Rrap. I found this description in an education kit for a Rrap exhibition put on by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney [pdf] a couple of years ago:

Overstepping is a large format, glossy digital image in which the artist’s feet sprout into fleshy high heels. The visual realism of the feet indicates they “belong to a real woman… We are simultaneously given both a sense of style and of exquisite pain. No woman who has ever worn stilettos can look at Overstepping without wincing. This single image has it all. It describes the female body and the way it is fragmented and manipulated in the interests of appearance as well as the personal cost of those transformations.”

The readers at If Shoes Could Kill were almost uniformly horrified, which may have been the artist’s point all along.

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Barns unennobled

Never been to a dressbarn store, for reasons that should be obvious, but the name has its charms, which were echoed in its slogan: “Live within your means. Dress beyond them.”

Wall Street types, however, don’t seem to respond to the same sort of stimuli as us regular folks, who might wear tennis shoes or an occasional python boot, and so Dress Barn, Inc. (NASDAQ: DBRN), which owns two other brands, is seeking to change the corporate name to the faceless, uninteresting “Ascena Retail Group.”

There are good and bad explanations for this move, both emanating from CFO Armand Correia. The good one:

The name change also allows the company to buy brands that aren’t necessarily in the same industry, he said.

The bad one:

The retailer chose Ascena, after consulting with outside experts, because it’s reminiscent of the word “ascend.”

Right. “Honey, does this dress make my ascend look big?”

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Second-best historical marker ever

Reported to be “on the outside wall of a gas station” in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands:

Historical marker of sorts

(Via Oddly Specific. The best historical marker ever is here.)

Addendum: You might like this one even better.

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Chances are

Several times before, I have made reference to unusually-appropriate or unexpectedly-amusing juxtapositions of songs on the work box, which contains an iTunes install of some 5,650 tracks. The mathematics of the process would seem pretty simple, as Tam notes:

So I’m driving down the freeway yesterday, listening to Moby’s cover of “New Dawn Fades” on the iPod, best known as the tune from the Heat soundtrack playing when Hanna pulls over McAuley, and the next song the thing offers up in shuffle mode is the original Joy Division recording of “New Dawn Fades”. What are the odds of that?

After reflection, she determined that it was 1/512, which implies 512 tracks on the iPod. In comments, TJIC noted that since this can happen in two ways — cover followed by original, or original followed by cover — we’re looking at more like 2/512, or 1/256.

Which makes perfect sense if the shuffle is perfectly random. Given the fact that computers generally don’t do a bang-up job on randomness in the first place, I figure there’s some chink in its armor.

A 2007 experiment conducted under the auspices of Cnet seemed to suggest that commercial considerations were a factor: “Artists and singles purchased through iTunes were played more frequently than those that were not.” I haven’t noticed any such tendency, though my own shuffle contains fewer than 150 tracks actually purchased from the iTunes Store. (There are about as many tracks bought from Amazon’s MP3 storefront, which the Amazon installer automagically moves into iTunes after purchase; I haven’t noticed any favoritism one way or another with these items.)

What I’m wondering about, though, is if the shuffle has enough smarts to select the beginning of song B because it goes well with the ending of song A. In my mix-tape days, I put out well over 300 cassettes, and in my opinion, the two best transitions I ever did were:

  • Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” to Badfinger’s “Day After Day”;
  • Petula Clark’s “Kiss Me Goodbye” to Jimi Hendrix’ “Purple Haze”.

The shuffle has indeed coughed up one of these. “Sir Duke” was playing, and I observed, “Ideally, the next track to come up would be ‘Day After Day’.”

Which began, right on cue. I am going to rip “Kiss Me Goodbye” today and add it to the playlist, to see what happens.

My own preferences will tend to complicate the mathematics: I run a floating playlist called “Randomator” (!) which pulls 500 nonclassical tracks based on, depending on the mood of the moment, either least-recent airing or fewest plays. The list remains at 500; one song is played, the next one takes its place. For least-recent airing, this is pretty simple, but for fewest plays, it’s a little more complex, because no song has more than 23 plays at the moment, meaning lots of ties. And the shuffle breaks ties, apparently, in reverse order by artist’s name: the “5” Royales and the 5th Dimension, then the 4 Seasons, more numbers through 10cc or 10 Years, and then ZZ Top, Warren Zevon, and so on, all the way up to Abba. (Before you ask: Aaron Neville is sorted with the N’s.) And this confounds me: I might be in some particular mood and will find the song that just came up incompatible with that mood, so I’ll press the Next button. The shuffle, often as not, will bring it back within six hours.

And I still haven’t figured out how that Genius gizmo works, though I admit to being impressed with the machinations that produce the Genius Mixes. I freely concede everything that people hate about iTunes: it’s slow to load, it’s cumbersome to operate, and it chews up memory faster than stoners wolf down Cheetos. But having gotten a handle on most of its features, I wouldn’t be without it — at work, anyway. At home, I seldom have the urge to run nine or ten hours of continuous music.

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What hath Peter Pan wrought?

No, not the peanut butter; the boy who wouldn’t grow up and who now seems to dominate the culture.

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Strange search-engine queries (238)

Another week, another trip through the referral logs, another round of “Somebody was actually looking for that?” Well, yes, somebody was. Life is like that sometimes.

who in the hell sends out those deceased inheritance spams?  Same people who send all the other spams: lazy, good-for-nothing SOBs who want maximum return on minimum effort.

“haul bituminous anthracite”:  That’s what we need to do with spammers: put them to work in a coal mine.

olive oyl nude:  Well, Swee’Pea had to come from somewhere.

tall and tan and young and lovely nudist:  Unless you happen to be at Ipanema, nudists tend to look like everyone else: not that tall, not that young, not that lovely. Although they do usually tan pretty well.

Larry Derryberry hairy fairy query:  We knew Mr Derryberry, who was the state Attorney General for eight years; he was not, so far as we could tell, all that hairy, and nothing about him seemed particularly fairylike.

kevin calvey indecent exposure:  Do I detect an attempt at rumormongering, just before the runoff election? Because I’m not aware of any such incident.

what partially lists to one side?  RMS Titanic did, though not for long.

too pretty to get hired:  We’ll never know, because we didn’t hire them.

is the sentence the alarm is loud conclusive or observation:  If the next sentence is “Turn off that goddamn alarm,” we may conclude that it was intended to be conclusive.

Proposed General Motors IPO Stock symbol:  Unfortunately, “BFD” has already been used.

“reflects an optimism that makes Pollyanna look positively Kafkaesque”:  I have the only result for this search, it being a direct quote from me, so I’m puzzled as to why anyone would be looking for it. (It wasn’t, I note, the person of whom I said it, unless she’s vacationing three time zones away.)

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The faux château is so about to go

Is the McMansion dead in the koi pond? Not entirely, I’m sure, but the trend is toward smaller and (maybe) less garish:

In its latest report on home-buying trends, real-estate site Trulia declares: “The McMansion Era Is Over.”

Just 9 percent of the people surveyed by Trulia said their ideal home size was over 3,200 square feet. Meanwhile, more than one-third said their ideal size was under 2,000 feet.

“That’s something that would’ve been unbelievable just a few years back,” said Pete Flint, CEO and co-founder of Trulia. “Americans are moving away from McMansions.”

We’re not crowding ourselves into rabbit warrens, exactly, but we definitely seem to be downsizing a bit:

Trulia graph on home sizes by decade

I note with some amusement that my own house, built in 1948, is a hair bigger than the stated average for the 1950s.

Now why is this happening? The less-than-inspiring condition of the economy surely is a contributing factor, and Pete Flint argues that the F-word has put a scare into folks:

“This is absolutely a long-term effect,” he said. “Think of families with small children who’ve been foreclosed upon … When these teenagers are in a position to buy a home, they won’t want to go through these experiences they saw their parents go through.”

Oh, that F-word.

After renting for a decade or so, my son, his wife and their three children are buying a place in an early-1960s neighborhood east of Kansas City, a house that, per Trulia’s graph, was smallish even for that era. Still, better that than something they might not really be able to afford. I don’t think they ever aspired to a McMansion. Certainly I never did.

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Ulla la

Almost every reference to Ulla Herrin on the Web comes back to this photo:

Ulla Herrin, 1950

According to Vintage Scans, this shot is from the February 1950 issue of Beauty Parade, a magazine published by Robert Harrison, creator of Confidential.

I might point out that this is hardly Venus’ usual fur. And who am I to object to fantasy-based ravishment, anyway?

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Carya: heavy load

In the kitchen last night, I was dousing a couple of chicken breasts with one of those commercial sauces ostensibly imbued with hickory smoke, and I got to wondering: how much hickory wood goes to make stuff — tool handles, flooring, sporting goods — and how much ends up in the barbecue pit?

I subsequently expended much of my vaunted GoogleFu trying to get something resembling an answer, but couldn’t come up with anything much more than this:

Carya tomentosa (Mockernut hickory, mockernut, white hickory, whiteheart hickory, hognut, bullnut) is a tree in the Juglandaceae or Walnut family. It is the most abundant of the hickories. It is long lived, sometimes reaching the age of 500 years. A high percentage of the wood is used for products where strength, hardness, and flexibility are needed. It makes an excellent fuelwood, too.

This suggests that furniture outweighs flavoring in the current scheme of things, which is fine with me. I didn’t follow up on the nuts, but I figure sooner or later some wise guy will want them ground up and blended into a cocktail: it’s a hickory daiquiri, Doc.

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It’s the 387th edition of Carnival of the Vanities, titled “CoTVing to Spamalot.”

Certainly we get a lot of spam. I got several spams this week offering me various pharmaceutical products, including the classic combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen you may know as “Lortab” or “Vicodin.” The last batch of these I actually got prescribed — I’m not about to send an order to these characters in “Canada,” since God only knows where these storefronts really are located — were imprinted with the number 387.

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