Expressly yours

How successful was this recruiting poster?

If the conditions sounded scary, the money was good: unskilled labor in that era was lucky to pull down a dollar a day. And, well, “pony” was pretty accurate: the average Express horse — there were about 400 — stood a mere 14.2 hands (58 inches tall). A rider would change horses about every fifteen miles.

The Pony Express ran for only a year and a half before shutting down; the completion of the transcontinental telegraph is usually blamed, though the Express had been losing money all along, and wound up its operations more than $100,000 in the hole.

And while the details on the poster are pretty much in line with the way things happened, the existence of the poster itself has been called into question by at least one historian.



There is no shortage of terrible credit-card offers out there, and if you were reading this site way back in 2002, you may have seen a reference to a deal offered by First Premier Bank of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which struck me as something less than wonderful. Said I at the time:

The terms for this card range from not too bad (18.9 percent APR, 25-day grace period on new purchases) to stiff ($50 annual fee) to preposterous ($119 “acceptance fee”, $72 annual “participation fee” over and above the $50).

As it happens, they’ve sent me their latest offer, and it has improved in one regard: the grace period on new purchases is now 27 days. However, the annual fee has gone to $175 for the first year, $49 thereafter, and there’s a “monthly servicing fee” of $14.50, which, they are careful to spell out, is $174 a year. And the APR? Thirty-six percent.

I’ll give them this much: none of this is in Extremely Tiny Print, and everything I’ve mentioned is explained when necessary. Still, nothing moves me to accept this “pre-approved” account.

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Feel-bad songs

You know, when someone starts talking about “feel-good” songs, well, I’ve always been something of a contrarian.

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Goblin report

A slow start, and inevitably a slow finish, but in between was a pretty steady flow of trick-or-treaters: fifty-three in all, second highest on record, beating out the 49 count in 2012. (I don’t ever expect to see the 2010 record of 102 broken.)

At some point during grocery shopping this afternoon, I decided “Maybe I need just one more bag.” Turns out, I needed at least a third of that bag. Otherwise, the event was, um, largely uneventful; one girl tried to exit through the rosebush — she won’t try that again — and one very sleepy boy in a stroller wasn’t quite sure what was going on.

And yes, I unloaded all the Twizzlers: the first 45 customers got one along with a Mild Amusement Size candy bar.

Update, 8:45 pm: I am informed — and provided with photographic evidence — that Number One grandson, the guy who did his best James Bond earlier this month, went full-on girl mode for this event.

Update, 8:55 pm: Number One granddaughter — she’s twelve — made a pretty convincing-looking Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers.

Update, 9:15 pm: While cleaning up the inevitable disorder, I found one stray Twizzler. Damn.

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Ward of the state

Someone on a message board once described Maitland Ward to me as basically America’s answer to Bai Ling: legitimate acting chops and a fairly long list of credits, but apparently mostly interested these days in appearing in public in abbreviated outfits.

“Abbreviated,” of course, piqued my interest, and it took no time at all to turn up these examples:

Maitland Ward prepared for battle, sort of

I think I just might put this second one after the jump:

Read the rest of this entry »

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The fix you need when you need it

Well played, Apple:

Microsoft must be watching.

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It’s what’s in the grooves

Chuck Pergiel drew my attention to this ten-minute exercise in curiosity:

It is a measure of something, probably sheer age, that I knew most of the particulars involving the LP record — I actually have a copy of the disc he cut up — and even the long-forgotten Capacitance Electronic Disc from RCA, of which I had several dozen at one time; but most of the CD/DVD stuff whizzed right past my scalp.

(The stylus for CED-type discs, incidentally, is less of a needle and more of a sleigh runner.)


Loud booze

You already know what I think about homeopathic remedies, typically diluted beyond any recognition and then dissolved in water. (Classic, for me anyway, quote: “[D]ump a teaspoon of the stuff into Lake Itasca, at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, and then wait for it to show up in New Orleans.”) CVS, though, is vending a homeopathic laxative that’s made of stronger stuff:

CVS might have stopped selling cigarettes, but you can still buy booze at the drugstore chain — without even getting carded. Just head over to the homeopathic medicine section and pick up some store-brand “constipation relief,” which just happens to be 40-proof.

In a piece for Slate on homeopathic medicine, chemist and blogger Yvette “Sci Babe” d’Entremont notes that this particular CVS product is 20% ethanol, meaning it contains more alcohol by volume than beer or wine.

So it may send you to the bathroom, but not for the reason you bought it.

In her video, Sci Babe downs six 1-ounce bottles of the stuff and gets, well, thoroughly hammered. At least your Wandering Drunks, or teenagers desperate for buzz, are unlikely to mess with something at $7.99 a shot.

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Late bloomers

The Magic put out the warning early: they were going to shoot, to shoot often, and to hit more often than not. And for the most part they made it stick, too; it was well into the fourth quarter when Orlando’s shooting percentage finally dropped below 50 percent. But what enabled them to unravel OKC for those minutes was their ability to recover from “than not”; when the Magic needed second-chance points, they got them, thanks to an inconsistent Thunder defense. Still, down 18 at the beginning of the final frame, OKC fought back to within one point, 110-109. Then Enes Kanter committed his sixth foul, Victor Oladipo knocked down two free throws. Russell Westbrook came back with a layup, then fouled Aaron Gordon, who made both of his freebies; with 13.5 left, Kevin Durant evened it up at 114. Of course, the Magic were going to shoot, and Oladipo stepped back for a beautiful trey; Westbrook, manifestly unimpressed, banked one in from damn near 40 feet at 0.7, and then batted away the last Magic salvo. Overtime, something no one had expected 12 minutes ago, duly ensued. With 7.8 left in OT, it was Westbrook 9, Magic 6. Then Oladipo let one fly from the left corner, and the second overtime ensued. And just inside the 10-second mark, the Magic, down two, fouled Steven Adams, the Thunder player least likely to make two free throws. Adams promptly made two free throws. With six seconds left, the Magic got two shots at the cylinder, and both of them were swatted away; OKC escaped with a 139-136 win against an Orlando squad that was a hell of a lot better than most people seem willing to believe.

Seriously. All five Magic starters made double figures, with Tobias Harris picking up 30 and Victor Oladipo bagging a triple-double (21 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists). Nikola Vučević, manning the middle, had 26 points and five blocks. And four players finished with five fouls, indicating uncanny levels of restraint toward the end. What undid them, finally, was the sort of defense the Thunder didn’t show them until the fourth quarter — and which dropped their shooting percentage to 44.3.

Oh, and Russell Westbrook. Who started the night 2-11. He finished 17-36 with 48 points. And there was Kevin Durant, with 43 points and 12 rebounds. But look at the plus/minus, and there are two guys with +24: D. J. Augustin, who hit when he needed to (4-6, 12 points), and Dion Waiters, who couldn’t hit but somehow defended like a madman (seven rebounds, all defensive). Go figure.

Right about now, Billy Donovan is scratching his head and wondering what the hell it was he just saw. You may as well get used to it, pal: this is Thunder basketball, the leading cause of cardiac arrest in all of Soonerland. It resumes Sunday evening at home against Denver.

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Roundball metaphor of the season

And we’re only, like, one game in.

I mentioned in passing Wednesday night that Kawhi Leonard, who scored a career-high 32 points for San Antonio, had been the one “truly dominant” Spur that evening.

Shea Serrano, in Grantland’s probably last-ever “Shootaround,” is a little more lyrical:

There were two separate moments when the Thunder had the ball on offense and Kawhi Leonard crawled inside of Durant’s body and stared out of his eyeballs. Nobody plays defense the way Kawhi Leonard plays defense. If he’s guarding you, you might as well go ahead and just pick up the ball and punt that bitch into the stands, because that’s the only way you’re going to keep him from getting it. Being guarded by Kawhi Leonard is no different than getting dropped into a casket full of anacondas. Being guarded by Kawhi Leonard is like being put inside of a bank vault filled with quick-set cement. Being guarded by Kawhi Leonard looks like an awful thing to experience, but it’s an amazing thing to watch.

All that and 32 points. True dominance, wouldn’t you say?


All heartbreak, all the time

For some reason, this made me smile:

Across the country there are exploration-worthy bookstores devoted entirely to genres like science fiction, mystery, and comics. And we love those stores! But where are the bookstores devoted to romance? There is not one store that exclusively sells romance books — even while romance is the best-selling genre in North America. Enter sisters Bea and Leah Koch, who are working to change this fact, acting as the knights in shining armor for romance readers everywhere.

To promote the genre they’ve always loved, the Koch sisters plan to open a Los Angeles-based bookstore filled to the brim with love stories. (If you don’t live in L.A., don’t fret! They will also have an online store!) “The Ripped Bodice is a store for the community of intelligent and outspoken people that write, read, and love romance novels,” explains Leah on their Kickstarter.

Also from said Kickstarter:

In the romance section of a full service bookstore, things are generally organized alphabetically, making it hard to browse if you just want paranormal witch stories/cowboy heroes with hearts of gold/Regency house parties that go terribly awry. Because The Ripped Bodice is devoted exclusively to romance, we have the luxury of organizing by sub-genre.

They may have to go to sub-sub-sub-genre to keep track of everything.

The sisters hope to raise $90,000 by the 19th of November; they’re already halfway there. (And I helped a little.)

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Mandating the inferior

About a decade ago, decongestants containing pseudoephedrine were barred from drugstore shelves and hidden behind the counter, lest some toothless jerkwad try to brew up some methamphetamine with the stuff. Desperate to appear au courant, or simply to appear, makers of OTC drugs hurried out new preparations containing phenylephrine, which doesn’t lend itself to meth production.

There’s just one hangup. Phenylephrine doesn’t work worth a flip:

In a new study of more than 500 adult allergy sufferers, researchers found that the common, over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant, phenylephrine, was no better at unclogging noses than placebo — even when given at higher doses than those currently approved. The study’s authors called on the Food and Drug Administration to strike phenylephrine from its list of effective nasal decongestants.

Were this a rational world, sufferers would be FedExing snot samples to Washington on a regular basis as payback. But no: it is deemed necessary to preserve all the defectives splashing around in the gene pool, because diversity or something.

Study particulars:
The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, 2015.
DOI: 10.1016/j.jaip.2015.05.007.

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His and hers

Footwear News stuck this into a slideshow, and it struck me as just wacky enough to show off here:

Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade from here down

At left: Gabrielle Union in sandals by Giuseppe Zanotti. At right: Dwyane Wade in sneakers by Saint Laurent.

Both outfits in full, if you’re curious.


Several boatloads

Radiation in terms of bananas:

Science, which often talks about things in increments of light-years, femtometers and picograms, has some really weird measurements. For example, did you know that you actually receive a dose of radiation from eating a banana, and that the dosage is sometimes used as a basis for measurement? The amount of ionizing radiation is .1 microsieverts per banana, which of course means nothing to most of us who have no idea how much radiation is in a microsievert or in a full-size sievert either, for that matter. This figure is sometimes referred to the “Banana Equivalent Dose.” The important number for those of you who enjoy bananas is 35 million, because that’s how many bananas you’d have to get together to kill a person with radiation. You’d be in just as much danger from the weight of all that fruit, and in any case would probably have perished quite a bit earlier from whichever beautiful bunch o’ ripe banana hide the deadly black tarantula.

And while we’re on the subject:

Although the amount in a single banana is small in environmental and medical terms, the radioactivity from a truckload of bananas is capable of causing a false alarm when passed through a Radiation Portal Monitor used to detect possible smuggling of nuclear material at U.S. ports.

Harry Chapin was not available for comment.

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Decreases the meeces

I tossed this up as a tweet yesterday:

But, as always, the story is a bit more complicated than that.

The first mouse of the season made several trips in and out of the house, through a thinned-out section of weatherstripping on the door that leads to the garage. A couple of observations revealed his M.O.; I parked a glue board on the far side of the door, where he couldn’t see it and couldn’t miss it. Time from trap emplacement to actual trap: less than half an hour. I duly patched up the weatherstripping.

It was only then that I discovered that he’d had a comrade, and that I’d blocked the comrade’s escape route: he would hang around the house for three days before I figured out the best place for the board. And it got him, within ten minutes.

Unfortunately, the board was inside the house, and the little twerp gave out with an ear-piercing cry. For a moment there I asked myself: “What have I done?” Wouldn’t planting some toxins around the house have done the job just as well? A comment from a neighbor persuades me otherwise:

If you have mice and pets, please don’t use poison. If you have no pets, check with your neighbors and see if they have pets before putting out poison. I lost one of my dogs yesterday from some kind of poisoning and the vet thinks it’s probably rat poison. You can’t control where the rodent dies, and dogs love to eat them.

Perhaps I need to disguise my glee a bit more effectively.


Surly to rise

I definitely don’t like this idea:

Apparently some are calling for the work day to start at 10 am.

Unless they are willing to shorten my work day by 2-3 hours, I will NOT go for a 10 am work start-time. I do not want to still be at work at 7 pm. I do not want to be dragging home some nights at 8 and then have to cook dinner. All a later day-start would do for me would mean I’d have to go to bed later on — and I wouldn’t necessarily sleep any more. In fact, I’m usually up by the time the sun is up. So I’d be stuck sitting around at home for 3-4 hours in the morning, anticipating going to work but NOT BEING ABLE TO GO … and I’d object to that.

Again, for some people, the 10 am start time would be ideal — but not for me, because I’d not be able to enjoy those hours, knowing I had to get to work. And I’d wind up with less productive “free time” over all.

I am best suited, I think, to swing shift: I can sleep until noon, and most nights I can’t sleep until midnight or close to it. This is not going to be happening at my current workplace, but I did 3:30 to midnight for a couple of years in the 1980s, and it worked out rather well for me, apart from the fact that I was a major jerk in those days and got to annoy people on two shifts in the same day.

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