The quill is taken up again

I’d been working on this one story — a further extension of an existing three-story arc — for two months, and I got to the point where I had to tell myself, “Self, either you get this chapter into shape and submit it to the repository, or you abandon it altogether.”

“Into shape” is perhaps arguable, but I did submit the darn thing. Now I’m going to be on pins and needles waiting for the initial response — though that won’t come until the moderators pass their judgment, and that could take a day or two.

Word count is 5696 (mine) / 5946 (theirs).

Addendum: The approval came while this post was still in the can. Go figure.

Update: Reaction from the crowd was uniformly negative. I pulled the piece.

Comments off




Grindhouse 3.0

After the first quarter, it was Memphis 16, Oklahoma City 14. Just what you might have expected: a slow grind with not a whole lot of offense, especially from the Thunder, who missed ten consecutive shots. And then things were inverted in the second, OKC outscoring the Grizzlies 33-30 to take a one-point lead at the half. Then the Thunder went cold in the third, and the Griz went up nine after three; OKC forged several ties, but never actually regained the lead until 11.1, when a Derek Fisher steal followed by a Kevin Durant pullup put the Thunder up 91-90. At the 3.5 mark, Marc Gasol, passed the ball to Mike Conley at halfcourt, but the momentum carried him out of bounds, and the Thunder got the ball back. Reggie Jackson wound up with the inbound and the inevitable immediate foul; Jackson calmly dropped both freebies, then fouled Quincy Pondexter. Unfortunately, he fouled him on a trey attempt. Pondexter missed the first, got the second, and deliberately missed the third; Durant got a hand on it, Fisher dribbled it away, and that was the game: OKC 93, Memphis 91.

The Tall Trees of Memphis stood as tall as ever, Gasol with 20 points, Zach Randolph with 18, and each with ten rebounds. Tayshaun Prince contributed extra defense. Still, the Griz could not muster any more than four second-chance points, and Tony Allen, normally a major pest, turned out to be a non-factor, playing barely 20 minutes and scoring 3. Pondexter, who hit three treys in the third, and Jerryd Bayless took up as much of the slack as they could.

In the post-Westbrook era, the big lines belong to Durant and Whoever Will. Today Whoever was Kevin Martin, who had another 25-pointer, including three from long distance. (Durant, of course, had the best line in the house: 35 points, 15 boards, six assists and two steals.) Those who argued against Fisher’s alleged “intangibles” getting him undeserved minutes are keeping discreetly silent: his eight points may seem modest, but Fish’s gift for being in the right place at the right time got him +14, tied with Martin for game-high. Serge Ibaka was pretty good on defense (five rebounds, three blocks), not so hot on offense (1-10, five points).

At some point — say, right after Game 6 against Houston — you could hear cries of “Even if we survive this, how will we ever beat the Grizzlies?” It’s the same way you always beat the Grizzlies, when you can. Second try is Tuesday night.

Comments off




Non-repeating pattern

It is said that life sucks, and then you die.

Tangential: During an effort to find the source of this notion, I happened upon Life Sucks… And Then You Die! by British thrash outfit Cerebral Fix, which contains such upbeat ditties as “Product of Disgust” and “Existing Not Living.” Says Wikipedia: “To support Life Sucks…, the band toured the UK with Bolt Thrower, Deviated Instinct, Doom, Electro Hippies, Concrete Sox, Bomb Disneyland, Hellbastard, Energetic Krusher, and Hard-Ons.” Cerebral Fix followed up with the easy-listening classic Tower of Spite.

Anyway, if you’ve decided your life sucks, you may well be correct — but there’s no guarantee that you’re using the proper metrics:

As explained by psychologist Daniel Kahneman, “…the score that you quickly assign to your life is determined by a small sample of highly available ideas, not by carefully weighting the domains of your life.”

For example, in an amusing experiment conducted in 1983, a team led by noted psychologist Norbert Schwarz asked subjects to rate their overall life satisfaction on both sunny and rainy days. Those interviewed on a bright, sunny day reported being more satisfied with their lives in general compared with those interviewed on an overcast, rainy day.

In another, more sly experiment, Schwarz’s team set up a situation whereby half of the subjects would — by apparent luck — discover a dime on a photocopy machine before being interviewed. Though the good fortune was meager by most standards, the respondents who stumbled upon it reported significantly higher life satisfaction than those who did not.

Unusually for me, I did a load of wash Friday night, and subsequently found a dime in the tub. I perked right up, only to slide back into the ooze of despair when I realized that obviously I had done a poor job of emptying all the pockets beforehand, and my net gain on the transaction was nil. Dr Schwarz would have understood.

Oh, and Dr Kahneman has been mentioned in these pages before: his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, whence came the above quote, was sort of ripped off at Amazon by a rival “book” with a similar title, intended to garner sales to shoppers who weren’t paying close attention. Now that well and truly sucks.

Comments (3)




Future dullard

And I probably won’t be alone in that classification, either:

The whole concept of the Singularity is centered on that moment when “intelligent” machines become intelligent self aware machines able to take control of their own destinies. At that point, on the bell curve of cognitive ability (intelligence) every single human alive will be relegated to the lowest of the left-hand (hopeless dumbass) side of the curve, and the machines will take up permanent occupancy of the rest of that real estate.

Every year, IQs a few points higher than the year before are shifted over to the left hand side, and those already there pushed further down. The Singularity Point is estimated as being from 17 years hence (2030, Vernor Vinge, the creator of the concept) to 2045 (Ray Kurzweil, its most prominent current apostle), to never (many naysayers).

I admit to having my doubts about the whole concept, but then I look around me and see smart people getting dumber, and dumb people getting dumber still, and I wonder: what else is there that could be causing this? High-fructose corn syrup? The Rothschilds? CNN? We’re on the brink of something, and while I’m tolerably bright, I suppose, I don’t think I can keep up with a machine that never gets tired and doesn’t need input from me anyway.

Comments (7)




Fark blurb of the week

Comments (1)




Harvey Fiersteins at Foggy Bottom

In the post-Reagan era, says Robert Stacy McCain, foreign policy is guided by narcissism. How it got to that point:

Encountering people who hate us, liberals think, “It’s about us.”

This error was what crippled liberalism during the Cold War. If the Soviet Union wanted to destroy America, liberals imagined, this must be because of something wrong with America, rather than something wrong with the Soviet Union. So liberals wanted to change American foreign policy — détente! — in a more pro-Soviet direction, accepting the Leninist critique of “Western imperialism” as essentially accurate, so that you had Jimmy Carter claiming (and evidently believing) that a U.S. commitment to “human rights” would somehow repair the damage to American international prestige.

If you would see what the “world community” thinks of human rights, you need only look at the people the United Nations puts in charge of it. (George W. Bush, in one of his sentient moments, refused to have anything to do with that particular scam; the Obama administration happily rushed back into it.)

Except it wasn’t about us. It was about them.

Ronald Reagan understood instinctively that the Cold War wasn’t America’s fault, and that it couldn’t be ended by making American policy less “imperialist” (mainly because imperialism was a propaganda accusation conjured up in Vladimir Lenin’s imagination). The Cold War could only end with the destruction of the Soviet Union, and so Reagan made that the object of his foreign policy.

And then Reagan rode off into the sunset, and State began filling up with whiners who just want to be loved, and is that so wrong? (Short answer: yes; you guys are being paid to represent the interests of the United States, rather than the interests of every jackwagon from Central Casting who yells “Oppression!” in front of a microphone.)

So the foreign policy of the United States became twofold: (1) pay the Danegeld, and (2) try not to piss off the Dane too much. This latter was doomed to fail, because the Dane is always pissed off:

Ask yourself this: Why should Muslims from Pakistan and other places far away from the Middle East espouse the same anti-American and anti-Israel grievances as Palestinian radicals in Gaza and the West Bank? Why was the Soviet Union — fanatically devoted to an atheistic and internationalist ideology — nevertheless favorable to Arafat’s nationalist cause and to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution in Iran?

The answer seems clear enough: the Soviet Union may be gone, but there are still people who long for its unbridled, unabashed anti-Americanism. Your kid probably has one of them for History 2102 (first semester).

Comments off




Ongoing Zooeyfication

Back in September ’11, when New Girl was, um, new, I found myself echoing this thought from Fishersville Mike:

We know it’s not reality-based. Cute girls just drop in on a group of guys and bring their friends. All. The. Time. Big Bang Theory started with one girl and now has one for every nerdy guy. Zooey’s new show has Hannah Simone as the first of many potential models to visit the apartment.

This may be why I never watched Big Bang Theory: I never could believe the notion of one girl for every nerdy guy. (I blame Jan Berry, who swore that in “Surf City” it was two-to-one, though those guys presumably weren’t nerdy.)

And I don’t think this scheme is going to work for New Girl, since Hannah Simone seems to be turning into Zooey Deschanel. Take a look:

Hannah Simone at Fox promo for New Girl

Were you to put tights on Hannah, the illusion would be complete.

Just to hammer the point home, here’s the whole cast, with the real Zooey at center, or so they’d like us to believe:

Fox promo with New Girl cast

Now when the guys start looking like Zooey, then I’m gonna worry.

Comments (2)




Meteorillogical

If you think the weather here has been weird — and let’s face it, if you don’t, you haven’t been paying attention — it’s been equally so elsewhere. This is what was going down in the 417:

The Ozarks broke a record today in measurable snowfall. According to John Gagan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Springfield, the last time the Springfield-area saw measurable snowfall this late in the spring season was May 2, 1929.

But that’s not the only record expected to be broken today.

The last time there was even a trace of snow in May — meaning flurries, but no accumulation — was May 6, 1944.

The temperature will also be significant. Currently, the record low for the coldest day in May was May 4, 1935 at 43 degrees.

Actually, a trace of snow does not necessarily mean flurries, but that’s not the problem here. This is:

One must infer, then, that on May 6, 1944, and on May 2, 1929, it snowed when the temperature was 44 degrees or warmer, must one not? If May 4, 1935, was the coldest low temperature on record, then these other recorded days must have had higher low temperatures, ainna?

Just to clear this up: The record low for the coldest day in May was 29 degrees, on May 6, 1944. What happened on May 4, 1935 was the lowest high temperature ever reported for any day in May, which was 43 degrees. (May 3, 2013 will break that record; the high that day was apparently 36.) The meteorologist at NWS Springfield knew this, or could get the data quickly enough — it didn’t take me too awfully long to find it, and my weather-geek credentials are just a hair above marginal — so I conclude that this was just another case of Gannett wetting their nest.

Comments (2)




Coldmail

According to Microsoft, Hotmail is most sincerely dead:

When Outlook.com came out of preview in February, it already had more than 60 million active accounts. However, Hotmail was still one of the most widely used services, with over 300 million active accounts. This made the magnitude of the process incredible, maybe even unprecedented. This meant communicating with hundreds of millions of people, upgrading all their mailboxes — equaling more than 150 million gigabytes of data — and making sure that every person’s mail, calendar, contacts, folders, and personal preferences were preserved in the upgrade. Of course, this had to be done with a live site experience that was handling billions of transactions a day. With your help, we were able to do all of that in just about 6 weeks. We’ve spent the last few weeks ensuring that everything was completed in line with our high quality expectations.

It’s certainly seemed seamless to me, since I’m still actually using POP3 via Windows Live Mail, the replacement for Outlook Express; I’ve noticed no difference whatsoever. (Then again, I have five different accounts running through WLM, and four of them look exactly the same; the one exception is AOL Mail, which never was intended to work on POP3 in the first place.)

Still: 150 petabytes of mail? I’m feeling better about my mere 900 meg.

Comments off




Splashdown

It really had to end this way: a jump between Kevin Martin and Patrick Beverley with a fraction of a second left, meaning nothing except to show that the chip on Beverley’s shoulder hadn’t shrunk. That’s fine. The kid will have the rest of May to fume, as the Rockets suffered the usual fate of #8 seeds: a first-round exit.

And that fate wasn’t at all certain: once again, Houston got an early lead, and once again, Oklahoma City came out for the third quarter breathing something other than actual air. You can’t blame the kid for being cocky; hell, those crazy Okies were putting Derek Fisher on James Harden, they must be desperate, right? And there’s the Beard, shooting 7-22, and there’s Fish, swiping the ball from him twice. They said Harden wasn’t feeling well, but Harden isn’t the kind of guy who makes excuses for things. Then there’s the Houston bench, which scored 11 points, or just about as many as, um, Derek Fisher. You had to figure that if Martin showed up, the Thunder might just wrap it up. “Remember me?” said K-Mart, knocking down 7-13 and eight consecutive free throws for 25 points. And the Thunder, thus fortified, did indeed wrap it up, 103-94, earning the honor, if such it be, of playing the second round against the much-scarier Memphis Grizzlies. Patrick Beverley wishes he were as badass as the Griz.

Still, the Rockets made a fight of it. Twenty-six points for Harden, 25 for Chandler Parsons, a nicely-balanced double-double (13 points, 13 rebounds) for Omer Asik, who just incidentally got to put up 12 foul shots. (He made seven, about his average.) It did not help that stalwart reserve Carlos Delfino had fractured his foot and was not available. And Beverley, while plenty busy, was not so effective this time around, shooting 4-11 and managing not a single assist. (The Rockets had only 16 dimes, and Harden and Francisco Garcia served up most of them.)

But let’s go back to Asik for a moment, who missed those five free throws. His teammates had six more clang away to no avail. That’s 11 points Houston gave away. (The Thunder put up only 16 free throws all night, but hit every last one of them.) When you lose by nine, you think about such things — when you’re not thinking “Wait ’til next year,” anyway.

Scott Brooks, it appears, is apparently capable of learning. Kendrick Perkins disappeared after four minutes, which allowed Nick Collison some actual playing time, which I have to believe helped Kevin Martin out of his slump; those two are downright deadly together. And while Kevin Durant had the game high of 27 points, he didn’t have to go play Hero Ball to get it; for once, everyone was playing at the same level, and it worked. Whether it will work against the Grizzlies — well, we start finding that out Sunday afternoon.

Comments (1)




It didn’t happen Today

I got a smidgen of traffic from the Today show, or at least their Web site, and the referring link didn’t explain what for, so I assumed it was to reproach me for mocking Kathie Lee and/or Hoda. Turned out that someone had wandered into their archives and found this two-year-old piece about World Naked Gardening Day, which quotes my eight-year-old post on the possible disadvantages thereof.

WNGD this year, incidentally, is tomorrow.

Comments off




Meanwhile last Tuesday

She’s added about 3800 since then:

Rebecca Black has one million followers on Twitter

I think I was #9200 or something like that.

Comments off




Find one good place to spend it

Last month, while mailing the 1040 and 511:

Last year I talked with a candidate for the state House, and let it be known that I was less interested in seeing the income-tax rate cut than I was in seeing the brackets broadened: I’m not so damnably wealthy, yet I’m always at the top marginal rate. (That rate, for 2012, was 5.25 percent; it kicks in at — get this — $8700.)

So much for my bracket:

HB 2032 would reduce the state’s top income tax rate, which most residents pay, to 5 percent from 5.25 percent effective Jan. 1, 2015.

[Rep. Scott] Martin [R-Norman] said about 62 percent of taxpayers would see a benefit by paying less in income taxes; none would see an increase.

Cutting the rate to 5 percent would save the average taxpayer about $88 per year and cost the state an estimated $130 million annually when fully implemented, Martin said.

This is pretty much a done deal — Mary Fallin is hot to sign some sort of tax cut, because hey, tax cut! — but I still question the propriety of having five out of every eight taxpayers in the top tax bracket.

And despite the fact that the State Capitol is now starting to look like the world’s largest abandoned Taco Bell, I’m not the only one who questions the propriety of shoving an appropriation to fix up the joint into a tax-cut measure:

“This bill has two topics in it,” said Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs. “It is going to the [state] Supreme Court. It is going to get thrown out.”

Is it possible that the Republican majority didn’t think of that?

Comments (2)




C:\Documents and Settings\Utter Despair

Consumer Reports (June ’13) dropped this little factoid into the middle of an article on securing one’s smartphone:

Software infections and scams still ravage home computers. Our survey suggests that 3.4 million users had to replace a computer last year because of infections.

Holy flurking schnitt.

What I want to know is this: How many of those 3.4 million users, after first attempting to disinfect a machine — which admittedly takes time and effort — simply said “Fark it, I’m buying a new one?” And does that truly count as “had to”?

(Note: Yes, it’s a Windows-related string up there. As Apple fanbois will happily inform us all, nobody attacks Macs.)

Comments (3)




All for a gigabuck

Oh, how the times have changed. From this week in 2009:

The operative word is “No,” as in “no raises, no new services and no new positions” in the proposed $839.6 million city budget for next year.

With the local economy sucking less these days, OKC will be getting a few more cops on the beat, a few improvements in services, and a few more pounds of asphalt pressed into the lumpy edges of May Avenue. And, of course, it will cost more: the FY 2014 city budget comes to $1.027 billion. Who’d have thought this little burg could spend a billion in a year? Then again, this little burg now has 600,000 people, up twenty thousand from the 2010 Census, and we are a demanding lot. Sometimes.

(The entire 600-plus-page Budget Book, as a PDF.)

Comments off




Quote of the week

However chilly it is down here in Baja Kansas, it’s just a hair worse in Minnesota, as James Lileks explains:

[A]ll of these fronts are coming from the south and the west. There isn’t anything sweeping down from Canada. We’re just in the path of this freakish insanity like the rest of the Midwest. The reason it rankles and galls has nothing to do with the length of the previous winter. It’s the fact that it’s consuming our ration of green.

The flowering trees are starting to sprout buds. The temps will not reach 60 until Monday.

Darth Weather has altered the deal, and we’re supposed to pray he does not alter it further.

In other news, it snowed today in Tulsa.

Comments (4)




If you’re looking for whole cloth

You should definitely read this story of Robert Stacy McCain’s, since it’s an incisive look at one example of one of the weirder phenomena of recent times: the imaginary hate crime, invented for inexplicable political reasons. And you should also read it because it’s staggeringly popular, according to Disqus:

Screenshot from The Other McCain

I figure, if this guy can get over a billion reactions to a single story, the very least you can do is hit his freaking tip jar.

Comments (3)




Darkness looms

About 7:20 yesterday evening, I was watching the cold front come in — one of the unalloyed joys of living in this neck of the woods is that you can actually see the fronts arrive, as the winds shift around and the tree limbs alter their trajectories — when the air was filled with the unmistakable sound of electrical equipment exploding, and electrical power on this side of the street was killed stone dead.

Now I’ve seen power outages here before, as recently as last week. But this one was different somehow, and not for any electrical reasons. I’m working on a story, and one of the characters has only just explained that he’s going briefly into seclusion, because he knows a panic attack is coming on, and he doesn’t want his lovely bride to witness him at his worst just yet.

Then all of a sudden I’m at my worst. I didn’t start that way, but when the first crew arrived and announced that they could handle part of the problem, but we’d have to wait for the boys from Dover for the heavy stuff, I became despondent. And when the second crew spent five minutes on the curb, then vanished into the darkness, I was just about ready to tear my hair out. From the inside.

I sent three tweets from my still-charged cell phone, each one a little more despairing. This was the last: “I suppose this is how I will die — alone in the dark and abandoned.”

Which, unfortunately, is very much in character, and not for that fictional character either.

Comments (6)




Pumped-up Kickstarters

Taylor was a backer of that Kickstarter to finance a new Veronica Mars movie, and apparently she’s caught some flak about it:

Are you really going to give Millionaire Kristen Bell thirty-five of your precious dollars over a starving child in Africa?

Okay, first of all, there are children starving on other continents, too. Like, I’m at least 20% sure of that. And secondly, yes. I am giving $35 to Millionaire Kristen Bell, because in exchange for those $35, she’s going to play my favorite character of all time in a movie that doesn’t exist yet. I’m going to get to see that movie, legally, on my laptop as soon as it premieres. And I also get a nifty t-shirt to show the people of the Universe that I like it when snarky teenagers solve crimes.

This is because Kickstarter is not a charity. I’m a Big Fan of these Creators, so I gave them my Money in Exchange for Goods and Services that only they can provide. To me, it was worth $35 to ensure that this movie will exist. Furthermore, if the movie had funded through the traditional model, I still would have probably purchased the movie ticket, the DVD, and the t-shirt — all of which would have added up to more than $35, easily.

For the record, no one has yet put such a question to me, despite the half-dozen Kickstarters (and a couple of projects funded along similar lines) on which I’ve spent Actual Money, but this is the stock response I have prepared:

“Actually, my charity of choice helps the mentally deficient cope with today’s complex society. How much did you say you needed?”

It’s almost as satisfying as “Sphincter says what?”

Comments (3)




Whatever Lola plays

Today we get (1) a decidedly attractive concert pianist (2) who is not Yuja Wang. Sprawled on the Steinway here is Lola Astanova, 28, who hails from Tashkent, and who debuted at Carnegie Hall in 2012:

Lola Astanova

On her YouTube channel, you’ll find this performance of the eleventh of Scriabin’s twelve études, Op. 8.

Australia’s Limelight magazine last year named Astanova one of the Top 10 Style Icons in Classical Music. Whether classical music should have Style Icons in the first place is open for discussion.

Comments (3)