Archive for December 2007


Looks like I’m not going anywhere for the next 42 hours or so.

Gwendolyn started today with what sounded like the crack of a whip, slowed down by a factor of three, and when shortly thereafter both Battery and Brake lights clicked on, the sound was identified: broken drive belt. Unfortunately, I was at 39th and Meridian when the lights appeared; I was able to get back home without incident, but obviously I’m not going to be doing any driving.

I was going to restock the pantry today. Not gonna happen. I’m not out of food, technically, but meal planning will be essentially random for the duration.

Current plan: have her towed in Monday morning. If it’s just the belt, and I suspect that it is, the fix is simple. This particular belt has only about 14,000 miles on it; however, the A/C compressor has been changed in the interim, and I have to wonder if maybe retensioning the belt at that time was hazardous to its health.

Update: I just clambered into the Forbidden Zone under the hood, and the belt looks to be more or less intact — which means that the alternator itself has probably seized up. Still a simple fix, though not so cheap.

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Generosity beyond the call of duty

GreenCanary offers assistance to an unnamed county in Maryland:

A representative from one of the area counties was discussing the effects of the projected population growth over the next ten years, focusing on infrastructure and the horrendous traffic that is the State of Maryland.

The speaker said that the amount of money the county pays PER COMMUTER per year, based on a 22.5 mile commute, was $185,000. This money goes toward road maintenance, construction, etc. I have a 110 mile commute, so that means that the county pays more than $904,000 a year just to maintain the roads upon which I, the maniac driving Canary, travel.

That being said, here is my Brilliant Idea: the county can PAY ME the $904,000 a year and I will STAY HOME. I won’t travel their precious roads. What’s more, I’d be willing to cut them a break and take, say, only $600K. It’s a win-win situation, y’all! They save money, traffic is reduced, there’s less wear-and-tear on highways, one more very bad driver is off of the road (thus making the world a safer place) and, best of all, I GET TO STAY HOME. But not only that, I’d make MORE money than I make now! A whole lotta more-a! Everyone’s happy!

I’ve driven through Maryland a few times in recent years, and the traffic is certainly as dreadful as she says, but I’m wondering just what county this is, that she can travel 55 miles and not leave it; counties in Maryland aren’t especially huge. Other than that minor quibble, I think this is a swell idea.

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Going back to the source

At Hershey, Pennsylvania in October, RM Auctions offered for sale a 1911 Selden Model 40R Varsity roadster. Expected to bring somewhere above $75,000, the Selden ultimately was sold for $220,000. I can’t help but think that at least part of this startling price premium was due to George Selden’s status as Inventor of the Automobile.

Yes, really. Or at least, so says US Patent No. 549,160 [link to PDF file], which was issued to Selden in 1895. He had in fact built a prototype as early as 1877, but hadn’t gone into actual production. In 1899 his plans became clearer: he teamed up with William C. Whitney, who was going to be building electric cars, with the intention of licensing automakers under that patent and collecting a five-percent royalty. In 1902 a group called the Manufacturers Mutual Association was formed to fight Selden, who had already filed several lawsuits against rivals; they negotiated with Selden, and eventually, as the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers, the group became his enforcement arm. As part of the deal, Selden cut the royalty to 1.25 percent, effectively making it cheaper to pay up rather than to fight it in court.

The one major holdout was Henry Ford, and he wasn’t intending to be a holdout: he duly applied to ALAM for a license, and was turned down, ostensibly because of his previous business failures. (Wikipedia says that the opposition came mostly from ALAM board member Frederic Smith of Olds Motor Works, who didn’t want Ford’s products competing with Lansing-built Oldsmobiles in the Detroit market.) Ford went into production anyway, and was promptly sued by ALAM; the suit dragged on for six years before a court upheld the Selden patent. Ford promptly appealed. The New York Times reported on 13 February 1910:

The veteran Detroit manufacturer considers the decision of a lower court upholding the validity of the Selden patent as far from final or conclusive, and he expects to carry on the contest to the highest tribunal in the nation.

“There will be no let-up in the legal fight, and I expect that ultimately the Supreme Court of the United States will hold that the Selden patent is not valid.”

The case never got to the Supremes; Ford was able to persuade an appellate court in 1911 that the patent as granted covered only vehicles with engines using the Brayton cycle, while Ford and other manufacturers were using the Otto cycle. ALAM chose to let the matter drop, perhaps because the Selden patent was due to expire in 1912 anyway.

Selden himself never produced any cars until he acquired a manufacturer in Buffalo in 1906. The first Selden cars, advertised as “Made by the Father of Them All,” appeared in 1907; about eight thousand were built before the company shifted its focus to trucks in 1914. The Varsity roadster had a 40-hp engine — some lesser Seldens had 30 hp — and sold for around $2000. (Ford’s Model T ran $850, dropping to $440 by 1915.) Only six of Selden’s cars still exist today; questionable patents, however, are all over the place.

Incidentally, in that same auction in Hershey, a 1911 Oldsmobile Limited 7-Passenger Touring Car, utterly unrestored — the original tires were literally crumbling — brought $1.65 million. The price included a set of new(er) tires.

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And just ice for all

No snow, no sleet: just ice. We’ve had fog for two and a half days, and eventually it started to freeze; at about the same time, the thunderboomers rolled in. So we’re in the uncomfortable position of getting a fair amount of rain, most of which will freeze before it reaches the ground, and it’s going to continue for much of today and most of tomorrow. Roads are reportedly not too horrid — yet.

Folks less bitter than I think of this sort of thing as God’s version of the 59th Street Bridge Song: “Slow down, you move too fast.” Whatever I feel, you may be certain it’s not groovy.

Update: So as to mock my presumption, the Weather Gods have gone ahead and dropped some sleet on us. Better for driving, anyway.

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A long and torturous path

As a public service, Rammer shows the way from Virginville to Intercourse.

Watch out for the Blue Ball signs as you approach US 322.

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Judge for yourself

Coming soon: Brawndo, the Thirst Mutilator. And yes, it’s got electrolytes.

No word on whether it will be available at Costco or Carl’s Jr.

(Via SpoutBlog.)

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I think my oil just changed

Motor Trend’s Arthur St. Antoine on the new Aston Martin DBS:

Imagine, if you will, a La Perla negligee that goes 191 mph.

I can’t even imagine the test drive.

(St. Antoine is also responsible for this Quote of the Week.)

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O blessed booze

Megan McArdle unpacks her copy of Douglas Adams’ The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and finds this forgotten inscription by her college boyfriend:

Remember, every time you do something stupid, it will leave a memory with which you will have to live for fifty years. This is the great advantage of drinking to excess: memory loss.

Followed by this instruction:

[reword to snappy epigram]

For some reason, this reminded me of an interchange in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:

Joel [Jim Carrey]: Is there any risk of brain damage?

Dr Mierzwiak [Tom Wilkinson]: Well, technically speaking, the operation is brain damage, but it’s on a par with a night of heavy drinking. Nothing you’ll miss.

Which, I think, makes a pretty snappy epigram all by itself.

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Strange search-engine queries (97)

This feature appears once a week, largely because in seven days I can usually accumulate about a dozen search strings worth mentioning here without too much difficulty. Let’s dip into the log and see what we can find…

Avoidance Avoidance complex:  I used to live in a complex like that. The rent was too high for the value received.

walt whitman song of myself subjectivity:  The subjectivity would intoxicate you so, but I shall not let it.

What sort of attitudes will attract boys:  I have no idea; I’ve never attracted any boys.

did woman in the 1600’s wear underwear:  She did if she wanted to attract boys.

kosher men’s penises:  I suppose this depends on how the men are killed.

what percent of lottery winners are usually back at their sucky life?  Probably close to 100 percent, since the vast majority of winners get tiny prizes like $5 or $10.

Burton Genuine Tongue Funeral:  Because who wants a counterfeit? And anyway, it’s “Tong.”

clinton lewinsky something-gate:  “Genuine Tongue” for some reason comes to mind.

how much can I download with 17,000 megabytes:  A lot more than you could without it.

what was the first year the bulldogs won the champing ships:  I honestly had no idea you could get ships to champ.

erotic big breasted ugly crone gallery:  The very definition of “different strokes for different folks.”

that weird woman who has a list of strange things people have typed into search engines:  You wouldn’t happen to have her phone number, would you?

do vegans give blowjobs:  Far as I know, they don’t allow meat in their mouths.

boyfriend’s penis tastes like latex:  Um, you’re doing it wrong.

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Time purchased

So I went out into the back yard to survey the damage, and there was a big chunk of elm tree sitting on the shed. No big deal, until I looked up and discovered the broken end of the branch actually leaning on the power line, which meant basically I had to move this section of frozen tree up and away to keep it from eventually snapping the line off.

There are maybe ten, twelve other places where the line still could give way, but I’m just glad I caught this one before anything could happen.

Going to work? Not even. Power’s completely off at 42nd and Treadmill.

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We’re not running out of ice

Not by any means. Here’s a look at what’s happening:

Tree damage

Normally, those two trees are about eighteen feet apart. Below, a tree across the street is seriously fragged.

Tree damage

I am not getting out to take more pictures if I can possibly help it.

Addendum: Vphotorob has a set of storm photos up on Flickr.

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Serious pest control

Why I’m glad my children are grown:

Teens across the area are constantly getting themselves into trouble. They are mischievous by nature, and fall down chimneys, get stuck in woodstoves and squeeze their way into places they shouldn’t be. We have removed teens from just about every part of the house at one point in time.

“It sounded like a party in my attic!”

“We were unknowingly running a bed and breakfast for teens!”

If you’ve made comments like these, you’re not alone. These are actual testimonials from people who’ve had their sanity restored after using our teen removal service.

While many people think teens are adorable, clever little creatures, homeowners know them to be destructive, dangerous, loud and annoyingly persistent pests. Teens can cause significant damage now and leave your home vulnerable to hazards later on.

Oh, wait. Did he say “teens”?

Scratch that:

I wrote [this] column by taking a squirrel removal service’s advertisement and replacing the word “squirrel” with the word “teen.” As the father of two teens, I can tell you it works surprisingly well.

Come to think of it, no child of mine has ever managed to get stuck in a woodstove.

(Via Bitter Bitch.)

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Worst. Outage. Ever.

OG&E says so:

Throughout the day Monday the number of customers left without power by the ice storm continued to rise to the point where it is now the worst disaster in the company’s history in terms of the number of customers affected — more than 235,000.

The company has about 755,000 customers at retail, which means that 31 percent of their customers are freezing in the dark.

Their current estimate for full restoration is “between 7 and 10 days,” which, considering the sheer massiveness of the storm, is possibly a shade optimistic, even with a thousand people working in the field. I’ve pretty much decided that if mine goes out, I’m going to think seriously about leaving town for a week. I’m not expecting it to, though: next door has about half a foot of tree-induced deflection in their line, and they’ve still got the lights on.

Update, 6:55 pm: Public Service Company of Oklahoma, says the Oklahoman, has about 200,000 customers with no power, mostly around Tulsa. PSO has 514,000 customers in the state.

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Theme with wild variations

Tomorrow night marks the premiere of Playwrights Horizons’ production of Doris to Darlene, a Cautionary Valentine, a new play by Jordan Harrison, directed by Les Waters. The premise:

Doris to Darlene, a Cautionary Valentine begins in the candy-colored 1960s, when a biracial schoolgirl named Doris (de’Adre Aziza) is molded into pop star Darlene by a whiz-kid record producer (Michael Crane) who culls a top-ten hit out of Richard Wagner’s Liebestod. Rewind to the candy-colored 1860s, where Wagner (David Chandler) is writing the melody that will become Darlene’s hit song. Fast-forward to the not-so-candy-colored present, where a teenager (Tobias Segal) obsesses over Darlene’s music — and his music teacher (Tom Nelis). Three dissonant decades merge into an unlikely harmony in this time-jumping pop fairy tale about the dreams and disasters behind one transcendent song.

Pictures and background here, though if you’re anything like me, what you want to know is what sort of pop tune can be coaxed out of Tristan und Isolde. Herewith the answer, though I will not be responsible for any reactions by Mad King Ludwig.

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Legalarity ensues

Anybody who’s read Fark for any length of time more than a handful of nanoseconds has seen the occasional link marked NSFW, which of course means “Not Safe for Work.” In fact, rather a lot of sites use some variation of this tag, which makes me wonder why it is that Head Farker Drew Curtis is attempting to trademark those four words in that sequence.

I assume by default that this is a gag, and Curtis will neither confirm nor deny:

1) Yes, we applied for it.

2) Can’t comment on the prank angle other than “stay tuned.”

3) Muhahaha.

On a whim, I checked the government’s trademark database, and apparently no one has yet registered “Duke sucks.”

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Morning report

Where things stand right about now:

  • Power is still on at Surlywood, though rather a lot of areas I passed through this morning are still dark. The rain is coming down fairly heavily, which is preferable to light freezing drizzle any day. Temperatures across most of the state are above freezing; there are still a few really warm areas down in the southeast, beyond the point where the cold front stalled.
  • Gwendolyn is up and running again; the alternator tested somewhere between Bad and Are You Kidding Me?
  • Still no electricity at 42nd and Treadmill, as of last I’d heard (about three hours ago).
  • I spent much of the early morning (before 7:30) trying to move tree limbs out of the street. I got my own breakage pulled back, and most of next door’s; however, the really massive branches are going to require industrial-strength assistance.
  • The entrance to the polling place was a solid sheet of ice. I spent about two and a half minutes trying to negotiate my way up the walk while grabbing the ice-covered bike rack; eventually a pollwatcher noticed my lack of progress and came outside with a rubber mat. I deposited ballot #35 at 10:50. As I was leaving, someone from building maintenance emerged with a bag of the Usual Sidewalk Substances.

Still to come: grocery shopping, damage assessment. I’m pretty sure one of the two chaste trees is done for; the baby sweetgum doesn’t look well but isn’t broken; the big elm out front is about 20 percent thinner. (The slightly-less-big elm next door broke off in the middle and should be scored as a kill.)

Update, 1:30 pm: Power problems at the supermarket: cash only, no plastic — not a problem — and no perishables, the display cases being nonfunctional, which could have been a problem. From 23rd to 122nd on May, about half the traffic lights are working. And OG&E briefly hit 300,000 on the Out-O-Meter before dropping back.

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Seattle SuperCynics

The Chicago Tribune’s Sam Smith is manifestly unimpressed:

The Bulls get to see the league’s brightest new prospect in Kevin Durant and the NBA’s most cynical organization, the Oklahoma City/Seattle SuperSonics, when they visit the United Center on Tuesday night. This is truly the one team in the NBA whose mission appears to be to lose games to further alienate its community and make relocating easier.

And that’s not all:

The joke around the NBA is Minnesota general manager Kevin McHale and Seattle GM Sam Presti are battling for executive of the year for building the Celtics and Magic.

That’s going to leave a couple of marks. Furthermore, says Smith, the Sonics’ crappy record is exactly what the front office wants:

Sources say [Rashard] Lewis even agreed before last season to a short-term extension of $25 million over two years, but it was not offered because the new ownership didn’t want to spend the money. After opting out of his contract and becoming a free agent, Lewis then said he was prepared to accept an offer from Presti, the new GM, but none came. Instead, [Ray] Allen was traded to the Celtics for spare parts and Lewis was let go for more detritus, all apparently in a not-so-transparent attempt to begin building a team for the next city.

The bottom line:

The sad part for the sake of competition is Seattle had the pieces in place and a reasonable payroll to have a terrific team this season. Instead, it chose a callous plan of surrender.

“Patience is a virtue in this league, to let a team mature,” Allen said. “But they wanted to have their own team and their own guys.”

And, we presume, their own, different city.

Color me disgruntled.

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America’s hottest bureaucrat

Nicole Nason

This is Nicole Nason, thirty-seven, the Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the past year and a half. A photo of her — not this one — appears in the Car and Driver 10Best issue (January) with the questionable caption RILF ALERT. The R is for “regulator,” I presume. And despite releases like this, which argues that fragile old people are more likely to be injured in accidents than the young and hearty, somehow she’s a lot less controversial than, oh, let’s say, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino.

I realize that this is something less than Breaking News, but the alternative item in the can was a bit about those ghastly Manolo Blahniks for Men, and I wasn’t about to look at them every day for the next week while they slowly move down the front page. Contrary to popular belief, even I have standards.

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Bonds, approved bonds

With about a sixth of the precincts in, all eleven of Oklahoma City’s bond propositions look like easy winners: the least popular, #11, which calls for the establishment of a fund for economic and community development, is drawing 76.4 percent approval, and some others are up in the 80s.

You might conclude from this that city government is actually considered credible these days, and believe me, if you were around here during the days when it wasn’t, you’d see this as a major improvement.

I thumbed through the 2007-08 budget book, which you probably don’t want to read because it’s a huge PDF (if you do, it’s here), and debt service comes to $54 million, about 7 percent of city expenditures. Briefly noted therein:

The Debt Service Fund is supported by property taxes. The tax rate or mill levy is based on the projected debt service requirements for the City and anticipated judgments. By State law, municipalities may only use property tax for debt service and operations. There is no limit on the level of debt service since all debt must be approved by the voters. The City Council has adopted an informal policy that the City will attempt to keep the mill levy for property tax at 16 mills. Although the mill levy has varied over the years based on the timing of new bond issues and growth in assessed values, the City has not exceeded the 16 mill rate in many years.

Current millage is in fact 15.95; the last time it was over 16 was 1993.

Turnout, owing to the weather, was even lighter than usual: maybe 5 percent, instead of the usual 8-12.

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Colored lights can hypnotize

Does this sound like anyone you know?

An informal poll of my US female friends revealed that they spend roughly $700 (£350) a month on what they consider standard obligatory beauty maintenance. That covers haircut, highlights, manicure, pedicure, waxing, tanning, make-up, facials, teeth whitening etc. They will spend a further $1,000 (£500) a month on physical conditioning such as military fitness, spinning sessions, vikram yoga, Pilates, deep-tissue sports massage, personal training etc. On top of that, add the occasional spa day, a week-long “bikini boot camp” in Mexico at the start of every summer and seasonal splurges on personal shoppers and clothing. I’m not sure any of my British female friends spends £700 during an entire year on her appearance. American women see these costs as a simple and sensible investment in their future.

I should point out here that this writer also writes screenplays, which means that (1) he’s likely hanging around Hollywood and (2) he thinks Hollywood is somehow representative of the rest of the world.

On the downside:

I don’t want you to think, though, that I believe American women have nothing to learn from British women. The irony is that, as obsessed as American women are with their looks, they totally ignore their social skills. Within 10 minutes of meeting an American woman, I guarantee you will know her salary and most recent medical/dental procedure. They all but turn up with their CV printed out. In return, they will immediately want to know “all” about you, ie, how much you earn, how much you have earned in the past, what your future earning potential is, whether you own property, whether you have an investment portfolio, where you shop, where you “vacation”, what you drive and how large your parents’ house is. I once got to the end of a date in New York, pulled out my credit card to pay and the girl solemnly remarked: “A green American Express card? I didn’t know they still made them in that colour.”

Then again, maybe he should have stayed in Hollywood. And my American Express card, by the way, is translucent.

(Via Dollymix, where editor Cate Sevilla “doesn’t spend $700 on her face a month. I guess that makes her frumpy.”)

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Speaking of elections

While Oklahoma City voters were approving a massive bond issue, that questionable tax vote for Northeast Tech Center, says Tyson Wynn, was put into the deep freeze:

I have it on good authority from John Wylie at the Oologah Lake Leader (which is also without power) that Mayes County Election Board was notified by NE Tech Center Board today that they have canceled the sneaky tax election scheduled for … Dec. 11. No new date has been set. Recent ice storms have left many counties with no or few polling places with power. Terri Thomas, Mayes County Election Board, said there were no polling places operational in Oologah, Owasso, or Inola and few in Claremore. Additionally, some precinct voters remain unable to leave their homes due to downed branches and/or power lines. Further, several election boards — including the State Election Board — had advised NE Tech Centers that the vote, if it had passed, would likely face legal challenges and be invalidated due to the lack of proper public notice.

And that would seem to be the end of that, for now. Meanwhile, the Edmond and Norman school districts saw their bond issues approved, and there will be a runoff in Oklahoma City’s Ward 7, where Skip Kelly got 49.9 percent of the vote. (It takes 50 to win outright.)

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Across town

OG&E is making some headway on the eastside, and now there is power at 42nd and Treadmill. There is also approximately one third of a tree occupying my parking space, but the chainsaw kittens have already been dispatched to address this matter.

There’s a bit of snow this morning, not enough to stick, but enough to elicit curses.

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Should we bury power lines?

Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Jeff Cloud says they will study the possibility of requiring underground electrical lines in the state:

We have had two storms of the century already this calendar year. Everybody is busy by doing what they need to do, and they are doing a great job in extremely difficult conditions.

But we cannot be the only state with above-ground lines that faces ice storms, so we are going to get together and start comparing notes about how other states do this.

I’m not sure what I think about this yet. Burying the lines will almost certainly reduce the incidence of outages, albeit at a steep price — and when there are outages, they might be harder to fix.

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Bold indeed

Nobody’s going to accuse Mike Huckabee of a lack of vision, by Gawd:

I think we ought to be out there talking about ways to reduce energy consumption and waste. And we ought to declare that we will be free of energy consumption in this country within a decade, bold as that is.

Beat that, you quivering lumps of Kyotoplasm. “Free of energy consumption.” Zero. I defy anyone to come up with a bolder plan than this.

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Tweaking the over/under

Ryan Welton caught this at a press conference:

At a news conference on Tuesday, OG&E spokesman Brian Alford said it would cost $1M a mile to bury power lines underground. Well, considering the bevy of line-damaging possibilities in the Sooner State, I say it’s money well spent. A solid infrastructure is what attracts business and draws talented people.

Alford said it just didn’t add up when the electric company does its cost-benefit analyses. I think he’d be surprised what Oklahomans would pay for in the name of real progress, although I think it would have to come with punitive damages against utilities for outages.

Right now I suspect the utilities are trying to figure out a way to recover the costs of restoration.

In the meantime, the Big Question remains unanswered. I was picking up a Gazette when a woman eastbound on 36th hailed me and asked “Do you have power?” And I drew a Google search today for “when the hell is oge going to get the power on”.

The guy next door had brought out the chainsaw and was hacking up the residue of his elm tree, which, on sober second thought, looks like it might survive after all. I helped him haul some stuff up over the curb; he came over and sliced up the two major limbs that had fallen off my elm, and we reasoned, with a bow to Arlo Guthrie, that one big pile was better than two little piles. We had to knock off for lack of light, but we got quite a bit done — he more than I, you may be sure — and now the only major debris in the street is down on the corner at the apartment complex.

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Nice and rough

Inasmuch as everything else you’re going to read about the late Ike Turner focuses on his seriously-dysfunctional relationship with Tina, I’m going to spend some time on the musical stuff, which starts in his late teens in the Mississippi delta with the founding of the Kings of Rhythm, who cut one of the contenders for First Rock and Roll Record in late 1950: “Rocket 88,” credited to Kings vocalist/sax player Jackie Brenston and his, um, “Delta Cats,” written by Turner, who played that amazingly-distorted guitar. Chess picked it up for national distribution and watched it become a jukebox staple. For the next several years the Kings toured and Ike played, in addition to guitar, the role of roving A&R man, looking for good tracks he could place with major R&B labels. Around 1958 the Kings took on a teenaged background vocalist from Tennessee named Annie Mae Bullock; in 1960, the scheduled singer having failed to show for the recording session, Annie did the lead on a new Ike tune called “A Fool in Love,” which was credited to “Ike and Tina Turner,” though the two didn’t actually wed until 1962, and the traveling troupe became the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.

Ike and Tina were major R&B stars into the 1970s. (Their backup singers, the Ikettes, made some good records of their own in the mid-Sixties.) After they split, her career eclipsed his, at least partly because he had some serious brushes with the law; the pair were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, but Ike, in jail on drug charges, did not attend the ceremony. (Tina, graciously, accepted for him.)

By 1993, Ike had cleaned up his act and gone back to what he’d always done best: playing those bluesy licks. And he kept on doing that right up until the end.

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Flaunting it, as it were

I actually felt a twinge before I read this:

I’m most angry at our neighbors across the street. Apparently, it’s just our side of the street that lost power — the other side is still warm and toasty and turning on their outdoor Christmas lights. I was furious at them for flaunting the fact that they have power while we’re skulking around our dark, cold house with flashlights, clad in black thermal underwear. I felt like a damn burglar, and wondered if ole Blinky Lights across the street might call 911 to report an intruder in our house. I dare them.

When I got home yesterday, it was about 5:25, and I pondered, briefly, if maybe it might be a trifle unseemly to crank up the lights for the night. The rationalization for doing so boiled down to “Well, everyone on this block has power, so it’s not like I’m showing off or anything.” Still, there but for the grace of God, yadda yadda yadda. Maybe I’ll start pulling the plug early or something.

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Jack bests Bill

Those of you who owned Commodore 64s will remember its BASIC implementation, which was provided by, um, Microsoft.

At the C64’s 25th Anniversary celebration, Commodore commander Jack Tramiel recalled his dealings with Bill Gates:

Doing business with Gates was decent, Tramiel said. “He came to see me, tried to sell me Basic and told me that I didn’t have to give him any money; all I had to give him was $3 per unit. I told him I was already married,” Tramiel said.

Tramiel instead told Gates he’d pay a flat fee of $25,000, rejecting the idea of paying $3 for each Commodore 64 sold. “In about six weeks, [Gates] came and took that $25,000. Since then, he did not speak to me,” Tramiel said.

Ultimately, the C64 moved about 30 million units, saving Jack Tramiel $89,975,000, most of which was apparently used to make the 1541 disk drive noisier.

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A prickly situation

The Nordic Battlegroup’s coat of arms shows a lion wielding a sword and an olive branch. Originally, it was obviously a male lion, but that would never do:

The armed forces agreed to emasculate the lion after a group of women from the rapid reaction force lodged a complaint to the European Court of Justice, Göteborgs-Posten reports.

This action, says the emblem’s designer, demonstrates a lack of historical perspective:

“The army lacks knowledge about heraldry. Once upon a time coats of arms containing lions without genitalia were given to those who betrayed the Crown,” said [Vladimir A.] Sagerlund.

I blame this cat. [Warning: Possibly-disturbing graphic.]

(Via Stanley Kurtz.)

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A heckuva record

I’m starting to think they should relocate FEMA permanently in Oklahoma, and this reinforces my belief:

This week’s winter storm has allowed Oklahoma to set an apparent, if dubious, national record — that for presidential disaster declarations for one state in a calendar year.

That’s right, folks: eight of ’em, with two and a half weeks left to go in 2007. Duh-worthy observation:

“Most states don’t usually have to endure that many disasters,” FEMA spokesman Earl Armstrong said.

Like I always say, the most perverse weather this side of Baffin Bay.

Yeah, we gripe about it. And then we clean up the mess and go back to work.

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The wheat/rye guy

A regular commenter around here for quite some time, and a blogger in his own right — and, sad to say, he may be leaving us:

During Drinking Right last night we got a call from Triticale’s wife.

She told us he is not doing very well. His Doctors only give him a few more days.

We offer our respect, best wishes and prayers.

No more can I add, except to do the same.

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You can’t watch this here

I have, as I see them, two options if I want to get DVDs of the Australian TV series Round the Twist:

  1. Order the Australian box set and find myself a DVD player that either (a) can handle Region 4 or (b) ignores region codes altogether;
  2. Order the British box set (about the same price) from, which is not region-coded but which reportedly has poorer visuals than the box from Oz.

The obvious choice would seem to be #1, since I have been known to seek out features from India; on the other hand, I’ve had no particular problem finding region-free DVDs of Bollywood fare. The DVD player in the PC will permit region changes, but only a few: the fifth one, you’re stuck with. (Which suggests a third alternative: are there DVD drives without region coding?)

Suggestions from the field are welcomed.

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Deck the floors with sounds of folly

The Roomba Family goes caroling, and you get to watch.

(A five-golden-rings link from Miss Cellania.)

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I can’t keep up

What I remember most about the old muscle-car era wasn’t the muscle, exactly. I mean, I had a Chevy Nova, but it wasn’t an SS. Hell, it wasn’t even an S. But it had a certain charm, based on the fact that you could pop the hood and identify just about every single part without trying hard; this was the era, as some auto scribe (possibly Patrick Bedard) once said, “when tires had been made fat enough to work, but before Star Wars ate the carburetor.”

I was reading a Nissan-oriented message board last night when I came across a phrase I’d never seen before: “electronically-controlled engine mount.” Say what? And does Gwendolyn have these things? I poked around a bit, and yes, she does:

The electronically controlled engine mounts take the advantage of fluid technology a step further than normal liquid-filled engine mounts. A 2-chamber mount works in conjunction with the engine’s Engine Control Module (ECM) to vary the volume of fluid in the mount, based on engine rpm. It does this by opening or closing a valve between two chambers inside the engine mount. At low rpm, the volume of fluid is increased to provide maximum damping. At higher rpm the volume is decreased, providing the firmness needed for optimum feedback to the driver.

Now when I was a kid, an engine mount was made out of solid rubber, with just enough steel to bolt it down. It never occurred to me that they’d fill them with liquid, let alone control that liquid with computer-controlled, electrically-powered valves. Geez, it was just last year I figured out what a dual-runner intake manifold was. (I have one of those too.)

This is not to say that I’d like to go back to those halcyon days of yesteryear, exactly; I’m not at all unhappy with having 200-plus horsepower and 20-plus miles per gallon, and brakes work a lot better now than they used to. But I’ve had to resign myself to the fact that I can’t fix much of anything on this darn car.

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To warm the cockles of your heart

Because who wants cold cockles?

Trini came back from lunch with some odd-looking cylinders, which proved to be Hillside’s Self-Heating Hot Cocoa. I didn’t ask why, if it was hot, it needed self-heating.

I did, however, examine the system. The can is very large, considering it holds only 9 ounces of product, but there’s something going on under the surface. The base of the can contains water and green dye; when you push the button on the base, the water is released, and it reacts with calcium oxide powder hidden in the can walls. You end up with calcium hydroxide and, this being an exothermic reaction, a whole lot of heat, which gets applied (at a safe distance) to the drinkable contents. (There are coffee and tea variants.)

After five to eight minutes, the stuff is supposed to be 70 degrees warmer than its environment, so I’m presuming I drank it at 140. Actually, I took a sip and said “Jeebus, this is hot!” Wait a moment, sip again, and hey, this stuff isn’t half bad. And it’s only two bucks a can at Wally World.

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An 80 percent chance of panic

Snow’s in the forecast, and suddenly Lawn Guyland doesn’t seem so far away:

You would think they’d never seen snow before the way they react when there’s a storm coming in. It’s a weird phenomenon that strikes whenever more than five inches of snow is predicted around here. People start acting as if they had lived in pure sunshine and heat the whole time. OMG! White stuff falling from the sky! We’re all gonna DIE! Please. You all drive Lincoln Navigators and Hummers with twelve-wheel drive. The town will clear the roads within 24 hours and your kids will be pelting the toddler across the street with snowballs within two.

I don’t know what everyone gets uptight about. And I certainly don’t know why they all feel the need to run to the grocery store as soon as Sam Champion says the word snow. It’s just a gut reaction in Long Islanders, I guess. HOLY SHIT! It’s going to SNOW! Gather the children! Man your posts! DEFCON ONE! And, like a sea of panicky lemmings, they drive en masse to their local delis and supermarkets and Dairy Barns, stocking up on milk and bread. Yes, milk and bread. It’s an interesting phenomenon and I’m not sure if it’s indigenous to Long Island, but it’s been around for as long as I can remember. There must be some forgotten urban legend that wove its way around the Island decades ago. A suburban family wakes one morning to find that it has snowed. The mom goes into the kitchen only to find that there is only a half quart of milk and two slices of bread left! The horror! The family screams, the kids cry, the mother frantically tries to pump milk out of her breasts even though she weaned the youngest eight years ago. And oh, irony of ironies, the deli just two blocks away has one gallon of fresh, whole milk left and one loaf of white bread on the shelf. If only there were some way to get two blocks away with having to trudge through the monster snow storm that dumped two inches of the white stuff all over town!

Hmmm. I’m just about out of Pop-Tarts.

And speaking of possible breakfast items, this sort of thing is bread and butter to the (M)ass Media:

Why is it earth shattering news that it’s freaking freezing outside? Is this something new? Are you touting some kind of bizarro world global unwarming theory?

IT’S WINTER. Say it with me. WIN-TER. You know, WINTER. That time of year in New York when temperatures plummet and white stuff falls from the sky and your car battery dies and the homeless are rounded up and thrown into shelters and the snot running out of some kid’s nose freezes to his face.

So I don’t get why you need to lead every damn news hour with the revelation that it is COLD and possibly snowing outside. As if this were some strange, new feeling for us. As if we never saw ice on our windshields or snow on the ground. You grab your camera crew and stand outside schools and offices and Home Depots and marvel at the people wearing hats and scarves and mittens because hey, we’ve never done that in New York before. No, we wear bikinis and speedos all year long. Jesus Harry Christ, people. Is this really breaking news? Do you realize that for the last ten winters in row, maybe more, you have started your nightly newscasts with stories about how to keep warm? Does this seem just a bit unnecessary to you? Granted, it’s not like we are living in the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field here, but we are kind of used to 15 degree days. It happens. It’s WINTER. We really don’t need some “expert” staring at us from the tv telling us to wear layers and eat a good breakfast and warm our cars up.

I think what bugs me most is that I know we’re a resilient bunch — you don’t spend any time out here on the Temporarily Non-Electric Range without developing something of a survival instinct — and yet television feels compelled to treat us like scared second-graders. Maybe it’s just because of the handful of alleged grownups who actually act like scared second-graders under these circumstances, and the unfortunate fact that in 21st-century America, wherever there is a stupid person, there will eventually be a smart lawyer trying to make money off him. The rest of us understand that we are the first line of defense against, well, anything, and we will act accordingly; we delegate that responsibility only when it’s clearly beyond our physical capacities or our technical skills. (I can’t rewire an electrical connection to save my life; but I can go out and snip low-hanging branches in the middle of the storm to reduce the weight on those tree limbs and make them less likely to come crashing to the ground.) If I’d spent those hours watching television, I’d probably be cowering in the corner somewhere, waiting for someone to save me. Jerry Mander called this one right:

If you decide to watch television, then there’s no choice but to accept the stream of electronic images as it comes. Since there is no way to stop the images, one merely gives over to them. More than this, one has to clear all channels of reception to allow them in more cleanly. Thinking only gets in the way.

And can we lose the “Storm of the Century” stuff? The life expectancy in this land is somewhere around 75 years: the odds are pretty damned good that you’re going to see at least one of them.

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Where are all the Wiis?

Still unmade, apparently, and it’s going to cost Nintendo dearly:

The unsated demand is costing Nintendo more than face. Estimates from industry analysts and retailers indicate that the company, which is based in Kyoto, Japan, is giving up $1 billion or more in sales in the ever-important holiday retail season, not including sales of games for those unbuilt consoles.

“It’s staggering,” said James Lin, senior analyst at the MDB Capital Group in Santa Monica, Calif., who estimates that Nintendo is leaving $1.3 billion on the table. “They could easily sell double what they’re selling.”

Nintendo professes to see no problem:

When it comes to its planning, Nintendo says it has not done anything wrong.

“We don’t feel like we’ve made any mistakes,” said George Harrison, senior vice president for marketing at Nintendo of America.

All things must pass, George: you need to be on this bandwagon while it’s still accelerating. And it is accelerating:

Nintendo sold 981,000 Wiis in the United States in November, its best month yet, while Microsoft sold 770,000 Xbox 360s, and Sony sold 466,000 PlayStation 3 consoles, the market research firm NPD Group said Thursday.

And availability in Britain is so spotty that Nintendo pulled all its UK advertising for the Wii.

I’m a firm believer in not flooding the market with hot products, lest you be caught with entire pallets full of returns, but demand for the Wii isn’t even coming close to slackening.

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It used to be a tree

Now it’s just “storm debris,” and Oklahoma City eventually will be removing it from the premises:

City residents can begin putting tree branches and limbs within 10 feet of their curb. Crews could begin picking up storm debris as early as December 19 — at no charge to citizens.

The City is hiring contractors to collect storm debris from residential curbsides. Crews will begin cleanup in the City’s core and work their way to the outlying areas. Each neighborhood will have two opportunities for pickup.

“If you don’t get your debris to the curb in time or it’s not all collected in the first round, please be patient,” City Manager Jim Couch said. “Crews will make another round.”

City officials estimate it may take several months to clean up all debris left by the ice storm.

Storm debris will not be collected with monthly bulk waste collection. Residents should keep their bulk waste separated from their storm debris.

“After the debris contractors have completed two rounds, bulk waste collection crews will pick up storm debris on the monthly collection days,” Solid Waste Manager Jim Linn said.

The city’s Public Information Office has posted this collection of winter-related material, from which the above was excerpted.

About 85 percent of my debris is stacked and ready.

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We’re number three!

This has potential: Chrysler, the perennial third-place American automaker, and Nissan, Japan’s number three, may be putting their heads together for new vehicles, though there’s no indication that any equity will be exchanged. Nissan presumably will be wanting to tap Chrysler’s Dodge division for truck ideas, while Chrysler is in desperate need of competitive small cars, where Nissan has always been a player, if seldom the market leader.

One suggestion from this corner: the Nissan Teana, the J31 midsize sedan sold as a Maxima in some non-US markets, might make a nice-looking Dodge. The Teana has a suitably blunt front, a grille adaptable to Dodge’s crossbars, and it doesn’t look anything like Chrysler’s Sebring (or all that much like the American Maxima). Nissan fits this with either a 2.3-liter inline-4 or the ubiquitous VQ-series V-6.

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Ohio is so screwed

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