Archive for October 2015

Sing along with ditch

The Z Man on “realism” as we know and hate it:

When artists, writers, singers, poets and so on were looking up, everyone looked up with them. When they started looking down, everyone’s eyes followed to the point where we search the gutter for the right metaphor to describe our existence.

On the other hand, art is a reflection of the culture that produces it so the decline of the West preceded the decline in the arts. 150 years ago there was no audience for talking about your bowel movements whilst smearing yourself with pudding. People had more dignity. They also had a reason to look up, at least they thought they did. Now all they see is nothing so I suppose it makes sense to look down. At least there’s something to look at, even if [it’s] just their reflection.

You can’t go around looking up these days. People will think you’re weird — or worse, praying, and we can’t have that sort of thing going on in public.

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Dystargeted marketing

This was waiting for me on TweetDeck yesterday morning:

Follow message from @yawn

I have to admit, they do have a pretty nice product line of nightwear for women, though I really can’t imagine any circumstances under which I’d buy any, being (1) not a woman and (2) disinclined to wear anything to bed for the last half-century or so.

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Hashing it out

The US Geological Survey has a new and unlikely partner in earthquake spotting: Twitter. Yes, really:

Did you first hear about the devastating earthquake that struck Sichuan on Twitter? You’d be surprised at how many did, as the social-media platform was actually faster at reporting the earthquake than the US government organization tasked with monitoring such events.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) has 2,000 earthquake sensors but the vast majority of these are based in the US. This limits the USGS’ ability to monitor earthquakes in the rest of the world. To cover its blind spots, USGS has teamed up with Twitter.

Millions of people use Twitter to report earthquakes, but the data needs to be fine-tuned for it to be useful. USGS analyzed these tweets and found that those tweeting about earthquakes kept their tweets short. They also realized that those tweeting links were less likely to be users experiencing the earthquake firsthand.

And they’re getting good at it, too:

It only took one minute and 20 seconds — from just 14 tweets — to be alerted of an earthquake aftershock in Chile.

In 2014, the USGS was alerted to the earthquake in Napa, California in 29 seconds using Twitter data.

And I rely on Twitter myself in these instances, since I haven’t actually felt one since the big 5.6 back in 2011.

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Redmond, destroyer of browsers

Once again, Microsoft is killing off old versions of Internet Explorer:

Beginning January 12, 2016, only the current version of Internet Explorer available for a supported operating system will receive technical support and security updates. Microsoft recommends that customers running older versions of Internet Explorer upgrade to the most recent version, which is Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10.

This does not mean that the last dozen or so Vista users on earth have to upgrade — IE 9 is still supported on Vista if you have Service Pack 2 — but you’re still going to be urged to get Win10 and Edge.

The sysadmin, informed of this, muttered a deep imprecation against those neo-Luddites still using IE 8.

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Absence of matriculation

Rebecca Black in the studio

It appears that high-school graduate Rebecca Black has told her mom (and 1.2 million YouTube subscribers) that she’s putting college on hold for now while she tries to grab the brass ring once more. Ordinarily I would shake my head and sigh, but it occurs to me that she might well think her window of opportunity won’t stay open very long, considering that most everyone still thinks of her as the 13-year-old who sang songs about days of the week, even though that’s so five years ago.

So we watch and wait, and watch some more.

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A long way from Constantinople

Istanbul’s Fenerbahçe club, one of the pacesetters in the Euroleague, actually beat an NBA team for the first time this week, defeating the Nets 101-96 in Brooklyn. The Thunder would not be so easy: the Turks played them fairly close for a few minutes, but Oklahoma City simply had too much firepower and too much defense, holding Fenerbahçe well below 40 percent shooting most of the night and collecting a 111-81 win at the ‘Peake. (This is the second time these teams have met: two years ago the Thunder were victorious in Istanbul.) Doesn’t count for anything, being as how it was a preseason game, but the home crowd had some fun, and by the time I tuned in, radio guy Matt Pinto had mastered all the visitors’ pronunciations.

The time I tuned in, incidentally, was midway through the third quarter, and there’s a reason for that: I was watching Invisible Sister on the Disney Channel, and while Disney has no qualms about reruns, the first one on the schedule lands right on top of the next episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I figured nobody would mind a whole lot, being as how it was a preseason game.

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The traveling salesman

He said he was trying to put his life back together. I had my doubts. And it turns out, I had good reason to.

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The deader zone

My office at 42nd and Treadmill, festooned as it is with forty-odd years’ worth of wiring, some of which might not actually connect anything anymore, is utterly immune to T-Mobile’s cell signal, despite being within two and a half miles of an Interstate. The only GSM carrier that gets through is AT&T, and I surmise it’s because there’s a tower only a couple of blocks away that probably belongs to them and them alone. Meanwhile, I lament:

I’d be happy to get a consistent bar and a half from my desk at work, and speed be damned.

Now I’m assuming I’m reading the display correctly: there’s this antenna-shaped thing at the far end, and then one to four bars off to the right to indicate signal strength. Once in a very blue moon I get an actual bar, and I can remember an incident in which I had two bars, simply because it was the only time it ever happened. As a rule, I keep the phone off at work, not so much because I need to look busy, but because when it’s searching for its home network, it uses about three times as much battery. So when I was preparing to leave the shop yesterday, I fished the phone out of my bag and turned it on.

And stared in disbelief. Usually there’s a “Searching…” message on the phone until such time as it actually connects, and a three-bar display which I assume is actually AT&T’s network on the same frequency band. This time, no message, and there was one bar — to the left of the antenna-shaped thing.

Ladies and germs, for the first time in my life, I have had Minus One Bar. If it’s possible to have worse coverage than that, it probably requires leaving the troposphere. Still, as always, by the time I made it out to the parking lot, I was up to the usual two-bar minimum.

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When things go insufficiently wrong

“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” — Niels Bohr

The scene: the New Balance factory store in Edmond, just before Labor Day. As you may remember, I wound up needing a pair of 928s in the unheard-of size of 14 EEEEEE, which is a lot of damn E’s. Not surprisingly, not in stock. She turned to the terminal, asked for a ship date, and then said:

“Officially, it says here the fifth of October. I think it will be more like the end of October.”

The voice of bitter experience. I shrugged, said that would be fine, here’s my number, so call me maybe when they come in.

They arrived at the store on the seventh, which means they probably shipped on the, um, fifth. I chose not to bring this up, inasmuch as the clerk in question had the day off yesterday when I picked them up.

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Beyond that early hype

At least some of Yuja Wang’s early fame derived from sartorial as well as musical choices. By now, the flap over what she might be wearing has given way to more serious concerns: what she might be playing. Which is not to say that she shuns the limelight or anything:

Yuja Wang on the cover of Tatler 10-15

This cover photo fascinates me, perhaps because of her enigmatic facial expression: I can’t tell if she’s truly relaxed, or if she’s feigning it just to get the photoshoot over with. (Then again, my ability to read women’s faces and/or body language is decidedly below average.) I’ve always suspected that, for her anyway, periods of relaxation and periods of ferocity tend to be interspersed at irregular intervals:

Yuja Wang kicks back in a Calgary park

Yuja Wang versus the piano

Yuja Wang’s most recent recording, being chased out the door even as we speak, is a pairing of the two piano concertos by Maurice Ravel, the jazzy G Major and the slightly more sombre D Major, written for the left hand only. Deutsche Grammophon is promoting it thusly:

I shall have this recording shortly.

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Lazarus edition

The announcement came out in 2014: the last model year for Volkswagen’s Eos convertible would be 2015, and VW of America duly readied a loaded Final Edition model to give the model a proper sendoff. I do hope none of the buyers see the new 2016 Eos:

Volkswagen extended production of the Eos from May to November of this year. As part of that, parent Volkswagen shopped the Eos around to all its regional children looking for hand raisers to take a limited run of 2016s.

VWoA accepted, probably because the mothership was willing to give them $4000 off the price of, um, last year’s. (The Canadian branch, however, turned it down.)

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Quote of the week

Daniel Greenfield, on why utopias don’t exist and can’t exist:

Governments are not religions and no political movement can place its pet philosopher in place of God. No man can demand more of other men. Only God can demand the impossible because He can also grant the impossible. No political system can forgive. It can only amass more guilt and sin, more hatred and self-hatred, more madness and destruction. Human beings cannot exceed themselves.

A healthy idealism aspires to a more human state of living. It does not demand absolutes. An idealism that demands absolutes is a trap. It is easy to tell the difference between the two.

Human ideals feel better about themselves as they improve. Inhuman ones feel worse because the ideal is never meant to be reached. An irreligious absolute offers no redemption. Instead the failure to do the impossible becomes the means of breaking people of their human qualities and making them into monsters.

We can only achieve human terms of existence for nations and peoples by accepting our flaws. Perfection is as impossible for a people as it is for a person. And within our flaws, we create an existence that is not based on the collective impossibilities of an ideal, but on the realizable goodness of our human flaws. Instead of seeking to create a perfect state, we individually become better people. Instead of the tyranny of idealism creating monsters, we give ourselves the freedom to be human beings.

Instead of building suicidal ideal states, we create societies in which we have the freedom to be good while refusing to lapse into a self-hatred borne of frustrated idealism which prevents us from seeing the goodness of our fellow men and the evil of our enemies.

The Founders were acutely aware of this kind of nonsense, which is why they blessed us with what is today derisively called “gridlock,” a means for punching necessary holes in idealistic bubbles.

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Employee number one

Al Abrams, who died last week at 74, was just a kid, and a white kid at that, when Berry Gordy Jr. hired him for the nascent Motown machine, and the circumstances are so, so Motownish:

A big fan of the R&B records of the day, Abrams pestered Gordy for a job promoting his music before Motown was even formed. Gordy said he would hire him if he could get a record on Zelman, a vanity label that pressed records for anyone who would pay them $100, played on the radio. Abrams took the challenge, taking the record to a remote by station WCHB and pestering the DJ until he relented and played it on his show. Gordy heard the record being played and made good on his word, hiring Abrams.

And WCHB, despite being a 1-kw daytimer in those days, had clout: it was the major black-owned radio outlet in metro Detroit. So Gordy wasn’t about to try to blow the kid off.

Abrams also apparently invented the slogan “The Sound of Young America,” and manufactured a bogus Dylan quote about Smokey Robinson being “America’s greatest living poet.” Even if Dylan didn’t say it, though, Abrams may well have believed it:

During a Motown tour through the Southern United States, [Nancy Abrams] said, Smokey Robinson of the Miracles came to visit Mr. Abrams at a hotel where blacks were not allowed to stay.

The hotel manager was tipped off, came to Mr. Abrams’s door and asked if a black person was in his room, Nancy Abrams recalled. He replied that it wasn’t “a black person,” it was Smokey Robinson, and both men were kicked out.

“Al went back with Smokey and stayed in the black boardinghouse,” she said. “After that, he never stayed in a hotel again.”

Abrams moved on in the late Sixties, working briefly with Motown expats Holland-Dozier-Holland, and setting up his own PR firm. He was diagnosed with cancer in September; by then, unfortunately, it was too late.

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Meanwhile on the Front Range

Fort Collins, the fourth-largest city in Colorado (population 150,000 or so), is contemplating the possibility that the presence of topless women in public will not be the end of the world as we know it:

Following a request from a group of citizens, city officials said they are considering updating the existing public nudity ordinance, which currently does not allow women to be topless in public.

On Oct. 20, the city council will consider two updates to the ordinance: Maintain the current policy that does not allow for women to be topless in public except for breastfeeding mothers, or allow women to be topless in public.

The ordinance still would prohibit any nudity from the waist down by anyone 10 years old and older. Exceptions include medical emergencies, performance venues and changing areas.

Shirtless guys, of course, will continue to go unmonitored by the law no matter what.

(Via Felicity Jones.)

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Ending the period of mourning

The sad story — okay, it’s not that sad — begins this way:

My mom’s iPad recently cratered. It wasn’t a huge deal, since it was a hand-me-down of my 1st generation model, and I replaced it with another hand-me-down of my 2nd gen tablet.

At least this keeps the supply lines clear. But what to do with the corpse?

I was able to coax it to life just long enough to wipe it clean and destroy the SIM chip, and I planned to drop it off in the dead electronics box at Best Buy for recycling. But then I had a brilliant thought: “what do guys do when their stuff breaks beyond repair?” The answer is pretty obvious. They shoot it!

And so he shot it. Gory details — okay, they’re not that gory — at the link.

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More news for parrots

Apparently the birds don’t trust us anymore, at least in some parts of New York state:

I blame all the ne’er-do-wells who stand there cooing at the cage: “Can you talk? Can you talk?” Just once, I want to hear the bird snap back: “Yes, I can talk. Can you fly?”

“Rotterdam,” incidentally, represents a first-of-November curse: “My sister stole all my Halloween candy, and I hope it’ll Rotterdam teeth out.”

(Via Steve Lackmeyer.)

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Beyond vision

By any reasonable reckoning, Invisible Sister, the Disney Channel original movie that debuted last Friday, should not have worked at all: they licensed the title of a book and didn’t use any of it; the setup is pure adolescent angst; the “science” is hokey at best; and you wouldn’t believe how many dei can be plucked from a single machina.

Still, I had to watch it, the Invisible Girl having occupied a place in the wackier section of my brain ever since I failed to see one at the age of seven. And I wasn’t that hopeful: younger sister Cleo, desperate to come up with a new science project after being told half a dozen classmates were already doing the same thing, is forced into a rush job, on a night when older sister Molly is partying hearty with her friends — while the parental units are away. How contrived is this? Short version: Cleo’s experiment, complete with test tubes full of mysterious substances, fails spectacularly, and quite inadvertently, Molly comes into contact with some quantity of a random mixture.

Molly and Cleo, kinda sorta

The next morning, of course, is Pure Chaos, and Molly, who has classes to attend (her grades are only so-so), social obligations to fulfill, and a lacrosse match in the afternoon, prevails upon Cleo to do something unheard of anywhere outside YA novels: “Be me. Just for today.” It’s Halloween, she’ll be in costume; nobody will ever know. Cleo, your standard-issue Girl Genius, doesn’t believe a word of this, but Molly is nothing if not persuasive.

What sells this, I think, is not so much the plot, which gets thinner and less plausible the farther it goes, or the special effects, which are good enough without being spectacular, but the fact that the sisters’ mutual resentment is utterly believable to anyone who’s ever had a sibling, and stars Paris Berelc and Rowan Blanchard play it for all it’s worth. (Cleo, I think, got the worst of it, simply by having to sit in on her sister’s life.) And by the time they’d had it out with one another once and for all — late at night in a New Orleans cemetery, of all places — they’d won me over. And minor details that would normally have provoked snark — if this is supposed to be New Orleans, it’s the whitest New Orleans that’s ever existed — ceased to matter at that point.

This being a Disney film, everyone lives happily ever after, except for whoever has to clean up the set afterwards. And really, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Yes, it’s tweenage material, polished to a high commercial gloss; but I’ve never been too proud to read YA stories, and I’m not going to start now.

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Strange search-engine queries (506)

Granted: Christopher Columbus was something of an asshole. Still, we have this holiday, not so much to honor said asshole, but because the sort of people who always get lots of holidays couldn’t bear to go from all the way from Labor Day to Thanksgiving without a break. I have to work today, so I remain utterly indifferent to such matters.

what happens if you bite your tongue and hold your breath:  You’re being a good Republican, according to your party’s officials.

Mammoth cafe phone number catalytic converters:  Dial 1-800-AGHAST.

suicide prevention week 6-12 september we all need prayer right now. if i don’t see your name:  You may presume that you’ve been written out of the will.

although she tends not to make her presence felt when she’s in the chamber:  We told you not to vote for The Ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt, but you didn’t listen, did you?

windows 10 spinning circle:  This is for all you people who complained about the hourglass in Windows 95.

woman wanted a 64 inch backside:  Unrequited love for Sir Mix-A-Lot, perhaps.

run up an alley and holler fish:  And chips, or they won’t listen.

god burns down equestria for insurance money:  This has to be one of Prince Bluebood’s schemes.

rectal exam meme:  All your polyps are belong to us.

put your ass on the line:  How else can we conduct this rectal exam?

they all looked so damn happy:  They weren’t scheduled for rectal exams.

pharmville:  Finally, a Facebook game where you get to sell drugs.

if he only wants your breasts legs and thighs send him to kfc lyrics:  Still trying to find a rhyme for “extra crispy.”

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Weird sounds above your head

This is indeed a “strange collection”:

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I worked for Kmart behind the service desk and the store played specific pre-recorded cassettes issued by corporate. This was background music, or perhaps you could call it elevator music. Anyways, I saved these tapes from the trash during this period and this video shows you my extensive, odd collection.

The one tape I listened to, dated October 1989, contained music far too perky for the old “beautiful music” FM-radio format but too soporific for “adult contemporary,” plus plenty of invocations of the holy name of Martha Stewart and the occasional all-purpose public-service announcement.

The sound is definitely lacking in high end, though I couldn’t tell you whether this was intentional or a by-product of being played to death for a month:

[T]hey ran for 14 hours a day, 7 days a week on auto-reverse. If you do the math assuming that each tape is 30 minutes per side, that’s over 800 passes over a tape head each month.

And not all stores, it appears, got the same quality audio equipment.

In 1993, Kmart switched to satellite delivery, creating the possibility for more variety and reducing the possibility of some guy taking the stuff home for archival purposes.

(Via Chart Attack.)

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Henpecking order

From bitter experience, Sheri49 explains the operations of her local Homeowners’ Association:

There is one Exalted Ruler. His word is final. His court consists of a Vice-Exalted Ruler, a Secretary who must meet stringent illiteracy requirements, a Treasurer who is actually sort of intelligent but whose job entails deferring to the Exalted Ruler’s stupidity, and lastly, a “Member-At-Large” (MAL). Currently there is no MAL at Hideola Estates. No one wants to be the caboose on the Moron Train. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Hey, what if they meet and vote on something and there’s like, 2 of them for it, and two of them against it … two yays and two neighs?” (Yays and neighs are how we write here in Hideola Estates, as you will learn below.) Good point. In that event, the group would defer to the time-honored flipping of the coin method to resolve the tie. There is nothing wrong with leaving owners’ fates and their valuable homes to the whim of a coin toss. If no coin can be found to flip, then someone makes a motion to do whatever will cause Sheri49 the most harm and that is the final word on the matter.

You should not at all be surprised to hear that a fiefdom of this sort would have an individual dedicated to the exaltation of vice. (Yes, I stole this from the Beverly Hillbillies. Sue me.)

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Because you gotta have heart

This strikes me as almost certainly a Good Thing:

The National Basketball Players Association is working on a program that would fund cardiac screening and supplemental health insurance for its retired players, an initiative expedited by the recent sudden deaths of legends Darryl Dawkins and Moses Malone.

The joint effort between union executive director Michele Roberts and NBA commissioner Adam Silver — at a time when there still may be potentially acrimonious labor negotiations looming for their sides — is intended to ease the health concerns of its retired players.

And there are plenty of concerns:

The good-faith actions of current players were welcome news to retired veterans who have been rattled by the spate of cardiac-related deaths. Although there is no concrete data linking basketball players who are large in stature to early death from cardiac distress, the prevailing opinion among many former NBA stars is there has to be a correlation.

“It’s too close to home,” former star center Bob Lanier said. “It’s the topic nobody wants to address. How many people have we seen in our lifetime who are big and really tall and are 70-something years old? Not many. That’s because people [my size] don’t live that long.

“I know things are evolving. People are taking better care of themselves. They exercise, they watch their nutrition, they try to limit the stress in their lives. I do all of those things. But we’re still losing guys younger than we should.”

Lanier is 67; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is 68. I’d hate to lose either of these guys any time soon.

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The old Palmetto Soak

The US Geological Survey takes some questions about the “1000-year” flood in South Carolina — well, technically, no, it wasn’t any such thing — and even deals with the one most beloved by illiterate news media:

Is this flood due to climate change?

USGS research has shown no linkage between flooding (either increases or decreases) and the increase in greenhouse gases. Essentially, from USGS long-term streamgage data for sites across the country with no regulation or other changes to the watershed that could influence the streamflow, the data shows no systematic increases in flooding through time.

A much bigger impact on flooding, though, is land use change. Without proper mitigation, urbanization of watersheds increases flooding. Moreover, encroachment into the floodplain by homes and businesses leads to greater economic losses and potential loss of life, with more encroachment leading to greater losses.

And as a species, we’re not exactly well known for proper mitigation.

(Via Fark.)

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Blade aside

Weary of the same old razor? How about a frickin’ laser?

Meet 21st century shaving: no razor burn or accidental cuts — and laser-powered, if the inventors of The Skarp Razor have anything to do with it. The device looks much like a regular handheld razor but uses a laser, instead of a blade, to slice through your hair sans soap or water.

Co-founded by Paul Binun and Morgan Gustavsson MBBS, a veteran of the cosmetic and dermatological laser industry, Skarp works by targeting a chromophore — a molecule that absorbs light — in the hair that breaks when hit with a particular wavelength of light, severing the hair. (And the inventors’ expertise might make the device less likely to crash and burn than other high-tech Kickstarter projects.)

Did I mention Kickstarter? Yes. They’d hoped to raise $160,000. As of this week, the last for the fundraiser, they had nearly $4 million in the kitty.

Unlike some previous attempts, Skarp seems to be unaffected by color variations in hair or in skin.

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Before there were celebrities

The Z Man is back from the rodeo, and it wasn’t his first rodeo, either:

For most of human history, entertainments were relatively cheap. Entertainers lived on the fringes of society and made very modest livings. Maybe the showman who owned the circus or traveling act made a good living, but the performers did not. Running away to join the circus was not a move up, it was giving up. If you could not hack it in normal life you ended up as the bearded lady in the circus.

Contrast that to today where we venerate knuckleheads with the IQ of a goldfish and shower them with millions. In order to do that the cost of entertainment has skyrocketed. I was at the Dallas Cowboys game on Sunday and the prices are staggering. Cheap seats are $500 just to get in the door. The facility, which is incredible, is simply a massive platform from which to sell you stuff.

Well, yeah, those knuckleheads cost serious money:

Everything has a sponsor. “This hot dog concession stand brought to you by AT&T” is the sort of thing that makes me think the Catholics were right about cupidity being a mortal sin. Every square inch of the Cowboy facility has a sponsor attached to it and almost every square inch is for the purpose of moving product of some sort. You keep wondering, “Don’t they have enough?”

The economy has changed. We don’t make things anymore. Now we kill time and try to turn a profit on it.

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Separation of text and footnote

Actually, Roberta X’s footnotes are better than some people’s articles, and I single out this one for both economy and precision:

The American Revolution can be cast as a kind of dialogue between the Enlightenment/Age of Reason ideas that pushed it and the Great Awakenings that bookended it. From that angle, the Establishment Clause of [the] First Amendment represents a brilliantly common goal: neither party was desirous of a State church. Thus the United States was explicitly made a safe place for believers and nonbelievers of every stripe. This is a delicate balance and has been maintained with varying degrees of elegance and civility though the years. We should fear any politician who feels a mandate to Do Good — especially if he or she believes it was granted by Divine authority.

Not bad for a little over 100 words, if I say so myself, and I do so say.

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Zooeypalooza 23!

Yes, it’s been too long since we did a proper Zooeypalooza. (I am actually getting queries about it.) And so, without (much) further ado:

Zooeypalooza 23!

Embiggenment comes with clickage.

Paloozas previously: ZP 1, ZP 2, ZP 3, ZP 4, ZP 5, ZP 6, ZP 7, ZP 8, ZP 9, ZP 10, ZP 11, ZP 12, ZP 13, ZP 14, ZP 15, ZP 16, ZP 17, ZP 18, ZP 19, ZP 20, ZP 21, ZP 22.

Neither Zooey nor husband Jacob Pechenik has yet divulged the name of their daughter, born in late summer.

Update, 20 October: She has a name, and it’s Elsie Otter.

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Big D X’ed in T-town

This, of course, is a preseason game, and the Dallas Mavericks were not at full strength — Dirk didn’t make the trip, and Chandler Parsons was unwell, just to name a couple — but the Mavs hung tough and took a three-point lead in the fourth quarter. We’ve all seen preseason games where this was considered No Big Deal. Billy Donovan begs to differ. The Thunder, down three, went on a 19-2 run to take it away from the Mavs, prompting Rick Carlisle to bring on the new kids for the last few minutes. The Thunder got their third straight non-counting win, 100-88, in front of a very full BOk Center. Downside: Enes Kanter, after a double-double (17 points/11 rebounds), messed up his ankle and did not return. Next outing: Friday in Memphis.

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You leave our revenue stream alone

Is anyone truly surprised at this?

Fixed, a mobile app that fights parking tickets and other traffic citations on users’ behalf, has had its parking ticket operations blocked in three of its top cities, San Francisco, Oakland and L.A. after the cities increased the measures they were taking to block Fixed from accessing their parking ticket websites.

Quelle surprise. How was this supposed to work, anyway?

Using its app, Fixed customers could snap a photo of their parking ticket using their phone’s camera, and then Fixed would check against a variety of common errors before writing a customized letter to the city on the user’s behalf. The app also cleverly tapped into Google Street View to check to see if the city had the proper signage in place in the area a ticket was received … Founder David Hegarty once noted that over half of tickets have an issue that would make them invalid.

And we can’t have that, can we? You might assume that cooperation from municipalities would be marginal at best, and you would be correct:

[T]he cities haven’t been welcoming to an app that was aimed at helping locals not pay their tickets by automating the process of jumping through legal loopholes. When Fixed began faxing its submissions to [San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency] last year, the agency emailed the startup to stop using their fax machine. When Fixed pointed out that it was legal to do so, the agency simply shut off their fax.

Things escalated after that, but Fixed has finally thrown in the towel — at least in those three cities. Other Fixed functions continue, for now.

(Via @fussfactory.)

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Laser less frickin’

Well, this is awkward. That Kickstarter for the laser-powered razor? Kicked to the curb for a rule violation:

A crowdfunding campaign for a razor blade which its US creators claimed could remove facial hair with a laser beam has been suspended by Kickstarter.

The device had attracted more than $4m (£2.6m) in funding — but reportedly did not have a working model.

Backers received an email from Kickstarter saying the Laser Razor was “in violation of our rule requiring working prototypes of physical products that are offered as rewards”.

Apparently undaunted, Skarp Technologies, the manufacturer, moved its campaign over to Indiegogo, where it took in $40,000 in four hours. Backer rewards seem to be about the same.

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We’re surrounded

As a survivor of quadraphonics, four decades ago, I can certainly relate to this:

Seems there are two common audio standards. One is known as 2.0 and the other is known as 5.1. If you have an older system like mine, 5.1 doesn’t work, you need to use 2.0. The language selection menu on the DVD offers four selections (as noted above). English 2 is the only one that uses 2.0, the others all use 5.1, which sort of explains why English 2 is the only one that would give us any dialog last night. Well, that’s nice to know, but it doesn’t really help. So I look at the DVD player menu, which is different than the menu that comes from the DVD. I poke around and finally find the HDMI audio switch that controls whether the audio is sent out to the TV or not. The TV is connected to the DVD player with an HDMI cable, which is capable of handling both audio and video. Since the DVD player is also a home theater sound system, there is no reason to send the audio to the TV, EXCEPT THAT TURNING IT ON FIXES THE PROBLEM.

In those heady days of quad, we had three different audio standards, none of them even marginally compatible. I’m thinking things have improved over 40 years, give or take, oh, any digital-protection scheme you can name.

Me, I have a tendency to mess with things. I have, for instance, one of these contraptions:

Soundmatters’ tagline, “One box, two wires, and $300 make any TV a home theater,” sums up the Mainstage’s appeal. This set-top powered speaker is refreshingly simple to install and use. For big sound anywhere in your home or office, just add the Mainstage to a digital or analog source, such as a DVD player or a TV — you’ll have a complete virtual-surround system. We like the $299 Mainstage’s trim good looks and hearty audio, but don’t expect the unit to deliver surround effects like a true multispeaker ensemble. In cramped quarters, however, where a 5.1 setup is out of the question, the Mainstage will serve with distinction.

A 5.1 setup is definitely out of the question in my usual viewing room, which turns out to be the master bedroom.

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Decreasingly dear

Last year’s homeowner’s-insurance lament:

Obviously this downward trend could not be allowed to continue, so this year it’s going to nearly $3000. This, mind you, on a house insured for a mere $130,000. I can only conclude that they expect a visit from Godzilla, or that they’re wanting to get their hands on some of those sweet, sweet government bucks the way the health-insurance guys have.

Well, the escalator clause each year has two effects: it increases the total amount of coverage, and it jacks up the deductible for wind and hail, which is a percentage of the total amount of coverage. I’m thinking these two numbers don’t combine neatly, which may or may not explain the $170 decrease in the premium.

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Random footwear

One of the side effects of writing about shoes is that people send me links to shoes, sometimes gorgeous, sometimes the very antithesis of gorgeous. I’ve received these this week, and I’m not quite sure what I think about them, so I’m turning them over to you guys:

Portuguese shoes supposedly characteristic of the nation's exports

Cover of Biker Babes

Not ugly, really; still, they don’t grab me. You?

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One of your own

“How much does it cost to have a site like yours?” asked nobody, nowhere.

What they really want is to know about a really spiffy-looking site, and if they’re interested in running WordPress, this is the most pertinent information I’ve seen:

If you do it yourself (which you totally can if you know how to use the internet, can point and click, can follow instructions and have a little cash and a little patience), you are eventually going to become a WordPress Expert. Maybe not a ninja-level-can-work-on-any-site expert, but you’ll learn enough to know exactly how to maintain everything about your own site. To do it RIGHT and set yourself up for success and future growth, it’s going to cost you a few hundred dollars.

If you are going to hire someone, you either marry a unicorn OR you hire WordPress Expert AND a designer. Your WordPress expert sets up your site for you (and they should ask TONS of questions about your business so they build everything you don’t even know you need), and hire a graphic designer to create your brand for you, and your WordPress Expert will implement the brand on the site for you.

The unicorn of my dreams, of course, wouldn’t have me on a bet.

That said, I did DIY this place, and it didn’t cost a whole lot of actual cash, but headaches and sweat surely count for something on the ledger.

Still, an Expert with her shingle out might come in at any conceivable price point. There’s a local production house with a WP Expert and a graphic designer in-house, and they’re really, really good, but they ain’t exactly cheap, if you know what I mean, and they have enough experience to be able to charge you for it.

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An Equestria Girl at heart

Lindsey Stirling IS Sunset Shimmer:

Comparison of Lindsey Stirling and Sunset Shimmer

Didn’t see a rainboom in the video, but what the heck.

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We have sunk to this

Somebody evidently thought that was clever. The horrible aspect of it, though, is that said somebody probably still has a job.

(Via @inthefade.)

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A lede beyond the others

If you saw a setup like this in a short story, you might reasonably suspect someone was readying an entry for the Bulwer-Lytton contest:

A former meerkat expert at London Zoo has been ordered to pay compensation to a monkey handler she attacked with a wine glass in a love spat over a llama-keeper.

But no, it’s real, or at least as real as we get from the AP these days:

A judge at Westminster Magistrates’ Court said Wednesday that Caroline Westlake must pay 800 pounds ($1,235) to Kate Sanders for assaulting her in a dispute over colleague Adam Davies, who had dated both women.

Of course, what I want to know is what it’s like to have women fighting over you.

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Presumably no one will use jelly

And it won’t be happening in this town, you may be reasonably certain:

Miley Cyrus and the Flaming Lips are hitting the road next month and — according to an Instagram post by Lips frontman Wayne Coyne — they’re planning one show with the performers and audience appearing completely in the nude.

Doffing the duds is old news for both Cyrus and Coyne, but audience participation has been nonexistent so far.

And this appears to be Miley’s idea:

According to his post on Thursday, Cyrus is planning a show where she, the Flaming Lips and the audience are all completely naked and where “white stuff that looks like milk” will be “spewed” everywhere. The concept is for a video, he continued, for the song “Milky Milky Milk.”

Can I get an “Ew”?

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Meanwhile on 287

“Yep. That’s exactly how it is.” And by “that,” I mean this:

Miss D. and I arrived in Wichita Falls this afternoon after a pleasant drive from Amarillo. We were warned about the speed-trapping proclivities of various towns along the route, some of which appear to balance their budgets by means of tickets issued to those passing through. For that reason we kept our cruise control locked on to the speed limit, and took care to observe the progressively lower limits every time we entered a town.

This seemed to cause some … concern … to other motorists. You see, our rented car is a model used by a large number of police forces, and it’s painted black, and we were driving exactly at the speed limit. Almost every vehicle that came steaming up behind us (and there were many) slowed down and matched our speed for a while, drifting closer very carefully. It was clear the drivers thought we were an unmarked cop car. As soon as they got close enough to identify our Tennessee license plate, one could almost hear the exasperated exclamation from inside the cab as they put the pedal to the metal once more and rolled past us. It was rather amusing (at least from our perspective).

If rental agencies were in the habit of ordering dog-dish hubcaps — well, you can see how this would affect other occupants of the road.

Up here on the other side of the Red River, the unmarked cop cars tend to look like something other than cop cars, but every town has at least one decommissioned Crown Vic Police Interceptor somewhere. (We’ve had a rash of cases of impersonating the police of late, too.)

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A bad sign up there

William Bell came up with the classic lyric:

Born under a bad sign, been down since I began to crawl
If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all

The late Albert King cut it first, for Stax; it’s since become a blues standard. (The tune, by Booker T. Jones, is notable for, among other things, not being the standard twelve-bar blues.) Since we brought it up, here’s King with someone else very much missed, Stevie Ray Vaughan:

What triggered this thought? Yet another Jack Baruth musing:

I’m just unlucky, in tolerable but frustrating ways. In the past thirty years I’ve found a way to break about half the bones in my body and crash motorcycles and bend the unibody on a race car and blow a $14,600 Mugen-R engine and lose my chance at getting my doctorate and have someone knock my brand-new CB1100 over in the parking lot and drop things and lose amazingly valuable things and so on and so forth to the point where, whenever I find myself enjoying something too much, I feel compelled to ask of myself, “When will the bad thing happen?”

Been there, thought that. Constantly. The other day, I noted that for some inscrutable reason, the premium on my homeowner’s insurance went down a few percentage points; about half an hour after I posted that, I was poking around the County Assessor’s place trying to see how much the property tax would be going up, since usually the new tax rates come out in October. “November,” they’re saying. Somehow that sounds ominous.

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Skin in the game

Rebecca Black for Flaunt MagazineAn uncle of mine was fond of quoting the old adage — wait, aren’t all adages old by definition? — “If you got it, flaunt it,” which may be more than enough to explain the existence of Flaunt magazine, which, judging by this Instagrammed portrait, did a modest photoshoot with Rebecca Black. At least, I thought it was modest. One of the commenters on her Instagram account — click the picture and you can see the whole thread, if you’re so inclined — wasn’t having any of that:

“Just don’t get why musicians think it’s always a good idea to have bits showing off, women moan that they’re always sexualised and yet they walk around looking like that? Would you walk to the shops wearing only your bra? I doubt it. Would you go to a formal dinner in only your bra? I doubt it.”

“And yet women moan about being made into sex icons etc etc yet they still walk around with their tits hanging out moaning they only attract scumbag guys.”

Up to that point, I hadn’t noticed the way this outfit was cut. And RB’s done lots of fashion stuff of late — see, for instance, this quickie video for Twist magazine, one of several 16 replacements — and this is pretty much of a piece with her recent appearances at various openings: trendy without being particularly spendy. As for “hanging out,” well, she’s eighteen and nowhere near an A-cup, and I don’t think she needs to be, um, bound down.

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