No time to talk

Stateside, we dither about drivers with cell phones. For those who contend that we must Do Something, even if it’s wrong, this is what’s being done in the United Kingdom:

UK drivers who find themselves in an accident may also see their cell phones confiscated by the police to determine if they were used prior to said accident.

Visordown reports one Suzette Davenport, chief constable in Gloucestershire in charge of roads policing for the Association of Chief Police Officers, issued the order to check all phones on the scene, no matter the severity of the accident.

If everyone in the US had shiny new smartphones with substantial resale value, they’d do that here, because, you know, forfeiture.

And even if the Brits weren’t doing this, they were definitely thinking “draconian”:

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin proclaimed those who are caught using their phones while driving should see six points knocked off of their license, leading to a driving ban if a driver is caught twice in three years; newly minted drivers would lose their license if caught once during the first two years of holding said license.

Which leads to another question: If Britain, which chafes under restrictive European Union decrees, can come up with something like this, what on earth can the EUrocrats be planning in Brussels?

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Dust inevitably bitten

Two years ago, three community papers in south Tulsa County — the Bixby Bulletin, the Jenks Journal and the Glenpool Post — were consolidated into the South County Leader.

Today, the Leader retreats:

With this edition, the South County Leader will officially cease publication. The July 31, 2014, Vol. 109, No.23 South County Leader will be its last.

“It is a shame that after 109 years in print we are signaling the end of an era but market conditions in the communities we have served have changed,” said Neighbor News publisher Jamey Honeycutt.

Neighbor News has several other papers in the Tulsa metro, perhaps most notably the semiweekly Broken Arrow Ledger.

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I need a video

Says so right here in this piece of spam:

Do you know that having a Video for your website is the best way to grow your business and expand your reach. People love watching videos rather than reading websites these days. Other benefits are:

1) Conversion Rate of website increases by upto 75%

2) You website gets 100% more views and 30% more clicks

3) Search engine ranking increases by upto 50%.

The sender, identified as “Shelly Johnson” — recent English major, am I right? — has no idea what would happen if I actually followed these instructions. And I’m not particularly good at predictions, especially about the future; but I’m pretty sure the phrase “WTF is the deal with the video?” will resound from sea to snoring sea.

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Double non-secret probation

In fact, it’s so non-secret it made the news halfway across the state:

Move-in day at Oklahoma State University is two weeks away, but no one will be moving into the Phi Delta Theta house.

OSU has suspended the fraternity until August 2016, citing multiple violations of university and Interfraternity Council policies regarding alcohol and hazing.

There seems to be one particular class at fault:

Students who will be juniors this fall seemed resolved to cause problems for the chapter… They threw a keg party at the chapter house May 9 — while the fraternity was on deferred suspension for hazing pledges.

So far, no one has announced a really futile and stupid gesture in response.

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There’s no need for argument

Carl J. Domino, who’s running for the House from Florida’s District 18, has proposed something called “Fix Congress First.” Apparently it’s not “fixing” in the veterinary sense, more’s the pity. But this is the opening pitch:

If we want to put Washington back to work for the people, we need to reform the Congress itself. I propose we get back to being citizen legislators by establishing 8 year term limits for US Representatives and setting pay for Congress at the median pay in their district.

Half of that sounds plausible. The other half, not so much: I can think of no reason why Henry Waxman’s replacement in CA 33 should be paid more than Markwayne Mullin in OK 2.

Ohio’s Third Base Politics notes:

This would significantly reduce the income of many Congressmen, leaving the door to these elected offices available to only wealthy people, like Domino. In addition to that, Domino is proposing that some minority and female Representatives earn wages hovering near the poverty line, depending on their family size… The Democrats are already beating the drums of the “War on Women” and Domino is playing right into them. Even if it is unintentional, he is reinforcing the stereotype of Republicans being rich, out of touch old men who are trying to keep minorities and women down.

And come to think of it, why this interest in term limits? Domino is 70, fercrissake. Term limits are coming for him whether he likes them or not.

Oh:

Domino was a Representative in the House of Representatives of the U.S. state of Florida… Domino served from 2002-2010, where he had to stand down due to Florida term limits.

So apparently he’s used to that sort of thing. And Florida’s term-limit law doesn’t keep Domino from seeking another office after maxing one out.

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Face the sun and dance

Buried at the bottom of a Telegraph article on solar energy:

In the UK, the average domestic solar PV system is 3.5 to 4kWp and typically costs from £5,500 to £9,500. A 4kWp system can generate around 3,700 kilowatt hours of electricity a year — roughly equivalent to a typical household’s electricity needs.

As well as this, households using a solar panel will be paid a minimum sum for all electricity generated by their system, known as the Feed-In Tariff (Fit). The Fit currently stands at 14.38p per kilowatt hour (kwh) for each unit of electricity created, providing an income of around of around £785 a year.

HM Government is paying a quarter (well, 24 cents) for a kilowatt-hour that averages 12 cents in the States? Hell of a deal. Then again, my household is atypical; I go through about 8000 kWh a year, which costs me around $900.

Obviously I’m not going to get this sort of rebate from the Crown if I actually were to mount some solar panels. And there’s always the question of where to put them:

Conventional wisdom in the northern hemisphere is to face solar panels south so they get the most exposure to sunlight during the day.

Architects and installers, as a rule, use this approach all the time particularly on home solar panel installations.

In November, American research revealed that panels facing west may actually get more energy from the sun, and at more convenient times.

Certainly explains why all my roses turn westward.

Scientists found that when homeowners faced their panels west they were able to generate more electricity each day. They also generated more electricity in the afternoon, when power grids experience peak demand. Though the increase was small — just two per cent — experts said it would certainly add up over the years.

Add to this the afternoon boost, reducing grid dependence during peak hours by 65 per cent as opposed to 54 per cent for south facing panels, could have widespread efficiency implications beyond single homes.

On the other hand, there are good reasons for purely southern exposure:

[T]hat is precisely the correct direction if your goal is to have a source of power for your battery banks in the event of a grid-down situation.

Not that anything like that could ever, ever happen.

And anyway, the orientation of my little love shack is such that any alignment to any of the name-brand compass points — say, north by northwest — is going to be just a hair off.

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Operationally green

I’m not sure yet whether this is supposed to scare me:

In a few weeks, at WOOT (the USENIX Workshop on Offensive Technologies — an academic conference where security researchers demonstrate broken stuff), a team from the University of Michigan will be presenting a lovely paper, Green Lights Forever: Analyzing the Security of Traffic Infrastructure. It’s a short and fun read. In summary, it’s common for traffic light controllers to speak to each other over a 5.8GHz wireless channel (much like WiFi, but a dedicated frequency) with no cryptography, default usernames and passwords, and well-known and exploitable bugs.

Oh, great. Everybody and his kid brother will be trying to hack traffic lights. Or maybe not:

One of the curious things about the computer design for traffic light controllers is that there are really two computers stacked one atop the other. The “MMU” computer has a bunch of basic rules it has to enforce (e.g., minimum duration of yellow lights) and if the fancy controller tries to create panic at the disco, the MMU says “umm, no” and goes into flashing red, requiring somebody to manually come out and reset it. Which is to say, an attacker who wants to do more than a little tweaking here and there is likely to just dump all the lights into blinking-red mode and just piss everybody off.

And if they’re on the Northwest Distressway near where I live, people, pissed off or otherwise, are going to run the lights anyway; I can’t remember two consecutive weekdays with nobody running the light at either Pennsylvania or Villa.

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Out of my Facebook

I’m sure this situation has come up rather a lot:

Social networking added an entirely new morass for employers to navigate.

Should you permit employees to friend one another? (You don’t really have a choice.)

Can you prevent it if they elect to? (Unlikely.)

Can social media policies limit what they say about their workplace on social media sites like Facebook? (Not without potentially infringing employees’ right to discuss working conditions.)

Can you use their social media activity as the basis for firing an employee? (Probably not a good idea.)

My own Facebook policies, to the extent that I can have any policies down here at the bottom of the org chart, are simple: I do not friend anyone I work with, and I turn down requests if I get them.

On the other hand, I have no such rule on Twitter; I figure that none of these folks have time to wade through my tweetstream. I have exactly two followers from the shop, both in my department. And I’m pretty sure I haven’t tweeted anything relevant to work that they haven’t already heard in person, perhaps several times.

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See Spotify run

Singer/songwriter Michelle Shocked is short, sharp, and peeved with streaming-music operations:

She recently released a album on CDBaby.com called Inaudible Women, containing 11 songs named after big-shots in the music industry. With song titles like “David Drummond (Google, Youtube),” “Robert Walls (Clear Channel),” and “Chris Harrison (Pandora),” she’s calling out people who run the digital streaming world. Shocked is associated with a campaign called CopyLike which, according to their website, is made up of artists who defend their copyright and intellectual property.

Shocked insists that the album isn’t silent. Instead, it’s aimed at a completely different audience: dogs. “We love our furry friends. They share our beds, our toothbrushes, and they share our burgers,” she said in a weird video introducing the project. “We decided we would make a high album — in fact, the highest album ever made. Just so that my friends Spot and Rex can hear it, not audible to human ears, and to raise money for my tour — never in the history of recording music has it been this easy to keep Spot happy and support working musicians.”

This is perhaps the most significant recording for canines since the Beatles tossed a 20-kHz tone onto UK copies of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band back in 1967. Shocked suggests that you stream the album for your dogs while you’re at work, which will make her a few bucks and (perhaps) keep the furry friends from finding your toothbrush on their own.

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Markwayne the Cute-ish

Photo of Markwayne MullinMarkwayne Mullin, thirty-seven, first-term representative from Oklahoma’s Second House District, was named this week to The Hill’s annual 50 Most Beautiful list, and was quoted saying this kind of aw-shucks stuff:

And how would he describe his style? “Awkward,” he replies with a smile.

But there’s one thing he’s certain of, as far as his personal fashion goes.

“The idea of having to match a pair of socks to your tie or to your pants just doesn’t make any sense to me. … With boots you don’t have to worry about it. Nobody sees your socks,” he says.

It’s not because he can’t afford socks, either. From before he was elected to his first term:

A Republican congressional candidate who argues the federal government should rein in spending was awarded around $370,000 in federal stimulus money distributed through a pair of Oklahoma Indian tribes, records show.

Companies owned by Markwayne Mullin, the GOP nominee for a U.S. House seat in eastern Oklahoma, received the money under contracts with the Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations, according to documents posted on a government website created to track recovery funds…

“Mullin Plumbing is a plumbing business. When someone hires us to do a job, we don’t ask them where the money comes from,” the [Mullin campaign’s] statement reads. “Plumbing is plumbing. These projects were Cherokee Nation projects, and our contract was with the Cherokee Nation. We just performed the services we were hired to do and moved on to the next job, like always.”

Then again, this could be construed as proper preparation for Congress, which never, ever asks where the money comes from.

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Fake tolls for thee

Something claiming to be from E-ZPass — it wasn’t, of course — sent along this phishy business:

Dear customer,
You have not paid for driving on a toll road. This invoice is sent repeatedly,
please service your debt in the shortest possible time.
The invoice can be downloaded
here.

Hey, service this, pal.

The link (under “here”) goes to a .eu domain with a long Teutonic name out of a wp-content directory, which practically screams Malware!

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Standard issue

You can probably find a paragraph like this in almost any magazine on the stand:

Manuscripts, photographs, artwork, and other materials submitted must be accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Although I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting to see it in Wired (August 2014 aka 22.08). Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 102-page issue of Wired before, either. (Remember when it was this thick? No more.)

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The operative word is “funny”

The Daily Show’s bio of correspondent Jessica Williams:

Jessica Williams is an actress, writer, and all-around funny lady from Los Angeles, California. She credits her ability to be hilarious on her very large funny bone. No really, she has been six feet tall since she was in middle school. At first she was awkward and super weird. Then she became funny and still super weird.

They say “super weird” like it’s a bad thing.

She started on The Daily Show in 2012, reporting from the Republican primary in South Carolina, which gave her the perfect excuse to show up to the Comedy Awards:

Jessica Williams at the 2012 Comedy Awards

I do love that dress. (And I wonder how hard it was to find the shoes, since she admits to a size 11.) She turns 25 on Wednesday.

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The rest is cat videos

“It is estimated most human beings use only 10 percent of the brain’s capacity,” intones Morgan Freeman’s character, a neuroscientist in Luc Besson’s film Lucy. (Characters played by Morgan Freeman always intone. That’s why they hire him in the first place: Morgan Freeman intones better than anyone else.) “Imagine if we could access 100 percent.”

This is, says Christian Jarrett, author of Great Myths of the Brain (Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014), complete and utter balderdash:

Certainly there is no truth to the idea that we only use 10 percent of our neural matter. Modern brain scans show activity coursing through the entire organ, even when we’re resting. Minor brain damage can have devastating effects — not what you’d expect if we had 90 percent spare capacity. Also, consider the situation when neural tissue representing a limb is rendered redundant by the loss of that limb. Very quickly, neighbouring areas recruit that tissue into new functions, for example to represent other body regions. This shows how readily the brain utilises all available neural tissue.

On the other hand, I think you could make a good case that the act of voting uses only 10 percent of the brain’s capacity, based simply upon the results of recent elections.

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You hate me, you really hate me

Even a mere downturned thumb gives me a reaction something like this:

The beauty of the world is that we all have different personalities and tastes. It’s what makes us different, interesting. It’s what sets us apart from each other.

So why, then, does a bad review affect me like it does? I should appreciate the review for what it is, learn from it, grow from it, become a better person because of it. Instead, I take it to heart and then I go through what I like to call the “Five Phases of Bad Reviews”.

The influence of Kübler-Ross, I suspect: if it makes you feel like you just want to die, you get the same five stages of grief you’d have if you were dying, except that it’s at a lower level. At least, I hope it’s at a lower level.

And I admit up front that my usual order is 2, 3, 1, 4, 5. Go figure.

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Two-buck shuck

Two of the dollar-store chains are about to become one:

Chesapeake, VA-based Dollar Tree announced Monday that it would acquire Matthews, NC-based Family Dollar for a whopping $8.5 billion, CNNMoney reports.

Combined, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar have more than 13,000 stores and annual revenues of $18 billion, propelling the combined company ahead of current dollar store leader Dollar General which operates 11,000 stores and has $17.5 billion in revenue.

Wait a minute. Did I say “become one”?

Officials with Dollar Tree say in a news release that the company will continue to operate under both brands when the merger is completed in early 2015.

It’s a bit startling to discover that three “dollar store” chains sold 35 billion dollars worth of stuff last year, about 20 percent more than, say, Macy’s.

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