Monthly Archives: June 2010

A fascinating story about how MetaFilter helped combat human trafficking. Well, helped out some of the trafficked, anyway.

Richard Florida and Nate Silver think that we’re coming down from the peak of our car-centric culture. Their evidence is pretty thing, though. People under 18 are driving less because there are more restrictions put on their licenses and parents are getting more and more paranoid. The big about declining mileage between 1995 and 2009 is interesting, though.

Fanboyism and Brand Loyalty. Am I the only one that finds myself in a position of really wishing I could like a product but being unable to climb aboard? I want to use Linux, but can’t really. I want to switch to Android, but can’t, really.

If a casino machine malfunctions, why doesn’t the winner get to keep the proceeds? If the machine breaks in the other direction, the casino keeps the proceeds because nobody knows there is a problem (or they don’t until it’s too late). Fair is fair, I say. The McMahons should be millionaires.

Then again, who needs to be a millionaire? Apparently all it takes is $60k a year.

A blog about a guy watching Lost backwards. I wonder if it makes more or less sense that way? Not sure I’m going to find out as he is not being very snappy about it.

Will vanity press mark the end of the publishing industry? I doubt it. Publishers are too valuable as filters. It does have the potential to shake things up, though.

China’s road to economic world dominance promises to be a rocky one.

If America doesn’t like soccer, it’s cause of racism. But if they take enough interest to route for their team? Jingoism. {Via}

Category: Newsroom

Christian Bale has taken some flack for the voice he uses as Batman in the most recent Batman movies. Kevin Conroy, who did the voice in The Animated Series, had some pretty critical things to say about it:

He said: “[Bale is] an excellent actor. He just got steered wrong. Obviously someone should have stopped him and said ‘You sound ridiculous.’ But no one did. As actors, you have to trust the people on the other side of the camera, because you can’t see what’s going on. You’re working in such a vacuum that you can convince yourself that anything is great. So you need a third eye to tell you that you’re way off base. Unfortunately no one stopped him.”
Conroy’s voice in The Animated Series stands out in what is already an amazing cast. His ability to make Bruce Wayne and Batman sound like distinct but credible people is phenomenal. It is compared to that Bale sounds so awful.

That being said, Bale’s voice doesn’t annoy me nearly as much as it annoys others. The difference between Conroy’s Batman voice and Bale’s Batman voice is the difference between a mask that is supposed to look like a face and a mask that does not bother. Bale’s voice sounds pretty much like somebody trying to mask his voice, which in effect is what Bale is doing. On a screen, it sounds goofy, though as a criminal being approached by the mythic Dark Knight, you’re probably too scared to really notice. The most important part, that his voice sounds distinct from Bruce Wayne’s, is accomplished.

Video Below: (more…)

Category: Theater

Though I’ve never seen Adams play, more than once I’ve heard this song covered as the last song of the last encore, when the frontman is still on the stage and the band has left. It’s an amazing experience.

Category: Theater

A year or so ago, I was in the Mindstorm parking lot at 11pm wanting to get home after a very long day. The world stood still when Crayola, my tweener compact, didn’t start. Didn’t try to start. Just sat there. I took a deep breath and said to myself, “Oh, wait…” and a couple minutes later I was pulling out of the parking lot.

Six months or so before that, I was at a gas station in Newcastle, Cascadia, when my car refused to start. I freaked out. Got out of the car and paced around trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do. Then it occurred to me. A minute or two later, I was back on the Splinterstate.

About two years before that, I was stuck in Ephesus, a couple hours away from Colosse. I was borrowing Crayola because at the time I had a different car (though same make, model, and year). In a panic, I called Dad since he knew a lot more about the car than I did. He was really worried, but then said, “Wait, have you checked…” and I was back on the road within a few minutes.

Yesterday, I was at a gas station in Meriwether, Arapaho, when Crayola refused to start. I wasn’t too worried, because…

About a month ago, Crayola didn’t start when Clancy was wanting to drive home from work. I went down there, we jump-started it, and it was fine.

Several months before that, Crayola didn’t start, but we jumped it and it was fine.

The fear didn’t start to set in until the gas station attendant tried to jump start me and it didn’t work. It didn’t even try to work. The battery was fine, though, if the lights were any indication. My fear wasn’t all that great, though, because I figured it was jump some piddly problem with the start. The only mechanic in town was closed, though. I was stuck in Meriwether until then. It was a bummer, but I could deal. They pointed me the way to a Super 8 next door. It was the only hotel in sight and it had NO VACANCY posted on the door. I had visions of sleeping in my car in the cool Arapaho weather.

The folks at the gas station were great. They tried to jump me and then when that failed, they let me park in some space they had across the street. And they helped push the car over. So I was not surprised that they continued to be helpful after I told them the Super 8 was closed. There were two more hotels in town, they said. They even called them for me. No vacancy in one, three vacancies in the other. I shuddered when they told the guy of my situation. They had me up a creek and could charge whatever they wanted for a room and I’d have no choice but to pay whatever they asked. Always better to sound like you’ve got options. The clerk offered to drive me over. I told her that was great but that I would need to collect some stuff from my car first and buy some provisions from the convenience store to get me through the night.

Fortunately, I didn’t need to buy any food because I had gotten a to-go Santa Fe Chicken Salad from Applebee’s. I’d had a sizeable burrito for lunch and had intended to bring it home and refrigerate it. However, having guessed that there would be no fridge in the hotel room I was going to need to eat it that night. I figured that eventually I would get hungry.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about the hotel guy knowing about my situation. He actually gave me a discount for the night. And he had a dog that I could pet while he was punching data into the computer. Unfortunately, I realized only after I was settled in that I had my contacts in and no glasses handy. There were glasses in the car, though, and maybe some contact pods, too. Unfortunately, my days of wearing contacts overnight have long since passed. So I had to walk about a mile each way to get the dang things from my car.

Nobody in Meriwether was anything but really nice to me, though it was hard not to notice some patterns in the town. I would say right-wing patterns, but that isn’t entirely right. I saw no fewer than three (I think it was four) Ron Paul for President signs in yards and windows. One car and one house (and it wasn’t a car in front the same house) had “9/11 Was An Inside Job” bumper stickers (it was on the window of the house) and a third bumper sticker on a car for Infowars, a web site run by 9/11 conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The local church had a sign that said “STOP SOCIALISM NOW!” and the community rec center saying “All we want is our freedom” or something to that effect.

Where, I had to ask myself, had I put my Census Bureau name badge? If it was visible in the car, I would have to remove it from sight. No way I wanted these folks to know I was a Bean Counter for Obama. Yeah, I wasn’t seriously afraid. But still.

The hotel had a bar attached to it. The bartender was the same guy that checked me in and the bar was kind of open whenever someone came to the front desk and asked it to be. The beers were cheap and the guy and I chatted for a while. A few things I did not consider:

(a) Weighing less means one can hold less alcohol.

(b) It was about 10:00 and I hadn’t eaten since noon.

(c) I hadn’t had a drink in six months or so, so I had absolutely no tolerance to begin with.

I was stumbling out of the bar after two drinks. It wasn’t such a bad thing, though, because without melatonin I was worried about falling asleep.

The room was something to behold. Non-smoking sign aside, the cigarette stench was almost unbearable. At least, I thought it was cigarette stench. The hotel advertised that it had Dish Network, but did not advertise that it was something I would have to order. I had kind of looked forward to watching Law & Order. As it turned out (of course), there was an episode on Fox and an episode of Cold Case on CBS besides. I had to turn the AC off to hear it, though I considered it a plus that they had AC to begin with. Around midnight I just couldn’t stand the aroma of the place. My eyes were watering. That was when I realized that the problem couldn’t have been cigarette smoke. I’d been in some pretty smokey bars and never had it been a real problem for my eyes unless I had my contacts in. It was a combination of cigarette and cat odor. And it was a kind of cat I am allergic to. But by this point it there were no rooms available. I opened the window to see if that would help. When I woke up the next morning, my eyes were swollen and too red and tender to put my contacts in until I got out of there for a while.

It was a short night’s sleep and I walked a very long mile back to my car (which, in addition to being across the street from the gas station, was also across the street from the town mechanic). Fortunately, the sun was hiding behind some clouds so the lack of sunglasses wasn’t a problem. I say it was a “long” walk because I was feeling pretty sick. I am not sure if it was the beer or the salad I’d had for dinner after the beer, but it was something originating at my stomach (my allergies improved immediately with the fresh air).

By this point I was really worried about the car. My initial confidence that it was something simple had long-since been replaced by a fear that it wasn’t. Why would it just suddenly stop working like that? I was pretty sure the timing belt had been replaced, but miraculously that was what I was thinking rather than the situations that I opened this post with. The mechanic was dumbfounded. He had never seen a car with a good battery and an engine that had been good enough to drive a couple hundred miles without registering any complaint could simply refuse to even try to start up.

The thing about Crayola is that it has a transponder key. That was what Dad told me about when I was in Ephesus. Well, told me about again, that is. He mentioned it before he even loaned me the car. We always keep the thing in the socket, but I am a big guy in a small car and I sometimes knock it loose. It is almost always among the first things I look at when the car doesn’t start. For some reason, this time I didn’t. I think I was so prepared for the car to break down that I didn’t look at the most simple and obvious solution. It’s a good thing that I am a software troubleshooter and not an automobile troubleshooter. The mechanic was understanding and only charged me $25, which was nice since he had to push the car with his ATV up the service ramp. He could have gotten away with more.

After that, I ate breakfast at a restaurant recommended by the gas station clerk and had one of the best omelets I have had in a very, very long time. Perhaps ever. The wisdom of eating eggs the morning after having gotten inebriated eludes me. But I was in the mood and willing to risk it. My stomach will forgive me eventually.

So anyway, the good news is that Crayola is doing just fine. The bad news is that my wife married a moron.

Category: Road

There are two cities of any significant size near Callie, Alexandria and Redstone. Redstone is a little closer, so when I need a “big city thing” like a Walmart, I go to Redstone. My doctor’s appointment, however, was in Alexandria. A lot of people prefer to drive the extra distance to go to Alexandria anyway. I am coming to prefer Redstone and all of is decrepit rustic authenticity to Alexandria’s yuppie charms.

I will say this of Alexandria, though. Toenail polish here is kept to a minimum. Maybe only half the women in open-toed shoes (common in this season) seem to be wearing toenail polish. I applaud this development. Callie has more in the way of nail polish than I would have guessed. Deseret didn’t have it nearly as much and Callie is only a couple hours away from Mocum. I was thinking, hoping, that it was a western thing. Nail polish was less frequent in Estacado, too. It’s nigh-universal in Colosse and Delosa, alas.

I had to drive Crayola, my almost-teenager of an economy car. Since taking on my Census Route, I have been driving Ninjette, Clancy’s fully-teenager (but really quiet and smooth) full-size. Unfortunately, she had to visit a doc in Redstone the same day I had to visit a doc in Alexandria. Since I was the one that arranged this little inconvenience, I volunteered to drive Crayola. It’s good to get some quality time with him before we swap him out in August (we think/hope), though I had gotten quite used to (a) cruise control and (b) the ability to accelerate.

But I’m not really thinking about that as I drive. Instead, I am thinking “Man, I wonder what happens next?!” Tom Clancy audiobooks will do that.

Category: Downtown, Road

Cartoon Network is apparently prepping a Green Lantern series to accompany the coming movie. Looking forward to the movie, looking forward to the cartoon. The folks at DC Comics will probably use this opportunity to do something drastic to Green Lantern so that anybody that enjoys the movie will find the comic unrecognizable. Yeah, I’m still more than a little agitated that they decided that the successful Batman movies were a great time to dislodge Bruce Wayne as Batman.

The problem with the government going after cell phone carriers for nickel and dime charges for Internet access is that it provides them the perfect excuse to demand that everybody be on a data plan to avoid any confusion. Nevermind that they could simply turn the Internet off.

After killing Mercury, Ford wants Lincoln to go green. But is there that much overlap between luxury car buyers and eco-conscious ones?

Peter Serafinowicz pirates movies. Even ones he is in. There really is some avoidable tension between paying for something inferior compared to getting something superior. I think the long-term trick is to make what they’re paying for good enough that it won’t be worth stealing. I think streaming video is ultimately the solution. I know that for music, a few tweaks from Rhapsody could make music ownership obsolete for all but my most passionate music interests. For videos, casual interests would mean Hulu or Netflix Online but intense interest would mean Blu-Ray or what-have-you. It’s the most sustainable model that comes to mind.

An interesting look{PDF} at cigarettes, black markets, gray markets, and prison.

No great surprise, but in an economy where nobody is hiring, nobody is quitting, either. My father worked for a Defense Department contractor during the Vietnam War, which gave him an out. They completely took advantage of the situation, knowing that none of their employees could quit without losing their draft exemption. The result was that when the war ended, nobody stuck around. I can only hope that some employers taking advantage today will meet the same fate.

San Fransisco is trying to get innovating with parking meter pricing. Some have suggested that this needs to be done with traffic congestion as well. I am a little unsure. The thing about parking is that you can stop and decide if the new price is worth it. For congestion, you can’t really respond to increases or decreases in pricing quite so easily.

All of the universities have playgrounds, but not BYU.

Category: Newsroom

Inflation happens, but it’s truly astonishing what has happened to soft drink prices over the last decade or so. I suppose these things stand out more to me than many others because I live in a world of technology where things tend to get cheaper rather than more expensive over time. But if you look at other food items, it doesn’t seem like they’ve gone up nearly as much as soft drinks.

I remember bottles reached 99 cents. This was significant because it marked the first time that soft drinks were cheaper from a vending machine than a convenience store. Once you accounted for sales tax, anyway. I thought that it was this bizarre anomaly that wouldn’t last. The reason, it seemed to me, was simply that the vending machine people like the nice round $1 and would be slower to move it up from $1 to $1.25 than they were from 75 cents to a dollar. But it’s more or less been that way ever since. I guess the vending machines are cheap enough to maintain that they don’t have to charge as much to make a profit. In fact, the disparity has increased. Soft drink prices in convenience stores seem to be around $1.70 or $1.80 most places I look.

One thing that’s been happening more recently, though, is a lot more variance among different brands. It used to be that Coke’s lineup and Pepsi’s lineup would be similarly priced and no matter what you got a bottle of you were paying about the same amount. The first big exception I remember to this was back when Mountain Dew had the Pitch Black flavor that sold abysmally. By the end there, the local convenience store on my way home in Deseret was selling those three for a dollar. It was tough to decide whether or not the price break was worth drinking that awful, awful drink. At first it was, but quickly became wasn’t.

Some of the local convenience stores have been selling the Pepsi Throwbacks at a significantly reduced price. Usually about $1 to $1.79 for the regular Pepsi and Mountain Dew. Unfortunately, I don’t like Pepsi of either variant from a bottle and I find the sugar Mountain Dew to be utterly inferior to the corn syrup stuff. The real steal right now for Mountain Dew fans is Vault. Vault would be Coke’s answer to the product. It’s not as good as Mountain Dew, but isn’t so bad and only costs a whopping 80 cents a bottle out here. I had initially assumed that the low pricing meant that Vault was being discontinued. Vault is Coke’s third try (that I am aware of) at unseating Mountain Dew, intermittently trying with Mello Yello and once a product called Surge.

But they keep making the stuff and selling the Vault stuff. Maybe they figure that if they can just get people to try it that they will realize that it tastes pretty good. Maybe they’re armed with blind taste tests giving them this idea. Honestly, I consider straight Mountain Dew and Vault to be comparable in quality, but I think Vault gets a grading curve because I don’t get it all that often and if I was stuck on a desert island there’s no doubt which I would prefer. What Coke needs to do next time around, if Vault doesn’t make it, is contract out the formula for Kroger’s Big K Citrus Drop product. That stuff is goooood. That it’s a house brand and cheaper is just icing on the cake. I would pay full price for it. This is in stark contrast to any of the other house brand options out there (Mountain Breeze, Mountain Lion, Mountain Lightning, etc…), most of which taste like flattened or watered down Mountain Dew.

We are actually pretty well stocked with soft drink cans. Outside of convenience stores, I’ve become a real bargain shopper for soft drinks at Safeway. They often have buy-two-get-two-free deals or buy-one-get-subsequent-cases-cheaper deals. So whenever they have those, I go crazy. They are encouraging you to buy as many as possible and I comply. It’s not like it’s going to waste. The result is that I keep some half-dozen flavors of stuff in the fridge. I used to try to avoid keeping anything more than one or two cans in the fridge for fear that I would just keep drinking, but I seem to have developed a natural stop-point where after I drink one I don’t want another one for a while. Sometimes I don’t want to drink a whole can at once. I’ve decided that given the cheapness and the fact that unhealthy food is no more wasted dumped into the sink than dumped into my mouth that I can poor out can remainders.

And on one last thing when it comes to soft drink prices, it is enormously irritating how cheap they make those 1-liter bottles. At the local truck stop, they’re only 10 cents more than a 20oz drink. Ten cents. What really had my head exploding was when they were cheaper. I was not as good then as I am now about just throwing away what I don’t want. So I would end up paying more to get less and would get quite irritated with that. Beyond which, those bottles are inconvenient on the whole due to their size. That’s less a factor for me now because I’m driving Clancy’s car which does not have cupholders able to accept a bottle of any size. I think it came out right before that was an absolute necessity.

Category: Market

While checking out of Safeway the other day, I noticed that they were selling a paperback of one of the Twilight novels. I have neither read any of the books or seen any of the movies, so that’s not what this post is about. Rather, this post is about the fact that this particular version of the paperback had Kristen Stewart’s photo on it with the familiar “Now a Feature Movie” or somesuch along the bottom.

While I have not seen the movies or read the books for the Twilight series, I have read (or more accurately heard) the book and seen the movies of the Jason Bourne series. It’s really pretty difficult to get a copy of the paperback of any of the books that have become movies without a picture of Matt Damon on the cover. The problem is that the books and the movies have almost nothing in common. It’s not simply replacing one cover for the book with another cover for the book that happens to include an actor from a movie based on the book. It’s replacing the cover of the book with another cover that includes an actor based on an entirely different movie with the only things in common being a few character names and a plot involving amnesia.

This is particularly true for the second book. The movie takes place in Germany, the book in Asia.

I know full well why they do it. I still find it irritating. Even though I assume that the Twilight movies have more in common with the book than the Bourne movies, and though Kristen Stewart is incredibly pleasant to look at, that one bothers me because the original covers to the book are particularly visually interesting and compelling. I can’t tell you how many times a book’s cover jumped out at me only for me to look at it and see “Oh, it’s a Twilight book” and start looking elsewhere.

Though I do understand why they do it, I wish that they would at least keep the original covers available for those of us that don’t want to mix media. It’s almost enough to make me want to go ahead and buy the fourth and fifth book while the covers are still Damon-Free.

Category: Theater

Germany’s president announced his resignation not long ago. Germany, like Israel (and almost Australia) have a distinction between their elected head of state and elected head of government. The Head of State is supposed to sort of be above the fray and thus a less partisan figure. The republican equivalent of monarchy. I have to admit, the idea has a certain appeal… but does it get lost when most foreigners (even those that keep up with current events) don’t know who your Head of State is?

I meant to write a full-on post about this New York Times article about a young woman drowning in student loan debt, but others did the job better than I could. My main contribution is this: At 26, the girl showcase in the article as a precautionary tale, is left with more after rent and student loan repayment than I was left with after rent when I was 26.

I have in the past defended little leagues and youth sport organizations placing sportsmanship above competition, but no way to I defend a team forfeiting by scoring too many goals. Mercy rules accomplish the same thing without the perverse incentives (scoring on your own goal to win a game!).

Time-Warner is defending the privacy rights of its customers… if only because they can’t be bothered to track them down and give them up.

Subway allegedly fires an employee for giving his courtesy sandwich to a fire victim.

Starbucks is finally offering free WiFi. This was really put them at a disadvantage compared to other coffee places up to and including Seattle’s Best, which Starbucks owns but which has always had free WiFi. Payfor WiFi could work, but you can’t ask people to sign up for a subscription or a significant daily charge.

My ex-roommate Hubert used to have a computer fantasy baseball league where we would draft up press releases for our team. Mine were generally humor-based and regularly featured the local politicians. One had them trying to justify calling a day off work to celebrate my team winning the pennant. That’s not nearly as bad as changing the name of your county.

More than half of identity theft cases are committed by parents. Credit card companies don’t check ages. Now, technically I am sure Mom thefted my identity at some point or another for simple expedience, but I doubt that’s what is being talked about here. Via Costa, who has a good take on it.

Are best friends bad for development? I don’t even think this is a case of development theory gone awry. Once again, I agree with Costa. I think this is about control.

Category: Newsroom

The State of New Jersey has a lot of work to do balancing its budget. As far as I know New Jersey is not quite in the same league as California but it’s not far from it. Republican or Democrat, it’s good for states to get their houses in financial order. I’m not sure about the way that NJ Governor Chris Christie is going about it, though:

In February, the Republican governor ordered the freeze of $475 million in school aid payments in 2010 by requiring districts to use their excess surplus instead of state aid. The cuts were made at the time to help plug a deficit in this year’s budget. Christie has had to cut more than $2 billion from this year’s budget to keep it balanced. {…}

A large part of this year’s cuts involved withholding money from schools that have budget surpluses. All but 17 of the state’s 581 districts have surplus money.

Lest anyone think this is a partisan swipe, consider that I celebrated the man’s victory (sort of) and besideswhich his predecessor had a rather similar plan (withholding 75% rather than 100% of surplus funds).

I mean, on the one hand this sort of thing makes so much sense that it’s bleeding obvious. On the other hand, doesn’t this kind of discourage responsible spending? I mean, these districts had money that they could have spent and chose not to. Is that the sort of thing that you want to punish?

It’s a natural tension, I suppose, between wanting to reallocate what isn’t being used and encouraging people to use everything they have. My father’s work in the Defense Department was full of those things (an accountant, of sorts, my father was particularly familiar with the phenomenon). I suppose the counterargument in this case is that these are drastic times that call for drastic measures. But I hear that in California, too, where they are withholding tax refunds (temporarily, they say). While it’s got to be tempting to hold on to money you have, you’re also making sure that people do not overestimate on their withholding in the future and thus the government will lose an interest-free loan.

In the interest of equal time, I did kinda sorta get a kick out of this:

Category: Newsroom