Monthly Archives: January 2012

Another month, another article on the imminent demise of the laptop. Look, the desktop isn’t even dead yet. Beyond that, the notion that because laptop design has been perfected means it’s dead is a pretty dumb argument.

The case for saving ugly buildings. Go brutalism! More seriously, I ultimately take an “out with the old…” perspective, provided that it makes economic sense to replace a particular building. I just don’t trust what the tastemakers call cool or ugly.

When you define half of Americans as poor or low-income, it says more about the metrics used than the state of our nation.

Should Hollywood go back to using miniatures? I’m for anything that would hold costs down.

One of the interesting things that jumped out at me when I originally moved north was the number of people who left their cars running while they went inside. I even did it myself sometimes. In Milwaukee, it’s causing the predictable problems. Not of theft, but “unlawful usage.” Kids stealing a ride to school. Apparently it’s illegal to leave your car running. It reminds me of the town I was raised in where it was illegal to leave your bikes out because you were in effect giving escapees from the local juvenile hall a free ride.

In Illinois, you now need ID to buy drain cleaner.

Atlantic Cities makes the case for strong urban cores. I actually agree! The problem is when people think that the way to do this is to kneecap suburbs. Atlanta has apparently accomplished a downtown renewal despite its outward expansion. The fact that the urban cores were lost in the rust belt, and that the rust belt is struggling, and that the former is the cause of the latter, has a causation-correlation problem.

From the files of near self-parody, Conservapedia wants a bible without all that liberal stuff. I’ve heard some conservatives say that Conservapedia is parody, but I’ve seen little reason to believe that’s actually the case.

This is the stuff of jetpacks and flying cars, but more fun to think about.

Category: Newsroom

My name has found itself on a new mailing list. Of that I am sure.

What’s curious is that my name on this mailing list is W.S. Truman. I never fill out forms by that name. None of my credit cards are in that name. My Frequent Flier Miles are not under that name. I mention my FFMs because I was recently told it was time to cash them in and I picked up a subscription to Forbes, The Atlantic, and ESPN Magazine. I suspect that one of those three passed my name along. I suspect it was Forbes because two of the three things I received in the mail today came from conservative organizations. One of them, on the envelope, asking a loaded question that my answer to was actually not the one they were assuming I would have.

My mom made a habit out of using different names whenever she would sign for things that could put her on a mailing list. She has four names, so it wasn’t hard for her to do (she used the dog’s name once, and Roscoe received a credit card in the mail*). For a while, she kept track of who put the lists out where. She wrote an great article about it that she published in her local newsletter. It was good enough that it should have been in a more formal newspaper or magazine (I got only some of her writing talent).

* – Yes, this is a true story. It said “Just call to activate” though I assume that calling would have meant a more lengthy process than that. Among other things, to be sure that they didn’t actually give a credit card to a dog.

Category: Market

As I have mentioned in the past, it’s a bit ironic that so many of the white cross arguments involve Utah. By “white cross” arguments, I mean the desire on the part of secularists to do away with the tradition of white crosses to mark the death of someone. The ironic thing about Utah is that it is the one state in the continental United States where the cross is not a symbol of the dominant religion (Mormons don’t really do crosses). In fact, it’s Utah first and foremost that I look at and actually believe that no, the cross does not have to be an establishing symbol of a specific religion (or series of religions). If that is what Utah were going for, they’d have little tooting Moronis on the site of the road. Or something.

As far as such crosses go, I can understand the objections even though I don’t actually share them. If anything, Christians themselves should be kind of anxious about their holy symbol being used for something that isn’t religious in nature. Sort of like the secularization of Christmas.

Arapaho makes extensive use of roadside crosses. And there is more of an establishment concern here than elsewhere, because they are put up by the state. There is one stretch of dangerous highway where my wife and I counted 30-something over just a few miles. They were put up by the state to underline, once twice and thirty-something times to drive carefully.

And part of the problem is that there is no other symbol that you see on the side of the road and know immediately what it means.

Which brings me to the point of this post: If crosses are really a problem, those that want to take the crosses down need to come up with a replacement. That would sell me on the issue. Instead of saying “Take down that cross” they should say “How about we use this instead.” I don’t know, and don’t really care what is used. It could be just a white stake in the ground. Something immediately recognizable and identifiable. Arapaho can put up a sign as you enter the Danger Zone saying (more concisely so that people don’t get into accidents as they try to read the sign) “Hey, you’re about to see a bunch of white stakes in the ground. This is where people died. So drive carefully!”

Category: Road, Statehouse

Here are ten reasons that Windows Phone 7 is better than Android. Of course, the real question is whether or not it matters. WinPhone is trying to occupy that sweet spot between an extremely inflexible iPhone and the WinMo-like chaos of Android. When I have to make the move away from WinMo, I still don’t know if it will be to WinPhone or Android. Probably the latter, but if Microsoft can provide what I want, I will (somewhat begrudgingly) accept the closed environment.

Farhad Manjoo says that this year may be The Year of Microsoft. I’m skeptical of Windows Phone 7, but wish them all the best. I don’t have a strong opinion on Windows 8. It’s hard to see how it will be revolutionary, though. Maybe I’m just sour because they killed the idea of a real computer-tablet.

One thing that Microsoft never got right with Windows Mobile was getting users off the stylus. Oddly, Samsung wants to bring the stylus back. It feels a little like full circle. It actually makes sense, though. There are times to use your fingers and times a stylus is better. It just strikes me as “odd” from a marketing perspective. Styluses are just considered old hat, no matter how practical.

James Joyner provides a level-headed perspective to the urinating soldiers.

Vladimir Putin is a very bad egg, but he’s got “cool” down pat. Whale hunting with crossbows? It’s almost enough to make up for the plastic surgery.

Is Japan’s failure, the “lost decade” a myth? Matthew Yglesias says it is not. If Nanani is still reading, I’d love to hear her perspective.

Hasbro is suing Asus for the latter naming their tablet the Transformer. This article says that they probably don’t have a case because nobody is going to confuse a toy with a tablet. But with Verizon paying George Lucas for the Droid name, it strikes me that there is precedent. The Transformer is actually supposed to be one of the best tablets on the market.

I could have sworn that I wrote on this before – and my apologies if I have – but I can’t find it.

Category: Newsroom

This post is at least partially about the new TV series, Boss. It will contain little in the way of spoilers and will also not require you to have actually seen the show.

In the beginning of the first episode, Chicago Mayor Tom Kane (Kelsey Grammer) is hit with what may be the worst medical diagnosis there is, something called Lewy Body. It’s a cross between Parkinson’s and Alzheimers. His body, and his mind, are betraying him. His time left as an independent, cognoscente person is perilously short. The show is about Grammer’s attempts to conceal his illness and reaffirm his political power in the face of various external and internal threats.

It’s not The Wire, but I thought it was a really good show. If I were Tom Kane, though, it would have likely been a very boring show. It would have been a show about using my last day’s to assure a stable and ordertly transition into quiet retirement. Kane, though, fights on. The only transition he tries to manage is to replace Governor Cullen (Francis Guinan) with young upstart State Treasurer Zajac (Jeff Hephner), and rather than backing down from politics, he throws himself further and further into it. The notion of backing down, or losing, never occurs to him even to the point where he does something that left me literally uttering “Oh, my god.” It becomes apparent, as the show progresses, that Kane has little or nothing to retire to. He is in a loveless marriage and he and his wife both disowned their only child in the name of political expediency. There are some attempts to reconcile with his daughter, but that’s about as personal as he gets.

The whole mentality is rather alien to me. That’s one reason why I would never have a successful career in politics.

Of course, I look back at some political figures in astonishment at the degree to which they went the opposite track. There was a young politician in Colosse, Alex Leventis, who had an astonishing career ahead of him. Some were saying that he could go on to become president. A moderate Democrat, he was thought highly of across party lines. Then, in an announcement that everyone assumed was going to be for a gubernatorial bid, Leventis announced his retirement from politics. Nobody had any idea why. Less than a decade later, Leventis was in prison.

The bizarre thing about the Leventis story is what it came to be apparent did happen to him. He fell in love with a stripper. Apparently, an avaricious one. And in an attempt to make her happy, he did things in his political office that he shouldn’t have done. He retired to go to the private sector (and so that he could marry a former stripper without cocking as many eyebrows) and made more money there until his past caught up with him. The guy that everybody loved suddenly had no friends. He’d burned his bridges with Democrats by being something of a maverick. He’d burned his bridges with Republicans by being a Democrat. The stripper left him while he was in prison.

Leventis and Kane represent opposite sides of the political spectrum. One who threw it all away for the woman that he loved and the other held on tight in part because he loved nothing but what he had.

Category: Statehouse, Theater

As folks around here know, I oppose a playoff for college football. The notion that it produces the “fairest” result is far from clear when. More to the point, though, there is no perfect way to determine a champion. March Madness isn’t perfect. Major League Baseball isn’t perfect. The pursuit of perfection, often in the form of allowing more and more teams into the playoff because the 9th team is arguably just as good as the 8th, merely pushes the can down the road.

This post isn’t about playoffs. This post is about what is often behind the push for playoffs. That pursuit of perfection. A fool’s errand, as often as not. The notion that any system is going to produce the perfect result, unsullied by a freak loss here or a bad call there.

Until relatively recently, I was opposed to instant replay of any form in football. The idea being, even the instant replay people aren’t going to get it right sometimes. The typical “incontrovertible evidence” standard means that the replay booth is left to decide between whether it really looked like the ref’s call was wrong, or whether it really, really looked like the ref’s call was wrong. And sometimes they get it wrong entirely. Sometimes a pivotal call is one that can’t be reviewed. Sometimes the call on the ground is so effed up that there is no right way to do it (a fumble is confused for a forward pass, a whistle blows the play dead and the live ball is picked up with an open field for a touchdown… how do you sort that one out?). There is, of course, more fair and less fair, but the delays and such didn’t seem worth it.

My mind changed as (at least at the college level) the reviews got a lot better and, most importantly, faster. Particularly in the first half of the season. There seemed to be some backsliding towards the end of the season. But the first half of the season, as well as last season (which is when my mind was changed), demonstrated that it’s possible to correct the obvious bad ones (of which there are many) without delaying the game. My main point, though, about sometimes just accepting the bad calls as a part of the game rather than a betrayal of the game, stands… in the abstract, at least.

While I was down in Colosse, I watched a Southern Tech basketball game against (who else?) Utica. I don’t watch basketball on all that regular a basis, but it was the worst officiating I believe I have ever seen. Of course, that’s one of the fundamental differences between basketball and football. In football, there are some bad calls (even with instant replay) and they can sometimes have a powerful impact on the game. You can debate it, discuss it, pick it apart. But basketball? It comes down to 100,000 ref calls throughout the game. And there can’t be anything like instant replay. And a whole lot of them are in gray areas and all of them are in realtime. In a lopsided game, there isn’t much the refs can do to affect the outcome, but if it is at all close, the best you can hope for is that the refs screw up equally.

And that’s okay. It, like at least some crummy officiating in football, is built into the game.

To get back to playoffs, when I think of March Madness, whatever problems I have with it from a fairness standpoint, I don’t think anything it does even remotely compares to the arbitrariness of the referees. A reason for me to prefer football, perhaps, though in the end it’s as much about the excitement of the games as it is about a true contest of superiority.

And that’s yet another reason why the LSU-Alabama rematch sucked.

Category: Downtown

Is lego evil or just highly problematic? I can’t speak to the sexism, but I find the product tie-in model to be agitating. This is kind of cool, though.

People remain in prison for a crime we are still trying to figure out if it’s possible.

Nine stubborn truths about the brain that just won’t die.

One gallon of gasoline can power an iPhone for 20 years.

A critical look at anti-Jitney laws.

Is dynamic parking pricing not working?

Are biased refs good business? It’s common in wrestling entertainment for some local hero to win the title belt for the hometown crowd only to lose it again in short order.

I think this MIT program is awesome. Not only online courses, but certificates!

Category: Newsroom

I got my auto registration for my Forester, Nader, and was in for a shock: It’s $325! Now, that won’t impress you Californians out there, but considering we just recently paid less than a third of that on my wife’s car, Ninjette, it was an unpleasant surprise. It was hefty last time for Nader, but I figured that was due to the fact it was a new car registration. It turns out that the state is engaging in affluence-discrimination. A form of progressive taxation under the idea that if you can afford a newish car (less than five years old) you must be fishin’ loaded. My inner conservative is outraged as this is yet another way our increased income is being chipped away at. My inner liberal points out that my paying $225 to the state ($100 is local) allows someone barely getting by on a clunker* to pay $30 (and less on the county, though I can’t find the exact number). Intellectually, the liberal wins. The conservative hasn’t calmed down yet.

Anyway, I hadn’t heard of this before. I thought three-digit registration was something that only blue coastal states did.

* – Ironically, this puts us in both categories, since my car is relatively new and my wife’s is almost old enough to get its own drivers license.

When I got back to the airport in Deseret, I was happy to see that Nader was dirty as all getout. (I was not so happy that Nader’s battery was dead.) I feel like a bad Subaru owner when Nader is clean. Go to a Subaru dealership, and the pictures they have all over the walls are not of a clean car, but a picture of the dirtiest one they can find. In-keeping with the image and all that. I don’t exactly go offroading. I wouldn’t let it get dirty just to assuage my insecurities, but the below-freezing weather has made a carwash a bad idea. So, for now anyway, I feel like a proper Subaru owner.

At Ataturk’s, a guy roled up in a Subaru Forester of the same color as mine. My first thought was “Hey, cool.”

My second thought was “You don’t see many of those down here.”

My third thought was “Why the hell would anybody down here by a Subaru?”

We bought ours strictly for climate reasons. Otherwise, no reason to care about the AWD. And without caring about the AWD, some of the competing cars are competitively priced. We probably would have gone with one of those.

Category: Road

Larry Downes got a lot of publicity with a screed against Best Buy, declaring its imminent demise:

To discover the real reasons behind the company’s decline, just take this simple test. Walk into one of the company’s retail locations or shop online. And try, really try, not to lose your temper.

I admit. I can’t do it. A few days ago, I visited a Best Buy store in Pinole, CA with a friend. He’s a devoted consumer electronics and media shopper, and wanted to buy the 3D blu ray of “How to Train Your Dragon,” which Best Buy sells exclusively. According to the company’s website, it’s backordered but available for pickup at the store we visited. The item wasn’t there, however, and the sales staff had no information.

But my friend decided to buy some other blu-ray discs. Or at least he tried to, until we were “assisted” by a young, poorly groomed sales clerk from the TV department, who wandered over to interrogate us. What kind of TV do you have? Do you have a cable service, or a satellite service? Do you have a triple play service plan?

He was clearly—and clumsily–trying to sell some alternative. (My guess is CinemaNow, Best Buy’s private label on-demand content service.) My friend politely but firmly told him he was not interested in switching his service from Comcast. I tried to change the subject by asking if there was a separate bin for 3D blu rays; he didn’t know.

The used car style questions continued. “I have just one last question for you,” he finally said to my friend. “How much do you pay Comcast every month?”

My friend is too polite. “How is that any of your business?” I asked him. “All right then,” he said, the fake smile unaffected, “You folks have a nice day.” He slinked back to his pit.

Best Buy is on my blacklist of companies. They’re one of the Evil Corporations. I’m not a fan. I shop there sometimes, but only because I need to and there is no Fry’s around. What’s funny about this, though, is that the one thing Best Buy always did so much better than Circuit City is that they didn’t have the overly aggressive salespeople. I could shop in piece. And honestly, I can’t remember a problem even on more recent trips. So I don’t know if they changed their business practices from when I went there all the time (and the few times I’ve been recently I lucked out) or whether I just come with a “Don’t tread on me” demeanor.

His follow-up suggests that his experiences are not unique.

I also heard from plenty of current Best Buy employees, both via Forbes and through private emails. Best Buy has a strong sales culture at the stores, and some employees took the article personally. I called out some of their (non-obscene) comments on the original post, in part because I think they inadvertently highlight what’s wrong with the company’s current strategy.

Employees, I learned, are strongly conditioned to see every customer who walks in the store as a potential target, one who needs to be coerced into buying something other than what they came looking for.

But you can’t treat the customer as an adversary in a battle of wills. You can’t provide superior service when you’ve been drilled to view each person who walks into your store as prey. You can’t be a trusted source of expertise on consumer electronics when, as many former employees told me, failure to follow the company script means getting your hours cut or simply being fired.

A shame, if true. Since I consider Best Buy to be an Evil Corporation, I won’t mind if they go. I hope it provides an opportunity for Fry’s to expand. Fry’s has a bit of a different business model, with more of a bookstorish emphasis on “kick back, relax, have some coffee!” Of course, bookstores themselves are alleged to be in trouble. So Fry’s might choose to play it safe (one of Borders alleged mishaps was overexpansion, if I recall).

Category: Market

Is the Toyota Camry getting knocked off its perch?

A case against the case against payday loans. More.

A self-publishing success story, marked for future inspiration.

What our taste in music says about us. Or “why I tended not to mention my appreciation of country music in my old online matchsite profiles.”

I was torn between whether I should buy this immediately or wait until I needed a nite-lite. But it sold out. They Might Be Giants needs to get on top of this and offer a genuine TMBG one.

Why conservatives and libertarians hate urbanists. Here is a potential area of common ground.

As far as the “distracted driver” phenomenon is a problem, portable electronics are only a small part of the problem. Also, the NTSB may be misleading the public.

How the characters from Lost make a peanut butter sandwich.

A look at dishonesty and intellectual dishonesty.

The shocking truth about office Christmas parties and infidelity.

So the iPod is apparently destroying ears. Ha! I don’t have an iPod! Wait… “and other audio devices”? Crap. Well, I only listen to the audio in my right ear. So I guess my left is good!

Category: Newsroom