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Sunday, June 30, 2013

What Did I Tell You About Eating In The Car?

When it gets really, really hot outside, like well over triple digits, it's not uncommon for somebody, probably from the local news station, to crack an egg on the sidewalk to see if it'll fry.

It takes a little more effort to bake cookies. But apparently, it can get hot enough to do that too. What this requires is temperatures getting up into 120, high 110's, being in Phoenix, and leaving some cookie dough in a car with the windows up. (Also aluminum foil.) The National Weather Service, who attempted this, didn't have a thermometer on hand, so the exact temperature isn't available, but they do know that temperatures inside the car topped 200 at least. As a control, cookies were also put on the sidewalk.

After four hours, they had fully-baked cookies (and a car that smelled like cookies). The, um, chef, Charlotte Dewey, says she probably could have taken them out of the car after two hours, but she wanted to make sure the cookies were done on the inside as well. The sidewalk cookies didn't quite work out.

That's a hint. If the car's hot enough to bake cookies, imagine what it can do to you. Roll the damn windows down. Or use the air conditioner. Or reconsider if you really need to drive.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Running Towards The Crash

The euro has undergone quite the fall from grace lately. Originally hailed as a symbol of European unity, the shared currency now is viewed by some as the thing that will cause- or has already caused- the economic collapse of the entire continent. The problem, really, is that multinational currencies are only as strong as their weakest nation. If all the nations are stable, there's no problem. But one weak nation can affect the rest.

The euro began involving Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Portugal, San Marino, Spain and the Vatican. When they switched over in 1999, most were fine. Italy (with San Marino and the Vatican sharing their currency) was very shaky, but they, like any weaker nation that pegs itself to a currency also used by someone else, viewed it as a stabilizer. A fresh start. Portugal and Spain were also comparatively weaker economies. The euro could handle them, though, for now. Then the eastern half of the continent, seeing how well the euro was doing originally, decided they wanted in on it too. Why not? It'd be a way to boost their economies as well.

Greece was the first nation to join after the originals. They were since joined by, in order, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta, Slovakia and Estonia. With the exception of Slovenia, those later nations looked at least like passable additions. Greece, however, was as shaky as Spain, Italy and Portugal. After the global financial crisis hit, they were all re-exposed as the weak links.

Despite this, the euro is not only something nations are not abandoning or kicking anyone out of, but Latvia is now set to join the eurozone come January (at the same time Croatia joins the EU). As of this post, one Latvian lat is worth 1.42 euros. That's a good indicator. You typically want to be the lower number. That said, many Latvians aren't thrilled about this, having voted in majorities for anti-euro candidates last month.

We'll just have to see who's right.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Are You A Blog Making Money From Porn?

Well, bye. On Sunday, Blogger will be updating the terms of service to ban the monetization of adult content. If that describes you, get it all down by then or your blog is going to go away. Adult content in and of itself is fine, although you're asked to mark your blog as such lest they do it for you. You just don't get to make money off it.

I hope none of you are making money from porn. Though sometimes from the hits I'm getting...

(By the way, sorry about the large amount of blurb-sized posts lately. I have a couple other projects getting the bulk of my attention right now and that's not conducive to longer articles.)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Big Brown Stain... ...Yeah, Let's Go With That

I ran across an article at Deadspin, excellently written, that I'd like to pass along today. The article is from June 7, written by Ryan Goldberg, and concerns horse racing, specifically the 2008 Triple Crown season. The three things you might know going in from that year are that A) Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby, B) the filly Eight Belles broke her leg and had to be put down, and C) still no Triple Crown win which is pretty much the only thing the general public cares about anymore regarding horse racing.

Part of horse racing's image problem revolves around general corruption, and Goldberg's piece is not going to help matters. It tells the story of an investment scheme that promised to pay investors from the horse's winnings, a poor investment strategy given how uncertain a revenue stream that is. It tells the story of a horse frequently given steroids. It tells the story of an owner, Rick Dutrow, who treated the rules as things that didn't apply to him and even if they did, didn't matter enough to worry about. Everything collapsed during the Triple Crown, and Big Brown not only failed to convert at the Belmont, he came in stone dead last and DNF'ed.

To the horse racing community's utter delight.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Companies Standing Behind Paula Deen

Via USA Today, let us go over who has actively voiced support for Paula Deen after her... remarks, her very very racist remarks. This is not every company she still has business with, just the ones she's gotten vocal support from.

*450ID
*Club Marketing Services
*Epicurian Butter
*Harvest NA
*IQ Craft
*Landies Candies
*Sandridge Food Corporation
*Springer Mountain Farms
*Tasty Blend Foods

So... whatever consumer decisions you want to make from that. Outside of the USA Today article, we also have the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show.

EDIT: Also Royal Caribbean International; thanks to Jay Rawls in the comments.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Supreme Court Did A Bad Thing

I can't say I'm shocked. In fact, given the makeup of the Supreme Court, I'm not in the least bit surprised.

Doesn't mean I'm not stunned into doing little more than just posting a link regarding the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and leaving you to rage to your heart's content. I'll let Steve Benen of the Maddow Blog over at MSNBC do the talking.

At least you don't have to worry about your legacy anymore, Roberts. It's trashed no matter what else you do.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Some Would Argue They Don't Serve Food Anyway

If you've ever watched Kitchen Nightmares, or worked in a crappy restaurant, or heard of fast food, you'll know that some restaurants do not make things from scratch. They have food shipped in or pre-bought and more or less just heat it up and slap it on a plate when you order it. Understandably, and for good reason, these places are held in lower regard than places that do make your food from scratch.

But we still think of them as restaurants.

In France, though, one of the food world's cultural centers, they take things far more seriously. Not that pre-prepared food is not rampant there; in fact, according to a recent survey, 31% of restaurants in France admitted (repeat: admitted) to using pre-prepared food, a dramatic ramp-up from where that figure used to be. Not that I know where that number used to be, but it's a lot higher. And this is a very troubling thing to France's food community, who have up to this point made various efforts to build up the restaurants that make things on site, recognizing and defining various words such as 'artisanal',  'fait maison' (in-house), 'free-range', 'natural', 'traditional' and 'pure'. Some of the more notable French chefs have come up with a 'quality restaurant' label for places that make things on-site, tell you where things have come from and give you a welcome at the door.

Now they're going to go the other way. The carrot hasn't worked, so they're going to try the stick, redefining what a 'restaurant' is in the first place. As it stands now, the definition is 'a place where food is served for payment'. An effort is being made right now, through an amendment to a consumer-rights bill, to redefine the term to specifically apply to places that make food fresh and on-site. Bakeries, as of 1995, already have such a thing in place with the word 'boulangerie' (French for bakery).

Needless to say, the fast food industry, which has accounted for 54% of restaurant business in France last year, is bitterly opposed to the legislation, as they would no longer be legally able to call themselves restaurants. Their claim is that it would "confuse" tourists (which, seriously, anyone who needs any further explanation as to what you're getting at a McDonald's are probably beyond help anyway). Pressure from them has, for now, gotten the amendment withdrawn, though that by no means kills the effort.

What would probably help it would be for a nation that prides itself on its food, half of which have said they don't trust restaurants for exactly this reason and 96% of which would support a seal of approval like this one, to not eat at fast-food places over half the time.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Mount Fuji Has Cultural Value Now

The annual addition of sites to the UNESCO World Heritage List is at the very least underway and at the most has concluded at the 37th annual meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. And you may recognize a couple of the names that got on the list this year.

Most notably, you'll recognize the name Mount Fuji, which leads one to ask why it took so long to get on in the first place. Mount Etna in Italy is also getting on, as well as a North Korean site, only their second. They managed to list a collection of monuments and sites in Kaesong dating back to the 10th century. Fiji and Qatar got in for the first time; Fiji with the port town of Levuka, and Qatar with the archaeological site of Al Zubarah. I'm also noticing the center of Agadez, Niger; the villas and gardens of Tuscany's Medici family; and Rajahstan hill forts in India.

Also listed this year, not counting the three existing sites that got extensions:
Red Bay Basque Whaling Station (Canada)
Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces (China)
Bergpark Wilhelmsh√∂he (Germany)
Golestan Palace (Iran)
El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve (Mexico)
Namib Sand Sea (Namibia)
Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine (Poland / Ukraine)
University of Coimbra – Alta and Sofia (Portugal)
Tajik National Park (Tajikistan)
Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese and its Chora (Ukraine)

On the flip side, all six of the sites in Syria have been listed as endangered because of that civil war you might have heard about, as well as the Solomon Islands' East Rennell, a coral atoll threatened by logging. One site is scheduled for removal, Bagrati Cathedral in Georgia, as recent renovations have removed too much authenticity for it to remain, but it will remain on the list for one more year as it's listed alongside another cathedral, Gelati, and Gelati will be given a chance to be listed separately.

In addition, a summer bobsled ride in Germany's Rhine Valley has been criticized for violating that site's authenticity; the committee has requested its dismantling. The bobsled ride's owner, Rainer Knecht, doesn't know what the hell's even going on, stating, "When I think that people in Phnom Penh are getting worked up over this, I just don't even know how to respond." It's not the first time Germany's taken hits for something like this; in 2009, the Elbe River Valley became only the second-ever World Heritage Site to be thrown off the list after the Waldschlösschen Bridge, bisecting the valley, was built. The threat of delisting is probably the most powerful tool that UNESCO has to force compliance; a World Heritage designation is great for tourism, and offers the promise of protection, but there's not enough money to go around to protect everything and UNESCO counts on the local governments to take care of the bulk of it. Putting a site down as endangered can easily serve only to increase tourism even more, as people rush to go see it before it's gone. Actually throwing the site off the list sends the message, 'Okay, tourists, you're too late, no point going anymore, they broke it'. Which is bad for business.

So if the bobsled ride gets the Rhine Valley thrown off the list, it'll be more than people in Phnom Penh that get worked up.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

I'm Going To Make You Very Angry

Let's just rip the band-aid off.

Jeffrey Skilling, he of Enron, has gotten his sentence reduced by 10 years, and could be eligible for release from prison as early as 2017. He won this early release, as CBS News explains it, through basically using his money to launch appeal after appeal after appeal and tying up the courts so long that the Justice Department had his sentence reduced just so they won't have to deal with him anymore. $40 million will be paid to victims, money that all this time has been tied up while Skilling launched his appeals.

Told you you'd be angry.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Kitty, No Claws, OW

Let's be quick about it. My cat seems to like doing this thing lately where she wakes me up at literally the most inconvenient hour of the night, digging into me with claws until such time as I get up and feed her. Sometimes she will do it twice. She will do it even though putting out a food is literally the last thing I do before going to bed. So I'm tired and nappy and I still have to take care of you guys.

So here's a TED talk from Juliana Rotich. Enjoy.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

You Still Have To Do Your Homework

Let it never be said that education is not important. Do not get any idea of the sort from the news item I'm about to share with you. Education is vital, very vital. You want to get the best education you can, do the best you can in school, get the best grades possible. Remember our byline: 'Be Less Stupid'. For those of you wondering, that means that, in the grand scheme of things, when you take into account all the information and knowledge that exists, no one person knows very much at all. Me included. Everyone has mental blind spots. 'Be Less Stupid' means go fill in those blind spots. Which means educate yourself.

Are we clear on that? Let's make sure you understand that. Do you understand that? Yes? Okay. Good. Then we can proceed with the news item.

Google, in its hiring process, will no longer be asking for your GPA or your test scores, unless you're right out of school and that's all they have to go on. They will also no longer be using brain teasers such as 'how many golf balls does it take to fill a 747' or things like that. The reason for that is that they've looked at how asking those questions has worked out for them, and those criteria have turned out to be worthless to them in determining the value of an employee. What they're looking for now is a- and this is Google we're talking about- less statistical approach. As Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations, told the New York Times yesterday:
After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different. You’re also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently. Another reason [for the lack of correlation] is that I think academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment. One of my own frustrations when I was in college and grad school is that you knew the professor was looking for a specific answer. You could figure that out, but it’s much more interesting to solve problems where there isn’t an obvious answer. You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer.

Bock went on to state that there's only so much a statistic can say and that, eventually the human face of things has to be taken into account.

This is not unique, and it's being noticed on the other side of the equation as well. The Association of American Colleges and Universities recently polled employers to determine what they consider most important. Long story short, they found grades to be overrated. (PDF)

REMINDER TO ANY STUDENTS READING: DO NOT PRINT THIS OUT AND HAND IT TO YOUR TEACHER AS AN EXCUSE TO SLACK OFF. I WILL COME FIND YOU AND KICK YOUR ASS.

First off, preference is still given to college graduates; 95% of employers said as much. Second, ethics is the thing they actually look for. 96% of employers said personal integrity was important, and 76% called it very important, the highest numbers for any item they were polled on. The second most important thing was racial tolerance. (96% important/ 63% very important), followed by capacity to learn new things- also known as, say it with me, Be Less Stupid (94%/61%); interest in giving back to the community (71%/26%), and knowing about the world in general (55%/16%).

When asked what they thought colleges ought to focus on, the #1 answer was critical thinking, with 82% of employers saying more emphasis should go there. Second was the ability to analyze and solve complex problems (81%), verbal and written communication (80% each), and the ability to apply knowledge to a real world setting (78%). That last one is what Bock was talking about.

Last on the list, interestingly, was knowledge about democratic institutions and values, which only 27% of employers wanted a greater focus on, and 20% of which wanted a reduced focus on. Make of that what you will.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Note About Taxi Drivers

It may happen during the course of your life that, one day, you may require a taxi. It may further transpire that, when the taxi arrives, the driver turns out to be Muslim.

This is normal. All sorts of people drive taxis, from all different religions. Yes, even that one. This is not something to be scared of. This is certainly not something to call 911 over and yes this happened which is why we are going over this. No matter what the taxi driver's religion, you can go ahead and ride in the taxi without fear for anything except your wallet. There might even be a game show inside.

Also, 911 doesn't really appreciate hearing "I have some Muslim guy, which I am very scared, who is our taxi driver, who's pulled over, and I'm afraid." Especially after the driver has already called 911 himself because you told him that all Muslims come to the US and drive taxis for a year to raise the money to blow themselves up, because you poked him in the shoulder, and because you threatened to have him deported.

Also? If you keep the cab driver waiting for 50 minutes and he charges you for it, that's on you. Be lucky he even decided to hang around that long.

Also, stabbing the cabbie is right out.

This country is supposed to be the melting pot. All races, all religions welcome. Just because we haven't adhered to that as much as we should have been in the past is no excuse to continue not adhering to it now. There are about 1.8 billion Muslims on this planet and not all of them are trying to kill you. Some of them just want to drive you where you want to go. Some of them are not only in our airports, and drive you to our airports, they pray in them. Sometimes they even let them fly the plane, after which somehow the plane doesn't explode and the plane can be used again afterwards.

Ugh. Some of you, honestly.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

All Right, That's Enough Warm Fuzzies

I don't know if you've heard, but Turkey's in a bit of upheaval right now. Late last month, Istanbul intended to bulldoze Gezi Park, the last green space in town, and to build a shopping mall in its place. A small group of protesters came out, as one might expect for a municipal action of that nature. Normally, you'd expect the protesters to be allowed to speak their peace, followed probably by the bulldozing and construction anyway. What instead happened was that security forces violently broke up the protest. That just encouraged a bigger crowd to come out protesting the treatment of the first protesters. It's now the middle of June and things have completely blown up into a nationwide antigovernment movement against prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc warning that the military could be brought in soon.

Bad enough as it is. But as Victor Kotsev of Fast Company points out, watch as it gets worse. Because tear gas has been deployed in this conflict, and while we're all pretty clear on what happens when tear gas is deployed on humans, how many people think about what happens to the pets and other animals? Your kitty does not have a gas mask. Neither does your puppy. Especially not your birdie.

A kitty in a cast is not the thing I hoped to see when I woke up this morning.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Your Semi-Warm Fuzzy For Today

During the rule of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, sporting arenas were commonly used as mass jails or torture centers or interrogation or execution sites. That's not a unique thing; stadiums are surprisingly useful for such purposes if you happen to be a dictator. You know how many thousands of people you can cram into the place, a lot of places to hide things in the bowels of the stadium, a big open field to use for whatever, you control all the entrances and exits, and you can hold sports and political rallies there once you hide everything from everyone who doesn't need to see that stuff.

One such stadium, Victor Tara in Santiago, was one of them, put into action immediately after the 1973 coup. But that time is over now, and winter is here in the Southern Hemisphere. And stadiums can be used for other things too.

Like homeless shelters.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Superman Is Boring

So there's a new Superman movie, Man of Steel. It did very, very well in its opening weekend; so far it's at $125 million in box office. Which still leaves $100 million to go in order to match its $225 million budget, but it's a good start.

I don't go to very many movies, but even if I did, I'd probably be steering clear of this one myself. It's only getting 56% on Rotten Tomatoes, and even the positive reviews are rather qualified statements that could really be categorized either way. The general consensus appears to be that the actors all did what they were supposed to do in the technical sense, in that everyone performed competently and professionally, but nobody elevated the thing past its convoluted, brooding script and generic summer-blockbuster special effects.

All in all, another lackluster Superman movie. I'm not surprised. Superman isn't built for movies. In fact, he's not built for much serious storytelling at all these days. (Oh yes, we're going after him again.)

There's a reason for that, and Soren Bowie of Cracked noticed as well. When Superman's original appearance in Action Comics #1 happened, it was 1938. Back then, plotlines could be very simplistic and get away with it. The comic book as a medium was only about five years old at the time, with the first, Famous Funnies, having gotten underway in 1933. It was still the feeling-out period. All the avenues for superhero creation were open. The basic package of powers allotted to Superman wound up being a very easy and popular set to use: super-strength, flying, invulnerability. It today is known as the 'flying brick' package, with Superman's other major powers of super speed, heat vision, X-ray vision, super breath and super hearing tossed in as optionals. Of course, Superman hasn't just been stuck with that set. Different writers give superheroes different power loadouts as time goes on, and for a time Superman got decked out with all sorts of other powers. He got to do ventriloquism. He got to fly so fast he could make time go backwards in one of the movies. He got telekinesis. He got shape-shifting. He got super-hypnotism. He got super-weaving at one point. Super-friction. Super-landscaping and I am linking you to shots of the actual comic panels if you don't believe me. He got any power the writers wanted or needed him to have. Superman has so many superpowers you can't even keep track of them all.

In the 1930's, even in the 1950's and 60's and 70's, this was perfectly fine. You could get away with this. But sooner or later, you have a superhero who's so powerful that Earthly villains cease to be realistic opposition, Kryptonite or not. Once you've made someone that powerful, the usual solution is to ship them into space to fight galactic-level opponents. But Superman can't do that, because Superman's supposed to be Earth's big champion. You can't get him away from Earth on a permanent basis; you can only bring threats to him. Anything less than Darkseid showing up is effectively a Globetrotters game: you know Superman will win because it can't plausibly end any other way; the question is how is it going to happen.

So you need some other source of conflict. There's a problem there too, though: Superman is a total boy scout and nobody buys him any other way. He's the moral upstanding citizen everyone else looks up to. When the Death of Superman storyline took place in 1992, op-ed writers, unaware that DC Comics had every intention of bringing Superman back just like every other dead superhero, howled about how society apparently no longer had a place for Superman. In the days of the Comics Code Authority- the Hays Code of the comic book industry- every superhero acted more or less like that because nothing else was allowed. But while other heroes grew out of it, gained some sort of personal issue they could use for storylines, or at least restored one that existed before the Code, Superman never did. And he couldn't. The most anyone has really tried is giving him some sort of angst about his place in the world, but it's always been swiftly rejected. Superman knows his place. His place is being a hero.

As Kevin Smith noted in 2000 upon being handed a movie script for what would eventually become the 2006 movie Superman Returns,

"Batman is about angst; Superman is about hope. That was the thing that bothered me about Greg Poirier’s draft: they were trying to give Superman angst. They had Clark Kent going to a psychiatrist at one point. Superman’s angst is not that he doesn’t want to be Superman. If he has any, it’s that he can’t do it all; he can’t do enough and save everyone. It’s not enough to make him want to quit being Superman; it’s enough to make the guy stay up at night so he’s out doing shit constantly." 

(Smith would later leave the project not long after executives told him the script was to be little more than a vehicle to sell as much merchandise as possible. Don't bring the finished product up in his presence unless you want to see a head explode.)

As Soren Bowie pointed out in the Cracked link from earlier, that angst- the angst of not being able to save everyone- is probably the best hope for Superman to have an actual conflict that's a match for him. You can't be in Metropolis stopping a bank robbery and in, say, Africa trying to tamp down a civil war at the same time. Being super-fast doesn't mean you can be in two places at once. Nobody ever gave Superman a cloning power (even if they did give him a clone). So every time he's out saving someone, there's someone else he's not saving. But even that would prove extremely problematic... because solving those problems would require a lot of physical inaction. Talking. Debate. Legislative action. Judicial action. Charity work. All worthwhile... but not nearly as fun as punching a problem until it's fixed.

And even if pulled off, it can still backfire... because of the actual real-life societal problems that peskily refuse to go away. In 1993, the X-Men began a storyline regarding the 'Legacy Virus', a disease that infected and killed only superbeings. It was a thinly-disguised AIDS analogy, just like a lot of current-events issues that get taken on in the comic world. The thinking was probably that the Legacy Virus would get cured when AIDS did. Nine years later, the writers gave up and cured the Legacy Virus by making one mutant kill himself to cure everyone else. Colossus volunteered. (Colossus is, of course, no longer dead.)

Without that kind of conflict, though, there's not much left to give Superman enough of a challenge to be able to suspend disbelief. He is the perfect good guy who always wins. He's so powerful that it's questionable as to whether he even needs teammates anymore, because it's tough to think of anything the teammates could contribute other than removing Kryptonite. He is, to put it bluntly, a Mary Sue facing an audience that used to tolerate Mary Sues but no longer does. This is not to say there isn't a place for Superman. There's always a place for an incorruptible moral beacon.

But when that moral beacon is almost incomprehensibly powerful as well, he can be easily written into a corner. And that is Superman's true greatest weakness.

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Fish By Any Other Name Is More Appetizing

When you eat seafood, odds are you're going right for the big names: shrimp, tuna, salmon, cod, halibut, the like. The problem with that is there are only so many of those. Meanwhile, there are many fish with less attractive names, and many other fish called 'trash fish' that are simply thrown directly into the garbage upon being caught. Around here, we have wastebins for carp, our most famous resident invasive species. You catch a carp, you chuck it straight into the bin marked 'ROUGH FISH', and you keep on fishing.

The thing is, that's on you. If you ask the people doing the cooking in the restaurants, they'd love to be serving the less-popular fish. They'd love to serve the junk fish too. Whatever it is they can get you to eat. They deal with making fish into something tasty all the time. They know what's good. Michele Kayal of the Associated Press here goes into further detail about getting customers to eat the lesser fish- which can easily turn into popular fish.

They know it can be done. Lobster, after all, was not always a luxury food. It started out in colonial times as something you only ate when you absolutely had to and it was either that or starve. It was the era equivalent of ramen noodles. (Which, in turn, are also quite tasty when put in the hands of a pro.) This is an industry for which 'The Whole Beast' by Fergus Henderson- a book telling about how to cook every single part of a pig, from snout to tail to offal to the pig's blood- has become nigh-required reading. Done properly, no ingredient is off limits on taste alone.

And so it was that at last year's Taste Of Chicago- the world's biggest outdoor food festival- organizers arranged for carp to be cooked and handed out as free samples.

There is also the option, if all else fails, of taking a fish with an ugly name, giving it a prettier name, and putting it on the menu under the prettier name. You'll order Chilean sea bass. You're not ordering it under its other name, "Patagonian toothfish". Assuming that it even is Patagonian toothfish, which is not guaranteed. This particular route has a way of rankling the authorities, but it doesn't stop the restaurants.

After all, if you'd just eat your slimefish, they wouldn't have to call it orange roughy.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Moment For Reflection

Isn't it rather sad that a Supreme Court ruling that a human gene cannot, in fact, be patented by a corporation, and that the ruling was 9-0 to that effect, is being taken as big news or a landmark ruling or a surprise in any way, shape or form? Think about where we've gotten as a society that this becomes the sort of news that it is, that this becomes a cause for celebration as opposed to just another obvious ruling.

(Do note, though, that they did also rule that artificially-made genes can be patented, because they're, you know, artificially made. What they can't do is take a gene people get born with and go 'MINE'. Which, again... it's sad that that's actually news.)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I Will Turn This Ship Around Right Now

We're headed to Sporcle for a couple travel-itinerary quizzes. What I want you to do is retrace the steps of:

Captain Cook (6 minutes)
Charles Darwin, 2nd HMS Beagle voyage (4 minutes)
Christopher Columbus (4 minutes)
Queen Elizabeth II (10 minutes)
Lara Croft, main character of Tomb Raider (5 minutes)

You may want comfortable shoes.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

You Made This Decision While Sober

I admit, I'm not a great designated driver. The thing is, I don't go into bars. I was designated driver once, for my brother Erik's bachelor party. I was the first to conk out for the night. The reason was that I can't handle cigarette smoke. At all. The plan was that Erik, me, and a couple of his friends would bar-hop around town over the course of the night. The first bar they picked was filled with smoke. There was a visible haze in the place. After half an hour, I needed to go outside for air. The second bar wasn't nearly as smoke-filled, but I was so out of it from the smoke of the first bar that, after a grand total of one hour, I had to go home and lie down for the rest of the night.

That's right, I wasn't even drinking and I still tapped out before anyone else in the group. (They walked the rest of the night and I believe they called a cab to get home.)

But I had two jobs that night. To drive everyone else around, and to not drink. I flunked out at driving, because, well, I had to take the car to get myself home to lie down. But I fulfilled my other job: to not drink.

In that respect, I appear to have outperformed some people. Let's first note that the study we're about to quote here, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, had a sample size of only about 1,100 people and that most of the subjects were students in an unnamed Southeastern college town. The college students will skew things high, but the Southeastern location, taken broadly, will actually skew things low depending on where exactly we're talking about (the north central, Big Sky region of the country, that's where things skew high). On the whole, we're probably talking a high skew. But given that sample set, they had 40% of designated drivers as having had a drink on their night to drive, and 20% of the drivers drinking enough to get themselves to at least a .05%.

However far the number overshot (or undershot) reality, though, what is beyond dispute is that this means the number is not zero, which is the entire point of having designated drivers in the first place.

The funny thing is that we're assuming people in the process of receiving a higher education to be MORE likely to be this particular brand of stupid.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Two-Lane High-Seaway

In the debate over where to build what would eventually become the Panama Canal, the decision came down to the route that was eventually taken, and another route that went through Nicaragua. The Nicaragua route was to make use of Lake Nicaragua, a path that would have right off the bat taken a lot of work out of the process. Panama was picked at least partially because France had previously attempted it, done part of the work, and then abandoned it. The United States just bought the French interests and picked up where they left off.

Not that this has stopped people from occasionally wanting to put a canal in Nicaragua anyway; doing so would cut hundreds of miles off a northern route (and remember how much of global commerce occurs north of Nicaragua). The Lake Nicaragua section has never been in dispute; the rest of the route has been altered from proposal to proposal. I mention this because the Nicaragua Canal proposal has been floated again. And just like in Panama, the canal is being floated by a burgeoning power flexing its muscles.

You shouldn't have to be told who that might be. (Hint: it's China.)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Geography Class For People Who Shouldn't Need It



he South China Seas and East Indies is the most dangerous area with 293 accidents in the time period. The East Mediterranean and Black Sea, and the North Sea and British Isles, were two and three.

You ready for the chat, Gayathri? You ready for the chat we're going to have? Here comes the chattery.

Those aren't oceans, you dip.

Depending on who you ask, there are four or five oceans: the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Arctic, and perhaps the Southern Ocean (the sea surrounding Antarctica). None of the three listed areas are even parts of oceans- the South China Sea is to the west of the Philippines, with the Pacific to the east; the North Sea is to the east of the United Kingdom, with the Atlantic to the west; and the Mediterranean? Come on now. Seas are not oceans. Seas are smaller and more enclosed by land than oceans. In the case of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, completely enclosed. I would expect someone who writes for Discovery- the people who air Deadliest Catch, which takes place on a sea- to know this.

I suppose it could be worse. You could be the guy who took a dare to drink a bottle of soy sauce in some new, higher-level-of-stupid version of the tablespoon-of-cinnamon thing. But seriously, this chat shouldn't be happening.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

You Deserve A Break Today

Okay, I think it's a how-to video kind of day. What should we do... I know! Let's learn how to perform open-heart surgery!



...er.... okay, let's not, then. Maybe try something simpler. Washing one's hair properly.



I'm afraid to go to this guy for a science experiment. So let's take a Gummi Bear and do one without him. This isn't a try-this-at-home experiment. This is a science-teacher-demonstrates-in-class experiment, and believe me, it's fast become a science class staple. See, a Gummi Bear is made of sugar. Or, more accurately, it's made of sucrose.

In a separate realm of the chemical world, you have potassium chlorate, which is one potassium atom, one chlorine and three oxygen. Normally, when you subject that to a high temperature, it will just split off the oxygen, leaving potassium chloride. However, add the sucrose- which contains carbon- and it will react violently with the heated potassium chlorate, throwing out the large amount of energy contained in the sucrose. You have energy, oxygen and heat, which means you have fire.



Come to think of it, that guy from the other two videos might have had a hand in this one too.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Baby In A Box

One thing you notice after looking at the news a while is that stories have a way of meandering around the various outlets. Not everything's going to get front-page blanket attention by everyone under the sun, but even the smaller stories- sometimes little more than factoids- get passed around a while. The news version of a retweet, basically.

You know that already. I just need a setup.

Anyway, this is one thing currently making that meander, as there's no real anniversary going (although it is 75 years at this point) and no particular reason this comes up now. It's just a thing someone noticed- it looks like this chain originated with Helena Lee of the BBC- and which has made its way around the past few days, and now comes here. What's being passed around... is a box. See, Finland has had a tradition going since 1938 that the government will provide every pregnant mother, regardless of background, a gender-neutral baby starter kit, containing things a new mother needs to get through the first stretch of time- the exact contents change with the times, but it's currently things like clothes, winter clothes, toiletries, a towel, bra pads, a teething toy, even a picture book (no formula or bottle, though, so as to encourage breastfeeding). The kit comes in a cardboard box with a little mattress at the bottom, as the box itself can be used as a starter crib. Originally, it was intended just for low-income mothers, but after the war it was expanded to all mothers, sending the message that every child deserves an equal shot in life. All you have to do to get it is to get to a doctor or a pre-natal clinic by your fourth month. (You can also take a grant of 140 euros, but usually mothers take the box because it's worth more. If you have multiple births, you get the money and the box.)

In the 1930's, Finland had an abysmal infant mortality rate- 65 per 1,000, around what Uganda's rate is today- and the box was created as a way to try and bring that rate down. To say the least, it's worked; the rate is now 3.38, 12th best in the world by 2013 estimates. The United States, at 5.9 per 1,000, ranks 53rd, and part of the reason this is getting passed around is that American commenters would like to get the US closer to Finland's number.

Paid parental leave would probably help get the number down too. You know, seeing as the US doesn't have that.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

We Almost Had A Bacon Forest

Parks are nice. Parks are pretty. Parks are fun to be at. But note that plants in a park usually don't bear fruit. You've got oak trees, maple trees, spruce trees. But no apple trees, typically. Meanwhile, private residences often put up fruit trees. There are apple trees by the side of my house. But the owners typically don't like you plucking that fruit. Pretty much just an accepted thing.

Until now.

Currently under construction is the Beacon Food Forest, in Seattle's Beacon Hill District, funded through money from a park levy from back in 2008. This is a concept common in tropical regions, but not nearly so much in temperate zones such as, well, most of the United States. Fruit trees- as well as nut trees- will be planted in lieu of the maple/oak/etc. assortment, in not only the more common varieties but also some more uncommon ones, at least for Seattle (for example, pineapples). In addition, berry bushes are to be planted. They also plan to have beehives around, so there's honey available as well. It's originally slated for two acres and the plants will take a bit of time to start bearing fruit, but eventually, if this works out, the plan is to tease it out to seven acres, making it the largest such garden in the United States. Any food they bear is to be free (though garden plots are eventually to be leased out for $10 a year), with people invited to take as needed on the honor system. This of course means some asshole could come along and empty all the trees and bushes of every piece of food in sight, but organizers are hoping that guy doesn't come along; if he does, the solution is basically to plant so much stuff they can't possibly get it all.

Or that he doesn't know how to properly collect honey.

If you happen to live in Seattle, they are looking for volunteers to help plant all this stuff and maintain it once it's built. The people to contact for that are here. If you're not from Seattle, they also take money.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How To Win The America's Cup

1. First off, you have to take up yachting. Doy.
2. Then get really really good at yachting. Good enough to win the America's Cup.
3. Get through some qualifying rounds and then beat the guy who has the cup.

Well, that wasn't very instructive. But that's the important first step in winning the cup: the original win. Now comes the fun of defending it.

4. The holder of the America's Cup gets to set the conditions under which it is defended- time, place, and type of boat. This is important to you.
5. Put the race at your favorite spot. Preferably one other people hate.
6. Schedule it whenever you want. There's no set timeline.
7. As for the type of boat... oh, let me back up here a bit.

STEP ZERO: Grow up to be one of the ten richest men on Earth. (As of today, our subject ranks 8th.)


Now then.

7. Make the boat to be used for the race so expensive and unwieldy that you're one of the few people on Earth who can afford to build the thing.
8. Everyone else either doesn't enter, pulls out in frustration, or pulls out for safety concerns. As of right now, four boats are entered. The goal was 15.
9. Make everyone else run out of money... and you win! The America's Cup remains with you!
10. Confirm every single bad thought the non-rich have about yachting.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Ready... Set... ART

Episode 28 of Strip Search has gone up today, the ninth elimination. The season finale is set for June 18. Which means soon, those of us who aren't Game of Thrones people will have to sit and wait for Season 2, and oh I so want there to be a Season 2.

But that's fine. Strip Search is filled with young, talented artists. If art is what we're looking for, well, there's no shortage of art to find. And if you're a Penny Arcade reader and decide that videogames are something to make art from... how's Tetris as a medium?

I give you the work of Michael Birken, or at least, the algorithm he wrote because it's a bit much to ask to be quite THIS good at Tetris. Those gamers among you will know the images well. And will also remember that a standard Tetris board is ten blocks wide and note that this board has been teased out significantly.


Monday, June 3, 2013

As If Good News Was Coming Out of Syria Anytime Soon

The Journeyman Pictures link for this report lists Katalyst Productions. That's about all I've got for you on that front. The content of the report details what's going on in Syrian refugee camps in Jordan as they flee the ongoing civil war.

The answer: bad, bad, terrible things that will go make you go look for puppies to hug.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Don't Phone Home, Home Will Phone You

In 1983, the video game industry crashed and nearly died off. As of yet, there was no true review system in place, no kind of quality control, and no real way to find out if a game was good or bad other than to buy it and play it. If you got it wrong, it was an expensive lesson.

The game blamed for causing the crash was the most expensive lesson of all, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial for the Atari 2600. Longtime gamers like me know this story well, but for those who don't, the rights to make a game based on the movie were obtained in July 1982, and orders were given to programmer Howard Scott Warshaw (back then one guy was sufficient to make a console game) to have the game ready in time to have it on shelves for the Christmas season. He had five weeks. Even back then, that was flatly impossible- the time needed to do a game properly was about six months- but Warshaw, who had the critically-acclaimed Yar's Revenge under his belt from earlier that year, and who had created the first licensed game based on a movie (Raiders of the Lost Ark), did what he could.

What he could do wasn't nearly enough. The deadline was so tight that nobody bothered to even put the game in front of a focus group. They just printed 5 million copies, put them on shelves... and proceeded to get what is still the biggest lambasting in industry history. Many call E.T. the worst video game of all time. Certainly it did the most damage to the industry. Nobody wanted to buy ANY video game after that; with no review system other than word-of-mouth, consumers got gun-shy about spending their hard-earned money on a game that might be terrible for all they know. At least half of the cartridges went unsold, maybe as many as 3.5 million. Something had to be done with them. This grave mistake must be atoned for.

According to legend, what happened next was that, in September 1983, Atari took the unsold cartridges, drove them out to the desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico, and buried them, then crushed them and poured concrete over them . Snopes calls the story true (though noting that E.T. was not the only game buried at the site)... but the story seems like legend to gamers as Atari was not that eager to talk. Warshaw told the AV Club in 2005 that he believed the story to be false. Could that really have happened?

Well, either way, a camera crew is going to prove it once and for all, as the city of Alamogordo has given approval to Canadian film company Fuel Industries to dig up the landfill of legend for a documentary. The city council figures this will prove something of a tourism boon.

Inquisitr is fine with this.

Better to shoot the game into the sun.