Friday, December 5, 2014

Final Internal Programming Note

I've been at this blog for the better part of five years. I've written a ton. Sometimes more than is probably mentally healthy. But I know I've been slacking lately. There's been way more filler than there should have been, and that's dragged down the quality of content, hurting things when I actually put forth something of worth. Writing about anything and everything gives you freedom to roam around, but it can also leave things unfocused if you're not careful, and lately, I haven't been careful.

And you'll note I've been missing days lately. In fact, I haven't been here for a week. That's because I've been moving operations to Wordpress. In the effort to try to get that soccer podcast going, I discovered that Blogger doesn't take audio files. Which is a big problem. If I was going to get anything done regarding that, I needed a place that would take audio files, and that turned out to be Wordpress. In the process, I decided that it would be a good time to refocus.

So say hello to The Minnow Tank, a soccer-exclusive site ('minnow' being a term for a team towards the back end of the quality scale in a given competition). Being soccer-exclusive does not preclude talking about the larger issues in the world, as soccer and the larger world commonly intertwine. But it does provide some sort of direction. I don't intend to attempt to update it every day like I've tried to do here; only when I have something I feel is worth posting.

I'm not going to take Random Human Neural Firings down, but me manning The Minnow Tank precludes me being over here. This site will be left up as an archive. Hope to see you over there.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

96 X'ed

Some time ago, I linked to the website, a site that chronicles the moments when radio stations swap from one format to another. The first thing you'll notice if you poke around is that a lot of the same formats get used in a lot of markets, no thank you very much Clear Channel. (A fair amount of the time, stations will swap around this time of year, airing exclusively Christmas music to mask the change. A station will be one format going into the season and another format coming back out of it.)

But almost always, a station signing off will in fact become the birth of a new station at the same frequency. It's almost unheard-of for a radio station to actually straight-up go off the air, where one moment you hear music or talking and the next you hear only static.

But it has happened. shows one- and only one- instance of a straight shutdown, when Top 40 station 96X in Miami, call sign WMJX, shut down in 1981. The FCC had pulled its license. (This paper from Justin Levine of Indiana University shows only one other, KIKX in Tuscon, which staged a kidnapping of DJ Arthur Gropen in 1974, causing listeners to call the cops, causing the cops to call the station, causing the station to insist the kidnapping was real, causing the FCC to also yank their license in 1981. That shutdown is not in's database.) In 1975, 96X was borne out of a format change, or really I should say an ownership change. Bartell Broadcasting was out, handing off to Charter Broadcasting. Bartell, also doing top-40, had used the call sign WMYQ; Charter went through a couple others, plus a brief switch to disco, before returning to top-40. But in inheriting the station, Charter also inherited the station's legal troubles with the FCC.

WMYQ, you see, had done some very stupid morning-DJ things in the 70's, prior to the handoff to Charter, as I link you to a message from Stuart Elliott, the DJ tasked with pulling the plug. As Elliott explained back in 2005, there were two things the FCC mainly took into account, though the Indiana paper notes that they considered nine contests over a two-year period. The first of the big two was a prank, for which the FCC would eventually use KIKX as precedent to act, in which morning DJ Greg Austin was said to be broadcasting from out at sea and then 'disappeared', causing all manner of law enforcement to launch a huge search party to find him. The news anchor was instructed to keep the disappearance story going to promote a 'Find Greg Austin Contest'. He turned up in a Howard Johnson just down the road from the radio station.

Second was a contest in which the station claimed to be giving away "a warehouse full of 10 speed bicycles". The station would give out clues on the air saying where the bikes were hidden, you'd go find one, call the station, they'd give you a combination to unlock the bike, and if it unlocks it's yours. The thing the FCC honed in on was that here, 'a warehouse full' wound up being defined as 'a half dozen to a dozen'. Elliott didn't say the exact number, but it sure was not a warehouse. These days he'd be thinking more like a storage locker, which wasn't nearly as much of a thing in the early 80's, but in any case, 'warehouse' still means a certain rather large thing.

The Indiana University paper points out another contest from 1973 called 'Magnum One', in which listeners were led to believe they were winning part of a company with "valuable assets". It was actually a shell corporation. The FCC had already warned the station over this one.

An additional sample incident, which is unclear if the FCC noted in its hearings, was recalled in 2012 by B. Eric Rhoads. In 1975, the station was in a ratings war during sweeps with rival Y-100, and the instructions from programmer Jerry Clifton were, "We're neck-and-neck with Y100 and we can win this, but it's going to require extra creativity from you guys. Pull out all the stops. No holds barred. Just don't lose the license." Rhoads went on the air that night and claimed he'd been fired. The rest of the staff "reacted" to the firing. The next morning, Rhoads "broke in" to the studio and "took over" the station and said he'd play a novelty song called 'Eat A Fish' until he got his job back... which led to some very real cops showing up not long afterward, holding him at gunpoint, and dragging him off to a squad car outside. After some explanation to the cops, the mayor of Miami Beach forced the station GM, Carl Gomo, to issue one apology every half hour on the station for the next two weeks. (Y-100 beat 96X in sweeps that year.)

96X would spend a few years defending itself to the FCC, ultimately unsuccessfully. The decision was made final in January 1981, with the station having to be off the air by April. The change in ownership counted for nothing. Charter had taken over with full knowledge of what might end up happening, and knowing that Bartell getting out of Dodge while there was still a Dodge to get out of didn't do anything to change the equation. And given that the license was gone and extremely unlikely to be put back on appeal, they didn't see much point in prolonging the station's demise.

The shutdown can be heard here. Elliott was unable to hold it together as he hit the switch. The calmer-sounding message from station manager Bob Allen was prerecorded. The station would eventually come back on the air, but it wouldn't be until 1985. It's currently WPOW, a dance music station.

Going down like it did, 96X has acquired a tribute website, playing the kinds of music 96X used to play.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Adventures In Marketing

Let's say you're Malaysian Airlines. You're the subject of constant scrutiny and anger every day that the plane of yours that went down... somewhere or other... all the way back in March remains unfound, which is bogged down right now in squabbling over theories, and the odds are at worst pretty fair that it in fact never will be found. You have a second plane that was shot down by Russians mid-Ukranian invasion in July. That's more on the Russians than it is on you, but it still doesn't exactly look good. You are, at this moment, undoubtedly the least-trusted airline on the planet.

Let us also say you are part of Malaysian Airlines' marketing department. You are tasked with figuring out how in the world you are going to get people back on your airplanes that have been frightened into the arms of your competitors. It's getting to be the late stages of the year, and even if you're Muslim and don't observe Christmas, the close of the year is still a big marketing opportunity. Which of the following two things do you tweet?

A) "Want to go somewhere, but don't know where? Our Year-End Specials might just help!"
B) Literally anything other than A short of expressing admiration for the Unabomber.

Needless to say, the selection here was A. Shockingly, that didn't work too well. (The tweet was deleted some hours later. I do not suspect the person that sent it will be employed very much longer.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

One Thing

I've made note here, a couple times, that a small town doesn't get too many opportunities to define itself to the world. A large metropolis, such as St. Louis or Los Angeles, gets in front of the world regularly, and has the opportunity to present many different sides of itself. One can look at Los Angeles and see primarily a celebrity playground, or a media center, or Disneyland, or beaches and surfing, or outrageous urban sprawl, or any of the local sports teams, or its ethnic diversity, or Skid Row, or a culinary mecca, or a parched desert with a city on top of it, or a multitude of other things. The world sees Los Angeles often, and so it sees more sides of Los Angeles.

A small town doesn't have that luxury. Small towns as a whole get in front of the world regularly. But there are a lot of small towns out there. A specific small town in particular, and even some medium-sized cities, may never get its face shown in front of the populace at large in any remotely significant way. Even if it does, it will almost certainly be known for one thing, and one thing only. That's it. One Thing. The town simply isn't large enough to have enough facets to it that people are likely to see more than one of them to any appreciable degree; it may have more, but one is far too likely to outshine the others.

Sometimes, that one thing is sports. Auburn, Alabama is only ever going to be known for the Auburn Tigers. Despite being the birthplace of James Fennimore Cooper, and despite his family being the town's namesake, Cooperstown, New York still has only One Thing, and that is being the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Green Bay, Wisconsin is home to over 100,000 people and has always been a major player in the paper mill industry, but paper is not Green Bay's One Thing. It's the Packers and everybody knows it.

Other times, it's a particular attraction in the town, a landmark. In my case, Watertown, we like to put the fact that we're home to astronaut Dan Brandenstein on the signs entering town, and we name our football team the Goslings over our history fattening up geese for foie gras, but those are not our One Thing. We're the home of the country's first kindergarten. That's our One Thing, and it's really a rather boring one. Neighboring Oconomowoc's One Thing is the unorthodox name of the town itself. Despite secondary reputations as a spring break destination and a fair number of sporting events revolving around the lake, Lake Havasu City, Arizona acquired its One Thing when London Bridge was relocated there, brick by brick, in 1968. Some towns that don't even think they have a One Thing at all try to force it by building a blatant roadside attraction, often the World's Largest something or other. A typical example is Hebron, Nebraska and the World's Largest Porch Swing.

And sometimes, it's historical. Nobody will ever know Kitty Hawk, North Carolina for anything except the Wright Brothers. Nobody will ever know Plymouth, Massachusetts for anything except the landing of the Pilgrims. Nobody will ever know Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for anything except the Civil War.

And this can be rather problematic for a city if its One Thing is an incident that gives the town a bad name. Again, it is hard for a small town to get everybody's attention, and if their one moment in the spotlight is for something bad, that's that. People will go away, remembering only the facet of town that brought them there, and the town will be forced to deal with their One Thing single-handedly dragging down their reputation even if they fix the problem that caused it, because no matter how much effort they put into rebranding themselves, it will probably fail as the nation will go right back to ignoring them after gawking at the One Thing.

Compton, California has gotten far safer since the days in the early 1990's when N.W.A, the Bloods, the Crips and involvement in the Rodney King riots gave Compton their One Thing. But despite working to improve matters ever since, Compton has failed to get the attention of the public at large for any of it. They still labor under their One Thing. And when you labor under your One Thing, it can be very, very difficult getting people or business to move in afterward. It can cost the town dearly going forward, until and unless they can convince the world that their One Thing no longer defines them.

Columbine, Colorado was charged with its One Thing later in the decade, when it became the victim of what would prove to be the most famous school shooting in America, even now, 15 years and far too many school shootings later. The word 'Columbine' has become a byword for school shootings, as school districts across the country, no matter who gets shot up in the meantime, still wonder how to prevent 'another Columbine'. The town's Wikipedia page doesn't even list anything else about it save for basic geography and demographics. Neighboring Littleton, whose previous One Thing was not much better- being the burial site of Alferd Packer, America's only convicted cannibal- found itself in the same shoes as Columbine when, finding that Columbine itself was (and still is) unincorporated, the media falsely reported Littleton, which was incorporated, as the location of the shooting instead.

Whatever it is you may say regarding the events or legitimacy thereof surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson- and I've said plenty myself- what is surely beyond dispute is that Ferguson, Missouri has, by now, been saddled with its One Thing. It is the town where Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, got acquitted, and riots broke out upon his grand jury acquittal. That is Ferguson's claim to fame, and unless Ferguson finds a way to get some other, bigger claim to fame, that is how it will always be remembered, and the town, blacks and whites alike, will simply have to live with that stigma. Ferguson will, eventually, leave America's eye for good, and it will be long before any of the larger issues surrounding the crisis even begin to be resolved. If they ever are. People will, more than they already had, think twice before moving to Ferguson. Businesses will think twice before opening locations in Ferguson, and those who saw their businesses burned down last night will surely think twice before deciding to rebuild, presuming they even have the ability to do so.

Ferguson may never get a chance to find itself a new One Thing. But if they do, let us hope it isn't something even worse.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Name The Ha Ha You Thought It Was Presidents

Trying to figure out if I'm able to make a new website in order to host the files for that soccer podcast because it looks like I may not be able to do that on Blogger. Looking around the place I've got here and the mess I've made of it any time I've tried to make any alterations to the default template whatsoever. Not liking my chances.

So since it's getting into breakfast hours in Europe right now, the Sporcle quiz I'm bringing out tonight might as well be for Europe. I do enough of these for the US; might as well indulge them.

Of course if you ARE American, the old name-the-Presidents list gets turned on its head a bit when all of a sudden it's a list of British Prime Ministers. Or, heck, Australia or Canada. Or India. So good luck with that.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A 10-Step Guide To Deer Season

Deer season in Wisconsin has started; it began Saturday the 22nd, and runs until the 30th. And as is tradition, Wisconsin empties itself into the forests as a result. I am not a hunter, not a gun person in any way, but if done responsibly, and the deer is fully utilized afterward and not just mounted on a wall or something, then you go right ahead.

So to all you hunters out there, let us be clear about the protocol:

*Live deer are your targets, as your hunting license indicates.
*Do not shoot another person instead.
*Especially if it's your daughter.
*And especially especially if it's a 5-day-old infant.
*Do not shoot yourself.
*Make sure the deer has not already been shot by another hunter.
*Do not shoot that other hunter.
*Do not shoot a hunting dog. It does not matter whether or not said dog belongs to you.
*Do not drive-by shoot a deer.
*Do not shoot a house.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What I Was Watching The Past Week

Desert Bus 8 has ended after 158 hours. They're still working out the exact amount to hang on the toteboard; they put in some stand-in donations to reflect people who'd bought something in an auction and whose money wasn't actually going to come in until sometime after the run, and now that the run is over, those stand-in donations are back out of the system, and meanwhile, some scattered postgame donations have been trickling in. But the final number is going to be somewhere north of $630,000. They figure $637,000 is where it'll end up.

What they do know, however, is that at one point in the last day, the winner of an auction for a stained-glass figure of the Desert Bus 8 logo immediately donated it back to be part of another lot, which worked basically as a raffle that you could enter by donating a target amount or exact multiple thereof (in this case $13.37). And then this happened.

And then that kept happening for like 20 minutes straight.

The night prior, there were other social functions going on at the venue in Victoria, BC's Fort Tectoria, and the group decided, hey, why not conga-line right into the other parties? As you do. It just so happened that in that other group of people was the British Columbia Minister of Technology, Andrew Wilkinson, as well as a member of the legislative assembly, Greg Kyllo (analog, state legislator in the US). They decided to crash Desert Bus right back. It probably wasn't the best decision to follow a tradition of showing newcomers the video 'Going To The Store'- a clip of a naked, genital-free inflatable doll being marionetted around town- as the chat room was insisting upon (and it didn't get a reaction), but the two were good enough sports about it that Kyllo, who runs a rental houseboat fleet, decided he would contribute a week vacation on one of said houseboats as an auction lot.

As the participants of Desert Bus will tell you themselves, that last clip stands as the all-time strangest moment in the history of the telethon. They didn't even really think Kyllo was serious until he started going into detail about the houseboat, which ended up going for $5,000 (which got Kyllo and Wilkinson to high-five each other, so you know they were happy with it). The thing is, it's not normally a thing that would seem weird. In most places, a houseboat vacation being auctioned off wouldn't raise any real eyebrows, at least, none that didn't want a houseboat vacation. It would just appear to be one more item up for bids along with the furniture and the vases and the grandfather clocks.

Desert Bus, though, deals in geek-culture items. Five hours after the houseboat auction, they put up a replica sword from the anime series Kill la Kill that was in the shape of half a pair of scissors. THAT was what the audience was expecting to fight each other over that night more than anything else (and it went to the representative from Twitch that happened to be in the room), and that came on the heels of a new record for largest-ever bid, $10,001 on rare Borderlands merchandise along with a visit to Dallas to meet creative director Mikey Neumann. Both, you'll note, went for more than the houseboat vacation.  Here's what the scissor sword auction looked like.

In the setting of Desert Bus, while it may be weird to see someone put on the costume head of a giant anglerfish, or perform Caramelldansen multiple times in a row, or espouse on the crafting potential of human entrails, it is quite expected that you will see things along those lines. And all of those things happened in Desert Bus 8. It is normal to be bizarre, and the unexpected part is simply what exact brand of insanity you will see at any given moment.

When you drop normal folks, in suits, from the government, into such a situation, now there's a fair amount of trouble trying to process it. Wait a minute. This isn't weird. This is a perfectly normal thing being done by perfectly normal people that also happen to be from the government. The closest thing to 'normal' is a guy who people feel comfortable asking to recite the periodic table, in order, with no misses allowed (but nonconsecutives allowed). And then watching him rack up 36 before bowing out. And then asking him to read 'Go The Fuck To Sleep' (but with the all-expletive-replacing word 'bus' substituted).

Weird is a relative thing. In the world of government, it is not expected to have a conga line from next door barge into your social function, and it is not expected to watch weird and slightly risque videos from the Internet. In the land of the weird, the Internet geek-culture telethon, it is similarly unexpected to see politicians acting like the elected officials they are. In the land of the weird, he who is normal stands out most of all.

But through that, despite the wide gulf in personal subcultures involved, they did all see eye-to-eye on the important thing: the kids in the children's hospitals- and domestic violence shelters, although that never came up during the meeting- that were counting on all of them to do their bit, whatever bit that happened to be. And they absolutely did.

Now if we can just get that kind of thing going a bit more often on the American side of the border.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Where Last Names Came From

Desert Bus monitoring has taken up a ton of my time, so I've been away from here for most of it. Sorry about that. But it should be wrapping tomorrow night (barring anything truly mind-poppingly insane concerning donations).

So while you wait (and hopefully donate)... I'll leave you in the capable hands of John Green, who in this video, that I won't embed because linking it leads you to other Mental Floss videos, explains the origins of 62 common last names. Because last names were not always a thing. You may hear in ancient times about people getting called, oh, say, 'Jesus of Nazareth'. That's how things got done back then a lot of the time: the first name followed by some sort of descriptor (Alexander the Great being another one). Actual last names started trickling in at different times in different regions, and they had to start coming from somewhere. As you'll see. Anglo-Saxon, for example, came about in what you'd probably call the mythical Knights Of The Round Table era, the 1300-1400's, and names from that region have a way of reflecting the culture of the time.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Fishing Was This Big

You've used Google Earth, I assume. In using Google Earth, people have stumbled across some pretty odd things, things that had previously gone unnoticed. And people use it to monitor various situations around the world. You dump raw satellite photos of the whole entire planet on people, you're gonna see some things.

But you knew that. So let's lead into the story, which is Google partnering up with two environmental groups, Oceana and Skytruth, to initiate Global Fishing Watch. The one thing about Google Earth is that there's usually a lag from one update to the next in a given area. Global Fishing Watch is aiming to monitor commercial fishing spots in almost real time. The idea is to spot where illegal fishing is happening, and then be able to respond to it quickly. It's notoriously difficult to tell how much exactly the oceans are fixed out, but we know enough to be certain they're not doing so hot, and because a lot of people don't pay too much attention to the ocean beyond 'that empty space on the map between all the land parts', a lot of illegal fishing goes unchecked, thus exacerbating the problem. This is the problem they're trying to fix.

I'm unfortunately skeptical that it'll get even close to fixed, but any positive impact, you know?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

How Does Car

So Desert Bus is underway, and they're off to a really nice start, and I'm concentrating on that at the moment (and yes, I have donated), so I'm going to give you something rather simple.

Or, well, not so simple. It's a car engine. HowStuffWorks has a little beginner's tutorial on what exactly is going on inside that giant block of metal and hot spinning stuffness. There's a pretty simple game here in which car parts are individually laid out and you have to label them.

And now I'm off to continue looking at a bus.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Americans Are Particularly Ignorant

Okay, so in trying to prep the soccer podcast, and with me not knowing how does audio, I've eventually determined that the simplest way for me to upload an audio file is to just host it here.

Apparently that isn't as simple as I thought it would be. There's no button for that up in the functions above the text box, and all the tutorials I've seen for how to put one on Blogger are at least a couple years old. And they may not be valid anymore, given that Blogger has altered its operation protocol since then and there are a lot of messages on the help forum asking why their previously-working audio files are no longer working. So it may in fact no longer be a service Blogger offers anymore, and I need to figure out what the hell to do about that.

So if anyone's reading this and knows what they're doing. I am such a weenie on this and this post title likely applies to me too. But, to business.

That having been said, one of the anguishes from the post-election analysis of the overall Republican gains- spurred by the lowest voter turnout since 1942, a pathetic 36.4% (compare to 61.6% that voted in 2008)- has been that the few people that did vote took a look at everything being put on various agendas, took the absolute most damaging stuff possible and said 'I want me some of that'. By choice. As a thing to actively sign up for. This would be done on the basis of not having any clue what is actually accurate about the country's affairs.

According to a survey by the British research form MORI conducted in August, that isn't exactly idle accusation. They polled 14 developed nations: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Poland, South Korea, Japan and Australia. They quizzed people from each of those nations about nine statistics as relevant to their country: the teenage pregnancy rate, the percentage of Muslims, the percentage of Christians, the percentage of their population made up of immigrants, the percentage that is age 65 or older, the voter turnout in the most recent general election, the unemployment rate, the life expectancy for a child born that year in their country, and the national murder rate. Questions to which the answer is not up for debate. There is a number, it is correct, and all the other numbers are not correct.

Pretty much everybody figured things were scarier- or 'scarier'- than they actually were. So, that's lesson #1. That established, the best thing you could say is that the United States did not do the worst. That is because they did the second-worst, behind Italy. Among other things- which you can see in the slideshow provided in the link above- Americans that were given the survey on average estimated the unemployment rate to be 32% (at the time, it was actually 6%). That was only the fourth-worst guess on that question. The Americans did do the worst in guessing the teenage pregnancy rate, figuring that 24% of teenagers give birth each year. (Correct answer: 3%.) The one place the US actually did particularly well was guessing the voter turnout in what at that point was the most recent election, 2012. We guessed 57% on average; it was 58% (58.2% specifically). But given that this was the second-lowest actual turnout of the group, that's cold comfort.

Which brings us to lesson #2: pay attention to what's actually going on or it is going to cost you dearly on Election Day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

It Had To Be PBS Sooner Or Later

Continuing work on trying to cobble together a set of knowledge sufficient to get a podcast up online for the listenings. So I'm going to give you a video to watch.

When you hear about European penetration into the United States, usually you're hearing about the colonies, or the Oregon Trail, or the southwest. Maybe the odd bit of talk about Hawaii.  Up north, typically it's Lewis and Clark. My home state, though, Wisconsin, tends to escape all of this, as it wasn't anyone famous that got here first. It was a Frenchman named Jean Nicolet in 1634, who was up this way in one of the endless attempts to find the Northwest Passage.

For more, I hand you to, really it's a wonder I haven't used more of their stuff, PBS. Specifically, Wisconsin Public Television. Have fun whilst I wrestle with audios.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Detergent Pods Look Like Candy

Let me tell you about Mr. Yuk.

Dangerous things have often been marked by the symbol of a skull and crossbones. This, of course, includes poisonous substances, starting in the United States in 1829, when New York State required that all containers with poisonous substances in them be marked with something to indicate that fact. Skull and crossbones being the easy association, that's what was used, and things proceeded as such for years.

But in Pittsburgh, there was one big complicating factor: the Pittsburgh Pirates. Skulls and crossbones are also associated with pirates, and in the 1970's, they were more associated with the baseball team than with any sort of danger, as the team at the time displayed one on the logo itself and cemented it in everyone's mind with a World Series title in 1971. Which meant it wasn't a very good deterrent for Pittsburgh children anymore, some of whom proceeded to start drinking the funny-looking bottle with the pirate on the label.

Dr. Richard Moriarty of the Pittsburgh Children's Hospital put two and two together when confronted with a surge in visits from parents who would have been better off calling Poison Control. He decided that the skull and crossbones just wasn't working anymore, and that a new label should be put on things that, first, would actually get children's attention, and second, would get parents pointed in the right direction in case it didn't. After some focus testing quizzing kids on the type of logo and the color, a sickly-green face sticking its tongue out came out the winner, with one kid saying he looked yucky. The name stuck.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers made it to their first Super Bowl a few years later, guess who got themselves a Super Bowl commercial.

The point here is, if you don't want kids to eat something poisonous, don't make it look in any way attractive to kids. Don't make it look, oh, say, like a little handheld packet of neon blue and orange, like a detergent pod would look. The thing is, I knew as soon as I first saw detergent pods on retail shelves that kids were going to eventually figure it was candy, and what do you know, some 17,000 of them did in 2012 and 2013- 2012 being their year of introduction- resulting in some 700 hospital visits and the death of one 7-month-old infant in Kissimmee, Florida. The 17,000 number here relies on calls to Poison Control, so the true number is probably a tad higher as some parents went right to the doctor and skipped the call to Poison Control. All the kids were under six years old, about 2/3rds were at most two.

The kids likely don't know any better. Certainly the 7-month-old that died didn't. However, the people that buy them, and certainly the companies that make them, do. If it's a thing you're doing your laundry with, and it's not something you have a place to physically keep it away from the kids, it's probably worth investing in a Mr. Yuk sticker. Or maybe just using regular detergent, which seems to invite less-serious symptoms in kids than the pods should that be swallowed.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Are You A Woman Who's Been Harrassed On Twitter?

Well, first off, I'm very sorry about that. Second, it appears you may have something to fight back with. You would think that something like Twitter's harassment policy would be enough for that kind of thing, but it turns out not so much. Twitter has been derided as slow to respond to harassment complaints, and even when they take action, it's a pretty simple matter for the harasser to just make a new account and keep harassing.

So what Twitter is doing is working with a group called Women, Action and the Media, or WAM. (That acronym cannot have been a coincidence, for the record.) What's going to happen is, they'll be taking over monitoring of gender-based harassment to a degree. (And that gender, of course, is almost always going to be women being harassed by men.) What's being requested is that, if you find you've been harassed on Twitter due to your gender, you go here and fill out the form that you'll find on the other side of the link. WAM will then refer what they get off that form to Twitter, and monitor how well Twitter responds to the reports. WAM will be referring what they get ('escalating' is the word being used, because they do first have to filter out any non-legit complaints) to Twitter in no more than 24 hours, and they aim to be a lot faster on the draw than that.

This is Twitter's reporting form; you can see that WAM's is considerably more detailed. That's by design. The idea here is to track things that Twitter currently is not, so that after a trial run of using WAM's forms, they'll be able to see certain patterns in abuse that Twitter is unable to pick up right now, and in time, Twitter will be able to see them too so they can more effectively act.

This does raise the question, though, of why Twitter doesn't just host the WAM form itself and not make people go hunting for it. And it has been raised. The potential worry here is that the partnership with WAM amounts to little more than a gesture and won't actually lead to true change, and it's on Twitter to show they're serious about this.

Of course, the people who do the harassing could also help out by not being the kind of jagoffs who harass solely based on gender in the first place. But I suppose that's too much to ask of them, isn't it?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Desert Bus In One Week

It is one week until Desert Bus For Hope 8, which kicks off next Friday at 10 AM Pacific. With whatever amount of depressing and frightening and unnerving stuff you may have seen the past week or so, really, consider this a pick-me-up. I know I've mentioned it before, I probably have here, but seriously, Child's Play is a great cause to donate to. They supply children's hospitals and domestic violence shelters with toys and games so the children there can basically just get their minds off situations they may not be able to, and shouldn't have to, deal with.

Or if you want to hear them explain it...

The basic deal is, if you need a refresher or don't know, you donate money, and the more you donate, the longer the telethon runs. The first hour costs $1.00, and each additional hour costs 7% more than the previous hour (because it gets harder to keep going as the telethon wears on, and also they have to cut it off at some point). So the second hour would cost $1.07. So early on it's cheap to buy hours, but as things progress, eventually you're asking thousands of dollars to buy that next hour. Along the way they auction things off, hold what are essentially raffles, and being a comedy troupe that does a lot of improv, they'll take requests to do just about whatever a potential donor asks of them.

'Whatever', for the record, involves things like this, occurring at 4:30 in the morning.

Or this.

Or this. (Watch the donation ticker.)

Honestly, hope you'll show up for that.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Internal Programming Note

I think I may finally be making actual progress concerning that soccer podcast, yaaaaaaaaay! I was able to get a Skype conversation going with my co-host last night, he walked me through how to A, hear us both and B, have Audacity record us both, so that's straightened out. There's a bit of lag time between responses because we don't have QUITE the same equipment, but that shouldn't take too long to sort out, and once I manage to then handle the issues of uploading an audio file and hosting said audio file, we should be good to go.

So, fingers crossed that that might happen soon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Why Did You Not Vote?

So remember how I told you to go vote? Dammit all to hell, people.

I believe you have now seen and will soon experience the punishment for your apathy, and I strongly suggest you take that into consideration next time around, and by next time I mean every little piddling election that comes down the pike on down to school board elections. As a reminder, let us look at highways for a second:

The federal officials can allocate highway funds to your state.
The state officials can decide if the highway goes through your town.
The city officials can decide if the highway goes through your house.

Get me? Vote next time. And every time. Don't let this happen again.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


It is Election Day 2014 today. As is my custom, on election days I provide no content other than an admonishment to vote. That isn't about to change today.

So go vote. If you haven't already done so like I have. I know that there's a decent chance you don't know how you're going to get heard in this one. I know there's a decent chance you don't think you'll get a 'win' out of this or that anything's going to be better or some other kind of apathetic garbage.

You may not get a win out of this election from your vote, sure. But not voting is a guaranteed way to lose. Get yourself to the polls. Move.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Daylight Savings Tonight

This is the 'fall back' one, meaning you set the clocks back an hour at 2 AM local. (In the US. It gets kind of weird trying to internationalize that statement.)

So why not spend the extra hour you have reading articles complaining about the extra hour you have? That sure seems like a wise use of the time.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

This Week In Space

So space has been particularly dangerous this week for us humans. Never mind my little jab last night at snagging an asteroid. Big-time ambitions like that are all well and good, and if we can actually pull them off, awesome. But this week has presented a harsh reminder that even the most basic aspects of going to space, simply traveling there, or existing there, have always and continue to be fraught with extreme danger.

Six seconds after launch on Tuesday, an unmanned Antares rocket blew up on the launchpad at Wallops Island, Virginia, intended to deliver supplies, as well as a group of assorted experiments, to the International Space Station. Nobody was injured there. However, three days later on Friday, a test flight in the Mojave Desert went awry, resulting in the crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, killing one pilot and seriously wounding another (the names have not yet been released). SpaceShipTwo was a craft that was intended, when operational, to carry tourists- many of them celebrities- on 15-minute joyrides for $250,000 each. Roughly 700 people had already paid for the trip.

This is far from a rare occurrence. All of the little half-funny gags people make about a plane being a pressurized metal tube blasting through the skies by way of jet fuel? They are very much not jokes when you bring spacecraft into the discussion, and everything powering that plane that also applies to spacecraft is amplified to the point of lunacy. Nothing is easy; every stage of the journey can bring things to a sudden and catastrophic end. The problem is, though, because that is true, every time that catastrophe happens, calls inevitably arise to stop. To cut the funding. To abandon this space silliness and focus on problems on Earth. Sometimes that funding does get cut... leading to cut corners on the next mission in order to stay within a slashed budget... leading to another potential catastrophe.

I hope that doesn't happen. In the grand scheme of things, we haven't been in space that long. We're still in every sense of the word trying to figure out how to make space travel merely a thing that is unlikely to kill people that attempt it. The Age of Exploration saw this same thing with ships; often, crews attempting particularly long voyages, such as circumnavigations, weren't told by their captains that they would be doing such a thing until they were well into the actual trip, because if they had been told beforehand, it would have been nearly impossible to cobble a crew together. But if we were ever going to get to the point we are now, where nautical circumnavigations are less about if you'll come back alive than they are about how many extra pounds you'll be sporting when you do, those early, danger-laden trips into the unknown had to come first. Those lasted for hundreds of years before the danger went away.

Will it take hundreds of years for us to get there with space travel? Since Yuri Gagarin's inaugural flight, it's taken at least 53. This week has proven once again that the end to that wait is not yet in sight. Catastrophes will happen. Spacecrafts will be lost. Lives will be lost. But this planet isn't going to sustain us forever, even if we maintain it perfectly. Eventually, we have to go see what else is out there. And in order to get to the point where we can go see what's out there, we first have to make sure we can reliably get off this planet in the first place, and safely dock at our intended ports of call.

Nobody ever said space was easy.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Today's Thing You Wouldn't Think Would Have To Come Out Of Your Mouth

'Hey, NASA? I know you're all excited about studying asteroids and stuff, but maybe trying to snag one out of midair and hauling it home may not be the best idea you've ever had.'

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fred At TED

Tis time for a TED talk, I believe. On this occasion, with Africa struggling with ebola, and places outside Africa seemingly using it as racism fuel, perhaps we ought to focus there.

You'll be hearing from Fred Swaniker, from Ghana, who spoke in Rio earlier this month. Swaniker is the founder and head of the African Leadership Academy.And as such, his talk concerns just that: how leadership in Africa can go wrong, and how it can go right.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Too Much Man On The Field

So you may notice I've been absent the past couple days. There is a reason for that: I had to swap computers. Over the weekend, my old computer crashed. Just straight crashed. Blue screen, please back up your files before you have to give the hard drive a total factory reset, that whole deal. And as it was getting old as it was, I opted to go out and just get a new one and transfer the files there.

Which I messed up because it meant having to wrestle with Windows 8 and the multicolored boxes for the first time, and it wasn't totally clear as to how to complete the file transfer. In the end I just had to hand it over to a local tech-support guy who actually knew what he was doing, and that took a couple days. But I'm back now, set up on the new one, and away we go again.

Well, I'm set up except for needing to re-buy Microsoft Office because it didn't come with the new computer, and putting all my bookmarks back because those didn't transfer. But anyway.

Today I bring up that old-but-seldom-mentioned proposal to fix many of the world's problems, namely, population control. In its more benign forms, this takes the form of suggesting mothers have fewer children or maybe even forgo having children; in its more sinister forms, it involves killing people until there isn't a problem anymore (never mind the other problems that would pop up). It's controversial at best, ghoulish at worst... but the thing that largely wasn't up for debate was that... well, yeah, you'd grudgingly have to agree that this would in fact bring down the demand on resources.

About that.

A study by the National Academy of Sciences (the original is behind a $10 paywall) is of the mind that even if you did that, it wouldn't much matter. As the summary of the study states, even if, in the middle of the century, you had 2 billion deaths within a five-year window- 2 billion, a number probably beyond anyone's ability to even comprehend- you'd still have 8.5 billion people on the planet come the year 2100. They extrapolated the two World Wars onto our current global population and it barely did a thing.

The population's about 7.125 billion now, for reference. A global one-child policy would put us anywhere between 5-10 billion (and we were fretting about this back at 5 billion, which we hit in 1987).

We hit 3 billion in 1959. You know 1959, right? That's the year Alaska and Hawaii entered the Union, Fidel Castro took over Cuba, Barbie and the Twilight Zone debuted, the Dalai Lama got asylum in India. Keith Olbermann was born in 1959, John McEnroe, Kevin Spacey, Simon Cowell, Weird Al Yankovic, Rahm Emanuel. If you're into gaming, that's when Nobuo Uematsu and Peter Molyneux were born too. All of those folks were born in a time when there were less than half the people on this planet that there are now. And there isn't really a short-term way to solve that anymore that doesn't involve something that would cause... well over 2 billion deaths, really. The point is that given the rate we reproduce at, we're going to find ourselves back at this point sooner or later unless we figure out something more sustainable and hopefully less omnicidal.

What is the suggestion? Short-term, there isn't one "short of extreme and rapid reductions in female fertility". We won't see anything come of anything we do in our lifetime, so just deal with it. The solution presented is much better family planning. Like, a whole hell of a lot better than we're doing. More birth control (by any and all means), more opting out of having children (maybe look more into adopting or just going without), whatever provides the end result of fewer babies. If we don't, well, the Earth isn't getting any richer in resources and someone's going to get squeezed out of partaking.

Is it a fun thing to say? Or think about? Oh heck no. Is it something people are going to consent to if they don't want to? Absolutely not, but that's the issue here. Earth doesn't care. Earth will give people whatever resources can be gathered, and no more, and if there are so many people using so many resources that the supply runs dry, well, Earth doesn't care. Nature is beautiful, but nature can also exact inhumanly brutal consequences for failing to properly mind it. There are families on this planet where one mouth too many can very easily condemn everyone to a slowly starving existence.

It's no fun to consider, but at least in certain parts of the world, what's fun isn't really the operative consideration. You do what the planet says you can do, or you pay whatever price it decides to exact from you.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Krog Street Tunnel

Every major city has its own tiny little nubbins of local flavor, the kind of things the locals love and the non-locals have very possibly, even probably, never heard of. Madison has things like Owen Conservation Park or Lake Wingra, Milwaukee has the Milwaukee Public Market or the Gertie the Duck statue. In Atlanta, one of those things is the Krog Street Tunnel, linking the neighborhoods of Cabbagetown and Inman Park on Atlanta's east side. The tunnel is completely, continually, constantly painted and repainted with the work of local graffiti artists. There's a tumblr based on this, The Daily Krog. Because that's how often the painting is happening.

But as I type this, there isn't much art there at all. Not because the city cracked down or anything. The artists did it themselves. You see, there's a masquerade ball, the Krog Masquerade. It was scheduled for Saturday, in the tunnel. They had to get a permit first, though, and the artists- and locals aligned with them- argued that the art they put up is supposed to be publicly enjoyed, as opposed to being a backdrop for a private event that makes money for someone else and doesn't give them a cut for their work. (And closes off the bike routes allowing access to the tunnel in the meantime.)

So on Wednesday, after it became clear the masquerade ball would get its permit anyway despite all the complaints, dozens of artists and activists showed up at the tunnel and painted the entire thing grey. The organizers seem unconcerned- they argue that as a portion of the proceeds are going to the Georgia Lawyers for the Arts, their conscience is clear (never mind that the Georgia Lawyers for the Arts are not the actual artists, which is kind of the point of the protest), and that they can just pay some other artists to repaint the tunnel by Saturday night. And indeed, some people are already repainting, though right now it doesn't look much different from any other graffiti-laden surface because there's so much surface to cover.

In the case of art, ultimately, the artist is king. Unless they have been paid for the work and relinquish their rights to that work in the process, it is, at the end of the day, their work, to release into the world- and yes, take out of the world as well- as they see fit. Whatever ground rules the artists set for themselves, so long as they're legal, are the ones that ought to be respected. The understood agreement among Krog Street Tunnel artists is that you can come and paint whatever you want, it is intended to be publicly and freely available at all times, and that at any time someone else can and will come and paint over what you did with art of their own.

Sure. It is technically city property, and the city can do with it what they will. But if the organizers had really understood what the point was behind their intended backdrop, they'd maybe have picked a different backdrop, maybe near the tunnel but not actually in it. But this is what they did, and what is likely to be a shadow of the tunnel's true nature is what they get.

Or maybe they do get the true nature of the tunnel. People have seen canvases that are only one solid color and wondered if it's art. But if that one solid color is meant as a statement of protest, as this grey is, if that color has emotion and purpose behind it, of course it's art. And if the masquerade ball can't see that, even as it's being explained to them... they're not very good patrons of the arts, are they?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Little Tip For Taylor Swift Fans

Hi, fellow Swifties. yes, I am going to be buying 1989 this coming Monday like the rest of you (save for those of you who already preordered). I am excited for that as well. But I have one little piece of advice, since some of you are kind of upset right now over this.

When buying music on iTunes- and this applies to those of you who are fans of other artists too, so listen up- it may pay off to run a quick check, maybe at the running time of the track, perhaps, or playing the preview sample, to make sure the track you're buying isn't, oh, say, 8 seconds of white noise that Taylor released by accident. The fact that enough of you bought it to send it to #1 on the Canadian iTunes charts (at $1.29 Canadian a pop), says... something. I'm not really sure what.

Time and the Atlantic have had quite a bit of fun trying to find out, though.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


It's rather taken for granted that the NFL isn't merely regarded as something that people want to watch, in spite of all its myriad problems and issues (and with Michael Sam having been cut from the Cowboys' practice squad today, go ahead and add that). It is regarded, rather, as something people have to watch. They have no choice but to watch or else they'll miss out, and not be part of the one conversation everyone will be having the next day, and you don't want that, do you? So you better watch.

No matter what.

And I see that in my life. I've stopped watching college football, but as Wisconsin is heavily, heavily behind the Badgers, people just start talking about the game to me at work even after having told them several times that I don't watch anymore. They still, even after having that explicitly explained to them, just assume that I've seen the Badger game anyway. Because what Wisconsinite isn't watching the Badgers? That's just silly. The Packers are no different, and as I not only root for the Packers but have bought a share of stock (for my dad), I CAN be expected to have seen the game. Or listened to it on the radio, at least, because there is one at work and it always gets tuned to Packer and Badger games (and the Brewers, when possible).

But a funny thing happened this season. My hours at work this year shifted to the least hospitable possible for a football fan. I start at 11 AM, before the noontime kickoff of the early games, and get out at 8 PM, around the second quarter of any night games. Furthermore, my off days are Tuesday and Wednesday, the two days of the week when there is no football anywhere. No high school, no college, no pro. It is now going into Week 9, and I have not seen a single day game this season. I have not seen any game this season played out start-to-finish. I have not, because work says so. You'd think I'd be going crazy right now. I'm missing out on all the football, after all.

That doesn't seem to be happening so far, though. I haven't been making any real sort of outsized effort to take in football this season. Not highlights, not even really the game portions I am able to see (unless the Packers happen to be involved). I am very nearly at a cold-turkey state. And I'm okay with that. I am fine with largely skipping a season and, in the meantime, taking the time to reassess where, precisely, football stands with me. With the actual games, and the perpetual hype attached to them, out of the picture, I can see the scandals, the misplaced priorities, the inherent violence of the sport, and ask myself, really ask myself, how much I want to still associate myself with it all. How much the games, as games, really truly mean to me when I take a step back from them.

And I'm increasingly asking myself if the answer is the one Roger Goodell would want to hear.

The Super Bowl is still going to be watched. That's a family thing that I can recall us having gathered around for since Super Bowl XXIX (49ers over Chargers), and 20 years later I don't see that changing. But if it turns out in the long run that I really don't need that much football in my life anymore, I'm seeing that that's okay. Missing out need not drive you nuts. There are other sports out there, and there's other aspects of life out there.

And then I need to figure out if the fact that my relationship with soccer, which will remain unchanged and undying either way, makes my relationship with football look hypocritical. Because soccer's problems make football's problems look like the kiddie pool.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why You No Eat Food

Apparently I'm now making my post titles based on creepypasta or something.

I mentioned in the actually-regularly-scheduled post last night, the one about cleaning up India, that, well, India needs cleaning up. Because there's a bunch of garbage laying around.

One thing I suppose I ought to add to that chat about garbage is where, precisely, the garbage comes from in the first place. There's an environmental think tank in Washington called the World Resources Institute; having never heard of them, I took a quick check of them to make sure I wasn't getting into anything overly partisan or agenda-pushing (beyond the obvious, being an environmental think tank and all), and they appear to check out. Plus they're affiliated with the UN, so that helps. So here goes.

As WRI's Brian Lipinski blogged this past Thursday, the exact makeup of garbage depends on what part of the world you live in. They focused in on food waste; food that could have been eaten but for whatever reason was not. They also zeroed in on the year 2009 for their analysis. This PDF file provides all the gory details, but the takeaway Lipinski provided was this: the less developed the region, the earlier in the process from production to consumption that the loss is likely to occur.

If you are in sub-Saharan Africa, things are likely to go wrong in the production stage (39% of region waste) or handling and storage (37% of region waste). South and southeast Asia is almost the same way (32% in production, 37% in handling/storage). Production here means food lost in the actual act of farming it- crops that got torn up during harvesting, crops thrown away for not being good enough to send to market, that kind of thing. Handling and storage includes livestock that gets slaughtered wrong or isn't deemed healthy enough to slaughter for food, grain that goes bad in the silos, etc.

A comparatively small amount of loss happens in processing and packaging, with no region jumping out to an overly big 'lead' there (though a combined North America/Oceania region leads at 9%). This would be any food that gets damaged or lost in the process of stuffing it into a container for you to buy. Livestock trimmings that don't ultimately make it under the shrink wrap, anything the canning/bottling/boxing machines mangle or don't manage to get into a can/bottle/box.

Latin America (17%) and North Africa/West and Central Asia (18%) are the worst at the next step, distribution and market. This covers food that gets to the store, but never gets into a shopping cart. Expired food, stuff the customers knock off the shelf and break, anything the store rejects for not being salable.

And then you find industrialized Asia (46%), Europe (52%), and North America/Oceania (61%) with their big issue being the final step, consumption. That covers all the food that makes it into your house, but not into your belly.

If you'll look at Table 3 on Page 10 of the PDF file, you'll see various suggestions to reduce waste at each of the five stages.

"Reduce portion sizes" leaps out in the consumption section.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Calm Down About Ebola, Please

(Did I never hit send on this? Huh. Well, fixing that now.)

So, it looks like there are a ton of people scared about ebola. And let's be clear, ebola is an awful, terrible thing to actually get. And if you are in Africa, it is a very real threat, as you surely do not need me to tell you from here in North America.

But if you ARE in North America, or Europe, or anywhere developed, the threat of getting ebola is far, far less than some of you are afraid of. The healthcare systems, whatever their cost, are just plain better than Africa's. Far better. Only a few people in the US have actually been infected, with one death at this point. A tragic loss that death is, but only one. The thing is, ebola kills very quickly, and because it kills quickly, it doesn't get very much time to infect new victims. And it takes more than your average flu or cold to actually infect someone, though the two infect at roughly the same rate: the seasonal flu sufferer infects about 1.2-1.5 new people on average; an ebola sufferer infects 1.5-2 people on average. (Chicken pox does 3-17 people.)

National Geographic has a handy FAQ for you. Read it, and then calm down, okay? This is pretty much confined to the hospital system, and only a few specific hospitals, and the people most likely to get infected are the doctors putting their butts on the front lines to treat this. You just walking around will be fine. Relax.

Someone Please Clean India

If you've ever visited India- I haven't- you will know that the country is home to some of the more visually and culturally spectacular places you can witness on this planet. You will also see things that are not quite so spectacular: breathtaking levels of poverty, a caste system that officially is being softened but in practice is only sporadically ignored and remains deeply ingrained, horrific human-rights abuses (particularly towards women), and the most visually obvious, jaw-dropping piles of filth. Garbage strewn about, walls urinated on.

Now let's be clear here. Generating the waste isn't the issue; in fact, waste-generation is very much a problem concentrated in developed nations, cities in particular. India is nowhere near the top in that respect (though they are climbing the rankings). The problem is throwing that trash away so that it can be dealt with. Having ways to deal with it once collected. This is where India fails miserably and they know it. And if they didn't know it, they found out when Bangalore garbage workers went on strike in 2012.

Noah M. Sachs of the Atlantic took a look around in June to provide a fuller assessment of the situation. It's worth a read.

There have been periodic attempts to clean up the place, but obviously, as of yet, none have really worked. Current prime minister Narenda Modi is setting off on another one, the $10 billion Clean India campaign, and at least at first, all castes look to be on board. The higher castes, who have the money, want to be able to look at a prettier country. The lower castes, who don't have the money, have more pragmatic concerns: garbage breeds disease, and if an epidemic of something breaks out, it's going to be the ones who can't afford health care that are going to die first.

When a problem is as major and pandemic as this one is, you tend to see some very oddball fixes pop up, because clearly the so-called 'normal' methods aren't working, and people are willing to try just about anything if it works. Which is why ceramic tiles of religious images have been placed on various city walls around the country. The theory goes, if your god is staring right at you, maybe that will get you to think twice before you pee on the wall he's on.

And out-of-box thinking may be necessary, because a lot of the problem is that the basic infrastructure isn't in place to take care of the garbage, and even if it was, many Indian citizens just plain don't give a hoot about garbage after it gets out of their house, which is typically kept clean. It will go on the street, in front of the neighbors, and they will consider it as no longer their problem. In order to spruce up the country, India must first spruce up people's attitudes. If everyone is on board, like they claim they are, then it can be more about simple infrastructure.

Are they?

Friday, October 17, 2014

I Am Not Singing That Tom Lehrer Song

I just picked up the latest Bathroom Reader. The main one. It's titled Canoramic this year. And in one of the factoids at the bottom- they call them running feet- it said that if you soak a bone in hydrochloric acid overnight, by morning you'll be able to tie it into a knot.

Of course I went about searching for a video, but, alas, I've yet to track one down. But all is not lost. In the process, what I DID manage to find is a YouTube channel called Periodic Videos, run by the University of Nottingham. They, as you might expect, play around with the periodic table a lot... including the bit from them I got linked to that led me to them. In lieu of bone, here is a cheeseburger.

The thing I'd really like to link you to, though, is the playlist they have set up which provides a profile of every individual element in the table. I wouldn't suggest trying to bingewatch the whole set; they're not the most exciting folks on the planet to watch and trying to get too far in might cause you to glaze over a bit and start letting info go in one ear and out the other. Short bursts might be best, no more than you feel you can handle at a time. Or just handpick the elements you aren't familiar with.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Surprisingly Not Idiotic

So there's a show on GSN that premiered not too long ago. It's called Idiotest. The basic idea is this: you are given a visual puzzle, and asked to touch where on the screen the correct answer is (and it is guaranteed to be there somewhere). The trick is, the correct answer is rarely the obvious answer. Often, the picture you're given will appear to show four possible options, but the actual correct answer isn't any of them and is off to the side somewhere.

A sample episode should get the idea across about as well as it's going to get across.

Getting a question wrong will, of course, make you look like an idiot. That's what the questions are all designed to do. And eventually you will, because there's a time limit to answer, so you can't take too long. (Although host Ben Glieb has all the questions asked to him beforehand, so he can explain the answers on the show, and usually he does well.) But I think the format is rather instructive. It will drill some concepts into you that you can take outside of the show, silly as it is. (And oh is it silly.) What does a show like Idiotest drill into you?

*First, observation, obviously. That's the whole object. Idiotest is an observation test. Even though answering quickly makes you eligible for more money, it also makes you more likely to rush yourself and answer something obvious-looking without noticing the true answer. Slow down a bit. Actually take in what's in front of you without making a knee-jerk response. Or else you will look like an idiot. (And even one of the side answers may not be correct, because even though it's more valid than any of the obvious answers, there's an even better answer somewhere else.)

*Second, the importance of reading instructions as they are written. Many of the questions involve subtle spelling changes in one of the question words. For instance, in the above episode, one question asks you to 'touch the opposite of not aloud'. An inattentive scan of the question might misread that as 'opposite of not allowed', and the options available clearly anticipate such a thing, as well as any potential problems with double negatives, with 'prohibited' and 'permitted' both on the board. But of course, the question is talking about 'aloud' as in noise, and 'quiet is there as well. (The contestants almost immediately touched 'prohibited', wrong in both respects, and immediately realized their mistake... but the trick of the game is that realizing your mistake a half-second too late is still realizing it too late. Should have looked a little more closely.)

But you can bypass all of this by simply figuring out that the opposite of 'not X' is, well, X. And so what you're supposed to do is touch 'aloud'.

*Third, learning from your mistakes. Again, every single question will be walked through whether the contestant is right or wrong. Because someone at home is surely wrong. And Ben will take great care, and glee, to explain to you the exact magnitude of your wrongness... as you see a couple times in the episode. That kind of negative reinforcement is pretty quickly going to get you trying to adopt the habits that will make you not be wrong anymore.

And hopefully, after the show's over, those same habits will cross over into other parts of your life.

There's an election in a couple weeks. Lot of people making knee-jerk reactions to a lot of things. Lot of people not taking time to read things carefully. Lot of people making mistakes and failing to learn from them.

Don't be an idiot in the voting booth.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Money: It's Worth Money

So I've been poking around this chart provided by NPR. What it is, is a modification of the mainstay cost-of-living index. Those are the things where you see how much it would cost you to live in certain cities. The problem with them, though, is that they don't take into account how much money you get back by working in those cities, or what you might be likely to buy in those cities. And of course annual salaries of those cities don't help either. What you really want is something that will tell you how expensive it's actually going to feel living there. How well off will you be in that town when all is said and done.

The NPR chart does that for 356 American cities classified as metropolitan areas (out of a possible 381), because the Bureau of Economic Activity has also done that, calling it Real Personal Income (RPI). It puts up some scattered notables in dark text- biggest jumps from perception to reality, the most major cities, and the top and bottom of the list- according to median salary and the purchasing power in that town of that salary. The highest RPI belongs to Rochester, Minnesota (instead of highest-incomed Washington DC, dragged into fifth place); the lowest to Bloomington, Indiana (which is also lowest in median salary).

If you're in France, though, your money appears to be worth... 140 characters. Group BPCE is set to allow its customers (with cellphone numbers and French bank accounts) to link their Twitter accounts to the bank's money transfer service. What you'd do is tweet the transfer service, the Twitter account of the recipient, the amount to be sent and then #envoyer (French for send). Now, you're only going to be able to transfer up to 500 euros that way, so it's not like someone can get drunk and tweet away half a million bucks on a misclick, but this can still go very wrong. Probably it will for someone out there.

People do drunk tweet, after all.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Please Remit One TED To Brazil

TED day. Or TED night. It is evening in this place of current darkness and you get a TED talk.

Earlier this month in Rio, economist Dilip Ratha hit the stage to chat about remittances. You know all those immigrants that enter a country, earn some money working and then send a chunk of it home, maybe send for the rest of the family? That's a remittance, and as Ratha will explain, remittances make a rather substantial portion of the world go round. If you're not familiar with them, I suggest you get familiar.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Problems With Stealing A Train

The source story today comes from the Gillette News Record in Wyoming, where Derek Skyler Brux, 22, was charged with the following three crimes: reckless endangering; felony destruction of property; and felony destruction, obstruction or removal of railroad track or fixtures. According to the allegations, he racked up these charges when, after an altercation with his employer, Rail Link, he stole a train and took it for a joyride. Eventually, he left the train yard, went onto the main tracks, and eventually, inevitably, plowed into something. There are no reported injuries, somehow.

When you steal a lot of things- which you should not do, by the way- the intent is usually to either keep it or sell it. Certainly you don't intend to get apprehended.

So how, exactly, is this going to happen with a train? There are a couple major sticking points regarding train theft:

1. Trains are sort of stuck on rails. There aren't very many places you can take a train. At least not safely. The more wheels and more weight a vehicle has, the rougher the ride it's going to have. The whole reason a train is on rails in the first place is that that's the only way the train is going to work as intended: dictate a smooth, gentle track that the train can follow to the fraction of an inch. You don't get to take the train off-road. So there aren't many places you can run, except further down the track. You will, eventually, get caught (and Brux did, during a footchase afterward).

2. Trains are big. They're hard to hide. Shouldn't have to elaborate on that.

3. Let us say, for a moment, that you are in the process of stealing a train, and you are running from the authorities in said train. You spot another train up ahead. Good luck with that (see also: rails).

4. Brux did, in fact, see another train up ahead. What was his response? According to the affidavit:
“I wanted to see what it was like to hit something, so I hit at it.” With a TRAIN. (At under 10 mph, but still.) And then he backed up and hit the train a second time. With a train.

It is regarded as inadvisable by the management of this blog to crash into a train with a second, stolen train just to see what it's like to do so. On top of all of these other things.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Oh, Shi, He's On The Loose

I presume at some point you've heard of the sentence "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo". It uses the various meanings of the word 'buffalo'- the animal, the city, and the action of bullying- to create a grammatically valid, if nonsensical-sounding, sentence. It, along with its cousin "James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher", are presented as examples of how utterly weird the English language is. And this is not in argument. English is a strange frickin' language.

But have you heard about the Chinese poem that pulls the same stunt?

You see, Chinese, as anyone who's ever attempted to learn it could tell you, contains a lot of homophones. There are tens of thousands of Chinese characters, but a lot of those characters, when spoken, sound alike. In modern pinyin, this site figures there are only 413 syllables in common use. They are spelled differently, they're said in different tones and stresses, but they're all the same syllable. There are enough of them that it is possible not just to write a sentence that uses only one of those syllables, but an entire story. A story that, when translated to something that isn't Chinese, loses the syllable but makes it, well, legible.

There are several versions of Chinese- the modern Mandarin, the more historic Classical- and most such pieces are done using Classical, but we won't really get into that.

In 'Lion-Eating Poet In The Stone Den', the one I'm able to find actually properly translated to English as opposed to leaving you to the vagaries of Google Translate, the Chinese syllable is 'shi'. If you were speaking Chinese, you would be saying shi over and over to express this, but since we're writing in English, here's what you get:

In a stone den was a poet called Shi Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten lions.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
At ten o’clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.
He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.
He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this matter.

Er, okay, poem. Shi Shi is an idiot who can't tell stone from flesh as well as being unable to tell how commerce works. Because I don't see anything in here about him paying for the lions or getting permission to shoot them, which, by the way, this man is also heavily armed and dangerous. Approach with caution.

One wonders what he thinks the walls of his den are made of. On second thought, no, don't wonder that, aack, I'll be up all night now.

Friday, October 10, 2014

How Do I Hold The Slide Rule Up To The Monitor?

I hope you're aware enough to be able to question the veracity of the occasional viral video that comes along. Someone does something completely crazy for the camera and you wonder whether it's real or not. Of course, when you do that, it's probably a simple approach. You probably discard a video by saying something like 'Oh come on now.' The sniff test, basically.

Rhett Allain of Wired, though, has a slightly more complicated approach. An approach that, according to him, he gave a lecture at Vanderbilt about, so you can tell right there that you are not getting out of this without a slightly sprained cranium.

I'd be a little longer about this, but I have some soccer-podcast setup talk to go over. So it's just a quickie today. (Setup has gone a teeeeeensy bit longer than I anticipated.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How To Post Nude Pictures Of Celebrities

1. Do not post nude pictures of celebrities., there aren't like 8 or 9 steps after this in which we delve into ever more ludicrous depths of spectacular idiocy. I am of course referring to the scandal from August in which people who shall not be named got their hands on nude photos of celebrities who shall (mostly) not be named and then everybody had a big debate over whether to look at them or not, a time during which people went and looked at them. For educational reasons, I'm so sure.

You want some more steps? Fine. Here's a Step 2 and Step 3 for you.

2. If you see a link pointing to nude pictures of celebrities, do not click on it.
3. This does not only apply to celebrities. This applies to anyone who has not explicitly consented to you viewing them in the nude.

One of the celebrities in question, Jennifer Lawrence, the only one we'll name here- someone not exactly known for holding her tongue- spoke to Vanity Fair in an interview where she called the posting of the photos a "sex crime". And I'd be inclined to agree with her. No. There may have been no physical contact or penetration involved. That does not mean that Jennifer- or any of the others victimized by this- did not have their privacy or their bodies violated. Because they did. They did not consent to you seeing them nude. I'm sure that some people out there would not particularly mind having nude photos of themselves sent out over the Internet, but the vast majority of us would. And just because they exist doesn't mean the person they're of wants everybody to see them. (And even if you do have such photos, as Erika Moen of the NSFW comic Oh Joy Sex Toy notes, that doesn't mean they're yours to do with as you wish. If the person they're of ever asks you to get rid of them, don't ask questions. Just get rid of them. Immediately.)

Nude pictures and kitty pictures are not to be handled the same way around these parts. Got that?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

It's Nobel Prize Week

So as always, get ready for the annual debate over the utility of the Nobel Peace Prize, but they announce only one prize a day, and they've fallen into a semi-predictable pattern that, at least this year, is playing out normally: Physiology/Medicine leads off, followed by Physics, Chemistry, Literature, then Peace on Friday, with Economics having to wait until the following Monday.

A lot of the time the scientific Nobels end up going to people who've discovered something that can be put to rapid use in the real world, or has been already. And that's what usually makes up the list of scientific Nobel also-rans... hi there, National Geographic. And that's what the Nobel people are always under pressure to hand prizes to. This year, though, they didn't do that. Instead, they opted for a discovery in search of an application. The 2014 laureates are John O'Keefe of the US/UK, and May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser of Norway, for their discovery of brain cells that help people navigate their environment. The New York Times writeup by Lawrence K. Altman has a handy chart to help you picture what exactly that means. It's certainly better than just saying 'inner GPS' like way too many people are doing in their own summaries of the awarding.

Also, before you get too excited in the runup to Friday, the nominations lists always have some fairly kooky names on them. Don't read anything into the wackier names you see tossed around. Nominations can come from a lot of different places; the Nobel people send out thousands of nomination forms per year. Per category in most cases. From those forms, 278 nominees were put up in the Peace category alone. The full list is by regulation sealed for 50 years, but a partial list has been compiled here. A Russian activist group calling itself the International Academy of Spiritual Unity and Cooperation of Peoples of the World managed to get on the nomination list and they put up Vladimir Putin.

You can nominate anyone but yourself. Anyone. ANYONE. As in, in 1939 a member of Sweden's parliament thought it was a good idea to nominate Hitler, who was so not-peaceful that the Nobel committee didn't hand out a Peace Prize to anyone that year, and couldn't hand out any Nobels at all for the next three years because they were too busy running from Hitler. (The nominee later withdrew his nomination on February 1, 1939, two days after Hitler gave a speech in front of the Reichstag warning of the "annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe." Presumably, the sounds of slapping filled the halls of Swedish parliament on January 31.)

There are no runners-up. You either win the Nobel or you don't. So don't read into how 'close' someone gets to winning or who the frontrunners are. Just don't. You're going to drive yourself nuts and it's not going to help. Suffice to say the Nobel committees have just about all the options they could want and then some. We'll just have to see what they do with those options.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Aaron Makes Feeble Attempts To Explain Particle Physics

This is another one of those instances where I don't quite get what's going on, but I know enough to realize it's something I maybe ought to pass along.

Are you familiar with the basic idea behind matter and antimatter? The most recent question on Randall Munroe's comic What If? deals with that, so it may have been on your mind lately. The idea, if you know nothing else about it, is that we're all made of matter, and there's antimatter scattered in bits and pieces around the universe, and when matter and antimatter meet, they destroy each other. Okay, well, 'destroyed' isn't the word that gets used in that situation. The word you're supposed to use is 'annihilated', which is science-speak for ultra super duper destroyed. There is just plain nothing left afterwards, except for some gamma radiation.

So they don't get along. However, back in 1937, a scientist named Ettore Majorana theorized that a particle existed, somewhere, somehow, that could take on the properties of both matter and antimatter without going Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie. This particle would eventually become known, fittingly, as a Majorana fermion. Now all that was left to do was go find it.

77 years later, a team at Princeton thinks they've found it. Reading the process for doing so, I quickly run into explanations that get over my head (and the $20 paywall for the original doesn't help), but it appears to involve a magnetic wire made of iron and a lead surface in a superconductor (which has no magnetic field). There's a string of electrons, most of which pair up so that there's one electron and one anti-electron, except for one guy at the end that can't get a dance partner and winds up exhibiting qualities of both. That's your Majorana fermion, or at least, that's what Princeton thinks is a Majorana fermion.

I am probably mangling this. Please click the links so you can see how much I'm leaving out and how much of an idiot I must look like right now.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Olympic 2022 Preview: Dear God, Save Us All

Oslo, Norway has effectively pulled out of bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics after the Norwegian government refused to foot the stated $5 billion bill the IOC was asking of it.

From this action, the 2022 Winter Olympics, seven and a half years before Opening Ceremony, were doomed to near-certain failure, and the IOC, given their fiery protest of Oslo's withdrawl, appear to know it. Oslo joins a multitude of cities that got cold feet at some point. The withdrawl of Lviv, Ukraine is more than understandable given the circumstances in Ukraine right now, but Krakow, Poland, Stockholm, Sweden, St. Moritz/Davos, Switzerland and Munich, Germany all cited the potential cost in their own reasons for backing off. All would have been at least serviceable hosts, excellent even. But none want to pony up after seeing Sochi brazenly playing out all their worst fears, grossly overspending without a care in the world and leaving buildings half-finished even as the athletes were in town, let alone whatever would happen afterward. Nobody wants to spend like Sochi, and nobody wants to look like Sochi.

Nobody except the only two cities left in the running, and everybody including the IOC knows neither of them is all that great an option: Beijing, China and Almaty, Kazakhstan. Beijing, despite having hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics, not only left a lot of white elephants laying around- particularly the main stadium (which they propose to press back into service for the ceremonies along with several of the other 2008 venues)- but Beijing isn't really known as a winter town. A more northern city, Harbin maybe, and then we'd be talking. Beijing? Eeeeeeeehhhhhhhh. Things could get very slushy, and as much as China is able to control politically, they are the world's single biggest contributor to global warming (the United States being second), and they're not going to be able to do much about it if the snow they lay down decides it wants to start melting during competition and eating skiers alive.

And then there's Almaty, which when the IOC sent a team through to assess it, determined could maybe be a reasonably competent host (they hosted the 2011 Asian Winter Games and barely missed the shortlist for the 2014 Olympics), or maybe go full-on Borat on everyone. They can't quite tell, which usually means drop the city like a hot rock, but that's a luxury you only really have when you have more than two options. (Oslo had passed with flying colors, of course.)

It is not much more democratic than China, with current president Nursultan Nazarbayev winning his most recent election in 2011 with a not-suspicious-at-all-nosiree 95% of the vote, and a couple months later holding a legislative election in which his party got an equally-not-suspicious-at-all 81% of the vote and two parties that are basically yes-men for the main party got 7% each, which just so happens to be the exact amount required for a party to gain seats in parliament. Most of the candidates critical of the government got straight-up disqualified before the election. The 2011 election was preceded by a Kazakh language test which Nazarbayev of course passed (never mind his downright mangling of the candidates' oath), and which a smattering of no-name opponents passed, including one who didn't even speak Kazakh and one who later admitted to voting for Nazarbayev. All of the actually serious opponents failed the language test.

One of these two places will host the 2022 Winter Olympics for no other reason than all the good hosts dropped out because it got too expensive for them. So someone will host that will get the money from... somewhere. Somewhere that it would probably be a health hazard to inquire about, especially if you happen to be that somewhere.

Of course, there's little to be done about it now than to try and pick between them. If forced to select- and it looks like we now are- I guess I would have to go with Almaty, for two simple reasons, neither of which has much to do with preparedness to host. The first is geography, namely the movement of the Olympic hosting duties. 2018 is set for South Korea; 2020 is set for Japan. A third straight Olympics in the Far East doesn't seem too appealing. But that's a small issue.

Sochi raised the far bigger issue towards the end of the Olympics. The Olympics, as I have repeatedly and incessantly stated, are intended to be an island of peace. It's supposed to be a time when the world stops for a couple weeks and just watches sports together and has a grand old time. Russia didn't even do it themselves. Russian military action in Crimea began the same day as the Closing Ceremony, February 23, with a revolution in Ukraine being sparked several days prior and ending in the ouster of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, leading some Ukrainian athletes to leave Sochi early. Moving the same day as the Closing Ceremony, Vladimir Putin cashed in on what Russians, at least, believed to be a successful Olympics regardless of what the rest of the world thought of them. It was also, if meant that way, a thumb to the nose of the IOC, as if to say 'what are you gonna do now, take away the Olympics?'

In your news feed right now, you ought to be seeing the continuing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. By 2022, this immediate matter will certainly have long since been settled one way or another, but it raises the point that China has more than one geopolitical ambition within and beyond its mainland. Hong Kong. Tibet. The Uyghurs. The Siachen Glacier. A set of islands in the East China Sea whose names depend on what country you're asking. Whatever it is North Korea will be up to around that time. It doesn't look like they acted on any of these ambitions in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 Olympics, but that doesn't mean China wouldn't do so in 2022.

Kazakhstan, as far as I can tell, has no such current ambitions, nor are they really in a position to act on any they may have. I would personally feel far safer, watching the news in the weeks following, knowing Kazakhstan was the one playing off of Olympic afterglow instead of China.

So... Almaty 2022. I guess. I think.