Posted on April 06, 2009 by Steve

It has been over a year since I listened to the radio while driving. My car's antenna cable was just long enough to reach the left side of the back of the radio, but doesn't reach if the jack is on the right. For a while I had my last radio installed upside down to make it reach, but that was more annoying than not having radio. When I installed a CD player I left the cable disconnected and gave up on radio once and for all.

From time to time I would crawl up under the dash and try to yank things around to get some more slack or figure out how to disconnect the cable and install a longer one. Finally I got fed up and cut the cable and spliced in a few more inches of coax and got it working again.

It didn't take long to see why I didn't miss radio much. Drive time music programming is a one-in-ten chance of finding something you can enjoy, as often as not something you already own. Commercials are as crass as ever. That leaves the mental wasteland of news and talk radio. Here are a few earaches I've collected recently:
  • Some moron solving the recession by calling on the rich to "pay back" the kindness done to them by the economy by spending their wealth away.
  • A guy going on about race relations, repeatedly describing recent cases of intolerance as the "last gapses" of something. He turned out to be the much-published Cornell West, so I'll cut him some slack and suppose that metathesis is a feature of his speech. (Elsewhere he was sicced for the phrase "truth lies prostate.")
  • Noam Chomsky explaining that some banana republic in South America is actually oh-so democratic.
  • The "morning zoo" idiots making the most of a report on germs in public, asking each other what surface they would least want to lick.
  • The dreaded DJ spot, wherein the host, instead of semi-apologetically calling for a commercial break, turns and stabs you in the back with an ad of his own! One was going on about his new Pontiac G8, saying how a gas station manager came out of the office to ask about the car, then a construction worker stopped him to talk about it, even the Burger King drive-through workers were impressed by his new ride!

Shopping for old tech

Posted on February 22, 2009 by Steve

My lady friend is out of town on Oscar night, and I promised to record the show for her. Come the day of the event, and I realize I am caught between eras. No DVR, not even a TV-ready video card. And I had to pause to remember where our VCR was. I found it in a guest room, in use as a remote-friendly tuner for my first TV, a 13-inch RCA tube with knobs.

I felt sure we had some tapes stacked up somewhere, and planned to record over a Seinfeld collection. But they must have gone out with the trash, sometime before the Great Divestment of 2008. I went to three stores looking for videotape, and took advantage of the chance to pick up some edamame. Rite Aid hooked me up with some Maxell tape and an impulse-buy 1GB SD card for $3 after rebate.

Now I just have to get through 24 hours without finding out who got Best Picture.

Energy "myths"

Posted on December 01, 2008 by Steve

A Guardian article purports to list ten energy myths. But the text debunking each myth is so conditional, so hopeful, it makes me feel that the "myths" are in fact inconvenient truths: solar power is too expensive; wind power is too unreliable.

Judge for yourself: below are the extracted weasel words.

Myth 1: solar power is too expensive to be of much use
will be
may not even be
claims that
are investigating
are probably already
could get
would need
would get

Myth 2: wind power is too unreliable
could easily
would comfortably
would need
needs to
should be able to
must invest in
must be
will also need to
talking of developing
will become cheaper
are also set to become

Myth 3: marine energy is a dead-end
may well be
could do

Myth 4: nuclear power is cheaper than other low-carbon sources of electricity
may be
appears to be
it looks as though
might also mean
it will be possible
hopes to be

Myth 5: electric cars are slow and ugly
already very close
can be
need to become
have committed to develop
will be powered
will provide

Myth 6: biofuels are always destructive to the environment
we will be able to
we will have to

Myth 7: climate change means we need more organic agriculture
numbers will rise to
is likely to
we need to
Most studies show

Myth 8: zero carbon homes are the best way of dealing with greenhouse gas emissions from buildings
is easily outweighed
should push

Myth 9: the most efficient power stations are big
changing fast
Within a few years

Myth 10: all proposed solutions to climate change need to be hi-tech
it may be cheaper and more effective
many viable proposals
seem to
is developing
support would allow


Posted on June 23, 2008 by Steve

There is a multiple-digit number, x, which appears in the decimal expansion of pi starting at position 16,267,051 (counting only digits after the decimal). Another number, y, appears in the decimal expansion of pi starting at position x. Starting at position y, the number z appears. And starting at position z, you can find my social security number!

Good foosball

Posted on May 28, 2008 by Steve

Good foosball is, of all things among men, the most equally distributed; for every one thinks himself so abundantly provided with it, that those even who are the most difficult to satisfy in everything else, do not usually desire a larger measure of this quality than they already possess. And in this it is not likely that all are mistaken: the conviction is rather to be held as testifying that the power of scoring goalie shots and foosing opponents, which is properly what is called good foosball or foolsball, is by nature equal in all men... For to be possessed of a vigorous wrist is not enough; the prime requisite is rightly to apply it. The greatest wrists, as they are capable of the highest scores, are open likewise to the greatest defeats; and those who shoot very slowly may yet make far greater progress, provided they keep always to the corners, than those who, while they shoot hard, hit wood.

DIY surgery

Posted on January 23, 2008 by Steve

Lack of access to health care is a serious issue to many people, but it's a routine matter of fact for action movie heroes and villains, who often resort to improvised stitching and wound dressing in a pinch. Watching Anton Chigurh tend to a gunshot wound made me realize that this happens often enough to be a cliché.

Anyone care to contribute to a Top 10 Self-Medicating movie scenes? To qualify, there has to be blood -- a self-administered morphine jab doesn't cut it. Here's a classic to get started: John McClane picking glass out of his feet.

Unusually Historically-informed Cashier Rings Last Sale

Posted on January 21, 2008 by Steve

RESTON, VIRGINIA -- Dennis, a cashier capable of making historical small talk over small dollar amounts, has left his position at Safeway of Hunter's Woods Plaza, according to well-placed sources. Dennis earned his remarkable reputation after ringing up a customer for $10.66 and remarking that it was "a bad year for England." On another occasion he observed that there was "not much happening" during the seventh century after a late-night sale of breadcrumbs and sundries came to $6.53.

Customers recall that Dennis was a source of information beyond the merely historical. When checkout line conversation turned to tortoises, he recalled a living tortoise of Steve Irwin's named Darwin which had been collected by the naturalist in the 1830s. He was also observed to be conversant in matters of produce prices, coupons, and membership card applications.

Dennis left his job at Safeway sometime "before Christmas," as explained by another evening cashier, between shouts of "write corporate" to impatient customers upset about the small number of lanes open.

Optical illusion

Posted on September 08, 2007 by Steve

Have a look at this pair of photos.

The two images look different, right? The breathless, hyper-linked description makes no effort to explain the effect, and the commenters either fail to see it or misperceive the image as a stereogram (an error I've made myself).

Like many illusions, this one is caused by a difference between the way we perceive real objects and they way they look in flat images. Two plumb buildings standing side by side would not appear to have parallel vertical lines in the real world. At eye level they would, but looking up the lines would appear to incline toward one another, pointing toward a single vanishing point. The vertical lines in the twin images remain parallel all the way to the top, causing a perception that they are leaning away from one another.

Escher rendered straight lines as curves in "Up and Down," creating a scene that looks normal in every detail, but bizarre overall.