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Generic Confusion

When you leave, my blog just fades to grey
Nu ma nu ma iei, nu ma nu ma nu ma iei

News? Check. Politics? Check. Music? Check. Random thoughts about life? Check. Readership? Ummm.... let me get back to you on that. Updated when I feel like I have something to say, and remember to post it.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

What a scam! (2)

Coyote Blog has a warning about another scam. If you get a mysterious check in the mail, don't cash it. Don't be fooled by your name on the check; it's not your money. If you do cash the check, you'll be asked to repay it, with interest and penalties.

Can you guess the organization leading this scam?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

What spirit animal are you?

Thought I'd try this one out. I'm not so sure I agree 100% with the results, but it could have been worse. :) (Via Dave Justus)

Wolf Spirit
You scored 50% Creativity, 42% Compassion, 48% Strength, and 62% Intelligence!
You are a Wolf Spirit. You feel you are connected with the cosmos, and are fascinated by the moon. You are very agile. Wolf spirits have a lot of friends, and are very smart.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 1% on Creativity

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 18% on Compassion

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 20% on Strength

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 63% on Intelligence
Link: The Spirit Animal Test written by sitakali on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Caption Contest

In case you haven't visited the Gaijin Biker of Riding Sun recently, he's been doing caption contests for several weeks. Here's the latest.

The Simpsons: culture shock

Did you see the various articles concerning the dub of the Simpsons... in Arabic?

As with any family moving to the Arab world from the West, "The Simpsons" quickly discovered they'd need to make some adaptations to their lives if they were to connect with the natives. First, they would change their names - the family now called Al-Shamshoons; the father, once Homer, now goes by Omar; his mischievous son Bart, now Badr.

There would be fundamental changes to their lifestyles as well. Omar, once a fan of tossing back a few beers with friends, now goes to the club or the ahwa (coffee shop) and sips on sodas and juice. The list goes on. Donuts have been replaced by kakh (Arabic cookies); bacon is done away with altogether as it is against Islam; and the kids, once a rowdy bunch of conniving delinquents, are still just as cunning but mind their manners with their parents a bit more.

That's nothing new in America, either. Many Japanese animated series have been turn into Americanized dubs, with changes to character names, activities, and foods. It's particularly amusing to watch the different ways different dubs deal with takoyaki. It's never called the same thing twice. Come on. Is it that hard to explain the concept of octopus dumplings?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Advice for New Year's Eve

Get your drinks in a tumbler.

It turns out that most people, even bartenders, pour 20 to 30 percent more liquid into short, wide glasses than into tall, slender ones that can hold the same amount, according to a study in the British Medical Journal.

But explain this to me: the article recommends getting your drinks in the tall glasses this New Year's Eve. What's up with that?

Winter blues

A health column in the local paper described Seasonal Affective Disorder (depression that comes with the long nights of winter) in this manner:

It's a variant of bipolar disorder, except that they don't get manic.

That's like describing vanilla ice cream as like neapolitan ice cream, except without chocolate and strawberry.

To a layman like me, SAD is a variant of depression. Bipolar disorder is manic-depression, and without the two extremes, it is not a valid comparison.

Back to school

It came to Darnell Autry, once a star running back and a Heisman Trophy finalist, that life could offer more than working hotel security or making sure hardy partyers weren't falling into the pool at a Las Vegas casino. If only he had his college degree.

It occurred to Hudhaifa Ismaeli, once a star defensive back, that life could offer more than a place on the production line in a factory that made sewer pipes, or doing construction work. If only he had his college degree.

Standouts in college, both among the key players on Northwestern's improbable run 10 years ago to an outright 1995 Big Ten title and the 1996 Rose Bowl, neither Autry nor Ismaeli made it big in the NFL. Each had left Northwestern with about two years' worth of college credits yet to be earned. And then their pro dreams were dashed.

Each, swallowing a heaping dose of pride, eventually went back to school, back to Northwestern, in Evanston, Ill., immediately north of Chicago, a demanding academic institution.

And now, each is poised to take part in graduation ceremonies in June. Autry will turn 30 three days after the ceremonies on June 16; Ismaeli will be pushing 31.

You ever wonder what happened to those college football stars? When a professional football career doesn't pan out, meaning no multimillion-dollar guaranteed contract, what can they do?

I'm surprised that these players end up having to pay for their post-football schooling. The least the school could do is allow the players to get their degree, to show how thankful they are for how the players pumped money into their football programs.

My favorite line from the article:

In one of Autry's first classes back in Evanston, the professor took roll. After class ended, another student approached Autry and said, "You're Darnell Autry?! You know, I used to watch you when I was a kid."

I bet that made him feel old!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

New York transit strike

Let me just say I'm glad to live in an area where we can sprawl... cheap land prices, roads not horribly congested, and no dependency on mass transit.

The people of New York are understandably upset by the illegal strike by the New York transit union. In my opinion, for these vital jobs, the workers should be prohibited from striking, and if the two sides can't reach a contract, binding arbitration should be mandated.

Dartblog preserved the union's blog's comments for all to see.

What a scam!

I set aside one letter I received in the mail, knowing it to be blogworthy.

The Las Vegas, Nevada Actionable Award Program indicated I had a confirmed prize of $3,341,006.00. This wasn't the "You may already be a winner!" type of sweepstakes form, it claims I actually have money coming to me. They just want $20.

The only fine print says "LVAAP is a service offered to our customers that provides information on available sweepstakes that are open to the public for entry. Subscribers are solely responsible for investigating, viewing, and complying with any and all rules, restrictions, requirements, or provisions set forth in all sweepstakes...."

In other words, it's a scam. The scam nature was quickly confirmed by checking Google, with the first five links all talking about the scam. Now, if only I had something heavy to put in their postage-paid envelope!

The Better Business Bureau, of course, deems LVNAAP to be an unsatisfactory business. It says the unlicensed company is operated by Lapham, Vargas & Cornell, P.O. Box 98855, Las Vegas, NV 89193.


PBGC meets It's a Wonderful Life

Also from Contingencies, an interesting look at the problems of failing defined benefit pensions, looked at through the prism of It's a Wonderful Life.

PENSIONVILLE. YOU MAY HAVE HEARD OF IT. It’s an old, established community, and in years past, it was a vibrant place to live. But over the past 20 years, Pensionville has fallen on hard times. It has already seen its population of pension plans fall from 62,000 to about 32,000. These days, all the growth seems to be occurring on the other side of Retirement Valley, in a new town called Defined Contributionville.

You see, operating a retirement plan in Defined Contributionville is a lot easier. It provides a lot more flexibility when it comes to controlling costs. Retirement plan owners who live there contribute only what they want to pay, so they’re never confronted with the sudden financial surprises that often plague residents of Pensionville. It’s not that the Pensionville City Fathers haven’t tried to bolster the town’s declining population, but these efforts haven’t met with much success. In fact, many former residents would argue that their previous attempts have hurt Pensionville.

Simply put, Pensionville isn’t nearly as friendly a place to live as it once was.
Part of living in Pensionville means that you have to buy insurance through a local institution called the Pensionville Bank & Guaranty Co. (or PBGC for short). Its president is a gentleman named Henry F. (Old Man) Potter. He runs the PBGC along with a group of administrators from other governmental agencies.

Lately, the PBGC has suffered a number of costly foreclosures, primarily on Steelmaker Street and Airline Avenue. Old Man Potter and the administrators have become understandably quite concerned about the prospects of additional large foreclosures on Airline Avenue and potentially even moving over to Carmaker Court. Pensionville’s mayor asked Potter and the other administrators to develop a plan to shore up Pensionville’s financial condition and present it to the town council, which they did.

Potter et al. believe they have devised a plan that will save Pensionville and, if nothing else, strengthen the financial integrity of this fragile community. While generally supportive of the PBGC, some members of the town council were quietly skeptical about whether the plan would actually strengthen Pensionville or simply accelerate the existing exodus.

Mr. Potter worked up a 10-point plan to save Pensionville.

Read on to see the plan!

Options to fix Social Security

Here's another look at three options for fixing Social Security, from the magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Best blonde joke ever!

Joel at Not That has an absolutely hilarious blonde joke. Click the link and check it out!

The real wealth of nations

Instapundit highlights a study by the World Bank, which attempts to estimate the wealth of nations, combining natural, produced, and intangible capital. Unsurprisingly, to me at least, the largest source of wealth for America and other well-off nations can be traced to our political freedom, a strong legal system, and good education.

However, the study is lacking in one serious aspect. How could it not calculate the contribution of blogs to the wealth of nations?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Best Buy, December 17

I did some Christmas shopping at Best Buy Saturday evening, looking to pick up CDs.

While walking to the store, I saw some people sitting in line, with heavy jackets, knit caps, and sleeping bags.

I had a one-word question: "X-Box?"

Yes, that's exactly what they were waiting for. And it was COLD outside.

A Wandering Mind was a participant in another line, in a slightly warmer locale.

That which cannot be said

Dave Justus highlights the Turkish trial of an author who wrote about Turkish killings of Armenians and Kurds, under a law that bans "insulting Turkish identity."

The EU (a group that Turkey wants to join) is criticizing the trial. However, Dave points out that many European nations criminalize Holocaust denial.

On the surface, that's hypocrisy. However, I note that in the Turkish case, the man is being prosecuted for telling the truth. The European laws ban telling a lie. I don't think anyone would complain about laws that prohibit slander and libel, but these acts hurt an individual. It can be argued that Holocaust denial hurts society in general. It's an interesting debate: is Holocaust denial bad enough to warrant a restriction on speech? Here, the U.S. and Europe disagree.

Berlin Wall?

The House of Representatives approved 700 miles of wall for the U.S.-Mexico border, with priority for the city of Laredo, Texas. It's regrettable that a lack of respect for international borders would lead to this development.

One stupid response to the wall:

Mexico's National Human Rights Commission described the U.S. measure as "part of a tendency to criminalize migration with a wall that calls to mind the Berlin Wall."

Don't they realize that the Berlin Wall was designed to keep the people IN Berlin, while this wall is to keep people OUT OF the U.S.?

(I can't claim credit for this comparison. I think President Reagan said something similar to a Soviet leader.)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Winter means...

Cold, snow, ice, more cold, high heating bills, dry air, dry skin....

And I was reminded recently about something else winter is known for: static electricity. While setting down the phone, there was an impressive spark of static electricity, strong enough that it reset the nearby battery-powered clock!

Much More Music Update

Back in August, I decided to listen to all of my CDs once through. Here's where I am

Home listening: CD singles. I've listened to the roughly 220 CD singles in the wooden storage cases, and am about 30 CDs into the 56 CD singles in ten box sets. Next step: hitting the CD singles in the CaseLogic cases.

Car listening: I'm into the Ps now, about 150 CDs, though I've taken a break to listen to the 90-song followup to the State of Synthpop compilation.

400 CDs is a little more than a third done.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Check out this Golden Book Classic!

Here's a children's classic, "Tookie the Ducky Beats the Rap," penned by Anthony Williams. Iowahawk is kind enough to reprint it.

Once upon a time, down a bright sunny alley behind a magical cottage in a
faraway kingdom called Compton, lived a little quacky ducky named Tookie. Tookie was brave and strong and all of the other duckies knew to respect him, because otherwise Tookie and his friend Sammy Sawed-Off would mess you up bad, understand?

There's a Canadian terrorist reference, too!

He dreamed of freedom and payback for that ******* ***** Blackie, who had flown up north and was serving time for capping some Canadian geese.

(Via Patterico)

Monday, December 12, 2005

The hidden cost of hybrids

Owners of 'environmentally friendly' hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight may be hit with a bill for up to $7000 when their car's battery dies less than eight years after purchase. The battery unit, which has a lifespan of 8-10 years -- shorter in hotter climates like Australia -- cannot be reconditioned. It must be thrown out and replaced with a new one, at considerable cost to the owner.

"A replacement battery on the Insight retails for $6840," said Honda spokesman Mark Higgins. Honda began selling the Insight hybrid in Japan car in 1997 and in Australia in 2000. It sold 44 Insights before withdrawing the futuristic-looking two-door coupe from the market earlier this year. Honda will re-enter the hybrid market with the Civic sedan in March, and aims to sell around 20 per month.

My last car was ten years old, with 170,000+ miles on it, when I finally replaced it. I want to keep my current car for ten years or thereabouts. And the total maintenance expense over the last five years of my car's life was certainly less than the cost of one Insight battery.

I didn't buy a hybrid car for two main reasons: most of these miles come from highway driving (where the hybrid's mileage advantage isn't as good), and I wanted to see how maintenance costs for these cars develop. In five years, it should be clear whether or not these cars are a good investment.

Mario unleashed!

Here's an interesting video of a live performance of the music for Super Mario Bros. on marimba, complete with costumes and props!

Whoever arranged the music and designed the set has way too much time on their hand!

(Via the Actuarial Outpost)

Electronic books

Michael Hyatt, president of publisher Thomas Nelson, has a vision of what an electronic book reader could look like. Some excerpts:

::It looks similar to a tablet PC slate. No keyboard, no monitor, and it folds in half.
::It is the same size and thickness as a hardcover book, say 6" by 9" by 1/2". Unfolded, it is 12" x 9" by 1/4". It feels great in your lap. It can even be bent slightly like a book, so you can curl up on the sofa and read away.
::It uses a tablet PC interface with a built-in stylus that feels like a high-end pen. You can use it to make menu selections, enter text (via handwriting recognition), or highlight passages in books.
::It weighs less than a 256-page hardcover book (about one pound). It therefore dramatically changes the shape and heft of your computer bag.
::It has a battery life of 12–18 hours.

I would like to be able to search out phrases in a book I read; that's a nice boon. And certainly, you could put a large number of books on such a device. However, one problem I see with this device is that it's rare to need more than one book at once. Unless you're on a long trip, you'll probably only read part of one book. In addition, you wouldn't be able to read an electronic book as your plane is taking off.

I'll probably stick to carrying one book when I travel.

(Via Instapundit)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

If you read Harry Potter...

...check out Monday's Order of the Stick. You'll appreciate it.

Moving on...

Update your links; Dave Justus has moved off Blogger!

And Gecko is hiding here.

The truth about turkeys

It may be two weeks after Thanksgiving, but it's never too late to reveal the truth. Thanks to Mr. Bear, we have a warning about the great turkey conspiracy that threatens us all!

I recently found out that every year, on Thanksgiving, the president, who ever it may be, from which ever party they may represent, pardons a single, solitary turkey. This horrifying event is covered by every media outlet as a bit of innocuous fanfare, but consider this. The presidency is a federal position, which means that turkey to be pardoned, and millions more like it, must have committed offenses on the federal level worth of execution. As far as I know, the only crime punished by death on the federal level is treason. Therefore, it stands to reason that each year millions of turkeys commit acts of high treason against the United States. Yes, these foul fowl creatures endanger the lives of countless millions in unknown ways. But it doesn’t end there.

Look at the media. They gloss over these millions of traitorous acts without a single peep. Searching news articles, I couldn’t find a single report on a treasonous turkey. NOT ONE! This can only mean one thing... the turkeys control the media! The very act of presidents pardoning that single turkey each year shows that the turkeys also control our presidents! Yes, loyal readers, we are living under the T.O.G. Turkey Occupied Government!!!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Video Games: A Reminiscence

Will Collier at VodkaPundit highlights a talk by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, who said:
In 1982, he tells us, there were 44 million gamers. Today, there are 18 million. Where’d they all go? “Complexity lost the casual gamer,” he says.
I doubt the 18 million figure is accurate, as do many commenters to the post. But I'll agree that complexity has lost me as a player of video and computer games.

I grew up with video games, playing most of the offerings at countless arcades and the games at hotels, amusement parks, restaurants, and elsewhere. I had my "good" games, particularly Super Pac-Man, but many others. Yet I could drop a quarter in any game. These games in the 80's could be understood by reading a small box of instructions on the side of the screen; alternately, you could watch another person play and figure things out quickly.

Starting with the early 90's and Street Fighter 2, there came games where you couldn't simply play them. You needed to know secret moves and techniques. Worse, these games were head to head. I played a few of the fighting games, but then someone else would want to play head to head, and there's no reason I would want to do that, since I'd lose horribly.

Thus, in the 90's, I was left playing games from the 80's and several puzzle-type games: Don't Pull (a redone version of Pengo), Puzzle Bobble (a.k.a. Bust-A-Move), and the similar Puzzle de Pon!.

Today, I can't compete against a seven year old in any game, since I haven't played for twelve hours a week, every week, to familiarize myself with the game play.

Similarly, my taste in computer games is stuck in my college years, with turn-based games like Civilization 2 and Master of Orion. I don't like real-time games, and forget head-to-head play. I've found I don't even want to invest the time learning the new versions of these games, as I don't have the time.

My game system history: Atari 2600, ColecoVision, Nintendo Entertainment System, PlayStation, X-Box. Played several more at friends' houses, and used roommates' systems, so I have played most of the systems through the mid-90's.

There's a debate on which games are better. Many say the old games are better, since with limited memory, the game play had to stand out. I tend to agree, while recognizing that nostalgia plays a healthy role in my reasoning.

One commenter said, "I don't think there's been a truly original game idea since Tetris." I remember a JoyStik magazine that said the same thing back in 1983, lamenting that Dragon's Lair was the only unique game from that year. And as I think about it, there aren't a whole lot of original creative video games since then. Possibly the most unique is 720°, the skateboarding game. I'll give nods to Tetris (though there have been other puzzle games, it created the falling block puzzle game genre); Street Fighter 2 (though there have been other fighting games, it created the head-to-head fighting game with secret moves genre); and Super Mario Bros. (again, creating the side-scrolling platform game with hidden items and secret levels).

Monday, December 05, 2005

Boys vs. Girls in Education

Michael Gurian has an excellent article on how the educational system in America fails boys, and how a generation of focusing only on the problems of girls has left boys behind, perhaps critically.

The trend of females overtaking males in college was initially measured in 1978. Yet despite the well-documented disappearance of ever more young men from college campuses, we have yet to fully react to what has become a significant crisis. Largely, that is because of cultural perceptions about males and their societal role. Many times a week, a reporter or other media person will ask me: "Why should we care so much about boys when men still run everything?"

It's a fair and logical question, but what it really reflects is that our culture is still caught up in old industrial images. We still see thousands of men who succeed quite well in the professional world and in industry -- men who get elected president, who own software companies, who make six figures selling cars. We see the Bill Gateses and John Robertses and George Bushes -- and so we're not as concerned as we ought to be about the millions of young men who are floundering or lost.

But they're there: The young men who are working in the lowest-level (and most dangerous) jobs instead of going to college. Who are sitting in prison instead of going to college. Who are staying out of the long-term marriage pool because they have little to offer to young women. Who are remaining adolescents, wasting years of their lives playing video games for hours a day, until they're in their thirties, by which time the world has passed many of them by.

Over at Girl in the Locker Room, Robin Herman criticizes Gurian's article for one phrase: well-documented disappearance of ever more young men from college campuses, calling him "flat wrong" and citing statistics showing an increasing percentage of men in college (but not increasing as much as women). Here are my thoughts on that criticism:

I think Mr. Gurian is not necessarily "flat wrong," as the baseline from 1983 to 2003 is a greater percentage of people in college. Consider that there are fewer good jobs that require only a high school education, and that students are getting more advanced degrees and taking longer to finish bachelor degrees. The first point is harder to quantify, but what percentage of the observed increase is attributable to the other points? If time spent in college is just 30% higher now, then men are in effect decreasing their representation. (There's the perspective that four year college has become five years for most people; that's a 25% increase right there.)

A decreasing percentage of men in college, especially relative to the percentage of men in full-time work, is worrisome to me. Unless you think that husbands and wives are both going to want the poorer-earning husband to stay home, it's problematic that in twenty years, so many male workers won't be college educated and will be trying to support a family on a smaller salary.

I observe that Herman's logic fails on the subject of Title IX. I note that showing an increasing participation of women in college athletics, but at a percentage less than their percentage of the student body, is not enough to satisfy many Title IX advocates.

Another commenter, Bill, made the same point on women earning less than men: "But if you really want to be clever, argue that just because men, who on average have more job experience and work longer hours, earn 1 dollar for every 73 cents woman earn, that doesn't mean that women earn too little. After all, the real purchasing power of women's wages is higher than it was thirty years ago!"

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Another winning catch phrase

From one of James Lilek's bleats comes a list of synonyms for "screwed up":

You whiffed it. You dropped the ball. Screwed the pooch. Huffed the thinner. Torched the Citroen.

Torched the Citroen also needs to enter the world's vernacular, pronto!