When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

29 June 2007

Parents strongly cautioned

Online Dating

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

  • death (4x)
  • drugs (2x)
  • gun (1x)

Hat tip: Fiona


China, security experts believe, has long probed United States networks. According to a 2007 Defense Department annual report to Congress, China’s military has invested heavily in electronic countermeasures and defenses against attack, and concepts like “computer network attack, computer network defense and computer network exploitation.”

According to the report, the Chinese Army sees computer network operations “as critical to achieving ‘electromagnetic dominance’ ” — whatever that is — early in a conflict.

"When Computers Attack," New York Times, 24 June 2007

In re "whatever that is," see:

Unsurprisingly, cats domesticated themselves

Some 10,000 years ago, somewhere in the Near East, an audacious wildcat crept into one of the crude villages of early human settlers, the first to domesticate wheat and barley. There she felt safe from her many predators in the region, such as hyenas and larger cats.

The rodents that infested the settlers’ homes and granaries were sufficient prey. Seeing that she was earning her keep, the settlers tolerated her, and their children greeted her kittens with delight.

At least five females of the wildcat subspecies known as Felis silvestris lybica accomplished this delicate transition from forest to village. And from these five matriarchs all the world’s 600 million house cats are descended.


Unlike other domestic animals, which were tamed by people, cats probably domesticated themselves, which could account for the haughty independence of their descendants.
Study Traces Cat's Origins To The Middle East (New York Times, 29 June 2007)

Gato Drinking Coffee
Mister Gato adds: Soon after we domesticated ourselves, cats began drinking Neolithic man's coffee. (Okay, actually there's water in that cup. Coffee is bad for cats.)

See more bloggers' pets at The Modulator's Friday Ark; this Sunday, the Carnival of the Cats is hosted by The Scratching Post.

26 June 2007

Pace, Rick James

Cocaine is a hell of a drug.

Time Out: Death of the New York Deli

When was the last time you walked into a dill-pickle-scented Jewish deli and ordered an enormous sandwich slathered with mustard and dripping with schmaltz?

Not lately, it would seem. These days there are more “New York–style delis” outside the five boroughs than there are in New York itself. Things were different 40 years ago; then, the city was home to more than 300. Every few blocks there was a neighborhood spot where you could grab a potato knish or steaming heap of corned beef. Today, with barely 50 traditional delis still standing—and rumors that Katz’s, the city’s oldest, may soon close—these institutions teeter on the brink of extinction, rapidly heading the way of Automats, old-line French restaurants and chicken chow mein at the Copacabana.
The Death of the New York Deli (Time Out New York)

25 June 2007

Tuesday, June 26: Internet Radio Day of Silence

On Tuesday, June 26, thousands of U.S.-based webcasters plan to turn off the music and go silent in a unified effort to draw attention to an impending royalty rate increase that, if implemented, would lead to the virtual shutdown of this country's Internet radio industry.
RAIN: Radio and Internet Newsletter

TechCrunch: Google to acquire GrandCentral

Google is in acquisition discussions with telephone management startup GrandCentral, we’ve learned, and we have a high degree of confidence that the deal has actually been closed. We are trying to nail down the acquisition price.

The basic idea around GrandCentral is “one phone number for all your phones, for life.” As we change jobs, homes and cell phones, there are a lot of phone numbers to keep track of, and keeping everyone up to date with your most recent phone numbers is a real cost. If you use GrandCentral you can give out a single phone number. What happens when that person calls that number depends on his/her relationship to you, and what you are doing at the time.

TechCrunch: Google to acquire GrandCentral

I have been a delighted user of GrandCentral for some months now. Integration points with various Google services are fairly obvious (Gmail, Google Talk, etc.) Sounds like a good plan.

22 June 2007

The Hitchens Post

Verses inspired by Gawker's brilliant Wonka-referencing tag for posts on atheism, "Everlasting Godstoppers," and Hitch's latest runaway bestseller:
Come and think, have a drink
In a world of pure rationalization
It's not odd, there's no God,
But there's Scotch enough for a small nation

Just for spite, trash the Right,
And their blind insistence on Creation
Warn the world, as we're whirled,
Into spheres of Islamification

You will never view Paradise
It's a snare and a delusion
Only adding to confusion
Want to change the world? God's an illusion.

God's not great, so berate
Both fanatics and moderate believers
We've no use for a truce
Just rhetorical checkmate.

If you want to view Paradise
There is nothing like polemic
No matter how you pray or hymn it
Our derision... is systemic...
Damn, if I could only figure out a way to turn a minor talent for doggerel into a paying gig.

BusinessWeek: The Million Dollar Waitress

Via Reason's Hit and Run blog:

It's not quite the random walk hypothesis in action, but it looks like the winner of a stockpicking contest sponsored by CNBC might be a waitress who "never even paid much attention to the markets before signing up for the challenge."

Business Week reports that Mary Sue Williams "of the tiny Appalachia town of St. Clairsville, Ohio" is showing a 29 percent return so far in the two-week contest.
And, from the linked BusinessWeek article:
Williams, 46, has been a waitress for 20 years and was a welder before that. She has never bought or sold a real stock in her life. In fact, she says she never even paid much attention to the markets before signing up for the challenge. Yet Williams has already bested thousands of financial professionals who entered the contest with Ivy League degrees and complex trading models. "Part of this was luck," she says. "A lot of it was a gut feeling, some eenie-meenie-minie-moe, and common sense."
There's an interesting side note in the article (and on the CNBC contest page) about people who have been trying to exploit weaknesses in the game to artificially boost their gains and win.

BusinessWeek: The Million-Dollar Waitress

Related: CNBC's Million-Dollar Challenge

19 June 2007

The properly accessorized pig

"This ad, depicting a condomless pig, was rejected by Fox and CBS." (New York Times, June 18, 2007.)

White Trash on Wall Street

It's time for our monthly review of the White Trash and Minor Vices portfolio.

To refresh your memory, in late March we set up a model portfolio of the following stocks, and have been tracking its performance against major indexes on a periodic basis:
  • BFB - Brown-Forman Corp. Cl B
  • BUD - Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc.
  • CHB - Champion Enterprises Inc.
  • F - Ford Motor Co.
  • GM - General Motors Corp.
  • IGT - International Game Technology
  • KO - Coca-Cola Co.
  • KFT - Kraft Foods (not part of original portfolio; spun off by Altria, but it clearly still belongs)
  • MCD - McDonald's Corp.
  • MO - Altria Group Inc.
  • WMT - Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
With some effort, we pried ourselves away from the news about Britney Spears' latest struggle with mean radio station advertisers to note, with pleasure, that since inception, the White Trash Portfolio has returned a healthy 8.7% on initial investment.

Over the same time period, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) tracking the major indexes performed as follows:
  • DIA, which tracks the Dow Jones Industrial Average, is up 9.7%
  • SPY, which tracks the S&P 500, is up 7.2%.
  • VTI, which tracks the performance of the broad US stock market as a whole, is up 7.4%
  • IYC, which tracks the Dow Jones Consumer Cyclical index, is up 3.4%.

18 June 2007

WFB on Tony Soprano

The Godfather of modern conservatism on the Soprano family's final bow:
The sophistication of the Mephistophelian creator of "The Sopranos" was never underrated. The language is purely instrumental, even when the dialogue is between Tony and his resourceful shrink. What the language itself doesn't communicate, facial muscles eloquently tell us. There is no face in Madame Tussaud's that combines better than Tony Soprano's the acceptance of irony, the grit of resolution, the trivialization of theft and murder. There is true underworld humor, and you are free to liberate yourself from the drag of orthodoxy as one more pistol shot explodes into the face of a character whose time is up, and who falls under the wheels of a car on the move.

17 June 2007

None shall sleep

Update, 17 June: Paul Potts won the "Britain's Got Talent" competition.

Look, I don't even *like* opera all that much. And I absolutely detest American Idol, Pop Idol, and that entire ilk of shows, and please don't get me started on Simon Cowell or we'll be here all night.

And yes, this YouTube video has been all over the Intarwebs for a couple of days now.

But if you can watch Paul Potts--a Welsh cellphone salesman, shy guy and devoted amateur opera singer--get his minute in the spotlight singing (a ruthlessly edited-down version of) Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" on Britain's Got Talent (a Simon Cowell production, dammit) without getting goosebumps and choking up, you've got a heart of stone.

Just go watch it. Even the ghastly Aerosmith snippet at the end of the segment can't spoil it.

Happy Father's Day 2007

Good friends of ours just had their first child today, on Father's Day (!), and two more good friends have very recently become fathers again for the second time (one has a blog, two don't, all read this one from time to time.)

So Happy Father's Day, gentlemen, and to all of you fathers out there.

Sure do miss the old man tonight.

bob campbell retirement party 1992
Robert E. Campbell (1936-2005)
My Old Man
Steve Goodman

I miss my old man tonite
and I wish he was here with me
With his corny jokes and his cheap cigars
He could look you in the eye and sell you a car.
That's not an easy thing to do,
but no one ever knew a more charming creature
on this earth than my old man.

He was a pilot in the big war in the U.S. Army Air Corps
in a C - 47 with a heavy load
full of combat cargo for the Burma Road.
And after they dropped the bomb
he came home and married Mom
and not long after that
he was my old man.

And oh the fights we had
when my brother and I got him mad;
He'd get all boiled up and he'd start to shout
and I knew what was coming so I tuned him out.
And now the old man's gone, and I'd give all I own
to hear what he said when I wasn't listening
to my old man

I miss my old man tonite
and I can almost see his face
He was always trying to watch his weight
and his heart only made it to fifty-eight.
For the first time since he died
late last night I cried.
I wondered when I was gonna do that
for my old man.

A Social History of the New York City Cab Driver

Taxi drivers are the most enduring oppressed minority in New York City history. Race, ethnicity and religion are not sources of the oppression. It lies entirely in the nature of the work. Trapped for about 12 hours each day in the worst traffic in the United States, taxi drivers must suffer the savage frustrations of jammed streets, double-parked cars, immense trucks, drivers from New Jersey — and they can’t succumb to the explosive therapy of road rage. Their living depends on self-control.

At the same time, they face many other hazards: drunks behind them in the cab, fare beaters, stickup men, Knicks fans filled with biblical despair, out-of-town conventioneers who think the drivers are mobile pimps. Some seal themselves off from the back seat with the radio, an iPod or a cellphone. All pray that the next passenger doesn’t want to go from Midtown to the far reaches of Brooklyn or Queens. They hope for a decent tip. They hope to stay alive until the next fare waves from under a midnight streetlamp.

In this informative, solid history, Graham Russell Gao Hodges traces the story of the cabdrivers from 1907, when the first metered taxis appeared on New York streets, to the present. He writes with obvious sympathy, having driven a hack himself before moving on to academic labors as a historian at Peking University and Colgate. Loneliness is a running theme in “Taxi!”: if the title were not already taken, Hodges could have called his compact history “One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Curb Job, Pete Hamill, New York Times, June 17, 2007

Even back in the day, there were few people who hacked as a career; for most people, it was a transitional job.

In recent years, the jobs of taxi drivers have become so marginalized that you often find yourself in a medallion cab with a driver who barely speaks English and needs directions to anything that's off the Midtown grid and isn't a major airport. (Such as, for example, anything in the neighborhoods in which I live and work -- Greenwich Village and the Financial District, respectively.)


16 June 2007

Get up offa that thang

Cobb and his readers have determined the one hundred funkiest songs of all time.
Well it's all here. The results are in. Our little corner of the world within earshot of this blog has spoken and we have finally compiled the 100 greatest funk songs of all time. Without further ado, here are the results.
Cobb: Let There Be Funk

15 June 2007

After the battle for Gaza

Hamas now definitively controls the Gaza Strip.
''Today everybody is with Hamas because Hamas won the battle. If Fatah had won the battle they'd be with Fatah. We are a hungry people, we are with whoever gives us a bag of flour and a food coupon,'' said Yousef, 30. ''Me, I'm with God and a bag of flour.''
Streets Are Calm Day After Hamas Takes Hold (AP via New York Times, June 15, 2007)

14 June 2007

"They just want to stand outside and throw rocks..."

Summer vegetables are ripening in fields across North Carolina, but farmers fear the bounty could go unharvested if a growing labor shortage continues.

Now with the collapse this week of the immigration bill in the U.S. Senate, some farmers say they are angry and weary of waiting for help from Washington.

"They just want to stand outside and throw rocks. You wonder whether any of them want to do anything," said Thomas Joyner, president of Nash Produce, a Nash County cooperative that sells sweet potatoes, cucumbers and tobacco. Joyner was sorting freshly picked cucumbers late into the night Thursday and didn't realize until daybreak that the immigration deal had been scuttled, at least for now.

"They still can't solve it," Joyner said.


...farmers argue that replacing immigrant workers with American labor is impossible. They say they advertise all their jobs, and few if any domestic workers respond.

"Americans today don't want to sweat and get their hands dirty," said Doug Torn, who owns a wholesale nursery in Guilford County.

Immigration Defeat Threatens N.C. Crops (The News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, June 9, 2007)

13 June 2007

Rolling your own online office

I've done a lot of telecommuting in my life. My first real writing gig came when I was 16 as a freelancer for a computer magazine whose offices were 3,000 miles from my house, and since then I've worked for a number of blogs, web startups, and computer game companies in an online, virtual office environment. During that time I've found that the key to a successful distributed team is communication. The difference between the ventures that failed and those that succeeded was how well set up the communication structure was for the team.
And then Josh Catone proceeds to describe exactly how to do this, using mostly free tools.

Read/Write Web: Rolling Your Own Online Office (June 12, 2007)

11 June 2007

Personal Renewal

The Archer Pelican points us to a truly wonderful speech by John Gardner.

Learn all your life. Learn from your failures. Learn from your successes, When you hit a spell of trouble, ask "What is it trying to teach me?" The lessons aren't always happy ones, but they keep coming. It isn't a bad idea to pause occasionally for an inward look. By midlife, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.

We learn from our jobs, from our friends and families. We learn by accepting the commitments of life, by playing the roles that life hands us (not necessarily the roles we would have chosen). We learn by growing older, by suffering, by loving, by bearing with the things we can't change, by taking risks.

The things you learn in maturity aren't simple things such as acquiring information and skills. You learn not to engage in self-destructive behavior. You learn not to burn up energy in anxiety. You discover how to manage your tensions, if you have any, which you do. You learn that self-pity and resentment are among the most toxic of drugs. You find that the world loves talent, but pays off on character.

You come to understand that most people are neither for you nor against you, they are thinking about themselves. You learn that no matter how hard you try to please, some people in this world are not going to love you, a lesson that is at first troubling and then really quite relaxing.
"Personal Renewal," by John Gardner (Delivered to McKinsey & Company, Phoenix, AZ, November 10, 1990)

10 June 2007

15 Reasons Mister Rogers Was the Best Neighbor Ever

Even Koko the Gorilla loved him
Most people have heard of Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who could speak about 1000 words in American Sign Language, and understand about 2000 in English. What most people don’t know, however, is that Koko was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fan. As Esquire reported, when Fred Rogers took a trip out to meet Koko for his show, not only did she immediately wrap her arms around him and embrace him, she did what she’d always seen him do onscreen: she proceeded to take his shoes off!

15 Reasons Mister Rogers Was the Best Neighbor Ever - mental_floss

Fallows on China

Someday China may matter internationally mainly for the nature of its political system or for its strategic ambitions. Those are significant even now, of course, but China’s success in manufacturing is what has determined its place in the world. Most of what has been good about China over the past generation has come directly or indirectly from its factories. The country has public money with which to build roads, houses, and schools—especially roads. The vast population in the countryside has what their forebears acutely lacked, and peasants elsewhere today still do: a chance at paying jobs, which means a chance to escape rural poverty. Americans complain about cheap junk pouring out of Chinese mills, but they rely on China for a lot that is not junk, and whose cheap price is important to American industrial and domestic life. Modern consumer culture rests on the assumption that the nicest, most advanced goods—computers, audio systems, wall-sized TVs—will get cheaper year by year. Moore’s Law, which in one version says that the price of computing power will be cut in half every 18 months or so, is part of the reason, but China’s factories are a big part too.


Large-scale shifts in economic power have effects beyond the purely economic. Americans need not be hostile toward China’s rise, but they should be wary about its eventual effects. The United States is the only nation with the scale and power to try to set the terms of its interaction with China rather than just succumb. So starting now, Americans need to consider the economic, environmental, political, and social goals they care about defending as Chinese influence grows.
China Makes, The World Takes - James Fallows, The Atlantic, July/August 2007

06 June 2007

New accredited vendor

I don't know how their opening escaped me, but here's a place I just gotta check out this weekend.

Free web conferencing with Vyew

If you’re looking for free/extremely low-cost alternatives to online conferencing tools like WebEx, let me suggest Vyew.

Vyew is a next-generation online collaboration and web conferencing service that brings people and content together. With Vyew you can host LIVE conferences and work collaboratively on content asynchronously over time, ANYTIME.

Inside Vyew you can author new content and collaborate with PowerPoint, Word, Excel, and PDF files, plus audio, video and images. You can also stream live or capture what’s showing on your desktop. Built-in text chat and FREE teleconferencing make live collaboration sessions highly productive.

Basic Vyew accounts are free (and advertising-supported; in other words, ads appear in your online session window.) “Professional” accounts start as low as $9.95 per month.

05 June 2007

The Profit Calculator

"The wild risks, unexpected niches, and day-in-day-out grind behind making a dollar in New York for everyone... from a drug dealer to Goldman Sachs."

The Profit Calculator -- New York Magazine

04 June 2007

Epiphany at Exit 71

Or, "The scales fell from my eyes on the road to Savannah..."

At exit 71 on the NC stretch of I-95 southbound, there are two gigantic bulletin boards.

The one on the left, says, more or less: JESUS CHRIST IS LORD AND SAVIOR / ACCEPT HIM INTO YOUR HEART TODAY.

The one on the right reads, "TOPLESS! TOPLESS! WE DARE TO BARE! CAFE RISQUE!"

And then, at the bottom, in the biggest letters of all: GOOD FOOD!

No, the epiphany has nothing to do with the juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane in the South; that theme has been done to death, and all you have to do is drive around the outskirts of a small town counting churches and massage parlors and do the math yourself.

Rather, the blinding flash of insight was this:

Only in the South would a "gentleman's club" find it important to reassure you that the cooking was good, too.

03 June 2007

Hoist by his own Petard 2.0

The Next Web Conference was held in Amsterdam last Friday (June 1). The organizers had a last minute speaker back-out: Plazes CEO Felix Petersen emailed them the day before the conference to say that he couldn’t make it because they were dealing with bugs on their new product, and that his “9 month old daughter has become sick.”

The problem, though, is that Peterson didn’t stay home to work on their product and take care of his daughter. He was actually attending a competing conference, Reboot, in Copenhagen.

How was this discovered? The Next Web guys used Petersen’s own Plazes, a service which shows where users are at any given time. Peterson’s Plazes account clearly showed him in Copenhagen at Reboot on June 1, drinking wine and beer, listening to music, and enjoying “incredible conversations.” “Reboot just rocks,” he writes.
TechCrunch: Plazes CEO Busted By His Own Product

02 June 2007


When cats walk or climb on your keyboard, they can enter random commands and data, damage your files, and even crash your computer. This can happen whether you are near the computer or have suddenly been called away from it.

PawSense is a software utility that helps protect your computer from cats. It quickly detects and blocks cat typing, and also helps train your cat to stay off the computer keyboard.

PawSense (Sadly, not available for Macintosh.)

Mister Gato has never managed to successfully execute a command on any of our machines, but he routinely turns on Caret Browsing in Firefox by pressing the F7 key on his way to his favorite perch, the keyboard hutch on our computer desk.

He has also sent enough garbled IMs that people who regularly talk to me or my wife now respond to a string of nonsense characters with "Hi, Mister Gato!"

Catbed or Flatbed?.jpg
You could always try to convince him to stretch out on the printer instead.

Well, sure, we could try that, I guess

The family that owns The Wall Street Journal is meeting with Rupert Murdoch on Monday to discuss issues of journalistic integrity and standards.

Rupert Murdoch.

Journalistic standards.

Let that sink in.

(As Mahatma Gandhi famously said when asked his opinion of Western Civilization: "I think it would be a very good idea.")

South Of The Border - June 1, 2007

South of the Border is a very politically incorrect tourist-trap institution (check out the website... hoo boy) on the border of North and South Carolina, just off of I-95. The billboards get especially dense starting 200 miles on either side of it, but they go as far south as Florida and God alone knows how far north. [Update: As far north as New Jersey.]

Stopped here this morning for a tank of gas, paying 10 cents a gallon extra so's I could get a nice photograph of Pedro.

He - and the theme park - have seen better days.

Post update, 6/2/2007: Here's a terrific article--sadly, an obituary--on Alan Schafer, the marketing genius behind South of the Border. He died in 2001, having turned a post-war beer stand just across the state line from dry counties in North Carolina into a a $40 million kitsch empire:

Alan Heller Schafer was the man behind each of the 250 billboards. They stretch from Daytona Beach to New Jersey to lure motorists to his South of the Border tourist attraction. On Thursday morning, Mr. Schafer died after a long battle with leukemia. He was 87.

For more than five decades, South of the Border has attracted restless travelers, reportedly as many as 8-million a year. The $40-million Mexican-themed complex includes motel rooms, campsites, gift shops, restaurants, an amusement park and a large observation tower shaped like a sombrero. The park, with about 750 workers, remains one of the largest employers in an economically depressed county.

Its mascot is the wise-cracking Pedro character made famous by the billboards and created by Alan Schafer.

South of the Border straddles US Highway 301, which used to be a main route to and from Florida for northerners. When I-95 was built--the Interstate system, built in the 1950s, destroyed most of the old-school roadside attractions by diverting traffic, increasing road speed and discouraging detours--Schafer had sufficient political juice to make sure that I-95 was diverted slightly so that the interchange with US 301 would be at -- ta-da! -- South of the Border, SC.

A friend reminds me that we have something else to thank Alan Schafer for: he bought, and saved, the Blenheim Bottling Company, makers of the ultra-spicy Blenheim's Old No. 3 Ginger Ale, which is fine for drinking by itself, but makes the most exquisite bourbon-and-ginger known to modern man.

Related article: Roadside America on South of the Border