The Grenade of Understanding explodes

November 16th, 2012

Matt Taibbi invited his readers to write a parody of Thomas Friedman's latest column on Syria. His readers rose to the challenge:

[By Richard Rollington]

Iraq was fisted by the United States, and on experiencing such explosive pleasure knocked over a china cabinet while ejaculating acid. Syria's on her knees begging to be next.

Succinct, and surprisingly faithful to the spirit of the source material.

There's a longer, even better, entry quoted by Taibbi, depicting Friedman as Schrodinger's columnist.

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His #1 11 year-old fan

November 12th, 2012

Such was the extent of his triumph last week that even 11 year-old girls are crushing on Nate Silver:

I wonder if when you get up in the morning you open your kitchen cabinet and go, I'm feeling 18.5% Rice Chex and 27.9% Frosted Mini-Wheats and 32% one of those whole-grain Kashi cereals which have photos of smiling multicultural people on the boxes, as if smiling multicultural people were a new form of fibre. And then I wonder if you think, But I'm really feeling 58.3% like having a cupcake for breakfast, but then your mom says, "I don't care if you're a fancy statistician with a Times blog and Seattle green-architect eyeglass frames, you still need something heart-healthy to start your day," but then you tell her, "Mom, if you keep nagging me I will never let you meet my new boyfriend, Matt Bomer."

See, I think that because you predicted the election with near-100% accuracy Matt Bomer is way more likely to go out with you than with Dick Morris, who predicted a Romney landslide, or with Karl Rove, who kept predicting that Ohio was still in play a week after the election was over. In fact, right now I bet that you could get anyone to go out with you just by saying something like "I predicted Florida, North Carolina, and Illinois, and now I'm predicting that you'll have dinner with me."


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Hurricane Sandy: After Landfall

October 31st, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: After Landfall.

I found #48 particularly striking – surreal, even.

[Via The Browser]

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Making purple

October 29th, 2012

Elizabeth Williamson of the Wall Street Journal has coined what might well be the definitive metaphor of the 2012 US presidential election campaign. Or at any rate, the most memorable:

In this neck-and-neck, ideologically fraught presidential election season, politically active singles won't cross party lines. The result is a dating desert populated by reds and blues who refuse to make purple.

I'm pretty sure I've read a story like this about whether people of differing political inclinations can get (it) on away from the polling station and the political fundraiser at some point during every presidential campaign I've followed – when was the last time a campaign was other than fraught/divisive/momentous?1 – but I don't think the prospect of couples declining to … ahem … make purple has come up before.

[Via The Awl]

  1. I suppose it would have been one of the campaigns where the outcome wasn't in that much doubt and the challenger was something of a sacrificial lamb. Clinton vs Dole? Reagan vs Mondale?

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Two Presidents

October 8th, 2012

Courtesy of Maureen Dowd: President Obama seeks post-debate tips from a master

The lights from the presidential motorcade illuminate a New Hampshire farmhouse at night in the sprawling New England landscape. JED BARTLET steps out onto his porch as the motorcade slows to a stop.


BARTLET They told you to make sure you didn't seem condescending, right? They told you, "First, do no harm," and in your case that means don't appear condescending, and you bought it. 'Cause for the American right, condescension is the worst crime you can commit.

OBAMA What's your suggestion?

BARTLET Appear condescending. Now it comes naturally to me –

OBAMA I know.

BARTLET It's a gift, but I'm likable and you're likable enough. Thirty straight months of job growth – blown off. G.M. showing record profits – unmentioned. "Governor, would you still let Detroit go bankrupt as you urged us to do four years ago?" – unasked. […]

BARTLET [… That] was quite a display of hard-nosed, fiscal conservatism when he slashed one one-hundredth of 1 percent from the federal budget by canceling "Sesame Street" and "Downton Abbey." I think we're halfway home. Mr. President, your prep for the next debate need not consist of anything more than learning to pronounce three words: "Governor, you're lying." Let's replay some of Wednesday night's more jaw-dropping visits to the Land Where Facts Go to Die. "I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don't have a tax cut of a scale you're talking about."

OBAMA The Tax Policy Center analysis of your proposal for a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut in all federal income tax rates, eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, the estate tax and other reductions, says it would be a $5 trillion tax cut.

BARTLET In other words …

OBAMA You're lying, Governor. […]

[Via The Morning News]

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As solid as granite

August 23rd, 2012

Michael Kinsley has some fun, imagining the day Paul Ryan brings the Senate to order for the first time:

Paul Ryan laughed. He stood naked on top of the vice president's desk in the Senate chamber, scanning the crowd of sniveling politicians below him.

He flexed his muscles, the result of hours spent in the House gymnasium. Look at these pathetic specimens, he thought. Not one of them could do a one-armed pushup if his life depended on it. Not one was worthy of so much as co-sponsoring one of Ryan's bills. Every single one of them had been elected by appealing to the average citizen in his (or her — Ryan snorted at the thought) district. It occurred to him, and not for the first time, that of all the men and women in this room, only he, Paul Ryan, had been selected for his current office by the president himself. […]

[Via Memex 1.1]

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July 3rd, 2012

New York's Roosevelt Island is home to a large-scale Swedish-built pneumatic garbage disposal system. The company that maintains the Roosevelt Island system is also responsible for running a similar system at Disney World:

[Repairman Frederik Olsson], a tall blond man in work boots and loose overalls, coughed politely. "Magic Kingdom can be problematic," he said. "I visit it often. It usually breaks because so many sticky things run through it. This one usually breaks down because New Yorkers throw too many big things away."

"The machine doesn't break down that much," Marli said. "But, you know, you get a rainy weekend and people clean out their closets. They throw away the weirdest stuff. Stereos, old computers, steel pipes." The unwieldy objects sometimes clog the works. One time, a piece of rebar backed up the machine for several hours. Another time, it was a skillet. Envac workers have also recovered geometry textbooks, tape players, window frames, lumber, and old clothes. On a third-floor window ledge, there is an array of houseplants in industrial buckets, rescued from the trash.

Let's face it, if your apartment building contained a central garbage disposal chute that emptied periodically by sucking the waste away at 60mph, would you be particularly choosy about what you were dropping down the chute? Or would you be calling 'Bombs away!' as you tried to time the drop to coincide with the trapdoor opening?

[Via MetaFilter]

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Real Time, for real.

June 26th, 2012

Displaying real-time road pricing information, Georgia-style.

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Teachers Dancing Behind Students

May 15th, 2012

Teachers Dancing Behind Students. Every bit as dorky-yet-adorable as it sounds.

[Via Stellar Interesting's faves]

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The Newsroom 2, Broadcast News 7

April 30th, 2012

So there I was, having just watched the second trailer for Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom and feeling quietly optimistic that it might be a pretty decent show.1 I've always liked Jeff Daniels, the supporting cast looks fine – not to mention that Jane Fonda looks to be having fun playing her ex-husband – and at least this subject matter might provide a better backdrop for Sorkin's concerns than Studio 60… ever could.

Then I happened upon a comment thread at Ta-Nehisi Coates' weblog devoted to discussing the show's prospects, in which a commenter by the name of jkrusequirk linked to an excerpt from a film about TV journalism that I haven't thought about2 in quite a while but which set the standard Sorkin should aspire to.

I'm referring, of course, to Broadcast News. How the hell did I forget Broadcast News? More to the point, what are the chances Sorkin can reach those sort of heights? Now I'm apprehensive all over again…

[Trailer for The Newsroom via Pop Loser]

  1. Once it finally turns up on DVD over here. See my previous post for more on that issue.
  2. Or seen, come to think of it. In what sort of world does pablum like Picture Perfect show up on free-to-air TV in the UK multiple times a year, whilst we're lucky to see Broadcast News once every 18 months or so?

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A Game of Votes

April 26th, 2012

Some of the parallels drawn in Game of Votes1 are just so good.

Joffrey Baratheon = Newt Gingrich

That's not a perfect fit – on the basis of what he showed us in season 1,2 I don't think Joffrey sees himself as much of a historian or intellectual – but the elements of the comparison that work really work.

  1. NB: contains some spoilers for Game of Thrones season 2. Nothing major, I don't think, but there's a picture of one character we heard about but never met in season 1, and a couple of allusions are made to not completely surprising plot developments.
  2. I'm following the show as it comes out on DVD, so it's going to be a long while before I find out how Joffrey changes as he gets comfortable on the Iron Throne.

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Illicit pleasures by post

April 18th, 2012

I didn't expect to encounter the phrase "the cult of vice surrounding urban post offices" when I started reading the web today.

Angela Serratore's Post Secrets recounts the reaction of New Yorkers to the spread of a modern postal service:

Communication of and by women has always struck fear into the hearts of men (see: novels; epistolary), but until the middle of the eighteenth century it was largely manageable – husbands and fathers, even servants, monitored a lady's letters, and the wild fluctuations in cost of mail kept all but the wealthiest of girls and women from taking pen to paper on a regular basis. That changed with the standardization of postal prices in 1845. […] Suddenly, wide swaths of women had access to two dangerous things – the mail and the post office. Anthony Trollope's 1852 invention of the pillar-box had given British girls a chance to subvert the authority of their scandalized parents by mailing letters in secret, but their New York counterparts who visited the post office could both send and receive mail almost entirely unmonitored by those who might want to regulate their epistolary lives. […]

[Via The Awl]

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The Newsroom

April 2nd, 2012

It's a pity that Aaron Sorkin's new HBO show The Newsroom will presumably be corralled behind the paywall of Sky Atlantic over here in the UK until we finally get a DVD release some time long after the first season ends.12 The trailer for the first episode looks very decent.

[Via Pop Loser]

  1. See, for another example of this phenomenon, Game of Thrones. I've watched six out of ten episodes through at the moment, and it's going to be a long wait for the season 2 box set over here. But well worth it, I'm guessing. Tyrion Lannister is already a bit of a legend, obviously, but I have high hopes for Arya Stark. Please let her grow up and knock some sense into Joffrey before the story is done. Is that too much to ask?
  2. On the other hand, if The Newsroom fizzles out in a season like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip then at least we'll most likely know it before we're being invited to stump up the cost of a box set.


Twitter at Gettysburg

April 1st, 2012

Michael Mace on Twitter the telegraph at Gettysburg:

With our obsession for newness, those of us who work in the tech industry often fail to understand the historical roots of our technologies. Case in point: telegraph operators more than 150 years ago were sending short messages called "graphs" that were surprisingly similar in form and content to Twitter tweets.

One remarkable example was recently discovered in the Museum of Telegraphy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It is the transcript of a telegraph operator's comments during Abraham Lincoln's famed Gettysburg Address in 1863. The transcript was shared with me by a friend on the museum staff, and I'm pleased to reproduce it here:

Still waiting for the Pres. to commence his speech. #gettysburg

Good heavens, I should have foresworn that fifth corn dodger for lunch. #gas #dontask #gettysburg

Starting now. Pres. waves to crowd. #gettysburg

Four score and… WTF is a score? 25? #pleasespeakenglish #gettysburg

Okay, it's twenty. So "87 years ago the country was founded." Why not just say that? Duh. #gettysburg


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Irrational exuberance

January 23rd, 2012

It turns out that former chairman of the US Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan was laughing all the way to the (run on the) banks:

[Following the release of the minutes of the meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee's meetings for 2001-2006…]

It makes for quite a fun read if you get past all the boring economic analysis parts. In fact, if the stenographer was accurate, the Committee broke into laughter 45 times in just the January meeting! That's at least 45 jokes (some didn't get laughs – if only we knew the quality of each laughter!). I would have guessed that would be a lot relative to other meetings, right? I mean how funny would it be if the top of the housing market was also when the FOMC was telling the most jokes in their meetings?

Well, being a data nerd with nothing better to do on a Thursday night, I looked into it. To be precise, I went back for just the last six years (2001-06) and searched for how many times the stenographer's notation for laughter appeared in the released transcripts of each FOMC meeting.

Suffice it to say the data is funny…

Sadly, the minutes of meetings of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee are written in a rather dry, formal style, so there doesn't seem to be much scope for a similar analysis of economic policymakers' behaviour over here.

[Via The Morning News]

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It's all about ventilation

January 3rd, 2012

When Paul Rosenblatt answers the phone, he says "Bananas!", or, All you ever wanted to know about the science of making bananas ripen at the right time in the right place, on an industrial scale. Fascinating stuff.

[Via Pruned]

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How would they vote?

December 11th, 2011

How would they vote? is fanfic with a somewhat unusual focus. Take, for example, The Breakfast Club's "Princess", Claire Standish:

Soon after joining the Breakfast Club, Claire realised there was more to life than pearl earrings and skiing trips to Colorado. Where was the reward in having life delivered to you on a silver platter?

Enter John Bender. While Bender had started off as simply a grab for attention from her quibbling parents, it soon became apparent that he was much more than that. Reforming John Bender would become Claire's personal Fix-Her-Upper, the challenge that would bring fulfilment to her otherwise vacuous life. And she loved him for it.

Despite initial misgivings about Bender, Claire's conservative parents came round to the young man, admiring his 'organic entrepreneurial spirit' and it wasn't long before the couple was happily married. Claire studied PR and encouraged John to enrol in a community college course in business studies. When he wavered with his software design idea, she pushed him forward.

She was also successful in her own right. Upon graduating, she entered into a big-name PR firm and managed several big accounts during the early '90s, including for Sega, Pepsi Max, and Janet Jackson. She voted Clinton in '92, purely out of respect for his rapport with the common man, but swung right in 2000, under the influence of her husband's anti-tax, small government crusade.

By 2008, Claire's talent for PR had started to get noticed by the right people in Washington. When she received a call to help out a struggling Hilary Clinton in the race against Obama to secure the Democratic nomination, Claire couldn't refuse. That fall she came up with her best idea yet – the infamous 'red phone' ad.

Despite Clinton's failed run at the presidency, Claire stayed in Washington and it wasn't long before she had made the seamless transition from Clinton to the other side of politics, recruited by the Koch brothers to work on strategies for undermining the Obama administration in the lead-up to 2012.

The focus of the site seems to be on characters from US and Australian TV, which leaves something of a gap in the market. What would Detective Inspector Jack Regan have made of members of the Met being bussed up to the Yorkshire coalfields to put striking miners in their place? Would Tom Good, having presumably ended the 1970s as a classic wooly Liberal, have ended up in the Green Party, or been seduced by New Labour? Would Alan B'Stard still be a Tory?1

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. OK. Stupid question!

1 Comment »

A gathering of narcissists

December 6th, 2011

Sometimes a picture truly is worth a thousand words.

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Professional pole climbers

November 20th, 2011

File under Things it had never occurred to me existed: 1 a training yard where technicians learn how to climb utility poles.


  1. It's quite logical that there should be a need for such a facility, but I suppose if I'd ever given the matter any thought I'd have assumed that technicians would learn to climb poles in the field. Presumably there are similar – but larger – training sites somewhere for those whose job is to climb electrical pylons.

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Open prisons

November 14th, 2011

"In theory" is one of the scariest phrases in the world of computing. Take this story about vulnerabilities in the computer systems used to run some federal prisons in the USA:

While the computers that are used for the system control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems that control prison doors and other systems in theory should not be connected to the Internet, the researchers found that there was an Internet connection associated with every prison system they surveyed. In some cases, prison staff used the same computers to browse the Internet; in others, the companies that had installed the software had put connections in place to do remote maintenance on the systems.

[Emphasis added]

[Via Bruce Schneier]

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