Archive for April, 2006

Burger King: “I Am Man!”

April 30, 2006 50 comments

I couldn’t find a video link, but the new Burger King commercial featuring a bunch of stereotypical men singing a transgendered version of Helen Reddy’s ‘I am woman, hear me roar…” is just too funny for words. 

Not that it makes me any more likely to eat one of those thousand-calorie GreaseWhoppers, but at least it’s funny and not creepy like those ‘Wake up with the King’ commercials…

My son suggests a strategy for companies: use your commercial archive.  Play new commercials for no more than a week and rotate through your archive of commercial favorites from the past (and play them for no more than a week).  Then people would not be lunging for the ‘mute’ button during the 4-month overrun of your clever new commercial.  People would stop what they’re doing to watch a 30-year-old McDonald’s commercial if they would only see it twice.

That boy is brilliant.

Update: Commenters who have dropped in on this post are much more interesting than the post itself,  ;-)   and one left a link to the video.

Categories: Advertising, business

J.K. Galbraith dies

April 30, 2006 2 comments

John Kenneth Galbraith, 1908 – 2006

- “Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”
- “It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than to put out on the troubled sea of thought”
- “You will find that the State is the kind of organization which, though it does big things badly, does small things badly, too.”
- “All successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door. “
- “If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error”
- “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.”

And my personal favorite…

- “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.”

“…his 1990 book A Short History of Financial Euphoria described the irrational factors that had helped create financial bubbles through the centuries. The architects of the dot-com boom and bust that followed it a few years later clearly had not read it.”
Tony Pobston, writing about J.K. Galbraith

For conservative economists, Galbraith’s ‘spectacular error’ was insisting that the purpose of having an economy in the first place, was the quality of life for those who live within it.

Categories: Politics

Raccoons and Evil

April 30, 2006 2 comments

I am a cat person.  Admittedly cats are an acquired taste, but I’ve acquired it, so there we are.  And while I think raccoons are interesting animals, it would never occur to me to have one as a pet.  Cajun’s experience with the beasties explains why…

“Leave the house with two cats inside, you return to find two cats lounging around on the sofa. Leave the house with two adolescent raccoons, and you return to a effect reminiscent of a small tornado. Raccoons are curious…”
- Mostly Cajun: Pure Evil

Hilarity ensues. Go read! 

Categories: Humor

Gas price relief is on the way

April 27, 2006 6 comments

Senate Republicans are seriously proposing a $100 rebate check to every tax-paying American to offset high gas prices.  Really.

Sometimes a proposal is just so jaw-droppingly stupid you can barely believe it’s even real.  Of course they’ve tucked in a provision for chewing up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge too – no surprise – and even to prosecute retailers who ‘charge too much’.

This is supposed to be the conservative party?  In what way?  The $100 checks will be borrowed money that the taxpaying recipients themselves will have to pay back with interest someday.  And interference with retail pricing is guaranteed to result in an unresponsive market.  Maybe striping roads and pipelines across irreplaceable wilderness is a conservative value?

I sure hope the real Republican party is out there somewhere, planning a comeback to throw these imposters out.  And soon!

Categories: Politics

German brothel self-censors after Muslim threats

April 25, 2006 4 comments

Not cartoons this time, but national flags on a sexy advertisement:

The giant banner on a high-rise building shows a semi-naked woman and the flags of the 32 countries in the World Cup, which kicks off in June.

The Pascha brothel’s owner, Armin Lobscheid, said a group of Muslims had threatened violence over the advert. He said they had accused the brothel of insulting Islam by using the flags.

First there were telephone threats of violence, then about 30 hooded protesters armed with knives and sticks turned up outside Pascha on Friday, the Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper reported…
- BBC News: German brothel ad angers Muslims  (Article has a picture of the ad in question)

So much for the notion that the ‘cartoons’ debacle was a special case because of the prohibition on images of Mohammed.  And where were the moderate German Muslims?  Shouldn’t they have been restraining their more hotheaded bretheren?

Question:  what happens if you inadvertently insult a religion of peace?  Or even insult it on purpose?

Categories: Politics

“Depending on the social controls that are applied…”

April 22, 2006 Comments off

If you really dig technology history, you’d probably enjoy The Story Of Standards, by John Perry.  He told an engaging history of how all the industrial standards that supprt our technical culture came into existence – at least up until 1955 when the book was published.  In the last chapter, as tech writers are wont to do, he made some wild guesses about the future.  In the chapter “Machines with memories”, he wrote:

Science fiction writers have portrayed the mechanized society as wholly regimented and standardized.  Some of the men who best know what computers can do are equally pessimistic and with better reason.  Most of us are uneasy about invasions of privacy: wire-tapping, interception of mail, questioning of neighbors, and other techniques of the investigator.  We are made uncomfortable by the knowledge that our dossiers are kept in official and semi-official places, where information, accurate or otherwise, is accumulated.

Computers could well be used as super-investigators, keeping on tap a permanent record of almost anything we say or do within the field of perception of any computer or its auxillaries.  From schools, courts, license bureaus, credit agencies, employers, hotels, department stores, bureaus of taxation, newspapers, organization files, voting lists, and hundreds of other sources, a dossier could be compiled by pushing a few buttons…

This won’t happen in five years, thought some of the essential pieces of the picture are rapidly becoming quite real.  It may never happen but it could.  Of course the machines won’t be to blame.

Of themselves the computers will only do what they’re told to do.  The point is, however, that they are enormously powerful information processors.  Like all instruments of power, how they are used depends on what social controls are applied.  Thus far man’s record of devising and using social controls of such magnitude is rather spotty.
- John Perry, The Story Of Standards 1955 Funk & Wagnalls Co., pg 249

OK, he could spot the dystopian possibilities, but… debit cards!

You seldom have to write a check, and you seldom need cash.  Slipping your plate into a slot at any store, restaurant, or ticket office makes the purchase and transfers the money automatically.  If you travel on expense account, you carry a second plate, which will charge to your employer’s account only the kind of expenses he authorizes…

…and optical data storage, online libraries, the ascendence of the computer to primacy as a communications device and lots, lots more.  Not too shabby.

By the way, according to Harper’s Index, the state of Minnesota sells its drivers’ license database to just about any company with $1,500.  Last year, 800 companies purchased the database.


Categories: Geeky, Security

Earth Day 2006

April 22, 2006 9 comments

There is one thing about Earth Day that I just can’t figure out: how it became a partisan issue.  For some reason people on the “right” seem to take glee in expressing their distain for environmentalism in all its forms, swimming in denial on all ecological problems, appointing oil-company executives to environmentally important government posts, giving away the store to oil companies, and so forth.  At the same time, people on the “left” seem to be trying to match the right’s idiocy – in mirror image – by grabbing onto every conceivable environmental cause, even those that are incompatible with each other or plainly unsupported by science.  Then both sides point with glee at the other side’s idiots and claim that they, and only they, are seeing the issue clearly.

News flash:  It doesn’t matter if you are a Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian – we all live on the same planet.  Nature doesn’t give a damn what your economic/political/religious theory is because nature is not a conscious entity.  Nature also does not care about your concerns – the consequences of our actions won’t wait until we have worked out the chinks in human society.  And Nature is big, but it is not unlimited.  Nature is the physical world, operating at a level of complexity that just won’t fit on a bumper sticker.

If you dig up inconceivably huge amounts of fossil carbon from when the Earth was a LOT warmer, burn it back into the atmosphere, you get acidic seas and high sea levels, along with lots of unpleasant climatic and biological consequences.  Pour mercury into the air from coal-fired power plants, and you’ll have kids with neurological problems, especially if they eat a lot of fish.  Let enough polluting cars choke up the air in L.A., and you’ll have asthmatic kids dropping like flies.

Since we’re all in that equation together, how did it get to be a partisan issue?  Righties, do you think a disaster will pass you by if you don’t believe in it?  Lefties, do you think you can jump on every bandwagon without prioritizing?  Both sides, shouldn’t you take the trouble to see past the partisan blather obscuring the subject?  Read stuff written by scientists, engineers, and technical service people, not crappy novelists or politicians.  Make the distinction between think tanks and research institutions. Get a clue.

Since Nature won’t compromise with us, we are going to have to learn to compromise with each other.  The ‘free market’ isn’t going to integrate global-scale environmental consequences, so regulations will be necessary.  And there are no environmentally benign energy sources.  Nuclear power poses a rather thorny waste storage problem.  But (a lot) more radioactivity gets into the atmosphere from coal than from nuclear.  Windmills are variable-output so they can only supplement, not replace, other sources.  Solar cells take quite a bit of energy to manufacture.  We will have to make choices.

One choice that has almost no downside is conservation.  How this got to be controversial is completely beyond me.  Back when I was a kid people said; “Waste not, want not”.  Is that not true anymore?  I must have missed the memo. But somehow there are people who act as if they are being tortured if they have to even think about how much they waste.

The preservation of our planet is not helped by ill-considered environmental movements.  Every household reycling study I have seen shows that only metals (especially aluminum) and some plastics can be recycled profitably.  Some non-metallic materials are also worth re-using (like adding rubber to asphalt) and toxic things like electronics need to be recycled even if at a loss.  But even a cursory examination of the chemistry of paper recycling will make you want to spend a few minutes in ‘preview’ mode before clicking ‘print’.  Conservation and some alternative fibres are the way to go there.

Recently I saw a photo of an automotive traffic jam – in Beijing, China.  That dog won’t hunt in Beijing any better than it does in Atlanta – it’s still incredibly wasteful, to say nothing of frustrating.  Urban planning worldwide is going to have to get smarter.

And so are we.  In our consumer choices, our votes, and our culture, we’re going to have to recognize the common good, and that will mean more than looking for a green label or reciting a slogan.  We might even try listening to each other.  How much progress can we make otherwise?

Until we find someplace else to live (and acquire the ability to go there), every day is Earth day. 

A beautiful Mind, part 1

April 19, 2006 Comments off

Having seen the outstanding movie, A Beautiful Mind at the historic Normal theater on Saturday, I went to a lecture this evening by Sylvia Nasar, the author of the biographical novel on which the movie is loosely based. 

Lectures and movies both are a bit difficult for me due to chronic muscle pain – it has to be really good to justify two hours in a chair.  In both cases it was time and discomfort well spent.

“Literature is full of meteoric rises and falls,” said Nasar.  “There are very few stories, to say nothing of true stories, that have a true third act: a genuine redemption.”  She told a story of how Nash created a truly revolutionary revision of Von Neumann’s ‘Game Theory’ that has come to be of crucial importance in economics and even in biology, only to fall victim to paranoid schitzophrenia.  His wife left him (wasn’t safe to stay with a madman who thought she was his worst enemy) and he drifted in and out of mental hospitals and the life of a homeless person. 

His return to sanity took a torturous three decades, during which time his life became an example of the role of community and personal determination in managing mental illness.  Because of his disability, he was nearly passed over for the Nobel prize, but Nasar has receved dozens of letters from schitzophrenics who say they have found new hope and determination in the story.

I am definitely going to read the book now.  Nasar is an acclaimed economics journalist and her insights into John Nash are a real periscope above the mundane. 

Categories: Reviews

Fun and games with thermite

April 19, 2006 6 comments

Thermite is a finely-powdered mixture of iron oxide and aluminum.  Once it starts burning, it will burn through just about anything.  Suppose you were a British chemist, had a large bucket of thermite, a French car, and a wicked sense of humor? You’d make this video: Thermite Experiments

There are two experiments – the first is with thermite and liquid nitrogen (“a clear victory for thermite”) and the second is with the car.  :lol:

(from Pharyngula.)

Categories: Humor

Why would you want a Gmail account?

April 19, 2006 7 comments

At first I thought Gmail would be like any other online mail account; kind of junky, slow, and hard to use effectively.  Now after using it for a while I am convinced that that in just a few years, mail clients like Thunderbird or Outlook will be a thing of the past.

3 things changed my mind.  First was the search-based organization model – it is practically maintenance-free as the engine can go get anything for you when you need it.  Second is the conversation threading – it works better than other implementations I’ve seen.  Third is the smooth integration with other functions like Google calendar, which beats Meeting Maker all hollow and gives other scheduling solutions a lot to worry about.

All of the functions reflect Google’s simple-but-powerful design philosophy, which I like a lot. 

You can get a Gmail account by using an ‘invitation’ from a current user, and I have a whole bunch of invitations left.  So if you want a Gmail account, drop me a line at and I’ll get one right out to you.

Categories: Geeky