Google Translate

If I type two or more French words into a Google search box, how am I not getting a French to English (my browser's current default language) translation as the first result?  If I type "16 x 4" I get "16 x 4 = 64" and then a bunch of natural results.  Should it matter if my phrase is a line from a popular French folk song that we all memorized in middle school?

No it should not.

My irritation is mitigated slightly by the placement of "Translate" at the top of the list of "more" options on the results page, but then my rage burns white-hot again when I have to change the "From" language from German (the last language I looked up, maybe?) to French.


Good news: The return of Chumley's? Maybe next year.

Soon to be followed by the Return of Me to Chumley's.  This is the first bar I went to on my first trip to NYC.  I was spoiled, but I'm unspeakably grateful for the other notable places I've been taken to since then.

Cafeteria Meltdowns

And not of the "open-faced tuna sandwich" variety.

There's a new way for kids to be shamed in school this fall!
“Ziplocs are the biggest misstep,” said Julie Corbett, a mother in Oakland, Calif., whose two girls attend a school with an eco-friendly lunch policy. In school years past, she said, many a morning came unhinged when the girls were sent to school with disposable sandwich bags. 
“That’s when the kids have meltdowns, because they don’t want to be shamed at school,” Ms. Corbett said. “It’s a big deal.”
We later learn about some of the behind-the-scenes efforts that put these forces of shame into motion:

Philosophy in a Nutshell

Seems about right.

ETA:  Also, this.

A Matter of Scale

The Edgar Allan Poe house is running out of money. For years, its operations have been propped up by a grant from Baltimore City, but that has changed recently due to budget cuts. In discussing the options, Jeffrey A. Savoye, the secretary and treasurer of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, made this observation.  I presume the irony was unintentional:
"I really see only two probable avenues," he said. "One is the city comes to its senses and realizes they're not saving a lot of money, so they might as well keep running it. And the other is some angel with a lot of money steps forward and can cover the costs."
Of course, there is a third "avenue," which is probably obvious to anyone without a vested interest in the house's ongoing viability: shutter the museum. Also, it's hard to reconcile the idea that the city is not saving "a lot of money" by cutting the museum out of its budget, but that it would take an angel with "a lot of money" to keep the operation afloat. I assume that Savoye is using the imprecise quantity "a lot" on two different scales, and that "a lot" to an individual is "not a lot" to a city; but still, he might be more careful with his wording when he's obviously trying to woo someone, somewhere into doing something.

St. Vincent

On Letterman last night:

Amazon Tablet

Marco Arment takes a guess at what the Amazon tablet might be like.

Seems reasonable to me, although I'd stress that it better come out this holiday season or Amazon will be digging out of a hole by the time they launch.  Come Black Friday, there will be hundreds of thousands of people shopping for some sort of gadget, and those looking in the $200-400 range will either buy something with massive brand identity (the words "amazon" + "kindle" = strong to quite strong) or one of the many flavors of "Sylvania tablet" that Arment references.

I think most people make their holiday purchase decisions along these lines:  I am obligated (or "I want," whatever) to get Jim a gift.  Jim likes gadgets and tech stuff.  The iPad costs HOW MUCH?!  Is there something else that looks and works kinda like an iPad?  I'll take it.  How different can it be?

And on Christmas Day, Jim dies a little bit inside, knowing that he not only has to pretend to love the Sylvania tablet, but he is now socially forbidden from buying the iPad that he really wants any time soon.  Even though he's now flush with cash from grandmas and aunts.

Necker Island

Ever since the episode of MTV Cribs (which I still have saved on an old TiVo box somewhere) when Richard Branson gave us a tour of his getaway at Necker Island, I've thought fondly of that place.  It's good that no one got hurt, and heartening to see Sir Richard take the whole thing in stride, but nevertheless sad to see the place burn.

Irene v. Katrina

There is a world of difference between being "over-prepared" for a storm that fizzled out, and being flattened by Katrina in 2005.  Can you reasonably say you were "over-prepared" for a storm if it fails to materialize into exactly what you thought it would (or worse)?

I'm glad Irene wasn't as bad as it could've been, and I'm grateful for government agencies and private enterprises who work for our protection and provision in the event of a disaster.  But saying we were "over-prepared" for Irene seems like a college football team beating a high school football team by 75 points and then claiming they would've won against an NFL team if they'd shown up instead.


History was made recently when NPR offered words of praise for Wal-Mart.  Don Boudreaux poses a good follow-up question to the article:
...when you and your neighbors are homeless, hungry, and thirsty following a natural disaster, would you prefer to rely upon the devotion to public service that allegedly motivates FEMA workers, or to rely upon the devotion to their own self-interests that undoubtedly motivates executives, workers, and suppliers of private companies such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot?
 See also: "Giving Back."

via Café Hayek

Jobs Report

Following Steve Jobs' resignation this past week, we got an avalanche of stories detailing his time at Apple, trying to anticipate what might be next for the iconic company, and paying tribute to Jobs' many accomplishments during the course of his career.  My thoughts on the future:
  • It will be five years or more before Jobs' absence is profoundly felt in Apple's strategy or product line.  He is enough of a visionary, and his management team is cohesive enough, that the company will continue to thrive without Jobs as CEO.  Nevertheless, Steve's presence is already notably missing, and deeply felt throughout the company and the broader Apple community.  He was the animating force behind the Apple brand.  He will continue to inspire, but probably not in the same way he has these past ten years.
  • I expect Apple to "stumble" ever-so-slightly sometime in the next year.  No matter how small the misstep, people are looking for fulfillment of the prophecy that Apple post-Jobs is doomed, and the next mildly negative or even not-wildly-successful effort will be woven into that storyline.  Ping is generally considered a flop, but it hasn't noticeably set Apple back.  If it had been launched under Tim Cook's supervision, it would've probably let to a gradual 5-10% slide in the stock price over a couple weeks.
  • Many are asking whether Tim Cook can replace Jobs.  Of course, he can't.  But Cook is reputed to be an operations genius - more so than Jobs was - and a wonderfully humble leader.  Now look at the number of patents that bear the names of both Jony Ive and Steve Jobs.  To me the relevant question is:  What do Cook + Ive lack, and where can they get it?  I suspect that Chairman Steve will continue to provide the intangibles that Cook and Ive need, for as long as he can continue as Chairman.  But...
  • I hope and literally pray that Steve Jobs lives a long, healthy, and happy life.  If anyone deserves a restful retirement, it's him.  Like anyone at the pinnacle of his career, I'm sure it will be hard to step away entirely from something that has consumed so much of his energy for so long, but I hope he can step away, if only to regain his strength and health so he can grow old with his family and friends.  It's none of our business what his current ailments are, or what his prognosis is, but we know he has fought off some truly terrible diseases and we know that he is stricken enough in his present state to conclude that he could "no longer meet [his] duties and expectations as Apple's CEO."  We must therefore be brace for the worst.
  • On a lighter note, has any company ever had such a celebrated CEO as Steve Jobs - one so thoroughly and universally considered to be the heart and soul of the enterprise?  Has any company's success ever been pinned so completely to their visionary/genius/messiah CEO as Apple has?  And, if you look back at #2-100 on a list of companies that had to weather a sudden change of leadership, has any of them been up 2% within two trading sessions, like AAPL?

200 Years

Interesting data visualization of the spread of US Post Offices from 1700 to 1900:

You can actually watch the train tracks being built across the midwest from 1870 on.

As Chris Blattman observes, this is a good reminder that the infrastructure required for meaningful development gets built in slow-motion.  I would love to see this map updated in 89 years to include the ongoing contraction of post offices.  I suspect that rate of contraction will mirror the expansion from 1800-1850 or so, and I wonder what year the number in 2100 will match.  I'd guess around 1800.

Following on Blattman's observation, I would be interested in seeing a map like this for cell phone towers (perhaps there is one already).  It doesn't take as long to put up a tower as it does a bland brick Post Office (in terms of actual labor; I'm not including the permit/public hearing process here), but there are unique infrastructure and location requirements for a cell tower that don't exist for a stand-alone building in a (presumably) already-populated area situated on an existing transportation route of some sort.  Therefore, I imagine that there's an acceleration of infrastructure build-out as the prerequisite pieces get assembled.

via Blattman.

This Time It Will Be Different(?)

Peter Bright, at Ars Technica:
So when Windows 8 is eventually released, the value proposition could [be]: you can get an iPad, which is great for Web browsing, light e-mail, watching movies, and playing Angry Birds. Or you can get a Windows 8 tablet which can do all that, but which you can also use to write your resumé, or crunch those numbers that the office sent for your big presentation tomorrow, or play Flash games on Kongregate. Done well, that's compelling. Why would you go for the lesser device?
The article is interesting, but I'm unconvinced that Bright's conclusion is correct.  As Marco Arment  pointed out awhile ago, and many have come to realize and accept, there is no "Tablet Market."  There is an "iPad Market," and every would-be competitor is trying desperately to enter that market.  The question consumers continue to ask is:  Why would I buy this instead of an iPad?

HP's TouchPad, which was widely considered the most promising new entry into the iPad Market, is now being sold at a loss.  It's costing HP (or various parties along the distribution chain) $200 for every unit they transfer to a consumer.  And there's no guarantee that people will return less of these devices at $99 each than they did when they cost $499.  Needless to say, this is neither a sustainable business model nor a cause for optimism among HP and its fellow competitors.

The tongue-in-cheek pre-bubble mantra of the dot-com era was "we lose money on every transaction, but we'll eventually make up the difference on volume."  This turned out to be a flawed strategy, and the laws of economics have not changed since then to favor its success.  HP seems to realize this, as they've already declared the end of their tablet business.

Of Bright's theory, MetaFilter's editors speculate that "This Time It Will Be Different," but that's not the language of reasonable hope.  It's more like the language of a domestic abuse victim.

St. Vincent

Our third installment in the St. Vincent Strange Mercy Anticipation Series is from the Tour Videos. This gets really good at about the 1:00 mark.

Our Deal

I like Best Coast.  I love this video.

via Paste.

Local Sporting Event

This just in: Attractive, Diverse Peer Group Gathers For Popular Refreshments, High-Definition Sports Broadcast.
UNITED STATES—A racially diverse group gathered in the living room of a stylish and well-appointed apartment earlier this week to enjoy various snack items, moderate amounts of low-calorie alcoholic beverages, and the company of other attractive young adults while watching a sporting event on a sleek new high-definition television...

Whisker Wars

"Bearding is a sport, which is: growing and cultivating and styling one's beard for the purpose of competing..."

I'm speechless.

A Very She & Him Christmas

This makes me happy.


Jon Stewart made some observations recently that were similar to mine, albeit funnier, wittier, and more insightful.  So maybe "similar" is not quite, as illiterate quoters of French idioms might say, "the le mot juste."

Nevertheless, Stewart did raise one point that I missed in my original post. These days, Christians and others on the conservative end of the political and social spectra are constantly being caught out and called out as cranks for some cause or another.  It's so refreshing, therefore, to see atheists take some heat for once. Maybe this foolishness is a symptom of deeply held beliefs gone awry, whether those beliefs have "God" or "whatever it is, it's Not God" as their object.

Professional Russian

The shirt says it all.

Almost 200 million total upload views, and dozens of videos devoted to the most explosive displays of amateur bad-assery on earth.

Notable videos include:  12 Gauge Dragons [sic] Breath, Flamethrower Massacre, and AA-12 Fully Automatic Shotgun!!!

(Caution:  Swears with Russian Accent.)

St. Vincent #StrangeMercy

Our second installment in the St. Vincent Strange Mercy Anticipation Series is an oldie but a goodie:  Dig a Pony performed while driving around London in a black cab.

Nicholson Baker’s Dirty Mind

The NYTimes published the most interesting author profile I've read in awhile:
Baker is very funny but also a little melancholy. He sighs a lot. He is modest to a fault, so polite and decorous that he would never dream of employing in conversation the kind of vocabulary that lights up "House of Holes," a blue-flaring plume of smut-talk. Baker is a classically trained musician who listens to trance and electronica, a retiring, mild-mannered person given to strong feelings and passionate obsessions.


It's time for our every-so-often password-related post.

This recent xkcd comic is instructive, and serves as a great visual illustration of AgileBits' original post on how to create a secure password.

When the comic began to get noticed, AgileBits wrote an updated, geekier version of that post, which has a much more detailed explanation of the science and math behind all this.

Of course, AgileBits makes 1Password, which is the most important piece of software that most people aren't using.  Buy it now and learn to use it, and you'll never have to think about this stuff again.


Where will it end?

via reddit.

Keep America Moving

Let me tell you a little about the truck driver you just flipped off because he was passing another truck, and you had to cancel the cruise control and slow down until he completed the pass and moved back over.

A touching little essay from a novel perspective.  I'm one of those guys who only uses the left lane to pass, and who tends to crowd drivers who camp their cars out there in a 55-mile-an-hour rolling-roadblock formation.  Occasionally, I'm the guy who flashes his headlights autobahn-style at the aforementioned campers; and therefore I'm typically receiving a flip-off rather than giving one.  The most offensive gesture I ever make from behind the wheel is a severe frown combined with a scathing, shoulder-slumping sigh.

Nevertheless, I will think twice before I register such complaints in the future.

Watch the Throne

Everyone has heard of fake Rolexes, and everyone with an internet connection has heard of fake Apple Stores, but is this the future of forgery?

"Watch the Throne" by "Kenya Wrist" is currently #55 on's Hip Hop chart.  But beware: as the sole reviewer so helpfully points out, this album is not by "Kanye or Jay-Z."  That one comes out officially tomorrow.  Unless you want to buy it from iTunes today.  Which I do not.

iOS 4.3.5

I recently updated my iPhone software.  Is iOS 4.3.5 Pure Evil?  "The extra .6 is just a rounding error!"

I haven't seen any notes or rants about this on the Internet, so I can only assume Apple is using advanced censor technology to suppress the Haters out there.

A Subsidy for People Who Are Good at Math

At first I thought this was just an old story about this, but it turns out to be something else altogether: Free Money!

In related news, a woman seems to have figured out a pattern in one of Texas' scratch-off games, to her great advantage.

It's Not Just the Degree

Breaking news from the Department of No $#@!..."the blanket recommendation that students should go to college and get a bachelor's degree isn't enough. It turns out that what you study and the careers for which your major prepares you matter, too."

And, it turns out, we needed a report from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University to confirm this seemingly obvious fact.  On the upside, though, we get some really cool charts out of it!  And, in the Executive Summary of the report, we get these four simple rules:
Rule No.1: Degree Level Matters. -But- Rule No.2: Occupational choice can trump degree level. People with less education in high-paying occupations can out-earn people with more education in less remunerative occupations. -But- Rule No.3: While occupation can sometimes trump education, degree level still matters most within individual occupations. -But- Rule No.4: Race/ethnicity and gender are wild cards that matter more than education or occupation in determining earnings.
As it turns out, I can replicate the results of this labor-intensive study by polling a random sample of my readers.  I'm confident that no one will answer any of these questions incorrectly; but just in case, you can check your answers after the jump:

1. All other things being equal, will more-educated people tend to make more money?

2. Do you think janitors with PhDs will tend to make more or less than high school drop-outs who can write elegant computer code?

3. Within a random sample of retail employees, do you think high school drop-outs will tend to out-earn people with an MBA?

4. Can you predict the role that race, ethnicity, and gender will play in the three previous questions?

St. Vincent

In anticipation of St. Vincent's upcoming release, I will be posting a notable video every Tuesday until September 13th. Or until Lori politely asks me to stop, whichever comes first.

First up, my most recent favorite.

I don't use the word "shred" very often, at least not outside the context of document destruction, but it's the word I keep coming back to when I watch Annie Clark play guitar. The first 0:40 is build-up...from there on it's just a non-stop shred-fest.

Free Ideas II

Why can't I find a pair of black earplugs?

I rarely go to concerts, but when I do I like to wear ear protection - at least during the opening act.*

I'm not a vain man by most standards, and I'm not a cool man by any standard, but if I had the option of wearing black earplugs that would be virtually invisible in a dark nightclub instead of fluorescent yellow ones that broadcast my middle-agedness to everyone around me I would gladly pay a little extra for the black ones.

These should've been invented decades ago.

*Unless I'm there to see the opening act.  A friend and I once walked away from the front row of an Andrew Bird concert after St. Vincent finished crushing an opening set.  We'd never seen so many hipsters so confused.  We had a drink in the back of the club, and left for a two hour drive home around the third or fourth song.  Good times.

Lunch Periodic Table of the Elements

The nerds at this school have assigned seats.

Hipster Grilling

For the hipster who has never grilled, and probably never will...a sleek, portable grill that you can stash in your DUMBO studio until you throw it out, unused, ten years hence:
The HotSpot portable notebook grill lets you bring fire with you wherever you go.  This little flat folding grill sets up in seconds, and packs back down to flat equally as fast. Its steel construction makes it light and what it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in convenience.  There are no knobs, no louvers, no fancy anything, just open air vents and two grates. One to hold the charcoal and the other to hold  whatever it is that is about to become delicious. With a little ingenuity and perhaps some aluminum foil, there is a lot that you could do with this little grill that is more hibachi than Weber.
I mean, really - when has anyone anywhere ever needed to do some "impromptu grilling," as the linked-to post title suggests?  In practice, almost anything could be an Impromptu Grill, if only you had some Impromptu Charcoal, Impromptu Lighter Fluid, Impromptu Matches, Impromptu Grilling Tools and Impromptu Food to go with it.  Come to think of it, finding a grill is actually the easy part of the process.

MacBook Air Pricing

New Guest Starr on Community

I didn't catch Freaks and Geeks until it had been off the air a couple years, and only very recently learned of Party Down.  So it makes me very happy that a show currently on the air (and that I currently watch!) will be visited by unsung hero Martin Starr.