Archive for April, 2006

Stephen Colbert, American Hero

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

Stephen Colbert at the podium

If you have not seen Stephen Colbert’s speech at the White House Correspondents’ dinner, you must.

No, seriously. It’s amazing. Colbert has, uh, “nerves” of steel.

As you watch it, remember the president is sitting one chair away. That’s called speaking the truth to power, folks.

Update [Mon 03:57]: Higher-quality torrent (scrub to 52:25, unless you want to watch Bush make the same fucking joke about how he can’t pronounce “nuclear”) and lower-quality YouTube also available.

I Bid $1/Gallon!

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

I was doing some searches related to the whole strategic petroleum issue on CNN yesterday, and got some unexpected results.

For the words Bush gasoline, CNN displayed the following:
eBay ad: Looking for bulk gasoline?

I love how it’s not just gas, it’s bulk gas. You really can get anything on eBay! (Or not.)

Emphasis on “Little”

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

When I saw this [via TPM], I figured I had to be reading it wrong:

“Our strategic reserve is sufficiently large enough to guard against any major supply disruption over the next few months,” [Bush] said. “So by deferring deposits until the fall we’ll leave a little more oil on the market.”

The amount of remaining oil that was scheduled to be delivered to the reserve was 2.1 million barrels in May, which would supply about two hours of the average 21 million barrels of oil the United States consumes each day. “Every little bit helps,” Bush said.
Bush unveils plan to counter high oil prices

So hold on now. The president is saying he’s going to allow the oil companies to hold back petroleum reserve deposits until the fall — fair enough. Except (at least as far as May is concerned) that represents just 1/310 of the average usage? Then who the hell cares?

Clearly this is a P.R. move on the part of the Administration, but I have to say the Reuters story is also rather weak on context. If you look at Wikipedia’s entry on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, for example, you’ll see that the reserve holds some 727 million barrels, and is currently full (a process that took years from the 2001 order.) However, according to the “drawdowns” section, there’s only about 10 million barrels outstanding.

So, assuming demand in May is typical (entirely unlikely, but hang with me), that’s May/June/July/August = 4 * ~600m barrels/mo = 2.4bn barrels consumed. And we’re deferring 10m barrels to get back out in the market? Wow, that’s almost 0.5%! Amazing.

…or maybe I’m missing something altogether. It would be nice if Reuters took a little more time to explain.

Grab Bag

Sunday, April 23rd, 2006

Well, here are a few random things I’ve come across in the past week or so that don’t individually merit their own posts, yet amuse me all the same.

Giant Banana Costume for sale
This is from SlickDeals. Good thing I saw it — you never know when you need a good banana costume. (And at that price, you should buy two!)

Google Payments terms fragment
This is from a TechCrunch article about Google Payments (coming soon.) It’s super small, but the last line reads “‘GOOGLE * BLING BLING’ will appear by the charge on your credit card.” I so hope that’s not the store name. I want Google to write that on customer bills…

Craigslist captcha image
This is a “captcha” thrown up by Craigslist when I posted an (item wanted) ad yesterday. Can you read the word? If so, your eyes are better than mine. I had to hit the audio hint to figure it out. (It’s “weedy.”)

article tools sponsored by WATER
Saw this one on the NYT yesterday. I was seriously confused by the concept of water sponsoring anything, much less a newspaper article. Had to click it to find out it’s a film (from the director of Earth and Fire — any guesses on her next title?)

New 'Legal' Performance Pill Hits Market
Finally, there’s nothing I “love” like misplaced quotation marks. Really inspires confidence in the legality of the product, doesn’t it? (Via Slate.)

You Don’t See That Everyday

Friday, April 21st, 2006

This afternoon I went for a walk in the park with Debs. As we walked, we noticed a big burly guy “walking” his dog by skating along behind the mutt on inline skates. Though I’ve always found that practice to be unwise, it’s not exactly uncommon. Still, what held our glance was the man’s decision to wear a scarf — an unusual choice given the warm weather (he was in shorts.)

As he came closer, we realized it wasn’t a scarf at all — it was a boa constrictor. Dude was blading around with a dog and a big fat freakin’ snake around his neck.

As if being on wheels when your dog spots a squirrel isn’t challenge enough?

Great Moments in Marquees

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

You can’t tell me the fine folks at Loews weren’t having a bit of fun when they created this sign:

Also, funny story: about 30 seconds after I took this picture this afternoon, Dennis Farina walked by. Pretty sure. I didn’t take his snap because a) I’m not all starfucker and b) I’d already put the camera away.

Mostly b).

And I Thought Payday Loans Were Bad…

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

I’ve been reading Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick in fits and starts, and yesterday on the train I settled down to get in a few pages. I think I surprised a few people with a quiet “holy shit!” when I hit this passage (p.240, emphasis added):

A new [Brazilian] president, Fernando Collor de Mello, assumed office and appointed a young economist, Zélia Cardoso de Mello (no relation to the president), as finance minister. She proceeded to test some new theories, including one that held that there was too much money in ciculation, that it belonged to too few people, and that they were doing too much speculating with it. Because of this, her theory went, not enough money was being invested in industry. This was generating inflation and stagnation.

So, she thought, let’s take some of that money and give it to the government (which doesn’t have enough, right?). On a sunny spring day in 1990 she went on television to declare a bank holiday and seize 80 percent of the cash in the country. The government laid hold of savings accounts, checking accounts, certificates of deposit, company funds, the works. Every Brazilian, no matter what his assets, was left with $800 or 20 percent of his holdings, whichever was less. If someone had, say, $1,000 in a checking account, he now could spend $200. The lady said she’d give the money back, corrected for inflation by an official index, in twelve monthly installments, starting in a year and a half.

Chaos doesn’t being to describe the reaction.

Wikipedia says Brazil had inflation “exceeding 2,700% in the period of 1989 to 1990.”

Check Costs

Monday, April 17th, 2006

Last year when I made mock billboards for Big Print Bank, I made sure to include a reference to payday loans. Ever since my Finance 350 prof required us to calculate the APR on those suckers, I’ve been mortified by the whole industry.

Today I found an interesting tidbit [via] that underscores the whole problem (emphasis added):

The [payday] loan usually ranges from $100 to $500 and requires a fee that can be up to $25 for every $100 borrowed. Annual percentage rates on the loans can be more than 400 percent.

About 170,000 North Carolinians have tapped payday loans, according to the Center for Responsible Lending. The center said that about 99 percent of the loans go to repeat borrowers, and that the average borrower ends up paying $800 to obtain $325 because of the interest cost.
— “Final payday lenders depart N.C.

Que es Mariposa?

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

So I’m checking up on the torrents site, as one does, and I find this interesting title I haven’t seen before: “mariposaHD.” It’s available in HD (720p and 1080i, Windows Media format) and bills itself as “The World’s First HDTV Show for the Internet.” It’s even available in a Creative Commons license, with free online distribution encouraged! Impressive, eh?

Who are these trendsetters, blazing a trail for high tech, flexible copyright, and new distribution models? What stories are they using all this shiny newness to tell?

man with camcorder aimed at woman in bikini

Oh. Right.

On Good Terms

Monday, April 10th, 2006

You know, I’m much less of a Google fanboy than I once was (for causes, see also: Chinese Censorship, Google’s Role in) but I still find plenty to admire in the company.

Take the recent revision to the terms of service for their Google Maps API. In announcing the change, Google provided a helpful “diff” page in which they highlighted the changes in red:
cropped capture of Google ToS document, with some words underlined in red

This customer-friendly move shows respect for our time in a way that far, far too few companies bother to do.

For example, contrast that approach to the one taken by PayPal, which by coincidence also recently updated its terms.

PayPal requires the user to signify his/her agreement to the new terms rather than simply changing them unilaterally, which I applaud. But my admiration ends there. Here’s a sample from the screen in which PayPal requests acquiesence to the modified agreement (scaled to 80%):
PayPal form

See that first 5-line textbox? It contains over 7,100 words, including a line mentioning that the privacy policy (among other documents) was updated in March 2006. They break out the privacy policy in the lower box, which weighs in at nearly five thousand words. Of these, how many are changed? Not a clue.

This sort of customer-hostile behavior lends a lot of credence to the perspective that PayPal doesn’t really want its customers to actually read the revised terms. Whether this is due to an attempt to slip in new provisions or just plain apathy about usability is less clear.

I know it’s an open secret that nobody reads the fine print before they click “I Agree”, but it would be nice if more companies followed Google’s example here.

Sex Sells (Mortgages?)

Sunday, April 9th, 2006

Last year, I saw an ad using a (hairy) shirtless man to sell mortgages to gay men.

Last night, I saw this banner ad using a similar approach for het men (imagine it in Flash, with the chick dancing around):
Girl with headphones in bikini top; list of states along right edge

My question: is this the most effective appeal they could create? What was the thinking: “Hey look, it’s a dancing girl in a bikini top — that’ll attract the re-fi market!”

I Like “Lost”…

Saturday, April 8th, 2006

…but this sort of shit (on broadcast TV!) drives me crazy:
man with on-screen subtitle reading: You're husband...

(Don’t) Picture This

Friday, April 7th, 2006

On Thursday, I was awakened by a noise so loud I immediately slid out of bed to investigate. As soon as I parted the blinds, I knew whatever had happened was just across the street, a fact confirmed by the subsequent arrival of members of the fire and police departments. Intrigued, I grabbed my camera and went to see what the fuss was about.

As I strolled closer, it soon became clear that a car had hit one of the shops. The damage was extensive, mangling the front door and knocking over bricks. I raised my camera to my eye to get a shot (mostly to assist in telling my brother the story later.) Just then, a uniformed store employee spotted my camera and jumped in front of me, waving his arms and shouting “No pictures!” I cocked my head at him and said “Oh? And why is that?” Then I stepped around him to take a few frames, including this one (the employee is not shown):
damaged storefront with policeman and firefighters

What I find most interesting about this event is not the photo and not even the crash, but that man’s instinct. Why did he think it was necessary to try to stop a member of the public from taking photographs? Why did he think he had the right to do so? Was it just an overzealous response by an amped-up hourly worker eager to do something? Did he think I was media? What was he afraid of?

I have to say, my view is that when it comes to crime, the more eyes the better.


Tuesday, April 4th, 2006

Hello! Just a quick note to say: yes, I’m still alive, and thanks to those of you who e-mailed to ask. I’ve been quite busy the last few weeks (for example, I’ve slept in 3 different places in the last 3 days) but I expect it all to settle down mid-week. (Sometime after 01:02:03 04/05/06, say…)

Expect posting to resume (and e-mails to be answered) around then.