Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Accident That Wasn't

This is how Snooki said hello to the Italian police
Did you hear? "Snooki" did something wrong in Italy. The problem is, doing something wrong in Italy is like breathing in Florida--it was bound to happen sometime. And what we're handed is a load of phony outrage and nonsense from the dreary twits who write celebrity blog articles. Someone has decided to make a lot of hay out of nothing:
Jersey shore star Snooki put Italian two police officers in hospital tonight after she crashed into their patrol car.
The 23-year-old was driving the Fiat Multipla with co-star Deena in the front seat and production crew in the back when the accident happened in the evening rush hour.
Reports that she had been 'taken into custody' were denied by police but they did say she had been questioned at length about the crash and may face charges at a later date.
Accidents such as this one are a common, everyday occurrence in Italy. I'm shocked that one car didn't end up on fire, sticking out of the other car at a weird angle, since that's pretty much how they drive in Italy. A normal traffic accident in Italy involves flames, alcohol, three goats, a dead member of parliament, his girlfriend, his girlfriend's hairdresser, the long-suffering wife, her lover, three candlesticks that have been shoplifted from a run-down shop, gunfire, shattered glass, ball bearings being hurled into the sky with howls of abandon, screaming, more screaming, and faint gesticulating. If this is the worst thing Snooki does in Italy, she's doing rather well. I see no limbs under the car. The urchins of Florence live to beg another sad day.

The problem is, the media have zero points of reference when it comes to things that happen in places like Florence, Italy. Anyone who has ever driven in Italy knows that there are virtually no laws, no ethics, no norms of behavior when operating a motor vehicle.

Confusion, panic, and speed are comfortable companions for anyone crazy enough to drive in Italy.

Red lights are suggestions that few, if any, drivers bother to follow. Changing lanes is accomplished with abandon, not caution. Running over a pedestrian is the pedestrian's fault, no matter what. Rear-ending someone while admiring a woman's figure is considered patriotic in Italy. Driving the wrong way down a road filled with orphans and nuns is perfectly acceptable if there's football on. If you were to arrive at a four way stop in Italy, let me explain how things work. Laws are for fools. The reality is, the man driving around aimlessly with the biggest gun who puts down his wine glass and shoots first has right-of-way. Smashing into things is considered a polite way to inquire about someone's basic welfare. 
And this little fender bender is Italy on a good day. I see no severed arms and there is no donkey cart to speak of. Give that lovely lady a medal.
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When Your Math Skills Are Lost in the Shuffle

The Quadratic Equation

This was not my problem in school, but I can see where it should be discussed more widely:
Described as the mathematical equivalent of dyslexia, dyscalculia is a little-known disorder that makes it extremely difficult to learn math. While dyslexics struggle with reading and interpreting words and letters, dyscalculics have a hard time with basic arithmetic and understanding the meaning and concepts of numbers.
Although often a forgotten stepchild to its well-known relative dyslexia, dyscalculia affects the same number of people -- an estimated 5 to 7 percent of the population, suggests new research in the May 27 issue of Science.
Often first discovered by low scores on math achievement tests, both children and adults who suffer from dyscalculia have trouble grasping the size of a number and its relative value. 
Unlike dyslexics, however, they don't reverse the order of numbers when reading them.  "Typically, dyscalculics don't have problems with the order of symbols, but anything with numbers could cause anxiety or even panic," says Brian Butterworth, an emeritus professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London, and lead author of the Science review article.
No, my problem was that I got behind in math in the 9th grade and never caught up. I ended up in an algebra class and, by that time, I had lost interest in school and had no real ability or desire to engage academically. I just wanted to survive and get out because we were 9th graders thrown in with "high school" kids. School districts should avoid throwing 9th graders in with high school kids. Most high school kids are borderline criminal sociopaths anyway; why expose anyone to them when they are young enough to be terrorized or corrupted? I think that Elementary School should be Kindergarten through 6th grade; Middle School should be 7th, 8th, and 9th grades; high school should be 10th, 11th and 12th grades. To throw 9th graders into a high school is a reflection more of poor budgetary prowess and facilities planning rather than a desire to get kids to learn.

Ultimately, that's where my academic career fell apart. I do not talk about where I went to school, for obvious reasons. As soon as you do, a flood of friend requests, unwelcome solicitations, and general inquiries come in, and I have no time for that nonsense. It's going on 25 years since I graduated from high school. It's time to move on. I'm happy to talk about going to the University of Maryland University College and taking online courses. Once I'm done, I should have enough material for fifty or so posts. You never know.

I was fine in school until 9th grade and, after that, I was all but done. I took the required "consumer math" course offered and didn't see any more math at all until college. And, in 1993, when I tried to take that class, forget about it. I had to drop it.

My biggest accomplishment of last year was taking, and passing, college math. Somehow, I got over my fear of algebra and got a "B" in a class that, by all rights, I should have failed. I chalk that up to a very fine instructor from Great Britain who was not versed in the American way of teaching mathematics; anyone who has struggled in an American math class can probably relate to what I'm saying.

For about three weeks, I battled with the quadratic equation. Absolutely fought with it, relentlessly, ruining my pad of graph paper. I went online and found sites that would kick out randomly generated equations when the examples in our textbook ran out.

The battle was more of a result of my own inability to grasp the subject as quickly as I should have. I went through exercise after exercise, and I still couldn't get it right. I got it to work a little, and I may have gotten one equation to work the right way. But, I understood enough to know where I stood by correctly assessing where I was falling flat on my face. And that was enough to get me a "B." That's the best "B" I have ever gotten, and I value it. Not only was it fair, it was the result of me not giving in to the temptation to "blame math" when, really, it was my own academic shortcoming that needed to be corrected with regards to math.
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The Terrible Consequences of Beer Pong

I like the idea of beer pong, but this should give people pause:
A drinking game ended in tragedy early Monday morning after an argument over beer pong led to the fatal stabbing of a New Jersey firefighter, prosecutors say.
William Walker Jr., a 21-year-old Cherry Hill firefighter, was reportedly stabbed outside a party around 2 a.m. and later pronounced dead at Cooper University Hospital.
Naqeebulla Habibi, 19, was charged with murder and is being held in Camden County Jail on $750,000 bail.
According to CBS station WCBS, the two men argued during the drinking game, but appeared to reconcile. As they were leaving the party, a fistfight broke out between them and Habibi allegedly stabbed Walker in the chest, says The Courier-Post of Cherry Hill.
One bad experience should not sully the reputation of a game, but think of this: how much of it was really about the beer pong and how much of it was a rather dysfunctional male relationship? Was this the right guy to be playing beer pong with?

You can truly humiliate another man by kicking his ass at beer pong. You can ruin someone's reputation and have them labeled a Cliff Clavin or a Camel Toe, and that's going to really drive them over the edge if they feel that they should be known as a Buck Rogers. Seriously, those are actual terms from the game. Now, that's probably nothing to kill over, but those are some pretty serious appellations to be dropping on someone who wants to prove their manliness
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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Doesn't This Practice Make E-Mail Even Less Valuable?

I don't mind talking about privacy (even though it's a dead-boring subject that can get you labeled a kook when you talk about it one too many times). I think any discussion of privacy starts with figuring out what your best practices are. Do you guard your privacy by being careful not to do sloppy things?

Lifehacker has a top ten list of things that you can do to protect your privacy online, and this one is worth a comment:

3. Use Disposable Email Addresses to Avoid Spam
One of the best ways to wipe out spam in your inbox is to use a disposable email address for the internet's sketchier sites. If you visit a site that requires an email address but that you don't fully trust, using a service like previously mentioned Trashmail or the simpler 10 Minute Mail, you can use a quick temporary email address to get the necessary "confirmation email" and ignore any future spam that might come your way.
Doesn't it undermine the effectiveness of E-mail when you throw yet another account onto the pile? Isn't that advocating the abuse of a product that's out there for people to use? Spammers don't stop spamming E-mail addresses just because they are "fakes." Instead of Spamming the one you care about, they still go after your "throwaway" account and that means they still throw multitudes of useless Spam around. They are undeterred; they are merely throwing more crap at the wall. The real battle is to, one and for all, stop this sort of thing. 

As unrealistic as it sounds, no one should ever be allowed to send an E-mail to more than one E-mail address. At least, in that regard, Spammers would have to work overtime to reach people. Wouldn't your E-mail become instantly more valuable and reliable? And wouldn't the savings on bandwidth be worth it? Who reads E-mails that are addressed to hundreds of people anyway?

Defeating Spammers is a process that is really more than just "tricking" them. Someone has to acknowledge that the
bandwidth being eaten up by Spam is seriously undermining the efforts of providers who want to deliver better and better content. Have you ever received a bill for bandwidth usage that went above and beyond all reason? Imagine how much cheaper bandwidth would be if providers weren't battling Spam. Imagine how much more valuable E-mail would be if it wasn't inundated with useless stuff.

If Spam keeps growing (and it certainly does every time a throwaway E-mail address is created), then the available bandwidth keeps shrinking, rendering things like 3G and 4G slower and slower. The sad fact is, you're paying for that bandwidth, especially when it doesn't work as well as it should.

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No, He Probably Wasn't Addicted to Heroin

Once something hits the Internet, bloggers tend to pick it up and run with it without really giving it much of a second thought. I try to be a little pickier. I try to find stuff that has a point (and, yes, I do fail to get the really, really good stuff that I would like, but I refuse to stop trying). This is one of those items that hits the web and reproduces itself for no good reason. Good luck getting through to people on this sort of thing:

It’s been revealed that Bob Dylan had to battle his way through a heroin addiction back in the early ’60s after an unheard interview with the singer was found.
Dylan’s friend, Robert Shelton, was interviewing the singer on his private plane back in March 1966 when the conversation about his heroin addiction was brought up. Here’s what the singer had to say:
“I kicked a heroin habit in New York City. I got very, very strung out for a while, I mean really, very strung out. And I kicked the habit. I had about a $25-a-day habit and I kicked it.”

Nothing has been "revealed" here. Someone is trying to profit from what's on those tapes because they have seen a resurgence in Dylan as a touring and performing musician. The vast majority of people in this country do not understand Dylan as an artist. They think they know him based on his cultural status as the protest singer of record for the 1960s. Long after Dylan stopped writing those kinds of songs, he was touring the country and making music that had nothing to do with what he was famous for. In short, he evolved as an artist despite the perceptions held by the public. 

And, it doesn't help matters to try to point out that it was all a sham in those early days. Dylan was a fantastic storyteller. The problem is, those tapes aren't worth anything when it comes to actual reliable biographic material. They have value in that you get to hear what Bob Dylan was making up on that particular day. 

Many of those "interviews" turned out to have been discredited and debunked by people who followed up and did basic fact checking against what Dylan said. See below for a great sampling of "lazy blogging" when it comes to this subject. Why do people think they have a "gotcha" story here? Anyone with the ability to check the facts would know that Dylan's interviews from that era are worthless in terms of establishing some valid timeline or chronology of his life.

Rolling Stone also adds:

In newly released audio from a March 1966 interview, Bob Dylan claims he kicked a heroin habit after moving to New York City. "I got very, very strung out for a while," he says in excerpts released by the BBC. "I kicked the habit. I had a $25 a day habit and I kicked it." He was speaking to New York Times writer Robert Shelton on a plane from Lincoln, Nebraska to Denver while on his legendary 1966 electric tour.
This may sound like a huge revelation, but Dylan has been telling journalists wild lies about his past since the earliest days of his career. He was particularly prone to fabricating stories in the mid-Sixties. In another 1966 interview with Shelton, Dylan claimed to have worked as a prostitute when he first arrived in New York. "Sometimes we would make one hundred a night, really, from four in the afternoon until three or four in the morning," he said. "Cats would pick us up and chicks would pick us up. And we would do anything you wanted, as long as it was paid...I almost got killed...I didn't come down to the Village until two months later. Nobody knew that I had been hustling uptown."

Everyone is selling something. Are you buying?
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When Do You Stop Helping Your Kids?

A lot of families must be facing this exact same problem:

A weak job market for college and high-school graduates is continuing to drive young adults back into the households and onto thepayrolls of their parents, a variety of surveys have confirmed.
Almost 60 percent of parents with non-student children between the ages of 18 and 39 have been helping their kids, according to a survey being released today by the National Endowment of Financial Education. A study released last month by Monster.com found that more than half of all recent grads are living with their parents. And as much as 85 percent of the Class of 2011 expect to move back home, at least for a while, according to a study by market research firm Twentysomething Inc.
Parents and their adult offspring disagree about the reasons for all this intergenerational nesting, says Ted Beck, president of the endowment. The majority of “kids” believe that they are facing more economic pressures than their parents did; that’s a view Beck generally agrees with. “I think it’s more challenging for kids now,” he says. But most parents believe that they had it tougher when they were young than their kids do now. The disconnect can cause family friction.
The jobless recovery that we're in exacerbates these issues, but the memory of better times also hurts families that don't know how or when to cut the proverbial cord. When people in a society are used to a certain standard of living, having to struggle or deal with having less creates a situation where they balk at jumping into the labor market at a level below what they expect to subsist at.

We cannot find enough good teachers for our schools; we have a glut of people with college degrees who can't find jobs that will pay them enough to live the way they want to live (and pay back their college loans). Hence, you have younger people living with their parents so that, at whatever level their post-college salary happens to be, it doesn't see a massive chunk removed for things like rent and the like.

I question whether anyone really wants to live at home after college. That seems like quite a sacrifice to me, and one that people aren't making willingly. It has to be driven by a standard of living that isn't in sync with what a college graduate would expect. Does that mean that someone is going to connect the dots and conclude that a college degree isn't worth very much?
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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cheryl Cole's British Accent Got Her Fired? Really?

Does this sound right to you?
Apparently Cheryl Cole just doesn't have the 'X' factor.
Thought the panel of judges and cohosts for Fox's X Factorwas set once Paula Abdul joined the fray? Think again!
In a shocking 11th hour decision that came down Monday, X Factor execs pulled Brit singer Cheryl Cole from the panel and replaced her with Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger. Problem is, Scherzinger was already tapped to cohost withSteve Jones.
"Everyone is freaking out and it's all a bit of a mess," a source close to Girls Aloud singer Cole, 27, told Us WeeklyWednesday after news of the switch surfaced.
Though Internet reports claim Cole's thick British accent was a possible reason for the switch, a source tells Us show creator Cowell was more concerned with his panel's chemistry.
See for yourself:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Welcome to the Role Playing Game Apocalypse

Something is happening here, and I want to know what it is. What's going on?

I've seen it before and I'll see it again and whenever people moan and complain about it they are either jumping on the bandwagon or look like they are just trying to cause a reaction. That's right it's the editions war and it's back. I call it that because everyone else does and if I was to call it what it was, Grumpy Dicks Taking Offence At Nothing, most folk would think I was just looking for a fight. I once had Dave from Critical Hits say he was disappointed to see me join in on these fights as he just turns off when he reads them. I couldn't agree more. I write these posts when I have to though because otherwise any bile I spit would end up on other blogs and thats just not polite.
As far as I can work out there are only a handful of cliques that people fit into on this arguement. You have those in the same boat as the guy over at Greyhawk Grodnardwho can't get over why WotC could ever release something that didn't conform to their ideal game. You have the group that loves everything about 4e and will lap up anything WotC put out no matter what it actually is as long as it's for 4e and there are those that go with what they like and couldn't really care that 4e isn't for them. There are obviously others but these are the three main groups.
For those that don't like 4e and are very vocal about it. Why do you care if you don't like it and don't play it? In most examples the people with this view are those that play older versions of D&D and can't get their head around why the new versions are different. They are either people that played the original game when it came out and stuck by it or another generation of the game for the same reason. They found the version they like and just try and dig holes in any new version that doesn't match up. To this day I do not know why.
Even mxyzplk's post from 2009 defending their stance doesn't quite work for me. Yes I get why you would want a large company producing the game you want but then that alienates all those that like the game you don't so the scene is back to square one. One of the big arguements is that the game will no longer be supported. I'm sorry but as a player that played through oD&D and 2nd edition there are enough official supplements to the main books as well as campaign material to keep anyone going for a long time and thanks to ebay it's not hard to find. Aside from that arguement one of the big things with those games was that you were encouraged to take setting material from other systems and convert it yourself so why not do that to downgrade the new work? Are they that lazy that they need it spoonfed to them?

Okay, what? I don't get it. What's "D and D?" What's "4e?" What does this shorthand mean? Is this about meeting girls?

The reason this has all reared it's ugly head is that WotC are bringing out Lair Assault which strips out any and all roleplaying and turns D&D into a game of Advanced Heroquest. So why is this a problem? Noone is making anyone play it. Noone is sneaking into peoples houses and swapping out books so that when they wake up all they can play is Lair Assault. This isn't like World of Warcraft where rules and setting changes affect everyone playing it worldwide. This is the equivalent of TSR making Spellfire or WotC bringing out the D&D Miniature Game. They all have the D&D name attached but it's a separate thing when it comes to playing it. If anything Lair Assault harks back to the old style of tournament play which if we're being honest about still goes on. All I hear after every Gencon is how people overhear players pull up others in their group for playing in character and not playing to win the tournament. Surely this straight up dungeoneering should appeal to grodnards out there? It's what the original game basically was after all. My personally opinion? It sounds like my idea of hell but then so does Mouse Guard but you don't see me picking holes in it every few posts.
As for the age old 'problem' of not being able to find a group that isn't playing 4e? Start your own group or join the 4e group and offer to play another game during a campaign break or on another night and get them playing the games you want to play. If they like it they'll stick around.
As far as games are concerned haters gonna hate so stop being a dick, get on with life and reserve your hate for things that actually matter.

Right now that's out of my system we can go back to our normal programming and I can go and build LEGO monsters with my kids and generally not be a ball of rage.

What the hell is a Lego Minifig? Should I care? This is what they're talking about in the comments, which are not helping me at all:

Mark Baillie responded:
Mark Baillie
I've read your whole post and from it i've come to a decision. We have to use lego minifigs as our D&D miniatures.
Seriously though, it's an argument that you'll never win. I liked GURPS but get the distinct impression that you didn't. Honestly, I wasn't too keen on Rolemaster. We both seemed to like WoD.
The good thing is, different opinions won't stop us from being a group.

Bob Zilla responded:
Bob Zilla
Exactly! I'm not a huge fan of 4e but it's going to be a fun game no matter how we run it and no matter how much of the rules do or do not promote anything other than combat the game is never going to be just about combat because thats the way we play it.
And what gave my opinion on GURPS away? ;)
I'll let you in on a secret...other than reading the rulebooks I've never played it...

You have a very vocal minority causing the scene to implode any time something they don't like comes out. This is my release valve :)
Your idea about minifigs though does hold merit though...

Don't Hit That Like Button

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche
Just by 'liking' something on the Internet, on their own time, a few employees of Daimler ended up talking to their human resources professionals about what they signed before they went to work for the company:
A spokesman for the company confirmed to The Local that five employees had been called in for talks with personnel managers after saying they ‘liked’ a comment describing Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Baden-Württemberg state premier Stefan Mappus and Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche as Spitze des Lügenpacks - or ‘top of the pack of liars.’
“We were alerted by someone to the website on Facebook that was insulting to the chancellor, our former state premier and our CEO,” said Florian Martens.
“Then we decided to talk with the employees who had answered this remark and we told them that this did not adhere to the guidelines that they signed when they joined the company. It is not okay to insult colleagues.”
He said the conversations were held in the presence of a representative of the workers’ council.
“There were no consequences for the employees concerned, but they were on the page as Daimler employees,” he said. 
“We wanted to alert them to the fact that they needed to be careful with anything they said online,” he said, stressing that the Facebook group was specifically identified as being Daimler employees.
This sort of vocational intimidation would lead to a great deal of outrage in the United States, either centering around free speech or invasion of privacy. They don't have those sorts of concerns at the corporate level in Europe. Now, the positive thing here is that, yes, some are outraged that these people were "talked to" about their online opinions. At least they weren't fired, right? But what does this say about the chilling effect of corporate control?
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Audi Fashion Festival

These photos, from Atienne.net, show some amazing looks. I love the retro hair with the big curl in the front. Absolute, total geekery here.

These are some very cinematic looks.

Is Spain Undergoing a Revolution?

Has the Arab Spring arrived in Spain?
Since May 15, residents of many cities around Spain have been demonstrating against the country's ongoing financial crisis, its politicians, and its bankers. The spontaneous protests are the largest since the country plunged into recession in 2008, and they're made up mainly of young people who have set up camps in main squares across the country. Called "los indignados" (the indignant), the May 15 Movement, or simply 15-M, they are fueled by frustration with austerity measures, apparent indifference from politicians, and serious joblessness. Spain's unemployment rate for those under 25 stood at 43.5 percent as of February -- the highest youth unemployment rate in the 27-nation European Union.
These photos constitute a display of revolutionary tendencies, and things would appear to be unfolding in a way that cannot give anyone a great deal of confidence in the idea that Spain is going to continue down the same path.

To give you a sense of how out of proportion those unemployment figures are, consider this: Germany is begging for people to come here and work. Germany has rather low unemployment right now; people with technical skills are very much in demand. I don't think it's outside of the realm of possibility to suggest that many of those young workers are going to leave Spain and could end up in Southern Germany where labor demands are very high.

Revolution on the edge of the Eurozone? Stability is everything when you're trying to stagger towards prosperity for all. To be a member of the political elite in Spain right now must be a daunting thing.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Behold, the Mancation

Okay, this made me laugh. I had never heard of the term "mancation" and I think I laughed at how stupid I was for not already knowing what one of these things was:

Wake surfing while firing automatic weapons. Experiencing zero gravity during spaceflight training. Learning the secrets of invisibility at ninja camp.
These are all things comedic duo Evan Mann and Gareth Reynolds have done while filming their new Travel Channel show, “Mancations.”
Travel Channel Comedic duo Gareth Reynolds, left, and Evan Mann are hosts of the new Travel Channel show, "Mancations."
So how do these best buds define mancation? “A guy-themed trip, places where guys go to get away from it all and get back to their primal roots,” says Reynolds.
If the 2009 movie “The Hangover” is like a mancation on steroids, then the new Travel channel series can be described as a couple of funny guys hanging out – and having a seriously fun time – while undergoing testosterone-fueled activities like lumberjack training, crab fishing and a Civil War battle re-enactment, all in some beautiful places from Alaska to Arizona.
Yeah, yeah. I'm burned out on The Hangover, too. The judge says it can go forward, so, I guess a 'yay' is in order. The original "mancation" was "Stripes," by the way.
When I was poking around for more stuff to add to this post, I came across a brilliant photography website. Photographer Kevin Raber writes about his own mancation, and so, in honor of his much, much better waterfall photo, I dug out a shot I took of the Triberg waterfall.
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