Quotulatiousness

April 20, 2014

QotD: Musical tastes

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:46

It was my business for a long time to tell people that approached the bandstand that their favorite song was of absolutely no interest to everyone else in the room, and we weren’t going to play it. It’s a delicate thing to tell people that the song that contains both the name of their illegitimate children and their pit bulls, and whose album cover is featured on both a tattoo on their chest and painted on the side of their van, isn’t very entertaining. Such information upsets people, like going to the monkey house at the zoo and throwing your poo at the apes. Those monkeys stop in their tracks and stare at you, I’m telling you.

Don’t ask me how I know that.

Sippican Cottage, “Well, I Put The Quarter Right In That Can, But All They Played Was Disco, Man”, Sippican Cottage, 2013-05-06

SpaceX Falcon F9R First Flight Test | 250m

Filed under: Space, Technology — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 11:43

Published on 18 Apr 2014

Video of Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) taking its first test flight at our rocket development facility. F9R lifts off from a launch mount to a height of approximately 250m, hovers and then returns for landing just next to the launch stand. Early flights of F9R will take off with legs fixed in the down position. However, we will soon be transitioning to liftoff with legs stowed against the side of the rocket and then extending them just before landing.

The F9R testing program is the next step towards reusability following completion of the Grasshopper program last year (Grasshopper can be seen in the background of this video). Future testing, including that in New Mexico, will be conducted using the first stage of a F9R as shown here, which is essentially a Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage with legs. F9R test flights in New Mexico will allow us to test at higher altitudes than we are permitted for at our test site in Texas, to do more with unpowered guidance and to prove out landing cases that are more-flight like.

When is a carrier not a carrier?

Filed under: Military, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:00

Robert Farley examines the claim that the US Navy has 10 aircraft carriers:

The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) returns to Huntington Ingalls Shipyard, Pascagoula, Mississippi (USA), after completing sea trials. During the trials, the ship's main propulsion, communications, steering, navigational and radar systems were tested for the first time at sea. America will be the first ship of its class, replacing the Tarawa-class of amphibious assault ships.

The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) returns to Huntington Ingalls Shipyard, Pascagoula, Mississippi (USA), after completing sea trials. During the trials, the ship’s main propulsion, communications, steering, navigational and radar systems were tested for the first time at sea. America will be the first ship of its class, replacing the Tarawa-class of amphibious assault ships.

Last week the U.S. Navy accepted USS America, first of the America-class amphibious assault ships, into service. Unlike most recent amphibious assault ships, USS America and her sister USS Tripoli lack well-decks, instead focusing on aviation facilities. When fully operational, America and Tripoli will operate as many as 20 F-35Bs, potentially playing a critical role in what the Navy projects as the future of air superiority.

Inevitably, the delivery of USS America rekindles the ongoing conversation over what, precisely, constitutes an aircraft carrier. In the United States, we endure the polite fiction that the USN’s 45,000 ton aircraft carriers are not aircraft carriers, but rather some other kind of creature. USS America is roughly the same size as the French Charles De Gaulle and the INS Vikramaditya, although a bit smaller than the RFS Admiral Kuzetsov or her Chinese sister, the Liaoning. America is considerably larger than recent aircraft-carrying ships constructed for the Korean, Japanese, and Australian navies.

As an educator, I can attest to some frustration in relating to students that the United States operates ten aircraft carriers, plus another nine ships that we would refer to as aircraft carriers if they served in any other navy. And while I appreciate the desire of analysts to differently categorize the capabilities of Wasp and Nimitz-class carriers, I wish that people had a firmer grasp on the abject silliness of claiming that a 45,000 ton flat-decked aircraft-carrying warship is not, in fact, an aircraft carrier. Think of the children.

Wikimedia offers this visual aid to understanding the relative sizes and carrying capacity of aircraft carriers from the US Navy and other navies:

World navy aircraft carrier size comparison

Those dismal, uncaring economists

Filed under: Economics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:39

Tim Harford found a recent assertion by a clergyman to be troubling:

‘Some research on students suggests economics either attracts or creates sociopaths’

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently bemoaned the way that “we are all reduced to being Homo financiarius or Homo economicus, mere economic units … for whom any gain is someone else’s loss in a zero-sum world.”

The remarks were reported on the 1st of April, but I checked, and the Archbishop seems serious. He set out two ways to see the world: the way a Christian sees it, full of abundance and grace; and the way he claims Milton Friedman saw it, as a zero-sum game.

Whatever the faults one might find in Friedman’s thinking, seeing the world as a zero-sum game was not one of them. So what do we learn from this, other than that the Archbishop of Canterbury was careless in his choice of straw man? The Archbishop does raise a troubling idea. Perhaps studying economics is morally corrosive and may simply make you a meaner, narrower human being.

However, the Archbishop appears to have been misinformed:

Economists did actually give more to charity in Frank’s survey. They were richer, and while they gave less as a percentage of their income they did give more in cash terms.

What about those hypothetical questions about envelopes full of cash? Were economics students selfish or merely truthful? Anthony Yezer and Robert Goldfarb (economists) and Paul Poppen (a psychologist) conducted an experiment to find out, surreptitiously dropping addressed envelopes with cash in classrooms to see if economics students really were less likely to return the money. Yezer and colleagues found quite the opposite: the economics students were substantially more likely to return the cash. Not quite so selfish after all.

Most importantly, classroom experiments with collective goods or the prisoner’s dilemma don’t capture much of economic life. The prisoner’s dilemma is a special case, and a counter-intuitive one. It is not surprising that economics students behave differently, nor does it tell us much about how they behave in reality. If there is a single foundational principle in economics it is that when you give people the chance to trade with each other, both of them tend to become better off. Maybe that’s naive but it’s all about “abundance” and is the precise opposite of a zero-sum mentality.

In fact, some of the more persuasive criticisms of economics are that it is too optimistic about abundance and peaceful gains from trade. From this perspective, economists should give more attention to the risks of crime and violence and to the prospect of inviolable environmental limits to economic growth. Perhaps economists don’t realise that some situations really are zero-sum games.

If Scotland chooses separation, should it take Northern Ireland too?

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Patrick West believes that Scotland should include Northern Ireland in its new country if the separation vote succeeds:

[A union] between England and Wales could, possibly [succeed]. Despite the wishes of Welsh (and indeed English) nationalists, the two countries are physically and economically linked – just have a look at the commercial relationship between Bristol and Cardiff or Liverpool and north Wales. But Northern Ireland would resemble a very odd third partner in this hypothetical, slimmed-down UK, cut off by the sea and by culture (there are no peace walls in England and only Southport has annual Orange Order parades).

So, I have a better suggestion: if Scotland declares independence, shouldn’t Northern Ireland go with it? No, let me rephrase that: if Scotland becomes independent, it has a moral obligation to take Northern Ireland with it. Ulster is, after all, far more of a Scottish colony than an English one, demographically speaking. From the reign of King James VI of Scotland (who also became James I of England in 1603), Ulster was disproportionately colonised by Scots (many of whom later left for America to become ‘Scotch-Irish’), which explains why Presbyterianism was always a more popular denomination in Ulster than the Church of Ireland. The Scottish legacy is also reflected in efforts in recent decades among Protestants to cement an ‘Ulster-Scots’ culture and language. While you will see the Scottish saltire at Orange Order marches, you won’t see an empty-handed Cross of St George.

The two lands are united in their love of and hatred of Glasgow’s two football teams and by simmering sectarianism. The Scottish National Party (SNP) was very keen to jump on the Braveheart bandwagon. Why not go even further back in time? Parts of Ulster and Scotland were once united in the sixth and seventh century in the kingdom of Dalriada. The revival of this ancient kingdom, should Scotland vote ‘Yes’, would make much more sense than Northern Ireland’s continued bondage to England. After all, most English people are notoriously ignorant about Ulster. During the Troubles, the English regarded the province with a mixture of irritation and indifference, which is why the IRA in the 1970s knew that England would only take notice if there were bombs on the mainland. ‘They’re both as bad as each other’ and ‘fancy fighting about religion’ were the two common reactions. To the English, the Northern Irish are a foreign people, which is why they found the grating, mangled accents of John Cole and Ian Paisley so amusing – so otherish, so strange.

There has been little love in the opposite direction. To Irish republicans, England was always the occupier, and most Ulster Catholics had good reason to come to dislike the English after 1969. It was with English accents that they heard their houses raided, their husbands and brothers interned and shot. Meanwhile, Ulster Protestants have always – with fair reason – suspected that London wanted to rid itself of the Six Counties, hence the actions of 1974 and 1985 (even 1912), when ‘loyalists’ rebelled against a perceived perfidious London government.

April 19, 2014

Orwell and equality

Filed under: Britain, History, Liberty, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:28

Bruno Waterfield reviews a recent “intellectual biography” by Robert Colls, George Orwell: English Rebel:

Orwell, or rather Blair, was of the British upper class, but he could clearly see that human equality was a fact. It transcended class and nationality, and was palpable even in the briefest of encounters between people. It was the ‘crystal spirit’ that had bought a young Italian, and Orwell, to fight for democracy in Spain, just as it was the same human quality that made life in a slum unbearable. Equality for Orwell was not a merely a measure or a statistic; it was a quality that all living humans have, a resistance to fate even at its most blind.

These two encounters also reveal a man with a deep belief in the character and qualities of living humans, something that Robert Colls understands in his excellent ‘intellectual biography’ of Orwell. No book about Orwell can be perfect; the man was too contradictory, too contrarian and too bloody minded to be an easy study. But Colls (with some limitations) really gets it. Orwell refused ideology in a century defined by it, and that was his strength and brilliance. Setting out his stall, Colls, a professor of Cultural History at De Montfort University, puts his finger on why Orwell despised ideology as a ‘form of abstract knowledge which, in order to support a particular tendency or regime, has to distort the world and usually does so by drawing off, or separating out, ideas from experience. Ideology, in Orwell’s eyes, could never afford to get too close to the lives of the people. The more abstract the idea and the language that that expressed it, the more ideological the work and vice versa’, he writes at the book’s beginning.

‘[Orwell] knew that if he was saying something so abstract that it could not be understood or falsified, then he was not saying anything that mattered’, Colls continues. ‘He staked his reputation on being true to the world as it was, and his great fear of intellectuals stemmed from what he saw as their propensity for abstraction and deracination – abstraction in their thinking and deracination in their lives. Orwell’s politics, therefore, were no more and no less than intense encounters turned into writings he hoped would be truthful and important. Like Gramsci, he believed that telling the truth was a revolutionary act. But without the encounters he had no politics and without the politics he felt he had nothing to say.’

Orwell was on a collision course with the intelligentsia to which he, as a rebel and a modernist radical, instinctively belonged, but which, due to its embrace of social engineering, the state and Stalinism, he was starting to oppose. His dissidence appears early in The Road to Wigan Pier where, as Colls wisely remarks, ‘Socialism emerges not as the solution but the problem, and the unemployed and exploited emerge not as a problem but the solution’. Colls paraphrases Orwell: ‘The battle of the classes… will not be won in the abstract, or in some future state, but in the present, in how people actually are and what they actually think of each other.’ Orwell despised the ‘Europeanised’ intellectual British Left because they had become wilfully displaced and removed, uprooted from the lived life of their country. Even worse, the deracinated intellectuals, divorced from the majority, wanted to refashion the people in their image. In the world of Beatrice and Sidney Webb and Fabian socialism, gaining political power also meant using the state to engineer the people, through eugenics and public health.

[...]

Orwell returned to Britain in time for the beginning of the Second World War. Apart from taking up the cudgels on behalf of the truth in Spain, without which the historical record would have been badly damaged by the falsifiers, he was not immune to much of the confusion that plagued the left in the run up to hostilities. Should socialists refuse to take sides in a conflict between imperialist powers? Should socialists sabotage the war efforts and oppose rearmament in the face of the threat from Nazi Germany? George Orwell was as confused as anyone else and his writings of 1939 and early 1940 are full of the turmoil and contradictions of the day.

But then in 1940, Orwell took another one of his leaps away from the lines and orthodoxies of leftish ideology which had led many intellectuals into pacifism or the defeatism of toeing the Stalinist line on the Soviet Union’s 1939 pact with the Nazis. In a way, Orwell’s experiences in Wigan and Barcelona, prepared the ground. In the Second World War, he would side with the British people, and an imperfect British state, because Britain’s political and wider culture reflected a way of living better than the fascism or Stalinist communism preferred by many of the intelligentsia. He reserved and exercised his right to criticise British imperialism, which he continued to attack throughout the war and his life. Again, his instincts were right or, at the very least, less wrong than most on the left. Instead of abstract ideology, distorted and twisted to suit either a Marxism that was synonymous with Stalinist tyranny, or the elitist social engineering of the Fabians, Orwell advocated a patriotic defence of a way of life that could not be trusted to intellectuals or, by implication, the state.

Mammary mummery

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:19

Everyone knows that only poor, lower-class men prefer women with larger breasts, right? There are even “scientific” studies that “prove” it. Michael Siegel is not convinced:

Sigh. It seems I am condemned to writing endlessly about mammary glands. I don’t have an objection to the subject but I do wish someone else would approach these “studies” with any degree of skepticism.

This is yet another iteration of the breast size study I lambasted last year and it runs into the same problems: the use of CG figures instead of real women, the underlying inbuilt assumptions and, most importantly, ignoring the role that social convention plays in this kind of analysis. To put it simply: men may feel a social pressure to choose less busty CG images, a point I’ll get to in a moment. I don’t see that this study sheds any new light on the subject. Men of low socioeconomic status might still feel less pressure to conform to social expectations, something this study does not seem to address at all. Like most studies of human sexuality, it makes the fundamental mistake of assuming that what people say is necessary reflective of what they think or do and not what is expected of them.

The authors think that men’s preference for bustier women when they are hungry supports their thesis that the breast fetish is connected to feeding young (even though is zero evidence that large breasts nurse better than small ones). I actually think their result has no bearing on their assumption. Why would hungrier men want fatter women? Because they want to eat them? To nurse off them? I can think of good reasons why hungry men would feel less bound by social convention, invest a little less thought in a silly social experiment and just press the button for the biggest boobs. I think that hungry men are more likely to give you an honest opinion and not care that preferring the bustier woman is frowned upon. Hunger is known to significantly alter people’s behavior in many subtle ways but these authors narrow it to one dimension, a dimension that may not even exist.

And why not run a parallel test on women? If bigger breasts somehow provoke a primal hunger response, might that preference be built into anyone who nursed in the first few years of life?

No, this is another garbage study that amounts to saying that “low-class” men like big boobs while “high-class” men are more immune to the lure of the decolletage and so … something. I don’t find that to be useful or insightful or meaningful. I find that it simply reinforces an existing preconception.

There is a cultural bias in some of the upper echelons of society against large breasts and men’s attraction to them. That may sound crazy in a society that made Pamela Anderson a star. But large breasts and the breast fetish are often seen, by elites, as a “low class” thing. Busty women in high-end professions sometimes have problems being taken seriously. Many busty women, including my wife, wear minimizer bras so they’ll be taken more seriously (or look less matronly). I’ve noticed that in the teen shows my daughter sometimes watches, girls with curves are either ditzy or femme fatales. In adult comedies, busty women are frequently portrayed as ditzy airheads. Men who are attracted to buxom women are often depicted as low-class, unintelligent and uneducated. Think Al Bundy.

Transaction costs, takedown notices, and the DMCA

Filed under: Economics, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:59

Mike Masnick reports on an inadvertent natural experiment that just came to light:

We’ve written a few times in the past about research done by Paul Heald on copyright and its impact on the availability of certain content. He’s recently published an interesting new study on how the DMCA’s notice-and-takedown regime facilitates making content available by decreasing transaction costs among parties. As we’ve discussed at length, the entertainment industry’s main focus in the next round of copyright reform is to wipe out the notice-and-takedown provisions of the DMCA. The legacy recording and movie industries want everyone else to act as copyright cops, and hate the idea that notice-and-takedown puts the initial burden on themselves as copyright holders.

However, Heald’s research looks at music on YouTube and concludes that the notice-and-takedown system has actually enabled much greater authorized availability of music, by reducing transaction costs. The idea is pretty straightforward. Without a notice-and-takedown provision, someone who wants to post music to YouTube needs to go out and seek a license. Of course, getting permission from all the various rightsholders is frequently impossible. The transaction costs of getting permission make it such that it’s way too high. Yet, with notice-and-takedown, the person can upload the content without permission, and then the copyright holder is given the option of what to do with it. On YouTube, that includes the option of monetizing it, thus “authorizing” the use. That creates a natural experiment for Heald to explore, in which he can see how much content is “authorized” thanks to such a setup. And the result, not surprisingly, is that this system has enabled much greater authorized (and monetized) access to music than an alternative, high transaction cost system, under which uploaders must first seek out permission to upload everything.

ISS resupply mission successfully launched

Filed under: Space — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:45

And another story from yesterday that I would have covered:

SpaceX shoots off the launch pad right on time

SpaceX shoots off the launch pad right on time

The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral on schedule at 12:35pm PDT (8:35pm UTC), carrying 5,000 pounds of supplies for the ISS. The first stage separated cleanly two minutes and fifty one seconds into the flight, 103km above the launch pad, and the Dragon capsule has deployed its solar panels and is now on course to dock with the ISS in two days, once orbital paths have matched up.

It was a very close run thing. The CRS-3 mission was due to take off on Tuesday but was cancelled after a helium leak was detected. Friday’s launch was much tighter, and SpaceX said the launch had a one-second window if the rocket was to successfully insert its cargo into the right orbital plane.

Weather was a big worry for the SpaceX team. There was rain and relatively heavy clouds at the launch site, and the team floated multiple weather balloons into the upper atmosphere to make sure that winds weren’t too strong at altitude.

Unfortunately, the heavy winds and storm conditions in the Atlantic may hamper the second part of Friday’s mission: the remote landing of the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. After separating, the booster is planned to fire up again and slow down, falling back towards the Earth.

If all goes well, the rocket will then deploy four legs, which were covered for the initial launch phase, and begin a controlled burn to slowly sink towards the ocean and hover for landing and retrieval. At least, that was the plan.

But the inclement weather means the SpaceX support ship that was due to witness the rocket’s return and retrieve the hardware couldn’t get into position. SpaceX says it will attempt the soft landing anyway, but there’s no word yet on its success or otherwise.

The Doolittle Raid, 18 April 1942

Filed under: History, Japan, Military, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:35

I was busy with away-from-the-computer stuff yesterday, so I didn’t see this post until today:

Brig. Gen. James Doolittle poses beside an Air Corps recruiting poster that alludes to his bombing raid on Japan in April 1942. (c) 1943

Brig. Gen. James Doolittle poses beside an Air Corps recruiting poster that alludes to his bombing raid on Japan in April 1942. (c) 1943

Less than 19 weeks after the U.S. Navy was attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the American military struck back. On April 18, 1942 – 72 years ago today – sixteen Army Air Force bombers launched from a Navy aircraft carrier to attack the enemy’s homeland.

Led by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, the raid was launched from USS Hornet, commanded by Capt. Marc Mitscher and escorted by ships under the command of Vice Adm. “Bull” Halsey aboard his flagship, USS Enterprise.

The extraordinary joint Doolittle Raid showed Imperial Japan’s military leaders their vulnerability and America’s resolve.

The raid also demonstrated innovation, courage and resilience.

The five-man B-25 crews trained relentlessly prior to their mission, with specialized training led by Navy flight instructor Lt. Henry F. Miller. The Army Air Force made ingenious modifications so the bombers could have extra fuel but less weight.

Pilots, all volunteers, needed to be extremely fearless, taking off in their huge planes from a short flight deck. On rough seas they launched in bitter cold, 75-knot winds and foam-flecked spray, as Sailors aboard recalled.

Doolittle, as his team’s leader, took off first. His success inspired the other pilots just as their entire mission would inspire the nation – putting action to the nationwide words of resolve heard throughout the world: “Remember Pearl Harbor!”

[...]

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV 8) at the start of the raid, April 18, 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives – Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV 8) at the start of the raid, April 18, 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives – Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

Seven Doolittle Raiders were killed in the mission: Two drowned and a third was killed by the fall after bailing out; eight were captured by the Japanese. Three of the eight POWs were executed Oct. 15, 1942, and another died of malnutrition Dec. 1, 1943. The surviving four POWs were released in August 1945.

The Raiders who landed in China were assisted by American missionary Rev. John M. Birch, whose contacts within Japanese-occupied China helped the Raiders to escape. Afterward, Birch was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Air Force, continuing his work as a missionary while gathering intelligence on the Japanese. He was killed Aug. 25, 1945, at the age of 27, during a confrontation with Chinese Communists. The John Birch Society honors Birch, a recipient of both the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Service Medal.

Even though the Doolittle Raiders bombed Tokyo, it was the Chinese who suffered the most from the raid. Furious the Chinese nationalists were protecting the Americans, the Japanese retaliated against several coastal cities suspected of harboring the Americans, killing an estimated 250,000 Chinese citizens.

Doolittle was so convinced his mission had been a failure, he was convinced he would face a court-martial upon his return to the United States. Instead, he was promoted to general, skipping the rank of colonel. He and all of his Raiders were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Mitscher served in a variety of command leadership positions for the rest of World War II, earning the rank of admiral and title as Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

April 18, 2014

This week in Guild Wars 2

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:55

My weekly Guild Wars 2 community round-up at GuildMag is now online. The Feature Pack has been released and there’s lots of reaction from the GW2 community. In addition, there’s the usual assortment of blog posts, videos, podcasts, and fan fiction from around the GW2 community.

GuildMag logo

QotD: Opera

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:21

Opera, to a person genuinely fond of aural beauty, must inevitably appear tawdry and obnoxious, if only because it presents aural beauty in a frame of purely visual gaudiness, with overtones of the grossest sexual provocation. The most successful opera singers of the female sex, at least in America, are not those whom the majority of auditors admire most as singers but those whom the majority of male spectators desire most as mistresses. Opera is chiefly supported in all countries by the same sort of wealthy sensualists who also support musical comedy. One finds in the directors’ room the traditional stock company of the stage-door alley. Such vermin, of course, pose in the newspapers as devout and almost fanatical partisans of art; they exhibit themselves at every performance; one hears of their grand doings, through their press agents, almost every day. But one has merely to observe the sort of opera they think is good to get the measure of their actual artistic discrimination.

The genuine music-lover may accept the carnal husk of opera to get at the kernel of actual music within, but that is no sign that he approves the carnal husk or enjoys gnawing through it. Most musicians, indeed, prefer to hear operatic music outside the opera house; that is why one so often hears such things as “The Ride of the Valkyrie” in the concert hall. “The Ride of the Valkyrie” has a certain intrinsic value as pure music; played by a competent orchestra it may give civilized pleasure. But as it is commonly performed in an opera house, with a posse of flat beldames throwing themselves about the stage, it can only produce the effect of a dose of ipecacuanha. The sort of person who actually delights in such spectacles is the sort of person who delights in plush furniture. Such half-wits are in a majority in every opera house west of the Rhine. They go to the opera, not to hear music, not even to hear bad music, but merely to see a more or less obscene circus. A few, perhaps, have a further purpose; they desire to assist in that circus, to show themselves in the capacity of fashionables, to enchant the yokelry with their splendor. But the majority must be content with the more lowly aim. What they get for the outrageous prices they pay for seats is a chance to feast their eyes upon glittering members of the superior demi-monde, and to abase their groveling souls before magnificoes on their own side of the footlights. They esteem a performance, not in proportion as true music is on tap, but in proportion as the display of notorious characters on the stage is copious, and the exhibition of wealth in the boxes is lavish.

H.L. Mencken, “The Allied Arts: Opera”, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920.

April 17, 2014

Think carefully before clicking “Like” for a branded product

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:58

Did you know that if you’ve “Liked” a product’s page on Facebook, you may have given up your right to sue the company?

Might downloading a 50-cent coupon for Cheerios cost you legal rights?

General Mills, the maker of cereals like Cheerios and Chex as well as brands like Bisquick and Betty Crocker, has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, “join” it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways.

Instead, anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site.

In language added on Tuesday after The New York Times contacted it about the changes, General Mills seemed to go even further, suggesting that buying its products would bind consumers to those terms.

“We’ve updated our Privacy Policy,” the company wrote in a thin, gray bar across the top of its home page. “Please note we also have new Legal Terms which require all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration.”

The change in legal terms, which occurred shortly after a judge refused to dismiss a case brought against the company by consumers in California, made General Mills one of the first, if not the first, major food companies to seek to impose what legal experts call “forced arbitration” on consumers.

The patented Heath Robinson/Rube Goldberg wine opener

Filed under: Technology, Wine — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 08:12

Certainly the most SteamPunk wine-opener-and-pourer you’ll see this week:

H/T to Roger Henry for the link.

QotD: User interface design for all ages

Filed under: Humour, Media, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:51

As your body staggers down the winding road to death, user interfaces that require fighter pilot-grade eyesight, the dexterity of a neurosurgeon, and the mental agility of Derren Brown, are going to screw with you at some point.

Don’t kid yourself otherwise — disability, in one form or another, can strike at any moment.

Given that people are proving ever harder to kill off, you can expect to have decades of life ahead of you — during which you’ll be battling to figure out where on the touchscreen that trendy transdimensional two-pixel wide “OK” button is hiding.

Can you believe, people born today will spend their entire lives having to cope with this crap? The only way I can explain the web design of many Google products today is that some wannabe Picasso stole Larry Page’s girl when they were all 13, and is only now exacting his revenge. Nobody makes things that bad by accident, surely?

Dominic Connor, “Is tech the preserve of the young able-bodied? Let’s talk over a fine dinner and claret”, The Register, 2014-04-17

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