October 30, 2010

“North Americans have gotten used to ‘licorice’ that tastes like strips of laminated DQ menus”

Filed under: Europe, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:28

A. Brouwer and A. Wilson lament the so-called “licorice” that benighted North Americans put up with:

A Twizzler is to genuine licorice what Edward Cullen is to Vlad The Impaler: empty calories. The real thing is an unmistakable, reverberant, compellingly Gothic experience, older than a crumbling castle and just a little bit spooky (Tutankhamen’s tomb was stocked with copious amounts of licorice). The tenacious, pale-flowered licorice shrub is related to the pea family, and is found in Southern Europe and Asia. Its long yellow-brown roots contain the distinctive licorice ingredient in addition to a compound that is 30 times more powerful than cane sugar. Boiling the roots produces infusions and extracts; crushing and drying them yields sticks for chewing. Like marshmallow, licorice root was originally used medicinally (to treat bronchial ailments, reduce pain from ulcers and arthritis, and relieve anxiety), long before it evolved into a sweet treat. Licorice confectionery is created by adding sugar and a binding agent to the extract, often with added anise (although their flavours are similar, anise is not related to the licorice plant — but it is cheaper). Other ingredients in traditional licorice candy may include molasses, honey, menthol, fruits and berries. The pulped block licorice sold to manufacturers often absorbs flavour from bay leaves used for packing.

The largest exporter of licorice extract is Spain, followed by Russia and Italy; their products range in taste from mild to sharply peppery. The Dutch in particular are crazy for the dark stuff, selling zoet drops in market bins in the shapes of animals, coins and lucky charms. European licorice confectionery tends to be hard and salty, as distinct from the soft, sweet U.S. type. Which brings us back to Halloween here at home, and — sigh — the bogusness of those shiny black ropes. Genuine licorice tastes like a cross between a wizard’s apothecary and the best sugar ever; sadly, North Americans have gotten used to “licorice” that tastes like strips of laminated DQ menus.

“People, when faced with a choice, will inevitably choose the Dick-Measuring Device over molestation”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:01

Air travel, already burdened with far too many special Security Theatre Extravaganzas, is about to get even more awful:

This past Wednesday, I showed up at Baltimore-Washington International for a flight to Providence, R.I. I had a choice of two TSA screening checkpoints. I picked mine based on the number of people waiting in line, not because I am impatient, but because the coiled, closely packed lines at TSA screening sites are the most dangerous places in airports, completely unprotected from a terrorist attack — a terrorist attack that would serve the same purpose (shutting down air travel) as an attack on board an aircraft.

[. . .]

At BWI, I told the officer who directed me to the back-scatter that I preferred a pat-down. I did this in order to see how effective the manual search would be. When I made this request, a number of TSA officers, to my surprise, began laughing. I asked why. One of them — the one who would eventually conduct my pat-down — said that the rules were changing shortly, and that I would soon understand why the back-scatter was preferable to the manual search. I asked him if the new guidelines included a cavity search. “No way. You think Congress would allow that?”

I answered, “If you’re a terrorist, you’re going to hide your weapons in your anus or your vagina.” He blushed when I said “vagina.”

“Yes, but starting tomorrow, we’re going to start searching your crotchal area” — this is the word he used, “crotchal” — and you’re not going to like it.”

In other words, enough people are refusing to go through the “Dick Measuring Device” that TSA is deliberately going to make the alternative so invasive and degrading that people will have to go through the back-scatter imager. Not that it will actually improve anyone’s safety, but it will increase the compliance ratio for the next stupid policy to come down from the security theatre directors.

H/T to BoingBoing for the link.

Shakespeare in the original pronunciation

Filed under: Britain, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:18

It doesn’t sound much like your traditional Shakespeare production does it?

Like an archeologist reconstructing the fossilized skeleton of an ancient species, a University of Kansas theatre professor has pieced together the bones of a form of English that has never been heard in North America in modern times — the original pronunciation of Shakespeare.

Thanks to the work of Paul Meier, audiences can get a sense of what it might have been like to eavesdrop on opening night of “Hamlet” or “Romeo and Juliet” at the Globe Theater in London or to listen in on a shipboard conversation on the Mayflower as it approaches the shores of the New World.

“What did English sound like back then?” Meier said. “Was it posh or down to earth? Was it anything like today’s British or American English? Would we understand it?”

H/T to A Blog About History for the link.

Another way to exasperate your customers

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:12

Clive sent me a snippet from Thom Hogan’s Nikon Field Guide (no direct linking to the article, apparently):

I’ve never been a big fan of complicated DRM systems, and I’m not sure that they actually work to prevent real theft of software any better than loose or no systems do. This argument started back in the 70’s. I remember having a conversation with Seymour Rubenstein about DRM vis-a-vis WordStar (Seymour was the founder and owner of MicroPro, the producers of WordStar). Seymour’s take was that you couldn’t prevent illegal copying and that some of that illegal copying eventually led to sales that you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten (usually at an update cycle back then, as we didn’t have the Internet to provide instant access). My own experience with DRM in Silicon Valley was similar. Indeed, I’d say that all heavy-handed DRM does is increase your Customer Support costs. But all this just masks the real problem: Nikon’s software costs too much, does too little, and is poorly updated and maintained. So adding tight DRM to the product just pisses the customer off even more when they get hit with it incorrectly.

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