Quotulatiousness

February 19, 2018

QotD: Experiencing an earthquake for the first time

Filed under: Quotations, Randomness — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

I have experienced a couple of earthquakes in my life. Most of them were so tiny I didn’t notice, but a big one happened in Scotts Mills, about 15 miles from the home in 1993. The quake was 5.6 on the richter scale, and did some damage around the town, although little if any that I could see in the house.

I left the house when it started, in my bathrobe. At just before 6:00 it was just getting light in March and cool outside, but I was alone. I stood there, as the rumbling stopped and the movement died down staring at the ground.

What was once so solid and trustworthy, wasn’t any more. All the terms you use to describe something absolute and reliable: rock solid, rock bottom, foundation, all of them presume the place you can go for safe stability is the earth its self. Now it was moving around, it couldn’t be trusted. Suddenly the world felt… untrustworthy. I was filled with a queasy sense of unease and uncertainty. There’s simply nowhere else to go when you can’t trust the solidity of the planet beneath your feet.

Christopher Taylor, “ROCK SOLID NO MORE”, Word Around the Net, 2016-06-13.

January 24, 2018

Charles Stross on Heinlein’s “Crazy Years” notion

Filed under: Books, Media, Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Heinlein called it, back in the 1940s, and Charles Stross provides a few more data points to prove he was quite right:

Many, many years ago, in the introduction to my first short story collection, I kvetched about how science fictional futures obsolesce, and the futures we expect look quaint and dated by the time the reality rolls round.

Around the time I published “Toast” (the title an ironic reference to the way near-future SF gets burned by reality) I was writing the stories that later became Accelerando. I hadn’t really mastered the full repertoire of fiction techniques at that point (arguably, I still haven’t: I’ll stop learning when I die), but I played to my strengths — and one technique that suited me well back then was to take a fire-hose of ideas and spray them at the reader until they drowned. Nothing gives you a sense of an immersive future like having the entire world dumped on your head simultaneously, after all.

Now we are living in 2018, round the time I envisaged “Lobsters” taking place when I was writing that novelette, and the joke’s on me: reality is outstripping my own ability to keep coming up with insane shit to provide texture to my fiction.

Just in the past 24 hours, the breaking news from Saudi Arabia is that twelve camels have been disqualified from a beauty pageant because their handlers used Botox to make them more handsome. (The street finds its uses for tech, including medicine, but come on, camel beauty pageant botox should not be a viable Google search term in any plausible time line.) Meanwhile, home in Edinburgh, eight vehicles have been discovered trapped in an abandoned robot car park during demolition work. This is pure J. G. Ballard/William Gibson mashup territory, and it’s about half a kilometre from my front door. The world’s top 1% earned 82% of all wealth generated in 2017 — I’m fairly sure this wasn’t what Adam Smith had in mind — and South Korea has such a high suicide rate that the government intends to make organising a suicide pact a criminal offence.

Go home, 2018, you’re drunk. (Or, as Robert Heinlein might have put it: these are the crazy years, and they’re not over yet.)

January 2, 2018

How To Get Your Shoes Shiny – James May’s Man Lab

Filed under: Humour, Randomness — Nicholas @ 02:00

James May’s Man Lab & Toy Stories
Published on 7 Jan 2014

Grubby shoes? Then you are not a man. But don’t fear, we’ve flown in Platoon Sgt. Mark Buckingham to set the bar for shiny shoes. So shiny he can see the Queen’s face in them.

January 1, 2018

“A Nice Cup of Tea”, the animated version

Filed under: Britain, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

I used the original essay as a QotD entry back in September.

H/T to Open Culture for the link.

December 24, 2017

The Dangerous Toys of Christmas: Debunked!

Filed under: Media, Randomness, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

ReasonTV
Published on 22 Dec 2017

Author Lenore Skenazy says today’s holiday toys are so risk averse that there’s almost nothing left to warn about. But still, the warnings come every year from consumer groups.

——–

Are you sick of being warned about anything and everything when it comes to the holiday season?

Me too. That’s why I’m ready to throw an icicle at a group called World Against Toys Causing Harm (WATCH). Every year since 1973, they’ve published a paranoid list of the “10 Worst Toys” at Christmastime.

These warnings may have been necessary back in 1973 when companies were still selling toy ovens that could smelt ore and chemistry sets that could actually blow things up.

In fact, the toy world was littered with bad ideas — from the Cabbage Patch Kid dolls with mechanical jaws that chewed everything — including chunks of hair from kids’ heads — to lawn darts — sharp metal things you’d toss at your friends’ toes that caused over six thousand injuries.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission eventually banned those items — and it’s hard to disagree with them — but today’s toys are so risk averse, so super safe, that there’s almost nothing left to warn about. But still the warnings fall like cookie crumbs onto Santa’s beard.

It is this zero tolerance for “risk” that WATCH and other consumer groups exploit every Christmas. Among its top 10 dangers this year are the popular fidget spinners.

Also on this year’s list is the Wonder Woman Battle Action Sword, which, the WATCH team says, encourages young children “to bear arms” — as if you get a Wonder Woman toy and immediately deploy to Yemen. They also say that the “rigid plastic sword blade has the potential to cause facial or other impact injuries.” Yeah … and so does a fork. In fact, so does a candy cane, if you suck it to a sharp point.

Even an innocent looking Disney-themed plush toy did not escape WATCH’s nannying notice. The group warns that the toy could be dangerous due to “fabric hats and bows that can detach, posing a choking hazard.”

That’s a lot of coulds, especially considering the Consumer Product Safety Commission notes on its website that it has had ZERO reports of injuries.

The Toy Association, which is an industry trade group, says WATCH’s dangerous toys list is “full of false claims that needlessly frighten parents and caregivers.”

It’s obvious that toys that explode and toys that are just plain dumb — a boomerang made out of razor blades — are bad. But if they only worked a little harder, I’ll bet WATCH could stop kids from playing with toys. Any toys. Ever.

You want a really great gift for the kids? How about they wake up Christmas morning, unwrap the giant package under the tree to find their very own product liability lawyer? Wind him up and watch him sue all the other toys. Hours of fun!

And when the kids get bored, they lock him in the toy chest, and go play with a great toy. A stick.

Written by Lenore Skenazy. Produced by Alexis Garcia and Paul Detrick. Camera by Jim Epstein, Alex Manning, and Paul Detrick.

QotD: Religious and literary depictions of happiness

Filed under: Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It would seem that human beings are not able to describe, nor perhaps to imagine, happiness except in terms of contrast. That is why the conception of Heaven or Utopia varies from age to age. In pre-industrial society Heaven was described as a place of endless rest, and as being paved with gold, because the experience of the average human being was overwork and poverty. The houris of the Muslim Paradise reflected a polygamous society where most of the women disappeared into the harems of the rich. But these pictures of ‘eternal bliss’ always failed because as the bliss became eternal (eternity being thought of as endless time), the contrast ceased to operate. Some of the conventions embedded in our literature first arose from physical conditions which have now ceased to exist. The cult of spring is an example. In the Middle Ages spring did not primarily mean swallows and wild flowers. It meant green vegetables, milk and fresh meat after several months of living on salt pork in smoky windowless huts. The spring songs were gay Do nothing but eat and make good cheer, And thank Heaven for the merry year When flesh is cheap and females dear, And lusty lads roam here and there So merrily, And ever among so merrily! because there was something to be so gay about. The winter was over, that was the great thing. Christmas itself, a pre-Christian festival, probably started because there had to be an occasional outburst of overeating and drinking to make a break in the unbearable northern winter.

The inability of mankind to imagine happiness except in the form of relief, either from effort or pain, presents Socialists with a serious problem. Dickens can describe a poverty-stricken family tucking into a roast goose, and can make them appear happy; on the other hand, the inhabitants of perfect universes seem to have no spontaneous gaiety and are usually somewhat repulsive into the bargain. But clearly we are not aiming at the kind of world Dickens described, nor, probably, at any world he was capable of imagining. The Socialist objective is not a society where everything comes right in the end, because kind old gentlemen give away turkeys. What are we aiming at, if not a society in which ‘charity’ would be unnecessary? We want a world where Scrooge, with his dividends, and Tiny Tim, with his tuberculous leg, would both be unthinkable. But does that mean we are aiming at some painless, effortless Utopia? At the risk of saying something which the editors of Tribune may not endorse, I suggest that the real objective of Socialism is not happiness. Happiness hitherto has been a by-product, and for all we know it may always remain so. The real objective of Socialism is human brotherhood. This is widely felt to be the case, though it is not usually said, or not said loudly enough. Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another. And they want that world as a first step. Where they go from there is not so certain, and the attempt to foresee it in detail merely confuses the issue.

George Orwell (writing as “John Freeman”), “Can Socialists Be Happy?”, Tribune, 1943-12-20.

December 22, 2017

Okay, Etobicoke drivers, now they’re just messing with your heads

Filed under: Cancon, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

A recently started reconstruction project of the confusing Six Points interchange will involve closing off existing access ramps and (eventually) replacing them with new ones. During construction, however, things are just insane, as this example shows:

The above map shows what the city calls its “preferred alternate route to access Bloor Street eastbound from Kipling Avenue” due to ramp closures.
Image via BlogTO.

As you can see, it involves three huge loops winding around four corners of the intersection. If the ramp weren’t closed, it would be a simple right turn from Kipling onto Bloor heading East.

“It is often said two wrongs don’t make a right, but three lefts do,” wrote one Redditor in response to the graphic today. “In this case, seven rights make, uh, one right.”

“I don’t care what you say,” wrote another, “that ‘Alternate Route’ looks like so much fun, I might go there just to do it!”

Don’t forget your seatbelt.

December 20, 2017

How to Have a British Christmas – Anglophenia Ep 20

Filed under: Britain, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Anglophenia
Published on 3 Dec 2014

From explosives at the dinner table to burning letters to Santa, Siobhan Thompson looks at 10 ways Christmas differs in Britain. (Notably, they don’t call them the holidays.)

December 17, 2017

Thomas Train Stunts

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

5MadMovieMakers
Published on 4 Dec 2017

Thomas the Tank Engine goes pro skater and pulls off some sick jumps with his train friends. Filmed with an iPhone SE at 120 frames per second.

November 28, 2017

A Tax on the Poor – The Lotto and the Surprisingly Common Sad Aftermath of Winning

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Today I Found Out
Published on 1 Jun 2017

In this video:

It’s been called a voluntary tax on the poor and under-educated, with people spending a whopping $60 billion a year in the United States alone on lottery tickets, most of which are purchased by low income individuals. (All total, about 20% of Americans play the lotto). Despite the high number of lotto tickets purchased annually, when playing the lottery (in all its forms), you’ll win an average of just 53 cents for every $1 you spend, making it one of the lowest return rates of any form of commercial gambling, and thus extremely profitable for the various government bodies who run the lotteries.

Want the text version?: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2012/12/on-average-people-who-earn-less-than-13000-a-year-in-the-u-s-spend-5-of-their-gross-earnings-on-lottery-tickets/

November 22, 2017

Why incompetent people think they’re amazing – David Dunning

Filed under: Health, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

TED-Ed
Published on 9 Nov 2017

View full lesson: https://ed.ted.com/lessons/why-incompetent-people-think-they-re-amazing-david-dunning

How good are you with money? What about reading people’s emotions? How healthy are you, compared to other people you know? Knowing how our skills stack up against others is useful in many ways. But psychological research suggests that we’re not very good at evaluating ourselves accurately. In fact, we frequently overestimate our own abilities. David Dunning describes the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Lesson by David Dunning, directed by Wednesday Studio, music and sound by Tom Drew.

Thank you so much to our patrons for your support! Without you this video would not be possible!
Juan, Jordan Tang, Kent Logan, Alexandra Panzer, Jen, Ellen Spertus, Ryan Mehendale, Mary Sawyer, Scott Gass, Ruth Fang, Mayank Kaul, Hazel Lam, Tan YH, Be Owusu, Samuel Doerle, David Rosario, Katie Winchester, Michel Reyes, Dominik Kugelmann, Siamak H, Stephen A. Wilson, Manav Parmar, Jhiya Brooks, David Lucsanyi, Querida Owens.

The first rule of Dunning-Kruger Club is that you don’t know you’re in Dunning-Kruger Club…

November 19, 2017

The case for a “social” statute of limitations

Filed under: Randomness, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle recounts a few incidents and wonders if it’s rational or fair to apply today’s social rules to interactions that happened years or decades ago:

These events, after all, took place at least two decades ago. In some cases, cultural norms really have changed. I’d be shocked now to hear a really dirty joke told at work, but in my early twenties, I don’t recall even being mildly nonplussed. I’m not saying that the norms of those workplaces were right, but I am saying that the men who told them did not have mens rea: the knowledge that they were doing something wrong. And in general, it’s a bad idea to punish people for trespassing against rules they didn’t know. Or rules that didn’t exist.

But even if they had known, I still wouldn’t be eager to out and punish them now. I did a lot of things decades ago that I regret, and I would hate to be held accountable for them now as if they’d happened last week. And since I hope to grow and change a bit in the coming decades, I’d also hate to be punished in some far tomorrow for the norms — or even the folly — of today.

So it seems worth asking whether we need some sort of statute of limitations on these kinds of offenses in our culture, not just in our laws. It would not be a blanket pardon for anyone who manages to go unreported through the five- or 10-year mark. It would be a mitigating factor in deciding how to respond in the present to actions from another time: autre temps, autre moeurs.

The question when confronted with reports of decades-old misdeeds is not “Would this guy be a creep if he did this today?” Better to ask: “Was he better or worse than his environment?” And also: “Is there reason to believe he might have changed since then?”

Some cads and criminals would fail all these tests. And if the offense was last year, or if the accused attempts to intimidate the victim or explain away the transgression, then the answer to those questions is probably “No.” But if a man shamefacedly confesses that he made a mistake decades ago, through bad understanding or bad judgment, just how far are we willing to go in shunning him? To the same extreme we would for a recent, remorseless, serial offender?

If so, how many of us are willing to live under that standard — in which the sins of our distant past are ripe for litigation at any moment? In which the court of public opinion issues the same summary judgment immediately after every accusation? In which every defendant’s reputation and contributions are discarded into the same garbage heap, no matter what the age or nature of the offense?

November 12, 2017

The great “bitter versus sweet” war

Filed under: Health, Randomness, Science, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle is trapped behind enemy lines in the latest outbreak of the great taste war:

At this point I should put my cards on the table: Geographically and demographically, I belong in bitter country. But I am an exile-in-residence, because bitter foods make me wince.

I mean that literally. Really bitter things — a Negroni, say — produce in me a physical aversion that is close to pain. Black coffee I find merely extraordinarily unpleasant, and hoppy beer is just barely endurable. If I really had to endure it. Say, if consuming a bottle of IPA were the only way to save a busload of orphans who had been kidnapped by a beer snob.

Given where I live here in Washington, DC, and my known interest in food, the presumption of the bitter evangelists is that I must simply need re-education. I have been subjected to many hours of lectures on how I just need to clear my palate from all the sweet garbage I’m used to, so that I can appreciate the subtle joys of bitterness. I have refrained from suggesting that they hold still while I teach them to enjoy the subtle joys of being repeatedly kicked in the shins.

For over years of learning about food — and living with a bitter-loving craft cocktail enthusiast — I’ve come to realize that my aversion to bitter foods is almost certainly genetic. The Romans who coined the adage “de gustibus non est disputandum” were righter than they knew; science now tells us that there is indeed no sense arguing over taste, because you’re not going to change someone’s genome. Many seemingly mystifying divides over foods like cilantro come from the fact that some people have taste receptors that others don’t. If you have no receptors for the “soapy” compound in cilantro, this herb adds a marvelously tangy note to a dish. If you have those receptors, anything cooked with it tastes like Irish Spring en cocotte.

In my case, I probably have more bitter receptors than most people, so that a drink my husband finds intriguingly astringent would hit me like a punch to the tongue. I can no more get over my instinct to spit out bitter foods than he could get over his instinct to take his hand off a hot stove.

November 5, 2017

Binging with Babish: Turkish Delight from Chronicles of Narnia

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Binging with Babish
Published on 24 Oct 2017

The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of books known for their talking fauna, religious overtones, and sickly sweets offered up by the White Witch, Jadis. Turkish Delight may be a delight for some accustomed palates, but can be fancifully altered with a number of different flavor concentrates. Whip up a batch to coerce and manipulate the black sheep of your choosing today.

October 29, 2017

The Poutine crisis – “Toronto is living a cheese curd lie”

Filed under: Cancon, Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Toronto loves to adopt anything trendy and try to claim it as its own. Poutine, an imported delicacy from Quebec, early on was lovingly described as “the culinary equivalent of having unprotected sex with a stripper in the parking lot of a truck stop in eastern Quebec”, yet has been culturally appropriated as part of Toronto’s myriad of “local” dishes. Yet, according to this explosive investigatory report by Jake Edmiston, the so-called poutine that Toronto loves is … falsely labelled, inadequate, lacking a key component:

Some time ago, I realized that in Toronto, the cheese curds do not squeak. And cheese curds that do not squeak are a dangerous thing. They can trick you into thinking that cheese curds are just chopped-up cheese. The whole idea, to those unlucky enough to have never had a good one, must seem absurd: Eating cheese by itself, piece by piece in the same compulsive way that someone eats more chips than they need.

Think of the nightmare lived by a man scouring a city for chips that crunch but finding each bag stale. I am him.

As food-obsessed as it is, Toronto is living a cheese curd lie. It’s not always a popular assessment, though. One local cheesemonger took it rather badly.

“Who said that?” Afrim Pristine, the maître fromager at Cheese Boutique, demanded over the phone earlier this month.

“I say that,” I replied.

“You say that?” he said, confused. “Have you been to the Cheese Boutique?”

“I haven’t had your cheese curds yet.”

“So why would you say that?”

“I haven’t said it in print yet. I’m just saying that.”

“Okay. Um, I think you’re very, very wrong,” he said. “I think you’re incredibly wrong. To say that you can’t find good cheese curds in Toronto, I think, is crazy, actually.”

[…]

Curds are the butterflies of the cheese world — beautiful, transcendent, but only for an instant. They offer the rare example of cheese reaching its full expression as a snack unto itself, so airy and texturally complex that it is liberated from the usual dependence on crackers or bread or wine. Curds have been spared all the pressing and squeezing that occurs in the late stages of the cheddar-making process. They’re pulled right from the vat before any of that happens, still full of air and whey. That’s what makes them so much different than the cubes of mild cheddar beside the slices of salami on your cheese tray. Not for long. As that moisture seeps out over time, they inch closer to their cubed cousins, closer to ordinary. The squeak is, really, the only thing separating the two.

H/T to James Bow for the link.

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