Friday, February 22, 2013

Let's just hope they stick to ping-pong

I was unaware we had made such progress on making intelligent flying robots, but these quadrocopters are pretty awesome.  My personal favorite part is that when they make a mistake, they shake with what I can only assume is disappointment in their own robot inadequacy. 

I don't follow fashion trends closely, but I think I could get behind this

Burrows thinks that “gingham blankets” might be the trend’s next wave, and that it may very well evolve into a full-on picnicking movement. “You’d take off the blanket, spread it out, take out a wicker basket filled with fruits and have a picnic,” says Burrows. “What’s more romantic than being at Pitti and laying out a blanket? Who wouldn’t want to date a guy who’s always ready to picnic?”
Source: Daily Beast

Thursday, February 21, 2013

People in Norway are really into firewood

Sarah Lyall of the New York Times reports:

OSLO — The TV program, on the topic of firewood, consisted mostly of people in parkas chatting and chopping in the woods and then eight hours of a fire burning in a fireplace.  Yet no sooner had it begun, on prime time on Friday night, than the angry responses came pouring in. 

It seems impossible that these two sentences were intentionally printed together.  If you were on Family Feud and the category was "TV shows people might be upset about on a Friday night", answering "a show about a fire burning for eight hours" might provoke Steve Harvey to make this face:

 “We received about 60 text messages from people complaining about the stacking in the program,” said Lars Mytting, whose best-selling book

I just want to emphasize that the following is the title of a bestselling book in Norway, for real.

“Solid Wood: All About Chopping, Drying and Stacking Wood — and the Soul of Wood-Burning” inspired the broadcast. “Fifty percent complained that the bark was facing up, and the rest complained that the bark was facing down.” 

Not only do Norwegians have strong opinions about stacking firewood, but they are dramatically diverging opinions, leading to spirited debate.  In the words of Mr. Mytting:

"One thing that really divides Norway is bark.” 


One thing that does not divide Norway, apparently, is its love of discussing Norwegian wood.

 Nearly a million people, or 20 percent of the population, tuned in at some point to the program, which was shown on the state broadcaster, NRK.

 For reference, about 36% of Americans watched the Super Bowl this year.

In a country where 1.2 million households have fireplaces or wood stoves, said Rune Moeklebust, NRK’s head of programs in the west coast city of Bergen, the subject naturally lends itself to television. 

Does it?

“My first thought was, ‘Well, why not make a TV series about firewood?’” Mr. Moeklebust said in an interview. “And that eventually cut down to a 12-hour show, with four hours of ordinary produced television, and then eight hours of showing a fireplace live.” 

So they had to talk you down to only 12 hours of firewood-related coverage? 

There is no question that it is a popular topic. “Solid Wood” spent more than a year on the nonfiction best-seller list in Norway. 

Also popular in Norway:

“National Firewood Night,” as Friday’s program was called, opened with the host, Rebecca Nedregotten Strand, promising to “try to get to the core of Norwegian firewood culture — because firewood is the foundation of our lives.” Various people discussed its historical and personal significance. “We’ll be sawing, we’ll be splitting, we’ll be stacking and we’ll be burning,” Ms. Nedregotten Strand said. 

But the real excitement came when the action moved, four hours later, to a fireplace in a Bergen farmhouse. 

The fire on “National Firewood Night” burned all night long, in suspensefully unscripted configurations. Fresh wood was added through the hours by an NRK photographer named Ingrid Tangstad Hatlevoll, aided by viewers who sent advice via Facebook on where exactly to place it. 

This actually does sound marginally more interesting than voting on how Hawaii 5-0 ends, which is an actual thing American viewers were invited to do recently.

"I couldn’t go to bed because I was so excited,” a viewer called niesa36 said on the Dagbladet newspaper Web site. “When will they add new logs? Just before I managed to tear myself away, they must have opened the flue a little, because just then the flames shot a little higher. 

“I’m not being ironic,” the viewer continued. “For some reason, this broadcast was very calming and very exciting at the same time.”

Is anyone else concerned that niesa36 might be an arsonist?  This sounds like how an arsonist would react. 

Cheese rolling looks dangerous

The most surprising part is how the people are as bouncy as the cheese.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

It's time for science with Jose Canseco

Yesterday, Jose Canseco tweeted the following:

This of course led to great excitement among those of us who wonder what the concept of Science looks like in Jose Canseco's head (just me? yeah, probably just me).  Luckily for us, he did in fact follow through on his promise, and it is fantastic.  Observe:

This is actually something that scientists do debate, since the total mass of the Earth does change a bit over time, thus affecting its gravitational force.  Jose, however, has other reasons for believing this:

Probably something to do with evolution?  You're the expert, Jose, you tell me.

After sharing this intriguing theory about gravity, Jose went on to discuss the planetary physics that caused this gravitational change:

Basically, the Triassic was the Earth's steroid era.

It's thought-provoking, that's for sure.  This concludes today's edition of Thoughts about Gravity, featuring Jose Canseco.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The citizens of Atherton, CA seem to be confused as to what the police are there for

Police blotters are typically fairly boring, but this one is an exception, as the residents appear to call the cops for everything that happens in their lives that has not been planned in advance, such as when they see someone walking around in the evening in dress pants.  Or when someone rings the bell to deliver a package (this actually comes up multiple times).  Observe:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ben Howe demonstrates the amazing power of imagination

What happens when you imagine that Google is a different thing than it actually is?  How about when you imagine that Google is secretly working with Democrats to manipulate elections?  Hypothetically, you might get a headline like this:

As it happens, it's not hypothetical--that's the title of Ben Howe's latest work over at Red State.  Ben has some thoughts about Google and the Obama campaign, and they're certainly...let's say interesting.  Here's what he had to say:

Remember that enormous, sophisticated data operation the Obama campaign had? The one that gave them massive daily data on public opinion trends in almost every segment of potential voters.

You mean the Internet? 

It’s almost as if Democrats had access to some sort of huge database of real time information about what the public was reading or writing online. The kind of breathtakingly large, real-time data that could be used for real-time trend analysis, predictive modeling and even behavioral manipulation.

This still sounds like you're just accusing them of using the Internet.  At least, it did until that behavioral manipulation bit--I've occasionally tried to change people's minds about things online and it's goddamn impossibleThe level of discourse is not especially high. 

On a completely unrelated note, former RNC eCampaign Director Michael Turk wrote Monday that “the frightening advantage the left has is in a less touted entity known as the Analyst Institute (AI) and a consortium of behavioral scientists” who are “concerned not only with your characteristics and voting behavior, but how they can manipulate that behavior.”

Hey, that isn't completely unrelated!  Liar.  I won't say it's not weird that presidential campaigns do extensive research into how to campaign successfully online, but it's not like Obama invented the idea (obviously, Al Gore did.  It is known).  Everyone campaigns online now, and there are tricks to that just like there are for all other sorts of media.  The main thing you seem to be upset about is that the Democrats are better at it, which: tough shit, dude. Also, the Republicans might be a little behind in the "manipulating people with the Internet" field, but by most measures they're way better at good old-fashioned alterations of the electoral process and voting districts.

Now, combine Obama’s political campaign with Google’s near-comprehensive real-time data and the left’s behavioral analysis.  What do you get? Beat.

Wow, that definitely is a winning combination!  If it were a real thing that actually happened, that is.  I think if Obama actually had information from Google about how to best appeal to the online population, his campaign literature would have looked something like this:

This goes beyond just campaigns.  Google likes to brag that they can detect flu outbreaks two weeks before the CDC based on search volume. Eric Schmidt once bragged that the company could predict stock market movements.

Imagine how much more could be learned if Google’s computer algorithms combined not only search data but also all of the data they get by reading everything written in or sent to Gmail and whatever you store on Google docs and Google Drive.

Imagination time!  Incidentally, citing accusations made by Microsoft as evidence of Google's wrongdoing is pretty weak, dude.

Then imagine what Democratic voter data groups like Catalist (which launched as a for-profit operation, allowing it much more latitude in working with outside groups…or companies)

The ominous ellipsis makes an appearance!  Sorry Ben, I'll let you finish your sentence now.

could do with that data.

Yes, imagine what the Democratic groups could do if Google shared their data.  That'd be highly illegal and one of the dumbest things Google could do with said data, but imagine!

With a  few tweaks to their algorithms 

Just imagine, if they tweaked their algorithms

Google could easily have near perfect insights into the voting behaviors and patterns of the U.S. population at large down to specific precincts, neighborhoods or even households.

Wait, are you suggesting they'd be able to figure out that I vote based on which candidate will keep beer prices lowest?  That's pretty advanced.

 The threat isn’t just that Google openly supports left wing politicians and policies.  That’s obvious, and that relationship goes both ways.  Google+ hosted Joe Biden for a “fireside chat” about gun control and Obama is doing a Google+ “hangout” immediately following his State of the Union speech tonight.

You can tell how biased Google is because they didn't ban Obama and Biden from using their freely available social media service and giving Google huge amounts of free publicity.

The real threat is that Google, or perhaps just a few people within the leadership of Google, may be quietly operating as a private intelligence agency for the left.

"I imagined it, and therefore it may be happening.  THREAT LEVEL MIDNIGHT!"

And every time you use Google or Gmail you could be contributing just a little bit more of your behavioral data to the left.

Hey, did you know that Chrome has this awesome Incognito mode!  It lets you hide what kind of porn you like from Obama.  There certainly are problems with living in America today, but it's nothing compared to living in the terrifying autocracy that Ben Howe and other overwrought writers imagine they live in.  Personally, when I use my imagination, I prefer to imagine a world where all people have stuffed animal heads, because why not?

OK fess up, who gave Marco Rubio a spoonful of peanut butter right before he went on TV

Warning: this video is about as unpleasant to watch as you'd expect from the title.

I guess maybe if he'd learn how to drink water without doing a Hunchback of Notre Dame pose he might do it more often.

A: No.

Source: Mother Nature Network

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I think I would rather live in a haunted house than one governed by a Homeowners' Association

Justin Jouvenal of the Washington Post reports that there has been a recent feud in Fairfax County between some residents and their local HOA.  For those of you without the time to read an entire article, here's a brief summary:
  1. Residents put up a political sign in their yard
  2. The HOA says that's not permitted
  3. Suddenly, $400,000 in lawsuits
Let's take a look at what happened:

The feud that consumed Fairfax County’s Olde Belhaven would span four years and cost the community as much as $400,000, and it was ignited by one of the smallest of sparks: an Obama for President sign.
The modest placard Sam and Maria Farran planted in their yard during the 2008 election put them on a collision course with the neighborhood homeowners association. It was four inches taller than the association’s covenants allowed.

Four years.  Four hundred thousand dollars.  Four inches.  I feel like this is the tagline for Nicolas Cage's next film.

In any case, a resident committed a minor infraction of the rules regarding signage.  I'm sure the neighbors reacted calmly and rationally to this, yes?

“Need I say more! This would lead to chaos,” a neighbor fretted in an e-mail about the precedent that would be set if the sign wasn’t removed. “Our property values would be put at risk.”

Don't worry--the quotes from the community get way crazier.  This is just the warmup.

Sam and Maria Farran, a wine broker and a government lawyer, moved to the 44-unit townhouse community in the Alexandria section of Fairfax in 1999. In many ways, it is a typical Northern Virginia neighborhood, with tidy houses and a mix of government employees, service members and professionals.

The townhouses line the three-quarter-acre square, which is the neighborhood’s central feature and the site of most community-wide events. Without the green plot, it might be difficult to call Belhaven a community.

Sounds like quite a community.  Could we get a recent anecdote showing how the HOA is normally quite reasonable and not known for going off on residents for minor violations of neighborhood protocol?

The Farrans said the HOA had a reputation for hard-line stances.

Not off to a good start...

In one case, board member Don Hughes compared some residents’ refusal to install window-pane dividers to the “cat and mouse game Saddam Hussein played with the USA,” e-mails show.

Well, that's a totally unfair comparison.  Hussein did have window dividers--take a look:

Anyway, that's a strong opening from Mr. Hughes--did he perhaps finish the email with a vague, extremely disproportionate threat?

Ultimately, Hussein “paid the price,” he said, concluding that the residents should comply. 

Get them installed, yall. Otherwise, they send in the troops to topple your lawn gnome statues.

Nevertheless, the Farrans were surprised when letters arrived in October 2008 telling them and others that their political placards were too large.

“This is our final request,” Hughes wrote on behalf of the board.

E-mails show that Hughes pushed the board to act. He wrote that he was prepared to make a motion to put a lien on the Farrans’ house if they didn’t comply. He called sending a letter a “teaching moment.” Hughes declined to comment.

Threatening to take someone's house is a great teaching moment!  Maybe next you could threaten to kidnap their children if they don't keep their lawn mowed, or fine people $900 for using the wrong color of Christmas lights.

The Farrans were angry. They acknowledged that the sign broke the rules but said it seemed like an assault on free speech to go after a minor violation during the height of an election. Their response: cutting the placard in half. They planted “OBA” and “MA” signs in their front yard.

As satisfying as it may seem, fucking with overzealous HOA's is probably a bad idea.  I'm guessing the board members were not amused.

The prank did not amuse board members.


And they decided to act.

They passed a resolution allowing the board to fine residents up to $900 per infraction for violating HOA guidelines. Across the country, fining authority has been controversial, with HOAs hitting residents with levies for such transgressions as displays of colored Christmas lights and patches of dead grass.

My Christmas display featured both, but I thought it was really quite tasteful.

Board members believed that they had the right under Virginia law, but the Farrans saw an illegal power grab that had no basis in the HOA’s covenants. When the board, acting at a meeting that was not publicly announced, rejected the Farrans’ roof and deck projects for aesthetic and architectural reasons, the Farrans said it was retribution.

“It’s like we weren’t living in America,” Maria Farran said. “You are always one board election away from a tyranny. They wield enormous power.”

Maria, you have it backwards--remember, you're Saddam Hussein, imposing your tyrannical four-inches-too-tall OBA MA sign.  They're preserving everyone's freedom by prohibiting you from doing work on your own home in a secret meeting.

The Farrans filed a lawsuit against the HOA saying it didn’t have the authority to impose fines and had vindictively rejected their home improvements. 

Board members were taken aback. They saw residents who wouldn’t abide by the rules that had made Olde Belhaven a great neighborhood and who were willing to resort to drastic action to get what they wanted.

Archie Umphlett, one of the neighborhood’s oldest residents, put it this way: “When it comes to the Farrans, it’s their way or the highway.”

Umphlett is a fantastic name, so good work on that front, Archie.  I'm sure that you guys will want to act rationally at this juncture so that the HOA appears to be the voice of reason, right?

The Farrans said HOA backers told them to move. They found bullets in their yard. Someone implored a priest at their church to prevail on the Farrans to stop the lawsuit. A local real estate agent said the infighting was scaring off some home buyers.

So, to recap the story: HOA attempts to get residents to remove a sign, citing property values as a reason.  In its campaign to get the sign removed, it manages to create a massive dispute scaring off any potential buyers.  People call on religious leaders to take sides, and leave bullets in yards as a threat.  I'm starting to see how the Saddam Hussein reference makes sense now. 

The story goes on to talk about how the legal fees bankrupted the HOA and how all the neighborhood people have to pay more in HOA fees now and they had to sell the town square and so on, which is all very tragic, I'm sure.  You gotta feel at least a little bad for the other residents who got screwed over when their HOA felt like dicking over some people because of a sign.  Still, it's always entertaining when someone tries to abuse a position of power and it totally backfires.  I wonder if I have an animated gif that would illustrate this point?  Spoiler: I do!

Chechnyans have overcome separatist rebels, now turning their attention to the non-Muggle population

From the Telegraph

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Twitter feed for Monday: Florida Man is the superhero Florida deserves

It's not uncommon to see "Florida Man" in headlines, because men in Florida are terrible at not doing insanely dumb things.  Now, the _FloridaMan twitter feed compiles the best examples of these into a single fatally flawed superhero.  Maybe there's a little Florida Man in all of us.

Jeremy knows his rights, is a total asshole about it

I always hate that awkward moment when you want a cop to be a dick so you can film him and put it on Youtube but he turns out to be a pretty decent guy.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Winter storms are a pain but at least there are not spiders falling on you right now

At least, I assume there are no spiders falling on you right now.  If there are, it is either a terrible stroke of bad luck or you live in Santo Antonio de Platina, where it is apparently raining spiders.  Sleep well tonight!

Um, no.

In Sweden, having a high tolerance is now a legal defense for driving drunk

"The court agreed, stating in its ruling that as the man drinks alcohol every day, even before heading to work, he must have a high tolerance for alcohol, Sk√•nskan wrote.  The court therefore threw out the charges altogether and the man was set free."