Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Phineas Fogg 2023

Eli 21.10 sent me this text yesterday:
24 hour travel day, 8 vehicles, 5 modes of transportation, and almost no difficulties. Do you believe in miracles?

I asked him what the modes of transportation were, and this is how he responded:
Ferry, bus, train, tuk tuk, and walking.

That would be the craziest day of my life, but for him it's just Tuesday. 

He's in Malaysia now. 

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

One Retailer is Unconcerned About Blowback

The social panic wing of the Republican Party has always had a weird, dark side, but lately, it's gone past dark into apocalyptic. 

You may have read that various national retailers have had employees physically threatened because they dared to put out pride merchandise during Pride month. Some retailers have even taken displays down (never give into terrorists, people). 

It's discouraging.

However, one local retailer in Grand Rapids knows how to do it properly:

It may be hard to see the words on the sign if you're using your phone, but it reads "GAY SHIT INSIDE."

Five stars. No notes.

Monday, June 05, 2023

Twenty-five days to go

My next-door-neighbor is remodeling his kitchen, or rather, a fleet of various craftsmen are remodeling his kitchen over a three-month period. 

He's one of the nicest people I've ever met, so I'm happy for him, but the noise is constant at times. In particular, we've now entered the Circular Saw Constantly Running Era, which makes me feel like a woodsman living in a dormitory next to a sawmill. 

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Friday Links!

We're loaded this week, so enjoy the wide variety of excellent reads.

Leading off, and it's a great piece of writing, it's Kid Cop Returns (Again and Again).

This is a terrific read: ‘Unpredictability is our biggest problem’: Texas farmers experiment with ancient farming styles

From C. Lee, and why is this happening? Aderrien Murry: Mississippi boy, 11, shot by officer after calling police. This is just gross: The Newest College Admissions Ploy: Paying to Make Your Teen a “Peer-Reviewed” Author. This is stunning (to me, at least): How a CCP Propaganda Campaign Targeted the Dalai Lama. This is essential reading: These ‘experts’ sold the U.S. on a disastrous COVID plan, and never paid a professional price. Part 3 of a remarkable series by the Digital Antiquarian: The Next Generation in Graphics, Part 3: Software Meets Hardware. This is highly nerd-friendly: The Birthday Paradox. The Algonquin Headstone: The Witty Epitaphs of Key West Cemetery. This is long and fascinating: Lost Illusions: The Untold Story of the Hit Show’s Poisonous Culture

From Kevin W., and here we go: I tried the AI novel-writing tool everyone hates, and it’s better than I expected

From Meg McReynolds, and it's a wonderful essay: The Fourth Of July: The America That Could Be.

From Ken Piper, and it's another incredible telescope: Captivating Close-Ups Show Amazing Details Hiding in The Glare of The Sun. I had no idea dogs could ever live this long: World’s oldest dog celebrates 31st birthday. This is incredible: Man with paralysis walks naturally after brain, spine implants. This is alarming: Fake Publications in Biomedical Science: Red-flagging Method Indicates Mass Production. It'll still be cloudy here: The northern lights are heating up: Could they come to all 50 states? This is going to get much worse, thanks to Twitter's "new policies": Verified Twitter Accounts Spread AI-Generated Hoax of Pentagon Explosion

From Wally, and it's a terrific read: Along the highways, Indian restaurants serve America’s truckers. This is wildly clever: The 10 Types of Magic

From David Gloier, and it's fantastic: Why do animals keep evolving into crabs?


Eli 21.10 sent me a picture at 4 a.m., and if you're going to get a picture at 4 a.m., this is the one you want to get:

There are few universal goods in the world, but an elephant sanctuary is a universal good. I hadn't envied him until now (115+ heat index every day is nothing to miss), but I wish I'd been there.

Here's the view from his last Airbnb:

Wednesday, May 31, 2023


 I went down a rabbit hole yesterday that led to another rabbit hole, and another, and I wound up at Cadillac. 

Specifically, I found an answer for a cultural oddity that I observed growing up: the number of older black men driving Cadillacs, which was far out of proportion to the number driving other luxury models. It was particularly odd because Cadillacs weren't particularly reliable, even though they were expensive. 

This was a detail that buried itself in my mind for decades, unsolved. I found my answer yesterday, and it reminded me of my mom. 

Cadillac, as a brand, was dying in the early 1930s. The Depression made demand plummet for the brand by 84 percent, which was surely a death blow. 

A marketing executive, though, had another idea. 

Cadillac, as part of creating a prestige image for their brand, wouldn't sell Cadillacs to black people. Black customers had to use a white intermediary or buy their vehicles used. 

Here's a description of what happened next, thanks to a middle manager named Nicholas Dreystadt:
...Dreystadt said he had a plan to make Cadillac profitable in eighteen months, Depression or no Depression. The first part of his plan resulted from an observation he had made traveling around the country to the service departments of Cadillac dealerships. Cadillac was after the “prestige market,” and part of its strategy to capture that market was its refusal to sell to blacks. Despite this official discrimination, Dreystadt had noted that an astonishing number of customers at the service departments consisted of members of the nation’s tiny black elite: the boxers, singers, doctors, and lawyers who earned large incomes despite the flourishing Jim Crow atmosphere of the 1930s. Most status symbols were not available to these people. They couldn’t live in fancy neighborhoods or patronize fancy nightclubs. But getting around Cadillac’s policy of refusing to sell was easy: They just paid white men to front for them.

Dreystadt urged the executive committee to go after this market... The board bought his reasoning, and in 1934 Cadillac sales increased by 70 percent, and the division actually broke even.

So what I was seeing as I was growing up, in short, was loyalty to a company in response to how they treated a community by marketing to them when other brands wouldn't.

Like I said, this reminded me of my mom. 

When she was divorced in the early 1960s, every local merchant she dealt with revoked her credit. Incredibly so, but this was the 1960s, and divorced women were considered liabilities. 

One store, though, didn't do that. It was Wilson's Pharmacy, and they didn't take mom's credit away. 

As the years passed, and other pharmacies opened in our little town, Wilson's became more expensive than everyone else, not just with prescriptions, but everything else, too, because it had an eccentric selection of merchandise and gifts. 

I never understood why mom kept shopping there. One day, though, she told me the story, and I understood. 


Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Wrapper Looks Great, Though

I don't eat Pop-Tarts anymore, because 5 grams of saturated fat aren't a great deal for the amount of food you get, even though I find the form factor and sugar content highly compelling. 

Walking through a Fresh Thyme grocery store today, though, I saw this:

Hmm. Anything with birthday cake flavor must be pure sugar, and as a bonus, it has 20g of protein, which sounds ridiculously unlikely but also enticing. Self-glossing itself as "Legendary" concerns me, as it seems like the dating profile equivalent of "sassy and classy" (hard pass), but what would it hurt to try one?

Here's the thing, though: if you consciously look like a Pop-Tart, the weight of history is upon you, and you must, in some way, resemble that flat, sugary delight. Even a passing resemblance is fine, but there must be a resemblance. 

Did I taste anything resembling a legacy? I did not. 

What did I taste? Despair.  

Monday, May 29, 2023


I've gone down the Chernobyl rabbit hole many, many times over the years. 

I thought I'd seen and read everything, but I was wrong. I was on HBO Max looking for something to watch and stumbled onto Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes, a documentary consisting almost entirely of video footage taken from Soviet archives. No matter what you've read or seen before, the footage is both shattering and haunting. 

In particular, the footage of the men who were responsible for removing 200 tons of radioactive fuel and debris is unforgettable. The degree to which they were unprotected was stunning, as they tied wafer-thin sheets of lead to their clothing. This was the protection they were offered.

What this footage does is make Chernobyl an incredibly personal event, both with the footage and interviews with survivors. It's an hour and forty minutes long, and not a single minute was wasted. 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Friday Links!

Leading off this, a typical Ars Technica obscurity deep drive: Your fave illustration of Franklin’s kite experiment is likely riddled with errors

This is tremendously fun: Tradle is like Wordle but for economics.

Maybe someday it will get released, because the trailer is fantastic: The funniest movie you've never seen.

From Wally, and this is amazing: Orcas have sunk 3 boats in Europe and appear to be teaching others to do the same. But why? Also: Orcas have learned how to kill great white sharks, to remove and eat their livers.

From C. Lee, and it's a fascinating story: How Stuart Little Uncovered an Avant-garde Masterpiece Missing for almost a Century. This is both remarkable and concerning: Scientists Can Now Pull Human DNA From Air and Water, Raising Privacy Questions. An excellent read: The U.S. Lost a (Fictional) War With Iran 18 Years Ago. Aldous Huxley was an optimist: Debt Collectors Want To Use AI Chatbots To Hustle People For Money. This is sickening: Undercover audio of a Tyson employee reveals “free-range” chicken is meaningless. Not indie games, which are mostly the ones worth playing now: Game installs of 100GB or larger have now become the standard. This is alarming: Drug Shortages Near an All-Time High, Leading to Rationing. This looks like an important read: Rigged Capitalism and the Rise of Pluto-populism: On Martin Wolf’s “The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism”

An Unlikely Encounter

Eli 21.9 went to school with sisters who were identical twins from first grade to his first year of high school. They were the best athletes in their class and very likable, and he was friends with both of them. 

He's walking down the street today in a city in Cambodia (near Angkor Wat) — and suddenly, they're on the other side of the street. He sent me the most joyous picture of them together, a twin on each side.

It's the first time in he's seen them in five years, and he only had to go 8,000 miles away.  

FAFO, and good riddance

It seems like 18 years is a short sentence for seditious conspiracy with a terrorism enhancement, but that monster (I'm not even going to dignify him by using his name) is definitely in the FAFO phase of his life. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

A Tasty Snack


That's a tarantula. Fried, I think. Eli: It was honestly good. The body was too much for me but the legs were tasty. 

Also, they had a bonus travel partner today on the way to Angkor Wat. 

Bluesky Social

If anyone has an invitation they're not using and wouldn't mind passing it along to me, please let me know. I'd like to try it out, but I'm on the waiting list and it might be quite a while before I get in. I haven't been on Twitter for months now, and most of the people I used to follow have moved to Bluesky. Thanks. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

A ChatGPT Scenario

I hadn't thought about this until now.

For any writer whose works are no longer copyrighted —Jules Verne, Jane Austen, Tolstoy—it won't be long before books appear on Amazon with a subtitle of "A New Jules Verne novel by ChatGPT" or something similar.

The interesting element is I can see a time when someone edits a manuscript written by ChatGPT in the "voice" of a famous writer and creates an excellent read. There are art impersonators (well, forgers) who do masterful jobs of imitating painters, so why couldn't someone imitate a writer with equal care? Plus, it's totally legal in the scenario I outlined above.

The problem, of course, is that a great book isn't created in the writing, but in the editing. Doing this would require someone who was very, very skilled as an editor, and it would take hundreds if not thousands of hours. 

It's going to happen, though. 

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