Eight tubes, every one electric, "all you ever dreamed of posessing"

This snippet of advertising copy from the Oct. 20, 1928, New Yorker touted a "combination electrical 8-tube radio and electrical phonograph," the Amrad Opera, featuring a hand-carved cabinet "consisting mostly of exquisite walnut veneers" and priced at around $830.

Slick and fat with advertising, the issue ran 104 pages - included a piece on "what's wrong with newspapers today" (verdict: they're mostly filled with junk) and (O'Reilly please note) noted that in some obscure and unnamed African tribe males are occasionally known to marry trees.

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Discovering the mother lode of convenience on a street named Federal

On my way to pick up a loaf of bread at the real bakery, not one of the pretend ones, this morning I came upon the very epicenter of convenience. It's located in a parking meter on Federal Street. There one can acquire 15 minutes of parking time for a nickel or - for one's convenience - a dime. But wait! There's more! For even more convenience - the ultimate in convenience, convenience's nuclear option - that selfsame 15 minutes may be had for a quarter! How convenient is that, I ask?

Needless to say, I dropped two bits in the slot and the convenience was overwhelming - so overwhelming, in fact, I bought a brownie too.

Chocolate espresso. It just doesn't get more convenient than that.

If I ever get another quarter I'm going back.

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Empire just gets better and better - can Utopia be far off?

If you've been paying attention here (if you haven't: tut, tut) you've noticed a new Technorati tag appearing at the bottom of one or two (counting this one) recent items: "books." It's been added to mark the occasions when our Literature And Other Tomfoolery Editor notices one - a book, that is - and deigns to comment. Not that we ever expect to carry proper "book reviews" like those penned by Gen. JC Christian, patriot, who opines at Amazon.com - for example, herewith noted, his comments on Fred Barnes' recent effort, "Rebel in Chief."

For your continuing convenience there is a link to the General's blog, Jesus' General, on the blogroll of our own sibling YAME blog, House of Horrors.

Nor, loyal reader, is adding a new "books" tag the least of the Empire's recent improvements. On the technology front, YAME has installed a new, higher radar so more stuff can fly under it - all part of our effort to concern ourselves with only the most altitudinous of affairs.

Is that better and better, or is it not.

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Yo, Molly

Molly rocks. Here's why.

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"Chatter," the book

"Inside the secret world of evesdropping." It's by Patrick Radden Keefe. And I'd call it an interesting, moderately useful read (or, in my case, listen - the audio version is well read).

"Chatter" doesn't shed any groundbreaking new light on the world of signals intelligence (SIGINT), nothing that would constitute a brilliant revelation in the current matter involving NSA intercepts by the Bush administration. But what it does do - and helpfully - is a good job at bringing together a myriad of already-known (by the cognizant) facts about communications intelligence and arranging them in a contextual whole. Keefe's viewpoint is what I'd call middle-of-the-road - he takes his subject seriously without becoming overly entranced by the paranoia on its fringes. And although his opinion differs from my own on some few points and he makes, to my personal knowledge, some few errors in reportage, Keefe's take on the subject is to be greatly preferred to the pop-news (or pop-net) rants now extant.

So if you're interested in the history and the practice of electronic intelligence gathering or if you're concerned about its application in our current world, I'd recommend this book.

Here's a link to it at Barnes & Noble if you're interested in finding out more about it.

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How to find stuff other people hide

Isn't that the problem, really, with a book about how to hide your secret stuff? Well, just a thought. In any event, if you've got something really secret and want to hide it where I'll be sure to find it here's just the book for you. (e sends along the link to an outfit called Loompanics which sells lots of other wacky books too - all at a steep discount, as it's going out of business. Could be a reason for that, but I won't speculate.)

Anyway you probably have some money left for buying books since you missed out on buying William Shatner's kidney stone. (You think I'm kidding but I'm not.)

By the way, on the subject of hiding stuff where other people can find it, I gave my class the sermonette on passwords today. And here's a little part of it for you: do not use a password somebody else has given you as an example. (Duh.)

Thinking on passwords seems always to be in flux. Here's the latest formulation (I've seen): at least 8 characters, containing at least one upper case and one lower case alpha character, one numeral, and one punctuation mark. And (New! Improved!) it's now OK to write it down and carry it around in your wallet or your purse (but don't write it on a sticky note and paste it to your monitor, please). If you write it down don't put the name of the account it goes with - just the password by itself.

Those who do this thinking reason thusly: People hesitate to use strong passwords because they tend to be more difficult to remember. People carry around in their wallets or purses or elsewhere documents they are careful not to lose (like credit cards, for example); you can keep a written password reasonably safe. And it's better in the long run to use a strong password you have to write down to remember than to use a weak password that may be easy to remember but also easy to guess.

There. Now you've had the sermonette, yourself.

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What if doing the hokey pokey really is what it's all about?

I'm not much for bumper sticker philosophy but I have to admit that one made me think. Really. What if it is?

I'm shaking it all about as we speak.

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I'm off to work on the dark side this morning

So you'll just have to get yourself a life, at least until noon.

Or, you could amuse yourself by reading this ode to the humble backhoe, from Wired.

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"Nagin's worst offense was to try to rip off our nickname"

From the inestimable Sam Smith, a different look at the term "Chocolate City."
Having lived much of my life in the real Chocolate City, I find myself far more bothered by people who become irate at the impolite subtexts of those who haven't done as well as they in the American system, and who not only regard the suffering as inevitable but believe it should be endured with silence and gentility.

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I don't care. I say it's slop and I'm not backing down. It's raining like craZy here, all over everything, and the weather widget says it's 57. Yeah that's right - I looked twice. Good thing it's not 5 like it was yesterday morning because we'd have snow up to our armpits if it were. Or knees, at least. But what we have instead is slop.

And I'm not going to even mention what the widget says about the rest of the week. Oh no. Not one word. I've already jinxed enough weather in the past few days - no way am I going to jinx this. No, no. I'm playing it straight down the New England line this time: we will be punished for this.

Anyway the forecast could be wrong. We don't have a weather station here. We have weather stations 30 or 40 miles away in every direction, but none right where we are. And here in the valley that much distance can make a big difference. So every year it's a little game, figuring out which weather service to trust. (They all use the same data - none of which, as I've said, is from right here - but they use different forecasting models. Or so I'm told.) Usually, Accuweather wins (an unsolicited plug there) but sometimes they blow it and the Weather Channel gets it right.

And I'm not even a weather wonk. Just imagine if I were. But one needs to know these things and now one does. Also we had weather sort of like this last year too - really warm for the first part and then really cold, with lots of snow, for the rest. (Weather gods take note: I am being humble here, am I not?)

Only maybe (I'm saying maybe) I might (I'm saying might) begin to think (I'm just thinking - really) that possibly I signed up for enough oil to get through the season without a nasty price bump at the end, with this warm January and all. Which will be nice.

I guess we'll see.

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Willy Wonka's name comes up in the Times-Pic

Columnist Chris Rose riffs on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate City in the Times-Picayune, thusly:
The barista, one of those bright and perky UPTOWN people -- and I think you know what kind I mean -- says "Hey, guys, what can I getcha?" and sure, she acts all Ladies' Auxiliary toward us but we all know -- me, King and God -- that all this white girl really wants is to grab up as much property as possible in the Lower 9th and build a couples resort and day spa.

Me, King and God -- we're not stupid.
And thanks to e for pointing it out (and also mentioning a Reuters story reporting "New Orleans officials have agreed to notify homeowners before bulldozing their hurricane-wrecked homes" - so, hey).

I haven't read the speech myself. Wonka's speech, I mean - the one in which he called New Orleans the Chocolate City. I've already heard from my right-wing friends what it'll wind up meaning, which is all it will mean in the end. And anyway I figure anybody who doesn't know by now what's going on in New Orleans isn't paying attention, so what's the point.

And then there's the question of what's going on outside New Orleans. As Democracy Now reported Dec. 9:
Questions still remain over how many people died after Hurricane Katrina as well as the whereabouts of all of the evacuees. The official death toll stands at about 1,300 but thousands of people are still reported missing. Two weeks ago USA Today reported the whereabouts of 6,600 people reported missing have not been determined. And this past weekend Newsday reported the missing includes 1,300 children.
And what flavor do you think most of those folks are?

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Gotta hand it to those California girls

They've pulled one out of a chimney in North Hollywood.
It wasn't immediately known how or why she got stuck.
And we are not, no way, about to guess.

Meanwhile and elsewhere, an Italian sexologist (heh) finds "reality" trumps sex, at least half the time. Said sexologist, one Serenella Salomoni, made the discovery while studying the effects of TV sets in bedrooms.
The study found certain programmes are far more likely to impede passion than others. Violent films will put a stop to sexual relations for half of all couples, while reality shows stem passion for a third of couples.
Speaking of TV and bedrooms (you knew this was coming, didn't you?) - and reality - back in the early 60s when portable video equipment was still a new (and not really very portable) thing, a colleague and friend took the rig we had at work home for the weekend to, you know, play with. Said play involved some feats of athleticism performed by himself and his wife in bed - yes! in New Jersey! can you believe? - which they proceeded to re-live by clipping the recorder output leads to the antenna terminals on their TV. Forgetting, in their anticipation, that the TV set was connected to a master antenna that served the entire apartment building. Which contributed, my friend later told me, to some fairly amusing elevator rides for a while thereafter.

I wonder what Serenella Salomoni would have said about that.

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Call rewrite!

Movies from Universal Pictures won't show up on Blu-Ray, which means you won't be able to watch Van Helsing and Hitch in high-definition on the same machine unless you're willing to spring for two.
Huh? Well, you figure it out. It's from a story in the Boston Globe this morning about how the media giants (not, dear reader, including YAME, which remains magnificently aloof) are warring over the specs for next-generation (next generation for your entertainment! not to mention for your convenience! and did we say they'll be more expensive?) DVDs. Oh, and did we also say about DRM?

If I were interested in making a decision here - which I'm emphatically not, for the nonce - Sony would be a non-starter right out of the box on this one due to its demonstrated disregard for customers, putting a nasty rootkit on its music CDs without so much as a by-your-leave. True, some might argue "better the devil you know" but as far as I'm concerned the devil's gonna have to come get me cause I'm not goin nowhere on this one for a good long time. I'm an entertainment-intensive guy but (we were talking about gluts a while back) I haven't used up all the entertainment I've already got. Nor, likely, will I soon.

In the meantime, how I'm needing two machines to play two DVDs on the same machine is something I'm still working on. Don't tell me. I am easily amused.

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Dorks make art

New York Times story this morning reports on "dorkbot" art show in Manhattan.
Founded five years ago by Douglas Repetto, the director of research at Columbia University's computer music center, dorkbot is an informal club of artists, techies and geeks who do "strange things with electricity," according to their motto.
Like the woman, Alyce Santoro, who weaves audible textiles from recorded audio tape and the guy, Mikey Sklar, with the neon lights in his hand (have you noticed a trend toward things that glow? - just wondering).
"They're doing things, but they're not quite sure, What is this? Where does it fit?" Mr. Repetto said.
I'm not too sure about talking clothes but flashing lights sounds kind of fun.

You can read more about the dorks at dorkbot.org.

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Because what's the fun of backing up in a straight line

I have no idea, none, absolutely zero idea how the driveway got this messed up. And if I did I wouldn't tell. But that's ice you see, and that's why we're hoping for an early Spring. Like, tomorrow would be nice. Or Wednesday for sure.

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Way back in a previous century I used to drive from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio, from time to time, crossing Indiana and northern Ohio on US 30 because Interstates are boring. And right where the highway crosses the tracks in Lima, Ohio, there was (maybe still is) a company called Lima Lumber. Seeing the Lima Lumber sign (and maybe because by then a fairly long drive was nearing an end) always made me want to write a song.
Lima Lumber doodle-dandy,
Lima Lumber and assorted hardware.
OK, I'm still working on it. What's your rush?

Now it turns out Lima has a newspaper too! The Lima News. Who knew?

We don't do serious news here. If you want serious news go read our "sister" blog, House of Horrors. You won't find it there either, but read it anyway. Still, in a rush of warm, fuzzy nostalgia, we give you this story from the Lima News.

Come to think of it - not doing serious news, I mean - the story's about "congressional ethics" so, after all, it fits right in.

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FEMA and green pigs

Green pigs that glow, no less.
"Taiwan, home to the world's first transgenic glowing fish, has successfully bred fluorescent green pigs that researchers hope will boost the island's stem cell research," Reuters reports. "The transgenic pigs, commonly used to study human diseases, would help researchers monitor and trace changes of the tissues during the physical development."
And what do glowing green pigs have to do with FEMA, you ask? You have to ask?

Well, actually, nothing, except that both topics find a place this morning in the Doonesbury Daily Briefing ("Deep Buzz for the Content-Deprived"), one of the best and most under-appreciated news sources on the web. It's a little depressing when some of the best news coverage in the country comes from the comic pages, the Comedy Channel, and The Onion, isn't it? But we're trying to remain cheerful here so we don't contemplate such things.

And, speaking of things we'd really rather not be contemplating, especially this early on a Monday morning:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency Thursday "increased its count of people displaced from the Gulf Coast by hurricanes Katrina and Rita by nearly a third, to about 2 million people," the Washington Post reports. "A FEMA spokeswoman attributed the sharp rise to a reporting error."
One wonders - or one might wonder, if this were another time on another day - if "reporting error" might not be the defining description of the whole Bush era. And the most generous description, at that.

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Soggy in Seattle

I'm not going to mention this, the weather gods and I not being on the best of terms these days, but I hear from reliable sources in Seattle it's rained there now for 27 days straight. The record is 33. So certain people (this is why I'm not going to say a word about it) are hoping it keeps raining for at least another week, because what would be the point of 27 days of rain and then no new record (is that weird or what?).

As of about 15 minutes ago it hadn't rained yet today so it had better get started pretty soon or there goes the streak.

Which is why my lips are sealed. No way do I want to be responsible for a sunny day.

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If they wanted some dust, why didn't they just ask me?

DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah - A space capsule ferrying the first comet dust samples to Earth parachuted onto a remote stretch of desert before dawn Sunday, drawing cheers from elated scientists.

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The old green car she ain't what she used to be

Cars are sort of like people, aren't they? They don't start start getting interesting until they hit middle age, 40 or so, which would be about 10 in car years. (Or maybe it's the other way around, I've never figured that part out.)

I had an old Pontiac once that was a real fighter - way past its prime, it would scramble up hills like a cranky old goat. And a Dodge that was so stubborn it wouldn't stop running even after it had stopped running. But this car I have now, a Ford, is, well, way chilled out.

It's not that it gives me that much trouble - all the parts that aren't essential have long since dropped off and what's left pretty much works, most of the time. But it doesn't work any harder than it has to and on some days that's not very hard at all. Like today. Today it decided it didn't want to run its fan - the fan in the heating system - which means no defroster and very little warm. Which would be fine if it were 40 or 50 out there like it was last week, but right now it's 13. (It was 24 when I got up this morning and it's been going down since then. "They" still say it'll be back in the 40s by Wednesday.) Turning on the A/C helps with the defogging part but not too much with the warm.

Oh well. It still moves, which is the main thing cars are supposed to do. And in a few months it'll be April anyway. At least that's the way the car sees it, I guess. It has a point.

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The weather gods were not amused

No sooner had I posted my picture of a nearly snowless situation here and made light of the weather gods yesterday than it started to rain, and then during the night it turned cold and froze all the rain to ice and snowed about 3 inches on top of that just to be nasty about it, and now my car doors are frozen shut. And it's not supposed to be above freezing again until Wednesday, which means I am going to have to figure out some way to thaw them out.

So OK I've been punished. Are you satisfied? Now lets get on with spring.

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Oh no, there's a little more to Ohio than that

Some geezers get into a spat in an AOL chat room and wind up in court (it's a long story) and one of them opines:
"I have never been to Ohio and I have absolutely no desire to go to Ohio. There is nothing there — the Cincinnati Bengals are there, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame maybe, and that's about it."
But see, that's not true. They also have a statue of a flying pig. In Cincinnati.

Hey! How about a little pig joke here?
There was once a guy from back East who was visiting Ohio, and during this visit he saw a farmer feeding pigs in a most extraordinary manner. The farmer would lift a pig up to a nearby apple tree, and the pig would eat the apples off the tree directly. The farmer would move the pig from one apple to another until the pig was satisfied, then he would start again with another pig. The city man watched this activity for some time with great astonishment. Finally, he could not resist saying to the farmer, "This is the most inefficient method of feeding pigs that I can imagine. Just think of the time that would be saved if you simply shook the apples off the tree and let the pigs eat them from the ground!" The farmer looked puzzled and replied, "What's time to a pig?"

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