Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Occasional WTF #9: Species confusion

Seen at my local Giant Eagle supermarket:


This USDA Choice beef roast is made of Natural Pork. At least it’s $3.00 off.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Eating Parker: Greek “pizza”

For more about our 4-H lamb, Parker, see the first installment of Eating Parker.

This is a quick one… no pictures or anything.

I was home for a night between Thanksgiving travel and work travel, so there wasn’t a lot to eat in the house. I decided to thaw a brick of ground Parker, and make some pita sandwiches. Brown the meat with onions, cinnamon, cumin, serve with some tzatziki and tomatoes. Basically a gyro with ground meat instead of gyro meat.

Giant Eagle had no pitas, so I bought some Pacifico’s pizza shells instead. Seriously, that was the closest thing I could come up with. Also, the only plain yogurt I could find for the tzatziki was nonfat, which is a far cry from Greek full-fat yogurt. I cooked the seasoned meat and onions. Then I put a little mozzarella cheese on a pizza shell so that the meat would stick, and added the meat/onion mixture and some feta. Baked until done, and topped with tzatziki and tomatoes. Not bad.

Tzatziki was the nonfat plain yogurt (bleh) with half a cucumber, diced, a splash of red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Side was a second baked pizza shell with COTS hummus.

Paired with 2005 Novelty Hill Syrah:

Dark blood red. Sweet, appealing nose of chocolate, wet stones, mixed berries, mint, blood. More austere on the palate, with sour cherry, mocha, iodine, talcum powder. (90 points)

The “Post-Thanksgiving Season”

In an email from D’Artagnan:


Around here, that season has a name: Deer

(No cheating!)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Decepticons: Vehicular longevity

Seen at a Subaru dealer:

95% of Subaru vehicles built in the last 10 years are still on the road.

Consider these similar-sounding statements:

  • 95% of 10-year-old Subaru vehicles are still on the road
  • If you buy a new Subaru, there’s a 95% chance it will still be on the road in 10 years

The marketers would love for you to misinterpret their statement as one of my two statements.

The “fleet” under consideration in Subaru’s claim is all the cars built in the last 10 years. Some are 1 year old, some are 7 years old, and some are 10 years old. The median age is somewhere around 5 years. Probably less, if Subaru’s sales are improving.

The percentage of 10-year-old cars that are still on the road is, therefore, less than 95%. Probably much less. If they wanted to make a clear statement about 10-year longevity, they could tell us what that number is. But it wouldn’t look as impressive.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

William Gay for Pittsburgh City Council!


The appointment of Cathleen Black as New York City school chancellor heralds a new era of offensive-sounding headlines. It takes me back to the halcyon days of Los Angeles politician Laura Chick.

fail owned pwned pictures


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mass hysteria!

Bill Clinton is a vegan!

The AtlanticWire:

"I live on beans, legumes, vegetables, fruit"

Al Gore regrets ethanol subsidies!

Washington Post:

Former vice president Al Gore said Monday that he regrets supporting first-generation corn-based ethanol subsidies while he was in office.

Dogs and cats living together!


Monday, November 22, 2010

Decepticons: Auto insurance

This is the first in a series of posts about marketing claims that are true, but misleading.

You’ve heard the ads:

Drivers who switched [to Allstate] saved an average of $396 a year

Well, yeah. Why else would they switch?

The marketers want you to misunderstand the statement and think that if you call up Allstate and get a quote, you’ll save $396 a year, but that’s not the case. The statistic tells you nothing about the average savings (if any) of people who consider Allstate.

If you call an insurance company for a quote, and their quote is $200/year more, would you switch? Of course not. If it was $15/year less, would you switch? Probably not, unless you were already unhappy with your current company. The only people who switch are the people who are going to save a substantial amount of money by switching. That might be 90% of the people who call, or it might be 5% of the people who call. But those lucky people are the only people who make it into the statistic quoted in the ad.

All of the insurers could make a claim like the one quoted above, and they’d all be right. But that doesn’t mean they’re all cheaper than everyone else.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On the repeatability of NCAA football games

Nate Silver has a new column in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. In the inaugural edition, he writes of the difficulty of ranking college football teams.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Things the Germans probably have a word for, Volume 1

The feeling that you have squandered a dream, because you didn't realize it was a dream, and you behaved as morally as you would in real life.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On keeping people from dying

Over the past several years, the TSA has steadily increased the scrutiny that airline passengers face. There was the liquids thing, the ziploc thing, the shoes thing, the laptop thing, and now the backscatter/scrotum-mashing thing. The purported objective of all these things is to prevent terrorists from blowing up planes, which would result in passengers dying. Which would be bad.

However, as the burden of air travel increases, would-be passengers are likely to shift some of their air travel to other forms of transportation, such as driving. Megan McArdle and Stephen Bainbridge have already announced their intention to do so.

I drive about 15,000 miles a year. If I, and everyone like me, decided just once every 13 years that we'd rather drive 500 miles and back, instead of flying, we'd be driving 0.5% more than we do now. About 45,000 people die each year in the United States in motor vehicle accidents. Americans driving 0.5% more will kill about 200 more people each year in the US. That's as many deaths as a Boeing 757-200 being blown out of the sky every year. And 12,000 more people will be injured.

Flying is, by far, the safest means of transportation for covering a given distance. Making flying less attractive, relative to driving, has deadly consequences.

Is the TSA really trying to keep people from dying, or just push the blame outside their agency?

Update: Shortly after I wrote this post, Nate Silver covered the topic in both greater depth and breadth. (The nerve!) Here’s a particularly interesting excerpt:

Other passengers may substitute car travel for air travel. But this too has its consequences, since car travel is much more dangerous than air travel over all. According to the Cornell study, roughly 130 inconvenienced travelers died every three months as a result of additional traffic fatalities brought on by substituting ground transit for air transit. That’s the equivalent of four fully-loaded Boeing 737s crashing each year.

It’s nice to see that my back-of-the-blog estimates are in line with reality. Thanks, Sterl!

Here’s a related Fermi problem: How many people are aboard airline flights over the United States right now?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Arnold Zwicky quotes a classic example of zeugma:

… he hastened to put out the cat, the wine, his cigar, and the lamps.

I note, however, that put out, without an object, has its own idiomatic meaning. I therefore propose a new construction, Extreme ZeugmaTM:

I want to date a girl who puts out the wine, the lamps, and .

If I can’t use it on water taxis, what good is it?

The web site for an AmEx rebate card:


(Click to embiggen)

The Card cannot be used for revolving payments, or with water taxis, limousines, and ATMs.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


After writing yesterday’s post about Sparrow Songs’ film about Trona, I checked out their earlier films and realized they’re following me around, at least in some time-reversed Merlinesque sense.

After I finished grad school, the Spousal Unit and I moved from Ridgecrest to Lancaster, California, in the Antelope Valley. It’s an aerospace town, home of the Lockheed Skunk Works, and not far from Edwards AFB. The street names reflect the engineering sensibilities of the area: We lived on Avenue J-7, which was the seventh of fifteen streets between Avenue J and Avenue K. The town was an interesting mélange of engineers and recently-released prisoners and their (often quite extended) families.

This Sparrow Songs documentary concerns the local California League (A) baseball team, the Lancaster Jethawks. The Jethawks gave away the best free gift I’ve ever received for attending a sporting event: A Burt Rutan bobblehead.

Sparrow Songs - Episode 10 - The Farm from Sparrow Songs on Vimeo.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Years ago, the Future Spousal Unit lived in Ridgecrest, California, best known as the home of NAWS China Lake. The fighter planes took off over her double wide, shaking her awake in the morning. It was 117 °F the day we unloaded her moving truck. A hot wind constantly blew sand in our faces. The town shut down before 9:00 PM, even the fast food places. The coyotes and roadrunners were three dimensional, and didn’t order from Acme.

But whenever we felt like we were at the end of the earth, we remembered the nearby town of Trona. Now filmmaking duo Sparrow Songs has produced an excellent short documentary on the town:

Sparrow Songs - Episode 12 - Fall Begins in Trona, CA from Sparrow Songs on Vimeo.

What the film fails to capture is the smell. Trona reeks with a disgusting sulfurous odor from the chemical plant. When driving through the town, to Death Valley or the Pinnacles, we were glad that we had no reason to stop.

(Via Mental Floss)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Food Books in My Pants

There was a recent Twitter hashtag meme#moviesinmypants” in which participants would append the phrase “in my pants” to film titles; for example “Stand and Deliver in My Pants.”

This led to a much more entertaining offshoot, “#foodbooksinmypants,” started by @amateurgourmet. Some of my favorites:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Audi’s Olde World Restaurant (Johnstown, PA)


Veteran’s Day left me with a $1,000 repair bill for the MINI’s passenger seat ass-sensor and a standalone Friday to end the workweek. On my way to work, there was an ad on the local radio station announcing that Audi’s Olde World Restaurant, located at the John Murtha Cambria County Airport, was open for business, with a Mediterranean menu and a wine list with 20 selections. Sounds like a date, I thought!

And you thought Stuxnet was bad

Roger C. Davidson walked into a computer services shop on Main Street in Mount Kisco, N.Y., seeking help with his virus-plagued computer.

The owner of the shop, Vickram Bedi, 36, confirmed that there was a virus on Mr. Davidson’s computer, a virus Mr. Bedi said was so troublesome that it had also damaged the shop’s computers, officials said.

This led, of course, to $6 million dollars in fees being paid to the computer shop, and a tale of intrigue involving the CIA and Opus Dei.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Run away!


It’s the Turkey That Ate My MINI!

Best operation since ACOUSTIC KITTY

If any official institution was in a position to celebrate the collection of Leninists, Trotskyites and heavy drinkers that made up the New York School, it was the CIA.

Modern art was CIA 'weapon'.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Stupid Steve Jobs quote of the day

From David Pogue’s Samsung Galaxy Tab review in the New York Times:

When asked about the onslaught of Android tablets last month, Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, scoffed at their size (most are 7 inches diagonal instead of 10 inches, like the iPad). “This size is useless unless you include sandpaper so users can sand their fingers down to a quarter of their size,” he said.

Dude, you sell a 3.5-inch tablet.

Why, that looks delicious!

Via Food Network Humor, Paula Deen Flour™:

Jillian Madison rightly calls out Paula for charging $4 for two pounds of all-purpose flour. “This is Paula Deen using her persona to swindle her fans into paying more than they have to for an ingredient, y’all.”

But I think the best part is the caption at the bottom: “SERVING SUGGESTION.” Paula Deen recommends serving a bowl of flour? I hope I get the tablespoon!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Anal about quality

Language Log’s Arnold Zwicky, writing in his personal blog:

A final linguistic note, with a story about my colleague Paul Kiparsky, who long ago in Cambridge, Massachusetts, confronted an American supermarket while on a search for toilet paper. One after another, he inspected the choices, noting that they claimed to be “facial quality tissue”, eventually complaining forcefully, “I don’t want facial quality tissue, I want RECTAL quality tissue”. (You have to imagine the Finnish accent.)

The Occasional WTF #8


Math is hard.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I love the FAIL Blog. But sometimes they FAIL to realize that the subject of their derision is in on the joke. This is the fifth in an investigative series exploring FAIL Blog FAILs.

epic fail photos - Instructions FAIL

This is from a book. A joke book, called Safe Baby Handling Tips. Nobody actually thinks that you will wake up your baby with an air horn.

Monday, November 8, 2010

I'll take this almond love

An oldie but goodie.

Foursquare’s SMS interface is a festering heap of targ manure

Update: There's a new Foursquare SMS interface available, courtesy of DOTGO. The new interface addresses most of my complaints below; I've written up some intial impressions of the new service. Check it out!

I like the idea of Foursquare, but I don’t have a smartphone. That shouldn’t be a problem, because Foursquare supports checking in by SMS (text message). The idea is that you send a text message to 50500 in the following format:

@ location ! shout

Foursquare should check you into location. The optional shout is a message that's shown to your friends and included in tweets generated by foursquare.

Unfortunately, the SMS interface is a colossal failure. It’s as if they set out to develop the least useful interface that could be said to check the “SMS compatibility” box off the requirements list.

Reason Zero: The Mobile Site

Foursquare offers a mobile site, http://m.foursquare.com/, which I should be able to access through the web browser in my phone. But it doesn't work, and Foursquare doesn’t care. It didn’t work on my last phone, a Verizon Samsung Alias, and it doesn’t work on my new phone, a Verizon LG Cosmos. The dysfunctional mobile website is the reason I have to use the SMS interface in the first place.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

To the guy sitting in front of me at the Penn State game yesterday

I share your enthusiasm for the skills of backup quarterback Matt McGloin, who beat Michigan last week while starter Rob Bolden was injured. And McGloin sure turned the game around yesterday, scoring 35 unanswered points to bring Penn State out of a 21-0 hole against Northwestern, and get career win #400 for Joe Paterno.

However, your chant of “We want the white quarterback!” recalls Bill Maher’s 2008 comment:

A black president? Half of Pennsylvania isn't ready for black quarterbacks.

And your other chant of “WE ARE… PENNSYLTUCKY” pretty much nails down which half.

Stay classy, drunk rednecks. May no act of ours bring shame…

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My 15 minutes: Extreme Hawaii

Here's a special treat for the weekend... my 2001 Discovery Channel performance on Extreme Hawaii, filmed at W. M. Keck Observatory. Watch it before the lawyers find it.

Things to watch for:

  • Me yawning
  • My alarmingly low blood oxygen level
  • A computer display showing the telescope at "horizon stow" ostensibly in the middle of the observing session
  • Non-dairy creamer
  • My "Transitions" lenses that were never quite clear no matter how dark it was

All science reporting is required to have a substantial misrepresentation of what's going on. In this case, we visited the Mauna Kea summit during the day, but conducted the nighttime observations from Keck HQ in Waimea, at about 2,500 feet above sea level. BTW, the observations documented in the show resulted in New Observations of the Interstellar Medium in the Lyman Break Galaxy MS 1512-cB58.

The rest of the show included a guy who pokes a stick into molten lava and spins it around to make vases and another guy who surfs waves taller than my house, but I didn't think they were quite extreme enough to hang with the astronomers.

On GPS navigators, traffic, and load balancing

I previously expressed concern that, when faced with traffic on the main routes, GPS navigation units would divert all drivers to side streets in a correlated fashion, overwhelming their capacity.

It looks like TomTom is addressing my concern.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


I love the FAIL Blog. But sometimes they FAIL to understand the subject of their derision. This is the fourth in an investigative series exploring FAIL Blog FAILs.

Halloween Costume FAILS

The 1890s were called the “Gay Nineties.” There’s no FAIL in calling them that. Mocking the name just because it contains the word “gay” is a FAIL of Microsoftian proportions.

On the other hand, dressing like this and calling it “Gay Nineties” would be an EPIC WIN.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

God Hates Figs

From the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear:

Go ahead, read it.

So, the main character, Jesus, is hungry and goes to a fig tree. Jesus' dad made the fig tree to have a certain natural preference, to reproduce in a certain way. As a side effect, there's no fruit for Jesus, and this totally pisses him off. He goes off the rails, and cusses out the fig tree. Jesus' pissy mood withers the fig tree, and nobody in the community gets to enjoy its fruit anymore. Jesus is the hero, since he showed showed that fruit who's boss.

Why does this sound familiar?

Trespassers will be sited


Monday, November 1, 2010