In which prior choices are proven right

In 2007, after a well-timed robbery, I bought an Olympus OM-D E-M1 mirrorless (m4/3) camera to replace an aging (and now gone) Canon Rebel. It was pretty great!

Then, late last summer, I upgraded again: this time, I jumped ship to Sony’s full-frame mirrorless line with an A7ii, which of course required all new glass, but I’m a man of simple tastes so the whole thing was still not crazy expensive. And I’m OVER THE MOON about this camera; seriously, it’s amazing.

And, even at the time, I honestly never really considered staying with Olympus. They didn’t have something interesting to me — and Sony was wowing the world with their small-body full-frame line, which allowed drastic improvement in the areas of photography most important to me.

Turns out, this was probably a good call: Olympus has exited the camera market in Korea. It’s hard not to read this as a harbinger of further exits to come.

When they blow that whistle, I’ll move my little bristles

Like all right-thinking people, I view The State’s amazing and perfect Porcupine Racetrack skit as the pinnacle of 1990s television.

They must also remember it fondly, because in quarantine, they remounted it in Zoom.

It’s still lovely.

The resulting MeFi thread includes links to a few other nice State-related bits, including:

  • An NYT piece about the skit from 2009 (ie, YEARS after it ran);
  • This article about them from back-then, which includes the fascinating datum that, on one show, they were meant to have Blue Traveller as a guest, but SNL snagged them, so they had to “settle for” Sonic Youth; and
  • a Youtube link to their “43rd Annual All-Star Halloween Special,” which aired on CBS in prime time in 1995. It’s an AMAZING and RIDICULOUS long-form bit of comedy, complete with actual celebrity cameos about “incidents” from their supposedly-4-decade tradition of such specials. (CBS flubbed the marketing for this so badly that I didn’t even know about it, and I was a HUGE State fan at the time.)

This Gear Will Never Turn

Well, for certain values of “never;” the device in question includes a Googol-to-one gear ratio. It’s a sequence of 100 gears, each with a 10:1 ratio to its neighbor.

In the “similar prior art” department, turns out this guy was inspired by a Arthur Ganson’s sculpture “Machine with Concrete,” which includes a sequence of gears and a drive shaft, with the gearing such that the final step is literally embedded in concrete — which is fine, because that particular part turns 1 time every 2 trillion years.

Both links feature video fo the machines in question.

Dept. of Examples of How Windows Sucks

There are certain things you can’t name a file in Windows 10 due to design choices from MS-DOS.

Tom Scott has more.

Now, he tries to soften the suck here, noting the degree to which MSFT does things like this to ensure backwards compatibility. Bollocks. There’s no reason to continue this shit, especially when it comes (as it does) at the expense of modern function and stability — or correctness.

It’s that last bit that really points out MSFT’s ridiculousness here. 30 years ago, when Excel was first introduced, there was a well-known bug in Lotus 1-2-3 (the prior spreadsheet king); Lotus treated 1900 as a leap year, which is was NOT. Even so, 2/29/1900 was a valid date.

And Microsoft broke Excel to mirror the behavior, and continues to “honor” this bullshit to this day — in fact, the bug is a part of the requirements for the Open Office standard as a result.

(Don’t @ me about leap years. No, it’s not just every 4 years. It’s ever 4 years UNLESS it’s a century year that is NOT divisible by 400. This is why, for your whole life, every-4-years works — because 2000 was an exception to an exception that only comes around every 400 years.)

Not forever, just for now

It’s come to my attention — via the ever-reliable Jon Frazer D — that Uncle Tupelo’s barn-burner of a debut album No Depression was released 30 years ago this year.

Ouch.

In commemoration of said anniversary, please enjoy this YouTube of “Whiskey Bottle;” it’s not a video per se, but it does include a whole lot of contemporary snapshots of the band from those long-ago days.

RADM Grace Hopper, on Letterman

Somehow, I had never seen this. It’s wonderful. She had just recently retired — as, at the time, a Commodore, which was eventually renamed Rear Admiral (Lower Half) for complicated Navy reasons — but you can see here she’s just as quick as a whip even with someone like Letterman. She even gives him a nanosecond.

I’ve posted here before about her; she is a giant and without her, modern computing would be very, very different. Hers is the only grave I’ve sought out at Arlington. As they said of Wren,

LECTOR SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS CIRCUMSPICE

Dept. of Literary Takedowns

Patricia Lockwood eviscerates John Updike, deservedly so, in this longest piece at the London Review of Books. Make time, book nerds; there are few literary traditions more delightful than this sort of body slam.

A bit:

In a 1997 review for the New York Observer, the recently kinged David Foster Wallace diagnosed how far Updike had fallen in the esteem of a younger generation. ‘Penis with a thesaurus’ is the phrase that lives on, though it is not the levelling blow it first appears; one feels oddly proud, after all, of a penis that has learned to read. Today, he has fallen even further, still in the pantheon but marked by an embarrassed asterisk: died of pussy-hounding. No one can seem to agree on his surviving merits. He wrote like an angel, the consensus goes, except when he was writing like a malfunctioning sex robot attempting to administer cunnilingus to his typewriter.

The whole thing is brilliant. My hat’s off to Lockwood, for the piece and for the sacrifice of reading so much Updike in order to write it.

Trumpian Conspiratorial Thinking Claims Train

An insane doofus railway engineer took control of a fucking TRAIN and used to to try and ram the USNS Mercy in an LA port on the grounds that it’s “suspicious” and that he does not believe “the ship is what they say it’s for.”

The train crashed into a concrete barrier at the end of the track, smashed through a steel barrier and a chain-link fence, slid through one parking lot and then a second lot filled with gravel and hit a second chain-link fence. It came to rest after passing under a ramp leading to the Vincent Thomas Bridge. The train remained in that position Wednesday.

Also:

He allegedly made statements to a CHP officer that included “You only get this chance once. The whole world is watching. I had to. People don’t know what’s going on here. Now they will.”

The best part of this, if there is a best part is that he “has been charged with one count of train wrecking, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.”

I love the specificity.

So you’re working from home…

Let’s talk about working from home.

So the whole damn world is on lockdown, or should be, and those of us that can work from home are doing so. This is good! It’s better for the economy — which is absolutely going to take a hit, so having some portions able to continue to function and those employed in those portions able to keep spending money will help the recovery.

(And, let me just say this out loud: If you’re in a job that isn’t impacted, and you expect to keep getting a check, SPEND SOME DAMN MONEY at places that are hurting.)

But working from home is a new idea to lots of you. You might never have really done it before — sure, that one time little Sally Sue had the sniffles, and you “worked from home” to take care of her, but at the time it meant you called into a staff meeting and sent 12 emails. This, candidly, is not that.

I, on the other hand, have worked from home for most of the last 19 years, in a no-shit home office. Let me tell you a few things I’ve learned about being truly productive away from a communal office environment.

  1. Work your regular day. It’ll be tempting to drift in and out; that just sabotages you. Try to get some shit done. Nobody’s gonna come by and chatter about some stupid reality show! There’s no big play to discuss from last night! You can be hella productive!

  2. Use a chat tool. Doesn’t matter what it is — my company just uses plain old Skype — but by signing in and being available, you signal to folks that you’re In The (Virtual) Office. This is useful. There are lots of options for this; ask a nerdy coworker if one of them seems to mesh better with your office than others.

  3. Get dressed. This varies — not everyone needs to do it — but I’d advise y’all that are new to WFH to go ahead and get up at your normal time, take a damn shower, and put on adult clothes. You don’t need to dress in full biz-casual, but do put on a pair of pants and a decent shirt. Then, you can signal to yourself that you’re DONE working by changing into lounge clothes after quitting time.

  4. Establish boundaries. There’s a real tendency in new WFH folks to let the barrier blur a LOT between work-time and family/personal time. Don’t do this, at least not at first. Again, you’re new to this mode of work, so take care to avoid disrupting either home life or work life by allowing one to intrude on the other. (I do this by only RARELY taking my laptop out of my home office.)

  5. Designate a work space, and keep to it. Not everyone has the space for a true dedicated home office, but everyone can establish a place that is Work. Don’t make it the couch. Use one end of your kitchen table, or put something together in a corner that is now Your Office. Stay there when you’re working. It’s waaaaaay too easy to let “I can work ANYWHERE” get in the way of actually getting shit done, so don’t vary from this rule until you have a pretty good handle on it.

  6. If this becomes an ongoing thing, buy (or expense!) a desk. A chair, too. I’ve seen some WFH setups that made MY back hurt just looking at them. Ergonomics still matters if you’re at home; take care of yourself here. You don’t have to go nuts on this stuff; just get something that’ll work.

  7. Buy a headset. Seriously, buy a damn headset. Don’t be the guy who joined the telecon on a speakerphone and introduces crazy echo into the call. They’re not expensive, and don’t have to be giant heavy affairs. Mine is super light.

  8. Upgrade your home internet. Since I work at home full time in a major city, I have the fastest internet connection you can buy (1Gbit symmetric). This is probably more than you need, but if you’ve only ever been occasionally streaming Netflix and scrolling Facebook, you may find the demands of constant conference calls and screen sharing and VPN connections to exceed the capabilities of your package. Talk with your provider about a bump, especially if your office will subsidize the increase.

  9. Bring your second monitor home, if you’re used to using one. This is self-explanatory — just do it. While you’re at it, grab your mouse and keyboard, too, if you prefer them to your laptop.

  10. Close the door. If you’re not at home alone during the day, close the door to your work area if you can. I realize this may not be possible if you’re also juggling your suddenly un-schooled kids, but if you CAN do this it’s a good idea.

  11. Embrace the flexibility. You’re at home! This means you can, if you want, get a load of laundry done, or put something in the slow cooker, or do something similar with your coffee breaks. Don’t slack off this way, but you absolutely can and should lean into this aspect of WFH — it can be a real game changer. (At our house, if I didn’t do some of the laundry during the workday, we’d DROWN in workout clothes.)

  12. Finally, you CAN and SHOULD (if it bothers you) say NO to video. Video rarely adds much to a conference call, and makes many people feel self-conscious. It also clobbers your bandwidth. Your camera can be “broken” or “for some reason it’s not working” or, if you’re senior enough, you can just say no. Video is great for talking to your mom or other loved ones, but in a biz context it’s mostly sizzle with no steak except in pretty narrow contexts. Avoid.

Solnit on Harvey Weinstein: “To be a woman is to be forever vigilant against violence.”

Rebecca Solnit has long been one of the most important voices writing in the 21st century. The first two paragraphs of her piece on the Weinstein verdict give you an inkling why I say that.

There was a man who was in charge of stories. He decided that some stories would be born, expensive, glamorous stories that cost more than a hundred minimum-wage earners might make in a hundred years, filmy stories with the skill of more hundreds expended so that they would slip in like dreams to the minds of millions and make money, and he made money and the money gave him more power over more stories.

There were other stories he decided must die. Those were the stories women might tell about what he had done to them, and he determined that no one must hear them, or if they heard them they must not believe them or if they believed them it must not matter.

More Media Archeology: Sideshow Tramps Edition

Looking for something else on my laptop, I found a folder of very, very old pictures taken with, I think, a Palm Treo. (At any rate, they’re all VGA-resolution pictures, which means 640 x 480 pixels. By contrast, the pictures I take with my iPhone are something like 4000 x 3000.)

The timestamp says these are from March 11, 2005, but those of us that were there remember it as “the night the Tramps played through a convenience store”:

Jeff, agog:

Photo 031105 001

The Rev (l) with nudie mags:

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The now-famed Mr Mueller, bassist to the stars, wearer of excellent jumpsuits:

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Mr Lauder:

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Craig again:

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“Anonymous” Big-Fiddle witch:

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Shane again:

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No such thing as too much banjo:

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Long-haired monkeyman!

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Back “home” on the stage at Alabama Ice House:

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Who smokes?

Years after an indoor smoking ban here in Houston, and after spending a LONG time in the endurance sports community, I can almost forget people still smoke.

So imagine my shock to read this, about how smoking intersects with Coronoavirus, and in particular about the shocking smoking rates in China:

First, 52.1% of Chinese men smoke. That is quite high. Smoking in the US peaked in the 1950s at around 45%. It’s now just under 15%. (Since smoking at the time was heavily gendered, the total for men was likely significantly higher.) […]

But this wasn’t the number I found most surprising. It was how deeply gendered smoking is in China. 52% of men smoke but only between 1% and 3% of Chinese women do. In other words, smoking in China is an almost exclusively male phenomenon. The delta between the two numbers is what surprised me most.

Smoking in the US used to be highly gendered. But that is much less so today after decades in which tobacco companies marketed smoking as a form of female empowerment. Today about 14% or 15% of Americans smoke – 15.6% for men versus 12% for women, according to this recent CDC data.

There’s so much to unpack there — really? MOST Chinese men smoke? — but one of the real icky facts is that the assholes at tobacco firms marketed to women as empowerment. I mean, damn.

Your tax dollars at work

The ATF and DEA just love using fake entrapment cases; see:

Federal judges appear to be tiring of the government’s long-running entrapment programs. One of the federal law enforcement’s favorite “enforcement” efforts is creating crime in order to bust “criminals.” Agencies like the ATF and DEA find someone in need of cash — usually a minority someone — and use undercover agents and confidential informants to convince them to raid a drug stash house for some easy money.

The twist is the drug stash house is fake. There are no drugs. There are no armed guards protecting the drugs. Once the mark arrives with a weapon and a plan of attack, the ATF arrests the person for thinking about robbing a fake stash house to steal nonexistent drugs.

The other twist is the prosecution. Since the drugs never existed, the ATF is free to claim the targeted stash was large enough to trigger mandatory minimum sentences.

The LEOs here are literally creating a fake crime just to sting some hapless and down-on-his-luck type. They’re doing nothing to improve safety, or pursue actual predatory criminals — I mean, that takes work! — but they still get to crow about convictions.

As noted above Federal judges are getting tired of it.

Dept. of Heathen Cultural Archeology

So, the insanely talented bandleader on James Corden’s Late Late Show is a guy named Reggie Watts. Astute readers of Heathen should note that the first mention here of Watts or his output is actually in the long-ago era of 2002, when I hipped you all to Watts’ prior band Maktub; here’s a YouTube clip of one of their songs.

Watts came up again in as a solo performer in 2007 here; that video link is dead, but the clip is available at YouTube.

Somewhere along the line, Watts pivoted to comedy; you can see he’s there already in his 2012 TED talk, which I just saw (again) on a “best of 2010s” list, and so here we are.

Josh Marshall Lays It Out

You should go read this piece, which ends:

[T]he President isn’t really on trial here. His guilt is too obvious and established. The question here is whether the GOP, his party, will take any step to restrain an obviously bad acting President. The answer to that is pretty obvious at this point. But it’s that more than the President’s guilt that needs to be elucidated, proven. This may be a subtle distinction. But it’s an important one. Getting it right can, I believe, put right what seems intuitively out of balance in these proceedings.

Democrats are going through the motions of trying to convince their GOP colleagues, even if in practice they know this is not going to happen. They need to shift gears. This isn’t about convincing their Republican colleagues. It’s about showing them up, indicting them for the decision they have very clearly made. Frustration, outrage, befuddlement are all in their way expressions of weakness. Republicans are committed to defending President Trump at all costs no matter what he does. That’s not something to try change. It’s what you’re trying to demonstrate.

This Just In

No greater honor has this humble blog ever received than the news from longtime Heathen Ear O’Corn that this site is blocked at Shell due to “adult content.”

Here’s something we missed

A while back, the longstanding Mac developer and blogger Brent Simmons noted that his site, Inessential, was now 20 years old.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that, well, MiscHeathen hit 19 years on 29 November.

In that first short month, I posted only one other time; it amuses me greatly that this first proper entry is actually about Lindsey and her journey to Russia. Lindsey was then the (relatively new?) girlfriend of my longtime best pal Eric. 19 years later, she’s been his wife for 13 years, and is mother to Heathen Godchild E. B., with whom we trimmed a Christmas tree on Sunday.

Obviously, I post way less in these days of social media than I did before, but as folks realize what a cesspool Facebook is I’m endeavoring to share things here more often.

“I will neither help nor hinder you. My friends and family will assist you and my enemies will find you soon enough.”

Oh, definitely go read this. The title is a quote from Beckett, as told by his biographer Deirdre Bair.

The linked article begins:

“So you are the one who is going to reveal me for the charlatan that I am.” It was the first thing Samuel Beckett ever said to me on that bitter cold day, November 17th, 1971, as we sat in the minuscule lobby of the Hôtel du Danube on the rue Jacob. I had gone to Paris at his express invitation, to meet him and talk about writing his biography. We were originally scheduled to meet on November 7th, and for ten days I had no idea where he was, because he never showed up and never canceled.

Go. Read. It’s an excerpt from Bair’s new book, Parisian Lives, about Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and herself, which may go on my to-read list.

The Brimley/Cocoon Line

This Twitter feed will inform you when certain parties pass what they refer to as the (Wilford) Brimley / Cocoon Line, which means they are now as old as Brimley was when he starred, as an “old person,” in the 1985 film of the same name.

Here’s a clip.

At that time, Brimley was 18,530 days old, which is about 50 years and 8 months. (You may be surprised he was that young at the time; I know I was.)

Some recent entries:

  • Jennifer Aniston
  • Bobby Brown
  • Mo Rocca
  • Patton Oswalt
  • Jason Bateman
  • Dave Grohl (as well as every member of Pearl Jam)
  • Marilyn Manson
  • Brendan Fraser
  • Lucy Liu

Also, Lenny Kravitz is 4 years older than Brimley was. Keanu Reeves is a year older than that.

(Before you ask: Quick match suggests I’ve got about 13 months; Mrs Heathen is even farther.)