Monthly Archives: March 2015

Not to Suggest That Gawker Is a Sleazy Web Site But…

…the Curmudgeon’s daily visit to Google News to check up on the day’s headlines (and troll for material for his monthly news quiz) after a hard day of work yielded this eye-catching headline:

Good News: Dick Transplants Now Possible

Then, apparently to prove conclusively to any first-time visitor to the site ­– like The Curmudgeon on that day – that he had truly arrived at a place with no standards, no sense of decency, and no shame over how low its can go, he found the following headline featured in a sidebar:

15 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Farts

Not to sound like a fuddy-duddy or anything, but what’s this world coming to?

Jumping the White House Fence

Again.

Last year there was a minor but highly publicized epidemic of White House fence-jumping: all sorts of crazies leaping over the fence and making a mad dash for the Roosevelt Room. One of those crazies, in fact, got fairly deep into the White House itself.

There were consequences, most notably a major shake-up of the Secret Service. Some of the people who ran it were fired or reassigned. New blood was brought in. Heads rolled.

And rumor has it that Michelle Obama went ballistic.

white houseThe Curmudgeon felt most sorry, though, for congressional Republicans. While some of them expressed outrage – outrage! – over the shortcomings of the Secret Service, you suspect – you strongly suspect – that at least a few of them wish some of those fence-jumpers might’ve gotten closer than they did to the president they so publicly despise.

But after all that tumult, things quieted down and everything returned to normal.

Until they didn’t.

Apparently the Secret Service felt left out of the fence-jumping fun because a little more than a week ago two agents had too much to drink, returned to the White House, and – in a government car – crashed into one of the barricades protecting the building and ran over a package that was suspected of being a bomb; fortunately for everyone, it was only squished instead of detonating. The agents on duty wanted to arrest the drivers but their boss had a better idea: let them go home and sleep it off without immediately addressing the problem or, heaven forbid, testing their blood alcohol levels.

So much for the Secret Service’s new, better leadership.

And then, within the span of the next forty-eight hours, not one and not two but three – three! – people managed to get over the White House fence before being apprehended by the new and improved Secret Service.

ringsBut contrary to rumors, the U.S. does not intend to petition the International Olympic Committee to consider adding White House fence-jumping as a new competitive sport in time for the 2020 games.

 

Anatomy of a Great (Blog) Day

As The Curmudgeon has often hinted, not many people visit this site, or to put it another way – as if he were one of those silly glass-is-half-full people (come on, he’s a curmudgeon, you know better) – you are one of a very select few (you know he hates that incorrect use of the word “select” but he’s on a riff now and not quite as particular about his usage) to exercise the excellent judgment to make this an occasional stop during your internet wanderings.

In general, a good day is when the number of visitors to this space reaches double figures – double figures as in ten visitors a day, which he tells himself is more of a reflection of his lack of friends than of his lack of writing skill. When he stopped touting the site on his Facebook page at the request of his employer at the end of last year he lost roughly half his readers, but over the past few months he has managed to cultivate a few new ones (thank you, people, and he hopes you’re enjoying those complimentary Ginsu knives). As a result he now frequently approaches fifteen visitors a day, but still with enough days that only tally four or five to keep from getting a swelled head. (Although there are those who insist that ship sailed a long, long time ago.)

beach tag patrolUntil Sunday, his all-time best day had ninety visitors, and that was a fluke. It came shortly after he wrote about his personal encounter with the SWAT team of a Jersey beach town and found himself sitting with a police officer’s service revolver less than a foot from his face because he expressed displeasure over the town’s uneven enforcement of its beach tag requirement. A week or two after he wrote that piece it apparently went what passes for viral in a small community, an assumption he makes based on the nasty notes he received from people from that beach town. That situation remains the only time he has ever rejected a reader’s comment on this site. This is what is known as a moderated site, which means before any reader comment appears it comes to The Curmudgeon first for his review and approval. The only reason he would reject a comment would be for inappropriate language, and in that particular case he objected not because people had the audacity to say he acted like a jackass – lord knows he’s been told that often enough in his life – but because of the language they used when doing so. He offered all of them an opportunity to get their letters posted if they would just clean up that language and most of them did exactly that. Oh, they still called him a jackass, but the adjectives were suitable for public consumption.

That day of ninety visitors was his all-time high until this past Sunday, when he noticed before ten o’clock in the morning that he already had thirty-five visitors, which already pushed the day into his all-time top ten.

But why?

dronesHe soon figured out why. People who have WordPress blogs receive some data about their visitors, including limited information about how those visitors reach the site, and that day’s data said that most had arrived through Reddit. The Curmudgeon has heard of Reddit but has no real idea what it is, and still doesn’t, but by following the link WordPress provided he arrived at a site called “Space X” and a very technical and serious discussion thread about patents that, as far as he could tell – you can fit The Curmudgeon’s knowledge of matters scientific between the follicles on Donald Trump’s scalp and still have room there for a burrito or two – could enable small drones to land for commercial purposes. Some of the discussion was about Amazon.com’s interest in delivering packages by drone, which led to a few side comments about Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos’s apparently desire to rule the world – the same kinds of comments people used to make about Bill Gates before the richest man in the world turned his attention to blackmailing public school districts into teaching their students the way he wants them to be taught, and then…

Don’t worry, readers, we’re almost there, it’s just that we’re taking the scenic route this time…

…someone trying to illustrate what a bad guy Bezos is must’ve done a quick web search and stumbled upon the “separated at birth” piece The Curmudgeon did nearly a year ago featuring Bezos and Mike Myers’s “Dr. Evil” character and put a link to that blog piece in the Space X site’s discussion thread. The space drone people started hitting the link in great numbers, and by the time the clock struck midnight that day, 180 people had visited this site: a new, all-time record, doubling – exactly – the old record.

Truth be told, this isn’t going to attract more readers to the blog in the long run, which doesn’t really matter because this space has always been, more than anything else, about the writing for this particular writer. Still, it was quite a day watching the meter rise on the number of visitors to the site – but then it was back down to earth the very next day with just a handful of visitors.

So there’s no chance your host will get a swelled head over the whole thing – which is just as well, when you think about it, because that bald head is already plenty swelled.

Thanks for reading. Your regular visits mean much more than all those one-time fly-bys (pun intended).

But dang, seeing that register climb to 180 was very, very cool even if only for one day.

Quick, Somebody Call Jessica Fletcher!

There’s been a murder!

And not just any murder: a canine killing!  A pooch purge!  A dastardly doggie death!

The owners of a show dog in Great Britain have alleged that their three-year-old Irish setter named Jagger – its formal name is “Thendara Satisfaction” – was poisoned during the competition at a recent dog show. They insist that the only time the dog ate food other than from them during the entire competition was on the floor of the venue where the contest was being held.

lansburyAn autopsy found that Jagger – the Irish setter, not the English septuagenarian rocker – had been poisoned with slug killer wrapped in beef (although a complete toxicology analysis still needs to be completed, so now that we think about it, maybe we need Abby Sciuto to assist Jessica Fletcher).

Jagger didn’t win at the show – the dog show, not the Grammys – but Jagger’s owners suspect that the real target of the killer was Noodle, Jagger’s half-brother, whose formal name is “Thendara Pot Noodle” (The Curmudgeon could have sworn he saw Thendara Pot Noodle on the menu at the Korean restaurant he visited recently) and who is apparently a much more polished and successful competitor than his less-talented sibling.

Jagger was the son of former “best in breed” winner Mr. Jingles. No information is available about the identity of Noodle’s father, although at least some circumstantial evidence, based primarily on the animal’s large, floppy ears, points to Prince Charles.

Meanwhile, another dog owner is now alleging that her pooch, too, was poisoned at the show but survived. A spokesman for Scotland Yard declined to comment on the possibility of a second poisoning.

You can’t make up stuff like this.

 

Facebook’s New Terms of Service

(Facebook updates its terms of service more often than your local tv weatherman overhypes how much snow will fall during the latest winter storm. The Curmudgeon has obtained an advance copy of Facebook’s next update, which is scheduled to be introduced sometime this spring, and presents it here as a service to his readers.)

Facebook values your participation on our site and strives to make this a safe environment in which you, your friends, your family, and your colleagues can interact and have fun. Your enjoyment of our site is our number two objective, second only to our desire to increase revenue that will, in turn, help raise the value of our stock and make us all filthy rich.

We do at least some of the things in our power to protect the data users post on their Facebook pages. We sell your data only to the highest-quality vendors as determined by their Better Business Bureau rating. Any company that has had more than 10,000 complaints filed against it with any local Better Business Bureau organization automatically goes on a list of companies we will only do business with under special circumstances. Facebook and only Facebook will be the final arbiter of what constitutes “special circumstances,” but examples of special circumstances include businesses wholly or partially owned by Facebook; businesses wholly or partially owned by shareholders, employees, or relatives of shareholders or employees of Facebook; businesses wholly or partially owned by government officials or relatives of government officials who have regulatory responsibilities in areas of Facebook endeavor; businesses that advertise on Facebook; and if Facebook is in danger of failing to meet Wall Street analysts’ quarterly revenue and profit forecasts.

facebookFacebook takes special pride in posting on our members’ pages content that is relevant to the individual user and to Facebook’s business objectives, with Facebook to serve as the ultimate arbiter of what users should find relevant. To enhance our ability to understand users even more than they wish to be understood, we may at times place special, non-standard cookies on our users’ computers. It is possible that these “super-cookies” may, not entirely unintentionally, detect users’ account numbers, passwords, social security numbers, and credit card numbers. Facebook will make a perfunctory effort not to share this data but cannot guarantee its success in such an undertaking.

Contrary to what you may have heard or read, use of cookies in this manner is not spying: this is a standard practice in the technology industry; in fact, Facebook proudly employs the same standard of ethics in the use of surveillance technology as the NSA and the U.S. government. These cookies cannot be removed without jeopardizing the ability of your computer to continue working. If you damage your computer in the course of attempting to remove these cookies, Facebook will not be responsible for those damages. Upon request, Facebook will gladly provide contact information for businesses in your community that are owned by Facebook that may be able to restore your computer to its former level of functionality. Facebook will not be responsible for the failure of these companies to successfully perform the work you hire them to do even though such companies are owned by Facebook.

Facebook anticipates moving into the health data business in the near future. When we do, you can rest assured that we will mostly attempt to treat your health data with the same level of security as the rest of your data. While we will try not to share your health data with insurers, which could use that data to vertically adjust the rates you pay, our ability to do so will depend largely on whether we are meeting our revenue targets for the year. If we are not, Facebook reserves the right to monetize this data.

For your own safety, Facebook will monitor your web-searching activities (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) and share information about medical conditions about which you seek information with your insurers and the manufacturers of products that help address those conditions. To enhance our ability to ensure our members’ good health, we also may share your private medical data with your employer, your spouse, and your Facebook friends for their own protection.

Some things about Facebook will not change. Facebook reserves the right to continue showing you advertisements even after you delete those advertisements and indicate that you did so because you found them irrelevant or offensive. Similarly, Facebook continues to reserve the right to repeatedly show you people we believe you should “friend” even after you have ignored their photos or deleted them repeatedly over an extended period of time. If you choose to deactivate temporarily but not delete your Facebook page and choose to opt out of receiving further emails from Facebook, we will continue to remind you who’s boss by sending you an email within sixty seconds.

Facebook believes that every member who fails to complete their member profile is both disrespectful to other members and undermines Facebook’s ability to capitalize on that information as much as possible, so no matter how long you have been on Facebook and no matter how many times you delete from your screen inquiries about completing your member profile, Facebook will continue to put these questions before you every time you log onto the site. We do this because in the long run, we know Facebook is smarter than you and believes it is in your best interest for Facebook to dictate how you act, what data you provide, and how you use the Facebook site.

Users have informed Facebook that for the first time in five years they now find the site’s instructions for maintaining their privacy clear and understandable. Facebook apologizes for this unfortunate oversight and promises to publish new, more difficult-to-understand instructions in the near future so that if we fail in some way to guard our users’ privacy, we can again point to the instructions and maintain that the loss of privacy was users’ fault for failing to read and understand the privacy instructions and not the fault of Facebook.

Finally, if it subsequently becomes evident that people have generally come to understand those more complex terms of service and instructions, Facebook reserves the right to change them without notice and to try again to make it impossible for users to understand how Facebook works and how they can protect themselves from what they believe to be abuses but what Facebook views as critical revenue opportunities that take priority over member convenience, comfort, and safety.

Don’t These People Have Jobs?

Last Tuesday at 5:35 p.m., The Curmudgeon did what he always does at the end of his work day: he opened his web browser to philly.com, home of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, to get a quick look at what had been going on that day while his face was buried in his work. There, he found a story, marked as posted at 4:21 p.m. that day, telling that the Philadelphia Eagles had traded their quarterback.

eaglesThis was a very big story: the Eagles are always the biggest sports story in Philadelphia, even when the Phillies are playing in the World Series; quarterbacks are the most important players on every football team; quarterbacks are seldom traded; and leading quarterbacks are rarely traded for other quarterbacks, as was the case in this situation. (As far as The Curmudgeon knows, the last time the Eagles did this was in 1964, with disastrous results that people still sometimes talk about.)

And then The Curmudgeon noticed something else: at the top of the story, just under the title, was a notation that 675 people had commented on the story.

In a little more than an hour.

And that got him to wondering: who is submitting comments between 4:21 and 5:35 p.m.?

All these people: don’t they have jobs? How is it possible that so many people were at liberty at that time of day to post comments on a web site in response to a newspaper article about the local football team?

But We ALL Felt That Way, Kevin

(With apologies to non-residents of the Philadelphia area)

While Hollywood claims Kevin Bacon now, residents of the Philadelphia area know he’s a native of Philadelphia. His father was a prominent urban planner – most of what people think of when they think of Philadelphia today was envisioned and planned by Edmund Bacon, who remains the only member of the Bacon family who ever graced the cover of Time magazine.

Kevin Bacon returns to Philadelphia occasionally and always has nice things to say about his hometown, which Philadelphians, with their enormous inferiority complex, always appreciate.

In a recent interview published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Bacon explained that his parents didn’t care for television and kept a black-and-white set in the unfinished basement of their home. Despite this, the future Footloose star sometimes went down to watch.

Why?

According to the Inquirer,

“I loved TV,” he says, “but I had to sneak it. Sally Starr was my initiation into desire. She was smokin’ hot!”

starrYou’re not alone, Kevin, not by any means. Sally Starr hosted an afternoon cartoons show – Popeye, Roadrunner, things like that, plus the Three Stooges – and wore a cowgirl outfit, and The Curmudgeon recalls that for a brief period of time he thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. He also remembers his mother driving him and his brother to the Parkwood Theater, a single-screen movie house at the edge of the city, to see Sally Starr when she was making a personal appearance.

No, Kevin Bacon, you’re not alone in your childhood crush on Sally Starr. Not alone at all.

“Great”? Really?

The New York Times recently published a story about a movie that received a great deal of positive attention at the most recent Sundance Film Festival. It’s a drama co-starring comedian Sarah Silverman.

silvermanThe article described Silverman by noting that “With her squeaky little-girl voice and filthy vocabulary, Ms. Silverman has carved a reputation as one of the comedic greats by playing with extremes.”

Hold it there, Harry: Sarah Silverman is one of the “comedic greats”?

Says who? Since when?

Seriously, The Curmudgeon happens to like Silverman, but just sometimes and just in limited doses, but really? A comedic great?

Silverman may not really be a comedic great but the person who wrote the article and described her that way is clearly one pretty funny boy.

 

Bomb Threats

A little while back The Curmudgeon read about a bomb threat at his old high school – actually, it’s his sort of former high school, since they tore down the building in 2010 after building a replacement school, with the same name, right behind it – and it called to mind another school-related bomb threat he experienced in 1976.

At the time The Curmudgeon was enrolled at a college in Philadelphia. Most of the students lived in campus dormitories but The Curmudgeon commuted from home. Between the time involved in commuting and the need to get home to get to his part-time job so he could help pay his tuition he spent very little time on campus and had little connection to his fellow students. (Not the way to experience college, he understands now but did not at the time.)

During his second semester – the ill-fated “let’s try some business school courses” semester that served only to show him what he did not want to do with his life – The Curmudgeon took two business courses: introduction to economics and introduction to accounting. The economics course was all macro-economics, which is actually reasonably interesting, but the accounting course was a snooze-fest exacerbated by The Curmudgeon’s belief that accounting was not, contrary to its reputation, at all logical and was, in fact, largely illogical.

As the day approached for finals, The Curmudgeon was nervous: he had done poorly in the mid-term and was still failing to separate his own logic with what the teacher – a grad student in his early twenties – was trying to teach. The school he attended had about thirty sections of twenty-five or so students apiece of this introductory course, all scheduled on different days and at different times, but all 750 or so students took the final at the same time in the same building, taking over several auditoriums at which they sat in every other seat for the three-hour exam.

The test began and The Curmudgeon got down to work, never letting his uncertainty deter him, but an hour into the test alarm bells rang, people ran into the classrooms to inform those present that there was a bomb threat, and the students departed peacefully and in a surprisingly orderly manner.

That orderly manner and the strange lack of any sign of panic should have been a tip-off at the time but it wasn’t – at least not to one self-absorbed student who realized that even without a bomb he was in the midst of a debacle. After about an hour of milling around on the streets outside the building while Philadelphia police and fire officials searched the building for a bomb, someone came around and hollered to the gathered that the exam would be rescheduled and informed them where to look for further information.

The following day The Curmudgeon learned the real story.

It turns out there was a bomb threat during the intro to accounting final every year, fellow students informed him. Everyone knows it, so instead of tackling the test, students used the hour to read through the questions and get a sense of what aspects of accounting were being tested so they could go back to their dorms and narrow the scope of their studying.

Because he did not live on campus and had little connection to his fellow students, however, The Curmudgeon knew nothing about any of this, so all he could do was go home and resume studying. It didn’t help and he earned the first D in his life – not, incidentally, the worst grade of his collegiate career – and he took this as a clear sign that he had no business pursuing a business degree.

So he didn’t.

Before You Munch on Some Almonds…

Almonds are pretty popular these days, thanks in part to some pretty persistent and effective advertising. They’re also in incredible demand in China, for some reason.

 

You need a lot of water to grow almonds.

How much?

According to the November-December edition of Mother Jones magazine,

Almond orchards require about a third more water per acre than grape vineyards….It takes a gallon of water to produce a single almond – more than three times the amount required for a grape and two and a half times as much as a strawberry. There’s more water embedded in just four almonds than there is in a full head of lettuce.

One gallon of water – to grow a single almond! And most almonds grown in the U.S. are grown in California, which has almost no water it can call its own and has to go to extraordinary lengths to bring in water just for people, let alone the kind of agriculture needed to feed people. According to Mother Jones, agriculture uses about 80 percent of what California calls “developed water” – water flowing from many places into California aqueducts and canals. Of that 80 percent, almonds use nearly nine percent – more than enough water to meet the household needs of the San Francisco Bay area, San Diego, and the greater Los Angeles area combined.

almondsBut almonds?

Amazing.