Saturday, May 30, 2009

Against Princesses

The AP has an article here about how indulging little girls in their fantasies of being a princess has gone too far, and I wholeheartedly agree. The article focuses on how the ideals of princessdom --- basically, being entitled to get anything you want and having people serve you --- aren't necessarily the sorts of values we'd like to impart to our daughters. I would like to add to this criticism of the princess phenomenon by pointing out that there are actual real-life princesses in the modern world, and I have yet to see a single one of them wear a frilly pink dress covered in glitter and stars.

In real life, princesses tend to just dress like stylish, wealthy women. Here are Princesses St├ęphanie (l) and Caroline (r) of Monaco at a Red Cross gala, looking like they couldn't be happier:Here is Crown Princess Masako of Japan along with her daughter, Princess Aiko. In America, Aiko would be the right age to "dress up like a princess," but even she has the good sense to instead just dress up like a little rich girl:Princess Anne of the United Kingdom isn't even all that stylish, renowned for re-using outfits as many as 27 years later. I don't know how many girls have this in mind when they play dress-up:
So the next time your daughter want to pretend she's a princess, just give her a navy-blue overcoat and have her attend a benefit dinner.

Addendum to the List of People Older Than You Might Think

A worthy addition to my list of people older than you might think would be actress/poker player Jennifer Tilly, who is 50 and still looks great. She's dating a guy 14 years her junior and people are still jealous of him. She was hilarious in Seed of Chucky.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Feral Parrots

Long-time readers of this blog should realize that I have a hobbyist's interest in taxonomy and enjoy trying to identify animals I encounter (or eat)*. Every now and then I come across flocks of feral parrots around Southern California, and I wondered what kinds they were. Well, lo and behold, The California Parrot Project has a very helpful website on feral parrot populations around California, listing 13 different species.

Unfortunately, they all pretty much look the same, green bodies with different colors on their heads. So it's pretty hard to figure out exactly which ones I've been looking at. They do say, though, that the yellow-chevroned parakeet is especially associated with floss silk trees, and sure enough, that's exactly the tree in which a flock had taken up home near City Hall last week. So it's a fairly good bet that that's what I saw there, though I've seen feral parrots in other places, too.

*For those of you who followed the links and may be wondering, I have now seen moose in the wild (two of them in Alaska, along with a bunch of other animals), and I have now eaten goat that was very good. A Nigerian guy at work had gone to a butcher and had one butchered fresh and brought some in; it tasted like very flavorful beef.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Honey vs. Vinegar

In a case that sounds like it was lifted from an old Hostess Fruit Pies ad, it seems that U.S. interrogators were able to get a lot of info from a diabetic associate of Osama bin Laden by offering him sugar-free cookies. No torture necessary.P.S. Seriously, check out the link to Seanbaby's Hostess page, an amazing archive of Hostess comic-book ads.
P.P.S. No, seriously, Thor in "The Ding-a-Ling Family"
P.P.P.S. Just imagine a world before the dawn of Wikipedia, when we lacked this handy table of Snack Cake Cross-Brand Equivalencies.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Brand Extension: IMAX and Ball Aerospace

Here are two examples of brand extension, one ill-advised and one mysterious yet successful:

1. IMAX: Two weeks ago, when looking for a theater in which to see Star Trek, I saw that Star Trek: The IMAX Experience was showing on quite a few screens around Southern California, including our nearby AMC Promenade 16 in Woodland Hills. I didn't recall there being an IMAX screen at that theater, and hadn't seen any construction going on that could have resulted in an IMAX theater. Armed with that knowledge, plus the fact that such a presentation would have involved a $5-per-ticket surcharge, I figured that something fishy was going on and we instead saw it at Pacific's Winnetka 21 in Chatsworth.

It turns out I was right. Actor/comedian Aziz Ansari (who plays Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation) saw Star Trek: The IMAX Experience at one of the AMC theaters in Burbank and was dismayed to discover that the theater was not a full-sized giant IMAX screen, but instead a normal-sized screen that was instead supposedly IMAX quality (also check out part two).Well, guess what, a screen and sound system can have all the quality they want, but if the screen isn't five stories tall, that's not IMAX! Well, OK, maybe the IMAX company had something to do with the setup, but that's extending the brand way beyond what people expect for IMAX. I mean, if Cadillac slapped one of their hood ornaments on a Chevy Cavalier, that wouldn't really be a Cadillac either, no matter what the owner's manual says. Companies should know that if their brand stands for exceptional quality, don't start putting it on inferior products if you don't want to hurt your image.

2. Ball Aerospace: You're familiar with Ball canning jars, with the logo seen here, right? Well, it shouldn't surprise you that the Ball Corporation, which got big making canning jars, has branched out into metal cans, aerosol cans, and other similar products. But it certainly surprises me that Ball Aerospace, which, among other things, built the science instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope, is a division of the same company. Reading the company's history, it seems they started in 1956, but I really have no idea how the transition was made. Did they start just making glass or ceramic electronic components or something? Bizarre how these things happen.

Power Laws, Cities, and Organisms

Steven Strogatz has a brief but interesting article in the New York Times about how the amount of infrastructure needed for a city of a particular size scales up as a 3/4 power law, and that this is akin to the scaling of metabolism in large and small organisms. In other words, the economies of scale mean that the efficiency bonus that large cities have compared to smaller cities is similar to the calorie consumption of an elephant vs. the calorie consumption of an equal mass of mice.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ready to Vote

The real reforms I'm looking for aren't there -- 50%+1 to pass the budget, 2/3 to amend the state constitution, and eliminating term limits --- but after reading through the voter info guide, I'm actually inclined to vote yes on all the state budget props; most take earmarked money and free it up for the general fund so the lawmakers can actually use it for the budget.

Make no mistake, though, the lawmaking and budget process in California is seriously broken. The Economist has a good article summarizing the problems.

As for the other races, I'm voting for Jack Weiss for city attorney, because while he's been personally annoying trying to push projects through our office, ultimately he's on the side that recognizes that more densification and more development is the way to go; I'm afraid Trutanich would put control over land-use issues in the hands of NIMBYs.

I took a look at the Community College District candidates' web sites and decided to go with Tina Park for Seat 2 on the strength of her budgetary credentials* and Nancy Pearlman for Seat 6 on the strength of her environmental credentials.

*Also, it's hard to vote against a campaign photo like this:

Ventura vs. Hasselbeck

Jesse Ventura schools Elisabeth Hasselbeck on torture:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Tuesday's Election

Man, there's an election on Tuesday and I really haven't done my homework yet. State Propositions 1A - 1F are widely touted by Sacramento as being necessary to balance the budget, but I haven't yet figured out what they do, much less if they're really a good idea. What I'd really like to see happen is a wholesale restructuring of the state government, reversing some of the insanity that requires a 2/3 majority of the legislature to pass a budget while allowing the constitution to be amended with a 50%+1 majority from the voters. I mean, how dumb is it that they have to beg us to pass propositions to keep the state afloat instead of being able to fix it themselves?

So anyway, does anybody out there have good arguments or even just good information on these propositions?

I also have a runoff for City Attorney and two Community College District trustee positions to vote for. I've dealt with Jack Weiss at work; does anybody know anything about Carmen Trutanich or the people running for the LACCD seats?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Older than You Might Think

Here are some people who are older than one might otherwise think.

1. Debbie Harry, lead singer of Blondie, is 63. She was already 33 when "Heart of Glass" hit the charts. Wikipedia says that when "Maria" topped the British charts in 1999, she was the oldest female singer ever to do that. (The U.S. record is held by the slightly-younger Cher.)

2. One-hit wonder Toni Basil is 65. She was already 39 when she dressed up like a cheerleader for "Mickey." Singing was just a side job for Basil, who has a decades-long career as a choreographer and had small parts in movies like Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces.

3. Artist/musician Yoko Ono is 76. She was more than 7 years older than John Lennon. She was 70 when she had her first #1 hit, the remix of "Walking on Thin Ice," which topped the Billboard Dance/Club Play chart.

4. "Inside the Actors Studio" host and former pimp James Lipton is 82.

5. Christopher Lee is 86, turning 87 later this month. He was 82 when he dueled Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith.

Unanswered Questions

Mathematica creator and renowned genius Stephen Wolfram has a new project called "Wolfram|Alpha" whose goal is to "make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone." The idea is that instead of searching for somebody else's answers on the web, Wolfram|Alpha will instead compute the answers applying various methods and programs to a very large collection of data. So it's a "computational engine," not a search engine.

Pretty cool idea. I'm glad somebody's doing it. I'm also glad that he plans on continuing to improve it, because so far it hasn't been able to answer any of my questions.

First I saw that it does indeed have info on baseball, so I tried to find out all the people who had been caught stealing twice in one inning. This should be calculable, given enough data on major league baseball. I had heard that it happened to Don Baylor once, but an article I read once cryptically said that it had happened several times since without specifying anything further. So I tried all sorts of combinations of words related to that concept, yet Wolfram|Alpha kept returning a message that it "isn't sure what to do with your input." So I tried the much simpler query "most strikeouts baseball" and a few variants on that, and it was still just as confused. So its baseball database is, for now, quite limited.

So, a totally different question, "Where in the U.S. is mail delivered on Sunday instead of Saturday?" (and many variants on the same), which longtime blog readers may recall has been bugging me since early 2006. About the best Wolfram|Alpha could do is suggest that I might be asking something about the Sunday Mail.

It also can't verify that this Census block group in New York is the most densely-populated in the country.

OK, so I didn't have any hard mathematical questions to ask. Are any of the rest of you able to find answers to questions you have? Remember, part of the whole point of this project is that it's supposed to be for "everybody," not just scientists looking to calculate equations.

MORE (5/20/09): Farhad Manjoo at Slate is similarly disappointed.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Here Come the Warm Jets

Two seasonal concession workers at Yellowstone National Park were fired after urinating into Old Faithful. The article adds the following helpful note:
The geyser was not erupting at the time.

"Mr. Cheney, you did not keep us safe."

Paul Begala lays out the case against Dick Cheney and torture:
Perhaps what's most galling about Mr. Cheney is how, without irony, humility or apology, he holds himself out as someone who has protected America when in fact he shirked his responsibility before 9-11 and misled us into war after. The closest Dick Cheney has ever come to fighting for America is when he shot his lawyer in the face.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On Lawyers

Arguing with lawyers is much easier when you realize that it's not personal with them. Members of the public will get all offended when you tell them something they don't want to hear. Lawyers will argue their cases but not get all offended when you don't tell them what they want to hear.

I suppose I might feel differently if lawyers were trying to sue me or something. But in my job, lawyers are mostly just trying to convince me of things, and I'm under no obligation to agree with them. It's not a bad thing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Further Pondering

So, why is it that deodorant commonly causes allergic reactions in people, but not other cosmetic or hygiene products? I mean, I've never heard of someone breaking out in a rash from their toothpaste or hair gel. Is it something inherent in the nature of the product, or is it because it's worn all day in a warm, moist, sensitive area of the body? Or do I just not know about people getting rashes from other things, like makeup or feminine hygiene products?

Monday, May 04, 2009

Blog Update

If you check out the links to the right, they've been cleaned up some. If you come across any dead links, let me know. I also added SamLand's Disney Adventures, a new blog about urban design and Disneyland from my ex-coworker (and Disney enthusiast) Sam Gennawey.