Netflix has released a board game based on their runaway hit The Queen’s Gambit, which is, of course, already about a board game.
Author Archives: chet
“Research on fraternity men has continuously found that they are much more likely to commit sexual violence than men not in fraternities.” More than three times as likely, even though, as one study showed, their prior histories of sexual violence were equivalent. So what was responsible for the increase? According to the report, “It appeared to be the fraternity culture itself.”
They are just as bad as we have always known them to be. End them.
Hard to believe, but Steve Jobs died 10 years ago yesterday.
Dept. of Deeply Nerdy Statistics
COVID has produced the longest delay between same-actor Bond films EVER: almost 6 years.
In looking at this, a pretty amazing stat popped out: On average, starting with the release of Dr. No in 1962 and continuing through the last Timothy Dalton film in 1989, a Bond film was released about every 20 months for 27 years. That sounds insane but the numbers don’t lie. The first three came out a year apart, followed by a 20 month gap between Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. Then we settled down to something between 18 and 24 months for Moore’s run — sometimes less.
Even recasting events didn’t blow that up too much. There WAS a then-unprecedented 30 month gap between Connery’s almost-last outing (You Only Live Twice in 1967) and the sole George Lazenby film (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969) — but Connery’s return film came out not quite two years later, and then Roger Moore’s debut (Live and Let Die) dropped less than 600 days later.
The shift from Moore to Dalton didn’t even create a delay: The Living Daylights opened a hair over two years after A View to a Kill, so more or less right on time.
The largest gap between films came in the handoff between Dalton’s last outing and the release of Goldeneye: almost six and a half years. The delay was due to what can best be described as inter-corporate chicanery. Dalton was actually on a 3-movie deal, and they were on track to do the film by 1990 when the project hit “development hell” owing to legal problems between MGM and the Broccoli family (who have always held the film rights to Bond). MGM was in talks to be acquired, but the deal was getting dicy, and the new owners had plans to generate quick cash by selling international broadcast rights to the 007 films on the cheap, so the Broccolis sued, and while all this was going on Dalton’s contract expired.
Long story short: Goldeneye wasn’t released until 1995, with a new Bond, which was fine because in those 6 years the world had changed quite a bit.
Once they had Brosnan, though, they moved pretty quickly; his films have an average interval of about 2.3 years, or not much different than Moore or Dalton.
The gap after Brosnan, though, is big: the 3rd largest of the set, at 3.99 years. It appears no single factor can be blamed. Eon Productions had (finally) acquired the rights to Casino Royale in 1999, but then they needed to find a good Bond and a good director, and that took up some time.
Craig’s films came slower: on average, 3.7 years counting almost-6-year-gap for No Time to Die, but closer to 3 if we ditch the outlier. If NTTD had dropped on its original date in 2019, Craig’s average would still be high at 3.25 years; only once is the gap less than 2 years (and it shows, since Quantum of Solace is terrible).
Craig’s tenure overall has been on a slower pace: prior to COVID, there’s been an average 3 years between each of his films.
It turns out, though, that the gap between films has been increasing over time, even when we take out gaps due to other factors (like the MGM/UA thing):
- Connery: 1.5 years (which factors in Lazenby; Connery’s first 4 were all only a year apart)
- Moore: 1.9 years
- Dalton: 2 years
- Brosnan: 2.3 years (omitting Goldeneye gap)
- Craig: 3.25 years (omitting DAD->CR gap and crediting back “COVID” delay)
Overall, there’s been a new Bond film about every 2.5 years for almost 60 years. That’s kind of amazing.
Jason Snell has put together a great guide for iPhone users that covers, starting with an iPhone 7, what changes you’d experience if you upgraded to a new iPhone 13.
This is a GREAT idea, because while there are exhaustive reviews of the new phone every fall, the upgrades year over year are incremental. Comparisons between your 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 year old phone and the New Hotness are almost never done, and yet: Snell did it.
(Via Daring Fireball)
There is more Bowie coming
An album recorded after Glastonbury in 2000 will be released in January, and what would have been his 75th birthday.
BoingBoing has the story, and the first single.
I have joked, frequently and darkly, that the world has gone to absolute shit since Bowie died in just before his birthday in 2016. Maybe this album will put things right again. Wouldn’t that be nice?
You just assume you’ll have more time. You’re wrong.
Houston is a funny old town. People say that it’s the smallest town of 7 million they’ve ever seen, and they’re not wrong. I’ve got dozens of stories that prove the point, but none as good as this one.
I ride a lot. If it was anything else, Erin would’ve had an intervention by now. It had been a thing for a while, but after my second MS150 I had a taste of a level of fitness I’d never had before, and I decided to keep pushing at the same pace. (That pace — 100 miles a week, give or take — has turned out to be the pace of my cycling life ever since.)
As part of that, I joined a ride out of a local shop that ran every Tuesday and Thursday evening. I gauged my gains in speed by how long I could keep the front group in sight. At first, it was “oh, about 10 minutes,” but I got stronger and stronger and was eventually able to hang with them a pretty long way into the ride — sometimes, all the way to the cutoff between the short version of the route and the long one. I always took the short one, to get home and have dinner with Erin, and it seems like a minor thing but the very idea of holding on until Brompton was like winning the Tour for me at the time.
Then, as I guess most of you know, my crash happened, and I was out for a while.
The funny small-town part of this comes in now. I was at an Easter party thrown every year by our pals the Britton-Dansbys, in line for food, when a guy I didn’t recognize started chatting with me about riding. “You ready to ride again?”
It took me a minute to figure it out, but my interrogator was Dan, a guy I knew from the Tuesday/Thursday ride. Dan is a gruff but profoundly kind guy, and a terribly strong rider, but I couldn’t figure out why he was at Andrew and Nicki’s house. Turns out, Dan was a Chronicle writer, just like our hosts.
And more than that: it wasn’t just Dan. It was Dan, and also two other guys from our ride: Dane and Andy. And it turned out that, unbeknownst to any of us, we’d been attending the same parties at a couple different Chronicle-connected homes for YEARS without realizing it. Dane was less regular, but when I got my legs back under me I rode with Dan and Andy and couple other guys twice a week, every week, for years.
Andy was a quiet sort, but like Dan unfailingly kind and encouraging — I was never on his or Dan’s level, but they’d hold back and let me catch up before putting the hammer down again. Cycling is suffering like that. It’s what we do. It makes you stronger, and at that time in my life the encouragement I got from these guys was priceless.
I remember, very clearly, the Tuesday ride after Bowie died and left us Blackstar. Andy was a fan, too, and at every stoplight we were chattering about how amazing the record was. Normally pretty reserved, his enthusiasm here was striking and disarming and pure — the kind of vibe that just makes you feel better for being near it, you know?
Time passed and I shifted my midweek rides to workouts — more time efficient, more impactful — and the Tuesday/Thursday ride petered out. I’d still see Dan and Andy and the other guys on other rides, but nowhere nearly as often as I’d have liked. We’d run into each other at the Odell parties, or Easter or Thanksgiving at the Britton-Dansby house, and every time I’d think to myself I should make more time to see Dan and Andy and oodles of other people that you meet, but never seem to see often enough. People get busy. It’s a thing. There will be time later.
There’s no more time, though, for Andy. He died on Saturday. He would’ve turned 47 in December.
Hug those near you. Reach out to those you wish you knew better. Sometimes, cliches are true: nobody knows how much time is left, for anything at all.
Andrew Dansby wrote the obit. If you feel so moved, Andy’s wife has asked that donations be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a cause already close to my heart.
The reaping is upon us
Thinking about Watts, and I realize that in 5 years, most of these will be gone. I mean, let’s be honest: At threescore and ten, you’re in the zone of statistical danger.
- Bill Wyman the long-retired Rolling Stones bassist, was born in 1936 and turns 85 in October.
- Mick Jagger turned 78 in July, and has concert dates scheduled next month.
- Keith Richards is a year younger at 77, and is presumably also planning to play those shows.
- Ronnie Wood is still the new guy in the Stones, even though he joined 46 years ago. He was born in June of 1947, so he’s a sprightly 74, and will presumably join his mates on the bill next month.
- Paul McCartney, bass & co-lead-songwriter for the Beatles, turned 79 this summer. He released a solo album last December.
- Ringo Starr, the Beatles’ drummer, turned 81 this year.
- Brian Wilson, the only one who mattered in the Beach Boys was born in 1942; he turned 79 this summer. Was still touring when COVID hit.
- Eric Clapton, noted racist and occasional guitarist, was born on the 30th of March 1945, and so rings up at 76.
- Bob Dylan turned 80 this year.
- Steve Winwood was the kid of the 60s bands; he was only 19 when “Gimme Some Lovin'” was a hit for the Spencer Davis Group. Even so, math’s a bitch, as he’s now 73.
- The Kinks’ Davies brothers are in this group, too: Ray was born in 1944, and just turned 77. Baby brother Dave is 74.
- Roger Daltrey turned 77 this year.
- Pete Townshend is a year younger at 76.
- Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel both turn 80 this fall.
We think of these as 70s bands, not 60s bands, and yet they’re not much younger:
The surviving members of Zeppelin are getting up there, too. Jimmy Page is a contemporary of the folks above, born in January of 1944. Plant was famously younger — too young to enter some of the venues Zep played early on — but he turned 73 last week. John Paul Jones is only a year younger, so 75.
70s stalwarts Aerosmith are in statistical danger, too: Steven Tyler is 73; Joe Perry turns 71 next month.
Pink Floyd are actually older as well:
- Nick Mason, b 1944, currently 77
- Roger Waters turns 78 next month
- David Gilmour turned 75 this year
“You’re my fucking singer.”
Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones for 58 years — and, not for nothing, Shirley’s husband for 57 — has died at the age of 80. Initially a jazz player, he was coaxed into what would become the Stones by Mike, Keith, and Brian, and stayed there holding down a stalwart rhythm section for the rest of his life. Mick, Keith, and Charlie are the only members present on every studio record, from 1964’s England’s Newest Hit Makers through to Blue & Lonesome in 2016.
The Rolling Stones have been a novelty / nostalgia act now for a long, long time; my guess is that in the utter SEA of excellent music now available to folks who enjoy this sort of thing, it’s absurdly easy to overlook boomer-era bands entirely, and a young person just getting to know the musical world wouldn’t be insane to have done so. Their glory years are long, long behind them — their last relevant studio record was (arguably) 40 years ago (Tattoo You, which gave us “Start Me Up” and “Waiting On A Friend”), but they’ve kept touring. Their “No Filter” world tour was interrupted by Corona, but was set to resume next month in St. Louis. Ominously in retrospect, earlier this month they announced that longtime associate Steve Jordan would be handling the drums for this leg as Charlie underwent an unspecified medical procedure. (The buried lede here, of course, is that he was still playing live at 79; the last pre-COVID show was 2 years ago this month in Miami).
Their footprint is enormous and inescapable, and I’d argue more interesting and long-lasting than either of the other two “great” 60s bands (the Beatles and the Beach Boys). It’s hard to say what will happen now; obviously they continued after Bill Wyman retired almost a quarter century ago, but this is different. Mick is 78. Keith is a year younger. Nobody would blame them if they packed it in after these shows.
(Oh, and the headline is from here, in case you didn’t already know.)
What do we say to the god of death?
PROTIP: Before you start mucking with your .emacs….
No. Seriously. Find me a better headline.
From the Smithsonian:
Right, so, in my capacity as an Aged Nerd, GenX Uncle Chet now provides a sort of Dune Primer in advance of the upcoming film.
What is Dune?
Dune itself was the first of a series of books by Frank Herbert. It was published in 1965, and Herbert continued the story with several sequels until his death in 1986. The series has won basically every award they give in science fiction, and is truly one of the giants of the genre.
- Dune Messiah came in 1969.
- Children of. Dune came in 1976
- God Emperor of Dune, 1981
- Heretics of Dune, 1984
- Chapterhouse: Dune, 1985
Herbert’s son and collaborators continued the series after this point. I’ve only read through God Emperor, which is a place lots of people stop because at that point you’re thousands of years past the events of Dune itself, and it’s a point in the overall story where it’s easy to stop.
Yes, Dune has been adapted before. David Lynch made a very flawed film in 1984, starring a then-unknown Kyle MacLachlan plus a long list of pretty serious actors (Patrick Stewart is in it; so is Jose Ferrer). It was also done on TV by the SyFy network in 2000, but that version is just unwatchably bad (and even so, they made a sequel that took them through Children, which is the only time I’m aware of anyone tried to adapt the works past the first novel).
Finally, much hay was made a few years back about a documentary made about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to adapt it in 1973. I’d love to have seen that!
Dune is kind of unusual in highly inventive, very alien sci-fi in that it explicitly is about the far future of US, actual earthlings, not some other population of people unconnected to the present day (e.g., the Star Wars universe). The events of the story in Dune take place about 25,000 years from now. Humanity has dispersed to the stars, having at some point invented faster-than-light travel and a variety of other interesting technology.
Curiously missing from the Dune world is any trace of computing. This is because of a thing called the Butlerian Jihad, which happened long before the events of the book (like, 10,000 years; Herbert did some INSANELY DETAILED worldbuilding, akin to Tolkien, but you have to glean most if it from context). The result of the jihad was a broad and foundational prohibition on any thinking machines.
Space travel is complicated, obviously, so how do they do it without computers?
The Spice and the Guild
At some point in the distant past (relative to the story), humans discovered the desert planet Arrakis, also called Dune. Dune features the by-now-famous ENORMOUS sandworms, and is the only place in the universe where the spice melange is found. (There is an isolated population of humans there who are now effectively indigenous, but they truly arrived as a result of a long-ago sect of religious wanderers. They’re called Fremen, and play into our story as well.)
In 1965, it would’ve been a spoiler to disclose that the spice is produced by the enormous sandworms of Arrakis, but at this point it’s like knowing that a nasty baby alien is about to burst forth from John Hurt’s heaving chest in Alien.
Our characters don’t know this, though.
Melange is an addictive narcotic, but not a debilitating one. Additionally, it imparts some pretty amazing effects for some humans, among them mental expansion and ESP-like abilities; greatly increased lifespan; access to genetic memories; and eventual physical changes (the least drastic of which is one’s eyeballs turning blue).
Long-term exposure to the spice has allowed the Spacing Guild to unlock the secrets of manipulating something called the Holtzmann Effect, which is how interstellar travel happens in the Dune universe. The Guild has a complete monopoly on this; if you want to travel, you pay them. This puts them in a position of enormous influence, which in turn makes them a power effectively equal to the Emperor himself.
And, again, this spice is found in only one place in the universe, so control of Arrakis is a big damn deal. The spice is the single most important and valuable substance in the universe, and controlling it is to control pretty much everything.
The Dune universe is effectively a multi-house feudal state. The emperor maintains power by playing the other houses against one another, with the cooperation of the Guild and other key players like the Bene Gesserit sisterhood.
Our hero is Paul, the son of Duke Leto Atreides, who has just been given control of Arrakis by the emperor. It’s a plum assignment, but it’s also a trap; the emperor is planning to allow the evil House Harkonnen to ambush the Atreides on Arrakis and eliminate them; Baron Harkonnen’s prize will be Arrakis and the production of spice (which, as noted, is a big deal).
The Bene Gesserit as a sorta-religious order of women who have their own mysterious agenda.
Spoiler: the agenda is to, via careful manipulation and court intrigue, bring about the culmination of a surreptitious breeding program and create the Kwisatz Haderach, or Shortening of the Way, a male Bene Gesserit figure they believe will lead humanity to salvation (“leading humanity to salvation” is a big theme in the books after Dune itself).
As the book begins, the order was poised to set up the final pairing: a daughter from Leto Atreides and his Bene Gesserit consort Jessica, who would eventually marry the heir of the evil Baron Harkonnen and produce the Kwisatz Haderach. Jessica, though, loves her duke, and knows Leto wants a son. One benefit of being a Bene Gesserit sister is near-total control of one’s body and chemistry, and so she gave him Paul instead.
This was unpopular with the sisters, since they believe Jessica has ruined their plans. What has truly happened, though, it will not surprise you to learn, is that Jessica jumped the line and bore the fruits of their program one generation early — and out of Bene Gesserit control.
The sisters have a host of quasi-supernatural abilities, including some precognition, genetic memories, etc., all associated with spice usage. They are also fearsome warriors, and possess abilities not seen in other groups such as the Voice, which allows a sister to give commands that cannot be disobeyed. There’s a certain amount of is-he-or-isn’t-he about Paul, and whether or not he can manifest these same abilities…
- Paul Atreides
- Son of Duke Leto and Lady Jessica; our focal character. A teen in the books, usually shown as a young man in adaptations. Played in both films by 25-year-old actors: the new film has Timothy Chalamet, and by Kyle MacLachlan in the 1984 film.
- Duke Leto Atreides
- Paul’s father and head of the ascendant and powerful House Atreides. Played by Jurgen Prochnow in 1984, and Oscar Isaac in the new film. I thought, when Isaac was cast, that he was too young, but the truth of it is he’s only about a year off the age Prochnow was in 1984 (Prochnow was 43; Isaac is 42). Given that Paul is supposed to be 17 or so, this works — though both Paul actors were older (25 for both).
- Lady Jessica
- The Bene Gesserit concubine to Duke Leto. I don’t think it’s ever made clear why she’s not his actual wife; Herbert does a lot of this with his characters — Paul eventually takes a noblewoman as his wife, but for political purposes only as his true love is Chani. This happens again a generation or two later. Francesca Annis played Jessica in 1984; up-and-comer Rebecca Ferguson has the role in 2021.
- Gurney Halleck
- Paul’s weapons teacher and House Atreides swordmaster. He’s also a gifted musician. Serves with Duncan Idaho and the Thufir Hawat as the Duke’s main advisory council. Patrick Stewart played Gurney in 1984; for 2021, we get Josh Brolin. (Also a good choice.)
- Duncan Idaho
- The other chief “knight” and retainer of the Atreides. Richard Jordan played him in 1984; Jason Momoa has the role now, which is a big shift but easy to envision.
- Thufir Hawat
- Unlike Halleck and Idaho, Hawat is not a fighter. He’s a mentat — a sort of human computer, fueled by (you guessed it!) spice — and master assassin. Freddie Jones was Hawat in 1984; master theater actor Stephen McKinley Henderson plays him today (you may have seen him in Devs).
- Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
- Head of the primary rival house. Transparently evil and scheming; they prize sadism and domination. Also a weak point for Herbert because he’s described as both corpulent and ugly, because bad guys have to be physically unappealing I guess. Kenneth McMillan in 1984; Stellan Skarsgard today.
- Glossu “the Beast” Rabban
- Baron Harkonnen’s sadistic and brutal — even by Harkonnen standards — nephew, and a key part of the Baron’s plot to destroy the Atreides on Arrakis. Possible heir to the Baron. Paul Smith in 1984; Dave Bautista today (which is another bit of great casting).
- Gaius Helen Mohiam
- Bene Gesserit reverend mother and head of the order; mentor to Lady Jessica. Spooky witch lady. Charlotte Rampling has the role in the new film, which makes perfect sense.
- Half-Fremen woman — her father is the planetologist Liet-Kynes in the books; Kynes is gender-flipped in the new film — who becomes Paul’s lover and partner; eventually (after the events of the first book) mother of his children. Played by Sean Young (oooo, 1980s Sean Young!) in 1984, and by Zendaya today. GREAT casting.
- Leader of the Fremen on Arrakis and ally to Paul after the fall of House Atreides. Really a great character in the books and on film. Everett McGill — who went on to be a frequent collaborator with Lynch — played him in 1984. We have Javier Bardem today. (Seriously, given the casting director a dang medal.)
Very Curious Omissions
- Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen
- The Baron’s younger nephew and actual heir. Whip-smart and conniving, and (for the Bene Gesserit) planned sire to the Kwisatz Haderach but for Jessica’s rogue choice. Played memorably by Sting in 1984 (there’s a knife fight at the climax) and as yet unknown in the new film. LOTS of hay has been made about his absence from any promo materials and casting lists. The most plausible reasons for their radio silence on this, a fairly pivotal character, are that (a) the new film doesn’t get deep into into the book to need him yet, and he’ll show up in a sequel; or (b) they’ve cast some hugely famous surprising figure and want to save the reveal until release. It would be SUPER WEIRD if he was just omitted entirely — like, unfathomably so.
- Alia Atreides
- Paul’s sister, who is only a small child in the events of Dune (and, in the sequels, comes to a bad end). Played by Alicia Witt in 1984, and as yet completely absent from any press about the new film. She has real things to do in the book, but (as with Feyd) if this film doesn’t finish the first book then her absence makes sense. She could also be written out entirely, but only if Villeneuve has no intentions of making sequels. (Her absence from any adaptations of the follow-up books would be harder to engineer.)
Scunthorpe in reverse
In software development, there’s a thing called the Scunthorpe Problem. It’s not some weird, arcane topic about memory allocation; it’s actually bone simple. The central question is: “How do you police text inputs to keep naughty words out?”
The naive answer is simple string matching, so you’d check to see if the input contained any of a set of rude words.
The problem then crops up, because there are nontrivial legitimate occurrences of a number of those sequences of letters, and dumb rude-word-police algorithms that just check for “contains” will kick out all sorts of perfectly reasonable inputs. This leads to a number of annoyed customers, not the least of which would be the denizens of a quaint village in Lincolnshire. Or men named “Dick,” say. (The first link in this post includes a list some infamous examples, including blocked searches for “Superbowl XXX” (because “XXX” means porn), or the blocked domain registration for shittakemushrooms.com, etc.)
So you have to be smarter.
But you can also turn this around, and that’s what this post is about. If you’re manipulating user names to create something unique, you should be cautious about your recipe, and you probably SHOULD use a fairly dumb string filter to alert you if your proposed scheme results in unfortunate combinations.
To Wit: Our customer base at work is comprised of largely big government contracting firms, and in this pond there is near-constant merger/acquisition/spin-out behavior. This leads, inevitably, to changes in people’s email addresses. MOST of the time, this is no big deal: Joe.Blow@CompanyA.com becomes Joe.Blow@CompanyB.com.
However, in one such case happening now, the new company has shifted to first-initial-last-name for emails — from Joe.Blow to jblow, for example. This SEEMS innocuous, until you come to the case of my client contact named something like Steve Hittman.
I mean, it could be something else. It could be Francis Uckley. Or Charles Unter. But you get the idea. (It is not any of these, but it’s just as bad.)
One wonders when the Exchange administrator at the new firm will notice, and what — if anything — they do about it.
Mmmm, cast iron
How Cast Iron Pans Are Made is just exactly what it says on the tin. Daniel Geneen got a tour of the Lodge Cast Iron factor in Tennessee. It’s pretty great.
What’s the best piece of art you’ve ever seen?
I wasn’t looking to fill any such category a few years ago at the MFAH, but holy cow did I ever with a video installation piece called The Visitors by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson.
From the Wiki description:
The Visitors constitutes the performance of a song written by Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir, Kjartansson’s ex-wife. The piece is displayed across nine different screens, each featuring musicians or artists either by themselves or in groups in different rooms of the house at Rokeby Farm, or on the grounds outside, performing simultaneously but separately. One screen features Kjartansson by himself. Others featured in the piece include friends of Kjartansson, both from the artist’s native Reykjavík and elsewhere, as well as residents of Rokeby Farm, where the piece was filmed.
Eventually, the musicians move from their isolated spaces — libraries, bedrooms, a bathtub — and congregate in a downstairs room before filing out onto the grounds, across a beautiful meadow, dancing and drinking and continuing to sing.
It’s about an hour long, and is utterly, amazingly beautiful.
The WaPo has a great interactive oral history of the piece that is 100% absolutely worth your time. (h/t to Erin!)
What were YOU doing on October 25, 1990?
I was in Birmingham, on a school night — well, a college night; it was a Thursday, and nobody took early classes on a Friday — to see Robert Plant on his Manic Nirvana tour. Someone we’d never heard of was opening.
Those someones blew us all the fuck away, because they were the then-completely-unknown Black Croweshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Crowes). That first album hit huge shortly thereafter — I can’t imagine we were the only cadre of folks who bought it the day after seeing them, and then kept playing it for YEARS.
Well, comes now the news that they’re touring again, finally. They’d announced a reunion tour, playing the first album in its entirety plus others, before COVID, but then, well, COVID. Given the mercurial relationship between the band’s central siblings, it was anybody’s guess if the tour would ever happen.
It’s happening. It started happening Tuesday night, in Nashville. I caught news of it just now in the car; Sirius had credible audio of the opening number (“Twice as Hard”) which still boils with swagger and slide and an astonishingly undiminished-by-time voice from Chris Robinson. Rolling Stone has video, but the audio isn’t great there.
The tour hits Houston — well, the Woodlands — on August 14. I’ve said for years I had no interest in driving back up there for a show, but on this one, well, BITCH I MIGHT.
Nearly 1 in 5 Americans have medical debt that has been referred to collections
Americans owe nearly twice as much medical debt as was previously known, and the amount owed has become increasingly concentrated in states that do not participate in the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion program.
“You realize you own 18 basketballs.”
Mary Carillo on badminton.
“I personally have chosen to land like an Avenger.”
The GQ piece on Jason Sudeikis is really worth your time.
The title quote is here:
But he acknowledged it had been a hard year. Not necessarily a bad one, but a hard one. “I think it was really neat,” he said. “I think if you have the opportunity to hit a rock bottom, however you define that, you can become 412 bones or you can land like an Avenger. I personally have chosen to land like an Avenger.”
Season 2 of Ted Lasso is just around the corner. I’d be hard pressed to come up with a better half hour show EVER. Find time.
The Best Worst Idea I’ve Seen In a While
“Hey, why not put a 500+ HP Subaru motor in a 1973 VW Super Beetle?”
It was the style at the time.
Today in Excellent Advice
“Be good. Be kind. Love each other. Fuck everything else..” — Jenny Lawson
(From a Lithub conversation with John Scalzi. The whole thing’s lovely.)
Henry Hill: After Goodfellas
This longform piece tells the tale of Hill’s shenanigans and the damage he left in his wake while in Witness Protection. it’s a little dark, but also fascinating.
Today’s Surprising News: Actor Edition
In the 80s, I was a fan of St Elsewhere, which was a pretty unusual show for the time — reasonably smart, reasonably well written, and not a simple drama or comedy. The cast was even nominally diverse — or, at least, should be remembered for having cast a very young (28!) Denzel Washington before he was, well, Denzel Washington. (His role as Stephen Biko in Cry Freedom would come on the strength of this role.)
As with medical dramas everywhere, we had a cast of varying generations of doctors. Washington was part of the younger set (along with Howie Mandel, David Morse, and Ed Begley, Jr.); the middle range was held down by Ed Flanders as especially William Daniels (later famous as the voice of KITT on Knight Rider; sue me, I’m a child of 80s television). And the most senior physician, Dr Daniel Auschlander, was played by Hollywood veteran Norman Lloyd.
Lloyd was a decidedly senior 68 for the pilot.
Norman Lloyd died on Tuesday, in his home, at the age of 106. I had no appreciation of it at the time, but he was a giant. He started entertaining — vaudeville! — in 1923; his last came in 2015, at the age of 100 (it was Trainwreck, which as rom-coms go is pretty good — Bill Hader, Amy Schumer, etc.). 2015 was also the year he had to quit playing tennis, which I find immensely inspiring.
Lloyd was a frequent collaborator of Alfred Hitchcock, and a personal friend of Charlie Chaplin; not for nothing does the NYT obit begin by noting he was the last living link to the golden age of Hollywood.
He married his wife Peggy in 1936; they remained so until her death in 2011. You do the math. They had two kids, one of whom was the actress and director Josie Lloyd, who sadly passed away last year at 81.
“32-bit unsigned integer ought to be big enough for anyway”
Except, well, Berkshire Hathaway.
Warren Buffett’s company has eschewed stock splits forEVER, and as of now it trades at an eye-popping $429,172.43 per share. (The next priciest issue is around $5k.)
My Nerds are with me already, but for those of you not in the tribe:
You’ve probably noticed some numbers show up as “limits” in computing. One common one is 255. Lots of data input fields, for example, limit you to 255 characters. You may or may not have ever wondered why, but I’m gonna tell you anyway: Remember that, at the end of the day, computers are powered by tiny tiny circuits, and at that level everything is either “on” or “off.” That’s binary. With a bit of handwaving, you can see how the limit of number storage for a given variable type would be tied directly to how much memory is set aside to store that variable type, and the limit can always be expressed as a power of 2 (because with binary, there are 2 states: on or off).
Two to the 8th power is 256. That number takes 8 bits to store.
Now, back to stocks.
NASDAQ, on which Berkshire trades, used a 32-bit integer data type to store stock prices. A regular 32-bit int has a range that’s centered on 0, but since stocks can’t have a negative price they used the unsigned version. 2 to the 32nd power is 4,294,967,296.
NASDAQ, sensibly, reserves the 4 rightmost digits for the fraction, so the largest stock price they can accommodate is $429,496.7294 per share — a value the Berkshire is fast approaching. NASDAQ is responding by rushing out a fix, but I think we all know how well rushed fixes go.
(If you’re thinking “wait, isn’t this kind of the same thing as the Y2K problem?”, well, you’re not entirely wrong. But given that Berkshire is SUPER weird in refusing to split, and that the next largest issue is two orders of magnitude away from the limit, I’m inclined to give the NASDAQ designers a pass here. Odds are, they’ve known this was coming for a while; my sense is that probably some of them wondered if Buffett would die first and be followed by someone less split-averse.)
What’s weird is that they act like this is GOOD news somehow
Researchers have found an entirely new kind of spider in (obviously) Florida.
This seems like news
This story, about how Pandora will no longer sell mined diamonds, is actually TWO stories by my lights.
First, obviously, that a major jewelry retailer is going all-in on man-made diamonds and abandoning natural ones entirely owing to their horrible, horrible history. That’s big.
But second, somehow Pandora has become the world’s largest jeweler. I always parsed them as a weird little tacky thing just above a kiosk. I even thought, at the time, that this SNL bit was almost punching down:
This is the purest thing I’ve ever seen
In retrospect, it’s probably for the best that this never aired
This was making the rounds a bit ago, but didn’t get quite the traction is deserved.
I had nearly forgotten, but about 10 years ago there was an effort by TV giant David E. Kelly (L. A. Law, Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal) to bring Wonder Woman back to TV. His star was Adrianne Palicki, then hot from Friday Night Lights.
The cast included Elizabeth Hurley (as the villain!), Cary Elwes — and a then unknown PEDRO PASCAL, which is why it’s hilarious.
The online clips look bad and clunky, so we’re probably all better off this didn’t sell. (Alan Sepinwall called it “embarrassing,” for example.)
Today in Wholesome Developments
The 80s were a special time
I think this Bulova ad makes that pretty clear.
Because some of you are CHILDREN, in order of appearance, we have:
- Morgan Fairchild, famous mostly for a nighttime soap called Falcon Crest — a spinoff of Dynasty — but really a working actor for most of the last 50 years. Fairchild is now 71.
- Johnny Cash. He’s too iconic to need a link, but had he lived — he died in 2003 — he’d be 89.
- Bernadette Peters, mostly famous for being Bernadette Peters. She is now 73.
- Roger Daltrey, of the Who. Daltrey is 77.
- Cathy Lee Crosby was, at the time, mostly famous for being on a tabloid-tv show called That’s Incredible. She’s now 76.
And, of course, Muhammad Ali — also too iconic to need a link — who passed in 2016. He’d have turned 79 in January, though.
On rules, and exceptions to those rules
On Saturday, I was finishing a small group ride when we passed a “boomer bar” up in the Heights that’s usually blaring Freedom Rock or whatever. This time, it was a cover of Changes, which prompted me to say to the person next to you that “you know what? There’s just never any reason to cover David Bowie. It’s perfect already. You will not add goodness to the universe by trying.” They laughed, and we rolled on.
This morning, I am forced to confront one of those situations where an exception basically proves the rule.
Turns out, if you’re Trent Reznor, it’s okay.
Christopher Plummer died today. He was 91.
He’s been famous for a long time, and famous recently for some great older-man roles (e.g, Knives Out), but for me and people my age and older, this is who Christopher Plummer was: The Nazi-flag-ripping guy you’ve seen in memes these last few years.
World War II was never far from the public imagination when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s — I mean, the Nazis are the bad guys in Raiders, and were even in present-day pictures like The Boys from Brazil — but when they made The Sound of Music in 1965, it was barely 20 years ago.
That’s like the dot-com boom until today, say. Or 9/11.
Media was different in the 70s, too. I mean, I figure most Heathen readers are about my age, but imagine trying to explain to someone that you couldn’t just watch most any movie you wanted whenever you liked. So when Sound finally came to television, in 1976, it was a big damn deal. From Wikipedia:
The first American television transmission of The Sound of Music was on February 29, 1976 on ABC, which paid $15 million (equivalent to $67,394,737 in 2019) for a one-time only broadcast that became one of the top 20 rated films shown on television to that point with a Nielsen rating of 33.6 and an audience share of 49%.
I added the emphasis. Imagine 49% of the TV watching public all watching the same thing today. It’s impossible. But in 1976, there were only 3 networks — plus PBS, and maybe the commodities channel. People watched what was on for the most part. Woe betide whatever was programmed against it on NBC and CBS!
I actually remember this night. My sister was a fairly new infant, and my parents were still married. I was a month away from my 6th birthday, but they allowed to stay up and watch it with them. I remember them singing along, and I must have dozed, but then I woke up to them singing with Plummer and then with everyone in this scene:
My mother could sing okay, but my dad really not at all. Didn’t matter; he was singing along, too. To this day, the song reminds me of that moment.
Godspeed, Christopher Plummer. 91 is a good long life, but I sure wouldn’t have minded if you’d hung out a bit longer. Someone snarky on Twitter noted that maybe this time would could get Kevin Spacey to replace Plummer?
“The band was formed when the members were teenaged pupils of Mount Temple Comprehensive School and had limited musical proficiency.”
It’s June 1, 1978. You and your mates in your high school band get to play on TV — national TV!
Bono here is freshly 18, as is Adam Clayton (who was born on my birthday 10 years prior). But Edge and Larry haven’t had their 1978 birthdays yet, and are just 16.
They’re all 60 now, or nearly so. They’re still in a band.
The GOP retreats from democracy
A GOP bill in Wisconsin aims to allocate its Electoral College votes by Congressional district and allocate only 2 according to the statewide popular vote.
This would mean gerrymandering could determine the Presidency.
How Microsoft is Sucking Today
I have a LOT of stuff in Dropbox. It’s a great tool, and it’s fairly priced, and as such I’ve been using it across Mac, Windows, iOS and now Linux for a decade. It’s great.
However, I don’t always want EVERYTHING. I’ve realized that while this is great for iOS access, or for keeping my main working files synced across my main, backup, and Windows laptops, it’s a bad fit for temporary working files that I may want across multiple VMs within our virtual environments, so I turned on OneDrive for this.
I figured I’d just pull in files for ClientX and ClientY, because that’s what I’m working with right now. (DropBox HAS selective sync, but i have so much stuff in mine it’s easier to just manage this in parallel.)
Well. Now’s when I remember that MSFT can’t really do ANYTHING that isn’t fundamentally weird or broken or otherwise infected with terrible ideas from marketing. And here’s the example:
OneDrive assumes you want to include your Desktop, Documents, Pictures, and a few other things in your OneDrive sync automatically, and will not allow you to opt out because these folders are “special.” WTF, right?
I didn’t notice this until my CustomerX environment suddenly had a desktop full of other random working files, which was unwelcome. I tried to disable Desktop sync, but was stiffarmed, so I went back to the “master” virtual machine and tired to disable it there. Nope, same message: Desktop is “special” and can’t be unselected.
What I COULD do was unselect everything WITHIN Desktop, so I did that.
And then all the files in my master desktop disappeared.
After some poking around, it turns out OneDrive just took fucking CONTROL and moved all that data into the special OneDrive Desktop. Why? Fuck you, that’s why. Same with Documents, etc. It’s like transparency and predictability are COMPLETELY UNKNOWN in Redmond. Seriously, how did this kind of behavior get past beta?
Dropbox doesn’t do shit like this. You tell it what folder to sync, and go from there. What’s wrong with that approach? I guess, it’s just insufficiently invasive and weird.
It’s not just about OneDrive, though. I spend a LOT of time in virtual meetings. We use GoToMeeting, but we also end up joining client meetings set up in WebEx or Teams or Skype or even Zoom — basically whatever they have, if they want to set up the meeting. (We VASTLY prefer GTM, because it works way better, so mostly it’s that, but sometimes you gotta go to their house, so to speak.)
The new version of Teams is installed on my Windows environments, but, turns out, you cannot use it to join meetings set up by organizations you’re not a member of on Windows or MacOS. The only supported way to join on those systems is to use Edge or Chrome.
I don’t have Chrome installed anywhere, so this means it’s impossible to join Teams meetings with customers from my Mac at all. (I use my iPad.)
Again: What the fuck were they thinking here? No other meeting platform is so goofy and limited. Even Skype worked better.
I swear, MSFT has been awful way more often than they’ve been good for my entire career, and that’s nearly as long as MSFT has existed.
Things You Didn’t Know You Needed: Jazz covers of Radiohead
Here’s Robert Glasper doing Radiohead’s “Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box”:
(bonus fact: Glasper is from Houston and went to HSPVA.)
Who Is Josh Hawley?
Well, the Times has you covered here.
Tl;dr? He’s a raging right-wing theocrat indistinguishable from the Taliban but for the flavor of religion.
In multiple speeches, an interview and a widely shared article for Christianity Today, Mr. Hawley has explained that the blame for society’s ills traces all the way back to Pelagius — a British-born monk who lived 17 centuries ago. In a 2019 commencement address at The King’s College, a small conservative Christian college devoted to “a biblical worldview,” Mr. Hawley denounced Pelagius for teaching that human beings have the freedom to choose how they live their lives and that grace comes to those who do good things, as opposed to those who believe the right doctrines.
The most eloquent summary of the Pelagian vision, Mr. Hawley went on to say, can be found in the Supreme Court’s 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Mr. Hawley specifically cited Justice Anthony Kennedy’s words reprovingly: “At the heart of liberty,” Kennedy wrote, “is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” The fifth century church fathers were right to condemn this terrifying variety of heresy, Mr. Hawley argued: “Replacing it and repairing the harm it has caused is one of the challenges of our day.”
**In other words, Mr. Hawley’s idea of freedom is the freedom to conform to what he and his preferred religious authorities know to be right. ** Emph Added
Go read the whole thing.
26 Movies, from Zuckerspace
There’s a meme on FB asking folks to list their 26 favorite films. Obviously, I complied, but not in the expected way, and obviously too I’d prefer to have the list here.
- Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012)
- Miller’s Crossing (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1990)
- The Hunt for Red October (John McTiernan, 1990)
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Russo Brothers, 2014)
- It’s A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
- Rushmore (Wes Anderson, 1998)
- True Grit (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2010)
- Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992)
- Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016)
- Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
- Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010)
- Up (Pete Docter, 2009)
- No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
- Ali (Michael Mann, 2001)
- Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir, 2003)
- The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)
- Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
- Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975)
- Airplane! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, 1980)
- Sling Blade (Billy Bob Thornton, 1996)
- Henry V (Kenneth Branagh, 1989)
- The Station Agent (Tom McCarthy, 2003)
- Flesh and Bone (Steve Kloves, 1993)
- The Long Kiss Goodnight (Renny Harlin, 1996)
- Birdman (Alejandro Inarritu, 2014)
Of course, that’s just today; on another day, the list might be different.
However, the whole process reminded me of how much I loved Flesh and Bone, and so I thought ot look at Wikipedia. It was directed, as noted, by Steve Kloves, who also wrote it. Oddly, has directed only one other film — but his filmography is still pretty notable.
He wrote and directed The Fabulous Baker Boys in 1989, and then has writing credits on Wonder Boys and then on every Harry Potter film, which presumably kept him busy and fed for a while. There’s also a writing credit on The Amazing Spider-Man, and producer credits on the Fantastic Beasts films.
Then, at the bottom, is his upcoming return to the director’s chair: an adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Tim, though that’s been in dev hell for a while. The book is great, though, and it’d be fun to see this guy direct again.
What keeps software people up at night
This Atlantic piece has a pretty alarming title — The Coming Software Apocalypse — but, well, it’s not entirely wrong.
Thirty years ago, we wrote (mostly) to the bare metal. The whole system was plausibly knowable. Now, software is built on software that’s built on software; it’s turtles all the way down, and it’s impossible to understand the entirety of ANY modern effort — because even if you have perfect knowledge of YOUR code (or your organization’s code), you’re dependent on libraries and systems running below you that are opaque.
If all this was just about controlling your VCR or your favorite Office app, it might not matter as much, but we are insanely cavalier about software quality in places where lives are at stake — in 911 systems, in cars, and especially in avionics. But think also about power plants, or other critical areas of infrastructure. Software quality (avoidance of bugs, from the benign to the catastrophic) and software security (keeping others from exploiting the code) are quite often afterthoughts, if they’re thought of AT ALL.
(Incidentally, this is why most software people stay far, far away from “internet of things” gadgets controlled via apps and the cloud. They’re AWFUL from a security POV. And so is your car, most likely. And so is your so-called SmartTV. At our house, the Samsung isn’t even on the network — we use it as a dumb display panel, because we do not, and should not, trust Samsung’s code.)
The piece goes into some ways we might be able to ameliorate this in the future, and some of the steps are very technical and some honestly involve a bit of magical thinking. But a key aspect is taking these things seriously from the getgo, and not being cavalier about any of them (as, say, Jeep and Toyota have been).
At least one cool thing from 2020
Earlier this year, scientists found a previously-unknown genus of spiders, all of whom have a velvety appearance and live underground.
Accordingly, they named the genus Loureedia, which something about which I could not be happer.
Year-End Tab Clearing!
I’ve been sitting on this for months, but now that we have a vaccine on the horizon it may finally be useful to some of you: YOUR GUIDE TO NOT GETTING MURDERED IN A QUAINT ENGLISH VILLAGE.
Today in Copyright Shenanigans
This is low-key hilarious.
As many of you know, my father in law passed away Monday morning. As designated family tech and photo person, I’ve pulled together a set of pix from over the years and assembled a slide show for the family to use in the eventual service.
I used the Photos app on my Mac, because it’s easy to do, and it comes with themes and does a pretty good job of assembling transitions and stuff. It even comes with free-to-use background tracks!
Photos can export to video, and I then uploaded the video to YouTube to make it easy for my mother in law & etc to use and share.
Which is where it gets weird, because I just got this from YouTube’s copyright squad:
Fortunately, nobody in those countries will need to see the video. I am, however, wildly curious as to how Apple’s supposed free-to-use music is encumbered by copyright only in Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria. I mean, WTF?
Scientists renamed human genes to stop Microsoft Excel from misreading them as dates.
I swear to god, the most common thing said to an Office product MUST be “goddammit STOP HELPING ME.”
It’s better without the leek
A shit a nerd-gadget!
DevTerm is so completely in my wheelhouse — and yet so completely NOT something I actually NEED. I mean, holy shit that thing is cute as hell.
Important Year-End Sentiment
Bears Save New Hampshire Town from Libertarians!
I can’t decide which of these stories is more compelling
HOWTO: Slice an enormous capsized cargo ship into smaller pieces
Just what it says on the tin, using an enormous lifting barge system and a big-ass chain.