Things that confuse us

I like gadgets. Everybody knows this. I also travel quite a bit, and have for years, and this isn’t news, either.

In my gadget-loving travels, I’ve had plenty of chances to use GPS systems, initially just the Hertz NeverLost system. Hertz’s Magellan-based car-mounted tool was fanTAStic in 2004, but has really not aged all that well. I didn’t really realize this until I had to use National in Kansas City this winter, which gave me my first exposure to the Garmin line.

I’d already seen and played with these units, and was pretty sure I’d choose a Garmin if I bought my own, and my early trips to Kansas City with National’s Garmins convinced me of that pretty handily. A touchscreen beats the Magellan’s interface all to hell, and having the unit on the dash makes more sense than keeping it in the passenger footwell, too. (National’s approach is also more flexible than Hertz’s, since they don’t mount the devices in the cars — renting with the GPS option means they just give you a little bag with the Garmin and its cables inside, which makes yield management easier for them.)

Of course, busy as I’ve been, I never bothered to actually go buy one — sure, it would be cheaper in the long run to own a $200 Garmin than to rent it for $15 or $30 a week, but the $30 is corporate money and the $200 wouldn’t be. Also, I really only needed them occasionally, and so I kept putting it off.

Then I bought a new iPhone this summer, and realized a purpose-built GPS is probably a dead letter. Google Maps + the internal true GPS of the 3G/3GS iPhones isn’t quite at Garmin quality levels, but it’s enough that I don’t need to spend another $200 or tote around another gadget. I’ve used it plenty to navigate in new cities or unfamiliar areas of Houston, and even without turn-by-turn, it’s absolutely good enough to make the idea of a Garmin redundant, at least for me.

The real head-scratcher, though, is this: We took the Benz in for some routine stuff last week, and the loaner car was a 2009 C-class. It’s a very nice car, to be sure, and comes with a fancy in-dash screen for managing various car features, including the built-in navigation system.

Which sucks. It’s unremittingly halfassed, and I’m sure constitutes a several thousand dollar add-in. An entry-level $149 Garmin beats it all to hell; shit, the outdated NeverLost system at Hertz is nicer and easier to use. What the hell?

It’s not just Mercedes, either. I have yet to see an original-equipment built-in GPS system that’s better in any way than the current crop of pocketable Garmins. Frankly, the iPhone’s drastically better and easier to use than any built-in, too, and gives the Garmin a run for its money. How long, though, do you reckon before carmakers get this news? Since Audi was still selling analog cell phones for $2000 in 1999, it seems likely we’ll see these things persist for quite some time.


God Bless Texas

Houston, specifically. The Economist has some nice things to say about us:

Mr Kotkin particularly admires Houston, which he calls a perfect example of an “opportunity city” — a place with lots of jobs, lots of cheap housing and a welcoming attitude to newcomers.

He is certainly right about the last point: not too many other cities could have absorbed 100,000 refugees, bigheartedly and fairly painlessly, as Houston did after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. With vibrant Asian communities alongside its balanced Hispanic, white and black mix, with no discernible racial tensions, and with more foreign consulates than any American city except New York and Los Angeles, Houston is arguably America’s most enthusiastically cosmopolitan city, a place where the future has already arrived.

We Heathen call it Home. The state itself is certainly not without problems (as the article points out), but Our Fair City gets all too few shiny notices such as this.

At Last: Raving Nutbird Loony Birthers Explained

(Is Barack Obama an American Citizen?)[] explains much about the birther movement. All you gotta do to understand their POV is reject objective reality. Utilizing three alternative frameworks of reality — one of which involves the Norse god Loki — the author explains how Obama may in fact not be the natural born citizen actual evidence show shim to be. Heh. Here’s a taste:

It might seem, to the average person, that the “Birthers” must have a tough time proving their case. After all, Barack Obama has released his Certification of Live Birth, which meets all the requirements for proving one’s citizenship to the State Department. The authenticity of the certificate has been verified by Hawaii state government. Moreover, Barack Obama’s birth announcement was found in two newspapers at the time, and such notices were provided directly by the Hawaii Department of Health.

Faced with this overwhelming evidence, the average person will no doubt shrug and consider the case closed. There is no question that the evidence points to the conclusion that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and is therefore a “natural-born citizen.”

No question, that is, if you accept the dominant paradigm of metaphysical realism. That is, the idea that things exist independent of the mind and that those things are perceivable and knowable. Moreover, those who insist that Barack Obama is an American citizen also rely on philosophic naturalism–the idea that reality is subject to objective, knowable natural laws that can’t be tampered with.

However, if one rejects these two philosophic concepts, it’s quite easy to demonstrate that Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the United States and is therefore constitutionally ineligible to be President of the United States.

The best part? Such subtle takedowns are sure to be lost on birthers, at least one of whom will read this and, failing to understand the big words, forward it to all their like-minded compatriots.


If, in the course of my web reading, I encounter a video from YouTube that’s long, or if I’m doing so from a place with questionable or slow connectivity, my standard procedure is to open the video and immediately hit pause. the YouTube player is smart enough to accumulate the video and hold it for me, and when I come back to that page in 10 or 20 minutes, the video will play uninterrupted.

What, then, is the problem with the Comedy Central videos? No matter how long I let them buffer, they always stutter and pause and require additional buffering.

Does someone geekier than I know why their approach is so broken?

Bang. Bang.

Tom Knapp knows his way around a shotgun.

Intrigued, I found Knapp’s own site for more information. Here you can find the answer to the twin questions “Are those stock guns?” and “How do you do international travel with shotguns in this day and age?”


Although Tom’s shooting performances are out of this world, his show guns are right out of the box.

The story gets even better.

When Tom is performing shooting exhibitions around the world for Benelli, he doesn’t carry his guns with him. The Benelli importer for the country Tom is visiting supplies the Benelli models that Tom will use during his performance there. Tom assembles those guns right out of the box in front of his first audience.


Dept. of Paying for Rich Food

I had a long sequence of very odd dreams last night, only one image of which I remember well at all. For some reason, Mrs Heathen and I were having dinner with LeBron James, who was unaccountably dressed in a vintage Kansas City Royals uniform that included snowshoes.

My subconscious is weird.

Really? Seriously?

I’m completely flummoxed that people — cops, their apologists — are in any way offended by what the President said about the Gates arrest.

The quote, for reference:

Now, I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.

Obama continued:

As you know, Lynn, when I was in the state legislature in Illinois, we worked on a racial profiling bill because there was indisputable evidence that blacks and Hispanics were being stopped disproportionately. And that is a sign, an example of how, you know, race remains a factor in the society. That doesn’t lessen the incredible progress that has been made. I am standing here as testimony to the progress that’s been made. And yet the fact of the matter is, is that, you know, this still haunts us. And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently and often time for no cause casts suspicion even when there is good cause.

There is absolutely no room for offense on any of this.

  • Obama Assertion 1: Any of us would be angry in Gates’ situation. You bet.
  • Obama Assertion 2: The Cambridge cops “acted stupidly.” That’s also a no-brainer. After ascertaining that Gates was in fact in his own home, they arrested him for being angry with their behavior, essentially. It doesn’t matter what he said, or how he said it. They put him in cuffs and — this is priceless — “secured his cane” before taking him downtown on charges they knew good and well wouldn’t stick, and they did it because they didn’t like what Gates said. That’s stupid behavior.
  • Obama Assertion 3: There is not a level playing field between whites and minorities when it comes to police interaction. It’s hard to imagine anyone would argue this point, either.

Gates was in his home. Cops were jackasses. Gates got loud. Cops acted stupidly. End of story. If you’re trying to make hay with this in the press as though Obama hurt your feelings, you’re just as much of a jackass as the cop who cuffed an old man in his own home on trumped-up charges.

Today in post-racial America

Harvard prof Henry Louis Gates discovered how evolved we’ve all become on Thursday when he was arrested for breaking and entering.

At his own house.

After proving to police that it was his house.

I don’t give a rat’s ass if he was yelling at the cops. If the police show up on a B&E tip and discover you live in the house in question, they should apologize profusely and go the fuck away. Arresting him should not have even been an option, regardless of what he said.

Do NOT buy a Kindle

After the publisher decided “you know, maybe electronic publication isn’t what we want to do after all,” Amazon deleted 1984 and Animal Farm (oh, the irony) from any Kindle that had purchased them. That they provided a refund as well is pretty much irrelevant to me.

More at Pogue @ NYT:

This is ugly for all kinds of reasons. Amazon says that this sort of thing is “rare,” but that it can happen at all is unsettling; we’ve been taught to believe that e-books are, you know, just like books, only better. Already, we’ve learned that they’re not really like books, in that once we’re finished reading them, we can’t resell or even donate them. But now we learn that all sales may not even be final.

As one of my readers noted, it’s like Barnes & Noble sneaking into our homes in the middle of the night, taking some books that we’ve been reading off our nightstands, and leaving us a check on the coffee table.

If I buy a paper book, it’s mine. Amazon can’t come to my house and take it back, even if they want to pay me for it.

Nice one, cuz

Add my right-winger cousin Chip to the parade of GOP types who can’t keep their dick in their pants. Odds are this affair, the divorce connected thereto, and the lawsuit his wife just dropped on him are the reason ol’ Chip’s not still in Congress. Good riddance.

Now it’s the turn of former Rep. Chip Pickering (R) or Mississippi, who appeared to be in line to grab Trent Lott’s Senate seat and was allegedly offered the gig by Gov. Haley Barbour (his office denied this to TPMmuckraker), but decided instead to leave Congress altogether.

Pickering and his wife divorced soon afterward and now she is suing the novelistically named Elizabeth Creekmore-Byrd for “alienation of affection,” i.e., for stealing her husband. What’s more, according to legal papers filed by Leisha Pickering, some of the “wrongful conduct” between Pickering and Creekmore-Byrd (I guess that’s what they call it down there?) took place at … you guessed, the C Street group home up on Capitol Hill.

The kicker? This “C-Street” location is notionally a Christian fellowship facility connected to the uber-right-wing Family organization.

(Chip’s grandfather and my great-grandfather were siblings.)

Hat tip: Mrs Heathen.

Two Platform Update: Outlook vs.

I end up using both — for a rich, formatted, in-house mail, Outlook is the winner — but what’s interesting is how much search SUCKS on Outlook compared to I can find mails in no time on the Mac side, but the Outlook search tools appear to be made of fail.

In Which Our Cousin Is Still An Idiot

From the Jackson, MS Clarion-Ledger:

“I think it was a game changer; it was an election changer,” 3rd District Rep. Chip Pickering said. “The Republican ticket is the ticket of reform and change.”

“They can’t define us as the same old Republicans, or Bush Republicans,” Pickering said. “If you look at history, the populist ticket always beats the elitist ticket. (After Palin’s speech) we became the populist ticket.”

(Yes, cousin; if I’m doing the math right, he’s my second cousin once removed. Chip’s grandfather and my great-grandmother were siblings, and his great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather are the same guy.)

Hat tip to Frank.


Y’all please wish Chief Heathen Health & Legal Correspondents Triple-F and Boogielips a happy seventh anniversary!


“The Fifty-Nine Story Crisis”

Citicorp Center in New York is a striking building for lots of reasons, but the most obvious is that it sits on four huge “stilts” that allow one corner to hover over a church. Less obvious is its massive motion dampening system, developed to reduce wind-induced motion sickness in tenents.

Its most interesting aspect, though, is what happened when its structural engineer realized, several years after its completion, that his structure might not be as safe as it should be under significant wind loads, and what he did about it. Let’s be clear: when I say “not as safe as it should be,” I mean he realized the 59-story skyscraper might fall down.

Seventeen years later, Joe Morgenstern wrote a long piece in the New Yorker about what happened next; it’s online here and is well worth your time.

Dept. of Useless Tomfoolery

The Department of Homeland Security’s Advisory System — you know, that bullshit chart of Green-Blue-Yellow-Orange-Red we’ve all been laughing at since 9/11 — will soon enter its fifth consecutive year at precisely the same level of national alert. It should surprise no one that said level is “yellow” — the one in the middle — and that is has been unchanged since August 12, 2005.

Some makework Bushite drone came up with this goofball idea in the Great National Freakout of late 2001, and nobody has yet had the stones to do away with it. We Heathen wonder how many thousands of dollars have been wasted down this particular rathole.

Update: Mrs Heathen points out that it’s Orange at airports. This is true. It’s been Orange for . . . three years.