The coolest thing on the Internet last week

You may have seen it elsewhere, but the Metafilter thread is where I first encountered the story of Kathryn, the 12-year-old Michigan girl who convinced her parents to let her buy a beater Fiero with her babysitting money, and then restore it herself. Two years later, and she’s still at it.

The original thread on a Fiero board has many, many pages, but read the first one at least to set the stage. There’s a shorter summary at Jalopnik.

Coolest 12 year old EVER.

Dear Apple

I love my iPad and my iPhone. I really do. I’ve been a big user of mobile tech for 20 years, and the sheer usability of these things blows me away.

But there’s one thing you’re doing with the mail client that makes me very frustrated every time I run into it. Neither iOS device keeps non-inbox folders in sync in the background, which in and of itself isn’t a big deal. However, what IS a big deal is that on the off chance I need to refer to a mail I sent yesterday from my desktop, opening the Sent folder on my iPad will be an exercise in frustration because it will bring it up to date starting with the oldest mails it doesn’t have.

Just now, sitting in an airport, I needed access to a mail I sent last night. I hadn’t opened my Sent folder on my iPad since January, which meant I got to watch 4 months of sent mail slowly trickle down over 3G before I could find the one I sent yesterday to forward it elsewhere.

How about you give us an option to pull mail down newest first, at least?

I love the Onion

No One Can Remember Seeing Houston Astros For At Least A Week:

The Houston Astros, described by police as a 50-year-old franchise last seen wearing a white pinstriped uniform with its name on the front and known locally for performing baseball in front of downtown crowds for money, has been missing since at least last week, when it was reportedly expected to meet a franchise it knew in Milwaukee. “We were initially contacted Saturday by the owner, who had gone to check in on the Astros two days previously and found the team wasn’t home,” said city police chief Charles McClelland, adding that the Astros lived alone in Minute Maid Park, a public housing facility owned by the county. “People who were aware of the franchise say they didn’t remember it really having any friends or loved ones, so that’s partly why it’s been difficult to pin down exactly when it went missing. The last time anyone can remember the Astros doing anything was in 2005, actually.” McClelland also said the franchise may have been distraught after suffering heavy losses as of late and filing for bankruptcy, so police are treating the case as a possible suicide

I’d try this, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t do any good

Werner Herzog leaves a note for his cleaning lady.

Rosalina. Woman.

You constantly revile me with your singular lack of vision. Be aware, there is an essential truth and beauty in all things. From the death throes of a speared gazelle to the damaged smile of a freeway homeless. But that does not mean that the invisibility of something implies its lack of being. Though simpleton babies foolishly believe the person before them vanishes when they cover their eyes during a hateful game of peek-a-boo, this is a fallacy. And so it is that the unseen dusty build up that accumulates behind the DVD shelves in the rumpus room exists also. This is unacceptable.

There’s more. Go read the whole thing.

Once again, I point out that “PR” and “Marketing” are just fancy words for “Lies”

Case in point: there are now books about how to fake the authenticity people have learned to value in an effort to avoid plastic bullshit artists who think of PR and marketing as honorable pursuits on par with producing actual items of value.

This is just an outgrowth of clueless corps trying to capitalize on social media by appearing “real” on Facebook or Twitter. Hiring a twentysomething social media specialist to manage MegaCorp’s twitter feed is just so much more bullshit, people.

It comes down to this: 99% of the time, you’re either dealing with a human who controls the business you’re dealing with, and who values you as a customer, or you’re dealing with a giant faceless public corporation’s mouthpiece who neither values you nor has any power to affect your experience therewith. Megacorps are obviously eager to convince you they really do care — they “value your business” and “take your concerns seriously” — but they don’t. They care about profits and shareholder value.

You pick who you want to deal with. Vote with your dollars. And people who work at dissecting “authenticity” in an effort to extract some essence that can be sprayed on Monsanto or whomever can go DIAF, along with the people who think “branding” is something other than a natural outgrowth of making good products, charging a fair price, and treating customers with respect.

Balls and Dilemmas

In game theory, there’s a thing called the Prisoner’s Dilemma, which you may have heard of. It happens that there is also a British game show (called, hilariously, “Golden Balls”) that uses PD as its final round: There’s a pot of money at stake, and the final two contestants must make a choice to either split the pot or try to steal it — and they must disclose their choices simultaneously.

  • If both say “split,” the pot is split evenly.

  • If one says “split,” but the other says “steal,” the stealer gets the whole pot.

  • If both say “steal,” nobody gets anything.

Security maven Bruce Schneier is of course aware of PD, and even mentions it in his book Liars & Outliers. He’s come across this game show, too, and in so doing found this very interesting final round. Watch it.

Mary Goes Out.

MaryFarmer1935 Sometime when I was about ten, maybe a little earlier, my father’s mother taught me to play Canasta. In these mad-for-Mad-Men days of 2012, maybe a retro card game sounds like a very hip thing to do, but back then, not so much.

I’m sure she taught me to keep me settled and focused on something, because to hear my elders tell it I could be a bit of a hassle — constant questions, lots of ideas, etc. Canasta, with its seemingly endless arcana of rules and plays, probably seemed like just the ticket. She even had a Canasta deck — it’s played with two decks, including jokers — and a draw-and-discard tray that I think is made from Bakelite.

Canasta is a rummy game. The object is to accumulate melds of the same rank and, eventually, to discard your final card. Seven or eight in a meld is a Canasta, and scores bonus points — 300 more with wild cards, 500 without. Red threes are bonus cards. Black threes and wild cards freeze the pile. Twos and jokers are wild. Aces are worth 20. Face cards are 10. Draw two, discard one. We play to 5,000.

We’d play game after game on my visits, hunched over an endtable in the living room, with her on one end of the couch and me appropriating the recliner that had been my grandfather’s before he died in 1979. Mary — called Mom, as her “nom de grandparent” — had been trained as a schoolteacher, so I guess she knew something about teaching little boys. She had also raised my father, who by all accounts was no less of a handful than I was, and for the same reasons.

Fueled by the sorts of indulgent foods only grandmothers in the 1970s bought, we’d play for hours every time I visited. The rules stuck; I played a little of the four-hand version (the “real” version) in college, when a girlfriend and I would have cheap dinners with another couple we knew. And recently I’ve returned to that two-hand variant with Erin, at which she’s skunked me more often that not. But I never play at all without remembering being small in a big green recliner, struggling to hold the massive collections of cards one ends up with in that game, and listening intently to my grandmother giving me pointers. I can still hear her voice, and I can still remember the worn places on the wooden arms of the chair where my grandfather’s hands had been.

Life is weird. I have friends with children older than I was then. My mother is older now than Mom was then, but seems so much younger. This is how life is, people say, and it just becomes increasingly true and obvious as we age — yet another tedious thing that cannot be explained to a 20 year old.

Mary Opal Janous Farmer was born on April 8, 1915. This seems impossibly long ago now, but it’s true. She attended Delta State for her teacher’s training, where she met and was engaged to Isaac Chester Farmer, from Simpson County, then preparing for medical school. Their engagement lasted five years;they were married two days after Christmas in 1937. She was 22, he was 26, and the rest of their lives stretched in front of them.

My grandfather’s journey ended in 1979. Mary traveled on quite a bit farther. She lived to see her grandchildren — my brother and I, and our two cousins Lauren and Lydia — grow to adulthood. She attended weddings, and met great-grandchildren. Frank and I even got to take her to lunch at Galatoire’s one summer afternoon in 2001, which is a story my aunt says she’d tell to anyone who would listen for months thereafter.

However, to the very best of my knowledge, she taught nobody else to play Canasta.

This afternoon, about an hour ago, Mary laid down her cards and went out. She was 97.

Good Riddance

Chuck Colson, a Watergate felon who spent his later years spreading all manner of hate under the banner of “Christianity,” is dead.

More on Colson’s legacy of hate and intolerance at MeFi and at two posts at Slacktivist.

Fred sums it up:

What’s remarkable about Colson’s legacy is not just how angry he managed to make the enemies that he bore false witness about and harmed for so long. Their anger is understandable and wholly appropriate. What’s really remarkable about Colson’s career is how very many such enemies he chose to make and how much damage he was able to do.

and further:

As “one of the leading spokespersons of evangelical Christianity in America today,” Colson helped to identify Christianity with a vicious, mean-spirited, and thoroughly dishonest culture war against women and LGBT people. He worked, passionately, to make that the core and the bedrock of American Christianity.

I don’t think that counts as living without scandal. I think that counts as being at the center of one of the worst scandals of this generation of the church.

Radioactivity and Teens, Part II

Back in 1998, Harper’s ran an interesting story about David Hahn, a teenager who very nearly created a breeder reactor in his parents’ garden shed, which subsequently became a Superfund cleanup site.

A very different tale played out for young Taylor Wilson, another teen with nuclear dreams, except with much better parents. Wilson’s story was covered in Popular Science earlier this year, and is worth your time.

There’s a whole lot of cool to unpack here

Some apparently very smart people went to Kickstarter to fund the production of their new intelligent watch design, Pebble. They sought $100,000 in backing.

With 25 days to go, in excess of six million dollars has been pledged, or 6,000% of their goal.

First, while the official Heathen position for many years has been “watches need springs,” but Pebble does enough cool stuff that I definitely see myself making an exception. (They won me over with the open SDK.)

Second, HOLY CRAP SIX MILLION DOLLARS. Kickstarter may be the most interesting development to come out of the Internet yet. It’s not microfinance, exactly, but it’s hard to see the ease with which Pebble reached 40,000 backers as anything but an enormously disruptive and powerful change in the way interesting things get funded.

Surprise Surprise, the Government Lies

It turns out that a whole lot of forensics is more or less bullshit, and that the Justice Department has known this for a long time and not told anyone but prosecutors, even when flawed evidence had put people in prison.

As Radley notes, this is dangerously close to “pitchforks in the streets” stuff:

I mean, think about that. Taxpayer-paid employees of the Justice Department had direct and exclusive knowledge that there may be hundreds of innocent people in prison, they knew that flawed forensics in these cases needed to be reviewed, and their justification for not doing more as these people continued to rot in prison was, Hey, we did the bare minimum required of us by law.


This morning, I found this video by The Band on one of my “coffee sites.” I didn’t realize is that this 1976 performance — from their Last Waltz farewell film — was the last time Levon Helm played “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” but that’s the sort of thing you learn when you see a random video you enjoy, and start a little wandering on Wikipedia.

Sadly, I also discovered a bit of news that is almost certainly the reason the video was on Merlin’s Tumblr in the first place.

Yesterday, this was posted on Helm’s site:

Dear Friends,

Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey.

Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration… he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage…

We appreciate all the love and support and concern.
From his daughter Amy, and wife Sandy

Godspeed, Levon.

Trent Richardson: Stand-Up Guy

Courtney Alvis of Hueytown, Alabama got to spend her junior year of high school battling leukemia. She’s gotten well enough to go to her senior prom, but was without a date.

Trent Richardson, Heisman finalist and certain first-round pick at the NFL draft in 10 days — and perhaps more significantly the son of a cancer survivor — decided he’d solve the problem.

Alvis, for her part, was elected prom queen with Richardson at her side.

Timberlake and Kunis got nothing on this guy. Roll Tide, people.

Reigning In Prosecutors

It’s often been said that a DA can get an indictment for a ham sandwich if they want, but few notice just exactly how awful it is that this is true.

Mr Balko has a couple posts on the subject worth your time:

  • One, noting that prosecutors don’t need to believe the guilt of those they try; and
  • Two, wherein he (with Glenn Reynolds) proposes the state be on the hook for the defense costs of those tried but not convicted, and even reimburse for unjust pretrial confinement.

Criminal justice is broken. No system with immunity for state actors can ever be just, because there is no punishment (realistically speaking) for runaway prosecutors who abuse their office to improve their stats.

Today’s Montrose Moment

When I went out for the mail, four women dressed as flappers, purporting to be on a “Beer Hunt,” asked if they could (a) pretend my front yard was a public park and (b) photograph me leapfrogging them. Note that whether or not I was willing to leapfrog was never, apparently, at issue.

Sadly, this did not come to pass, as one of the flappers was insistent that my yard was in no way a public park, and that any resulting photograph would be unable to hide that fact, and that it was cheating besides.

So that happened.

The Steve Jobs of 8-Bit

Jack Tramiel, the man behind the Commodore line of computers, has died.

It would not be wrong to say his computers had easily as much to do with the pervasive spread of computing as anyone else. I never had one — my parents swayed me to buy local and get something at Radio Shack, more’s the pity — but he looms large over generations of computer nerds like me.

Thing I did not know before today: Tramiel was born in Poland; he and his family spent the war in Auschwitz and other camps before Tramiel alone was rescued in 1945.

More at MeFi.