Friday, December 26, 2008

Recession Culprit Caught

by Benjo

Incredible news: they caught the guy who caused the recession! Here's the article from The Orange County Sun:
Man Behind Recession Arrested
ORANGE COUNTY, CA - Don Wakefield, 34, of Orange County, is in custody on charges of causing the recession, bringing a much-needed bit of hope to residents in Orange County and beyond that their economic hardships may be poised to come to an end.

Orange County Police Chief John Davis flashed thumbs up to cameras as he escorted Wakefield into the county jail.

“We got the bastard,” Davis said.

A seven-fingered police officer fastens handcuffs on Wakefield.

Police forces were tipped off to Wakefield's identity following a post he made last week on the website Buyer's Remorse, a support group for shopaholics.

"I don't know how to say this," Wakefield said in the post, dated last Thursday, "but I haven't really spent anything this year." Forum members responded with unfiltered anger and scorn. "Our shopaholism has made this economy great for years," said one user. "You've ruined it for us and everyone!"

Following an anonymous tip from a forum member, police raided Wakefield's home, abducting Wakefield and finding exactly what they had feared: room after room filled with last season's clothes.

"I've been on the force twenty years, and I've never seen anything like this," Davis said. "I mean, if you don't spend your fair share, there's going to be a recession. Everyone knows that. To knowingly withhold your dollars like that—it's unthinkable that someone could be so inhumane."

While the rest of the population spent more this year than in 2007, Wakefield's inactivity singlehandedly resulted in an almost 50% drop in spending.

In initial testimony obtained by The Sun, Wakefield was forthcoming about the nature of his offenses.

"This time last year, I was a shopaholic myself," Wakefield told investigators. "Last winter, I went all out, and got the most incredible clutch of clothes. It was so good, just such a breathtaking clutch. So I wanted to ride it out as long as I could. I got to the point where it's March, it's April, and I'm not buying anything new. Eventually, the clutch burned out, but I was so deep into what I was doing that I kept on going." According to the record, at this point in his testimony, a tearful Wakefield flicked the cuff of an argyle zip-up sweater, whose elastic was visibly imperfect. "Now look at me."

Wakefield will be charged under California's Consumer Latency Prevention Act, according to Chief Davis. Initial reports suggesting that Wakefield would be charged for federal crimes were false: since Wakefield's lack of shopping did not cross state lines, federal consumer latency laws do not apply.

Under the terms of California's law, as a first-time offender, Wakefield's penalty would be limited to a fine of up to $25,000. However, he could face significant jail time if convicted of causing a second recession.

“I'm so relieved they caught him,” said Martha Dierdorf, 41, who owns a small business in San Jose. “Removing this leech from the system takes the load off of small business owners.”

Indeed, many analysts predict that, in the weeks following Wakefield's apprehension, stock prices will increase by 40 to 50%, returning to their pre-recession levels.

“This is what I'd call a massive bail-in,” said Goldman analyst Walt Hurt.

However, many Californians expressed dismay at the leniency of the penalties facing Wakefield. "The government needs to crack down here," said Mike Wagman, 58, of Long Beach. "I mean, me, I'm a conservative. I'm a believer in the free market: that the market works best for everyone when the government keeps its grubby hands out. But within reason. When I hear that someone didn't buy anything new for a year?" Wagman's voice trailed off. "Well, if you want to know my opinion, that guy deserves the ultimate."

Wakefield was drawn to confess, according to his testimony, when he saw the year-over-year economic numbers. "Spending was down, what, like 40% from this time last year? Well it was down 100% for me. Take that out, and maybe everyone would be fine right now." Wakefield wiped a tear from his eye. "It hurts to think about, you know?"

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Google Mind

by Benjo

A reader forwarded this article to me. I haven't seen it anywhere else, so I'll post it in full. Amazing, the things Google is doing.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - Google Inc. has announced plans to have the minds of half of the world's population online by 2012. The program, which will begin operations in early 2009, will give Google "the largest searchable database of human minds this world has ever seen," according to Google spokesman Jerry Reynolds.

"No human civilization has ever created a human-mind database like this one," Reynolds said. “Not even the more technology-minded cultures, like the Romans.”

The database and corresponding search engine, called Google Mind, will at first be limited to memory banks, but will eventually expand to include emotions and, over time, imaginations and fantasies. Google executives predict that by 2018, users will also be able to stream live thoughts via so-called "mindcams."

Proponents of Google Mind herald the tool as a powerful resource for users of all nationalities, ages, and races. "This will bring about a revolution in the ability of those with very strange points of view to determine if there are in fact others who feel the same way," says Frank Leonard, professor of mind-search history at the University of Eastern California.

"Suppose you think something totally ridiculous–like, that Mick Jagger's solo records are better than the Rolling Stones' albums. Now what if some co-worker always tells you you're the only person in the world who feels that way? Well now, with the click of a button, you can find out that, hey, actually, there's some guy in Rotterdam or Irkutsk who feels the same way, and you prove your co-worker wrong. That's called putting power in the hands of the powerless.”

The search engine is not without its critics, however. The complaints hinge on a perceived loss of privacy that could result from the publication of human thoughts.

“We believe this leads down a slippery slope,” said ACLU spokesperson Roberta Gleason. “If Google is releasing people's thoughts to the public, who's to say they won't release our search histories in the future? For many people, their search history is their identity, and if identities aren't worthy of protection, what is?”

Average citizens were more enthusiastic.

John Alberts, of San Francisco, recalled a recent conversation in which he and a friend shared their opinions of the top movies from the past decade. "It was probably a ten, twelve minute conversation," Alberts said. "Now, we'll just be able to look each other's opinions up on Google Mind, and we'll never have to have the conversation. I see that as the biggest benefit—the ability to cut back on the time you have to spend talking things out with people.”

The program, which will cost an estimated $200 million to build, will leverage the technology behind Google Book Search, an online card catalog of over 7 million books that went live in 2004. For the Mind project, Google engineers have developed technology to convert human thoughts to book form, which can then be fed into the book-scanning engine.

“That was the only real new step,” said Reynolds, the Google spokesman. “But I mean, it's a stretch to even call it 'new.' After all, humans have been converting thoughts into books for hundreds if not thousands of years. It's called writing.”

Google sees the Mind project as the first in what could be a long series of new initiatives. “We hope to begin scanning animal minds once the human project is up and running. We'll finally know what Spot thinks of us,” says Reynolds, with a laugh.

And if that goes well? “In the near term, we've got our eyes on plants and trees. As for the longer term, I'm not at liberty to say." Reynolds grins mischievously. "So if you want to know, you'll just have to query me for it."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Cats-Apstrophy!

by Szabe Kovacs

Edward J. write the post about news. My favorites of news come about the cats. I love the story: Cat-astrophy: 300 Dead Cats in Man's Freezers. He say that "Cat-astrophy," so like Apostrophe, but like with Cats instead of Appos! He go on:
Police say they found 300 dead cats stuffed into the freezers of Michael Louis Vondueren, a 47-year-old man from Sacramento, whose home was littered with cat feces.
So the freezer cats come out of the freezer to leave poop-litters in Michael's house! Poor Michael. I like cats but I don't light their feses!

Then Michael later say:
This is just the latest incident of humans behaving badly in California. Over the weekend, a 24-year-old from Santa Rosa was arrested at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom for punching a camel on a dare.
Michael, be careful when to punch a camel on a dare! The camel kick the dare and give it the second hump and then you have two camels!

North African Dare

I bring you more the crazy memories. I am Szabe, to Hungary, Don't forget me!

An Outlier

by Edward J. Albenstein

In his most recent column, David Brooks writes about Malcolm Gladwell. He begins:
All day long, you are affected by large forces. Genes influence your intelligence and willingness to take risks. Social dynamics unconsciously shape your choices. Instantaneous perceptions set off neural reactions in your head without you even being aware of them.

What do these ideas have in common? They are intuitive. They are as inherently familiar to young children as they are to the mentally decrepit. Any of them would be an ideal topic for the term paper you need to start writing because it's due tomorrow. And yet, all of them--with the help of a cute name ("blink!"), a few "wouldn't ya know it" anecdotes, and a dollop of catchy rhetoric--have been compiled into books that have catapulted their author to the top of every best seller list they can find. Why? That author was none other than the sorcerer of the Amazon sales rank, Malcolm Gladwell.
There's something I must reluctantly admit: the second paragraph is mine. Brooks's actual second graf was less like a portrayal of reality, and more like a recap of a wet dream starring a hipster-fro and a pair of undulating, steamed-up, right-wing glasses.

Before I go any further, a clarification is in order. I have nothing against pop science. Books like The Selfish Gene, The Moral Animal and Guns, Germs and Steel have been instrumental in making readers with even the most rudimentary scientific knowledge conversant on their subjects. Each of these texts was able--in plain language, and (unfortunately, I think) with minimal use of statistics and charts--to present some of the research that led to the most fascinating discoveries about the world around us.

My gripe with Gladwell, then, is that he skips the spaghetti and goes straight for the meatballs. To read Gladwell is to reach for the trophy without bothering to run the race. Swinging like a gibbon through a forest of anecdote-trees, Gladwell makes it clear on page after page why he is the undisputed master of the "how fucking cool is THAT?!" school of science writing.

The distinction between Gladwell and, say, Richard Dawkins can be illustrated as the basic difference between this:
"At high temperatures, liquids high in fultose create brilliant rainbows of gaseous matter. For example, wave your Bunsen burner around a can of fultose-rich Dr. Pepper for long enough, and the soda will turn yellow."
and this:
"I burned some Dr. Pepper with a torch lighter yesterday, and it turned fucking yellow!"
Now Dr. Pepper doesn't actually turn yellow when you burn it. And Lord knows I'd be first in line to read an article full of sentences like the second one if it did (and if people lined up to read articles, which I truly think they should). But the point is, what do we get out of these two passages? From the first, we take away a general piece of knowledge about fultose that will inform any future fultose-oriented activities in which we might engage. In the second, we find out that something totally epic happens when you burn Dr. Pepper.

I think it's clear what I'm getting at. Look, the last thing I want is for the airport bookstore industry to go out of business. So keep buying Gladwell's books, and read them if you like them. But let's keep in mind that, somewhere in between imparting knowledge and teaching, there is an important step we might call grasp. Which, come to think of it, would make a pretty decent title for Gladwell's next book.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Commenting in Other Languages

by Benjo

By popular request from my non-American readers, I have decided to enable foreign language functionality in the comments. Effective immediately, any reader comment on Benjoblog may be written in either English or ancient Greek.

To comment in ancient Greek, simply write out the phonetic representation of your comment using the English alphabet.

For the benefit of my non-ancient Greek readers, I will promptly translate all ancient Greek comments into English. (Due to a technical blip in Blogspot's software, I will not be able to write out the English exactly, but will instead transliterate it using Germanic runes. I appreciate your understanding.)

Fish Food

by Benjo

I apologize for my silence following the Of-fish-ial Fish Joke post. As you might imagine, emails poured in from all corners of the globe in response to the post. Not only did it take hours to read and respond to all these emails, but it took days to assemble my new do-it-yourself unfolded square globe.

But I'm back, and I want to answer the most common question:
If you eat fish, are you still a vegetarian?
This is a topic of ongoing confusion for people all over the world, so let us clear it up now.

Strictly speaking, no. One who eats fish but not meat is called a pescetarian. The reason this is so confusing for people is that they think pescetarians are those concerned with the apocalypse and the final destiny of humankind. While this topic may be of coincidental interest to a pescetarian, it is unrelated to dietary choice; the proper word for such a person is an eschatologist.

Many readers disputed this interpretation, though; as one asked,
Aren't eschatologists, you know, poop people?
In fact, a "poop person" is a scatologist. Mind, you, we are off the topic of food now; while scatologists study feces, they do not eat it. The word for someone who eats shit is vegan.