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The Osmond Misinterpretation, innumeracy, strawberries...
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Published Monday, April 26, 2021 @ 12:33 AM EDT
Apr 26 2021

With all the police shootings and references to "bad apples," this is worth revisiting..

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Thought of the day: "I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves."
-Ludwig Wittgenstein (26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) (More Ludwig Wittgenstein quotes)

Along those lines, Experts say humanity faces a grim and "ghastly future"– state of planet is much worse than most people understand. But then, if you're not rich, good news: You're probably getting a tax cut.

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AP Fact Check- all the news that didn't happen last week.

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Millions are skipping their second doses of COVID vaccines. More than 5 million people, or nearly 8% of those who got a first shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, have missed their second doses, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is more than double the rate among people who got inoculated in the first several weeks of the nationwide vaccine campaign. Meanwhile, virus 'swallowing' people in India; crematoriums overwhelmed. And Alaska Airlines has banned Alaska state senator Lora Reinbold for her continued refusal to comply with employee instruction regarding the current mask policy.

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IRS is holding millions of tax returns, delaying refunds. We filed with TurboTax the first day the IRS began accepting returns, and had our refund in just ten days.

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Innumeracy: Wandering through the produce department of Giant Eagle over the weekend, I strolled past a rather large display of fresh strawberries. There were two groups: one pound containers, which appeared to be selling faster than the adjacent two pound packages. The sign said the one pound packages were on sale: two for $6. The two pound packages were $4.99. So the one pound packages cost $3 per pound, while the two pound packages were about $2.50 per pound. Canned and packaged goods on the self usually have a unit cost on their price stickers which show the cost of the item per ounce. Take a close look the next time you're at the store... that "large economy size" actually costs more than the "standard" size.

Speaking of grocery stores, I was engaged in a discussion with a lady in the checkout line who was asserting that cats were better overall pets than dogs. I have nothing against cats, but dogs are indisputably better companions; it's intrinsic to their make-up. Compare a 20 pound dog to a 150 pound dog. Aside from size, they're, well, dogs. Compare a 20 pound cat to a 150 pound cat. The former is a house pet, the latter is something that's higher on the food chain than you.

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Quotation trivia: "What fresh hell can this be?" is a line that has been attributed many times to Shakespeare but is actually from American author/critic/poet and wit Dorothy Parker. She is reported to have used the phrase when interrupted by a telephone. She then started using it in place of "hello" when answering the phone. In many ways she can be considered the patron saint of all tech support workers. (More Dorothy Parker quotations.)

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This would be funny if it weren't a direct threat to our democracy:

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Don't be evil: Google shifted more than $75.4 billion (£63 billion) in profits out of the Republic using the controversial "double-Irish" tax arrangement in 2019, the last year in which it used the loophole.

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Cheerleader's Snapchat rant leads to 'momentous' Supreme Court case on student speech. ...an adolescent outburst and the adult reaction to it has arrived at the Supreme Court, where it could determine how the First Amendment's protection of free speech applies to the off-campus activities of the nation's 50 million public school students.

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Why are there no horse-sized rabbits?

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Among other things, today is Alien Day, Audubon Day, Get Organized Day, Hug a Friend Day, Hug an Australian Day, International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day, National Dissertation Day, National Help a Horse Day, National Kids and Pets Day, National Pretzel Day, National Richter Scale Day, National Static Cling Day, Pesach Sheni, and World Intellectual Property Day.

On this date in 1986, a nuclear accident occurred at the No. 4 reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in the north of the Ukrainian SSR. It is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history both in terms of cost and casualties, and is one of only two nuclear energy accidents rated at seven —the maximum severity— on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the other being the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. The initial emergency response, together with later decontamination of the environment, ultimately involved more than 500,000 personnel and cost an estimated 18 billion Soviet rubles— roughly US$68 billion in 2019, adjusted for inflation.

Remembering Vic Perrin, (April 26, 1916 – July 4, 1989) American radio, film, and television actor, perhaps best remembered for providing the "Control Voice" in the original version of the television series The Outer Limits (1963–1965).


Carol Burnett (b. April 26, 1933) is 88 today. Famous quote: "Having a baby is like taking your lower lip and pulling it over the top of your head." (More Carol Burnett quotes.)


Melania Trump (born Melanija Knavs, Germanized as Melania Knauss, on April 26, 1970) is 51 today.

Bobby Rydell (b. Robert Louis Ridarelli, April 26, 1942) is 79 today.

Giorgio Moroder (b. Giovanni Giorgio Moroder, April 26, 1940) is 81 today. An Italian composer, songwriter, and record producer, he has been called the "Father of Disco", and is credited with pioneering euro disco and electronic dance music. His work with synthesizers had a large influence on several music genres such as Hi-NRG, Italo disco, new wave, house and techno music.

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Andy Borowitz: Trump blasts Biden for firing almost no one in first hundred days. At the rate Biden is going, Trump said, "He's going to be looking across his desk at the same losers the entire time he's in office."

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I didn't watch the Academy Awards last night because the "pre-game" show featuring performances of the nominated songs left me underwhelmed. It reminded me of an Oscar performance so sublime that I remember it clearly 42 years later. Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, let's return to those thrilling days of yesteryear to the 51st Annual Academy Awards (1979), when they really knew how to pull out all the stops and put on a show. With lyrics by Fred Ebb and music by Larry Grossman, "Oscar's Only Human (Not Even Nominated)" featured Steve Lawrence and Sammy Davis Jr. performing a medley of outstanding songs that were not even nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar®.

If your song didn't win the Academy Award
And you're feeling dejected and deflated,
Imagine the shape you might have been in
If you hadn't even been nominated.

Running an impressive ten minutes, the Academy's music branch initially protested the segment and urged it be dropped from the ceremony. It remained after producer Jack Haley Jr. threatened to quit and take first-time emcee Johnny Carson with him.


Categories: Alphabet, Andy Borowitz, Bobby Rydell, Carol Burnett, Cats, Chernobyl, Covid-19, Dogs, Dorothy Parker, First Amendment, Google, Ireland, IRS, Ludwig van Beethoven, Melania Trump, Strawberries, Supreme Court, Taxes, Vic Perrin


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Blessed are the cheesemakers...
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Published Sunday, June 01, 2014 @ 11:42 AM EDT
Jun 01 2014

Smartphone technology is amazing, but if we're going to continue anthropomorphizing these devices, let's get the casting correct.

They're not mature, thirty-something personal assistants with eidetic memories and a preternatural awareness of our needs and their surroundings. They're precocious ten-year-olds who don't listen closely, are easily distracted, and are willing to sacrifice accuracy for the chance to joke around.

This past Friday the local Rite Aid pharmacy couldn't completely fill my prescription for montelukast, the generic form of the allergy drug Singulair. On my way out of the store, I told Google Now to "remind me about montelukast when I'm at Rite Aid."

To be fair, I didn't look at the phone's screen. I didn't want to remove my sunglasses and I was in a hurry. I just confirmend the reminder and kept moving.

So this morning I'm at Rite Aid getting milk and bread, and my phone "dings' and vibrates. The reminder screen read:

Monty Lutheran.

"Ok, Google Now. Show me Monty Lutheran."

Smart ass.


Categories: Google, KGB Opinion, Monty Python, Technology


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Cleaning off the desktop, part 4: General miscellany
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Published Sunday, December 22, 2013 @ 8:46 PM EST
Dec 22 2013

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Categories: Cartoons, Cleaning off the desktop, Google, Miscellany


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You are being watched. Might as well enjoy it.
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Published Friday, July 26, 2013 @ 12:00 AM EDT
Jul 26 2013

In light of the Edward Snowden/NSA scandal, CBS' science fiction series Person of Interest now more closely resembles a reality show:

While not quite as memorable as "Space... the final frontier," the series' opening voice over provides a pretty good summary of the premise:

"You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything... violent crimes involving ordinary people. The government considers these people 'irrelevant'. We don't. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You'll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number's up... we'll find you".

From the Wikipedia article on the show:

John Reese (Jim Caviezel), a former Green Beret and CIA field officer, is living as a derelict in New York City after the death of the woman he loves, and is presumed dead. He is approached by Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), a reclusive billionaire computer genius who is living under an assumed identity. Finch explains that after September 11, 2001, he built a computer system for the government that uses information gleaned from omnipresent surveillance to predict future terrorist attacks. However, Finch discovered that the computer was predicting ordinary crimes as well. The government is not interested in these results, but Finch is determined to stop the predicted crimes. He hires Reese to conduct surveillance and intervene as needed, using his repertoire of skills gained in the military and the CIA. Through a back door built into the system, Finch receives the Social Security number of someone who will be involved in an imminent crime, at which point he contacts Reese. Without knowing what the crime will be, when it will occur, or even if the person they were alerted to is a victim or perpetrator, Reese and Finch must try to stop the crime from occurring.

They are helped by NYPD Detectives Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman), a corrupt officer whom Reese coerces into helping them, and Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson), who in early episodes investigates Reese for his vigilante activities. Although Reese arranges for Carter and Fusco to be partners in the NYPD early in the first season, neither learns that the other is also working with Finch and Reese until season two.

Periodically, the team also enlists the aid of Zoe Morgan (Paige Turco), a professional "fixer" who applies her skills to particularly difficult tasks. The series features several subplots. One significant story arc involves "HR", an organization of corrupt NYPD officers in league with budding mob boss Carl Elias (Enrico Colantoni); in the course of this arc Fusco is forced to go undercover. Another important storyline revolves around Root (Amy Acker), a psychopathic female hacker who is determined to gain access to the Machine; she asserts the device is actually God, and that she has been summoned by "her."

Ah, The Machine...

The Machine is a mass surveillance computer system programmed to monitor and analyze data from surveillance cameras, electronic communications, and audio input throughout the world. From this data, the Machine accurately predicts violent acts. Under control of the U.S. Government, its stated purpose is the identification of terrorist and their planned assaults. However, the Machine detects future violent acts of all kinds, not just terrorism. Unknown to Finch, his partner, Nathan Ingram, installed a routine called "Contingency" prior to delivering the system to the government. The covert software causes the machine to also act on non-terrorist crime. Finch is appalled that Ingram has the data sent directly to him. After Finch fails to prevent Ingram's computer-predicted murder, he further modifies the system so that "irrelevant" non-terrorism data is transmitted to him in the form of social security numbers, via coded messages over a public telephone.

Over the course of each episode, the viewer periodically sees events as a Machine-generated on-screen display of data about a character or characters: identification, activities, records, and more may be displayed. The viewer also sees a Machine-generated perspective as it monitors New York. Commercial flights are outlined by green triangles, red concentric circles indicate no-fly zones around tall buildings, and dashed boxes mark individual people. The Machine classifies the people it watches by color-coding the boxes: white for no threat or an irrelevant threat; red for perceived threats to the Machine, red-and-white for individuals predicted to be violent; and yellow for people who know about the machine, including Finch, Reese, Ingram, Corwin and Root. The white-boxed "irrelevant threat" targets include the Persons of Interest that Reese and Finch assist.

As the series progressed, a wider governmental conspiracy emerged. Known as "The Program", it revolves around the development and utilization of the Machine. Apparently led by a mysterious figure known only as "Control", an unnamed official (Jay O. Sanders) from the Office of Special Counsel begins eliminating key personnel who are aware of the Machine's existence by deploying teams of Intelligence Support Activity (ISA) operatives who believe they are acting to eliminate perceived terrorist threats on the recommendation of a department known as "Research". The members of the elimination teams are classified by the Machine using a blue box.

Person's producers have hinted the third season of the hit series, which moves to a new day and slot (Tuesdays at 10 pm, premiering on September 24) will attempt to be more, er, science fiction-y. Like all television shows, Person does have some reality-bending elements, but the suspension of disbelief level required is remarkably low. The bad guys are still lousy shots, and the key characters make miraculous recoveries from concussions, lethal injections and various forms of physical trauma, often before the show's end credits roll. But hey, it's episodic broadcast television, right?

Where the show excels is in production values and technical accuracy. While Mr. Finch's technology boasts features which are a couple software releases in the future, the indulgences can be forgiven. The show's cellular phone networks, computers, and other devices work at blinding speed. But when you have to shoehorn a rich narrative into 40 minutes of actual episode time, you really don't want to watch systems execute communication protocol negotiations in real time; trust me.

Particularly impressive is the effort the show puts into elements that have perhaps a second or two of screen time. Thanks to high definition and digital video recording, I've been able to freeze frame some of the monitor shots- and it's obvious these guys have some real-world Unix and TCP/IP knowledge. A one-second blip of a phony newspaper article reveals someone actually wrote a faux news story and, apparently, follows The AP Stylebook.

Other one-hour drama series spend eight days or less to film an episode. Person of Interest spends nine and a half, with more camera coverage, extensive location shooting, and substantial post-production work.

They spend money on this show, and it's all up on the screen. The episodes have a decided theatrical motion picture feel.

So... when planning your television viewing for the upcoming season, give Person a shot. Like certain other Warner Brothers shows, the studio hasn't made it available for free, on-demand viewing- you have to buy the DVDs or download the show from iTunes. Update: During the third season, the show became available on the CBS website.

Just type CBS Person of Interest into Google and you'll find hundreds of useful fan sites and video clips from key episodes.

One caveat- the series is produced by J.J. Abrams of Lost fame, which means there's a chance that at some point the whole thing could take a sharp turn into stupidity. But, based on the first two seasons, it's worth the risk.

And, the regular cast includes a dog:


Categories: Amy Acker, CBS, Computers, Dogs, Edward Snowden, Enrico Colantoni, George Orwell, Google, Internet, James Clapper, Jay O. Sanders, Jim Caviezel, Kevin Chapman, Michael Emerson, NSA, Paige Turco, Peggy Noonan, Person of Interest, PRISM, Ron Wyden, Science Fiction, Signs of the Apocalypse, Taraji P. Henson, Technology, Terrorism, The Machine, TV, Video, YouTube


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incommunicado: Part 2
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Published Sunday, January 13, 2013 @ 10:25 PM EST
Jan 13 2013

On Friday morning, 24 hours after reporting the problem, callers to my Comcast home phone number still received the out of service recording.

I called the number the Comcast person gave me on Thursday to follow up on the problem. The person said it's the wrong geographic region. He needed to transfer me to the office that handles Pittsburgh.

Generic music on held, then I'm connected to another office which also tells me their region doesn't handle Pittsburgh port-in requests. I can barely hear the person on the line; then the call drops.

I'll spare you the details. Hint: sometimes psychotic behavior can be rewarding.

The phone was working Saturday morning, and Comcast gave me credit for the days without phone service, plua $20 off next month's bill.

Now everything's going through Google Voice. Let's see how this adventure pans out...


Categories: Comcast, Google, KGB, Technology, Vonage


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This is a Google test.
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Published Friday, August 03, 2012 @ 9:53 AM EDT
Aug 03 2012

Nicely understated Olympic ceremony.

Tap-dancing militant Islamic fundamentalists.

We'll keep you posted.


Categories: Google, Zay N. Smith - Quick Takes


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