What we talk about when we talk about stereo equipment

Or, musical history, inflation, and AV receivers

Dynaco Tube Amp, 1988

A gift from my uncle, who’d built it from a kit; this stuff was serious hi-fi nerdery in the 1970s, and I was lucky to get it (along with a tuner, a pre-amp, a tape deck, and a pair of really great Fisher speakers).

Thanks to Uncle Bob’s largesse, I was a very well equipped freshman indeed. Perhaps my favorite parts of this era’s rig were that (a) the tape deck was a toploading thing, which interfered with stacking and (b) the CD source was actually a boom box with RCA outs, which made it a great mix of old and new.

Low-end Pioneer, 1988

Sadly, the Dynaco didn’t last the semester; I suspect it had been on a shelf for years, so putting it into constant usage in a dorm room was a bit of a shock. My friend Peter insisted he could fix it, so I let him have it, and have recently confirmed via Facebook that he STILL has it, and it STILL doesn’t work. Hilarious.

Anyway, I scraped together about $250 for this low-end Pioneer, but it served me well until I got out of the dorm and wanted to upgrade. It lived out its final years with Heathen Chief Legal & Pancreatic Counsel Farmer.

Surround comes to town: Onkyo, 1992

This was actually a bit of a debacle. I started out with a Sony, but the Sony kept crapping out, so the 2nd time I drove it back to Birmingham to swap out, I said “fuck it” and dropped more than I should have on what remains probably the most high end piece of kit I’ve ever owned. The Sony was like $600, but stepping up to the Onkyo was a cool grand (about $1700 in 2016 money). You could feel the difference in the weight alone, to say nothing of the feel of its controls (or my credit card bill, for that matter; I didn’t pay that off for YEARS). This guy was SOLID, and made my apartment into my first “home theater” experience with then-novel Dolby Pro Logic.

I actually used this one until 2000, when I upgraded to the next item on the list as part of moving into what remains Heathen World HQ. Even then, I used it as the bedroom stereo and then, later, as the stereo in my office until last year, when space and convenience led me to Sonos.

After that, it languished in the closet until I found a good home for it. (No, seriously. It’ll live out its life in the home studio of a musician friend of mine, which is approximately as close to “your old dog lives on a farm now” as you’re likely to get in this life.)

The Age of Digital Hothouse Flowers, 2000: Arcam AVR100

When I bought the house, I also bought some very fancy speakers and a new receiver, because modern home surround had gone digital, and the Onkyo didn’t know how to do that.

Eschewing more mainstream brands, I bought an Arcam from the same witch-doctor woo-filled audiophile shop that sold me the speakers, and it was a mistake. It was technically cheaper than the Onkyo had been, by which I mean its price tag was the same, but the 8 year gap meant it was about $300 less real money in 2016 dollars. It was British and idiosyncratic, which lead me to note that I could tell it was high-end audio because it was a pain in the ass to use.

It got back at me by requiring factory service TWICE before a third failure in 2008 led to its ignominious end in a recycling bin. Oh, and in this era, the Onkyo had a triumphant victory lap because we’d started buying used vinyl as cheap entertainment — it was the post-crash years — and the fancyboy Arcam had no phono stage. My old pal the Onkyo, of course, did.

Let’s just make the damn thing work: Yamaha RX-V863, 2008

With the Arcam dead, I bought this one quickly. And I think Mrs Heathen may have even paid for it just to get the TV and whatnot running again. It was the third straight box with the same price tag, but time meant that it was the cheapest $1000 box yet: about $1100 in 2016 money.

This one also marked the point when the AV equipment turned towards ease of use, which is great, because at one point when I was using the Arcam I sat down to write a quickie guide for a houseguest and ended up with five pages. To watch TV. Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot.

Can’t this be easy yet? It’s 2016!: Denon

Yes. Yes it can. For $399 from Amazon, I just bought last year’s model. We’re back into goofy no-pre-amp territory these days (Denon doesn’t include one on any model south of $1300, so fuck that), so I had to add an outboard one, but even so I was still spending WAY less money than on any previous receiver except the gifted Dynaco and the cheap Pioneer. My $528 this year is about the same as $261 in ’88, $309 in ’92, $379 in 2000, and $470 in 2008.

Oh, and this time around the device is smart enough to calibrate itself with an included microphone AND be controlled by an iPhone app should the remote be too far away. Progress!

(Hilariously, the speaker story is way simpler: from the Fishers to a pair of Cerwin-Vega D3s to a pair of Klipsch towers to the Vandersteens.

The Fishers got lost along the way somewhere when I got the hyperefficient (and thus CRAZY LOUD) CVs in 1988 (sorry, college neighbors!).

In 1997, I gave them to Tim Carroll and bought the Klipsches, which got demoted to surround speakers in 2000 when I bought the Vandys. They’re still there, which makes them the oldest bits in the kit and, come to think of it, eligible to vote. Wacky.)

What we talk about when we talk about precision in swimming pools

(This is all over the web, but is absolutely worth your time.)

Deadspin noticed that swimming has lots of ties, which is weird, so they asked why. The answer is really amazing: Turns out, swimming isn’t timed to the thousandths of a second — unlike many other events — because of the imprecision inherent in pools. The lanes themselves may vary by more than the length a swimmer can travel in a thousandth of a second, so timing at that level would be bullshit anyway:

In a 50 meter Olympic pool, at the current men’s world record 50m pace, a thousandth-of-a-second constitutes 2.39 millimeters of travel. FINA pool dimension regulations allow a tolerance of 3 centimeters in each lane, more than ten times that amount. Could you time swimmers to a thousandth-of-a-second? Sure, but you couldn’t guarantee the winning swimmer didn’t have a thousandth-of-a-second-shorter course to swim. (Attempting to construct a concrete pool to any tighter a tolerance is nearly impossible; the effective length of a pool can change depending on the ambient temperature, the water temperature, and even whether or not there are people in the pool itself.)

Fascinating.

XXX

A year ago, my life was pretty much the same. I was walking and riding and doing pretty much everything I do now. It was a welcome change from the previous winter and spring and the medical adventures they held.

Two years ago, I didn’t know it, but I was only 3 months from the start of that little adventure.

Five years ago, life was only a little different. I wasn’t riding yet. I was actually in a play, believe it or not. But I had the same job, and the same friends, more or less. A month later, I’d visit my niece for her fourth birthday in Jackson; she’ll be NINE next month.

Ten years ago, I’d been married for only a year. It remains the best thing ever. It was also the summer of Speeding Motorcycle, which is hard to even grasp today.

Twenty years ago, I’d only lived in Houston a hot minute — ok, 2 years — but I was still finding my feet here. I was months away from the best job ever and the friends I’d make there, but I knew that Houston was fast becoming home.

Twenty five years ago, I was in Tuscaloosa, freshly 21, living in a terrible duplex with a great friend, on the runway to “real life” and about to take off. I just wasn’t sure in which direction (but it turned out to be “west”).

Thirty years ago — the same year as the Challenger and Chernobyl — this very day, my life changed in a way that nearly everyone’s does at some point: my father died.

His cancer wasn’t as quick as the one that took my stepfather last year, but it wasn’t too slow, either: he had about 18 months from diagnosis to funeral. I was 16; my brother had just turned 11. Loss at that age becomes foundational, a key attribute to one’s character and development. It winds its way through me in ways I’m sure I’ll never really understand. Even though I rarely think of him now — perhaps a harsh thing to admit, but it’s true — I know the hole it left in my early life is still there. And it’s not just because I’m still not used to paying veterinary bills.

I’m 46 now. I’ve mentioned before that, after the delightful milestones we all enjoy in our twenties (graduations, weddings) and thirties (children), the menu for midlife milestones seems to tilt increasingly towards trauma. Divorces happen sometimes, but parental loss looms much larger and more universally. In your mid-40s, your parents are almost certainly into a realm of statistical danger. And, sure enough, I’ve been to parental funerals, so it’s increasingly normal that my brother and I are missing one, too.

What will never be normal is that we got there 30 years ahead.

Cheers, Dad. The list of things you’ve missed is enormous and ever-growing, and now I’m older than you ever got to be. You’ve been gone for two thirds of my life, and nearly 80% of Frank’s, and those numbers will just get bigger. I have no insight or conclusion, but maybe that’s just as well.

Pictured: The author (l) and subject, ca. 1971 or 1972. He’s no more than 32.

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The insurgency began and you missed it.

Seminal R.E.M. album Lifes Rich Pageant, an evergreen work and perennial member of any official Heathen desert-island disk list, turns 30 years old today.

In the 80s, I kept the tape in the car, unless I needed inside. When I started replacing tapes with CDs, a bonus was that I could keep the CD in the house and the cassette in the car, so I had it everywhere. In the MP3 era, it’s always been on my phone for easy access anywhere. And, obviously, as I write this, it’s playing in my office using technology that was science fiction at its release three decades ago.

Here’s a great appreciation of the record, courtesy of the R.E.M. twitter feed, which contains other gems for the faithful.

Today, in lazy local journalism…

By now we’ve all seen friends posting (old) news stories about famous people who have died as though it was recent news, right? Something along the lines of “I can’t believe Elvis died!”, followed by several other comments of disbelief before someone points out the obvious: that Mr Presley passed away 39 years ago.

Today, well, it’s not just Facebook; at the Chronicle:

Screen Shot 2016 07 22 at 9 35 54 AM

Except:

Screen Shot 2016 07 22 at 9 35 41 AM

Jesus, check a fucking FACT, why don’t you?

Microsoft: Still failing

I’m installing Project, after having installed Office. I got this error. How on earth is this even a thing that you let happen?

Office edition problem

I mean, seriously. I’m a giant nerd with 25 years of experience, and I can barely parse what the hell they’re talking about. How exactly is a normal human supposed to respond to this?

Jesus X. Christ.

Six years ago, Colorado started giving out free long-acting birth control. You’ll never guess what happened next.

Check it out:

WALSENBURG, Colo. — Over the past six years, Colorado has conducted one of the largest experiments with long-acting birth control. If teenagers and poor women were offered free intrauterine devices and implants that prevent pregnancy for years, state officials asked, would those women choose them?

They did in a big way, and the results were startling. The birthrate among teenagers across the state plunged by 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, while their rate of abortions fell by 42 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. There was a similar decline in births for another group particularly vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies: unmarried women under 25 who have not finished high school.

Turns out, to reduce both abortion and unwanted pregnancies, the best approach is unfettered access to birth control. How about that? Approaches like this don’t just make fiscal sense — obviously, it’s cheaper to provide low-income people with birth control than it is to cover an unplanned pregnancy and all that follows — but also empower women. It’s a giant win across the board.

Consequently, it should not surprise you that the Colorado GOP is opposed to this program and has fought to kill it or undermine it on completely specious grounds.

Given that the program has had an enormous effect on reducing abortion in Colorado, you’d think that anyone with a pro-life mindset would embrace it. Color me utterly shocked that this hasn’t happened! I mean, it’s almost like abortion isn’t the point for these people, isn’t it?

Ancestry.com is a spammer.

That’s what I’m forced to conclude after realizing, months after cancelling my subscription, that they were still emailing me.

I clicked the “manage email” link at the bottom of their latest message, even though I was pretty sure I’d already unsubscribed and turned all the emails off. There, I discovered this — note the part I’ve boxed in red:

Screen Shot 2016 07 12 at 12 07 20 PM

Sure, I unchecked all those boxes weeks ago, but that wasn’t enough to stop the email. For that, you have to CALL.

Ancestry’s plan is to make it hard to get off their spam list; most people won’t bother with the phone, so Ancestry can disingenuously believe they still want to get their babble. It makes you wonder how many folks just gave up and set up filters in Gmail or whatever to automatically delete anything from their domain!

That’s shady as fuck. I cancelled my subscription with them when I realized I just didn’t have time to use it — and at $30 a month, I wasn’t going to just let it ride. I had intended to back, but now I really don’t think I want to do business with these people.

Dept. of Shit I Meant To Post Last Week

Dogs Raise Firework Threat Level to ‘Gray’:

The Department of Canine Security has raised the firework advisory level from “Gray” to “Gray” following credible evidence of human-made explosive devices used to celebrate something called “America.” There is a severe risk of deafening explosions, which have previously resulted in frightened puppies and fingerless masters. Wiener dogs should practice special caution, as the most commonly served food at “America” parties is Dachshund-shaped sandwiches.

So what exactly is this “America”? Masters seem to complain about it all year long and then, for some inexplicable reason, they celebrate it for a day by drinking countless cans of smelly, magical dizzy juice. Dogs have reported their masters guzzling this foul-tasting potion on other occasions such as “Christmas,” “Cinco de Mayo” and “I got fired today.”

The Department of Canine Security urges dogs to remain on high alert and employ the tactic of See Something, Say Something. Remember to bark upon spotting anything suspicious; e.g. firecrackers, sparklers, Roman candles, cats, squirrels, mail carriers, shadows, reflections, other dogs on TV, etc.

In case you forgot: David Foster Wallace could write the HELL out of a review

This piece, from the New York Observer in 1997, completely obliterates John Updike’s Toward the End of Time.

A sample:

Mailer, Updike, Roth — the Great Male Narcissists* who’ve dominated postwar realist fiction are now in their senescence, and it must seem to them no coincidence that the prospect of their own deaths appears backlit by the approaching millennium and on-line predictions of the death of the novel as we know it. When a solipsist dies, after all, everything goes with him. And no U.S. novelist has mapped the solipsist’s terrain better than John Updike, whose rise in the 60s and 70s established him as both chronicler and voice of probably the single most self-absorbed generation since Louis XIV.

And the conclusion:

Maybe the only thing the reader ends up appreciating about [protagonist] Ben Turnbull is that he’s such a broad caricature of an Updike protagonist that he helps us figure out what’s been so unpleasant and frustrating about this gifted author’s recent characters. It’s not that Turnbull is stupid — he can quote Kierkegaard and Pascal on angst and allude to the deaths of Schubert and Mozart and distinguish between a sinistrorse and a dextrorse Polygonum vine, etc. It’s that he persists in the bizarre adolescent idea that getting to have sex with whomever one wants whenever one wants is a cure for ontological despair. And so, it appears, does Mr. Updike — he makes it plain that he views the narrator’s impotence as catastrophic, as the ultimate symbol of death itself, and he clearly wants us to mourn it as much as Turnbull does. I’m not especially offended by this attitude; I mostly just don’t get it. Erect or flaccid, Ben Turnbull’s unhappiness is obvious right from the book’s first page. But it never once occurs to him that the reason he’s so unhappy is that he’s an asshole.

Among the many proofs available regarding the fundamental capriciousness of the universe is that we’re left with only three (ish) novels from Wallace, and something like an order of magnitude more books from Updike.

Honestly, I think sometimes Republicans actively seek the most ignorant thing they can say.

“Democrats are in a perplexing position. On the one hand, they’re trying to appeal to the gay community, but, on the other hand, they’re trying to also appeal to the Muslim community, which, if it had its way, would kill every homosexual in the United States of America,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) said on a radio show Thursday.

The logic that Dems favor Muslims/terrorists over gays is coming down from the very top of the GOP 2016 ticket. Donald Trump, in his first major speech after the weekend’s tragedy suggested that Hillary Clinton “can never claim to be a friend of the gay community.”

“She can’t have it both ways,” Trump said. “She can’t claim to be supportive of these communities while trying to increase the number of people coming in who want to oppress them.”

More at Talking Points Memo.

The bar that used to be my living room

Venerable Montrose tavern Cecil’s Pub — where I spent a nontrivial part of the 90s, and met people who became lifelong friends — is up for sale after 26 years.

It was always a good place back then (and, I’m sure, now). The bartenders learned your name quickly, and became friends; one of them even became a pretend white supremacist on TV, much to our shared glee. Sometimes, celebs drifted through — I literally bumpted into Tim Robbins at the bar one night (“who the hell is this tall motherfucker in my way ZOMG I LOVED THE PLAYER“). The bar survived the early gentrification of the area, and even a fire (which, I’m sure, was probably the only way to clean the carpets at that point).

The Chron has a nice feature about it, and reminds us that it was featured in Dave Attell’s Insomniac back in 2001, the entirety of which is on YouTube so you can see pre-fire Cecil’s.

Owner Kimberly Blythe is selling to retire (and good for her), but hopes someone will take over. Even though I never go there anymore, I hope so, too.

Dept. of Updates, Comic Shop Division

Right, so, there have been some Developments.

When I posted my previous entry about Bedrock, I also tweeted it at them hoping to get some kind of reaction. Sure enough, a couple days later, I got a message on Facebook from the manager of the Washington Avenue store. To call it an abject apology would be to understate things by several orders of magnitude. John Scalzi has, somewhat famously, attempted to quantify what makes a good apology, and the Bedrock manager hit all the right notes.

In part:

I made a mistake, plain and simple. There is no store policy or company policy about having a phone number for having a box, it is just a requirement that I prefer we have. I like being able to reach people directly concerning any issues with the box. I set your form off to the side, again my decision, making a terrible assumption about when you would next be in the store. I incorrectly assumed you would be in the next week or the week after, I would then get the phone number and then enter the information in our system and get everything started. This, obviously, did not happen. I read your review on your blog and your anger is well justified. I should have reached out to you via email. Especially considering I deemed the phone number so important, but, in all honesty, did not even consider that. Again, this is all my fault and my responsibility, not an indictment of Bedrock City comics.

He doesn’t stutter or prevaricate; he takes full responsibility, and then comes the kicker: if I’d give them another shot, they’ll supply any issues I missed on their dime, even if they have to go to other dealers to do it.

Yeah, I can do that.

I had a bit of business travel last week, but yesterday Mrs Heathen and I went into Bedrock again and met with this manager. We gathered what they had of my pulls in house, plus another trade or two, and took inventory of what I needed that they didn’t have yet. Turns out I haven’t missed many issues after all, which is nice. Nicer still, the missing ones are from big-print-run Marvel books, so finding them will be trivial for Bedrock. (I should have them later this week, actually.) We started over, more or less, and I left there feeling good about the shop and about Eric the manager in particular, which is a long way from where I was on May 25. He didn’t have to reach out to me at all; that took actual guts and integrity, and he deserves praise for having the stones to do it. Moreover, they certainly didn’t have to comp my entire pile yesterday, which rang to the tune of $40 or $50. But they did, to make up for the hassle, and that’s how you recover when you fuck up.

That’s the lesson here, really. Every business will make mistakes, even good ones run with the best of intentions. The trick is all in how you recover, and Bedrock (and Eric) nailed the recovery in a way that’s really only happened to me one other time.

Nearly two decades ago, something similar happened to me with a car detailing shop: they lost my car key, and since it was a Porsche I’d bought used, it was the only one I had. Before I could even say a word, though, they were outlining how they’d fix it. Obviously, they’d pay for my replacement key. But also I’d have the use of the owner’s truck for the duration. They’d guard my car — it couldn’t be moved or locked without the key — until a key showed up from Porsche America, which turned out to be about 72 hours. And after it was all over, they’d clean up the various rock dings on the front air dam of the car for free, which I never would’ve done because it was about $500 worth of work. Ask me now: have I ever used another detailing shop? Nope.

It’s early yet, but right about now my bet’s that I’ll be buying comics at Bedrock for a long time, too.

Why are comics shops in trouble?

THERE’S AN UPDATE. SCROLL UP. HERE’S THE LINK.

It’s not so much online, or other demands on our attention. It’s because of gatekeeping behavior, I’m sure in part, but in my personal experience, the biggest single reason?

They are bad at their jobs.

Let me explain.

Comics are a periodical medium; it used to be they were tied to months in the calendar, but that’s not universally true anymore; new issues just come out when they come out. People keep up by dealing with a local comic shop and setting up what’s called a “pull list.” You go in, fill out a form with some contact data, and make a list of the titles you want “pulled” for you when they come out. Then, you go to the store at your leisure to pick up your accumulated comics.

Big fans who read many titles do this every Wednesday, which is traditionally when new comics come out (you may have seen DC fans in your life talking about buying a highly-anticipated comic at midnight last night, i.e. on the first moments of Wednesday; it’s also been a plot point in Big Bang Theory more than once). People like me who read fewer titles probably go in once a month, or even every couple of months, but the principle is the same.

For years I had a pull list at Nan’s Comics and Games. I finally quit when, for the umpteenth time, they just skipped a couple of my issues. This is a “you had one job” kind of situation, right? If I have The Avengers on my list, I expect to get every issue. If I travel a bunch and don’t come in for 6 or 8 weeks, the point of the pull list is that I don’t miss anything. Nan’s couldn’t be bothered to actually do my pulls reliably, and so I just quit reading monthlies because it was too much trouble.

Back in early April, though, I was tempted back by some really great writing by folks like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, and others, plus the Ta-Nehisi Coates-penned revival of Black Panther. Returning to Nan’s was out of the question, but there’s a much shinier and newer shop — a branch of Bedrock City, which has several locations in Houston — up on Washington Avenue. It’s actually next door to my doctor, even (which is convenient for him, since he’s a big nerd too).

I went in and picked 5 or 6 titles, and then filled out their pull-list paperwork. They had my name, my email, my physical address, and I even provided a credit card number after we discussed the fact that I might not drop by for a month or so at a time. “If we have your card, we’ll just charge you for them after a month or two, and nobody worries about it.” Fine by me! Let’s do this! I had the guy review the paperwork to ensure all was squared away — this turns out to be important — and left looking forward to my comics.

I got busy. I ride a lot, and work’s been crazy. I was driving by Bedrock today, though, and — fueled by the knowledge that Black Panther #2 had just come out; n.b. I bought the first one when I was in there in January or February, so this is what “monthly” looks like for some titles — I stopped by to pick up my comics. I was even a little excited!

The girl at the desk, though, killed that with a quickness. “We don’t have a pull list for Farmer,” she said after checking the computer.

WAT.

“I’m pretty sure you do.”

She poked around a bit, opened a drawer, and pulled my form out of some kind of dead letter file. On the front was a PostIt saying that, because they didn’t have my phone number, they couldn’t set up the pull.

Mind you, they reviewed my paperwork back in April, and pronounced it find. Plus, my email address was RIGHT THERE ON THE FORM, in the box marked “email,” so it’s not like they couldn’t reach me. Even if they were dead set on having the phone number for the pull (which the guy in January didn’t care about), you’d think they could’ve reached out by email to get the phone number. These are people who, presumably, also care about comics, and understand that missing issues isn’t cool.

Apparently not. By now, I’ve missed at least one issue of everything on my list other than Panther, which (as I said) just came out.

I bought that, and only that, and told them not to bother with the pull after all.

Fuck you, Bedrock. I’ll buy the rest of the Panther issues somewhere else when they come out. The other titles I’ll get digitally, or buy the trade paperbacks when they come out. From AMAZON.

Why are comics shops in trouble? Shit like this right here, boyo. Shit like this right here.

(For the record, the girl behind the counter seemed to understand this was bullshit, but made clear the decision to behave this way wasn’t hers.)

HOWTO: Stealthily Market to Gays and Lesbians in the Early 1990s

This fascinating story details how, in the early 90s, Subaru (a) realized that their cars were surprisingly popular among a certain demographic and then (b) began explicitly marketing to that demographic, but without other groups really noticing.

What worked were winks and nudges. One ad campaign showed Subaru cars that had license plates that said “Xena LVR” (a reference to Xena: Warrior Princess, a TV show whose female protagonists seemed to be lovers) or “P-TOWN” (a moniker for Provincetown, Massachusetts, a popular LGBT vacation spot). Many ads had taglines with double meanings. “Get Out. And Stay Out” could refer to exploring the outdoors in a Subaru—or coming out as gay. “It’s Not a Choice. It’s the Way We’re Built” could refer to all Subarus coming with all-wheel-drive—or LGBT identity.

Check out the graphics — some of the stuff you’d noticed today (the rainbow flag sticker, e.g.), but plenty of it is very, very subtle. It’s like the evangelical dog-whistling that Bush and Cruz (& etc) have used, except not awful and evil.

Also, this bit makes me smile:

In response to the ads, Subaru received letters from a grassroots group that accused the carmaker of promoting homosexuality. Everyone who penned a letter said they’d never buy a Subaru again.

But the marketing team quickly discovered that none of the people threatening a boycott had ever bought a Subaru. Some of them had even misspelled “Subaru.”

“I’m gonna be honest with ya. I’d go buy another bag of pretzels.”

One of my favorite sketches ever is from a super obscure place: something called The New Show, which ran for a grand total of 9 episodes in 1984.

Produced by SNL founder and emperor Lorne Michaels, the show really only existed because of what we might call The Michaels Hiatus Period in SNL history. Sure, he founded the show in 1975, and ran it through 1980, but after 5 years he felt the need to seek out other opportunities. He left the show to Jean Doumanian, who was replaced after a single season by Dick Ebersol (who’s more of note for his role with NBC Sports, but whatever).

Anyway, so, Michaels is off doing other things after 1980. Late in his hiatus — he took SNL back in 1985 — Michaels was back with another sketch show. This one was entirely pre-taped, and had no shortage of serious talent, but for whatever reason it failed utterly.

I remember watching it, but hand to God the only bit I can say I truly remember is this: Roy’s Food Repair, featuring John Candy, Paul Simon, and Dave Thomas (among others). It’s the absurdity and the delivery that still kill, 32 years later.

Dept. of Completely AMAZING Obliviousness

Seen today, on my neighborhood’s Facebook group, where someone is actually upset that their new tax appraisal is more than 10% higher than last year (i.e., the homestead limit) because they added a pool, a two car garage, and an elevator.

Blind to privilege anon

In the future, you can watch your home burn down from anywhere in the world!

A Fort McMurray family had a Canary system, apparently, and so they were able to watch their home burn down in real time on their phones. The fire comes in through the window at the left.

There’s audio. You can hear the glass breaking, and, eventually (but far too late), the smoke detectors going off around the time visibility becomes 0. The video continues after you have no more meaningful visuals, but given that audio continues the whole time I’m not sure if this is because the smoke was too thick, or because the video element perished ahead of the rest of the device.

In any case: Eeek.

Are you guys watching The Americans?

You love it? Yeah? Well, have I got a story for you. Turns out, the whole thing is based on truth — including the idea that the kids wouldn’t even know their parents’ real identities. Tim and Alex Foley were caught completely by surprised when, in 2010, the FBI raided their home and took their parents away in handcuffs. (It was the same operation that netted Anna Chapman, as it happens.)

Born in Canada to “illegal” agents just like Paige and Henry on the FX show, they eventually naturalized as American citizens living in Cambridge. Both citizenships have been rescinded thanks to their parents’ clandestine careers, so the only passports they hold are Russian — i.e., a country to which neither have a real connection.

[Via MeFi.)

Friendly reminder: Cops can steal your cash for no reason. You probably can’t get it back.

An Arkansas court has ruled that the $20K taken from him during a traffic stop — during which he was not even ticketed, let alone arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime — will not be returned.

Back in July 2013, Guillermo Espinoza was travelling with his girlfriend to Texas, when they were pulled over by the Arkansas State Police. During the stop, a drug dog alerted to a computer bag. Inside, police found $19,894 in cash, which they promptly seized. No contraband was found during the stop.

Although prosecutors in Hot Spring County never charged Espinoza with a crime, they filed a complaint to forfeit his cash in civil court. Espinoza challenged the forfeiture, arguing that “the stop, search and seizure by law enforcement officers was unreasonable, unlawful and unconstitutional” and violated the Fourth Amendment. He also submitted paychecks and tax filings to show that his seized cash was “lawful earnings,” and not drug money. “The state should not be permitted to profit from its own wrongdoing,” he added.

The courts disagreed, because (presumably) they prefer not to give up money once they have it, especially when the victim in this case of literal highway robbery lacks the resources to force true accountability.

HOWTO: Extort Prisoners and Their Families, and Make Everyone Else Pay For It

Step one is to establish extortionate long distance rates as the only possible way to talk to inmates. In the world you and I live in, long distance costs are effectively zero; not so for prisoners, where $14 a minute isn’t unheard of.

These rates are decided by legal limits, not actual costs; prison phone providers have repeatedly gone to court to prevent the FCC from imposing rate caps here; those suits are ongoing — but the cap is still a very high 11 cents per minute.

Step two? Eliminate actual visits in favor of video calls with absurdly high per-minute charges.

Travis County ended all in-person visitations in May 2013, leaving video visitation as the exclusive method for people on the outside to communicate with the incarcerated. But Travis County is only on the leading edge of a new technological trend that threatens to abolish in-person visitation across the country. Over 600 prisons in 46 states have some sort of video visitation system, and every year, more of those facilities do away with in-person visitation.

[...]

For the families of the 2.3 million incarcerated Americans nationwide, crippling costs are part and parcel of supporting a loved one in jail. A sweeping survey of families by the Ella Baker Center showed that more than 1 in 3 families goes into debt just to cover the costs of keeping in touch with their loved one. Of everyone pouring money into those systems, 87% are women.

These fees are the linchpin in an elaborate racket between telecommunications providers, prisons and local governments. The business model for the three major prison telecoms is built around long-term contracts that establish them as the sole provider in a given county or state. In order to win these contracts, the major companies promise each county or state “site commissions” — a euphemism for kickbacks. These deals are lucrative: In Los Angeles County, for example, it brings in a baseline, contractual guarantee of $15 million a year. In some counties, this money trickles back down to the prisons.

Both of these plans make it much, much more difficult for those inside to maintain relationships and connections with friends and family outside — which is absolutely counterproductive. Having an active, non-felon support network upon parole or release has been shown over and over to keep people from ending up back behind bars.

The minute you set up a system where people can literally get rich in the prison industry, you have fucked up, because rapacious soulless assholes will have absolutely zero problem screwing these people over. Repeatedly. The end result is a net higher cost to society, because the worse we make prison, the higher the recidivism rates go — which means we all end up paying Big Prison more money to house more prisoners for more years.

Prison operations companies and those that feed at the same trough see this as a feature, not a bug.

Dept. of You Have Got To Be Shitting Me.

JoePa knew 40 years ago.

Throughout most of the Sandusky scandal, Joe Paterno claimed that he was unaware that his assistant coach was sexually abusing children; 2012′s Freeh Report showed that Paterno was aware of a 1998 incident and told Sandusky he could keep coaching. Today’s opinion from Judge Glazer—relying on sworn deposition from numerous witnesses—holds that Paterno knew about Sandusky’s behavior much earlier.

From the decision:

Sandusky was employed by PSU as an Assistant Football Coach and Assistant Professor of Physical Education from 1969 until his retirement in 1999.1 PMA claims Sandusky committed several acts of molestation early in his career at PSU: in 1976, a child allegedly reported to PSU’s Head Football Coach Joseph Paterno, that he (the child) was sexually molested by Sandusky; in 1987, a PSU Assistant Coach is alleged to have witnessed inappropriate contact between Sandusky and a child at a PSU facility; in 1988, another PSU Assistant Coach reportedly witnessed sexual contact between Sandusky and a child; and also in 1988, a child’s report of his molestation by Sandusky was allegedly referred to PSU’s Athletic Director.

BigFootball is a cancer.

“I’m John Laurens in the place to be!”

A few fine quotes about Hamiltons’ pal John Laurens:

[Laurens] became close friends with his fellow aides-de-camp, Alexander Hamilton and the General Marquis de Lafayette. He showed reckless courage at the battles of Brandywine, Germantown in which he was wounded, and Monmouth, where his horse was shot out from under him. After the battle of Brandywine, Lafayette observed that, “It was not his fault that he was not killed or wounded … he did every thing that was necessary to procure one or the other.”

Unfortunately, his luck ran out at the 1782 Battle of the Combahee River in South Carolina, when he was only 27. Washington said

In a word, he had not a fault that I ever could discover, unless intrepidity bordering upon rashness could come under that denomination; and to this he was excited by the purest motives.

And, of course, from Hamilton himself:

I feel the deepest affliction at the news we have just received at the loss of our dear and inestimable friend Laurens. His career of virtue is at end. How strangely are human affairs conducted, that so many excellent qualities could not ensure a more happy fate! The world will feel the loss of a man who has left few like him behind; and America, of a citizen whose heart realized that patriotism of which others only talk. I feel the loss of a friend whom I truly and most tenderly loved, and one of a very small number.

John Laurens is buried in land that is now a Trappist monastery (Mepkin Abbey) in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.

(Laurens was the only of Hamilton’s crowd to die before he did. Hercules Mulligan died in his eighties, and is buried at Trinity Church, which is also where you’ll find Hamilton’s tomb. Lafayette died at 76; he’s interred in Paris, covered in small part by soil brought over from Bunker Hill. An American flag always flies over his grave.)

The ongoing collapse of the justice facade

We’re systematically making the justice system increasingly unfair to those least able to fight back: the poor.

The situation in South Dakota highlights the insanity of this. South Dakota charges a defendant $92 an hour for his public defender, owed no matter the outcome of the case. If a public defender spends 10 hours proving that her client is innocent, the defendant still owes the lawyer $920, even though he committed no crime and his arrest was a mistake.

Failure to pay is a crime. Someone who qualifies as indigent may be acquitted, only to be convicted of being too poor to pay for the legal services the Constitution requires the state to provide.

My superpower is Excel combined with an unseemly attachment to numbers.

When I was first riding pretty seriously as an adult, back in 2014, I tried to keep up a hundred-miles-per-week goal, and I tracked it in Excel.

Obviously, that 2014 sheet is kind of depressing now, since it shows me doing exactly that for weeks on endf — rom June until the week I got hurt in November, and then a loooong sequence of zero mile weeks starts up.

When I started riding again, after rehab in spring of last year, I started a new sheet. I was weak, obviously, and was turning in at best one or two rides a week for a long time. My first ride in that sheet was in the week ending 3/29/15, but I didn’t get over 70 miles in a week until June, and I didn’t top 100 again until the week ending July 19, when I rode my first significant distance post-injury at the Katy Flatland ride. I skipped the century in favor of the “metric century,” i.e. 100 kilometers, or 62 miles. So that week’s a bit of a holiday for me.

In all, I had 15 weeks at 100 miles or better in 2015. I finished up with a shade under 2,800 miles for the year, which I’m kind of proud of given the slow start and the fact that I missed the entire first quarter.

I’m back in the thick of it now. My goal is still 100 a week, but now I have a long term goal, too: I want 5,000 miles in 2016. I’m on track for it, too — slightly ahead, even. For the year, I’m at 1,714 miles, with an average of about 97 per week.

Anyway, it occurred to me to check what my actual mileage and average was since that Katy ride last summer, and now i know: In the 42 weeks since then, I’ve ridden 3,806 miles, averaging about 90.6 per week.

I’ll take it.