If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Consumerist had some problems deciding on a headline Wednesday. In chronological order:

  • VIDEO: Tie Slipknots On Produce Bags For Drawstring Access
  • VIDEO: Tie Slipped Half-Hitches On Produce Bags For Drawstring Access
  • VIDEO: Tie This Easy Knot On Produce Bags For Drawstring Access

Personally, I would have gone with “Tie This Easy Knot On Easy Produce Bags For Easy Access”…


p.s. I can just picture the debate at Consumerist as to whether it’s technically a slipknot or a “slipped half-hitch”. Never hire a boy/girl scout.

Assault, Yes. Drugs, No.

When I first saw on the FAFSA that students are ineligible for financial student aid if they have been “if you have been convicted for the possession or sale of illegal drugs” while being supplied with student aid, I misread it as referring to crime in general. Anyone have an idea why drugs are singled out? As opposed to, say, assault? I’d rather have a drug user on campus than a dangerous sociopath, and so, I would guess, would the vast majority of Americans.


Some Animals Just Want To Be Eaten

Via Consumerist: Suicide Foods – various advertisements depicting cartoon animals who are just waiting for you to sink your teeth into them…


In Search Of 99 Year Old Women

If you’re female, one side effect of (non-dating-related) social networking sites like MySpace and StumbleUpon is the crush of men who are searching for you whether you want it or not. I’ve noticed that a lot of women list their age as 99 years old so they don’t come up in search results. So if you’re a horny, desperate man looking for someone who doesn’t want to be bothered, there’s no such thing as too old!


Adscape: Outdoor Ads By Neighborhood

Via Stay Free Daily – Alexis Lloyd’s Adscape research project:

Advertising data was recorded from three neighborhoods in New York City: East Harlem, a historically poor, primarily Latino neighborhood; SoHo, a downtown shopping district; and the Upper East Side, a wealthy residential area.

Some interesting numbers emerge:

Alcohol & Tobacco

East Harlem: 12 ads
SoHo: 0 ads
Upper East Side: 0 ads

Books & Periodicals

East Harlem: 0 ads
SoHo: 30 ads
Upper East Side: 11 ads


East Harlem: 0 ads
SoHo: 7 ads
Upper East Side: 3 ads

Food & Beverage

East Harlem: 33 ads
SoHo: 13 ads
Upper East Side: 7 ads

Music & Movies

East Harlem: 15 ads
SoHo: 8 ads
Upper East Side: 0 ads

One of the Stay Free commenters (Charles Star) is suspicious of the numbers, particularly the drugs & alcohol ones – SoHo, the commenter argues, does indeed have ads for booze (it’s definitely there in my neighborhood). However, said commenter has not read about the methodology:

In each neighborhood, ads were recorded in a five-block section that consisted of two avenue blocks and three adjacent street blocks.

Anyway, the one that strikes me as the most offensive is the lack of ads for books and education in East Harlem (although the alcohol and drugs ads targeting poor people is pretty bad too).

Also, note that the numbers include things like storefronts, not just billboards.

In any case, an interesting and provocative look at the ad biz in New York.


Practical Joking With Ruby

It’s a little late for April Fool’s, but if you’re a Ruby programmer, here’s a fun trick you can play on your peers:

class Fixnum
def +(other); (self.to_f + other.to_f + 1.0).to_i; end

1 + 1
=> 3

2 + 2
=> 5

2 + 2 = 5? Big Brother would be proud :-)


p.s. Any Ruby people have a better way to redefine plus? My way is kind of a hack…

A Thousand Little Pieces

One of the reasons I love Unix/Linux is that it comes with dozens of little programs that work amazingly well together, and is designed to let them from the ground up. For example, there’s the handy “find” command that will show you all files, subdirectories, sub-subdirectories, etc. in a directory (by default your current directory if you don’t specify one). So “find /” in Linux will show every single file and directory on the whole system. If you want to find any file containing the word “foo”, you could type:
find | grep foo
This is the first example of two programs working together – “find” lists the files, and “grep” does the search. “|” is the magical glue that makes them work together: it takes the output from “find” and pipes it into “grep”.

Here’s another example: “wc” shows a character, word, and line count for whatever is given to it. “wc -l” just counts the lines. So in the previous example, if you wanted to count how many files have the word “foo” in it, you could type:
find | grep foo | wc -l
If you want to sort the results instead:
find | grep foo | sort
Note: I’m not sure if find already does sorting, but I wouldn’t assume so.

Anyway, these little tools are all really useful on their own, but when you chain them together, you expand their value tremendously. And Linux makes it almost trivial to write your own tool that would fit in with the others (this system is also much more effective than any “supertool” that may have been designed – no all-in-one solution would have been nearly as flexible or powerful in the long term).

The point of all this, besides the geeky *nix love, is that it shows how very simple, specialized pieces can work together to make something much greater than the sum of their parts. It happens on a much grander scale in biology with cells – billions of cells work together to make an organ, and all the organs work together for a working body. Each cell does its thing, but because the way the system is set up, something called an organism emerges.

The same thing also happens in the market – billions of individuals make decisions, and incredibly complex economic trends emerge. It’s much messier because the “|” (i.e. the written and unwritten laws that govern financial relationships) is much messier.

So a belated kudos to the original developers of Unix for understanding this concept – I think it’s a major reason for its staying power as an operating system.


Political Vacation

Part of the reason I haven’t been blogging much recently is that (other than the fact that I’ve been crazy busy and have had a lot going on in my life) is that I’ve been taking (or trying to) a vacation from politics. This is something I recommend to most people not actually involved with politics – reading the news and various commentary and so on can really increase your stress, and if you’re like me there’s not much you can do anyway (“call your senator” – suuuuure) so why submit yourself to that? It’s of course important to stay involved and aware in general, but every once in a while it’s important to just take a break. The key is to actually re-engage, eventually – a democracy needs an involved populace. But by all means, take a break from all the craziness every once in a while. The various scandals and outrages will be there when you get back. I promise.