Saturday News Chum: Pools, Morticians, Vinyl, Plutonium, and Facebook

Observation StewIt’s an oddly stormy July day here in Southern California (a bit worrisome because I have outdoor theatre tickets tonight). Still, storms make it a perfect time for some stew. I’ve also got two other themed articles brewing on the back burners (one on food, and one on cybersecurity), but the haven’t quite set up right yet. So let’s dig into the stew:

  • Benefitting from the Drought. Having a pool is a headache. You’ve got to keep it full; you’ve got to keep it clean. Additionally, when there is a drought, you worry about the water lost to evaporation… and leaks. Further, if you have a leak, think of the water bill if you have to drain and refill it to repair. I’m telling you this because some niche businesses benefit from a drought: In particular, a pool repair man who is able to repair pools under water has more work than he can handle. He’s developed a pool repair compound (trade secret) that can be applied and cure under water, meaning that pools do not require draining for repair. I found this very interesting, as I suspect my pool to have another leak… and for that leak to be somewhere deep where I can’t find it. During the summer, it is hard to differentiate water lost to a leak from water lost to evaporation.
  • No One Ever Plans to Be A Mortician. This is one of my favorite phrases… and so here’s an article about morticians. Specifically, it is about two Los Angeles morticians who are trying to effect a radical shakeup of the undertaking business. What they want to do is return death to the home. In other words, people are removed from death and their loved ones. People used to die at home; now they die in hospitals. They are handled in isolation by undertakers, who pump them full of chemicals to make them look alive. These two young morticians work with families to facilitate what the two call a “more natural” death — no formaldehyde cocktail, no pods that fill hollow eyes, no mouth former, no satin-lined casket, no metal vault. The goal is to promote home funerals. If family members care to, they can undress, bathe, and cool the body with ice themselves or they can watch them do so. Interesting concept.
  • The Rebirth of Vinyl. If you purchase music these days, you’ve probably heard about the rebirth of vinyl records; quite suprising in this day of digital music and CDs. But not everyone thinks it will last. In particular, Noel Paul Stookey, of Peter Paul and Mary, thinks the current resurgence of vinyl is just a fad. Specifically, he thinks a trend to oversampling will eliminate the sound advantage, but the tactile and emotional advantage will remain. Then again, if you don’t have a place or way to listen to the music you own, what difference does it make.
  • Invisible Girlfriends. On the Internet, there’s a service for everything — even being an invisible girlfriend who is there only in text messages. This service is provided in a way similar to a Mechanical Turk: it is crowdsourced. What is it like to be an Invisible Girlfriend? Funny you should ask: Someone wrote an article about the experience. This seems the perfect subject for a Reply All episode.
  • Magnets and Plutonium. Pluto has been in the news, so why not Plutonium. Plutonium is an odd metal: based on where it is in the periodic table, one would expect it to be magnetic — yet it isn’t. Scientists have just started to figure out why. The reason is that plutonium can have four, five or six electrons in the outer shell in the ground state (they previously thought the number was fixed); further, not only does it fluctuate between the three different configurations, it is in all three at the same time. Because the number of electrons in plutonium’s outer shell keeps changing, the unpaired electrons in the outer shell can never line up in a magnetic field and so plutonium can’t become magnetic.
  • Taking Control of Your Digital Life. One of the things that was nice about Livejournal was the ability to see what was happening with your friends chronologically, back to the point where you had last done so. Facebook and their algorithms made that difficult: you were never sure if you were seeing everything from everyone — Facebook tried to bring up what it thought was most important. That all may be changing. Supposedly, Facebook is going to soon let you bypass their algorithm. After years of sorting news feeds primarily by algorithm, Facebook is letting users choose what they want to see first.An update to Facebook’s iOS app expands the existing “News Feed Preferences” section with a way to choose whose updates appear at the top of the timeline. A similar update is coming to Facebook’s Android app and desktop website in the coming weeks. Users can check out the new settings by pressing the “More” button in the Facebook app’s bottom-right corner, then tapping on “News Feed Preferences” and selecting “Prioritize who to see first.” This brings up a list of friends and Pages that users can mark as favorites. Unread updates from favorite contacts will always appear at the top of the News Feed, overriding Facebook’s predictive algorithms.

That’s it — your stew for the weekend. Let’s now hope that the storm (we’ve got thunder and rain as I type this) doesn’t cancel tonight’s theatre. Update: It did 🙁


Independence Weekend News Chum Stew

Observation StewIt’s been stewing on the stove for two weeks because I’ve been so busy. Let’s hope it is still tasty and flavor-right. Here’s your news chum stew for the last two weeks:



Evolution in Action

userpic=caduceusToday’s lunchtime (well, I meant to post this at lunch, but the day got away from me) news chum post deals with evolution, in various forms and shapes:

  • Evolution of… a Musical. In a couple of weeks, I’m going to be seeing “Harmony“, the new Barry Manilow musical at the Ahmanson. The story of how this musical came about is quite interesting. You see, although Barry Manilow is involved with this musical (writing the music), it isn’t a pastiche of existing Manilow music. This musical goes back to when Manilow met Bruce Sussman at the 1972 BMI Musicals Workshop (before Manilow was a pop star), and it tells the the little-known true story of the Comedian Harmonists, a vaudevillian German sextet that rose to wild superstardom in the 1930s. But three of the group’s six members were Jewish, and by 1935 they had been forced to flee to the United States after the Nazis dissolved the sextet, destroyed all their albums and burned their 12 movies. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.
  • Evolution of… a Meme. Slashdot is reporting on a study about the way that memes evolve on Facebook, and it turns out they evolve in a manner similar to the ways genes evolve. Specifically, memes spread, mutate and evolve in ways that are mathematically identical to genes. However, there are important differences too. The authors of the study say that understanding this process can give deep insights into the way information spreads through cultures and the way individuals change it as it spreads. BTW, in other Facebook stuff, Wired looks at our obsession with online quizzes, and even includes their popularity back in the days of Livejournal.
  • Evolution of… the Vegas Marquee. When the Las Vegas strip started in the late 1940s, marquees were nothing. There might be a signboard announcing artists and a pool along US 91. Then the Flamingo added the champagne tower, and everything took off. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was neon everywhere. But go to the strip these days, and you’ll find very little neon. What’s replaced it? Gigantic LED high-def displays. The Las Vegas Weekly has a nice article looking at this evolution.
  • Evolution of… the Coffeemaker. First, you should know that I don’t like coffee. Coffee, to me, only belongs in ice cream or covered in dark chocolate. But there are those that like it. Growing up, my mother did… and she always had a percolator. You never see those any more. They were replaced by drip coffeemakers (“Mr. Coffee”), and then French Presses (or cold brew setups like my wife uses). Nowadays, we’re all into the waste of the K-Cup and the Keurig. Keurig wants to be the HP or Canon of coffeemakers… and by that I mean they want to make you captive to their cups (think cheap printers and expensive consumables). How are they going to do this? DRM in the K-Cup, meaning the coffeemaker will only work with Keurig-produced K-cups. I think I’ll stick with loose-leaf tea, thankyouverymuch.



Remnants of Things Gone or Going

userpic=headlinesToday’s lunchtime news chum brings together a collection of articles, all related by a connection to something that is gone, or may be going away…



Saturday Clearing O’ The Links

userpic=observationsIt’s Saturday, and you know what that means — time to clear out those links that couldn’t form into a coherent theme over the week. That doesn’t mean this are incoherent links, but … umm … perhaps we should just get to the links:

  • Theatre Stuff. This has been a busy week theatre-wise — based on some good reviews in the times and some timely discoveries, I’ve now filled out my June theatre dance card. You’ll see that in tomorrow’s review of Priscilla, but I do have a few theatre items. First is a very interesting review of Scottsboro Boys at the Ahmanson… written by a resident of Scottsboro AR. His take is very different than some. Second, I’ve become a tag at Bitter Lemons! Perhaps I should explain: Bitter Lemons is a theatre site here in Los Angeles that aggregates reviews and writeups of local shows, and then uses them to ascribe an overall “lemon” score — from sweet to bitter — on each show. They evidently like my writeups enough to include them in the meter, and I’m honored by that inclusion. I’ve even more honored that Colin, who runs the site, wrote a wonderful response to a post I did a while back regarding critics and their place. I also really liked their advice to the aspiring critic; I’ll take a number of those items to heart. A PS to the good folks at REP East: You should pay attention to this post about getting your shows in the Lemon Meter.
  • Your Net Worth. Two different posts looks at the question of what you are worth to different groups. Yes, you. First, have you ever thought about who was the most valuable patron to a casino: a pennyslot player or a blackjack player. The answer may surprise you – the pennyslot player. What about on Facebook? How much are you worth if you “like” something? Read this post, and you’ll be very hesitant about “like”-ing in the future.
  • The State of Affairs. A couple of state things. First, an interesting map that shows if you are in “dog” or a “cat” state. This is based on the percentage of pet ownership of each type. I’m in a neutral state, it seems. What I’d love to find is a map that categorized cities as “east coast” or “west coast” — and this isn’t a geographical distinction. Perhaps one day I’ll explain it, but I’ll give my two favorite examples: LA and KC are “west coast”, San Francisco and St. Louis are “east coast”.  Second, the city hall in St. Louis is slowly deteriorating, and no one is doing anything about it. It’s not that St. Louis doesn’t have city pride; it’s that they don’t associate it with their city hall.
  • Conference Concerns. I’ve been involved with the ACSAC conference for many years (in fact, training submissions are still open — you have until Monday to get something in). Thus, I’m worried whenever incidents such as the recent IRS boondoggle hit the news — it makes people start seeing conferences as frivolous. It also leads to bills such as those mentioned in this article, that would ban travel to “fun” places. Conferences can be useful and cost effective, if GSA guidelines are followed and the organizers focus on technical content and quality. As always, perception is everything. The important thing to remember is electronic interaction cannot replace face-to-face interaction, just like recommendations from Amazon cannot replace browsing at the bookstore.
  • An Interesting Kickstarter. The SCGD mailing list alerted me to an interesting Kickstarter: A group of gamers is attempting to start a Board Game Cafe in Glendale CA. I love the idea, but I’m less sure about the location — I think it would do better in Westwood (near UCLA) or Northridge (near CSUN). Still I may decide to support them. Basically, the idea is as follows: customers visit the café and for a small cover charge they get access to an extensive board game library (which often runs into hundreds of titles) as well as food and drink options from the café. There is no establishment like this in Los Angeles. There are game shops, but that’s a different atmosphere. The question is: Will it be a destination? It might — after all, they have pie. (All I know is the pie sold me — I’m a supporter. Please help them make their stretch goal so I get pie!)

Music: Folk Era Mini CD (The Kingston Trio): “Tom Dooley”


Evolution in Action: TVs, Tumblr, Disney, and Cheese

userpic=masters-voiceToday’s lunchtime news chum theme is evolution. I’m not talking Darwinian evolution here, but the evolution of ideas, companies, and places. As with Darwinian evolution, sometimes this results in something better. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Music: Backstory (2011 Original London Cast): “Money”


Ending It All

userpic=socialmediaToday’s lunchtime news chum brings together a collection of articles dealing with the end of things: the end of life, the end of relationships, and the end of your connection to social media:

  • And When I Die… And When I’m Dead, Dead and Gone… A big, unspecified, legal morass is what happens to all of your social media accounts when you die. Google is attempting to be proactive regarding this, and has rolled out what they call an “Inactive Policy Manager” — essentially a “dead man’s switch” that triggers when your account becomes inactive. After a set period, you can tell it to either send email to someone you designate and/or delete all your accounts. Specifically, it can send your data from many Google services to your digital heirs, alert your contacts, delete the accounts, or do all or none of the above. It affects Blogger, Contacts/Circles (in Google+) Drive, Gmail, Google+ profiles, Pages and Streams, Picasa albums, Google Voice, and YouTube. It can also serves as a useful self-destruct button–that is, you can have your account auto-destruct after trying to reach you using other e-mail addresses and by text message.
  • Wipin’ Away the Ex. Sometimes it’s not you, it’s your ex-whatever. You’re tired of them, and don’t want to see them anymore. But there are traces of them all over your Facebook. What do you do? The answer is KillSwitch, an application that will delete all digital traces of your ex from your Facebook. As the LA Times describes it, the app bills itself as a fast and efficient way to make breakups less agonizing by “seamlessly and discreetly removing all traces of your ex from your Facebook timeline.” Without notifying the ex that he or she is being digitally deleted, the app wipes out traces of the person from your Facebook timeline. It also works for deleting other kinds of Facebook relationships, including friends, co-workers, and former in-laws. Currently, KillSwitch requires that you still be friends with the person you want to erase. They’re working on a way to use the app even after “defriending” the person, as well as a “breakup severity switch” for those more amicable breakups. As an aside and appropos of breakups, here’s a wonderful letter that imagines Aladdin and Jasmine, 30 years later.
  • Getting Rid of the Social Connection. One thing that it is difficult to do is sever your ties with your social network. The New York Times has a nice article today going over all the ways to do it. What they don’t discuss is how these networks make it very sticky — all your friends are there, and so the effort of establishing a new presence is extremely difficult. This is why they push deactivation, as opposed to pure deletion.

Music: The Captain and the Kid (Elton John): “Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way”


Facebook in the News

userpic=socialmediaLunchtime again, still in a partially unpacked office. So here’s another collection I wrote up Tuesday night — this time, dealing with our favorite social website: Facebook.

  • Name a State Without A Q. We’ve all seen them meme. Have you ever wondered why you see it? Andrew Ducker pointed me to an article that explains the scam. It’s called “like farming.” A Facebook page is created, with an appeal for readers to like, comment or share. The creators, who are working together to build these pages, share it among themselves. They all have big networks, so the pages instantly get into thousands of other people’s news feeds. When those people respond with a “like” or a share, then it reaches their friends. Suddenly, the thing has spread faster than a high school rumor. Then the people who started it, having quickly acquired tens of thousands of followers, sell the page. Now an advertiser has all those names and Facebook addresses. And that advertiser, who isn’t allowed to phone you and whose flyers go straight to your recycling box, is sending you commercial messages on Facebook. Remember: Think twice before you share or comment on that cute viral meme.
  • Facebook Charging for Email. This is something I ran into the other day: If you try to message someone not on your friends list, Facebook wants you to pay $1 or more so the message isn’t treated as junk mail. How do you get around this? Friend the person (the goal of Facebook right), or accept the message as junk mail. This is how Facebook gets you to build your friends list.
  • Facebook Lobbying. Mark Zuckerberg has been attempting to start a Facebook political advocacy group. However, a memo regarding the group was leaked. In the leaked memo, Joe Green, who’s heading the political effort, pledged that technology executives would use their companies to “control the avenues of distribution” and promote their political message. This has led Facebook to postpone the effort. The LA Times also has a nice article on Zuckerberg’s political “wingman”: Joe Green.

Music: A Party With Comden & Green (Betty Comden, Adolph Green): “One Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man (Intro)”