Author Archives: Mitch

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From the April 16, 1938 issue of The New Yorker:

If a Texaco salesman at a filling station has asked you, “Is your oil at the proper level today, sir?” or if you’ve ordered a malted milk at a soda fountain and the clerk has stood there, an egg in each hand, and asked, “One or two eggs today?,” then you’ve been under the subtle influence of Mr. Elmer Wheeler, head of the Tested Selling Institute, 521 Fifth Avenue. Mr. Wheeler has adopted the profession of seducing people in the mass with words. He advises merchants how to win sales and influence customers.

Mr. Wheeler composed that suave speech about the proper level of oil to replace the crude old question “Check your oil today?” There are nine words in it, to save you the trouble of counting back, and Texaco paid Mr. Wheeler $5,000 for it. This is $555.55 a word. He worked out the malted-milk-and-egg technique, for Abraham & Straus, so that they might sell more eggs at their fountain. He not only devised the phrase “One or two eggs today?” but also planned the gesture of the clerk holding an egg in each hand.

The scene of the soda clerk, the eggs, and the timid customer (who usually takes at least one egg in his malted milk when all he wanted was a malted milk) is now reënacted thousands of times daily all over the city. It is the perfect example of one of the principles of Tested Selling, which are masterfully explained in an essay written by Mr. Wheeler some years ago and recently expanded into a book with a red-and-yellow jacket. The book has a number of Wheelerpoints in it, and the egg episode dramatizes Wheelerpoint No. 4, which is “Don’t Ask If—Ask Which! “The essence of Wheelerpoint No. 4 is that the customer should always be given a choice between something and something, not a choice between something and nothing. This point is vital, but the great motif in Tested Selling is Wheelerpoint No. 1, “Don’t Sell the Steak—Sell the Sizzle!” On this majestic theme, Mr. Wheeler writes:

“The sizzle has sold more steaks than the cow ever has, although the cow is, of course, mighty important.”

Wheeler did the equivalent of today’s A/B testing in real life; he tried different phrases and sentences on people to see which sold more product, and iterated the changes until they were just right.

People put egg in their malted milk? Is that still a thing?

[The Sizzle / John McNulty / The New Yorker]

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The drive supposedly gets its propulsive power by absorbing microwaves. If it works, it would revolutionize space travel and open up the Solar System to exploitation and colonization.

Of course it’s bullshit. If things seem to violate the laws of physics, it’s because they do.

But what if it’s not bullshit?

The gist of EmDrive is that it’s an engine that appears to gain intense amounts of propulsion via ambient microwave energy. Supposedly, this could make for spaceships that can gain speed without propellant in the vacuum of space. If it’s true, then this technology would be a revolution in space—a way to drastically cut down on the mass of spaceships and keep them going by producing continuous thrust, bringing long voyages closer to reality.

In reality, of course, the EmDrive has always been dubious at best. A tenuous connection to NASA has made the idea sound more plausible, but it isn’t. People get starry eyed at the idea of a low-power microwave drive that could propel humanity to the stars and forget the cardinal rule of technology: that if something seems to violate the law of physics, then there’s probably something wrong with the analysis, not the physics.

[Report: The EmDrive Finally Will Undergo Peer Review / John Wenz / Popular Mechanics]

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Delmer Berg, who died recently age 100, was the last known living veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. They were Americans who joined the Spanish Communists to fight the Fascists in Spain prior to World War II. Berg himself was a Communist; he joined the US party in 1943 and remained a Communist until his death.

Mr. Berg went to Spain when he was a very young man. He fought in some of the biggest and most consequential battles of the war. He sustained wounds. He watched friends die. He knew he had ransomed his life to a lost cause, for a people who were strangers to him, but to whom he felt an obligation, and he did not quit on them. Then he came home, started a cement and stonemasonry business and fought for the things he believed in for the rest of his long life.

I don’t believe in most of the things that Mr. Berg did, except this. I believe, as Donne wrote, “no man is an island, entire of itself.” He is “part of the main.” And I believe “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

So was Mr. Berg. He didn’t need to know for whom the bell tolls. He knew it tolled for him. And I salute him. Rest in peace.

[John McCain: Salute to a Communist / The New York Times]

Mitch

March 24, 2016

No WiFi on this flight. We’ve been instructed to put our heads between our knees and breathe shallowly.

Mitch

March 24, 2016

I partook too enthusiastically of the cookies and muffins.

RIP Clare MacIntyre-Ross, who inspired the Harry Chapin song “Taxi”

She came from swank Scarsdale, N.Y. He was a guitar strummer from Brooklyn.

They met as summer camp counselors in the early 1960s, and the result was a weepy love song, “Taxi,” a hit for Harry Chapin in 1972.

MacIntyre-Ross spent her final years in Falls Church, Va., and died March 9 from complications of a stroke at age 73. Her father, Malcolm MacIntyre, was a lawyer who headed Eastern Airlines from 1959-63, and she had an on-again off-again romance with Chapin in the early 1960s.

Their split inspired the song, described by the musician as about 60% accurate, according to his biographer, Peter M. Coan.

In the song, a cabdriver discovers his old flame, now wealthy, in the back of his taxi. She hands him $20 for a $2.50 fare and says, “Harry, keep the change.”

In the song, it’s implied that the woman is a hothouse flower, living in idle dissipation in the mansion of a husband she doesn’t love, pining for her lost romance and dead dreams.

In reality:

Ms. MacIntyre lived in Argentina with her first husband before moving to New York and working as an institutional securities sales executive at Drexel Burnham Lambert in the 1970s, when few women held such jobs. Her Spanish-language abilities helped her find Latin-American clients.

[Clare MacIntyre-Ross, Woman Who Inspired Song ‘Taxi:’ 1943-2016 / James R. Hagerty / The Wall Street Journal]

I’m blogging again. Blogging is cool.

I’ve been blogging on social media for years. Recently I’ve been using Google+ first, and then automatically distributing those links to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

But I’ve increasingly become dissatisfied with that arrangement. Those platforms are owned by other people – Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Those companies control the format of my posts, and who gets to comment on them. Those companies can make changes to their service, or even shut down entirely, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

All of that was something I was willing to live with for the trade-off of connecting with other people. But in recent months, the kinds of connections I get through those services have been unsatisfying. I’m getting more comments from jerks and other unpleasant randos, and getting tired of blocking them.

So now I’m posting my links and kibitzing here. Because I own this site, I have greater control over the platform than I do over what happens on social media.

A blog is a home. Social media is couch-surfing.

Does this mean I’m leaving social media?

Not at all. I’ll continue sharing my posts from here to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, and watching discussions there as before. Indeed, I’m looking for better ways to share on those platforms without taking up a lot of my time. Because this thing I do here is just a hobby.

I did this experiment once before, for five months in 2014, and ended up going back to social media. But now it’s different. At that time I was still concerned with increasing the numbers of people following me on social media – the size of my communities there. I’m less concerned now. My community numbers have been flat recently on all the services I use, and I don’t mind it. The noise from jerks and unpleasant randos is loud enough to make my social media experience less pleasant. More followers = more noise.

Also, social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ are starting to become public squares. We’ve always talked about them that way, but I’m seeing that myself now and it’s a mixed blessing. We’re not individuals there, we’re just part of the group. I’ve had people commenting on my posts and refer to me in the third person – not even by name, just as “OP” (for “original poster” – a shorthand I first saw on Reddit). They start calling each other names. When I ask them to be civil with each other, they want to know who the hell I am to tell them what to do. I don’t bother to ask anymore. I just block them when they get too annoying. It’s tedious. It makes social media too much like work.

By moving off of social media to a blog platform, I make it harder for people to find and read my posts. Not a lot, just a tiny bit. And I like it that way. I’m hoping that tiny little speed bump will improve the quality of conversation. Anybody willing to make that tiny bit of effort to get here is welcome. But they have to make that tiny little bit of effort.

If my follower numbers grow by a little or a lot, I’ll be happy about that. But if they don’t, I’m fine with that too. I don’t plan to take any special steps to grow my follower numbers – no ads or search engine optimization or suchlike shenanigans. I want people to be able to find me easily if that’s what they want, and if they’re not interested, that’s fine too. 1 

Also: I recently read a blog post by a friend who’s taking a Facebook break. She values her privacy so I won’t link to it. But she, like me, is an introvert. And like me she finds social media connections to be a substitute for real life connections. She was finding going on Facebook often made her feel bad. I can relate.

I hope that by taking this baby step back from social media, I can understand better the extent to which I value personal connections, and how much I need of them, and to what extent I’m happy to be my introverted self. 2

If you’re interested in continuing to read my links and posts, thank you! Just keep on following me on social media, as you were, and click over here to read anything you find interesting. Or don’t – that’s OK too. Or you bookmark this site and come back regularly. Or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Also, you can get a daily email newsletter of my posts. I think the newsletter option is nifty and I’m surprised more people don’t take advantage of it. Perhaps I haven’t spread the word enough?

By the way, my blogging here might be temporary. I get infatuated with one technology or another and then lose interest rapidly and move on, much to the annoyance of a few friends who look to me as a technology bellwether.

On the other hand, I do stay with some things. I’ve been an online enthusiast for 27 years, longer than the Internet has been popular with the general public. I’ve been in the Appleverse for nine years now and am still satisfied. And I’ve been blogging like I do here for about nine years as well. So don’t be surprised if this blog is still up and running in some form 10 years from now, and don’t be surprised if I give it up in a few months either.

I do expect that if I stick with this for years I won’t always be on WordPress. But I do think whatever platform I’m using, I’ll continue blogging, continue doing it here at this URL, and hopefully all the archives will be in the same place too.

  1. Even friends and family should feel no obligation to connect with me online. This is my peculiar hobby that I’m happy to share with anyone, but have no interest in inflicting on people unwillingly. ↩︎
  2. “Introvert” has become such an overused word on the Internet. It makes me feel like an annoying hipster to proclaim myself to be one. On the other hand, maybe I’m missing out on an opportunity to ride the hype. I could start introvert clubs! Host an introvert conference! Just send me money and stay home and do whatever you want without interacting with other people. ↩︎

Retired New York police sergeant builds Chitty Chitty Bang Bang replica car

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Sgt. Tony Garofalo built the functional, full-size vehicle from the body of a 1914 Overland car with a 1928 Model A engine – the same engine used to make the motor sounds in the movie.

Garofalo also plays John Lennon in the Beatles tribute band Strawberry Fields. Hence his nickname: Sgt. Pepper.

The New York Times has more.

Mr. Garofalo said he had been a fan of both the film and the car since he was 4, when he and his mother, Anna, attended the movie’s premiere at Radio City Music Hall.

“The cast was there and the car was parked out front,” said Mr. Garofalo, who was dumbstruck by the car and promised his mother that he would one day make his own version.

To copy the car exactly, he said, he watched the movie some 200 times on DVD, pausing constantly to scrutinize the vehicle from different angles. He also went to look at two of the several models used in the movie, which are privately owned.

“It was seeing the real Chitty that helped me make mine exactly like the movie car,” Mr. Garofalo said recently at his home in Ridge, N.Y., before driving his creation out of the garage.

It had a wooden passenger compartment and wings, and he thought it might even float, just like in the movie.

Also:

With a flick of a button on his key chain, the car’s red and yellow wings extend from under the running boards, “for when people ask if it flies,” Mr. Garofalo said.

Read the whole thing – delightful story:

[Sgt. Pepper Builds a Real-Life Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on Long Island / Corey Kilgannon / The New York Times]

[Via reddit.com/r/longisland]

Also: Watch Dick Van Dyke sing the “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” theme on Conan O’Brien in December. Love this.