Entries Tagged 'Uncategorized' ↓

Smart car to USA?

The Smart car sold in Europe, where small cars have a long tradition, may be imported into America. Zap, a California importer of electric vehicles, is promoting the car in America. While the car is made by a Mercedes Benz subsidiary, you won’t get MB lovers to convert to this car.

It is not merely small; it is tiny — about one-half the length of the gas-sipping hybrid Toyota Prius. It’s only 8 feet 2 inches long and it weighs about 1,600 pounds. For comparison, the bantam weight Mini Cooper is a hefty? 2,700 pounds.

The European version achieves 60 miles per gallon, but the EP says the US version will get 37 mpg. The car maker has asked for a retest.

Last HoJo’s in NYC to close

I See Dead People Restaurants.

Read all the sad details in this op-ed piece in The New York Times. A landmark for almost fifty years, the Howard Johnson’s at 46th and Broadway (1551 Broadway) will be closing.

While anyone who visited this eatery thinks of it as simple American food, a kind of home cooking away from home, the article is by renowned French chef Jacques Pepin, who worked for Howard Johnson’s early in his culinary career, refining HoJo’s recipes with the help of Pierre Franey, another famous French chef, known to many as the 60 Minute Gourmet of the Times.

The property will be used as retail space with “a great signage component, ” according the the real estate broker for the deal. About a dozen (actually nine and counting) of the familiar orange and aqua roadside restaurants remain, according to an earlier Times article. The chain seemed everywhere along America’s highways, since its founding in 1925 in Quincy, Massachusetts as an ice cream shop. HJ was one of the country’s first franchises.

Diet book marketing 101

They’re pushing a new diet book, The 3-Hour Diet(tm). The author, Jorge Cruise is a handsome, mid-thirties fitness guru. Quite a hunk and yes, formerly fat. He’s been there.

According to a New York Times article, diet books can be perennial best sellers, and so they are big business. The book and its spinoffs running its course now is The South Beach Diet. While the new book marketers feel that SBD has run out of steam, the hardcover is still number 28 at Amazon.com. The paperback is lagging at number 223 of all book titles at Amazon. The South Beach Diet and its spinoff volumes have sold 14.5 million copies in two years.

The new book — meant to take a year to write — was hurried out in several months to catch the supposed backlash against the Atkins Diet and its low-carb progeny. (The death of Dr. Atkins, decades after he wrote his first diet book, has hurt sales of the latest generation of Atkins diet books.)

Still Atkins diet books are popular: they’ve sold 21 million copies in the 33 years since Dr. Atkins wrote his first diet book.

The hook for this new diet book? Eat small meals every 3 hours on the theory that this schedule tricks the body into not storing fat.

Hmm, it’s time for my mid-afternoon meal.

Examined lives: 42 Up

I’ve been watching Michael Apted’s remarkable documentary series that follows a group of British kids throughout their lives.

Beginning with the thirst-quenching 7 Up in 1964, every seven years another installment in the lives of these UK folks is released. So there’s 14 Up, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, and now 42 Up. The series begain with fourteen kids, but only eleven are currently co-operating. (Heck, are these the eleven most proud of their lives? Scary thought.)

There are flashbacks in each of the lives to the earlier interviews. They all seemed to have peaked at about 28.

If sad movies cheer you up, because your life is never that bad, this should be a real upper for you.

Amazingly, for the intentionally wide range of classes, ambition, abilities, good luck and bad, all these people seem to be just getting on with it. Lots of divorces, big money troubles, living on the dole, chronic illness, etc. No one is a target for bounty hunters yet, but maybe that’s in the next installment.

Don’t just blame the UK class system or their economy, because the few expats filmed living in the US seem to be making do as well. OK, there is one fabulously successful barrister profiled in the film.

The Amazon reviewer touts their “humanity and strength.” How about “day-to-day dicey struggle” instead?

Apted directed The World is Not Enough, the big-budget James Bond film, so the director is having success. By the way, Apted is 16 years senior to his documentary subjects.

He also directed Coal Miner’s Daughter for which Sissy Spacek won an Oscar for best actress, Continental Divide, and the marvelous Gorky Park based on the Martin Cruz Smith novel.

So the Up series of movies are not only poignant cinema documents of people’s lives over several decades of struggle, but also the warm-up exercises of an accomplished filmmaker.

unhittable pitch

The other day, one of the dedicated softball dads brought out one of the big guns, radar guns. He fired it at our pitcher and at the opposing team’s pitcher.

The pitches for both teams clocked in at 50 to 55 miles per hour. (Both pitchers seemed equally hittable: not very.)

I asked how does this compare to other girl’s pitching speeds. The umpire said he had just seen a freshman girl at another school who pitched fast — more than 60 miles per hour.

According to Slate, Jennie Finch pitches a softball at 70 miles per hour or more.

Somewhat surprisingly, for a baseball fan, a softball pitch is harder to hit than a baseball pitch. It comes down to physics, I guess and the differences between the two games.

In fact, in the 2004 Olympics, the ace American team allowed only one run in nine games. In softball, there are no great hitters, only great pitchers. The pitchers throw a bewildering variety of pitches from about 40 feet away.

In baseball, the pitcher stands back 20 more feet, and can throw a fastball at 90 miles per hour. Sure, the softball pitcher throws a slower ball. But the softball pitcher’s repertoire is far more challenging than a baseball pitcher’s. Whether it’s a rise ball, drop balls, or curve, they’re all tough to hit.

Recently, Jennie Finch has proven this by consistently striking out baseball hitters who’ve challenged her pitching abilities. But it’s not a new phenomenon: in 1967, a famous softball pitcher struck out Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson, Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew, and Roberto Clemente in an exhibition game.

Interestingly the underhand pitch was the rule in early 1900’s baseball. Back then — as in modern softball — the pitchers dominated the game. Nowadays, that underhand “softball style” pitch is illegal in baseball. And just maybe, the big-name baseball hitters are quite happy about that.

googol or Google

Am I the last to get this? My wife says it’s obvious. What is Google, the search engine, named after?

No, a Google is not the Norwegian word for “big search.” (I don’t think it is anyway.) Nor is it named after a famous 19th C. Russian writer. (That’s Nikolai Gogol, the author of Dead Souls. That’s a pretty creepy connection there: are a googol of dead souls? The answer is no, as only about 106 billion people/hominids have been born up till 2002.)*

It is a googol, a really large yet finite number, equal to 10 to the 100th power. (Googolplex, the theatre I named in an earlier blog is a number as well, 10 to the googoleth power. I took this from The Simpsons as that is the name of Homer’s local multiplex theatre.)

A googol is very big, but relatively easy to handle. 10 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000

A googolplex, however, is larger than the number of subatomic particles in the universe.

My American Heritage College Dictionary claims both googol and googolplex were coined by then nine-year old Milton Sirotta, the nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner. “Googol” was coined in 1938, so while there have been googols around for billions and billions of years as Carl Sagan would say, they have only been named for less than 70 years.

The number of web pages indexed by Google is about 8 x 10 to the 9th power or 8 billion pages, so they have a way a long way to go before they reach their namesake.

According to webmasterworld.com, googol.com was already registered by April, 1995 when Google started.

Frank Pilhofer has a web page that offers a program that will print a googolplex. Eventually.

This page has been honored with both a “top 5%” of the net award — this is from 1995, about the time Google was searching for a name — and one of the most useless pages on the net. It has a lot of large number discussion all in one place.

Mr. Pilhofer points out that a googolplex is “the largest number with a common name.”

For more on very large numbers that you ever wanted to know, see Large Numbers, a googol-sized website.

Here’s the history of Google search engine.

* (Here are a few other guesstimates: here and here.)

mystery shopper

While browsing the web, I found an offer to become a mystery shopper, where I would earn
money from shopping and reporting on the experience. I entered my zip code and discovered marketing info from my area is in great demand. I could shop at various large chains like Target and Home Depot, and get to keep what I bought with their money, as long as I filled out a comprehensive marketing research report.

(I’ve done these before, but I was a watching through one-way glass, as focus groups talked about their favorite deodorant.)

Anyway, the mystery shopper site listed my nearest stores to evaluate as several miles away. Then I read the terms and conditions. Whoops. My information, that is, my telephone number, street address and verified email address could all be given or sold to third parties.

So, as a mystery shopper, you are nothing but fresh meat for spammers.

I have been buried in spam before. In fact, in the recent book about the history of spam, Spam Kings, I recognized every single “marketing” campaign mentioned, even the Banned CD, whatever that was.

I decided maybe my zip code hadn’t been singled out for special treatment. I chose a different zip code, 99685 , which as you may know, is for Unalakleet, Alaska, a village on Alaska’s western coast. It has 750 people, mainly Eskimo fishing people. Not a shopping mecca. Sure enough, Unalakleet is also in high demand for undercover shoppers, even though the nearest Lowe’s or Home Depot that I could report on is in Anchorage, 393 miles away.

That seemed a little close. Was there a more remote zip code? An American settlement farther from a shopping mall? Yes, 96599, McMurdo Station, Antarctica, which probably doesn’t get snail mail very quickly, given the rough winters. (If you send a package there, be careful with packing materials. A lot of the eco-hazardous waste is flown out, and at the South Pole itself, styrofoam packing peanuts are banned from the landfill, as they produce gaseous waste.)

Sure enough, here too mystery shoppers are needed, but here the system failed as it could not calculate the distance to the nearest large retail store to evaluate.

Phooey. I would have loved to report on the first Home Depot at McMurdo.