Previous “Features” posts

Imperfection, Embraced

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

Last week, I shared my philosophy of embracing our hilarious imperfections. I continue to urge you to have photographic fun with your IDs, your address book, and anywhere else you can.

As part of that post, I included a wonderful photo from my pal Merlin’s Costco card. When I spoke to Merlin to clear the use of my photograph of his photograph, he was able to find the card, and take a much higher-resolution photo of the terrible photo. Presented in high-resolution, here is Merlin’s bonkers ID photo:

It’s like they’re producing these cards on an Easy-Bake Printer. Viewed at this level of zoom, it’s practically a stipple portrait, though much lower quality.

While chatting, Merlin also pointed me to one of his favorite Twitter avatars, for someone who is truly leaning in to the imperfection. Society judges women on their appearance much more than it does men, so Emmy-nominated writer Megan Amram’s Twitter avatar is truly a brave stand.

My god. It’s awful, and in its awfulness, amazing. She is a loathsome, offensive brute, yet I can’t look away. Gloriously well done, Megan!

Embrace The Glorious Imperfection

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

We all take plenty of bad pictures. Thanks to the digital nature of most photos these days, it’s easy to delete the images where someone blinked, sneezed, or just looked really dumb. However, I want you to consider another way. We should embrace our glorious imperfection, as exhibited by the inherent truth of a bad photograph.

Background

The genesis of this philosophy began over a decade ago, when my pal Merlin showed me his truly fabulous Costco membership card. Please enjoy this terrible photo of a terrible photo, courtesy of the original iPhone and a dimly lit bar:


Having no idea what information on this ID might be useful, I’ve blacked it all out.

Years later, when signing up for Costco myself, I kept Merlin’s example in mind. Where he went with a diabolical genius laugh, I aimed for more of a deer-in-the-headlights look. Here is a very high-quality photo of a terrible photo:


Costco really does not use good printers for this.

While this sort of clownery is unlikely to fly on a driver’s license or passport, there’s nothing stopping you from looking intentionally ridiculous in other identification documents. Go on, live a little!

Fun With Your Address Book

Of course, IDs alone aren’t enough. In an effort to push the world beyond its vain ways, I have also expanded this philosophy to my contacts. Fair warning, if you’re a buddy of mine, I have likely set an amusing picture of you as your contact photo. That’s just the price of entry into the wonderful circle of friendship.

Every so often, I’ll take a moment to really notice one of these pics, and have a good laugh:


Scott finally proved them all wrong.

And if, god forbid, you call me? Well, the awfulness of using my phone as a phone will be lessened by seeing something like you cuddling up to Danny Devito’s sweaty, naked ass:


The explanation for this photo is, in a word, complicated.

Turnabout Is Fair Play

Of course, I’ve shown many of my friends the ridiculous contact photos I use for them. As a result, the practice has spread. Many of them share screenshots of my own contact in their address book, as seen in the examples below:


You may recognize that picture from this March post.


That veggie sausage was moving toward my facehole at a high rate of speed.

For this to work, we must all be willing to allow the spread of less-than-flattering photos. As my Instagram feed can attest, I practice what I preach, and I’m quite willing to post ridiculous photos of myself for comedic effect. Please enjoy these three examples. If you’ve got me in your contacts, I encourage you to use these pictures, or others like them.

Lean In

The real world is not what we see through Hollywood’s Vaseline-smeared lens or the false curated perfection of social media. The real world is a mess, and if we can’t laugh at it at least a little bit, we’re all lost. Embrace that terribleness. Lean in to it. You’ll have a lot more fun.

Demonstrably False

Wednesday, June 5th, 2019

Earlier this year, I saw something referring to Memorial Day weekend as “the unofficial start of summer in America”. I was amused by this, because of course there is an official start to summer. In 2019, summer starts in the Northern Hemisphere on Friday, June 21st. Three weeks before that is of course late spring, but perhaps this can slide thanks to the word “unofficial”.

However, this is some real nonsense:

No it’s not! Your email is three weeks early! Why lie about it?


Update (June 11th, 2019): Today, thanks to a random bar trivia question, I learned about meteorological seasons. If this was taught in school, I have no memory of it, and it’s certainly not what society tends to talk about as “the first day of summer”. Nevertheless, June 1st is the first day of the meteorological summer. As such, I need to at least give byChloe a pass on this one.


Update (June 24th, 2019): After sending a second marketing email in which they used the more traditional definition of summer, byChloe once again gets a wag of the finger.

The Worcester Bravehearts Should Listen To Jimmy Dugan

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

This is a very, very bad slogan.

Billboard for a local baseball team announcing 'The clap is back!'
[Link]

However, the prevalence of STDs on college campuses coupled with the fact that this is a collegiate league means it’s probably also true.

More on Siri and Numerical Days of the Year

Wednesday, May 15th, 2019

When writing about Siri and the Kilomile last week, I noted some strange and useless responses the virtual assistant provided when trying to determine what numerical day of the year it was. Shortly thereafter, I received multiple replies from folks who noted that at least my last query (“How many days until 2020?”) worked for them. I don’t know what changed on the Siri side since my first tests, but this does indeed work for me as well:

Answer: It's two hundred thirty one days until then.

With this answer, we’re at least getting somewhere in the quest to determine what numerical day of the year it is. If we take 365 days and subtract that answer of 231, we get 134. Today (May 15th, 2019) is actually the 135th day of the year, so perhaps Siri isn’t counting today in this. We have to add 1 at the end (or subtract from 366), but we can at least use this to work out the answer we want.

Having finally gotten something useful from Siri, I set out to see if there was an easier method. First, I again tested the real head scratcher from my first post. Regardless of the day of the year, when asked “How many days are left in this year?”, Siri thinks there are three hundred sixty-four days left. That issue persists:

Answer: It's three hundred sixty-four days.

Experimenting further revealed additional problems. I got another weird reply when I asked “How many days into 2019 are we?”:

Answer: It's two hundred thirty days until then.

This phrasing seems to indicate Siri is still living in 2018. On a hunch, I then asked “How many days from 2020 are we?”, and got this:

Answer: It's three hundred sixty-four days.

A quick check reveals that this was the exact number of days from 2020 on May 15th, 2018. Why is Siri living in the past? What sort of off-by-one error have we hit?

Eventually, however, I figured out the exact right question to ask. Reader Michael L. put me on the right path, suggesting “How many days since the first of the year?”

Answer: It was one hundred thirty-four days ago.

This is very close, and doesn’t require subtracting from 365. Still, it’s off by one day, requiring us to remember to add one. What if we instead ask “How many days since December 31st, 2018?”:

Answer: It was one hundred thirty-five days ago.

Success! This gives us today’s numerical day, with no additional math required.

It’s good to know that Siri is indeed capable of doing calendar math. Now the trick is remembering how exactly to ask this question to avoid multiple different weird or wrong answers.

Siri and the Kilomile

Friday, May 10th, 2019

When I first took up serious distance running in 2001, I also began a log of each of my runs. I first measured my routes ahead of time by driving them with a car, and later with tools like MilerMeter (formerly GMap-Pedometer). Much more recently, the Apple Watch’s GPS has made it especially easy to know how far I’ve run, with no manual measuring required. At some point in the past few years, I also created an ongoing tally of my lifetime distance run.1

Obviously, I’m a nerd for running data. So I was amused when I learned about the distinctly non-metric measurement called the “kilomile”. A kilomile is simply a thousand miles, and while I’ve run almost seven of those in my adult life, friend-of-the-site Kelan C. managed an entire kilomile in just the year of 2018 alone.

Reviewing my running logs, which of course include annual totals, I saw that I had just missed a kilomile in the year 2017. That year I ran 980.4 miles, and if I’d known how close I was, I’d certainly have gotten off my ass a few more times in December. In 2019, I decided I’d conquer this goofy goal.

Once I began this effort, I soon found myself repeatedly checking my progress. To do that, I just need to know what number day of the year it is, then multiple that by the ~2.74 miles2 I need to average each day. That tells me what my total distance so far should be. For example, if I’ve run at least 27.4 miles by January 10th, I’m on or ahead of pace. Simple.

But why keep things simple, when one can instead make an overly-involved spreadsheet? I wanted to see more exact numbers, and also avoid repeating the same calculations constantly. Here’s a quick look at what I came up with:


I’m slightly behind schedule, but I remain confident.

The biggest issue with this is that we don’t generally know what number day of the year it is. Thankfully, that’s where computers can help. Calendar math is the foundation of lots of computer code, and it’s simple for machines to do. A Google search will get you to a site like EpochConverter which tells you that May 10th is the 130th day of the year. And surely my helpful virtual assistant Siri can tell me as well, right?

Long-time readers likely already know the answer to the above question. Some of the most popular posts on this site have covered the failings of Apple’s virtual assistant. From callousness, to over-promising and under-delivering, to outright sexism, Siri has had its issues.3

And yet, for some reason, I continue to try to make Siri work for me. It has improved over time, and because it’s always being updated, hope springs eternal. Maybe it shouldn’t though. Please enjoy this a story of futility in three images.

A Story of Futility in Three Images

First I asked Siri “What day of the year is it?”:

Answer: It's Monday, May 6, 2019

OK, that’s accurate enough, even if it’s not what I was after.

Next, I tried to get what I was after by some basic math, by asking “How many days are left in this year?”:

Answer: It's three hundred sixty-four days

I…uh…what?! This answer could only make sense in very early January, yet it seems to be the standard response to this question, no matter when it’s asked. Try it yourself.

Finally, I tried asking a very specific question: “How many days until 2020?”:

Answer: It's three hundred sixty-four days

Can’t, or won’t, Siri?

Compared to some of the previous failings I’ve noted, this one is somewhat obscure. Still, that second answer really got to me. Siri ought to be able to do this basic calendar math, but if it can’t, it certainly shouldn’t provide that kind of nonsense.

Update (May 15th, 2019): Don’t miss the follow-up post, “More on Siri and Numerical Days of the Year”.


Footnotes:

  1. 6,954.61 miles and counting! ↩︎

  2. That’s 1000 miles / 365 days, to get exactly 2.739726027 miles per day. I’m comfortable rounding up, because 0.000273973 miles is about a foot and a half.↩︎

  3. Early on, I referred Siri with feminine pronouns, as it had only one female voice. More recently, I’ve taken to calling Siri “it”, both because it has male and female voices, and because it of course doesn’t actually have a gender. ↩︎

The Shameful Wastefulness of Vampire Facials

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019

Imagine trying to explain to someone that you got HIV from a “vampire facial”.

Two people have tested positive for HIV after receiving “vampire facials,” a treatment that involves injecting blood platelets into a person’s skin, from VIP Spa, a clinic in New Mexico.

The spa in Albequerque was actually shut down last year, following reports that a patient had received an “unspecified infection” shortly after getting a vampire facial. An investigation by the New Mexico Department of Health later discovered unsafe needle storage and handling practices at VIP Spa, thus increasing the risk of the transmission of blood-borne infections.

When I got past the ridiculous name for this treatment, my reaction to this story was simple disgust at just how vain and foolish humans can be. For at least two unfortunate people, the contraction of a life-threatening virus occurred because of one facility’s poor needle-handling practices, coupled with a procedure which shouldn’t even exist.

However, my disgust was soon joined by no small amount of outrage. Upon further reading, I learned that this idiotic procedure involves extracting blood from a customer, then running it through a centrifuge to extract platelet-rich plasma (PRP). Their dumb face is then poked repeatedly with very fine needles, after which the previously extracted PRP is smeared all over it. The logic, such as it is, is that blood platelets will help repair damaged skin cells.

The outrage here is that this is an obscene waste of time, money, and a precious bodily fluid. Every two weeks, I take a couple hours to donate platelets.1 The process is similar to the above, with my blood extracted and run through a centrifuge to pull out the platelets, then returned to me. The difference is that at the end of my donation, cancer patients, victims of traumatic injuries, and others in need are helped, and nothing is slathered all over my skin. Also, I usually get a bag of Sun Chips, a treat few spas carry.


A small celebration for my 300th platelet donation.
[Photo courtesy of P. Kafasis]

These odious narcissists are going through nearly all the steps to do some good in the world, only to blow it all with a procedure backed by exactly no evidence. Thanks a lot, Kim Kardashian.


Footnotes:

  1. You can (probably) donate too! If you’re near Boston, donate at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. ↩︎

The Future Is Weird

Thursday, April 25th, 2019

Yesterday, I noticed a peculiar plane taking off from Boston’s nearby Logan Airport. Though it was a few miles away, it caught my eye because it was nearly all red. Even with a pair of binoculars, I couldn’t see it very clearly, but I thought that it also had pandas painted on it.

Thinking quickly, I whipped out my phone and opened up an app called “Plane Finder AR”. Simply aiming my phone in the direction of the fast-departing plane let me learn all about it. Plane Finder AR is an augmented reality app that overlays plane details on a view of the real world. Below is an example of what this looked like, using another random flight (the red circle showing the difficult-to-spot plane has been added):

An example screenshot showing Plane Finder AR in action
Plane Finder AR in action

Plane Finder AR told me that the plane I’d spotted was flight number HU 482, a Hainan Airlines flight. A quick Google search showed that this was a direct flight from Boston to Beijing, and I could even see its flight path up and over Greenland, then back down over Russia and Mongolia, before reaching China.

The flight's path on a map
Flight Path via FlightAware

Better still, Plane Finder AR also provided me with the plane’s unique registration number, B-6998. Armed with this information, I learned that B-6998 was a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner which had been delivered to Hainan Airlines in January of 2018. And sure enough, I confirmed the pandas I thought I saw, because I found B-6998 was apparently painted in a special all-red “Kung Fu Panda” livery. I was also easily able to find dozens of pictures of the aircraft taken by planespotters all over the world, and even multiple videos of it in action.

The flight's path on a map
B-6998 in all its weird glory
[Photo credit: Thomas Ingendorn]

So it was that a truly shocking amount of technology was leveraged to answer one rather inane question: “Does that plane have pandas on it?”.

The ‘E’ Stands for “Extremely Lame”

Monday, April 1st, 2019

After updating my iPhone to iOS 12.2, I noticed a change in the status bar:

An iPhone status bar claiming 5Ge
The iPhone’s network indicator has been updated.

Where before my phone would indicate it was on a 4G LTE network, I’m now apparently getting two whole bars of sweet, sweet “5G E”. Of course, my phone’s hardware didn’t change, nor did AT&T’s network in Boston. Instead, AT&T simply renamed their 4G LTE Advanced network to “5G E”, in an attempt to one-up their competitors without doing any actual work. The new iOS update sadly reflects this reality distortion.

Anyone who used early iPhones (or other smartphones) will likely recall the crumminess that was the EDGE network.1 That was indicated by an “E” in the status bar, an E which caused no small amount of frustrated swearing due to slow loading of information. Given this negative history, it might have been wise for AT&T to at least go with a different letter for their little con job here. Then again, tests have shown AT&T’s “5G E” is actually slower than Verizon and T-Mobile’s 4G, so maybe the allusion to EDGE is helpful.

As part of a mildly amusing April Fools’ adjacent joke, T-Mobile introduced the “Phone Booth E”.2 In the video, T-Mobile CEO John Legare takes a well-deserved shot at AT&T, stating “You know it’s real, because we tacked an “E” on the end of the name. Wow!”. Well-played, T-Mobile.

Previously in misleading iPhone status information: Have You Gotten Taller?


Footnotes:

  1. Today I learned that “EDGE” is an acronym for “Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution, which is a real goddamned stretch. ↩︎

  2. The video is archived here. ↩︎

I Don’t Get Out of Bed to Stare at Ads for Less Than $10,000 a Day

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019

Today in creepy, awful advertising: PreShow.

It’s an app that lets you earn free movie tickets for watching 15 to 20 minutes of branded content on your phone…The company has developed a way to track your gaze to make sure you’re actually looking at the PreShow commercial…If you look away for too long, or leave your seat, the ad automatically pauses and you’ll get a red border around your screen.

On the one hand, with movie tickets costing around $10 each, this would be paying a pretty decent wage of $20 to $30 per hour to watch ads. On the other hand, this is much, much too close to “A Clockwork Orange” to not be sickening.