2015.02 minutiae

  • Just in the past few weeks a bunch of different web sites have become even more annoying than before with the over-helping.  Take my attempt to make my monthly Facebook post listing updates to this site.  When I entered "We Need to Talk About Kevin", Facebook wouldn't let me continue without specifying which Kevin: Kevin de Bruyne? Kevin Spacey? Kevin Hart?  When I refused to pick one, it actually selected the first one for me!  (Apparently he's a Belgian soccer player.  Facebook undoubtedly picked him because of my site's exhaustive coverage of Flemish athletics.)  Then, when I tried to select and drag a piece of text, my entire post was replaced by a "Drop Photo" box; it seems that dragging text is no longer supported.  It also automagically changed "Sleeping Beauty" into "Sleeping Beauty by Carli Bybel".  Tumblr isn't much better: all of a sudden I can't post a link without typing in the link, saving the post as a draft, and then editing the post to remove the blurb that gets added automatically but which you can't remove except from a saved draft.  I'm surprised that these sites don't have an animated paper clip trotting out to pitch in some suggestions.

  • I dreamed that Pope Francis had died (possibly assassinated by conservative forces) and I spent the entire dream repeatedly trying to figure out whether this was a dream or real life.  Every time, I concluded that it was real life.  I guess that doesn't say much about my ability to distinguish dreams from reality.

  • This Month I Learned that in February, Canadians in several provinces are given a day off for "Family Day", a holiday instituted by Alberta premier Don Getty after his teenage son was arrested for cocaine possession.  Getty said that his neglect of his family was to blame, and it seems safe to assume that with this three-day weekend added to the official calendar, all such neglect has ceased and no overprivileged kids are snorting coke anymore.

  • Molly Peterson, Southern California Public Radio: "The moon and the sun have been pulling on the tides for millennia."  Yep, they sure have.  For about four million millennia, actually.

    The reason I was able to hear this report is that I was passing through Los Angeles on a road trip from my home in the Bay Area to San Diego and back.  It was a long haul.  I drove for inches.

  • During my last stint living in Southern California, back in the late '90s, I told people that while the summers were too hot for my taste, the winters were awesome — that it was hard to find a place more pleasant than Southern California in February.  Well, so much for that.  It was 90°F the whole time I was there.  Any time I ventured out of my air conditioned car I wilted within a few minutes.

  • For some reason, every single person I interacted with in the Pismo Beach / Arroyo Grande area remarked upon my glasses, saying that they'd never seen anything like them.  It's true that the roundish lenses I prefer have mostly been supplanted by rectangles in the 21st century, but still, whut?  No one outside of Pismo Beach / Arroyo Grande has ever said anything about them, but during my stop there it was just one comment after another.

  • To get from Los Angeles to San Diego I took the 10 and the 15, which meant passing through San Bernardino and Riverside Counties rather than Orange County.  Thus I was not prepared for what I encountered when I took the 5 back north: a border crossing, right where these signs used to be.  "ALL VEHICLES STOP 1/4 MI" said an electronic sign on a rectangular arch straddling the freeway.  I assumed I wouldn't actually need my passport to cross into OC, but I thought I'd be stopping at a booth like the fruit check booths at the state borders.  Nope.  When I got to the front of the line it was a bunch of frickin' army men.  Guys in fatigues shining blinding lights into all the cars.  I don't know how long it's been required to get G.I. Joe's permission to enter Orange County but this was a new thing to me.

  • A friend posted this video on Facebook — it demonstrates that, after more than three days at room temperature, Breyers "frozen dairy dessert" doesn't melt:

    Another friend lamented that she remembered Breyers being "one of the good brands", and yes, I remembered that when I was a kid, Breyers made a big deal of the fact that its ice cream only had four ingredients, all of which were recognizable:

    It then occurred to me that, this being a commercial shot in many takes under hot lights, the "ice cream" the guy in the second ad is holding is probably made of styrofoam: note that it cuts away as soon as he attempts to get a spoonful, and that when he puts the spoon in his mouth, it's empty.  So I suppose one of the benefits of the "frozen dairy dessert" is that since it never melts you can actually shoot the commercial using the real thing.

  • Hello, people reading this in the future!  I am writing this at the end of 2015 / February, back when the Internet erupted into a war over whether this dress is white and gold or blue and black.  Here is my take.  One of the best classes I have audited during my years of crashing classes at Berkeley for fun was David Whitney's course on perceptual psychology, the overarching point of which was that we don't see things as they are; the brain receives sensory data and then makes guesses about what it means, and often those guesses are wildly wrong.  We spent quite a bit of time on the exact phenomenon we see at play in the interpretation of this dress.  The problem, the professor explained, was that the light our eyes receive when looking at an object is the product of the surface reflectance of the object and the light's intensity.  The brain heuristically estimates the light's intensity (by taking into account the object's surroundings) and then "discounts the illuminant", giving us a sense of what the inherent reflectance of the object must be.  This is useful because the surface reflectance of objects usually doesn't change much, while the ambient light level does vary wildly from moment to moment and place to place.  For instance: take a photo of me at 2:30 p.m. and another one at 2:31 p.m., then load both photos into Photoshop and use the eyedropper to determine the RGB value of the shirt I'm wearing.  The first color might come out as       and the second as      .  Did my shirt somehow change colors from dark gray to virtually white — or did I just step outside, where the light is brighter by several orders of magnitude?  Since the latter scenario is much more likely, the brain adjusts for this; unlike Photoshop, you don't even see the shirt as dark gray when we're indoors.  You see it as white all along.

    I'm guessing that most people reading this in 2015 have already read an article (e.g., on Wired) explaining all of the above, and the conventional wisdom that seems to have taken hold is that it's an optical illusion in which you can either see the dress as white and gold under dim light or as blue and black under bright light.  What I haven't seen addressed is why older people seem more likely to see the dress as white and gold (as I initially did) and younger people seem more likely to see it as blue and black.  E.g., I have seen many accounts of parents saying they disagree with their kids over the dress, and in every one of these accounts it's the parents on Team White and the children on Team Blue.  And I suspect the key may be this.  One of my friends insisted on Facebook that the picture is very clearly a "washed-out" version of a blue dress.  And, if you look at the background, you can see that she's correct.  But — "washing-out" is a photographic phenomenon.  In real life, things look dimmer in the shade, and more vivid in bright light — never "washed-out" (unless you're about to pass out or something).  Therefore, looking at this picture, the brain that is used to real life will interpret these colors as white and gold under dim light.  The brain that is used to looking at artificial images will be much more likely to be able to look at a color like       and decide, "Oh, that's just black with the brightness cranked up."  Because black things never look like that in real life — but they can in shitty photos.

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