2016.04 minutiae

  • At press time last month I saw an article about a new USB hard drive offering eight terabytes for $350.  Curious, I dug up some information about my first hard drive, a Hardcard 20, as in twenty megabytes, that my dad bought in 1986.  I don't know what he paid, but it appears that the suggested retail price was $895, in 1986 dollars.  That's over $1900 today.  So, to equal the storage of this new hard drive by buying Hardcard 20s in 1986, you would have had to pay more than the equivalent of three-quarters of a billion 2016 dollars.  But just think how many copies of Roadwar 2000 you could have filled those drives with!

  • This Month I Learned: An "ox box", as in a giant cubical briefcase full of evidence for use in high school debate tournaments, is called that because "ox" is short for "Oxford debate".  For thirty years I thought ox boxes were called that because they're big and oxen are big.

  • I happened across this a while back:

    Man, I'll never understand emojis.


    Two young girls are tagging along after their mother.  As they walk, the escalator comes into view.

    (to mother)
    Can we take the exalator?

    (voice full of scorn)
    "Exalator." It's not the "exalator", it's the essa—
    —the exa—
    —I don't know what it is.

  • It is dumb that we use the word "day" to mean both "a 24-hour period with endpoints at 12:00 a.m." and "the sunlit portion of that period".  I went poking around to see whether there were any languages that had separate words for these two concepts, and it turns out that the Nordic languages all do: for instance, in Swedish the former is dygn and the latter is dag.  Lagom, trygghet, dygn… Swedish has a lot of useful words that English doesn't!

  • When I was ten years old, I took a really bad shower.  I'm pretty sure it was a Sunday night: that's how my brain datestamped it, and it makes sense, given that until I was fourteen I bathed at night instead of in the morning.  I don't remember why I couldn't use the upstairs bathroom this particular evening.  But for some reason I was downstairs, where the shower was just a stand-up stall.  And I think it must have recently been in use, because I remember the bathroom being dank and the water being tepid at best.  The worst thing was that for some reason we only had Ivory soap, which smells awful to me and which left my skin feeling both dry and like it had a layer of soap scum on it that wouldn't wash off.  All in all, just a very unpleasant set of tactile and olfactory sensations.

    It was still relatively recently that I had gotten into pop music, and so before I started my shower, I plugged in our boom box and put on one of my favorite tapes.  As it turned out, I didn't even make it through an entire song, as the tape happened to be cued up to the beginning of a song that ran nearly nine minutes.  That song was "Purple Rain", and that experience ruined the song for me!  Over thirty years have passed since then, and every time I hear "Purple Rain", I am back in that humid, unwelcoming bathroom, smelling that soap and feeling its film on my skin.  Stupid brain.  But better "Purple Rain" than Beethoven's Ninth, I guess.

  • I was surprised to learn that Keith Emerson killed himself last month — surprised, that is, that by the time I learned of it, a month had already passed.  I keep pretty close tabs on the news!  And yet even though ELP sold over 30 million albums, there was nary a mention on any of the sites I follow.  Scott Weiland did get a few mentions when he died in December, but not as many as I expected for a guy who, like Keith Emerson, was in one of the biggest bands of its decade and sold over 30 million albums.  Which got me wondering about the reasons why the deaths of David Bowie and Prince were bigger news by so many orders of magnitude.  I mean, I know that there are many reasons — among them are:

    • Headliners in a band vs. solo acts

    • Known within the world of music vs. known for a persona somewhat independent of music

    • Success primarily in one genre vs. success in multiple genres, dramatically increasing the number of people familiar with at least some of the artist's work

    • Several big MTV/KROQ hits vs. at least one truly gigantic song such that even people who don't follow music at all can hear a snippet on the news and recognize it

    • The esteem in which the artist's primary genre is currently held (e.g., prog was huge in the '70s but is largely sneered at today)

    • Sheer longevity: Bowie may have sold relatively few new records in the past thirty years, or Prince in the past twenty, but they did keep cranking out new material

    • And maybe just a tipping point in albums sold: i.e., 30 million vs. 120 million may not imply 1/4 the coverage

     — but what I specifically wonder is which reasons are more important and which are less.

  • In response to the news that Harriet Tubman would be replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill — but that Jackson would be moved to the back — the following question popped up in my Facebook feed: "Seriously, why is the Treasury so attached to Andrew Jackson? I doubt it's powerful New Orleans special interests at work."  Having spent much of the past year or so reading about the U.S. government in the 1920s, I knew that the current correspondences between portrait and denomination had been set in 1928 — previously, Grover Cleveland had been on the $20 — but I didn't know why the lineup had been shuffled around.  So I looked it up.  And it turns out that Treasury officials have been asked this before, and THEY DON'T KNOW.  "Treasury Department records do not reveal the reason that portraits of these particular statesmen were chosen in preference to those of other persons of equal importance and prominence."

    So I'm guessing the Treasury can't help with the Bowie vs. Weiland thing either.

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