Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

July 7th, 2013:

Weekend link dump for July 7

These jokes are smarter than you are.

Getting a diagnosis of something is not always beneficial.

A first person account with advice on reporting sexual harassment, in particular at a convention. And what to do about it.

What would you see in a box made of mirrors? I don’t know about you, but I see Benoit Mandelbrot nodding his head.

Having a baby is expensive, complicated, and potentially health-threatening. And that’s for those who are lucky enough to have insurance and a good employment situation.

No, Superman could not punch someone into space.

Logos for scientists. Awesome.

“I thought rhinos and hippos were the same species, Hippos were the girls and rhinos were boys.” I’m not sure how many of these are true and how many are people making jokes, but I do believe some of them are really true.

How would you like to suppress the vote today?

“Until there are actual costs to making money by particular means, it will remain true […] that you can never be too rich.”

Marketing fail. Clorox style.

What happens in Texas often gets exported. So watch out.

On having it all, the male perspective.

“Free checking” is just other words for lots of hidden fees.

What would Tami Taylor do?

We keep finding new ways to screw low-wage workers.

RIP, AltaVista. Google it if you’ve never heard of ’em.

So I guess that whole “Republican minority outreach” thing is most sincerely dead now.

The Minnesota Twins presented Mariano Rivera with a rocking chair made out of the bats he had broken pitching against him. How awesome is that?

Apparently, there are gay marshmallows. Who knew?

RIP, Douglas Engelbart, inventor of the mouse.

The Marfa Playboy Bunny has been ruled to be a road sign, and therefore must be taken down because it had no permit.

“[M]ore guns were reported lost or stolen in Texas than in any other state in the country”.

“Christians have become known for a deeply distorted moral agenda by elevating the anti-gay cause to the top of their public ethics, and this in a world afflicted by war, hunger, ecological disaster and all manner of social injustice.”

Even Republicans admit that the whole IRS “scandal” was a total nothingburger. Not that this will stop them from claiming that it wasn’t, of course.

RIP, Texas Johnny Brown, blues legend.

Eric Dick is just trolling us now

Like a three-year-old having a tantrum – and against our better judgment – he gets the attention he so desperately seeks.

The problem, one of many examples

Two City Council candidates facing thousands of dollars in fines for violating the city’s sign ordinance during their 2011 campaigns accused Mayor Annise Parker on Friday of targeting them for their conservative beliefs.

Eric Dick, a lawyer who fell short in his bid for an at-large seat two years ago and who is running for mayor this year, drew ample criticism during the 2011 race for blanketing the city with red signs bearing his last name in prominent white letters. He and Clyde Bryan, who challenged westside District G incumbent Oliver Pennington, used the backdrop of the July 4 weekend to, as Dick put it, “declare independence from Annise Parker and her tyranny.”

City and state laws ban signs from public rights of way, including roadsides, utility poles and overpasses.

Dick was cited for 90 sign violations, and Bryan for 41. The cases are being tried one at a time. So far, Dick’s have ended in a mistrial and a $100 fine; Bryan was found not guilty in one case and had several others dismissed.

Dick and Bryan cited Councilman C.O. Bradford’s example as proof of their persecution. Bradford was hit with 22 sign violations in 2011, all of which were dismissed.

“(Parker) selectively chose the people that were going to get violations,” Dick said. “(Bradford) received many violations, but he got a free pass. Why? Because he’s a Democrat. The Republicans got stuck with it. She’s using city money to attack people that oppose her views.”

Asked why Parker would dismiss Bradford’s cases for political reasons when the two are not allies and Bradford has, in fact, endorsed Ben Hall, Parker’s most prominent opponent, Dick said, “He’s a Democrat. She’s hoping she’ll get the support of the black community.”

Bradford couldn’t help chuckling at that. “The whole idea that this administration gave Bradford preferential treatment?” he said. “Let me just put a big question mark behind that.”

[…]

[City Attorney David] Feldman and [Chief Prosecutor Randy] Zamora said the sign ordinance was enforced aggressively in 2011 following complaints to public officials about political signs, particularly Dick’s.

“Dick, we all know his signs were all over the place. You couldn’t miss it,” Feldman said. “The ones that are prolific are the ones who are going to draw the attention, and Dick and Bryan were prolific.”

Let’s review the bidding here.

1. Most years, most candidates follow the city’s sign ordinance most of the time. Why bother putting signs on utility poles when there are so many empty lots one can plant them in instead?

2. Eric Dick signs were everywhere in 2011, including many signs on utility poles. People complained enough about this that the local news covered it.

3. Dick steadfastly denied any knowledge of how the signs got up on those utility poles or any responsibility for their placement. This despite the fact that his campaign finance reports show thousands of dollars in expenditures on signs, including over $3000 to “Ron the sign guy”. Dick insisted it was “overzealous volunteers”, over whom he apparently had no control, that were responsible.

4. In the aftermath of the election, in which Dick received 7% of the vote, he has leveraged his notoriety into business for his law firm. Like it or not, you know the name “Eric Dick” now. So do many other people. This is a good thing for a small business owner.

5. And now he’s back, with a “campaign” for Mayor, whining that he was treated oh so unfairly by that mean Mayor and her minions, who dared to enforce the law against him. Oh, the humanity!

Eric Dick is doing what he is doing to get people to pay attention to him. Sometimes he makes enough noise that we are forced to pay attention to him. That doesn’t make him worthy of the attention, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we get anything out of it. There’s nothing to see here, folks. Let’s all just move on down the road. Texpatriate, three of whose board members actually attended Dick’s silly press conference, has more.

UPDATE: More from PDiddie.

SCOTUS to hear CSAPR appeal

I’m not terribly excited about anything the Supreme Court does these days, but we’ll see about this.

Greg Abbott approves of this picture

The U.S. Supreme Court decided Monday to take a case that has pitted Texas against the Obama administration over a federal rule aimed at reducing air pollution that crosses state borders.

The decision comes 10 months after a split U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its authority with the new regulation, which was one of the hallmarks of the administration’s recent efforts to improve air quality.

In seeking high-court review, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued that the appeals court’s decision “hobbles the agency … where the need for a strong federal role is most critical.”

The justices accepted the EPA’s appeal of the lower court’s opinion and will hear the case in the term that begins in October.

See here, here, and here for the background. Texas, naturally, was one of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. The good news is that since the ruling went against the EPA last October, so there isn’t something for SCOTUS to knock down. But I’m sure they can find something if they want to. Hair Balls has more.

What’s the difference between a rock and a fossilized Bigfoot skull?

Less than you might think, apparently.

Steve Austin knows the truth

Todd May, of Ogden, dropped by the offices of the Standard-Examiner to see if someone would be interested in a story about a fairly impressive fossil find. After showing off a couple of digital photos, May offered six even more compelling words — “Do you want to see it?” — followed by the motherlode of sentences: “It’s out in the trunk of my car.”

In the trunk of your car? Do I want to see it? Does Bigfoot make in the woods?

May proceeded out to his car, where he popped the hatchback on his Nissan 300 ZX. Peeling back an American flag draped across the cargo area of the vehicle, he hefted a black piece of luggage that resembled an oversized bowling-ball bag, lowering it to the asphalt of the parking lot with a clunk. He struggled to pull a noggin-sized, seemingly ordinary rock out of the bag, held it up and turned it over.

A face.

The rock looks vaguely like a smaller version of one of those Easter Island heads. Pronounced forehead. Large, flattened nose. What could only be described as a chiseled chin and jaw line.

It’s been about six weeks since May found the rock near the mouth of Ogden Canyon.

“I was looking for some fossils,” the 49-year-old “semi-retired” private investigator explains, “and I was kind of drawn to something in the ground.”

It was a rock, sticking up out of the dirt.

“So I went and dug it out, and you couldn’t tell what it was ’cause the head was face down; all you could see was the back of it,” he said. “But when I dug it out you could see the face, perfect.”

May believes his weighty prize — it tips the scales at 70 pounds — is a fossilized Bigfoot skull. What compels him to make such a claim? Because he says he has seen a couple of the non-fossilized, live skulls — attached to their monstrous, hairy bodies — in recent years.

[…]

The Standard-Examiner sent a photo of the rock to several paleontologists for an initial opinion on May’s find.

In an email interview, paleontologist Kenneth Carpenter said what May found is interesting, but it definitely is not a fossilized skull.

“I’ll admit that it is the most head-like rock I have seen,” said Carpenter, director and curator of paleontology at Utah State University Eastern’s Prehistoric Museum in Price. “However, there is no doubt that the object is a natural phenomenon. Basically, it is just the odd way the rock has weathered.”

Carpenter said there are several key features of a real skull that are missing — eye socket, nose opening, and teeth among them.

“The object looks more like a head than a skull,” Carpenter wrote. “When a human head starts to decompose, the first areas to go are those soft tissue high in water, namely the eyes. Thus, even if the eyelids are closed, the eye socket is seen as a collapse of the eyelid into the socket. Scavengers, including coyotes, rodents, insects, etc., feed on tissue. For them it is an easy meal. That is why murder corpses in the outdoors are little more than bones.”

Carpenter also said the structure of the material suggests it’s a rock.

“If a piece is knocked off, you’ll find that it is rock all the way through,” he said. “Bone when it fossilizes still retains its structure, even at the microscopic level. … IF this were a fossilized skull, then knocking a chip off should reveal bone structure inside.”

Brooks B. Britt, paleontologist at Brigham Young University in Provo, says he gets these sorts of calls regularly.

“This happens all the time,” he said in a telephone interview. Rarely, however, do such leads result in an actual fossil.

“I’ve been doing this since I first started at BYU, and only once did something turn out to be worthwhile,” he said.

Most of the time, Britt says, it’s just a rock that looks like something interesting. He has seen people bring in rocks shaped like hearts, kidneys, fingers, eggs — all sorts of anatomical parts.

“It’s just the way the rock weathered naturally,” he said.

Britt says despite explaining this to the finders, he can never convince them otherwise.

“They just won’t listen to anybody,” Britt said. “He’s always going to believe it.”

Yes, I suppose he is. All I know is that you can’t get DNA from a rock. And speaking of DNA, SciGuy updates us on that geneticist from Nacogdoches who claimed to have Bigfoot DNA:

I agreed to be an intermediary between [geneticist and purported Bigfoot DNA owner Melba] Ketchum and a highly reputable geneticist in Texas, whom I trusted and knew personally. I also knew that this geneticist was first and foremost a scientist, and if there was even a 1 percent chance the Bigfoot evidence was real, he’d want check out the story. I asked, and he was willing to approach the evidence with an open mind.

(Why am I maintaining my source’s anonymity? Because some of his peers would question his engagement on such a topic, believing it unworthy of valuable research time. But make no mistake, he is a top-notch scientist at the top of his field.)

The deal was this: I would hold off writing anything until this geneticist had his lab test the DNA samples obtained by Ketchum that were purportedly a novel and non-human species. If the evidence backed up Ketchum’s claims, I had a blockbuster story. My geneticist source would have a hand in making the scientific discovery of the decade, or perhaps the century. Ketchum would be vindicated.

In short, we would all have been winners.

Alas, I met my geneticist friend this past week and I asked about the Bigfoot DNA. It was, he told me, a mix of opossum and other species. No find of the century.

Alas indeed. Apparently, Dr. Ketcham didn’t care for this result, but that’s the way it goes when you use actual science. Better luck next time, Doc.

First Hackathon project released

Cool.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Budget Bootcamp, a new city website application that provides easy access to city budget information, is the first Houston Hackathon project to become reality.  Budget Bootcamp is hosted on the Finance Department’s website and provides citizens an educational walkthrough of the City’s budget data – both for the recently adopted Fiscal Year 2014 Budget, as well as all adopted budgets since Fiscal Year 2010.

“We’re proud to announce the implementation of Budget Bootcamp,” Mayor Annise Parker said. “Following the adoption of the Fiscal Year 2014 Budget on June 19th, this data visualization provides our citizens a great educational tool for understanding City finances. The Hackathon was a fantastic way to engage citizens and expose the City to new ideas and uses of our data.”

“Budget Bootcamp has something for every budget policy-wonk. Whether you want to break down our revenues for FY14, see the trends over time, or see how the city’s taxpayer-supported General Fund transforms from revenues into department expenditures, this application is a terrific step in terms of financial education and transparency,” City Finance Director Kelly Dowe said.  “We’re excited to implement additional Hackathon projects developed over the coming months as well.”

The City of Houston hosted a 24 hour “Open Innovation Hackathon” on May 17-18 at the Houston Technology Center and at Start Houston. The event offered software developers, designers, and data analysts to collaborate on data and software projects. Over 24 hours, Houston’s “civic hackers” pitched ideas, formed teams, and developed innovative new websites, mobile apps, and insightful data visualizations to address community and City problems.

The City is expecting to implement a handful of additional Hackathon projects in the coming months, as well as continuing to invest in the Houston Data Portal that was set up for the Hackathon.

Further details about the City of Houston Open Innovation Hackathon event can be found at the event website: http://www.houstonhackathon.com/

See here for the background. You should click on that Budget Bootcamp link if you want to understand the city’s finances better – the spreadsheet they’ve created really breaks it down for you. Now if someone is working on better bike maps, I’ll be very happy.