Friday, November 26, 2010

Nicki Minaj, Food Network, Turkey and Black Friday: hot topics for November 26, 2010

I took Thanksgiving off from the blog, it being Thanksgiving, and there wasn't a lot of movement on the hot list since my last post on Tuesday; just the same topics jockeying about.  However, today there's several new ones, most of them variations on "Black Friday".  Black Friday is, of course, the colloquialism for the first day after Thanksgiving, traditionally considered the first day of the Christmas shopping season, although these days that starts around the middle of October now.  Black Friday first started showing up back on November 4th, but the term has been increasingly prominent and appearing in more variations over the past week or so.  Best Buy, the electronics retailer, is the first name to pop up; not surprising as their portfolio likely matches best with the interests of internetoholics.

Turkey and the Food Network no doubt both pop up because of Thanksgiving itself and its tradition of gorging ourselves on turkey and other such foods.  Although it's now after the fact, I recommend brining your turkey; Alton Brown has a good recipe.

The odd one out (that is, a topic not apparently related to Thanksgiving) is Nicki Minaj, apparently a pink-haired rapper from either Jamaica or Queens.  (The pink hair is apparently a wig.)  The only interesting thing about her that she seems to be claiming to be bisexual in order to get media attention (or appear sexier) then subsequently denying that she's bisexual to avoid controversy.  Most of her gossip-rag media attention (other than the present week, which appears related to an album release) seems centered on speculation about her orientation.  The consensus appears to be that she's a "fauxmosexual": fundamentally straight, but willing to act otherwise because that creates buzz and sells records.  Whatever; I've already learned way more about this whole cluster of concepts than I ever cared to.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The TSA: Hot topic for November 22, 2010

After a weekend of the same old topics jockeying about (the only one new one to show up was Erin Barry, who is just another player in the petty drama that I mentioned on Friday), a completely new term showed up late last night. And for once it's actually a matter of some real significance: the TSA, or Transportation Security Agency.  The TSA is in the news lately because of John Tyner's now-famous "Don't touch my junk!" ultimatum, issued in San Diego to TSA agents who decided he needed a "pat-down".  His outrage has led to a groundswell of complaints and commentary regarding TSA screening practices and made the TSA the whipping boy of the day.

And to be fair, the TSA deserves it.  Current US airport security practices were never really calculated to stop determine terrorists.  Their main intention was always to increase the general anxiety of the American public about foreign terrorism, in order to perpetuate the need for such invasive practices.  This was done for two reasons: one, to make Americans more complacent about having their privacy, and right to travel freely, shredded, and two, to create revenue for the companies that manufacture and sell security solutions.  The actual practices used are designed to be extremely visible; that they're annoying just adds to the effect because it just adds to the visibility and thus keeps public anxiety at a high.  That they're almost completely ineffective (either as designed or as implemented) in actually stopping a determined terrorist is, quite simply, irrelevant; that was never their purpose anyway.  This is "security theatre", plain and simple: the government is pretending to provide security as a cover for what it's really doing, which is eroding your rights a bit at a time, and hoping you won't notice because you're too scared to care.

There is now an Internet-organized boycott of TSA body scanners scheduled for this Wednesday, which is (because of the Thanksgiving holiday) anticipated to be the busiest travel day of the year.  The government has already whined about this, urging people not to participate in the boycott because it would create delays at airports.  That is, I imagine, the point.

Oh, and for those of you who think you'll just travel by train: Amtrak passengers are subject to security screenings too.  For now these aren't as intrusive as those mandated by the TSA at airports, but that could change at any time.  TSA has authority over Amtrak and can, at any time, change the regulations for riding on the nation's passenger trains, as well.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tony Parker: Hot topic for November 19, 2010

Today's only new item is Tony Parker, a basketball player who is in the spotlight apparently because he was caught sending sexually explicit text messages ("sexting") to the wife of another player (whose name is apparently Erin Barry).  This seems to have come out in the context of his divorce, which is, of course, totally unsurprising.

I'm sure this sort of thing goes on all the time, and this is only making the news now because it involves both a basketball player (Parker) of some repute and also a television celebrity: his soon-to-be ex-wife is Eva Longoria, who is apparently somehow involved in Desparate Housewives, which I understand is a TV show of some fame.  Ok, whatever: two people who are famous for things I don't generally pay attention to.

Oh well, I suppose the masses need their opiates.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kate Middleton, Emma Watson and Four Loko: Hot topics for November 18, 2010

Three new items today, this time from an upcoming movie (Emma Watson), an upcoming royal wedding (Kate Middleton), and an energy drink (Four Loko).

Emma Watson presumably shows up because of her appearance as Hermione Granger in the upcoming Harry Potter movie.  I haven't been able to bring myself to read the HP books: first, I am still peeved at Rowling for going after fan websites for "copyright infringement", but more importantly, from what I have read in excerpt and in summary, I just don't like her sort of writing.  She breaks at least some of Lawrence Watt-Evans' laws of fantasy; at the very least the second, fifth, and sixth.  As far as I can tell, in her books magic is used almost entirely as a macguffin to advance the plot or to create a desired effect, rather than being an integral and necessary part of the fabric of the universe against which the characters interact.  (Contrast the role of magic in LWE's Ethshar books, which I adore, or in his equally excellent Dragon trilogy.)  I also don't like the racist and classist overtones in her writing.  Also, like so many fantasy novelists, I have caught the glimmer of what I call "superman disease": as a series like this progresses the main characters become increasingly powerful, with experience and time, forcing their opponents to be equally inflated so as to make for interesting conflicts.  This typically results in each book ending with some massive conflagration, only to be outdone in the next book by an even more massive conflagration.  (This does make for good movie material, admittedly.)  For another example of this, see Raymond Feist's Riftwar saga, although I think he did well in recovering from that with the later Serpentwar saga, set many years later with entirely new primary characters.  Avoiding this basically requires the author to create a complete and consistent universe in which many stories with different characters can be set; this is far harder than just creating a handful of characters and just enough of a universe for them to move around in.  Another reason I like Lawrence Watt-Evans. 

Kate Middleton is, for those who don't follow the British royalty, Prince William's recently-announced fianceĆ©.  Royal-watching is not one of my major pastimes, but apparently both the dress she wore and the ring William gave her are hot items on the "celebrity replicas" market.  Ok, whatever. 

The last item, Four Loko, is of somewhat more interest: it's one of those caffeinated alcoholic beverages that the FDA has been going after of late.  Four Loko is apparently the first such beverage to be decaffeinated in response to the FDA's effective ban on the addition of caffeine to malt liquor beverages.  One has to wonder if this will also apply to Cuba Libres or to Irish coffee.  Then again I don't think anyone sells a premixed Cuba Libre or Irish coffee (nor would I want to drink such a thing), and besides those are made using distilled spirits instead of malt liquor.  Frankly I find energy drinks revolting; while I have no problems with caffeine (I have three or four cups of rather strong coffee a day, and also occasionally drink Mountain Dew or Pepsi when I can find the 'throwback' formulation made with sugar instead of corn syrup), one of either guarana or taurine (I know not which) has a flavor which is nearly vomit-inducing for me.  So I'm not going to cry any tears over the loss of these products.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Manny Pacquiao and Skyline: Hot topics for November 16, 2010

Today brought two new items to the top ten list: Manny Pacquiao (a boxer) and Skyline (a movie).

I'm a bit annoyed to be writing about a boxer or about a boxing match.  And so I won't.  You want to find out r Frankly I think boxing is just about the most barbaric of the competitive sports we still engage in, even more so than American football, and would be quite happy to see it go away entirely.  Boxing was a far higher profile event when I was younger; I think Mike Tyson did a lot to make the sport disrespectable.  Which, to be frank, I'm quite entirely happy with.  I will admit when I first saw the search term ("Pacquiao v. Margarito") my first thought was "Is a pacquiao some sort of new cocktail?"  But that would have been "margarita".  My bad.

The other rising item today is Skyline, which is apparently a low-budget alien invasion movie.  MTV doesn't seem to think much of Skyline: not good enough to be good, and not bad enough to be good for being bad.  I'm almost as uninvolved in movies as I am in sports, so I won't be seeing this one.  This is another one where I wasn't able to predict what the search was for; I was kind of hoping it would have been for the chili, but again my hopes were dashed.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Applebee's: Hot topic for November 14, 2010

There was nothing new yesterday (which is good because I was busy) and only one rising topic today: Applebee's.  Best I can tell this is because Applebee's offered free food to veterans on Veteran's Day.  Fairly nice of them, even if Applebee's food is some of the most uninteresting food on the planet.  I haven't been in an Applebee's in probably ten years; in general I tend to disprefer chain restaurants, favoring instead to eat at unique local establishments.

In other news, I'm working on a ham radio FAQ based mainly on the searches that I see hitting this blog.  Not sure how "frequent" these questions are, but anyway.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Keith Olbermann, Cam Newton, and Wiz Khalifa: Hot topics for November 12, 2010

Once again today, there are four new rising topics today.  One of them, Veteran's Day, is out of date (having been yesterday), but didn't show up until today presumably because of the seven day sampling window.  Also showing up today for the first time (that I've noticed, at least) are MSNBC political opinion journalist Keith Olbermann, Auburn college football player Cam Newton, and rapper Wiz Khalifa.

Keith Olbermann's appearance in the rising topics comes later than I would have expected (but again, consider the seven day sampling window) after his suspension last Friday (and almost immediate reinstatement) for the offense of donating to Democratic political campaigns.  I think the best headline I saw in connection to this was "News flash: Keith Olbermann might be a Democrat!"  Anyone who hadn't figured that out by now had to be entirely dense.  MSNBC also apparently didn't realize that people would notice that they let Joe Scarborough get away with making donations in previous years.  In any case, Olbermann is so transparently partisan that there's no risk that anyone could reasonably suggest that this somehow impacts his "impartiality" as an opinion journalist.  Boner move, MSNBC.

Cam Newton is a college football player at Auburn who is apparently the focus of a scandal involving paid recruitment, which is a major no-no in the college football world, even though I suspect nearly every big-name college skirts, evades, circumvents, or just outright ignores the rules in this area.  College football is big money, and the big-name colleges (like Auburn) spend a great deal of money on getting the best players so they can get even more money from the businesses who want to use them as walking billboards to drive sheeplike fans to buy merchandise they don't need.  College football exploits the players, creates incentives for colleges to make decisions that don't favor academics or the social interests of their students, and has all sorts of disproportionate impacts on women.  And with all the recent information on football causing serious, irreversible brain damage, I think it's really time that we reconsider the merits of this "pastime" as a national obsession.

The third rising item today is for yet another bad-boy rapper getting arrested; today's lucky winner is Wiz Khalifa, who was arrested in North Carolina for possession of marijuana on his tour bus.  Frankly I don't care if a rapper does pot in his bus, and I don't see why North Carolina should care, either.  But if you're a prosecuting attorney, and you can nail a high-profile out-of-state bad boy with an easy bust, hey, go for it.  It makes getting reelected easier.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

NYC Marathon, Conan O'Brian, Zenyatta, and the Dallas Cowboys: Hot topics for November 11, 2010

I haven't posted one of these in a few days because there haven't been any new rising terms, just the same ones as previous days, with some permutations in the order.  But today were have four new ones.

The Dallas Cowboys are presumably up because they recently fired their coach, but also possibly because they forgot to renew their domain name.  Oops.

Conan's up because his new show on TBS premiered on Monday.  Conan has became something of a folk hero, especially on the Internet, after NBC gave him the Tonight Show, then ripped it away from him after their ill-considered experiment of putting Leno in prime time predictably backfired.

Zenyatta, meanwhile, is a horse.  And apparently not just any horse; this horse had a 19-race unbeaten streak before coming in second by a head in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday.  Reportedly she's being sent to pasture to be bred with an "as-yet-undetermined" stallion.  I fully expected Zenyatta to be the name of yet another celebrity musician or performer; her being a horse wasn't high on my expectations.

The fastest rising term for today, though, is for the NYC Marathon.  It seems odd to me that it should be rising so aggressively now that we're now four days out from the actual event (it was run on Sunday), but the seven day averaging window often means that a single-day spike won't show up for several days.  I think marathons are a bit silly (to me running is something you do to get away from bears, not something you do for the sheer sake of it), but to each their own.  In any case, I have to admit being rather impressed with Edison Pena, who managed to finish the marathon (in six hours, a firmly respectable time) only a few weeks after being hauled out of a collapsed mine in Chile.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Kinect: Hot topic for November 8, 2010

The only new rising topic for today is the Microsoft XBox Kinect (displacing Divali, the Hindu festival of light).  The Kinect is, for those who don't already know, an addon for the XBox that provides "controllerless control" by using a combination of posture recognition, facial recognition, and voice recognition to allow control of the XBox merely by moving around within its recognition space.  I'm totally not a console gamer at all (the only console game I've ever had was a Pong game my father bought us back in 1978), but I'm seriously impressed by this technology.  If it performs half as well as Microsoft claims it does, it'll still be very impressive.

Interestingly, there is already FUD spreading about Kinect: several sources are claiming that the device "doesn't recognize black people", based on a GameSpot comment that the Kinect had difficulty recognizing some darker-skinned employees under certain lighting conditions.  In further testing by GameSpot, they were able to make it fail on white people too, and changing shirt colors seemed to make a difference.

It'll be interesting to see how long it'll be before similar input devices become available for use with general computing environments.  Probably a while yet.  The Kinect isn't that precise, but in the environment it's being used in it doesn't have to be.

Sims 3, Late Night, and Transfiguration of Metals

Ok, I know, this is a bit off my usual beaten path, but I don't care. I've played the Sims since 2000, and I freely admit to wasting a lot of time on it.

In the Sims 3, since World Adventures, there has been a pair of objects (the Carter XL Display Cases) that can be filled up with objects and "irreversibly transfiguricated" (more commonly known as transfigurated) into other objects. What object one gets as a result of a transfiguration depends on what objects one puts into it, along with some random factors. Various people who know how to look at the scripting language that the Sims uses internally have done so and posted descriptions of the relevant algorithms. I spent quite some time exploring this for the special case of transfigurating metals, and have a simulator now that can predict the result of transfiguration for any particular combination of metals for a game with the World Adventures and Ambitions expansion packs installed (WA+A). I could do the same for just WA if I wanted to set up an install that had just WA loaded, but I've been too lazy to do this yet.

Part of the algorithm for metals works by XORing together the internal OIDs of the metals involved, and then using that as a index into the list of metals (modulo the number of metals) to generate a random metal. The index is then pushed through a PRNG (pseudorandom number generator), and repeated until metals totaling more than a certain value are created. This worked fine and good in prior versions, with the longest string being about 8 or 9 metals in WA+A, where there were 14 metals. However, while in WA alone (which had 13 metals) it was possible (with some care) to create any metal using this process, in WA+A five of the metals (silver, palladium, copper, titanium, and mercury) could not be produced at all, and two more (supernovium and woohooium) were very hard to produce. This is, no doubt, because the low bit of the XOR result is always 0 (because all the OIDs have a low byte of 0), and the modulus 14 of an even number is always even, and so that effectively excluded half of the metals (the ones with odd indices in the metals table) from being the "first result". Add to that a relatively "inaggressive" PRNG and you get a relatively sparse result set, which is what I had noticed with WA+A.

Late Night (LN) added two more metals; as a result, in WA+A+LN, there are 16 metals. Those of you with some experience with generating hash codes will immediately understand where this all goes belgium, but I'll explain it for the rest of you. A modulus of 16 results in only 4 bits of the source value contributing to the resulting index. And all of the OIDs in use have a 0 in the low byte (for whatever reason). As a result, the random value generated by this process is always 0, which corresponds to iron, the cheapest of the metals. To make matters worse, the PRNG EA uses apparently isn't that "random": it appears to map all values that have a low nibble of 0 to values that also have a low nibble of 0. As a result, every metal after the first is also iron. So, instead of getting a "random" (but predictable with much effort) result of various metals (which makes the process both interesting and potentially useful within the context of game play), the result of every transmogrification in Sims 3 with WA+A+LN is a huge stack of iron bars, which is neither interesting nor valuable within the context of game play; furthermore, the resulting stacks are often so large (in some cases, one hundred or more, although the game doesn't show it) that it corrupts the player's inventory, rendering that game effectively unplayable and forcing a retreat to the last save point. Here's hoping you had one.

This wouldn't have shown up in testing with just the base game plus LN, or with A+LN, because in those games there is no transmogrifier (it's a WA expansion item), nor in testing with just WA+LN because in that game there are 15 metals and with 15 metals the randomness of the distribution will be nearly as good as it was in WA alone (with 13), possibly even better.

I had a lot of fun figuring out the matrix for WA+A, and was really looking forward to doing in in WA+A+LN. A shame it had to be completely broken instead. We can only hope that EA will fix this in a forthcoming patch; however, any patch is going to mean a new algorithm (or at least a different PRNG), which means all the work I (and others) did for the preceding algorithm will probably be wasted.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Kik, Diwali, and Lil Wayne: Hot topics for November 7, 2010

There are three new rising items today: something called "Kik", Diwali, and Lil Wayne.

Kik appears to be the Kik Instant Messenger, which is a substitute IM service for smartphones, available for Blackberries, Android, and the iPhone.  The appeal is, supposedly, that you can send instant messages without paying for them, by using your data connection instead of a carrier SMS.  The downside is that your recipient has to be using Kik as well.  I don't see what this offers ahead of Google Talk, which has been available for all three platforms for far longer, and has a far larger user base as well.  Perhaps I'm missing something here.

Diwali is, of course, the annual Hindu festival of lights, which started Friday, November 5th.

The third rising item for today is more celebrity gossip, as rapper Lil Wayne seems to be flaunting his probation by posing for a photograph with a glass of cognac.  Not quite sure what it is about rappers that forces them to flagrantly and stupidly break the law, but there you have it.

Daylight saving time ended this morning, so don't forget to adjust any old-fashioned clocks you have that don't automatically adjust.  And it's still not too late to change the batteries in your smoke detectors.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Tony Parker: Hot topic for November 19, 2010

Today's only new item is Tony Parker, a basketball player who is in the spotlight apparently because he was caught sending sexually explicit text messages ("sexting") to the wife of another player (someone by the name of Erin Barry, apparently).  This seems to have come out in the context of his divorce, which is, of course, totally unsurprising.

I'm sure this sort of thing goes on all the time, and this is only making the news now because it involves both a basketball player (Parker) of some repute and also a television celebrity: his soon-to-be ex-wife is Eva Longoria, who is apparently somehow involved in Desparate Housewives, which I understand is a TV show of some fame.  Ok, whatever: two people who are famous for things I don't generally pay attention to.

Oh well, I suppose the masses need their opiates.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Andy Irons, Demi Lovato, and legal pot: Hot topics for November 5, 2010

The big item for today appears to be Andy Irons, a pro surfer who died of unknown causes, but possibly dengue fever, on November 2.  Dengue fever, now that's a disease you don't hear about much, although it's actually relatively common in less-developed parts of the world.  I suppose it's not entirely unreasonable that a surfer might catch it.

The other up-and-coming item has to do with a Disney exploitee by the name of Demi Lovato, who apparently beat up another performer recently.  If there's anything that I pay less attention to than celebrity gossip, it's celebrity gossip involving those insipidly disgusting child "performers" being exploited by America's most odious cultural hegemon.  Perhaps we could arrange for them to all catch dengue fever.  Or, better yet, for their corporate managers to do so.

Searches for election results are, unsurprisingly, rising, with an apparent special focus on those in California and especially Proposition 19, the California ballot initiative to legalize pot there, which failed, gaining only 44% of the vote.  I guess the rest of their supporters were too stoned to figure out how to find the polling place.  In any case, even if it the proposition had passed there would still have been the federal prohibition on marijuana to overcome.  Still going to be a while before you can toke up anywhere you want. 

Football player Randy Moss, who I mentioned yesterday, is holding at number 5; I haven't looked to see if there's anything new about him, as I really don't care.  The upcoming change back to standard time this weekend fills out the remainder of the top ten for today.  Don't forget to change the batteries in your smoke detector.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Capri Anderson, Randy Moss, and Jon Stewart: Hot topics for November 4, 2010

Apparently the hot story from the past few days has something to do with actor Charlie Sheen, a porn actress called Capri Anderson, and a trashed hotel room.  I can't be bothered to make sense out of the social gossip reporting, so if you really care Google's over that way.

Normally I care about as much about sports as I do about celebrity gossip (which is why I am mainly happy that the World Series is over, and so I won't be hearing much about it even if it is still trending up at the moment).  However, I must admit that I am slightly amused by the situation surrounding Randy Moss' low opinion of Tinucci's Restaurant, which apparently provides catering services to the team Moss used to play for before recently being traded.  In response to his verbal tirade about the quality of their food, the restaurant is offering a free lunch to the first 50 people who show up and agree to trade in their Randy Moss fanwear.  Still, I'd be far more interested in Maurice Moss than in Randy Moss any day.

Please note that daylight stupidity time (sorry, daylight savings time) ends this weekend.  Of course, having grown up in Indiana daylight savings time seems strange to me.  Plus, with the recent changes we're now on daylight saving time from early March until early October, or about two thirds of the year.  Frankly I don't see why we don't just leap forward next March and not bother leaping back ever again.  It's not like solar noon is anywhere near clock noon in most of the country anyway.  But then again, if we did this, how would we remember to check the batteries in our smoke detectors?

Jon Stewart continues to trend high, probably because of the combination of his recent interview with Barack Obama and the Rally to Restore Freedom (and/or Fear) that Comedy Central recently held in Washington.  Stewart has, perhaps improbably, emerged as one of the most prominent voices of this generation.  I haven't watched any of this week's shows yet—they're on the TiVo—so it's also quite likely that he's had some interesting, or at least amusing, comments on the election results as well.

Limewire continues to trend up even as it disintegrates under the force of the court's adverse ruling in its battle against the RIAA.  Hard to imagine what is left for them.  This was pretty much inevitable; what surprises me is how long it took and how long Limewire held out.

Searches for "Black Friday", the traditional name for the Friday-after-Thanksgiving shopaganza, are starting to trend up, presumably as people start to plan for their annual shopping fix.  There's even an "official" Black Friday 2010 website.  Just the other day I heard a radio commentator (WBBM in Chicago) suggest that Black Friday is starting early this year, with pre-Christmas sales starting even before Halloween. 

The tenth rising search at the moment is for "Black Ops", which seems strange at first until one realizes it's for the next installment of the Call of Duty franchise, due out in about a week.  I don't personally care for first-person (or third-person) shooters, so I won't comment further.