D103.com: Archive
This is an archived page of D103.com, a daily weblog by Daryl Lang.

When cicadas attack!

» Today is National Save Martha Day. Just thought I'd throw that out there.

» Return of the bugs! A good reporter I used to work with in Pennsylvania, Dan Lewerenz, is on the cicaida beat.

» Do you read either Gawker or Wonkette? If you do, check out Jack Shafer's Slate article about these sites, with which I completely agree.

» More from yesterday's Cargo entry: My coworkers noticed a few things about the magazine that I didn't. First, no one agreed with me that the magazine talks down to men. It carries the same tone as women's magazines. Second, Cargo is weirdly obsessed with body hair. Seems like every other article is about shaving, or "manscaping." Third, the total lack of babe photos leads to the question: Is this for straight men or gay men? The cars and camcorders and computers, and conspicuous references to attracting women, suggest it's for straight guys, but I still have doubts. I think it's actually for men who only care about themselves. Bonus: Jessica tells me Condé Nast folks joke about calling the magazine "Closet."

- Daryl

Excess baggage

» One quick note before today's main entry. I've been remiss in not linking to Ned Vizzini's New York Pre-Times project. Ned's concept: Predict the news one week in advance. So far, I've contributed two stories to this "postfuturist" newspaper. Last week, I predicted that the California Supreme Court would decline to hear the gay marriage appeal. As it turns out, I was 180 degrees wrong. Better luck next week.

» I snagged a copy of Cargo magazine yesterday. What's Cargo? Well, once upon a time, somebody at the magazine company Condé Nast realized that the most popular sections of women's magazines are the pages of stuff to buy. So the company created a brightly colored women's magazine entirely about shopping. The magazine was called Lucky, and women all over America (or at least all over New York City) began turning to it when they were in the mood to buy things. Advertisers loved this, money poured in, and cocktails were toasted all around. For an encore, the company decided to create a Lucky for men: A magazine of beauty products, fashion, cars, and battery-powered gizmos just for the fellas. Like Lucky, it would come with a page of stickers you can use to flag things you want to buy. The result was the first issue of Cargo, which appeared on newsstands this month. Cargo is edited by 30-year-old Ariel Foxman, who begins his editor's letter with a story about how much he loved the Bookmobile in grade school. This issue of Cargo does not have a date; it simply says "premiere issue" where the date should be.

What do I make of this catalog of capitalism? Actually, I like it. Not because I often shop for this stuff, but because it's filled with the sort of random trivia I enjoy. My favorite item is a five-panel infographic on page 64 called "How to Roll Up Your Sleeves." To be sure, Cargo does talk down to us in spots, such as when it informs us that ladies prefer guys to wear a white undershirt under their shirts rather than show off a mange of chest hair. (Duh.) The decorating tips are way lame. ("Rugs not only make a room more comfortable... they also add color, texture, and help define a seating area.") And most of the products are aspirational things I'll never buy, such as that Lotus Elise on the cover. Sure, it's fun to know about all the different kinds of rum and the different cuts of suits, but how often do I actually buy rum or suits? And when would I ever want a $950 duffel bag?

Despite seeming a little goofy, Cargo could have been much worse. Unlike most men's magazines, Cargo assumes that men are interested in more than pictures of hot girls. (There are none in this issue.) Cargo's tone is funny, but not sarcastic or mean. Its message is straight-ahead: Here's some cool stuff that might make your life more fun. Now go buy it. Or, if you're a poor research editor, just look at the pictures. After all, you've already splurged by buying the magazine.

- Daryl

Change for a dollar

» A bill in Congress proposes an idea to get people to start using dollar coins: Replace Sacagawea with pictures of the presidents. Seems like a fine idea at first, given how successful those state quarters have been. Still, wouldn't it be a little odd to have a coin with Millard Fillmore on it? Warren Harding? Martin Van Buren? Lyndon Johnson? Still, this is an excellent way to test a question I've often pondered: Do Americans flat-out reject all dollar coins, or do they reject coins that depict women?

» This week, The Onion takes on Pittsburgh traffic. My friend Kelly Bradish, who knows a lot about highways in Pittsburgh, tells me that the details in the story are somewhat accurate, but not entirely. There is an Allegheny Center. There used to be something called the Buhl Planetarium in Pittsburgh, but it's closed. And Kelly says nobody refers to a "three rivers area" in Pittsburgh. It still made me laugh, though it doesn't eclipse the funniest Pennsylvania story The Onion has ever done.

- Daryl

Whistle while you work

» I recently bought a pepper mill. Hundreds of years ago, so I've read, black pepper was such a rare spice it was worth more in weight than silver. But today, a few bucks will buy a little mill full of peppercorns at any supermarket. Problem is, once you have that pepper grinder, you're going to want fresh ground pepper on everything. Soup? Sure. Salad? Naturally. Pasta? Yes please. Turkey sandwich? Hit me. Granola? Oh yeah. Cookies? Bananas? Ice cream? You might even be tempted to swallow a big dollop of mayonnaise with fresh ground pepper on it, just for the pepper.

» At work, we're naming a bunch of new paint colors. To help keep us in the right frame of mind, I burned a CD of appropriate color-naming songs. Here's the song list. On my way into work, I realized that I'd made a huge oversight by not including Prince's "Purple Rain."

» Another NYU suicide. We know suicides come in clusters, but still... What the hell is going on there?

- Daryl

Location, location, etc.

» When I lived in central Pennsylvania, I figured at some point I would buy a house. You can buy a townhome in downtown Carlisle for $60,000. At the edge of the town, $100,000 will buy you a house and an acre of land. (Example.)

Now let's talk about Brooklyn. A block away from my current apartment, a developer is rennovating an old Catholic school into condominiums. It's on a quiet street in a mid-level neighborhood (Greenwood Heights/South Park Slope), but certainly not a trendy place to be. The condos are now up for sale, so I decided to check out the web site on the sign and see how much they cost. I knew I wouldn't be able to afford one, naturally, but I was curious.

There are 38 units for sale. The cheapest is a 1,095-square-foot studio apartment that includes one room, a kitchenette, a bathroom, and a small patio. This shoebox worth of New York City living space can be yours for just $335,000, plus a monthly commons charge of $256. If you want to go upscale (ie. more than one room) you can get a 1-bedroom apartment for half a mil. A 3-bedroom unit, with a mezzanine and a balcony, costs a cool $1.1 million. If you bought a $1 million home in central Pennsylvania, you would easily own one of the nicest houses around, the kind people would drive past and take photos of. Here you have to be rich just to own anything.

- Daryl

Hacking an E-ZPass

» Since I sold my car last month, I've had my old E-ZPass sitting on my desk. It's a pretty good paperweight, surprisingly heavy for a little plastic box. But I kept wondering what's inside it. There's no obvious way to crack the thing open; it's sealed on all sides. But my curiosity got the best of me. (Don't you ever wonder how something works?) I hacked it open with a saw and a flat-head screw driver. Here's what's I found:

EZ-Pass broken open

I figured there would be nothing more inside than a flat coil of wire, like the ones CD stores use to prevent shoplifting. But, wonder of all wonders, it's actually a fairly complex device. Inside is a circuit board (called a "256-bit transponder") with a 3.6-volt Tadiran lithium battery. Before, I just assumed that EZ-Pass didn't need a battery because it was activated by a radio signal sent from the toll booth. How long does the battery last, and what happens when it dies? I also wonder if an extrermely skilled computer person could reprogram an E-ZPass in such a way as to defeat paying the toll. I doubt it — It's probably a virtually hack-proof system, like the MTA MetroCard. Of course, now that I've utterly destroyed this EZ-Pass, I probably can't send it back to reclaim my $25 deposit.

» Lest you think I spent my entire Sunday afternoon dwelling on pointless details, let me tell you that I also did my taxes. Bleh. I used a free online service called TaxACT, which I found via the IRS web site. I'll let you know if I have any problems with it, but so far so good.

- Daryl

And I don't even get cable

» My cell phone rang at 2:18 a.m. this morning as I was walking home from a party. "Unknown number" the screen said. Of course I answered it. Here is my recollection of the conversation.

Me: Hello?
Dude's voice: Hello?
Me: Hello?
Dude: Yes, hello? This is the cable company.
Me: I'm sorry, I think you have the wrong number.
Dude: No, this is not a wrong number! I'm calling from the cable company.
Me: Oh really.
Dude: I'm calling about a $200 debt you owe the cable company. I need your name for verification.
Me: Like hell you're from the cable company!! The cable company doesn't call people at 2 a.m.!!
Dude: No, really! This is an emergency call from the cable company. I need your name for verification.
Me: Well, first tell me your name.
Dude: This is Raquel from the cable company. I need your name in regards to a $200 debt you owe the cable company.
Me: If you're really from the cable company, what's my account number?
Dude: It's, um.... (click)

At that point, the call ended. And I don't even know where I'm supposed to send my $200!

- Daryl

"All That We Let In" - Indigo Girls - 3.11.04