Volkswagen Cheats the World

Every time I think I’m beyond surprise at what complete jerks large corporations can be, something comes along like the latest from Volkswagen. In case you’ve been on a camping trip and haven’t heard the news, the CEO of Volkswagen has admitted that VW has for years been installing software on their diesel-powered cars designed specifically to cheat emissions testing. Customers who bought cars thinking they were buying the latest in safety for the environment and fuel efficiency were getting neither.

This short video from the Washington Post sums the whole thing up in stunning detail.

What I’m wondering is why the CEO of VW is still employed and, for that matter, hasn’t been arrested.

More here.

Update: The CEO of VW has resigned. Who knew I wielded such power? 

Commas Rule, This July Fourth!

Do commas matter? According to an Ohio Court of Appeals, they do.

As we U.S. Americans celebrate the birth of our democracy today, it’s fitting to celebrate recent court victories on behalf of the common man (and woman)—and common sense. I’m not talking about the Supreme Court ruling in support of same-sex marriage equality, though I celebrate that, as well. I’m talking about the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals ruling which overturned a West Jefferson, Ohio woman’s ticket-and-tow citation when she left her pickup truck parked on the street overnight.

The reason her truck was towed? A village ordinance makes it illegal to park “any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle” on a street for more than 24 hours.

The woman argued that her truck was not a “motor vehicle camper,” and should not have been towed. The trial court ruled that the ordinance meant to say, “motor vehicle, camper, trailer, etc.” and that the missing comma was just a typo.

No way, said the Court of Appeals. If your meaning requires a comma, you need to put the comma in. We’re not responsible for your careless writing. Yay! Let’s hear it for clear writing, I say!

You can read the whole story in the Washington Post, which seems to have rereported it from the Columbus Dispatch.

Now, if I could just collect a fine every time I caught the Boston Globe mangling grammar, spelling, or punctuation (as opposed to “grammar spelling, or punctuation”). It would probably cover the cost of my subscription.

A special tip of the hat today to copy editors everywhere!

 

Blue Angels Over My Town

And I missed it!

I’ve always wanted to see the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s precision flying squadron. Yesterday I had my chance—except I didn’t know about it! I was in the shower when I heard a thunderous roar of aircraft flying nearby. It sounded right overhead, which is occasionally the case with traffic out of Boston’s Logan Airport. But this didn’t sound like commercial airliners; it had the distinctive crackle of jet fighters. I tried to look out the bathroom window, but saw nothing in the sky but clouds. The last time I’d heard that sound in real life, it was a pair of F-15s flying over Fenway Park.

An hour later, I read in the online edition of the Boston Globe that the Blue Angels (flying their gorgeous blue and yellow FA-18 Hornets) had been in town for a photo shoot, and had just made several passes above the city, including over Fenway Park. It’s entirely possible that they did fly over my house, while I was in the shower.

I was fit to be tied. But I thought, at least I should be able to see some good video footage of it, from the local TV stations. Forget it. As it turns out, about the only videos I’ve found online have been clips from private citizens, probably shot on their cell phones. Here’s a still, though, from the Boston Globe. It’s pretty cool: the six-plane squadron plus a photo plane, passing behind Boston’s Prudential Center.

Nomorobo Beats “Rachel at Cardholder Services”

Rachel has such a bright, charming voice, and I’m sure she’s only trying to sell me something good. But I don’t know, because I’ve only ever hung up on her before she could finish her pitch. Like, about a thousand times. You may know her, too. Especially if you have a landline in the U.S.

Do you know about NOMOROBO? If you’re driven crazy by robot spam callers as I once was, go at once to nomorobo.com and sign up for the free call-blocking service. Nomorobo was the winner of a competition sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission to find a way to stop infuriating marketing calls—and it really works! It’s like an anti-virus program for your computer. It screens incoming calls, and if the numbers match profiles of known spammers, it rejects the calls after one ring.

Here’s the only catch: It works only on landlines that use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP). But that’s most of the majors. I have Comcast, and I had no idea our phone calls went by VOIP. But they do. The sign-up is not quite as simple as they make it out to be, but neither is it as complicated as their instructions make it seem. It took me fifteen or twenty minutes to work through it. And once you’re registered, that’s it. You’re protected against most nuisance calls.

I had gotten to the point that when our landline rang, I often didn’t even bother to get up to see who it was; I just knew it was probably a spammer. Now, I listen—and if it rings once, then stops, I high-five the air. Because Nomorobo has just kicked a robot call back to the netherhells from whence it came.

Let’s hear it for the invention of the year!

Jesus Is a Liberal Democrat

That’s the assertion of Stephen Colbert in this classic bit from 2010. I’m going to miss the Colbert Report when it goes off the air next week.

The Boston Globe has compiled some of Colbert’s best moments.

And you don’t want to miss President Obama, taking Colbert’s seat and lampooning himself. Great stuff.  And good to see that he’s kept his sense of humor.

Launch of Orion

Yesterday’s unmanned test flight of NASA’s Orion deep-space craft is a great boost for those of us who want to see us back in the game of venturing beyond the Earth. We’ve had sensational successes in robotic missions; but not since the 1970s, with the end of the Apollo Moon program, has a human being flown beyond low-Earth orbit. It’s high time we got back out there, and got on with the challenge of making us a spacefaring, multi-world species. Here’s what the launch looked like:

Also of note is that the launch rode the fires of a Delta IV Heavy rocket, which actually uses advanced, American-made rocket engines. (Many of our crucial space launches nowadays ride on Russian-made engines—including military launches, which is really weird and unsettling, when you think about it. Nothing against the very smart Russian rocket designers, but given the political direction of Russia these days, I’m not happy being so dependent on them for access to space.)

I only wish we were giving this program the proper funding, so that the development of deep-space capability weren’t being stretched out over decades. The next launch of Orion isn’t scheduled until 2017.

Anyway, Go NASA!
 

Good News! Young People Read!

Some of us in the book biz worry too much. For a while now, there’s been gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the supposed graying of our audience—in particular, the perception that fewer young people are picking up science fiction books, and leaving it to the aging generation to appreciate the mind-blowing concepts spun out in our novels.

Actually, that could still be true. While SF is extremely popular in the media, and youths flock like bats to Comicon and the like, SF in book form doesn’t seem to hold the market that it once did. (Always excepting outliers like The Hunger Games.) But—much as I hate to admit it—science fiction isn’t the only kind of book that matters. So, with that in mind, take heart from this story in the Washington Post, regarding a recent study by the Pew Research people: “Millennials were more likely to have read a book last year than older Americans.”

Let’s repeat that, in case you missed it the first time: “Millennials were more likely to have read a book last year than older Americans.”

Not only that, “62 percent of the under-30 set believes there’s a lot of useful, important information that is not on the Internet.” Which is 9% more than the number of older Americans who said that.

Go, Millennials!

Interesting Times? Holy Sh%$.

Bank robbers were shot by police today about 150 feet from where I’m sitting in our dining room.  My daughter Julia and I heard bang bang bang bang, and thought it was construction or firecrackers. I briefly thought gunshots, and then thought nah. Captain Jack knew it was worth barking about, but he settled down quickly. When I went out twenty minutes later to go to an appointment, police were stringing up crime scene tape, and just getting ready to tape off our driveway. I drove away knowing only that there’d been a shooting.

When I got home, I learned that it was not a domestic incident or random murder, but police responding to armed suspects. The whole place is closed off; I had to park a block away and walk home. The news helicopters are still circling around. Here’s the story:

On Arlington Patch, and on Channel 5’s website.

Here’s what the scene looks like now.

While taking my own pictures, I got interviewed by both Channel 4 and Channel 5 news. They must really have been desperate for something to put on the air. (I doubt very much they’ll use it, but you never know.)

I guess I can’t complain about life being dull. This stuff is only supposed to happen on TV.

Give to Charity, Get a Story!

My colleague Laura Anne Gilman, a fellow member of Book View Café, has made an interesting offer: Give to a local food bank, send her a pic of proof, and she’ll write a short story to put up for free on her website! If she gets enough, she’ll write a novella. She can do it, too. (I would not make such a bold offer, myself.)

So, go ahead. You’re probably going to give to charity anyway, this season. Why not encourage Laura Anne to write a story while you’re at it?

Details here: http://www.lauraannegilman.net/this-thing-i-do/

1 2 3 4 5 6 12