Ah, the ZTE Max XL… the phone they should have named the “ZTE Max RD”, ‘cos you need to reboot it daily! Gather ‘round children, and let me tell you the story of the phone that was so bad it finally made me quit Virgin Mobile!
I got the ZTE Max XL last Christmas. And it seemed pretty awesome at the time – a Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 octa-core processor, a 6” 1080×1920 screen, a 13 MP camera, a 3990 mAh battery, a fingerprint sensor on the back, all wrapped up in some Nougat 7.1 deliciousness! And the thing was only $125 on Virgin’s site! Sounds killer, right? What’s not to like?
For one thing, the screen is glitchy. Do you remember when a VGA cable would get loose or start to die, and if you brushed against it with your foot, you’d get weird streaks or other artifacts on the screen for a second or two? Yeah, the ZTE Max would often do that when playing YouTube videos, or when I’d play my slot machine games. It wasn’t especially bad – maybe 1 or 2 very short glitches during 30 minutes of game play or video watching – but it was certainly enough to make me worry.
And speaking of “worry”, the entire time I owned this phone I worried constantly about the battery. I’ve never owned a device that ate battery quite like this phone. After charging overnight on my nightstand, I’d wake up, unplug it and spend 15 minutes or so checking my email, catching up on headlines, and seeing what was going on with Reddit. And it wasn’t uncommon for that short usage to drain the phone to 92% or so. Yes, the phone used 8% of a charge just by using Outlook for Android, Google News and Weather and Relay for Reddit for 15 minutes. But that’s better than what I got doing chores: I like listening to music while doing dishes, and 35 minutes of Spotify + Bluetooth headphones could easily eat 20% of a charge. It got to the point where I’d eat dinner and let the phone charge back up to 100%. Then I’d do the dishes, only to watch the battery drain from 100% to 79% in a mere 35-45 minutes. It also didn’t help that the phone had the battery percentage RIGHT THERE on the notification bar, with no obvious way to disable that feature. It was almost like it was taunting me: “You want to listen to the new Sylvan Esso album? Hahaha! That’ll cost you 10% of this charge!”
You might have noticed I said “Outlook for Android” in the previous paragraph. That’s because almost anything Google-related on the ZTE Max did not work once the phone reached a certain amount of uptime.
To me, one of the “genius” things about technology is when it fixes a problem you didn’t even know you had. Several years ago, my cable company started offering an Android app that lets you schedule DVR recordings remotely. That might sound kinda pointless at first, but I never realized how often I’d be outside my home – at a family gathering, or at the pub with friends – and someone would mention a show they thought we might be interested in. With the app, I can just whip out my phone, and with a few taps set up a recording. Or – and I know this has happened to most guys at least a few times – you’d be out running few errands with the missus before a big football game… the one that she promised you’d be home in time to watch. But you’re running behind, and there’s no way you’ll make it home before kickoff. No worries – just use the app to record the game, and marital bliss continues!
Well, there’s a free service from the United States Post Office that’s the same level of genius: it’s called Informed Delivery. Once you sign up for the service, you’ll start receiving daily emails that contain scans of the mail that will be delivered to your home that day (if you don’t want emails, you can log in to the USPS site, or use the Android or iOS app). Here’s a screen cap from their website:
Informed Delivery also automatically keeps track of packages headed to your home, and you can use the service to leave directions for the driver (“leave at neighbor’s house”, if you’ll be out of town, for example). You can also use it to reschedule delivery of any missed packages.
There are a few caveats, though. Informed Delivery only tracks “letter-sized” items; it only scans larger items like magazines and catalogs if the sender pays extra for it (and few do). It also only scans mail with your name on it (letters addressed to “Resident” or “Occupant” aren’t scanned). It also doesn’t scan the weekly bundles of ads, like the Red Plum ads we get every week. And while package tracking is automatic, it’s only for packages with a USPS tracking number or Indicia ID; packages from overseas, for instance, aren’t tracked. On the plus side, creating an Informed Delivery account also creates a regular USPS account in your name too, so if you’ve been meaning to set up a USPS account to buy stamps or set up online shipping, you now have one more reason to do so.
In any case, Informed Delivery won’t change your life, but it does make things just a tiny bit easier. For one thing, I live in a townhome that has a “community mailbox”. If I don’t get the daily email from the USPS, I know there’s no mail, so no need to walk to the mailbox. And there have been times (when I had a horrible cold, for one) where I saw that that day’s mail was mostly junk, so skipped getting it that day. And there was one time recently where my missus was looking for something important in the mail, and it was late… to the point where she was thinking of calling the company. I saw what looked like the item in my daily USPS email and forwarded it to her – she was relieved that the item had arrived, and wouldn’t have to spend an hour on hold with the company.
Lastly, let me address (hah!) one thing. I learned about Informed Delivery from one of the message boards I frequent. It seemed like half the posters thought the idea was cool, while the other half thought it was crazy to opt into, since “Homeland Security will know what mail I’m getting!”
Well, first of all, if you’re the type of person who would be of interest to Homeland Security, they’re probably already looking at your mail anyway. Secondly, while I don’t know this for a fact, I’d be surprised if the USPS wasn’t already scanning the mail anyway. The USPS has been scanning the mail for ages – you didn’t think the post office sorted 506 million pieces of mail every day by hand, did you? In other words, I think with Informed Delivery you’re just getting access to the scanned images they already use internally; it’s not like they’re only scanning the mail of Informed Delivery users.
For the past 15 years, I’ve posted Outlook calendars for the football schedules of the Pittsburgh Steelers (and, for a lesser time, Georgia Tech). Sadly, I will no longer be doing this.
Part of it is because I don’t really use Microsoft Outlook as my primary calendar any more. I still use Outlook on a daily basis, but since my Google Calendar easily syncs to my desktop, laptop, tablet and phone, it’s just much more useful to me than the Outlook version.
There’s a site out there called Stanza that has all kinds of calendars you can import into your Google Calendar: here is the Steelers’ calendar, here is Georgia Tech’s calendar (and here is the Pittsburgh Penguin’s calendar).
Sorry if I’m letting anyone down this year. But this was always something I did for myself first, and shared with the Internet as a favor. Now that there’s a site that will do most of the work for me, I’ll let them do it.
Thanks for being loyal downloaders, and I hope that Stanza works for you in the future!
(I have no connection to Stanza whatsoever, other than being a happy (thus far) customer. If you find a better calendar service out there, feel free to post about it in the comments section!)
In my senior year of high school, a girl – let’s call her “Karen” – transferred to my school. She and I liked the same music and movies, had similar senses of humor, and got along well together. We became instant friends. But she was wild. Like, “on a first name basis with everyone at the local Department of Family Services office” wild.
Karen eventually got thrown out of her grandma’s house. She moved in with a friend in midtown Atlanta. She lived there for six weeks before stealing all her roommate’s cash and weed and running up a $600 phone bill. Karen then took off to Pensacola and repeated the process – lived with someone for six weeks before stealing all their cash and weed and running up a giant phone bill. She then took off to New Orleans and did it to someone else. She’d then come back to her grandma’s house in Atlanta, totally penitent, begging for “another chance”. I called this “Karen’s Triangle of Terror”, and she repeated this cycle at least 3-4 times.
At one point, Karen’s grandma became so desperate for her to stay in school that she promised Karen a brand-new BMW 325 convertible if she got her high school diploma. Karen actually responded to this, and for 8-10 weeks she stayed in school, actually went to class, kept her partying to a minimum, and generally seemed to have her shit together. So much so that her grandma allowed one of her Pensacola friends – let’s call her “Jennifer” – to come for a visit.
Jennifer was one of the most “inadvertently awful” people I’ve ever met. She didn’t mean to be terrible, she just was. I drove Karen and Jennifer to a party one night, and Jennifer passed out drunk on the way home and put two giant cigarette burns in my backseat (oh, and my car had less than 1,000 miles on it at the time). A couple days later they went to a party at another friend’s house. This friend only had one rule: her mom treasured this 200+ year old Persian rug. DO NOT GET ANYTHING ON THE RUG! Jennifer puked on it. A couple days after that, Jennifer was introduced to someone in my social circle and was like “Oh, Stacey! You’re the one who had to get an abortion ‘cos she was raped by her uncle, right?”
Jennifer (thankfully) went back to Pensacola, and I eventually lost track of Karen ‘cos of her many moves.
* * *
A couple years later I was at work, listening to local consumer expert Clark Howard on my headphones. He mentioned that US Air was going to run an unprecedented sale: $298 round-trip flights from Atlanta to Frankfurt! I called a bunch of friends and actually found one who: a) had a passport; b) had the money; and c) was excited as hell to go.
We didn’t do much in the way of trip planning. I got us a rental car and hotel room for the first night… and that was it. My Let’s Go guidebook would take us the rest of the way. So we landed in Frankfurt, got the rental car and drove to Stuttgart, where the hotel was. We saw some sites, had a few beers and some laughs, and went back to the room.
The next day we explored Stuttgart in the morning, then decided to head to Munich around lunchtime. We got about halfway there – my friend was driving this leg – and he mentioned that we didn’t have any accommodations yet. I got out the Let’s Go and went through a list of hostels and pensions in Munich; we agreed on one place because Let’s Go said it was “the preferred stop for aspiring young models”.
So we arrived at the pension and got a room. It was around 6PM by this point – it wasn’t “late”, but it was a snowy, rainy December day and the sun had gone down a couple hours before. So it felt a lot later than it was. My friend and I ate at a nearby restaurant, hit a bar next door for a couple hours, then came back to the room and crashed.
The next day we hit a bunch of places – the Marienplatz, some Christmas markets, the Alte Pinakothek… ya know, tourist stuff. We decided to go back to the room and chill for a bit before going back out that night. As we climbed the stairs to our room, we saw that the door to the room next to ours was open, and two cute(-ish) girls were inside. Before we could unlock our door, one of the girls called out, asking if we had a cigarette. We said we did, and invited her in to our room (door open, of course).
The girl introduced herself, and I immediately asked if she was from Pensacola:
“Like, ohmygawd, like, how did you know?”
Pensacola girls in the late 80s\early 90s had this particular accent, kind of a “Southern Valley Girl” thing that was quite distinctive… especially in that they could condense “Pensacola”, normally a four syllable word, into something like one and a half syllables.
I explained that I once had a good friend who would get kicked out of her grandma’s house in Atlanta and go to Pensacola quite often. I then said that this girl – the one in front of me, here in Germany – sounded just like this girl Jennifer, one of my friend’s friends from there.
The girl suddenly went pale.
“Wait, is your friend named Karen?”
“Does she have a Mickey…”
“… Mouse tattoo on her…”
“upper left arm?”
The girl spun around and ran back to her room. She returned with her wallet… which she opened to reveal several pictures of herself and Jennifer. She was, apparently, Jennifer’s best friend from childhood.
My friend and I had booked the trip thanks to a tip from a guy on the radio. We’d planned almost nothing about the trip. We’d picked this pension almost at random from a list in a guidebook. We hadn’t requested any particular room… and just next door was someone who knew one of my former best friends.
Another year, another list of my favorite new albums!
So… 2017 was a strange year for music. There were a handful – emphasis on “handful” – of albums I loved… and quite a few I listened to once and promptly forgot. I also finally noticed a trend that’s been building for a few years: I’ll find a great new album one year, like it enough to put on my “best of” list, but only truly “discover” the album the following year. Fully half of my overall most-listened to albums in 2017 – five of ten – were from 2016.
Below are my ten favorite albums of 2017. As I’ve done the past couple of years, the list comes directly from my Last.fm stats; I have, however, tinkered with the order a bit. After the list are a few honorable mentions, followed by the raw data from Last.fm.
My Top Albums of 2017
10) College – Shanghai – College isn’t a “band” exactly; it’s a “project” headed by French musician David Grellier. He’s worked with acts like Minitel Rose, Electric Youth and Anoraak, and, under the name “Mitch Silver”, he’s been a member of Sexy Sushi since 2004. If you don’t keep up with European electronic music, that might not mean a lot to you, but trust me: the guy has deets. And beats. Ironically, that’s one thing Shanghai lacks: beats. It’s a moody, atmospheric affair, one that could be mistaken for a soundtrack album. It’s not my favorite thing College has put out, but it was good enough in a lean year to sneak onto this list:
9) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Echo of Pleasure – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are one of those bands where I either love or hate each individual song. Some songs I listen to over and over again; others I listen to once, never to hear again. The Echo of Pleasure is a pretty solid album all around, though. Good job, guys:
8) Furniteur — Perfect Lavender – Furniteur is a bit of a mystery. It’s at least one blonde girl from Washington DC. There are two guys who perform on stage with her… are they part of the band? Musicians only hired when she plays live? Who knows? Her\their various webpages – Bandcamp, Twitter, Last.fm – are quite vague about who they are. But that’s not important, really. All I know is, I’ve played them a lot since they showed up on a Spotify “Discover Weekly” list. Perfect Lavender is an awesome, and surprisingly solid, album. A lot of times albums start off well, but lose steam halfway through (I’m looking at you, Bryan Ferry), or they only have 1 or 2 good songs to begin with (I’m looking at you, Primitive Radio Gods). Unlike the bulk of synthpop artists, where you’re ready to play someone else’s album about halfway in, this album surprises you when it finishes. “I listened to the whole thing? Nice!”
7) Me The Tiger — What Is Beautiful Never Dies – A SWEDISH band on my top ten list? NO WAY! That’s a joke, son: seems like half the bands I listen to these days are from Sweden. Anyway, Me The Tiger isn’t quite like the rest of the Swedish bands I listen to. It’s not “slow, dreamy” synthy stuff. Instead it’s loud, in your face, and slightly abrasive. Instead of the calming vocals of Mia Bøe (Postiljonen) or Anja Oyen Vister (Flunk), Me The Tiger’s Gabriella Åström is loud and, at times, almost shouty. Not that that’s a bad thing – it’s just that Me The Tiger will never be on anyone’s “best chillout songs” playlist. Having said that, the band does get quite a bit “samey” after a while. Still, a pretty sold effort from these Swedes:
6) Johnny Jewel — Windswept – Johnny Jewel is the driving force behind Chromatics, one of my “Top Five” bands at the moment. No band out there can create an atmosphere quite like Chromatics and Jewel can. And there’s no better example of this than Windswept, a collection of songs Jewel wrote (and collaborated with others on) for the recent Twin Peaks revival. Have a listen to the title track, heard over the end credits of episode 5, and throughout episode 6:
5) Kid Francescoli — Play Me Again – Marseilles’ Kid Francescoli returns with another kick-ass album (their 2014 debut, With Julia, was #2 on my “best of” list that year). Any why not? This is solid pop music, folks! Look, I get it. I really do: for decades, French pop music was an easy target for English-speakers to make fun of, with dated Italo disco-style beats behind a chain-smoking, “not nearly as cool as he thinks he is” Frenchman singing phonetically in English. Yes, yes… I know. But French pop has come a long way in the past few years, thanks to acts like Kid Francescoli. Have a listen to this (and yes, before you ask, on the album the singer does not use the words “backwards mother lover”):
4) Maud Geffray — Polaar – Maud Geffray is a French musician and producer. And the lead single off this album, also named “Polaar”, is fantastic. A big part of the reason I knocked this album down from #2 on my scrobble list to #4 on the album list is because those scrobbles were dominated by “Polaar”. That, and much of the album consists of variations on “Polaar” (“In Your Eyes”, a duet between Geffray and Flavien Berger, is just a heavily-remixed version of “Polaar”, for instance). Still, when this album hits, it hits hard:
3) Sylvan Esso — What Now – College radio loves Sylvan Esso… and you should, too! There’s no “sophomore slump” here – just ten kick-ass tracks in a row! The lead single, “Radio”, is a scathing indictment of FM radio… and is exactly the same vibe Katy Perry swung at and missed in “Chained to the Rhythm”. Yet, this album is somehow a mystery: it makes fun of pop music, yet is an excellent example of the genre. Take notes, Katy Perry. Sorry for the live version of “Radio” below, but I guess the foul language in the official music video triggers YouTube’s “adult” filter, which WordPress’ embedding tool doesn’t like. But that’s OK, though: one of the best shows I saw last year was Sylvan Esso, so here’s a taste of what their live show is like:
2) Washed Out — Mister Mellow – OK, let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: yes, this is an album to smoke weed to (see: music video, below). Let’s not pretend it isn’t. And yes, listening to this album in “enhanced mode” is probably better than listening to it sober – there’s a lot of “noise” in this album that will just kind of… annoy some. But that doesn’t make this just a stoner album. Ernest Greene has been the flag-bearer for the chillwave movement, and this is something he does not take lightly. All of the tracks on this album are finely-crafted pieces of art, and if this “visual album” isn’t quite as good as 2013’s Paracosm or 2011’s Within and Without… it’s only because Greene took a swing at a concept album. Whether it’s a home run or foul ball is up to you.
1) Saint Etienne — Home Counties – Saint Etienne have been one of my favorite bands since the late 90s. They are, in my estimation, the “longest-running” band I still like (as opposed to bands like Depeche Mode or Duran Duran, which I consider “nostalgia acts” to the chagrin of friends). Home Counties – named after the counties that surround London – is a “day in the life” tour of the area… and it’s one of Saint Etienne’s best albums. They’re getting up there in age – Sarah Cracknell turns 51 in April – so one has to wonder if this might be their last album. If so, what a way to go out! For some reason, this album, to me, echoes their entire catalog. “Dive”, for example, reminds me of their early, “60’s revival” work, while “Underneath the Apple Tree” seems to hearken back to the “electronic English folk” era of Tiger Bay. And the album’s best song – “Out of My Mind” – is a total belter, made all the better by the (ironic?) fact that once you hear it, you won’t be able to get it out of your mind. Bob, Pete and Sarah have spent 27 years searching for the perfect pop song, and they might have just found it. I adore this album from start to finish, and you will, too!
With the caveat that “EPs aren’t albums”:
Heaven – Lonesome Town EP
Public Memory – Veil of Council EP
Pale Honey – Devotion
In this post from 2012, I talked about the strange, interconnected history of several companies that had financial difficulties… that ended up being bought by the companies providing the packaging for that product.
For example, Richard S. Reynolds, Sr. – nephew of Richard Joshua Reynolds, of RJ Reynolds tobacco fame – played a big role in the development of Camel, America’s first successful pre-rolled cigarette. After the brand became a hit, Richard S. Reynolds left RJR and started an aluminum foil company, because cigarette and candy companies were big users of foil packaging. One of Richard S. Reynolds’ biggest customers was Eskimo Pie, a foil-wrapped ice cream sandwich. When Eskimo Pie ran in to legal trouble Reynolds bought the company rather than lose such a big customer.
Well, I’ve found another example: Tootsie Rolls!
Tootsie Rolls were created by an Austrian immigrant named Leo Hirshfield in 1907. Hirshfield worked for an outfit called Sweets Company of America, and was trying to come up with a chocolate-flavored candy that was cheaper than actual chocolate and wouldn’t melt in the summer, since air conditioning wasn’t yet common. He named the treat after his daughter Clara, whose nickname was “Tootsie”.
By 1935, the company was on the verge of collapse. This greatly worried Bernard D. Rubin, owner of Joseph Rubin & Sons, the company that made boxes for Tootsie Roll. Sweets Company of America was one of his biggest customers. Rubin obtained a list of shareholders and met with them one by one until he’d bought a majority stake in the company. He subsequently ran the company from 1936 until his death in 1948. His brother William B. Rubin then took over the company, running it until 1962. In that year, the company changed its name to Tootsie Roll Industries. Also in that year his daughter, Ellen Rubin Gordon, took charge of the company. She still runs it today.
Check out the original article for a fun ride through some strange American business history!
I’m thinking about buying a new desktop computer during the upcoming Black Friday sales. Because of this, I’ve been thinking about moving my data from one computer to another. Most of my really important things are already backed up to an external hard drive every morning, or are kept in my OneDrive folder (or both).
One exception to this are my Pidgin logs and settings. Pidgin is a multi-protocol chat application. I use it to connect to private instant messaging servers I’ve set up at my client sites, so employees can message me when they need help. I often refer to Pidgin’s chat logs for billing purposes, or for troubleshooting, or even for covering my butt when things go sideways. Thing is, though, all of Pidgin’s settings (including the logs) are contained in an AppData folder; that location is hardcoded in the app and can’t be changed. But you can use symlinks to move the folder wherever you want:
1) Completely shut down Pidgin.
2) Go to C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Roaming and cut the .purple folder (substituting the appropriate username, obviously).
3) Paste the .purple folder wherever you’d like. I used a “Pidgin” folder I created in my Documents folder. So Documents > Pidgin > .purple.
4) Open an elevated command-prompt, type the following command on one line, replacing username with your username, and press ENTER when you’re sure it’s been entered correctly:
The above command (mklink) creates (/D) a symlink in my AppData\Roaming folder called .purple, which points to a folder (also called .purple) in a folder called Pidgin in my Documents folder. Exit the command-prompt when done.
After running this command, all of your Pidgin settings and chat logs will be in your documents folder, but Pidgin will think they’re still in the original location. In my case, the Pidgin data files also be copied to my OneDrive cloud. Since you can create a link anywhere on your drive you want, you could just as easily create a link in your Dropbox or Google Drive folders instead.
If you follow British politics at all, you’re probably familiar with the State Opening of Parliament. In this, Queen Elizabeth II rides in a gilded carriage from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster, as the Houses of Parliament are formally known. There she changes into formal attire – including the crown – and sits in the House of Lords, where she reads a speech that has been prepared for her by the current government.
The speech outlines the things the current government wants to do in the upcoming legislative session. It’s like a more subdued State of the Union address… without the clapping every 30 seconds.
Incidentally, my favorite part of the ceremony involves someone known as the “Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod”. Usually called “Black Rod” for short, once the Queen and the Lords have assembled for the speech, Black Rod is sent to summon the House of Commons. However, as he approaches the Commons chamber the door is slammed in his face, and he bangs on the door with his… black rod to get their attention:
This is a response to an event that took place on January 4, 1642, when Charles I, accompanied by armed soldiers, stormed into the House of Commons to arrest five MPs he believed had encouraged the Scots to invade England. Although the House of Commons and Charles I had been at odds for decades by that point, this event proved to be the spark that ignited the English Civil War, and is why, to this day, the monarch is not allowed to enter the House of Commons. By slamming the door in Black Rod’s face, the Commons reminds the monarch that they won’t be bullied by the anyone, especially the Crown.
And hey, speaking of “being bullied by the monarch”, have you ever wondered what happens after the Queen’s speech?
Well, the Commons takes up a bill known as “A Bill for the more effectual preventing clandestine Outlawries”, which is mercifully shortened to the “Outlawries Bill”. And here’s something you might not know: in Anglo-Saxon times, to be declared an outlaw was the second worst thing the government could do to you, outside of torturing you to death. That’s because an “outlaw” was literally a person “outside the law”. An outlaw convicted of a crime couldn’t just hire a better lawyer and file an appeal, since he was now excluded from the legal system. Anyone offering an outlaw food, shelter or assistance could be executed for aiding and abetting. And if an angry mob happened to come across an outlaw… well, you couldn’t be arrested for killing a person the law no longer recognized, so… It may surprise some that the “WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE” trope made famous in old Western films actually has its origin in Anglo-Saxon England!
Of course, England doesn’t have “outlaws” any more, at least not in that Anglo-Saxon sense. But a bill about them is introduced into the House of Commons after every Queen’s Speech. This is to symbolically show that the House will control its own agenda, and not be bullied or persuaded by the monarch. An interesting side note is that, since the bill is purely symbolic these days, no one bothers printing up paper copies of the bill. And since they haven’t done so for years, no one really knows what the exact text of the bill actually was. This version of the bill, used during the reign of Queen Victoria, is the most complete known example of the bill:
A Bill for the more effectual preventing clandestine Outlawries.
For the more effectual preventing Clandestine Outlawries in Personal Actions, Be it Enacted by the Queen’s most excellent Majesty by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons in this present Parliament assembled and by the authority of the same. That if after the [date] any attorney Solicitor or other person who shall prosecute any person or persons to Outlawry in any action personal wherein no Writ or Exegerit shall be awarded shall make default to send or deliver the Writ of Proclamation to the Sheriff of the proper County where the Defendant shall be dwelling at the time of awarding the Exegerit (the place of such dwelling being known), every such Attorney Solicitor or other person aforesaid making such default being lawfully convicted shall for every such offence forfeit [amount]; and if the Sheriff (the Writ of Proclamation being duly delivered to him) shall refuse or neglect before the Return of the Writ to make [number of] Proclamations according to the directions of the Act made in the thirty-first year of the reign of [Queen Elizabeth] for the avoiding of privy and secret Outlawries in actions personal, every such Sheriff being lawfully convicted shall for every such refusal or neglect forfeit [amount].
* * *
While all this is going on, the House of Lords discusses vestries. In the United States, Ireland and Scotland, vestries are committees of lay people who advise the clergy of Episcopal churches.
The vestry serves two purposes. For one, it takes some of the workload off the clergy. If a church needed roof repairs, for example, the vestry might be in charge of getting estimates and determining the best course of action. Or if the church had a sensitive situation – like a deacon getting caught with a prostitute – the rector may seek the vestry’s help in figuring out what to do next.
The vestry’s second task is to keep an eye on the books, not just to keep the rector’s hand out of the cookie jar, but also to make sure the parish is financially stable generally. This is the origin of the vestry in England: a secular group made up of prominent citizens that had control over the parish’s public charity funds, such as aid to the poor. Over time, vestries assumed more and more power, such as appointing church officials like clerks and sextons, and maintaining public utilities like water pumps, market scales, clocks and fire engines. At their most powerful, in the early 1830s, vestries spent almost 20% of England’s national budget!
By the late 19th century, it became obvious that professionals were needed in many cases. Many vestries were responsible for cesspits in early days, but the rise of modern sanitation systems required more knowledge than the average vestry member had. And by this point, the 20,000+ vestries hopelessly overlapped each other and offered inconsistent services throughout the country. So their civil powers were removed by legislation in 1894, while their ecclesiastical powers were removed by a reorganization act in 1921.
So why does the House of Lords introduce a bill for a thing that was abolished 96 years ago? Again, it’s symbolic, just to show the monarch that he or she can’t bully the House of Lords, either. Specifically, the Lords debates “A bill for the better regulating of Select Vestries”, which is predictably just called the “Select Vestries Bill”.
But what’s a select vestry? Well, in the Middle Ages, any taxpaying resident of a parish could be a member of the vestry. But massive population growth in the 1600s, especially in cities like London and Manchester, meant that it was no longer feasible for every taxpayer to have a seat on the vestry. So “select vestries” were created which had a property ownership requirement, and one had to be “selected” by existing members… much like a country club, an analogy that adequately describes how the process actually worked. Not surprisingly, many vestries became corrupt over time. Since the House of Lords includes all 26 bishops of the Church of England, many of those bishops pushed for reform. In fact, the “Select Vestries Bill” was once a real bill the bishops wanted to pass. When it failed to pass in that session, the bishops ensured that it was the first thing discussed in the next session of the Lords. And the next. And the next. And the next. They kept pushing for the bill for years, until its introduction became a tradition unto itself.
While you may think all this is just some nutty practice British people do because someone made it a “thing” 400 years ago, know that our neighbors to the north do something similar. Canada is a constitutional monarchy, so their parliament sessions also begin with a royal speech… although it’s almost never delivered by the actual Queen of Canada. It’s called the “Throne Speech”, and it’s actually two speeches – a short one delivered by the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec called “the Allocution”. The premier of Quebec then reads a much longer speech, “Discours d’ouverture”. After this, each house debates a bill: C-1 (in the Commons) and S-1 (in the Senate). But while the British bills reference past legislative needs – outlawery reform and vestry corruption – the Canadian bills are refreshingly direct. They simply state that the bill they’re discussing is about how they’re free to discuss whatever they want. The bills are identical, save for the stuff in brackets, which is specific to each body:
Whereas the introduction of a pro forma bill in the [House of Commons / Senate] before the consideration of the Speech from the Throne demonstrates the right of the [elected representatives of the people / Senate] to act without the leave of the Crown;
Whereas that custom, which can be traced to [1558 / before 1867] in the Parliament at Westminster, is practised in a number of jurisdictions having a parliamentary form of government;
And whereas it is desirable to explain and record the constitutional relationship represented by that custom;
Now, therefore, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:
1 This bill asserts the right of the [House of Commons / Senate] to give precedence to matters not addressed in the Speech from the Throne.
In this post from 2013 I talked about the hottest brainiacs – that is, female academics and engineers who just happened to be pretty in addition to being smart as a whip. In this post, I want to talk about musicians who are surprisingly smart. Let’s do this:
Amelia Fletcher is a British singer and songwriter, known for being in a string of bands in the 90s, including Talulah Gosh, Marine Research, Tender Trap and (most famously) Heavenly. Looking at it from afar, you might wonder why Fletcher was in so many bands, or why she seemed to quit one as soon as the band started getting famous. That’s because Fletcher was getting a doctorate in economics from Oxford, and could only be in a band as time permitted. In 2001 she was named chief economist at the Office of Fair Trading, roughly analogous to America’s Federal Trade Commission. In 2013 she was named “Professor of Competition Policy” at the University of East Anglia.
Like Fletcher, Ladytron’s Mira Aroyo also studied for her doctorate at Oxford. Unlike Fletcher, Aroyo quit after deciding that the lab work needed to get a doctorate in genetics was much less fun than being in a band. Rumors persist in some circles that she’s still in school, or that she went back and got her doctorate, but these are untrue. In an interview with The Sunday Mail she said “I was a geneticist doing a PhD and realizing lab work wasn’t for me. We were doing Ladytron at the same time and I was enjoying it more. It was easier and more fun”.
After being unceremoniously dumped by British New Wave band Japan, guitarist Rob Dean tried forming a few bands with limited success, including “Illustrated Man”, with Gang of Four’s former drummer, Hugo Burnham. Dean played on a couple famous albums, including Gary Numan’s 1981 album Dance and Sinéad O’Connor’s debut The Lion and the Cobra in 1987. Not getting anywhere in the music industry, Dean left the UK and moved to Central America where, as “Robert Dean”, he has become one of the leading experts on local birds. In 2007 he illustrated The Birds Of Costa Rica: A Field Guide, and in 2010 he illustrated The Birds of Panama: A Field Guide.
The early 80s British “swing revival” band Roman Holliday is mostly known in the UK for their Top 20 hit “Don’t Try to Stop It”. In the US they’re known for their song “Stand By”: although it only reached #54 on the Billboard charts, the music video was played heavily on MTV in 1983. The band’s guitar player, Brian Bonhomme, is now a professor of Russian history at Youngstown State University in Ohio.
Like most parents, Lauren Mayberry’s folks insisted that she get a college degree as something to fall back on if her music career didn’t pan out. Mayberry didn’t just get one, she got two: a bachelor of laws degree and a masters in journalism. She even won an award in 2010 from the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland for an article she wrote about body piercing safety practices. Not that she needed to: her band, CHVRCHES, is doing quite well, thanks! [NOTE: in most English-speaking countries outside the United States, one can get a “bachelor of laws” degree which, with passing the bar, is all one needs to become a lawyer.]
Lastly, Dan Spitz – lead guitarist and songwriter for Anthrax – left the band in 1995 to pursue an education and career in… watchmaking. He attended the prestigious Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program (WOSTEP) on a full scholarship, where he was awarded the title of “Master Watchmaker of Mechanical Complications Specialist”. This is serious business: we’re not talking about Spitz being able to assemble a watch from a kit: he can design (and build) highly precise mechanical watches from scratch! Neat, huh?
If you grew up in the late 60s or early 70s, you probably remember the names Sid and Marty Krofft. The Canadian brothers created a ton of iconic kids programs such as The Bugaloos, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, H.R. Pufnstuf, and Land of the Lost. They were behind a few variety shows including Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters and Donny & Marie, too.
So it was huge news when it was announced that a Krofft-themed amusement park was going to open inside the Omni Complex in downtown Atlanta. An indoor amusement park… with H.R. Pufnstuf? OMG! OMG! OMG! Sign me up!
The park opened on May 26, 1976… and closed less than six months later, on November 10, 1976. And here’s the thing: for decades, the narrative was that the park’s failure was due to Atlanta’s high crime rate in the 1970s. I’m not gonna lie – crime was an issue back then. My dad had Hawks season tickets in the 70s, so I was down there all the time. It was a bit scary, and dad made sure to never let me out of his sight, even for a second. But while that was an issue, the park did itself no favors.
For one thing, The World Of Sid And Marty Krofft was designed so that a visit would last three hours. That’s it: three hours. If you showed up when the park opened at 10AM, you’d be done by 1PM.
But few visitors actually stayed that long, because the park only had two rides: the Crystal Carousel and the pinball ride. The Crystal Carousel, a giant merry go round made out of clear acrylic, was kinda cool to me, a little boy… but was probably considered pretty lame by anyone over the age of 10. And the pinball ride was incredibly lame, even by my five year-old standards. You sat inside a large silver “ball” which ran on a track and “crashed” into flippers and bumpers and such. It sounds cool, but the ride was so slow and the mechanics were so loud there was just no element of danger or fun. It was like the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World with all the effects turned off. Aside from those two rides, the park was mostly a mish-mash of carnival performers (I remember a sword swallower), live shows, shops and restaurant.
What’s more, the park was designed to lead visitors in a specific path. You’d take the World’s Longest Freestanding Escalator to the top floor of the park, then work your way down to the bottom floor. There was nothing stopping you from going back and experiencing something again… except all human traffic you’d have to walk against. For people who specialized in “imagination”, the park sure lacked it.
Lastly – and I can’t stress this enough – The World Of Sid And Marty Krofft was the MOST EXPENSIVE ATTRACTION in the Atlanta area at the time. Adult admission was $5.75 per person ($24.63 in 2016 dollars). Kid’s tickets were $4.75 ($20.35). Contrast this with Six Flags, where adult tickets were $5.00 ($21.42) and kid’s tickets were $3.50 ($14.99). But it wasn’t just about the money: Six Flags could easily be an all-day adventure, as opposed to the three hours (max) at The World Of Sid And Marty Krofft. And at Six Flags you were free to wander around the park at your leisure, riding the dozen (or more) rides in any order you chose. When it came to “bang for the buck”, Six Flags coaxed The World Of Sid And Marty Krofft down a dark alley and beat the everlovin’ snot out of it.
If your parents were cheapskates, you could go to Stone Mountain Park (one-day car pass: $2) and climb the mountain (free), have a picnic (free-ish) and play miniature golf (like, 50¢ per game per person, or go to the water slides (around $2 for 2-3 hours).
And THAT was the real problem The World Of Sid And Marty Krofft faced: ALMOST ANYTHING was cheaper and more fun than the park.