The series finale of The Americans airs tonight on FX. It’s a little too late to start watching it now, but if you should find it on a streaming service, it’s absolutely worth your time. The Americans was simultaneously one of the best TV shows of the 21st century, yet also one of the most underrated of all time.
So… Goodbye to Philip and Elizabeth, and Paige and Stan… and poor Henry! It was a hell of a ride!
Hi! I’m Jim! I have a newly redesigned website where I sometimes share quirky tales from history. Every Monday for the next four weeks, I’m going to share one of those stories to (re)acquaint you with those tales in a feature I call HISTORY REPEATS.
Our second tale is about the Berners Street Hoax… quite possibly the greatest prank of all time:
Berners Street wasn’t very wide to begin with, and as word of the deliveries spread, onlookers appeared. The street was completely clogged with angry merchants, curious bystanders and police, who wanted to know why traffic had come to a complete stop on Oxford Street. As it happened, traffic had ground to a halt throughout much of London. But Hook had it all planned out. Like a symphony, this prank was approaching a crescendo.
It’s a hilarious story guaranteed to make your sides split! Check it out:
Hi! I’m Jim! I have a newly redesigned website where I sometimes share quirky tales from history. Every Monday for the next four weeks, I’m going to share a story from my site to (re)acquaint you with some of those tales in a feature I call HISTORY REPEATS.
I’ll kick this off with the amazing true story of Timothy Dexter, a Colonial American who, by all accounts, should be remembered as “the worst businessman in history”… except for his unbelievable string of good luck:
A group of high society types then told Dexter he could make money by shipping gloves to the South Sea Islands… and you can guess what happened next: Dexter’s ship of gloves arrived just as some Portuguese ships were about to leave on a trading mission to China. The Portuguese bought all the gloves, and once again Timothy Dexter, like some sort of 18th century Kozmo Kramer, fell backwards into money.
A quick update about a “bug” I found on the new site: if you want to embed a YouTube video in a WordPress post, all you have to do is paste the URL into it, like this:
Incidentally, I’m kind of obsessed with that song – if you have time, you should give it a listen!
It wasn’t always like this. Before WordPress supported this natively, a third-party plug-in was needed to embed videos. I used one called Smart Youtube PRO, which worked the same way, but you had to add a V before the http part of the link, like this:
I haven’t reinstalled the plug-in yet, so for now every post from 2015 or earlier that has an embedded YouTube video is broken. I don’t know if I want to track down every single post on this site that has a video and convert each one to the “new” WP native format – that’d be a lot of work. It would be much easier to simply reinstall the plug-in… but lots of those old posts contained music videos, many of which have since been deleted from YouTube. So I kinda need to go through those posts anyway, to see if I can find replacements for all the deleted videos. Or I could just leave the whole mess as it is.
My apologies if you tried accessing this site in the past week. There was some… unpleasantness between myself and my former host. So after 16 years I ditched them for a new one! But since my former host also has a separate registrar, I thought it best (not to mention cheaper) to move my domain to Namecheap. My former host (and registrar) held on to the domain name to the very last second before releasing it… which finally happened in the wee hours this morning. So now I’m back… “from outer space!”
I hope you like the new look! When moving the site, I was much more concerned about technical stuff. When all that went off without a hitch, I suddenly realized this was a semi-creative endeavor, too. So at worst I’d have to recreate the theme of the old site. Come to find out, I went with the Twenty Seventeen default instead. I’m easy like that. Expect a few tweaks in the next couple weeks, though.
ONE BIG CHANGE: Please update your RSS feeds if you’re one of the 7 people who actually get feeds from this site! Also, my old site was in a subdirectory (jimcofer.com/personal), while the new site is not. If you have trouble with the site, make sure it’s not going to the old address. UPDATE: I added a server-side redirect, so if autocomplete takes you to /personal, you’ll be 301’d to the new site.
Back in the 80s, some time after my family moved from one end of a suburban Atlanta county to another, a married couple moved in a few houses down. The husband was, I think, a former big wig in the Air Force. He’d retired and moved to Atlanta for a new job. Somewhere between 6 months to a year after they moved in, their youngest son failed out of college and moved back in with his parents.
I worshiped this guy. I was a 14 year-old dork, and he was a cool 20 year old guy who’d been away… in college! He liked all the cool bands, movies and art. Cool literally oozed out of this guy. And he especially dressed cool – I started wearing a single rubber bracelet – yes, the same ones Madonna would wear 20 per wrist back in the 80s… just ‘cos this guy did, too.
Now, I’m not gonna lie and say we were friends. He didn’t know anyone in Atlanta when he first moved there, and I was “the kid down the street who liked Bauhaus too, and was good for a laugh on a Tuesday night”. Still, we hung out fairly often, at least for a few months until he got connections to people his age in the city.
And so: in 1985, when I was 14, this dude invited me to see Love and Rockets with him. He bought me a few beers – another cool thing about the guy was that he’d been grandfathered into the drinking age hike, so could buy beer at 20. And I, being 14 and with little alcohol experience, got blitzed.
The venue was a “cinema & drafthouse” that was converting to live music, so security was kind of lax. About halfway through the show, I drunkenly crawled up on stage and propped myself up against the speaker next to David J. He looked down at me, but did nothing. Since I – 5’9″ and 117 lbs soaking wet – didn’t seem like a threat, neither did security. So that’s where I sat for about half the show.
Afterwards, my friend, who’d brought his fancy 35mm camera, magically convinced the back doorman that we were from Creative Loafing, the city’s alt-weekly. We got backstage and hung out for a bit, which was cool. But then the party moved to the Winnebago the band had rented. After a while inside, I realized wasn’t feeling so hot, alcohol-wise. So I stepped out of the RV for some fresh air. While standing there, I got the idea of doodling on the side of the RV with a Sharpie I’d brought. A few minutes later, Daniel Ash poked his head out the door. Instead of getting angry, Ash laughed, came outside and drew on the RV for several minutes with me before they left.
Somewhere I have a fuzzy, black & white photo of our “artwork” on the side of the Winnebago.
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.