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  1. Over at Hacker News this morning, I learned that something I have been doing for years has a nickname, "do-nothing scripts." (I was calling them "guide scripts.") The basic idea is that one can write a script for a cumbersome process one might ultimately want to automate, even when only pieces of it are immediately amenable to automation. In other words, the script serves to provide cues, help one keep one's place in the procedure, and act as scaffolding for a piecemeal automatization: Image by Jannis Brandt, via Unsplash, license.At first glance, it might not be obvious that this script provides value. Maybe it looks like all we've done is make the instructions harder to read. But the value of a do-nothing script is immense: It's now much less likely that you'll lose your place and skip a step. This makes it easier to maintain focus and power through the slog. Each step of the procedure is now encapsulated in a function, which makes it possible to replace the text in any given step with code that performs the action automatically. Over time, you'll develop a library of useful steps, which will make future automation tasks more efficient. A do-nothing script doesn't save your team any manual effort. It lowers the activation energy for automating tasks, which allows the team to eliminate toil over time.I do not write software for a living -- I see my software more as an "exoskeleton" -- and I am always on the alert for ways to make it even more useful. I stumbled upon the idea for this kind of script a couple of years ago, when I had to generate a large number of reports with very similar steps very quickly. I saw right away how to automate some of the steps, and knew I could do the same for others, but that I'd need to learn more about some software before I could do those. I also wasn't sure how long I'd need to keep creating the reports, so I doubted that getting myself up to speed on the unknown software was really a good use of my time. But in thinking about doing this, I did realize the value of having the computer keep track of where I was, so I wrote the script, anyway. This was so helpful that I have since written several other "do-nothing" guide scripts. The one I use for weekly data backups has been helpful in that that process has a couple of time-consuming steps. I don't need to babysit them, so I can focus on something else. I can turn again for a moment to backups at any convenient time, when the script awaits input between steps -- and I am in between tasks that require my full attention. -- CAVLink to Original
  2. Four Things 1. Over the past couple of weeks, I've taken my kids sans Mrs. Van Horn to see their cousins in Mississippi and in California. The latter trip included a long layover in Nashville due to a delayed flight. There, desperation drove me to an internet search of things for kids to do at airports. Nothing I could use turned up, but I did find a list from Parenting of airports with play areas and other fun activities. I've bookmarked it for possible later use and am passing it on for the sake of any fellow parents who happen by. BWI has one I didn't know about, despite living in the area for about three years: Upstairs in the main terminal, in BWI's Observation Gallery, is a one-of-a-kind children's play area. There's an array of airplane parts: a wing, tail, wheels -- even part of a fuselage. Plus some fun equipment meant to be played on (don't fret -- the area is carpeted).Several airports have impressive offerings, topped by the seven play areas of Detroit's airport. 2. Statistician John Cook discusses the peculiar case of the initial vote count of an election being affected by a cosmic ray "flipping" a bit (i.e., changing a 1 to a 0 or vice versa in the computer's memory): Radiolab did an episode on the case of a cosmic bit flip changing the vote tally in a Belgian election in 2003. The error was caught because one candidate got more votes than was logically possible. A recount showed that the person in question got 4096 more votes in the first count than the second count. The difference of exactly 212 votes was a clue that there had been a bit flip. All the other counts remained unchanged when they reran the tally. [link omitted]I, too, had been aware of such bit flips as a theoretical possibility, but had never heard of one being documented until I read Cook's post. 3. I use a shortened form of my middle name in the same manner most people use their first names. In my case, it's because I was named after my father, who used his first name. And so it is that I find humor in this list of "10 Struggles People Who Go by Their Middle Name Understand, Because No, We're Not Trying to Confuse You." Item six applies to me only to the extent that many forms only allow a middle initial, and seven doesn't really apply because I never list my middle name as my first name. But item eight does: Remember when Homer Simpson was impersonating Mr. Burns, but he couldn't come up with his first name when asked? Yeah, that's how I sound whenever a hotel clerk asks for my name. Because saying "Well, you might have me down as..." doesn't seem sketchy at all...This affects me a little because many places are kind enough to ask what you prefer to be called, but don't pass the information around consistently. On top of that, my wife usually handles our travel arrangements, and she uses her maiden name for professional reasons. So, when I travel, I get to do the "you might have me down as" with my last name, too. There are advantages to using my middle name. It's generally easy to tell over the phone if I am speaking to someone who actually knows me, for example. A Father's Day gift and a bottle of muscadine wine. (Image by me. Feel free to reproduce or use with or without modification. Attribution would be appreciated.)4. When visiting my mother recently, I learned that Mississippi has a small wine industry. But since the climate there is unsuitable for grapes, the wine is made from the related muscadine. I had a white from the Old South Winery of Natchez. The result was sweet, and had both the distinctive flavor and some of the gelatinous mouthfeel of the fruit. (This instantly took me down memory lane to the small part of my grandfather's back yard where he grew muscadines.) I brought a couple of bottles back home, but Mrs. Van Horn was not a fan. More for me! -- CAV Link to Original
  3. Since I use the Emacs text editor for almost all of my writing, I keep abreast of related news, including occasional looks at a couple of Emacs-centric blogs. On one of these, Irreal, I ran across a post whose author admittedly rankled from a disparaging remark about his preferred software. And, yes, I'll admit enjoying this part of his reaction to the contention that "the cool kids" don't use Emacs: What is the source of this steam? (Image by gdtography, via Unsplash, license.)I don't think it's true. At least not for any reasonable definition of "cool kids." But suppose it is true. Who, then, are the cool kids? I submit that by and large they are just like the cool kids in high school who ended up pumping gas after graduation. In modern terms, they are the hipsters. Or to put it a third way, they are unserious people.It sure does feel good not to be one of those superficial people who always go for the latest shiny object. Or at least it did until I read a response, by one Alex Birdsall, who replied in relevant part: It seems to me that "how can [E]macs be more welcoming to kids and hipsters without disrupting experienced users' workflows?" is a more interesting question than "how can these kids and hipsters be so shallow", and one more likely to lead to new and useful insights.This follows a highly relevant torpedoing of the notion that a concern for esthetics is a necessarily a sign of superficiality -- a lesson I learned long ago, but forgot in the moment. I would guess that this is true of the author as well, but I am glad he vented anyway, and not just for the above interesting and potentially valuable back-and-forth. (Since a decent user base is part of my criteria for adopting software, I am glad the issue got raised.) The exchange also illustrates the value of having a "sounding board," that is, of bouncing ideas off of others, and suggests a way of getting objective feedback. A common problem in thinking or writing is that intense emotion can interfere with consideration of relevant factors (or impartially evaluating a piece). In thinking, we will often "sleep on it" and in writing, frequent advice is to set aside a piece for a few days in order to look at it afresh. But we don't often have that luxury, and any way to save time can help. One of those ways can even be to vent, while being open to feedback. I don't think constant venting is a great idea -- that could lead one to become overly focused on the negative -- but doing so occasionally with this purpose in mind can be quite helpful, particularly when the source of the irritation isn't so clear. -- CAVLink to Original
  4. Readers here might already know about how central planning affects everything from suburban street layout to architecture to automobile design. It is still worthwhile to head on over to Issues and Insights, where John Merline writes about how they affect dishwashers, gas cans, and cars. Regarding the first of these, Merline asks, "Have you ever wondered why dishwashers today take twice as long to do a worse job of cleaning dishes?" As a new homeowner (with a cruddy new dishwasher), I can unfortunately vouch for the following experience: They purposely "don't make 'em like they used to." (Image by Piotrus, via Wikimedia Commons, license. )Earlier this month, the Department of Energy announced that it would revise its rules regarding dishwasher efficiency. Why? Because the existing rules -- which set limits on how much electricity and water a dishwasher may use -- are forcing manufacturers to build machines that are worse than ever. The DOE was responding to a petition from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which found that average dishwasher cycle times climbed from just over an hour back in the mid 1980s to two-and-a-half hours today -- with each increase in between the result of increasingly strict federal efficiency mandates. "It is not technologically feasible to create dishwashers that both meet the current standards and have cycle times of one hour or less," the petition stated. Shouldn't dishwasher efficiency be something that the market dictates? Consumers trade off convenience for savings every day. Why should dishwashers be any different? Particularly when the regulations result in a savings of something like $2 a month. [bold added, link dropped]Neither that two-and-a-half hours nor that worse job are exaggerations. That has been my experience with the highly rated -- comparatively, I have to assume -- dishwasher that came with our home. The slow speed was immediately apparent, but the worse job part took some time to manifest. After about a month and a half of doing a spectacular job, albeit a slow one, I started seeing spots and streaks on my glassware and, within a week, chalkiness on my plasticware and white deposits on the door of the machine. Some research into the problem revealed: (a) My dishwasher required monthly cleanings -- manual and chemical -- I'd never had to do. (I was a renter and got to use older dishwashers until last year.); and (b) The hard water in our area could greatly exacerbate the problem I was seeing. (All major brands of dishwashing detergent lack phosphates thanks to regulations in some states and spinelessness among the major brands.) I did the cleanings and switched to a phosphate detergent. It still took about two months for the problem to go away, and I now have to use that detergent and a more expensive gel pack-based detergent alternately. Based on the need for maintenance and more expensive detergent, the two dollar figure for energy savings is generous to a fault: I am losing money and time thanks to these immoral and impractical infringements on our freedom. My thanks go to the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Issues and Insights for fighting back, by bringing these issues to the attention of more Americans. -- CAVLink to Original
  5. Over at Medium is an post by Robert Wiblin with the promising title, "What You Think About Landfill and Recycling Is Probably Totally Wrong." He opens by noting that his "impression is that most people have an extremely inaccurate perception of the merits of recycling and throwing things away." Amen to that. Wiblin then proceeds to marshal a wide array of facts that any opponent of this practice should find useful, to reach conclusions that he regards as "the boring consensus view among people who are highly informed about waste disposal." On that second score, I am afraid he is right: While he laudably questions the merits of this practice, neither he nor they get around to questioning the conventional rationales for recycling. He concludes: We don't have to throw our time away... (Image by Javier Huedo, via Unsplash, license.)f I'm glad I used something, I don't feel at all bad just throwing it in the bin when I'm done with it; I would regard it as a poor use of the effort I put towards improving the world [for whom? -- ed] to work on increasing recycling or reducing plastic use in rich countries [C]onventional wisdom on how to deal with environmental issues is surprisingly unreliable. That man is a rational animal is almost as cliched -- and unexamined -- as the "three R's" of reduce, reuse, recycle. That is a shame, because a major implication of man's nature is that man's survival is not automated by instincts geared towards a very limited range of conditions: He must think to survive, and a major part of that kind of thinking is changing the environment in order to live and flourish. This has significant implications for the interpretation of facts such as Wiblin assembles. As I put it in a piece about recycling shortly after China decided to change its requirements for importing recyclable waste: [R]ecycling pre-dates China itself, and began the moment someone realized that it saved time, effort, and/or money to re-use an object or any of its raw materials... But around the 1970s, hippies changed the goal of recycling from benefiting human life to preserving the natural world. Lest you think I quibble, consider how that affects even a simple choice: Toss out a cheap soft drink bottle -- or wash it and send it off to a recycling plant, regardless of whether it is quicker or cheaper to make a new one. Most people, including Wiblin, I would guess, do not look deeply at how incompatible the goals of preserving nature and human flourishing really are, or they would insist on far better reasons than a vague save the planet for the demands on their time that recycling is. Time is a factor Wiblin does not explicitly consider. (Hence my question, for whom. I want a clean and beautiful world as much as anyone else: That goal does not imply that it is wrong to alter it in any way.) Freedom is another, related factor that Wiblin does not consider. It is worth noting that absent improper government encouragement (at our expense!) of this wasteful practice (and its past encouragement of other practices that have harmed our quality of life) -- and with proper enforcement of property rights -- we would probably already practice many of the alternatives to recycling that Wiblin mentions in his piece. Wiblin's piece has value for showing how wasteful and unimaginative recycling is, but it does not go as far as it could. The common rationales for recycling are also wrong, and the resulting waste of our time and diminution of our freedom (however slight) when the government forces people into this wasteful practice are criminal. -- CAV Link to Original
  6. After listening to one of Alex Epstein's Human Flourishing Project podcasts, I found myself intrigued by the title of a blog post he mentioned and I subsequently read, "Why Books Don't Work." This is a very thought-provoking and clearly-written essay of about 4,600 words, and considers the problem, common even among the educated, of people realizing how little information they actually retain from reading books. More important the author, Andy Matuschak, also offers some thoughts on what to do about it. Image by ASTERISK, via Unsplash, license.To illustrate his problem and begin offering his solution, Matuschak starts with the commonplace problems of people leaving books and lectures (a simpler case) with much less than they realize in the moment. This problem, he holds, is due to the fact that any such medium is based (at least implicitly) on a similar theory, or "cognitive model" of how learning takes place. The theories occur on several levels and at varying degrees of faithful implementation. But we can learn about learning by considering these theories seriously and by looking at what people do to compensate for their deficiencies. There are lessons for us, then coming from what the raw media seem to assume, through what educators who use the media (and attempt to make up for their deficiencies) believe, all the way to what successful end-users are doing. The end-users can teach us the most, the author holds, because they are actively engaging in the material, paying attention to how they absorb information, and self-monitoring themselves. These end-user activities Matuschak calls metacognition, or "thinking about thinking." Effective authors, he contends, are such because they do things to lighten their reader's metacognitive load. But if you think Matuschak is hoping to "build a better book," he isn't necessarily urging that (or ruling it out). He's willing to consider completely novel media, such as we see in his Quantum Country: My collaborator Michael Nielsen and I made an initial attempt with Quantum Country, a "book" on quantum computation. But reading this "book" doesn't look like reading any other book. The explanatory text is tightly woven with brief interactive review sessions, meant to exploit the ideas we just introduced. Reading Quantum Country means reading a few minutes of text, then quickly testing your memory about everything you've just read, then reading for a few more minutes, or perhaps scrolling back to reread certain details, and so on. Reading Quantum Country also means repeating those quick memory tests in expanding intervals over the following days, weeks, and months. If you read the first chapter, then engage with the memory tests in your inbox over the following days, we expect your working memory will be substantially less taxed when reading the second chapter. What's more, the interleaved review sessions lighten the metacognitive burden normally foisted onto the reader: they help readers see where they're absorbing the material and where they're not. [format edits]There is more, but many university students will recognize the repeated review of smaller "chunks" at intervals, the quizzing, and the monitoring. As revolutionary as this sounds, I admit finding myself being nagged by the memory of a dismissive term some of the nuns from my Catholic education used regarding some of the newer teaching methods, almost certainly "progressive," they deemed inferior: spoonfeeding. I am not dismissing this author's approach, but I see a need for caution in applying it, particularly in the creation of novel media. (I will note that I have not attempted Quantum Country, but I don't think my cautions suffer as a result.) For example, the author notes that lecturing has been "ditched" "in US K-12 education." That development is not necessarily an improvement. There can be good or bad reasons for uniting a lesson plan around a "theme, for example, and doing so at the expense of teaching deeply in a given discipline is definitely the wrong approach. That said, I am not necessarily defending how the nuns taught me. Perhaps those who did well could under almost any circumstances. What I strongly suspect, given the poor general state of education in the United States, is that in addition to the cognitive models in books leaving something to be desired, people are generally worse at metacognition now. In other words, I think "fixing" books or devising new media can only help so much. It's not a waste of time: They can make it easier for the well-prepared and perhaps make up for some of the deficiencies of our educational system. But we should temper our enthusiasm. -- CAVLink to Original
  7. Four Things Image by Jeffrey Hamilton, via Unsplash, license.Due in part to the holiday and in part to travel, I will be mostly or entirely absent from here until as late as July 16. In the meantime, I wish you a happy Independence Day. 1. Little Man, who just turned six, has his own amusing equivalent of way back in the good old days. When he wants to talk about something that happened long ago, or bring to our attention what a big boy he is, he will preface whatever it is with, "When I was four and a half..." 2. During a drive some time around their birthdays, the kids decided to list what each family member was best at. Here is what they came up with: Little Man: Memory Pumpkin: Vision Daddy: Being Wise Mom: Wrapping Presents As Dave Barry, who I am sure would be proud, might say, I am not making this up. 3. My daughter, now eight, had just finished her first big-girl sleep-over summer camp, and I was driving her home. Meanwhile, Mrs. Van Horn texted me with a request for an ETA while running errands with Little Man. Dad won! he suddenly piped up. In his lexicon, that meant I was home before they were. Naturally, I had missed the text because I was driving and sent the appropriate message as soon as I was home. Little Man read the notification when it popped up on his mother's phone. 4. So, yes. Brownie camp went well for Pumpkin, which was a relief, in part because we realized after sending her there that it was the same camp one of her aunts attended and hated when she was a kid. But we were also naturally apprehensive about how she would handle being away from home for so long. I was less so the day I dropped her off: She objected to me slipping and calling her "my little girl" on the drive over. And then she seemed eager to be rid of me once we got there. It didn't occur to me until later, but the cute, impatient frown she shot at me at one point did much to put me at ease. On the way home, some of the things she told me about were getting to groom horses, learning how to use a bow and arrow, and sneaking out to catch frogs at night with one of the other girls. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. Steve Forbes pens a bizarre column at Fox News in praise of Donald Trump as a "deregulator." Yes, it commits the usual conservative sin of conceding the whole argument by speaking of "excessive" government regulation, but the piece comes across as to me a unique cocktail of damning by faint praise and gross understatement. First, we have the following: Image by Gardner Wheeler, via Unsplash, license.One example of the president delivering his deregulation promise came in late May when the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration abandoned a costly regulatory proposal issued by President Barack Obama. The measure would have forced private freight railroad carriers to continue operating with two people in a locomotive cab. This proposed Obama, anti-business mandate was always wrongheaded, and its revocation carries important lessons for how best to regulate.Okay, good. The President ended some blatant featherbedding. Forbes gives no figure on cost savings versus railroad expense, so it is not clear how much this actually helped the railroads. Forbes does note that the regulators had no safety data demonstrating a need for the extra employees they would have had to pay, so there is that. But if I try to put myself in the shoes of an average reader, I can more easily see "fewer jobs" and have little clue about "increased investment capital" for the railroads. In other words, that potential benefit of deregulation is lost on me. (And the fact remains that some people probably lost their jobs.) That said, I'm open to the argument that perhaps I'm being hard on Forbes. And he does argue that what's good for the railroads is good for the rest of the economy. Let's put that aside for a moment, or even assume that Forbes made a clearer-cut case that this regulatory move really helped the railroads. We still have the following: Rather than bow to narrow labor interests, regulators would be better served stating the goals and letting industries figure out the best ways to achieve them. [We don't need a bureaucrat to say, "Get me and my stuff there quickly, safely, and cheaply." -- ed] This would encourage innovation and avoid the constant problems of regulators always being behind the curve when it comes to newer and better practices. The Trump Transportation Department deserves immense credit for turning rhetoric into action. A nanny-ish, we-know-best mentality on a decision better left to the private market is simply unneeded as railroads continue to set all-time safety records -- a result of private investments averaging $25 billion in recent years. Indeed, as the American Action Forum outlined, "regulators should not impose specific and costly mandates when lacking evidence they will solve a problem. Regulators should also be mindful of the implications today's regulatory decisions will have on future innovation, particularly when evidence suggests those innovations could improve safety."I'll give one cheer to Trump -- whose regulation of foreign trade (aka tariffs) threatens to easily wipe out any of the gains intimated above. But doesn't the above make the whole premise of government regulation in the least bit questionable? Wouldn't investors not want to lose their money in the form of accidents, a reputation ruined by a poor safety record, or damages from lawsuits? And if regulators are perpetually "behind the curve" regarding safety and are making decisions on things "better left to the private market," why have them at all? -- CAV Link to Original
  9. Over at Ask a Bureaucrat, David S. Reed fields a question from a reader who has become interested in becoming a crony. I'm ready to get off my high horse and join in, "Boss Tweed" admits, apparently after being passed over for promotion in favor of one flunky too many. Reed facetiously, but relevantly, asks his reader to promise to use his power only for good before explaining exactly how to do this: Image by Thomas Nast, via Wikipedia, public domain.Your challenge is to build a crony relationship with your agency's officials, even though appointed officials typically stay in the same job only a few years. You can do it by adopting the same short time horizon as the appointee. When he announces a pet project, do not talk about how similar efforts failed before he came to the agency, or how this one is doomed to fail a few years from now after he has moved on. Instead, help rally attention and enthusiasm for the current effort. When the official is in a pinch to get something done, volunteer the efforts of yourself and the people you supervise. This will force you to juggle your workload, so prioritize what will solve the official's immediate problem. Sacrifice the work which would only show results in the long term. [bold added]As with shampoo, there will be a rinse-and-repeat with future officials, who will forgive and forget whatever mistakes can be blamed on their predecessors. The irony, of course, is that there is no way to exercise such "power" for good. It may well be that, even if our government were pared down to its proper scope, we would still have government bureaucrats. Nevertheless, I think the hazard of this problem would be greatly reduced (in terms of both opportunity and impact) under such circumstances. Furthermore, the very susceptibility of government bureaucracies to such a problem should make people more wary of placing more and more of our lives under direct or indirect bureaucratic control. Of course, that is on top of the fact that any government agency that is involved in centrally planning the economy is already curtailing our freedom. -- CAV P.S. I suppose one could make an argument that, under some circumstances, operating a government agency this way could achieve a noble purpose, as a means of sabotaging something clearly inimical to freedom. But the odds of such a situation arising seem ... long. Link to Original
  10. No, I didn't watch the Democrat "debates," but I have read plenty about them and watched a few of the more talked-about moments. Probably the biggest such moment came from the second night, when Kamala Harris took a cynical (and somewhat dubious) potshot at Joe Biden for working with segregationist senators (from his own party, AP) on non-racial issues early in his career. Even if I liked Biden -- I don't -- I don't think that noting a need, in those days, to work with a troglodyte or two would be to defend him. I think -- as the AP's confusion regarding the party membership of said troglodytes helps show -- that this was a clumsy and ill-advised attempt on his part to say something like, Look to me to be able work constructively with even those knuckle-draggers across the aisle. And yes, he opposed forced busing, but that was controversial across the board even then. But enough of that. We have a slate of over two dozen candidates -- twenty of whom participated in this two-night joke -- who do not substantially differ from one another, offering all kinds of insane expansions of the welfare state. One picture that made the rounds was every hand being raised in answer to whether illegal immigrants should receive free medical care. (Biden is one of them -- and it is actually hard to tell whether he's raising his hand.) And that's just one of the things that was discussed. Probably the most notable thing about this exercise is how little time was spent on the Green New Deal. In other news, Bill de Blasio quoted Che Guevara before a crowd in Miami. But not even points for honesty for him!Think about that. Every single viable candidate supports -- or pays lip service to -- this idea in some form or fashion. The proposal would obviously, from a moment's thought, upend the everyday life of practically every American, and it is supposedly being made to address a life-or-death problem. Why isn't someone embracing it for the latter reason, or standing up against it for the former reason? Hint: It's for the same reason that old, ambivalent Joe Biden is the front-runner (and is unlikely to be sunk by Harris's attack): Socialism as a moral force is dead, preening by the likes of Representative Ocasio-Cortez to the contrary notwithstanding. Few ordinary people are truly excited by any of these proposals, but everyone assumes they are The Right Thing to Do -- on those rare occasions they too briefly consider them. Absent a widely-known ethical alternative to altruism, we are coasting in that direction -- the direction of socialistic central planning -- by inertia. In such a milieu, the nomination will go to (a) whoever succeeds in helping voters pretend everything is fine (Biden, so far), (b) helping voters pretend they are in the right (Warren, so far, but with Harris catching on; see also "Why the Left Can't Let Go of Racism"), or (c) both (possibly Warren, which makes her the most dangerous). -- CAVLink to Original
  11. Blog Roundup 1. From the Roots of Progress comes a ready-made how-to for writing a great history of technology or industry for the layman, in the form of a list of requirements: Tell a coherent story and not be arbitrarily limited in scope (either in place or time, e.g., "Agriculture in North Carolina 1860 -- 1910"). Describe what came before the technology existed, setting the context for why it was needed and what it evolved out of. Explain the problem that the technology solved, how people dealt with the problem, and why those approaches were inadequate. Explain the solution itself, in terms the layman can understand, but in as much technical detail as possible for that audience. Describe the impact of the technology, including its applications (for instance, a book on steel should explain what things were made out of steel, and why this was an improvement over previous materials). Quantify whenever possible. Better, visualize: show graphs of performance increasing or costs decreasing over time. Eliminate almost all other detail that does not contribute to these goals, save perhaps for a few entertaining side stories or intriguing historical connections. [format edits] It is interesting to read why he felt the need to make such a list and, since I sympathize, I am passing it along. 2. According to Dollars and Crosses, Leonard Peikoff has come out with a new book based in large part on his question-and-answer podcast: Keeping It Real: Bringing Ideas Down to Earth offers invaluable advice on how to apply broad philosophical principles to the real-world decisions we have to make every day. In this book, Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand's longtime friend and heir, provides a wealth of practical counsel on personal relationships, child-rearing, career problems, politics, sex, and many other topics. His answers to hundreds of questions -- taken from the first five years of his former podcast -- highlight the importance of ensuring that the principles we claim to live by do not float in our minds as useless wordplay, but rather guide us in action toward our personal, selfish happiness here on earth. [format edits]I liked the podcast and always get great value out of Leonard Peikoff's books, so I am especially looking forward to Keeping It Real, pun intended. 3. Over at ARI's New Ideal, Keith Lockitch reviews Population Bombed!: Exploding the Link Between Overpopulation and Climate Change, by Pierre Desrochers and Joanna Szurmak: Even if one accepts the need to plan for an increased risk of climate-related disasters, the proponents of end-of-the-world scenarios show no recognition of the life-or-death importance of abundant energy, the physical and economic realities of energy production, or the devastating consequences of the sweeping carbon-cutting policies they propose. As a corrective to the near-panic that pervades our cultural atmosphere, what's desperately needed is a broader perspective on the climate issue. Fortunately, such a perspective can be found in a recent book exploring the connections between the current fears over climate change and previous environmental concerns -- in particular, fears related to population growth.The authors, Lockitch goes on to argue in his mostly positive review, show that "Climate change is essentially similar to previous anticipated environmental crises that failed to materialize." Something oddly missing from most "alternative energy" lists. (Image by Val Vesa, via Unsplash, license.)4. At the blog of the Center for Industrial Progress, we learn how Alex Epstein spent his Earth Day: by making a new video for PragerU. We also learn that the following four five-minute videos have enjoyed over 10 million views combined: Why You Should Love Fossil Fuel Fossil Fuels: The Greenest Energy Do 97% of climate scientists really agree? Can we rely on wind and solar energy? It's good to know that these exist, particularly since the shortness doesn't ask too much of someone who may or may not be that interested in the crucial points they make -- and the clarity ensures that someone new learns of an alternative point of view. I am glad these have been so successful so far. -- CAVLink to Original
  12. I usually prefer to finish reading a book before commenting on it here, but I'm making an exception this morning. Recently intrigued by a review of Rich Karlgaard's, Late Bloomers, I bought a copy and have been slowly working my way through it. The book has proved valuable, and not just for the reasons I wanted to read it. I am still somewhere in the first third of the book, but on more than one occasion, I have found myself thinking something along the lines of Every parent should think about this. An emerging theme of the book jibes with much of what the likes of "Free Range Mom" Lenore Skenazy have been talking about for years. Karlgaard argues that our quest to identify talent early and our approach towards educating (if you can call it that) the "gifted" are doing children a great disservice. For example: Image via Amazon, fair use.Let's stop and ask: Is the sacrificial expenditure of money, wrecked family dinners, and kids exhausted from organized activities producing better, more productive, or happier people? Is it helping people bloom? For the majority of kids, it's doing the exact opposite. This pressure for early achievement has an unwitting dark side: It demoralizes young people. By forcing adolescents to practice like professionals, to strive for perfection, and to make life choices in their teens (or earlier), we're actually harming them. We're stunting their development, closing their pathways to discovery, and making them more fragile. Just when we should be encouraging kids to dream big, take risks, and learn from life's inevitable failures, we're teaching them to live in terror of making the slightest mistake. Forging kids into wunderkinds is making them brittle. Journalist Megan McArdle has written extensively about the fear of failure that plagues today's young adults... (loc. 540) [bold added]Karlgaard cites mental health -- and suicide -- statistics elsewhere to back himself up, but it's almost unnecessary. As a parent, I think almost anyone around middle age can see stark differences -- almost to the point of unrecognizability -- between childhood today and childhood as it once was. This is not to say that there aren't many, many improvements, but the cultural and institutional pressures to drill children in sports and academics have made me uncomfortable (to say the least) from the start. As another book, Steven Johnson's Wonderland, argues (and Skenazy often does), delight and amusement play crucial roles in cognitive and emotional development. Modern childhood strikes me as deficient in both. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. We own an HP Envy all-in-one, which is fine for our current needs for the occasional print, the rare copy, and the sporadic fax. I am pleased with it, overall, and remember being quite impressed with how easy it was to set it up as a network printer/scanner for the first time. It usually works flawlessly, with one minor and irritating exception: Every time it runs low on ink, I have to look up which kind. This menu demonstrates how ridiculous this display is.Pictured here is what my ink level indicator looks like. This appears on a screen with more than enough space and resolution to present a list in English -- as attested by the many other pages of menus and instructions that pop up when this device is called upon to perform any other function. (As shown at right.) At the risk of sounding like some kind of Luddite, I'd love to see something like this, instead: Ink Levels Black: 80% Color: 65%But heck, I could be persuaded to go with the filled bars -- if they came with labels in English as opposed to the unintuitive hieroglyphics they use. I can see an argument to the effect that the bars are a nice, quick read. But the symbols? It doesn't save time if I have to look them up, and as anyone might guess, ink has an annoying way of running out when time is of the essence. I swear I won't mind the moment it takes to make out a word or two, especially compared to having to drop everything and look it up on the web. I'm having to read anyway, so why not just have the words on the screen? This is a programmable computer, not a mass-produced leaflet for international distribution. There is no need or excuse not to use two simple words that anyone with a need for a printer will presumably be quite familiar with. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. With capitalism under heavy bombardment from the left, it was refreshing to see John Stossel's latest column (in which he quotes Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute), titled "Moral Capitalism" (or something equivalent in at least two outlets I am aware of). Here is the opening: Presidential candidates and the media keep telling people "it's immoral" that a few rich people have so much more money than everyone else. They talk as if it doesn't matter what the rich did to get the money. Instead, the fact that they are rich is itself immoral. Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute says this is lunacy. "They want to condemn the people that actually have moved civilization forward," Brook complains. "People who improved the standard of living for everybody on the planet."Stossel quotes Brook again, crucially, on the small matter of these improvements being due to win-win transactions. Compare this to the following, typical conservative reaction to the kinds of prosperity-destroying attacks on America the Democrats are passing off as campaign planks: Image by JJ Jordan, via Unsplash, license.Warren breezes past these and other objections with indignant slogans about billionaire "freeloaders." That's an odd term. In 2016, the top 1% of earners took home 19.7% of national income. They also paid 37.3% of all taxes, which was more than the bottom 90% combined. If you want to raise (income) taxes on the rich, go ahead, but you will never extract enough to fund the spending Warren fondly imagines. The only way to achieve a Scandinavian-style welfare state is to do what the Scandinavians do -- tax the heck out of the middle class.Setting aside for a moment the propriety of taxation, notice how such a reply, couched in the altruistic assumption that trade is of no moral import, completely misses the gross injustice of the whole idea of soaking the rich -- something that is immediately clear from the Stossel column. It is beyond ridiculous to defend "the rich" based on how much money they have had taken from them in taxes. Worse, it puts advocates of capitalism in the absurd position of being on the back foot -- reacting to baseless claims that "the rich" have to hand out "their share" of loot, completely forfeiting the moral high ground and whatever amount some politician eventually decides is that "fair share." At the same time, the missing element of the agency of the common man in building the wealth of "the rich" is missing. We help ourselves through trade, and this might remind us that asking for more after the fact -- which plans like Warren's are -- is wrong. (And it might begin to stem our national epidemic of learned helplessness at the government teat.) If conservatives were serious about prosperity -- or self-reliance -- or justice -- they would scramble to adopt Brook's approach. It is too bad the GOP will almost certainly have only Donald Trump to run against whoever the Democrats coalesce around. Someone with Yaron Brook's clarity and understanding of what is at stake would justifiably make that person look like a laughingstock to a significant number of voters, and at least give pause to many of the rest. -- CAVLink to Original
  15. Over at Power Line is a discussion of the famous fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. The fiftieth anniversary of that fire was June 21, and it has been misused to symbolize the alleged evils of capitalism and excuse environmental regulation ever since. The blog post takes note of both widespread misconceptions about and little-known context surrounding the fire. Most notably, the river was already on the mend and it had reached its then-sad state in great part due to the law at the time -- law that also hamstrung efforts at remediation: [T]he Cuyahoga was treated as an industrial stream, and state permits inhibited local clean up efforts. Public nuisance actions and enforcement of local pollution ordinances, in particular, were precluded by state regulation, while federal laws protecting commercially navigable waterways went largely unenforced."This comports with a post of mine from earlier this year, in which I noted that law that could have prevented water pollution went unenforced thanks to Utilitarianism. I quoted one source there as follows: Image by DJ Johnson, via Unsplash, license.Yet the judges were not insulated from broader social developments and thus their decisions reflected changes in values in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Strict protection of property rights in the early nineteenth century was compatible with the early republican thought, which attributed intrinsic value to property; it was the foundation of propriety and political participation in the society and the source of the citizen's independence. Utilitarian values gained prominence throughout the nineteenth century, culminating in the Progressive Era when Gifford Pinchot promoted the use of water and forest resources for "the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers." The mid-nineteenth century case reports indicate that for judges industry was the vanguard of economic development that benefited everybody. [format and punctuation edits, bold added]One small problem with this approach is that it is not the proper job of the government to guarantee or actively promote anyone's happiness (as if government officials are fit to judge that for anyone). In doing so, the government disregarded its proper job: protecting individual rights, including those downstream of the industries. I will also note again that the law was far from perfect regarding the rights of those downstream. Likewise, the cleanup efforts weren't, either, funded as they were, for example, with government bonds. That said, both (a) how the river became polluted in the first place, and (b) the fact that efforts were already underway to clean it, indicate the following: On top of so much of environmental regulation violating our rights (which should preclude the whole idea), the case for it is weak to say the very least, even if we set aside such objections for the sake of argument. -- CAV Link to Original
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