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Gus Van Horn blog

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Everything posted by Gus Van Horn blog

  1. I am way late to this party by Internet standards, but I finally ran across the bizarre story that went viral a couple of months back concerning allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of a Harvard law professor. As a byline in Reason summed it up, a woman and her transexual partner "used sex, activism, and Title IX to scam" him "out of his house, job, and money." Conservatives have rightly noted, some with a heavy helping of schadenfreude, the role of Bruce Hay's ideological orientation in this bizarre tale: It played a big role in making him a near-perfect mark for these grifters. And its implementation as Title IX is continuing his misery via a complaint lodged against him by his erstwhile trans-activist co-author. But it seems like just about everyone is not quite getting that part of the story. Ross Douthat of the New York Times gets the closest to seeing the role of ideas in the story when he notices that people of different political orientations react to it differently: DNA Profiling for Paternity Test (Image by Helixitta, via Wikipedia, license.) The leftward-leaners were more likely to focus on Hay as a uniquely gullible or lust-addled individual, and to draw strictly personal lessons from his disastrous arc. (For instance, to quote the Atlantic's Adam Serwer, that "men need meaningful and supportive friendships with people they are not married to, especially into middle age.") The rightward-leaners, on the other hand, read the story politically, as a vivid allegory for the relationship between the old liberalism and the new -- between a well-meaning liberal establishment that's desperate to act enlightened and a woke progressivism that ruthlessly exploits the establishment's ideological subservience. ("Not only did [Hay] trust Shuman," Bolonik writes, but "he felt it would have been insulting for a heterosexual cisgender man to question a professed lesbian as to whether she'd had sex with other men.") ... By this I mean the heart of polarization is often not a disagreement about the facts of a particular narrative, but about whether that story is somehow representative -- or whether it's just one tale among many in our teeming society, and doesn't stand for anything larger than itself.It may be true, especially in the early stages of this sordid tale, that Hay was lust-driven, but the fact that others fell for the same ruse (See link at "grifters" above.) tells me that Hay probably isn't especially lust-driven. But is he uniquely gullible? That's a good question. And I similarly question the notion that the duo are, respectively, a typical lesbian and a typical transexual, if there even is such a thing. They're nihilistic criminals. But ideas do play a role: How on earth would it be insulting to seek a paternity test when a woman one barely knows is claiming to carry your child? Re-read the second parenthetical quote above, and watch altruism -- in the guise of unearned guilt brought on by identity politics -- act as a mental kill-switch. Forget about Title IX and the fact that this man turned out to be dealing with criminals: Isn't the possibility of a pregnancy a big-enough deal to find out what the hell is really going on? And yet here he is, disarmed by the very ideas he is helping propagate through the culture. The right has a couple of reasons, one bad and one good, to be invested in seeing Maria-Pia Shuman and Mischa Haider as "typical." First, many have mystically-based views of sexual relationships and feel threatened by growing social acceptance of the nontraditional in that realm. Second, identity politics is wrong in many ways, and deserves cultural and political opposition. (It is wrong to confound the two: This story is in no way a vindication of "social conservatism.") Likewise, the left, has a couple of bad reasons to quickly dismiss this story as a one-off. First, there are those who genuinely believe that identity politics (vice individualism) is the path to social and political acceptance. Second, there are the cynical, who wish, say, to oppress heterosexual men or simply want power, and see identity politics as the way to get it. The first see identity politics as above question and the second don't want others questioning it. Both want to see (or have others see) Hay as particularly lusty and gullible, rather than blinded by ideals disconnected from reality or a desire to be seen as morally superior by others. Whatever the case might be for Hays, ideas played a crucial role in his falling for this long con: He disregarded reality in favor either of those ideas or for the sake of appearing to support them. -- CAV Link to Original
  2. FDR signing the declaration of war against Germany. (Image by Office of War Information, via Wikipedia, public domain.) I was a bit surprised -- although, perhaps I shouldn't have been -- when my third-grade daughter mentioned to me last Wednesday that she had learned it was "Patriot's Day." Oddly, I had never heard of this, although Congress did indeed pass a joint resolution declaring it so in December of 2001. (I would have preferred a declaration of war.) This she mentioned apropos of nothing in a crowded waiting room as I was picking her up after gymnastics. It took me a few questions to be sure she was talking about what I was afraid she was: I had never discussed the atrocities of September 11, 2001 with my children before, and am not sure how appropriate it is beyond a certain point to discuss them at their ages. (Or at least, given the way these things tend to be discussed, I think that is true.) But since the matter came up and was probably not framed properly, I gave her something close to the below essentialized description. I made sure to include the words evil and murder: About ten years before you were born, evil men who knew how to fly planes took over several. Then, on purpose, they flew them into buildings while people were at work. They murdered everyone in the planes and many in the buildings.She agreed, and then mentioned that that is why we have check-in lines at the airports. I decided to let the fairy tale of security theater go unchallenged for now, but I am overall satisfied that they know I regard what happened as a deliberate, evil act by evil men. Whatever my children end up believing about all this, it will not be because I will fail to challenge the worst (i.e., altruist-collectivist-pragmatist) elements of our culture. They will know that I and others think otherwise, and at least have a lead on why. The combination of international appeasement and domestic curtailment of freedom since that day are more damaging than anything a barbarian is capable of. And those things anger me. These measures are worse than inaction for their stated purposes, and they will, besides, make establishing and maintaining moral clarity about the war being waged against us into a challenge when it should actually be easy. -- CAV Link to Original
  3. Four Things 1. Looking past the environmentalist spin, the following provides a nice snapshot of our time: The Wired article has a revealing vignette of someone seeing a Radio Shack (remember them?) ad from 1991 that showed 15 electronic "gadgets" for sale and realizing that he carried 13 of those gadgets in his pocket every day. Actually, smartphones replace far more than 13 other devices. Take a look at your phone's screen and look at all the functions it provides. That's why, among other things, the camera market is collapsing, it's hard to find a standalone GPS unit, and no one buys general purpose calculators anymore. They're all built into our phones. [minor edits]After our move, I found a few disposable cameras that needed developing as I unpacked my office. After all the waiting, I had about ten decent photos. Smartphones save money on both ends of just that activity, not to mention time and uncertainty. 2. The South China Morning Post recently came out with a nice feature about the history of reggae music and the associated VP Records label. Here are the opening couple of paragraphs: Almost five years ago on a local television show in New York, the host was taken aback at the appearance of Jamaican reggae artist Gyptian being introduced by a diminutive, elderly Asian woman. "He was not expecting to see a Chinese woman talking about reggae," Patricia Chin, now 82, recalls with a laugh, during a telephone interview from New York.I had heard of Patricia Chin and her late husband, Randy, but did not know their story in any detail. I suspect that fellow fans of Jamaican music will enjoy learning about the role of their entrepreneurship in its early development. Lizards are insanely common in Florida. My daughter once counted more than fifty as we walked through a parking lot from an airport terminal to our car. (Image by Julie Marsh, v ia Unsplash, license.)3. I was out of town for much of last week in part due to a hurricane, and am already watching another likely storm. But many people seem to be picking the roulette of natural disaster over the certainty of high taxes these days, by moving to Florida: The Census Bureau reports that in the last year more than 566,000 new residents have moved into Florida, primarily from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Guess what those states have in common that Florida doesn't: High taxes.A New Yorker moved in next door to me recently. During our first conversation, he almost immediately volunteered taxes as a big reason for his move in one of our first conversations. No prompting from me: I am circumspect about discussing politics with people before I have any sense of what they are like. 4. I opened with a sign of the times, so I guess I'll close with another. Here, no teaser can beat the headline itself: "First, she had his baby. 12 years later, they met, then fell in love.." -- CAV Link to Original
  4. Over at Unclutterer, Jeri Dansky advocates an eclectic approach to getting organized and staying that way. Image by STIL, via Unsplash, license.[M]any people do tend to think of GTD [David Allen's "Getting Things Done" methodology] as an all-or-nothing system. But when I read this book, or any other book describing an organizing system, I see a collection of ideas from which I will pick the ones that work for me (or for my clients). The two-minute rule says that if a task can be done in two minutes of less, just do it now rather than putting it on a to-do list. If that concept that works well for you, terrific -- go for it! But you could ignore this rule (or shrug your shoulders because you're already doing this) and still find other parts of GTD that are helpful to you. Another example is Marie Kondo's KonMari method, as explained in her books. (I've just read the first one, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.) Someone asked me this week if I like her work, and I said I did -- because I found many interesting and helpful ideas in her book. For example, I'm never going to fold my clothes her way or unpack my purse every night, but I think "Does this spark joy?" can be a useful question to ask about items you own while you're uncluttering.I'd go farther and say that I often see principles for organizing in such works, which can help in deciding what advice to take as is, what to modify, and what to ignore. Allen's advice, for example, is best for people on a manager's schedule. But as someone for whom a maker's schedule better suits much of my main work, his advice can still be helpful for those times I need to function more like a manager -- such as while I am on errands of doing chores at home. I'll use the two-minute rule during those times, but I'm not about to make a "quick call" if something randomly reminds me of one while I am in the zone. And this (perhaps) slightly different approach leads me to a different conclusion than Dansky's: So gather as many ideas as you like -- from this site, from organizing books, etc. And then keep the ideas that work for you, combining them into your own personal system, and merrily discard the rest.I wouldn't go so far as to discard the rest as to file them away for possible later use. I have found at times that either my needs have changed or that being better organized has caused new questions about organization to arise. For example, I am having to re-think periodic reviews right now, and will be dusting off David Allen's book to see if there is something I missed years ago that can help me now. Changes in circumstance and simple learning can respectively cause one to need new techniques or make one ready for them long after a first encounter. -- CAV Link to Original
  5. Discussing the recent wailing and gnashing of teeth about the ice melting in Greenland, George Reisman comments in part as follows: "Anyone over 30 years of age today, give a silent 'Thank you' to the nearest, grimiest, sootiest smokestacks you can find." -- Ayn Rand (Image by Devin McGloin, via Unsplash, license.)To put these numbers in proper perspective, recall that a quarter of an inch is 250 one-thousandths of an inch. So what the fake media were trying to frighten us with is a rise in the sea level of little more than a tenth of a quarter of an inch (i.e., .027/.250). ... So, get ready for 250 billion tons of melting ice (wow, that's large) to explain the Atlantic Ocean wiping out New York City and New Jersey. It never occurs to these numbskulls to check just how much water is actually involved and what difference it actually makes.These are the same people who have predicted "doom in a decade" for decades, who gratuitously mention "climate change" any time something is attributable even to normal weather, and are oddly focused on depriving only Western economies of the fuel they need: To the extent that mankind has an influence on climate change, the United States is a minor player. The United States has been reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, but these reductions are overwhelmed by the increases coming from China, India and some others.And much of the emission reductions come thanks to natural gas obtained from fracking -- which, of course, the greens oppose, along with (zero-emission) nuclear power. Even if I were worried about the effects of carbon dioxide emissions on the climate (I am not.) and we had viable alternatives to fossil fuels (Aside from nuclear energy, we do not.) and these alternatives could replace fossil fuels tomorrow (They can't.) -- I would question everything these people say and wonder about their actual motives. -- CAV Link to Original
  6. A Wired article about the end of the Microsoft Store's books section laments the fact that many users took notes in their ebooks, and lost those along with their licensed copies of the various works: Image by Perfecto Capucine, via Unsplash, license.Other companies have pulled a similar trick in smaller doses. Amazon, overcome by a fit of irony in 2009, memorably vanished copies of George Orwell's 1984 from Kindles. The year before that, Walmart shut down its own ill-fated MP3 store, at first suggesting customers burn their purchases onto CDs to salvage them before offering a download solution. But this is not a tactical strike. There is no backup plan... And because of digital rights management -- the mechanism by which platforms retain control over the digital goods they sell -- you have no recourse. Microsoft will refund customers in full for what they paid, plus an extra $25 if they made annotations or markups. But that provides only the coldest comfort. [bold added, link omitted]Contrary to the above, I can think of at least three recourses. (1) Hard copies and marginalia, written by hand, (2) notes taken on a pad or device that isn't the ebook reader, and (3) learning, as I did, how to transfer your notes to your own computer. (For Amazon, you need only go here, then copy-and-paste your notes to a file in the format of your choosing.) All of these, of course, require taking the potentially transitory nature of a digital license into account ahead of time. If you want your notes to be "within" the licensed copy and you're considering a digital platform that does not allow you to export your own notes, take your business elsewhere if that's important enough. (Before I decided to go with Amazon, I made sure I'd be able to export any notes.) The Microsoft Store closing is no indictment of DRM or of ebooks: It is a cautionary tale for those of us who want to take full advantage of a new technology. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. Master communicator Alex Epstein speaks of a practice too many of us fall into in his video, "Fossil Fuels: Arguing to 0 vs. Arguing to 100" (which I recommend). The essential error lies in accepting an opponent's basic premises when combating a bad argument, as Epstein notes in the case of fracking: Image by FotoRieth, via Pixabay, license.What happened in the hydraulic fracturing debate is that ... The person who framed the debate was Josh Fox, who came out with the gas GASLAND [inaudible]. What he said is, "To start with, we all agree that fossil fuels are bad. Right? Everybody knows that fossil fuels are bad." This is a really short thing, but I'm going to walk [over] here. Imagine this is negative 100, so this is evil, and this is positive 100, this is good. When he says, "We all know fossil fuels are bad, and then on top of that this is polluting the water and causing earthquakes and cancer clusters." How does the industry react? They say, "You're exaggerating about the cancer clusters, and you're exaggerating about the earthquakes, and you're exaggerating about the water." Under this approach, what's our best case scenario?Only neutralizing the argument that the process of fracking is bad on top of the "evil" of the more plentiful oil and gas it delivers. That is the best result when the premise that oil and gas are bad goes unchallenged. Challenge the premise, and one can go on the offensive. A recent article about the Trump Administration's attempts to "make dishwashers great again," reminds me a little of this point. Jay Homnick of the American Spectator notes that the current regulations that make dishwashers clean poorly and slowly contain language prohibiting their roll-back by any later administration. This Administration's response does not seem to include any attempt to challenge that language, much less the whole premise of central planning. Rather than fight for the 100 of liberty, this administration is fighting for the 0 of what we used to have before the shackles got too noticeable: Here is the solution they came up with to try and outmaneuver the strictures of Bizarro World. First they ascertained that there were none of the old, fast washers in stock at any of the American manufacturers. Since there weren't, they could now be reinvented. So the rule, now being moved through the comment process, says as follows: a new category will be recognized, under the heading "Fast Dishwashers," defined as machines capable of completing a washing cycle in under 60 minutes. The new category of "Fast Dishwashers" will not be subject to the restrictions extant on the plain vanilla category of "Dishwashers," thus allowing them to use sufficient water to complete the load in an hour or less. After years of retreat from our inventions, we can now behave normally again -- but only if we follow an abnormal yellow brick road... [bold added]As glad as I am to hear that a decent dishwasher may soon be available again, I am not exactly overjoyed: In the America I remember, it isn't normal to need permission to do things that harm no one, like building things that actually work. So this clever bit of lawyering -- which might be a decent stopgap measure during a larger, principled effort to dismantle the regulatory state -- will ultimately prove futile. Surely, some Republican somewhere can imagine a President Warren happily regulating this new category into oblivion even more quickly than it was created. There is no such effort, as witness Trump's addiction to executive orders and regulating foreign trade. We can not and will not "make America great again" by accepting the premise that the government should order us around. But Trump would apparently rather get back to the 0 (at best) of (just) a decent dishwasher than the 100 of liberty for all -- and all the progress and prosperity that would unleash. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. Four Somewhat Geeky How-Tos Here's a picture I took of the quarter I placed on top of a cup of frozen water before we left. We did lose power at some point, but not for long enough that I needed to chuck everything (which I pre-bagged) in our fridge.Posting Schedule Note: We're back home and firing on all cylinders at the Van Horn Estate. The area got only sub-tropical force wind and rain at Dorian's closest approach, and we never lost power for very long. I was very relieved to get home, and glad to have given my new and previously untested hurricane/evacuation checklist what amounted to a dry run. 1. If you use AirBnB a lot and are paranoid about cameras, you might want to bone up on How to Find Hidden Cameras: Hidden cameras come inside of small objects like pens, motion detectors, Bluetooth speakers, and necklaces. There are also tiny, stand-alone cameras that are 1 inch or smaller, which people can hide in normal decor like lampshades, picture frames, house plants, and blinds. Look for any holes where someone could have placed a tiny camera. Also, turn off all the lights in the space and the shine a flashlight around the area to search for a camera lens. The lens should reflect the light, which should make it easier to spot.Reading through this again after flagging it a while ago, this is more labor-intensive than I recalled. Most of us probably aren't that paranoid. 2. Sometimes, I like a little background noise when I work. But I don't want to have sudden volume changes between tracks ruin my flow. (And stopping to manually adjust the volume would only make things worse.) So I use one of the suggestions I found here for How to Normalize Sound Volume on Your PC: The popular VLC media player includes a built-in volume normalization audio filter. To enable it, click the Tools menu in VLC and select Preferences...I have a few track collections I can run, including cafe/crowd/office noise, music, and outdoor/nature noise. 3. Security expert Brian Krebs has helped me avert a problem I didn't even realize was possible with his post on How to Prevent Calendar Spam: The truth is, all that a spammer needs to add an unwelcome appointment to your calendar is the email address tied to your calendar account. That's because the calendar applications from Apple, Google and Microsoft are set by default to accept calendar invites from anyone.Great. (This does explain why the occasional flight or hotel reservation would pop up in my online calendar, but that's not something I really need, so...) I changed from the default immediately upon learning this. 4. Rounding out my list is something so esoteric I am not sure even I will use it. In "There's a Relational Database in Your Unix CLI," Chris Farber explains How to Use the join command: By default, the join command behaves as an INNER JOIN does in SQL. That is, each pair of matching lines from both files will be printed, but no additional lines from either file that may have matched.And, just as I read this, I thought of a way to use it, so chalk one up for reviewing old bookmarks once in a while. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. A recent All Things Considered story featured the Kraft Heinz "ketchup master," the quality control engineer in charge of ensuring a consistent product. Among other interesting things about what my brother jokingly calls "the magic spice" comes the below epiphany: Image by Charisse Kenion, via Unsplash, license.For some people, ketchup is a symbol of the problems with American food. It's highly processed, mass-produced, and full of sugar. Historian Gabriella Petrick certainly saw it that way when she started digging into the archives of the H. J. Heinz Company. "I'll be honest, I came to my subject as a complete food snob and jerk," she says. "I was going to show how awful Americans eat, and how terrible industrial food was!" ... It was a captivating mix of tomato sauce, sugar, vinegar and spices. Above all, it was thick and red. You couldn't make anything like it yourself. In fact, maybe you didn't really want to make it yourself. "Women used to make ketchup at home," Petrick says. "Why make watery ketchup when you can simply buy high-quality, super-thick ketchup?" Petrick isn't quite so judgy about industrial foods anymore. "A lot of these products, I just learned to understand how important they were for people's lives, and how they made people's lives easier -- women's lives in particular," she says. [bold added, link omitted]This reminds me of a couple of socialist grad school acquaintances who tried their hands at running a small business and started to see how difficult multitudes of government regulations made it to do anything. (I don't know if this caused them to more broadly question the propriety of the government directing the economy, but it wouldn't have surprised me.) It also reminds me of countless Green New Deal types who don't seem to realize what their proposals would mean on a mundane level, if they were implemented. We live in an era of unprecedented prosperity: Many of us grow up used to things being quite easy, but with little appreciation for what it takes to make things that way. It is good that adults generally don't have to spend large amounts of time making ketchup -- but the price of this is that most people end up taking such things for granted at best. In that sense, industry is a victim of its own success, but I don't think that is the whole story. Even aside from the torrents of left-wing propaganda being fed to children during their "education," it is remarkable how poorly many people understand the benefits of things like processed food, vaccines, and fuel. Some begin to get glimpses as adults, once they join the work force, but most people still do not get the full picture. Familiarity gained through personal experience can help, as the above example shows. But that is no substitute for the kind of solid education that would have prevented such prejudice in the first place, and instead nurtured the sense of curiosity and wonder we all have as children. -- CAVLink to Original
  10. One cold, drizzly evening last October, my family and I faced a dilemma. Our planned dinner at a local steakhouse with guests was delayed. Now dinner out would mean screaming, annoyed glances, and a chaotic retreat. AB-5 will make it illegal for the man in the front seat to work as a contractor for Uber, even if he wants to. (Image by Alex Jumper, via Unsplash, license.)Fortunately, There's an app for that was no longer just an advertising slogan. It was a reality. The bright icons on our phones, brought to our attention an enterprising army of sitters and food couriers. After a brief discussion and the tap of a finger, the mouth-watering scent of steak wafted through our home as the driver accepted several crisp bills as a tip. After we dined and the kids dozed off in their beds, we enjoyed an evening of pleasant conversation. The magicians of Silicon Valley bring to life countless such once-impossible, minor fairy tales every day. But California's legislators are about to sound Cinderella's clock by turning these win-win propositions into pumpkins at the stroke of a pen. Isn't it nice that some third party didn't have the power to arbitrarily grant us these carriages, only to take them away? Every time Joe has somewhere to go and Cindy wants to make a few bucks driving in her spare time, the wizards at Uber grant two wishes at once -- for a pittance. Fairy Godmothers are looking worse every day. But that doesn't stop people from trying to play that part. Take Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. In her head, Joe has escaped with too much gold in his pockets and Cindy is a helpless maiden. And the ride-share companies? They be dragons lounging on piles of loot. As if this weren't fantastic enough, consider that her incantation, Assembly Bill 5, is intended to help Cindy ... by making her Uber's employee, perhaps even retroactively... To continue reading my latest column, please proceed to RealClear Markets. I would like to thank Steve D. and my wife for their comments on earlier versions of this piece. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. When I posted Friday, a plausible scenario had Hurricane Dorian crossing southern Florida, reemerging in the Gulf, and headed north to the Emerald Coast, where we were heading for Labor Day. It looked like our short family vacation was going to serve as a double evasion of the storm. That day, the forecast changed to a south Florida hit, followed by a hurricane-strength trip over the Florida peninsula. Still later, it looked like staying put in Jacksonville might be wise. Then it it didn't. Someone sent my wife an image like this, but with the time points labeled with upcoming holidays. (Image by National Hurricane Center, public domain.)I've had to keep an eye on lots of hurricanes in my time, mostly when I lived in Houston, but I've never seen a storm so frequently stymie the good folks at the National Hurricane Center. For all the improvements in forecast accuracy in recent years, I will not dare heave a sigh of relief (if I am so fortunate) until this monster is past us and clearly on the inevitable northward trek to its ultimate and eagerly anticipated demise. I plan to post tomorrow and Thursday. By then, I should have a better idea of what next week looks like. In the meantime, I became curious about why this storm has been so difficult to forecast, and found two articles particularly helpful. Both mention forecasting difficulties with hurricanes, as opposed to larger weather systems, but each also discusses why Dorian has been hard, even for a hurricane. The present difficulties seem to boil down to (a) As an Atlantic hurricane, its motion eventually involves interaction with a marine high pressure system that meteorologists do not understand so well, and (b) The compactness of this storm and its (current) slow speed work together to magnify even small forecasting errors. So, we must wait and watch. I am grateful to my in-laws that we can do so safely and comfortably. -- CAV Link to Original
  12. Four Things Posting Schedule Note: Due to Labor Day travel, I was already planning to take Monday off from posting. However, as of yesterday afternoon, when I wrote this post, we were within the five day forecast cone for Hurricane Dorian. Depending on where it hits Florida and how strong it is if it does, I may be away a bit longer. It's even possible it will affect the Florida panhandle, where we (currently!) plan to stay. (But maybe not for too long!) I plan an update Tuesday, but I won't guarantee one. This image is my photograph of the box containing the coffee maker. Feel free to re-use it.Having said that, with travel on my mind, I'll reel off a few items I have used recently to improve the traveling experience... 1. I have kids and my wife loves Disney World. Given where we now live, that means I'll end up there a few times a year. The hotel rooms in some of their resorts unfortunately lack coffee makers, meaning I was having to attempt to read or write uncaffeinated in the early morning -- or waste half an hour hiking to and from a restaurant. Fortunately, I have found a small, versatile single-serving coffee maker I can pack for these trips. It can brew K-cups, single-serving bags, or loose ground coffee. Oh, and it cost me less than twenty bucks. 2. Even for their intended use, cheater plugs are dubious, but that doesn't make them worthless. If you have a two-prong appliance, like a phone charger, that fits too loosely into an outlet to do its job, you may find that plugging it into a cheater plug and the cheater plug into the outlet will solve your problem. They even can solve problems caused by oddly-shaped plugs that block the use of nearby sockets. By lifting it off the surface, the cheater plug in between frees up any spaces the oddball plug blocked. 3. When we sent Pumpkin off to her first sleep-over summer camp, she was required to bring a laundry bag. I don't know why, but until recently, it never occurred to me to bring one with me when traveling. (Before, we'd just designate the corner of a closet for dirty clothes and pack them when leaving. And then, we still had to hunt for things the kids left elsewhere anyway.) Faced with a couple of trips with just the kids, I realized it could simply things for me: Since my daughter was used to using one, I figured my son might think it was neat to use it, too. I was right. The room was neat and all I needed to do to pack dirties was throw the bag into the partially empty suitcase and take a cursory walk through the room. And on the other end, there was no confusion about what was dirty and what was clean. 4. For ferrying supplies at weekend soccer games, my wife bought a small, collapsible wagon. It, too, has proved its worth on road trips to resorts at the Magic Kingdom. Sure, I could walk a mile back and forth for a luggage cart from the lobby or sneak a cart from the laundry room, but the effort versus the actual amount of luggage made it little better than doing multiple trips back and forth. The wagon took space comparable to a small suitcase, but allowed me to do everything in one trip. That said, be aware that Disney, at least, does not permit such wagons within the parks themselves. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. But Not in the Way You Might Hope... *** Wesley Mouch, Top Co-ordinator of the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources, was issuing a great many statements, the content and purpose of which could not be defined, except that the words "emergency powers" and "unbalanced economy" kept appearing in the text every few lines. -- one of many examples of "emergencies" being used to excuse tyranny in Atlas Shrugged ***I occasionally see jokes from conservatives that some work of Ayn Rand's -- usually Atlas Shrugged or Return of the Primitive -- was written as a warning, not a how-to manual. Although "warning" does not capture the full purpose or essence of either work, it does remind most educated people of Rand's prowess as a "prophet". So far, so good, and the jokes -- mostly made at the expense of the political left -- can be funny. Unfortunately, it might be time for conservatives to take a look in the mirror, and then consider the following from economist Scott Sumner, regarding Trump's abuse of the Emergency Powers Law: Image by Robert L. Knudsen, via Wikipedia, public domain.Imagine a Democratic president with dictatorial powers. What would a President Sanders or Warren do if there were no restraints on their power? What if they could launch wars without involving Congress? What if they could set tariff rates? What if they could spend money that Congress had refused to appropriate? What if they could declare global warming to be a national emergency, and order US companies to divest from polluting countries? What if homelessness was declared a national emergency? You might argue that the GOP would never stand for this. But the GOP has forfeited all credibility, as it is refusing to oppose Trump's claims that he can declare various "national emergencies" and do whatever he wants. [bold added]This is something that has bothered me since Day One of the Trump Presidency, and I am glad to see this problem at least being discussed. The entire post is worth a read and the warning in the last paragraph should resonate with anyone who truly values liberty. Neither foreseeable winner of the next presidential election will feel any shame in abusing executive orders. As far as I can tell, it will -- in the short term -- be up to circumstance (such as a President of one party and a Congress composed overwhelmingly of the other) or an unprecedented discovery of principles and backbone by the Republicans to end this short-sighted and dangerous practice. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro takes note of the following exchange at a Democrat town hall. The subject? A $16 trillion "Green New Deal" proposed by socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders: I'm not on the "Green" side in this "war." (Image by Stijn Swinnen, via Unsplash, license.)AUDIENCE MEMBER: You seem adamant about climate change. So what ways would you take to practice what you preach? If you were to become president, I know it's stressful and you have to travel a lot. You have to use fossil fuels. SANDERS: No, I'm not going to walk to California. All right. You know, look, you know I understand that, you know, we do the best we can as an example. But I'm not going to sit here and tell you that we're not going to use fossil fuels. [format edits]Shapiro comments: Oh well, I thought we had no choice. There's no middle ground. I cannot give you any one, even one specific way in which I am reducing my carbon footprint. But it is a war and we must do something, right? This is the beautiful thing about being on the Left. It's a war against poverty. But I'm not going to spend my money on it ... It's a war against climate change. All right. I'm going to continue to fly my private jet to Iowa and out of Iowa.Shapiro gets around to concluding that the candidates are in a competition to show whose intentions are best. He's right, as far as he goes. But there's more, and we can get to it by dusting off some advice from the mouth of Ayn Rand's villain, Ellsworth Toohey: "Don't bother to examine a folly -- ask yourself only what it accomplishes." Sure, Bernie Sanders and his ilk are hypocrites. That's part and parcel of the fact that altruism is impractical, as is this contest to show who can claim to have the "best" intentions. But do not forget that these people in the Democrat primary are after power. Note further how frequently the climatistas -- starting with Sandy Ocasio -- invoke the claim that taking their marching orders is the moral equivalent of a war. Isn't it interesting that leftists -- who can be counted on to oppose any actual war that involves American self-defense -- are such big hawks now? War. What is it good for? When did they stop asking that question, which was once rhetorical coming from them? As soon as they found something they could frame as a war and pitch it to people who still understand on some level that wars -- at least real ones -- are sometimes the only resort to solving a problem, as horrifying as they are. Do not waste your time, mental energy, or psychological currency asking how they manage to evade their own hypocrisy on fossil fuel exhaust or on the invocation of war. Ask yourself what they are trying to accomplish. Bernie Sanders, Sandy Ocasio, Liz Warren, and the rest want to tell you what to do. And they hope to get you to let them by convincing you that they are good -- that they should be trusted to draft you into an army. Why? Because they want you to regard the cause that they don't even take seriously themselves as a war. "Climate change" isn't a war or its moral equivalent. But the Green New Deal is the political equivalent of a draft, and it should be fought tooth and nail for exactly the same reasons as a military draft. And again, this isn't a real war. It is potentially worse, as Ayn Rand pointed out long ago, when she said, "Wars are the second greatest evil that human societies can perpetrate." The first, she points out, is dictatorship. American culture has not declined to the point that the public will knowingly vote itself into such a suicide, but we are getting closer to that point. At least a few people seem to know this, as evidenced by their brazen hypocrisy and obvious contempt for our intelligence. -- CAV Link to Original
  15. Over the years, you have probably noticed prices remaining steady for things you often buy, but their sizes or quality declining. My own mental nickname for this has been stealth inflation, but the Economist calls this shrinkflation. The piece reads like its author is eager to bring back the good, old-fashioned kind of inflation. And he seems to draw the wrong lesson from the phenomenon, but nevertheless he raises an amusing point on the way. Shrinkflation and the related phenomenon of "quantum pricing" are giving government forecasters fits: What's really shrinking, along with government credibility. (Image by NeONBRAND, via Unsplash, license.)If it happens on a sufficiently large scale, the practice of tweaking quality in lieu of price could play havoc with essential economic data. Statistical agencies do their best to account for changing product quality, but if adjustments are unexpectedly common or subtle then muted inflation figures could easily be concealing a more turbulent economic picture. Central banks watching for big swings in inflation or wage growth as a sign of trouble could be reacting to figures that bear far less relation to business conditions than they used to.As if the government ever really knew how to measure the havoc it necessarily wreaks by tinkering with money... The author mistakes familiarity with clarity in his last paragraph when he wishes for a return of perpetual price increases. (A Venezuelan or two might disagree.) The fact of the matter is that, regardless of how it manifests, inflation of any quantity is nothing more nor less than a method by which governments pilfer our savings. I, for one, could do with the actual clarity that can only come from the certainty that that isn't happening at all. -- CAV Link to Original
  16. As a Graduation Speech? Too Late. Via my favorite idling spot, Hacker News, I got wind of a speech venture capitalist Paul Graham prepared as a commencement address -- but then was criminally not allowed to deliver. Thanks to the marvel of the internet, it's accessible to anyone in its entirety from his web site. I know I could have used it. With a few unimportant exceptions, this speech is a treasure trove, in my estimation. I liked the following the most, but it was a contest that was close among many entrants. Image by Cole Keister, via Unsplash, license.Rebellion is almost as stupid as obedience. In either case you let yourself be defined by what they tell you to do. The best plan, I think, is to step onto an orthogonal vector. Don't just do what they tell you, and don't just refuse to. Instead treat school as a day job. As day jobs go, it's pretty sweet. You're done at 3 o'clock, and you can even work on your own stuff while you're there. [bold added]In case you were wondering how Graham came up with such good advice, he went around asking his friends what they wished they had known when they were in high school. If you're around that age, I recommend it; if not, I recommend keeping it in mind for the time you have children that age, or wish to help someone you know of that age. And, as the title implies, I wouldn't wait until the end of high school to bring it up. -- CAV Link to Original
  17. Blog Roundup 1. Jean Moroney of Thinking Directions explains what we can learn from the momentary desire for destruction that we all experience from time to time: Image by Lucija Ros, via Unsplash, license.Now that I know how to look for those signs of darkness and deprivation, I can catch them sooner, remedy the situation, and reinforce a fully positive context. I'll write more later about the remedy. The easy-access version is: Retreat temporarily. Be kind with yourself. You are at the limits of your capacity in some way. What is causing a sense of deprivation? If you can identify a rational value you are willing to go after, which seems to address the issue, do so. That will help you out of this state. The longer version is, you need to "Transform the Pain of Unmet Needs into the Beauty of the Needs." This is a process I learned at the same conference at which I realized a few people were motivated by destruction.The connection between the "prickliness" and the condition of unmet needs is brilliant. That and the remedy remind me of how (after researching a minor medical condition of mine) I learned to recognize signs of dehydration in myself in time to avoid passing out. That said, one of the things I learned then was that, for my condition, both the prodrome and the trigger for syncope can vary among individuals. (e.g., In my case, if I feel averse to food and want to get out of my situation for no apparent reason -- I am dehydrated. I can keep from passing out by reclining and rehydrating.) Obviously, the unmet needs Moroney speaks of will vary by individual and situation. I would not be surprised if introspection might yield a different (though unpleasant) feeling (i.e., not necessarily prickliness) for different individuals as well: As with my dehydration problem, I will need to give this thought. 2. At New Ideal, Ben Bayer discusses the folly of trying to treat an ethical question as if it were solely a scientific one. Here are his closing remarks: Defenders of abortion rights need to check their philosophical eyewear. Without doing so, they may unwittingly be looking at the world through the same lenses as their opponents. If they don't challenge the assumptions that rights derive from God's will or from our capacity for pleasure or pain, they won't convince anyone that the fetus has no rights and that a woman does. Invoking our uncertainty about science only obscures the real issue. Defenders of abortion rights need a worldview that provides moral clarity.In addition to explaining the above, the earlier part of Bayer's post raises some interesting (and real) ethical considerations recent scientific work can raise for prospective parents. 3. At How to Be Profitable and Moral, Jaana Woiceshyn considers the false dichotomy between artistic and commercial success: Creation of high quality products, including paintings, must start with a primary focus on reality, not on other people. While it is true that buyers of products, including art, have needs or wants waiting to be fulfilled, the most successful producers and artists -- painters, writers, musicians, and others -- are prime movers: they create original, innovative products that create their own demand. Steve Jobs, and other innovators like him in other industries, did not conduct popularity votes among customers (or imitate their competitors) to decide what to produce but focused on creating best personal computers and smart phones, trusting -- correctly -- that in time there would be plenty of willing buyers for them. Disdaining an audience is absolutely not the same thing as making a well-grounded judgement that that audience will largely disagree with, at least for a time. (Insert joke about price rises and dead artists here -- then give serious thought to marketing.) 4. Over at the blog of the Texas Institute for Property Rights comes a cautionary tale: Imagine the following scenario: You buy a house and over the next forty years the property significantly appreciates in value. The previous owner then threatens to terminate the sale unless you renegotiate the deal...Unfortunately, in today's political climate, the lesson is for us, not the previous owner! Too many of us take the right to contract for granted, and unprincipled opportunists are trying to cash in. To see what I mean, read the rest of the post. The fact that you will not be too surprised should serve as a warning: Our courts and legislatures are teeming with attempts (of which this is one) and proposals to undo contracts presumably signed by consenting adults. -- CAV Link to Original
  18. Cal Newport uses email as his example of a common error people make when evaluating a technology: homing in on its superiority to what it replaced with little thought given to how it integrates with the rest of their lives. He calls this the utility fallacy: [It's] the tendency, when evaluating the impact of a technology, to confine your attention to comparing the technical features of the new technology to what it replaced.But the superiority of email to, say, faxes, is hardly the whole picture. Newport continues: In terms of getting news, the internet is better... (Image by Dutch National Archive, via Wikipedia, no known copyright restrictions.)[A]lmost everything interesting about our current struggles with [these technologies] concerns the impact of these tools on our lives beyond the screen. The point too often missed in a cooly instrumentalist understanding of technology is that we don't use these tools in a vacuum; we instead participate in complicated social systems that can careen in unforeseen directions when powerful new technological forces are introduced. Features are important, but they're not the whole story. [bold added, link omitted]I am glad Newport is paying attention to this kind of problem, and will smilingly think of a fax machine burying an old office in paper the next time I tidy up my in-box. -- CAV Updates Today: Made minor corrections to opening paragraph. Link to Original
  19. I refused to cast a vote for President in 2016 and am no fan of Donald Trump. That said, I don't generally give him much more thought than any other President I can remember. This apparently makes me a rare bird, if accounts of widespread Trump Derangement Syndrome -- or the infatuation with the Orange Man some acquaintances of mine seem to have -- are any indication. Since so many of his policies involve government control of the economy, I regarded him as little better than a Democrat on that score before the election, and only the far-left lurch of that party since then has caused me to begin to consider holding my nose and casting a vote for him in 2020. I do not want to starve in the dark, and although Trump is no capitalist, his reelection may afford more time to fight for freedom than any of the likely alternatives. Enter Heather Mac Donald, and her timely exploration of a topic that seems never to be far from the mind of the typical Trump-obsessed leftist: his alleged racism. Mac Donald makes a succinct case in the Wall Street Journal that, contrary to Respectable Blue State Opinion (aka, Almost All You Ever Hear on the News), Trump is not the one dividing the country by race. (Her points stand even allowing for him stooping to take advantage of the acrimonious climate others have created.) Here is what she has to say after correctly naming academia as the source of so many of the more fashionable ideas on the left: Image by Gage Skidmore, via Wikipedia, license.Ms. Warren recently provided an unwitting summary of academic identity politics. Mr. Trump's "central message" to the American people, she declared, is: "If there's anything wrong in your life, blame them -- and 'them' means people who aren't the same color as you." She has in mind a white "you," but change the race and you encapsulate the reigning assumption on college campuses -- that white people are the source of nonwhite people's problems, and any behavioral or cultural explanations for economic disparities are taboo. The academy's reflexive labeling of nonconforming views as "hate speech" has also infiltrated popular rhetoric against Mr. Trump. The president's views on border control and national sovereignty are at odds with the apparent belief among Democratic elites that people living outside the country are entitled to enter at will and without consequences for illegal entry. To the academic and democratic left, however, a commitment to border enforcement can only arise from "hate." Such a pre-emptive interpretation is a means of foreclosing debate and stigmatizing dissent from liberal orthodoxy.I disagree with Trump's immigration policies (among many other things), but I can see them coming from a place other than "hate." Furthermore, since I also disagree with Democrats on aspects of this issue, I do not appreciate their obvious hatred for debate, to say the least. Mac Donald is on the money here, and it is high time that someone named the real apostles of racial identity politics -- also known in better days as racism. And it is interesting to ask whether psychological projection might at least partially account for the constant accusations that Trump is a racist. -- CAV Link to Original
  20. Some time ago, I opined that recycling -- at least as most people have thought of it since the 1970s -- is a waste of time. And so it is amusing to note some surface similarities between a passage I wrote at the time, and one from a recent piece in the leftist U.K. Guardian. There is no cause to cry Plagiarism! and certainly less to say, "Great minds think alike." In my piece, I wrote: This ritual might be better than toting a blue can to the curb every week -- if it involved burning trash. (Image by Jimmy Salazar, via Unsplash, license.)Let's be clear about what recycling is. Although you might think it was invented by hippies who, as Ayn Rand once put it, "would pollute any stream by stepping into it," recycling 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. In fact, the practice was so economical that there was no need for scolds and government bureaucrats: People have made careers by buying, collecting and selling scrap metal, rags, and even human waste. Nevertheless, in the days of rag-pickers and night soil collectors, some things were recycled and some things were not -- because it was a waste of time, effort, or money. Tells, those large mounds arising after centuries of human habitation, attest to this in addition to accounting for many archaeological discoveries. 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.And here is a similar passage from the Guardian: Recycling is as old as thrift. The Japanese were recycling paper in the 11th century; medieval blacksmiths made armour from scrap metal. During the second world war, scrap metal was made into tanks and women's nylons into parachutes. "The trouble started when, in the late 70s, we began trying to recycle household waste," says [Professor Roland] Geyer. This was contaminated with all sorts of undesirables: non-recyclable materials, food waste, oils and liquids that rot and spoil the bales.Both of us acknowledge the ancient pedigree of recycling, its past thriftiness, and the fact that something went amiss in the 1970's. But to read the Guardian, you would think that recycling household waste was a new idea. It was not. Look in any old cookbook at some of the animal parts and leftovers people used to incorporate into their cooking and you'll see what human-centered recycling of household waste looks like. Recall also that, even back then, there were things even rag-pickers didn't recycle. When food became really cheap due to the green revolution (the real revolution, concerning agriculture) people didn't have to keep eating slop, and it became as uneconomical to recycle certain food wastes as the packaging some of the food came in. But if you don't understand the difference between thrift and "saving" (some idealized version of) "nature" -- perhaps because you view thrift as a mere commandment rather than a life-promoting virtue -- then such a distinction will make no sense. Christian morality -- or its secularized leftist/Kantian offshoot -- will lead such a person to believe that recycling is a good thing regardless of whether it actually promotes human life. This is because both directly lead to a failure to understand the nature or practicality of virtue. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no such thing as an action that is intrinsically good, such as the mindless ritual that recycling has become over the last fifty years. -- CAV Link to Original
  21. Gone, apparently, are the days I could half-jokingly summarize my political philosophy as, "The government should keep its hands out of our pockets and out of our pants." Uh-oh! (Image by Cristian Newman, via Unsplash, license.)It's late to retire that joke, I know, with the Republicans no longer even imagining spending cuts. But still, once you read Megan McArdle's piece regarding the idea of changing the legal basis for defining sexual assault, you will have had a rude awakening. A new variety of Puritan is working to bring horror stories about consent forms from college campuses to everyone's bedroom. Here is McArdle explaining why the idea is a bad one: [A]s any biologist, or sales manager, can tell you, systems that rely entirely on positive feedback are unstable. They have no natural stopping point, no way of saying "enough." Which is the fundamental problem with affirmative consent: There is no way to be completely sure that consent was sufficiently affirmative. That's why good systems almost always incorporate at least some negative feedback -- and why rape laws have historically relied on "no means no," not "yes means yes." Affirmative consent's plain unworkability hasn't damaged its appeal in some quarters. California in 2014 and New York in 2015 imposed these rules on state college campuses. On Monday, the American Bar Association's House of Delegates considered a proposal to urge state legislatures to adopt an affirmative-consent standard in their criminal codes. The idea drew the support of 165 ABA delegates, but they were outnumbered by 265 more-sensible colleagues, who voted to table the measure indefinitely. But the idea remains in the air. [bold added]A consequence of such a "standard" that McArdle later names is that it criminalizes just about any sexual encounter. She is absolutely correct to warn against "a legal system that makes everyone into either a victim or a criminal." If you thought the left stood, however imperfectly, for freedom in the social realm, think again: Approaches to the law like this -- where one has no way of knowing one's own compliance -- are the stuff from which dictatorships are made. Two quotes from Ayn Rand are relevant here (and happen to appear consecutively in The Ayn Rand Lexicon (Go there for references.): It is a grave error to suppose that a dictatorship rules a nation by means of strict, rigid laws which are obeyed and enforced with rigorous, military precision. Such a rule would be evil, but almost bearable; men could endure the harshest edicts, provided these edicts were known, specific and stable; it is not the known that breaks men's spirits, but the unpredictable. A dictatorship has to be capricious; it has to rule by means of the unexpected, the incomprehensible, the wantonly irrational; it has to deal not in death, but in sudden death; a state of chronic uncertainty is what men are psychologically unable to bear. [bold added]In other words, affirmative consent is worse than even the most benighted bedroom legislation I have ever heard of. And: The legal hallmark of a dictatorship [is] preventive law -- the concept that a man is guilty until he is proved innocent by the permissive rubber stamp of a commissar or a Gauleiter. [bold added]Affirmative consent alone would not, of course, spell our doom. But passage of such would set a very bad precedent, and getting the public used to such laws would further erode our semi-individualist culture, to say the least. -- CAV Link to Original
  22. Four Funny Things Some of these come from rabbit holes. You have been warned... 1. Click the "view" button here for an amusing synopsis of The Wizard of Oz. 2. If you find humor in stories about people being flummoxed by/around/concerning computers, the retro-looking Computer Stupidities site has you covered. Image by Lara Far, via Unsplash, license.I recently had a problem setting the video resolution on a new laptop. Me: "It seems that the resolution is supposed to be 1900x1200. It's set to that, but it's not displaying right." Tech Support: "Yes, that is 1900x1200." Me: "No, I have my old computer up here, and it's also set to that resolution, and the icons are much smaller." Tech Support: "Well, so what? Don't you want a bigger resolution?" Me: "Um, no, a bigger resolution means that the icons get smaller. I think I should reinstall the drivers." Tech Support: "No. How long have you been experiencing this problem?" Me: "Since the computer started, remember?" Tech Support: "Just on this startup?" Me: "Yes, this is the only startup." Tech Support: "OK, what did you change on the computer since the last startup?" Me: "What? Nothing. Listen, this is a new comp--" Tech Support: "No, I mean, what have you done with your computer recently?" Me: "I took it out of the box." Tech Support: "Why was your computer in a box?"The above conversation came from the "stupid tech support" section. 3. Professor Andreas Zeller offers academics a list of twelve LaTeX packages that will get your paper accepted: The pagefit package. This immensely useful package makes your paper exactly fit within a given page limit, applying a genetic search algorithm to reduce baseline distances, white space, font sizes, or bibliographic references until it exactly fits. Just write \usepackage[pages=12,includingbibliography]{pagefit} and enjoy.I do not miss journal submission guidelines. 4. Some time back, Alison Green of Ask a Manager asked her readers to post stories of unprofessional behavior they did not regret. I suspect that the below may have been one of the funniest of the hundreds of responses she received: I quit a job on my first day. Very similar situation- boss got angry because I didn't know things and I apparently wasn't "grateful enough" for being hired. Boss decided to go to lunch and leave me to run the reception/pick-up/drop-off area (this was daycare/preschool). Parent came in angry about something and proceeded to yell at me for 10 minutes about it. When they finally paused for air, I told them it was my first day, I didn't know how to fix their problem and they should probably find another daycare. When boss came back from lunch 2 hours later, I told her this wasn't working for me. She demanded her logo shirt back so I took it off and walked to my car in my bra. I don't regret it.I hope for the kids' sake that that boss is out of that business. -- CAV Link to Original
  23. Miss Manners offers her take on a woman complaining about her boyfriend's insistence on her delivering his lunch to work every day -- and his childish behavior regarding her reasonable pushback: Image by Drew Beamer, via Unsplash, license.GENTLE READER: As living together is often touted as a tryout period prior to a more permanent arrangement, it might be productive to examine the lessons learned about your boyfriend's behavior, as Miss Manners assures you that your own was proper.I couldn't agree more, and offer my own positive experience with a similar situation waaaay back from before Mrs. Van Horn and I tied the knot. The first time she had me rush something to her at the airport, I figured it was a one-off, and complied in time for her to take off. (This was before our government instituted security theater at airports in response to the atrocities of September 11, 2001.) But then it happened a second and a third time, and on the third time, I decided the established pattern was something that had to change. I told her I had other things to do, and that she needed to think of the purpose of her trip when packing. (I had noticed it was always something peculiar to the trip.) She thanked me for noticing the problem. It never happened again. In fact, much later, she once even spontaneously mentioned how helpful it was that I gave her such clear, succinct, and actionable advice. -- CAV Link to Original
  24. From time to time, I have commented on efforts (primarily "National Popular Vote") to do away with the Electoral College. NPV, which seems to appeal primarily to Democrats, has gained ground over the years. Currently, DC and a collection of states with a total of 196 electoral votes have signed on. It would go into effect once the total reached at least 270. Finally, voters are fighting back, as reported by FiveThirtyEight: We are dangerously close to destroying part of our system of checks and balances. Green states are not part of NPV. Black states are. Red states are considering the idea. (Blank map Clker-Free-Vector-Images, via Pixabay, license.)According to the Colorado secretary of state's office, the 227,198 signatures are likely the most ever submitted for a statewide ballot initiative in Colorado -- certainly the most since at least 2001. Now, it's typical for about 20 percent of signatures to be thrown out during the verification process. But because the referendum needs only 124,632 valid signatures to qualify, up to 45 percent of them could be tossed and the measure would still make the ballot. (The secretary of state's office will announce whether it has done so by Aug. 30.) [links omitted]The piece predicts at least an initially close referendum vote, but hedges for reasons not clear to me: "I would still expect support for the law to decrease as opponents prosecute the case against the National Popular Vote, so even a lead of, say, 10 points (akin to the national breakdown) would not be secure." Regardless, I hope Colorado withdraws from this foolish step away from the federal republic our Founders so carefully designed. Unfortunately, states with enough electoral votes to make the point moot are considering the compact. -- CAV Link to Original
  25. An investigation into the collision between an American warship and an oil tanker in 2017 has caused the Navy to (finally) realize that touchscreen controls are not necessarily a great idea: Image by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Todd Frantom, via Wikipedia, public domain.The NTSB report calls out the configuration of the bridge's systems, pointing out that the decision to transfer controls while in the strait helped lead to the accident, and that the procedures for transferring the controls from one station to another were complicated, further contributing to the confusion. Specifically, the board points to the touchscreens on the bridge, noting that mechanical throttles are generally preferred because "they provide both immediate and tactile feedback to the operator." The report notes that had mechanical controls been present, the helmsmen would have likely been alerted that there was an issue early on, and recommends that the Navy better adhere to better design standards. Following the incident, the Navy conducted fleet-wide surveys, and according to Rear Admiral Bill Galinis, the Program Executive Officer for Ships, personnel indicated that they would prefer mechanical controls. Speaking before a recent Navy symposium, he described the controls as falling under the "'just because you can doesn't mean you should' category," and that ship systems were simply too complicated. He also noted that they're looking into the design of other ships to see if they can bring some system commonalities between different ship classes. Better late than never. I have stated before that Touchscreens Everywhere has always seemed faddish to me. I am glad that others are realizing the same. New technology, however dazzling, is not always an improvement over old. Sometimes, you just need a knob or a lever. As we see here, those primitive-seeming objects have the underappreciated ability -- missing in a touchscreen -- to provide feedback to the user through more than one sensory modality, and probably more intuitively on top of that. As the rest of the article indicates, touchscreens weren't the only factor causing the incident, but I have absolutely no trouble with the idea that they made a significant contribution. -- CAV Link to Original
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