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Gus Van Horn blog

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Everything posted by Gus Van Horn blog

  1. In a 7-2 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Obama-era change to the way patents are challenged: Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the court's majority opinion, rejecting contentions that issued patents are the type of rights that must be adjudicated only in the federal courts." The decision to grant a patent is a matter involving public rights -- specifically, the grant of a public franchise," Thomas wrote. The review system "is simply a reconsideration of that grant, and Congress has permissibly reserved the PTO's authority to conduct that reconsideration."In a statement at the web site of the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property, Professor Adam Mossoff issued a statement on the ruling that reads, in part: Image via Wikipedia. For the first time, the Supreme Court holds that patents for new inventions are regulatory grants similar to monopoly grants for bridges or toll roads. The decision ignores the Supreme Court's own substantial case law over the past two centuries that patents are private property rights that secure the fruits of productive labors under the Constitution -- like all other property rights in homes, farms, and animals. Instead, the Court rules that the U.S. follows the original practice by English Kings and Queens who bestowed royal privileges on their subjects as "patent" grants, applying to U.S. patent owners the historical dictum that "what the government giveth, the government can taketh away."In a prefatory note, the CPIP links to a couple of scholarly articles by Mossoff that were "heavily cited" in the dissenting opinion written by Neil Gorsuch. I can only add that laymen might also find helpful Mossoff's Townhall op-ed, "Patents Are Property Rights, Not A 'Bizarre Regulatory Lobby'." -- CAV Link to Original
  2. George Will discusses a the recent 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court overturning a portion of immigration law, and argues that the decision can have wider ramifications for the federal bureaucracy: Image via Pixabay.Writing for the majority in a 5-4 decision -- and joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor (with Gorsuch concurring in the judgment and much of the opinion) -- Elena Kagan wrote: The law's category, a "crime of violence," is so indeterminate ("fuzzy," she said) that deporting [James] Dimaya under it would violate the Constitution's "due process of law" guarantee. Vague laws beget two evils that are related: They do not give citizens reasonably clear notice of what behavior is proscribed or prescribed. And they give -- actually, require of -- judges and law enforcement officials excessive discretion in improvising a fuzzy law's meaning.Will argues further that vague laws also allow Congress to slough off responsibility for making law, ceding too much power to the federal bureaucracy. This decision can help reverse a very bad trend in this regard: The principle Gorsuch enunciates here regarding one provision of immigration law is a scythe sharp enough to slice through many practices of the administrative state, which translates often vague congressional sentiments into binding rules, a practice indistinguishable from legislating. Gorsuch's principle is also pertinent to something pernicious concerning which he has hitherto expressed wholesome skepticism: "Chevron deference." This is the policy (named for the 1984 case in which the Supreme Court propounded it) whereby courts are required to defer to administrative agencies' interpretations of "ambiguous" laws when the interpretations are "reasonable." Gorsuch has criticized this emancipation of the administrative state from judicial supervision as "a judge-made doctrine for the abdication of judicial duty."Will notes that Gorsuch bucks a conservative trend of "broad judicial deference to decisions because they emanate from majoritarian institutions and processes," which strikes me as a welcome departure from the example of another conservative justice, the one who twice "saved" ObamaCare, the second time by just such an abdication. (Scroll down to the bullet for George Will.) -- CAV Link to Original
  3. "Don't you know that hiding under a rock is the best way to avoid being hit by a meteorite?" (Image via Pixabay)Over at Let Grow, where "free range parent" Lenore Skenazy has set up shop, is some advice for parents who wish to counteract today's widespread pressure to adopt a hypervigilant parenting style. Professor Barbara Sarnecka of the University of California-Irvine recommends three broad strategies: comparing commonly-exaggerated risks to other de minimis risks, shifting the focus of the discussion from avoiding risk to fostering independence, and reminding adults of relevant positive experiences from their own childhoods. I think each strategy can be a valuable part of helping others re-calibrate how they assess risks, reconsider the propriety of doing so for others, or both. Sarnecka's discussion of the first tactic was on the money, and will probably also make anyone weary of a constant stream of ninnyish advice smile a little: When you drove here today and you parked your car, did you choose your parking space based on the possibility that there could be snipers on the roofs of the buildings around you? Did you say, "Well if I park here, snipers on that building could get me ... but if I park here, the awning will shield me from snipers over there ..." Probably not, right? Now, could you really be 100% sure that there weren't snipers on the buildings? No, because it's not impossible. But it's SO unlikely that you just don't worry about it. You would be nuts to plan your parking around it. [bold in original]Many parents today are scolded or even faced with legal trouble for doing such once-commonplace things as leaving a child in a car for a short time, and this problem is worsening. It will take many of us standing up for ourselves when the opportunity arises for this to begin to change. -- CAV Link to Original
  4. Four Things 1. A software consultant describes a government software "project from hell". A little after noting that the project consisted of six million lines of code, he provides a couple of anecdotes, one being: At some point end-users reported that "Load data from CD-ROM" did not work at all. This one took several weeks to sort out, but in the end the bug report was flagged as 'already solved', because data were indeed being loaded. The only point was that it took 7 straight days for 700 MBytes to get in. Patience is a virtue.The whole bureaucratic setup screams featherbedding, but for the fact that average staff turnover time was "3 months, the legal time to leave your job in France." It warms the heart to know that pride -- or at least the desire for sanity -- can beat the temptation of job security for so many. 2. Do you have a common surname? If so, you can consult this map to see in how many states it ranks in the top three. 3. A couple of years ago, I got wind of a couple of once-common dietary items that have now been all but forgotten. We can now add yaupon tea, a drink, to the list that includes skirret and ground nuts. Ilex vomitoria: It's not just for gardening anymore. (Image via Wikipedia Cassina, or black drink, the caffeinated beverage of choice for indigenous North Americans, was brewed from a species of holly native to coastal areas from the Tidewater region of Virginia to the Gulf Coast of Texas. It was a valuable pre-Columbian commodity and widely traded. Recent analyses of residue left in shell cups from Cahokia, the monumental pre-Columbian city just outside modern-day St. Louis and far outside of cassina's native range, indicate that it was being drunk there. The Spanish, French, and English all documented American Indians drinking cassina throughout the American South, and some early colonists drank it on a daily basis. They even exported it to Europe.One of the factors causing this drink to disappear was the small ... marketing ... problem caused by the Latin name assigned to the plant: Ilex vomitoria. Contrary to the name, the plant doesn't induce vomiting, but the association is certainly there. Interest in yaupon tea is only now making a tentative comeback. 4. Also at Gastro Obscura is an amusing piece on the commonality of family recipes that actually come from such sources as labels from common items: When Meyer arrived, the sous chefs had a big bowl of potato salad that brought back memories of his grandmother. He tried it, smiled, and told the chefs, "That's exactly right." They grinned back at him mischievously. Eventually, Meyer broke and asked, "What's so funny?" A chef pulled out a jar of Hellman's mayonnaise and placed it on the table. Meyer looked at it, then realized that the secret recipe his grandmother had hoarded for years was on the jar. It was the official Hellman's recipe for potato salad.But don't laugh too hard: Sometimes manufacturers change their products or recipes. The few people who notice this and make adjustments end up being the only ones who can make these things the way others have grown accustomed to. -- CAV Link to Original
  5. An article at Reuters depicts in grisly detail the mass exodus of quality personnel from PDVSA, Venezuela's state-run oil company. For those workers whose pay remains appreciably above the cost of their commute, here is what awaits them: Image of Alcatraz from Pixabay.The company's ongoing decay is evident ... in the once polished office tower: Broken elevators, poor cafeteria food, empty desks in once-crowded divisions. Maduro has overseen the arrest of dozens of high-level PDVSA executives since late last year, sometimes at the Caracas headquarters as shocked employees looked on. Workers now feel watched by supervisors and are loathe to make any business decision out of fear they will later be accused of corruption, the sources said. PDVSA workers, often visibly thinner, sometimes surreptitiously hand out resumes to executives from private companies, according to a source at a foreign firm. [bold added]The article makes too much of the fact that this outfit is being run by a military officer, saying that it is under "military rule." But taking orders from superiors is the essence of any "planned" economy. The fact that it feels more like a "barracks" just means that the velvet glove has slipped a little from the iron fist. In fact, even that description is too kind. Venezuela is a prison: Some PDVSA offices now have lines outside with dozens of workers waiting to quit. In at least one administrative office in Zulia state, human resources staff quit processing out the quitters, hanging a sign, "we do not accept resignations," an oil worker there told Reuters. [bold added]Bernie Sanders once said that "the American dream is more apt to be realized in ... places such as ... Venezuela." The above should give his supporters pause, but if it doesn't, there might be job openings for some of them. -- CAV Link to Original
  6. A manager asks "Evil HR Lady" Suzanne Lucas how to remedy a tardiness problem in his office. Her reply, which she essentializes as, "Make them believe you," is applicable in many situations, and is worth thinking about for that reason: Image via Pixabay. [P]resent the employee with two printed copies of the new policy, and ask them to sign both. Keep one for your files, and send the other one home with them. They will not like this. Not one bit. Someone will likely test you out, and here's the critical part: You must follow through. You need to give them the unpaid suspension day, and you might need to fire an employee who pushes a third day, so start searching for new employees before you embark on this process. If you do not do this, your problem will continue because your employees won't believe you. [bold added]Granted, firing isn't always an option, but the basic advice is very good and memorably put. For example, as a parent, you should make sure your kids will believe it when you offer a potential reward or punishment. Conversely, don't make an offer or a threat you can't back up. I have found that, unlike other parents I know, I can take my kids to a store and leave with just what I came to get simply by setting expectations beforehand. (For example: We're here to get something Mom needs for her trip, and that's it.) Lest you think I'm sore from slapping myself on the back, be aware that the real value of the piece for me was that Lucas shows how to create belief in a situation where one doesn't have it for whatever reason. In my case, I've not made keeping the house tidy a priority and I plan to change it now that my son is old enough to understand picking up a mess. I'll clearly need my own version of laying down the law there. Yes, it's helpful to know that my habit of setting expectations and sticking to them is good, once established. But Lucas also helped me see that my intuition is good: I was going to keep mostly quiet about the issue until I knew in more detail what I want and what incentives and punishments I would use. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. Years ago, wrapping up a post on Poe's Law, I stated: Past a certain point, Poe's Law doesn't just describe a resemblance between the words of a "fundamentalist" and a jokester, but an identity: Depending on how well a given pronouncement is crafted to "fit in with" the overall mis-integration of a system that incorporates the arbitrary, the only difference between a frank statement and a joke will be in who is making it.Thoughts like this kept going through my mind when I read a Yahoo News report by one Alexandre Grosbois about the upcoming changing-of-the-guard in Cuba. I'd say that the following quote quite well summarizes the facts on the ground over there: "They are changing the government, but it's still the same kind, it's always going to be influenced by the Castros. Even if it's another man, it's always going to be a Castro government," said Ariel Ortiz, an unemployed 24-year-old in Havana.That said, much of the rest of the piece smacks of disgraceful boot licking, coming as it does from someone who is free to write a report any way he pleases. Here's a taste: The outgoing president will remain at the head of the Communist Party until its next congress in 2021 -- when he turns 90 -- time enough to ensure a controlled transition and to watch over his protege when, inevitably, old-guard communists challenge his reforms. Cuban political scientist Esteban Morales said the two would likely work in tandem, with Castro continuing to act as the ideological figurehead, while [Miguel] Diaz-Canel concentrates on the "very complex and difficult" task of running the government. The heir to the Castros will be faced with modernizing the economy at a time when Cuba's key regional ally Venezuela, its source of cheap oil, is stumbling through an acute economic crisis, and amid a resurgence of the US embargo under President Donald Trump.As usual, socialism, the cause of the misery in Cuba and Venezuela, remains unmentioned. Venezuela's "economic crisis" might as well be the result of Donald Trump sticking pins into a voodoo doll of Nicolas Maduro; and in any event, he's being blamed for not saving the skins of that openly hostile regime. That passage is bad enough, but this is the one that reminded me of Poe's Law: However, despite striving for a low-key transition, there's no getting away from the fact that this represents a monumental change in Cuba. It will be the first time in almost six decades that the Cuban president will not be named Castro, will not be part of the "historic" generation of 1959, will not wear a military uniform and will not be the head of the Communist Party. If elected, Diaz-Canel is expected to be able to make up for his lack of revolutionary pedigree with the support of Castro watching benevolently from his perch atop the all-powerful Communist Party.Grosbois forgot to mention that it will also be the first time in six decades that the Cuban president will not have facial hair: Maybe that will make Ariel Ortiz more optimistic about his future employment prospects in the centrally "planned" economy. Image via Wikipedia. Were Grosbois a Cuban reporter, the above passage would rightly read as biting sarcasm, because we would know that he'd need cojones to even think about slipping it past censors, and then again about someone sharper-witted bringing it to Castro's benevolent attention. But Grosbois is in the employ of a Western news agency, so it does not. And were his admiration of Castro not so obvious, and his evasion or ignorance of the difference between slavery and freedom not shared by so many other journalists and intellectuals in the West, it would be a lot easier to laugh about his hunting around for reasons to call this non-event "monumental". -- CAV Link to Original
  8. David Harsanyi raises some good arguments to the effect that the Zuckerberg hearings are a case against regulating Facebook: "Once untrustworthy, always restricted," as they put it of individuals in China. We once said that of government here. (Image via Wikipedia.)[T]he rent-seeking Facebook desires more regulation. For one, it would make the state partially responsible for many of the company's problems -- meting out "fairness," writing its user agreements, and policing speech -- but more importantly for Zuckerberg, it would add regulatory costs that Facebook could afford but upstart competition almost certainly could not. It's a long-standing myth that corporate giants are averse to "regulations," or that those regulations always help consumers. We've already seen the hyper-regulation of health care "markets" create monopolies and undermine choice. We've seen the hyper-regulation of the banking industry inhibit competition and innovation. Politicians, often both ignorant of specifics and ideologically pliable, tend to fall sway to the largest companies, which end up dictating their own regulatory schedules. I mean, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., actually asked a compliant Zuckerberg to submit a list of government interferences he might embrace.None of this is good, but I part ways with Harsanyi at two points: First, I regard any government role other than protection of individual rights to be improper, which rules out even the light regulation Harsanyi allows for. And second, he opens with the observation that many politicians aren't technologically savvy. This may be true, but it wouldn't make regulation okay if they were. Having said that, Harsanyi is correct that the solution to any problem with Facebook (which he rightly observes can't make anyone join or share data) is "to let Facebook fix itself or go the way of Myspace." Those last two points, combined with the obvious opportunity rent-seeking represents to cronies, become quite obvious when we look across the Pacific to China, which is imposing a "social credit system." The government will use that to dole out penalties like restricting access to public transport on the basis of such behavior as jaywalking, gaming more than some official might like, or online shopping habits deemed bad by the regime. At least it's obvious to me that allowing people to abuse government force is bad enough without supplying a continuous stream of convenient excuses for them to appear justified in doing so. Unfortunately, it may not be so obvious, for example, to members of the Sun, who call China's system creepy, but don't bat an eye at the idea of the Leviathan state regulating "big" media companies. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. Four Things Innovations from my bookmarks... 1. Might potholes soon be a thing of the past? Yes, by the looks of an invention out of Turkey: Their invention is a fully contained pothole-crushing powerhouse. The large truck uses artificial intelligence, Internet-enabled sensors, machine learning and advanced robotics to stamp out potholes like garden flies. Instead of filling in the hole, this monster equipment precision-cuts out the pothole and an area around it, as if it were extracting a cancerous tumor. The machine vacuums up excess materials, leaving a clean hole of exact size. Next, its robotic arm grabs a pre-made concrete “plug” from onboard, and inserts the plug with the accuracy of a surgeon. The plug materials expand once in place, to create a form-fitting bond, as if the pothole never existed. Besides being James Bond cool, the machine can repair potholes in less than two minutes at a cost savings of 500% versus traditional repairs...The time savings is impressive, although I am not quite sure what to make of the money savings figure. Perhaps the repairs are at one-sixth the cost of traditional methods. 2. An idea from the automotive industry, promises superior smoked flavor, but with fewer carcinogens: To reduce the carcinogen content of smoked foods, researchers took a lesson from the automobile industry, running the smoke through a zeolite filter to remove harmful compounds. It worked, and with a happy bonus: superior smoke flavor.This has reminded me to check the forecast, which looks promising enough that I might finally fire up the grill for the first time this season. 3. You know a technology has matured when it starts popping up even in the most ... pedestrian ... places: "DNA testing is cracking down on doggie-doo offenders." 4. Meet "Smokin'" Ed Currie's Carolina Reaper, the world's hottest pepper: Image via Wikipedia Smokin' Ed's Carolina Reaper® is a super hot pepper developed by Founder, President, Mad-Scientist & Chef Smokin' Ed Currie in his Rock Hill, South Carolina greenhouse. Measuring over 1.5 million on the Scoville Heat Unit Scale, Smokin' Ed's Carolina Reaper® was awarded the Guinness World Record in November of 2013. Read more about our Guinness World Record story here. The flavor of Smokin' Ed's Carolina Reaper® has been described as a roasted sweetness delivering an instant level of heat never before achieved continuing with an increasing tidal wave of scorching fire that grips you from head to toe. Eyes glaze. Brows perspire. Arms flail. CAUTION! CAUTION! CAUTION! CAUTION! CAUTION! [link omitted]Indeed, this one has even made the medical literature, delivering a series of thunderclap headaches to one culinary daredevil. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. About a year ago, I worked my way through Barbara Sher's I Could Do Anything if I Only Knew What It Was. I highly recommend this book and, by way of illustration, will present an example of the kind of advice she gives: Image via Pixabay.You can play two games at once. And being involved in a career goal will keep you from feeling empty or desperate. Having a second goal will make you patient too, and you need to be patient now, more than ever. Remember, when it comes to dealing with other people's resistance, timing is important. If Lee had started working on getting back together with Steve and made that her only project, she would have lacked patience and timing. So she pursued her new career as a comedy writer at the same time she pursued Steve. Pursuing her career reminded her that, although her need for love was the most important thing in her life at that time, it wasn't the only thing. Working on both goals at the same time was essential to help her remember who she was.I like this particular strategy because the book is about achieving very important goals -- the kind that can be derailed by such mental barriers as emotional baggage, defense mechanisms, and mistaken premises -- and demonstrates a way around them. In this case, we see that one can play two major goals off on one another in a productive way. To say I found the book loaded with insight and useful advice would be a gross understatement. On top of that, I have to advise anyone interested in the book to at least read every chapter, even when you don't think it really applies to your case. Sometimes, those chapters still have ideas that might be useful in other situations, and sometimes you will be surprised to find something that actually does apply. One such chapter helped me understand a kind of error I'd made several times, and the realization hit me like the proverbial bolt from the blue. "Holy crap!" I remember saying. I am grateful to Barbara Sher for having written this book and recommend it without reservation to anyone wanting insight into how to achieve any major, long-term goal. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. One frequently hears of Sweden as a role model for socialism, but rarely hears how the nation achieved prosperity under that political system. As many advocates of liberty would suspect, that is because it was freedom, not socialism, that made Sweden into a prosperous country, as a recent article by Johan Norberg indicates. Norberg presents a lengthy historical overview of Sweden's transformation from one of the world's poorest nations into one of the world's richest over the past couple of centuries, looking at the ideas and actions of many prominent figures, such as Anders Chydenius, also known as "the Nordic Adam Smith." Norberg introduces Chydenius by discussing his take on emigration, which many in his day saw as a big problem: Anders Chydenius (Image via Wikipedia)... There is nothing wrong with emigration, he wrote. The problem is the oppressive and corrupt system that makes it impossible for people to stay in Sweden and build a good life there. In detailing all the abuses, regulations, and taxes that destroyed opportunity, Chydenius outlined a radical laissez-faire critique of the Swedish government. He showed that privileges, license requirements, and trade prohibitions protected a small lazy aristocracy and stopped hard-working people from making their own luck. High taxes confiscated whatever they managed to create; a corrupt justice system made it impossible for them to win against the powerful; and restrictions on the press made it illegal for them to complain about it. "Fatherland without freedom and merit is a big word with little meaning," he pointed out.Chydenius sounds like a real firebrand, and he was also a major proponent of freedom of speech, which the article correctly notes was integral to Sweden's transformation. That said, the article, like Chydenius himself and the movement to which he belonged, is a mixed bag. To wit: One pamphlet that Chydenius published was more important than the others. The National Gain was a short but forceful argument for economic freedom. Chydenius explained why a free market is self-regulating because the profit motive and the price mechanism keep us all in check and stimulates us to help others by producing the kind of goods and services they want most...Chydenius, who worked with the poor, deserves credit for realizing that freedom is the best way to help them, but note his suspicion of the true ethical basis for the capitalist political system. Rather than seeing capitalism as the best way for people to live their own lives as best as possible, he frames his advocacy in terms of a collective. He is, at best, confused about selfishness, conflating it with the kind of short-range, predatory behavior that capitalism and rule of law do, in fact, keep in check. The lack of an egoistic moral defense of capitalism did not harm the initial rise of Sweden because the various factions ("estates") were so blatantly harming each other that even the de facto nationalist justification for freedom resulted in improvements for all. But it would come back to haunt everyone later. Norberg notes that, just at the time it looked like the liberals had won Sweden permanently, freedom became, in his words, "[a] victim of its own success," with the political movement splintering, and -- surprise! -- some people returning to the use of government to filch money from other people's pockets. At the same time, others were seemingly oblivious to the threat this posed to freedom, and fought instead for new "rights", be they consistent with individual rights or not. (Norberg himself shows a similar blind spot: At an earlier point, he praises a publication for being, "the first publication to attack not just abuses of power, but political power as such." A proper government without power would not be a good thing, because freedom cannot exist in an anarchy.) On balance, I think this essay offers information that can be of high value not only in defusing the lie that socialism "works" for Sweden. (I pass over many facts and statistics like those I cited in yesterday's post on Estonia.) A the same time, the piece suffers from the same disease that has cost Sweden much its freedom and prosperity, and which is epidemic among those who want to champion capitalism. Without a proper ethical justification -- a frank appeal to rational self-interest -- capitalism will not make a meaningful comeback. Furthermore, whatever gains it might make thanks to its superior productivity will be temporary once people -- who do not understand why it is immoral and impractical to steal -- wrongly feel safe enough to start undermining it again. -- CAV Link to Original
  12. There is a short, but very interesting piece at Intellectual Takeout by Luis Pablo De La Horra about Estonia's impressive economic growth so soon after the end of communist rule: Image via Wikipedia. From day one, the new government committed to undertaking market-oriented reforms that laid the foundations for a successful transition from socialism to capitalism. The political agenda included monetary reform, the creation of a free-trade zone, a balanced budget, the privatization of state-owned companies, and the introduction of a flat-rate income tax. ... These reforms paved way for the incredible rise in living standards that Estonia has experienced since independence. Today, Estonia is considered a high-income country by the World Bank, and it is member of the EU and the Eurozone. The purchasing power of Estonians has increased 400 percent over the last two decades despite the severe impact the 2008 financial crisis had on the Baltic economies. In addition, life expectancy has moved from 66 years in 1994 to 77 years in 2016. [links omitted]Although I would stop short of calling Estonia capitalist, the nation has undeniably moved towards that ideal with impressive results, and over a similar time frame that Venezuela has shackled its economy with central "planning". I am grateful to De La Horra for pointing this out for two reasons. First, It's far easier to help people see Venezuela as a cautionary tale with this contrasting example. Second, and more important, Estonia's example provides the opportunity to go on the offensive, and support freedom, rather than merely oppose socialism. -- CAV P.S. Milton Friedman's Free to Choose comes up as an inspiration for Estonia's economic reforms. It would be interesting to see whether Keith Weiner's recent argument that Friedman's "K% Rule" is a "third flavor of socialism" might give them pause.Link to Original
  13. Although the British press is often good for finding news about American politics that goes underreported here, it also leaves a lot to be desired. A case in point is an article in the Guardian that speaks of income inequality as if it is an inherently bad thing: Taking this is all some people are able to think of when they learn that someone has more of it than someone else. (Image via Pixabay.)Since 2008, the wealth of the richest 1% has been growing at an average of 6% a year -- much faster than the 3% growth in wealth of the remaining 99% of the world's population. Should that continue, the top 1% would hold wealth equating to $305tn (£216.5tn) -- up from $140tn today. Analysts suggest wealth has become concentrated at the top because of recent income inequality, higher rates of saving among the wealthy, and the accumulation of assets. The wealthy also invested a large amount of equity in businesses, stocks and other financial assets, which have handed them disproportionate benefits.And ... ? Here we have the mental kill switch of altruism on full display. The only relevant datum appears to be that "the rich" have more money than the rest of us, the hell with how any of them did, whether any deserved to do so, or the fact that anyone in their shoes would so many of the same things, like saving or investing the dreaded ... gasp! ... assets. Consider something you might have bought from "the rich" -- say, for a clear example, an iPhone before its inventor Steve Jobs passed away. Is it wrong that they have your money in exchange for how much easier they have made your life? Jobs did this for countless others, and it is wrong to complain about his wealth, or to lump him into the same category as those who cheat or steal, including obtaining the wealth of others through government force. A graphic has been making the rounds that illustrates this point exceptionally well. I haven't read Steve Conover's Neutering the National Debt, but his graphic is quite eloquent in this regard: Simply placing "the rich" in the political crosshairs is as unjust as it is simple-minded. If there is a "one percent" that deserves our opprobrium, the wealthiest one percent are not it, and it isn't necessarily straightforward to figure out who the enemy of prosperity is. As Yaron Brook and Don Watkins, authors of Equal Is Unfair, once put it: Yes, it can sometimes be hard to tell the producers from the looters. As government becomes more entangled in our economic affairs, even the Reardens of the world are forced to lobby Washington -- not to reap unearned rewards, but to protect themselves from the Boyles. (It's no accident that before Microsoft came under antitrust fire, it spent virtually nothing on lobbyists, while today it spends many millions.) What's more, many businessmen are mixed cases -- part producer, part political profiteer.Most people have little difficulty evaluating an offer made to them personally that seems "too good to be true." But when that offer is made in a way to appeal to common and mistaken notions of morality (and using the government as a fence for the stolen goods), it's deuces wild. In a way, it would be great if solving all the world's problems came down to robbing only one percent of the population. But it's not only not so simple: It is unjust to the likes of Steve Jobs, and it is wrong and self-destructive to steal, to condone theft, or to portray it as an ideal. -- CAVLink to Original
  14. Four Things 1. Old Man Winter may be paying our area yet another unwelcome spring visit, this time during "peak bloom" of Washington's famed cherry trees. (Six to eighteen inches? Really?) So this may be the year to stay indoors, drink something warm, and learn the story behind Washington's cherry blossoms, instead: Don't let the door hit your backside on the way out, this time. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)Yukio Ozaki, the mayor of Tokyo, was visiting Washington to witness the reception of Japan's prized symbol when word got out about the bonfire. Shortly after, Ozaki received Fairchild in his hotel. Fairchild had come to apologize, or in a less dignified way, to grovel. But Ozaki had a different reaction than anyone expected, illuminating just how little American leaders understood Japan. In reality, Fairchild's apologies were dwarfed by Ozaki's. While Washington cringed at burning a gift, Tokyo apparently viewed the problem as having given a faulty present. "We are more satisfied that you dealt with [the trees] as you did, for it would have pained us endlessly to have them remain a permanent source of trouble," Ozaki explained.In addition to its portrait of the early stages of our diplomatic relationship with Japan, the story depicts the rivalry between two men who knew each other in childhood, but became rivals once the possibility of the trees harboring agricultural pests came up. 2. Remember Second Life? It may have ruins like Detroit, but it's still around, and its "residents" have seen retail progress: Curiously, something like the Amazonification of retail seems to have happened to Second Life, too. More and more, commerce is shifting to a Web-based transaction marketplace hosted by Linden Lab and away from the virtual brick and mortar storefronts. The exceptions are big shopping events, which are in some sense Second Life analogues to Amazon Prime day, Black Friday, trade fairs, or seasonal Steam sales. "As a designer I also preferred the old method of selling primarily from my main store rather than having deadlines and hosting new items at events," says Iki Akari. "Mainly because a lot of things can go wrong and Events tend to lag customers heavily. From a Marketing standpoint, it's also hard for new stores to spread brand awareness when they are being immediately compared to pre-established brands in an event-type environment." [bold added]While the platform isn't exactly as successful as Facebook, its creators claim it is thriving. 3. Don't tell them; show them. Joe Coleman, copywriter, does this with an interactive demo. Move the slider on the "hard sell" scale and watch his pitch change. 4. Here's a neat (and amusing) tidbit from research for a past column: Thanks to decades of research, we now understand the interacting metabolisms of vegetables and microorganisms. We can design high-tech transport and storage techniques that slow down, even halt, deterioration through the use of harmless mixtures of gases. Chips fitted to containers give off signals when the gas composition and temperature need adjusting to plan ripening at the exact moment of delivery. Likewise, to minimise food losses in supermarkets, packaging techniques and materials have been developed to prolong shelf life. Surprising but true: modern treatments with ... plastic bags and sealing create an optimal environment inside the package and reduce loss. So does the industrial washing of packed and cut vegetables, which also saves water, compared with household‑level processing. [bold added]What's so funny? An environmentalist is saying this. Might tossing out a few plastic bags be less wasteful than dumping loads of rotting produce -- or demonizing the hard-won knowledge that makes fresh produce available to so many people today? -- CAV Link to Original
  15. Photo by Morgan Sessions on UnsplashWell... not quite, but I bet that title got your attention. Perhaps a more descriptive, but also more cumbersome title might have been something like, "Carefully Evaluating an Alternative by Figuring out What It Might Really Mean." Some time back, when I first encountered the Captain Awkward advice blog, I ran into a letter-and-answer concerning a young man whose cultural background included the practice of arranged marriage. He didn't quite ask the right question, but he got the right answer. His question was, "[H]ow to go about being okay with an arranged marriage...?" Captain Awkward's advice was brilliant, both defusing the social pressure attached to such a tradition and outlining the best way to avail oneself of it. All of this she accomplishes in the following set of bullet points, after first establishing that the writer must be clear in his mind (and to others) about what he hopes to accomplish by "giv[ing] it a shot:" It's 100% okay to say, to everyone, "I'm not ready to look, I'm not ready to do this, I need to think more about this before I even start." You do not have to marry anyone, ever, if you do not want to. Yes, it's the cultural norm and you'll receive a lot of pressure from your family and peers. No, you won't die from not being married, and the people who love you will deal with it eventually. You can decide to be introduced to people you family suggests and promise to meet anyone they suggest with an open mind, but you will not marry anyone without a genuine connection of friendship, affection, and attraction between you. You're open to trying out the process without any guarantees. Phrase it that way to your parents. "I am happy to have you introduce me. The right woman and I will have to take it from there." Don't ever believe anybody when they say that "your prospects are thin" and that you have to hurry to lock in this low interest rate/this hot sale price/this limited edition/hard-sell metaphor of your choice or it will never be available again. In your letter, you come across as intelligent, hard-working, thoughtful, kind, sensitive, and as someone who wants to be and do good things. You deserve someone wonderful, someone who values herself and who takes her time to make good decisions the way you do. People like that exist in the world and some of them are part of your cultural group and some of those are female and single and some of those will like you. Finding love and attraction is not about having the greatest possible access to every possible person, it's about connecting truly and deeply with the ones who are your same glorious brand of weirdo. [formatting in original] It is this last bullet point that exemplifies one of the things I like best about this writer: She is very good at seeing how similar many situations that might not seem to have a connection are. This both makes her advice much easier to grasp right off the bat and can help one see how it could apply to other, similar situations. I'm happily married, and arranged marriage is not part of my culture, but I found this discussion worth reading, anyway. Frankly, in the letter-writer's shoes, I'd have found find the whole idea preposterous prima facie, but that's in part because I would have assumed it involved getting stuck with whomever the family comes up with. But look at the thought process: Step One was considering what the institution really is, and considering the prospect of using it in a more flexible way. That's a great example to have tucked away for the future, should I face a difficult situation and be presented with a possible solution that has worked for others, but with which I am unfamiliar. The usual (or stereotypical) implementation may be highly flawed, but there might be elements that, evaluated thoughtfully, could possibly solve the problem. -- CAV Link to Original
  16. Image via Wikipedia. Over at Inc. is an interesting piece about the collegial nature of podcasting. Its title? "Want a Lesson in Collaboration and Teamwork? Listen to an Independent Podcast. Yes, Any One." I don't listen to podcasts with any frequency, but I'm pretty sure that Suzanne Lucas is right: The good will she describes has been evident to me each time. After discussing the phenomenon, Lucas asks some interesting questions: It's totally bizarre, but could it transfer to other industries? In a way, other industries do this through conventions and white papers and other areas in which we present and publish things that can help others out. But, the straight up collaboration among people who would qualify as competitors doesn't happen as blatantly as it does in the podcast world. You don't want to give your competitor a leg up, but what if we remembered that the world is really quite large and perhaps there is room for all of us? With individuals, we call this mentoring, but could we be more collaborative across industries as well?These are fascinating questions, and I am sure the answer is yes. I have, for example, enjoyed beers inspired by collaborations between favorite breweries. At the same time, the devil is in the details, so it might be fruitful to ponder what might aid or hinder collaboration. There are hints about the former above, and they remind me a little of the radiant atmosphere of Galt's Gulch within Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. That said, I think the statement that, "It's not all selfless," risks losing the scent. As Rand once noted of creative endeavors: Men have been taught that the ego is the synonym of evil, and selflessness the ideal of virtue. But the creator is the egoist in the absolute sense, and the selfless man is the one who does not think, feel, judge or act. These are functions of the self.I think that the spirit of collegiality seen especially in many nascent (or craft-like) industries is a direct result of the quality and quantity of individual effort they require -- effort that only a true, selfish love for what one is doing is going to sustain. The work itself is fulfilling, and that is something that is easy to share without losing it. (In fact, one gains a relationship based on values when one does so.) I think this is at least part of why we see camaraderie in some industries much more than in others. The fun isn't eclipsed by the mundane, and common (but mistaken) ideas about life as a zero-sum game don't get a chance to intrude. Could it be that in a manner similar to new industries taking off where government hasn't regulated, new communities of rational, implicitly selfish men can sprout where conventional thinking hasn't set in? -- CAV Link to Original
  17. If you've ever heard someone pooh-poohing "security by obscurity" (but wondered if he knew what he was talking about), Daniel Miessler has some food for thought over at his eponymous blog: Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash Many of us are familiar with a concept known as Security by Obscurity. The term has negative connotations within the infosec community -- usually for the wrong reason. There's little debate about whether security by obscurity is bad; this is true because it means the secret being hidden is the key to the entire system's security. When added to a system that already has decent controls in place, however, obscurity not only doesn't hurt you but can be a strong addition to an overall security posture. [minor edits]It had always truck me as strange to hear people disparage obscurity as a security measure, but I never gave it more thought than, "It certainly doesn't hurt, and I'm pretty sure it can help." (That said, I was not making the incorrect assumption, that obscurity can carry the whole load, though. Some people do.) What Miessler does in the rest of his post is walk through is the nature of the benefit of obscurity and explain exactly how it helps. For the mathematically inclined, he even reduces this down to a product of conditional probabilities. But the math is easily translated into plain English: Obscurity reduces your odds of being attacked in the first place, but you should avail yourself of ways to reduce the effects of a successful attack, too. -- CAV Link to Original
  18. Almost a year ago, I ran into "If You Want to Become a Master at Problem Solving, Master These 7 Steps" over at Inc. Getting sick recently, and needing to replenish my queue of emergency posts*, I followed a bookmark and smiled at my good fortune, when I read the following, from Suzanne Lucas's introduction: Image via Pixabay.It's April, so there's probably a pretty good chance you've given up on your new year's resolutions. But, there's no law that says January 1 is the only day to set life changing goals. Personally, I think spring is a great time to make new goals -- it's starting to get warm, and stay light later, and it makes for a more pleasant environment. (At least, it does for me.) So, I was thrilled when this week's Freakonomics podcast, Big Returns from Thinking Small, focused on a seven-step plan for making and achieving goals. [links omitted, bold added] Or re-commit and finally make headway on the old goals, I immediately thought. This has been awful winter for me. Snow. Snow. Snow. Illness. Snow. Getting my car totaled by an idiot who was probably texting while driving. (Good on me for having under-insured motorist coverage.) Snow. Illness. And, after the equinox: Snow. This winter made that three-foot blizzard from when we first moved here look like a time-saver. I haven't had a full week to work with since some time in December, and I have lost tons of momentum. One thing the column doesn't cover is the power of a regular routine to help establish and internalize new habits, and boy did this winter hammer me in that regard. So, on top of the following seven pieces of advice, if you live in an area affected by crummy weather, spring offers the promise of being better able to count on having time to do things. Set a goal. Make a plan with a bright line. Make a commitment with a commitment referee. Create a reward. Share your goal with others. Feedback. Stick. Regarding Item 5, it was refreshing to see that, although leveraging the power of shame was part of it, it wasn't the whole. Lucas notes, "People will help you out if they know about it." In that regard, see also Barbara Sher on isolation as "the dream killer" -- and hopefully also Andres Cantor. -- CAV * This turned out to be timely enough to use immediately. Link to Original
  19. Four Things 1. Regarding a couple of past posts, we have a somewhat humorous "porn filter update": Sen. Frank Ciccone said he pulled the bill after The Associated Press reported Monday that the legislation had been pushed around the country by a man with a history of outlandish lawsuits including trying to marry his computer as a statement against gay marriage.So, the good news is that all these oddly-similar proposals come from the same source, and people are alert to it. The bad news remains that these proposals aren't being laughed off as soon as they are made. Consequently, I await a sequel with trepidation. 2. A Hacker News thread solicits stories about "the weirdest hack you ever saw in production." Many were related to the ridiculous hoops people have to go through to automate certain kinds of tasks on Windows: In my startup days, we were working on a proof of concept with a really big bank. Because of their security rules, we couldn't have direct access to their systems - so if we wanted to do something remotely, we would have to start a webex, they would join and share their screen, and give us remote control. This worked great, except if we wanted to work over the weekend, since if we left the screen alone for more than a few minutes, the screen lock would kick in and we'd lose the session. Our solution? We purchased a small fan with an oscillation mode, and tied a mouse to it. We then had the fan drag the mouse ever so slightly back and forth whenever we wanted to step away from the remote session. Kept it going for weeks.A few others chimed in with less entertaining alternatives, but another kind of hack related to dialog boxes and the need to free human beings from sitting next to a computer just to "push the effing button." There's even an application one can buy to do this (as well as aid in the cause of automation in other ways). Oddly enough, it's called PTFB. Call me crazy, but isn't automation one of the things computers are for? The oscillating fan: It cools you off, helps you sleep, and frees up IT staff in Windows shops. 3. I don't spend much time wondering how Microsoft stays in business. I just use Linux whenever I can. And so it is that a comment on another thread caused me to think of things I use scripting for. Here are four: Collect everything from the past 24 hours from new sites I follow, so I needn't visit multiple times a day. Concatenate content from sites I follow whose pages take too long to load, so I can quickly catch up with them. Grab relevant content from the web for the administrative parts of reports I have to prepare, and format it in a way suitable for quick editing and subsequent dumping into Word. Automatically create, organize, track, and archive projects. Some readers will look at these and wonder why I don't just buy some software or subscribe to a service. There's nothing wrong with that, but my own systems are immune to being orphaned, bought out, or radically changed for the worse. And it doesn't hurt that I enjoy writing scripts, anyway. 4. Of course, a tool is only as good as its user, as someone recently showed in Utah. Combining a lack of focus with the power of technology, someone at the Utah State Bar Association recently sent a topless photo to every lawyer in the state. -- CAV Link to Original
  20. Image via Pixabay.Would you want to return to "a practice that was taken for granted a generation ago?" That might depend on what it was, and why. Progress relegates many practices -- like having to yell into a telephone to be heard -- to the memory hole. Does Silicon Valley connote conformity? Those companies earned their riches by solving our problems creatively. Do you want to be led by the nose during your next tech purchase? If your name is Susan Talamantes-Eggman, your answer to all three questions is yes. If it isn't, beware: This "progressive" is the eighteenth state legislator nationwide to push "right to repair" legislation. These proposals threaten our right to contract, thus our freedom to pay a pittance for marvels that would have passed for magic a century ago. Advocates raise Cain about the difficulty of electronics repair but are indifferent to what that means and why that may be. Take water-resistant phones for example. A failure of any of the patented technology, specialized assembly methods, or special adhesives can let water in. I can't even begin to imagine repairing one of these, much less wanting to. At least one right-to-repair bill would make it illegal to sell a phone unless the battery was easy to replace. Easy? For whom? At what additional cost? ... 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 an earlier version of this piece. -- CAV P.S. (1) The title at RCM might sound anarchic to someone unfamiliar with my point of view. (The working title is above.) To clarify, I am not an anarchist: I advocate capitalism, which is not possible without a government limited to the protection of individual rights under a system of objective law. (2) Here is an interesting update: Shortly after submitting this piece for publication, I learned that there are multiple lawsuits against Apple for "throttling" older iPhones. I am not an Apple customer, but I have heard of this issue (and saw my wife's phone slow way down, prompting her to buy a new one) and Apple's explanation for why this occurred. I don't have an opinion either way, but at least this issue is being approached the right way, with a lawsuit.Link to Original
  21. Drawing a linguistic parallel between Switzerland and the United States, American expatriate Suzanne Lucas arguesthat educating American children in standard English is as important as educating Swiss children in High German: Image via Pixabay.[W]hile I agree with [Michael] Hobbs that AAVE [aka"Ebonics" -- ed] needs to be respected and especially that educators need to understand that it is a legitimate language, I also agree with [Amy] Alkon that not requiring all children in the United States to learn standard English is dooming them to an insulated life without the possibility of greater success. The assumption needs to be that all children are capable of learning a standard language and that learning one does not mean anything negative about the language spoken at home. [bold added]Lucas and Alkon are correct that failing to teach children standard English puts them at a disadvantage in communicating with others, with all the consequences that implies. But in America, that may not be the full extent of the harm. A book I read eons ago, Twice as Less, by Eleanor Wilson Orr, argued that certain grammatical and usage aspects of Ebonics, which she calls Black English Vernacular (BEV), actually impede understanding of quantitative subjects, such as science and math. It the case of American schools, it could well be that teaching standard English is even more important than teaching High German is in Switzerland. -- CAV Link to Original
  22. Image of snake oil salesman via Wikipedia Over at Thinking Directions, Jean Moroney offers some good advice for countering the kind of salesmen who give the profession a bad name. Over the years, I have become quite comfortable with getting rid of salesmen, especially when I know I am not interested or have lots of options, but I still found her advice worthwhile. Suppose you are in the market for something, but want to be ready for the misfortune of ending up with a high-pressure salesman. Or, for some reason -- like it's the only dealership for a hundred miles -- you choose to deal with such a person, anyway. Then you might want to go over her scripts for pushing back against the pressure. For example: "When would be a good time?" "That assumes that this is high enough priority for me to make time. I don't see that. You are welcome to send me written materials, and if I see from them that this would be worth more of my time, I'll set up a call with you. But right now, my priorities lie elsewhere."There are two other scripts, along with explanations of the kinds of fallacies that underlie the questions and the rationales for the answers. And all of these are built on the underlying premise of maintaining control of when you do your thinking. This is worthwhile because there is no end to what sleazy salesmen will cook up to get a sale. When he goes off script, you will at least have the right general approach in the back of your mind to be able to resist the pressure. -- CAV Link to Original
  23. I suspect that a free market would see more of these jobs in the U.S., and far fewer in the wasteful recycling industry. (Image via Pixabay.)The story of China's scrap ban, which I wrote about at the end of last year, has taken quite an interesting turn. Recall that China, which had been purchasing sorted trash from recycling programs worldwide for some time, decided to start turning down shipments that didn't meet new quality standards. Now, on the heels of the President starting a trade war with China, American officials are asking them to start accepting our trash again: The U.S. Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries said at the time that the ban would devastate an industry that supported 155,000 jobs and had exported scrap worth $5.6 billion to China in 2016. The United States raised concerns about the ban, and a subsequent revision of standards for a variety of scrap metals, at the WTO's Council for Trade in Goods on Friday. "China's import restrictions on recycled commodities have caused a fundamental disruption in global supply chains for scrap materials, directing them away from productive reuse and toward disposal," a U.S. representative told the meeting, according to a trade official in Geneva. Regarding the jobs, see Frederic Bastiat, but remember that if you recycle, this is at least the second time this pernicious idea has cost you. Given Trump's lack of principles and his fixation on what Bastiat would call "the seen", it is hard to imagine him calling off our supplications to China. His tariffs already show him willing to effectively tax Americans so we can create more jobs that comparative advantage indicates should be off shore. Indeed, I fear the better element of his package-deal of a "trade war" -- concerns over China violating the intellectual property rights of Americans -- will be put up for grabs so we can keep wasting our time and money over here recycling without having to think much about it. To close on a positive note, I was glad to see someone confirm what I have long suspected. In addition to landfill space not being in short supply (as noted in my article, and not that the contrary would mean we should force people to recycle), these can eventually represent economically viable sources of raw materials. -- CAV Link to Original
  24. Notable Commentary "[T]he theocratic principle behind their proposal ... set back the use of anesthetics for decades; it justifies removing hands and heads in Saudi Arabia; it would force every pregnant woman to carry a fetus to term; it disallows the use of embryonic stem cells to save lives." -- Bob Stubblefield, in "Letter: Parody Marriage Bill Is Laughable" at The Aiken Standard. "Tariffs are immoral because they use government force to prevent people from trading freely." -- Bob Stubblefield, in "Letter: Tarriffs Are Immoral" at The Aiken Standard. Image via Pixabay."It's relatively easy to measure the number of lives lost due to criminal gun violence. It's harder to measure the number of lives saved by legal defensive gun use." -- Paul Hsieh, in "Any Study of 'Gun Violence' Should Include How Guns Save Lives" at Forbes. "I propose we change the Second Amendment to read: For self-protection and hunting, the individual right to keep and bear self-protection and hunting arms shall not be infringed." -- Talbot Manvel, in "We Need to Change the Second Amendment to Clear Up Confusion About Rights" at Capital Gazette. From the Blogs Over at The Roots of Progress is a lengthy review of Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now by Jason Crawford: In my opinion, Enlightenment Now is just what the world needs right now. It is a defense of the ideas and values that have created the modern world, and a defense of that world itself. I don't agree with every word of it, but I agree with its theme and essence. The weakest aspect of the book, to me, is its morality. "Humanism" is a great start, because it sets the right standard: human life and everything that helps people thrive and prosper. But Pinker largely ignores issues of individualism vs. collectivism, and egoism vs. altruism, that I see as core to the ideological struggles of the modern world.Energy advocate Alex Epstein also discusses the book at the blog of the Center for Industrial Progress. Epstein, who also generally holds the book in high regard, posted a twenty minute video about the book's analysis of climate and energy issues. (HT: Dollars and Crosses) -- CAV Link to Original
  25. Over at Business Insider is a thought-provoking piece on how Claude Shannon, the father of Information Theory, attacked problems. We are all quite fortunate in this regard, because the introverted Midwesterner was hardly the Cal Newport of his era: He explained his process ... once, in a 1952 lecture for his colleagues at Bell Labs. The authors found this lecture in Shannon's archives and have been kind enough to pass his advice on. Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni list and summarize the highlights of the process before pointing to the entire lecture. I found the first bit of advice, below, to be Feynmaneqsue: Claude Shannon (Image via Wikipedia)Step one, Shannon said, you should approach a problem -- any problem -- by simplifying: "Almost every problem that you come across is befuddled with all kinds of extraneous data of one sort or another; and if you can bring this problem down into the main issues, you can see more clearly what you're trying to do." Shannon's information theory, for instance, began with a colossal simplification: It treated every source of information, from a TV broadcast to a gene, as fundamentally the same. All of the information that they send can be measured in the same unit -- the bit -- and they can all be studied as instances of the same basic process of encoding, transmitting, and decoding. Stripping away everything inessential was just what helped Shannon get to the essence of information. No matter the problem, Shannon said, "cut it down to size." Shannon admitted that this process could file a problem down to almost nothing, but that was precisely the point: "You may have simplified it to a point that it doesn't even resemble the problem that you started with; but very often if you can solve this simple problem, you can add refinements to the solution of this until you get back to the solution of the one you started with." ...The full list of techniques -- I'm not sure I'd call them "steps" -- is: Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Fill your 'mental matrix' with solutions to similar problems. Approach the problem from many different angles. Break a big problem down into small pieces. Solve the problem 'backwards.' If you've solved the problem, extend that solution out as far as it will go. Shannon's work was seminal not just to my thesis topic back in grad school, but to my entire field, so I have no trouble seeing the value of hearing out Shannon. But for anyone who doubts he may have something to say, consider the following: At each stage, he found bridges between fields that had no prior connection. For his PhD dissertation, he applied algebra to the science of genetics and produced publishable work within a year, despite having no background as a biologist or geneticist. His years of work on symbolic logic and electrical engineering provided him with a wealth of portable concepts that shed new light on the field. Whatever you need to tackle, I think Shannon's advice is worth considering. -- CAV Link to Original