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Gus Van Horn blog last won the day on February 12

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  1. Illegal in California (Image by Melqkov, via Wikimedia Commons, license.) Until recently, we could all laugh at California's mind-boggling array of bans. Years ago, they prohibited single-use plastic bags. Gig work was banned this year, but firms like Uber fought back in court and firms like Vox Media blacklisted Californians. They talk about outlawing the internal combustion engine in ten years. It's even illegal to own a hamster there! Bottled water -- but not bottled Coke -- is verboten at the San Francisco airport. But recent events have made me feel much less smug. Many of the products and services that California despises might save those of us hunkering down in our homes to avoid infection. Since reusable bags harbor pathogens, chains like Target asked shoppers who won't avail themselves of single-use bags to bag their own purchases. (Last week, many municipalities wisely reversed or suspended these bans.) And then gig workers for companies like Uber Eats are essential to make life bearable for many people stuck in quarantine... To continue reading my latest column, please proceed to RealClear Markets. I would like to thank my wife and Steve D. for their comments on earlier versions of this piece. -- CAV Link to Original
  2. Tech guru Troy Hunt discusses how he "optimised [his] life to make [his] job redundant." The post is lengthy and I won't implement everything he mentions, but I pass word along because it is thought-provoking. I found myself thinking, what a great idea! more than once. And, even when I thought an idea wasn't for me, I gained some clarity because I thought about why that was the case. Below is part of one tactic I particularly like, and which gives my short post the title above: I Multipurpose Absolutely Everything I Can You never know when you might need -- or already have -- one of these. (Cropped from image by Nick ter Haar, via Unsplash, license.) ... When I wrote the You're Deploying It Wrong series on TeamCity, I was actually building out Pfizer's CI [Continuous Integration --ed] infrastructure. Writing the blog was the way I learned the ins and outs of TeamCity; it made me more effective in the office because I was publicising my views on the CI approach and opening them up to public scrutiny. I had to get things right in a way I didn't have to within the corporate environment. Partly that's because people were usually too polite to disagree (remember, it was the APAC region I looked after and culturally, you've very unlikely to be told if someone disagrees with you) and partly it's because I was the smartest guy in the room. Let me caveat that to try and avoid sounding conceited: pretty much everything at Pfizer was outsourced and the internal technical knowledge was gradually carved out (including with my departure) so bar one or two notable exceptions, there just weren't people there with the experience to voice an opinion. It's hard to debate the merits of build agents and MS Web Deploy with people who live in PowerPoint and Outlook! Incidentally, when I left and handed over management of the CI environment, it was that blog series that was my documentation -- "Here you go guys, here are the server names and everything else you need is on troyhunt.com". So I got public recognition for CI expertise, Pfizer got a great build environment, I made the handover a heap easier and I later got consulting work in the same space because of my public profile on it. [link omitted, format edits]Wow! That's a lot of bang for the buck for some independent on-the-job training. I have sometimes found new uses for past work, but the above example takes that to a whole new level. I am not that familiar with Hunt's work or other writing, so I have no idea whether he was this forward-thinking at the outset -- or observant enough along the way to see the advantages in what he was doing and press for more. Either way, I'm impressed and grateful that he put that out. At the very least, simply being aware that one can leverage a part of a project this way makes one able to see or create similar opportunities for oneself. -- CAV Link to Original
  3. Did you know that over 171 regulations have been waived so far in the fight against the pandemic? Even so, that is clearly not enough. The top domestic producer of face masks has not reached full capacity due to unemployment insurance laws: Image by Macau Photo Agency, via Unsplash, license. Here's the reason [Prestige Ameritech owner Mike Bowen] isn't switching over to 24/7 production and increasing his efforts now -- he did that during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009. He got burned. In order to protect his business and his workers, he is doing things differently this time around. During that pandemic, he increased production, hired more employees, and went to three shifts a day. Then the bottom fell out after the pandemic ended. He was stuck paying unemployment for all those people and had to reduce production. [bold added, link omitted] But Gus, isn't unemployment 'insurance' just a tax? I can hear you ask. That's what I thought, but not necessarily. According to Bizfluent: In most cases, when you are laid off, the employer who terminated your position does not directly have to pay for your unemployment benefits; these checks come from the state's unemployment fund. However, businesses pay unemployment taxes based on their track record retaining employees, so an employer that regularly lays off workers will face an increased unemployment tax rate. However, some states ... allow some types of businesses the option of reimbursing the state directly for unemployment benefits made to their former workers. [bold added]In the short time I have known about this story, I have not found a firm answer in this case, but it sure sounds like this is what happened here. Regardless of exactly how Bowen got "stuck," the fact remains that he is not free to hire workers without unemployment insurance, even if they would be willing to accept employment under such terms. (I can think of several million people who would jump at such a chance right now.) As a consequence of a lack of freedom of contract in the form of a requirement to provide unemployment compensation, this manufacturer knows he will risk his business by responding "too much" to the current emergency, and so he'll limit his response and the mask shortage will continue. In a truly free economy, Bowen would be able to hire as many temporary workers as he needed for as long or short as he needed them and raise his prices enough to cover the costs of rapid expansion (and the likely drop-off in demand). But since neither he, nor people willing to take temporary work, nor desperate hospitals are free to set their own terms for trading with each other, one man is being deprived of the opportunity of a lifetime while millions of others are losing the benefits of having a face mask, be it anything from greater peace of mind to protection from disease. -- CAVLink to Original
  4. I'll get this bit out of the way first: Our government helped turn a probably manageable new disease into an epidemic -- and is now fighting this epidemic by very blunt means of debatable propriety and efficacy. I am open to persuasion that lockdowns might be advisable in some circumstances, but I agree with Alex Epstein when he says, "The increasingly prevalent COVID-19 policy of indefinite universal isolation is immoral and un-American." I am fully in favor of voluntary social distancing, but I vehemently oppose universal indefinite house arrest (aka "lockdowns") under most circumstances. I was working on my dream when this all started, and I can see one or more of any number of catastrophes happening to me now, any one of which by itself, would be enough to make what I was doing much harder, if not impossible. Perhaps I would have chosen to self-isolate with my children under other circumstances, but that is beside the point, now. Our government's irrational and unjust policies turned a manageable emergency into a liberty- and life- threatening crisis ... which they are attempting to solve by making even more decisions on behalf of a people whose individual decisions built the world's greatest nation. So let me get this off my chest: I am livid about being conscripted into an unpaid army of child care workers. That is as politely as I can put a gross understatement. I love my children, but the fact remains that this arrangement is not of my choosing. And I am worse than unpaid: My plans are being wrecked and my children are not being educated as well as they could be. This is horrible, and yet I know full well that -- at least for the time being -- I am among the more fortunate. And whatever happens, I owe it to my children, my wife, and myself to grow in whatever way I can find during this time. With that out of the way, I have decided to borrow a page from Barbara Sher's excellent I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was (reviewed by Jean Moroney of Thinking Directions here). I will treat my time at home as what Sher calls a wrong job in one of the chapters of the book. The review summarizes the exercise as follows: he encourages some people who are stalled in indecision to take the wrong job -- and do it outstandingly. Because you can learn a tremendous amount about the right job, by doing the wrong job well. Image by Sebastian Herrmann, via Unsplash, license. Week One has confirmed that this is definitely a wrong job for me for any number of reasons. Here are just three: (1) When I left academia, I sometimes had to fend off suggestions to teach children. I am good with children and I am good at explaining things, but I find constantly having to supervise people very ... taxing ... to put it mildly. (2) The job involves using crummy distance learning software. (Naturally, it's a pastiche of Windows- and Mac- centric GUI software with several points of failure. I have already discovered that for one application, I'm better off using my own Linux machines. (e.g., I'm told to use Chrome -- but at the last second, I get an error message complaining that I'm not on Safari. How the hell are most programmers and sys admins even employed?) (3) I have to collaborate with people whose communication style and attitude towards time are diametrically the opposite of mine. The first thing I'll have to do today is reschedule two one-on-ones for my daughter because I received all my scheduling information for this week Friday and after business hours -- except for the one email I got Saturday. So, what have I learned so far? (1) I have already identified the major challenge facing me here: Each of my kids has different things they do more or less independently. I think I will find a way to juggle by alternating which kid I have on autopilot and which kid I'm having to hand-hold. I dislike supervising people, but I see that I am better at this than I thought, and that I will learn more. (2) I'm pretty good at thinking of workarounds for crummy software, if not ways to avoid it altogether. Software slumming for awhile may help me learn a few more tricks. (3) I remembered that I used to operate off of a paper planner and have decided to run this part of my time off of one. The farthest in advance I am required to plan for this is a week, and it's a lot easier to make last-minute changes with pencil and paper. If fact, laying everything out is what helped me see the conflict in the first place. (Yeah. I know. Them not having a centralized calendar in this Age of Computers is dumb on a par with filling out a computerized form -- and then having to enter some of the same information for the same company again anyway.) (4) Aside from all of that, I've added teaching the kids how to ride bikes as my version of PE. And I am looking for other things I can do to enjoy the extra time I am getting with my kids and develop common interests with them. We'll soon have a small vegetable garden going, for example. At this stage, I'm learning the ropes and finding that skills and expertise I already have are coming in handy. But I am also already setting goals. The work load looks manageable enough that I should be able to finish things up at a reasonable time each day, and be able to so some work on my writing. The quality of all this depends greatly on figuring out how to get as much control over my day as possible. This is a challenge with children at their ages. I noticed feeling more upbeat as I wrote the last paragraph, as I always do when reviewing each day and looking for three wins. This is why I journaled this here. I wanted to capture this for myself and offer it as a way of coping for others. We have all been robbed of part of our lives by the government's aggravation of this already-challenging pandemic. It is up to us to take back as much as we can, both to endure now and, let's hope, to prosper again in better times. -- CAV Link to Original
  5. Four Things Four things I learned about as a result of the epidemic, but which aren't about the epidemic... 1. NASA at Home looks to be a fantastic site for those who have kids, or are kids at heart. Embedded below, for example, is a video about how to make a cloud in a bottle. 2. The Vienna Opera has opened its archive for free streaming. I haven't tried this myself so far, but the landing page notes that performances will be available for streaming for up to 72 hours. The thread about this at Hacker News mentions several other similar sites. 3. Julio's Seasoned Corn Chips, which I'd somehow never heard of before, were the only available brand of tortilla chips the last time I went shopping. My son likes "Daddy chips" and I was out. He didn't like them, but I sure do! Coincidentally, on the same day I blogged about H-E-B's heroic efforts to stock their shelves during the pandemic, I looked up the brand -- and discovered that H-E-B stocks their shelves with them: Julio's Corn Chips are legend in these parts, and can be found on shelves of every H-E-B Grocery Store. Seasoned with a Tex-Mex mix of garlic, paprika, cumin, and lime, these 100% stone ground corn chips are robust without being overdone. Enjoy this classic by itself or with Julio's hot or mild home-style salsa for a savory snack anytime.I was a little disappointed to learn that their presence at a Jacksonville Walmart may have been fluke, but I'll keep an eye out for them in the future, anyway. 4. The Biodiversity Heritage Library has recently released over 150,000 illustrations into the public domain: The collections are a feast to the eye. Among them, you'll find a digitized copy of Joseph Wolf's 19th-century book Zoological Sketches, containing about 100 lithographs depicting wild animals in London's Regent's Park. You'll also find watercolors depicting flowers indigenous to the Hawaiian islands, and an 1833 DIY Taxidermist's Manual. [links omitted]The environmentalist slant of the rest of the article tempts me to joke about taking up taxidermy with the kids while we're all home together... -- CAV Link to Original
  6. 1. Nate Silver's site, FiveThirtyEight, which seems to model everything, has not tackled the current pandemic. They summarize the problem, which having decent data would help, with the following analogy: Models were a lot more fun when I was a kid... (Image by Irene van der Poel, via Unsplash, license.) Think of it like making a pie. If you have a normal recipe, you can do it pretty easily and expect a predictable result that makes sense. But if the recipe contains instructions like "add three to 15 chopped apples, or steaks, or brussels sprouts, depending on what you have on hand" ... well, that's going to affect how tasty this pie is, isn't it? You can make assumptions about the correct ingredients and their quantity. But those are assumptions -- not absolute facts. And if you make too many assumptions in your pie-baking process, you might very well end up with something entirely different than what you were meant to be making. And you wouldn't necessarily know you got it wrong.Every model ends up making assumptions. But modeling this pandemic requires so many that the models we do have differ by as much as an order of magnitude in their estimates for how many Americans will die due to this disease. This problem has hampered current mitigation efforts and is making it hard to plan for the long term. 2. A big problem I have had with the current government response of instituting lockdowns -- aside from its long-term economic and societal unsustainability -- is that they are leaving us without herd immunity. I have also accordingly been concerned about the disease raging back upon lifting of restrictions. Unfortunately, I seem to have a valid concern. Two authors from from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health note this problem as they consider possible ways forward: Viruses do not remember they were previously under control and will resurge when restrictions are lifted. Just look at what happened in 1918, when cities that had cracked down on the transmission of influenza lifted their restrictions and flu transmission rose again. Mathematical models of Covid-19 by our group and others that incorporate these lessons show that, in the short term, social distancing and other interventions can reduce the impact of the virus. But the same models show that when these interventions are eased, the problem returns. [links removed]Their suggested two-pronged strategy of making good use of the time social distancing is buying us is right on the money. 3. Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress offers these six filters to apply to COVID-19 claims: Do they assume freedom of action means recklessness? Do they assume lockdown means optimal virus prevention? Do they advocate universal measures for the highly vulnerable and low-vulnerability alike? Do they equate diagnosed infections with actual infections? (This is a tactic used to hyper-inflate death rates.) Do they devalue freedom and quality of life? Do they treat the goal as eradication instead of management? I am grateful to Epstein for his clarity on all of these. The last seems especially pervasive on the broadcast news, where every other sentence seemed to be Stop the spread yesterday evening. 4. In the same post, Epstein notes two more things I think every reader here should consider. First: Last week I shared with you that "In this crucial election your for energy, with the industry under siege, my small teams and I have big plans to change the debate... Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has put these plans in jeopardy." I asked you to consider becoming 2020 "Accelerators" of our work. You can learn more about the Accelerator program, including the rewards involved, at http://industrialprogress.com/accelerate. [bold added]Second: On the most recent episode of The Human Flourishing Project, I shared some tips on how to handle a time of mass disruption.The emergency responses to this pandemic has decimated the time I have for deep work, upended all my carefully worked-out routines, and made the whole idea of planning ahead look like a bad joke. I will be listening to this the next time I'm in the car by myself, probably Saturday. I have gotten great value out of this podcast series, and am glad Epstein is offering his thoughts on this huge problem. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. Most of us have probably heard some variant of the following advice at some time, about reaching peace of mind after a relationship has ended badly: Write a letter to the other person in which you say everything you wish you could say -- then destroy the letter. Advice blogger Captain Awkward adds something to that prescription that strikes me as worth passing along: Image by Annie Spratt, via Unsplash, license. Now, write yourself the letter you wish they'd write back. Imagine them saying everything you most want to hear... ... When you feel obsessed and lonely read the second one back to yourself. The good times you and this person shared were real. They still happened to you. What shone then shines now. The things they loved about you are still in you. That's all still yours, even if this one person is no longer in your life... After you re-read the good letter, channel the feelings into action that doesn't harm anybody or further obsess you. Do something that is physical, mundane, and and an act of care for yourself and the others in your home environment: Scrub the bathroom down, clean out the bottom drawer of the fridge, dust the baseboards... Find something you've been putting off and do it. Finally (do not skip this step), get in touch with someone who always does want to hear from you...I have fortunately never felt the need to write a letter like the first, but I like this idea. Why? The first letter is clearly a way to "get it all out," to acknowledge the emotions caused by the end of the relationship. Not sending this letter is further, albeit tacit, acknowledgment of the reality of the situation. Where I think the second letter comes in is that it does two things. First, it changes focus in a constructive way, from the lost value to the many values one still has, including one's value as an individual and of all that life has to offer. Second, it gets the ball rolling, so to speak. After a heavy loss -- something most of us do have experience with -- it can sometimes be hard to find motivation to get on with life when certain memories and their emotional baggage get in the way. Getting started doing something constructive, however small, can lift the spirits in addition to being at least a small way of regaining a sense of control over and enthusiasm for one's life. I often encounter productivity advice to the effect that getting started at some small task can be an effective strategy against procrastination. This looks like a good way to apply that lesson to one's emotional life. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. Michael Fumento again urges calm about the cornavirus pandemic in a piece at The New Criterion. As he did in an earlier piece, Fumento bases his reasoning on Farr's Law of Epidemics, which he argues: ... has precious little to do with human interventions such as "social distancing" to "flatten the curve." It occurs because communicable diseases nab the "low-hanging fruit" first (in this case the elderly with comorbid conditions) but then find subsequent victims harder and harder to reach. Until now, more or less, COVID-19 has been finding that low-hanging fruit in new countries, but the supply is close to running out. While many people assume that the draconian regulations implemented in China are what brought the virus under control, Farr's Law offers a different explanation. Even The New York Times admitted that South Korea recovered far more quickly with regulatory measures nowhere near the scale of China's -- although the Times still attributes that entirely to human intervention, of course, assigning no role to Mother Nature. [link in original, minor format edits]Given that many public health experts are urging us to "flatten the curve," almost everyone will find the above paragraph hard to believe. (Assuming he is correct, we will know when the pandemic is slowing down, "when the death count begins to slow down." If he's wrong, I don't think we would know even that much. And it is hard to dismiss the idea that South Korea nipped its epidemic in the bud through testing and contact tracing before it got out of hand.) That noted, Fumento offers an interesting piece of evidence that will remind old timers of comparisons of life on either side of the Berlin Wall back during the Cold War -- and everyone of satellite photos of Korea at night, with its south aglow and its north dark: Image by NASA Earth Observatory, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. Meanwhile, it's very difficult to assess the effectiveness of the restrictive measures blanketing most of the country. We know hermits don't get contagious diseases, but there's a reason the term "society of hermits" is an oxymoron. South Korea didn't need such drastic measures and Sweden hasn't used them, even as its neighbor Norway has been praised for early implementation. For its efforts, Norway has been rewarded with twice as many cases per capita and is suddenly suffering its highest unemployment rate in eighty years. [bold added]Fumento's piece notes evidence that the epidemic is slowing down and offers timely comments on the situation in Italy. In the meantime? American public health experts are preparing us for lockdowns at least until June. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. Back in my Houston days, I often shopped at H-E-B, and admired the chain so much that it immediately popped into my mind when I read about Boris Yeltsin's "supermarket epiphany." His obituary in the New York Times read in relevant part: Image by ArtisticOperations, via Pixabay, license. On a visit to the United States in 1989, he became convinced that Russia had been ruinously damaged by its state-run economic system, in which people stood in long lines to buy the most basic needs of life and more often than not found the shelves bare. Visiting a Houston supermarket, he was overwhelmed by the kaleidoscopic variety of meats and vegetables available to ordinary Americans. ... A Russia scholar, Leon Aron, quoting a Yeltsin associate, wrote that Mr. Yeltsin was in a state of shock. "For a long time, on the plane to Miami, he sat motionless, his head in his hands," Mr. Aron wrote in his 2000 biography, Yeltsin, A Revolutionary Life. "What have they done to our poor people?" he said after a long silence.I recalled this story when I encountered a Texas Monthly interview titled, "Inside the Story of How H-E-B Planned for the Pandemic." The following quote from the the company's Director of Emergency Preparedness, Justen Noakes, just about says it all: [W]hen did we start looking at the coronavirus? Probably the second week in January, when it started popping up in China as an issue. We've got interests in the global sourcing world, and we started getting reports on how it was impacting things in China, so we started watching it closely at that point. We decided to take a harder look at how to implement the plan we developed in 2009 into a tabletop exercise. On February 2, we dusted it off and compared the plan we had versus what we were seeing in China, and started working on step one pretty heavily. [bold added]Readers here may recall that the CDC was still fumbling around developing a test for the virus in February, despite the fact that the information on how to make tests was widely available and there were already tests in use. Aside from the piece in Texas Monthly being a valuable and enjoyable read, it is something to keep in the back of your mind for the next time you hear conventional "wisdom" to the effect that we "need" government to coordinate major undertakings or that the private sector is interested only in making a quick buck. In tough times, many Americans could do with a story like this. Furthermore, many of us should ask, in Yeltsin's vein, "What have we done to ourselves?" by relying too heavily on the government to take care of so many of our needs. -- CAV Link to Original
  10. Four Things Exploring past and present frontiers of pen and paper and electrons... Image by André Noboa, via Unsplash, license. 1. Cal Newport reports with annoyance that Moleskine has a social network: I was prompted to write this post after someone pointed me toward the distressing fact that Moleskine started a social network called myMoleskine. It allows people to publicly share their notes and follow other Moleskine users. A development for which I have only one official reaction: Sigh. [link and italics in original]My initial response was, Who doesn't? And a cursory look around quickly showed me that it can at least be a good way for talented artists to exhibit their work, be it as a way to possibly being discovered or simply to share their own delight with others who may enjoy their work. I agree that spending too much time on social media is wasteful, but thoughtful, disciplined use can be valuable. 2. "Leaping laggard" tech consumer that I am, I have kept an antenna raised on the subject of tablets that emulate (paper) notebooks, such as the reMarkable. I have held out on purchasing one so far, but that time may end soon, in part because the latest release sounds so good: But overall you're looking at a much cheaper package. The reMarkable, for all its merits, was not cheap at $700. The reMarkable 2 will sell for $399 if you pre-order, and comes with a Marker and a nice folio case. For anyone who was on the fence about the first one, the sequel may prove irresistible.The cheaper price comes with several notable improvements, including: (1) less latency between touching the screen with the stylus and marking, (2) the option of having an "eraser" end on the stylus, and (3) improved power management allowing for two weeks of use or three months on standby. 3. With so many people working from home due to the ongoing pandemic, many companies have seen the chance to win new customers and offered their remote collaboration software for free, as in beer. That's great, if you use Windows. But what if you use Linux and open-source software, as I do? At least one Linux distributor has put out a list of FOSS options for remote work: Purism has been working remote since we started in 2014. Here's our list of essential free software for remote work, all can be self hosted or used via various hosted options.I appreciate the list, but this company's About page reminds me that I ought to write something about "conscious" "capitalism" some time: The whole idea that profit necessarily conflicts with a refusal to compromise on purpose and quality is, frankly, ridiculous. 4. And speaking of Linux, the plethora of "surprising programs" under the hood has been a large part of what has made it so valuable to me. These are the subject of a thread at Hacker News, kicked off by an old-timer's post on surprising programs in Unix, the ancestor of Linux. Here is what Doug McIlroy says about typo in the parent post: Typo ordered the words of a text by their similarity to the rest of the text. Typographic errors like "hte" tended to the front (dissimilar) end of the list. Bob Morris proudly said it would work as well on Urdu as it did on English. Although typo didn't help with phonetic misspellings, it was a godsend for amateur typists, and got plenty of use until the advent of a much less interesting, but more precise, dictionary-based spelling checker. Typo was as surprising inside as it was outside. Its similarity measure was based on trigram frequencies, which it counted in a 26x26x26 array. The small memory, which had barely room enough for 1-byte counters, spurred a scheme for squeezing large numbers into small counters. To avoid overflow, counters were updated probabilistically to maintain an estimate of the logarithm of the count.The thread ranges from the useful -- like paste, which I have found helpful -- to the historical or esoteric. To be clear, not all of the programs exist in typical Linux distributions. -- CAV Updates Today: Added "(paper)" to my outdated description of those things people used to write on. Link to Original
  11. Florent Crivello, a product manager at Uber, writes a thought-provoking blog post titled, "The Efficiency-Destroying Magic of Tidying Up." Therein, he argues that many attempts to impose order on complex, self-ordering systems, are made out of great ignorance. His piece also proposes the following amusing analogy for urban "planners" who fall into what he calls the "high modernist" fallacy, following James Scott's Seeing Like a State. That is, they mistake complexity for chaos: Image by Brett Jordan, via Unsplash, license. [T]his insight applies to any complex system. For example, a city can look as messy as an anthill. But really, it's a beautiful equilibrium that evolved to satisfy a thousand competing constraints: topology, weather, people's traditions, skills, wealth, preferences ... Planners may make their maps look better when they use zoning to separate the city into business, residential, and commercial neighborhoods, but they also destroy a subtle, efficient balance. They forget that the only activity that goes on in any city is that of people living their lives, which requires all the activities above -- preferably in close proximity. Splitting a city into residential, commercial and business zones is like throwing dough, cheese and pepperoni into the different compartments of a bento box and calling it a pizza.Crivello's argument reminds me a little of one made against central (government) planning by the economist George Reismann, but from a different angle: The overwhelming majority of people have not realized that all the thinking and planning about their economic activities that they perform in their capacity as individuals actually is economic planning. By the same token, the term "planning" has been reserved for the feeble efforts of a comparative handful of government officials, who, having prohibited the planning of everyone else, presume to substitute their knowledge and intelligence for the knowledge and intelligence of tens of millions, and to call that planning. (as quoted in Andrew Bernstein's Capitalist Manifesto, p. 345) [bold added]I love the pizza-bento box analogy, and think it is a great way to condense the idea that something complex -- or even messy-looking -- can indeed possess an exquisite and graspable order beyond what meets the eye. -- CAV Link to Original
  12. Or: Central Planning Gave the Epidemic a Head Start Writing at Reason, John Stossel puts out a good summary of how central planning is responsible for the severity of the COVID-19 epidemic within the United States. The following, in particular, should be shouted from the rooftops, because it accounts for the greatest obstacle to fighting this disease that we face: the lack of testing early on. Our medical establishment, at the start of this marathon, thanks to the CDC. (Image by Tony Rojas, via Unsplash, license.) COVID-19 deaths leveled off in South Korea. That's because people in Korea could easily find out if they had the disease. There are hundreds of testing locations -- even pop-up drive-thru testing centers. Because Koreans got tested, Korean doctors knew who needed to be isolated and who didn't. As a result, Korea limited the disease without mass quarantines and shortages. [bold added]But here in America? When the new coronavirus appeared, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made its own tests and insisted that people only use those CDC tests. But the CDC test often gave inaccurate results. Some early versions of the test couldn't distinguish between the new coronavirus and water. Private companies might have offered better tests, and more of them, but that wasn't allowed. The World Health Organization even released information on how to make such tests, but our government still said no. Instead, all tests must go through the government's cumbersome approval process. That takes months. Or years. [bold added]Many are saying Flatten the curve! now, but a different slogan should inform any post mortem: The CDC said no. At the time when the functionaries staffing this agency should have risen above the desire for prestige in the name of its stated purpose, they chose to protect their turf, rather than our health. Remember this when Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and the like propose to make every aspect of the medical sector resemble the CDC, by taking over the rest of it. Set aside the whole question of whether it is right for the government to run an industry. (It isn't.) Government officials are not gods. Like us, they have limited knowledge, they can make mistakes, and they can succumb to the desire to look good. This example should make it apparent that it is foolish to place so much power over our lives into the hands of a few. A free, decentralized medical sector, with numerous talented individuals -- competing to profit by solving difficult and important problems -- sounds much better by the day. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. Whether out of prudence or government compulsion, many are having to figure out working from home for the first time. Accordingly, there has been a veritable avalanche of such advice lately. This brings to mind two things: (1) The utter confusion anyone interested in nutrition advice will feel when he learns that everyone has an opinion on the subject and everyone apparently disagrees about it; and (2) the saying, "The man with two watches never knows what time it is." The situation isn't hopeless, but one must read between the lines to profit. I'll use as examples, two writers who each have a couple of decades of such experience under their belts -- and yet give advice that is prima facie diametrically opposed. The first is commentator Robert Tracinski, who offers what he calls "counterintuitive" advice for those who "want to enjoy" telecommuting. The second is San Francisco-based tech writer Kieren McCarthy of the UK-based Register. McCarthy's advice sounds much more like what Tracinski calls "typical," and summarizes as follows: I, too, have a standing desk, but I don't use it all the time. (Image by Jackie Chiu, via Unsplash, license.) It usually runs somewhere along these lines: make a separate and closed-off space just for work, keep a regular 9-to-5 work schedule, and get dressed and ready in the morning the same as you would if you were heading to the office. I'm sure this sort of advice will be useful to a lot of people -- but on the other hand, I've been doing this for 25 years, and I routinely violate every single one of those rules. In fact, being able to violate those rules, flagrantly and repeatedly, is the whole attraction of working on the internet. [link omitted]Here's part of the piece from The Register as an example: If you have a spare room, this is the time, right now, to turn it into a home office. It doesn't have to be Instagrammable, it just has to have: a desk, a chair, a powerstrip, Wi-Fi reception or some networking, and dedicated space for work stuff. Move the bed out the way, or against the wall. If you have kids, having a clearly defined space that they know is not to be touched or played in is going to save your sanity.See? I can almost hear you saying, Check. Check. Check. Those approaching this the first time are apt to drown in details, and perhaps miss out on McCarthy's reasons, stated or implied -- like sanity, or not having to set yourself up to be able to work when you need to work. The latter is easy for a veteran like Tracinski to not mention: The reason he can be productive when he lounges on a couch with his son is that the tools he needs are already on his laptop and (as he notes) he has trained his son not to bug him when he is working. (He isn't so much "relaxing" boundaries between work and family life as he is refining them.) The point I want to make becomes clearer with the subject of phone calls. McCarthy says: [T]ry to find a good space to make and receive calls where other people's noise can't spill over. A bathroom may seem like a good idea but the acoustics may drive you, and the other people on the call, crazy.And Tracinski? Talk to other people when you need to, not when you're forced to... [M]ost of us have probably worked at some point in a cubicle farm, an arrangement seemingly designed for the purpose of refuting this idea. Note to office design experts: "collaboration" is not fostered by overhearing everybody else's phone calls, getting dragged into random conversations, and trying to tune out other people's conversations. [format edits]Now, they don't sound so different. McCarthy is focused on helping his reader get a job done in circumstances new to him; Tracinski is focused on the advantages the situation offers. It is important to bear this in mind when reading such advice: What is the author focused on? McCarthy isn't saying "set up your own noisy cubicle at home," any more than Tracinski is saying, "to hell with phone calls." Bearing this in mind, both authors make great points. McCarthy will help the novice get up to speed, by mentioning details many people won't think of -- while Tracinski will remind the seasoned veterans that they have the power and room to improvise, and promise the newcomer that things can really improve. There is another saying all of this reminds me of, and it is to the effect that a great artist knows when to "break the rules." The saying is borne in part out of a common misunderstanding of rules as customs, or as commandments from on high, rather than attempts to apply principles to kinds of circumstances. McCarthy and Tracinski are both professional writers. Phone calls are part of the job and obviously work best when everyone can hear each other. But they also break concentration. McCarthy reminds us that we need a good place for calls so we can be efficient and effective; Tracinski reminds us that we can better dictate when they occur at home, removing a serious disadvantage (broken concentration) that they bring. So, sure, at most jobs, there is a "rule" that one has to be available for calls at all time. But that might merely be a custom or a ham-handed, one-size-fits-all policy. Does one really need to answer every call right away, or does being "available" for calls mean returning a communication at some reasonable time? If the latter is true, one might be able to apply that more rational standard from home than in an office setting. Many, if not most workplace practices can be reexamined and improved upon this way, especially at home. Working from home offers different kinds of challenges to the newcomer and to the veteran alike, but with challenges can come rewards. -- CAVLink to Original
  14. In part because there is so much news, and in part to free my mind up to deal with other things, I'm putting out this roundup of what I regard as the most interesting or useful news about the pandemic that I have encountered recently. 1. At Medium, epidemiologist Amesh Adalja outlines "A Path Forward," leading off in part with: Plans of prolonged, enforced confinement aimed at preserving life at any cost are premised on a misunderstanding of human life and what makes it worth living. When discussing treatment options with a patient, I often invoke the concept of "quality of life". Patients regularly choose to take on some risk to their longevity in order to preserve or enhance their quality of life. Individual preferences and shared decision-making with physicians guide medical decision making and also should apply to each individual's decision regarding the degree of social distancing that is appropriate for them. A degraded quality of life, particularly over time, itself generates its own risks of death. If the lockdown is prolonged, we can expect increases in deaths from cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, mental illness, and substance abuse. How many cancers will metastasize while colonoscopies or biopsies deemed "elective" will be postponed? Quality of life consists largely in the ability to engage in the activities that make up our lives, and central to these activities is work... [bold added]Dr. Adalja also summarizes what got us to this predictable (!) point, and what we can and ought to do going forward, given our current social, political, and economic arrangements. 2. Philosopher-energy advocate Alex Epstein summarizes the contents of his latest Power Hour podcast as follows: ...I discuss four ideas you won't hear anywhere else: The increasingly prevalent COVID-19 policy of indefinite universal isolation is immoral and un-American Climate change fixation blinds us to real threats like COVID-19 A Green New Deal would be fatal in the fight against COVID-19 The Corona Recession is a mild preview of the Green New Deal I also discuss a fifth idea that's even more controversial. [bold added]Each one of the four ideas listed above deserves much wider circulation, and I look forward to hearing Epstein flesh them out. I have embedded the video below. 3. Medicinal chemist Derek Lowe comments on the current state of clinical trials for various COVID-19 therapeutics, including a very promising-sounding re-purposing of two already-existing drugs: Finally, there are some potentially very interesting results [(PDF)] from France on hydroxychloroquine. That compound (and chloroquine itself) have been the subject of much interest, and these are the first trial data that I've seen. A number of things need to be said up front: first of all, this was a small trial. Second, it was open-label. Third, there were significant patient drop-outs in the treatment group, making the sample even smaller. Under normal circumstances, to be honest, I would be looking askance at this, but (1) these ain't normal circumstances and (2) the effect size seen in this work may be significant. In summary, 26 patients were enrolled in the treatment group, with 16 controls. Six patients dropped out of the treatment group: 3 went to the ICU, one dropped out due to nausea, one left the hospital (apparently recovered?) and one died. No one left the control group. There were 15 male and 21 female patients. 6 of them were asymptomatic, 22 had upper respiratory symptoms, and 8 had lower respiratory tract symptoms (all of those had confirmed pneumonia by imaging). The treatment group got 200mg of hydroxychloroquine sulfate three times a day, and six of those patients were also given 500mg azithromycin in addition. The paper says that this was the deal with possible bacterial superinfection, and the lead author also makes mention of possible antiviral effects of the compound. I hadn't heard of these -- azithromycin is, of course, more famous as an antibacterial -- but there seems to be a pretty established literature on this, although the mechanism doesn't seem to be well worked out. [bold added, links in original]Confirmation of these results would be fantastic news, and in the modern, very positive sense of the term. 4. Finally, it comes as a relief that the Wall Street Journal and a few other prominent voices have called for an end to the massive economic shutdowns we have been using to avert a hospital capacity crisis. Unlike the positive case Dr. Adalja makes for work, and the method of weighing risks (above), the piece focuses on the unseen destruction the shutdowns are wreaking, and I think it is effective in its own way: Yet the costs of this national shutdown are growing by the hour, and we don't mean federal spending. We mean a tsunami of economic destruction that will cause tens of millions to lose their jobs as commerce and production simply cease. Many large companies can withstand a few weeks without revenue but that isn't true of millions of small and mid-sized firms. Even cash-rich businesses operate on a thin margin and can bleed through reserves in a month. First they will lay off employees and then out of necessity they will shut down. Another month like this week and the layoffs will be measured in millions of people. The deadweight loss in production will be profound and take years to rebuild. In a normal recession the U.S. loses about 5% of national output over the course of a year or so. In this case we may lose that much, or twice as much, in a month. [bold added]The article closes, in part, by noting that "[N]o society can safeguard public health for long at the cost of its overall economic health." I agree. -- CAV Link to Original
  15. Four Things 1. A month or so ago, my daughter was in tears after we got off the "mine train" roller-coaster ride at Disney World. She had left her Minnie Mouse ears behind. Figuring that this happens all the time -- and remembering that we didn't even have to ask for a second turn when a rotating car on a different ride had gotten stuck -- I figured this would be an easy problem to fix. I told the gate attendant what had happened and she sent us with her assistant back to the debarkation point. We got the ears back almost instantly. I am grateful, and happy to pass word of this as an example of a company that understands from the top down that goodwill is worth far more all around than a few extra bucks from selling a second set of ears. Thanks for a great trip, Disney! Here's hoping for a quick return to better times. 2. Two or three years ago, I told my daughter about her first kiss. I was there in the operating room, and she had just been swaddled and set down. She was asleep and so tiny that the only place I could kiss her was on her forehead. Ever since then, she has insisted on kissing me on the forehead before bed, and letting me kiss her forehead in return. 3. Fast forward a few years and remember that little pitchers have big ears. A fault of mine is that I have trouble mixing people and mornings. I tend towards impatience, particularly with being told anything I think it should be obvious that I know. A once-favorite phrase of mine in such times was, "I gather." One day, I heard my daughter use this on Mrs. Van Horn. It was funny out of context and in the sense that she is temperamentally like me in many ways. But I also didn't like the way that sounded and decided to watch myself better after that. After quarreling with his sister, my son crafted a nastygram to her. We scolded him, of course. But I do have to say there was quality in the artwork. Are these nasty faces not well-done? 4. My son, now six, is inquisitive and not shy about taking the initiative -- with all the blessings and curses that implies. In other words, there's no telling what I might find him doing if I leave a room with him in it for long. One day after Halloween, I heard the beeps of buttons being pushed on the microwave. I was the only adult around, and it was too soon for comfort after Mrs. Van Horn had taught the kids how to use the microwave. Further investigation revealed that my son was conducting an "experiment" on a Starburst candy. -- CAV Link to Original
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