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Reblogged:Friday Hodgepodge

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Four Things

1. From a Tax Protester FAQ comes the following good analogy regarding words like frivolous when coming from a judge:
Imagine a group of professional scientists who have met to discuss important issues of physics and chemistry, and then someone comes into their meeting and challenges them to prove that the earth revolves around the sun. At first, they might be unable to believe that the challenger is serious. Eventually, they might be polite enough to explain the observations and calculations which lead inevitably to the conclusion that the earth does indeed revolve around the sun. Suppose the challenger is not convinced, but insists that there is actually no evidence that the earth revolves around the sun, and that all of the calculations of the scientists are deliberately misleading. At that point, they will be jaw-droppingly astounded, and will no longer be polite, but will evict the challenger/lunatic from their meeting because he is wasting their time.
And later:
So, when a judge calls an argument "ridiculous" or "frivolous," it is absolutely the worst thing the judge could say. It means that the person arguing the case has absolutely no idea of what he is doing, and has completely wasted everyone's time. It doesn't mean that the case wasn't well argued, or that judge simply decided for the other side, it means that there was no other side. The argument was absolutely, positively, incompetent. The judge is not telling you that you that you were "wrong." The judge is telling you that you are out of your mind. [italics in original, bold dropped]
I am fortunate that nobody I know and care about is a tax protester; but I'd go there if that were the case. To be clear, this is a site about law regarding taxes. The propriety of taxation and the proper role of government are, by the author's admission, beyond its scope.

2. Recently, energy advocate Alex Epstein added a new section, Snappy Answers to Energy Questions, to his excellent Energy Talking Points web site. A good example is below:
Image by Michael Held, via Unsplash, license.
Q: Aren't the CA wildfires proof that we need to switch to green energy as fast as possible?

A: The CA *blackouts* are proof that we need to *stop* switching to unreliable green energy. CA wildfires are proof that we need to remove huge amounts of excess fuel from CA forests.3 [format and hyperlink modified]
For anyone as yet unfamiliar with this site, here is a relevant quote from the overview:
... I will be sharing what I think are the best talking points, along with references, on every major energy and environmental issue.

You are welcome to use these talking points however you wish. (Each is the length of a Tweet, so Twitter is one great place.) Where appropriate, I'd request that you attribute them to me and direct people to EnergyTalkingPoints.com.
Epstein further elaborates that he is interested in interviews, corrections, and helping interested political candidates.

Please consider spreading the word.

3. Look carefully at any innovation, and you will find an interesting story involving the problem the creator wanted to solve -- and rarely, a bit more than you bargained for! The origin story of youtube-dl is, happily of the more innocuous variety. The author needed a way to work around a very slow and unreliable internet connection:
Watching any YouTube video on the kind of connection I described above was certainly painful, as you can imagine. Any video that was moderately big would take ages to download. For example, a short 10 MB video would take, if you do the math, 40 minutes to download, making streaming impossible. A longer and higher-quality video would take several hours and render the connection unusable for other purposes while you waited for it to be available, not to mention the possibility of the connection being interrupted and having to start the download process again. Now imagine liking a specific video a lot after watching it and wanting to watch it a second or third time. Going through that process again was almost an act of masochism.

This situation made me interested in the possibility of downloading the videos I was trying to watch: if the video was interesting, having a copy meant I could watch it several times easily. Also, if the downloader was any good, maybe the download process could be resumed if the connection was interrupted, as it frequently was.
The software solves a different version of the same problem for me. Most podcasters I follow post to YouTube, but I listen to podcasts almost exclusively when I am driving -- and most of this is in areas with spotty cell coverage. By planning ahead, I can download whatever I want at home and send the file to my phone while I do have a connection.

4. Regulars here know that I am a fan of Cal Newport, who frequently calls out misuse of modern technology as a cause of distraction. I agree, but have always also disliked something I don't recall him talking about: overreliance on graphical user interfaces (GUIs). The following, from a 1996 paper -- written about when I began using computers frequently -- sums up my objection better than I ever did:
The see-and-point principle states that users interact with the computer by pointing at the objects they can see on the screen. It's as if we have thrown away a million years of evolution, lost our facility with expressive language, and been reduced to pointing at objects in the immediate environment. Mouse buttons and modifier keys give us a vocabulary equivalent to a few different grunts. We have lost all the power of language, and can no longer talk about objects that are not immediately visible (all files more than one week old), objects that don't exist yet (future messages from my boss), or unknown objects (any guides to restaurants in Boston).
To be clear, I don't object to GUIs as such, and never have. But I was fortunate enough to have learned on Unix first, and experienced a sharp drop in flexibility when the lab I worked in bought some Windows NT machines. I quickly realized that I liked the mix of point-and-click vs. command line I had used on my Silicon Graphics terminal better than that on the NT. I knew scripting repetitive tasks was possible and not terribly difficult, so I did as much work as I could on Unix machines and adopted Linux soon after it came out. Just that saved me enormous amounts of time and probably spared me carpal tunnel syndrome. I am not sure I would have discovered such an advantage so quickly if all I knew was Apple or Windows: I was so unfamiliar with computers that I described myself back then as effectively a technophobe.

-- CAV

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