Tamping Down Little Dictators

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

"Evil HR Lady" Suzanne Lucas opens a column about a new overtime regulation:

A few weeks ago, a friend commented on an article about the new overtime regulations that are going into effect on December 1, 2016. These regulations say that to be an exempt employee (not eligible for overtime), you will have to earn $47,476 per year ($913 per week), a huge jump from the current $23,000. She said that it was about time, and that she was tired of these horrible managers taking advantage of their employees.

Fast forward a few weeks, and this same friend who had praised the new regulations now starts complaining. Her boss is making her track her hours. She has to come in at a certain time and cannot clock in early or late. She can no longer run to a doctor's appointment during the day without either losing pay or deducting it from her PTO bank. She was upset. She just wants to be treated like a professional! What happened? [links in original, bold added]
If it weren't for the fact that we are all affected by this law (and the precedent it sets), it would be comical to see this fool getting exactly what she deserves, but it isn't. Those of us who realize that flexible hours are a two-way street and want the freedom to accept or reject them are losing this choice. (This turns out to include telecommuting.)

Perhaps there is no cure for what I call the "dictator fantasy," but perhaps there is something we can do to blunt its effects. The next time I hear someone fantasize about "managers" (or any other "bad" guy du jour) "getting theirs", I plan to consider how that might blow back on them and ask how that suits them. Perhaps, if more of us who don't use the government as a substitute brain help those who do, we will tamp down on all the foolish clamoring for the government to dictate every aspect of our lives. This is no substitute for broader cultural activism, but perhaps it can buy some time by slowing down the rate of growth of government "planning."

-- CAV

A Dangerous Mockery

Monday, September 26, 2016

The latest round of race riots, this one in Charlotte, turns out to have been sparked in part by the blatant mischaracterization of a justified police shooting and deliberately escalated by non-residents. Emily Zanotti of Heat Street notes of the incident reported to have sparked the "outrage:"

Yes, the journalists who've come to North Carolina (just for a few days) are determined to expose police officers as abject racists, and to focus their institutional biases on Charlotte and the South as a whole. They also keep omitting, rather conveniently, the key detail in the Charlotte story: the officer who shot Keith Lamont Scott is also black.
Another detail about the shooting that has gone missing is that the police confiscated a firearm from Scott. Zanotti further elaborates on the usual tired stereotypes about the South "really" being run by bigoted white troglodytes and reverting to its "true" character -- despite the massive cultural change that has largely reshaped the region over the past few decades.

Regarding the rioters themselves, a blogger at Zero Hedge notes something that has been going on since Ferguson: many of the most violent "protesters" are arriving from elsewhere to create mayhem. He quotes from a CNN interview with a local police union spokesman:
"This is not Charlotte that's out here. These are outside entities that are coming in and causing these problems. These are not protestors, these are criminals."

"We've got the instigators that are coming in from the outside. They were coming in on buses from out of state. If you go back and look at some of the arrests that were made last night. I can about say probably 70% of those had out-of-state IDs. They're not coming from Charlotte." [bold in original]
The post goes further to finger George Soros as bankrolling this travesty, but it is clear that many journalists are dupes at best and accomplices at worst.

For a more comprehensive analysis of the many deceits behind this mockery of a real civil rights movement, I refer you to Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute, whose book, The War on Cops, is a must-read.

-- CAV

9-24-16 Hodgepodge

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Worse Than Watching Hollywood Depict One's Field

Pharma blogger Derek Lowe reacts to an announcement by Microsoft that it intends to "solve the problem of cancer" within five or ten years:

I have beaten on this theme many times on the blog, so for those who haven't heard me rant on the subject, let me refer you to this post and the links in it. Put shortly -- and these sorts of stories tend to put actual oncology researchers in a pretty short mood -- the cell/computer analogy is too facile to be useful. And that goes, with chocolate sprinkles on it, for all the subsidiary analogies, such as DNA/source code, disease/bug, etc. One one level, these things do sort of fit, but it's not a level that you can get much use out of. DNA is much, much messier than any usable code ever written, and it's messier on several different levels and in a lot of different ways. These (which include the complications of transcriptional regulation, post-transcriptional modification, epigenetic factors, repair mechanisms and mutation rates, and much, much, more), have no good analogies (especially when taken together) in coding. And these DNA-level concerns are only the beginning! That's where you start working on an actual therapy; that's what we call "Target ID", and it's way, way back in the process of finding a drug. So many complications await you after that -- you can easily spend your entire working life on them, and many of us have. [links in original]
Lowe does note something Microsoft could do that would help along cancer research, but I agree that the company "should just go and try it and report back when something interesting comes out of it, rather than beginning by making a big noise in the newspapers."

Weekend Reading

"[G]overnment puts productive people into a lose-lose situation by offering subsidies in the first place." -- Michael Hurd, in "Trump Legally Used Tax Breaks" at Newsmax

"[L]ittle kids can't reason like adults, but this doesn't mean they're mindless." -- Michael Hurd, in "To Spank or Not to Spank" at The Delaware Wave

It's Not Just Me: iTunes Is Rubbish

From my first attempt to use it, I thought iTunes was garbage. But I am a bit of an oddball when it comes to computers, and my knowledge about them has plenty of holes. So I am always willing to take my own conclusions with a bit of salt. That said, it looks like my impression of iTunes was accurate, based on the observations of a long-time user, who concludes:
At this point, whatever the causes of the product problems with iTunes and related iOS apps -- feature scope, management, team structure, etc. -- we can be pretty sure that the only 'solution' will appear when this software achieves end-of-life, the same way that the mystery of how to set recording time on VCRs was finally solved by their obsolescence.
Way back when the iPod was the Bright Shiny New, I received one as a gift and was astounded at how difficult it was to (figure out how to?) simply move audio files around from one device to the other. I cast about for better alternatives in pretty short order, ultimately going so far as to replace its firmware so I could completely avoid iTunes.

-- CAV

Friday Four

Friday, September 23, 2016

1. My three-year-old son has lately incorporated a large "family," as he calls it, into his bedtime routine. They -- or most of them, anyway -- are pictured below.

Every evening, Little Man brings them upstairs, and every morning, he takes them downstairs. The biggest are the adults, then are the kids, and then, the tiny, oddly-shaped one -- there is also a Mickey -- are the pets. He piles them all into his bed at night and, somehow, manages to sleep.

One morning this week, in the process of helping him collect his mice, I found something I had no idea was in our possession: a small, round, stuffed Mickey. I'll call it a Mickey-ball for lack of a better term. Once we had everything, including this new addition, downstairs, I started doing what I often do with balls: dribbled it like a soccer ball.

"Don't kick him! He's my baby," said Little Man, immediately reminding me by contrast of his older sister's games of "Hello Kitty soccer."

2. Intrigued by a claim that the man who built Umami Burger wasn't afraid to tell someone his idea was stupid, I ended up finding the following amusing lesson learned:
I learned that the manager you hire at restaurant number two is not going to be the manager who oversees five locations. I had one guy who was great, but he had absolutely no systems or organization. One day, there was a rat, and he volunteered to sleep in the restaurant with a BB gun to shoot it. How's that going to scale?
The burger chain hasn't made it to my neck of the woods, yet, but it sounds like it's right up my alley. I'll keep an eye out.

3. A Belgian town I visited about a decade and a half ago (scroll down for a photo) has just installed a crowd-sourced beer pipeline from a brewery to a bottling plant on the coast:
Backers are to be rewarded "with free beer for life in proportion to their contribution," Mr. Vanneste said. "For example, someone that only made a small investment will get maybe a pack of beer every year on his birthday. But someone who paid the maximum amount may receive up to one bottle of beer a day for the rest of his or her life."
I love this example of privately-funded infrastructure.

4. No! The "Frankenbroom" curling scandal isn't some fevered dream out of South Park. It's real:
I watched as two-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist, Canadian Ben Hebert, scrubbed the ice in front of a stone with a furious rhythm. Hebert, along with fellow athletes -- and there is no doubt, curling requires a remarkable degree of athleticism and finesse -- took turns at sweeping, directed by the rather insistent voice blaring out of the public address system.

An array of sensors was positioned on the ice, including a laser scanner that built a detailed picture of the ice surface each time the brush passed. Other sensors were attached to stones to measure their distance, path, speed, temperature, acceleration and rotation.

Periodically, an instrumented broom was given to the athletes to capture the pressure being applied to the ice, as well as the frequency of the sweeping action.
Interestingly, the advent of the new brushes caused people to start "to apply some serious science to how sweeping works," and come up with better techniques that also work with old-style brushes, hence the need to study the matter before making rule changes.

-- CAV


Thursday, September 22, 2016

From an article interesting on the merits of its major subject, "Why Fruits and Veggies Are So Crazy Cheap in Chinatown," also comes the following interesting revelation:

[Author Valerie] Imbruce knows shoppers often equate low prices with exploitation, but that isn't what she saw on the more than 75 farms she visited. The farmers, she said, were pleased to be growing for the Chinatown wholesalers because they could cultivate an array of crops, leading to economic and agronomic stability.

"Some said it was the best situation they'd had in a long time," she said.
This now-common -- and wrong -- stereotype about capitalism reminds me of "A Hippie Discovers Economics, and You'll Never Guess What Happens Next!," which discusses a sign at a farmer's market that went viral some time back.

-- CAV

Do Kids Need a Little Boredom?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

As if raising a child doesn't already provide enough opportunities to second-guess yourself, changing times can do the same. That's what an article about a trend I have noticed and question reminds me of. Writing at Quartz, Olivia Goldhill questions the practice -- for which there also seems to be a lot of pressure -- of scheduling every moment of a child's life:

There are activities and summer camps galore to fill children's time and supply much needed childcare when kids are out of school. But psychologists and child development experts suggest that over-scheduling children during the summer is unnecessary and could ultimately keep kids from from discovering what truly interests them.

"Your role as a parent is to prepare children to take their place in society. Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy," says Lyn Fry, a child psychologist in London with a focus on education. "If parents spend all their time filling up their child's spare time, then the child's never going to learn to do this for themselves." [links dropped]
I fondly remember my long summers at home and am already concerned about my kids not getting the same in our two-professional household. Although I can't replace that time, I will resist the urge to overschedule and will remember the list Fry suggests later in the article.

-- CAV

Zapping Verbal Tics

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Melody Wilding of Forbes writes a good article about how to communicate more professionally at work, but its title fails to do it justice. Wilding's "Ban These Words From Your Vocabulary to Sound More Confident at Work" does indeed cover some words and phrases, but it also discusses other ways people (usually women) undermine their own professional credibility when speaking or writing. Here's an example of a common practice that I find particularly annoying, even in a non-professional setting:

"That is like, so great!"

Talking like Shoshanna from Girls -- using habits like uptalk or using "Valley girl" jargon -- can distract your audience from what you're saying. A common indicator of this "vocal fry" [sic] is raising your voice at the end of statements. This can indicate uncertainty, make you appear hesitant, and create a lack of trust among your audience. The solution isn't to learn to talk like a man, but to find ways to communicate more clearly so that your language habits don't detract from your message.

How to Quit: Try this technique called kinesthetic anchoring: hold one arm straight out in front of you. Begin reading aloud from a book or magazine. Whenever you reach a period, lower your arm down to your side, and drop your pitch at the same time. Your arm movement will trigger your voice to mimic its drop. [first link added, second in original]
I have a tendency to notice things like this spreading in the culture, even as many seem to obliviously adopt them through psychological mirroring. And yes, a decade after I first noticed this, my mind still responds with something like, "That's not a question," or "Why do you feel the need to make an emotional bond?", or "Can't what you say stand on its own?" I try to get past this, but the author is correct that it imposes more cognitive work on the audience when the goal is to have it concentrate on what is being said.

My satisfaction at seeing someone point out an annoying practice and, better yet, motivate and prescribe a cure, is far outweighed by the fact that I found the rest of the article thought-provoking and, yes, useful. I would add that the question, "Does that make sense?" can, though well-intended, also come across as a dig that a point should be obvious. And I myself have to watch out for qualifying things I say. I think the piece is well worth a read.

-- CAV