Blinding Headlights in the Name of 'Safety'

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

At Car and Driver is a short piece by a man who fell in love with a recent Porsche model for a reason he never saw coming: its headlights.

As we see from the matrix LED headlamp of a 2015 Audi, this technology has been around for at least five years. (Image by Mario von Berg, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)
Each of the 911's lighting units includes 84 individually controlled LEDs that allow the car to continuously morph the pattern of its beams. When a car approaches in the oncoming lane, the 911's headlights dim around it while leaving the rest of the pattern bright. The other driver doesn't get blinded, but you still have blazing lights on your side. It's a wonder to behold. During nighttime drives in the Turbo S, I never had another driver flick their high-beams at me in annoyance -- which sometimes happens with cars that simply have bright LED low-beams... [bold added]
That sounds really neat, on top of the fact that I have wondered for years why -- as regulated as our car industry is -- the obnoxious American version of LED headlights has been allowed at all.

My best guess was that there was some kind of environmentalist requirement for LEDs, which require less energy than incandescent bulbs. After all, regulations often prioritize fashionable pet agendas like that over the rights of human beings that proper law is supposed to be protecting, so why not?

The truth surprised even me:
Porsche's adaptive lights are clearly a major improvement over the simple high-beam or low-beam setup mandated for the U.S. So why can you get them in Munich but not Milwaukee? At issue is Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108, which has defined our headlights since 1967. And ol' FMVSS 108 set out rules that only defined high-beams and low-beams... [link omitted]
The article goes on to discuss (and blame) the cumbersome process of updating regulations like this, but the fact that these headlights have been in use in Europe for years is enough to indicate that something is wrong.

I have often noted such rights-respecting alternatives to regulations -- like best practice guidelines set by professional standards bodies -- but never explicitly made the connection that a major advantage could be faster responsiveness to changing technology. (I don't know who handles headlights in the EU, or how, but that is beside the point.)

So there you have it. On top of the government improperly and unnecessarily ruling on such matters, its doing so has, in this case, led directly to less safe safety products entering the market.

-- CAV


Is 'Radical Forgiveness' Another 'Nonviolent Communication?'

Monday, August 03, 2020

A few days ago, I ran across an article at NPR titled, "Why Forgiving Someone Else Is Really About You." Intrigued, I read through it and learned that much of what it discussed came from a book called Radical Forgiveness, by Colin Tipping. (The piece links to a 21-minute show and a worksheet. I have not had a chance to look at either.)

I found two interrelated things within the article interesting: (1) Some of the advice it discusses sounds like it could be good; and (2) the title of the book reminds me of a book, Nonviolent Communication that I read some time back, and found to contain very good advice despite its awful (and arguably misleading) title.

Here is an example of some of the potentially good advice:

Image by Lina Trochez, via Unsplash, license.
Contrary to popular opinion, the practice of forgiveness is not about condoning or making excuses for unfair treatment and other hurtful behaviors. It's not about getting an apology or a show of remorse from the offending party. And despite what's portrayed in films, novels, poems and love songs, it's not necessarily about reconciliation. Granted, reconnecting with loved ones can be a wonderful byproduct of forgiveness, but it's not a requirement or even a goal in some cases -- especially if doing so would subject you to more harm.

"The expanded version of forgiveness that I love to teach is a deep, soul-level letting-go of our pain, our sorrow, our suffering," Holub says. "And we do that because we want to be free. We do that because we want to be healthy and we want to have peace of mind."
The gist of the process, from what I can tell from the article, is to get the negative emotions from past events out of one's system; and then consider the facts of the troubling episode objectively with the aid of one's greater knowledge and experience.

This sounds like a great idea, whether I am interpreting correctly or not. But it does also remind me of something I recall saying about Nonviolent Communication:
The influence of altruism on [Marshall] Rosenberg's thinking was so pervasive that at every level, it was often necessary to think carefully about what made a given point good or bad. This is on top of the fact that the author never defines what he regards as "violent": The closest he ever got was, towards the end of the book, was when he referred to the way most people communicate as, "life-alienating communication" (loc. 3646). So communication is supposed to further "life", but since Rosenberg is an altruist, he skirts around lots of points that would really hit home if expressed in egoistic terms. (Instead, he either misses or evades lots of connections that someone familiar with Ayn Rand's ideas will often make without much effort.) It is somewhat fitting, then, that the author also misses out on a positive title, which might have been something like, Mutually Beneficial Communication.
So I may have stumbled across another Nonviolent Communication. Or not. At a better time, I plan to look into the matter and decide for myself.

In the meantime, if any passer-by is familiar with Radical Forgiveness, I'd be grateful for your thoughts.

-- CAV


Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, July 31, 2020

Four Things

1. An assortment of errands and appointments have allowed me to catch up on a few episodes of Don Watkins's interesting and enjoyable Liberty Unlocked podcast.

Watkins is on a mission to understand how best to aid the cause of liberty by exploring how and why individual human beings decided to take up the fight for freedom. It is hard to do justice to what he accomplishes with this approach in a short recommendation, but I'll try, anyway.

You get to meet real people, one at a time, who are on your side.

You gain insight by seeing the individual paths the participants take to the conclusion that they need freedom. Likewise from their approaches to the problem of promoting freedom. With each interview, you begin to see in more fully real terms the enormous value of freedom for yourself, and the many ways it can appeal to others. Both sides of this equation are important.

These things are valuable, but, again, the thing I like most about the interviews is that it's a little bit like actually meeting the participants.

Today's rancorous, clueless, superficial, politicized culture seems designed to make an individualist feel isolated and completely invisible. If this sounds familiar, I recommend trying this podcast for a very welcome and, yes, necessary change of pace.

Whatever you do, don't just take my word for it.

2. It may be patting my own back, but I deserve it: Good on me for using what I call evolving checklists for nearly everything. A brief trip out of town, as of this morning, will now double as a hurricane evacuation. This happened last year, with a visit from Hurricane Dorian enough of a possibility that I had to get ready for it ahead of a trip across the state. (At least this time, I don't have to worry about the storm following me after I leave: We can just go.)

This time, I already have a fairly comprehensive list of preps and gotchas to work from, based on last year's list.

Part of this Floridian misses the Florida I used to know: The one I sometimes visited. If there was a hurricane coming, I could just stay at home.

3. Some time ago, I learned that the hilarious Science Made Stupid, by Tom Weller is available with his for download in multiple electronic formats. A bonus for me was that I did not know about Weller's Cvltvre Made Stvpid, which is also available.

Image by Renee Comet, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
4. I haven't posted a recipe here in ages, and this one's short, so I might as well pass along this foolproof way to bake potatoes now.

Your ingredients are: baking potatoes, olive oil, koshering salt, and pepper. Here's the executive summary:
  1. Heat oven to 350°.
  2. Thoroughly clean and dry potatoes.
  3. Use a fork to poke small holes all over surface of each potato.
  4. Coat the potato skins with olive oil.
  5. Season the skins with salt and, if desired, pepper.
  6. Bake for 90 minutes.
If you follow the link, you see lots of verbiage before the actual recipe. Credit that verbiage -- which gives reasons for each step -- for getting me to try this recipe, which someone invariably asks for when I make these for anyone new.

"But everybody knows you need the oven on high," you may protest.

No. They do not.

-- CAV


Stossel on SpaceX vs. NASA

Thursday, July 30, 2020

For anyone who suspected NASA was a mess, John Stossel's recent report on America's first space launch in a decade will more than confirm that hunch:

[Aerospace engineer Robert] Zubrin once worked at [government contractor] Lockheed Martin, where he ... discovered a way for a rocket to carry twice as much weight. "We went to management, the engineers, and said, 'Look, we could double the payload capability for 10 percent extra cost.' They said, 'Look, if the Air Force wants us to improve the Titan, they'll pay us to do it!'" [link added]
This is awful, but it wasn't the only time Zubrin was rebuffed for the sin of offering a good idea:
Twenty years ago, at Lockheed Martin, Zubrin had proposed reusable boosters. His bosses told him: "Cute idea. But if we sell one of these, we're out of business."
Damn straight that the SpaceX "flight happened because government was not in charge."

More important than this, Stossel's story, which I highly recommend, also gives hope, in the form of illustrating the positive alternative of private enterprise:
Image by SpaceX, via Unsplash, license.
An Obama administration committee had concluded that launching such a vehicle would take 12 years and cost $36 billion.

But this rocket was finished in half that time -- for less than $1 billion (1/36th the predicted cost).

That's because it was built by Elon Musk's private company, Space X. He does things faster and cheaper because he spends his own money.
Lest that seem incredible, Stossel supplies relevant details, such as that Musk's company saves money ... by re-using rocket boosters.

There couldn't be a better time -- in the middle of a pandemic being aggravated by government meddling -- for such a story to hit the news. First, it confirms our hope that private enterprise will win against the corona virus, and probably sooner rather than later. Second, it should cause us to ask similar questions of other expensive, non-performing creatures of the government, especially the education sector.

-- CAV


How to Choose a Tool

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

In a post cleverly and imperfectly titled, "The Worst Tool for the Job," statistician John Cook discusses, the "advantages of not using the best tool for the job." Here is the broad point:

If you follow this strategy, you'll sometimes waste a little money by buying a cheap tool before buying a good one. But you won't waste money buying expensive tools that you rarely use. And you won't waste money by buying a sequence of incrementally better tools until you finally buy a good one.

The advice above was given in the context of tools you'd find in a hardware store, but I've been thinking about it in the context of software tools. There's something to be said for having crude tools that are convenient for small tasks, and sophisticated tools that are appropriate for big tasks, but not investing much in the middle...
Image by Igor Figueredo, via Unsplash, license.
And the savings will also include time, which works similarly to money here.

Time savings obviously comes into play with time not spent researching the best available tools before obtaining that adequate tool. But there's a subtler point, which a commenter brings up that applies for cases when you know you'll need the tool (or something like it) more than once. On top of being able to get started faster, the adequate tool allows your to learn what you actually need:
The other advantage of this route is that your requirements will become more clear with a subpar tool.

If I buy the subpar tool and use it, it may not meet all my needs. In some cases, these may be needs I did not know I had until I had a tool to build the thing I needed. In this case, the cheap tool helped me define my requirements and helped me learn about what I really need from the object I am building.

Now I am much better equipped to go and buy the correct tool I need. [format edits, bold added]
There is no way, particularly when doing something new, to anticipate every requirement of the job or to know what your best work flow will look like. The adequate tool will indeed let you get to work faster, but it can also lead to saving lots of time and money down the road. Cook's example was of a simple diagram he made for a client, using a simple tool.

He named a well-known tool as possibly the "best" for the job, but it's possible a simpler tool than that would be better for his particular use case, because of cost (assuming he doesn't need every feature of the more common tool), ease-of use, or some other reason.

It's easy to want to "get it right the first time" and it can be fun to research tools. But sometimes, ignorance stands in the way of the perfect start many of us like to imagine. And there can be satisfaction in finding a good tool few know about, or that is much better for a purpose than the answer that even people in the know might give.

-- CAV


The Mother of Franchising

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Over at The Hustle is a piece about Martha Matilda Harper, who invented the modern hair salon and the franchising business model. These she accomplished despite starting from poverty, and having to defy social conventions.

I am very impressed with how creatively she turned problems into opportunities along the way:

Harper's own hair figured prominently in her advertising. (Image by unknown photographer, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain due to date (pre 1900).)
In the beginning, business was slow. Her high-end clientele -- still insistent on home visits -- were opposed to the idea of going to a public salon. As a trailblazer of the modern salon, Harper realized she'd have to change the behavior of her customers.

Soon, she got a break.

When a music teacher next door to her business mentioned he had no waiting room, Harper offered up her salon. Women began to wander in to get hair treatments while waiting for their children to finish their piano lessons.

At a time when customer service was still something of a foreign concept, Harper reinvested profits in enriching her clients' experience, inventing the first reclining shampoo chair and a special sink with a unique cut-out for the neck.

Word of this exotic new salon concept spread among Rochester's elite. In short order, the 3-chair shop was bustling with prominent women from other cities, too. [link omitted]
Her approach to expanding her business was equally impressive: She insisted on petitions from areas that wanted new locations and trained her operators thoroughly in her methods, among other things.

The piece is a bit under 1800 words and, for those who find the story gripping enough, it points to her biography, Martha Matilda Harper and the American Dream, by Jane Pitt.

-- CAV


Shutdowns and Unions vs. Women and Children

Monday, July 27, 2020

Back in the pre-scientific days of medicine, diagnosis and cure were largely the province of quacks. Even so, it was still possible to know when a patient was sick and what that might mean if his condition did not improve.

That's how I think of a Politico interview of economist Betsey Stevenson I encountered this morning: I disagree with much of its diagnosis and practically all of its suggested cure, but I think it does well to raise the problems our government is causing or worsening by its poor response to the pandemic.

For those who might not know already, I agree with Ben Bayer and Onkar Ghate, both of the Ayn Rand Institute, that we could have and should have "maintain[ed] a free society while effectively addressing" this epidemic. I also regard the school closures as unnecessary in the first place and am appalled that reopening the schools is even a question at this point.

So, while I agree that the pandemic would have been a problem no matter what, I regard what Stevenson (rightly) calls the "child care crisis" as largely caused and perpetuated by government policy. First, our government should have never imposed the policy of indefinite universal home incarceration that has put so many small businesses (including daycares) at mortal risk. Second, as soon as it became evident that young children neither suffer badly from nor spread this illness, the schools should have reopened. (There has been ample time to plan for this. Instead teachers' unions are fighting this tooth and nail.)

Within that context, I offer a couple of choice quotes from Stevenson's observations:

Image by BBC Creative, via Unsplash, license.
[H]ow terrible would it be ... if we lost all our child care and our schools? ... That would leave not only the current working generation unable to go back to work in the same way, it would mean that we are not preparing the next generation so that they have skills.

...

... [C]aregiving responsibilities erode a woman's career, it takes a long time. It's about not accepting the job that's going to push you further in your career, because it's going to conflict with your family. It's about taking part-time work so that you get more time at home. It's about choosing the job that has the most flexibility. It's about choosing the job with the shortest commute. Those are the trade-offs. And those trade-offs end up giving them less opportunity, fewer opportunities for promotions or raises. That's why you see much bigger gender gaps for women by age 50 than you saw at age 30. These things just happen slowly over time. Even though the pandemic has come as a big crisis and we saw the labor market crater, I think the impact of the child care crisis on women's outcomes is going to be felt over the next decade.
The good news, such as it is, is that we are finally seeing a discussion of some of the long-term problems our government's un-American and ineffective pandemic response is causing.

The bad news -- and it looks worse every time I go back to that interview -- is that so many people see everything in purely collectivistic terms, including the impacts and, worse, how to mitigate them. The latter includes fighting these effects of central planning with ... even more central planning.

It isn't just that "the economy" is being dragged down, though it is; or that children are losing out on their educations, though they are; or that parents are losing out on opportunities; though they are. We are speaking of countless individuals suffering far more than necessary, and for a much longer time in many cases, because our government has, from the get-go, failed to do what it ought regarding this new disease, and actively made the problems it can cause much worse.

Admitting a problem may be half of the battle, but what a half still remains!

-- CAV