Friday Four

Friday, July 03, 2015

Editor's Note: Due to family obligations, comment moderation will be very slow or, possibly, delayed until after the holiday weekend.

1. Word from HBL is that the Wall Street Journal has published an excerpt from the soon-to-be-released Ideal, by Ayn Rand:

Ideal tells the story of a screen actress who is accused of murder and visits six of her most devoted fans to ask for help. In 1934, when she was in her late 20s, Rand first wrote "Ideal" as a work of fiction.

But Rand was dissatisfied with it and set it aside. The same year, she rewrote it as a play. The play didn't have its New York premiere until 2010 -- 66 years after she wrote it.

The original version was rediscovered in 2012 by Richard Ralston, publishing manager at the Ayn Rand Institute. (At 135 pages, it's been called a novelette and a novella. The publisher is now billing it as a "short novel.")
I am pretty sure I have the play, but since I don't really enjoy reading plays, I have not read it. I look forward to the novelette/novella/short novel.

2. Petr Cech, widely regarded as one of the five best goalkeepers in the world, has signed for Arsenal. Chelsea Captain John Terry had this to say about his former teammate when speculation about the move mounted:
Terry, who also praised Cech's "unbelievable" professionalism after he was relegated to the bench, believes the Czech would bring a dramatic improvement to their league rivals. "If they do get him, he will strengthen them for sure," Terry told TalkSport. "He will save them 12 or 15 points a season. Petr was an unbelievable professional last year. When you get left out of the team it can be hard to accept but when he came in he was exceptional.

"He deserves a lot of credit for that. We understand he wants to play first-team football but nobody wants to see him leave the club. He's going to be sorely missed and will improve any side he goes to." [link dropped]
12-15 points is, by the way, like winning four or five games of the 38-game season. Cech, still at the peak of his powers, wanted to start and wished to keep his family in London. Chelsea's owner permitted the move out of gratitude for his many past contributions to Chelsea's success, and against the wishes of manager Jose Mourinho.

3. Attempting to make sense of some strange pricing at McDonald's, a blogger tipped me off to the existence of a "Chicken McNuggets Theorem":
It turns out, there's a general purpose method of solving problems like these. The Chicken McNuggets theorem states that you can replace 9 and 20 with any two coprime numbers a and b, and the solution to the question is defined by ab - a - b.
I was a math major and worked at McDonald's back when this name for the theorem made sense, but had not heard of it.

4. From another article featuring the Golden Arches comes the following interesting fact about today's beer drinkers:
... The ominous fact is that 44 percent of 21- to 27-year-old drinkers have never tasted Budweiser. They prefer craft beers from microbreweries. A craft brewer is one that ships 6 million or fewer barrels a year. In 2013, craft brewers shipped more than Bud did...
The college kid I mentioned in the preceding item had tasted Budweiser and decided beer wasn't for him. He changed his mind about beer after visiting Germany during the semester abroad he was saving for. Perhaps that kid was ahead of his time.

-- CAV


Today: Removed "Former" from description of John Terry. 

Using, Reserved, On-the-Way

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Jeri Dansky of Unclutterer reminded me of our move from Houston to Boston a few years ago in her very good post on "Organizing a Small Space". Moving from a three-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment with an office, we did it all, from ridding ourselves of two-thirds of our furniture, to using risers so we'd have more under-bed storage space. (We still ended up needing a storage unit during that time!) Probably the thing that our stay in Bean Town made me rethink the most was how I shopped -- also covered by Dansky:

Even if it saves money, you'll probably have to pass on many bulk purchases because you simply won't have room to store what you've bought. Some people manage to find space for a few high-priority bulk purchases (toilet paper, paper towels, cat food cans, etc.) but forego the rest.
Bulk purchases don't save just money: they save time and prevent minor disasters. I continued with cat food, litter, toilet paper, and some baby supplies, but went to what I think of as a "using/reserved/on-the-way" system for most other things I used to bulk purchase, as well as a few new things once I saw how much easier and more effective keeping track of inventories was at making things run smoothly.

A good example of a new item I'd keep in stock this way was our shampoo, which was hard to find in Boston. We'd have a bottle in use, a spare, and, when the in-use bottle ran out, shampoo went onto the grocery list so that we could replace the spare.

Now that we have more space, I do a similar thing for smarter bulk purchasing. We have a small shampoo bottle in use, an "in-use" larger bottle for refilling it, and a spare large bottle. In our current situation, using large bottles saves me time, while the second large bottle insulates me from the haphazard restocking policies of our usual store, which can sometimes go a week or two at a time with certain items out of stock.

-- CAV


Today: Corrected some wording. 

A Better Blogging Work Flow

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

For some time now, I have been working on making the blogging process more efficient and I am happy to say that my efforts have paid off handsomely. A few months ago, I realized that, despite having an unpredictable amount and quality of time for writing in the mornings, I wanted to use it more productively. I had good reason to think that this was possible, since I could sometimes spit out a blog post, from finding something to write about, all the way to the finished product, within thirty to forty-five minutes. Unfortunately, on many days, it took much longer, and this wasn't usually due to the baby not sleeping well or other external factors. Frequent crashes and freezes on Firefox, which I used to use to follow news and to write blog posts turned out to be fortuitous in that regard: These got me to look at every aspect of the blogging process with an eye towards improvement. I have found improvement in several key areas, and will show what these are by comparing how I used to blog to how I blog now.

Below is my old work flow:

  1. Find something to write about. Usually, any of a small handful of sites would quickly lead me to a few candidates that I could then read. Other sources of material included RSS feeds, email from readers, or daily life. Quite often, I'd wake with no idea as to what I would write about. On such mornings, between browser crashes and having to read and think, this step could easily take an hour or so. Finding a better browser helped some, but finding a way to better distribute reading time away from writing time and to "dead times" at other parts of the day helped much more. (I won't be blogging about how I do that: It's neat, but it's also proprietary.)
  2. Think about what I wanted to say. This was often the quickest step, since I react to almost every opinion I encounter. Still, if my reaction was complicated enough or would take a great deal of effort to state, this could lengthen the writing process, result in errors from being in a hurry, or cause me to have to choose between (a) changing to a topic easier to post about, or (b) saying much less than I wanted.
  3. Say it. In blogging, I pretty much do this at the same time as the previous step. However, the physical act of writing merits its own step since it involves using editing software, which I have already discussed at some length.
  4. Publish it. I long ago quit using the Blogger editor to compose posts, and use it only for publishing and minor updates.
As I hinted in a few places above, there was room for improvement. Here is what I do now, for a single post.
  • Find something to write about. This can be done any time I have a few minutes to spare to scan headlines in an HTML file I automatically generate from a few web sites I used to have to visit each morning. (Or, heaven forbid, try to use on a mobile phone.) At any given moment, I can scan all the headlines from the last 24 hours or from a smaller time window of my choice. (Again. Sorry: proprietary.) Sometimes I bookmark a link, and sometimes, I compose a blog post or part of one to edit later. At worst, I already have ideas for posts when I wake. Often, I am able to schedule posts to appear in advance from previous work, as I note below. I save writing time two ways here: First, I don't have to read as much during writing time. Second, I don't have to visit the aggregator sites using a browser at all, and I use either Pale Moon or a text-only browser (e.g., w3m) to dodge protracted page loading/rendering and crashes.
  • Think about what I want to say. Any time I read in advance, ideas can percolate in my mind, allowing me to have a better idea of where to go or a more economical way of getting there. At worst, I do what I used to do.
  • Say it. See previous item on reading in advance and post on Emacs linked above. Note that my previous work flow included using an editor that ran within Firefox. As with hunting for blog fodder, the browser is no longer a source of delay.
  • Publish it. Here, the Blogger suite actually shines. I often write two or more posts in one session and dump them into Blogger, which allows me to schedule their appearance on the blog. This means I can skip blogging entirely, sometimes for a couple of days in a row, and work on other projects. Of course, if I don't feel like blogging on a day a post is due, I usually can crank out a post and have time for something else. My improved efficiiency has also led to me building up a significant pile of "rainy day posts". My initial goal was to have ten ready for publication at any one time, but I believe I have somewhere between a dozen and fifteen. So it is that today, upon oversleeping by two and a half hours, I can still crank out an original post and schedule one for the next day, preserving that time for other things.
It had been quite frustrating for a long time to spit out a blog post one day, only to struggle to get something out the next -- on top of the general unpredicatbility that babies and young children bring to the wee hours. It has been equally rewarding to examine my blogging process for ways I could make it more efficient. That effort took away writing time at first, but it was clearly a very good investment. In fact, I think I have established a habit that will serve me well in many other ways, given that I have already used a few of my new "writing tricks" for entirely different things.

-- CAV

Where the Government's Sandbox Ends

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

With a much-appreciated dash of humor, Walter Williams demolishes a slew of pretenders and their establishment cheerleaders:

There is a condition known as species dysphoria, similar to gender dysphoria. It is a condition in which people think they are animals trapped in human bodies. I've been giving this option some serious thought. I've been thinking of calling myself a springbok trapped in a human body. Some people might argue that I would be in need of psychological treatment. I'd dismiss such a claim as being animalphobic. You might ask, "Williams, why in the world would you want to call yourself a springbok?" I would be doing it for personal gain, just as Rachel Dolezal and Elizabeth Warren benefited by pretending they were of another race. I'd be doing it for tax reasons. I've read a considerable amount of the Internal Revenue Code. It says nothing about wild animals having a federal tax obligation. Were government officials to demand that I, as a springbok, pay taxes, I'd report them to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. [bold added]
Yeah. And Disney Cruises will settle your account with the "faith, hope, and pixie dust" their shows so frequently pitch. It is usually fertile ground for thought to ask oneself why a person (or organization, especially a government) promotes an idea until the moment it threatens to frustrate the acquisition of money.

-- CAV

Five on King vs. Burwell

Monday, June 29, 2015

Over the weekend, I encountered several worthwhile pieces of commentary on the aftermath of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding the Affordable Care Act, variously also known as ObamaCare and SCOTUScare. I'll list them below with brief commentary:

  • In "Worse Than the Supremes: Obamacare Economics", Larry Kudlow, whose title and first paragraph I disagree with, nevertheless provides some excellent economic data on just how bad for American prosperity this law really is. Here's an example:
    University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan argues that Obamacare disincentives will reduce full-time equivalent workers by about 4 million, principally because it phases out health insurance subsidies as worker income increases. In other words, Obamacare is a tax on full-time work. After taxes, people working part time yield more disposable income than they would working full time.

    Mulligan calculates that both explicit and implicit marginal tax rates within Obamacare may rise to nearly 50 percent, as the law discourages those who attempt to climb the ladder of success. National prosperity and economic growth are again the victims. [bold added]
    Kudlow looks at factors like these and low enrollment numbers and forecasts a taxpayer bailout of the program, as if it isn't already costing us enough.
  • Robert Moffitt of the Heritage Foundation argues that the many problems ObamaCare was supposed to address, and which plague the program, are only going to get worse in, "America's Obamacare Nightmare Is Just Beginning". In rebuttal to Barack Obama's pronouncement that the debate is "over", Moffitt says, "In a free society, debate is over only when the people decide it's over."
  • S. E. Cupp makes the interesting argument that last week's ruling actually helped Republicans, politically. In addition to sparing the GOP the need to decide what to do about millions of people losing insurance subsidies:
    Rhetorically, the ruling did Republicans a tremendous favor as well. Republicans running for president would much rather be able to rail against Obamacare than gloat about the loss of health insurance for as many as 8 million Americans.
    This may be, and I have seen a similar argument made for socially conservative Republicans regarding the gay marriage decision, which allows them to say things like, "I am personally opposed, but it's the law of the land." Not having to speak about issues may help Republicans get elected, but a lack of discussion will not aid the cause of liberty. That said, a lack of an undeserved angry backlash against Republicans for a Democrat-created problem could be a fortunate accident.
  • George Will considers the dire implications of the ruling for separation of powers in "Constitutional Overthrow: Roberts' Damaging Obamacare Ruling":
    The most durable damage from Thursday's decision is not the perpetuation of the ACA, which can be undone by what created it -- legislative action. The paramount injury is the court's embrace of a duty to ratify and even facilitate lawless discretion exercised by administrative agencies and the executive branch generally.
    Will concludes that the court has, along with other damage, injured itself with the ruling.
  • Last, but not least, I think the title of a recent post by Amy Peikoff best summarizes the stark contradiction between the Court's biggest two rulings last week: "Homosexuals Can Marry, But Still Can't Control Their Own Healthcare".
The good and bad news is that the incorrect decision, on ObamaCare, will be far easier to correct. The bad news is that it will be up to the Republicans, at least in the near term, to correct it.

-- CAV


Today:  Deleted last sentence.

6-27-15 Hodgepodge

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Call It SCOTUScare?

Via HBL, I learned of the following excerpt from Justice Antonin Scalia's dissenting opinion in King vs. Burwell:

Today's opinion changes the usual rules of statutory interpretation for the sake of the Affordable Care Act. . . . Having transformed two major parts of the law, the Court today has turned its attention to a third. The Act that Congress passed makes tax credits available only on an "Exchange established by the State." This Court, however, concludes that this limitation would prevent the rest of the Act from working as well as hoped. So it rewrites the law to make tax credits available everywhere. We should start calling this law SCOTUScare.
I'm tempted to concur: To call this sloppily-written, unread, not-really-passed "law" "ObamaCare" risks doing too great an honor to a scoundrel who should have been foiled the first time (not counting "passage" by reconciliation), by the very outfit that has now saved it thrice.

Weekend Reading

"... as these avoidances pile up, life can be consumed with irrational fears and become a life not fully lived ..." -- Michael Hurd, in "Irrational Fears + Magical Thinking = Trouble" at The Delaware Wave

"As they spout off, they are admitting, albeit implicitly, that they are not able or willing to figure out what's true anyway, so all that matters is that they look like they know what they're talking about." -- Michael Hurd, in "Those Delightful Contrarian Know-It-Alls" at The Delaware Coast Press

Words Still Mean Things to Some

Scott Holleran comments on a particularly effective example of rational persuasion that made the news recently. Taylor Swift recently published an open letter urging Apple to pay musicians royalties for music its customers obtain from the multimedia giant's newest music service:
... Swift explains that Apple's new Apple Music streaming service precludes payment to artists in the first three months. Swift argues that this is wrong. In a persuasive, simple letter implicitly based on egoism, not altruism, because she predicates the letter on achieving her own values in an explicit expression of magnanimity, Swift makes the case for what amounts to intellectual property rights...
As Holleran implies, a great virtue of Swift's open letter is that it shows rather than tells its intended audience why it should change its mind.

As I said Thursday of another Supreme Court decision, "[T]he real fight for government protection of individual rights is a fight for minds within the voting public and over the long haul, and not in a few isolated court rooms." With the Supreme Court failing us yet again, seeing Taylor Swift winning minds is a much-needed dose of encouragement.

Read the whole thing, and the letter itself (linked within), for that matter.

-- CAV

Friday Four

Friday, June 26, 2015

1. Recounting a brown toad I caught at the park and showed my kids, my four-year-old daughter likened it to "a jumping wood chip", since it "bwended in wif ye wood chips" on the ground of the play area. The description made me laugh, and I saw that she intended it as a joke.

2. As much as I despise racial quotas, on principle as an individual, and through experience, as both victim and unwilling target, I could not help but laugh at the following, from a recent Michelle Malkin column:

"I told Harvard I was an undocumented immigrant," Dario Guerrero bragged in The Washington Post last fall. "They gave me a full scholarship."
Think about this: The geniuses at Harvard offer a scholarship to individuals who have broken the law -- not that I agree with that law -- and implicitly reject normal means of vetting applicants. This is an open invitation for exactly this sort of thing. Not that I condone the fraud, but these elitist fools got exactly what they deserved.

3. I see that David Harsanyi shares my opinions of Rush and of Neil Peart, not to mention my past amusement with how discomfiting they were to rock critics:
... I happen to think Rush's music is terrible. But the critics' aversion to their Objectivist-laden science fiction rock operas was always a point in their favor. Finding out that the drummer, Neil Peart, wrote those grandiose lyrics, and that he was some sort of libertarian, didn't hurt either...
The whole piece is worth a read regarding Peart's apparent 180 on Ayn Rand and Rolling Stone's 180 on Rush.

4. I look forward to installing and using the FlowerChecker app on my phone for plant ID:
"The goal of FlowerChecker was not to make money we did not need. We wanted data. All three of us are postgraduate students and the aim of our service is to examine a hypothesis according to which plants can be recognized automatically. We believe the reason why nobody is doing this right now is only that nobody has enough data. Moreover, we currently cooperate with one of the best specialist in the field of automatic recognition, and I mean worldwide," explains Ondřej Veselý.
The app has, incidentally earned enough money for the three that they had to form a company to keep receiving payments from Google.

-- CAV