Friday Four

Friday, August 01, 2014

1. A web page designer, who had been working with a client in real time, makes an amusing realization after getting his client's okay:

After ten minutes of "a little more" and "a little less," the client tells me it's spot on.

After they hang up, I realized that I had made a mistake. I had been viewing my local copy of the site, and they had been viewing the live version. I never once uploaded the changed file. [bold added]
This reminds me a little of the old story about how Michelangelo responded to a critic's assertion that the nose on the David was too big.

2. While we're considering new variants on old themes, someone has warned us that key-duplicating apps can be used for break-ins.
Such services also enable jerks like me to steal your keys any time they get a moment alone with them. Leave your ring of cut-brass secrets unattended on your desk at work, at a bar table while you buy another round, or in a hotel room, and any stranger--or friend--can upload your keys to their online collection. The trick is far easier than having them copied at a hardware store. KeyMe says it will even duplicate keys marked "do not duplicate," including some high-security keys sold by Medeco, Mul-T-lock and Schlage. Parking valets suddenly require a ludicrous level of trust: KeyMe already allows some car keys to be scanned and mail-ordered; KeysDuplicated says that feature is on the way.
Also, much of what I said about "bumping" nearly eight years ago still applies.

3. Charles Babbage, who built a mechanical computer in the nineteenth century, was asked twice by members of the British parliament whether his machine would spit out correct answers if given the wrong data. Something about the wording of his reaction makes me smile: "I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."

4. The following bit of advice on removing poison ivy is, like the whole piece, both good and amusing.
"I'm already exposed, so I might as well keep going." As soon as I catch myself thinking this, I know it is time to hit the shower. [bold in original]
The main poison ivy plant in our back yard is huge: I'll be paying someone else to remove it soon, thank you very much.

-- CAV


Humpty Dumpty Meets Heraclitus

Thursday, July 31, 2014

There is an interesting column by Larry Elder out regarding the two recent conflicting federal court rulings on ObamaCare tax credits. I do not know how important to any Supreme Court decision the following information will be, but Elder shows Jonathan Gruber, the architect of the Affordable Care Act, contradicting himself on the matter, and trying to sweep it under the rug.

Twice in 2012, Gruber made it clear that the language of the bill excluded from the tax breaks anyone purchasing from a federal exchange:

By not setting up an exchange, the politicians of a state are costing state residents hundreds and millions and billions of dollars. ... That is really the ultimate threat, is, will people understand that, gee, if your governor doesn't set up an exchange, you're losing hundreds of millions of dollars of tax credits to be delivered to your citizens.
And, a week later:
The federal government has been sort of slow in putting out its [health insurance exchange] backstop, I think, partly because they want to sort of squeeze the states to do it. I think what's important to remember politically about this is if you're a state and you don't set up an exchange, that means your citizens don't get their tax credits. But your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you're essentially saying to your citizens you're going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country.
More recently, this is what Gruber -- Add a second "b" and you have a perfect name for a villain in an Ayn Rand novel -- had to say:
We can go to the people who wrote it and say did you ever intend this as a poison pill or is it a typo every single one says it's a typo? [sic] And every single one of them will say this is just a typo. So there is no mystery here.
Regarding the contradiction, obvious once he learned that someone noted his earlier remarks, Gruber called those "speak-os".

Elder is confident of a Supreme Court ruling against ObamaCare, since, as Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute  puts it, "This is not a constitutional challenge to the law. It's not asking any court to strike down the law. It's actually asking them to uphold the law."

That might be nice, except that for who we have in charge of enforcing the law and the extremely limited likelihood of Congress exercising the appropriate remedy.

-- CAV


How fat out are you?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The title comes from my smart (-aleck?) phone's "correction" of a simple question I was trying to ask my wife, via text. She and her father were to meet up with me and her mother during a family vacation, and they were a half-hour or so away in a car.

Smart phones and auto-correct come to mind because this morning, just as I sat down to write, I heard, over her monitor, the distinct sound of my daughter vomiting. Yep. Despite the fact we had ear grommets installed a few months ago, this has all the usual symptoms of an ear infection. She has even spontaneously complained of pain in her right ear.

That distinct sound also means I'll be on the phone a lot more than I'd care to be today, setting up a doctor's appointment and probably cancelling a couple of other appointments I'd planned for the day. Some of this will involve texting. Some will involve making entries in calendars and to-do lists. Anything to do with entering text will involve the auto-correct function of my phone, of which it seems I can never be suspicious enough. I am constantly sending supplementary texts like, "'far', not 'fat'" or "'.', not 'n'", after taking a (usually) quick look upon hitting send and seeing that my phone really does treat "fat out" and "n" at the end of a sentence as if they are idiomatic. (I keep a list of the really good ones, but that will have to wait.)

Grousing aside, and as an article I recently encountered through Arts and Letters Daily points out, what is truly remarkable is how much auto-correct gets right. Nevertheless, "The Fasinatng ... Frustrating ... Fascinating History of Autocorrect" does have its own amusing moments:

I called up Thorpe, who now runs a Boston-based startup called Philo, to ask him how the idea for the list came about. An inspiration, as he recalls it, was a certain Microsoft user named Bill Vignola. One day Vignola sent Bill Gates an email. (Thorpe couldn't recall who Bill Vignola was or what he did.) Whenever Bill Vignola typed his own name in MS Word, the email to Gates explained, it was automatically changed to Bill Vaginal. Presumably Vignola caught this sometimes, but not always, and no doubt this serious man was sad to come across like a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel. His email made it down the chain of command to Thorpe. And Bill Vaginal wasn't the only complainant: As Thorpe recalls, Goldman Sachs was mad that Word was always turning it into Goddamn Sachs. 
So take a break from your busy routine -- as shall I -- and marvel at the technological wizardry behind auto-correct.

But never let your guard down!

-- CAV


Fact-Free and Obscene

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Writing against the tide of leftist sentiment for an Israeli cease-fire, Thomas Sowell hits the nail on the head, although he somehow manages to succeed in being generous at the same time:

Israel was attacked, not only by vast numbers of rockets but was also invaded -- underground -- by mazes of tunnels.

There is something grotesque about people living thousands of miles away, in safety and comfort, loftily second-guessing and trying to micro-manage what the Israelis are doing in a matter of life and death.

Such self-indulgences are a danger, not simply to Israel, but to the whole Western world, for it betrays a lack of realism that shows in everything from the current disastrous consequences of our policies in Egypt, Libya and Iraq to future catastrophes from a nuclear-armed Iran. [links dropped, bold added]
Sowell continues, likening the calls for a ceasefire to "discussing abstract people in an abstract world". Sowell can be forgiven for making the common mistake of thinking that abstractions (proper ones, anyway) have nothing to do with concrete reality. Perhaps such an error -- or the fact that Sowell is a true gentleman -- explains why he described this as "grotesque" rather than the way I describe it: obscene. The left, which once battled prejudice, now practices fact-free moral condemnation sanctimoniously. (I can't call moral equivalence here by any other name.)

The left's treatment of Israel may feel like a parlor game or even a noble cause to many. However, I find both the complete disregard of what the Israelis face and the fact that this disregard has real consequences deeply disturbing. Like the excellent Caroline Glick article I commented on recently, I highly recommend reading this piece in its entirety.

-- CAV


Michaud on the Benefits of RPGs

Monday, July 28, 2014

Some time ago, I linked to a good piece on the ridiculous "moral panic" back in the 1980's over role-playing games (particularly Dungeons and Dragons). Over the weekend, I ran across an equally good, positive piece on Dungeons and Dragons. Like its author, I enjoyed the game while it was at the peak of its popularity, and I also saw the engrossing game as a much better passtime than most of the alternatives:

For much of its existence, D. & D. has attracted ridicule, fear, and threats of censorship from those who don't play or understand the game. It is surrounded by a fog of negative connotations. David M. Ewalt, the author of Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It, writes, "If you're an adult who plays … you're a loser, you're a freak, you live in your parents' basement." The game has been accused of fomenting Communist subversion and of being "a feeding program for occultism and witchcraft." One mother, whose D. & D.-playing son committed suicide, started an organization called Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons (BADD).

Though that negative perception is changing, as popular culture and the fantasy milieu become increasingly synonymous, I believe that the benefits of D. & D. are still significantly underappreciated. Though its detractors see the game as a gateway to various forms of delinquency, I would argue that the reverse is true. For countless players, Dungeons & Dragons redirected teen-age miseries and energies that might have been put to more destructive uses. How many depressed and lonely kids turned away from suicide because they found community and escape in role-playing games? How many acts of bullying or vandalism were sublimated into dice-driven combat? How many teen pregnancies were averted because one of the potential partners was too busy looking for treasure in a crypt? (Make all the jokes you want, but some of my fellow-players were jocks who had girlfriends; sometimes the girlfriends played, too.) How many underage D.U.I.s never came to pass because spell tables were being consulted late into the night? (It's hard to play D. & D. drunk; it requires too much concentration and analytical thought.) Just this week, the Times published an article about the game's formative influence on a diverse generation of writers, including Junot Díaz, Sherman Alexie, George R. R. Martin, Sharyn McCrumb, and David Lindsay-Abaire. (To the Times' lineup, I'd add a murderers' row of Ed Park, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Paul La Farge, Colson Whitehead, and Sam Lipsyte.) [format edits]
John Michaud goes on to note such benefits as the game getting kids to read who otherwise didn't care to. (I remember my mother noticing how much better my brother became at reading after we'd played a while.)  And, speaking for myself, who was shy and very bookish then, the game (and others like it) got me to expand my circle of friends in high school and helped me jump-start my social life when I began college. Would I make the claim, as the author does, that D&D saved my life? No, but it certainly made it more enjoyable, and Michaud has helped me see that it was beneficial for many of the other kids I knew who played it.

I recommend reading the whole thing some time before the new New Yorker paywall goes up in three months. And I look forward to dusting off my old rulebooks some time down the road and, like Michaud, introducing my kids to the game.

-- CAV


7-26-14 Hodgepodge

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The "Freedom Option"

Former Senator Phil Gramm of Texas proposes to Republicans a way to win the political fight against ObamaCare:

Republicans should not underestimate the power of freedom in the health-care debate. In 1994, when 74 senators had either co-sponsored President Clinton's health bill--or a very close alternative--Sens. John McCain, Paul Coverdell and I set out to try to defeat HillaryCare. The media in Washington largely ignored our opposition, but we conducted over 40 public forums around the country in hospitals and other medical settings. We talked about efficiency and people looked at their watches. We talked about costs and they yawned.

But in Atlanta, when my mother attended the meeting and I started to talk about her freedom to make her own health-care choices, people started to respond and HillaryCare started to die. In the end the debate was not about money or efficiency. It was about freedom. This same principle offers our only real hope of stopping the suffering under ObamaCare now and and repealing it in 2017.
Earlier in his article, Gramm helpfully notes how ObamaCare threatens that freedom, and how state mandates paved the way for this to happen.

Weekend Reading

"If you handle criticism well, you'll probably not leap to the immediate (and often mistaken) conclusion that the inferior service is directed toward you personally." -- Michael Hurd, in "Coping With Bad Service" at The Delaware Coast Press

"From a psychological point-of-view, it makes the most sense to see yourself as self-employed whether or not you work for somebody else." -- Michael Hurd, in "Be Your Own Boss" at The Delaware Wave

My Two Cents

There is a truism that one can get a good idea of someone's character by observing how he treats people who are in a less powerful position, such as wait staff. It is interesting to keep this in mind when reading Hurd's piece regarding coping with bad service (and, likewise, with criticism).

The "Turban Trick"

From NPR's Code Switch comes an interesting look at the use of turbans to circumvent Jim Crow:
"He didn't change his color. He just changed his costume, and they treated him like a human," says Luther Routté, who has been a Lutheran pastor for 25 years. It "shows you the kind of myopia that accompanies the whole premise of apartheid or segregation."

Through the "turban trick," Routté['s father, Rev. Jesse Routté,] basically transformed himself from a threat to a guest -- black to invisible.

"Foreigners have a kind of exemption" to Jim Crow laws, [historian Paul] Kramer says. "They're not going to understand the rules; they're not going to obey the rules."
Ayn Rand once succinctly identified the nature of this myopia in part as "a quest for automatic knowledge ... that bypasses the responsibility of exercising rational or moral judgment". With such a quest comes a sort of self-induced gullibility, and it is no surprise to see that some succeeded in basing entire careers on this ruse.

--CAV


Friday Four

Friday, July 25, 2014

1. At the age of one year, Little Man is what you might call a "late adopter" of solid food. He's been catching up lately, and I finally noticed something that might help. If he wants something, he'll reach to pick it up. If not, he swats at it.

2. If your kids like Lego, there's a beach in Britain with your name on it:

A container filled with millions of Lego pieces fell into the sea off Cornwall in 1997. But instead of remaining at the bottom of the ocean, they are still washing up on Cornish beaches today - offering an insight into the mysterious world of oceans and tides.
By coincidence, lots of marine-themed toys were among the pieces.

3. In 2012, DNA testing had become inexpensive enough that cryptobiologists began using it to verify a group of scientists offered to test fur samples thought to come from a Sasquatch. Oddly, the results from the thirty most promising samples didn't make big news:
The resulting sequences were then fed into the massive GenBank database of previously characterized sequences. Two of the samples--those from India and Bhutan--had sequences matching those of fossilized polar bears. Every other sequence matched extant animals including raccoons, sheep, black bears, cows, and even a porcupine.
Somehow, I doubt that this will end the hunt for Bigfoot.

4. The escapist hobby of a five year old boy has led to fame and fortune in adulthood:
Willard Wigan makes tiny art. His sculptures are so small that they're often presented literally in the eye of a needle; the painstaking work requires him to work late at night, when traffic vibrations are minimal, and to slow his own pulse so he can sculpt between hand tremors.
There's more, including a video of the sculptor and some of his work, at Futility Closet

-- CAV