Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, September 18, 2020

Four Things

1. Before the pandemic hit, it looked like Pumpkin, aided by the desire not to be seen sucking her thumb by her peers, was finally on the verge of quitting the habit.

Fortunately, school is back. But before then, I had started doing an irritating jingle (as in the video clip below) whenever I would catch her in the act.


In the process of singing, "Thumb-thumb-thumb-thumb! Thumb-thumb-thumb-thumb-THUMB!," I recalled my own parents part-cajoling my brother and me and part amusing themselves by singing "Eat, eat, eat, eat! Eat, eat, eat, eat!" at dinner time when they had trouble getting us to finish our meals.

It really irritated us then, but I smile every time I think of it, now.

2. I'll grant that Amazon is extremely convenient, but I'll raise you and say that it is sometimes a little too convenient for certain people who like to shop. (I'm thinking of you, Mrs. Van Horn!)

And so it was that, one evening, when my wife mooted the idea of ordering something to my daughter, I heard her exclaim, "Don't buy that! Dad doesn't like it when you buy from Amazon!"

3. On recounting a sliding board pile-up at recess one day, my son amused me with the following turn of phrase: "a big ball of human."

4. I recently mentioned my son's jealousy of his sister's "super power."

Apparently, it works both ways.


Since our school asks that parents take their children's temperatures before dropping them off, I decided to enlist the aid of Memory Boy each morning.

So... Which one of them makes sure I take their temperatures each morning?

Sniper Eyes, of course.

-- CAV


How to Use (Read: Avoid) Blogger's New Editor

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Some time ago, Blogger, a Google subsidiary, changed its post editor. I haven't used the native editor for much in years, so the impact of this change on me was only mildly irritating. I found ways to avoid the problems I encountered and mostly forgot about it.

Apparently, though, the change has been quite a headache for others, including people who, like me, sling their own HTML.

Since I'm happy enough with the platform, but mostly avoid using its editor, I figured I'd pass along my solutions to the problems others have mentioned.

The biggest source of problems from the change (which was motivated by security considerations, I think) is that switching between the editor's Compose and HTML modes can introduce unwanted changes in the markup. (For example, italics tags get changed to emphasis tags and hypertext anchors get removed altogether if one toggles to Compose after working in HTML.)

Another problem is that the post list is ... not helpful.

So here is how to avoid using the editor for (1) new posts and (2) editing old ones. If you want advice on the nitty gritty of using the native editor beyond these, you're on your own.

1. Composing New Posts

  1. Edit your post in the text editor/word processor of your choice.
  2. Log in to Blogger.
  3. Hit the New Post button.
  4. If you intend to upload media, like images, set the editor to Compose View. Upload any images, and set whatever parameters you need now. (You can insert images within HTML Mode, but you will not be able to toggle caption mode there. I suppose you could get boilerplate to do that, but that solution strikes me as more cumbersome than using the tools in Compose View.)
  5. Switch to HTML View. For any images, there will be extraneous paragraph tags, break tags, and non-breaking space entities before or after the tags containing the media and formatting instructions. Remove them, if you don't want them. Each caption will have a trailing break tag, too.
  6. Dump the content of your blog post into the Blogger editor. (I usually have mine in this order: Post Title, Caption(s), and Post Body.) Cut and paste within the editor to assemble the post the way you need. Luckily, using Preview does not alter your post, so you will be able to get a good idea of how it will look as you make final edits.
  7. When satisfied, hit Publish.
You may copy or use my screeenshot as you please, with or without attribution.
2. Finding and Editing Old Posts
  1. Log in to Blogger.
  2. From your blog or using a search engine, find the post you want to edit and visit that post.
  3. In case the editor opens in Compose View or you inadvertently switch modes during editing, select the body of your post, then use your browser's View Selection Source capability to obtain the HTML. Save this somewhere as a backup.
  4. Find the pencil icon on the bottom of that post. (This appears only when the author of the blog is logged on.)
  5. Click the pencil icon (circled in screenshot) to open the post in the editor.
  6. Make sure you are in HTML View and make your edits.
  7. Preview and publish as before.
I hope you find this helpful. If you have encountered other issues and have workarounds that might help fellow Blogger bloggers, feel free to leave a comment below.

-- CAV


A Modern Twist on an Old Narrative

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Then, courtesy of Ayn Rand:

The best illustration of the general confusion on the subject of business and government can be found in [Stewart] Holbrook's The Story of American Railroads. On page 231, Mr. Holbrook writes:
Image by Bernhard Gillam, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
Almost from the first, too, the railroads had to undergo the harassments of politicians and their catchpoles, or to pay blackmail in one way or another. The method was almost sure-fire; the politico, usually a member of a state legislature, thought up some law or regulation that would be costly or awkward to the railroads in his state. He then put this into the form of a bill, talked loudly about it, about how it must pass if the sovereign people were to be protected against the monster railroad, and then waited for some hireling of the railroad to dissuade him by a method as old as man. There is record of as many as thirty-five bills that would harass railroads being introduced at one sitting of one legislature.
And the same Mr. Holbrook in the same book just four pages later (pages 235-236) writes:
In short, by 1870, to pick an arbitrary date, railroads had become, as only too many orators of the day pointed out, a law unto themselves. They had bought United States senators and congressmen, just as they bought rails and locomotives -- with cash. They owned whole legislatures, and often the state courts .... To call the roads of 1870 corrupt is none too strong a term.
The connection between these two statements and the conclusion to be drawn from them has, apparently, never occurred to Mr. Holbrook. It is the railroads that he blames and calls "corrupt." Yet what could the railroads do, except try to "own whole legislatures," if these legislatures held the power of life or death over them? What could the railroads do, except resort to bribery, if they wished to exist at all? Who was to blame and who was "corrupt" -- the businessmen who had to pay "protection money" for the right to remain in business -- or the politicians who held the power to sell that right? [bold added] (from "Notes on the History of American Free Enterprise," in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, by Ayn Rand)
Now, in these lawless, rule-of-men pandemic times: The modern press has updated the narrative of blaming business for problems caused by improper government. The new version of "owning the legislature," is "Businesses [hold] sway over state reopening plans:"
As job losses accelerated, the pressure to reopen intensified.

"Attraction folks are on me like white on rice," McMaster's tourism director wrote to the head of the governor's reopening task force, describing lobbying from amusement parks, bingo halls and other entertainment venues.

Though governors often work with business leaders to craft policy, the emails offer a new window into their decisions during a critical early juncture in the nation's battle against the pandemic. Many governors chose to reopen before their states met all the nationally recommended health guidelines, which include a sustained downward rate of infection and robust testing and contact tracing.
As massive business failures across the country -- caused at least in part by governors improperly forbidding ordinary citizens from participating in normal activities -- attest, let us paraphrase Ayn Rand: What could these businesses do but attempt to 'sway' the governors who held the power of life or death over them?"

In the meantime, the reporters -- transfixed by their own scare-mongering over an avoidable disease with a well-known risk profile, and too enamored of the idea of government solving all problems to even begin to imagine the dangers of such a proposition -- breathlessly report these email records as if they are the real scandal, rather than the predictable symptom that they are.

Let us hope that the recent decision by a federal judge to the effect that the Pennsylvania governor's shutdown orders were unconstitutional is the political turning-of-the-tide we need, to have time to argue -- for starters -- for a proper and much more effective government response to any future pandemic.

-- CAV


Not Enough Wee Hours in the Day?

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Make more of them.

It's gorgeous, but what can we do about it? (Image by Remi Yuan, via Unsplash, license.)
Over at Cal Newport's Study Hacks blog are an interesting idea and some very good discussion about how author Michael Connelly works. I love the title, "Michael Connelly Starts Writing Before the Sun Comes Up," because it sounds so unremarkable, until the reader realizes it could have gone on with, "And Doesn't Let Silliness Like Daylight Stop Him."

Connelly uses blackout shades to keep his office dark all day long. This both preserves the quiet solitude so many of us love about the wee hours, and prevents time cues from intruding. It's not something I'll be in a position to try for quite some time, but I like it.

More interesting to me -- and a big part of what makes Newport's blog worth visiting -- is the serious discussion that goes on in the comments. That's particularly true with this post, as when a woman asks a pointed question about what Connelly's child care situation means for his wife in light of the implication that he can sometimes work until "called to dinner."

Two valuable comments come in answer to that one. The first offers the alternative hypothesis/useful idea that Connelly has assistants for such commitments, and the second provides the following insight about writing as a job:
He's treating it as a full time job, and it is one. With writers though, they must set up boundaries and rules, and enforce them. A lot of people see writing as not really being work -- they think, "How hard is it to write a novel anyway? I could do that." (So not true.) So when they see the writer at home, they assume he's available and interrupt. "You're not busy. How about just one favor?" But if writer doesn't produce words, he doesn't make money.

Yes.

Yes. As Weird Al Yancovic attests, the non-writers in our lives will never fully understand that we are working and that interruptions are extremely destructive. That is a constant battle, and I'll bet that a major aspect of the job for whoever is taking care of other things while Connelly is holed up in his office is as gatekeeper. Unless the house is on fire, nobody goes through the door to my office, I can almost hear him saying.

There are other comments worth looking at, including an idea for a poor man's version of Connelly's darkened office that could be useful for some people or some kinds of deep work.

-- CAV


Recycled Appeasement Bites 'Big Oil'

Monday, September 14, 2020

Quiz time.

The fallout from China's decision to stop accepting plastic for recycling from overseas has been:

If it were economical to do something besides landfilling these, there would be no need to force anyone to do it. (Image by Tanvi Sharma, via Unsplash, license.)
  • a. American governments admit that recycling currently makes no economic sense for plastics, and end plastics collection;
  • b. Environmentalists reconsider their advocacy of such programs in light of the time and money they waste;
  • c. The public belatedly recognizes that burying useless waste is sometimes a better option than recycling; or
  • d. The left doubles down on recycling by scapegoating producers.
Courtesy of NPR, which obviously feels safe reporting enough facts for a thinking person to see the unfairness of it all, we see that the answer is a big D.

Since Americans have had the idea that recycling is inherently good drummed into their skulls for at least two generations, I'll connect the dots from the story in an order appropriate to show what has happened.

Those of us old enough to remember when people didn't waste time sorting through trash and storing it like gold, will recall recycling bins popping up all over the place around the mid-nineties. This occurred, in part, because:
"The feeling was the plastics industry was under fire -- we got to do what it takes to take the heat off, because we want to continue to make plastic products," [Larry Thomas, the former president of the Society of the Plastics Industry] says.
Like any industry under fire, the oil companies used advertising, but do note (1) the source of the flames, and (2) the nature of the response:
"Presenting the possibilities of plastic!" one iconic ad blared, showing kids in bike helmets and plastic bags floating in the air.

"This advertising was motivated first and foremost by legislation and other initiatives that were being introduced in state legislatures and sometimes in Congress," Freeman says, "to ban or curb the use of plastics because of its performance in the waste stream."

At the same time, the industry launched a number of feel-good projects, telling the public to recycle plastic. It funded sorting machines, recycling centers, nonprofits, even expensive benches outside grocery stores made out of plastic bags.

Few of these projects actually turned much plastic into new things.

NPR tracked down almost a dozen projects the industry publicized starting in 1989...
The article doesn't mention the misplaced priorities of environmentalists, or that this legislation was largely prompted by ridiculous rumors to the effect that the United States was running out of landfill space (PDF). Many of us who remember that time may or may not recall that, but we will recall a big push from apparently every direction at once from around that time to recycle.

Part of that push, understandably -- but also wrongly and unfortunately -- came from plastics producers, aka "Big Oil." Plastics producers needed to say something, and insofar as they reminded the public of the many benefits plastics bring, they were absolutely right to do so.

Insofar as they promoted the wasteful practice of recycling, however, they were wrong. It is interesting to note what NPR admits about recycling plastics:
Here's the basic problem: All used plastic can be turned into new things, but picking it up, sorting it out and melting it down is expensive. Plastic also degrades each time it is reused, meaning it can't be reused more than once or twice.

On the other hand, new plastic is cheap. It's made from oil and gas, and it's almost always less expensive and of better quality to just start fresh.
The article harps on the fact that the oil companies knew this then, and probably realize it now -- but chose to push recycling, anyway, possibly in hopes that technological advances would make it practical, but not being entirely on-the-level about the economics. The article vastly downplays the role of environmentalists in smearing the oil companies and improperly demanding the government start recycling programs.

And so, after a scheme pushed by left-wing activists and improperly passed into law by legislators failed, it's easy to get away with headlines like NPR's: "How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled."

Plastics vastly improve our lives: The oil companies frankly had bragging rights about their good work, and should have campaigned against the new improper, time-wasting, and money-wasting recycling laws. Instead, they half-heartedly defended themselves and half-compromised, promoting measures they knew wouldn't work and should have known were wrong.

And, based on what I see in this story and elsewhere, the oil companies are once again accepting unearned blame for producing plastics, getting behind an uneconomical form of recycling, and taking improper government coercion sitting down.

Spoiler alert: They got no moral credit for doing this the first time, and they won't get moral credit for doing this again.

It's up to "Big Oil" to end the sorry cycle perpetrated here by the left, of (1) casting unearned blame, (2) making unreasonable demands, (3) foisting improper laws on the American public (including the oil companies), (4) calling "Big Oil" on dishonesty (while avoiding blame), and (5) repeat ad nauseam.

Or, to put it differently, if you do anything that looks remotely like you agree with the left, they will recycle what you did into fresh grounds to order you to bow to their demands again later.

-- CAV

Updates

Today
: Corrected three typos.


Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, September 11, 2020

Four Things

1. Smoked mackerel ice cream may sound gross to you, but I'd definitely try it. That fishy/savory take on ice cream is just one I learned about when I stopped by Strange Maps and saw a tourist map of Lithuania showing where to get any of "the country's 47 weirdest ice cream flavors." Others included bacon, beer, and rhubarb.

I'm not a dessert -- or even a sweets -- person, so I'd probably find many of these less weird than most people.

2. Yeah. I'm not going to Europe any time soon, either.

But I did recently get a peek at what a German city looked like a century ago from the air. Embedded below is some remarkably good footage taken from Wuppertal's suspended railway in 1902.


3. And, while we're looking back in time, here's a story from a few years ago by FiveThirtyEight on why the tenures of the world's oldest living persons have been growing shorter over time:
Weaver's five-day run as the oldest person in the world was short, but it turns out that the oldest person in the world never holds that title for very long. Since records started being kept in the 1950s, the average tenure has been just around a year, according to the Gerontology Research Group; it has dipped to just seven months since the year 2000. Weaver's incumbency isn't the shortest in recent years; North Carolina's Emma Tillman died four days after becoming the world's oldest person in 2007.
No spoilers here. You'll have to go over there to learn what's going on.

4. With recent news of fishiness in the data on Russia's "approved" coronavirus vaccine, one might wonder which circle of scientific hell the folks involved deserve. Wonder no more. (PDF).

The fourth level, for example, is for p-value fishing. Considering how popular that is with nutritionists, the punishment is fitting enough. (Update: To be clear, the problem with the Russian data does not involve p-fishing, to the best of my knowledge.)

-- CAV

Updates

Today
: Added a sentence to last item.


The Looming Backlash Against Telecommuting

Thursday, September 10, 2020

In City Journal appears "The Dark Side of Remote Work," by Hyon Chu, author of the serial Digital Agency. After briefly sketching how well all the remote staffing prompted by the pandemic has worked out for some companies, Chu issues an old warning with a technological twist:

Image by Tobias Tullius, via Unsplash, license.
Covid-19 has provided the perfect context for large corporations to concentrate their power and resources. As businesses across the U.S. suffer economically from shutdown policies, larger firms have made financial gains. A sharp increase in unemployment has weakened the power of the labor force, and many industries are exchanging full-time, benefitted employees for as-needed contractors. Before we uncritically champion these new remote-work policies, we should proceed with caution. Many who currently dream of working remotely from the beaches of Thailand may find themselves replaced by a Thai contractor. [bold added]
While we're at it, think of all the jobs we'd have if we replaced backhoes with hand spades, or outlawed robots and jacked up tariffs to the point that Americans became competitive for unskilled factory labor!

To any company thinking of dumping most of its American office workers, I say, Please, go ahead and be the Guinea pig! Let me know how meetings go when most of the attendees aren't native speakers of English. Or how your brainstorming for an American market goes with people who have never stepped foot here.

This isn't to deny that some jobs (or parts of jobs) -- usually the ones that are very boring or require little skill -- go the way of the dodo when technology arrives. Rather, we should welcome any new means of freeing up time for people to do more interesting and fulfilling work. Nor is it to knock people who had to learn English as a second language or non-Americans, but to highlight a couple of the kinds of factors on top of training and experience that limit just how ... remote ... remote work can be.

My best guess is that, if governments can resist the urge to "fix" this non-problem, the same kinds of jobs -- like working in a boiler room -- few Americans would want anyway will be the ones to go overseas. This will make American goods cheaper for Americans by lowering costs for those companies, and it will provide opportunity for those who want it and may otherwise not have it. In other words, a win-win, as all trades are -- and a repeat of industrial history, only in non-manual labor.

What worries me, aside from the pessimism in the article sounding all-too-typical today, is the lip service to "labor" and the disparagement of contracting. These two cultural/political currents are already posing a mortal threat to independent contracting, as witness California's sickening AB-5 -- which threatens dreams and livelihoods alike, as well as the franchise business model -- and which the Democratic ticket wishes to make national policy.

Remote office work has its problems, but enabling more people to live where they want, or companies to lower costs aren't among them. The kinds of government responses we are likely to get if some complain enough will, from our experience with AB-5, be counterproductive, to say the very least.

-- CAV