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30.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

We wuz DUPED! Permalink to this item

Apparently our esteemed legislators thought that "historical horse racing" had to do with ascots, monocles and out-of-season reminders of sweet hay in springtime, but turns out that's not quite the case, and they're feeling "duped" to learn that a.k.a. "instant racing" does not have a dress code, and is nothing more than video slot machines, with a horsey trim package:

"The bettor puts money in the machine, selects a race and then receives statistical information on the horses, trainers and jockeys. The names and racetrack are not revealed. The bettor selects three horses and presses start; a video of the race plays, revealing the winners. The bettor, if lucky, collects the winnings."

But mostly the house collects the winnings, of course. The story cites three particulars of duplicity: (1) the bettor can fast-forward to the end of the race (and thus bet more, faster); (2) the video images are a small part of the betting terminal; and (3) there are more machines than they expected.

Madam, we've already established what you are, now we're just haggling over the price.

You thought folks down at the race track betting parlor would have to watch the horses go 'round and 'round on a big screen, and so that's not so much like unseemly gambling? Whoa there, pardner!

Tricks of the trade Permalink to this item

Catching up on yesterday's news, top story on the front page was Details unveiled in St. Luke's case, or Unsealed: What St. Luke's and Blue Cross of Idaho didn't want you to know in the web version.

Idaho's biggest hospital and healthcare provider network wanted to bring in the Saltzer Medical Group of doctors to add another 41 physicians (including 80% of the primary care physicians in Nampa), and two smaller groups sued, claiming the merger would harm competition. ("Smaller" is relative; St. Al's is owned by Michigan-based Trinity Health, which operates approximately 50 hospitals across the country, compared to St. Luke's 8 hospitals and clinics in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon.)

Seems a straightforward (if detailed) question, but the defendants insisted that some of the facts should be kept sealed as "trade secrets." The federal district judge initially agreed to that, and the lawsuit from media organizations (the Idaho Statesman, the Associated Press, the Idaho Press Club, the Times-News in Twin Falls and the Idaho Press-Tribune in Nampa) was still TBD when the judge observed that

"The facts and figures sought to be redacted are crucial to the court’s analysis, and their removal would render the decision indecipherable,"

on his way to rejecting the merger and directing St. Luke's to undo it. The argument in favor of a bigger, more powerful medical provider is that they could focus more efficiently on "value-based compensation" with an emphasis on "patient outcomes" rather than the fee-for-service arrangement that drives prices through the roof. Think "joint initiatives aimed at improving access to high quality medical care, enhancing coordination of medical services, and streamlining the health care delivery model." All TBD, since "it takes time to develop what the outcome measures would be."

And, its dominance would give it "significant bargaining leverage over health insurance plans," as the judge put it. Good for them, but maybe not so good for me and thee, as "increased reimbursements" are "[passed] on to consumers in the form of higher health care premiums and higher deductibles." Cutting to the chase:

"The antitrust laws ... require the Court to predict whether the deal ... will have anticompetitive effects. The Court predicts that it will. Although possibly not the intended goal of the Acquisition, it appears highly likely that health care costs will rise as the combined entity obtains a dominant market position which will enable it to (1) negotiate higher reimbursement rates from health insurance plans that will be passed on to the consumer, and (2) raise rates for ancillary services (like x-rays) to the higher hospital-billing rates."

And the banner headline end of the story, the unveiling of said redactions. Audrey Dutton's piece for the Idaho Statesman highlighted quotes regarding reimbursements 21% higher than the average Idaho hospital; Blue Cross of Idaho estimating costs would increase by 30 to 35%; St. Luke’s projections of $750,000 extra for billing lab work and $900,000 extra for for diagnostic imaging; and a consultant's analysis

"showing how office/outpatient visits could be billed for higher amounts if the visit was hospital-based rather than Saltzer-based. The hospital-based billings were more than 60% higher."

Blue Cross of Idaho wasn't a party to the lawsuit that I saw, but they made a sealed request to keep information secret too. We're left to infer what they asked for, by what the judge denied. We now know, for example:

“Across the United States, the average commercial insurance plan pays about 120% what Medicare pays. For overnight hospital stays in Idaho, (Blue Cross) pays between 150% to 200% than Medicare pays. For outpatient hospital services, (Blue Cross) pays 300% more than Medicare. For routine office visits, (Blue Cross) pays 140% than other commercial plans.”

28.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

That does not mean what you think it does Permalink to this item

Yes, I'm a little surprised to see that Tom Perkins dug himself deeper after Godwinning the wealth inequality discussion. (Finding out that a neighborhood snit about a hedge might be at the root of the whole kerfuffle, on the other hand, weirdly stands to reason.) Somehow I'd missed the story about his yacht collision trouble and the French manslaughter conviction.

One of his fellow swells, Tim Draper came to his defense with a quirky and incorrect observation that Schadenfreude "continues to be a thorn in humanity’s side" "The bitter taste of envy brings us all down," says Draper, who prefers to "celebrate the wealth and success" of many wealthy and successful people he can name.

Hear, hear and there, there, but wha?

Schadenfreude, the joy of another's misfortune, might be a thorn in humanity's side, but it is a Venal Sin, at best. It does come from the same language as the fractured historical allusion Perkins put back in the news, three quarters of a century after the event, so there's that. HuffPo says Perkins backed off "that word," if not the nut of his message, not searching for an apology, nor finding one.

I'm feeling neither Schadenfreude nor envy at Perkins' sorry situation, nor do I have any reason to "hate" him as he imagines "everybody" now does. Who would envy the deep absurdity of a life made too public? A single Rolex is a statement of existential absurdity, so having a watch that "could buy a six-pack of Rolexes"... is many times more absurd. The only contest I'm not clear on is which of these two things is more pathetic: that he cares about his watch, or that he thinks anyone else should.

Welcome to the machine Permalink to this item

My personal attitude toward healthcare is "less is more." If I'm taking care of myself, eating right, staying out of (too much) trouble, and (most of all) lucky, I can just skip the whole thing. I want to go like Oliver Wendell Holmes' wonderful one-hoss shay.

The project isn't going perfectly, but well enough that when I showed up at the front desk yesterday morning, the clerk asked if it was my first visit? No, but my first visit since they got their latest computer system, and so we were kind of starting from scratch. Was I married? Would I please indicate from this laminated list of choices what race I belonged to? And so on.

The march of technology has obviated paperwork and clipboards in the waiting room, at least. The front desk stands between the clientele and a row of women intent on computer monitors, typing, phone headsets in one ear, exactly one of whom was tasked with my business, for a moment. My signatures agreeing to accept their ministrations and acknowledging the tl;dr HIPAA privacy notice were impressed on an electronic device. (I was offered a paper copy. I figured I could find it online if I had to... and of course they reserve the right to change the terms at any time.)

Bark beetle tracks in wood

I'd noted with appreciation the sign on the entrance asking visitors with a cold or the flu to help themselves to a face mask, one person leaving with one of those on as I came in. Good idea. And even more appreciation that I was about the only customer. I made myself comfortable and cracked the book I'd brought to read while waiting, but barely had time to read a page. OK! Weight, blood pressure, pulse, temperature, respiration, and "what seems to be the problem today?" I started to answer the nurse's question, stumbling a bit between the very detailed, personal knowledge I had in mind, and her nearly blank slate. Before getting very far, I said "that's the short version, here's the long version," and handed over my neatly typed and printed summary, seven dated one-line statements to summarize, followed by more detail. Too much detail, but I'd done quite a bit of distilling to get the whole thing down to 2½ pages.

"Wow. Did you type all this?" Yes I did, all that and much, much more. I don't remember which doctor's visit it might have been, but 15 or 20 years ago possibly, when it occurred to me that vital signs and an interview were ridiculously incapable of capturing health history in any detail, and really, there ought to be a comprehensive electronic recordkeeping system for this stuff, too. Can a knowledgeable, experienced physician get to the heart of the problem with a handful of focused, probing questions, answered by a cooperative patient? Sometimes, maybe. But memory and experience are mutable, not always forthcoming, not fully reliable.

I started taking notes.

When a familiar theme recurred, I updated them. This time around, I reviewed old notes, looking back from the first incident 13 years ago through subsequent events, and the long stretches of "no problem," in specific detail that could not possibly have been off the top of my head. I summarized the course of things for my own benefit, and then refined and tightened the summary for the doctor's reference. All that specific detail, and the span of it made it sound like I'm sicker than I really I am, I think. But you never know.

My most detailed recordkeeping started in 2001. The year after that, I'd retrospectively compiled a list going back 10 years, from late 1992, and based on episodic visits to "health care providers." When, who, what, and amount paid. Maybe I could find procedure codes and decipher doctors' cryptic, coded handwriting pressed into carbonless receipts, but maybe not. Sedgwick Claims Management Services is mentioned (they say they're "the leading North American provider of technology-enabled claims and productivity management solutions"), above a list of providers, an even dozen that once had some records about me, and are probably less capable of dredging them up than I am.

The doctor and I talked a bit. I encouraged him to look at the very detailed history I was offering, beyond the tweet-sized digest the nurse had extracted and typed into the computer, and certainly a better introduction to a seldom-seen patient than he had ever been offered by said patient, and he eventually did focus some professional attention on it. He hit my knees and elbows with his little hammer and waved his light around and stuck a popsicle stick in my mouth and said "say ah," and suggested "we" "work this thing up," with a specialist. I let myself be persuaded, eventually. We'll see how that goes.

He left, the nurse came back, wrapped things up, and pointed me in the general direction of "checkout," where I made my way to disburse $35 in co-pay, collect my one-page summary and follow-up instructions. And I was out of there in less than 40 minutes total. (Weeks from now, I'll hear how much it cost, and whether I'll be paying more of the total.) I picked up some groceries and stopped at the gas station, and hadn't been home twenty minutes before the phone rang with a call from the office I'd been referred to, ready to set up my next appointment.

This seems to be a newly well-oiled machine, if nothing else.

27.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ok, some new ideas at least Permalink to this item

Seems like the media have way more than enough handicapping of tomorrow night's State of the Union speech, but one thing I heard on the radio today stuck with me, quoting the recollection of JFK's words that Obama used last time around. In 1962, Kennedy observed to the Congress that "the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress. It is my task," he said, "to report the State of the Union—to improve it is the task of us all."

Doesn't seem like that's a shared understanding of late, does it? There seems to be a lot of expectation (or lip service to expectation) from the opposition that it's uniquely the President's job to fix things, and whatever is broken, all the Republicans have to do is fix blame... on someone else. The GOP has taken the job of criticism first and foremost, and rejected the notion of being "partners for progress" in anything whatsoever.

But here, all these dozens of attempts to obstruct, subvert and repeal later, after failing to take over in 2010, after failing to make Obama a one-term president in 2012, and after failing to blow up the country's finances to score political victory, I see key Republican Senators have hatched a plan of some sort to fill in the "replace" part of "repeal and replace." It's predicated on the notion that "Obamacare just isn't working," as Orrin Hatch opined today.

"Try as he might during tomorrow night's State of the Union address, President Obama will not be able to convince the American people that his health care law is anything other than an unmitigated disaster."

You think, really? A disaster, and an unmitigated one to boot? Not to be merely critical myself, but...

I do not believe discarding the requirement that people have health insurance, the requirement that insurers cover people with preexisting conditions, the requirement that insurance has to meet any particular specifications, and allowing a steeper rise for premiums of older people are sufficient to reduce costs and put us in a better position.

A financing mechanism for a new and different "set of tax credits to help those with lower incomes afford coverage" of treating more of the health insurance most people get through their employers as taxable income sounds like a big tax increase more than anything else.

It's hard to imagine how this elephant will fly, even buoyed by all the hot air the Senate might muster.

26.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

An unnecessary political football in the making Permalink to this item

From above the inversion

Perhaps the Idaho Statesman editorial board featured nattering nabob of negativity George Will in today's Insight section to give themselves a strawman? Very curious presentation choice, with the curmudeonly D.C. pundit's "bound to be a failure" at top left (do they not know that's what people look at first?), and three columns of Will against just one of "Our View" before the jumps to I3.

The board's view is that critics offer innuendo, not facts, accurately enough, and they advise the legislature to stop second-guessing its decision to adopt the Common Core standards, and to "stop seeking information from the uninformed at forums."

Likewise, the board should not print opinion from the uninformed in its paper, let alone give top billing to Will's increasingly vituperative and uninformed ranting. CC is the "thin end of an enormous wedge," Will writes, with a metaphor describing his own efforts better than his target of the day. If we survived the bloody Texas Textbook Commission's ministrations for lo these many years, I rather doubt that the "general progressive agenda of centralization and uniformity" can rise to be the boogieman Will imagines.

It's a conspiracy, don't you know! Proponents are keeping "its nature and purpose as cloudy as possible for as long as possible" to take over young minds. As he winds up to his third thrilling point and conclusion, that "political dishonesty has swift, radiating and condign consequences," one is left to wonder why no condign consequences have struck this man dumb. Judging by the editors of our local paper, inertia plays a significant role. "Leave aside," Will writes, "the abundant, fierce, often learned and frequently convincing criticisms of the writing, literature and mathematics standards." He offers none.

I would say pick up Micah J. Lauer's writing instead, and consider that the problem with the Common Core is NOT actually the Common Core. An excerpt:

"The Common Core State Standards are pretty apolitical, consisting of ten reading standards and ten writing standards (plus speaking and listening standards for English language arts classes) designed to prepare students for the demands of career and college. The most significant change from many current state-level standards is that the Common Core requires much more rigor (more appropriately vigor according to author and literacy guru Barry Lane). ...

"[The standards] describe what students should be able to do by the time they graduate from high school, such as compose informational texts, academic arguments, and narratives; navigate complex texts for a variety of purposes; and use textual evidence to support their thinking. Grade-level benchmarks scaffold students along the way. The standards do not mandate curriculum packages or textbooks. Teachers, at the discretion of their district, have flexibility to use a variety of approaches and resources."

25.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Setting the record straight, again Permalink to this item

The best thing about Mike Huckabee's ignorant and disrespectful expression of opinion is that it gave Sandra Fluke the opportunity to reiterate some important facts.

"Birth control is not about libido. It’s a form of basic preventive health care. As I testified to members of Congress nearly two years ago, many women also need birth control for medical reasons unrelated to pregnancy, including relief of painful menstrual cramps and endometriosis — a leading cause of infertility in women if left untreated.

"The decision to include no-copay coverage of birth control in the Affordable Care Act was informed by years of medical research and the recommendation of the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine. Birth control is vitally important to women’s physical and mental health, since it enables them to plan their pregnancies and manage their lives, expanding their opportunities.

"Access to birth control is not just a health issue; it’s an economic issue. When women can control their lives with birth control, they can help the economy. It allows them to take better care of themselves and their families, support themselves financially, complete their education, and keep or get a job."

24.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

And there was the primary observation, too Permalink to this item

Just getting to the web version of The Equality of Opportunity Project, which analyzed "statistics from millions of anonymous earnings records," and see that the second of the two big picture takeaways seems to be dominating the conversation, that mobility hasn't changed significantly over time. The other one bears quoting, with my emphasis:

"Upward income mobility varies substantially within the U.S. Areas with greater mobility tend to have five characteristics: less segregation, less income inequality, better schools, greater social capital [ "more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups" - nyt ], and more stable families."

screen shot of the interactive NYT graphic showing Boise midpoint

They note that their findings are correlational, "and cannot be interpreted as causal effects" (but so hard to keep from jumping to those conclusions, isn't it?). Inside the executive summary regarding geography:

"The U.S. is better described as a collection of societies, some of which are “lands of opportunity” with high rates of mobility across generations, and others in which few children escape poverty."

And part two of the second topline observation: Economic mobility "is consistently lower in the U.S. than in most developed countries."

The New York Times has an interactive data graphic of their own from half a year ago (linked by the study authors), with a lot more interactivity. Playing with different study areas quickly teaches about regression to the mean, but it's not just that: the centerline between parents and children is higher in the more mobile areas. The Rugby middle of the ND oil and gas patch has a mean at the 65th percentile; up in Barrow, Alaska, the mean is at the 38th percentile. (Boise is at the 49th.)

Inequality, mobility, or no Permalink to this item

Ezra Klein's swan song Wonkblog for the WaPo, and now he's off to do his own thing. The news org and Jeff Bezos apparently couldn't see their way to the "8 figure" setup fee he wanted to make a new channel, their loss. I'm struck by his opening acknowledgements, with 20 named participants "and many others" doing the work. (Never had such horsepower for fortboise; it's just me.)

The top story on the way out is "income mobility," with inequality running a close second. Mobility hasn't changed that much in the aggregate the study says, over half a century. But if "advances in opportunity provided by expanded social programs have been offset by other changes in economic conditions" such as increased trade and advances in technology allowing jobs to find cheaper labor, that's a remarkable averaging out of powerful forces of dislocation.

The WaPo map looking at Most better off than parents has a ton of data behind it, and a "rising tide" description in the footer:

"The children’s income ranked higher than their parents in all but two counties. In a typical county, the children moved 18 income percentiles above their parents."

But this is just the 25th percentilers... how would one map mobility more generally (and start to identify more specific cause and effect)?

Meanwhile, Bill Gates' forecast is that a rising tide will lift all countries (if not individuals) out of poverty, so long as they avoid being "held back by war, politics (North Korea, barring a big change there), or geography (landlocked nations in central Africa)."

(That link is to the web version, and doesn't look durable. The URL of the PDF in English has a directory named "~" in the path. Still some of the whacky Microsoftie in Bill as he transitions to elder statesman.)

Link bait Permalink to this item

Yarrow in winter

First time I stumbled on, it made me feel like a real insider, which I suppose I was, back when only 6 of the world as 100 people had "PCs" and only a few of them had even heard the word "blog." And then I was distracted by a million other things. It cycled back to attention via a friend's "Thought for the Day" mailing, and while scanning the 170+ responses to 2014's question, What Scientific Idea is Ready for Retirement? I noticed Jay Rosen's proposal that we "retire the idea that goes by the name 'information overload.'"

“The Internet scholar Clay Shirky puts it well: "There's no such thing as information overload. There's only filter failure." If your filters are bad there is always too much to attend to, and never enough time. These aren't trends powered by technology. They are conditions of life.”

But it's not just you and your filters at issue: there are a lot of people who want some of your attention, for purposes of their own which may be virtuous, casual, venal, commercial, or downright malicious.

(The Edge is a heck of a good, long read, by the way. They've been organizing interesting ideas around one good question per year for almost two decades now—the age of the web, in round numbers—all there maintained on their website.)

Another trustworthy friend suggested the interesting blog of a person I'd never heard of, and even though the breathlessness of the recommendation sounded a bit suspicious, I took the jump. For media I attend to, I routinely focus on the headline(s) and content and ignore the ad rails and gew-gaws, but this first look seemed to have my regular filter inverted. I saw the top ad, the right ads, the left rail social media blivets with which I could like, or promote, and a "Donate" button.

When someone calls the house with that kind of stuff, the conversation doesn't last very long, and indeed, that was as far as I got before closing the window and "oh well, I guess not."

Caller ID is a filter signal (largely broken by now). If you keep track of your spam bucket, you can recite a host of filter keywords that have been broken (for you, but not for everyone; there are still newbies wondering about the 10 second trick that can save your life, what the government is planning for you, how not to disappoint her tonight, looking for help with the IRS, what "Mandy" thinks is "Too funny"—three times already this morning, it must be really, really funny). There are still hundreds of millions of Facebook users (I suppose) curious about the amazing fact will blow your mind at the end of a 3 or 5 minute video hosted on upworthy, even if I'm no longer one of them.

Maria Konnikova examines the state of the art for The New Yorker, from Aristotle to the present day with a suitably self-referential title, The Six Things That Make Stories Go Viral Will Amaze, and Maybe Infuriate, You. (I didn't notice that gratuitously misplaced comma until I'd cut and paste it. Nice touch.)

The continuously moving target of the "social currency" secret handshake. The memory-inducing trigger. The memorable not-too-long list. The really good story. The cat picture (if you like cats, or love to hate them?), or dog, or squirrel, or bird, or updated funny, beautiful, poignant, baby, historical profile picture.

Which is not to say there's necessarily a good reason for you to pay attention, nor that anyone has to combine all of those to one brilliant, viral post that changes the world, but you can't help yourself from getting sucked into a lot of the time, can you?

Getting through the morning inbox, an item from LinkedIn simultaneously caught my attention, struck my fancy, and annoyed the hell out of me for what it tells me they're doing with the information people share with them. The subject line was "See [so-and-so's] new job, plus 25 other changes in your network" where so-and-so is one of my good peeps, and the preview in gmail shows they've worked around the "don't load images until I ask for them" filter, with a photo-montage of 19 faces of friends, family, and colleagues. Pretty much nothing catches your immediate attention like friends' faces. And they're using you all for link bait, how do you like that?

20.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Time deviation Permalink to this item

Brad Gilbert misses an important (and quantifiable) element of the game, rather unlike him. Nadal's abuse of the time-between-points rule is not random. "Abuse" is the charitable term for cheating, but all officiated sports have gamesmanship between rules and enforcement. It's not officially cheating until you get caught. Having the "shot clock" known only to the chair umpire, a modestly paid employee looking after millionaire superstars, is a rigged game from the get-go. Is 25 seconds enough time between points? 20 seconds in the majors? When it's over 100°F and sunny? After a 20 or 30 shot rally? Arguably not, but there is a rule in place.

Putting a clock on someone between points is not rocket science. Put a clock on Rafael Nadal, and it won't take more than a service game or two to see he's pushing the limit, far beyond the rule. Early in the 3rd set of his match against Kei Nishikori, the commentators noted that Nadal's average time between points was 26 seconds. That's an average of 6 seconds over the limit, and it came up in coversation when the umpire had finally given Nadal an official warning.

That used to be the second step of a rapid escalation of penalty, after a "soft" warning given "privately," and followed by a point penalty, a game penalty, and then match forfeit. That's always been too steep to climb, and they've fixed it by making repeated violation after warning cause you to lose your first serve (if you're serving) or the point (if you're returning).

If Nadal's time between points is normally distributed about the mean, after a dozen service games, a 26 second average would mean at least 24 rule violations. But what was different between all those and the one that pushed the umpire to a warning, finally, and then a loss-of-first-serve penalty? It wasn't obvious, but when replayed and timed, we saw that he took 29 seconds in that instance. (At 2-1 in the third set tiebreak, Nadal took well over 30 seconds, and didn't get called on it.)

What's being missed in the commentary is that there is significant variation in how much time Nadal (and everyone else) takes, for both obvious reasons (an exhausting long rally) and not-so-obvious. It seems to me that Nadal is better than all his competition at abusing the rule to his tactical advantage, whether he does it with conscious calculation, or physical intution. When he makes you wait—and he makes everyone wait, starting with his quirky OCD pre-match ritual and showing up last for the net for the coin toss—your timing is disrupted. He's controlling the point before the point begins.

He takes more time when he needs it after a long point, and sometimes a lot more time. If he's been worked harder than his opponent, his wait-o-meter runs overtime. But when he's managed to run his opponent around the court harder than he's had to work (and he does that plenty often), he'll speed up. After having your timing disrupted point after point after point after game after set by waiting for him, when he puts the hammer down, when you're gassed, it's doubly effective at winning a crucial point.

Darren Cahill noted that "speeding up his play would be worse for [Nadal's] opponents" from a fitness point of view, and maybe so. But disrupting "the rituals" will do something... and Nadal has had a share of fitness issues. And again, it overlooks the variation in time taken, which I think is where a rule is needed for control.

So, how to fix it?

First, change the time limit, if it's too short, but have an aggregate measure of time taken. The effect of playing slow, or fast, accumulates over the course of a match. One long point (and time between) by itself should be overlooked. Two in a row, two or three in a a game, the stakes are higher. Are you fitter than your opponent, and able to play faster? That should be rewarded.

Second, the clock must be visible, to the players, and to the spectators. (The spectators could get involved and favor the "home" team player; the umpire would need to be able to call "time out" if need be.)

Nadal's abuse of the rule has an aggregate effect to his advantage. Lord knows, he has ample advantages to begin with, in skill, fitness, determination, ferocity. He doesn't need to cheat for more, and the game would be improved—and more fair—if we can fix what's broken.

19.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Your new terms of use are ready Permalink to this item

Frustrated with his inability to accomplish a fairly routine task by two (or more) pieces of software that should be cooperating, but seemed to be having a stupid bar fight instead, a friend wrote:

"Steve Jobs' arrogance in not following even basic industry standards—as a matter of policy—lives on."

It makes me wonder how long the legacy of Steve Jobs' arrogance will persist? Another friend is a total Apple fan, and when software complaints arise in conversation, she inevitably avers that everything "just works" for her, all the time. If pressed, she'll admit ok, it's not flat-out 100%, but whatever faults she's encountered don't trouble her at all. And she seems to think that telling people they could solve all their problems if they just used Apple is helpful advice. (That's the most charitable view I can give it; it's Sunday after all.)

The other day, I finally got around to updating iOS on my iPad, from 6-something to 7.0.4. It came new with 5.1, and the update to 6 hadn't been very smooth, and the raves about the new version hadn't convinced me to hurry. This time, I made sure to turn off the "sleep" timer, plugged it into A/C, and the "About 3 hours" was concluded in well less than that initial estimate. Rebooting was dodgy, as the prompt to connect to my iCloud account kept getting in the way, timing out, and then coming back around every time I'd turn it off and back on. Searched the web (with another machine, always good to have when debugging computer problems) for iPad WiFi troubleshooting, eventually brought it around by turning that subsytem off and back on. (Full-on o/s re-do + reboot didn't do that sufficiently?! Apparently not.)

Agreeing to the Terms of Service agreement was in the way too. The good news is, your shiny new o/s version didn't cost you anything. The bad news is, all your base are belong to us. It runs 34 pages on-screen, 24 pages after I'd had it emailed to me and copied and pasted it into Word. Same as 99+% of users, I didn't read anything more than the headline, but I'm sure it must be fascinating reading and writing for legal teams.

The machine served well yesterday in a three-hour workshop for note-taking, a little bit of email/web and taking some pictures, all of which worked well enough and as expected. The new iOS has added a feature to the camera, "HDR" mode, and some of the subjects benefited from that, with our inversion, fog lifting and hoarfrost on the vegetation as the sun came out as best it could.

An iPad makes for an ungainly camera, but the ungainly camera in-hand is worth several better ones you left in a bush, and it takes fine pictures (which look great on its screen), within its physical limitations. I've collected 100+ from when it was handy, including a couple dozen taken yesterday, and rather than mail an occasional good one to myself from time to time to get it into the Windows ecosystem where I'm in control (or feel I'm in control, at least), I decided it was time to download. Searched for instructions... which boiled down to "plug it into the PC" and etc.

Doing that, it fired up the pc-flavor of iTunes (which I'd used a little at first, but it's been a while), with an error monologue:

Sorry, your Apple software is n.g.

The Windows o/s also fired up its usual dialogue for plugged-in storage devices, what would I like to do? including treat the thing as a camera and download its pictures and video with Windows. Yes, that's it, that's exactly what I wanted to do. And Windows proceeded to do the right thing, while that silly error message about an out-of-date and now deadweight version of iTunes sat there with a stupid subtly beautiful anti-aliased rounded corners and drop-shadow.

17.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Like you seem thuggish or whatever Permalink to this item

The news on Comedy Central this week had its fun with Brit Hume's softball pitch on Chris Christie's behalf, what-he-said providing one of those inimitable did-he-say-that-out-loud? moments.

“[M]en today have learned the lesson the hard way that if you act like a kind of an old-fashioned guy’s guy, you’re in constant danger of slipping out and saying something that’s going to get you in trouble and make you look like a sexist or make you look like you seem thuggish or whatever.”

More than a few women have flubbed their way into some whatever too, but maybe not so many of them find a way to stay in the public eye after they're grumpy, old, and more prone to slipping out.

Timothy Egan has his inimitable way with Guy's Guys, and what's not to love about having the gray lady embed a Bruce Stringsteen duet lampooning Governor Chris Christie's Fort Lee New Jersey traffic jaaaaaaam?

"If you say something that genuinely offends women, it’s not because you’re a brawny dude, speaking freely, or even standing up to the culture patrol. It’s because you’re insensitive to people in general — the daughters, wives and mothers of many a manly man."

Brit Hume, take note.

Too-frequent ATM withdrawals Permalink to this item

It must be the nexus of the familiar (automatic teller machines) and the mytho-historical (Bonnie and Clyde) that made this story about a string of robberies seem like the best story in the paper today. As a user of ATMs, I'm kind of glad to reduce the rate at which they're being withdrawn, but the description of using a pickup truck and a chain to yank the machines out of bank walls—such that "they did not activate the ATM alarm"—sounds like an entertaining movie.

Then there's the M.O. featuring "a stolen Ford pickup," as if the robbers had a brand obsession. And how they stopped the police chase in McCall with tire and engine block shots, and somehow made it down to Utah before they got caught.

The team wasn't quite junior rocket scientists, though. Before they switched to stolen Fords, they had a go with two Dodges, traceable back their way. They've been spending a lot of their ill-gotten gains on gas, too: travelling from Meridian (near Boise), up to the panhandle, and then back down to McCall in Idaho, plus Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana... Mississippi and Florida.

They'll be racking up some frequent flier miles as all those various jurisdictions take their turn at prosecuting them, too. Wyoming's first, not sure who'll go next.

The finer points of child abuse in Idaho Permalink to this item

Credit Rep. John Gannon for trying to correct a wrong in Idaho state law, amending the "faith healing" clauses that provide for "prayer and spiritual means" to trump civil and criminal protection of the law. Something like a "keep out of jail free" clause:

"Treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to such child."

In addition to the general protection that such "means" cannot be construed as criminal in 18-1501, there's the civil protection of 16-1627, and additional references in regard to providing "subsistence, medical or other care or control necessary for well-being" (16-1602); failure to provide necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical attendance (18-401); and hospitalization of the mentally ill (66-329).

Somehow having a "bona fide religious denomination" has trumped rationality.

CHILD (Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty) has a good description of the issue, with links, in an open letter to the citizens of Idaho.

"Idaho’s laws protecting children from religion-related medical neglect may well be the worst in the nation. Only four other states have a statutory exemption from the involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide of a minor child based on religious beliefs which bar or discourage medical care. And two of those states have ways to work around the exemption."

The main faith-healing sect in Idaho with such beliefs is the Followers of Christ. Child mortality among them appears to be extremely elevated. By recent count there are 177 children under the age of 18 who are buried in Peaceful Valley Cemetery, one of several used by the Idaho Followers of Christ. There are a total of 553 graves in that cemetery. Over 30% of them are of children who died before age 18 and stillbirths. In contrast, Idaho Vital Statistics data show that during the years 2002-2011 only 3.37% of deaths statewide are of minor children or stillbirths. 30% vs 3.37%.

Gannon's proposal is to remove the exemption "whenever a child's medical condition may cause death or permanent disability," which would be a start. But why should the state let anyone's religious beliefs justify abuse or neglect of a child? The fact that it didn't kill or permanently disable the child hardly seems like a reason to say "oh well, it's their religious belief that abuse and neglect are ok."

16.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I did not but maybe I should Permalink to this item

Shared on Facebook with text-to-image emphasis:

"Ever wonder why 300,000 people in nine counties—in a rural state—were on the same water supply?"

It's a leading question, of course, and the answer supplied:

"Because an unchecked coal industry has poisoned local watersheds throughout WV, forcing residents to shut down their wells and lay pipe to the same surviving city water source."

And further, a link to the New Republic article by Nora Caplan-Bricker, which accomplishes the same call and response in its tweetable headline: Why So Many West Virginians Relied on Water from the Elk River: Industry Already Polluted the Others. Seems to be a West Virginia tradition of long-standing.

"In recent years, environmental activists have given up on state agencies, circumventing them for the federal government. In 2009, four groups petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to take over for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, writing, “The state’s capitulation to the industries it is obligated to regulate under the Clean Water Act and its resulting failure to enforce or maintain its [National Pollution Discharge Elimination System] program leave EPA no choice but to withdraw its approval of that program.” That request went unheeded, but this summer another environmental coalition tried again, petitioning the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, part of the Department of the Interior."

The NY Times story the piece refers to, Critics Say Spill Highlights Lax West Virginia Regulations, from earlier this week recounts a considerably more chilling tale of lax regulation in the state:

"After an explosion at a West Virginia chemical plant owned by Bayer CropScience killed two employees in 2008, a 2010 congressional investigation found that managers refused for several hours to tell emergency responders the nature of the blast or the toxic chemical it released. It also found that they later misused a law intended to keep information from terrorists to try to stop federal investigators from learning what had happened. The plant manufactured the same chemical that was being processed at the time of a gas release in 1984 that killed 10,000 in Bhopal, India."

15.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Keeping in touch Permalink to this item

@Raul_Labrador was all twittery about the response to his "2014 Congressional survey", posting a link to a photo on his Facebook page, saying "I have a lot to read through!" in the caption. Yeah, this is the funky 5-question push poll with no space for comments, and the Congressman has a lot to read through? Sure that's ridiculous, but hey, photo op!

Out of the circumpolar vortex Permalink to this item

Climate extremes in US in 2012 - from

Spend 2 minutes with White House science adviser and physicist John Holdren and wise up about what "climate" is, and how a warming world is likely to experience more snappy cold weather events down here in the mid-latitudes.

Very nicely produced explainer, although the second time through I was struck by the too-strong background soundtrack, and some really interesting caption-free visuals that would have been interesting all by themselves. The hook on the thing is to the White House's plan to fight climate change which is full to overflowing with news and information and datagraphics but not so tightly focused as the first two informative minutes.

So what's trending today? Permalink to this item

Stuff that makes you chuckle out loud, including Bob Mankoff picks his 11 favorite New Yorker cartoons ever, and a who-knew-he-could-do-that "Bruce Springsteen" number with the Boss himself, lampooning the other NJ boss.

Senator infinitesimal Permalink to this item

The first comment under Dan Popkey's coverage of Nels Mitchell's announcement of his candidacy for the US Senate says "amazing for a candidate to want to accomplish good things in 6 years and then return to private life!" That's swimming upstream in our backwater state, though. The sitting Senator, Jim Risch, seems to have had a plan to do as little as possible, and enjoy the view from a window seat as he slides into his 70s and rounds out his fourth decade holding elected offices. "A bad case of Potomac fever" is the way former state Senator Mike Burkett put it. Risch himself is prepared for an "ad infinitum" sinecure, as Popkey reported last May.

“You know, I really enjoy this job. I really like this job,” Risch said last week, saying it’s a breeze compared to the seven months he served as governor in 2006. “Governor will wear you down. You can’t do that job permanently. This you can do ad infinitum.”

Sounds like it's time for some new blood, doesn't it? Risch is offering the "conservative philosophy" of do nothing and collecting a fat paycheck to cover his entertainment expenses, while Mitchell will have good reason to actually do something. For example (from Betsy Russell's report,

"Mitchell pledged to work with Idaho GOP Rep. Mike Simpson on his wilderness proposal for the Boulder-White Clouds mountains, which Risch has opposed. He said that like GOP Sen. Mike Crapo, he’d have co-sponsored the reauthorization of the two-decade-old Violence Against Women Act, which Risch voted against; the bill passed the Senate last February on a 78-22 vote."

For Risch's part, he can recite the GOP talking points off-book, and is more than happy to use other people's money for a good campaign fight.

Update: Popkey's longer coverage of the announcement is up. Apparently, after finishing the web one-liner about "a clear choice between Sen. Risch’s conservative philosophies or another Democrat," it's time to start fundraising, amirite? Just once, wouldn't you like to see a politican—especially a really rich politician such as Jim Risch is—say "thank you for your support for all these years, but this one's on me."

Of course that isn't going to happen. Instead, Risch fired up the internet fundraising appeal, aimed at the usual suspects (and quoted from the copy Mitchell's campaign forwarded my way):

Today, Harry Reid fielded a liberal challenger to run against me. Reid is desperate, and I'm confident that it won't be long before his handpicked puppet begins to falsely smear my proud conservative record.

[Name], let's crush Harry Reid's dreams before he can get his hopes up.

Please make an immediate contribution of $25, $50, $100 or more right now to my campaign so we can show Harry Reid and Barack Obama that this seat is not in play.

13.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Make money fast Permalink to this item

Something to add to the list of sounds-like but maybe not outright oxymorons, congressional oversight, military intelligence, business ethics and... high-end pawn. For the "asset rich" with a "temporary liquidity problem," oh yes, let's make a deal for rates ranging from 12% (that would be nice) "to more than 60% on an annualized basis for online pawnshops and into triple digits for brick-and-mortar operations throughout the country."

Sounds better by the month, sort of, with one fellow happy to have his second wave of loans only 3% instead of 5. Which is hey, "better than a typical pawn loan."

And please, "collateralized lender" not a dodgy old "pawn broker." I suppose these people know how to tell the difference between a fake and a real Rolex? From plenty of practice. And the difference between a trout minnow and a marlin:

"Mr. Souri said he had a client with homes in Chicago and Marco Island, Fla., and a Bentley Continental GT for both locations. The client pledged one of the cars, which are worth $250,000 each, to buy a boat for his Marco Island home because he was confident that the cash flow from his other investments would pay off the loan."

Jon Stewart drew a chuckle for noting the horse's head on the New Jersey state seal last week, but check out the Suttons & Robertsons logo with lions, three classic pawn balls, and a crown floating over the top. No head.

11.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Weigh anchor Permalink to this item

The timer, counter, replenish CFO or whatever it is on the HP CM1015 MFP hit its limit and made the device stop working. B-b-but, there's still 75% of a black cartridge in there, and I don't WANT to go shopping, I want it to PRINT something. I've been dreading this moment, assuming that I would admit defeat and call the thing a boat anchor, go buy a new printer (with new supplies) and pay more attention to cost per page.

Give the execrable performance of the last set of color cartridges, I'd be damned if I was going to go drop another $250+ and give it another go.

But I also had something I wanted to print before tomorrow morning.

There must be an override on this... but could I get to it? As a matter of fact, I could, and PDQ, with the help of Mr. Google, and a helpful forum hosted in the UK.

Cartridge out override

The Cartridge Out Override feature allows the printer to continue using a cartridge that has reached the recommended replacement point. WARNING! Blah blah blah.

  1. Go to the printer's control panel, and press [MENU].
  2. Right arrow to SYSTEM SETUP and [OK]
  3. Right arrow to PRINT QUALITY and [OK]
  4. Right arrow to REPLACE SUPPLIES and [OK]. The default is "Stop at out," or more like stop at "out." Do not stop at "out." Go.
  5. Right arrow to OVERRIDE OUT and [OK]

You're welcome.

10.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Sky's the limit Permalink to this item

Earlier in the day, I saw the "Target Breach" estimate raised to 70 million, and now "a range of 70 to 110 million people" whose personal information may have been swiped by some gang of data grinches. The good news is that just about every other adult in the country seems to be a Target customer (or "guest" as the company's headman referred to them in his statement of expanding apology). The bad news is most of them are rather wishing they hadn't been.

The other good news might be that the black market for identity theft info is now completely oversaturated:

"On Dec. 11, shortly after hackers first breached Target, Easy Solutions, a company that tracks fraud, noticed a ten- to twentyfold increase in the number of high-value stolen cards on black market websites, from nearly every bank and credit union."

For those of us who haven't shopped at Target, maybe we'll enjoy a respite from attempts to get after our info.

9.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I see what your doing there Permalink to this item

Not that there's any reason for it to happen, but if "Mark Zuckerberg" sent me a short, unexpected email praising my company, saying he was "big fan" and that he'd love to me one-on-one at Facebook HQ—an email I have to assume I'd see in my spam bucket—I would probably just laugh and delete rather than ask the obvious question, who is this really?

Kevin Roose of New York Magazine, pre-flouting his book out next month ("Young Money," no less) on LinkedIn, explains how a little breezy, insouciant style can make you rich rich rich. Play "hard to get" and dial down your enthusiasm as you employ "strategic sloppiness." "Cutting corners is a time-saving mechanism that doubles as a display of dominance," don't you know. But do make sure your sloppiness is verry careful calibrated:

"Don't be sloppy in a way that will cast doubt on your intelligence and/or language skills. Typing 'tx' instead of 'thanks' is much different than mixing up 'your' and 'you're.'"

Sam Biddle on ValleyWag had a less generous response to the Snapchat-to-Facebook modern day phone tag, is that derision I see dripping off his blog post? I get the impression Snapchat and its "young, sorta-sociopathic chief executive" stiffed him for the lunch check or something.

"Evan, I know you're still new at this, but if you're going to act like the James Dean of Silicon Valley, don't self-release a screenshot that makes it look like you work at a petting zoo."

So um, like, who is James Dean old man? And excuse me, I need to wash my fingers after visiting your blarg.

8.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Wyoming cured of Cheney, temporarily at least Permalink to this item

Jon Ward thinks the reason Liz Cheney Flamed Out in her bid to unseat Wyoming's Mike Enzi from the US Senate, deciding to spend more time with her family, is both simple, and complicated. Simple, in that all she would have had to do was play the obvious cards right and nudge the incumbent in to a pleasant retirement and seize the reins. Complicated in that she was so far gone from her western roots, she thought Jackson Hole was the place to buy a cabin in order to blend in with the locals. Oh, and she really didn't have that competence or consistency thing down, much.

Not sure the author actually explains how she could've screwed up her main chance so badly. But in spite of "a Palinesque series of news stories involving ham-handed politics and small-time personal dramas," maybe she'll be back, with a heaping helping of Alan Simpson's "beneficence"? It's hard to imagine her having patience as a long suit, but we shall see.

7.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Will the real Dr. Mike Simpson stand up? Permalink to this item

Backside of the ADPAC postcard

This isn't actually his campaign literature, the American Dental Political Action Committee is mailing for a friend, in a not-authorized and oh no not coordinated at all way, to help Mike survive his primary challenge from the political cipher the Club for Growth is standing up.

I saw the back of the oversized glossy postcard first, and its top line of Dr. MIKE SIMPSON, a title my Congressman doesn't use in our correspondence. (I can't imagine he's still doing any dentistry, but you never know.) The weird thing is that the "Doctor" shown is not our good Doctor, but a model of some sort. With a stethescope around his neck. (Has your dentist ever sauntered in with one of those? Didn't think so.)

Anyway, the message could've been delivered on a regular-sized postcard, but apparently that's not as forceful. AGAINST OBAMACARE. And REPEAL OBMACARE, just so we're clear. He has voted 40 times to repeal Obamacare! (Hmm, didn't we just talk about those 40 votes? Ah yes, just below.)

"Dr. Mike Simpson supports giving patients and doctors control of health care decision, not bureaucrats."

So they say. But shouldn't patients have control of bureaucrats? And shouldn't bureaucrats listen to their doctors? And shouldn't someone who knows how to put together an english sentence have proofread this silly thing?

At least the ADPAC does recognize the candidate they're promoting: the other side of the card had the right person's picture on it.

Keeping your primary powder dry Permalink to this item

The slightly inexplicable 13th St bike portal on the Greenbelt

Idaho Code Title 34 Chapter 4 was added in 2011 and amended in 2012 to provide for the extreme half of the Republican Party to try to ensure its purity and extremity by closing Republican primaries in the state.

If I'm understanding it correctly, interested parties who aren't staunch Republicans can best preserve their freedom of action by making sure they register with their county clerk as "unaffiliated" before the last deadline, which is the same deadline as filing for partisan office. That's March 14, 2014 for our next primary election.

That way, you'll have "up to and including election day" to decide whether to stay unaffiliated, or with whom to affilate, to make your vote as useful as possible.

Chapter 9 is longer and not so readable, and gets into the deadline for parties to decide whether they want their primary to be open or closed (180 days... so they had to decide for May already). But I'm thinking the easy chapter tells me all I need to know. Correct me if I'm wrong.

(This brought to mind by the Kootenai County Clerk trying to explain things. One of the questions in the discussion following is whether an R-affiliated voter who chose to cast a D-ballot in the 2012 primary, the first one to have the R-driven closed primary folderol, somehow gets cross-affiliated.)

Epiphany Permanent URL to this day's entry

Best wrong year ever Permalink to this item

With good reason (about which I shan't elaborate), I see that I had a major fail in writing down the year today, where by "writing," I mean of course "typing," because that's what we do now. I typed 2104, a spectacular off-by-90 error. Let's see someone top that.

Winter spin Permalink to this item

Every so often, a big bubble of artic air comes down through Canada and in the States, usually from the east side of the Rockies and covering the rest of the country. It occasionally gets as far as the intermountain west. The big freeze of '14 didn't, and while our weather keeps on being boring, dry, and old snow hangs around the deep shady corners of winter, it would be unseemly to complain right now. It's above freezing at midday today, for one thing.

Since most of the country has extra time inside, and since the weather is the first topic of conversation when it's bad, you can read about polar vortices from a variety of sources. The Business Insider has one, ever so slightly informative, and spruced up with a colorful NASA image from a 2009 event. It would be wholly unremarkable but for one thing: the equivocating disclaimer at the end:

Of course, the idea that the polar vortex is responsible for the current cold snap is a strong theory, not a fact. As NOAA notes: "Many factors, including random chaos in the development of weather patterns, can produce such extreme winter events."

At least BI provided a link to NOAA where we can read some interesting, and yes, carefully qualified detail about the future of arctic climate and global impacts. There is no question that a polar vortex forms, becomes a stable pattern, and dissipates from time to time. There is no question that the country just got a dose of cold out of the arctic. What is a question is what "idea" the BI writer imagines is "a strong theory, not a fact" justifies having her "news" be presented as oppositional. (There's also the mystery of why the Senior Health Reporter is giving a weather report, but I suppose it's all hands on deck right now.)

At least Ms. Friedman didn't branch into why climate change was "just a theory" because baby, it's cold outside. (As Jon Stewart showed last night, that's being amply covered by others, including no less an esteemed climate scientist than The Donald.)

5.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Zero tolerance for dissent Permalink to this item

Not sure if it was an outage on my end or an illustration of what the story is about, but trying to download the NYT-linked copy of Dick Metcalf's column for Guns & Ammo, “Let’s Talk Limits,” gave me a blank page, twice.

The front page story in the Sunday Times is remarkable even without a look at the source document of the dust-up.

"One of the country’s pre-eminent gun journalists, has gone missing" for suggesting that like other constitutional rights, the one about bearing arms always has been, and needs to be regulated.

"The backlash was swift, and fierce. Readers threatened to cancel their subscriptions. Death threats poured in by email. His television program was pulled from the air.

"Just days after the column appeared, Mr. Metcalf said, his editor called to tell him that two major gun manufacturers had said “in no uncertain terms” that they could no longer do business with InterMedia Outdoors, the company that publishes Guns & Ammo and co-produces his TV show, if he continued to work there. He was let go immediately.

“I’ve been vanished, disappeared,” Mr. Metcalf, 67, said in an interview last month on his gun range here, about 100 miles north of St. Louis, surrounded by snow-blanketed fields and towering grain elevators. “Now you see him. Now you don’t.”

Former Guns & Ammo editor Richard Venola spells it out directly enough:

“We are locked in a struggle with powerful forces in this country who will do anything to destroy the Second Amendment. The time for ceding some rational points is gone.”

No point in keeping arms makers at arm's length then.

“You have to be in cahoots with the manufacturer, in order to make the publication appeal to the readership. Say you write about boats. At some point you’re going to end up on the sun deck of a boat, downing sundowners after testing one, with the guy who makes it. It’s just how it happens.”

The good news is that the murder charge in Arizona against Venola last year was dismissed. "He said he was defending himself after fatally shooting a neighbor during an argument."

4.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

No good deed shall go unpunished Permalink to this item

Idaho pols are taking the idea of a circular firing squad to a new figure 8 level. (They tried Möbius, but couldn't abide not knowing which side they were on.) Our Attorney General is joining the oh-no-you-can't side of the question of whether you can keep substandard, pre-ACA healthcare insurance.

Yeah, it's a bit confusing. Republicans in Idaho hate hate hate that Obamacare and the horse it rode in on, but no, they don't appreciate the president trying to make what they say is a bitter pill easier to swallow. Flatly illegal!

"Wasden and the other attorneys general said they support the spirit of Obama's announcement — that people should be able to keep their coverage if they like it — but argued that changes must be made by Congress, not the administration."

Oh, if only Congress could make some changes, eh.

Push poll-orama Permalink to this item

The next-door Congressman, Raúl Labrador has a "Tell Me What You Think" webform looking for a miniature slice of his constituents' opinions, and an email address to subscribe to his newsletter. I heard about it in Facebook from a friend who suggested "let's make sure he hears from everyone, shall we?" Only trouble was the form at the end of the link did not actually work. I fished around to find the one that did, here:

A special kind of stupid

The ZIP code input is not asterisked, but it is required, and I imagine will be checked against the Idaho territory and Labrador's district. The asterisk under the Submit & Join button explains what this is about:

*By answering this survey, you are subscribing to my newsletter.

Otherwise (or same-wise), why bother? You can checkbox "Other/unsure" about stuff, but you can't give any comments of your own in this narrowly sculpted set of 5 "questions." Give him credit for making the push explicit: each one starts with an "I believe" or "I voted" statement before the checkboxes.

All the questions imply a single answer, but all the answers have checkboxes instead of radio buttons; so check as many as you like! They'll probably figure out that my 2nd test submission is garbage in with all the checkboxes checked, but then again I wouldn't count on it.

Either way, I will bet I know the Congressman's positions, and they won't be changing before the next election. To wit:

1. Getting re-elected is the most important issue facing Raúl Labrador.

2. Labrador thinks the government should get out of the way (but keep funding his lifestyle and retirement).

3. Labrador intends to hold the debt ceiling hostage as a negotiating tactic again.

4. Labrador will continue to insist on repealing the Affordable Care Act (hey, he didn't call it "Obamacare"!), and do nothing to attempt to fix any problems with it.

5. Labrador might do something to curtail the NSA's surveillance programs.

Maybe we could agree on that last item, but why would anyone in Congress work with Mr. "no compromise" Labrador on anything? The Obama administration certainly has zero incentive.

Update: The person who posted the bad link to Facebook said she used the "share this on Facebook" link from the Congressman's website, thus making this a game to see "how many things are wrong with this web survey?" At least six:

  1. ZIP code input needs "required" asterisk
  2. ZIP needs to be 9-digit to reliably identify congressional district in Idaho
  3. User-supplied email and 5-digit ZIP subject to simple spoofing
  4. No CAPTCHA or other defense. Gentlemen, start your robots!
  5. Selection inputs should be radio buttons, not checkboxes
  6. "Share this on Facebook" provides an ersatz, broken form

I'm sure some enterprising staffer for The Daily Show can find a suitable soundbite from Congressman Labrador about how disastrous's rollout was, and that any webmonkey should be able to manage this simple technology.

3.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Why do your buildings look like buildings? Permalink to this item

Nothing quite like a 39-year-old architect who's full of himself. I enjoyed hearing most of the Morning Edition bit about one I'd never heard of, Bjarke Ingels, including his blithe dismissal of competition he doesn't see as creative enough:

"You know, some people use only the color white, or only 90 degrees," he explains. "What defines their style is the sum of all their inhibitions."

His inhibitions do not include one against combining a power plant with an downhill skiing opportunity (in Copenhagen, where hills are hard to come by), and why not a smokestack blowing perfect smoke rings?

Thought control, BBC-style Permalink to this item

One would think a "thought for the day" could be non-denominational, if not deity-free, but on the BBC's Radio 4 "Today" program, you either need a big foreign brand, or an affirmation of "faith" to slot in at the regular time. Credit the father of the world-wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee for a partial victory for alternative thinking even if Unitarian minister Andrew Pakula had to be on an hour earlier than usual. (Did they then have someone reassuring the audience at the usual time, never mind want that non-believer doesn't believe?)

This for a country split roughly 50-50 on the question of whether a supreme being exists.

The next step, by one recommendation mentioned there in The Guardian, is to open up TftD to "spiritually minded secularists." God forbid they should have an unspiritually minded secularist sneak on.

Deserving a medal, not a sentence Permalink to this item

The New York Times editorial board didn't go quite that far, but this (with my emphasis):

"Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, [Edward] Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community."

The powers that be don't seem likely to see the big picture on this, but the board's short list of violations Snowden revealed and the legal actions he provoked speak for themselves:

"When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government."

2.Jan.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Copywatch Permalink to this item

Funky corrosion on not so 'stainless', not so 'Movado' watch band

One of the clever visual aspects of the FedEx logo is the arrow formed between the "E" and "x"; that will be part of what's amiss in the knock-off FedXe logo described (but not pictured) by Thom George in his Eye on Shanghai blog post from the "land of copycats and jiade" (and from tomorrow), The Fake Market. (Interestingly, Google's image search doesn't seem to have any record of "FedXe.")

The business of fakery has been in full swing for a while, certainly omnipresent during our visit ten years ago. The official government outlets tried to swim against the tide, but my response to the ubiquity of cheap imitations was to reject all and any. Fortunately for the Chinese economy, Jeanette and I were about the only ones in our group disinclined to participate.

Still, the relentless presence of "shopping" on the daily itinerary led me to pursue one item, as a means to ward off boredom while waiting for the more interesting (to me) parts of the day. I resolved to find a Movado copywatch, and to pay no more than $5 for it. It was a worthy challenge as it happened, as Movado was not riding very high in the fashion sense of copycat watch dealers. Rolex is a perennial, TagHeuer, and someone more fashion-aware than me will have to fill in the rest of the top 10, and hardly anything below the top makes it to the tray. (Who wants the junky stuff, right?)

After a lot of looking, and bracing myself for failure, I finally found what I was after in a Beijing sidwalk market at dusk on the last night. Five bucks (talked down from the starting price of $20) and it was still humming, sold!

Even for a cheap copy, there are some fascinating economics at work here. It is a watch, with a quartz movement, and a watch battery in it, and in this age of miracles all of that for $5. The battery lasted longer than I expected (at least a couple of months) and a replacement (back stateside, cost more than half of the original outlay) kept it going for the usual duration. I don't remember how long I wore it, but without needing to get dressed for work or go to a cube farm Monday through Friday, the novelty wore thin before too many years.

As did the cheap flashed plating on the watchband, which wore through to a coppery sort of underlayer. Not unattractive, really, even though it confessed that "stainless" was an illusion. This was about the time China's use of cadmium was making a lot of news, and at some point it occurred to me that the flash might have a good dose of Cd, and more than would be smart to rub against my skin day after day.

Sitting in a drawer since then, a new twist has been added: the "coppery" part is gaining a new green corrosion product, thanks to a little skin oil and perspiration salt perhaps. The watch itself, whether its claim of "STAINLESS STEEL BACK" or "WATER RESISTANT" is true, would start spinning with a new battery. And a new watchband would set it right, I'm sure. If only I needed a watch for something.

Resolutions for me and thee Permalink to this item

Frank Bruni's end-of-year op-ed reads as part resolution, and (given his confessed media habits) part affirmation: For 2014, Tweet Less, Read More. What's more common at the moment, the decline of discourse or decrying the decline of discourse? Probably still the former, but the "War on Christmas" seems a leftover stew of the two of them? At least that will be quiet for another ten or eleven months.

Responding to the report of a study showing reading fiction improves empathy, Bruni is willing to "bet big on real reading, fiction or nonfiction, as a prompt for empathy and a whole lot more: coolheadedness, maybe even open-mindedness, definitely deliberation."

We would read the report itself, but Science doesn't give it away. The abstract doesn't mention nonfiction, but it does mention "engagement with works of art." I'm in day two of my engagement with David Brooks' blend of fiction for nonfictional purpose, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement and enjoying some art-induced empathetic notions.

My own media excesses don't go to Twitter that much (yet?), other than to shout out a link to my latest blog post on occasion and to chuckle at stuff a Facebook friend retweets into that channel. Consider it the crudité of the media menu, and leave some room for the main course.

Bruni's recent find was Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, that I'd added to my reading list in 2012, and offered as a suggestion in one of the more contentious forums I used to inhabit. One person wrote back to say he "might consider it" but wanted me to answer some questions first, to augment the recommendation, an excerpt I thought would be useful, a link to the book site, Haidt's TED talk, his interview with Bill Moyers, excerpts from two other reviews, and links to and I'd already provided.

Let's just say it didn't work to "find and promote evidence-based methods for increasing political civility" in that instance. Another fellow, describing himself as "a Libertarian outside the perceived liberal/conservative dichotomy" went as far as the Wikipedia page about Haidt "as a useful target" on his way to dismissing the "reinforcement of a false dualism" and accusing Haidt of cherry-picking data to suit his purposes of criticism and lecturing.

New Year's Day 2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Massively parallel non-von Neumann architecture will rock the world Permalink to this item

Thirteen thousand seventy seven lucky people get email alerts on Boise-based Micron Technology (MU) from Seeking Alpha, and even though I'm not one of them, the New Year's Eve edition was forwarded by a friend. Its title, Micron's Server Revolution, seems less-than-exciting only because "revolution" has been overplayed so many times.

Yahoo Finance thumbnail snapshot of MU stock price for all time

The site, and the writer are interested in investing more than computing, so the conclusion is about "an entry into a new market with a product that is faster, uses less power, and is cheaper than the competition," and a company that's been whipsawed by a commodity market moving into more profitable initiatives. The stock chart going back to 1989 looks like a family portrait of the dot com bubble and bust, but it stayed above zero the whole time, and quite nicely so from its Nov. 2008 nadir of $1.87. It closed 2012 at $6.34, and 2013 at $21.75. Never mind the S&P up 30%-ish; Micron ran up +243% last year.

Seeking Alpha's commentator, Jaret Wilson, is long MU, and looking for a more modest +50% in the next half year, maybe more "if the Automata Processor lives up to its promise." (I'm not long MU at the moment, more's the pity.)

There remains the not-small matter of software to take advantage of the opportunity this hardware will offer, to "partners and early adopters by mid 2014" when they get their samples and SDK, but the "AP" and its potential will certainly have piqued the interest of the folks listed under "who can use" on Micron's website, working in cyber security, bioinformatics, big data analytics, and video/image analysis. My friend's takeaway was to

"Mark my words, this looks to be a turning point where computers start to look very much like the human brain."

I think he's right, in the sense that they could be more complicated and surprising than we can fully fathom (which in a lot of ways they already are), but not in the sense of having similar architecture, behavior, or capability.

I'm guessing the evolutionary branch of machine intelligence is, and is going to be very different from the human brain. We don’t know enough about how the human brain works to mimic it, really. Fascinating book I started yesterday in that realm: The Social Animal, by David Brooks. Machines can and will do things we can’t dream of doing with our own brains, and remain utterly incapable of things we take for granted in 5- and 8-year-olds. Nor will we look to them for "the Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement" of Brooks' subtitle. What does seem likely to me:

Somebody’s working on how they could use this to mine Bitcoins, or to start their own virtual currency.

When machine intelligence reaches the point where it does more than we understand—which is bound to happen—there be dragons.

Quantum computing may yet "change everything," but I have no idea how close we are to that threshold. In the meantime, this brute-force, cheaply scalable, "moderately intelligent" processor does seem likely to rock the world, and be good or very good for Micron’s business.

Happy New Year Permalink to this item

Thanks goodness for a holiday there's no War on (even though we have a goodly share of culturally variant calendars we might fight over). We were supposed to get our retrospectives done before the turn I guess; now it's time to look forward.

Back in the day, Colorado had the allure of being where a Wisconsin boy had to go to get Coors beer (which is hard to imagine being alluring now, but that was a long time ago). As of today, a.k.a. "Green Wednesday," tourists will be flocking for a new sort of Rocky Mountain High. (A better way to fund public services than sucking people into buying lottery tickets, probably. But is 25% enough to light up a Tea Party protest?)

2014 newsmakers with staying power will include 2013 Man of the Year Pope Francis and Edward Snowden "mission accomplished" and then some). More Twitter followers will be bought and sold. Big Data will be bigger than ever, as will the numbers in news of leaked usernames, phone and credit card numbers. Wearable tech will be huge—and tiny, cars really will start driving themselves (but not flying, yet), clever gadgets could give you just the information you need when you need it, but the customer help desk will not be much help.

What we didn't see coming will make bigger news than anything on my list, but we will all imagine we could have seen it coming.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007