Sunday, June 29, 2014

Viva Veev!


Another #klout I finally was able to use, Vita...
(Photo credit: porcupiny)
Disclosure: I received free product from the manufacturer for this review. In fact (as described below), they went an extra mile to get it to me -- KN@PPSTER

I've mentioned Klout Perks on this blog before; they're a great way of connecting products/services with "influencers," and apparently I'm one of the latter in an at least minor way. Awhile back I was selected to receive a coupon for $11 off a bottle of Veev Vita Frute as one of these "perks," the obvious expectation being that I would tell you all about how great it is. Then when the only liquor store offering the product refused the coupon and I emailed Veev to let them know (mostly so they wouldn't blame Klout for hooking them up with people who didn't end up reviewing the product), I heard back directly from Veev CEO Carter Reum and Veev intern Jose Sotomayor, who took the trouble to ship a bottle directly to me.
I never consider anything like that to involve an obligation for a positive review, but they certainly earned the review ... and it is positive, so I guess everyone wins here.

Vita Frute is a line of bottled pre-mixed cocktails in various flavors: Coconut Colada, Margarita, Lemonade and Cosmopolitan. I chose the Lemonade flavor.

Now, keep in mind that I am an alcohol lightweight these last few years. Even setting aside the diabetes, I just prefer a fairly low alcohol level and when I drink (which isn't that often) I usually go for a premium beer (Fat Tire or a nice IPA) or for bourbon heavily diluted with cola. So at 15% alcohol, the Vita Frute lemonade is a little strong versus my own preference.

Nonetheless, I tried a little bit of it straight and I can tell you that it tasted like premium booze. How to quantify that? Can't do it, but those of you who are experienced drinkers can tell the difference between bar bourbon and Maker's Mark, bar vodka and Stolichnaya, etc. Vita Frute had the "mouthfeel" of the top shelf stuff.

The alcohol component in Vita Frute is "neutral spirit" from acai, with agave nectar and natural lemon flavor in the Lemonade product (oh, and all "organic," for those who value such). It had a nice flavor -- a "hard" "hard lemonade." Too "hard" to be my cup of ... er, lemonade ... but I suspect anyone who enjoys a strong Vodka Collins or that sort of thing would be right at home with it.

Figuring I owe Veev more than just to say "nice but too strong for me," I decided to go beyond the bottle instructions ("All natural products settle. Please shake, pour over ice and enjoy") and came up with the idea of doing a "frozen lemonade" -- pretty much a lemonade daiquiri. I filled a blender cup with ice, added a couple of packets of stevia for additional sweetness, filled the empty space with the Vita Frute, blended it down to a smooth frozen drink ...

... VERY nice. The stevia took a little bit of the lemon/alcohol edge off and of course the ice brought the alcohol content down to 5 or 6 percent. I happen to like frozen lemonade, and this tasted like mildly alcoholic frozen lemonade. I enjoyed a few ounces and would have had more if I could have afforded the blood sugar spike involved.

A little bit of quick calculating tells me that from a fifth bottle of the Vita Frute, you should be able to get half a gallon or more of frozen drink out of the procedure I just mentioned. That puts it in the same price range (and the same alcohol content range) as not-very-expensive beer. So you could definitely knock your party rep up a notch or two with it. Just sayin' ...

If you don't drink, don't start drinking because of this review. If you do drink, please enjoy in moderation. And if you're looking for a good alcoholic lemonade cocktail ranging from strong/straight to mild/mixed, Vita Frute is the way to go.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

New Toy!


Went garage-saling this morning, as we do most weekends. And most weekends I find a thing or two that I don't really need, cheap. But today I found something that I've always kind of wanted whenever I thought about it, but haven't come across at a garage sale before. Ever. Let alone cheap.

How cheap? Hard to say, as it came as part of a "dicker them down on several items" bundle. The asking price was $10. The real price, pro rata, was probably between $5 and $7.50.

Not counting future emergency room bills, of course.

Great condition, almost new. Found the same or at least similar model online new for $130.

Got it home, aired the tire up, read some online tutorials and watched some YouTube videos, managed to ride around the car (with one hand using the car for balance). I think I'll watch garage sales for a helmet before I get any more adventurous with it.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sometimes You Can Immediately Tell ...


... who's on a power trip.

Let me show you a picture (of something I noticed on a CNN segment on "cyber-bullying" today ... no, I don't normally spend much time on CNN, but I was cruising past and it caught my eye). This is actually a crop from a picture, which could have been any of hundreds or maybe thousands of pictures from around the Intertubes. I picked this one because it was easy to crop the bit I was interested in:


That's a shirt collar with four stars on it. Quiz time! This collar belongs to:
  • The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff;
  • The Commandant of the US Marine Corps; or
  • The Sheriff of Polk County, Florida.
Counting full-time employees, part-time employees and 1,000 civilian volunteers, the organization Sheriff Grady Judd commands includes 2,834 people.

Members of the 5th Marine Regiment, commanded by a colonel: 4,800.

Members of the 1st Marine Division, commanded by a major (2-star) general: 25,000.

Members of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, commanded by a lieutenant (3-star) general: I don't know, but it includes the aforementioned division, plus an air wing, plus a logistics group.

Members of the Marine Corps, commanded by a 4-star general: About 200,000 active and about 40,000 reserve.

Megalomania \Meg`a*lo*ma"ni*a\, n. [NL., fr. megalo- + mania.] (Pathol.) A form of mental alienation in which the patient has grandiose delusions. [1913 Webster] megalomaniacal


Or that this is the sheriff who arrested a 12-year-old girl for "cyber-bullying," releasing her name and photograph to the press before doing a self-promotion tour on the talk show circuit ... after which all charges were dropped because they were obviously BS in the first place.

Whaddaya wanna bet if gets re-elected in 2016, he hits the militaria shops for a reproduction of the retired 5-star insignia. worn by e.g. MacArthur and Eisenhower?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Asus Chromebox -- 1-Week Update


The new Asus Chromebox arrived a week ago, so I've had a chance to break it in and see what it can do.

So far, I haven't really noticed that it has half as much RAM as the older Samsung it replaced. In one week I've had exactly one page crash with an error message along the lines of "Chrome may have run out of memory or there may be a problem with the page." Given that I only had a few tabs open at the time, that I frequently work with 20 or more tabs open and that on refresh the page came right up, I doubt it was lack of memory.

What can I say? It's a Chromebox. As soon as I started it up and pointed it at my home network, it updated to the latest version of ChromeOS. As soon as I logged in for the first time, it began importing all my synced bookmarks, installing all my synced extensions, etc. Within a few minutes after first boot, bada-bing-bada-boom, I was completely back in the saddle.

Over the course of my computing life, I've noticed that all non-Mac machines seem to have their own small quirks. The Samsung would sometimes have trouble coming back from sleep/suspension to two monitors. The Asus sometimes comes out of sleep/suspension with the keyboard not wanting to work right (some letters work, some don't). In both cases a restart (a matter of a few seconds with a Chromebox) fixes it. Right now I'm using a (pretty worn out -- about half the keys no longer have visible markings; fortunately I'm a touch typist) USB keyboard and a wireless USB mouse. I'm planning Real Soon Now to buy one of those wireless mouse/keyboard sets that work through a single USB dongle for both devices and see if that gets rid of the keyboard weirdness.

My recommendation, as usual: If your computing life takes place pretty much entirely on the web / in the cloud (or if it could), your next machine should be one of these.

Monday, June 23, 2014

One of Them There "Rule of Law" Questions


Why aren't Sarasota Police Department Sgt. Kenneth Castro, Sarasota Captain Robert Estrada, Assistant Florida State Attorney Craig Shaefer, Harris Corporation CEO William M. Brown and unidentified (in the article this question is sourced from) but presumably identifiable Deputy US Marshals in lockup awaiting arraignment for violations of and conspiracy to violate Article I, sections 9, 12, 16 and 24 of the Florida Constitution as well as US Code Title 18, sections 241 and 242?

Just asking.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It's So Tiny!


[That's what she said ... rim shot]

No, no, no ... I'm talking about the new Asus Chromebox. It's less than 5 inches square and less than 2 inches tall. Feast your eyes on a blurry photo of it next to the old Samsung model, which is a little bigger than my old Mac Mini square, though not quite as tall (for visual reference, that's a fairly standard size mouse sitting on top of the larger machine).

Power usage? From an early Computer World review:


With the system simultaneously playing an HD video, displaying a presentation on Google Slides and running a science simulation on the University of Colorado's PhET site, it used just 11.2 watts. That's roughly one-tenth the level of a standard desktop system and less than the typical notebook.

Per the specs, it's less powerful than the Samsung (2 gigs of RAM instead of 4, slower CPU), but I haven't noticed any performance differential. Maybe I don't push my machines hard enough to reveal one. Only four USB ports instead of six, but it has a card reader built in. Nice little machine (I'm writing this post on it).

In a previous post, I blegged for worshipful readers to defray its cost (ballpark, $175 for the machine and the monitor adaptor I had to order to have it work with my old display -- which fortunately arrived by USPS about five minutes after the Chromebox arrived by UPS). Thanks to AJ who ponied up $20. Not gonna bang the drum on this TOO hard, but $155 to go ...




[cross-posted at Browser News Digest]

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

It's Not That Complicated


Asks James Scanlon at Wall Street Cheat Sheet: "Why Did Microsoft Attempt a Paid Blogging Campaign?"

Answer: Because that's the only way Microsoft can get people to write nice things about its products, because its products suck. Duh.

I can almost -- not quite but almost -- understand why someone might not go to the trouble of replacing the complete train wreck that is Windows with a real operating system if all they can find or afford is a Windows OEM machine. Macs are little more expensive than Windows PCs, there's a moderately successful disinformation campaign out there still convincing people that Linux is complicated (it isn't) and maybe not everyone has heard of ChromeOS yet.

But if you put up with Internet Explorer for longer than it takes to download Chrome, Firefox or Opera (among others), there's just flat something wrong with you.

Should Bureaucrats Get to Discriminate Based on Their Definitions of "Disparaging?"


Setting aside for the sake of argument my opposition to the whole idea of "intellectual property," I find this disturbing:


The United States Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the Washington Redskins trademark registration, calling the football team's name "disparaging to Native Americans." ... Federal trademark law does not permit registration of trademarks that "may disparage" individuals or groups or "bring them into contempt or disrepute."

A trademark ("A peculiar distinguishing mark or device affixed by a manufacturer or a merchant to his goods, the exclusive right of using which is recognized by law") either is or is not a legitimate property claim.

If it is a legitimate property claim, it's a legitimate property claim whether it offends someone -- American Indian (I'm a "native American, born in Tennessee, even disregarding my partial Cherokee and Blackfoot ancestry), DC bureaucrat, whoever -- or not.

If it isn't a legitimate property claim for the Redskins, then neither is it one for the Nike Swoosh or for Coca-Cola's trade dress.

They Find Your Lack of Faith ... Disturbing


Would-be Japanese censors, that is.

Japan's House of Councillors, the upper house of its parliament, the Diet, passed a bill today illegalizing possession of child pornography (production and distribution were already banned).

But that's not enough for some people, who want the ban to apply to imaginary child pornography as well as the real thing:

They may be drawings, but critics say the images found on the pages of some of Japan's erotic manga are so disturbing they should be banned.

"I believe that this kind of terrible material is not protected under freedom of expression," says Masatada Tsuchiya, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Of course, that's been the trend in the US for decades. It's not just illegal to rape children and take pictures or video of the crime, or to possess said pictures or video. It's illegal to draw pictures of imaginary children engaged in sexual activities. One man even drew a 10-year prison sentence for fantasizing about about sex with children in his diary. Another was arrested for writing and publishing a "how-to" guide for pedophiles, even though he was at no point accused of ever having sexually touched a child.

These laws and enforcement schemes, of course, are allegedly based on the entirely unsubstantiated superstition that child porn creates pedophilia rather than it being the other way around (in my opinion, they're also based in the megalomaniac fantasies of their authors and advocates ... you'll hear calls for "gun control" and "drug control" and pretty much every other kind of "control" you can imagine coming out of the same yaps).

As I wrote in a long and defective piece some years back (it was written before I came to understand that the whole concept of "intellectual property" is just completely wrong):

The current debate centers largely around "virtual" child pornography -- depictions which are created digitally or artistically and in which no real children participate in any way. This debate obviously -- or at least it should be obvious -- is a tempest in a teapot. The advocates of suppression of "virtual" child pornography cannot produce a victim; therefore they are going to face extreme difficulty in attempting to create a crime. Equally obvious, from the standpoint of utility, is the fact that "virtual" child pornography potentially reduces the incidence of child molestation involved in producing "the real thing."

I haven't really revisited the issue of real child pornography since my conversion on the "intellectual property" issue, but I guess I should do so briefly here:

Possession of real child pornography is, at this point, evidence that one is, in some way (if only as "accessory after the fact"), party to a crime.

But I see no reason whatsoever that the product, when discovered and seized, should not be stamped with some kind of evidence cataloging identifier and turned over to the victim who, should he or she care to once he or she is an adult, sell it to or share it with anyone he or she pleases.

The aforementioned superstitionists will claim, of course, that the availability of the stuff would create more demand for stuff of its type, thus incentivizing child rape.

On the contrary, I believe it's at least as plausible, and likely more so, to conclude that the availability of "legal" child pornography, real or imaginary, would largely shut down the market for "illegal" child pornography (how many people do we hear of getting arrested for making bathtub gin lately?).

Or, to put it a little more harshly, Masatada Tsuchiya and his American counterparts seem to me to objectively support sexual assault on children, since the laws they support incentivize sexually assaulting children for profit by cutting off alternative means of generating/providing the content in question.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

With Apologies to the Late Norman Schwarzkopf


As far as Frederick W. Kagan and William Kristol being great military strategists: They are neither strategists, nor are they schooled in the operational art, nor are they tacticians, nor are they generals, nor are they soldiers. Other than that, they are great military men.

Does anyone still take these idiots seriously? The next time they're right (at least about what's best for the United States, as opposed to best for Israel) will be the first time.

As a coherent nation-state of the Westphalian variety (territorial integrity, national sovereignty, etc.), Iraq was doomed from the moment Winston Churchill scratched out its borders on a cocktail napkin at the Cairo Conference.

It's the kind of cockeyed expedient that can only be held together, and then even then tenuously and at great cost in human freedom and human lives, by an extraordinarily violent authoritarian regime like that of Saddam Hussein's Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party.

The Kurds in the north want autonomy (and, ideally, a Kurdistan that spills over Churchill's borders into Syria, Turkey and Iran).

The Shiites in southern and central Iraq tend to identify with, and will almost certainly eventually become part of a Greater, Iran.

At the time of Iraq's creation, TE Lawrence's "Arab Awakening" was all the rage among westerners who had no idea what they had unleashed.  Saudi-backed Sunni fundamentalists and Ba'athist/Nasserite "Arab nationalists" are both products of that madness. It's hard to say which one is worse, but obviously the US government should have thought harder before un-horsing the latter and leaving the field open to the former.

The quicker the US lets Iraq start sorting out its own problems, the quicker those problems will cease to be American problems and the less traumatic the residual blowback will be.

If advocacy has consequences, Kagan and Kristol already have the blood of untold thousands -- Americans and Iraqis among others -- on their hands. To continue taking their advice would conform strongly to any reasonable definition of insanity.

[Cross-posted at Come Home America]

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Two Blegs


One for me, one for Antiwar.com. Them first:

Antiwar.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. This means that any time you buy something through their storefront or affiliate link, they receive a commission. Now, above and beyond that, you can point 0.5% of your Amazon.com purchase totals at Antiwar.com by designating The Randolph Bourne Institute (Antiwar.com's parent organization) as your Amazon Smile charity.

Yes, Antiwar.com runs quarterly fundraisers. Yes, Antiwar.com works to constantly connect with major donors. But ongoing income from things like Amazon commissions helps close the gap between formal fundraising and actual operating costs. If you've been watching the news lately, you know that Antiwar.com is more relevant and important than ever ... so if you shop at Amazon, please consider doing it in a way that helps out.

Now, me:

I just ordered a new Chromebox. I've been using the first one for nearly two years and love it. There are only two problems:


  • I've been getting occasional strange hardware behavior. It may be nothing important (a USB port going bad, a lose connection), or it may be a sign that the machine is getting ready to bite the dust. I'm just not sure. Frankly I would be a little disappointed if the machine lasted less than two years, even though it was cheap and even though I use the hell out of it. But it's a consideration, and I really can't afford to wait for it to lie down and die completely before taking action.
  • My younger son insists that he hates every operating system except for Windows. But he also refuses to visit certain sites/download certain content/etc. on Windows, which means he's constantly using MY machine, which he insists is inferior to his Windows laptop. Yes, we've discussed his poor reasoning on this matter, but ... well, that poor reasoning doesn't seem to be amenable to correction. Getting a second Chromebox would allow me to let him have the old one, so that my machine gets used several hours a day less and so that I don't have to kick him off my machine when I have work to do.
So, I finally decided to bite the bullet and order the new Asus Chromebox. I thought about ordering it from Amazon via the Antiwar.com affiliate link, but I didn't want to shell out full payment in advance -- I seldom use credit, but in this case I went with PayPal's "Bill Me Later" service so that I can pay it off over time, and Amazon doesn't accept PayPal. I ordered it from NewEgg. I even got $10 off using a promo code. So for the Chromebox and for an adaptor I'll need (to convert one of my monitor cables from DVI to HDMI -- this Chromebox has no DVI port), the total cost came to about $175.

On the one hand, $175 probably isn't going to kill me, especially since I can pay it off over the course of six months with no interest.

On the other hand, I do in principle work for money, and my revenue model is "provide the content, ask people to pay if they like it." So, if you like KN@PPSTER (and the other things I do online) enough to fork over a little bit, please feel free to contribute to the KN@PPSTER New Chromebox Fund:





I'll shut the button down once it reaches (IF it reaches) $175.

Friday, June 13, 2014

... And We Have a Winner!


For "Dumbest Thing I've Read This Week," that is.

I had pretty much expected it would be something coming out the yap of John McCain or Lindsey Graham -- "we need to get back into Iraq, losing there once in this century isn't enough" or something like that -- but they were all outclassed by an economist who clearly should know better.

The continuing slowness of economic growth in high-income economies has prompted soul-searching among economists. They have looked to weak demand, rising inequality, Chinese competition, over-regulation, inadequate infrastructure and an exhaustion of new technological ideas as possible culprits.

An additional explanation of slow growth is now receiving attention, however. It is the persistence and expectation of peace.

The world just hasn’t had that much warfare lately, at least not by historical standards.

I bet you're thinking to yourself, Paul Krugman, it has to be Paul Krugman, in this day and age only Paul Krugman or maybe David Brooks could get away with getting that fetal-position-laughing silly in the New York Times.

Nope.

Tyler Cowen.

I bet you're thinking to yourself, oh dear God, not that Tyler Cowen?

Yes, that Tyler Cowen.

I bet you're thinking to yourself, wow. Tyler Cowen threw himself bodily right through the Broken Window Fallacy? Did he pick this week to start smoking crack or something?

That's kind of what I'm thinking too.

Maybe he's got tenure. Maybe even if he doesn't have tenure, George Mason will hold his chair for him if he agrees to in-patient rehab. That crack will get right into your head, man.

"Prices" /= "Costs"


I was 99% sure what I was going to find when I clicked the WaPo Blogs headline in my email just now: Best state in America: Maryland, for keeping college costs relatively stable. And I shouldn't have even entertained that one little sliver of doubt.

"[I]n Maryland," writes Reid Wilson, "public university tuition has risen at a slower rate than in any other state."

He then goes on to explain how:

A big part of Maryland’s success comes from a four-year tuition freeze, which Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) implemented in 2007. Every year since, the legislature has capped tuition hikes at just 3 percent a year. Between his first budget, in fiscal year 2008, and his latest, for 2015, the governor also increased higher-education funding by 34 percent, to $1.4 billion, O'Malley spokeswoman Nina Smith said, easing financial pressure on state schools. The extra money came from other parts of the budget and from higher taxes.

So it wasn't "college costs" that remained stable. It was "college prices -- for the retail customers" (the students). There's a difference.

Back in the early 1990s I lived near (and my then-fiancee attended, which meant I spent a certain amount of time on campus) one of Missouri's larger universities. One day I found myself walking through the middle of a campus demonstration against a proposed tuition increase.

I decided to research the subject, which was not really that easy back in those days before most people (including me) had easy access to the World Wide Web. It involved reading newspaper articles, going to libraries to dig through government documents, etc. Here's what I found:


  • An undergraduate student at one of Missouri's "public" universities paid (IIRC) about 32% of the cost of delivering the services that student consumed. That's if said student received no scholarships, Pell Grants, GI Bill benefits or other financial aid. If the student paid the entire price listed for credit hours, student fees and so forth, the taxpayer covered about 68% of the real cost.
  • If the tuition increase passed, the same student would end up paying (again IIRRC) a little more than 33% of the cost of providing that student with a college education and the taxpayer would "only" pick up 66.x% of the check.
Maryland's government isn't controlling "costs" -- it's controlling one set of "prices" (tuition for students) by raising another set of "prices" (taxes for taxpayers).

"Public" college/university education is a welfare program for the American middle class (and, to a lesser degree, for America's poor). Saying that might make some people mad, but it's the truth, and discussing it as if it were anything else is dishonest.

Things You Already Knew But I'm Going to Tell You Anyway #17,353,511


Intervening in the Middle East has always been a bad idea.

Intervening in the 1990-91 dispute between Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, et. al was a bad idea.

Invading and occupying Iraq in 2003 was a worse idea.

Intervening yet again to support the disintegrating regime in Iraq against the Sunni uprising, especially when Iran is already doing so, is the certainly among the dumbest damn ideas I've heard in a new century characterized almost entirely by really damn dumb ideas.

That is all.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it"


I haven't spent much time flogging the What I'm Reading bloc I keep over there in the sidebar, but I've been meaning to start. Right now, I'm in the middle of Stanley P. Hirshson's The White Tecumseh: A Biography of General William T. Sherman. You're either into Civil War history and biography or you aren't. If you are, you'll want this one.

Most recent "stop and read again" paragraph:

Wounded at Kennesaw was twenty-eight-year-old Colonel Daniel McCook, Sherman's former law partner in Kansas. Shot in the right breast just below the collarbone while leading a charge, he was carried off the field and taken to his home in Steubenville, Ohio. On July 16 he received a message from Sherman telling him of his promotion to brigadier general. "The promotion is too late now," McCook responded. "Return the compliments, saying 'I decline the honor.'" The next day he died. He was buried in Cincinnati, eventually joined by his father, who was killed leading militia against the Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan, and four brothers, all of whom died in battle.

Mass American casualties on American soil have been the exception -- Pearl Harbor, 9/11 -- rather than the rule for lo on 150 years now.

For that matter, even abroad we haven't seen American casualties on anything like the same order of magnitude as enemy casualties since what, Korea? The armistice was in 1953, so an 18-year-old grunt then is 79 now.

No, I'm not saying Vietnam wasn't rough, but US troops killed there totaled 58,000 from 1955-1975. That's an average of about eight per day. Of course the incidence was much heavier during the period of 1965-72, but even if we attribute every last US KIA to that narrower period, it comes about 23 per day.

In the Civil War it was an average of more than 500 per day and right in our faces.

Since Vietnam, we've fought entire wars (Panama, Desert Storm) with fewer than 500 Americans killed in action.

Total American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, in 13 years, come to about 13 days worth of Civil War death numbers.

The title of this post, of course, doesn't come from Sherman's biography. It's something Robert E. Lee said at Fredericksburg. I picked it because I wonder if war is terrible enough these days, at least for those who have the luxury of watching it from afar. For those who have to see it up close and personal, whether from military ranks or just because it's in their own front yards, well, here's Sherman on the subject:

I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting -- its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers ... it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated ... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.

I doubt much has change from that perspective in 150 years.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

An If-Then Statement


I do enough stuff around the web that some of it has to be automated. If it wasn't automated, it just wouldn't get done.

For example, maintaining the Facebook page and Twitter stream for Rational Review News Digest. We average about 50 posts per day, and as publisher I'm responsible not only for my own posts but for proofing and scheduling the other three editors' contributions. If I had to individually tweet and facething each post as it came out, there wouldn't be time in the day for anything else.

And while it wouldn't kill me to manually get the material here at KN@PPSTER out to the social networks, if I automate it I don't have to remember to do that every time.

And there's other stuff even more boring than the stuff I've already mentioned. So: Automation.

My two previous mainstays for getting that stuff done have been Networked Blogs and Twitterfeed.

They're both actually great services, but they also have various problems (Networked Blogs sometimes runs into problems "syndicating" my stuff; my Twitterfeed feeds seem to sometimes just go down without explanation for weeks at a time then suddenly start working again -- and to top it off, for a long time I couldn't figure out how to get into my account there because like an idiot I tied it to an "OpenID" sign-in powered by a site that then disappeared; finally figured out a workaround this morning).

So this morning I decided to just switch it all over to a newer service called IFTTT. The acronym stands for "if this, then that," and that's exactly how it works.

The user creates a "recipe" by choosing an "if this" and a "then that."

For example, "if I post something at my Blogger blog, then post a tweet on my Twitter account."

It's even simpler than it sounds.

Looks like about 110 different things on the web that you can do this with -- everything from Gmail to Blogger to Twitter to Facebook to YouTube to Dropbox to a gazillion things you may or may not have heard of or use.

You click on an "if then" icon (e.g. "Wordpress" -- it takes you through an authorization dialog for your Wordpress blog and what you want to trigger the if, e.g. "I post anything," "I post something with a particular tag," etc.).

Then you click on a "then that" (e.g. "Facebook Pages" -- it takes you through an authorization dialog for your Facebook page and what you want it to do (post the link/title/whatever from that Wordpress post to your Facebook page).

When you're happy you say so, and your "recipe" is active (unless you turn it off). Every 15 minutes from then on IFTTT checks to see if the "if this" has happened, and if so it automagically does the "then that" for you.

I've already got the RRND stuff working (it took about two minutes) ... this here blog post will tell me if I've got everything set up for KN@PPSTER automation (I don't doubt it -- like I said, IFTTT is easy as pie and hard to mess up -- but I still check, see?).

So anyway, if you're looking for easy, simple, reliable automation of Internet stuff, check out IFTTT. It rocks.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Patrick Wilson is a Rock God


Let's see if this embed works (it's HTML 5 and I'm not sure what browsers will support it) ... if not, you can see the video taken by _lindsayhxo_ on Instagram ...

612

Embed by embedinstagram.com


Jeffrey Tucker AMA!


I'm setting up this in advance to post at 3:55pm EST on Monday, June 9th ... which is five minutes before the live event begins. If you're seeing it before then, I messed up. You can actually go to the event site instead of watching a tiny embed, or visit the Facebook event page.

This is an "AMA" ("Ask Me Anything") with Jeffrey Tucker of Liberty.me, hosted by Michael Shanklin. Why am I embedding it here? Because I think Tucker is a fascinating guy, and because it's free blog-fodder that Tucker/Shanklin will presumably appreciate the tiny little extra increment of exposure I can give them by doing it. So ... enjoy!


Update: Well, it looks like I was an hour off ... sorry about that.

Interesting


I can buy a 110-pound weight set complete with discrete 25-pound, 10-pound and 5-pound plates, barbell/dumbell bars and locking collars, for about $100.

So you'd think that a single 35-pound piece of cast iron in the shape of a cannonball with a handle -- a "kettlebell" -- would cost considerably less than half that.

But you'd be wrong. At the same store (Wal-Mart), it runs almost exactly half that: $49.97.

Some cursory web searching seems to bear out my perception that kettlebells go for somewhere in the neighborhood of  1 1/2 times as much per pound as "traditional weight" sets.

Kettlebells
Kettlebells (Photo credit: WilsonB)
What's going on? Demand differential, that's what's going on. Kettlebells are popular, traditional weights less so at the moment, so retailers are charging what they can get for each.

As you might assume from the above, I'm in the market for a 35-pound kettlebell (according to the He-Men of Kettlebell Fame, that's the weight I want to work with). But damned if I'm going to shell out fifty bucks for a simple hunk of metal. I've got other stuff I can use for the moment.

I'm keeping an eye on Craigslist. It's likely to near certainty that there are people out there who did pay big bucks for the things, didn't use them, and are getting tired of stubbing their toes, or of just having fitness equipment stare at them reproachfully all day. I should be able to get one for $10-$20 if I spend a little time watching and am prepared to jump on a deal.

Update: OK, WTF? I finally found a 35-pound kettlebell on Craigslist. For $45. I can get a new one from Wal-Mart for $50 and not have to drive as far! It finally occurred to me to check eBay. I've got one on the way. New. $40, but it comes right to my door. I should probably have waited for the deal of the century, but I'm in a hurry. I've been using light dumbbells and body-only exercises to start getting my back and core in shape. I'm biking every day, have made changes in my diet, am down from 245 pounds to 232 in two months, etc. Now I need to be throwing around more weight to reach my next strength and flexibility (getting full range of movement back in that "frozen shoulder") goals and a reasonably heavy kettlebell makes the most sense for those goals. So I'm making this happen NOW.

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Election 2014 Handicapping: Florida's Gubernatorial Race


It's really hard to call this early, but my gut feeling is that Republican governor Rick Scott is setting up pretty well for a second term. The polls are back and forth, usually showing Democratic nominee (and former Republican governor) Charlie Crist well ahead of Scott (RCP average right now is Crist +2.4), but two thoughts of my own (first and last in the list below) and three stories featured in Sayfie Review this morning (in the middle of the list below) explain why I think Scott has the initiative:


  • Nobody -- nobody -- really trusts Charlie Crist. The Democrats didn't nominate him because they like him, they nominated him because of a knee-jerk feeling that he could win. He's a Republican. No, wait, he's an independent. No, wait, he's a Democrat. He jumps parties like running deer jump fences: Whenever anything gets in the way of the one thing Charlie Crist cares about, which is Charlie Crist.  In November, it will come down to turnout. The entirety of Crist's campaign pitch boils down to 1) "I am Charlie Crist"  and 2) "I am not Rick Scott." It's going to take more than that to get asses out of chairs and down to the polling place.
  • Scott is already running an anti-Crist ad blitz. Aaron Deslatte's coverage of that blitz in the Orlando Sentinel tells the tale in eight words: "Outraised 3-to-1 thus far, Crist's campaign ..."  Who's going to give money to Charlie Crist? He has a huge fundraising list -- of people whom he sold himself to as a Republican and who correctly feel betrayed by his "sore loser" moves to independent and then Democrat. He's a tough sell to Democratic donors. Will he still be a Democrat in December, even if he wins? Who knows?
  • Scott is campaigning on a "state socialism lite" platform. That may cost him a few Republican base votes (see "Wyllie, Adrian below), but he'll probably more than make up those base votes among independents who like taxpayer-subsidized college tuition and corporate welfare for rail transit.
  • How does the third party vote split out? On the one hand, I reject the whole "spoiler" myth. Votes belong to voters, not to candidates. If someone votes for Libertarian nominee Adrian Wyllie or independent Farid Khavari, that's the voter's choice, not a vote "stolen from" one of the major party candidates. On the other hand, it's reasonable to assume that were Wyllie and Khavari not on the ballot, many (not all, but many) of their voters would instead choose one of those major party candidates. And I think those votes will, to the extent that they "come out of a major party candidate's hide," hurt Crist more than they hurt Scott if for no other reason than that Scott already has his base, while Crist is wandering in a partisan wilderness trying to find a new one.
Disclaimers/disclosures: In 2010, before I even lived in Florida, I did some freelance campaign work for Khavari. I stopped voting in 2010, but there's a slight possibility I'll vote this year for various reasons not really that related to politics. If I do, it will probably be for Wyllie.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Why Bing Is My Default Search Engine


Two words: Bing Rewards (yes, it's an affiliate link -- if you use it, I get points!).

I am an apostle of and evangelist for nearly all things Google -- my computers are Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, my main email address is @gmail.com, I store my stuff on Google Drive, etc., etc., etc.

BUT! Bing Rewards.

When I search using Google, I get search results. When I search using Bing, I get search results and rewards points which I can redeem for gift cards at major online and offline stores and entries into various prize drawings.

I've bought books with my Bing Rewards  points.

I've bought pizza with my Bing Rewards points.

I've bought nothing at all with my Google Rewards points, because there's no such thing. OK, well, there are Google Play Rewards, and I do use Google Play every once in awhile, but the rewards points are available only via an Android app and I use Android something like twice a year when I forget how useless tablets really are for anything except reading ebooks.

So whenever I am casually searching, I do it by typing the search term into my (Google Chrome!) browser's URL-bar, which is hooked to Bing, and I rack up points.

Yes, I still use Google every now and again if I don't immediately find what I want through Bing or if I'm doing some kind of industrial-strength organized searching, but Bing is my first line of search because Bing Rewards.

So far as I know, this is the only area in which Google has ever, ever, ever lagged Microsoft.

This Problem Is Not Insoluble


It's almost certainly not coincidence that this story popped up on the media radar when it did: A western couple and their baby held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan, asking the US government to help them get their freedom. Presumably the Taliban are hoping to get more of their comrades released from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for freeing them.

And if Republicans hadn't decided they hate US president Barack Obama sooooooo much that they're willing to urinate all over the troops and defecate all over America rather than simply applaud him for securing the release of an American military prisoner in exchange for five Gitmo prisoners and move on to other things, it might have happened.

But all hope is not lost. Just because it's politically impossible to trade more Islamists off to get more Americans back, it doesn't mean some kind of deal can't be worked out. How about some kind of even trade not involving detainees at all -- in return for this man, woman and baby, the US trades another man, woman and baby?

I'm thinking John McCain, Sarah Palin and Lindsey Graham fit the bill pretty damn well.

Let's #ResetTheNet Today


It's good stuff.

Garry Reed wrote a pretty good piece on it, so I don't have to.

Pursuant to Reset The Net, Google has released alpha source code for an end-to-end encryption Gmail Chrome extension. Nice to see that it's open source, and I look forward to seeing the crypto community tearing it apart to see if it works. "Works," of course, being somewhat relative given the inherent security problems of being connected to the Internet all the time and doing pretty much everything "in the cloud" as Chromebook/Chromebox users like me do.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Circumcistantial Evidence ...


Tamara's been watching a lot of Law & Order lately (it's in marathon mode on one of the cable channels -- she catches an episode or two a night while futzing around the house after she gets home from work).

Tonight I caught part of an episode from 1997 titled "Ritual." In this episode a man who has brought an Egyptian doctor ("Ismail Nasser") to town to hack off part of his niece's genitals is killed during an argument about it, by the girl's father. The prosecutors wrestle with whether they even want to put the father on trial or not. After all he was just trying to protect his daughter. The prosecutors offer the best plea bargain they think they can get away with, and simultaneously do their best to wrest custody of the girl from her mother and grandmother, who approved of and supported the prospective  genital mutilation.

It occurs to me that if the Egyptian doctor named Ismail had instead been an Israeli mohel named Isaac, flown into hack off part of someone's nephew's genitals, the prosecutors would have thrown the book at the dad without a second thought, probably with a hate crime charge to sweeten things up a little, and probably all the detectives and prosecutors would have gone in together to send a gift over for the bris. If the episode had even been made, of course. Which it wouldn't have been.

Just sayin'.

Election 2014 Handicapping: Is Mississippi on the November Map?


 The short answer is "not yet ... but it may show up there."

If either Thad Cochran or Chris McDaniel had really romped in yesterday's Republican primary for US Senate, it would probably be a done deal: Democratic nominee Travis Childers would have run a credible but obviously losing campaign just to "show the flag" (so far the best he's polled against either GOP candidate is 38%, and that was early on).

But Cochran and McDaniel mauled each other in yesterday's primary, neither one of them hitting the 50% mark to avoid a runoff three weeks from now. And they are presumably going to spend the next three weeks gouging each others' eyes out, metaphorically (?) speaking.

Let's take a quick look back at 2012. Incumbent US Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) didn't look very promising for re-election. She really only had one chance, and that was for US Representative Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin (R-MO) to win the GOP primary.

McCaskill actually ran ads for Todd Akin, extolling his conservative virtues and so forth. Akin won his primary and McCaskill won re-election.

Yes, Mississippi is different. It's different in two ways:


  1. Childers isn't as well-positioned to beat a weak GOP candidate as McCaskill was; but
  2. Childers has an opportunity to hit the GOP in a weak spot regardless of who wins the runoff.
If Cochran manages it, he's an old, weak man who was barely able to hold off a challenger from his own party.

If McDaniels gets the nod, he's an extremist loon whose own party had serious doubts about him and who only won through because of carpetbag money from a nationwide federation of other extremist loons.

Any way you cut it, it's better for the Democrats if McDaniel is the GOP nominee. He'll probably be easier to be beat, and if he can't be beat he at least goes to DC as a newbie and won't have developed the kind of "seniority/experience" halo, or cultivated deep pockets for as long, as Cochran has when it comes time for re-election six years from now.

If I was Travis Childers (or the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee), I'd be producing television ads right now, to be run in the next couple of weeks, aimed at getting the nomination for McDaniel. And of course I'd be working the opposition research hard for stuff to hit him with after he gets the nomination.

Here's the magic number for the Democrats in Mississippi: Get Childers within 5 points of McDaniel and keep him there.

If they can do that, Republican money has to continue flowing into Mississippi -- money that could have gone to Louisiana or North Carolina -- to defend the seat for the GOP.

Childers might even win, but that's not the real point. The real point is that he can give Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan a chance to move their states out of "tossup" status and into "Democrat hold" territory.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Election 2014 Handicapping Addendum: Is Bergdahl the Turning Point?


This one bears a full-on advance disclaimer: I'm an anarchist. I've done my best to renounce things like nationalism and militarism. But I also spent ten years in the Marine Corps, and that stuff doesn't die easily. I still understand it. I still feel it. So when I see what's going on in the matter of one Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, US Army, I can't help but notice that the practical effects, if played upon correctly (and the indications are that Obama knows exactly what he's doing in that respect), appeal to gut values which are very common among Americans and nearly universal among military personnel, veterans and those who "support the troops." So, without further ado ...

I once met a survivor of the Marine Corps' 1st Division and its epic fight in North Korea: The Chosin Reservoir. He'd lost most of one foot and several toes on the other to frostbite on the march out. Keep that word in mind: The march out. Frostbite wasn't an excuse and the "walking wounded" walked. Why? Because the dead couldn't walk, but neither were they going to be left behind. The trucks were for them.

One year at the Marine Corps birthday ball, I was privileged to share a table with a survivor of the Bataan Death March. Captured by the Japanese in 1942 when the Philippines fell, a prisoner of war until 1945. And the one thing that kept him going? He knew America was coming back to get him.

So, US President Barack Obama:

Regardless of the circumstances, we still get an American soldier back if he's held in captivity. Period. Full stop.

Versus Sarah Palin ...

You blew it again, Barack Obama, by negotiating away any leverage against the bad guys ...

Which of these do YOU think will play in Peoria?

Which one says "YEAH! MURKA!" and which one says "herewith I drop trou and take a giant shit on the heads of America's soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines?"

Which is why most Republicans who are actually up for election this year to anything but the safest of safe seats are keeping their lips zipped and hoping it will go away before they're forced to talk about it.

The lone exception I've noticed is Georgia's marginal "Tea Party" candidate for US Senate, Jack Kingston, who issued a mealy-mouthed, try-to-have-it-both-ways statement apparently intended to boost his flagging prospects against GOP primary front-runner Sonny Perdue. Haven't heard from Perdue yet, but now he's in the position of having to either try to ignore Kingston or else issue a similar statement, which would probably seal his already ugly-looking fate against Michelle Nunn in November (this was not the only factor in my decision to move Georgia from the "tossup" category to "Democratic pickup," but it was certainly a factor).

Is Bergdahl a deserter? Maybe he is. But if so, that just increases the importance of getting him back. If you're the Commander in Chief, not only do you not leave Americans in the enemy's hands, you don't let American deserters escape the justice of the US Armed Forces.

There was no way the repatriation of the only American military prisoner in Afghanistan wasn't going to help the party holding the White House. How much it helps the Democrats depends on whether the Republicans simmer down and try to ride it out, or whether they go all in on making themselves look like supreme assholes.

Election 2014 Handicapping: Senate Outlook @ Six Months Out


The Usual Cautionary Notes: Three months is forever in politics. Six months is twice as long as forever. I'm coming at this entirely from a "sports handicapping" perspective. I'm neither a Republican or a Democrat, I don't have any preference between the two parties (except that I prefer that no single party control both the White House and both houses of Congress), I don't even vote. I'll probably make my "final predictions" a few weeks ahead of the election just so that there's actually some sport involved (anyone can do a pretty good job of predicting the outcomes the night before the voting); these handicapping posts are just illustrations of how I feel my way toward those "final predictions."

So, first, the current partisan composition of the US Senate seats up for election this year -- red for Republican, blue for Democrat, black lines across Oklahoma and North Carolina to indicate that there are two Senate elections this year in those states:




And here's my 6 months out map:


What's changed:

  • At 7 1/2 months out, I had five states marked as tossups. Now I have two.
  • I've moved Michigan into the Democratic Hold category. Democratic congressman Gary Peters is polling pretty consistently ahead of former Secretary of State Terri Land for an "open" seat that has cradled a Democratic ass since 1978. 
  • I've moved Kentucky into the Republican hold category. Incumbent Mitch McConnell handily won his primary and is already pulling away from Democratic nominee (and Kentucky Secretary of State) Alison Lundergan Grimes. If it was anyone but McConnell, I'd keep this state in "tossup" territory, but he's the GOP Senate leader. Nobody in his party likes him much but they're all scared of him and that means he'll get the money he needs to schlep across the finish line.
  • I've moved Georgia into the Democratic pickup category -- in fact, it is the only Democratic pickup I'm predicting. Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn is her party's premier candidate for a pickup. She's the well-known daughter of a popular former "conservative Democract hawk" Senator, she's polling ahead of her likely GOP opponents (they haven't had their primary yet), she's the former CEO of former Republican president George HW Bush's "Thousand Points of Light" namesake foundation ... she will basically be running to the right of the GOP in this race and she will raise big money because the Democrats want to prove that they can maintain a beachhead in the south even with trouble brewing in Louisiana and North Carolina.
  • Tossup -- Louisiana. I don't expect Landrieu to top 50% in the state's "jungle primary." That means she'll face a runoff. Which sounds bad for an incumbent ... but the month between the November election and the December runoff is going to be a circus of epic proportions. Especially if hers is the sole seat standing between the Republicans and the majority they're after. It's really an "anything can happen" situation.
  • Tossup -- North Carolina. Along with Louisiana, this looks at first blush like a Republican pickup. Incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is neck and neck with her GOP opponent, State House Speaker Thom Tillis, a position no incumbent wants to be in. BUT ... now that Kentucky is slipping away and Democrat holds in other states are starting to firm up, I think we'll see national party money flowing into that race, disproportionately from the Democrats (the Republicans will probably be concentrating on Louisiana where they might win and on Arkansas and Iowa where they probably won't).
So, where does that leave us? If I'm counting right, it leaves the Democrats with at least 51 seats, 53 if they manage to hold on in Louisiana and North Carolina. It leaves the Republicans with at least 47 seats, 49 if they manage to unseat Landrieu and Hagan.

BUT! If the Republicans can pull off those two "tossup" wins, they have a shot at convincing West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin to switch parties and "Independent" Angus King of Maine to switch caucuses. They'd have to pay through the nose with plum committee assignments and so forth to make that happen, but it's a possibility.

At 7 1/2 months out, I rated the GOP's chance of finishing this election with a Senate majority at 55%. I'm downgrading that chance to 45%. To get to a majority, they're going to have to either pull off a string of upsets OR win two tossups and persuade two defectors. It's still possible, but the likelihood is fading.



Monday, June 02, 2014

Before It Slips My Mind ...


... I should mention that I have a new piece up at C4SS on the EU's new "right to be forgotten." Teaser:

In this specific case, the claim seems to be less one of privacy and more one of "intellectual property." Gonzales doesn't claim that Google peeked through his window and saw him writing down notice of that 1998 auction. He acknowledges that it was, at the time, a publicly reported event. He's just claiming that now, 16 years later, he "owns" knowledge of that event and is entitled to control it, while Google doesn't and isn't.

Read the whole thing if you're interested.

Deja Who All Over Again?


He says he may run again. Presumably because his first campaign had such a huge and lasting impact.


Sunday, June 01, 2014

I'm on a Burrito Mission


Since I no longer eat at Chipotle and since I know others who have also decided to dine elsewhere, I've decided to tour all the burrito joints in Gainesville and review them.

My first review (spoiler: It's very positive) is up at Yelp. Review target: Tijuana Flats, a chain with lots of stores in Florida, quite a few on the eastern US seaboard and a few as far west as Indiana.

As If I Needed Another Reason


I stopped voting a few years ago, but if I ever start voting again it won't be for Republicans.

I am confirmed in that judgment call by the GOP reaction to a prisoner exchange in which the only American prisoner of war in Afghanistan was freed:

"Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl's release may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans. Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans. That incentive will put our forces in Afghanistan and around the world at even greater risk," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. McKeon (R-Calif.) and the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, James M. Inhofe (Okla.), said in a joint statement.

It's right there in black and white.

Republicans hate US military personnel so much they'd rather the Taliban have a strong incentive to kill them than to capture them.

Republicans hate US military personnel so much that they'd rather leave those personnel in the hands of the Taliban than get them back.

Speaking of which, Republicans care so little about America and its military personnel that they've supported dragging out a six-week war for 13 years, putting those personnel continuously (as a group) and often repeatedly (per individual) in harm's way for no better reason than that doing so allows them to more easily funnel hundreds of billions of stolen taxpayer dollars every year to their friends, campaign contributors and future employers in the "defense" industry.

Of course if it was a Republican in the White House and this prisoner exchange happened, Democrats would be saying the same things, for the same reasons.

A pox on both their houses. And here's hoping that America's soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines notice, take a hard look at the human-shaped piles of slime they're working for, and decide to seek other employment.

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