Saturday, September 21, 2019

Happy 49th Birthday ...

... to one of my favorite workplaces, the op-ed page.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Thanks For Asking! -- 09/19/19

I just realized that's been something like 2 1/2 months since the last AMA thread. So, courtesy of Free Pony Express ...

Ask me anything (yes, anything) in the comment thread below this post and I'll answer. Maybe in comments, maybe in a stand-alone post, maybe in some kind of non-text medium.

Why? Because when The Almighty talks, I listen.

I'm Trying a Different Mass Market Vape Product

Convenience stores in my area are selling the Vuse Alto (not an affiliate link) for 99 cents. A pack of two pods, which according to various reviews I've read lasts about as long as four packs of cigarettes, was $13.xx, so competitively priced. Got mine yesterday.

First impressions:

  • A better vaping experience than the Juul. For some reason, Juul vapor (of any flavor) tends to induce a cough with any significant inhalation. This, not so much (I'm using the menthol). Decent "throat hit," etc.
  • The pods also seem larger than the Juul -- if the reviews are right, about twice the size in terms of how long they last, meaning fewer changes.
  • The device can be used while charging. No "pass-thru" is a major down side of the Juul, IMO.
I might do a more expansive review at some point. Right now, I'm giving it a few days to see if I can stand to replace tobacco cigarettes partially and then fully with it.

I Gotta Admit, @Netanyahu Has Some Balls on Him

Benjamin Netanyahu pulled out all stops to win the latest Israeli election.

He approved new illegal Israeli squats ("settlements") in the occupied West Bank and even promised to annex substantial portions of it.

He made new unsupported assertions about Iranian nuclear activity.

He launched military attacks in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, hoping to provoke a war that might save his bacon.

He even got his friend Donald Trump to publicly muse about a US/Israel "mutual defense" treaty.

Then, despite all that, he and his Likud party lost the election.

So now he's magnanimously offering to share the country's prime ministership with Benny Gantz -- the guy whose Blue and White party just whipped his and his party's asses.

And all of this only a couple of weeks before his pre-indictment hearing on corruption charges.

Chutzpah doesn't even come close to describing that kind of brass.

Elizabeth Warren is a Reactionary, Not a "Progressive"

Every chance she gets, Warren touts the way she grew up and how great that was and how we need to get back there.

She was born in 1949.

She hit college just as LBJ was on his way out but also just as his "Great Society" welfare state hit full bloom. She got to go straight from subsidized college to government employment. She seems to think that her experience was 1) typical and 2) the bee's knees.

I barely remember the LBJ era (my first real political memory is Captain Kangaroo getting preempted by Nixon's resignation), but so far as I can tell it was at least materially a pretty shitty era compared to today. That is, most "middle class" Americans didn't live nearly as well back then as most "poor" Americans do now.

If we must have a president, how about one who faces the future instead of promising to bring back the past?

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Michelle Obama for VICE-President?

It honestly hadn't occurred to me, nor had I noticed anyone else suggesting it until yesterday.

My brother and I were talking about likely Democratic tickets.

I said that at the moment it looks like the ticket will be Biden-Warren (although that could change). He said he doesn't think Warren brings anything to a Biden ticket that Biden really needs, and that Michelle Obama would be the smartest pick.

I think he's right (he's not a Democrat, btw, and at this point really doesn't give a tinker's damn who's in the White House anymore).

There's been some chatter about her running for president, but that seems unlikely. We've already seen what happens to former first ladies who get the top slot, and she doesn't have a resume full of political or CEO qualifications.

On the other hand, in the VP slot, she would very much be helpful in getting two important Democratic demographics (African-American voters and female voters) off their asses and to the polls, and probably especially so in Wisconsin and Michigan, two swing states where a few thousand votes would have made the difference last time.

Then there's the dynasty/Cinderalla story angle: Obama-Biden 2009-2017; Biden-Obama 2021-2029; Obama-? 2037-2045? Heads would be exploding on all sides in both good and bad ways on that.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

I Am Convinced ...

... that the John Wick movies take place in the Matrix universe (no, I'm not the first one to think that). I'm just not sure where they fit in the Matrix timeline. Some possibilities:

  1. John Wick's story is a dream Thomas Anderson has before the events of The Matrix. It is through these dreams that Morpheus (the god of dreams/sleep) begins trying to contact him, in the persona of the Bowery King.
  2. The John Wick universe is a highly immersive training program, a mini-Matrix in which the memory of the trainee of an outside existence is blocked, used by Zion to toughen up its operatives.  John Wick's story takes place on Neo's first day of training aboard the Nebuchadnezzar, probably somewhere between "I'm gonna learn jiu jitsu?" and "I know kung fu."
  3. At times, the Matrix films heavily imply that The One is actually an intelligent program himself, like the Oracle, the Keymaster, the Merovingian (who may even be a previous iteration of Neo), et al. (but apparently running in a "real" human body a la Agent Smith in the second and third films). The John Wick universe is an agent training program in which The One learns to believe itself human and accept a human personal history, as well to excel at human combat without as much permitted deviation from the rules of the Matrix.
  4. The John Wick universe is a milieu into which the Source inserts Neo after his final battle with Smith. In this universe, Neo is allowed to work out his rage over the death of Trinity, and possibly other emotional issues, without having to actually remember them, while awaiting the restoration of his real physical body to health.
There might be others. But I'm convinced there's a relationship for several reasons, among them:

  1. While I haven't cataloged the changes, it seems to me that (at least in the third John Wick film) there's a similar blue tint/green tint shift to that which takes place in the Matrix films between "real world" and "in-Matrix."
  2. The role of The Bowery King vis a vis John Wick increasingly implies a relationship not dissimilar to that of Morpheus vis a vis Neo.
  3. Winston's ability to stop motion/time in the John Wick universe.
  4. The final scene of John Wick 2 in which "normal" people seem to transform into near-future enemies as Wick walks away from the meeting with Winston in which he learns he will become excommunicado in an hour.
  5. The first scene of John Wick 3 in which a homeless man (who appears later, but I won't spoil that) instantaneously goes from schizophrenic raving mode to knowledgeable message delivery mode.
  6. I haven't carefully re-watched all three movies for line overlap between the franchises, but obviously "guns ... lots of guns" isn't accidental. Yeah, it could have been thrown in just for fun, but it could also be a nod to the relationship.

Yes, I watched John Wick 3 last night and went to sleep thinking about this shit. As if you hadn't figured that out by the end of the first sentence or two.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Oh, I See. Do You?

Since 2015, I've ordered several pairs of glasses from EyeBuyDirect (yes, that's an "affiliate link," I'll explain more at the very bottom of this post) for myself or family members.

The most expensive pair came to $50.90, including shipping. That was for a pair of bifocals with anti-reflective coating and upgraded lenses (lighter-weight ones).

The average cost for a pair of glasses for me -- single-vision, usually no extras -- has been less than $20, including shipping. I got a little fancy more than a year ago and spent ~$25 per pair on one pair of regular glasses with a blue light filter and a pair of prescription sunglasses. 

That first pair did just break on me. Not catastrophically. It's just that the area where the right ear piece meets the main frame is starting to break around the screw. Not surprising. I take my glasses off quite a bit (I'm near-sighted and instead of getting bifocals I just remove my glasses when I sit down in front of my computer, which I probably do 15-20 times a day). And when I take them off, the way I grab them seems to put most of the stress on that particular area.

Got a new pair arriving today. $22.82 including shipping. Single-vision, anti-glare filter (it occurred to me that since most of my screen time is "glasses off," the blue filter didn't make much sense, but glare is often an annoyance when out and about).

If I said there haven't been any problems with glasses from EyeBuyDirect, I'd be lying. One pair of Tamara's just felt flimsy and cheap to her. My 18-year-old has managed to break two pairs in six months; the jury is out on whether that's really EyeBuyDirect's fault or whether he's just hard on glasses.

I've been happy with my EyeBuyDirect glasses. Our vision insurance has an allowance of up to (IIRC) $150 for frames and lenses, and I have yet to find a pair (let alone two pairs) I like at one of the approved providers that would end up costing me less out of pocket than I pay by just buying them from EyeBuyDirect. Also, that may be a whole family allowance, I'm not sure.

So here's the thing -- if you buy from EyeBuyDirect using my referral link, you get $10 off your first purchase, and I get $10 credit toward my next pair of glasses.

Unless you need bifocals or want something fancy, that $10 is probably going to bring your cost down to well below $20 for a pair of glasses. Which seems like it might be worth trying, even if you just want a spare pair to keep in a drawer for emergencies, or some prescription sunglasses for when you're going out.

Mondale v. Warren

Walter Mondale, 1984: "Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He will not tell you. I just did."

Elizabeth Warren, 2019: "I will raise your taxes. I will not tell you, but if you listen closely I just did."

If Warren wants to argue that savings on health care would exceed increases in taxes for the "middle class" she claims to care so much about under her version of "Medicare For All," she should have the guts to actually make that case instead of ducking under the podium every time the t-word gets brought up.

Warren in particular likes to pretend that all of her grand schemes can be paid for by scrounging around behind the couch cushions of "the rich" for a little spare change. But the countries whose systems she seeks to emulate tend to have a higher overall tax burden (as a percentage of GDP), with that burden distributed more broadly and falling more heavily on the "middle class," than the US.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Search Engine Frustration

I've been trying out various versions of the following search on several engines:

automatically generate new forum topics from an RSS feed

The results (at least the first few pages of results) invariably go the other way (how to generate an RSS feed of forum topics).

I've also manually browsed quite a few Wordpress plug-ins from both ends (forum plug-ins and RSS handling plug-ins) and haven't found what I'm looking for.

Does anyone know of a pre-fab script or plug-in that works with this or that forum software to automatically generate new forum topics based on periodic checks of an RSS feed?

It sounds like a relatively simple problem to solve for someone who, you know, actually writes scripts and plug-ins. Cron job to check the feed every X minutes. New item? Create a forum topic with the item's title and a link to the item.

By "relatively simple," I mean beyond my capabilities without quite a bit of study. I have to re-"learn" PHP every time I want to do weird shit with a Wordpress theme. Any heavier lifting than that would be a major investment of time and skull sweat.

Morpheus is Fighting Neo ... er, Rogan is Interviewing Bostrom!

The interview isn't completely about the Simulation Hypothesis, but a lot of it is, and some areas I've thought about but never heard Bostrom discuss are included. A favorite topic of mine, and a great show.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

They Really Do Think We're Stupid

And maybe they're right.

I got a fundraising email from a Democratic Party outfit yesterday:

We wish we had better news.

But Democrats are about to lose our shot at winning the North Carolina Special Election.

And almost no one -- seriously NO ONE -- is donating.

The numbers don’t lie: if we don’t hit our mid-day fundraising goals, Trump will CRUSH us.

The implication was that a donation before noon on election day could affect the outcome of the election being held that day. Which, of course, is BS. The only situation in which it might do so would be a recount situation, which couldn't be predicted in advance. There's almost no way that a donation sent at, say, 10am could have been received and deployed on anything that would have impacted the outcome at the ballot box.

Yes, it was weasel-worded so that if called on it they could say "oh, no, what we really meant was that if we don't raise money now, we'll lose future elections, including the 2020 presidential race." But there's no doubt what impression they were trying to convey.

I wonder how many recipients pulled out their debit cards, honestly believing that their dollars might make a difference yesterday in North Carolina. I have to assume that at least some did. These guys aren't new at this stuff. They monitor which kinds of emails do well and what kinds don't, and they wouldn't have sent this one if they didn't expect it to bring in money.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Just Because There's a Bad Guy ...

... it doesn't follow that there's a good guy.

In any given US foreign policy situation, I run into people who notice the US government is one of the "bad guys" and therefore assume that that makes, say, the Syrian government or the Iranian government or the Chinese government "the good guys." I'm sometimes amazed at how far they'll go to hold firm to that assumption.

When we're talking about states, it's pretty much bad guys all the way down.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Probably the Dumbest Thing I've Read So Far This Week

In the New York Times, Max Fisher bemoans the excesses of "populism" and lauds the resilience of British "democracy" -- by way of cheering the UK House of Commons's moves to extend its veto tantrums over the result of the largest democratic referendum in UK history and prevent an election that might force them to do what that democratic referendum told them to do.

I Can't Believe I Shaved My Legs For This

At the end, Gainesville was supposed to get some wind and thunderstorms off the edge of Dorian. It got a breeze and periodic sprinkles. Not even the usual afternoon shower!

Tom Woods, who lives somewhere closer to the coast down by Orlando, told his email list that his total hurricane damage amounted to a couple of fake plants getting knocked over.

On the one hand, yay. I don't cheer hurricane damage and the possible associated injury or death. I hope Georgia and the Carolinas don't fare badly either.

On the other hand, I suspect there's a "boy who cried storm" problem. That is, the more times we get warned it's gonna be bad and it ends up not being bad, the more people get less prepared the next time. Which will end up with some of those people getting hurt or killed. 

Hopefully over time we'll get more accurate forecasts, and get them earlier.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Dorian is getting weaker, but it's also getting wider.

Last I checked (a few hours ago), Gainesville looked likely to get 25-30 mph winds and a couple of inches of rain starting tomorrow afternoon. No biggie. A bit of a blow, but not "seek alternative shelter" weather. More like "get as much work as possible done in the morning because it's reasonable to expect power outages lasting up to a day or more starting in the afternoon" weather.

But if the storm veers even a little to the west, or gets even 20-30 miles wider, that could increase to tropical storm, or even category 1 or 2 hurricane, conditions.

Tornadoes are scarier -- for a few minutes or maybe a few hours. After which, assuming you survive, the power is still on, and the stores are still open 20 miles down the road, and you can get out to drive to them, even if the funnel came right over your house.

This 5-10 day sphincter-clenching stuff sucks.

Monday, September 02, 2019

I Disagree

Harley-Davidson just showed off a coming set of electric bicycles. Writing at The Motley Fool, Rich Duprey muses:

The biggest problem for the company may be the Harley name itself. There are already plenty of e-bikes on the market manufactured by companies that have more street credibility in the space than a motorcycle specialist that has built its brand around gears, grease, oil, and leather.

I think he's got it exactly backward.

The electric bicycle space is still pretty small. Most people who are eventually going to have them aren't even thinking about them yet. And most people who start thinking about them for the first time will have heard of Harley-Davidson, but not necessarily of those existing e-bike manufacturers.

Harley has a distinctive brand and decades of positive name recognition in the larger transportation space. That gives it an advantage both in growing the e-bike space and in benefiting from the growth of that space.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Amazon Both Unpleasantly and Pleasantly Surprises Me

Hurricane prep is an ongoing thing. We try to keep various "the power is out for a few days" items around the house, but there's always something we think of, or that we have some of but want more of.

On Friday, early enough that Tamara was still at work and there was no question of heading to the store, fighting crowds, facing shortages, etc., I looked up a couple of those last-minute ideas on Amazon.

Both items -- a little solid-fuel camp stove for heating up water for coffee, and an extra power bank to keep phones charged for a while longer -- advertised delivery by Sunday (today, September 1) for Prime members (c'est moi).

Since Amazon normally says "expect delays during time frame X" when they need to because there's an impending or ongoing natural disaster, I took them at their word, ordered the items, and went about my business.

Then when I got back that night from fighting crowds, facing shortages, etc. for other things, I saw the "your order has shipped" notice in my inbox. Items scheduled to arrive ... September  9.

So I griped.

Nope, nothing they can do about it, the items will be there as soon as possible, so sorry and here's a $5 credit by way of apology.

Which is about a third of my money back, and whaddayagonnado?

So, it's now Sunday, September 1.

One of the items has already arrived in Gainesville and the other left Jacksonville for Gainesville early this morning. I will probably get at least one of them, possibly both of them, today, and almost certainly get both of them by tomorrow. Cool.

Amazon was being unduly pessimistic. It's just that they got unduly pessimistic after I ordered instead of before I ordered. Otherwise I wouldn't have complained and got part of my money back.

And that kind of response seems to be the usual with Amazon.

I think I've probably griped at them three or four times in more than 20 years as a customer and over the course of hundreds, maybe more than a thousand, orders (started slow -- I ordered one thing, a used paperback, from them in their first year in business -- but these days it's a strange week when there's not at least one Amazon order from my household).

All three or four times, they've either made it right or comped me some kind of apology gift. A free month of Prime once, and this time a $5 credit. The third time I can think of, they sent a replacement for a defective $2.99 item and told me not to bother sending the original back; if there was a fourth gripe, it escapes me what it was but there's something tickling my memory.

Not that I like everything Amazon is or does, but as a customer I have to say I've received damn good service.

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