Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Kindle, Like Mike

"How did you go bankrupt?" Bill asked. 
"Two ways," Mike said. "Gradually and then suddenly." 
--The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway

I mentioned a little while back that my Kindle Paperwhite seemed to be losing on the battery end, and that I was considering replacing it.

Yesterday, I decided on an intermediate strategy: Do a factory reset. I wasn't sure that would help with the battery drain, but if nothing else I figured having fewer books actually downloaded from my cloud library to the device might speed it up (subjectively, it seemed to be running slower).

What happened instead is that it doesn't seem to want to connect to, and register with, Amazon. I've gone through some troubleshooting FAQs with no joy.

And of course I messed around and missed the Black Friday / Cyber Monday deal on a new basic Kindle for $49.99.

I suspect that sale will come back around for Christmas, so I guess I'll wait until it does, unless someone takes pity on me via my Amazon Wish List (or unless I find my previous garage sale Kindle, which is lying around somewhere in my house or storage unit) first.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

One Thing I Find Surprising About Amazon's Alexa ...

... is that that Amazon doesn't do more "push advertising" through it.

I get email and text message alerts when, for example, an author I "follow" on Amazon puts out a new book.

But my Alexa speaker usually only throws purchase proposals at me when I've actually asked for something.

For example, I have Amazon Music Unlimited on one of my Echo Dot speakers (got a steep discount offer on it years ago, for one speaker only). Occasionally, when I ask a speaker in a different room to play a song that's not included with Prime Music, it will tell me that song is only available via Unlimited, and ask if I would like to upgrade my Unlimited plan to the family plan.

But it doesn't come at me with "we're running a special on electric dog polishers today, would you like to buy one?" It only does something like that if I ask it a question which might plausibly be interpreted as asking if Amazon sells electric dog polishers.

Given the price point of the Echo line of products (at the moment, the previous -- third -- generation Echo Dot is on sale for $19.95, and I think the new one is $30 or $35), I'd expect a lot of "special offers" advertising. In all the years I've used Alexa, I've probably used it to buy something two or three times; I think all of those were from when I've asked it to tell me about Prime Day deals.

By contrast, my Amazon Kindle (sold at a discount if one allows "special offers") tries to sell me something via a splash screen whenever I open the cover, and with banner ads at the bottom of various non-in-book screens, and with related/recommended plugs on the home screen and at the end of every book.

I suppose one reason might be that, while Echo/Alexa will work without purchasing a Prime membership, it's a lot more useful with that membership, and therefore Amazon may see the incentive to keep paying for Prime as the main revenue center for the product.

But, then, I confess to not being sure how Amazon is making money on Prime itself, if my family is typical. Prime easily pays for itself several times over in shipping cost savings, and that's before the included video streaming, music streaming, no-cost-added Kindle e-books, etc. I suppose we probably order more stuff from Amazon now than we did when we paid shipping, but not that much more.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Something I Don't Recall Hearing Much Back in the Old Days

"What? You disagree with me? Who's paying you to do that? The Kochs? Soros? The Israelis?"

I mean, there's always been the question of where, say, a think tank's funding comes from and whether that affects its positions. And some less reality-moored anti-Zionists seem to assume that anyone not completely on board with all their more conspiratorial theories is a paid Israeli "hasbara" operative sent to turn their already self-turning cranks. 

But I'm talking about things like discussions between individuals on Facebook.

I actually had some guy last night theorizing that George Soros, or maybe the CIA, was paying me to disrupt discussions of anarcho-capitalism by disagreeing with him about labor unions in a discussion on a Libertarian Party Facebook group.

As if external interference would be required to disrupt a discussion on anarcho-capitalism, even if that had been what the discussion was about (it was about Democrats).

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

"Ready Or Not" -- One Necessary Criminal Justice Reform

I can understand the granting of "continuances" -- that is, putting off trial dates -- in criminal cases when requested, on reasonable grounds, by the defense. After all, the defendant presumably didn't know he or she was going to be arrested and charged, and needs time to prepare for the trial.

The prosecution, however, should be entitled to a grand total of zero continuances. If they didn't have their case put together before they charged the defendant, they shouldn't have charged the defendant.

When a defendant gets charged, and there's a probable cause hearing in which a judge agrees that there's sufficient evidence for a trial, the clock should start ticking on the "speedy trial" requirement, and the prosecution should have no ability whatsoever to stop that clock. Ready or not, here it comes -- try the case, or dismiss the case.

Only One-and-a-Half of These Things is Correct

"The bail amount is supposed to consider a person's prior record, their character, whether they might flee, and whether they might commit a crime while out on bail."

This, in the context of whether Waukeasha defendant Darrell Brooks's bail on a previous incident was "inappropriately low."

The purpose of bail is to incentivize appearance at trial, full stop. Not to penalize him for having had prior legal problems, or being a bad person, or for the possibility that he might commit a crime in the future.

Of the factors listed, one is obvious: Is the amount high enough that the defendant will show up for court rather than forfeit it?

The other is partially relevant: Has the defendant skipped on bail before? In Brooks's case, the answer appears to be "yes," and it would be reasonable to consider whether the bail should be higher (since the previous amount wasn't enough), or perhaps even denied entirely.

No other consideration has any place in setting bail. Not because the defendant is innocent or probably innocent, but because that's what the trial decides. Until the trial, the defendant is supposed to be presumed innocent.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Personally, I Find Calendars More and More Necessary Lately

The maniac who ran down several people in Waukesha, Wisconsin yesterday did so at a Christmas parade -- the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

I started seeing Christmas decorations and stuff in stores as soon as Halloween was over. In a few cases, before Halloween.

And for the last week, I've been getting emails with subject lines like "Black Friday starts TODAY!" and "Black Friday is here NOW!" No, Black Friday is four days away, on Friday.

Not That I Really Need It, But It Does look Like a Reasonably Good Deal

 My Raspberry Pi 4B "Extreme" CanKit PC came with 8Gb of RAM and a 128Gb SD card for storage. It sports a 1.5GHz 64-bit quad-core Arm CPU, four USB ports, and Ethernet port, and two HDMI ports. I run Raspbian (a Debian-based Linux distro) on it. I paid $141.99 for it, but I see that it currently goes for $159 (not an affiliate link).

The Pantera Pico PC (not an affiliate link) runs $159 for the 4Gb model or $189 with 8Gb as "super early bird" support perks on IndieGoGo. Positive differences (I'm looking at the 8Gb model):

  • An Intel Celeron J4125 Quad Core 2.7Ghz CPU -- faster, and x86 instead of Arm
  • A 256Gb SSD instead of just SD card storage (it does have an SD slot too, though)
Negative differences:

  • Only one HDMI out port instead of two (I run dual monitors and dual ports means I don't have to figure out a workaround, like a USB-to-HDMI adapter or whatever)
  • No Ethernet port (both machines have dual-band wi-fi, but I'm like two feet away from my router so I just plug in)
Other than that, pretty similar -- small form factor, four USB ports (I also use a hub), etc.

I feel no need to "upgrade" personally. I don't store much on board so that big SD card is plenty, and the slower CPU doesn't drag much given the things I do. But if you're looking for something that will run Windoze and supports bigger storage (you CAN put up to a terabtyte SSD in there), it looks like a pretty good deal.

Friday, November 19, 2021

My Project Proposal: Stop the Steal!

I attended my second Gainesville-Alachua County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board meeting last night (what should have been the second and third were canceled, one due to some kind of "multiple moving parts scheduling anomaly," one for lack of quorum). Made it just in time, as I found out 90 minutes before the meeting that instead of riding in a car as expected I'd be pedaling a bicycle. Made it there and back (20 miles or so) with battery power to spare even though I used "pedal assist" most of the way there and battery power alone much of the way home (I did bring my charger to top off the battery during the meeting).

What happened at the meeting? Nothing of direct consequence.

The board's job is to advise the City of Gainesville Commission, the Alachua County Commission, and the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization "on all matters concerning planning, implementation, and maintenance of policies, programs, and facilities for the safe and efficient integration of bicycle and pedestrian transportation into the Gainesville Metropolitan Area and Alachua County transportation systems."

That generally takes the form of looking at proposals from MTPO and recommending or not recommending them to the other two bodies mentioned. MTPO's decks are apparently cleared of pending proposals at the moment, for the reason that it recently got funding for a large backlog of previous proposals and is busy doing things instead of proposing things.

The main agenda item had to do with proposals from board members for projects, and I offered one that, I think, will be followed up on. It doesn't get into "mandate" or "condition" territory. For one thing I didn't intend it that way. For another, the board is advisory and has no such powers.

It may verge on Cass Sunstein "nudge" territory, which I'm not terribly comfortable with, but I don't really think so. And so far as I know it uses existing funding for one thing rather than for something else, rather than dipping into the taxpayer till for more.

The problem it addresses: Bicycle theft.

There seems to be a lot of that around here. I had a bicycle stripped within a few feet of a major roadway during a high traffic period a few years ago. When I asked, virtually everyone on the board agreed that they'd had bikes, or parts of bikes, stolen. Yesterday, my neighbor mentioned a local TV news story (which I'll be looking for today) on a large upswing in thefts of, specifically, electric bikes (unsurprising, since they're expensive, especially the batteries).

One solution, in my view, is encouraging business owners to provide sturdy, well-lit, bicycle parking in high-traffic areas of their establishments. Some of them do, some of them don't.

One exemplar of "do" is my local Walmart. The bicycle parking is near front doors, in a spot that their private security vehicle seems to drive by every few minutes.

One exemplar of "don't" is a shopping center where a business I used to patronize -- a gym -- is located. When I inquired as to why a gym, for the love of Pete had no bike parking, the manager told me they'd been waiting for months for the shopping center owners to approve a bike rack (I don't know if other businesses in the center had ever asked, but there was a LOT of bike traffic there, and the bikes were locked to trees, traffic signs, etc.).

How to implement the solution? Dekova Batey, the BPAB staff liason, suggested that a bit of the existing "outreach" budget might be used to throw a card or brochure into the packets that builders/developers receive when they start the tortuous process of getting permission to build something -- government planning, zoning, permitting, etc.

The card or brochure would just point out that Gainesville is a big bicycle town and that making bike owners feel comfortable that they can shop without coming out of the store a good deal poorer than they went in because they're minus their bikes, might make business sense.

To be 100% clear -- BPAB wouldn't be recommending that any rule or requirement be added to the gummint permission process. Just a suggestion that, to my mind, is as innocuous as would be a card mentioning that the University of Florida's colors are blue and orange and that signage in those colors might attract Gators fans as customers.

What do you think?

Guest Post

Whatever one's sentiments concerning the topic, a fine piece of writing in my opinion:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Sunday, November 14, 2021

BTC Prediction: $70k by Wednesday

Disclaimer: I am not an investment advisor, and if you take this as investment advice you're stupid.

Why do I expect Bitcoin proper to go up by 10% or so over the next three days? Two reasons:

  1. The general outlook from people more knowledgeable than me is positive. They expect it to gain between now and the end of the year. It's been kind of lazing along in the $63-$65k range since the middle of the week after hitting its most recent record of ~$69k. I expect the next big move to be upward and substantial.
  2. The "Taproot" upgrade to Bitcoin's core code took effect yesterday. I've not seen any reports of problems with/from the upgrade, so I expect the Monday-Friday 9-5 institutional crowd to come to work in a bullish mood tomorrow.
Of course, it could be wishful thinking on my part, because I've set $70k as a tripwire for action of my own: Buying a second battery for my electric bike. I've been mulling the choice of buying a new battery, buying a new bike, or building a new bike from an old frame and new kit/gear, and finally came down on "new battery" (especially after it occurred to me that I could strip the motor, etc. from the existing bike and move them to another frame, rather than buying that stuff new).

My Opinion of an Opinion

The Libertarian Party's Judicial Committee voted 4 to 2 to 1 to affirm the suspension (thereby resulting in the removal) of now-former Libertarian National Committee secretary Caryn Ann Harlos.

In my estimation, the Judicial Committee ruled correctly.

No, not because I wanted Ms. Harlos removed. She seemed to leave the LNC a narrow binary choice of either removing her from office or ceasing to operate as a going concern, but I'd rather it hadn't come to that in the first place than ending the way it did.

The Judicial Committee's ruling was correct because the question in its purview boiled down to whether the LNC followed the party's bylaws or not. It did, making affirmation the Judicial Committee's only course consistent with its duty to the party.

If anything good comes out of this, it's the Judicial Committee's ruling that yes, the party's bylaws supersede Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised where the latter conflict with the former. Ms. Harlos's appeal was largely based on the opposite claim, which has enjoyed a great deal of currency in the party over the last decade or so.

The entire ruling of Judicial Committee, including concurrences and dissents, is worth a read. And I must say that it's kind of an ego stroke to see myself, and this blog, cited in the majority opinion written by Mr. Moulton.

As to what comes next, I consider it likely that unless she falls out with her supporters in the Libertarian Party Mises Caucus, or some other sea change takes place in the party, she will be elected back to her position as secretary at the next national convention as part of that caucus's ongoing takeover and liquidation of the party.

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Recommendation: APMEX

Disclaimer: This is not investment advice, yada yada yada.

I love me some cryptocurrency, but I also like putting back some metal.

Specifically, silver.

Nothing against gold, but I prefer keeping my metal in "small change" quantities (silver spot price at the moment is $24.25 per ounce and my holdings are in one-ounce and five-ounce increments) to something that goes for (as of today) $1,833 per ounce. That's more flexible both in terms of liquidating a portion for fiat if I want some, but not a lot, of "money," and in terms of using as money for everyday needs if, as some are always predicting, the economy collapses and fiat becomes worthless.

Not, mind you, that I've got a half-ton of the stuff. We're talking three figures as expressed in Federal Reserve Notes, much of that bought in one or two ounce increments over the years, across vendor tables at conventions, etc.

But anyway, I recently received my first order from APMEX (not an affiliate link) and have since placed a second order. Good selection, good service, fast delivery, and reasonable prices (obviously you're going to pay a premium over spot; on the other hand, shipping is free for orders of $200 or more worth of metal), and they accept cryptocurrency (via BitPay). So if you're looking for an online, crypto-accepting metals source, take a look there.

One interesting find: A silver version of the gold coin that appears in the John Wick film franchise (yes, they sell the gold version too):

It costs more than a generic one-ounce round, but it's cool. And if you buy 20, they come in a sealed tube with the franchise/studio branding. I wouldn't count on getting extra value as a collectible out of the coin, but then I don't know much about that kind of thing.

Saturday, November 06, 2021

Asked & Answered: Why Are the Media Treating "Let's Go Brandon" Like Criminal Hate Speech?

Asked by Robby Soave at Reason.

Answered by me here:

Because once the absurd concept of "criminal hate speech" wormed its way into popular acceptance, the next step -- applying the concept to any speech disliked by those who accept the concept -- became inevitable.

Friday, November 05, 2021

To The Movies? Perhaps Not Today

The big box office draw this weekend will presumably be Eternals, latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I'm not particularly excited by it, and wasn't even before the negative reviews (Peter Suderman's at Reason, based on actually seeing it, matches my own advance impression from trailers and so forth), but it was my likely pick (with Last Night in Soho as a possible alternate or second show).

BUT! Today's weather forecast calls for rain and a high of 62 degrees.

I don't mind riding the bicycle when the temperature is in the 50s or higher. Cooler than that is, well, cold when you're bopping down the road at 20mph or so with no windshield.

I also don't mind riding the bicycle when it's rainy but the temperature is, at a minimum, in the high 70s ... although getting to the movie theater wet is problematic because they keep those auditoriums pretty cool.

The combination of cool and wet has me strongly considering either sitting the day out where the big screen is concerned, or hitching a ride with my eldest if she's going into town, or waiting for the evening and seeing if I can get Tamara interested (which would probably mean my third big-screen viewing of No Time to Die rather than one of those others; I could live with that).

Sitting out is the only one of those three alternatives that's entirely up to me, so it's the most likely.

Anyway, here's the Eternals trailer for your enjoyment.

Kindle Reconsiderations

My first Kindle was a $3 garage sale device. Pretty nice, but pretty old as these devices go (I got it just in time to install the final support update for that model). It worked OK. Eventually I misplaced it. Found it again later, after I got my second Kindle. It's around here somewhere.

My second Kindle is a used Paperwhite, bought from Goodwill via eBay for $20 plus shipping about ten months ago. Not a bad deal. But it's the second generation of the Paperwhite (released eight years ago), and the last couple of weeks it's become obvious that the battery is going. Where I once got days of active use and weeks of standby without needing to recharge, now it's more like day singular, two at most, of active use.

The newest generation of the Paperwhite costs $140. That's about as much as I spent on my current low-end desktop PC, and not much less than I spent on my pretty high-performance tower.

A new battery for my eight-year-old Paperwhite runs $15-20, and at eight years old, I'm not confident that the Goodwill/eBay device won't start developing other problems as well.

Meanwhile, the latest generation of the "base" Kindle is on sale for $49.99.

Unlike old "base" Kindle versions, it has a lit screen, like the old Paperwhite.

It has as much storage space as the old Paperwhite (and I've never had storage problems on any Kindle anyway).

The only obvious difference is resolution -- the Paperwhite sports 300 dpi "e-ink," while the "base" model only offers 167 dpi. While I do notice the difference in appearance, I can't say it bugs me terribly.

So: $49.99 for a brand-new device that's in the same league as my old one, or $20 for a battery for the old device, or wait and see what happens?

I'm vacillating between the first and last options. I'm not going to pop $20 for a battery, and install it, and hope for the best.

But I'm also planning to hit a garage sale or three tomorrow. Maybe I'll find another good deal!

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

A Belated Book Recommendation

Googling back through the blog, I see that I've mentioned a particular work numerous times, by way of comparing non-fiction books I particularly like to it, without ever explicitly recommending that work itself.

Over the course of several decades, I've gone through several paper copies of Shelby Foote's three-volume (Fort Sumter to Perryville; Fredericksburg to Meridian; and Red River to Appomattox) The Civil War: A Narrative (not an affiliate link). I've read them, given them away, or loaned them out and not had them returned, lost track of them in moves, etc.

I grew up reading a lot on the war, especially Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac and Centennial History trilogies, as well as books on particular battles and people (I highly recommend Steven W. Sears's Chancellorsville and Douglas S. Freeman's Lee's Lieutenants,  but I've personally found no better, detailed, and especially enjoyable general history of the Civil War than Foote's. At nearly 3,400 pages all told, it's quite comprehensive, but never boring. Nor, though Foote was a Mississippian whose love of the South was obvious in his appearances in Ken Burns's film on the war, do I detect much bias in it.

The link, you'll notice, is to the Kindle edition. I've been thinking about buying it for several years, but couldn't force myself over my own objection to paying more than $5.99 for a digital book. Recently, however, events combined to get me that price.

The first volume went on sale for $10.99 (normal price $14.99), and I had a $5 "digital credit" to spend from past "no hurry shipping" bonuses, bringing the price to $5.99.

The remaining volumes came to $20.98 ... but then I got an unexpected $10 Amazon gift card, reducing my out of expense to $10.98 -- $5.99 per volume. So, not being able to locate even a used paperback edition for anything close to that $17.97 total, I pulled the trigger.

I'm glad I did. I am doubly re-reading it. When I have time during the day, I read it on my Kindle. At night, I have Alexa continue where I left off, then the next day go back to some point prior to my falling asleep to it. I'm into the second volume at the moment.

If you find that particular era of American history at all interesting, you'll find it more interesting (and know a lot more about it) after reading The Civil War: A Narrative.

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

I Don't Know If It's Just Me ...

... or if it's one of those things like the menstrual cycles of women who live around each other synchronizing.

When I'm in an op-ed writing slump -- not necessarily writer's block, but a cycle where not that much seems interesting and I don't feel like I'm finding the most important things to say -- it almost always looks to me like that's going around.

That is, when I start hitting the many, many commentary sites I cover for Rational Review News Digest each day, the opinion columns at those sites seem to not be as good as usual, as if those writers are also bored and not doing their best work.

It could be that my own boredom / decreased facility with words is causing me to find their stuff boring and not as well written as usual.

Or it could be that there's just not really a hot news cycle at the moment and that the lack of engaging things to write about is affecting them.

Or maybe we're just all in a slump for some reason (perhaps the Muses are on strike?).

Or something else. But this  last couple of weeks isn't the first time I've noticed it.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Thanks For Asking! -- 11/01/21

 I don't remember asking you a ...

Oh, wait -- Thanks For Asking isn't about me asking you things. It's about you asking me anything (yes, anything) in comments and me answering in comments. So go for it.