Minor Thoughts from me to you

Reading Idea: A Mad Catastrophe

A Mad Catastrophe

A Mad Catastrophe
by Geoffrey Wawro
$11.99 on Kindle

I can be persuaded that a book is interesting on the slimmest of recommendations, sometimes. For instance, this offhand comment by Warren Meyer.

Back in the depths of WWI, the Germans woke up one day and found that their erstwhile ally Austria-Hungary, to whom they had given that famous blank check in the madness that led up to the war, was completely incompetent. Worse than incompetent, in fact, because Germany had to keep sending troops to bail them out of various military fixes, an oddly similar situation to what Hitler found himself doing with Italy in the next war. ([A Mad Catastrophe] is a really interesting book if you have any doubts about how dysfunctional the Hapsburg Empire was in its waning days).

And that's pretty much how Amazon describes the book too.

A prizewinning military historian explores a critical but overlooked cause for World War I: the staggering decrepitude of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The world isn’t getting worse — our information is getting better

Ray Kurzweil explained how it is that the headlines can be continually worse even if the world is getting better: our information is getting better.

People think the world’s getting worse, and we see that on the left and the right, and we see that in other countries. People think the world is getting worse. … That’s the perception. What’s actually happening is our information about what’s wrong in the world is getting better. A century ago, there would be a battle that wiped out the next village, you’d never even hear about it. Now there’s an incident halfway around the globe and we not only hear about it, we experience it.

We know more than we've ever known before about what's going on around the world. Things aren't getting worse every day, we're just better informed about how things really are. Tragedies are no longer local news, they're now national news. Instead of rarely getting bad news about our local area, we now get daily bad news from everywhere. Even if there's less bad happening overall, there's still enough of it for one depressing headline a day. The upshot is that everything's getting better and everyone's convinced that everything's getting worse.

Review: Grendel [★★★☆☆]

Grendel

Grendel
by John Gardner

My rating: ★★★☆☆
Read From: 2 July 2016 - 5 July 2016
Goal: Literary Fiction

I read this book because Adam suggested it to me, as a somewhat out of the box choice for literary fiction. It's the story of Beowulf. Except that it's really the story of Grendel, the monster whom Beowulf killed. The entire story is told by Grendel, from his perspective.

This is one of those books where I feel like I must be missing something. Probably a lot of somethings. A lot of people really like this book. I didn't like it. I didn't hate it. I was mostly apathetic towards it.

It's short enough that I'd be willing to read it again, if I was reading it as part of a larger discussion group. I'd be interested to see what's there that I'm not seeing.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Imagine if Exxon Was Protected From Liability After the Valdez?

John Gruber approvingly quotes Evan Osnos:

Anybody — especially people who favor free markets — should conclude that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was a big mistake. Imagine if Exxon was protected from liability after the Valdez? That’s not how markets should work. It will probably be revised or repealed to make sure that companies are doing safe work — as with any industry.

The argument is that because Exxon was held responsible for the Valdez oil spill, gun manufacturers should be held responsible for deadly shootings.

That's one of the stupidest comments that I've seen smart people make. Exxon was the company operating the Valdez. The Valdez itself was manufactured by National Steel and Shipbuilding Company. As far as I can discover, NASSCO was never sued or penalized over the Exxon Valdez crash. Exxon (the user of the ship) faced massive penalties for the oil spill.

The same principle would apply to cars. If someone uses a Ford Focus to detonate a car bomb, you don't sue Ford for making the car. If someone drives a Ford into a crowd of people, killing some, you don't sue Ford for making the car. And if someone uses a Colt handgun or rifle to kill someone, you don't sue Colt for making the gun. You prosecute the individual who was using the gun.

This entry was tagged. Guns Regulation

2016 Reading Goals: Progress So Far

The year is half over and I've been reading books that catch my eye, without thinking too closely about this year's reading goals. I think it's time to look at how I'm doing, measured against my self imposed yardstick.

I wanted to spend more time reading long form articles on the web and less time just reading novels. I've been doing that, spending much more time in Instapaper than I normally do. I've already read a few more "slower" books than I normally do, but I still want to read more.

More Literary Fiction

I haven't yet read any literary fiction. Clearly, I need to focus on that over the next six months.

Non-Fiction

I've read three non-fiction books so far this year: Meet You in Hell, The Prime Ministers, and Mr. Lincoln's Army. (None of them were on my initial list.) Mr. Lincoln's Army impressed me enough that I'm likely to be reading more of Bruce Catton's series during the rest of the year.

Fix the Oops

I haven't yet read anything by Jack Vance.

Enjoy Comics

I've read Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows and Battlefields Vol. 1: The Night Witches. I'm slowly working my way through Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom.

Hard Science Fiction

I'm still having a hard time finding hard science fiction that I like. I've read Stephen Baxter's Space, but I didn't enjoy it that much. I'll keep looking.

Finish the 2014 and 2015 Goals

I had a major success here. I read the last three Wheel of Time novels and finished the series. One of 2014's goals checked off at last!

I still have the Culture novels to go and may re-read Kiln People or Ender's Game.

Other Diversions

I finally read William Gibson's Neuromancer. Brandon Sanderson published two new Mistborn novels and I read both of them. I was finally able to buy all of the Hornblower novels on Kindle and I've read several of them.

Between Hornblower and my recent discovery of The Accursed Kings, I’m feeling a strong pull back into historical fiction. I’ll either give into that pull this year or else it will definitely be on next year’s reading goals.

Conclusion

If I want to finish all of my goals this year, it looks like I should focus on literary fiction, hard science fiction, non-fiction, and the works of Jack Vance, over the next six months.

Time to re-visit the 2016 reading ideas list.

This entry was tagged. Reading List

Parents Should Avoid Comments on a Child's Weight

Roni Caryn Rabin reports, at the New York Times' Well blog.

Should parents talk to an overweight child about weight? Or should they just keep their mouths shut?

​And?

Now a new study offers some guidance: Don’t make comments about a child’s weight.

The study, published in the journal Eating & Weight Disorders, is one of many finding that parents’ careless — though usually well-meaning — comments about a child’s weight are often predictors of unhealthy dieting behaviors, binge eating and other eating disorders, and may inadvertently reinforce negative stereotypes about weight that children internalize. A parent’s comments on a daughter’s weight can have repercussions for years afterward, contributing to a young woman’s chronic dissatisfaction with her body – even if she is not overweight.

​Tell me more.

The new study included over 500 women in their 20s and early 30s who were asked questions about their body image and also asked to recall how often their parents commented about their weight. Whether the young women were overweight or not, those who recalled parents’ comments were much more likely to think they needed to lose 10 or 20 pounds, even when they weren’t overweight.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Brian Wansink, a professor and the director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, characterized the parents’ critical comments as having a “scarring influence.”

“We asked the women to recall how frequently parents commented, but the telling thing was that if they recalled it happening at all, it had as bad an influence as if it happened all the time,” said Dr. Wansink, author of the book “Slim by Design.” “A few comments were the same as commenting all the time. It seems to make a profound impression.”

Some studies have actually linked parents’ critical comments to an increased risk of obesity. One large government-funded study that followed thousands of 10-year-old girls found that, at the start of the study, nearly 60 percent of the girls said someone — a parent, sibling, teacher or peer – had told them they were “too fat.” By age 19, those who had been labeled “too fat” were more likely to be obese, regardless of whether they were heavy at age 10 or not.

​That's scary. What should parents do?

Dr. Neumark-Sztainer was besieged by parents asking her this question, and wondering, “How do I prevent them from getting overweight and still feel good about themselves?”

In her book, called “I’m, Like, SO Fat: Helping Your Teen Make Health Choices About Eating and Exercise in a Weight-Obsessed World,” she notes that parents can influence a child’s eating habits without talking about them. “I try to promote the idea of talking less and doing more — doing more to make your home a place where it’s easy to make healthy eating and physical activity choices, and talking less about weight.”

For parents, that means keeping healthy food in the house and not buying soda. It means sitting down to enjoy family dinners together, and also setting an example by being physically active and rallying the family to go for walks or bike rides together. Modeling also means not carping about your own weight. “Those actions speak louder than words,” Dr. Puhl said.

This entry was tagged. Children Food

Reading Idea: The Accursed Kings

The Iron King

The Accursed Kings
by Maurice Druon
$45 on Kindle

Reading Recommendations from George R.R. Martin (emphasis added)

Fantasies are not the only books I recommend to my readers, however. It has always been my belief that epic fantasy and historical fiction are sisters under the skin, as I have said in many an interview. A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE draws as much on the traditions of historical fiction as it does on those of fantasy, and there are many great historical novelists, past and present, whose work helped inspire my own.

Look, if you love A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, and want "something like it" to read while you are waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for me to finish THE WINDS OF WINTER, you really need to check out Maurice Druon and THE ACCURSED KINGS.

I never met Druon, alas (he died only a few years ago, and I regret that I never had the chance to shake his hand), but from all reports he was an extraordinary man. He was French, highly distinguished, a resistance fighter against the Nazis, a historian, a member of the French Academy... well, you can read about his life on Wikipedia, and it makes quite a story in itself. He wrote short stories, contemporary novels, a history of Paris... and an amazing seven-volume series about King Philip IV of France, his sons and daughters, the curse of the Templars, the fall of the Capetian dynasty, the roots of the Hundred Years War. The books were a huge success in France. So huge than they have twice formed the basis for television shows (neither version is available dubbed or subtitled in English, to my annoyance), series that one sometimes hears referred to as "the French I, CLAUDIUS."

Hers the publisher's description for the first novel, The Iron King.

Accursed! Accursed! You shall be accursed to the thirteenth generation!”

The Iron King – Philip the Fair – is as cold and silent, as handsome and unblinking as a statue. He governs his realm with an iron hand, but he cannot rule his own family: his sons are weak and their wives adulterous; while his red-blooded daughter Isabella is unhappily married to an English king who prefers the company of men.

A web of scandal, murder and intrigue is weaving itself around the Iron King; but his downfall will come from an unexpected quarter. Bent on the persecution of the rich and powerful Knights Templar, Philip sentences Grand Master Jacques Molay to be burned at the stake, thus drawing down upon himself a curse that will destroy his entire dynasty…

That sounds … wonderful. It's even better because it's all based on real history. The past is an experience that we can never have or see. I love historical fictional for its ability to make the past live and breathe again. (It's not a perfect reproduction of the past, but it's far better than nothing.)

The entire series is available on Kindle, for just $45.

  1. Books 1-3: The Iron King, The Strangled Queen, The Poisoned Crown; $9.90
  2. The Royal Succession; $6.99
  3. The She-Wolf; $7.99
  4. The Lily and the Lion; $7.99
  5. The King Without a Kingdom; $11.99

Love your spouse more than your kids

When your children eventually leave you — and if you’ve done your job right, that’s exactly what they’ll do

​What a great statement. It's blunt enough to be surprising, but completely true.

Karol Markowicz is arguing that you should live your life in such a way that you still have an identifiable life once you no longer have kids at home.

This entry was tagged. Children

Reading Goal Achieved: THE WHEEL OF TIME

I started reading The Wheel of Time on April 12, 2014. I finally finished it today, 2 years and 2 months later. I may have some reflections on the whole thing later. Right now, I'm glad to be done and to have the project behind me.

From:

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.

To:

This wind, it was not the ending. There are no endings, and never will be endings, to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was an ending.

Reading Idea: Children of Earth and Sky

Children of Earth and Sky

$13.99 on Kindle

I've enjoyed reading Guy Gavriel Kay ever since I read The Lions of Al-Rassan. After that, I read and loved both the Sarantine Mosaic duology (Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors) and the Under Heaven duology (Under Heaven and River of Stars). When Goodreads told me that he had a new novel coming out, I preordered it right away.

From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman, posing as a doctor’s wife, but sent by Seressa as a spy.

The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming.

As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world...

This entry was tagged. Reading Ideas

Reading Idea: The Sector General Series

Zak Zyz, writing at Tor.com, clues me in to a science-fiction series that I was previously unaware of. I'm a sucker for Golden Age SF. This sounds right up my alley.

The series takes place in Sector 12 General Hospital, a sprawling 384-floor hospital space station built in order to cement a lasting peace after humanity’s disastrous first interstellar war. A notable departure from the militaristic space operas of the time, the story of Sector General is explicitly pacifistic, eschewing conquest and combat in favor of the struggle of doctors to understand and heal their alien patients.

It has diverse alien species and environments.

The Sector General series is often commended for its depiction of extraterrestrials that are more than just humans with cosmetic differences. White’s aliens are physiologically far outside of the human experience, with asymmetrical bodies, unusual metabolisms, and strange and often monstrous appearances. Critically, they are also psychologically different. Empathic Cinrusskin aliens are aggressively agreeable peacemakers as they find negative emotional radiation physically painful. Predatory Chalder become too bored to eat when given food they don’t have to chase down and devour alive. White’s aliens are bemused by the human nudity taboo, described as unique to the species.

Designed to treat patients from all the intelligent races in the galaxy, Sector General has wards that replicate living conditions for a vast array of life forms. There are murky undersea wards for the forty-foot long, armored, crocodile-like Chalder, poisonous sections for the chlorine-breathing kelplike Illensans, sub-zero wards for the crystalline methane-breathing Vosans and superheated wards near the hospital’s reactor for radiation-eating Telfi hive-mind beetles.

​And it has the tape learning, so common to the stories of the era.

Facing this incredible menagerie of patients, no doctor could be expected to know how to treat them all. On Sector General, physicians overcome this impossibility by using “educator tapes,” the stored experience of famous alien specialists which the doctors download directly into their brains. The genius psyche temporarily shares space with the doctor’s own persona and advises them as they aid patients. The process is described as intensely jarring, since the educator tapes contain not only the expertise, but the entire personality of its donor. Inexperienced doctors find themselves struggling to eat food that the taped personality disliked, suddenly enamored with members of the expert’s species to whom they wouldn’t normally be attracted, and in some cases they must struggle to maintain control of their own bodies in the face of a personality stronger than their own.

Most doctors hurriedly have their educator tapes “erased” when the emergency at hand has run its course, but some working closely with patients from another species will retain tapes for long periods. The highest ranked medical staff in the hospital are the lordly diagnosticians—senior physicians capable of permanently retaining as many as ten educator tapes in a sort of intentional multiple personality disorder.

​Most importantly:

The Sector General novels are available in omnibus editions from Tor Books.

I looked up the stories. Apparently, I can get all but two in Kindle editions.

Federal reclassification of marijuana could have major impact on medical uses →

This is good news.

Federal authorities have announced that they are reviewing the possibility of loosening the classification of marijuana, and if this happens, it could have a far-reaching impact on how the substance is used in medical settings, experts said.

Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning it is listed alongside heroin and LSD as among the "most dangerous drugs" and has "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."

The Drug Enforcement Agency announced last week that it is reviewing the possibility of reclassifying it as a Schedule II drug, which would put it in the same category as Ritalin, Adderal and oxycodone.

This matters because we don't even know the full medical benefits of marijuana.

We know that medical marijuana has good evidence for treatment for a handful of medical conditions," Hill said. "There are thousands of people who are using medical marijuana for a whole host of medical conditions," where the efficacy has yet to be thoroughly studied.

By changing the classification of the drug, Hill said researchers and doctors could find out how effective marijuana is in other conditions.

"We could move toward a more evidence-based use of medical marijuana," Hill said.

​This was promoted by political pressure from U.S. Senators, proving that Congress has occasional uses.

The DEA along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Office of National Drug Control Policy announced they would review marijuana's classification after multiple letters from senators last year, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and Sen.Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York.

"For too long schedule I status for marijuana has been a barrier for necessary research, and as a result countless Americans can't get access to medicine they desperately need," Gillibrand said in a statement last week. "It's past due for the DEA to reconsider marijuana's status. I am hopeful that antiquated ideology won't continue to stand in the way of science and that the DEA will reschedule marijuana to schedule II."

​​I think it's likely that the DEA will “review” the issue and decide that they've been correct for the past 60 years. They'll then refuse to make any changes and use that decision as a club to beat critics for the next 60 years. I'm hoping that I'm wrong though.

Defending the Mismatch Theory of Racial Preferences

About five months ago, Ramesh Ponnuru quoted Justice Clarence Thomas, on the theory of academic mismatch.

Here’s Thomas in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003):

The Law School is not looking for those students who, despite a lower LSAT score or undergraduate grade point average, will succeed in the study of law. The Law School seeks only a facade–it is sufficient that the class looks right, even if it does not perform right.

The Law School tantalizes unprepared students with the promise of a University of Michigan degree and all of the opportunities that it offers. These overmatched students take the bait, only to find that they cannot succeed in the cauldron of competition. And this mismatch crisis is not restricted to elite institutions. See T. Sowell, Race and Culture 176—177 (1994) (“Even if most minority students are able to meet the normal standards at the ‘average’ range of colleges and universities, the systematic mismatching of minority students begun at the top can mean that such students are generally overmatched throughout all levels of higher education”). Indeed, to cover the tracks of the aestheticists, this cruel farce of racial discrimination must continue–in selection for the Michigan Law Review, see University of Michigan Law School Student Handbook 2002—2003, pp. 39—40 (noting the presence of a “diversity plan” for admission to the review), and in hiring at law firms and for judicial clerkships–until the “beneficiaries” are no longer tolerated. While these students may graduate with law degrees, there is no evidence that they have received a qualitatively better legal education (or become better lawyers) than if they had gone to a less “elite” law school for which they were better prepared.

Justice Thomas was wrote about academic mismatch with minority students and racial preferences. I hadn't heard about academic mismatch theory until recently, but I've seen that it makes a lot of people very angry, many of them claiming that academic mismatch theory is just another smokescreen for justifying racial discrimination.

I went to the University of Pittsburgh for an Information Sciences degree. I went because I liked Pitt's marketing materials and Pitt's campus. I also went because I felt like Pitt was the best match between my abilities (or the actual work effort that I was prepared to give to college studies) and the degree's rigorousness and requirements.

I didn't even bother to apply to Carnegie Mellon University or MIT. For the sake of argument, let's say that a program existed that would have given me a much easier admission into CMU or MIT and that I'd taken it. I'm convinced that I would have done far worse, academically, at either of those schools. I would have struggled to have mastered the material and I would have had poor grades. Knowing what I know about my employer and their hiring criteria, I doubt I would have gotten the job that I have now.

Whether going to Pitt or CMU or MIT, I'm the exact same student with the same abilities, talents, and skills. One school was appropriately matched to me and gave me a good education and prepared me for a great start to my career. The others would have been a mismatch for me and would probably have given me a worse education (in that I would have understood and mastered less of the class material) and wouldn't have launched my career in the same way.

I, myself, am as white as can be and am blessed with a full menu of "privileges". And I think going to the wrong school, one where I was overmatched, would have been a bad thing. I'm definitely sympathetic to the argument that enticing students into schools that they're not prepared for is a bad thing.

A Nerd's Review of the Tesla Model S →

iOS developer David Smith recently wrote about his own experiences owning a car from Tesla.

I’m going to draw on my own background as a lifelong nerd and technology enthusiast to discuss what makes it so compelling to me.

​On charging:

The thought of instead needing to remember to plug in my car each and every night was admittedly a bit daunting. In the end it has really been a rather boring non-event.

It is now just a simple habit that I am used to. I park the car, get out, walk around to open the door for my kids and on the way almost absentmindedly pull the charger from the wall and plug it in. It’s so unconscious now that I occasionally have moments of puzzlement trying to remember if I did it or not.

What surprised me most around charging was not what it was like to keep a car charged but instead how much it drew my attention to how awful gas stations are. We still have another car that requires increasingly less frequent trips to the gas station. The smell was oppressive and the experience decidedly gross.

Also surprising, was how nice it is to essentially always leave your house with a full ‘tank’. No more rushing out of the house, late for an appointment, only to discover that I have to stop for gas along the way. I had worried that I’d have a constant sense of anxiety about having enough charge, instead I find I think about keeping my vehicle fueled less than I did before.

​On the self-driving autopilot feature:

Tesla’s autopilot system is a far reach from truly autonomous driving but also tantalizingly close. It is very competent at typical and routine highway driving. It can hold its speed, adapting to changing traffic conditions. It can keep itself perfectly centered in a lane and on command perform neat, clean lane changes. Closer to home it can park itself with a precision I doubt I’ll ever match.

​And:

As with everything Tesla does, autopilot seems to be getting better each and every software update (which as a side note is amazing…my car is better now than when I bought it, which is quite a thing).

While now I find I rely on autopilot mostly just situationally when having the extra help is useful, I imagine the days where my skill exceeds my car’s will be short-lived. Sadly I don’t get software updates, my driving is probably about as good as it will ever be. It is bound to catch up.

​It sounds like fun. I'd like to get a Tesla, but I want it for the nerd fun, not for phantom dreams of clean energy. My Wisconsin electricity comes from a coal plant, so gasoline may well be cleaner than an "electric" car.

This entry was tagged. Cars Review

The TextExpander Goodbye

Dear Smile Software,

I've been a customer of yours for 5 years. I bought TextExpander for iOS (version 1.1) in 2011 and TextExpander for Mac (version 3.4) in 2012. I've purchased each successive version of the application. TextExpander 6 is the first version that I won't upgrade to.

I won't be upgrading because you've priced me out of your customer base. In the time that I've been a customer, I purchased the Mac app and two upgrades for it (one was a family pack upgrade). I've purchased two versions of the iOS app. I've spent a total of $90 on TextExpander, over the past 5 years.

With the release of TextExpander 6, you've moved TextExpander from a purchased application to a subscription application. With the existing customer discount, I can expect to pay about $24 for my first year of using TextExpander and about $50 for each subsequent year. That comes to a total five year cost of about $224. For me, TextExpander just became almost 3x more expensive.

I agree with what TJ Luoma wrote.

I don’t see anything that I really need in TextExpander version 6. I’m not using it with a “team” and my family members probably have no interest in sharing a group of text snippets with me. Yes, I realize that Smile made their own syncing service, but I have used iCloud, Dropbox, and BitTorrent Sync, and they work fine for TextExpander. Creating their own syncing service was solving a problem that I didn’t have.

I also agree with what Jordan Merrick wrote.

When it comes to TextExpander, however, the reason for a subscription isn't compelling, nor does it make sense for individuals. Even in the follow-up, Smile were awkwardly attempting to explain how their own syncing service could be of benefit to individuals:

Everyone can benefit from sharing. People who work alone have peers, or belong to civic, volunteer, hobbyist, or church groups. Before now, none of them could share snippets with each other. Now, they can. And we’re doing our best to ensure they will.

Either Smile are going for the hard sell or they don't know the majority of their individual users at all.

​For me, that's definitely true. I'm a casual user of TextExpander. I maintain snippets mostly to simplify writing names, addresses, email addresses, and basic journal entry templates. I don't use it to earn an income. I don't need to share anything with any churches, civic groups, gaming groups, or other organizations. I don't anticipate subscribing to Markdown shortcuts from Brett Terpstra or snippets from anyone else.

I'm not opposed to software subscriptions. I currently subscribe to Instapaper Premium, I'm a patron for Overcast, I pay for Feedbin, and for Pinboard archiving. I also have a subscription to Club MacStories. My wife subscribes to Adobe's "Photography" plan for Photoshop. We jointly subscribe to Office 365 and we just signed up for a subscription to 1Password for Families. I like paying for things that I value, as long as the cost is in line with the value that I get.

I do get value out of TextExpander but it's in the $25 / year range not the $50 / year range. That goes triple for the fact that my TextExpander 5 license and my iOS apps are usable by anyone in my family, whereas TextExpander 6+ would cost me $50 / year for each person in my family. That's far too expensive for my modest needs. The fact is that TextExpander would be more expensive than Instapaper, Overcast, Feedbin, or Pinboard, the same price as 1Password for Families, and half the price of Photoshop or Office 365.

Try as I might, I can't convince myself that TextExpander is worth half of what Photoshop is worth or half of what the entire Microsoft Office suite is worth. And I know that I don't use it nearly as much as I use Instapaper, Overcast, and Feedbin, all of which cost me less than TextExpander 6 would.

Entice Me Back

I can see two ways that I'd be interested in being a customer again. The first is simple: lower the price. I have modest needs, give me a modestly priced option that matches my usage of the software. I'd be willing to pay $20–30 a year for the service, just not $60 a year.

I'd also come back if I felt I was getting more for my $60 a year. For instance, TextExpander for iOS used to have a way for every iOS application that embedded TextExpander to instantly update snippets without any user intervenion. Apple closed off your ability to do that and now I need to manually update my library of snippets in each application. That's a real pain.

I'd be happy to see you work it out so that the embedded version of TextExpander can use the new syncing service to keep all of my iOS applications constantly updated without any user intervenion. That would give me a concrete reason to upgrade to the latest version of TextExpander and to use your syncing service. It'd make me much more willing to pay a higher subscription fee, as the service would be more valuable to me. In all honesty, I'm still not sure that I'd spring for a $60 / year service, but it'd be a much more tempting proposition than the current service is.

This entry was tagged. Software

My 2016 Primary Results

I voted Tuesday, with most of the rest of the state of Wisconsin. I live in the People's Democratic Republic of Dane County, so I take great pride in having a losing record in each local election that I vote in. This year was no different, as I went 1 for 5 in local elections. I did have an odd feeling of satisfaction, as I went 2 for 2 in statewide voting. I finished with a 3–7 record overall. (My vote is in italics; the winning vote is bolded.)

President of the United States --- Republican

  • Donald Trump, 35%
  • John Kasich, 14%
  • Ted Cruz, 48%

Justice of the Supreme Court

  • JoAnne Kloppenburg, 48%
  • Rebecca Bradley, 52%

Oregon Village Trustee (choose 3)

  • Doug Brethauer, 22.7%
  • Jeff Boudreau, 24.5%
  • Philip Harms, 21.2%
  • Jerry Bollig, 31.3%
  • Write-in ("No TIFs"), 0.3%

Oregon School District Board Member --- Area 1 (choose 2)

  • Dan Krause, 30%
  • Krista Flanagan, 46%
  • Uriah Carpenter, 24%
  • Write-in ("No drug dogs"), 0.5%

Exercise Is Not the Path to Strong Bones →

I've heard, from multiple sources, that weight training can increase bone density and strength. According to Gina Kolata, at The New York Times, that's not actually true.

The answer came a little more than a decade ago when scientists did rigorous studies, asking if weight bearing exercise increased bone density in adults. They used DEXA machines, which measure bone density by hitting bones with X-rays. Those studies failed to find anything more than a minuscule exercise effect — on the order of 1 percent or less, which is too small to be clinically significant. As expected, DEXA found bone loss in people who were bedridden and in astronauts. But there was no evidence that bone was gained when people walked or ran.

Scientists have continued to investigate as tests for bone density grow ever more sensitive. More recently, using new and very expensive machines that scan bone and are able to show its structure at a microscopic scale, they reported a tiny exercise effect in one part of the bone’s architecture known as the trabecula, little branches inside bone that link to each other. The cortical shell — the outer layer of bone — also seems to be slightly thicker with weight bearing exercise. But these are minute changes, noted Dr. Clifford Rosen, a bone researcher at the Maine Medical Research Institute. There is no evidence that they make bone stronger or protect it from osteoporosis, he said.

80% of Americans Support Mandatory Labels on Food Containing DNA →

Ilya Somin writes at the Foundation for Economic Education:

A survey by the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Economics finds that over 80 percent of Americans support “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA,” about the same number as support mandatory labeling of GMO foods “produced with genetic engineering.” Oklahoma State economist Jayson Lusk has some additional details on the survey.

If the government does impose mandatory labeling on foods containing DNA, perhaps the label might look something like this:

WARNING: This product contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The Surgeon General has determined that DNA is linked to a variety of diseases in both animals and humans. In some configurations, it is a risk factor for cancer and heart disease. Pregnant women are at very high risk of passing on DNA to their children.

The Oklahoma State survey result is probably an example of the intersection between scientific ignorance and political ignorance, both of which are widespread. The most obvious explanation for the data is that most of these people don’t really understand what DNA is and don’t realize that it is contained in almost all food.

When they read that a strange substance called “DNA” might be included in their food, they might suspect that this is some dangerous chemical inserted by greedy corporations for their own nefarious purposes.

Let me be perfectly clear. Those who want mandatory GMO labels on food are only slightly less foolish than those who want mandatory DNA labels on food. In both cases, the labels are born out of a fear driven by ignorance and superstition.

This entry was tagged. Food Regulation

Voting Third Party Isn’t Just *a* Serious Choice, It’s *the* Serious Choice →

I don't think I disagree with anything that J. D. Tuccille wrote for reason.com.

This year, the likely presidential candidates of the major political parties are two of the less savory individuals ever to run for office in a country whose Wikipedia entry doesn't feature periods of military rule. The Republicans seem poised to give us a crony capitalist who admires authoritarian foreign governments, views constitutional safeguards with contempt, and encourages his followers to stomp opponents. The Democrats are ready to coronate an authoritarian former secretary of state who fairly reeks of influence-peddling and is the subject of an FBI probe into the mishandling of classified information that passed through a private email server she set up to avoid freedom of information inquiries.

​And:

Whether the Republican Party–and possibly the Democratic Party—are in the process of transforming or collapsing, looking elsewhere for political options just makes good sense. At least until the wreckage has settled.

And it's not as if there are no credible options even as far up the ballot as the presidential line.

​And:

During past election cycles, most Americans accepted that aversion and let themselves be shamed out of voting for a "spoiler" who could only throw the election to the more awful major party candidate.

​Finally:

But there's no actual obligation to play into that horrible choice. The major political parties have outlived their sell-by dates and grown corrupt, unresponsive, and complacent. They've turned into hollowed-out vehicles to be hijacked by populist demagogues when not being ridden to office by sticky-fingered functionaries. The Republicans are in worse shape than the Democrats, but only in relative terms.

Which is to say, until they reform or die, the major parties are no longer serious choices. Their train-wreck presidential nomination races offer clear evidence to anybody who hasn't drunk the major party Kool-Aid that it's time to look elsewhere for real ideas and credible candidates for political office.

It's time to admit that, in 2016, so-called third parties are the serious choices in politics.

Group Backing Ted Cruz Accuses Marco Rubio of ‘Cronyism’ →

Seeking to drive Senator Marco Rubio from the presidential race, a “super PAC” supporting Senator Ted Cruz is spending heavily against Mr. Rubio in Florida, his home state. The five new ads that the group, Keep the Promise I, have released attack Mr. Rubio’s attendance record in the Senate, his stand on immigration, his tax plan and his relationship with Florida’s sugar producers.

Fact Check

Mr. Rubio supports the federal sugar program, defending it as necessary to protect domestic sugar producers from comparable government subsidies in competing countries. “Otherwise, Brazil will wipe out our agriculture, and it’s not just sugar,” he said recently. Mr. Rubio has also received campaign contributions from sugar producers, most notably Jose Fanjul, who along with his brother owns Domino and other sugar companies.

​This is one of my two biggest reasons for disliking Marco Rubio. It may be true that he can't get elected in Florida without the support of the sugar producers. But if he'll compromise his supposed conservative principles on corporate subsidies for political gain, what else might he compromise for political gain.