Sunday, December 30, 2012

We are corporate guinea pigs!

"Let's stop allowing them to conduct the largest genetics experiment in the history of mankind." "Gun violence and good food", Blake Donley, Star Tribune, 2012-12-37

This opinion piece is a good rant about how so many people are ranting about this and that, but few are offering any real solutions.  Donley's point in this paragraph is that large corporations are poisoning our water and food with "toxic compounds, toxic chemicals, and toxic organisms".

As I wrote elsewhere, all this is done without any real research into how people and the environment will be affected.  See "GMO producers don't want free markets".

Thursday, December 27, 2012

How we got "Mother Goose and Grimm"

Since my two most popular blog entries have been about Mike Peter's last two Mother Goose and Grimm "Twelve days of Christmas", I thought that some of you would like to know more about him.  From I found a link to an interesting article in the St. Louis Dispatch:

"Mike Peters: The Man Behind Mother Goose and Grimm: Mike Peters extracts humor from catastrophe, political angst, private fears, and a goose's pet dog…", by Jeannette Cooperman.

English speakers should be the best linguists

Read the following out loud:

With one statement he charred Charlene's character.

Anybody who has learned to deal with three different pronunciations of "cha" really should have the mental tools to learn bits and pieces of many languages.

Corporate Entitlements

For a neat interactive map of state-by-state corporate subsidies, see "Explore Government Subsidies" by Louise Story, Tiff Fehr, and Derek Watkins, New York Times.

It also has data by corporation.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

How I nearly spoiled our Christmas

We sang in the early Christmas Eve service last night and had the soup and bread dinner between the services.  The dinner almost didn't happen because nobody had been appointed to take charge of it.  My wife did a lot of calling around and found many volunteers to bring food, serve it, and clean up afterward.  She told me that she would help set up and then let others clean up.

Well, it didn't work out that way.  After I ate and chatted with a few people, I put on my coat.  The second service started and my wife was still in the kitchen.  We also wound up bringing home the tablecloths to wash.

I was irritated; I still had presents to wrap and a few other things I wanted to do at home.

When we arrived home I made a few trips between the garage and house with things we wouldn't have had if we had left right after we ate.  The last thing I brought in was the big bundle of tablecloths.  My wife said I should just drop them down the laundry chute, but I said I would rather just take them downstairs.

This shouldn't be a problem.  I frequently take heavy boxes of firewood to the basement.  A box of tablecloths should be easy.  This despite that my vision is blocked with either the firewood or the tablecloths.

I got to the last step and caught the heel of my boot.  Forward I pitched.  I think I dropped the tablecloths.  My right knee slammed into the concrete floor and I rolled onto my back.  Oh, great!

My knee was sore, but otherwise seemed OK.  My pants weren't ripped, but there was a sheen that wasn't there before.

I picked myself up, put the tablecloths by the washing machine, and went back upstairs on my own power.  But I was even more irritated for having to stay later at church than I had planned.

Well, I did get the presents wrapped, and I did get some of the other tasks done that I had planned.  I also slept rather well, even if sugar plums weren't dancing in my head.

When I woke up this morning, my knee was not the color of a plum and I could walk OK.  Whew!  I won't be in the hospital with a broken knee cap or anything else.  Bring on the presents!  Raise our voices on high in song!  Serve the punch!  Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Quote of the day - Health care costs

Well, not quite of today.  I'm just trying to make a dent in my backlog of notes.

"How does Medicaid achieve these lower costs? Partly by having much lower administrative costs than private insurers. It’s always worth remembering that when it comes to health care, it’s the private sector, not government programs, that suffers from stifling, costly bureaucracy."
- "Medicaid on the ballot", Paul Krugman, New York Times, 2012-10-29.

For some counter arguments, see "Krugman Flunks Health Econ 101", John Goodman, National Center for Policy Analysis, 2012-11-05

One thing critics ignore about private sector versus government programs is that government doesn't have CEOs taking home eight-figure salaries and other perks.

Energy – picking winners and losers

"In addition to legislative aid, Excelsior also has received a large share of financial assistance from the public sector. The company received about $22 million in development funds from the U.S. Department of Energy before the federal agency decided to cut off its support for the morphing project this summer. Initially, Excelsior had been slated to receive $36 million in support of the “clean coal” technology it aimed to develop, but the federal agency chose to stop its funding $14 million shy of that original earmark when Excelsior’s focus shifted to natural gas."

– "Key land auction for Excelsior Energy slated for today", Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune, 2012-12-19

See also "Report: Excelsior Energy project could run out of gas", Minnesota Public Radio, 2011-08-23.

Rather than decry all these subsidies, the Minnesota State Legislature passed a law in 2008 that made the financial records reported to state agencies secret.

It is interesting that many hold alternative energy companies to a different standard than fossil fuel companies.  In the one case it is crony capitalism on the part of government, and in the other case it is creating jobs. "'At the end of the day, this is a project that has not hired one full-time worker on the Iron Range. Only lawyers, lobbyists and professional meeting attenders have gotten jobs,' said Rep. Tom Anzelc, D-Balsam Township, the only Iron Range legislator who opposes the project."  See MPR article.

Friday, December 21, 2012

NRA wants to raise your taxes

The NRA proclaims that having police officers in all schools will prevent more shootings.  Is the NRA willing to pay the taxes for tens of thousands of police officers?

There are about 99,000 public K-12 schools in the U.S. and the average police officer is paid about $50,000.  That's nearly five billion dollars.  If there are an average of two school shootings per year, that's over two billion dollars to prevent a single school shooting.  Would the NRA agree to a sales tax on guns to pay for these police officers?

Over ten million guns were sold in the U.S in 2011.  To fund the NRA's protection plan would require a $500 tax on each gun sale.  I doubt the NRA would accept that tax.

There were 93 million children enrolled in public schools in 2010.  If we taxed the parents for police officers in their children's schools, that would be about $54 per child.  So, all parents would be required to pay $54 per child so that the NRA can keep gun regulations to a minimum.  Sounds fair, not!

However, what would be assurance that said police officers would reduce school shooting deaths to zero?  The NRA is watching too many westerns where the good guys can shoot an apple out a tree, even from the hip!  The reality is that many police officers themselves are victims of mass murderers.

Sgt. Kimberly Munley, the first police officer on the scene at the Ft. Hood mass shooting, is a member of a SWAT team and an advanced firearms instructor.  Maj. Hassan, the shooter, wounded her at least twice, and supposedly he was able to kick her gun out of her reach.  Whether she wounded him sufficiently to subdue him or her partner did so is not clear from what I read.

In another case, New York Police wounded nine bystanders trying to take down a gunman on a city street.

The NRA also claims that more armed citizens will prevent mass murders.  In the Arizona shooting in which Rep. Gabby Giffords was wounded, one armed citizen almost shot the wrong person in the melee.

Several commentators are pointing out that the NRA is not so much about the right to bear arms but the right of gun makers to sell arms.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mike Peters' "Twelve Days of Christmas" puns for 2012

Mike Peters, creator of "Mother Goose and Grimm" is at again with his puns on "The Twelve Days of Christmas".  As I write this, he is on the Eighth day of Christmas.  If your newspaper doesn't carry "Mother Goose and Grimm", you can find his comics at his web site.

I was led to write this for a couple of reasons.

First, my blog entry "For word nerds only" from last December has been getting several hits a week and a common set of keywords used is "mother goose" "grimm" "twelve days" "Christmas".  This particular set puts this blog entry first of over 25,000!!!

Second, we stopped buying paper copies of the newspaper.  The online versions of the Duluth News Tribune and Star Tribune don't carry the same comics as the print edition, and even then, you have to click on the individual listing of a comic to see the current panel.  It's almost enough to get me back to the print edition.  Oh, yes, with the Star Tribune eEdition I can get a copy of the comic section.  It does take a bit more effort than scanning the paper copy, but I do have all the comics in one place.  Shall I call the Star Tribune eEdition my Christmas present to myself: two chortle doves?  Or "my blue glove waved to me"!

And another interesting tidbit!  When you pass the cursor over today's Google logo, it shows "200th Anniversary of Grimm's Fairy Tales".

Quote of the day: Gun Control

"Why is voting & adjusting my Facebook settings harder than buying a semi-automatic?"
"The K Chronicles" by Keith Knight, 2012-12-19,

For many of your favorite comics, see for alphabetic listing of many popular comics.

Climate change - can you catch the typo?

"The annual rise of 17 billion tons [of atmospheric carbon] translates into a rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Each additional 7.8 billion tons is equivalent to one part per million in the atmosphere, so that an extra 17 tons each year is equivalent to a rise of roughly two parts per million."
- Common Wealth, p. 92, Jeffrey D. Sachs

Hint: The word "billion" is missing in one place.

Hint: If the amount of carbon dioxide needed to add 2ppm is what he wrote, then the earth would have become a desert already.

The moral: Once you proofread something you wrote, proofread it again.  I caught at least one in what I typed above!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Helping the sick and injured is age-old

Many hunter-gatherer cultures helped those who could not contribute fully.  Many of us have read stories about hunter-gatherer cultures caring for the elderly and healing the sick, but do we know how much they cared for those younger who could never contribute a great deal to the group?

As it is, archeologists have found cases of primitive societies caring for people that couldn't even feed themselves or could not keep up as the group traveled.  See "Ancient Bones that Tell a Story of Compassion", James Gorman, New York Times, 2012-12-17.

The archeologists, Lorna Tilley and Mark Oxenham, ask "what care for the sick and injured says about the culture that provided it."

These pre-historic cultures were close-knit communities that knew all of their members.  It is hard not to care for those in a small community.  But what happens as the community becomes larger, more diverse, and more dispersed?  Children move to another city or even another country.  People associate more with those at the factory or office than they do with people on their own block.  Driving out the garage and down the street we may not even meet many of our neighbors.  We don't know who is sick and disabled.  Even when we know our own neighbors, we aren't aware of all of their problems.  It took a mail carrier asking a neighbor about my step-father before anybody realized that he had died.

Even when we know a neighbor is ill, do we have the skills needed to care for the neighbor?  Our expectations of health-care are much higher than in pre-historic times.  In the last few centuries, charitable groups established hospitals to take care of people who couldn't be cared for at home.  But our expectations became even higher and many of those groups could not raise sufficient funds to give care to all who needed it.  Hospitals needed to charge all comers in order to have the funds; those without enough money often did without needed care.

If we are to replicate in today's dispersed societies the attention given to the sick and injured in primitive societies, wouldn't we need to have universal health care?  We still must ask "what care for the sick and injured says about the culture that provided it."  We certainly have many politicians who are more concerned with guaranteeing people access to guns than guaranteeing people access to health care.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The opportunity cost of freeways

"Opportunity cost" is an economic term to describe the cost of spending money one way instead of another.  Consider the penchant for "across the board cuts" in government spending.  If a family were to do that say with "across the board cuts" in its grocery spending, the kids would suffer.  That is, if Dad cut his beer spending by 25% and the spending on milk by 25%, then the opportunity cost of Dad's beer would be less healthy children.

Every time I drive through the mammoth interchange of I-35 and I-694 in the Twin Cities, I think of all the houses or farms that could be in that space.  I think of all the property tax that has been lost so people ever farther out can get between here and there in a "minimum" amount of time.  Could the lost tax revenue have gone into more public transportation, moving more people with less space?  If public transportation was more widely used, would more people spend less time in traffic when weather conditions make driving difficult?  I'm sure you can think of many more costs associated with complex highways that could be better spent elsewhere.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Disconnect on subsidies

Why is it bad to subsidize an industry such as wind or solar but it is all right to subsidize a company for locating in a particular spot?

There are many who call for an end to subsidies for alternative energy, but do they complain about subsidies for fossil fuel companies?  For example, Sasol is getting a $2 billion subsidy from Louisiana to build a gas-to-liquid plant.  See "Sasol Betting Big on Gas-to-Liquid Technology",  John M. Broder and Clifford Krauss, New York Times, 2012-12-17.

I wonder if any economist has ever done a long-term study on the value of subsidies.  I know there have been subsidies to get companies to locate in a particular city or state, and many companies abandon that city or state before the locality has even recouped its investment.  I also know that government subsidies have transformed the economy mostly for the benefit of many.  Lincoln called for subsidies to the transcontinental railroad which greatly improved the U.S. economy.  Would we have computers and the Internet without many other government subsidies?

What we really need are some metrics that show whether a government subsidy will provide a huge social benefit or will only be a drain that lines the pockets of a few.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pistol-packing principals?

"Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, was the sole representative of gun rights' activists on the various Sunday talk shows. In an interview on 'Fox News Sunday,' Gohmert defended the sale of assault weapons and said that the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who authorities say died trying to overtake the shooter, should herself have been armed.

"'I wish to God she had had an M-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn't have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands. But she takes him (the shooter) out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids, Gohmert said.'"

- "Senators call for ban on assault weapons, want commission to examine gun laws, mental health", Anne Flaherty , Associated Press  Updated: December 16, 2012 - 2:52 PM

Do we really want to live in a country where every citizen is armed?  Do we have to add weapons training to the curricula of our schools of education?  When I went to high school in the 1950s, we didn't even have cops in the schools.  What has changed in our country?  Maybe it was too many westerns in which the hero was always the fastest draw and the most accurate shot.  For a couple of more realistic views, see "Myth of the Hero Gunslinger" and "How the Gunfighter Killed Bourgeois America".

As for the proposed year-and-a-half waiting period "to discuss this volatile matter" the U.S. has been averaging two mass murders per year for the last thirty years.  "And in most cases, the killers had obtained their weapons legally."

- "11 facts about U.S. gun massacres", Ezra Klein, Washington Post  Updated: December 15, 2012 - 7:10 PM, retrieved from Star Tribune

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Strange remarks on gun control

On the Connecticut shooting, a letter to the Star Tribune included:

"To discuss this very volatile matter, we need to wait until we have a period of, say, a year and a half with no mass killings that come about as a result of gun sales and ownership."

I wonder if the writer considered that "a year and a half with no mass killings" is about the same as never.  First, unfortunately there will be some copycat killings.  Second, what does he define as "mass killings", more than two dozen victims, more than a dozen, more than six?  This writer also thought that the killer could have killed as many with a club and feet!

We really should have been having intelligent conversations how to reduce the number of killings, no matter how many are killed by no matter how many.  But, no, we have the National Rifle Association (NRA) raising political hell on any restrictions of unlimited availability of guns and a few less politically powerful calling for complete restrictions.

I wish some Constitutional scholars would really take on the meaning of the Second Amendment:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to bear Arms shall not be infringed."

Many argue that the single-shot "Arms" of the time were nowhere near as lethal as the large-magazine automatic pistols of today.  Unfortunately, few argue about the choice of words for who has the right to bear arms or for what purpose.

First, the purpose in the Second Amendment is "the security of a free State", not the "defense of home or self".  Many claim that the Constitution gives them the right to have arms to defend their home.  That is common law, the so-called "castle doctrine", not constitutional law.  Given the times, I venture that this was meant for communities on the frontier to defend themselves against Indian attack or foreign invasions.

Second, please note the choice of words to describe who has the "right to bear arms" - "the people", not persons or citizens.  The writers used "the people" only twice in the original Constitution: "We, the People" in the preamble and "The House of Representative shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People..." in Article I, Section 2.  That is, "people" is a collective noun.  Otherwise, when writing about individuals, the writers used "person" or "citizen" in the singular or plural form as appropriate.

I do find it ironic that the party that wants a strict interpretation of the Constitution gives such a loose interpretation to the Second Amendment.  This same party completely ignores the parts of the Constitution that state office holders need only give an oath (or affirmation) to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." - Article II, Section 1, and Article VI.  Article VI also includes "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."  It would seem the political pressure to attend prayer breakfasts or to end speeches with "God Bless America" are certainly violations of the Constitution.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The strange workings of our minds

My wife has read many Janet Evanovich novels.  She mentioned that the story line used to be clever and tight but has become just raunchy.  She said the main character, Stephanie Plum, was a bounty hunter, but at the moment she had the wrong idea of a bounty hunter, thinking mostly about animals.  In bits and pieces I pulled out of my own mind that a bounty hunter was a person who tracked down those who jump bail.  They are hired by bondsmen but have to get a receipt of the capture from the police.

I said I had seen a movie about this, I remember the bondsman kept his money in his socks and the bounty hunter was played by Robert DeNiro.  Then it came to me that the movie was "Midnight Run".  I checked Google and one of the top entries was the Wikipedia article -

The movie was produced in 1988 and I probably watched it on VHS in the early '90s.  I didn't remember all the details given in the Wikipedia synopsis, but I did remember that the bail jumper got away (or was let go) and that DeNiro's competitor had gotten DeNiro's credit card cancelled.

I don't claim any particular genius in remembering these long-ago details; most of us have these same capabilities.  They are just so hit and miss.  We can't remember the name of somebody we met yesterday, but we remember the name of somebody we haven't seen in decades.

I think David Eagleman got it right with "Incognito: The Hidden Lives of the Brain".  There are so many processes going on in our brains of which we are not aware.  See "Memory and coincidence".

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Quote of the Day - Entitlements

"Social Security and Medicare aren't entitlements. They're subsidies to companies that do not sufficiently cover the health care and retirement needs of their employees."
- Gary Peterson, Letter, Star Tribune, 2012-11-24

But companies often more than sufficiently cover the health care and retirement needs of their executives.  See "Let's Look at Entitlements".

Monday, December 10, 2012

A different idea for capital gains tax

Many don't want capital gains to be taxed any amount, even if a stock was bought and sold in seconds.  But how does such a short term profit make any real contribution to the economy compared to an hourly worker producing a tangible product such as vegetables or automobiles?

We really should tax capital gains on a sliding scale.  Securities held for less than a year should be taxed at the same rate as earnings.  Securities held for more than a year should be taxed at a progressively lower rate until securities held for, say, ten years should be taxed at zero percent.

Of course, we are still rewarding people for luck at throwing darts more than people who show up for work everyday.

I'm probably preaching to the choir on this.  I've been writing for some time on this and you can see how much it's caught on.

See "Let's do away with capital gains taxes, dividend taxes, and estate taxes by…" or do a search for "Irregular Blog" and "Capital Gains".

Remember Tom Lehrer?

He's still around and has a web site  I'm not sure how much is his doing and how much is a tribute to him.  I do know it includes a clip of Daniel Radcliffe singing the elements song.  Puff!  Puff!

For more on Tom Lehrer see Wikipedia,

Garrison Keillor and the Prairie Home Companion are keeping some of his songs going.  This past Saturday the Digiallonardo Sisters did Tom Lehrer's "Hanukkah in Santa Monica".

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Thanks to my really loyal reader

Often when I post more than one entry, Blogger will show that the entry I posted a few minutes ago has already been read by one person.  This evening I've posted four in a row, and all but the last have already been read.

If you are a real person, thank you very much for your interest.  Please tell your friends about the Irregular Blog.

If you are one of the Russian reverse spammers, I just wish you would go away.  I would like to have my writings read by real people.  Also, you are wasting your resources.  I don't click on the referring links shown by Blogger.

If you are one of the less immediate readers from around the world, thank you also for your interest.

For those interested in where my readership is, for the following week I've had page views from Russia, United States, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, Canada, India, Phillipines, Brazil, and Kazakhstan.  I hope most of these are real people and not 'bots.  If you are a person, thank your for your interest.  I hope I can keep you coming back.

Penny stock ready to soar?

Really?  If a penny stock is ready to soar, why tell anybody else?  Just keep buying as much as you can afford.

You have probably seen these ads dozens or hundreds of times.  I think the thinking behind these ads is of one of two types.

First, the advertisers have bought lots of the unnamed stock and want you to buy some so the price will go up.  When the price goes up and seems to plateau, they sell out at a huge profit.

Second, and more likely, the advertisers want you to buy a "special report".  Once you do, you are on their mailing list and they will try to sell you more reports or their newsletter.  The newsletters may have dubious advice, more so if the writers have a political stance.  They will probably never own many shares of the stocks they promote, if any.

Simple reason for global warming

For millennia humans burned wood for cooking and heat.  As long as there were a large number of trees, trees absorbed the CO2 from the fires and created new trees.

Then humans pulled coal and oil from beneath the ground and burned it.  The rate of CO2 being put into the atmosphere increased dramatically.  Furthermore, because trees all over the world were being cut down faster than they could be replaced, the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere decreased.  The increase in atmospheric CO2 traps more heat and thus warms the Earth overall.

Those who deny the human effect on global warming must believe that 1+1-1 equals 3!

Quote of the day: democracy or wealth

"We must make our choice.  We may have democracy, Or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few but we can't have both."
- Louis Brandeis quoted by Forrest Johnson in the Reader Weekly, 2012-12-06

For the quote in context see

Christmas is coming?

It can't be there is no snow!  And this is Minnesnowta!

Oh, maybe it is because there's lots of snow predicted for tomorrow. We shall see.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Books, advertising, and independent vs. large corporation

My books-to-read list keeps getting longer and longer, possibly because I wander the internet so much and find interesting titles.  My next problem is that when I choose a book to read, how shall I obtain it?  As a hard copy from a library, an independent bookstore, or a large corporation like Amazon?  Or shall I get an eBook from another large corporation, Apple?

Getting a book from a library is free and my borrowing a book helps it stay in circulation for others to read.  Getting my own hard copy is either calling ahead to an independent bookseller or ordering it online.  Getting it from a local bookseller helps the local economy.  Ordering it online may get the copy to me faster.  Most would opt for Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  I opt for ABE Books which is a consortium of independent booksellers.  An advantage to ABE Books is that I can find foreign titles and maybe even have them shipped free.

But then I already own so many books, where can I put new books without throwing out older ones.  And which ones?

If I get an eBook, I can have a bigger choice of reading when I'm away, I can easily add comments, and I can easily copy excerpts for a blog entry.

Life is so full of choices!

So, what does all this have to do with advertising?  I've noticed that many sites that mention a book have links to that book at Amazon.  From reading about Maria Popova's "Brain Pickings" and seeing some of her links, I know that web authors can get a small fee if readers click on the book reference, probably only if someone buys the book.

Now I always like to earn a few bucks more if I can, but do I want to earn those bucks by supporting a large corporation?  If I go that route, I'll probably have to drop the Google Ads, which aren't providing many bucks anyway.  The easiest thing is for me to do nothing; given the underwhelming readership of this blog, the revenue from either source would be about the same, not much.  Maybe I should make this blog a "cleaner" reading experience by having no ads at all.

So, dear reader, if you see me around, please let me know what you think.  I think I have five or six regular readers in Duluth.

Free markets and governments

"Alex Marshall, a journalist and senior fellow at the Regional Plan Association, has written two books on the topic of cities: "How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl and The Roads Not Taken" and "Beneath the Metropolis: The Secret Lives of Cities." He also lectures on urbanism and teaches courses on infrastructure.

"His newest book, released this fall, is a departure—but not as radical of one as it might first appear. "The Surprising Design of Market Economies" debunks the notion that free markets are 'natural.'"

From "What Jane Jacobs Got Wrong About Urban Economies", Allison Arieff, TheAtlanticCities, 2012-12-05.

Marshall's final comment is "We are a democracy and we ought to act like it."

Can Gov. Chris Christie change the Republican Party?

I had my Jon Stewart dose of the day.  In, Stewart tries to pin down Christie on why Republicans thinks it's alright for the Federal Government to pay for the aftermath of natural disasters but its wrong for any government to pay for health insurance.  For example, Stewart asks if having cancer and no health insurance is a natural disaster.

Christie spoke about how he tries to work with those with different philosophical ideas to come to some agreement.  I understood his meaning to be that one cannot take a rigid stand.

Will other Republicans follow his lead or will they consider him a RINO (Republican in Name Only)?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A more thoughtful blog than this blog

Maria Popova is the "curator" of the blog "Brain Pickings".  If you are interested in books, this is a go-to-site for thoughtful commentary on books of many genres.  See "She's Got Some Big Ideas", , Bruce Feiler, New York Times, 2012-11-30.

From the article I added Albert Einstein's "Ideas and opinion" to my reading list.  Popova is quoted in the article with:

“In times of turmoil, I often turn to one of my existential pillars of comfort: Albert Einstein’s ‘Ideas and Opinion.’ ” She ended with this thought: “There is a way to critique intelligently and respectfully, without eroding the validity of your disagreement. It boils down to manners.”

Her latest entry as of 2012-12-06 is "The 10 Best Psychology and Philosophy Books of 2012"
By: Maria Popova 2012-12-04, "From Buddhism to the relationship between creativity and dishonesty, by way of storytelling and habit".

From the sidebar, I went to "Isaac Asimov on Science and Creativity in Education"
by Maria Popova, 2011-01-28 "What vintage science fiction has to do with the future of self-directed learning."

It includes some snippets of Bill Moyers' interview with Isaac Asimov.  From this article, I added Asimov's "The Roving Mind" to my reading list.

My booklist from suggestions on the web is getting so long, maybe I should turn my computer off, sit in an easy chair, and start reading the books on my list (plus a few I would like to reread).  Maybe I'll be halfway through my list be next Christmas?  Maybe by the time you make your way through all of Popova's blog entry you'll visit my blog again next Christmas.

Happy reading.  May you always find something not only interesting but something you find is more interesting than anything else for the moment.

A strong antidote to political posturing

"The antidote to Political Fatigue. Click Here for Immediate Relief. [Video]"

This is a BBC Mundo interview with Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay, "The Poorest President in the World".

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The strange behavior of Google search

The statistics for this blog include search words used to find an entry.  Every so often I follow up on these search words to see where Google had ranked my entries.

"why read is irregular"  had nearly 19 million hits and "Why read?" is at the top!

"toast anachronism" had about of 3.5 million hits and "French toast – an anachronism in a classic of French literature" is also at the top!

Has Google changed its algorithms to be give more personal results?  That is, do these show at the top because my name is in them?  Or did I really have blog entries that were more appropriate to the query?  I could believe this with a find of a couple of dozen, but not millions.

Follow-up on Steve Jobs blog entry

Well, at least one journalist doesn't credit Steve Jobs with everything Apple created.  See "Apple's Forstall Got What He Deserved: iPod Inventor", Cadie Thompson, CNBC, 2012-11-29.

Of course, did Tony Fadell "invent" the iPod, or did he lead a team that came up with all the basic ideas?  And which iPod are we talking about?  The music player or the all-but-smart phone of today.

My original entry is "What do Steve Jobs, Adam Smith, and Xenophon have in common?"

Sunday, December 02, 2012

If all else fails, read directions

Last spring I replaced an old, hard-to-start chain saw with a new "easy-start" chain saw.  But I had difficulty starting it.  I thought I was following directions, but it still took a long time to start, if at all.  I felt embarrassed about it and was reluctant to try again.

So I used a nice-sharp curved draw saw to cut trees up to four inches in diameter.  In one sense, it was nice because it was quiet and good exercise.  And I could change hands when using my right hand caused too much irritation in my bum shoulder.  The only problem is that I didn't get much cut, especially of the bigger stuff.  And we have lots of downed trees to take out as firewood before they rot.

We went to our cabin yesterday only for the day and did a variety of chores and a bit of walking.  I had a few minutes to spare before returning to Duluth, and so I gave the chain saw another try.

I tried to get the trigger to lock in position for starting, but it wouldn't stay.  I looked at the symbols along the lock and figured out that maybe I was using the right position.  I think the needed position was one stop short of the full lock.

Push the primer a few times.  Put the handle between my legs and hold the cross handle.  Pull gently on the starter rope.  It had the appropriate feel for the easy-start.  I find it hard to describe the change in tension as I pull it out.

One pull.  Two pulls, sounds and feels even better.  Three pulls, roar from the saw and yay from me!

I ran the chain saw for a few minutes, and I felt great pride that I finally persevered.  Unfortunately, I didn't think there was time to do any cutting and I shut the saw off.  But at least I know that the next time we go to our cabin, I can start a more productive cutting of firewood.  I have two nice size birches in mind whose absence will let some smaller birches grow.

Spring skiing in December in Minnesota?

As I walk around Duluth and our cabin in Brimson, I'm amazed at the wet snow on the ground.  Hey, this is December; we're supposed to have white fluffy stuff at least six inches deep.  This snow is like March snow.

This is bad for the tourism industry because fewer people will come to Duluth to ski.  In fact, Spirit Mt. will not be open for a full daily schedule until Dec. 8.  It used to be that ski hills in Minnesota began full-time operation at Thanksgiving, even south of Minneapolis.  Forget "over the hill and through the woods to Grandmother's house…"

It's also bad for all the snowplow operators, public and private.  They will be called out less often.

Almost any change has winners and losers.  The big winners are those who get to spew lots of CO2 and other pollution in the air.  The losers are all those who depend on seasonal shifts, but they're little folk and I guess they don't count.

Am I getting to the age where the disappointment of fewer opportunities to ski are offset by the joy of shoveling less?

Saturday, December 01, 2012

What do Steve Jobs, Adam Smith, and Xenophon have in common?

They all understood that the whole requires many parts.

I thought of this while contemplating all the commentators who seemingly give full credit to Steve Jobs for all of Apple's innovative products, from the original Apple computer to the iPad.  Sorry, but he needed the help of thousands of people to bring these products to market.

Let's start over two thousand years ago in Persia.

Many Greek mercenaries were in the service of Cyrus, brother of the Persian Emperor.  Cyrus used the Greeks in a battle to overthrow his brother, but Cyrus was killed in battle.  The Emperors forces invited the Greek generals to peace conference and slaughtered them all.  The Persians thought this would demoralize the Greek mercenaries.

As usual, tyrants never understand democrats.  The Greeks, having a democratic tradition, elected new generals and fought their way against much opposition back to Greece.

For more about Xenophon, see Wikipedia -

Adam Smith opens "The Wealth of Nations" with

"The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniencies of life which it annually consumes, and which consist always either in the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations."

In other words, the masters, the capitalists, the CEOs, or whatever name you give to those at the top of an economic hierarchy would not be able to do anything without a few dozen or thousands of people doing all the "labour" needed to bring an idea to market.

Many reporters are giving full credit to Steve Jobs for the iPhone and the iPad.  Really?  Could Steve Jobs conceived of every detail of these products all by himself?  Could Steve Jobs have designed all the circuits or all the programs that make these products so useful.

Sure, he may have had a vision for these products.  But don't you think that he had lots of discussions with others on how to design, manufacture, and market these products?

Let's go back to 1983 and before when the first Macintosh was being designed.  I think about two dozen people were involved, some of them responsible for a single software project, like MacWrite and MacPaint.  But these designers weren't cloistered in their cubicles, noses to the coding sheet until they finished.  They collaborated with each other and Steve Jobs.

In short, success does not come about by the "hard work" of somebody at the top.  It comes about by the hard work of people at all levels.  If a worker doesn't set a switch properly at a certain time, the whole enterprise could come tumbling down.  If a manager doesn't ensure the proper training,  if a director doesn't ensure proper design, if a treasurer doesn't provide adequate funding for that design...

"For want of a nail..."