Friday, September 25, 2015

Magree's Law on technology

Magree's Law: the occurrence of user problems is proportional to the square of the "improvements".

I came up with this contemplating how as computers get more powerful and "user friendly" they seem to have more and more head-banging user problems.  See Apple Support Community for verification.

Actually, this applies to all sorts of technology.  Just think of all the great stuff there is our cars and how much harder it is to find the right buttons.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What G.O.P really stands for

Greed Oil Petroleum!

Written by "Socrates" as a comment to "Why the Pope Should Scare Climate-Change Deniers" by Anna North, New York Times, 2015-09-22

Dire Predictions: a must read on climate change

Earlier this month I finished Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change by Michael Mann and Lee Kump.

I sent Michael Mann an email with the comments:
It is quite a bit of overwhelming evidence that the climate is getting warmer.

Light letters on dark background are hard for seniors to read.

Most of the middle-age deniers will be dead by 2050, and so what do they care as long as the can get their profits now.
He responded right away, but Mail showed only the auto-reply that he received so much mail that he might not respond.  Just today I saw that he had responded.  He wrote that they have struggled with the light on dark problem and asked me to write an Amazon review.

Well, I avoid Amazon and bought my copy from a local bookseller, The Bookstore at Fitgers.

I do recommend Dire Consequences if you want a better understanding of all the complexities that are driving climate change.  I think the evidence Mann and Kump provide is overwhelming.  It is only those who have an interest in profiting from the drivers of climate change who are selling a bill of goods to those who think government is bad.

It will take you awhile to get into it, but once you’ve finished it you will feel well-rewarded with a deeper understanding.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Conservatives are liberals and Liberals are conservative?

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve often tried to make sense of the above phrase, frequently quoted out of context.  Without looking up anybody else’s thoughts for this article, I’ve understand it to mean that we should adapt to the context of the situation.  For example, a “foolish consistency” would be to work in the garden in a three-piece suit or a ball gown.  If one dresses in a certain way for many situations, then one should always dress that way.  No! No!  One should adapt to the situation.

In reference to political parties, I think the phrase can be turned around to:

“A foolish inconsistency is the work of little minds.”

Rather than a set of general principles, political positions seem to have degenerated into a set of bullet points.  I think this started when some Republicans thought that other Republicans were RINOs (Republicans In Name Only).  These RINOs did not take seriously every single position that the “True Republicans” did.

I am sure this “conservative”/“liberal” dialog has been going on longer than that, but for some time the Republicans and Democrats were called “big-tent” parties, meaning that they accepted people with a variety of views.  The Democrats accepted Southern segregationists and the Republicans accepted those who thought business should be regulated.

For a long time Republicans have been “pro-business” but not every Republican has been “business can do no wrong”.  Think Teddy Roosevelt and the trust busters.  Think Eisenhower warning of the “military-industrial complex.”

I think in the nineteenth century, liberals were the ones who embraced the change from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing economy.  The conservatives were the one’s who wanted to protect local farmers from the “liberal” large corporations.

Now it seems the roles have reversed.  Liberals want to promote and protect local agriculture; conservatives want to protect the rights of large agribusinesses to do as they please.

For the rest of this article, I am going to write mostly about the short-comings of conservatives.  It’s not that there are not short-comings of liberals; it’s just that I think the short-comings of conservatives are more dangerous to our democracy than those of liberals.

Conservatives have devolved from those who deliberate carefully to those who want to preserve the power of corporations or of certain religious groups.  This is in itself a contradiction.  Corporations tout the free market (a “liberal” idea); certain religious groups tout certain moral standards.  Interestingly, the “free market” is amoral.  According to some “free marketers”, it is perfectly logical to sell fetus parts.

These “free marketers” often ignore two important points of a true free market: buyer and seller have all the information they need to conduct a transaction, and there are no externalities.  Can you easily get the cost of a telecommunication service?  Is not pollution an externality?

It is interesting that the religious groups allied with conservatives don’t call them on pollution.  Isn’t it a basic tenet of almost all religions to “do unto others as you would have then do unto you?”  Would these polluters like it if their neighbors burned garbage in their backyards or had malfunctioning chimneys?

Unfortunately, it seems many of these “conservative” religious groups are overly selective in what they quote from scripture.  They seem to prefer the punitive verses to the open and generous verses.  Stone adulterers and homosexuals, but forget “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  They complain that abortion is murder, but they ally with a party that favors the murder of executions and of war.

In the late twentieth century, many conservatives complained about “activist courts” interpreting the law in such a way to make “new law”.  Now, a conservative Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are “persons” and has interpreted “people” (a collective noun) to mean “person” (a singular noun).

Many conservatives are interpreting “freedom of religion” to mean freedom of action instead of freedom of thought.  But what happens when one persons “free exercise” interferes with another person’s “free exercise”.  Second guessing the writers of the Second Amendment, I would say that they meant “free exercise” meaning one could go to a church of his or her choice.

One violation of the Constitution is even “infecting” “liberals”: the Fourth Amendment seems to be completely forgotten in massive collection of telecommunications data without “probable cause” or “an oath or warrant” “describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”  I guess the place is “everywhere” and the persons and things are “everyone and everything.”

I think of the Constitution as an outline of governing ourselves: not some foreign government or self-appointed dictator.  Now it seems, that conservative politicians, who gave an oath to protect the Constitution are more interested in selling government to the highest bidder.  And they have the gall to call unpatriotic those who question any war that will benefit some large corporations.

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

- Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland

Have we fallen down “the rabbit hole” into  a political “Wonderland”?

Those who believe as Humpty Dumpty should remember “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall; Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.”

Also published in the Reader Weekly of Duluth, 2015-09-17 at

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Religion and morality

George Washington wrote in his Farewell Address that one cannot have morality without religion.

I disagree.

You don't need a god to make you ethical,
But the "wrong" god can make you unethical.

Throughout history, people have killed other because their "god" justified it.

We have ISIS killing those who don't believe as they do, and we had Torquemada of the Spanish inquisition torturing and killing those who would not believe as he did.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Teetering on the edge of the abyss

I apologize to my dozen readers for not submitting a column for last week.  I was still in Internet purgatory and could not give you any further information about my accommodation to our surprises with cordless access. I did have a couple ideas on politics, but I just couldn’t come up with more than 200 words for either of them.

Because you are reading this you know that our provider, Consumer Cellular, has let us have Wi-Fi access again.  But even that was iffy.  Our access was not turned on until I called around 9:00 on the morning of the first of September.  Then for some reason it was blocked again.  Another call.

I still have no idea why we were having run-away data in the middle of August.  Over a gigabyte in one six-hour period when I wasn’t even knowingly accessing the Web!

I did learn from a search of Apple Community Support that one can close all open apps.  My run-away problem could have been a run-away app that kept pinging the web.  Anyhow, to close open apps push the home button twice.  Miniatures of all of your open apps will appear from left to right.  Swipe up on each miniature and the app will be closed.  When you click on the app in the home screen, it will open again in the same state as when you closed it.

Don’t worry about closing your phone and message apps.  When a call or text message come in, your iPhone will open the necessary app.

I am carefully monitoring my usage both by checking usage with the settings app on my iPhone and with the Consumer Cellular website.  Already I have used 826 MB of my 4,096 MB limit, and we are not even five days into the month.

I am not going to be downloading podcasts or updating apps on my dime.  I used 135 MB updating three apps and 250 MB getting the latest episodes of four podcasts.  Since I download podcasts once a week that would be 1,000 MB a month.

I will definitely be updating these from coffee shops.

I use seven to twenty MB per session accessing accounts and paying bills.  I use about twenty MB reading newspapers.  These may be doable from home, but I will wait a few days before I resume accessing these from home.

So far today I have accessed the web from an Essentia Health cafeteria before exercising and from Whole Foods Co-op while my wife shopped.  I plan to send this from Mt. Royal Market when I’m done.

Let’s see, two coffees a day at two to three dollars each.  That would be $120 to $180 a month.  That is more than my savings from cutting the cord!  Well, I should be getting out of the house more often.  And we are not getting all those robocalls on our landline.

Robocalls remind me of diatribe letters that I get every so often.  The writer puts on the outside of the envelope in big, oversize, multi-colored capital letters some diatribe about Obama.  I don’t even bother reading all the outside message, the letter goes unopened into the recycling box.

Actually, I am apolitical about all of these dire consequence letters, surveys, whatever else some group sends out:  Back Obama!  Stop the Republicans!  Save the whales!  All of them go unopened into the recycle box. We get at least six a week.

Back to our regularly scheduled article.

Some glitches cause one to wonder what is going on.  I would access my bank account, enter my ID and password, and then get a big message about “System Error”.  But it didn’t happen all the time.  I think the first time might have coincided with Consumer Cellular turning my account off again on the first day of restoring service.  But it also happened yesterday, and today it worked fine.

One app I thought would eat up a lot of data is FaceTime.  Our son called my wife’s FaceTime account and they chatted for fifteen minutes or so.  The usage on her phone only went up by about 50 MB.  I think this might be because FaceTime has some excellent data compression.

Apropos data compression, I hope newspaper sites that play video ads automatically have good data compression.  I hope the same for those interesting videos in the New York Times Science section: like two octopuses fighting.

From some of the postings in the Apple Support Community, I did learn that one can increase the data limit with AT&T.  I believe it was well beyond the 4 GB we can get from Consumer Cellular.  I think also AT&T provides 4G service rather than 3G service.  I should look these up as well as LTE.  I believe the higher level of service gives better quality and faster speed.

Ah, speed!  Sometimes I watch a page come up in a blink of an eye, and sometimes I wonder if the progress bar is even moving.  Is it that a site has a large number of users, the site has some other problem, the network has a problem, or my computer has a problem?  Or all of the preceding?

Apropos AT&T, we received a card this week offering “$300 in credits when you switch to AT&T”.      You have to visit a store, shop at a website, or call an 800 number.  There is also a square to scan with a smartphone.

I read the square and found prices per month to buy individual iPhones, but it was unclear how much monthly service would cost and how much data would be available.  So much for the free market (buyers have all the information they need).

Also appears in the Reader Weekly of Duluth, 2015-09-09

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Seniors don’t lose memory, they just have more to search

Some people talk about temporary memory loss as senior moments as if the brain is a lot slower as we age.

I like to think of it as our search engines are working at design capacity, but we keep stuffing in more information than our brain could ever handle.

Suppose you have a box of ten marbles.  it is very easy to pick out a particular marble.  What if you have a box of one hundred marbles? If they were all on the same level, you could still quickly pick out a particular marble.

Now what happens if you have a box of one thousand marbles?  Most likely they will be piled in several layers.  It will take you quite awhile to find a particular marble, especially if the marble is not in the top layer.

So, a senior forgetting something isn’t losing his or her marbles, he or she just has a lot more marbles to search through than younger people.

Right now, my head is full of working out the glitches from cutting the cord and using only wireless phone and internet.

I put two different amounts on a check to a handyman.  When he called about the discrepancy, he said that he had two other checks with errors.  This certainly doesn’t help his cash flow.

I wrote a new check (with the correct amounts), put it in an envelope, and put a stamp on the envelope.

I took it with me to the fitness center on Friday.  I knew I had it in my hand when I got out of car.  I went to the coffee shop and then to the fitness center.

A few minutes into using a stationery bike, I realized that I didn’t remember putting the check in a mailbox!!

Retrace my steps.  Look around table I sat in.  Ask cashiers if anybody turned in an envelope.  I’m feeling very depressed.  My day is ruined!  All I do is worry about that check.

In the wee hours of the morning, I suddenly remembered passing a big sign thanking the many volunteers to the health center.  I remember the sign being on my right as it would be if I went to the mailbox.  It would have been on my left if I had been going directly to the coffee shop.

Probably I had other things on my mind as I mailed the check on auto-pilot.

I hadn’t lost my marbles; I just have too many to find just the right one when I need it.