Monthly Archives: April 2014

Don’t you hate it when you get a new phone and all of your old chargers no longer work? Well, the EU intends to do something about it:

A common charger should be developed for all mobile phones sold in the EU, to reduce waste, costs and hassle for users, said MEPs voting on an update to EU radio equipment laws on Thursday. This draft has already been informally agreed with the Council of Ministers.

“The modernised Radio Equipment Directive is an efficient tool to prevent interference between different radio equipment devices. I am especially pleased that we agreed on the introduction of a common charger. This serves the interests both of consumers and the environment. It will put an end to charger clutter and 51,000 tonnes of electronic waste annually”, said rapporteur Barbara Weiler (S&D, DE).

There was a time when I might have welcomed this development. I once had a phone end up getting crushed and my “insurance plan” gave me a phone with a different brand that required a whole new set of chargers. The chargers, at the time, weren’t cheap.

But this is the equivalent of a parent yelling at his kid that he has to do his homework before he can leave the house… while the kid is sitting at his desk with his book open. This is a problem that has already, more-or-less, resolved itself. The apparent scam where every phone maker had a different and proprietary charger is pretty up, if there ever was a scam at all.

There already is a standard, called Micro-USB, and even dumb phones seem to be using it. Heck, even a lot of bluetooth earpieces use it. The only major holdout is Apple. But Apple has their own standard, which they’ve been sticking to for a while, replacing a standard that survived from the iPod to the iPhone. Plus, since they’re Apple, you can get charger cables relatively easily in a pinch. And once you have them, you can generally rely on them being good for a while.

It’s convenient for me that the Android devices all use a single charger, compatible with other devices, but it’s not without its own problems and isn’t (or shouldn’t be) permanent. On the first score, if I get a generic Micro-USB cable, it’ll work but often kind of shoddily. The connection won’t be firm, for instance, on generic cables. Some of the chargers don’t supply enough power. They’ll work in a pinch (usually), but I get and use Samsung OEM chargers when I can. The proposed EU regulation would do nothing to fix or standardized that, though, and I will still have plugs I use mostly for earpieces and others I use for phones.

And the thing is, I don’t want to be using these forever. Back when this idea was first floated, I was surprised that they went with Micro-USB instead of Mini-USB, which my phone at the time used and I considered to be better. It had more firm connections, wasn’t as fragile, and so on. But as it turned out it was too fat and Micro-USB was necessary for the slimming of devices. Super-thin devices are not my think, but they’re clearly what a lot of people want. At some point maybe someone will come up with an cable that has a thin barrel at the end that will take up even less space in the phone and be less fragile. But how much would they want to invest in something that isn’t compliant with the standard?

And for a problem that has been resolving itself for several years now. Apple will almost certainly continue to go its own way, but the Android makers have been converging on a single standard for a reason. People don’t want to replace the power cables they have if they switch phone brands. Since most phone brands want you to switch (to their brand, obviously), they have an incentive to use the standards. And if they have an even greater incentive to do something else, well maybe that’s a reason they should do it. The innovation isn’t done yet.

Category: Server Room

Hollyfame has a list of 15 actors who turned down roles that turned out to be pretty big.

Though not on the list, Sandra Bullock only got her career-launching role in Speed because Halle Berry turned it down. Barry apparently made a point of mentioning this, and it came across to some as sour grapes. I remember hearing about it on the radio, with the morning talk person making the point that Sandra Bullock playing Annie Porter was what launched the role and that it wouldn’t have been nearly as big a part for Barry as it turned out to be Bullock because she wouldn’t have played the role in the same way.

I’m not sure how true that is or isn’t, but I think there’s something to it. Speed was a fun movie, but it wasn’t exactly an Oscar thing. Barry would go on to play a very similar role in Executive Decision, which in my mind was a superior movie. The movie garnered less attention than Speed, and Barry garnered next to no attention for the role.

I thought about Halle Barry while reading through this list. There are some cases where I think the actors really missed opportunities. For example, I think that John Travolta would have made a fantastic Forrest Gump and it would have been tremendous for his career. In other cases, though, the part wouldn’t have been the part with someone else playing it. Pretty Woman was made by Julia Roberts and Jennifer Garner, talented and beautiful though she is, would probably not have had the same effect.

The biggest example of the latter, in my opinion, was Paul Giamatti as Michael Scott. It would have been a different role with Giamatti and one not nearly as successful. In a later episode, Bob Odenkirk demonstrated that Carrell was not irreplaceable. But Odenkirk mixing up Michael Scott and Saul Goodman might not have had the same chemistry and things might have unfolded quite differently. It took The Office a bit of time to find its footing. With Giamatti, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have happened.

Matthew Broderick as Walter White in Breaking Bad is intriguing to think about. It’s cable, so there’s less expectation, but I think the Ferris Bueller association would have been too much to overcome.

So it’s hard to look at this through the lens of plugging another actor in there (even a talented actor) and assuming that everything would have worked out the same. In some cases, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have.

Category: Theater

Frustrated Fathermade some news when he wrote a letter to a teacher expressing frustration over the new style of teaching math:

I have a bachelor of science degree in electronics engineering which included extensive study in differential equations and other higher math applications,” he wrote. “Even I cannot explain the Common Core mathematics approach, nor get the answer correct.

Mindful Mathematician responded:

The “new” methods you’re seeing are not being taught. They are methods that students naturally invent. Just the way that mathematicians invented them before our formal mathematics system existed. Believe it or not, simplicity and efficiency are at the forefront of our classroom discussions EVERY day. We are guiding students through their own sense making methods not only to understand numbers and operations but to find the most efficient methods for each problem.

I was first confronted with the brave new world of math teaching when I was doing sub-work. I ended up writing a post about it. The method taught in Arapaho schools, “Cluster Math” appears to be mildly different from the worksheet, but the thought behind it seems to be the same. Old Math was strictly algorithmic. As MM says, you didn’t always know why you were doing what you were doing. You just learned how to do it. It’s not quite rote memorization as MM suggests, but unlike the new stuff it is fixated more on getting the right answer than understanding why it’s the right answer.

The algorithmic method is still what I prefer. That’s not mutually exclusive with other ways of getting the answer and indeed, sometimes the math I do in my head actually more closely resembles what is being taught. I do think, though, that it was best for me that I went through algorithmic and came out the other side.

A few people scoffed at Frustrated Farent for making a mistake in his own work. The Frustrated Parent actually sees it as a sign that the new way is deficient, which isn’t quite right. Critics of FF suggest that he shouldn’t be saying much since he himself is prone to error. The thing is, though, my somewhat limited experience in Arapaho demonstrated to me that error-proneness is precisely the problem with the new method. As I previously described it:

Kids try it out one way, hit a wall, then start over. Before you know it, they have multipliers or 38 written down all over the place and when it comes time for the final addition, they don’t know which counts. In the above case (38×27), his answer was over 2,000.

Maybe the new new math isn’t prone to this sort of error. I do know that for me, knowing the best and quickest way to get the right answer helped me figure out other ways to get to that answer. Perhaps that’s redundant in the Age of the Calculator (on your phone, which you have on you at all times). For my own part, since I am very much the sort of person that forgets which 38 gets applied to which problem, I am not at all optimistic that any method other than the one I was taught would have worked as well (though the Lattice Method, which I was also taught, was fun).

For other kids? I don’t know. I do know that I am a bit disturbed by the Culture War aspect of this. That includes parents high-fiving FF for the wrong reasons (and I do think some are) but also those scoffing at any skepticism towards the new teaching as being anti-math or anti-education. And/o making fun of their computational errors.

Category: School

storkOwls are good husbands and dads.

Most Americans live within 25 miles of their mothers. It warms your heart, if you ignore the inevitable economic inefficiency of misallocated labor.

Jon Fortenbury looks at sexual late-starters.

Over Easter, atheists had a convention in Salt Lake City. Which may sound odd on both accounts, but who else is going to have a convention on Easter? And Mormons and Atheists may have some things in common.

UPS may be able to teach us a something or two about our automated future.

An article in Academic Medicine makes the case that hospitals refusing to hire smokers is contrary to the principles of medicine.

First they went after the smokers, then they went after the fatties.

What is missing from news coverage of the GMO debate in Vermont? Science is missing.

NASA is trying to entrance youngsters with space and science.

As some predict a post-employment future, others see labor shortages.

Ever want to know what they call the planets in other languages? Here you go.

Article title of the year (of 2011): Uranus takes a pounding more frequently than thought.

Social worker Helen Redmond writes about the link between mental illness to smoking. She implores us to give them access to ecigarettes, but the really interesting thing is the history of the tobacco industry actively courting the mentally ill.

Category: Newsroom

The FDA has announced its initial regulatory intent with ecigarettes:

Health warnings would also be required and the sale of the products in vending machines would be prohibited. Initially, the only health warning required for e-cigarettes would be about the potential for addiction to nicotine.

Manufacturers would be required to register all their products and ingredients with the FDA. They would only be able to market new products after an FDA review, and they would need to provide scientific evidence before making any claims of direct or implied risk reduction associated with their product.

Companies would also no longer be allowed to give out free samples.

After the public comment period and once the proposed rules are finalized, manufacturers will have 24 months to submit an application to allow their products to remain on the market or submit a new product application.

E-cigarettes deliver nicotine to the user as a vapor. They are usually battery-operated and come with a replaceable cartridge that contains liquid nicotine. When heated, the liquid in the cartridge turns into a vapor that’s inhaled.

As someone who was expecting our own regulatory proposals to mirror Europe’s, I am honestly quite relieved. Counterproductive in some areas, but in others I don’t think they went far enough. Yet, that is. Which is the caveat. The indications are that there will be more to come. (more…)

Category: Statehouse

InkhorseRabbits: Cute, furry, and ready to be weaponized.

One of my favorite videos is a primer on how to pick up chicks. It shows an ugly guy walking up to a woman and asking her what her sign is and says that is the wrong way to do it. The right way to do it is a hunk walking up to a woman and asking her what her sign is. Apparently, this by-the-seat wisdom is wrong, and here’s how to flirt.

Children bring with the more positive and more negative emotions for the parents.

New research suggests that cohabitation is not a predictor of divorce so much as when couples cohabitate. Here’s a somewhat old primer on the downsides to cohabitation.

Here’s a job we need to automate: Umpiring. They not only get it wrong, but they do so with systemic bias.

Bob Weber explains why we should wear productivity sensors on the job, and what they’re telling us.

The story behind the scariest wardrobe malfunction in NASA history.

Removing tobacco branding may not do anything to stop people from smoking. I have no real opinion on this.

The New York Times discusses an issue of interest to me: Smoking and economic class. I’m glad that Clay County discovered vaping and wish the guy at the end all the luck on saving money for a down payment on a house.

Reports that free contraception makes women less careful appear to be misguided. My own view is that in a vacuum it could make a difference, but we’re not in a vacuum and any effect is has is overwhelmed by cultural influence.

Category: Newsroom

-{So yeah, this is a post about immigration. Feel free to voice opinions on the immigration topic. It’s a relatively wide – but not unlimited – berth here.}-

Bryan Caplan reluctantly points out a possible solution to unauthorized immigrant labor enforcement:

Still, there is a way to make Unz’s proposal even more diabolical. I hesitate to reveal it, but I seriously doubt the nativists will listen. The heart of darkness: Give a green card to any illegal immigrant who testifies against his employer for labor law violations. You solve for the tragic equilibrium.

This may sound familiar, as it’s something I have proposed before. To clarify, my “proposal” being less of something we should do, but something that we can do if we ever want to get serious about it. The response I have historically gotten is that it’s something conservatives would never sign on with because they want it to be all about the immigrants and not the employers. Which I actually find to be a misunderstanding of the border hawks by the border doves. Border hawks strongly dislike employers who illegally hire people who aren’t here legally.

The “green card” aspect may be a tougher sell. But not nearly as tough a sell as it is to the people who say that there is just nothing we can do to stem the tide.

Ultimately, the big problem with illegal immigration (or at least the workforce component) is that it’s a win-win situation for those most involved in the situation. Employers get cheap labor. Immigrants get jobs. Those that are (at least theoretically) being hurt are not in sufficient proximity to the situation to do anything about it.

The key, then, is to turn employer and employee against one another. Sew mistrust. Make the employers scared of the employees, who will have the ability to get above the table simply by diming out the employer. You might not even have to, but if you threaten to deport everyone else who works for the company, you turn the employees against one another, too. It would make it much, much more difficult to keep these arrangements going.

There are some downsides. It would, likely, result in some anti-Hispanic and anti-Asian discrimination (including against those here legally). Just as any effort to come down on employers would. Verification schemes tend to penalize everybody equally. With this, employers would simply be more wary of demographic profiles that are perceived to be disproportionately likely to be here illegally. On the other hand, if an employer has a degree of indemnity by following verification protocols, it could work. You could possibly mitigate the racism problem by offering indemnity only in the event that you verify everybody’s identification.

The other downside, though, is just that. The result would probably be at least a mild uptick in identity theft as getting paperwork in order becomes more important. The result of this could be green cards for assisting in the prosecution of those assisting in the identity theft. Or tighter identity monitoring more generally, though that’s obviously going to have its opponents.

This would primarily affect those who come here to work. It would do little for border-hoppers who are explicitly here to further criminal enterprises. However, I suspect that if we didn’t have so many people trying to cross over to work, it would be considerably easier to work on those who come over here for other reasons. Right now, the weeds can hide in some pretty tall grass. The less border enforcement focused on migrant workers, the more that can be focused on drugs.

I strongly believe that after all this, the need for migrant workers likely would become more apparent. At that point we would be able to talk more about how many migrants we need rather than how many can find their way across. Others, of course, will disagree with this strongly.

Ultimately, of course, this problem does have a self-regulating aspect. Illegal immigration has never been a priority issue of mine, though a combination of factors lead me to start asking the question “What would work?” And I started taking a turn against illegal immigration when the economy hit the skids. But that’s when the self-regulation did start to kick in and the pace abated. I know that I have a higher tolerance for immigration than the readers at Hit Coffee, and a lower tolerance than those at Ordinary Times, so there’s at least something in here for everyone to believe that I am an inhuman monster or an unpatriotic American.

Back in the land of reality, though, as nice as it might be to have control over our borders (regardless of how many people we let through them), there are some significant problems. It’s not simply a matter of opportunistic Democrats seeing future voters or weak Republicans shuddering in fear of being called racist or permanently losing the Hispanic vote. It’s mostly that the nation as a whole seems to feel about immigration as I do about other issues. The steps and laws required to enforce the prohibition are further than a lot of people are willing to go. Polling tends to vary, but as immigrants are loaded onto buses en masse the optics would shift points of view that are already tepid on the matter. Leaning heavily on employers is extremely popular, but it was one of the hallmarks of Romney’s “Self-deportation” plan that went over like a lead balloon.

Or put another way, the biggest problem in all of this is an inability of the American people to decide what we actually want.

Category: Statehouse


Some time ago, the FDA announced that they were going to ban tobacco-makers from using the word “Light” on their light product lines. The rationale was that people are smoking these things under the false impression (an impression encouraged by tobacco companies) that they were a healthier alternative to full flavor cigarettes. Whether they are indeed less destructive than real cigarettes depends on how you look at it, but in practice people who smoke lights tend to smoke more and the compensatory behavior undoes any health benefits that might exist.

It strikes me as fair to object to the term “light” and “ultra-light” in this context. As always, the tobacco companies do themselves no favors when it comes to advertising.

The end result is that tobacco companies swapped out the “light” and “ultra-light” labels with various color designations. Some tobacco control experts argue that this is a circumvention:

Manufacturers substituted “Gold” for “Light” and “Silver” for “Ultra-light” in the names of Marlboro sub-brands, and “Blue”, “Gold”, and “Silver” for banned descriptors in sub-brand names. Percent filter ventilation levels, used to generate the smoke yield ranges associated with “Lights” categories, appear to have been reassigned to the new colour brand name descriptors. Following the ban, 92% of smokers reported they could easily identify their usual brands, and 68% correctly named the package colour associated with their usual brand, while sales for “Lights” cigarettes remained unchanged.

Another word for what they did is “compliance.”

The products were not pulled off the shelf. They are not necessarily more dangerous than regular cigarettes. The problem was in the marketing. That they changed the marketing and people still found their level of choice is ultimately neither here nor there. At worst, it means that people have internalized the alleged health benefits. Just as likely, it’s because they failed to understand the cause and effect.

I rarely smoked lights. Quite the opposite: I went for the meanest, dirtiest tasting cigarettes that I could find. I never wanted smooth, I wanted rough. I don’t know if this is because of my diminished tastebuds or because I didn’t inhale. But the people I know who do or did smoke lights didn’t compensate in volume because they thought it was healthier, none of them have ever cited health benefits which have long been exposed as questionable, but they tended to smoke lights precisely because it allowed them to smoke more or more intensely. The body tires of them less quickly. You don’t feel quite as bad the next morning. If your smoking time lends itself to smoking two packs a day, and/or if you like to take harder puffs, then irrespective of health claims, smoking lights makes that more doable.

To be fair, if asked n a poll they might answer that it’s about health, but smokers are notoriously unreliable when being polled by strangers. Or perhaps they have internalized the claims, but smokers are creatures of habit and that isn’t going to be done so easily. The next generation may be duly confused as to what tar level they’re buying. So there’s that.

If more cigarettes or greater puffs were the problem that was meant to be addressed, then you need to go and ban the lighter stuff, pure and simple. I’m not sure if that would be beneficial to smokers’ health or harmful, but I simply don’t know what in the world gave them the impression that relabeling them would have any effect. The people behind the counter know where to direct them. Of course the smokers would seek out their favored products. They’re their favored product. I suppose it’s too much to ask anti-smoking advocates to know any smokers, but the assumptions that lead them to believe that there would be any conclusion other than this one suggests that they need to learn how smokers actually operate instead of making assumptions based on whatever they’re presently basing their assumptions on.

I personally think it’s a failure to appreciate that, whatever our faults, we are actually thinking, autonomous individuals and not actually living statistics of tobacco company marketing. Whatever the case, they wanted the marketing changed and the marketing was changed. That’s compliance. People didn’t care because it wasn’t strictly about the marketing. If there is a compliance failure, it is ours.

-{Regarding my precise verbiage, I do still refer to myself as a smoker. Not because of the vaping, and not because I’ve picked the smoking habit back up again, but because I still do not feel completely out of the woods yet and won’t for some time.}-

Category: Market

From Jonathan V Last’s What To Expect When No One’s Expecting:

In 1976 only 26.8 percent of the counties in America went for either Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford by a margin of 20 points of more. That’s a pretty remarkable statistic. The 1976 election was an incredibly polarized moment with the country shaken by Watergate and Nixon’s resignation. Carter won 50 percent to 48 percent, and in three out of every four counties, the vote was reasonably close, which meant that Republicans and Democrats were, for the most part, evenly intersparsed at the local level, even if, in the aggregate, their states tilted one way or the other.

But after 1976, something happened. As people began graduating from college at higher rates they became increasingly mobile and willing to put down roots far away from where they were raised. And they began to cluster around other like-minded people. So much so that in 2000, America had one of the closest presidential elections in the nation’s history: George W. Bush won the race despite losing the popular vote to Al Gore, 47.9% to 48.4%. Yet in nearly half the counties in America (45.3 of them) the vote wasn’t close at all: Either Gore or Bush won by more than 20 points. In 2004 – another very close election – the percentage of what Bushop and Cushing refer to as “landslide” counties increased to 48.3%. The end result is fewer neighborhoods that are ideologically mixed and more places that look like Old Town [Alexandria] (or its Republican doppelananger). Bishop and Cushing’s conclusion is inescapable: We are sorting ourselves into communities of the saved.

I’d argue, that in addition to sorting, politics is more than ever defined by cultural issues, cultural signalling, and so on. The sort and signalling issues may be related. As a town becomes more Republican or more Democrat, the peer influence for undecideds, cluelesses, and wafflers intensifies.

Category: Statehouse

Men on a construction site acting out of accordance with cultural norms.

Category: Theater