Monthly Archives: July 2014

Another post involving the TV show Private Practice that assumes you know nothing about it and are not worried about spoilers.


By far, the two characters I care least about the show are Pete and Violet. Sometimes, when writing characters, the traits they think are admirable end up being an albatross around their necks. So Pete the ER doctor is “passionate” and has a strong sense of right and wrong. Over time, this translates into the fact that he is always angry and yelling at everybody. Violet is sensitive and thoughtful, which ends up with her being a neurotic mess.

So over the course of the show, Pete and Violet end up together. And together, their intense and passionate feelings for one another (a good thing!) turns into episode after episode of them screaming at one another (him usually screaming at her) and wallowing in self-pity and personal turmoil (usually her). To the point that my response to this relationship that I am supposed to care for is that he needs to move to the other coast or San Salvador or something.

Then Pete died, which was probably for the best of all involved.

All of this is how dramas work. I pick on Private Practice, but it’s actually one of my favorites. In good part because Pete and Violet are the exception rather than the rule. But even there, we have it. Humans (at least of the affluent variety) aren’t meant to endure the things they go through. Sometimes the best thing to happen to a character is that they get to check out of the show (and thus, the drama).

As the Chinese proverb curse goes, “may you live in interesting times.” I think of the relationships that I have had in the past and while none of them reached the degree of “interesting” as Pete and Violet, they were… what they were, I guess. The relationship that lead to my marriage was comparatively boring. I got to check out into my own happy ending. Unlike Pete, I didn’t have to die to do it.

I have actually finished the series, which ended a couple years ago. I am happy to report that the final season of the show was probably the best final season of any show ever. But for the most part, they knew they had a half-season to wrap things up, and they did. Character by character, most of them getting their own episode. Some new storylines were started, but with the conclusion in mind. Amelia went and fell in love with a Republican. Sheldon fell in love with someone dying of cancer. Cooper and Charlotte had triplets. And Pete stayed dead.

Category: Theater

The Crossover reigns supreme!

These days, three times as many crossovers are sold as SUVs and minivans combined. Even SUVs in their Clintonian fin-de-siècle glory days cannot touch the growth of the crossover. Just take in these numbers.

Last year, roughly speaking, two crossovers were purchased for every three cars. It’s tough to compare apples to apples, but in April, IHS Automotive analyst Tom Libby noted that small crossovers were the single best selling segment of any type of vehicle, including midsize sedans, which are the staple crop of the automotive industry.

“If the trend we have witnessed in the first two months of 2014 continues for the remainder of 2014,” Libby wrote, “it would mark the first time in recent memory—if not ever—that a car segment did not lead the industry.”

Now halfway through the year, “it seems like that might be case,” Libby’s colleague Brinley said, though obviously there’s still some time left in the year.

In comparison with the rise of Android, say, or WhatsApp, this change may not look impressive. But this is an industry that measures change in decades, that requires new factories to build different kinds of cars, and that has been selling something that someone born in 1890 could understand.

In other words, in the car business, the crossover is what monumental, generational change looks like.

It’s not often that I read about some big thing that has taken over the market that I actually got a couple of years ago, but we got our Forester in 2011. My Escort was running out of steam. In addition to wanting something with AWD, we wanted something that worked reliably in cold weather, which the Escort didn’t and which was a problem in Arapaho.. We were also looking towards having kids and an Escort was a two-door.

The crossover was almost perfect for our short-term needs. In fact, I looked at the crossovers and the full-size sedans and really struggled to think of a good reason to get the latter. The price was competitive and the mileage was similar.

After much investigation and deliberation, we went with the Subaru Forester. Subaru, it turns out, is really banking it on the crossover revolution:

When minivans were popular, Subaru built crossovers. When SUVs were popular, Subaru built crossovers. Now, finally, crossovers are popular. And so are Subarus. {…}

Subarus are not as quirky as they once were, but when I recently climbed behind the wheel of a 2014 XV Crosstrek Hybrid, the immediate impression was of familiarity – this little wagon was a kindred spirit to the ’82 that I learned to drive on. Same slightly butch ride height, same raspy four-cylinder gurgle, same invincibility in the snow. And I did have occasion to try it in the snow, as I found myself driving the Crosstrek during a rare North Carolina blizzard.

Notably, The Atlantic’s article mentions how similar all of the crossovers have become but Subarus resist that trend somewhat. Had we lived in a different part of the country, I would have more seriously considered a Mitsubishi Outlander, which also looks a bit different. But Mitsubishi lacked dealerships in Arapaho and Subarus are common. Sufficiently so to be a social marker next to the also-popular Jeeps.

The environmental repercussions are mixed. A lot of the market-gain from crossovers has come at the expense of vans and SUVs, which is a gain. But cars’ share of the market has also been declining, and that may not be such a good thing.

What’s been most helpful to us has been the extra cargo space. Sedans have themselves become much better with the storage space in recent times, but having the open space with the back seats down has been priceless.

In a way it’s frustrating, of course, because most of the time we would be perfectly fine with my wife’s sedan that gets better mileage. It could be advantageous to both us and the environment to have a “cargo and family trips” vehicle and two sedans for the rest of our driving. Unfortunately, our system of auto insurance penalizes such things, and so we end up with more vehicle than we need most of the time.

Our next vehicle will probably be a larger one, exacerbating the issue. The ironic thing is that as the appeal of the crossover becomes wider, I have been wondering if we should have gone straight to the larger vehicle. When child #2 comes (hopefully sometime next year), two parents and two kids with two car seats and a dog will be kind of tight.

Category: Road

The US Senate is deliberately non-democratic. This is known. How it got this way goes beyond the Connecticut Compromise, however, and the advantage to the GOP doesn’t necessarily come from where you think it might.

The Senate

US_Senate_2007It is well-known that the United States Senate disproportionately favors less populated states. Wyoming, our nation’s least populated state, has two senators for its population of roughly 580,000 people. California, meanwhile, also has two senators for its population of over thirty-eight million people. Meaning that the average citizen of Wyoming has Senate representation greater than sixty-six times that of the average Californian.

Disparities in upper houses aren’t unique to the United States. In Germany, each of the states have between four and six members of their upper house (the Bundesrat). Though it’s is apportioned by population, but that doesn’t come close to accounting for a population disparity where the least populace state has 600,000 and the most populous over seventeen million. Like the United States, Australia’s upper house gives uniform senate representation despite significant population disparities. Canada’s upper house representation is hard-coded into their constitution in such a way that New Brunswick (population 750,000) has ten senators while British Columbia (population 4,400,000) has only six.

The circumstances in all of these upper houses are different, of course. They also have different powers and responsibilities, with some having more than others and few having as many as the United States. In the Bundesrat, the members are appointed by the state executives, while in Canada they are appointed by the Prime Minister.

What makes the United States unique is the combination of how selection occurs, the scope of the population disparity, and the amount of power enjoyed by the senate. Not just by virtue of the fact that (unlike Australia, Canada, Germany, and others) we don’t have a chief executive derived from the other house, but because of custom, legislative rules, and powers specifically given to it in the Constitution. All of which make the sheer size of the population disparity more contentious.


Category: Statehouse

For the most part, I am a LibreOffice user in lieu of Microsoft Office. LibreOffice is free and meets most of my needs. I also sometimes dip my toe in Apache OpenOffice. LibreOffice and OpenOffice both use ODF formatting, which is an open-source standard in competition with Microsoft Office’s old binary format (doc, xls) and their newer streaming format (docx, xlsx).

For the most part, I don’t miss Microsoft Office*. The problem is… Google.

Google’s Android apps, Drive and OpenOffice, don’t read ODF files. There is a third-party app that can read them capably, one that can edit them clumsily, and one that can edit documents but not spreadsheets. It’s all harder than with regular MS Office docs, however, where there are multiple apps that can edit them well.

If Google were to offer support within Drive, that would be remarkably convenient. Not just for my phone, where I wouldn’t be doing anything non-major, but for the desktop as well. Their refusal to support ODF files is maddening. It’s honestly not clear to me why they, like OpenOffice and LibreOffice, shouldn’t use ODF by default. Their decision to do so, as well as their decision to not even support ODF at all (as Microsoft Office does) reaks of a desire to challenge Microsoft’s formatting with their own rather than simply to support an alternative.

Happilly for me, the UK has announced that it will be shifting to ODF formatting for all of its government documents. This may not stick, as the state of Massachusetts did the same (more or less) and then backed off. My hope, though, is that this will be the burr in the saddle that Google needs to finally do what they should have done all along.

* – Other than Google, the only problem with my decision has been that I do not have the command knowledge of MS Office that I used to. Which means that when it comes time to job hunt, I am going to have to re-familiarize myself with software I once had mastery over.

Category: Server Room

So we are buying a house. It’s actually a house that, on my wife’s current salary, we would never buy because we wouldn’t be able to afford it. But she’ll start making more money by year’s end and it won’t be a problem.

I had this silly notion that getting a loan for a house we cannot presently afford would be difficult. Haha. Or at least that we would have to demonstrate earning potential to be able to afford it. HAHA!

They really don’t care about my wife’s earning potential. They don’t care that we cannot afford the house on her current income. As far as they’re concerned, we can afford the house in our current economic situation.

Which I guess actually makes sense. Clancy and I are really conservative (“chickenspit” may be the more accurate assessment) and if everybody held themselves to the same standards that we do, nobody would be able to afford a house anywhere. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. But given home ownership rates, and despite the housing bubble, our country does seem to somehow make it work.

I ended up consulting two banks for loans. Both made good offers and had friendly and helpful agents that I didn’t want to say “no” to. I ended up going with our regular bank (ORB) instead of the credit card company (3C). I actually felt really about sending the email to my contact at 3C because she was so helpful and had put together an impressive deal. I would have felt just as bad sending an email to ORB guy. I suspect at some point I will feel buyer’s remorse when something goes wrong with a grass-is-greener view that everything would have gone perfectly had I gone the other way.

I emailed 3C lady yesterday evening, and she’s taking it pretty hard. I got an email asking why I jilted her. Then I got a phone call. I missed the phone call, but responded with the email explaining that it was a really tough decision and I made it based on something really minor and situation-specific*. Today I got an email with my disclosures. “This is what you’re missing out on!” I guess. Actually, it’s probably automated.

I was pretty open about the fact that I was talking to two banks. This is why I am such a rotten consumer, though. I hate the idea of taking up someone’s time when I am not actually going to buy their product. This was inevitably true of one of the two companies I was talking to. At the same time, on a purchase this big, it wouldn’t have been responsible to take the first offer.

* – Basically, ORB already had more of our financial documentation in hand. They also required a bit less generally. Most importantly, they didn’t need it right now, which was a big deal because I am having to track a lot of it down.

Category: Bank

KickedTowerA Harvard sleep specialists argues that sleep is more important than practice for championship sports teams.

Universities may not be hospital to conservatives, but have become an unexpected laboratory and farm system for the GOP.

Some guy went to North Korea and learned twenty things.

Remember the whole Faces of Meth thing from Oregon? I was reminded of that when looking at these pictures of housing in Detroit.

Japanese guide learning to use the word “fuck.”

Men’s Journal explains the genius of Subaru.

Adam Ozimek tackles the “Should everyone go to college” question. Derek Thompson looks at which degrees and colleges don’t pay off.

Katherine Mangu is right: Text from the toilet with pride!

Daniel Fincke takes issue with the notion that “You can’t stop teenagers from having sex!” because he was so stopped.

Paging Former Mayor Bloomberg: Divorce is linked to obesity in children.

Sprawl, in animated GIF form.

Category: Newsroom

I previously wrote a superficial review of Atlas Shrugged. Today, I want to talk about my emotional reaction to two scenes. There are no spoilers here beyond the first third of the book.

Early on, Taggart Transcontinental Railroad’s CEO, Jim Taggart, pulled the levers of the trade group to force a regional rival, Dan Conway, to cease operation of a superior competing line, the Phoenix-Durango. The program for Taggart was that their own line, the Rio Del Norte, had fallen into disrepair and was not ready to carry magnate Ellis Wyatt’s cargo out of Colorado. Though Conway agreed to cease operations, he declined to turn his existing lines over to Taggart.

Later on, Ellis Wyatt makes the decision to join the other Makers in Galt’s Gulch. The last straw for Wyatt is a series of regulations that were tailor designed to soak every extra bit of productivity out of him for everybody else (the “common good”). Rather than simply disappear, or take what capital he could with him, he essentially destroyed his mines in a blaze of glory.

There are similarities between the two events, in that they were both examples of successful industry injured significantly by interference in the markets by outside forces (a trade group for Conway, the government for Wyatt).

There were differences, too, that lead me to view the two cases so differently. To the point that I was happy with Conway’s decisions, and angry with Wyatt’s.

The less important difference between the two was that Conway was quite directly forced out of business. After losing his line, he had no business to operate. He could have gotten a job elsewhere, but he was displaced. For Wyatt, the expectation was that he would continue operations. He had operations to continue.

The big difference, though, was that Conway tore up the lines and sold them. That he refused to sell them to the place where they were most needed bothers me less because it’s the people who most needed it that played the central role in killing his business.

Wyatt, though, simply destroyed everything in site. He left a note saying that was basically leaving everything as he found it. I’m sure Rand saw some justice in that, and perhaps there was. I had an enormous amount of difficulty seeing anything other than needless destruction.

It’s one thing to prevent somebody from having something by keeping it or deliberately giving it to someone else. In the Trumwill Way of thinking, though, it’s another to destroy it to keep them from having it.

Most likely, though, it’s my own visceral reaction to destruction itself. Though I have defended Cash for Clunkers at Hit Coffee for not being particularly responsible for the rise in used car prices, I could only look at the whole process with dismay. I understand the environmental rationale for it, but the whole thing was dedicated to taking something useful and putting it out of the reach of the people who could actually have used it.

Presumably, like Conway’s tracks, there was a recycling and re-purposing of the metal. But there are people all across the country who could use cars in good working order, and there we were destroying them. Better that they should without than that they pollute the environment with it, while large numbers of middle class Americans got a new car at a reduced price.

Whether one considers my response to C4C to be right or wrong, I do admit that this reaction of mine does go to the almost certainly irrational. While tearing something down to build something new over it isn’t really a problem for me, I get that twinge of resistance when I see something torn down because it can’t be re-used and has been declared unsightly or (less unreasonably) a hazard. But if we’re not going to do anything with the building, it really shouldn’t matter. I just don’t seem to care.

In my own personal life, this relates to my historic inability to throw away old computers if there is even a semblance of functionality. There are very, very few uses I can imagine for a Pentium laptop, but by heavens it works so how do I throw it away or turn it into the recycler? It’s something I have struggled with enormously.

Logic did finally prevail earlier this year when I spent several hours trying to get a couple of old, single-core processor machines working. I mean, that’s not when logic prevailed. Logic prevailed when, after having done so, I realized how utterly useless these computers were and did dispose of them with prejudice.

Even then, it’s amazing how hard it is. It turns on! It works! It takes twenty minutes to open up an email but… functionality! In theory, anyway.

Presumably, had Wyatt simply left the mines in tact, the “looters” would have run it into uselessness anyway as they did with the society that they were left. In the context of the story it did make sense to hurry the process along because progress in Randverse was more-or-less predicated on the collapse of civilization. Burning the village to save in and all that.

Category: Coffeehouse

Some high-falutin’ math-wiz guy on the Internet thinks that PEMDAS is stupid:

For those of you who do not recall, PEMDAS is the shorthand for the order of operations in math. Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction.

Except that from the start, we were not taught that was a rigid order. To use parenthesis, it was: Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication or Division, and Addition or Subtraction. Judging by the comment section, this was the most common way of teaching it. No matter how many times people say “No, PEMDAS means you have to put Addition before Subtraction!”

He says that PEMDAS means that 8-2+1 is five. Except that I was taught by PEMDAS, and was taught that the answer is seven. I arrive at the right destination, but according to this guy the “wrong” way because I don’t expressly consider the -2 to be + (-2).

Which brings us to his larger critique, which is the algorithmic versus conceptual math debate. My own position is that concepts are important (I was indeed taught that “-2” is the same as “+(-2)”), but that you start with the “what” before moving to the “why.” That way, even if you don’t get the “why” you do at least understand the “what.”

More to the point, though, it makes me think of the whole vs phonics debate. Conceptual math is good for kids that are naturally good at or interested in math. It seems to be boosted by those same people, who seem to believe that if others understood math the way that they do they would be adept at it. Meanwhile, I think it will hobble the kids who will simply never understand the “why” by making learning the “what” more difficult.

Which is pretty much how whole language worked. Phonics was annoying for the verbally gifted because it was crude, unreliable, and forced-walking when they were capable of running. It, too, was a program advanced by the best and brightest and well-suited for bright kids. It was also a disaster for everyone else.

Since we seem to be moving towards the new way of doing things, I hope that I am wrong about this and it will indeed be the innovation that its proponents say it will.

Category: School

growlGoogle Now can remember where you parked! Remembering to do this would have been very, very helpful in DC. Sorry Vikram!

An ethical question: Should your driverless car kill you to save two other people? That ethical/philosophical question doesn’t seem so pointless now, does it? [More]

Chinese employers are moving to Africa.

Houston’s bayous house over 100 vehicles.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry says that Europe’s desire for a “Right to be forgotten” is emblematic embrace of its own decline.

The case for biking without a helmet. I don’t think I can sell Clancy on this…

Obesity comes from everywhere and nowhere at all.

This student loan calculator is pretty cool. Turns out, student loan amounts for students at Southern Tech are less than I would have guessed. Less than most schools I have found, in fact, both above us and below us in the pecking order.

What did addicts learn from DARE? How to smoke crack.

Near-earth orbit is getting cluttered with garbage.

Category: Newsroom

NavFreeOne of the many things that smartphones are good for is car navigation. Android comes with the Google Maps navigation system, but you may be interested in alternatives either because there may be something better out there (there is) or because you want to be able to use maps offline. So over the past several weeks, I’ve been using nearly every mapping option I could find, looking for the perfect free or near-free offline navigating option. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it. I did find some options that would work in a pinch. I looked at Accuracy (How up-to-date and comprehensive are the maps), Appearance (Does it look cool?), Addressing (How capable and convenient was it finding addresses), Estimations (How well it could guess how long it would take), Exploration (Can you use it to drive around without a destination in mind?) Offline Status (does it work offline), Retention (Did the program stay open and remember your route if you switched over to the music player and back), Features (what else it can do), and Voice (Whether it pauses your music while it’s talking, for example). Any grade not listed is a “C” which means that it was satisfactory but did not exceed expectations at all. (more…)

Category: Road, Server Room