Archive for the ‘Blogging, Computers & the Internet’ Category.

My Preliminary List of Things That Irritate Me The Most About Modern Discourse

In no particular order, and sure to grow as I ponder it more:

  1. Tribal rather than thinking responses to any argument
  2. Using the wackiest person that can be found as representative of an entire group
  3. Judging the individual by the group to which they belong ("racism" and "sexism" used to be examples of this but apparently these words are defined very differently in practice today)
  4. Bad headlining (can include social media summaries) that obscures complicated situations with definitive black and white judgments.  When was the last time you clicked through from a social media headline to the underlying article and ever found it to actually say what the headline claimed?
  5. Using tortured logic (or even no logic at all) to claim the worst possible interpretation of a person's arguments
  6. Attacking a speaker's hypothesized motives, rather than their actual arguments
  7. Using ad hominem attacks rather than rational responses to arguments  (the prior #6 is really a subset of this, but the claimed ability magically be able to read opponent's minds is so prevalent that I wanted to break them apart).
  8. Post-modern "fake but accurate" facts. "It does not matter if fact X is wrong because it fits in so well with narrative Y we have created."  e.g. "this story about AOC turns out not to be true but it pretty accurately illustrates how uninformed she is."
  9. Stretching definitions of words to try to tar lesser crimes with the opprobrium meant for greater crimes (modern examples include "sexual assault" and "racism."
  10. Only learning about the arguments of person X from people opposed to person X (a sure path to failing the ideological Turing test).  Examples:  Relying on Rush Limbaugh as one's only source for knowing what Hillary Clinton's political positions are.  Never reading climate skeptics directly but only learning about what they supposedly say from those opposed to climate skeptics.
  11. Failure to be skeptical about any story or argument that support's one's own position or "side."  (I know I struggle with this in my personal reading."

Facebook: Now You Know Their True Privacy Policy

From the Daily Dot:

A lawyer for Facebook argued in court Wednesday that the social media site’s users “have no expectation of privacy.”

According to Law360, Facebook attorney Orin Snyder made the comment while defending the company against a class-action lawsuit over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

“There is no invasion of privacy at all, because there is no privacy,” Snyder said.

In an attempt to have the lawsuit thrown out, Snyder further claimed that Facebook was nothing more than a “digital town square” where users voluntarily give up their private information.

“You have to closely guard something to have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” Snyder added.

Zuckerberg really is one of the most dangerous people on the planet.  He has taken well-founded criticism against his company, its failings, and its past misrepresentations and somehow morphed that into a campaign to gain totalitarian government regulation of online speech.  Incredible.

Thank God for Proxy Servers

Apparently, despite the fact that I spend a high monthly fee to HBO to be able to stream all their content, I cannot get the content I paid for when in France.  I have an account with Express VPN and it has always served me well.  I was able to log in via this VPN and was able to stream the most recent Game of Thrones episode.  I could have probably waited until I got home but the Internet seems to be filled with like 6 million spoilers.

BTW, unlike much of the most vocal Internet, I was totally fine with how the major character deaths were handled in the last episode.  I thought they were symbolically consistent with how those characters got to where they are.

At home I almost always surf through a proxy server, even though that means I have to endure endless identity confirmation tests from websites as they don't recognize my IP.

I am Coming Back Soon...

RL has been nutty of late, but I have a backlog of things I want to write about and will be back next week (barring any fresh disasters).

Through Tuesday, My Amazon Kindle Books Are Free

As a thank you to readers, get my novel and short stories on Amazon for free, at least in the kindle version.  Click on the image to go to the relevant Amazon page.

         

 

Update on Lost Comments

After engaging with my issues briefly within a couple of hours of my support request, Disqus has for 3 business days ignored all further communication from me to multiple email addresses.  Unfortunately, they do not seem to have any kind of support ticket tracking system.

As a reminder, 6 years of comments on thousands of posts, likely tens of thousands of comments have disappeared.  I do have a paid account so supposedly I am owed support.  I know a number of you expressed your frustration to me that years of your contributions have been lost and I will do everything I can to restore them.  I have the main corporate number at Disqus and will try that door if I still don't have any sort of response by tomorrow.

I Think Disqus Customer Support is All Bots

I sent in a support request to Disqus reporting that Disqus comments exist for posts from the last 2 months but have disappeared for posts from 2012 up to a couple of months ago -- tens of thousands of comments missing.  And the comment box is not even showing up on the posts.  I sent a link to an example post both with and without comments and they responded:

We'd be happy to take a closer look into this, kindly forward us both of the following:
-text of a missing comment;
-link to the page on which the comment should be.

Obviously this is not responsive.  I can't send the text of a comment I don't have.  Thinking that maybe by support request had not gone through completely I resent the request:

I am not communicating well. There is not a particular comment missing. I had between 5 and 100 comments on every single post from 2012 through February 2019 at coyoteblog.com, all with Disqus, and they are all gone. Even the comment links are gone

Here is a recent one that still has comments: http://coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2019/03/an-incredible-crony-mess-in-maryland.html

Here is a random one from the past that had over 100 comments and they are all gone: http://coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2018/11/i-have-totally-lost-the-thread-here-based-on-what-we-know-now-someone-please-make-the-case-for-me-on-trump-russia-election-collusion.html

this same is true for literally thousands of posts that until recently had disqus comments but now have no comments at all

By the way, between these two posts and all others, they use the same template, code, add-ins, everything.

They answered:

If you give us an example comment, we would have a better idea of what is causing the broader issue across your site.

For folks old enough to remember the program, this is like talking to Eliza.  So I wrote back

How can I give you an example when they are all gone?  Just to be clear, it is not a comment I made that disappeared.  I run the blog coyoteblog.com and it is all the comments of my readers that have disappeared.
Please, go to this link:  http://coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2019/01/update-on-tesla-from-the-conference-call-today.html.  Do you see comments?  There were over 100 comments on disqus on this post, now they do not show up at all.  Ditto every post over the last 6 years except for posts over the last 2 months.  Please, rather than sending me these automated replies that don't actually address the issue, compare the comments section of the two post links I sent you.  One has comments on disqus, the other has them all disappeared.

Well, 6+ Years of Disqus Comments Missing

For some reason all comments from about 2012 when I started on Disqus to this February are missing.   There are not even comment links.  Sigh, I apologize for the loss to all those who took the time to participate in the conversation and I have ponied up for a paid Disqus membership to try to get some support and see if its fixable.

My Best Princeton Alumni Benefit -- Thanks @HenryEPayne

Henry Payne, a cartoonist featured on many of the libertarian sites I read and a writer for the Detroit News, was a classmate of mine at Princeton.  Every year he creates a new birthday card that my class sends out to all of us on our birthdays.  I kick myself for not saving them all, but I am not really a keepsake kind of guy.  Here is the one for this year:

I Don't Know How Technical Support People At Places Like Amazon Maintain Their Sanity

For years our company was forced by our partners to use their reservation systems to take bookings for campgrounds we operate.  But several years ago we had the opportunity to run a number of campgrounds where we have the ability to choose the reservation system.  After a lot of false starts, we developed it ourselves, a decision we have been happy about.

I am not surprised people lose their passwords or forget them or enter them incorrectly.  But what amazes me and sometimes drives me to madness is the absolute CERTAINTY some have that they are entering their password correctly and therefore it MUST be our system that is somehow not functioning correctly.

Where's Coyote?

I know I have not been blogging serious topics much of late.  In part this is due to just being busy -- holidays, end of year accounting closeouts for the business, and some geeky projects (a few raspberry pi things I will share soon).  In part this is due to the fact that whenever I engage with social media too long I become a worse person and back away again.   In part this is because my daughter said I needed to lighten up on my blog for a while.  And in part this is to my not wanting my obsessive fascination with the trainwreck that is Tesla to dominate my blogging (though there are a couple of updates coming).

As I close in on my 15th(!) year on this blog, this sort of ebb and flow happens from time to time.  I will be back in force soon.

Does the New Worpress Editor Suck as Much as It Seems, Or Am I Missing Something?

WordPress 5 changed to an entirely new editor where construction of a post that historically just involved typing now involves pasting together a series of blocks that have to be added, for example, just to have quoted text.  Am I missing something?

This seems ludicrously more awkward than the original editor, which I immediately switched back to by downloading and activating a plugin for that purpose.  My guess is that this functionality is aimed at the large number of folks who use WordPress as a content management system for building websites and not for actual bloggers.  I am guessing that content management for website design is actually a much bigger market for WordPress than blogging, and so development is focusing more on that market.  Maybe someone needs to fork WordPress for a version track focused on traditional bloggers.

Update:  Apparently the WordPress 5 editor is the same as the Gutenberg editor that has been available as a plugin for a while.  A couple of observations.  First, few people every really liked Gutenberg.  It has a 2.5 star rating which is really low for any WordPress plugin with a lot of installs, particularly one WordPress decided to make standard.  And second, this just reinforces my sense that WordPress 5 is a sign that WordPress is leaving the blogging community behind and focusing on CMS.  I have used WordPress as a CMS for our company websites until we mostly switched to ProcessWire, which is an actual CMS from the ground up and not a modified blog engine.  Gutenberg made much more sense as a CMS tool than a blogging tool.

DOS Attack of Some Sort

Having a variety of site issues.  I turned off some of my cache and security to try to diagnose why some folks are not seeing newer posts, and then immediately got a DOS attack that shut down the site.  Working on it but may be the weekend before entirely fixed.

Coyote Makes Tentative Steps Onto Instagram

I have resisted Instagram for years because a) they only really allow photo uploads from your phone (not your pc) and b) none of my good photos are on my phone.  It is just really difficult to take a photography platform seriously that only really supports the crappiest end of the camera spectrum (i.e. phones).

However, a couple of things have changed.  One, Instagram is now a powerful social media platform and useful to my business given that I am trying to get young people to go to outdoors locations that are photogenic.  And two, I have gotten comfortable with a couple of hacks to be able to use instagram from my pc (more in a second).

So if you are into Instagram, you can follow me now.  My business instagram for our campgrounds and parks is @camprrm.   My personal instagram mainly to be filled with travel photography is @coyoteblog.   Actually the other reason I have come around on Instagram is that I wanted to follow my daughter Amelia who is a student artist, and instagram is THE way to advertise one's portfolio.  She is at @meliameyer (see what she did there, millenials are much more clever with integrating symbols into an extended alphabet).

The two hacks I use are:  1)  Convert the instagram account to a business account and then use the free version of hootsuite to post to it.  Even works with scheduled posts.  This works well for one account but is hard to make work for two.  2) Open and log into instagram via chrome.  Right click on the white space of the web page somewhere and choose inspect.  I think there is also a keyboard shortcut to do this, maybe cntl-shift-i.  Once the inspect window pops up, click on the little icon in the upper left that looks like a cell phone.  Poof, your browser is in cell phone sim mode and instagram should suddenly give you the + button (refresh page if it doesn't) that will allow you to post pictures right from your computer hard drive.

Site Issues Fixed, I Hope

We had a problem with the website that folks going to www.coyoteblog.com were getting the correct content but folks going to coyoteblog.com without the www were getting dated and/or unformatted content.  This seemed super odd to me.  I checked all my DNS records, particularly the A and CNAME and they looked fine.  I searched for the issue but no one's issues matched mine precisely.  I suspected that it was an issue with caching but turning off the cache did not fix it.

In the end the fix was simple.  In WordPress Settings - General I had set the domain name as http://www.coyoteblog.com.  It had been that way forever.  Somehow, something on the server or in wordpress or most likely in one of my plugins changed so that calls to coyoteblog.com confused it.  The simple fix was to change the setting for the wordpress site to http://coyoteblog.com.  Now everything seems to resolve normally. I hope.

Coyote on the Air -- Listen to Me (eek, a whole hour?) on The Soul of Enterprise Podcast

I really like the Soul of Enterprise podcast, and was thrilled that they had me on for a full hour last week.  You can listen to the whole thing here.  We covered a lot of ground, from private management of public recreation to climate to health care and even to Elon Musk a bit.  Fair warning though, I am not sure that this sort of interview is really my best milieu, which is why I write most of the time.  These guys get some amazing guests and also cover some interesting topics.  I really liked the bit they did on the subscription model a week or so ago.

Thanks, Readers!

A couple of readers pointed out a major flaw in this article about solar and saved me a world of headaches.  Thanks!  I may still do the solar installation in our still near-zirp regime but if I do so I will be more informed.  If ever you think I am making a mistake or making a fool of myself, please let me know.

Softest T-Shirt

I post things like this NOT because I have any fashion or shopping sense but because I happen once in a while to stumble on something I really like.  I personally hate shopping and just want someone to tell me "buy this one, it is the best", sort of like going to Toms Hardware and finding which graphics card is currently the best value. 

When I am working out, I wear Drifit type wicking fabrics, but for other casual times around the house I want a soft t-shirt for lounging around.  Until recently my choice was a Kit and Ace T-shirt that I think had some cashmere in it (maybe this one?).   I can't be sure because there is absolutely no size or sku information in the shirt.  By the way, a note to clothing companies:  I buy clothing in physical stores, but I often want to re-buy the same sku onlie either as replacements or for additional colors and that is impossible if you don' somehow print size and sku information in the item.  Also, and I am told by the women in my family that this is a typically male rant, I am constantly exhausted to find that the item I loved and want to buy again over and over does not exist and has morphed into some other style or sku.  I am happy to keep re-buying the same shorts and shirts and running shoes forever if someone will sell them to me.

Anyway, my new favorite T-shirt and the current leader in my closet for softness is the Cloudknit tee from Outdoor Voices.  Outdoor Voices is a small company in startup mode and can be a little spotty on its inventory availability.  I found it on a vacation weekend in Aspen where they had a pop-up store we happened to walk into.  I love this shirt and bought a pile of them to sleep in (I don't really prefer to sleep in a lot of clothing but my wife is at that special age when she needs to keep the bedroom somewhere around freezing).  The Cloudknit hoodie is also amazing for lounging about the house.  Their "Doing Things" fabric is more for workouts and it is fine but not as spectacularly soft as their cloudknit fabric.

As a reminder, my one other shirt recommendation was for Hawaiian shirts from Tori Richard.  Great concept -- Hawaiian shirt patterns printed on fabrics that actually feel like quality fabrics.  I also like the orange label products because it is a more attractive fit -- most Hawaiian shirts are not very tailored.   If you want to try something different, try their crinkle fabric which I really like but is not loved by everyone.  I just throw them in the washing machine and hang them slightly damp until they dry and they are great.  I used to do the same thing for my Tommy Bahama shirts but if you hang them to dry they become really stiff for some reason.  Tommy Bahama shirts can be quite nice, especially as they age, but you have to tumble them dry to keep them soft, not sure why.  Fortunately neither shirt needs to be ironed (any shirt that requires ironing in my closet -- except for a few dress shirts and my beloved Robert Graham shirts -- immediately goes to Goodwill).

Ideological Turing Test Fail

Kevin Drum claims to want to really understand the Trump voter.  I will let you read it to see what you think, but here was my comment:

I am all for promoting understanding between our two great national tribes. But you ruin your attempt by whipping out a statement like this: "There are plenty of people who are simply beyond reach for liberals. They’re either racist or sexist or they love guns or maybe they’re just plain mean" Seriously? Back to the old "if you don't agree with me you must be racist?"

Further, you execute the classic tribal maneuver of choosing to take on one of the opposition's silliest niches, rather than their best. This is the equivalent of a Conservative making blanket statements about liberals and environmentalists based on a few of silly folks caught on video signing a petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide.

This does pretty much zero to promote understanding, and in fact is smug arrogance and virtue signalling masquerading as an attempt at understanding.

I think the high minimum wages in California are misguided and actually hurt the poor and unskilled, and I have written about why I think so. But you know what? I can sure as hell publish a one or two paragraph defense of minimum wages that you would never know was written by anyone but a hardcore progressive or Bernie Bro. As another example, I am pro-choice but I have really engaged with anti-abortion folks enough in social settings to infer that they really, truly think that abortion is killing human beings. We pro-choicers like to make ourselves feel better by saying that the anti-abortion folks are anti-women or religious fascists or something, because it is much easier to hate those folks. But it is much harder to hate someone who really, honestly thinks a baby is dying, even if we think they are misguided.

A lot of hate in this country would disappear if people really tried to understand their opponents in terms other than crude smears, like they are racist or sexist or fascist or snowflakes or whatever. So much so that if I were a professor, I think that every day in a class discussion at the halfway mark I would make everyone reverse positions and try to credibly argue the opposite side of the question. When I run my once a year high school economics class, I do exactly this. And I did that for years in high school debate. For a whole year, despite being an ardent free trader, in every other debate I had to argue in favor of protectionism. I think it was good for my soul.

I post this because there seems to always be a 50/50 chance that I will get banned after every comment on Mother Jones.  I never use profanity, and always try to be reasonable, but I am on my 3rd or 4th ID at Mother Jones because they keep banning me.  I still will always treasure the first time they banned me -- the comment that got me banned is below.  I am pretty sure they thought I was promoting the National Rifle Association in my comment, when in fact I was referring to the National Industrial Recovery Act and the NRA blue eagle of the New Deal.

The authors portray this (at least in the quoted material) as an anti-trust issue, but I suspect a bigger problem is the cronyist certificate of need process. In many locations, new hospitals, or hospital expansions (even things as small as buying a new cat scanner) require government permission in the form of a certificate of need. As one may imagine, entrenched incumbents are pretty good at managing this process to make sure they get no new competition. This, by the way, is a product of classic progressive thinking, which in its economic ignorance saw competition as duplicative and wasteful. We are lucky the Supreme Court shot down FDR's NRA or we would have this sort of mess in every industry.

A Trip Down Blog Memory Lane: 1800 Words on Why Steel Can Fail Without Melting

I was randomly browsing my blog history when I encountered a post from over 11 years ago when it was necessary to spend 1800+ words explaining why steel could still fail in the Twin Towers even when it did not actually melt.

Of late, Rosie [O'Donnell] has joined the "truthers," using her show to flog the notion that the WTC was brought down in a government-planned controlled demolition....

Rosie, as others have, made a point of observing that jet fuel does not burn hot enough to melt steel, and therefore the fire in the main towers could not have caused the structure to yield and collapse.  This is absurd.  It is a kindergartener's level of science.  It is ignorant of a reality that anyone who has had even one course in structural engineering or metallurgy will understand.  The argument made that "other buildings have burned and not collapsed" is only marginally more sophisticated, sort of equivalent to saying that seeing an iceberg melts proves global warming.  ...

Here is the reality that most 19-year-old engineering students understand:  Steel loses its strength rapidly with temperature, losing nearly all of its structural strength by 1000 degrees F, well below its melting point but also well below the temperature of burning jet fuel.

And on and on from there.  Seriously,  I know its hard to believe this was even necessary, but it was a serious charge by some of our intellectual betters in the entertainment industry.  Actually, it brings me a certain comfort in encountering this again -- maybe our public discourse is not really getting substantially stupider.  Maybe it has always been that way.

Look, I am not mocking you if you don't know the material properties of steel and how they change with temperature.   Odds are, in your jobs, you do not need to know anything about it.  What bothers me are the people who know nothing about these topics who speak with such certainty.  In some ways it seems to go past Dunning-Krueger,   People making these absolute pronouncements not only don't know anything about the topic, but many have actively avoided ever finding themselves in a classroom where the topic (or more accurately the mathematical and scientific foundations of the topic) might have been discussed.

It's not like I am totally immune to this.   Here are a few topics that I may have blogged about a few times years and years ago but now I won't touch because I know I don't understand them:

  • Central banking and monetary policy
  • Almost anything having to do with chemistry, including ocean acidification (or more accurately, reduced ocean alkalinity).  I even had an A in Organic Chemistry but it did not stick at all.
  • Literary criticism, except to say what I liked and I didn't like
  • Anything about certain performance-based crafts, like singing and acting, except to say which performances I did and did not enjoy
  • Ice hockey, horse racing, and soccer (which doesn't mean I don't enjoy watching them)
  • 80% of what Tyler Cowen writes about
  • Anything about music post-1985
  • Anything on cooking or food
  • Absolutely anything on wine

To the last point, I got invited to a wine tasting the other day.  Everyone was saying they tasted chicory or boysenberry or a hint of diatomaceous earth or whatever and I tasted .. wine.  Honestly I felt like a blind person sitting in on a discussion of the color wheel.  But I resist the temptation to scream that it is all just the emperor's new clothes -- I am sure the people around me can honestly taste differences that I can't.  I know I can taste differences in bourbon they cannot taste.  Good vodkas on the other hand, are a different matter.  Some day I am going to do a blind vodka tasting for my vodka-snob friends and see if they really can taste the difference.

Postscript I used to love the show Connections by James Burke.  He would start with something like the Defenestration of Prague and show a series of connections between it and, say, the invention of the telephone.  Perhaps you can see why I found it entertaining since I began a post about the structural strength of steel at different temperatures and ended it with whether good vodkas really taste different.

There are a lot of James Burke TV episodes on Youtube and I recommend them all.  Connections is recommended of course but I actually think his best series was season 1 of the Day the Universe Changed.  I believe this is episode 1.

A Small Suggestion for a Better Internet

I do not know how to fix public discourse in this country.  In particular, I have no idea how to repair our growing tribalism.  But I do have one small suggestion for better Internet discourse, which is:  If you are going to comment on an article, or email about it to the author, could you actually read it first, and not just react to a 240-character tweet about it that was crafted by the author's intellectual opponent?

Thank you.

Our Response to GDPR

I have been reading all the articles (and the storm of emails in my inbox) on European GDPR privacy rules implementation with some dispassion.  After all, it does not affect me, right?  I run a camping business all in the US.  But then I got to thinking about it and realized that I had three avenues of exposure  -- my blogs, my jobs mailing list, and my company web site.  I will preface this by saying that I am no expert and I am not really hugely at-risk, but perhaps this will be useful to someone.  More importantly, if you ARE an expert and see something I am screwing up please email me!

The blog exposure strikes me as pretty narrow, particularly since we do not serve up advertisements (except in the comments via Disqus) and do not have a mailing list.  I don't store or have access to any user data (though I wonder if server logs count?) so I assess my main liability as secondary if Disqus screws up something.  I have been reading Disqus's updates and I would evaluate them as working on it but not done.  I suppose if the EU wants to come after me for "up to 4%" of this site's revenue they are welcome to do so.  Sort of like when I was unemployed being told to spend 2 months salary on my wife's engagement ring  (which in fact I did exactly, since it was my mom's ring given to me as a gift for the purpose).

Similarly, I think my liability surrounding the mailing list we maintain for job openings is pretty limited.  First, it would shock me if more than 0.0001% of the people on that list are in Europe, since I can't really legally hire Europeans in most cases and it is unlikely they will drive their RV over here to work in a campground.  More importantly, all the names are there through what I would call extreme opt-in -- they have to click on a special link and go sign up on a dedicated page just to join the mailing list.  The email provider is Constant Contact so again my liability is likely limited to whether they screw anything up in their compliance, but this is probably unlikely in my case.  Again there is no advertising and all people on the list ever get are notifications of new job openings and links where to apply.

Which brings me to our business web site.  There is no log-in or user information entered or advertising on our web site, so we are mostly fine.  With one large exception -- we have our own reservations site that gathers and stores customer reservation information.  Eek!  That sounds like it could be a problem.  The most dangerous piece of data we could potentially have in our hands is a credit card number, which is why our system was set up so our company never has the credit card number in our possession.  Customers are passed over to Stripe (highly recommended company, by the way) who handle all that dangerous stuff on their servers, and just pass us back a confirmation.  But we do have customer name, address, email, and camping stay dates on our server.  Maybe we are compliant already -- we treat that stuff with a lot of care.  Maybe we are not.  But since we really don't get any reservations at all from Europe, it was easier just to go black there, so right now my software guy is working on blocking traffic from European IP addresses.

Postscript:  On some of my posts, people write me and ask, "Why did you even bother to publish that."  And my answer is that I often write to think, so it may be that it is only for my own benefit.  My software guy is a reader of this blog and was probably laughing as he read this post because I stopped a couple times in writing it to fire off new questions or requests to him.

Update:  Hah, what timing!   This just appeared on my blog when I scrolled down to the comments so I guess Disqus must indeed be working on this.

Well, I Got Another Threat and Takedown Demand Today

I received this email this morning, from a hotmail account no less

Subject:  Unlawful Use of Name

Hello,

I am writing on behalf of [redacted], whose name you published on your blog citing the PBS article about harassment in the Forest Service.

You do not have legal permission to publish his name. Please remove it immediately to avoid legal action.

Sincerely,

Heather Appelhof

I didn't really have to, but I redacted the gentleman in question's name, at least until Ms. Appelhof has a chance to respond.  Here was my response:

Ms. Appelhof:

Mr. _____'s name was quoted on my blog in the context of a much longer verbatim quote from the PBS website as it appeared on March 5, 2018. This sort of quotation taken directly from a respected national media outlet is a speech activity that is highly protected in this country. In particular, your argument that I did not have "legal permission to publish his name" is completely specious. There is no such legal requirement in this country to obtain prior permission before publishing someone's name, particularly in the case of a public figure in a leadership position of a public agency. As an example, I publish all takedown requests my blog receives so your name will get published on my blog as part of the email.

Few things irritate me more than people who threaten me with laws that do not exist. However, since Mr. _____'s name was really incidental to the point I was trying to make, I am open to a valid legal or ethical argument for removing it and will give you a second chance to provide one. Note that "this gentleman is upset about all the negative media coverage and has engaged me to try to intimidate people into removing his name" is not a valid reason.

There are obviously niche legal situations in which it is illegal to publicly reveal names -- a doctor revealing his patients' names and medical information is highly restricted under HIPAA, for example. However, I am not aware of any such situation that obtains here. I suppose there could be some sort of specific court order in play here, but if that is the case it should be easy to share it with me and I will respect it. It is possible Mr. _____ believes he was libeled by PBS, but that hardly applies to my merely quoting their story, particularly since I can't have had any malice towards him since I have not given him a second thought before or after publishing that post, at least until your email arrived.

This leaves ethical arguments, and I can certainly be swayed by such arguments more quickly than by empty threats. For example, if the accuser in the story has recanted her accusation, or if PBS had confused Mr. ______ with someone else, those would certainly be good reasons to remove his name.

You are welcome to try again.

Coyote

The original PBS story I quoted is here.  After I sent Ms. Appelhof this response, I noted that PBS had removed this gentleman's name from the article with a note at the bottom saying:

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated. The name of the Forest Service supervisor in Oregon has been removed. We stand by our reporting and thank the multiple women who went public for this story.

Despite this email ticking me off with its tone and absurd legal opinion, I actually want to do the right thing so I have reached out to the PBS editorial team on this story to see if I can get a hint why the name was removed.  A reason good enough for PBS is probably going to be good enough for me, since, again, the story was more about accountability issues on Forest Service fire teams than it was about this person in particular.

Update:  I can't get the details, but there were apparently legal charges and settlements at PBS that led to their taking down the name.  I will defer to their judgement and do the same, because honestly the name was just incidental to my post anyway.  Ms. Appelhof wrote me back with a MUCH more compelling and intelligent email outlining a lot of investigation that has occurred since and she claims cleared the man in question.  I am not sure who is wrong or right but I am happy to retreat from this particular fray.  Having had to fight a number of takedown requests in the past, her initial email was worded in a way to rub my fur all the wrong ways.

OK, Brief Break for Cute Animal Blogging

I know this is not my usual schtick here, but I have to confess I have a soft spot for baby hippo pictures.  This is Augustus, who was just born at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida.  More here.

My New Favorite Excel Function: INDIRECT

I will confess that somehow I never really learned pivot table mechanics in Excel, so I struggle with three dimensional data.  One example might be a spreadsheet with individual tabs where each tab is a different corporate division, and on each tab is a P&L by month (so three dimensions:  Month, P&L category, Division).  Let's assume the P&L is arranged the same on every page, with, for example, one divisions June's total revenue number in the same cell number as the June total revenue number on every other divisions' tab, ie this field is in cell c8 on every worksheet tab.

Long ago I created a simple way to get a total of a particular cell across all spreadsheets.  I would add a spreadsheet tab in the workbook before all the division tabs and another after all the division tabs.  Let's say I just name these tabs "Posta" and "Postb".  Then the sum of all cells C8 that are located on a spreadsheet tab between tabs "Posta" and "Postb" would be

=SUM(Posta:Postb!C8).

The problem comes when one wants to create a summary worksheet tab that doesn't sum all the values for C8 but summarizes them in a table.  Imagine a table where column A is the division name (that matches the name of the tab for that division) and column B is that division's June revenue, ie the value of cell C8 for that division from its individual spreadsheet.  The only way I knew how to do this before was manually and tediously.

But laziness is the mother of invention, and I finally encountered a workbook that was so tedious to summarize manually that I had to find another way.  I had a spreadsheet of 150 tabs, each worksheet tab being one of our locations containing online customer review scores formatted the same way into the same cells.  That is when I found the INDIRECT function.  Basically it allows one to craft a custom cell reference in a text string, feed that to the indirect function, which will output the contents of that cell.  So if our location names in the first column exactly match the worksheet tab names, then we can write

=INDIRECT("'"&$A3&"'"&"!C$8")

The ampersand symbols are basically text string concatenation operators, and are there to create the text string of a cell reference in the format excel expects.  The funny triple quotes is just to add a single quote mark before and after the tab name.   This particular string will give us the value of cell C8 that is in the worksheet tab with the name that is in cell A3.

You can also use this cell value from the INDIRECT function in more complicated formulas.  For example

=COUNTIF( INDIRECT("'"&$A3&"'"&"!$B$3:$B$500"),D$4)

would look in the spreadsheet tab whose name is in A3 and on that tab count all the values in the range B3 to B500 on that tab that have the value given in cell D4.  For example, if D4 is equal to "5" we could be counting all the reviews that had a score of "5".

Postscript:  This may be my record for the blog post with the niche-iest audience.  Mainly it is aimed at my son, who has the enviable job of being an analyst for a craft beer company in La Jolla.  He has learned not to complain much to me about his job, as my first job was in an oil refinery in Baytown, Texas, so my sympathy level is maybe lower than it should be.  Anyway, as part of a geeky family, he and I compete on Excel knowledge so this post is mainly my way of counting coup on him.

Update:  I totally agree with the comments that a relational database is needed.  Unfortunately, at the time I did this work, we had only within weeks been given access to the review data from the government recreation reservations database, and it was all in excel.  Faster to do the analysis in excel than to figure out how to read the sheets into something like mysql (of which I am positive there are a million simple tools for doing so).  But I will accept it as a challenge for this year.