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

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.

I Have Deleted My Twitter App. It's An Impossible Platform for Political Discourse (at Least For Me)

Those who have read this blog for a while know that I have an up and down history with Twitter.  I think it is a perfectly valid platform for sharing breaking news, following celebrities, posting cute animal pictures, and notifying folks that blog posts or longer articles are available.  I have always used Twitter for the latter function, and for those who follow me there, I will still use it to automatically publicize my blog posts.

From time to time, though, I have dived deeper into Twitter and tried to use it to actually have conversations and discussions about certain topics.  The first time I tried this I had to get off after a month.  I reported here that Twitter was making me both unhappy and a worse person, the latter because I fell quickly into the Twitter trap of going for zingers and gotchas rather than treating people's arguments civilly and with nuance.  A few days ago I gave it one more try, perhaps unfortunately the day after Trump's state of the union.  In the process I came to a final conclusion that Twitter is an impossible platform for political discourse, at least for me.  I am open to considering that the failure is in part my own, that I am simply incapable of making the kind of arguments I want to make within the Twitter character limit.   Never-the-less, I have deleted my twitter app from my phone so I will not be tempted to dive back in when I am stuck in the doctor's waiting room.  I will still scan it to see what is going on, but if I want to respond to something, I will do it here.

Just for fun, I thought I would dig through the detritus of my last 48 hours on Twitter and see if I could pull up a few examples of just what drove me crazy.  I want to make it clear that I am not leaving because people *gasp* disagreed with me, but because that disagreement was embodied in really poor discourse, the poverty of which I think is necesarily related to the nature of the platform.  After considering several, here is a good example of why I left.

It started with my seeing this post in my feed from a guy named Nick Searcy.  I don't really know who that is, but he is not just some rando with 8 followers, he has almost two orders of magnitude more followers than I.  He wrote:


While there are some solid arguments for why truly open borders might not work in today's USA, I have always considered this analogy of a country's borders to private property boundaries to be a really weak argument.  Not only weak, but one that dangerously undermines the meaning of private property and makes it harder to defend the property rights that Conservatives say they support.   I actually wrote hundreds of words on this argument here, so you can probably guess I struggled to respond to this in one tweet.  I tweeted:

(lol, the unmentioned problem I also have with Twitter is the inability to edit after the fact.  In a socialist ... what?  Dammit Coyote, learn to self-edit)

So I will confess the property rights argument is a subtle one for most people, and a difficult one to make in part because even strong defenders of property rights often don't have a very clear understanding of them.  The picture I think many property rights defenders have in their head is the old coot sitting on his front porch with a shotgun across his lap yelling "get off my land."  But for property rights to be meaningful, one needs to not only be able to protect the borders of that property but also hire whom they like to work on their property, sell to whom they like, rent to whom they like, entertain whom they like, etc.  Its not just about one's ability to exclude people, but also one's ability to associate with people of one's choice.

Now, I can imagine a number of reasonable rebuttals.  Someone might argue that this is all fine and good when 100 people want to come and seek a job from folks like me, but what if the number is a billion?   Anyway, we could have an interesting discussion along those lines.  But instead I got this:

Uh, what?  This makes about zero sense in context.  He was criticizing a open border policy, which would represent a change in current law.  I offered a partial defense of open borders and why I thought his property rights analogy for border restrictions was a bad analogy.  And so he answers "because laws".  Honestly, this may be my failing, but I really did not understand how laws were the reason we could not change immigration laws (he may have an implicit assumption that immigrants are dangerous and laws are thus necessary to protect us from them, but if this is his core assumption driving this comment it goes entirely unstated).   So I assumed I had not explained myself well, and made the mistake of trying to clarify my point (instead of just walking away as I should have).  I will confess that the 40+ likes he got for a tweet which was true on its face but made zero sense in context influenced my decisions to try again.  Perhaps if I clarified, so would he, so I tweeted:

 

And here you go, the payoff for reading so far into this post, the true WTF moment of the thread

and here, because repetition using slightly different insults just reinforces the point

I am not even sure how to parse this.  More than even the statement itself, the 60 likes and 4 retweets just sort of floored me.  "Yeah, Nick, you showed that guy!"  Anyway, I assume what is going on here is that rather than understand my actual argument, he assigned to me the same package of both real and straw man arguments Conservatives assign to all immigration supporters and then started arguing some of those, rather than the actual issue we were arguing.   Anyway, just to make sure I had the full Twitter experience in this thread we had an appearance by the super Internet sleuth who has figured it all out:

lol, nice job.  The few folks who were reading my blog at the beginning -- which had its first post in 2004 a full 18 months before the first tweet on Twitter -- will know the blog is named after the Warner Brothers animation character, who in my mind should be one of the patron saints of small business owners -- he works his *ss off to achieve a goal and something unexpected screws his quest up every time.

Anyway, I guess I should make clear that my position on Twitter is roughly the same as it is on incentives.  In the case of incentives, bad organizations don't have bad people, they have ordinary average people with bad incentives.   As far as Twitter goes, I am more than willing to believe that, despite what he thinks of me, that Nick Searcy is not a dolt or a loser.  He is likely a reasonably smart guy on a platform that turns everyone on it into morons and *ssholes.

So I will use twitter to publish so people can find my articles in their feed there, and I will look at it from time to time if I need a blogging topic, but otherwise I am going to limit my discourse to places I can write in long form.

Postscript: OK, I figured out who this guy is.  I have not seen him in a lot of things but he played Deke Slayton in the HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon and that entire series, including his contribution, was excellent.  I give him kudos as an (apparently) vocal Conservative in the entertainment world, as I think the constant drumbeat of unthinking Leftism in that industry tends to cause most of the Conservatives to just go into turtle mode to protect their careers and sanity.   Still don't agree with him on immigration.

Am I The Only One Who Finds This Paul Krugman Tweet Weirdly Ironic?

Maybe one character could be an economist who entered the world of political punditry and subsequently walked away from many of his earlier economic beliefs when they conflicted with his party loyalty.

e.g. here, here

Postscript:  By the way, my first Venn diagram, which Mark Perry has credited as the inspiration for what he has since turned into an art form, involved Mr. Krugman:

Auto-Post to Twitter Has Been Broken. Deluge of Tweets of Old Posts in the Queue May Follow

For some reason, over the last 30 days auto-posting my blog to Twitter has not been working, so for those of you who follow the blog via Twitter, you may not have seen much going on. Hopefully that is fixed.

First, and Last, Marathon

About 18 months ago I was diagnosed with osteo-arthritis in both my knees, though of course I had been experiencing some pain before that.  The condition has become increasingly irritating not just because of the knee pain, but because the pain leads to a second condition called a Bakers Cyst (also known as water on the knee) that adds new pains in the back of both my upper and lower legs.

For years my exercise of choice has been running.  I have run in many of the world's cities (except for Bangkok -- only a crazy person would run the streets there) and find the experience synergistic -- the new sights keeps me from being bored in my runs and the running helps me see details of a city I might have missed.  I am not really competitive, but I have run four or five half-marathons and a number of shorter races.

It has become clear I have to give this all up.  So I decided to go out with a bang, and run my first and last marathon, which will be January 7 at Disneyworld (I love the Disney marathons because the vibe is pretty chill, there are lots of fun things to look at as you run through the parks and past characters and bands, and the medals are really nice).  I usually run in costume for the Disney races but I think not for this race -- I will be shedding every pound;  I am considering cutting off the ends of my shoelaces to save weight 😉

The big event comes in the next few weeks when my doctor is going to shoot me up with cortisone in each knee and drain my Bakers cysts.  From past experience, this will help a ton.  Even without the cortisone I have done a couple of 16-18 mile runs in addition to my daily running of 6-ish miles so I am fairly sure I will make it.

The first question I always get is what time am I shooting for.  Timing for my distance race performances is generally by google calendar.   I did my last half in around 2:30 so extrapolating that I will likely be far behind Oprah's time of 4:29, but I think my ego can survive.

Once the race is over, I have already found my new preferred form of excercise.  The eliptical machine feels good with my knees but I hate excercising indoors.  Biking can be fun but my *ss always falls asleep.  So I bought one of these bad boys and am already having a lot of fun with it.  Super expensive, but hopefully prices will come down if they get popular.

Microsoft is Not My Friend Today

I am working with Dell to create a starting computer image for laptops I buy from them that will have all our computers set up the way we want them to be right out of the factory.  This will save an hour or so of work for me on each computer.

This works really well EXCEPT for Microsoft's heavy-handed intervention.   As part of the setup process before I create the default image, I switch the windows default browser to Chrome and the default app for opening pdf files to Adobe Reader.  No matter what we do, when the new computer boots up with this image, windows switches the default browser and PDF app to Microsoft Edge (apparently via 'sysprep".)  I might be able to live with this for the browser, but Edge is defective in opening PDF files, specifically it does not allow pdf's with form fields to be saved in a way that retains the form entry.  My users will never be able to figure out how to reset this themselves so now I have to figure out how to write batch files so I can override the Microsoft override after it runs.  Less intrusive but still irritating is the fact that Microsoft also adds back all their sales spam I deleted, including their "get office" and "try skype" apps.

As an aside, it is really sort of funny nowadays to put Chrome or Firefox on a new Microsoft computer.   If you try to make these other browsers the default, you get this message that says something like "wouldn't you like to try Edge, it is way better than our old browser that we tried for years and years to make you use and then abandoned."  I am paraphrasing of course, but that is the gist.

Craigslist Has Become A Total Sewer of Scammers

I know the title of this post will come as a surprise to virtually no one.  I gave up on Craigslist years ago.  However, I had no idea how bad it has become.  My contractor had some left over materials.  My wife and I said to just drop it off at Habitat for Humanity but the contractor said they thought I could sell some of it for real money.  So the contractor listed it on Craigslist.  I so far have gotten 8 responses, and all 8 have turned out to be scams.  They are all variations of this theme:

i really appreciate your quick response to my text. I will be buying
the item from you, kindly withdraw the advert from C.LIST and
considered it sold. My husband will be overnight the payment asap but
he will be payingwith a certified check from his Bank and it will
deliver to you via United Parcel Service (UPS), so I'll need you to
provide me with the following information to facilitate the mailing of
the check... And am offering additional $50 with the original price to
have this asap. Name to be on the payment......Address to mail the check to.....
Cell phone # to contact you ......Final Asking price....

I will make arrangements for the pick up as soon as you have your
check clear, due to my work frame and my Kids, I will not be able to
come with the cash and pick it up myself , so my husband will mail the
check and have someone pick up the item after the check clear.,
Reference to your CL post am completely satisfied with it and the
payment will be deliver within 24hours.

Any reply will yield bot or script responses that make little sense.  For example I said:

Ok, I now believe this to be fake as I have gotten the same response word for word with the 50 dollars offer from multiple people.  This sale is cancelled.

The response was:

Thanks , I got the Details and the payment will be sent out tomorrow
and as soon as it sent out i will get back to you, Please keep the
other buyer off and the payment will get to you asap and the item will
be pick up after you have the payment

Apparently bots and Asian click factories send a trolling response to every sale on Craigslist nowadays.   I left a telephone number only in the ad (a burner cell phone thank goodness) and in turn I got urges to immediately email them back.  And then this script with small variations 8 times, but always with the certified check thing, the offer of $50, and an urge to take down the ad immediately.  Apparently the check is fake but you learn this only after you have shipped the goods.  Sites like this urge face to face meetings in cash, but I have little desire to meet Craigslist readers face to face, which is confirmed by the advice in this article to "meet the buyer in a police station" lol.  Might as well post the advice never to use craigslist.

If it has not already been written, this is the epitaph in my mind for Craigslist.  Possible moral of this story:  You can't build a trust-based system just by trusting people.  The lesson from places like Amazon and ebay are "trust but verify".

Update:  From commenters, part of our mistake seems to be to have let a third party put up the add because then we lose out on some of the internal Craigslist communication avenues that provide some protection.  A number feel like Craigslist is still a useful place to transact.  I will add that in addition to 8 cashiers check scammers I also got one paypal scammer later in the evening making contact.  Zero legitimate contacts to date.

I Am Still Here

I have been out of town and absolutely consumed by a couple of very weird business issues, so I have not blogged much.  I will try to do a little today, but I will leave you with a quote I liked from Scott Sumner:

Or perhaps (as I've argued elsewhere) there is no such thing as "public opinion". People are like electrons; you can't measure them without changing their positions. ....Most people don't have views that are internally consistent, so their "views" on public policy issues are strongly shaped by the wording of the polls.

I Think I Figured Out My Wireless Issues -- I Am Living in a Damn Faraday Cage

I have always had a couple of frustrations in my house.   First, we get awful, almost non-existent cell service from both Verizon and AT&T, despite living right in the middle of the city.  I always chalked this up to be on the outskirts of an area of town that until recently did not allow the construction of cell towers.

The other problem I have is trying to get a wireless signal through my house.  While the house sort of sprawls, it is U shaped with distances such that it should not be impossible to send signals from one side of the U to the other.   But it always has been hard, thus my investment in a commercial grade wifi system.

The other day I was watching a contractor cut a hole in the outer wall of my house, which is covered in stucco.  I hadn't really thought much about the home's construction -- it has some cinder block but mostly is just wood frame.  But watching the construction I had an epiphany.  The stucco was put on in the old way, over chicken wire.   I hadn't thought of this because none of the new stucco I have ever seen going on is done this way any more.   It turns out my whole house is covered in a big net of chicken wire.  Worse, I saw they had removed the stucco around one of the hose bibs and the chicken wire was wrapped around the metal piping, the same piping our house uses as a ground.  My whole house turns out to be covered in grounded chicken wire -- I'm living in a Faraday cage!

Obviously since the wire does not cover every surface (windows, roof, etc) and was not carefully constructed to be a Faraday cage, the effect is not perfect.  But I took some measurements.  Wifi signal strengths in the 2.4Ghz range dropped by about 7-10 db when passing through an interior wall but dropped between 20 and 30 db through my exterior walls.

So at least I have some idea, finally, of what might be going on.

Towards Better, More Reliable Home Wifi -- Ditch the Products Meant for the Home

For years I have been struggling with a variety of commercial home wifi products.  I have been plagued by issues -- either they had poor range or they had to be reset every day or so or they did not play well with various extenders I needed to cover my house.  I have a one story house that sort of sprawls all over the place and is hard to cover, particularly since our internet connection to Cox Cable is all the way at one end of the house and some of the house has a cinderblock core just to make signal transmission even harder.

So my company had a contractor wiring up a customer location we manage and they were using a commercial product from Ubiquiti Networks.  I wondered why a commercial product would not work just as well in my home.  This Ars Technica article discussed how much better he thought the commercial products from Ubiquiti were than most consumer grade products.  I figured maybe the problem would be cost, but perusing the Unifi product line on Amazon, it seemed priced a bit higher than consumer products but not unreasonably so (also compare the Amazon star ratings for the Unifi products to consumer alternatives -- you will not see ratings this high).

I was a little intimidated that the setup would be hard but it was manageable if you know even a little bit about network addresses and how they work. And this video is absolutely fabulous -- I can tell you that if you follow along with this guy your system will work at the end of it.  Once it was running, the software is way easier to navigate than my old consumer products.

So several months ago I installed a Unifi system in my house with 6 access points (including on my patio and in my garage), a security gateway (the router, I think), a main switch, a couple of satellite switches, and the cloudkey which helps manage the whole thing.  I paid extra for the PoE switches (power over ethernet) so I could run the access points without having to plug them into an outlet and so in the future I could add PoE video.

What I like:

  • Reasonable cost
  • Setup not difficult if you follow the video
  • Rock-solid reliability
  • It reaches everywhere, with a single SSID so it acts as one seamless large wifi zone.
  • Ability to access the system remotely to check on status
  • Access points work via PoE so they mount on the wall or ceiling really cleanly and look great
  • Really good information about my network, not only every device and its IP and status, but also its bandwidth use and exactly how it is connected in the network tree (ie via such and such switch).

The only problem I have had so far is a moderately arcane one that took me a while to diagnose.  I use this system with my Sonos music system and I have a number of Sonos boxes around the house.  Most of these are wired, and so do not use the Sonos wired peer-to-peer mesh.  However, the Sonos boxes were trying to create wireless network amongst themselves that essentially created loops in my network where storms of traffic ran in circles.

This is where I had a learning opportunity.  Apparently network equipment has something called Spanning Tree Protocol (STP).  Basically through a priority and cost system, it allows you to specify preferred pathways and prevent data from looping.  But Sonos uses a really old version of this that does not play well with Unifi.  I will say that this is not just a Unifi problem as I had this exact same problem at another location with Sonos and the Google mesh wifi system.  At least with Unifi, there were STP settings I could play with (Google mesh wifi is a nice little plug and play product but forget it if you want to tweak anything at all).   As is usual nowadays for any known problem, the Internet has a bunch of articles on Unifi and Sonos compatibility issues.  Eventually by tweaking the STP priorities of the Unifi switches and simply turning off the wifi in Sonos units where I did not need the mesh wifi capability (a nearly undocumented feature that is revealed here) I got it all playing nice together.   I will add that though Sonos is a product I love (because my wife can actually reliably use it), their tech support never identified this problem -- they said they saw evidence of loops but would not admit that the Sonos peer-to-peer networking was helping to cause them.

Weirdly Desperate Publicity Plea from Elon Musk?

I found this email to be simply bizarre.   If this is anything more than odd PR, I am not sure I understand it (the links are what they claim to be, rather than some sort of Phishing).  It clearly is a bot because no human would have actually read the article and thought that Elon Musk would really like me to better tie my article on his rent-seeking to his other PR.  Anyone know what is going on here?  I can't believe that Internet billionaire Elon Musk is paying Flip Hosting for some sort of crappy SEO work based on Google link-based page-rank schemes that are several years out of date.

 

Fixed The Site Performance Problem, I Hope

For reasons I do not fully understand because I really must not fully grasp how CSS works, the white background of the site loads last.  Some of you found the site hard to read because there was a small bit of code, really ancient site meter sort of code from 15 years ago, that was broken and slowing the white background from loading.  I think it is fixed.  Thanks to the readers who let me know.

Thank You

I don't think I was effusive enough in my previous post in thanking everyone who left such nice comments and/or sent me the great emails.  I really appreciate all the support and it makes a big difference.  Happy Fathers Day.  I am spending mine on the road for business, but in the outdoor recreation business there is no such day as a holiday during the summer time.

My New Rules

Well, I guess it should be obvious that I have not totally given up blogging.  I thank everyone for the nice emails and the nice comments.

However, I am going to try some new rules for the next month, less on my blogging and more on how I engage with the news.

  1. No more Twitter.  For those of you who use Twitter as a news aggregator, my posts will still appear on twitter and from time to time I will post things there that fit on twitter better than in a full blog post.  But I am not going to read my feed, and I am really not going to engage with things in my feed.  Everyone is trying to piss me off, and worse, a few times they have been successful and I have posted juvenile retorts that I later regretted.  I am going to keep a Civ 6 game on my computer and every time I am even tempted to open twitter I will play a couple of turns of Civ 6, worrying instead how to keep Gandhi from nuking me again.  Ironically, I just today ticked over 1000 followers on Twitter, so thanks very much for the support, but if you tweet at me over the next month I won't see it.
  2. Paring down my RSS feed.  I have read partisan political blogs on both sides of the aisle for years.  In fact it has been a point of pride that I read from both sides.  But these folks are all crazy, all the more so because they waste so many electrons arguing their side is sane and the other is crazy.  Everyone on these blogs is trying to just make me angry or afraid.  I am not going to play.  I can get angry and afraid all by myself.  All the political blogs are going out the window for the next month.  The more polemical climate blogs are going out.  Anyone who uses the words "Comey" or "Russia" or "Impeach" or "Benghazi"  in two out of three posts is gone.  Unfortunately, this means, at least for this month, that I cast off Instapundit as well, which is hard for me because Professor Reynolds really gave me my first traffic and helped promote my book.
  3. I have been reading the same stuff for years.  Over time I need to find some like-minded folks interested in discussing policy while still capable of assuming that folks who disagree with them may actually be people of good will.  But I don't want to spend my time in full wonk mode either.  I will call Megan McArdle my benchmark of what I am looking for, and I am accepting recommendations for folks Left and Right of her to read.  Kevin Drum for example on the Left was pretty good on this dimension when his guys were in office but he is much more in team politics mode now (Mother Jones banning me didn't help, particularly since they banned me for referring to the "NRA" in a comment -- particularly funny since I was referring to FDR's National Industrial Recovery Act and not to the much-hated-by-progressives National Rifle Association).

My wife never reads my blog and probably is not too in touch with my existential blogging angst of late, but out of the blue the other day she suggested it would be fun to set up a salon where we could bring together folks across the political spectrum to have discussions of issues of the day.  I thought this was a great idea and have been thinking about how to pull this off.  Unlike what seems to be fashionable today, we actually have friends across the political spectrum -- something that has been easy considering one of our families consists of Massachusetts Progressives (from Antioch, no less!) one is of Texas Conservatives (with oil company executives, no less!).  Our families always got along great but I worry that a few of my friends my be at each others' throats if we have them talking politics in the same room.  So we have to figure out how to discuss policy, not politics.